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Monday, November 08, 2010

Spooky Beach

If it is the weekend after Halloween, it must be time for the fourth annual Halloween-at-the-Beach extravaganza.

This year about 30 families (with 50+ kids) made the 90 minute schlep to the former German colonial capital of Tanganyika, Bagamoyo. Poor Bagamoyo has seen much better days. In general the city, and the many beach hotels it boasts, are run-down and kind of sad. At least that is my experience of it. These days Bagamoyo is mostly the preferred spot for government-funded workshops (fill in any topic area) being not too far from Dar, but just far enough to ensure workshop participants, and their organizers, get a full per diem.

Traveler’s Lodge, where the event has been held for the past three years, put up a grand event for us – all organized by Amy C., the queen of Halloween. The hotel is definitely the best that Bagamoyo has to offer – and this year Jaden, Rowan and I snagged one of the small but recently renovated, clean and comfortable beachfront bandas – making it a MUCH better experience than last time when we were banished to an older, more run-down, banda in the outer reaches of the garden.

So what does Halloween look like for this rag-tag group of international revelers?

Carve your own orb by the sea.

The local watermelons actually make great jack-o-lanterns – and are much easier for kids to carve than pumpkins. And like Jaden, you can eat as you carve.

Knock the hell out of a very solid parent-made (impressive) piñata.

Neither of my kids had much luck with the pinata.

Wear the vampire teeth and eat the Sweet Tarts brought to TZ from Target that were in the pinata.

Actually... with these vampire teeth maybe I won't have to spend a fortune on braces for Rowan after all.

Kids eat fish sticks (I don't have a photo of that) and then head back to the bandas to prepare for trick or treating.

Jaden and Rowan in front of our banda with our watermelon.

Parents elaborately decorate their bandas and dress like goons, or worse.

I am impressed with the all-out effort some families put into their bandas – and wonder why I am somehow missing the Halloween décor spirit? Was it something that happened to me as a child?

Kids trick or treat.

Jaden is just taking it all in...

We were lucky that there was a nice breeze the whole time, and so no cases of heat exhaustion this year.

The spirit of Michael Jackson joined us at the beach, too.

After the trick or treating the parents had their chance to drink and eat and be merry.

Zombies drinking.

While the kids reviewed and exchanged their booty, all while watching Scooby-Doo.

Lots of classic candy you can’t find in Tanzania. Good job to the parents to planned ahead!

Followed by a late night bonfire on the beach.

I was worried the trees would catch fire. But I’m a worry wart and a party pooper. So there!

And kids roasted and ate marshmallows imported from South Africa that don’t quite taste right. But we’re in Africa so you take what you can get.

(And isn’t it amazing you can get marshmallows at all!)

The kids went to bed after midnight – a non-international travel record for them. But of course Jaden popped awake at 6 AM wanting to eat candy and play. We tried to go for a swim but the gate to the sea wasn’t open yet so we settled for pulling down all the synthetic spider webs and spooky stickers we put up the night before and waited for breakfast to start.

After breakfast we would have gone for a swim but the tide was soooooooo faaaaarrrr out that we would have had to walk for a mile just to dip our toes in the water. So it was back in the car and we were home in Dar before noon.

This is how we do Halloween in Dar. Shall we save a banda for you next year?

(Thanks to Amy for organizing and to all my fellow parents who helped me out with candy, décor and diet Pepsi– because I’m so lame. And thanks to Annelie for some of the photos. Next year I promise to plan better.)

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Fantasy of Multiculturalism, Opium of the Expat Masses – As Seen Through the Eyes of Babes

International Day at the IST

Last year in the aftermath of the International School of Tanganyika’s International Day festival I wrote about celebrating the virtues of multiculturalism while also lamenting Jaden’s and Rowan’s lack of strong identities as Americans. Me, personally, I love the concept of multiculturalism, but I am also weary of the adverse effect (on kids) of not feeling connected to a place they can call home.

So this has left me with a serious conundrum. How can I raise both multicultural and strongly American and Jewish identified kids while living overseas (and reaping all the benefits and rewards, as such)?

