Wednesday, December 12, 2012

African Storytelling at St. Olaf College

On November 7, I made a presentation at St. Olaf College on African storytelling. This was part of what is called "Africa Weeks," a series of displays, performances, lectures and other events organized by Karibu, a student organization. Africa Weeks is held once a year.  It seeks to foster understanding and appreciation of Africa. Karibu was formed over ten years ago by a Congolese student. Karibu is a very significant Swahili word which means "Welcome."

I regularly get invited to participate in Africa Weeks, talking about African culture, especially the art, meaning and social functions of story telling. In the process, I perform some folktales and invite the audience to talk about them, through questions and observations.

On this occasion, I started with the idea of Africa as the place where humans originated, the place where technology, culture, language and storytelling originated. Humans began to name, describe, and reflect on their environment and on society, encoding their thoughts, sentiments, anxieties, hopes and dreams in proverbs, songs, tales, dances, rock paintings, and other expressive forms.

Storytelling is not just for entertainment; it is also a repository of thoughts and knowledge of different kinds. I offered several African proverbs, as examples, such as "Don't insult the crocodile's mouth before you cross the river."

To illustrate the richness of African tales as philosophical, ethical, and other kinds of reflection, I told three tales: the Maasai tale titled "The Woman and the Children of the Sycamore Tree," published in Paul Radin's African Folktales; "The Monster in the Rice Field" and "Nokamboka and the Baby Monster" both published in my book, Matengo Folktales.

At the end of the event, it was clear that we had all gained much, through thinking together about African storytelling.

It was time to go

Yet, even as we were heading out of the meeting room, the conversation continued.

(All the photos in which I appear were taken by Pumla Maswanganyi. I wish to thank her)

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Another Visit to the School of Environmental Studies

Today, I visited the School of Environmental Studies in Apple Valley, Minnesota, to speak in Todd Carlson's class. The class deals with indigenous knowledge and mythology

Todd shares with the students the mythologies of various traditional cultures, such as Native American, Aboriginal Australians, and the Khoisan of Southern Africa.

He also shares with the students some parts of my Matengo Folktales. Whenever I visit the School, I meet students who are well prepared.

As in the past, we had a great experience today. After my brief introduction, highlighting Africa as the original home of humans, the cradle of technology, language and other specifically human accomplishments, I talked about the emergence and evolution of storytelling.

The students had, as usual, engaging questions, spanning the spectrum from the intriguing similarities among different folklore traditions, to the modalities and ethics of folklore field work to the vexed question of translation.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Afrifest Foundation Board Meeting, November 3

Today, the board of the Afrifest Foundation met at the Center for Families, in Minneapolis. Attending the meeting were--from left to right in the photo--Kechi Bisong, Joseph L. Mbele, Wycliff Chakua, Teddy Kobingi, and Beatrice Adenodi.

In the absence of Nathan White, Afrifest Foundation Executive Secretary, who is traveling around Africa,  Wycliff Chakua chaired the meeting.

Teddy is a new member of the Board, who brings much experience in the financial and non-profit world. Beatrice, CEO and chief marketing specialist of Mirror Ink Productions, joined the Foundation a few weeks ago, bringing valuable expertise in various fields, such as marketing, promotions, and fundraising.

Today's agenda centered on planning for the 2013 Afrifest Festival. We are starting the planning process earlier than in the past, and we want to do things somewhat differently. We are excited to have established partnerships with Carifest, the Duluth Reggae Festival and ACER Inc. We will work together in various ways, including jointly promoting our events and programs.

The Afrifest Foundation will conduct two fund-raising events before the main Afrifest festival, which we have scheduled for mid-August, 2013. One of these events will be held in March and the other one in June. Unlike in the past when members of the board did all the planning and implementation of the festival, now we will have a festival coordinator as well as a music coordinator.

With all the work that has been done to build the Afrifest Foundation to its present level, we are all excited about the Foundation's future. We look forward to very successful fund-raising events, the August festival and other programs.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

A Friend Who Inspired my "Africans and Americans" book

Two days ago, I had the opportunity to meet my dear friend, Professor John Greenler of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He came to visit St. Olaf College with his daughter. If you have read my book, Africans and Americans: Embracing Cultural Differences, you probably have seen Professor Greenler's name in the "Acknowledgements" page.

