Field Notes: Director’s Weekly

Photo Retrospective: Tanzania, East-Africa

By Jennifer Summerhays, Director of Global Education

Photo credits: J. Summerhays — Tanzania, East-Africa

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I left on June 3rd and finally arrived in Mbeya, Tanzania on June 5, 2014. Sister Clara and I were warmly greeted by a small group of Catholic Sisters, our loyal driver Deo, our invincible Land Cruiser, and the rolling Southern Highlands.

After a sudden thunderstorm in Newark delayed the first leg of the trip, the route changed:

Newark — Zurich — Istanbul — Dar Es Salaam — Mbeya.

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Massai at Indian Ocean, Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania.

The Massai are regarded as skilled warriors and are often employed by beach and shop owners as security guards throughout Tanzania. There were a group of five Massai sitting in the shade at this local beach. At first they were hesitant to have their photo taken, and said “no.” But my local guide Youssef told me that when Massai say “no” they don’t mean “no”.

We waited for a minute or two and three Massai from the group approached us. They decided they wanted foreigners to have a good impression of their tribe. So, they agreed.

Youssef explained that when you see a Massai male with a stick, it means they have killed a dangerous or wild animal, either alone or with a small group.

I am wearing a Kitenge, a brightly colored or patterned cloth worn by women in Tanzania and throughout East Africa. The cloth is hand dyed and often batiked. The Kitenges are also used for tying babies onto backs, or protection from sand, wind or cold.

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Keeping it real with my new artist friend Rasta Philip in Mbeya, Tanzania.

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My young friend Samuel. I met him at an orphanage near Tukuyu, Tanzania. The Catholic Sisters are lovingly raising him, but I was tempted to put him in my suitcase and bring him home.

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Roadside art in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania.

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Local accommodations and new, warm-hearted friends in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania.

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Local women wearing Kitenges.

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Typical house structure in Tanzania/ Bucket bathing is common. I got used to it pretty quickly.

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The 3 wheels taxis are ubiquitous in Dar Es Salaam. The Tanzanian people call them Bajajis. / On the whole, Tanzanian’s love President Barak Obama. They even named a street after him in Dar Es Salaam.

Some of My Journey Through Southern Tanzania

Mbeya Region

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A Catholic girls school in the Mbeya Region.

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Saint Augustine University of Tanzania — Mbeya Center

SAUT-Mbeya Center is a branch of the well-respected Saint Augustine University of Tanzania. The growing center has only been open for 7 months, and currently enrolls over 600 students. SAUT-Mbeya is expected to grow 300% in the next 18 months. The University has already purchased a large plot of land in the foothills to expand facilities and provide more capacity for growth. They are talking about going wireless. GCU is proud to be in the early stages of partnership with SAUT-Mbeya.

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SAUT-Mbeya President, Provost, Deans and Director of Development with Sister Clara.

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Jenn with SAUT-Mbeya Business Majors / SAUT-Mbeya Education Majors who wish to study in the USA.

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Jenn facilitating a discussion on Global Education — SAUT-Mbeya, Tanzania.

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SAUT-Mbeya in rapid growth mode.

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University students in residence halls.

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The hospitable SAUT-Mbeya Administrative Staff, Sister Clara, and myself at a small wildlife preserve outside of Mbeya.

Iringa and Morogoro Regions

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Photo credits: J. Summerhays — Tanzania, East-Africa

 *****

Banana Lady: Reflections on Empathy from Tanzania

By Jennifer Summerhays, Director of Global Education

We stopped in traffic somewhere between Mbeya and Tukuyu, near the Malawi border. Women rushed toward the Land Rover balancing bananas on their heads, swift and silent under the awkward bundles. In seconds, they were upon us.

I didn’t want to impose. Snapping a photo of African women at work was so cliché and potentially offensive, but the scene was exotic and bright.  I ignored correctness and took the risk. I raised my smart phone, and the banana lady in the red-striped shirt reached down and pulled out a camera phone as well. I was confused for a second. Did she want a photo of me? No. Was she blocking my shot? Yes. Had I humiliated her? My arms went weak at the thought, and I nearly put down the phone; but I stayed with it. We had both already invested in the moment, and I wanted to see how it played out.

I snapped a photo. I don’t know if she did. I put my camera down, and she waved a long, reprimanding finger at me while speaking in Swahili. Her friends were smiling, but her eyes were sharp and wet.

