The content of this blog does not reflect the positions of the Peace Corps and is solely the responsibility of the author.

Speaking of Dancing

My gorgeous and ridiculously talented big sister has taken up Kuchipudi, back in America.  The costume, the makeup!  Fabulous.

In Which I Gush More about the Show in Tanga

It may take me a while to stop, actually.  The show was put on as a fundraiser for the Tanga International School, and several people involved with the school took the opportunity to make it a multicultural performing arts show on the very reasonable grounds that Tanzania needs more venues for the performing arts.  The talent is there.  Tanga in particular has the Tanga Peace Union, which is a group who rehearse traditional Tanzanian dances and acrobatics together, but have nowhere to perform.  Anywhere you go in the evenings, you can find young men practicing acrobatics.  People like to dance here, and they want to perform, but there just aren't venues for it.  If there was, it would be another life option for people who don't fit into the horrid memorize-stuff-for-standardized-tests-or-go-farm-make-babies-and-die-young box that is the educational system here. There is a market for dance performances from around the world--South Africa has a world-touring dance company that I saw in Houston, Texas, and they were absolutely fantastic--but right now in Tanzania the only real venue for performing is in the church choirs, which have limits as far as possibilities and outreach go.  Also, I maintain that access to the arts just makes for a merrier world.  So anyway, good on the organizers for doing this!  It actually was multicultural, with involvement from not only the ex-pat community, but the Tanzanian and Indian (there is a large population of Indians along the coastal regions) communities as well.  A local NGO in Tanga also enjoys the services of one of our volunteers, my friend Nicole, who used to be a dancer in New York, who in her spare time teaches dance to the children of the international school, choreographed for some adults who wanted to participate, and did a brilliant job of stage-managing the event.

Nicole prepares her students for the stage.  

The kids prepare to portray sea creatures. 

Some Masai dancers showed up.  Unfortunately, I have no photo
of them arriving wearing large plastic sunglasses with their
traditional attire.  

Then some tumblers that I didn't take pictures of because I was sitting quietly and trying to think energetic thoughts rather than feeling sick and tired.  Based on the applause, they went over very well.  Then it was me!  Me me me!  All me! 

They call me monkey-toes.

I put my costume together by pile-shopping, and had nothing but cheap makeup, and not much of that.  My favorite comments included "that was the most graceful thing I have ever seen!" and "Loved the silk dance--it was extremely superb!"  Not to mention "wow, you are really tiny when you take off your clothes" from someone who saw me come out in leggings to practice a little before the event.  So I spent a while after my performance just wandering around finding people to tell me how awesome I am.  It happens.  

Two volunteers from Lushoto rock out their Kiswahili songs.

I pose for a photo with the band members and the fabulous Nicole
before the production.  Shortly after this was taken, I realized my
corset was on upside down.  These things happen. 

An incredibly cute Bollywood dancer with a fabulous outfit followed us dirty Peace Corps types:

Several people then performed a modern interpretive piece, which some of them seemed quite nervous about, particularly as it was a first performance for them. Not a huge fan of modern interpretive dance, but I will absolutely support people who want to dance to music that they find moving.  So good on them!