Professor Greenler and I have known each other for over ten years, from the time we both served as advisors on the Associated Colleges of the Midwest (ACM) Tanzania program. When we first met, Professor Greenler was teaching at Beloit College. We used to meet in Chicago with advisors from other schools, planning and evaluating the program. I would constantly elaborate on cultural issues faced by American students in Tanzania.

When the time came for Professor Greenler to take students to Tanzania, he asked me to write down some cultural hints, even if only a few paragraphs, so he would have something to fall back on while in Tanzania. I was touched by his request, and I started writing.

While the manuscript was still quite rough and rudimentary, it fell into the hands of other people who take Americans to Tanzania. They eagerly started using it. When I discovered this, I was embarrassed, because the manuscript did not reflect my abilities as a writer.  Instead of complaining and doing nothing else, I decided to revise the manuscript as much as I could. After working intensively for four months, I published Africans and Americans: Embracing Cultural Differences in February 2005. It was, actually, Professor Greenler who suggested the subtitle "embracing cultural differences," and I liked it instantly. I am
 grateful that the book is widely read and used. Writers want to be read, and, on this score, I cannot complain.

As we met, I reminded Professor Greenler about how he inspired me to write this book. I made sure to let his daughter know that this is what happened. We enjoyed talking about Tanzania, my beloved country, which Professor Greenler and his family like very much.

Professor Greenler told me about ACM students he took to Tanzania who continue to be involved with Tanzania in one way or another. We advisors of study abroad programs are aware of these dynamics. We are always gratified and feel vindicated, since one of our main dreams is building positive relationships between the people of our countries.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Twin Cities Book Festival, 2012

Today I was in St. Paul, Minnesota, participating in the Twin Cities Book Festival as a book exhibitor, using my business name, Africonexion.

The Twin Cities Book Festival is annual event which has traditionally been held at the Minneapolis Community and Technical College. This year, the venue was the State Fairgrounds in nearby St. Paul.

As usual, many people came to the Festival: book lovers, book sellers, publishers, educators and members of the general public. There were people of all ages.

I arrived at the Festival a little late, but that was not a problem. I quickly set up my table and started talking with people who stopped by. I remember, for example, two families who came separately to my table. In the course of our conversation, they said they were from Bemidji, a town further north from the Twin Cities. I told them I have been there, and that Bemidji is a special place for me as great fan of Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway's fourth wife, Mary Walsh, was from Bemidji. I also told them that Hemingway and Mary traveled together to East Africa, staying there a few months, in 1953-1954. I went further, saying that I seem to be always reading or thinking about Hemingway. I showed them Leicester Hemingway's My Brother, Ernest Hemingway, which I had with me today.

I talked with many people sharing much with them and learning from them. There was, for example, a gentleman from the Pathfinder Press. We talked about the work of the Press, about which I have known for many years. We talked about Cuba's role in the liberation of southern Africa, and the relationship between Nelson Mandela and Fidel Castro. I bought a book about the "Cuban Five," which I am eager to start reading.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

St. Olaf Off-campus Studies Open House

Today, here at St. Olaf College, we held another off-campus studies open house. This is an event to promote our off-campus and international programs. We offer students information about these programs. I am the advisor for the ACM Botswana program, the ACM Tanzania program, and the Lutheran Colleges Consortium for Tanzania (LCCT) program.

St. Olaf College runs, or participates in, many programs around the world: from Australia to Costa Rica, from Florence in Italy to South Africa. Some of these programs are month-long, others semester-long, and some year-long. Today we showcased semester and year-long programs.

St. Olaf College is well known for its study abroad programs, among other things. Many students come to St. Olaf because of the prospect of going to study abroad.

This was another day of meeting students and also other program advisors. Scott Ozaroski and Hannah Whitehead from the ACM office in Chicago participated in the events today and since their table was adjacent to mine, we had some time to chat. Scott kindly took the photo of me and the two students seen at the top of this page.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

More Good News About My "Africans and Americans" Book

I wrote Africans and Americans: Embracing Cultural Differences to facilitate my work of advising American students going to study in Africa. I was painfully aware that there was no book I could rely on for the kind of orientation I wanted for these students. I therefore decided to write my own book.