Interestingly, this year as International Day came and went, I realized that Jaden and Rowan are now more strongly identified as Americans (and as Jews) than ever before. This is after a careful mommy-designed program which included two full months in NY over the summer (one of which was spent in camp at the Jewish Community Center), winter break spent in Israel (Really mommy almost EVERYONE here is Jewish? I’ve never seen so many Jews!), the ordering of USA by State puzzles, going overboard at Amazon.com buying books about various things American and Jewish, and long discussions about Captain America, and George Washington, the cherry tree, and his wooden teeth.

(They have a particular obsession with George Washington’s wooden teeth at the moment. Were they brown? Did they hurt? Did he get splinters? Did they look like teeth or trees in his mouth?)

One of the most interesting developments of these last few months is the new life plan they have developed for themselves, which they talk about incessantly when we are in the car. (I don’t know why, but our car talks are always the deepest conversations of the week. It is where (unprompted) they ponder God, economic injustice, racism, and more.)
They are surprisingly clear, on their future paths.

They will go to university in America and live in an apartment, in a big city, together. I can still live not in America, if I want, but I will have to go visit them, they won’t be coming to visit me. And they would prefer if I would move to an apartment nearby so that we don’t have to worry about the time difference when we Skype.

After university they plan to stay in America. And while Jaden will travel to see all the countries of the world in his work as an underwater paleontologist and Olympic athlete (sport yet to be determined), Rowan, the Broadway star, veterinarian, and Olympic athlete (sport also undetermined) says she won’t. She’ll stay in America and eat Good Humor ice cream and shop at Toys R Us every day. The only exception for Rowan is that she WILL go to India every year to buy beautiful salwar chemises – which she can wear as often as she likes when mommy no longer has final say over her wardrobe choices.

And finally, Rowan says she will find a nice Jewish man to have a baby with. (Her words, certainly not mine. But I suspect there is a whole bunch of grandma influence in that statement.) However, after the baby is born she is moving back into the apartment with Jaden so that they can raise the baby together. She has told Jaden that he can also find a nice Jewish girl to have a baby with, too, but the girl will have to leave as soon as Rowan’s baby is born. Jaden seems to be onboard with the plan.

It is times like this that I remember… oh yeah, they are twins. I started them in tennis lessons together with the “mommy-dream” of having tennis be something they can always have together when they are adults (e.g. get together every Saturday morning for a match and some breakfast). I didn’t quite intend for them to be so bonded that they will be discarding their Jewish-American partners after the children are born, but alas, they have time yet to change their minds.

But back on the topic of multiculturalism, there is one more issue I want to address here.

Lots of people have asked me if Jaden and Rowan are colorblind, having grown up in such a multicultural environment. They aren’t. In fact, if anything they have a heightened sense of awareness about the rainbow skin hues of their friends. They are keenly aware of where each child comes from (often two or three different countries or ethnic backgrounds) and talk about so-and-so being darker or lighter than so-and-so. For example, Rowan has four girls she considers to be her “best friends” at the moment. One is of Ethiopian heritage, another is half Ethiopian/half Tanzanian, the next was born in India, and the last one is half Finnish/half Belgian. She is keenly interested in their backgrounds. In the school and our social context there seems to be no particular judgment associated with these observations. They are just facts.

But when we are outside on the road, the kids ask me why all Black people are poor. And they want to know why all Tanzanians are Black. This is despite MANY conversations where I’ve pointed out that Tanzania is a country that is generally poor, and it is a country where most of the people who live here are Black, but not all. And I go to great pains to name all the people they know who are Tanzanians of European or Asian descent. And I explain that just because most Tanzanians are poor it doesn’t mean that all Black people are poor. And I point out their friends at school who are Black and not poor. I tell them that in America there are lots of people who are White and poor, and others who are Black and rich. But they refuse to believe me – and have even told me that they don’t remember seeing any Black people in America.
Which essentially tells me that when we are outside our four walls – be it home or school – they are seeing and taking in a completely different lessons from what they are experiencing and learning in the home or school setting. They see the poverty – but not really the color of people’s skin. They are trying to make sense of the group of grease-smudged 8 year-old boys who jumped on the car trying to wash the windows for change as we were leaving the fancy movie theatre last weekend, and the children their age playing in the dirt at the side of the road with a broken bottle when we take the short-cut through a local neighborhood on our way to the well-stocked supermarket.

Their real-life lessons in economic inequities are trumping the message of multiculturalism. It is skewing my planned experiment of celebrating diversity in favor of the extremely harsh realities of the world outside our windows.

