Friday, December 31, 2010

Blogging in Two Languages

I started blogging in 2008, prompted by my two friends, Freddy Macha and Jeff Msangi. I run a blog in Swahili and another in English.

I did not quite know what I was getting into, when I started. Now I know. I have been learning a great deal through blogging, not only about blogging, but also about myself. Along the way, I have benefitted from the wisdom of more experienced bloggers, such as Subi Nukta and Michuzi.

I realize, for example, that blogging in two languages means dealing with two audiences. When I write in Swahili, I feel I am addressing fellow Tanzanians. I am comfortable writing about Tanzanian issues, often in a polemical style, because I am passionate about the issues.

When I write in English, I feel I am addressing the world. I don't even know what that means, but something tells me I am writing for the world, not just for Tanzanians. Still I want my blog to be as personal as possible, reflecting my interests, and accessible to a broad, global audience.

I will be thinking more about all this, and will write more reflections, as I do on my Swahili blog. I wonder, however, how things would be if I could blog in Matengo, my mother tongue. Alas, like most languages, Matengo is not a written language.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Multicultural Marketing

As the world rapidly becomes a global village, with people of different cultures interacting in complex ways, it presents many challenges and opportunities.

For businesses, such challenges and opportunities lie in the field of multicultural marketing. I have been learning about this over the last several years, starting with a conference I attended on March 13, 2008, in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Multicultural marketing deals with a practical question: How does a business connect with people of different cultures to successfully market products and services? What is acceptable or appealing to one culture might not be to another culture. This can be as simple as the colour of a product or the sounds and images used in advertizing a product or a service. I remember how Tanzanians reacted to yellow maize flour from the USA, when it first arrived in their country. Being used to white maize flour, they did not like the yellow flour.

As a cultural consultant, I consider multicultural marketing an exciting topic, and I incorporate it in my workshops on culture and globalization.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

My African American Readers

Writing Africans and Americans: Embracing Cultural Differences, I faced many challenges. After publishing it, I wondered how readers would respond.

I was anxious, for example, about African Americans, because I talk and warn about differences between them and Africans. I even claim that African Americans are not African but American.

In due course, Shannon Gibney, a gifted African American journalist, called, seeking to interview me about my book. We did a phone interview, and she had sharp questions. Her review appeared in the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. I was touched by Shannon's honesty when she disagreed with me, and both relieved and gratified by her endorsement of the book.

Another high-profile African American response came from the Minnesota Black Pages, whose 2009/10 edition featured a colourful, full-page endorsement of "this ground-breaking book that addresses the sometimes frustrating disconnects between African Americans and African Immigrants," noting that the book's "concise and easy style will provide the reader--no matter their heritage--the knowledge to overcome a great deal of miscommunication and embarrassment" (page 47).

Needless to say, these responses have lessened my anxieties, and I thank these African Americans for sharing their opinions so generously.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Writing as Hard Labour

I want to talk about writing, considering how easy it is to string together words on an empty page and form a sentence or sentences, a paragraph or an essay. We do that all the time and call it writing.

I am thinking about writing as Hemingway defined it, again and again, as hard work, "something that you can never do as well as it can be done."(1)

I could cite Hemingway's many other statements on writing, but here is one I find most memorable: "There's no rule on how it is to write. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly. Sometimes it is like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges."(2)

That is what I mean by writing, often painful and frustrating. From searching for the right word--and often there is no right word--to getting the sentence right, writing can be an excruciating ordeal, sheer Purgatory.

My most recent experience of Purgatory was writing on Litembo. For a long time, I have wanted to write about Litembo, the place where I was born and raised. I remember the place well: its mountains and valleys, its villages and footpaths, and its people.

I have always wanted to put these images in words. Writing that blog post was one way to test and exercise my faculties. I wrestled with words, trying to describe the landscape, the weather at the top of those mountains, the grass, and the ancient little trees clinging to rocks, defying the cold winds.

As I revise my work, over and over, I see it getting better and better. Eventually I publish it, feeling quite good about it. I return to Hemingway's views on writing: "It is a perpetual challenge and it is more difficult than anything else that I have ever done--so I do it. And it makes me happy when I do it well." (3)

As time goes, however, I discover weaknesses in my published work, and I wonder why I did not see them earlier. Such is my feeling, for example, about my little article on accents.

How I wish I could follow Hemingway's words: "All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know." (4)


1) Larry W. Phillips, ed. Ernest Hemingway on Writing (New York: Scribner, 2004), 15.
2) Phillips, 18.
3) Phillips, 15.
4) Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast: Restored Edition, ed. Sean Hemingway (New York: Scribner, 2009), 22.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Litembo, A Memorable Place

Litembo is a lovely place. I was born here. As a young boy, I walked its paths countless times, visiting homes, going to school and, on Sundays, to church. No matter where I am in the world, my heart is here.

