Sunday, June 13, 2010

Happy Father's Day!

In all my time here in Arusha, my father has typically been the biggest advocate for my staying current with blog updates. Since I'm not in Ohio to bring him flowers and a home made breakfast, I thought I would honor him publicly in my introduction to this blog post. For all the love, selfless care and support he has provided me, I am eternally grateful. Yay for fathers! 
This coming Thursday, my Columbus parents will join me here in Arusha. I'm so excited to welcome them into the home and routine I have established in the last 6 months. Together we'll make a trip to the Serengetti and Pangani, a village on the coast of the Indian Ocean. We will surely have many pictures and stories to share, which will appear here later. 
For now, though, I would like to show you what's been happening in classes in the last three weeks. The projects I initiated about 4 months ago have taken off just in time for me to wind them down. It's too bad in some ways, but I am so appreciative for the experiences I have shared with the amazing people at Umoja Arts Centre, Albehije School, International School Moshi and the Arusha community as a whole. Adjusting to life was a bit rough at times, and it was always the projects with these people that  kept me going.
Let me first introduce to you Mama Gideon - a woman who works in a community of weavers in the same neighborhood in which I have been living.

She has been a visiting teacher in the homeschooling class that Shanna (another art teacher at Umoja) and I teach together. Working with natural and man made weaving materials, Mama Gideon creates baskets, sacks, decorative fabrics, and furniture. She kindly volunteered her time to teach our students how to make the checkered bags commonly used in the markets for shopping. 

The material is a plastic binding that I have seen used to hold cables or to tightly sinch a package together. The group of weavers who use this material have to first collect it from Nairobi. Before Mama Gideon started our lessons she was working on a giant order for hundreds of these bags. As she demonstrated her techniques to the students, it was clear this woman could work the material while  blindfolded. It was such a treat to witness a person at work with such confidence in their trade.

In the most recent project at Albehije, I decided to approach things in a different order. One of the last updates of Albehije showed the students in action wearing bear masks and yellow paper ringlets as they told the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. This time around I wanted the students to write their own story with their own characters. It was a challenge at first, and it seemed like about two weeks passed as I tried to set up the most successful scenario for their creative minds to flourish and produce something they could complete with pride.
I landed on the idea of creating costumes first. It was made clear to me that costume was not a part of the student's vocabulary, so that seemed like an appropriate starting place. The students were interested in creating animals, specifically kangaroos, monkeys and butterflies. 
The images below depict the students at work:

We began a video recording of the story last Thursday. A clip of the video is soon to come.
The student's enthusiasm for this project has been infectious. One of the great outcomes has been that a few of the teachers at the school volunteered to assist in the making of the costumes. Their interest and commitment to the project gives me hope that in my absence, more arts integrated projects may be carried out in the future.
In addition to the above, I've been working with Shanna and another local artist to creat giant sheets of hand made paper for a sculpture installation to begin next week.

The workshop we've been borrowing.

The installation is a part of Arusha's first ever Arts festival. Since January, I have been a member of the Arusha Arts Collaborative, a group of organizations and individuals committed to promoting arts and cultural activities in the city of Arusha. We decided in February to come together on one big event. The Arts Festival will take place next Sunday and will include performances of traditional East African music and dance, documentaries made by Arusha's Kilimanjaro Film Institute, and an outdoor art installation that visitors will be able to walk into. 
I'm SO excited to get started on the building of the installation. More pictures and updates of that project to come...

Monday, May 17, 2010

Arusha Inside and Out

Hello out there! It's been such a long time since my last post. The Umoja move stirred up my routine and it's taken me about a month to feel settled again. Here are a few photos of my new home:

This is our day guard. He just killed the little cobra at hist feet.

I finally got the courage up to take photos in and around public places. It's amazing how many sights I have grown accustomed to. I struggled to remember what stood out to me as different in the days of January. It used to be at every turn that I would see something for the first time. I've tried to capture a bit of Arusha for you here:

This is a wedding party. I see trucks like this one with a trail of decorated cars every week. So cool!

The parade of cars makes its way through the city, passing through roundabouts like this one. 

Shanna and I just finished a weaving project with our Monday class, so I've got plenty more photos to share in some upcoming posts. 

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Spiced coffe and sea urchins...

A group of Umoja Arts teachers and staff made a trip to Zanzibar to hear the music of Saudi Za Busara, a well known world music festival that takes place on the island yearly.
We went by Dar Express (a 9 hour bus ride) and then took the ferry to Stone Town, one of the most famous and historically rich areas of the island ( When our ferry docked, the sun was nearly down. We made our way to a friend's apartment by walking along the beach, through the soccer games and swimmers.

 (just after our ferry trip)
We eventually headed inland, through the narrow streets that turned and darkened. Disoriented and in awe, we climbed the stairs to the apartment and took a rest before heading out to take in the music of the evening.

The festival was held in an old fort called...Old Fort! It was a surprisingly small audience, though the space was filled to the brim. The musicians performing as we arrived were from Senegal. They stopped for 15 minutes to pray between each song. They were very passionate about sharing their music and that made it all the more pleasurable to listen to. 

