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Monthly Archives: February 2013

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162 down, 12 to go and I’m looking forward to…

Long , lazy dinners with friends and family. Meeting our two new nephews and their proud parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles

A glass of good red wine and a delicious cocktail or two (you won’t get past a rudimentary G&T here)

Vietnamese food

Good chocolate

Going to the movies

Riding my bicycle

Walking around town without being covered in dust, choking on the fumes of (probably) toxic burning trash or dodging deranged street chicken. Wearing unreasonable shoes on even road surfaces

Cool, fresh air plus a dusting of fresh, powder snow (too much to ask for in March?)

Reliable power and ipso facto, reliable internet and refrigeration

Long walks with Billie, the Danielsson family dog

Having a healthier relationship with mosquitos again (I find the whole ‘kill or be killed’-type situation over here a little draining)

But I’ll miss…

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IMG_6129Our mighty and ever-so-slightly imposing neighbor is more often than not hidden away behind high, fluffy clouds. But as afternoon turned into evening today she suddenly revealed herself, dressed in the very finest clothes Mother Earth could provide: a full, fresh coat of blindingly white powder snow. The impending end of the long dry season has brought daily storms around the mountain and this one seems to have left a particularly enchanting mark. The glaciers may be receding at an alarming pace, but snow still caps this beautiful mountain every now and then, reminding us that the roof of this hot and heavy continent is still as white and light as ever.

Even the usually blasé locals (“oh, that thing again…”) seemed in awe of her mountainous majesty and we couldn’t help but to stand there and stare at the humbling beauty of it all. A friend is climbing the mountain this week and I have to admit a smidgeon of envy swept over me: shouldn’t we be up there too? Next time, maybe. And that’s a pretty strong maybe. Can’t think of a better reason to come back sooner rather than later: Kili and the kids…

Good night from the foothills of this beast of a mountain. She’ll watch over us tonight.

-K&B

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Crazy how the weeks just pass. I wrote the last blog post a week ago and it’s suddenly Sunday again. As we’ve gotten settled in a routine here it’s become just like it is back home: Mondays morph into Fridays in the blink of an eye. But I wonder if it’s a product of age – doesn’t time just fly faster and faster as you grow old – or familiarity? Maybe heat plays a role too – doesn’t the predictability of each hot and sunny day play into these patterns that make our brains forget about time, about the fleeting uniqueness of each day, each passing moment?

And how can you slow down this proverbial train? The funny thing is that although we’ve of course been thrown off course by this profoundly humbling and deeply invigorating experience, leaving behind all that was comfortable and cozy back home, even dusty East Africa has become so familiar, so normal that our brains only wake up to the craziness of it all in moments where something extraordinary happens: like when Boogie had a positively ancient local doctor tell him “Una malaria, rafiki yangu” last week (“You have malaria, my friend”, and don’t worry – after a serious course of Malarone B’s oddly mild form of the big bad M seems to have been defeated and we’ll have it checked again next week).

And in a way as we approach the end of our trip we’re getting ready to say our goodbyes to everyday Africa before we get completely absorbed by its hypnotizing ways and seductive slowness. The heat’s been intense in these past weeks as the beautifully warm but crisp mornings inevitably turn into relentlessly hot days. As we mentally prepare to say goodbye to this mysteriously charged, life-affirming, happiness-inducing, yet completely maddening place, we try to absorb all its goodness in our minds and in our memories. We try to make sure that we’ll always carry a piece of Tanzania with us: a piece of this beautiful country that will see us through even the toughest and coldest spots back home…

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Funny how I’d forgotten what the easiest way to a child’s heart is: the age-old act of tickling. As we were leaving Amani on yet another gloriously sun-drenched Friday afternoon, little Hamisa and the beautifully expressive Mwanaisha (previously featured here) were playing on the slide in the yard, climbing up, sliding down and asking me to join. Tired and in a bit of a hurry I was eager to get a laugh out of these two and decided to give them a little tickle instead. And boy, does tickling work like pure, unadulterated magic. As I launched into a tickle the girls giggled, squirmed, begged me to stop and then shouted ‘Tena!’ (again!). Bellies, necks and feet all received their fair share and I even managed to snap the above picture in the slightly frenzied process…

A great book on neuroscience that I’m currently reading gives an interesting evolutionary twist to the story: As the author, Dr. Ramachandran argues, tickling may have evolved as an early playful rehearsal for adult humor; a pre-form of humor, if you will. Much like an adult in danger, the child’s instinct when faced with a menacing monster – the adult about to tickle them – is to react with fear and flee, but when the giant turns out to be gentle instead, the expectation of danger is released in the form of explosive laughter. Perhaps tickling works universally because it taps into our deep-seated wish to be loved through touch and our instinctive reaction to a potentially dangerous-turned pleasant surprise: the monster is friendly after all!

Thank you, Hamisa and Mwanaisha, for reminding me once again what it means to laugh for no reason, enjoy the moment for no reason and just be: Joyous, pure and at peace.

-K&B

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If you’ve ever found yourself wondering about the global dominance of Coca Cola (Is it really the most recognized and valuable brand in the world?) look no further than Africa. Again, I may be extrapolating based on one sample country, but it’s hard not to be struck by the sometimes surprising ubiquity of the red and white cursive script on this one billion-strong continent. You find it on billboards, street signs, shop signs and on the clock tower of the main roundabout; entire houses are even painted in homage to this all-powerful, all-knowing brand. In absence of money to make signs or buy paint, Coca Cola has cleverly stepped in and found an easy and effective niche for its branding: Don’t bother advertising through media, just sponsor people’s daily lives.

And they’ve been extremely successful. Not only are bottlers of Coca Cola products local big-wigs – they even came to Amani before Christmas to donate food and gently persuade/bribe our former street kids with candy and warm Cokes – but their drinks are absolutely everywhere. From bars and restaurants to family celebrations, soda bottles are not merely vehicles for quenching one’s thirst, they’re gifts, very minor status symbols of sorts; a sign that the buyer and the receiver have bought into the candy-colored Coca Cola dream of a better life, perhaps even a better world. This subtly aspirational message resonates in still-poor, but forward-looking Africa; a place where the small joys in life – the new set of pens, the crisp new shirt, the joyously orange Fanta bottle – mean so much.

As long as local governments lag behind in providing both the material and psychological building blocks for a better tomorrow, millions of aspirational Africans will look to corporations, and outsiders like China, for help.

-K&B