Traffic relaxed and we drove away. For the rest of the day my imagination ran wild, constructing countless scenarios. If she had taken a photo, what would she do with it? Take it to a shaman and cast a spell on me? Show it to her friends and mock idiot foreigners? Make a “wanted” sign” for her community? Publish it on her blog like I am doing now?

Asante sana! banana lady in the red-striped shirt, my master teacher of empathy.

(Asante sana! means Thank you very much! in Swahili)

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Photo credits: J. Summerhays — Tanzania, East-Africa

 *****

 Between the Mass Merging of Things

By Jennifer Summerhays, Director of Global Education

On a twisted side street in Edinburgh, Scotland a bagpiper was doing his thing. He didn’t have a tip jar, and he didn’t appear to be marketing for the local shops. Maybe he was, but it didn’t really matter to me. The beauty of the moment was in the secure and individual identity he transmitted. His bagpipes and kilt hadn’t been diluted by globalization, the inevitable merging and integration of cultures. He had somehow escaped homogenization, at least for an afternoon. Several years ago, I read “The World is Flat” by Thomas L. Friedman. I was entertained and shocked by some of the anecdotes and case studies the author presented. One example stuck with me: It’s now more efficient for Mexico to send the plaster molds of the Lady of Guadalupe to factories in China for fabrication, and then ship them back, rather than have the images made in Mexico. Huh? The Lady of Guadalupe is the patron of Mexico City. Is there nothing sacred anymore? I’m an advocate of finding common ground between countries and cultures–sharing, partnering, adapting, and adopting, but I hope we can also maintain a healthy personal and cultural identity in the mass merging of things. I hope we can carve out our unique place in the world, and not forget to sing our own songs at the tops of our lungs.

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Photo credit: J. Summerhays — Edinburgh, Scotland

 *****

Where Questions Can Take Us

By Jennifer Summerhays, Director of Global Education

It was quiet. The streets were still sleeping, and I sat over my bowl of hot oatmeal trying to stay warm. I missed traveling. It had been months since I had been out of the country. I ached for the surprises that come with new places. I missed the flurry of questions that rushed in when I was abroad; the curious me; the person I became when I was uncomfortable and didn’t understand. I swirled the moat of milk around the last oat clump, and decided to head out for a routine walk in Rahway Park just five minutes from my house. I was making the familiar turn around the west side of the pond when something caught my eye, balancing on the edge of a city park garbage can. A pair of red pumps, abandoned but incredibly well-behaved.

I started asking questions: Who had owned the pumps? Why did she (or he) abandon the poor things? Why not just throw the pumps in the garbage, rather than resign them with so much care? Why in the world would someone go to the park in pumps? Was the owner forced to remove the shoes? Human trafficking? A clue? A cry for help in my neighborhood? Could it be the long-faced girl at the end of my block? “Why do people try to control others?” I asked as I walked over the wooden foortbridge. “We are slaves of fashion,” I silently scoffed on the tree-lined side of the pond.  Why not just donate the shoes to charity? So wasteful. How many pairs of shoes do I have? Why aren’t I more like the monk I met in Taiwan, who has only one pair? My feet were starting to hurt, so I looked down at my watch. I had been walking for nearly two hours. Really? A pair of red pumps had propelled me into a wild world of questions–one leading to the next, and then another, and onto a surprising other? I guess travel can happen even when you’re close to home.

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Photo credit: J. Summerhays — Rahway, New Jersey

*****

On a Path in Kaohsiung City

By Jennifer Summerhays, Director of Global Education  

On a path in Kaohsiung, I asked an old man why he had painted his house green.

“Because I needed more hope,” he said.

Kaohsiung City, Taiwan

Photo credit: J. Summerhays — Kaohsiung, Taiwan

*****

O Mercado Adolpho Lisboa

 

I thought I wanted to be a nun. The ones that wear sandals and help the poor. The free-spirited ones that grow their own tomatoes and drink Chianti at night after prayer. So, I moved to Brazil for a year. The Sisters were good to invite me; to give me a hammock and patient community. I lived with them and moved between their cities – Santarém, Alenquer, Monte Alegre, Belém, São José dos Basílios, Fortaleza and Manaus. Each place left an imprint, but Manaus – an indelible mark. It was the man without shoes who spoke like a prince outside the Mercado Adolpho Lisboa.

The air hit me like sweet glue. Manaus is sticky because it sits at the breastbone of wet and wetter – the confluence of the Negro and Solimões Rivers, two-thousand miles north of the National Congress in Brasilia, and two minutes from anaconda nests and trancing shamans. Sister Inês was waiting for me.

