Friday, December 30, 2011

Mmbuji Rock, Southern Tanzania

Southern Tanzania has what it takes to be an attractive destination for tourists, both local and foreign. Here lies the Selous National Park, one of the largest in the world, with an incredible variety of wildlife.

The famous Maji Maji uprising against German rule, 1905-07, centered on this region, and records of it can be seen in the Maji Maji Museum in Songea town. To the west lies Lake Nyasa, with its sparkling waters and pristine beaches.

The list goes on, but one of the most magnificent but hidden treasures of Southern Tanzania is Mmbuji Rock, in the Matengo Highlands. There are several ways to get to it. As the road from Mbinga to Mbamba Bay winds its way higher into the highlands, it hits a junction going right, towards Litembo. This road, passing through coffee farms and fields of maize, wheat and beans, leads to Mmbuji Rock.

You can see Mmbuji Rock from miles away. I took the photo on the left while traveling from Mbinga to Litembo, as the landrover was going up the mountain from Kindimba, towards Manzege. You can see Mmbuji Rock in the far distance, beyond mountains covered with fields of ripened wheat.

There is much folklore surrounding Mmbuji Rock, including legends and tales of supernatural occurences, which I alluded to in an earlier post. For people interested in the folklore and culture of this area, I recommend Matengo Folktales.

Mmbuji Rock dwarfs everything else around it. Next to Mmbuji Rock, the tall trees seem like mere potted plants.

One needs to see Mmbuji Rock from different angles, from close by as well as from a distance. As the photos on this page demonstrate, Mmbuji Rock has many faces, depending on the viewer's location.Those who have seen Mmbuji Rock will agree that it defies description, and I can only say that seeing is believing. (I would like to acknowledge the sources of the photos used here and will do so soon)

Thursday, November 24, 2011


I ordered a copy of Rene Maran's Batouala, and it arrived on November 14. I have known about this novel for decades. I am sure I first heard about it as an undergraduate student at the University of Dar es Salaam. I do not remember if I read it then or not.

About ten years ago, as I immersed myself in studying Ernest Hemingway, I discovered that Batouala had a significant impact on Hemingway. As a young man in Paris, Hemingway reviewed this novel favourably in the Toronto Star in 1922. This was Hemingway's first published book review. It is clear that this novel helped define Hemingway's ideas about writing, as is attested by this well-known paragraph from the review:

You smell the smells o of the village, you eat its food, you see the white man as the black man sees him, and after you have lived in the village you die there. That is all there is to the story, but when you have read it, you have seen Batouala, and that means it is a great novel.

The more I have immersed myself in Hemingway, especially his African connection, the more I have felt the urge to read Batouala, knowing that it will aid me in my effort to gain a deeper insight into both Hemingway's writing style and his life-long fascination with Africa.

Batouala was written in French. Published in 1921, it won the prestigious Prix Goncourt and sparked off a storm of controversy. I know that there are several translations of it. As I prepare to read the English translation by Barbara Beck and Alexandre Mboukou, I want to try and follow the French original at the same time, since I have a smattering of French for reading purposes. I have gone through the first page, and I am moved by Maran's writing.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Another Day at the School of Environmental Studies

Today, I went to the School of Environmental Studies in Apple Valley to talk with Mr. Todd Carlson's students. They are studying indigenous philosophy.

Over the years, starting in the early nineties, Mr. Carlson has invited me to speak in his class, my focus being traditional folklore.

In preparation for my visits, Mr. Carlson introduces the students to my book, Matengo Folktales. They read parts of it. As a result, they have many questions for me, which are thoughtful and engaging. They ask about such issues as recording and textualizing oral folklore, translation, folklore performance, and the meanings of the tales in Matengo Folktales.

During every visit, I tell a tale or two from Matengo Folktales. Today, as in the past, I told the "The Monster in the Rice Field," which everyone finds most intriguing.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Muslims in U.S. Colleges: The Somali Experience

Today, in Faribault, Minnesota, there was a meeting of Somali parents and youths to discuss the issue of Muslims in American colleges. Two Carleton College students organized the event. Aware of my longstanding engagement with the city of Faribault, including the Somali population, they invited me to be one of the facilitators of the conversations alongside a Somali Muslim man who has children in college, and a young Somali woman who is a college student.

We talked about admission issues, life on campus, challenges of being a Muslim on campus. I talked about the cultural differences Somali Muslims and Africans in general encounter on an American college campus, mindful of the fact that the school is both a product and reflection of its cultural context. The young woman on the panel reassured the audience, saying that though there are challenges to being a Muslim in an American college, they are not reason enough to discourage someone from going to college.

The gathering gave equal opportunity to young people and parents to air their views, expectations, and anxieties.