So it seems that in order for me to tackle the next stage in their social-intellectual development our family lessons need to progress beyond multiculturalism and American identity to macro economics.

I wonder if Amazon.com sells books on Marxism for kids?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Unclogging the Drain

Yes it has been almost a year since I last posted in this blog.

I’ve been blocked.

I’m not really sure why, either.

I’ve blamed it on Facebook. But that would be unfair to Facebook and a cop-out for me.

I’ve blamed it on the fact that I’ve now been in Tanzania for four and a half years and I think I may have already said all that needs to be said about expat living that you’d find interesting. But that isn’t really true and says more about my lack of creativity than the absence of interesting Tanzania-life tidbits.

I’ve blamed it on my last post which was a tour de force rant about fat discrimination (and as proven by the recent uproar over the Marie Claire fat-phobic blogger incident a very current issue) only to decide about a month later that I was finally ready for weight loss surgery. But that would imply that I am embarrassed about my decision and I am absolutely not; or that I don't still support the views I presented, which I do.

So just to get things unblocked I am writing this post. The purpose of the post is to open myself back up to writing - which I have missed during my unintentional sabbatical.

So here I am. Karibu (again) to Mahlers on Safari.

P.S. It would help me if you would let me know if there is anything in particular you’d like to hear about. I will try to oblige.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Living While Fat - An American Crime

I am fat. I have been fat since I was 10. And while it was never a conscious decision about how to live, after years of personal struggle and self-realization I decided long ago to not let it get in the way of living fully. Which, by the way I do, probably way more than most skinny people.

Now I know that there are lots of people out there who are uncomfortable with the idea that someone as large as I can be professionally and personally successful, but I live to break the barriers of small-minded expectations. And although you may see me as fat on the outside, on the inside I have never been fat in the negative vitriolic way that we large people are expected to hate ourselves.

Which is why I’m still adjusting to the recent epiphany that fat people, like me, have become the latest government-sanctioned target for ridicule and bigotry in America.

It’s not like we haven’t been down the road of stigma and discrimination on a whole host of other issues in our ugly past before. Once upon a time Blacks were only 3/5ths the value of a White man and it was socially acceptable, and even fashionable, to call people Spicks, Fags, Kikes, Niggers, etc. It isn’t like fat kids have not been the joke of the playground since time immemorial, and it isn’t like adults supervising those playgrounds have not turned a blind eye to those particular rants – even in these days where there is sensitivity about bullying.

Is it not bad enough that people spit the word “fat” out as a curse word or derogatory marker? In this case, the word “fat” somehow emphasizes the terribleness of some other bad trait (e.g. “she is a fat slut” when really that slutty girl is not fat at all but a fat slut is worse than a regular old slut).

From my perch here in Tanzania it seems that what has changed is that fat is now an acceptable stigma for ADULTS and our very own GOVERNMENT to wield in America. And once again I am left wondering why it somehow makes us feel better about ourselves to put other people down for the things we fear the most. Like somehow the very presence of a fat person highlights all the insecurities we have about our own bodies – or something bigger - like the national debt.

And to make it worse, it is my own people – fellow public health professionals – that are leading the completely misguided assault on fat people. It seems that now that we’ve largely won the war on cigarettes the public health mafia needs a new place to turn their attentions.

Don’t get me wrong, it is not misguided to educate people about healthier behaviors and pitch to them the reasons why they should change, and to give them step-by-step guidance for how to make those changes. And it is not wrong to worry about the burden of obesity’s (as well as a whole long list of unhealthy behaviors) effect on our society. But in their overzealousness, my public health sisters and brothers are attacking the people who are fat rather than coming up with creative ways to deal with the undesirable behaviors or seeking to understand the true reasons why most seriously overweight people are overweight - which in my somewhat experienced opinion is really due to a complex mix of psychological and metabolic factors rather than simply too much McDonalds or Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Which leads me to why it is that I am up at nearly 2 AM on a Sunday night/Monday morning, writing about fat stigma, with my blood boiling and my face turning purple with rage. Well… it is the fault of the BBC. At 11 PM I listened to an interview with the head of student health from Lincoln University in Philadelphia describe why it is that the university plans to prevent almost 80 students with BMIs of over 30 from graduating unless they take a special fitness and health education class for obese students only. And to make it worse, arguing with an editor from the student newspaper who categorized the classes as offensive and inconsequential to the degree programs that students have completed, the BBC commentator countered that the university should even reconsider investing in fat students at all since probably not long after they graduate they will just get sick and be a burden to society, and therefore a wasted education.


