Wednesday, January 27, 2010

My First Book in Swahili

The year 2009 will remain special in my life as a writer. I published my first book in Swahili, a collection of articles I wrote for a Tanzanian weekly newspaper.

I accepted the invitation to write these articles with some trepidation, even though I found the challenge alluring. I did not have the experience of sustained writing in Swahili. I knew that I had to discipline myself and write in formal Swahili, devoid of code switching.

To sharpen my Swahili and build my confidence, I read the writings of Shaaban Robert, the doyen of Swahili writing in our era. I read his Maisha Yangu na Baada ya Miaka Hamsini, Adili na Nduguze, and Kusadikika, all available from Mkuki na Nyota Publishers.

The choice of topics was entirely mine. I wrote about political, economic, educational and cultural issues pertaining to Tanzania, with constant references to the differences between Tanzanian and American realities.

Now Changamoto is out, in both printed and e-book formats. To call it a labour of love would be somewhat disingenuous and an understatement. Semantics aside, the experience of writing has been both purgatorial and humbling.

I rarely read my own publications. I prefer to be writing something else. However, even though this little book is far more modest than my other writings, I return to it again and again, reading parts of it, hearing my own voice, still wondering how I managed to write a book in Swahili.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Cultural orientation for Gustavus Adolphus students

Today, I met with students from Gustavus Adolphus College, as part of their orientation for an up-coming study trip to Tanzania. They have been reading my Africans and Americans book, and I was happy to be with them, for over two hours, sharing my views and answering their questions.

I had talked with students from Gustavus Adolphus College before, as I reported here. It is always pleasant to be with people like these students, whose desire to learn and broaden their horizons inspires them to go to the remotest corners of the world. What place on earth could be farther away from Gustavus Adolphus College, Minnesota, than the village of Tungamalenga, in Tanzania's Iringa region? Tungamalenga was exactly where these students were going, alongside several other places in Tanzania.
Like last year, my preliminary remarks dwelt on what I consider the greatest challenge we all face when we visit or live in a foreign culture: to see and understand the other culture on its own terms.
As I looked around the room, I saw only excitement on the students' faces, and positive anticipation. There were copies of my book all around the room, and it was humbling to know that people are actually paying attention to what I wrote and want to know more.
Above, first on the left, is Professor Barbara Zust, who invited me to speak with this group, just as she did last year. Next to her is a relative of hers.
It was a very cold day in Minnesota, but we had had a wide-ranging and heartwarming conversation. Now it was time for the travelers to go back inside and conclude their orientation and get ready for the long flight to Tanzania.