Monday, November 29, 2010

Christmas Polka

I'm sitting in Precision Air's mustard-yellow offices in Moshi to catch a shuttle bus for my flight to Dar es Salaam. The walls are covered with travel posters featuring mountain gorillas, elephants and Zanzibar, while a photo of the president Ndugu Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete smiles from the second floor. A stirring rendition of "Christmas Polka" by Jim Reeves is playing out of what looks to be an old fax machine.

There's something strangely comforting about it.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Shanty Town (Won't You Take Me to)


Our new address - at least for the moment - is Shanty Town, Tanzania. Shanty Town is right outside of Moshi, and is quite lovely. We found the place through a German couple, who introduced us to an English family with some extra room in their guest house. It was nice to get out of the Umoja hostel, which was perfectly fine, but a bit of a tight fit with Townes. In the evenings, there wasn't much to do around the hostel, so we were left being really quiet in the room while Townes slept in the adjacent room blocked only by some really thin walls.

Despite being a nice place to live, Shanty Town feels a bit removed from the city - especially without a car. Most of our neighbors have large Land Rovers that take them to and from work. I have been reliant on their guest bike (where the first outing was greeted by a flat tire and lots of walking) and a taxi driver called Goodluck.

Given the distance from Moshi, we're not yet sure if we will stay in Shanty Town. Regardless, it has been a nice place to be for a spell and we've met some really nice people. The German couple who introduced us to Shanty Town, named Merenka and Heiko, have been great to get to know. They have a young daughter named Yael, who Townes really enjoys talking about.

So far, no giant scorpions in Shanty Town, but we were greeted by the cockerels (roosters) on our first morning at 3.30am. Townes was wide awake and responded with "Chickens...PUSH chickens....". He now realizes that pushing is bad and wanted to harm those who had initiated the 3.30 wake-up call. Hard to believe that we were longing for the days of the simple radio man at 5...

(We hope to upload some of our own photos soon. In the meantime, thanks to the Richardsons on TravelBlog for this photo!)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The mountain was out this morning

I remember the first time I heard the phrase, "The mountains are out this morning." It was on a trip to work with Andy Block on the 2 tram as we crossed over the Limmat in Zurich. It was an unusually clear day, and we had a fantastic view of the Alps.

The concept of mountains being "out" was a bit novel for me. Coming from the coastal lowlands of Mobile, AL, the only opportunity to comment on the visibility of landscape was when I would wipe the fog from my glasses on a humid summer morning.

It is a bright and warm summer day here in Tanzania and the most dominant feature of the surrounding landscape was out this morning, Kilimanjaro. The landscape is only of one of the numerous contrasts of Tanzania to our experiences in West Africa. So far, Townes has been a bit confused about where he is - he keeps asking for Roxin, our security man in Ankaase - but is generally pleased to be in warm weather and around people who are excited to greet him.

We will be moving out of the Umoja Lutheran guest house this morning and into our rented apartment. Once we get settled, we start updating more regularly with photos and blog updates.

PS: Happy Thanksgiving to our friends in the US!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A few of the people who have crossed our path, cont...

Harriet, a 4-year old at RCA
Harriet is one of those kids who has presence. She wasn't overly impressed with the obrunis at her school, but found a soft spot for Townes. Oftentimes, Townes would find himself lost in a group of students as they would press to get a closer look; this usually involved running their hands through his hair and occasionally a bit of pushing. When the crowd got to be too much, Harriet would step in and create some space. Afterwards, there was no need for acknowledgment or thanks; it was just something that needed doing.

Like I said, the kid has presence.

Coy met Clement ten years ago and we've kept a special relationship with his family since then. Clement is a quiet kid who is more comfortable just hanging out than talking. One of the only subjects that can elicit more than a single sentence response is music, specifically reggae! The picture shows him introducing Townes to some rasta tunes on a cd that he made for us.

Grace, Nursery 2 teacher at RCA
With an easy laugh and an inexhaustible supply of patience, Grace is the only person I know in the world who would be willing to teach 50 three and four year olds in one small room. The children love her and her use of songs and chants to teach. Though attention spans at that age are tiny, her class has learned so much in the first months of school. In addition to the alphabet, numbers and greetings in English, the kids have acquired Grace's enthusiasm. They cheer when Townes and I enter the room and again when saying goodbye at the end of a lesson. I guarantee that you've never seen any group of kids who LOVE singing Wheels on the Bus as much as this class! I admire Grace for her energy and sweet nature.

The Chicken

This is one of the domesticated fowl that lives around the school. He enjoys eating dropped bits of rice, re-establishment of the pecking order and sneaking into the kitchen. Occasionally, the cleaning of plumage is interrupted by a game of chase.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Last Day of School

Extra sing-alongs were the order of the day

Monday, November 08, 2010

A few of the people who have crossed our path, cont.

Julie, the Librarian

Julie fits all the nicest stereotypes that you may have of a librarian- kind, quiet, wise, and able to silence a table of teenagers with just a glance. The Reading Town Library was the creation of our friend, Anne Gongwer, who believes that the library has the potential to change lives. The library was opened two years ago and is a remarkable building with a very good collection of books. Students from the nearby schools spend hours there and Julie has high hopes of teachers seeing it as a valuable resource. Julie would love to see more people in town bringing their children or just coming to read but I think that this will come with time. Julie has the patience and presence to make it happen.