When did it become fashionable again to deny a person an education because of their outside casing? Are students who smoke, drink, take drugs, have a family history of cancer, or have unprotected sex being subjected to special classes? Are they being told that because they may eventually be a burden to society they, too, should be divested of the degrees which they have spent four years earning?

I hope those students sue the ass off that school. I will be the first in line to contribute to the legal fund.

And this leads me to ask, whatever happened to loving the sinner but hating the sin?

The truth is that when stigma increases, the ability and willingness of people to seek help for that stigmatized issue decreases. I see it all the time in my work where people living with HIV in communities where stigma is high end up denying themselves access to treatments and support that might help them live longer and put others at less risk because the social risks of seeking help are too high. Where stigma decreases, communities are better able to cope. It is in communities where the partnership between people with the disease and their friends and neighbors without the disease work together that we have seen the best successes in curbing the spread of HIV.

It is frankly the same with fat people. The more the society around us seeks to stigmatize us, the less likely we are to feel comfortable interacting with the rest of the world, taking that exercise walk around the block, or seeking the medical assistance we need to stay as healthy as possible. Think about how unpleasant it can be to visit a new medical provider when you aren’t overweight. Then imagine what it must be like for someone who is significantly overweight to get weighed (and inevitably judged) by a stranger, be given a medical gown that doesn’t fit, meet with a new doctor who is more likely to lecture than counsel, and share your body – which you are not very comfortable in – with that lecturing stranger. It can be agonizing, demoralizing and stigma enhancing.

Here in Tanzania I have become sick of opening up my MSN every morning to read another article about the fat tax on fattening foods, airlines denying seats to fat people with the happy approval of the rest of the country, or health insurance companies using fat as a preexisting condition to deny coverage to people who are even barely overweight. I don’t care if skinny Americans, are slightly put out by the very presence of fat people. For me their discomfort isn’t all that different than how some people 60 years ago didn’t want to have to ride the bus with Colored folks. Tough shit. The world is diverse, and not everyone can or should look like Heidi Klum.

Fat is a human rights issue. Stigmatizing me and my kind will not make America skinnier. It will just make us unhappier, more divided, and angrier. And by the way, none of these conditions are particularly conducive to weight loss.
**** Edited to remove a snarky comment about people doing coke to stay thin. I was trying to be ironic, but I think it just got in the way of my message.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

My Third Culture Kids

Rowan in her Obama kanga

Friday was International Day at the International School of Tanganyika - meaning that kids were to come to school dressed in their “national costume”, participate in a parade of nations (by nationality), sing songs about peace and multiculturalism in an assembly, and attend the International Festival where kids were to talk around to different areas of the football field visiting different countries to learn something new, taste a bit of their food, and get their special “passports” stamped.

I’m normally horribly cynical about this sort of thing – but since the election last year this has largely changed. I was happy to dress in red, white, and blue and march in the parade with my kids – who like a huge chunk of the American contingent were decked out in Barack Obama t-shirts. Rowan even wore a specially made Obama dress for the occasion. For me, walking with the Obamaians, and a scattering of cowboys and cowgirls (and even one Native American) was a joyful experience.

It was a reminder of just how multicultural this environment really is. Personally, I was shocked with the relatively small size of the American marchers. I expected them to take up a disproportionate portion of the crowd, but really they weren’t much bigger than then South Africans or the British, and may have even been smaller than the Indian contingent (which were of course the most beautifully dressed of the lot).

Inside the assembly, kids from South Asia, Japan and Kenya performed for the audience in between courses of Give Peace a Chance and a song called In This World Together (a poem, of sorts, about living in peace and protecting the earth). The Principal reminded the kids and gathered parents that many kids had a choice to make about which country they wanted to represent in the parade. Some kids marched with the country they were born in, some where their passport is from, some were they lived the longest, and some marched in the country of one parent, but not the other. And those that couldn’t decide marched with the “UN” contingent which also included “orphans” from countries where there were only one or two representatives like Luxemburg or Nepal.