I largely missed the finale because, well, I was off stage jumping up and down and gushing over the phone to some friends of mine who supported me with motivational speeches as I was angsting about being sick and a 2 day bus ride and a lack of rehearsal, so what makes me think I can go perform what is a very physically difficult art form?  Just to continue talking about myself, it really was hard to go do this, and I'm glad that I wasn't asked to belly dance as well.  I don't think I could have.  I also didn't do anything to help set up the show, for all that I was there early because I was trying to muster all the energy I had to strut down the stairs and perform.  Fortunately, I was not required to help in any way so I could sit under a ceiling fan and paint my nails purple and just be a diva, which was great.  Anyway, the finale was a bit controversial.  The performing group was a bunch of traditional Tanzanian dancers and their drummers.  I don't particularly like Tanzanian dance myself; it involves mostly internal hip circles and is very repetitive.  Also some of the hip circliness gets past what I would feel comfortable doing on stage myself, but that doesn't matter.  There's quite a few things I personally don't do on stage, and I am not the measure of dance.  This is the traditional dance of Tanzania, performed by dancers in traditional attire, as part of a multicultural festival, and this is a much better space than the flat-out sex-object version done in Tanzanian music videos, which is not at all a respectful presentation of the culture.  Many in the Indian community here, however, strongly dislike Tanzanian dancing.  Differing cultural versions of modesty combined with a refusal to be respectful to something that isn't hurting anyone.  Brilliant.  The organizers included the Tanzanian dance despite resistance from the Indians, which I approve of, but decided to put the dance at the very end, so totally offended people could just leave.  I don't particularly agree with this logic, since I believe in starting and ending strong, and putting anything weak or dislikable somewhere in the middle.  In this case, probably right before the Bollywood piece so that the Indians would feel a need to stick around to support their own.  But I was not an organizer, I was just a guest performer (and introduced as such!  With special thanks for coming all the way from Mbeya!) and as it turned out, no one seemed particularly upset.  Maybe they just kept their wrath for their homes, I don't know.   I hope this didn't in any way damage future prospects for very inclusive shows, which by definition of inclusivity, will feature things that not everyone likes.  Believing as I do that world peace will not  happen until everyone can stop being jerks about others' dances, I hope that more multicultural shows like this can happen in the future without such controversy.  

In Which I Give the First Aerial Silks Performance In Tanzania

Darlings, I rocked it!  Okay, so my technique was winceable--so many places where my knees are bent--but I hadn't been on the silks for over three weeks, I was still sick, I had to alter my choreography to take into account sickliness and only 13 feet of fabric, and I still rocked it!  The audience was the best audience I could have ever asked for, they loved it, which at the end of the day is the most important thing.  Also, I used an adaption of the Symphony from the New World, the famous part, which is one of the most rockingest pieces of music ever written.

Today in Lovecraftian Horror

I saw that the power had been cut off.  Clearly, some cryptic, evil movement was afoot on a large scale.  

From "The Shadow Over Innsmouth."  If this holds true in Tanzania, I'm doomed.

In Which I Cannot be Sick

I have a cold.  This is not unexpected.  Peace Corps training conferences, in addition to being a waste of time, are a great opportunity to get sick.   Between the buses, the other volunteers, and the long tiring journey through different climates, sickness is almost inevitable.  But I can't be sick.  I have a show to headline on Saturday!  Really!  Some people in Tanga are holding a fundraiser show for a school, invited me to perform, and are using an old picture of me to advertise it!

The several years old picture of me advertising the event.
My sister and I were so good at makeup then.  

I am so excited about doing this.  There's a show!  I am in it!  It's not going to be my best performance ever given my work out opportunities here are limited by weather and a less-than-totally-nutritious diet.  Still, I get to be in a show, and I will be fabulous!  If I am technically bad, well, no one else in TZ does this, so I benefit from a lack of comparison, and I will at least feel fabulous.  Normally, I can barely manage cleanliness; fabulosity is right out.  I even have a costume I bought out of the piles of ~$0.30 used clothes you can find in the market.  I have a skintight leopard print shirt, a lavender and black lace corset to go over it, sparkly black leggings and a lacy fringed black miniskirt to go over my rear for cultural ideas of modesty.  I'm going to look ridiculous and it's going to be great.   If there are any last minute cancellations I might end up doing a little belly dancing as well, assuming the organizers meet my demand of having my silks and belly dance far apart in the program if that happens.  

We Can and We Deserve

I have spent the last two days on buses.  It wasn't a total loss, I was traveling with four other volunteers for most of the journey, so the long and weary hours were wiled away with conversation, and when one of the buses broke down, we could stand together at the side of the road and I impressed my companions with my ability to flag down rides.  I also impressed them with my inability to speak Kiswahili when we were discussing the Elder Gods and how to preach about them.  I accidentally described Shub-Niggurath as the Black in the Woods with a Thousand Goats (Mweusi kule Porini anaye Mbuzi Elfu) rather than the Black Goat in the Woods with a Thousand Young (Mbuzi Mweusi kule Porini kwa Watoto Waelfu).  Oh well.

