July 28, 2008

Dar-es-Salaam au Bandhari ya Salama: mandhari kutokea kivuko


Nimefika Dar-es-Salaam salama

Sasa nipo internet cafe nikisoma na nikiandika barua pepe. Hamjambo wenye ambao wanasoma blog yangu. Nilifika juzi jioni na niliwakaribishwa Mwalimu Rose na familia yake. Mume wake na mtoto wa kiume walinikuta ipo Stopover karibu na nyumba yao katika eneo la....yallah! na sahau jina lake.
Nimefurahi kuwa na mahali ambapo ninakaa. Jana, nilitembea kila mahali Dar. Shemaji ya Mwalimu Rose alisindikiza na mimi. Nilikati tiketi kwa safari ya Zanzibar siku tatu zijayo.
Ninagundua kwamba maarifu ya Kiswahili inahitaji kutengeneza kwa mtumizi kila siku. Jana nilichoka sana nikijaribu kufahamu Hamadi kwa sababu aliongea haraka. Mpaka safari ya Zanzibar, nitakaa na familia ya Mwalimu Rose. Ningependa kutembelea mahali zaidi katika Dar, lakini Ni bore nitunze pesa yangu kwa ajili masafari nyingine baadaye.
Picha hizi zinatokea usiku mwisho wetu katika Arusha na pia kizuru chetu kwenda UAACC. Some of us actually recorded a song with a local producer who works there, hence the pic of me in the studio. Greetings to all! Miss you and look forward to receiving your emails. I don't have an address, but I am checking my emails every few days. Salaam.


July 23, 2008

TCDC Conversations

Here at TCDC is like being in another world and I am anxious to move on. This place is a safe place for the many missionaries and development workers who come to try out their latest projects or do research or work to convert more Tanzanian muslims to Christianity. Our group has had lots of interesting discussions about this and where it fits into the 'discourse' on Africa and its 'development'. One of the things that inevitably has to be asked in these sorts of conversations is: development toward what? and for whom? Mwalimu Nyerere expressed this thought very eloquently, and in principle the Center is committed to the same sort of vision. But in reality, students and aid workers come here for their own reasons and with their own prejudices.
An interesting conversation with an American who grew up in Kenya as the son of missionaries and has done a lot of work in Djibouti:
"Well," he told me, "you can't blame all Africa's problems on the West." I thought this was intriguing because I had never stated that I did or that one should. As I began an explanation of US foreign policy in Africa, he listened and agreed, but then began to rail on 'the usual suspects' in the sort of ideologically lazy blame-game played by lightweight racists: "Well, these African leaders are the ones that are corrupt. Who is holding them responsible?" I agreed and explained how many of the corrupt ones were propped up by the United States government for their strategic interest. He claimed to agree, and we continued to discuss about culture. He said, "the reason Somali society doesn't progress is because all the men want to do all day is drink chai and chew chat (a popular lightweight narcotic). He also made various statements claiming that whenever Muslims own the land, the land is never prosperous.
The illuminating thing about these sorts of conversations is that they are usually had by the very people doing long-term work or research in Africa. It is sooo interesting to me how many people want to 'study' Africa but never see the culture and people as contributing something potentially very necessary to an ongoing conversation about culture and sustainability. Like when my friend expressed admiration for the Maasai and the way they have sustained their culture, another student from America felt compelled to chime in, "But you know they have a very high mortality rate!" Since when did that become the ultimate criteria for the good society?
I am truly ashamed at the arrogance of Americans in Africa; almost every day different situations are presented to me that make me question and probe how I interact with people here. One of the things we discussed as a group is the cultural assumptions we bring here and where and how to 'be ourselves' while still honoring our 'guestness' among Tanzanians. The Tanzanian people, I must say, are profoundly impressive. I have found them to be extremely polite, hospitable, welcoming, and very gentle.
Watching A Panther in Africa about Pete O'Neal's work in Tanzania continuing the legacy of the Black Panther Party, I was struck by something he said about 'being caught between two worlds' and not being able to return to one in U.S. (and partly not wanting too) but also not fully part of the life-world he lives in--i.e. not completely adapted to being 'Tanzanian'. I found his struggle to be tremendously inspirational and moving and also applicable in a way to the situation I have often found myself in.
One of the things I reckon with in understanding myself is what I am and how I got this way. And in considering this, I have realized many times that the existence I came from and the people I grew up calling my friends are gone. The path I have chosen to push myself down has alienated me in a way from many of those I grew up with. And the deeper I go down the path, immersing myself in various experiences--in the Delta, Atlanta, at Howard, and here in Tanzania-- the more friends I make and the more I understand a certain, shall we say, point-of-view. And the less I seem to be able to understand the point-of-view of people from my own socio-economic/cultural background. And that scares me, it really does. But seeing what Pete went through confirms for me that these experiences are just a part of life, and an essential part of life for anyone who is struggling from any perspective to make sense of the madness we are living in.
This relates to the many students of my generation also studying in Africa who I find myself unable to relate to. And I can't just go back; I don't want to return to the way they think. But at the same time, I am still a product of my envirornment and no matter how many different places I gain acceptance into, I will never completely 'fit' there. And the place where I could be accepted, I no longer fit.
It feels very strange, very lonely, but in the end it is also tremendously gratifying and I wouldn't trade it for anything else.