And since I’m so sappy, I fell for the beautiful One World image:

Living together in peace
Protecting the earth
Fighting against poverty and injustice
And beautiful babies and chirping birds, la de da de da…

I may have been so in the moment that I actually shed a tear of joy when the South Asian contingent of India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka pointed out that they made a conscientious decision to perform together – to show how people can live in peace.

It was only later that the downside of multiculturalism truly hit me in the face. At the festival part of International Day children were given a passport and told to visit booths from about 20 countries. In each booth the children could learn something about the country and get a treat or a small present somehow related to the country. I worked at the American booth as the passport stamper. In return for a tidbit about America (“Tell me something you know about America”) I stamped the kids’ passports and gave them a homemade chocolate chip cookie (made by little American Mommy elves and/or their cooks). It was mostly a happy task, except for the two older boys who claimed their chocolate chip cookies in exchange for information about how many people died on 9/11 when the planes hit the World Trade Towers – while wearing big smiles. That wasn’t such a nice moment. I’ve decided to blame it on their parents who must not be raising them under the banner of multiculturalism, rather than the kids themselves. At least that is what I needed to tell myself in order to get through the moment without taking them to task.

But overall it went great. Several hundred children from age 3 to 11 came by the American booth that day and I would say about 80% of them – no matter what their country of origin - told me that Barack Obama is the American President in exchange for their stamp and cookie. After awhile that got pretty boring so I started to challenge the American kids to tell me at least one other thing they knew about America.

Let me tell you, the answer is, not much. Well… one older kid impressed me with the knowledge that there were 13 states when America was first created and another told me that the bald eagle is our national bird. But then I looked up and realized that these tidbits were in the booth display behind them. I asked one 10-year-old American kid if he had ever heard of the Pilgrims. The silence was deafening.

My kids, they couldn’t do any better. When I asked them a few days before International Day what America meant to them Rowan responded that it meant Grandma’s house and the Good Humor Man. Jaden said Toys R Us and escalators. Barack Obama is what they know. Even the American flag is Barack Obama’s flag in their lexicon.

I take full credit for this failure. I should be supplementing the multiculturalism with some sort of identity-strengthening learning and I haven’t. Bad me. Now I’m wishing I could send the kids to an after-school American class where someone else could make up for my shortfalls (like having my Microsoft Word set to British English at work) with stories about the Mayflower and Jamestown. At least then they would know what American football is. (To-date they have no clue.) And perhaps they could help Rowan with her absolute obsession with wanting to be Indian (dot, not feather) which is primarily an obsession with wanting to wear colorful saris and salwar khamises. And perhaps the school could help get rid of the Britishisms that have sneaked into their daily language, like saying sitting room instead of living room, nappies instead of diapers, and pronouncing naughty like noughty. These aren’t a big deal now, but if the experiences of my adult friends who grew up overseas are any indication, it will make them freaks when they get back to school in America. And depending on how old they are when we go back, it could be a traumatic experience.

Although we’ve been here for nearly four years, it is only now that it has really hit home that I am raising third culture kids. Or rather, intellectually I knew it was happening, but my work as a US immigration officer at International Day prompted me to internalize it.

And don’t get me wrong, this is NOT a bad thing. There are some many wonderful things about multiculturalism (see above). But it isn’t all roses and cream either.

According to the bible of third culture kids: Third Culture Kids: The Experience of Growing Up Among Worlds by David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken,

“A Third Culture Kid (TCK) is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ culture. The TCK builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership of any. Although elements from each culture are assimilated into the TCK’s life experiences, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background.

“Two realities arch over TCK experience that shape their lives. These are:

1. Being raised in a genuinely cross-cultural world.
2. Being raised in a highly mobile world

“Other characteristics in common:

Distinct differences. Many TCKs are raised where being physically different from those around them is a major aspect of their identity.

Expected repatriation. Unlike immigrants, third culture families usually expect at some point to return permanently to live in their home country.

Privileged lifestyle. Historically TCKs are members of an elitist community – one with special privileges bestowed on its members.

System identity. Members of specific third culture communities may be more directly conscious than peers at home of representing something greater than themselves.