I am grateful that other people like this book. Lately, Elizabeth M. Cannon and Carmen Heider, professors at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, have written about their experience of using this book. In a recently published article, they discuss their experience of leading a study abroad program in Tanzania, including the challenges of motivating students and providing them socio-cultural orientation. They led the program several times, learning from each experience in order to improve the program. Here is what they did during the third year:

We also thought carefully about how to design our on-site class sessions to reflect our commitment to active, student-centered learning, and provide general guidance to our students. We decided to focus these classes on Mbele’s Africans and Americans: Embracing Cultural Differences, one of our readings from 2008, because this Tanzanian author challenges stereotypes through the presentation of his cultural experiences. Before we left the United States, we divided students into four groups and assigned each a section of this text on which they would lead one of four on-site class sessions. On-site discussions focused on comparisons between Mbele’s views of Tanzanian life and students’ interactions with the people they met and the places they visited. Frustration was replaced with excited conversations. These classes shifted from tense obligations where learning was stifled to an exciting component of the trip where insights flourished (p. 68).

I am happy and grateful that the book is such a helpful resource for others.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Iringa Lutheran Centre

Last year, I stayed at the Iringa Lutheran Centre with students on the LCCT program. The Center is hidden away in a corner of Iringa, off the road from the Regional Library to Kihesa. A quiet, well kept establishment, the Centre has guest rooms and a restaurant.
Here I am with Tom Nielsen, the director of the Center. He and I had first met in Grantsburg, Wisconsin, where we both conducted a retreat for Lutherans. In his apartment across the street, I saw a copy of my Africans and Americans: Embracing Cultural Differences among his books. It is a small world.
Thanks to Don Fultz, a pastor who tirelessly promotes relations between Tanzanian and American Lutherans, my students and I traveled from Dar es Salaam to Iringa with guests from the Roseville Lutheran Church. They were going to Iringa on the Bega kwa Bega program. I discovered, as soon as we met, that these people knew about me. Dave and Karen Dudley, their trip leaders,  had urged them to read my Africans and Americans book. For much of the journey from Dar es Salaam to Iringa, I answered their questions about the nuances of African culture.

Our two groups stayed at the Iringa Lutheran Centre for several days, even though each had its own daytime schedule. We met during breakfast and dinner. One evening, I did a book signing, which I wrote about here.
Tom and his staff made our stay at the Centre a pleasant experience.

Monday, May 21, 2012

At Namanga, With Colorado College Students

In 2007, I visited Namanga, on the border between Tanzania and Kenya. I was there with students and Professor Bill Davis from Colorado College, on a Hemingway course. Visiting Namanga made sense. Hemingway and his party passed through here on December 20, 1933, on their way into what is today Tanzania.
Students got to meet the local people. Here is a student with women on the Kenyan side of the border.
Here is another student with women on the Kenyan side of the border.

On the Tanzanian side of the border, the students got to meet the local children as well.

I found being here unforgettable, knowing that Hemingway went down this very road, into the distance, beyond the mountain, towards Arusha.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Entertainment at Longido, Tanzania

Longido is a very small Tanzanian town on the road from Arusha to Nairobi. Small as it is, Longido is well known for tourism. If you wonder what else there is to do here, there are several simple pubs and restaurants where you can hang out, brushing shoulders with the local Maasai. You can be creative in other ways. During a 2008 visit here with students on a Hemingway course, we got a local guitarist to play for us.

We stayed here two days, studying the travels and writings of Hemingway. Longido is specially important as a center of Maasai culture, which Hemingway admired. We were hosted by the Longido Cultural Tourism program.
After dinner prepared by the local women, we sat around for the musical entertainment. 
The guitarist was versatile, featuring East African as well as American songs, both old and contemporary. It was quite a treat.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Market at Soni, Tanzania

I took this photo at the market at Soni, near Lushoto, in northeastern Tanzania. The African market is fascinating, as I have written elsewhere, inspired, I must say, by Mikhail Bakhtin:

In many ways, African culture resembles the African market. Crowded and noisy, the African market displays the vitality and exhuberance of African life. The language of the African market placeis vibrant and full of humour, as haggling develops into spirited joking. A bond develops between buyer, seller and spectators, which is precious in ways the exchanging of goods for money is not. Like many other contexts and situations in Africa, the market is a place for building relationships
(Africans and Americans: Embracing Cultural Differences, page 95).

