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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

IMG_6056…And we’re off to a “Swiss Alp feeling in an African setting”. I have a major backlog of blog ideas but night-long power cuts and a wonky wifi have gotten in the way recently, so bear with me. I’ll be back next week with plenty of pictures of the lush Usambara mountains in tow… worth the wait, I promise.

Have a good one, wherever you are.

-K&B

This little lady follows us to work every morning. We call her Twix.

This little lady follows us to work every morning. We call her Twix.

Life has found a new(-ish) groove here in Moshi with a move to our very own slice of suburban heaven, walking distance from Amani, in a slightly rough-around-the-edges-but-still-friendly area called Soweto (yes, that’s the same name as the notorious Johannesburg township). We’re sharing it with two of the other Amani volunteers, Jay and Annmaree (last featured in this wedding post) and finally have an en-suite bathroom (yay!), real windows (double yay!), proper water pressure (ah, how I missed you), and yes, the ultimate ‘piece the resistance’ in a tropical country: air conditioning.

We’re also now back to cooking and cleaning for ourselves (normal life, I know), and it’s actually so refreshing to be in control of our of environment again, and to be able to move around without calling a driver (a slice of the non-normal life that you can actually afford here) and to go to and leave work as we please, usually with our new doggy friend in tow. Walking to work we must end up saying ‘Mambo’, ‘Habari?’ or ‘Shikamoo’ (the three key greetings, used depending on the age of the person at the receiving end of it) at least 20-30 times. We get just as many stares – or even outright wonder – when kids scream out ‘mzungu’ (white person!) and run to us to say hello/bye/good evening. Though people here are shy and rather reserved, they’re also unfailingly warm and welcoming. They take the time to acknowledge each other (as Kristy said over dinner tonight), to make that connection – even if it’s with a stranger and even if it’s only for a fleeting second…

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