Monday, May 28, 2012

Oh, Rats

We bought a Tanzanian rat trap a couple of years ago when we used it to capture and kill a critter that was coming out from inside the walls. We then had all of the openings boarded over and haven't had to use the trap again until just a few days ago.

Diane had suspected another visitor, but it wasn't until she left on her trip that a pretty good sized grey furry animal with a long thin tail just brazenly ran out along the baseboards in plain view while I was sitting here on our computer.

When I was about to go to sleep, I set the trap near a wall, baiting it with a smear of peanut butter (during a summer biology class in high school, we used peanut butter to catch field mice to be dissected; it's the only thing I remember). I also closed the door to our bedroom.

In the morning there it was, caught by the neck. To give you an idea of its size, the length of the trap is about four and a half inches. When I went over to the rectory kitchen to drop off vegetable parings and fruit peels for the pigs, I asked the mama who was cooking what to do with the rat's body. She said to just put it anywhere outside, the birds would eat it. I haven't seen anything like vultures around here but there are a lot of very large black and white crows. I suspect they are quite the scavengers.

Late the next day the body was still there but was already well advanced in decaying. Nature is the ultimate recycler of everything. -Earl

Friday, May 25, 2012

"Humans Have the Cooperative Edge"

From the article "Planet of the Apes? No, Humans Have the Cooperative Edge", published in the New York Times in March:
So researchers are reporting after a study that compared preschool-age children with chimps and capuchin monkeys when solving a puzzle. The children cooperated; the animals did not.
     . . .
The study highlights one of the most important aspects of modern human society: the power of teaching. "Perhaps the most effective means through which you can cooperate is through teaching,” Dr. Laland said. In this way, a basic skill or piece of knowledge spreads through society, “and then one individual will refine it, and then that will be spread through the society, and then that process will be repeated."
After spending the past three years as a schoolteacher at a secondary school, I now have the utmost admiration and respect for those who do this full-time, all the time. This is hard-ass work, emotionally trying and demanding of a lot of people energy. I've done my bit, and I'm ready to go back to building software, which is hardly easy intellectual labor but which is demanding in a very different way.

Still, there are moments when teaching has felt really, really rewarding. We humans are wired for it — as the article asserts, it's an important reason why we are the alpha species on this planet.

So, Mrs Wolf, Mrs Powell, Mr Falkenstein, Mr Andrews, and Mr Dunne, teachers all, I thank you for the difference you made to this shy skinny Chinese American kid who still remembers you with gratitude and tears as he writes this. -Earl

Monday, May 14, 2012

Polykarp Paintings at Majengo Church in Mtwara

This past Sunday Diane and I went to the Catholic church in the Majengo neighborhood of our town. We had known about this place but had never gone there even though it's very close to the main market. So as part of our getting more exercise and seeing a bit more of Mtwara before we leave, we took an early morning walk to the church from our home.

The church is known for its paintings by Fr Polykarp Uehlein, OSB, who came to Tanzania from Germany around 1963.

The paintings are wonderful! Immediately following are a photo of the altar and one of a side painting inspired by Genesis.
And below is a photo of the back of the church. The very wide grey painting which stretches all the way across is the stations of the cross. I took an individual picture of each of the fourteen stations. The depiction is striking. Because of holes and other irregularities in the wall, a few of the paintings are not entirely intact. - Earl

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Differences Between Tanzanians and Westerners (Part Four of Four)

This posting is a continuation of Parts One (where there are some introductory remarks), Two and Three. As before, the Swahili original appears first, followed by the English translation.

Matumizi ya fedha. Mzungu huweka wazi matumizi yake ya mwezi na siku kwa mke au mumewe. Mwafrika mume ndio mwenye kitu au ndio mwenye maamuzi ya matumizi yote, na hapaswi kusema wazi mshahara wake kwa mke wake au matumizi yake, na hivyo upelekea wanaume kuwa na nguvu ya kunyanyasa mke wake au hata watoto wake, na hivyo kupelekea kuwa na ubaguzi wa jinsia mpaka leo, mtoto wa kiume huwa na nafsi ya kufanya mengi na kusomeshwa na kuonekana, mtoto wa kiume ni bora sana kuliko mtoto wa kike.

Majukumu juu ya maisha.
Mzungu hugawana na mke au familia majukumu lakini utekelezaji ni kwa wote. Mwafrika sio sawa. Mama wa kiafrika ni kama mtumishi ndani ya familia, atafua, atapika, atachota maji, atatafuta kuni, atatafuta mboga, na baba wa kiafrika yeye ni boss wa nyumba.

