Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Teaching Danticat's Krik? Krak!

For several days, my Post-colonial literature class has been studying Edwidge Danticat's Krik? Krak! This is the second time I am teaching this book.

This time, we have been raising and struggling with difficult questions: why are these stories so somber, generally speaking? Is there something in Dandicat's life and world view that shapes these stories? The recurring tale of Massacre River is harrowing, so is the pervasive portrait of a people struggling with poverty, oppression and lack of opportunity. However, such is the stuff of social realist writing, reminiscent of certain works of Charles Dickens, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Upton Sinclair, John Steinbeck, and Alex la Guma.

Discussing Krik? Krak! has afforded us an opportunity to dwell on the history of Haiti and its present circumstances, how slaves of African descent fought for their freedom, in the last decade of the eighteenth century and became the first Black republic in the Western Hemisphere, then went through an unpleasant two centuries to end up where they are today, not even a shadow of their former glory.

Krik? Krak! does a good job of portraying the present reality of Haiti while keeping in mind the glorious history and celebrating great heroes like Boukman, the predecessor of Toussaint L'Ouverture. Krik? Krak! is not all about Haiti, however, but about Haitians in other places as well. There are even references to their African roots. Ultimately, Krik? Krak! is about the human condition.

Dandicat is a versatile writer. Her stories display delightful narrative skills and a lucid style. The first story, "Children of the Sea," with its quasi-epistolary technique sets the tone for the rest of the collection. Krik? Krak! is a most readable and teachable collection.

It is always wonderful to be able to tell students that you have seen a particular writer. It turns out that I did attend an appearance by Danticat in St. Paul, Minnesota, during which she answered questions about her life, philosophy and writing.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Cultural Tourism Model: Mto wa Mbu

The Mto wa Mbu Cultural Tourism Program is alive and well, as I noted in an earlier blog post. Now comes the news that the Program has been selected as a model for other such programs in Tanzania. I offer my congratulations, as a friend of the Program.

Here is the report, in the Arusha Times:

By Arusha Times Correspondent

A cultural tourism project at Mto wa Mbu in Arusha region has been picked to serve as a model for others initiated in various parts of the country.

The project has been attracting an increased number of visitors and revenues over the past seven year, generating some Sh63.6 million in 2007 when it hosted 4,094 tourists.

Mto wa Mbu, a fast growing township at the foot of the Great Rift Valley escarpment, is a gateway to the most famous tourist sites in northernTanzania.

The site is among 27 projects being implemented under the Cultural Tourism Programme (CTP) which aims to tap the potential of cultural relics in the country for tourism.

The programme was launched in 1997 with the support of a Netherlands organisation (SNV) which managed it until 2002 when it was taken over by the Government through the Tanzania Tourist Board (TTB).

Mary Lwoga, the programme coordinator said the Mto wa Mbu cultural tourism enterprises would be propelled to become a leading site because of its prime location and cultural diversity of the area.

She told reporters that the area has been attracting more tourists whose number has more than tripled from 1,116 in 2002 to 4,094 in 2007.

She said the Government was keen to give a bigger push to cultural tourism because it has a big potential to boost the broader tourism industry, now the leading sector in foreign exchange earnings.

"Cultural tourism is much broader than historical sites and curio shops. In this case, visitors have to be exposed the typical lifestyles of the local communities; their traditional food, dressing, dances and so on and so forth" she said.

She added that Tanzania is endowed with the rich cultural heritage of more than 120 ethnic groups and that since its launching, the programme is already attracting about 30,000 foreign tourists a year to its 27 sites.

"CTP provides visitors with authentic cultural experiences that combine nature, scenery, folklore, ceremonies, dances, rituals, tales, art, handicrafts and hospitality and give a unique insight into their way of life," she pointed out.

Many of the projects which have taken off so far are in the northern tourist circuit extending from Lushoto in Tanga region, through Kilimanjaro and Arusha regions to Babati and Hanang in Manyara.

Outside the northern circuit similar cultural tourism projects are at Mbeya and Rungwe in the southern highlands and Pangani on the coast.

Mto wa Mbu was one of the early cultural heritage projects to be established under the programme, now based at the Natural History Museum premises in Arusha. ends

Revenue from the tourist visits is mainly used to empower women in the villages, promote education and protect the environment.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Teaching and Learning with American Elders

There is a continuing education program called the Cannon Valley Elder Collegium here in Northfield, a little town in south eastern Minnesota. Teaching at St. Olaf College, one of the two colleges in town, I knew something about the Collegium, but not much. Things changed three years ago, when the directors of the Collegium invited me to design and teach a course for them.

I gladly accepted the invitation and designed a course titled "The African Experience." I wanted this to be a study of the historical and contemporary experience of the African people through a close look Chinua Achebe's novel, Things Fall Apart. Studying this novel, I felt, would enable us to look at the life and values of the Africans before the coming of Europeans and the consequences of the coming of Europeans, which continue to the present day. It would also help us appreciate how the art of storytelling, both oral and written, influences African life.

I taught the course for the first time in the Fall, 2006 and taught it again in the Fall of 2007 and 2008. The course is scheduled for the Fall of this year as well.

The experience of teaching these elders has been most rewarding to me. It has been a wonderful opportunity to highlight the perspectives of Africans and people of African descent across the ages and around the world. It has been a dialectical process of learning from the wisdom of these elders and sharing my own knowledge of the African experience. Having taught Things Fall Apart from my earliest days as a teacher, I have much to say about it. In my teaching, I generally follow my Notes on Achebe's Things Fall Apart. I also use other sources, including my Africans and Americans: Embracing Cultural Differences.

The Cannon Valley Elder Collegium is a perfect way to realize the dream of continuing education. I wish my own country had programs like it.