The parents stressed, again and again, that they want their children to succeed in school and college so they can have better opportunities in life.

It was humbling for me to hear some parents mention me as an example of what they want their children to be like. At the same time, it was a priviledge to be there as a source of inspiration and a role model for the youths. In fact, one young man recalled that I had spoken to him and his friends at the Faribault High School about five years ago and that he drew inspiration from what I had said on that day.

This was a valuable opportunity for everyone to learn and also to network.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Nuruddin Farah in Northfield

This evening, at Carleton College, Nuruddin Farah gave a reading from Crossbones, his latest book, published this year. Several dozen people attended tonight's event.

I have heard Farah several times, over the years, here in the USA. It is always a priviledge to meet such a distinguished writer.

Farah started by giving the context of Crossbones--the eve of the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia several years ago and its aftermath. From his reading it was clear that Crossbones brings home the sad realities and challenges that have been part of the experience of Somalia for years.

After his reading, Farah answered many questions from the audience. It was touching to hear him talk about the research he does in preparation for writing a work such as Crossbones. He paid tribute to the many people who help him.

One of the points he made is that he does not see himself as the spokesman or the voice of the Somali experience, even though many people see him as such. He insisted that nobody elected him spokesman of the Somalis. He also joked about his habit of writing trilogies, saying he is long-winded.

After his talk, Nuruddin Farah signed copies of his books. Most of his works were available. I made sure to obtain a copy of Crossbones, since I have the other books. On the left, you can see him signing my copy.

I have taught some of Nuruddin Farah's works, starting with From a Crooked Rib which I taught at Iringa Girls Secondary School, Tanzania, in 1974. I was then an undergraduate student at the University of Dar es Salaam doing my teaching practice. From a Crooked Rib was required reading in the Literature syllabus. I mentioned this to Nuruddin Farah this evening.

I have taught other works by Farah here at St. Olaf College, and I look forward to reading Crossbones.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

My Online Bookstore

I like the new look of my online bookstore. You can view it here. I did not create this new storefront: the credit goes to lulu. I will, however, be adding features to it, as you will see if you keep visiting it.

I started reading about online publishing more that ten years ago and soon decided to publish some of my work that way. I am still reading, to educate myself, since the field is evolving rapidly. Reading is one thing, however, but being involved in the process deepens my understanding.

When I started publishing online, the e-book phenonemon did not exist, as far as I remember. Nowadays, however, it is quickly gaining ground and might become dominant. I keep pace with these developments, making all my online books available in printed and e-book formats.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Twin Cities Book Festival, 2011

Today, I went to the Twin Cities Book Festival in Minneapolis. This is an annual Festival, organized by the Rain Taxi

Although I have participated in this festival as a book exhibitor for a number of years, this year I inadvertently forgot to make arrangements in time. I was in Tanzania for much of the summer, and when I returned to Minnesota, I realized that all the exhibition tables were taken. Next year I will be more alert, I hope.

Still, I drove the 45 miles to Minneapolis to see the Festival, a major event I never want to miss.

Despite the bad state of the American economy, despite all the suffering and uncertainty this is causing in people's lives, it is amazing that the Book Festival never fails to attract large numbers of people.

As always, I met people I know, such as Shatona Kilgore-Groves, seen on the left. She is a writer and educator in the African American community. This year, I published a review of her first book. At her table, I also saw her latest book, Feeling Down: How to Pick Yourself up in the Word of God.

I watched as people milled about, cheking out books and talking with authors, publishers, editors and other people in the book industry.

The whole day, from early in the morning, people come and go. I have no doubt that thousands of people attended today's Festival.

Most touching, for me, is to see parents who bring their children to these events. What a great way to bring up children. I believe all children like books. I have noted this in my own county as well and written about it.

I spent much time in the used books section on the left. There was a great variety of books here, at low prices.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Off-campus Study Open House, St. Olaf College

Today, here at St. Olaf College, we had what we call the Off-campus Study Open House, an opportunity for students to learn about the many off-campus study programs available to them.

St. Olaf College is noted for its commitment to study abroad, as part of its mission to promote a global perspective. Many students come to this College because of its study abroad opportunities.

Some of these programs are located in the USA but many take students abroad.

During the Open House, program advisors talk with students about their respective programs. I am an advisor for two programs run by the Associated Colleges of the Midwest (ACM) in Botswana and Tanzania, as well as the Lutheran College Consortium for Tanzania (LCCT) program. In fact, just about a month ago, I returned from Tanzania, where I led students on the LCCT program.

I doubt if there is any educator who would doubt the value of study abroad. It is, indeed, one of the best investments we can make in the lives of our students.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Book Hailed as a Cultural Diversity Resource

In recent years, many immigrants and refugees have settled in Faribault, Minnesota, especially from Somalia and Central America. This has given rise to many cultural challenges, as has been happening in other communities across the USA.

