Aug, 2014 back to Feb, 2008: (nothing)
Challenge: write 1 word for each 1000 Tanzanian shillings I earn in a month. (CAN$1 is approximately 1200 Tsh.)
While talking with a local in Sipi, Uganda, I realized that he is wealthier than I am.
My student loan was at its zenith. The money I brought to Uganda was dwindling. I remember hoping to be thrifty enough to arrive home with $0. I succeeded.
Instead of paying off my debts and securing my future, I decided to keep on with my downward financial trend. I now have far less than $0.
Challenge: give each paragraph a multiple of seven words.
Once upon a time, rock stars were selfish. Then they decided to sing for causes. Now rock stars are noble. Through Live8 and similar events, rock stars have eked out a promise from our powerful governments: 0.7% of our income must fight poverty. This is war, evidenced by bombardments of drums and firings of powerful lyrics.
Once upon a time, our governments were selfish. Then they gave up and listened to the rock stars. To them, 0.7% is more of a guideline than a goal. The best weapon against activity is bureaucracy: promise the 0.7%; show that wheels are in motion; spin everything your own way. The 37 years since the 0.7% promise was made prove that bureaucracy works. Rock stars have no weapon against subtlety.
Once upon a time, nobody knew how to fight poverty. Then the industry discovered itself. Brand recognition is a weapon against terrorism; foreign investment is a local employment strategy; innovation drives competition. What next, patents?
Challenge: write a fragment of a story, with no beginning and no end.
At the northernmost tip of Pemba, past the lush forest and sandy landscape, at the top of a rocky hill, a lighthouse stands guard. There is no more road: clearly, we missed the turn to the beach.
We have no choice but to ask for directions, and we must certainly backtrack. We can no longer escape the train of local children following us and laughing at us. A man resting at the top of the hill walks up to us and acts as a spokesperson for this strange group. He tells us to backtrack and turn left at the rubber plantation.
Brakes straining, we descend the rocky hill and drive slowly through the deep sand. Wiser now about the average quality of our instructions, we decide to ask for directions at every available opportunity. After one kilometre, we ask two staring children:
Challenge: as is culturally appropriate, focus on the positive and avoid talking about politics.
I will recount more of my holiday travels later, but for now I will mention my brief trip to Lushoto, inland Tanzania.
Tanzania is a huge country, making short-duration travels difficult. I only had three days in which to travel; so Lushoto, a mountain town northwest of Dar es Salaam, was by far the most appealing option.
Lushoto has plenty of guest houses. The tourist contingency is unusual. Lushoto is within driving distance of Arusha, and so rich white people experiencing the standard Northern Circuit (Serengeti, Ngorongoro, Lake Manyara) can extend their vacations by visiting. Also, since Lushoto is so beautiful and marginally off the beaten track, it is a popular backpackers' destination. The rich/poor tourists can avoid each other quite easily and happily.
Challenge: refrain from writing anything before becoming comfortable with the change in situation. (Read further to understand.)
Once upon a time, there lived a house girl. She stayed with and worked for a family in the big city, far away from her village. (The occupation is mutually beneficial, though it is not always clear whether the reason for hiring a house girl is pride, genuine need, or philanthropy.)
The house girl was happy with her job. The family she worked for was respected and there were many visitors. The house girl would always smile, and the guests would always smile back. When beckoned by her employers, the house girl would enthusiastically set to work.
In the evenings, the house girl would sit with the family's Mama, cooking the night's meal over the charcoal-fuelled jikos and absorbing the cooling breeze. In the mornings, the house girl would be the first to wake, ensuring that the men in the house were comfortable on their way out the door to work.
Challenge: as I was taught to do in such situations, write down my story and throw it away.
Challenge: explain the feeling of tapestry by writing a different story in each paragraph.
Monday and Tuesday, Femina (my company) hosted a regional workshop. We invited people from all over Africa. The upshot: I now have somebody to meet when I travel to Ethiopia.
A month ago I spotted another white person in my neighbourhood. That is, I saw another white person within 15 kilometres of where I live. It was a strange sight.
My neighbours have gotten accustomed to me. Particularly entertaining are the high-school girls across the street from where I walk every morning (who will always practice their English on me as I practice my Swahili on them). My favourite, though, is the young child who runs up to me and hugs me whenever she sees me, calling out, Mzungu! (White Person). She sometimes says my actual name, Adamu, as an afterthought.
Challenge: do not rant.
The following is developed for use in Biology classes in Zanzibar's high schools.
Health is one of the greatest blessings to have been given to human beings. Indeed, after faith itself, it is considered the greatest blessing of all. Health should be properly looked after because it is something for which we are accountable to God.
Challenge: plan each word carefully on a board of 8 paragraphs of 64 words each.
Somewhere in a hypothetical world, two partners in crime find themselves in prison. The warden speaks to each in turn, offering amnesty in return for a confession of the other's guilt. If neither confesses, both get six months in prison. If one confesses, he goes free but the other stays in prison for ten years. If both confess, both are incarcerated for five years.
This is the Prisoners' Dilemma, a canonical example illustrating game theory, a melding of mathematics and human nature. From one prisoner's perspective, the choice is: on the one hand, either go free or get five years in prison; on the other hand, go to jail for up to ten years. From each individual's perspective, singing is rational. Big-picture, cooperation would be more beneficial.
In East African cities, another example of game theory is visible every day: the traffic light. If everybody obeyed the lights, traffic would flow smoothly. But if one individual has the opportunity to run a light which turned red a few seconds ago, that person will certainly do so. It saves the perpetrator five minutes of waiting. Bigger-picture, man-years are squandered daily.
Challenge: A picture says a thousand words: write an entry using exactly a thousand words.