This image made me think of my Dad and our summer trips to Michigan where some part of our time was dedicated to scoping out the boats in the Great Lakes. The big blue and white ship on the left is actually a vacant 'ghost' ship. Apparently it's been floating there for a few years now.

Here it was low tide, but we all decided to brave the sharp coral and urchins to swim in the light blue-green band that can be seen at the horizon. It was Fatma's birthday at this point. Unfortunately, within 5 minutes of her swim session she stepped on an urchin. She spent a large portion of the beach visit pulling sea the needles from the heels of her feet.

A lovely view of the indian ocean from our table of morning coffee...

Building in progress.

A view from the front row on the Dar Express. I had come down with malaria at this point, so the journey was a rough one. The Dar Express buses always display a name and some flashy designs along the sides. This particular bus was given the name 'Glory to God.' You might just be able to make out the lettering along the top of the giant window. Despite feeling achy and feverish, I managed to enjoy the sights as well as the four tribal themed movies presented by our 'Glory to God' hosts.

Saturday, April 3, 2010


Tuesday and Thursday afternoons I teach at a school called Albehije. The class I work with includes students ages 8-11. My purpose there is centered around sharing stories with a goal to generate dialog and art projects that develop both literacy, critical thinking skills and the students imaginations.

The building is still under construction. This is a shot from the stairs looking down at the ground level where most people enter the building. A week after I took this picture the chairs disappeared...

I asked students what stories they already knew and invited them to share one-by-one. They were eager and jumping with their hands raised. We went through about five stories on the first day. Each student began their sharing with “Story, story…” and awaited the group response of, “Story come!” Then, naturally, the cadence of their voice would change, they sounded authoritative and confident. At certain moments the students in the audience would coax the story on from their seats by humming, “mmhmm?” There was no air of rudeness to this behavior. In fact, it seemed to be expected in the situation. 

In preparing for lessons with this group of students, I talked to teachers at Umoja who have a history of working with them. Most of my questions pertained to the level of reading comprehension and communication the students had demonstrated in the past. Then I had a very specific question. Which was, what if I asked the students to create a drawing of an animal or object they had never seen before? I wanted to know how likely it was that the students would be willing to deal with the discomfort of guessing at something, and was genuinely curious about whether or not the resulting illustrations would reveal similarities or cultural trends. The response from the teachers at Umoja was an interesting one. They warned me that I might be rushing into something that the students weren't ready for. Their concern was that a task like that would require imagination – something which there isn’t a word for in Swahili. It was argued that in the setting of Albehije, and in general, the city of Arusha, people rarely come up with things or ideas they have not experienced before. In summary, I was told that, basically, imagination doesn't exist here.
Is that true? I was doubtful, and determined that I would take small steps to find exercises that might result in a clearer understanding.
To start, I wrote a condensed version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, and read it aloud to the class. The students created illustrations of specific scenes from the story, and then brought them together and placed them in order to form a visual story board. The students had never seen a bear before, so the illustrations are a lot of fun to look at. I eventually shared with the students, some images of brown bears in their natural environment. 
In the end, we formed three groups, and took turns re-enacting the events of the story. I asked the students to use their bodies as props for each scene if their character was not performing an active role, and this is what they came up with...

Goldilocks jumps through the window - running away from home...

Mattress testing.

Chair testing.

This picture has nothing to do with the class work, I just found it funny. One of the girls depicted lost her necklace in the space between the bars and the wall. Here her friends are squeezing in to reach it. 

The work the students did with Goldilocks is impressive when I think about the language barrier and the fact that many students cannot write a complete sentence in English. This group of students have had continual experience working with Umoja for the last two years. They come to Umoja on Saturdays to work with visiting artists, musicians and performers. Generally speaking, this sets them apart from many other Tanzanian students at their grade level, as it is extremely rare for Tanzanian schools to offer arts curriculum. I'm interested to see how this affects their development in the future. It is my understanding that Umoja will continue to work with this specific group of students into the next few years. 
 For now, the school is on break. In May we will begin a new project that will involve a video camera, lots of acting and extensive scenery and prop construction. It should be interesting…more photos to come. 

Friday, March 19, 2010

International Festival 2010

(a poster I designed for the event)

International School Moshi invited me to participate in their day of International Mindedness last Saturday. I gladly joined forces with parents, local musicians, talented students, and teachers to celebrate the diversity of cultures represented within the school community (students of around 45 different nationalities attend the school). As a part of my contribution, I decided to embark upon a collaborative sculpture that could be built over the course of the event, and illuminate as a kind of closing ceremony. 

Throughout the afternoon, families stopped by the collaborative sculpture tent to write their personal wishes on a square paper, that was then folded into a balloon, and later hung and illuminated by the bulbs along the walls of the space.

By the time the sky grew dark, a group of little girls overtook the glowing interior of the space and deemed it their own fairy castle. 

At the moment I took this picture, I overheard the girl on the lower right say, "does that fit alright, Cinderella?"