Another volunteer was telling me about a girls conference some volunteers organized in the Iringa region.  Their speaker was a lawyer from Dar that one of the volunteers had met on a bus and invited on grounds of fabulosity.  Normally, the main catchphrase of girls conferences is "Wanawake Wanaweza!" meaning Women Can, a la Rosie the Riveter.  This lawyer, however, spent a long time teaching the girls, not that women can, but that women deserve.  He started by teaching them the Kiswahili for that.  I certainly don't know the word for deserve, and that native (well, maybe.  Kiswahili isn't necessarily the first language in Tanzania) speakers don't necessarily know that either says something.  We can lament the sense of entitlement among Kids These Days, but darlings, there are things we deserve and should fight for.  From the  telling, this speaker just got more and more awesome as he told the girls that brideprice is horrible.  They are not things to be bought from their fathers and sold to their husbands.  When discussing gender-based violence, he didn't stop at the obvious, but gave them an example of a man and a woman walking to the field.  The man carries a jembe (hoe), while the woman has a bucket on her head, two bundles on a stick across her shoulders, and a baby on her back.  This is a typical division of labor and a form of abuse.  I like the sounds of this girls conference, and particularly the message of deserving.  Women deserve better than what they get here.  Possibly having a man deliver this message isn't necessarily the most optimal approach, but on the other hand, people are socialized to think a man's voice is delivering the important and interesting messages.  When, after all, was the last time you heard a movie trailer voice over spoken by a woman?       

This is not to say that the catchphrase of Women Can!  is unnecessary or bad, despite being a bit vague.  As far as I can tell women are not only responsible for all the manual labor performed in the country, they are at the same time told that they are lazy and weak and unable to perform exercise.  As an example, one of my more favorite students came over to talk to me while I was doing silks, and I invited her to join me.  She replied that she was too fat, because like all the women of Africa, she was just too weak and lazy.

Much as I hate hearing from people that they think their body shape prevents them from being beautiful dancers, I was more upset by her claim that African women are weak and lazy.  I started telling her that no, women carry water and farm, and clean and do laundry*.  She agreed, but then claimed that only village women are strong, more affluent African women are lazy. I completely disagree, and I hate that this is not the first woman who has had a low opinion of women as a group.  At my homestay during training, a girl who I don't actually know who she was in relation to the house  (she just showed up, hung out for a week, did all my laundry and taught me some children's songs and then left.  It is typical for a Tanzanian house to have transient people that the clueless American guests can't figure out who they are.) told me that girls don't like to exercise.  Well, let's see, at the end of a day that includes fetching water, cooking, doing the laundry, taking care of babies that they are handed and told to play with, and also doing school work, who would want to exercise?  The boys can hang out and practice the kung fu and break dancing they see on television, but they aren't expected to do anything for themselves.  The girls who cook for their families get tired, and even if by some miracle they don't, it's hard to exercise well in skirts which are ideally tight around the rear and thighs in order to be aesthetically pleasing to men.  

On a completely related note, a friend of mine who has started giving typing lessons at a girls secondary school told me that the girls have almost no manual dexterity.  They are very strong, but, using their fingers individually is very difficult for them because they do brute manual labor, not fine work.

All good conversations must come to an end, at a junction town where we split into different buses.  For the final approach to Mbeya I traveled only with one other woman, and not five minutes after we had taken our new seats, a man came up to us and said "Hi, beauties" in English.  I told him in Kiswahili he should address us respectfully because we are teachers and he should show respect/mind his manners (literally hold his discipline, shika adhabu, it's a bit idiomatic).  He asked "why?" which is absolutely the wrongest question to reply with, so we yelled at him to go away.  Feminism: we needs it.

