Thursday, July 25, 2013

A Conversation About Tanzania and Americans

This morning I drove from Northfield to Rochester, to meet with Pam Schwalbach and Charles Mpanda. Pam is American and Charles is Tanzanian. Both are passionate about working with Tanzanians and Americans to foster understanding between the two nations. They seek to accomplish these goals through travel and tourism and offering people of both nations the opportunity to know one another through living and working together.

Charles and Pam run a tour company, Tanganyika Ancient Routes, whose motto is "Travel,  Learn and Serve." They are also involved with Simple Hope, a non-profit that Pam and her friend Karen Puhl founded. Working in rural Tanzania, the mission of Simple Hope is to "to save and empower lives through faith, nutritious food, clean water, education, and other identified long term sustainable processes."

Our long conversation today dealt with all these issues. We spent much time brainstorming on cross-cultural orientation and developing tourism that is truly educational and liberating. We realized that we all are passionate about cultural orientation to enable people to interact and work together free from problems that are likely to arise due to cultural differences.

Charles and I first met in Arusha, on June 21, 2008, when I conducted a workshop on Culture and Globalization, which he attended. In the photos from the workshop, he is seen wearing a jacket and a cap. He has been in the USA for a few weeks, and he suggested that we should meet. We are all happy that worked out.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

A Meeting With Atum and Ahmad Azzahir

Today, I had a meeting in Lakeville, Minnesota, with Atum and Ahmad Azzahir, remarkable educators who specialize in working with people of African descent. I mentioned them several days ago in this blog, having met them at the Power of Unity Summit organized by the Council on Black Minnesotans.

We explored our interests and philosophies as educators. We discussed the need for the decolonization of the mind as articulated by people like Frantz Fanon, Julius Nyerere, Walter Rodney, and Ngugi wa Thiong'o.

Atum spoke of her work with the Cultural Wellness Center, which is based on the premise that many of the pathological conditions afflicting people of African descent stem from the isolation, dislocation and alienation of contemporary life. What a great idea, I thought to myself. Ahmad directed our attention to issues of African philosophy and value systems, such as described by Julius Nyerere.

We all agreed that if we could recapture the communalistic ethos of traditional Africa, we would go a long way towards healing our contemporary communities. I highlighted the values embedded in folktales and proverbs as examples. Though the values of capitalism--materialism and individualism--permeate our world, we need to create space for an alternative, humanistic value system.

I was happy to share my experience as a researcher and interpreter of oral folklore, which embodies the philosophical, ethical and aesthetic knowledge and heritage of the Africans. I had brought copies of my books, which Atum and Ahmad are seen holding in the photo.

Although I had known about the work of Atum and Ahmad for many years, our first meeting--a brief one--was during the Power of Unity Summit. We resolved to look for an opportunity or opportunities to meet and discuss issues of common concern. Today we had our first meeting. We met for three hours, and yet the time seemed to just fly by.

We look forward to more meetings, more discussions. Despite the challenges involved in trying to get people out of conventional patterns of thought about their place in the world, their identity, and the need to decolonize the mind, the possibilities and prospects are endless.