Litembo made me who I am: the way I talk, feel and see the world.

Litembo is well known, in Southern Tanzania and beyond, because of its church and its hospital. For decades, people from far and near have flocked to Litembo Hospital, where the legendary Doctor Weyer worked, from 1961 to 1996, when she retired and returned to her native Germany. A model of devotion to serving others, she was loved by all and will always be remembered.

Several years ago, people of Litembo built a monument on a nearby mountain side, in remembrance of their ancestors killed there during an uprising against German rule. With this bit of history as an added attraction, Litembo beckons visitors, even those traveling the road between Mbinga and Mbamba Bay.

Litembo harbours cultural treasures, such as traditional Matengo ceremonies, dances, songs, games, and artifacts.

This is where, in the seventies, I recorded Matengo Folktales, an open window into the soul of the people who live here.

These tales express the experiences of the Matengo, their sentiments and outlook on life, revealing their thoughts, speculations, and questions about their environment, about themselves, about their relationships, and about the human condition in general. These tales are an important index and repertory of the Matengo artistic heritage.

Several miles from Litembo mission, as we call it, there is the awe-inspiring Mmbuji Rock, the subject of legends and other folklore. Ibuuta, Matengo fairies, live on this rock. People who live nearby report seeing unusual sights on the rock at night. The Matengo behold this rock with awe and reverence.

I recommend a hike up the surrounding mountains. The trails wind through coffee farms, fields of maize, wheat, and beans. Along the way, there are brick houses with corrugated iron roofs. As one pushes higher and higher, the houses vanish, to be replaced by both fields and uncultivated patches, the abode of colourful butterflies and birds of various kinds. Isolated trees and rocks of different shapes and sizes define the landscape.

It is cold up there, and windy. On the rocks, ancient little trees with stunted trunks and gnarled branches defy the cold winds, their roots wedged deep into the rock crevices. From that height, you can see distant places, where the horizon merges with the sky. This is not a place to spend the day, however, because of the cold winds, but it is a great place to enjoy a panoramic view of this beautiful region in Southern Tanzania.

(Litembo photo at the top of the page is from Peramiho Abbey).

Monday, December 6, 2010

Thank You, Joseph Mbele

I see this blog as my private space, where I can express what I want: thoughts, sentiments, recollections, hopes, joys, anxieties, and so on. This blog post is somewhat personal.

As an author and cultural consultant, I always want to know how or whether I am connecting with my audiences. It is therefore gratifying to receive any feedback.

Several days ago, I came across a blog post titled "Thank You, Joseph Mbele," written by someone who had heard me speak at the College of St Benedict/St. John's University. I had been invited there to give several presentations, one of them to Peace Studies students and faculty preparing to travel to Eastern and Southern Africa.

I was happy to read the blog post, and was pleased that the author benefited from what I said about the differences between African and American culture. I thank the writer for this feedback, offered freely. I recall the meeting that evening: a full auditorium, with a table of my books at the back. I spoke for about thirty minutes, based on my Africans and Americans book, and then we had a stimulating question-and-answer session.

I wish to thank all my readers and audiences. I always learn something when I write or make presentations, but readers and audiences help me in that process. Some readers contact me privately, but others go public with their message, like the blogger I have mentioned and the Professional Strong Man, who ends his message with the Swahili phrase, "Asante sana," which means "thank you very much." I wish to return all these thanks, ten times over.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Teaching "A Grain of Wheat"

My African Literature and Politics class is now embarking on a study of Ngugi wa Thingo's A Grain of Wheat. I read this novel for the first time around 1971-72 at Mkwawa High School, Tanzania. It was on the reading list for the Literature course.

I remember quite well the experience of studying A Grain of Wheat. Our teacher was Paul Sorenson, a Danish volunteer. Soft-spoken and focused, he led us through a methodical exploration of this novel, alongside works of criticism, such as an essay by David Cook, titled "A New Earth."

There are memories that seem to last for ever. One such, for me, and close to my heart, is the cover of the novel--both the front and the back--featured on this page.

In those days, the author's name was James Ngugi. A Grain of Wheat and Ngugi's other writings touched us in a special way. Because of our rural backgrounds, most of us could relate to the lives of Ngugi's characters.

I have just introduced Ngugi to the class, with remarks about Kenya's colonization, settlers and the alienation of land, the Kenyan people's resistance against colonialism. I dwelt on the Mau Mau uprising and the Emergency.

I mentioned Ngugi's earlier works, such as Weep Not Child, The River Between, and The Black Hermit; his advocacy of writing in African languages, his stand against imperialism and for decolonization. I look forward to rich and memorable conversations with my students about A Grain of Wheat.