*If you don't think doing laundry is work, you have never washed clothes by hand in a bucket.

In Which I Have a Sarcastic Demeanor and a Bad Attitude

I survived the Peace Corps conference.  But only by a little.  During the bus ride the driver stopped to take something out of the engine.  It was not perhaps the most critical part, or so I assume since he resumed driving and did not stop until a town several hours down the road to buy and install a new part.

The resort was nice.  Mostly because I skipped most of the training to do a lot of swimming and take lots of showers.  Such water pressure, darlings!   There was also really really good food buffet style.  Which we ate very fast because we were afraid they would take the food away from us.   I ate so much I eventually stopped being interested in food.

View from the balcony in my hotel room.  

I tried going to training sessions, but there was too much writing about feelings on flip chart paper.

After I gave up going to trainings another volunteer told me this is really all for the best since I have a sarcastic demeanor and a bad attitude.  Damn straight.

At Peace Corps trainings
With wine and bad attitude.
The wine goes away.  

Currently, I am getting actual real work done, though unfortunately still while in Dar.  I just received a text from my deputy department head asking me if I can take over a class they just, at week 5 (?6?) into the semester, realized no one was teaching.  I don't actually know what class this is, since he described it as "internetworking."   I didn't realize that was even a thing.  

At least I got to spend the always fun evening with friends, overpriced drinks, and hookahs on the roof of the swanky Holiday Inn, where we received a visit from a lovely preying mantis.

A probable she,
The preying mantis greets us,
Sampling our peanuts.  

Stories Which are Purportedly About the Problems of Black People but are Really about the Problems of White People Thinking about the Problems of Black People


  • Blood Diamonds
  • The Last King of Scotland
  • The Help
I think there is also a new movie coming from the BBC about children dying of malaria in Africa.  The movie will star white women.

In Which I am Not Optimistic

Tomorrow, May 4th, two of my favorite holidays, the Kentucky Derby and International Star Wars Day, happen to be on the same day.  This clearly means the Run for the Roses will be held in a trench while the horses close their eyes and trust the Force while launching their torpedoes.  Instead of watching the spectacle in a large hat with a mint julep in one hand and force choking people with the other, I will be on a 15 hour bus ride so I can go to a mandatory Peace Corps Conference which will accomplish this very valuable exercise of making me draw things about my feelings on flip chart paper.  I have a few meetings that will actually accomplish something the week after, but that means I'll have to stay in Dar.   Grump.

Equal Rights for Peace Corps Women!

Warning: political.

A friend recently sent me information on the Peace Corps Equity Act of 2013, which would end the complete ban on abortion coverage for Peace Corps volunteers and grant Peace Corps women the same rape, incest, and health exceptions granted to all other women who receive their healthcare from the federal government.  Thank you Senator Lautenberg for sponsoring this.

Peace Corps volunteers work in areas with inherent risks of sexual assault, and regardless of your feelings on abortion, if you oppose abortion in cases of health threats to the mother, you are a terrible person.  We also work in areas of the world in which there is a complete ban on abortions and medical care isn't that great anyway.

Currently, in cases of unwanted pregnancy, while Peace Corps will fund a round trip ticket back to the states; they will not fund the termination procedure itself.  Or the medically unnecessary and incredibly expensive ultrasound and condescending and inaccurate counseling information some states mandate to make sure women aren't just having an invasive, expensive, and stigmatized medical procedure for funsies.  Peace Corps women have to make all those arrangements themselves out of their generous ~$200/month salary.  No other federal employee is subject to a complete ban on abortion coverage.  Going back to the US for an abortion isn't necessarily that great an option, since thanks to the ironically labeled pro-life polices, the US has one of the highest maternal death rates of any developed nation, and that maternal death rate disproportionately affects low-income women, e.g. Peace Corps volunteers.  Nonetheless, some abortion exceptions are better than nothing, and it's a case of equality.