Leticia, KG1 Teacher at Royal Christian Academy

A first-time teacher who has just finished her studies, Leticia is one of the star teachers at Royal Christian Academy. Her class is learning by leaps and bounds and they adore their teacher. She is firm but loving and can teach while holding a stray kid who wanders in from the nursery class. Considering the fact that RCA has no textbooks and that the classes share slates and chalk, Leticia has been teaching most things through recitation, songs, and enthusiasm. Of all the classes, I look forward to teaching in KG1 the most.


Ema works at the house part-time. For the 10 years I have known him, Ema has been one of the kindest and most peaceful people I have ever met. He can also mow a field of high grass with a machete in his left hand. Ema has a soft spot for children and it's been great seeing him get to know Townes; they really hit it off - particularly when there were bubbles involved.

The Vegetable Lady at Ankaase Market

We had weekly encounters with this lady at the market in Ankaase, but sadly we never learned her name. Richie and Maggie simply referred to her as the Vegetable Lady. The Vegetable Lady gave us a tough time at first as we stumbled in Twi to buy our vegetables, but over the months she warmed to us and became a welcome sight when we needed to buy bananas, carrots or onions. When I stopped to say farewell and take this picture, I bought a bag of carrots even though we had a refrigerator drawer full - she is quite the salesman.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

A few of the people who have crossed our path, cont...

Adu, the Choir Master

Adu is a little over 5 feet tall, but makes up for his short stature with an extra dose of life and energy. Whenever you see him, Adu's face will quickly light up with a big smile and an enthusiastic greeting. While he's always lively, Adu is most in his element as the choir director of the Methodist Church. When he leads the choir, his enthusiasm is at full tilt as he dances, sings and plays the tambourine - always laughing and smiling.

I wish I could adequately convey the way music captures so much about Ankaase - one needs to experience it. It's not an easy life here, but music seems to be such a natural outpouring of their hope and joy. Tonight, we had a friend, Dorothy, for dinner who also sings with the choir. After the meal, we played a bit of Ghanaian music as we were talking and almost immediately she was out of her seat, dancing and encouraging Townes to the floor, who quickly responded with a little hip shake.

Where music in Ghana captures a bit about everyone, it especially tells the story of people like Adu and Dorothy. We're thankful to have shared it with them.

Adu and his wife:

Suleman, a JS student in Ankaase

I met Suleman on Tuesday as he was walking up the hill from school. I've only met him twice, but he is a good example of the kids we meet in Ankaase: always curious about Obrunis and very interested to greet you. As we walked, Suleman and I spoke briefly about his school and his favorite teachers. My limited Twi didn't allow for much depth, but he seemed like a good kid.

Muhammed, or Mama

Mama is another one of the people I met when I was first in Ankaase. He works as part of the janitorial staff at the hospital. Mama is a soft-spoken and genuine man, who also tends the plantain farm behind our house. About once a month he will arrive on the weekend with a stalk of plantains twice as tall as Townes. We usually give about half of the plantains to our friends, and save the rest to pound for fuofuo or, when it ripens, to fry with RedRed.

When I asked to take his photo, Mama requested that we move inside of the hospital so that it could be taken next to the flowers.

A few of the people who have crossed our path

This post begins a series of stories about people we have met during our time in Ankaase. Unfortunately, we can't cover all of the people here, but we wanted to share a few as we are leaving.

Roxin, or Asante.

Roxin is the security guard for the day shift. He arrives at the gate around 5:30 in the morning after the nightwatchman leaves. Roxin is generally a serious-minded guy - as it should be for a security guard, I suppose. He sits on the front bench listening to politics on the radio and watching the area around the house with a stern eye. As far as I can tell, there isn't much to be afraid of around our house, but if someone considered causing a little trouble, I'm fairly sure Roxin would make them think better of it.

The only people I have seen break his focus are his children, and Townes. They first made a connection when Townes learned Roxin's name. Townes would wake up, look out the window, and yell "Roxin, Roxin". Roxin would dutifully emerge, give a slight wave, then head back to his post. A friendship was born.

Now that Townes's vocabulary has expanded, you'll hear "Does Roxin fly? Nooo, Roxin doesn't fly" as well as "Bye Bye Roxin" as Townes heads off to school every morning and afternoon.

Thanks for watching out for us Roxin!

Esther, or "Me tamfo", trans. "My enemy"

When I first came to Ankaase 10 years ago, Esther was working at the house with the Doctor's family. We would hang out in the kitchen or in the backyard as I would do my laundry. She recently reminded me of one evening where I came to her house and helped to shuck corn.

Esther is warm with an infectious laugh and her wide network of friends never ceases to amaze me; as she was leading Kacey through Kejetia market, she would constantly greet all of her friends working in the stalls, each of whom she refers to as her "sistah". Considering that Kejetia is the largest open air market in West Africa, she has quite a few sisters!

She is also known as Me Tamfo, or My Enemy. When I was first learning Twi, I would confuse Me Damfo, My Friend, with Me Tamfo, My Enemy. After making the mistake several times, we eventually settled on calling each other "Me Tamfo".

Esther now works in Kumasi, so unfortunately we didn't get to see her much this trip. We'd occasionally catch her when she would come to tend her small cocoa farm in Ankaase. Tonight she came by to teach Kacey how to make groundnut soup - it was good and spicy!


Ralph is from the Volta Region, but now lives in Ankaase. I first met him 10 years ago when he worked construction at the hospital. He now has his own shop in Ejuretia (about a 10 minute walk from Ankaase) where he welds and fabricates. Whenever you ask him how business is going, his response is "as usual, small small". Ralph's a friendly guy and always good for a quick chat on the way to the pre-school. We had tried to weld a chin-up bar behind the house - but I think the governor's pipe wasn't quite galvanized enough (?) - regardless, I decided not to push him too hard and it was never built!