Tag: Life

Life in a Maasai Village

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Boma Ng’ombe, Tanzania—I have a name that needs to be repeated upon first introductions. This has been the case for as long as I can remember, so I’m used to it. However, this didn’t happen while I was in Tanzania. Someone would ask my name and after I told them, “Myiesha” they would smile and say, “Maisha means life.” Sometimes I would be asked if I spoke Swahili.

I spent some time in a Maasai village in Tanzania. Maasai tribes are traditionally nomadic. The community that I visited had been in their village for several years. When I arrived, my hosts gave me traditional dress to wear during my visit—Brightly colored cloth and handmade beaded jewelry. We gathered around a circle and I was welcomed with a song and dance by members of the community. After a few minutes, I was summoned to the center of the circle to dance. I was uncomfortable the entire time but I wouldn’t dare offend my hosts by declining to participate. And so I danced. No one will ever see that footage.

After the welcome, we walked around and visited a few of their homes. I have an obsession with architecture and how people create their living spaces so I had lots of questions. The houses are circular structures made from a mixture of clay, dung and straw.

Life in the village is similar to anywhere else. They wake up and work. Some members work in surrounding cities. In addition to caring for children and preparing meals, the women create handmade jewelry, which they sell to visitors. The men tend to the herd of animals.

The Maasai tribes keep their traditions and also incorporate some contemporary conveniences. One of the leaders had a cell phone which he used to post photos of our visit to their Facebook page. Now that I think about it, there may be a video somewhere on the interwebs of me dancing in the village. That’s unfortunate.

What Freedom Looks Like

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Portrait of Nelson Mandela at the Apartheid Museum

Johannesburg, South Africa—I couldn’t go to South Africa without visiting Johannesburg. My first stop was the Apartheid Museum. I remember, as a child, watching the film Sarafina and not understanding what was going on. Probably like many people, I had a vague understanding about apartheid. Later during the week, I visited Soweto and discovered the integral role school children played in fighting the apartheid regime.

The Apartheid Museum has lots of online resources. I highly suggest learning about South African history from South Africans, to fully understand. Start with The Origins of Apartheid. There was an exhibition about Nelson Mandela. I read his autobiography several years ago so it was a good refresher about his life and the lives of other freedom fighters.

The entire time while I was walking around the museum, I was asking myself how could something like this happen, and for so long. It was a similar internal dialogue that I had when I visited the Slave Lodge in Cape Town, and the history of my ancestors in the United States. Trying to wrap my brain around injustice usually leaves me exhausted and angry.

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

— Nelson Mandela

So after my wandering around the museum, I allowed myself to be fully engaged with the complexity of human history and I came to the realization that freedom looks like the sacrifices people make to ensure the freedom of others.

True beauty.

A Vineyard and Life Lesson

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Flaky rock.
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I climbed this and didn’t hurt myself.

The hardest thing about living on the farm in Argentina was how disconnected I was from everything and everyone. So much of the work that I am doing right now is Internet dependent. Also, it was extremely cold, mostly at night (it’s winter in South America). I’ve never been more thankful for hot water and wool. On any given day, I was layering practically half of the clothes that I packed.

One of my favorite tasks on the farm was managing the vineyard, and by managing, I mean cutting a bunch of branches. However, it wasn’t as easy as I initially thought it would be. It was quite rigorous work. Although, it was peaceful. My directions were simple: trim the branches to create a single trunk with two main branches and three smaller branches that grow from the two. I thought, “I can manage that.”

Then the (existential) questions crept in: How do I know which branches to cut? How can I cut the branches that will yield the most (and best) fruit?

The fact is you don’t know. You do your best and keep in mind the vines’ need for balance and nourishment. I approached this task in a similar way that I approach creating sculpture. The only difference is that the vines are living things and even with the most cautious of care taking, the results are not up to me.

I’m still learning how much of life is that way too.

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A little friend stopped by while I was working in the vineyard. Half horse, half mule.
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The family garden where most of the produce is grown.
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These vines will be full of grapes in several months.
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My work space…a large rock. I would sit here on my days off and catch up on reading/writing.
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Prepping the guest house to be repainted, with my most important gear: headphones.
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A painting from a catholic museum in the town square of La Rioja.
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Detail of a painting at the catholic museum in La Rioja.
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I always feel like cactuses are giving me the middle finger.
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Centuries-old stone.

São Paulo

 

IMG_6825I’m sitting on a bus headed to Rio de Janeiro, recalling my first week abroad.

Yesterday was July 4th, America’s Independence Day. Every year on that day, I try to meditate on how the birth of our nation was provoked by revolution; by rebellion. It was fitting especially after this past weekend in São Paulo.

On Sunday morning, I met a colleague for coffee. The weather was perfect: 80 degrees with a gentle breeze. Avenida Paulista, one of the main streets, is closed to traffic each Sunday so you’re likely to find vendors, locals, tourists, people hanging out and relaxing.

My plan was to visit an art museum that day.

As we walked down Avenida Paulista, we noticed a crowd of about 80-100 people standing still in the street, being protected by police officers. My friend and I were curious and proceeded cautiously.

The crowd shouted in Portuguese, while holding signs. As we got closer, my friend recognized that they were supporters of a Brazilian presidential candidate, who is somewhat infamous in São Paulo.

As the group marched by, we stopped and joined a crowd of onlookers, most of whom were noticeably disturbed by the group’s endorsement of the candidate.

My friend yelled at the protesters in Portuguese, “You’re part of the problem!”

“I can’t help it,” he said to me. “This makes me angry.” He went on to explain that the politician has been known to say egregious things in public, particularly against women.

“He’s like an evil version of Trump,” he said.

We talked a little more about the political climate in São Paulo and everything was fine, until we had to run. Literally.

We witnessed a guy being hit with billy clubs by 4-5 police officers several feet in front of us. He was quickly able to escape and began running down the street only to be followed by the police officers who hopped on their motorcycles. For a moment it looked like they were coming in our direction so we all darted off the sidewalk, going in different directions.

After the police officers disappeared down the street, things seemed to calm down. My friend and I walked a few more feet and noticed more police officers and another group of people.

This time they were teenagers.

The police stood on one side, armed with their plexiglass shields, and the young people stood on the other side unarmed, some with bandanas covering the bottom half of their faces.

They weren’t carrying any signs, I’m not even sure of their cause but they looked like they had done this before, like this wasn’t the first time they were on the opposite side of those plexiglass shields. Their posture was like, “Don’t start none, won’t be none.”

Now, I have to explain. My usual strategy when encountering such a situation is to calmly and quickly walk in the other direction before things get out of control. But I was curious about why they were protesting. The environment was intense but didn’t seem to be dangerous. We stuck around for a few minutes to try to understand what was going on. We never learned why the teenagers were protesting but we suspect it has something to do with a financial scandal, which has left students without adequate food in their schools.

I eventually made it to the art museum.

***

Currently reading:

Pedagogy of the Opressed
Pedagogy of the Oppressed