Sunday, December 13, 2020


Meet Thomas, My Arusha Friend

I am happy to introduce Thomas Ratsim, a friend of mine who lives in Arusha, Tanzania. He and I first met by pure chance in 2006, as I was wandering around Arusha with Professor Jon Watkins of Colorado College, working on logistics for a course on Hemingway in East Africa that I had proposed for that college.

We were delighted to meet Thomas and to learn that he was the program manager for a tour company and was experienced in hosting Americans. Jon and I took him on board, and the rest is history.

For many years, Thomas has been guiding visitors to Tanzania, especially Americans. We became close friends and collaborators since we are both passionate about showing foreigners our beloved country, my specialization being study abroad programs run by American colleges and universities in partnership with Tanzania and other African countries.

Thomas and I like reading books, and we share a particular interest in Ernest Hemingway, especially his East African writings. Here in the USA, Americans returning from Tanzania sometimes contact me, raving about Thomas and telling me that he told them about me and my book, Africans and Americans: Embracing Cultural Differences.

I am honoured and grateful to have such a friend, who is highly regarded by visitors to Tanzania. We took the photo above on August 26, 2018 in Arusha.

Friday, December 4, 2020

Mwana: A Collection of Poems

Mwana is a collection of poems by Jackline Waziri, a budding UK based Tanzanian poet. She happens to be a great granddaughter of Shaaban Robert, the most famous Swahili writer.

Away from her ancestral homeland, Jackline brings up images of village life as well as some references to cities, notably Tanga and Dar es Salaam. The serenity of the village comes through, though in realistic rather than idyllic terms.

The earth is a recurring theme as the ultimate anchor of human identity and being--authentic being. Humans gain from staying connected with it. This notion comes out clearly in the poem titled "Children of the Village," which describes village children 

as they wandered, bare feet
     leaving no footprints,
        they touched earth.

Normally, we think of bare feet as signifying a lack, but Jackline sees how bare feet touch the earth. They thereby make the desired, natural connection between the human being and the earth. By implication, shoes are a barrier, representing our alienation from the earth. 

Certain parts of Mwana touched me in a particular way, such as this description of a woman in the poem "Tanga,"

                          It was that mama,
                              with her scarf
                     folded round and round,
                              laid on her head
and the bowl of fruits sitting peacefully on top of it.
                      And her bundle of joy,
                             sweetly wrapped
                          under the colourful 
                          kanga on her back.

The language is simple, and the description vivid, like a painting, if I may refer to the notion of painting with words, which I learned from the great poet Derek Walcott.

Mwana takes us across a landscape of memories and reflections about identity, the idea of home and belonging, tinged with nostalgia. Jackline is a promising poet with a great future.