This definition very accurately reflects the realities are our lives now – with all the wonderful exposures they offer us, and all the losses of friends and cultural fluency ahead of us.
I love it and hate it, all at the same time. I still wouldn’t trade this experience for all the acculturation in the world. I hope that Jaden and Rowan will agree when they are old enough to realize what they’ve gained and what they may have lost.

Meanwhile, I’m trolling amazon.com for children’s books about the Pilgrims and George Washington. I want them to be people of the world. But they are also Americans and I need to make sure they are proud of that, too.

Monday, September 28, 2009

And for the Sins of Disconnection…

It is Yom Kippur and in Dar es Salaam there is no Chabad visit this year and I have no synagogue in which to pray (or think, in my case). So instead I am at home, still in my pajamas, still in bed, not quite off the grid…. Reflecting.

Every year between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur I try to make a ritual of making right whatever I might have made wrong during the year – not really with God, but with the people I may have slighted/hurt/ignored/disrespected, etc. This year doesn't particularly stand out as a year in which I've behaved poorly or particularly well. It is just another year and I am an average schmo with average offenses.

Yet this year I have been feeling particularly melancholy – and not only since this season of reflection has begun. I began feeling this way back before I went on home leave; and if anything home leave made it worse for me – highlighting in bright marquee a sentiment that had been steadily building.

I'm feeling disconnected.

I am one of those people who thinks of herself as a friend for life. I still have a large handful of friends from when I was in Kindergarten – and quite a few from even before that. I've always connected and collected friends – most in the places where I've lived – but lots whom I got to know through my work/travels/special interests. I like being a friend. I like having friends. I like keeping friends. It is sort of a hobby of mine.

Being currently unpartnered in life, those friendships matter even more. Without the benefit of a partner, who would be a natural witness to my life, friends are my lifeline, my memory, my intimacy, and more. I value them. If you are my friend, I value you greatly.

Having been in Tanzania nearly four years now I have lots of wonderful friends that I value very much. I am really a very lucky person. But it is my childhood/young adulthood friends still back in the US (for the most part) who have witnessed the majority of my life (my life before children) that I find myself longing for this Yom Kippur day.

After four years of living apart – I feel some key relationships slipping. Or maybe, it is not really the relationships that are slipping, but rather the intensity of how they are experienced. Ever since I was on home leave this feeling has been in the background of my emotional life, and I don't like it much. I was warmly welcomed back to the US by my friends, but after getting together once or twice they were back to the lives that they are now living without me present on a regular basis. It made me feel sad, although intellectually it makes perfect sense.

And I think that these feelings have been intensified because my longtime (pre-TZ and current-TZ) friend, Jane, has been out of the country for the past three months on medical leave. (Heal quickly and come back soon, please.) With her gone, my day-to-day witness is gone, too.

And of course, I have very much played a role in increasing my disconnection. Facebook and blog posts do NOT create community. I may know that my friend is eating baloney on rye with Cool Whip for lunch, but that doesn't create emotional intimacy between us. You may know that I spend my Sundays at a beautiful pool on a cliff overlooking the Indian Ocean… but that doesn't tell you that I'm feeling melancholy. (And frankly, I would never use Facebook to do that. I have unfriended quite a few people who only whine about how unhappy they are on their Facebook posts. (Hmmm… kind of like I'm doing in this post?) I have my own problems, I don't need to hear about their shit as well. (Special exceptions are, of course, made for people I like who are just having a bad week – or when someone is sick or dies.)

Being someone who abhors being unhappy I've spent the past 10 days working on getting written into MY book of life not by apologizing but by reaching out to some of the people I miss the most. Perhaps you've heard from me this past week? If not, you will soon. Or please, reach out to me. I'd love to hear from you.

There is a hauntingly beautiful and ancient prayer that is recited during Yom Kippur that I absolutely love. When sung by a large congregation it renews and restores me and reconnects me to my ancestors. The prayer asked for God's forgiveness despite whatever misdeeds we may have committed during the previous year. In a traditional service the congregation lists things like lying or gossiping and after every 10 or so misdeeds the congregation sings the words below followed by another list of misdeeds. The non-traditional services that I prefer also include things like homophobia, racism, failing to take care of the earth, etc.