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The National Black Books Festival

For several years, I have known about the National Black Books Festival an annual event that takes place in Houston, Texas. I have also thought about attending it. As a writer, with several books published, I have participated in the Twin Cities Book Festival, as I have reported a number of times, such as here and here. Wishing to extend my reach, I will get to the National Black Books Festival.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

American Students Reflect on Studying in Tanzania

Last year, I wrote blog posts on a trip I took to Tanzania with students on the LCCT program. Read, for example, this post.

I was in Tanzania with these students for three weeks and then I left them at the University of Dar es Salaam, where they studied for one semester. That is how the program works.

Upon their return to the USA, the students get the opportunity to talk about their experiences in Tanzania to a gathering of LCCT program advisors. We met today at St. Olaf College, for this purpose.

We heard these students talk about the orientation I led, their studies of Swahili and other subjects at the University of Dar es Salaam, dorm life and life in general in Tanzania.

While enrolled at the University of Dar es Salaam, these students get the opportunity to volunteer as teachers at Mlimani Primary School, which is on the campus.

In August last year, during my visit to Mlimani Primary School to prepare for the students' teaching there, the teachers told me that the school appreciates the work of the American students. They pointed out, for example, how the American students help the Mlimani pupils to improve their English.

We as advisors of the LCCT program are used to hearing these students extolling the value of their study abroad experience as life-changing.

We are also proud of the fact that we offer them orientation before they start their studies at the University of Dar es Salaam. They read about Tanzania's history and its political, economic, social and cultural realities. We make sure that they gain some understanding of the thoughts and influence of Mwalimu Julius Nyerere. We seek, in these ways, to ensure that the students gain the most from their stay in Tanzania and their experience of culture shock is not too disruptive.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration at Concordia University, St. Paul

Janury 16 is Martin Luther King Day. There will be many commemorative events around the USA, and I will be at Concordia University, in St. Pau, froml 9:30am to 3pm with fellow authors, displaying books and talking with people.

Having done some homework, over the last few years, on the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr, I have some understanding of the principles he stood for, especially around the issues of education, human equality and justice for all. When he said people should not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character, he wanted not only Whites but also Blacks and everybody else to abide by that principle.

As a writer and educator committed to such ideas, to making a positive difference in the world, I look forward to meeting people at Concordia University on January 16, and exploring the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

African Trickster Tales at Gustavus Adolphus College

Today I went to Gustavus Adolphus College to give a talk on The Trickster. Professor Paschal Kyoore is teaching a course on African Tricksters, and he invited me to visit the class, especially since they have been reading my Matengo Folktales.

I liked the fact that this was a two-hour class, plenty of time to raise and discuss some key issues. I dwelt mostly on conceptual issues and problems around the topic of trickster, starting with the Eurocentric orientation that drives our scholarly discourses. I stated that terms such as folktale, trickster, myth, and legend are themselves problematical.

There is something special about being in a small town in central Minnesota and discussing African traditions. I have experienced this before. I have given talks on Matengo Folktales at the College of St. Benedict, as I mentioned on my Swahili blog, at St. Olaf College, where I teach, at the School of Environmental Studies, and other venues.

Engaging students in reflecting upon human creativity in different cultures is surely one of the great joys of teaching, and I have always embraced that opportunity. Today, therefore, was another wonderful day in my life as a teacher.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Another Day With Gustavus Adolphus Students

Today, I met with students from Gustavus Adolphus College who are leaving for Tanzania this week on a January term program that has been around for a number of years. Professor Barbara Zust invited me to meet the students, as she has done in the past, as part of their pre-departure orientation.

Professor Zust had the students read my Africans and Americans: Embracing Cultural Differences". My meetings with the students enable us to reflect on what I say in the book. That is what we did today.

However, I first gave an account of the genesis of the book. Readers of the book will remember that I do this as well at the beginning of the book. I then summarized the main lessons I learned in writing the book.

After those remarks, we had a question and answer session, which took most of the time. Since the students had read the book, they had many questions which gave me a chance to elaborate on various cultural issues.

Our meeting today lasted about four hours, making it the longest book talk I have ever held.

As in previous years, the students seemed all excited about their impending trip. I told them how delighted I am that they are going to my country and how valuable such experiences in foreign countries are.

We met at the Mount Olivet Conference and Retreat Center. Located in a rural area, it has excellent conference, lodging, and restaurant facilities.