This year students from the Political Science Department at St. Olaf College and one of their professors studied immigration issues in Faribault. They interviewed 39 community leaders and have produced a detailed report, available here.

I have been involved with the Faribault community for a number of years as a cultural consultant and mediator. I am delighted to see my work mentioned in the report, several times. Here is one reference:

Interviewees identified many existing print resources for cross-cultural education, including cultural sensitivity materials used by organizations like the Red Cross to train volunteers and Joseph Mbele's book Africans and Americans: Embracing Cultural Differences. Respondents repeatedly pointed to Faribault's abundant "human resources," or specific individuals who are experienced in mediating between cultures to resolve conflicts. Interviewees named Joseph Mbele, ESL teachers and public school cultural liaisons as important human assets to the community. (p. 17)

This is not news to me, having been closely involved with the people of Faribault for a number of years. I should simply note that, as the report shows, Faribault's community leaders have done some really useful work on the issue of immigrants and refugees and learned lessons that can help other communities across the USA.

The Africans and Americans book is available from the St. Olaf College Bookstore, toll free number 1 888 232 6523 and online here.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

TPDF Saves Ship From Pirates

Source: Daily News

By ROSE ATHUMANI, 4th October 2011 @ 12:24

SEVEN pirates were captured on Wednesday night after attacking an Oil prospecting ship, Sam-S-All Good, 40 kilometres Northeast of Mafia Island, the Tanzania People's Defence Forces (TPDF) spokesman, said.

Col. Kapambala Mgawe said the seven suspects attacked the ship at around 9:00 with the intention of hijacking it. Two ships near the area; Monck and Froshiber which had TPDF forces responded to a distress call from the ship under attack.

"The two patrol ships that were in the area with TPDF troops, responded to the distress call from the oil prospecting ship and went to provide assistance and protection," he said.

On arrival at the scene, TPDF forces using search light noticed suspicious people walking up and down the ship brandishing guns.

"The TPDF opened fire in the air as a warning but the pirates did not surrender and instead fired directly at the soldiers. There was exchange of fire, the pirates were overpowered and decided to surrender by throwing their weapons in the sea and raised up their arms," Col. Mgawe explained.

He said the TPDF soldiers arrested the pirates by tying them up with a rope. "One of the pirates was injured in his right thigh, during the exchange of fire," he added.

The pirates were found in possession of 16 rounds of sub machine gun (SMG) ammunition and some pain killers. A TPDF ship has already left to pick up the pirates who are believed to be Somalis and they will be handed over to the police.

"One of our ships has already left Kigamboni today (yesterday) to pick up the pirates, we believed they are Somalis, but we cannot confirm that for sure yet, until they are brought in and handed to the police tomorrow morning," Col Mgawe explained.

The boat that the suspected pirates were using is believed to have drifted off, after they climbed onboard the oil prospecting ship, Sam-S-All Good.

Meanwhile, a five-day sea operation training comprising Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) member states and Kenya has been completed successfully.

Addressing journalists yesterday aboard SAS Drakensberg of South Africa, Real Admiral and Director of Marine Warfare Karl Wieswer, said the SADC summit agreed to have joint training that will make Indian Ocean safe.

"The purpose of the training is to make the waters of the EAC and SADC safe for trade," he added. Countries that participated in this initial training include Kenya, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, South Africa and host country Tanzania.

Real Admiral Wieswer said smilar training sessions will take place and will involve more countries including those landlocked and depend on the Indian Ocean for their trade.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Africans and African Americans coming together

Come meet greet and engage your brother and sisters in a wonderful day of conversation. Together let’s talk about building relationships and wealth in our community.

Speakers: Mr. Lester R. Collins; Executive Director of Council on Black Minnesotans

Dr. Samuel Zalanga of Bethel University

Date: Saturday October 8, 2011

Location: Center for Families, 3333 North 4th Street Minneapolis, MN 55412

Time: 8:00am – 3:30pm

Cost: Free; Breakfast and Lunch provided

This summit is open to the public and it is free. Attached are event flyer, agenda and vendor registration form, please share these information to your network. Thanks and see you all October 8, 2011. A program of the Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches.


Saturday, October 8, 2011 8:00 am – 3:30 p.m

Theme: Wealth (Africans of the Diaspora Coming Together To Build Relationship and talk about Wealth in the sense of Economic and Culture)

Registration: 8:00 a.m. –

Social Networking/Continental Breakfast: 8:30 a.m. – 9:30 a.m.

Call to Unity: 9:30 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.