And so this year, for the sins of disconnection…

Avenu Malkenu
(Our Father, Our King)

chaneinu vaneynu
(be gracious with us and answer us)
ki ain banu masim
(though we have no worthy deeds;)
Asay imanu sedaka vachesed
(treat us with charity and kindness,)
(and save/redem us.)

And just in case you are interested… I found a version of Avenu Malkenu sung by Barbara Streisand on YouTube. You can listen to it here.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Goat Races

A flyer for the Dar es Salaam Charity Goat Races

Yesterday I finally participated in a major Dar right of passage, the Annual Charity Dar es Salaam Goat Races. This is the fourth time the Goat Races have happened since I’ve been in Tanzania, but every other year I was on home leave in August when the event was held.

This year, not only did I participate, but I was one of the lucky few to actually sponsor a goat in the races. Two goats, actually. My rag-tag team of about 20 people included a goat for the kids (Hanna Goatanna) and a goat for the adults (Bobgoat Marley). Teams are supposed to dress up in costumes to support their goat. Our team wasn’t into doing anything too outrageous… so the kids wore Hanna Montana t-shirts and the adults (and some of the kids) wore knit Rasta-style hats.

(You should have seen the look of shear joy on the face of the guy from a stall on the side of a road selling knit Rasta-style hats when I pulled up and bought 17 of them on Thursday. Priceless.)

Because we were owners we got to sit and celebrate in a huge owner’s tent where we were served Tanzanian, Indian and Middle Eastern delicacies and beer, champagne, and other such delights under a very hot and humid midday sun. Everyone around us was happy and drunk. Because we were mostly Americans (and let’s face it – compared to our South African, British, Australian and Dutch counterparts who all seem to party hard and drink a ton at any minor or major occasion, we Americans in the development community are not nearly as much fun) our team was kind of boring and not the slightest bit buzzed. But the people-watching was good and the kids had fun – even if Jaden was disappointed because he had thought we were going to the Ghost Races.

On the hour, every hour, the merry reverie would stop and the masses would crowd around the goat track. Sponsors of the goats running in the upcoming heat would move into the center of the track and tell the audience why their goat was the winning goat and parade their costumes for all to see. Then the gun would sound and the goats would be off… Well… actually the goats needed to be pushed around the track with a giant bar, otherwise they wouldn’t run at all. But thanks to some hard-working goat chasers the goats would make their way around the track twice and a winner would prevail. The winning team would then make their way over to the podium where they would be awarded with a “big check” (you know, like Publisher’s Clearinghouse) and a big bottle of champagne.

When our heat came up – at 4 PM – it had cooled down a bit and clouded over, so it was nice to parade around the center of the track and look for familiar faces in the audience. When the gun sounded and the goats were off it was Bobgoat Marley in the lead for at least the first trip and a half around the track. But in the end Hanna Goatanna pulled out from behind and beat the field of 10 goats by a head. We were victorious!

On the winner’s podium, a lady from British Airways (the sponsor of our heat) handed us the big check for 1.8 million Tanzanian shillings (about $1500 US) which we promptly turned over to charity. Frankly we did it because we thought that is what we were supposed to do, but it turned out that we were the first ones to do it, and so the organizers made a big deal out of it and it landed us on TV. We kept the giant bottle of champagne which we drank back at my place a few hours later. That was fun, too.

Just after our heat they did the raffle. Up for raffle were two tickets to the UK, a beach weekend at a nice hotel in Zanzibar and all sorts of wonderful things. As they pulled for the first raffle prize of the evening I heard my name called and then all of a sudden people were telling me that I won, I won! I raced with the kids up to the podium to claim my exciting prize, which turned out to be a camping stove and lantern.

Not to be ungrateful or anything… but I would have preferred the all inclusive weekend in Zanzibar. (Sadly it has been about 10 years since I last went camping.) So now I think I’ll be holding a raffle for my household staff to unload the camping stove and lantern. They will actually have good use for these items.

In the end the goat races were fun enough, and truth is, it was nice to have something special to break up what feels like the monotony of my life these past few weeks.

Now I am Hally Mahler, mother of Kindergarteners (who has to wake up at 5:40 every weekday morning), Chief of Party (although HIV is no party at all), karate (instead of soccer) Mom, Sunday pool-goer, home-owner with limited electricity…

And now… Goat Race victor!

P.S. I have no idea, and don’t want to know, what happens to the goat after the race.