Religion and Rationality (A Note on Religious Criticism from Talal Asad)

But even if they have a religious origin, human rights are no longer based on religious reason. That alone, so it may be said, gives them a more rational foundation. Yet when people make such claims, it is not always clear what concept of rationality or religion they are employing. Nor do they always seem to recognize that the provision of epistemological foundations is itself a problematic enterprise (and one that, ironically, connects 'reason' to origin). Thus, Kantian philosophers have one concept of rationality, modern political liberals who stress pragmatic criteria have another, and psychiatrists yet a third. Philosophers and anthropologist have long been fascinated by the question of explaining apparently irrational beliefs in nonmodern cultures and premodern epochs. There is a vast literature on the subject.

Three features characterize this literature. First, natural science is usually invoked as a model for what counts as rational. But even this apparent agreement is deceptive. In fact, the debaters urge mutually incompatible concepts of rationality upon each other, partly because what is critical to the long-term succcess of the different natural sciences is itself the subject of continuing philosophical and historical debate.

Second, rationality is held to be the essence of an entire secular culture, and consequently the success of modern medicine and technology is considered the guarantee of truth shared by the culture as a whole. (This foundational claim is not to be confused with the sociological observation that science and technology are variously bound up with a range of social, economic, and political institutions.) The idea of an integrated cultural totality founded on the Truth of Science makes it difficult to understand how people come to have serious disagreements over the possibility or desirability of particular changes in a modern polity.

Third, great importance is attached to being able to assert that 'modern culture' is superior to 'non-modern cultures' as though the consequence of not being able to do so forcefully enough would lead to large scale defections from the former to the latter. Implicit in the well-advertised fear of 'relativism' is the extraordinary thought that the cultural life of human beings is the product of conscious criticism and objective choice. It is extraordinary because, although arguments are clearly important in different social situations, the reasons for a person's attachment to a given way of life cannot be reduced to an idealized model of scientific theory building.

Perhaps the feeling that secular arguments are rationally superior to religious ones is based on the belief that religious convictions are the more rigid. But there is no decisive evidence for thinking this. Religious traditions have undergone the most radical transformations over time. Divine texts may be unalterable, but the ingenuities of human interpretation are endless--quite apart from the fact that some of the conditions of human doubt and certainty are notoriously inaccessible to conscious argument. Fanatics come in all shapes and sizes among skeptics and believers alike--as do individuals of a tolerant disposition. As for the claim that among the religious, coercion replaces persuasive argument, it should not be forgotten that we owe the most terrible examples of coercion in modern times to secular totalitarian regimes--Nazism and Stalinism. The point that matters in the end, surely, is not the justification that is used (whether it be supernatural or worldly) but the behavior that is justified. On this point, it must be said that the ruthlessness of secular practice yields nothing to the ferocity of religious.


July 21, 2008

Mbuga za Wanyamapori

Visited Olduvai Gorge, the Rift Valley, Lake Natron, and Maranga National Park. Spent most of the time conversating with our driver (although I had to look in my Swahili dictionary every 10 minutes). He told me the Maasai trace their origins to Egypt. The other ancient group that used to inhabit the area--the Khoisan--trace their origins to Ethiopia and migrated all the way to South Africa.
I also saw a LOT of animals:


July 16, 2008

Sura Shams (verses 1-10)

In The Name of Allah, The Beneficent, The merciful

1. "By the Sun and its Brightness,"

2. "By the Moon when it follows it (reflects the Sun's light),"

3. "By the day when it unfolds its glory,"

4. "By the night when it enshrouds it,"

5. "By the heaven and He who made it"

6. "By the Earth and He who spread it,"

7. "And by the soul and He who peifected it,"

8. "Then inspired it to understand what is wrong and (what is) right for it,"

9. "Indeed he succeeds who purifiest it,"

10. "And indeed he fails who corrupts it."


July 13, 2008

Picha Zaidi kwa safiri ya wikendi

This weekend was busy. Saturday we toured the United African Alliance Community Center, started by Pete O'Neal and his wife Charlotte. Pete and Charlotte are former revolutionary activists who fled the United States after Pete was convicted on charges of carrying guns across state lines. Like many Panthers, they faced active harrasment from the FBI. However they have kept their fire and zeal alive through some difficult times.
They continue the spirit of Panther community organizing through the many programs at the Center. Please visit:www.uaacc.habari.co.tz/ to learn more about the great things they are doing. Some of the art you see in the pictures above is from their Center.
Saturday night was a dance party...say no more. Then today we set out to see Kilimanjaro. We got as far as the gate and after learning it would cost 60 dollars just to get inside, decided on a cheaper alternative: the waterfall (maparomoko ya maji). To top it all off, I learned the Kiswahili verb for animals mating. It is kupandana, which literally means: to climb on each other. Hahahaha. Enjoy.


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