First Speaker: 9:45 a.m. – 10:15 a.m. (Mr. Lester R. Collins)

Break: 10:15 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.

Entertainment/ Enrichment/ Performance: (African Dancing group?) 10:30 a.m. – 10:50 a.m.

Second Speaker: 11:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. (Dr. Samuel Zalanga)

Lunch: 11:30a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

Breakout Sessions: 12:30 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.

Panel /Facilitators: (Questions & Answers) 1:30 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.

Wrap Up: 2:00 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.

Food For Thought: “What are you going to do to bring us together”?

Mission Statement: The Pan-African Council of Minnesota mission is to strengthen relationships among and between all people of African descent, acknowledge the historical brokenness between African and Caribbean born people and African Americans, and seek ways to reconcile our differences and heal the pain

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Market Day at Lyulilo, Tanzania

When you are at Matema Beach, on the northern side of Lake Nyasa, you will surely hear about neighbouring villages, especially Lyulilo and Ikombe. During a visit to Matema Beach, August 2, we decided to go to Lyulilo. We heard that it was market day. To get to Lyulilo, you can walk on the beach, or you can hire a canoe, as we did, for about ten dollars.

We had a smooth canoe ride.

As the minutes passed, we saw Lyulilo coming closer and closer. In a few minutes, we began to see people on the shore.

Soon we arrived at our landing spot, infront of the building on the left. From behind the building we heard music.

We went there right away and saw a group of people dancing and singing religious songs.

After watching this performance for a while, we turned back, into the main street. It was crowded with people.

This was indeed, market day. Coming to a place like this and buying anything, even if just a dozen bananas, let alone hiring a canoe, you know you are contributing to the local economy.

Lyulilo is famous as a pottery market. The pots are made at Ikombe, further up the shore. We did not get to Ikombe, but I plan to travel there next year. It should be quite an experience watching the potters at work.

The soda bottles on the left contain various types of local brew.

As usual, the sight of a white person in these remote places never fails to attract onlookers, especially the little kids, who are curious, in their own innocent way.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Iringa Regional Library

This year, during a brief stay in Iringa, Tanzania, I walked by the Iringa Regional Library several times. Seeing this building brought back fond memories of my days as a student at Mkwawa High School, 1971-72, in this city. I used to come to this Library regularly, alone or with friends who were fellow Mkwawa students.

This year, I could not resist the urge to take a photo of this Library which meant so much to me in my student days. I recalled the many hours I spent reading in this Library, which was well stocked with different kinds of books and other publications, including the latest. I recalled one of the librarians, John Simbamwene, a famous novelist who wrote in Swahili and whom I adored. He was a most gentle person, very well dressed all the time. Talking with him was always inspiring.

There were bookstores as well, not far from the Library, on the same street, and I used to visit them. It was a great time to be a student in Tanzania. As students, we knew what we were doing, and we worked hard. The teachers were well trained, knowledgeable, and conscientious.

Mkwawa High School was one of the best high schools in the country. To enter Mkwawa, you needed to be an outstanding student. Although entry into the University of Dar es Salaam, the only university in the country at the time, was very competitive, half of my Mkwawa graduating class got in. Many of my classmates went on to become distinguished scientists, diplomats, writers, civil servants, professors and so on. I like to think that this Library, modest as it appears, played a role in our lives.

This year, I did not just walk past this Library. I went in and took a look. Then I had a chance to talk with the lady at the reception desk. She struck me as a person who genuinely loved the Library. When she learned that I am a professor in the USA, she asked me to help the library with books, especially in the field of English. I am always delighted to have such conversations with people who want to foster positive change in our country.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

American Students at Mlimani Primary School

On August 26, as part of the Lutheran Colleges Consortium for Tanzania (LCCT) program, we visited Mlimani Primary School at the University of Dar es Salaam.

The LCCT program has a longstanding association with Mlimani Primary School. Students from LCCT institutions who study at the University of Dar es Salaam get the chance to teach and interact with teachers and students at Mlimani.

The Mlimani program started in the early nineties. After watching the LCCT program for a number of years, Mama Shoonie Hartwig, founder of the program, talked with Heribertha Mbele, who had been a teacher at the Mlimani School, about the idea of LCCT students doing some volunteer work at the school. The teachers at the school welcomed the idea, and that is how the program started.

The American students mostly teach English, under the guidance of the teachers. The program has worked rather well. This year, the school principal told me how much the program has meant for the school children. Learning English from native speakers is a valuable opportunity. In addition, through interacting with the LCCT students, the school children get used to white people.

A teacher took us on a tour of the school, visiting classes and looking at the buildings and the surroundings.

The LCCT students, on their part, appreciate the opportunity to broaden their study-abroad experience through working at the school. This has been a notable addition the LCCT program.