Yeye huwa hafui, hapiki, hachoti maji, kibaya zaidi kwa mume wa kiafrika ni kudai haki na atumikiwe. Hii ni hata ndani ya nyumba, mke hana uhuru wa kufanya maamuzi juu ya kuzaa na kupelekea kuwa na watoto wengi. Na kushindwa kuwalea, na wengine huona kuzaa ni fahari kubwa kwao.

Viburudisho. Mzungu upata muda wa kuburudika kama michezo, vinywaji vikali na baridi.

Kwa mwafrika hupata muda huu wa kuburudika katika mambo potovu, kama ngoma ambazo huchochea ngono na vinywaji vya pombe kupita kiwango, na kuwa sio kuburudika ni kufanya vitu tofauti.

Afya ya mwili.
Mzungu uweka mwili wake safi kwa wakati wowote. Mwafrika sehemu kubwa hana muda wa kuweka mwili wake safi na hata kwenye ugonjwa -- uenda kwa waganga wakienyeji, na kuacha kwenda zahanati, and kuamini mizimu na ngoma za mashetani.

Mwafrika uchawi kwake ni kitu muhimu, hirizi ni kinga yake awe mgonjwa au mzima, huamini hirizi kuliko yeyote ya kimaisha.

Kwa ujumla mambo mengi tunatofautiana hata tamaduni, mzungu utamaduni wake ni kusoma vitabu. Mwafrika yeye ni ngoma na kuiga tamaduni ya magharibi muziki na mavazi.

Vyakula. Mzungu hupenda vyakula laini, lakini mwafrika anapenda vyakula kama ugali kwa wanaume wengi hasa Tanzania.

Mwafrika anapenda kula nyama sana. Lakini mzungu chakula chake kwa mpango maalumu.

Hivyo kuna tofauti nyingi nyingi sana.

Spending of money. The Westerner lays out clearly his monthly and daily expenses for wife or husband. The African husband owns everything and makes the decisions about all expenses, and it is not necessary that he says clearly his salary or his expenses to his wife. In this way you express that a man has the power to harass his wife or even his children, and in this way express sexual bias up to today, that a male child has the personhood to do much and to be educated and to be visible, a male child is much better than a female child.

Responsibilities of life.
The Westerner distributes responsibilities with wife or family but the carrying out is for everyone. The African is not an equal. The African mother is like a servant in the family, she will wash clothes, cook, fetch water, look for firewood, look for vegetables, and the African father is the boss of the house.

He doesn't wash clothes, doesn't cook, doesn't fetch water. It's so bad that the African man demands rights and that he is served. This is so even in the home. The woman does not have the freedom to make decisions about becoming pregnant and to express having so many children. So she fails in raising them, and others see that to give birth is their [women's] greatest pride.

Recreation. The Westerner takes time for relaxing such as sports, beverages strong and cold.

The African takes this time of recreation in misguided things, such as traditional dancing which stimulates sex and alcoholic beverages beyond measure. This is not recreation, it is doing something different.

Bodily health.
The Westerner keep his body healthy at all times. The African much of the time does not keep his body healthy even to the point of illness -- he goes to the resident traditional healer, and stops going to the dispensary, and believes in spirits and the dancing of demons.

For the African his magic is an important thing. Amulets are his protection to be sick or healthy, and he believes in amulets more than anything of life [i.e. of God].

Overall we differ in many things, including culture. For the Westerner his culture is to read books. For the African it is traditional dance and imitating the music and the clothes of Western culture.

Foods. The Westerner likes soft food [e.g. white rice, bread], but the African likes food such as ugali, this is so for many men especially in Tanzania.

The African very much likes to eat meat. But for the Westerner his food is according to a special plan.

In this way there are very many many differences.

This part completes the translation of Moris' writing. I am a bit stunned by how negative he is with regard to his compatriots. Yet what he writes comes across as truthful and an accurate description of what he sees and how he feels.

If I had the time I would ask him to write about what is positive about Tanzania and its people and about their strengths. But that's not going to happen given our imminent departure.

I am so grateful that Diane and I have had this intelligent, aware, caring and articulate Tanzanian as a helper, friend, cultural informant and fellow parishioner. His presence in our lives has made a huge difference in the quality of our experience here. -Earl