“Bem-vinda à Amazônia,” she said warmly, pinching my cheek. I answered with a hug, and we drove away in her blue pickup truck. We followed Avenida Djalma Batista out of the airport and toward the city center. I rolled down the window. Manaus smelled like algae and earth. A small wooden cross hung from the rearview mirror, and a yellowed psalm book was pushed into the corner of the dash. I was pretty sure I wanted to be a Franciscan Sister, or at least an explorer like Percy Harrison Fawcett, who spent most of his time in the blank spaces on the map.

“Obrigado,” I said.  “I mean Obrigada,” I corrected.

“Um prazer,” she said shifting into second.

Manaus means “mother of the gods”. It is the capital of the Amazon region. I don’t know why, but I never thought about the Amazon having a capital. I didn’t think all those trees needed one. But Manaus is more of a metropolis than I’d ever imagined. It’s a super-city and the industrial engine of Northern Brazil.

On the flight, I’d read in my guide book that Manaus had been at the center of the Amazon’s rubber boom, and for a brief moment during the nineteenth century it was one of the gaudiest cities of the world. Sister Inês’ hands left the steering wheel while she tried to explain the history of Manaus in charades. We swerved into oncoming traffic more than once, before I finally understood that rubber barons once watered their horses on champagne.

Remnants of the glory days were still there. We passed shabby architecture of the bygone nouveauriche: a little German, Portuguese, Spanish and Dutch, with indigenous shoved to the side. When Manaus was raped and the seeds of the rubber trees were smuggled out of the region, the mother of the gods tumbled headlong into poverty. The stench of hot waste hit me, and made my nose burn.

“Lá é onde eu trabalho às quartas e quinta-feiras,” Sister Inês said pointing. I understood one word, trabalho. She worked with the poor who lived in the rows of small colored boxes on stilts. “Eles são os mais pobres dos pobres.” I didn’t understand, but I wanted to be interactive and optimistic, and say that at least the houses were colorful. I only knew how to say beautiful colors. So I said, “cores bonitas”. She looked at me and laughed. I wished I could have explained myself better, but I couldn’t so I went quiet and sat without stilts in my own poverty.

We drove through the city and along the water’s edge on Avenida Beira Rio. Tour boats were leaving to see O Encontro das Águas, where the black waters of the Negro meet the brown waters of the Solimões. They flow side by side for nine kilometers without mixing, like Sister and me. We turned onto Rua dos Barés and looked for a parking space near the central market.

“Esse é o Mercado Adolpho Lisboa,” she said. “Quero apresentar o nosso mercado famoso, se você não estiver muito cansada,”she offered kindly.

“Sim. Obrigada,” I said with an emerging headache. We eventually parked on Avenida Lourenço da Silva Braga, and then without warning, Sister blasted off like a rocket in Portuguese.

“O mercado foi construído em estilo art nouveau, entre o final do século 19 e início do século 20. Mercado Adolpho Lisboa é uma cópia do um mercado famoso de Paris. As estruturas metálicas foram construídas em Paris e enviadas para Manaus por navios. Hoje, o Mercado Adolpho Lisboa é o maior mercado em Manaus, e uma fonte de frutas, peixes, e medicamentos indígenos.”

She knew I couldn’t keep up, but her English was even worse than my Portuguese, and she was twenty years older than me. So, I just gave way to hope, trusting that the miracle of divine translation would take over.

“Vamos?” she said

“Let’s go inside,” I agreed.

The vendors were weighing palo santo, sweet potatoes, and camu camu in metal scales. A man with no chin was buying a bag of amor seco and catuaba, probably for his impotence. An enormous Pirarucu still twitched in the fish monger’s scale – fifteen reis per kilo, and I watched like a child.

“Pode ajudar a senhora?” The merchant called out to me. I smiled and slid deeper into the market.

If my Portuguese could have been weighed, it would have come to an ounce, maybe less, but I carried my dictionary everywhere, and studied grammar in my hammock at night. Good intentions had to be worth something.

“Why you like much my language?” Sister asked.

“Eu não sei.” I said with a smile and a shrug. I didn’t know exactly. A psychic in the São Paulo airport called me out of a crowd. She said I’d been Brazilian in a previous life. What do you say to that? It was weird, but I wasn’t shocked; maybe because I felt at home, so far from home. I never feel homesick in Brazil.

The market became a jungle. It twisted me in feathers, and tubers, and strange earthy things. Tiger-striped catfish screamed without sound. A man with a square head was cutting the Piraíba into pieces. I was unaware of Sister. I was consumed by the rows of Pacu on ice with their jaws locked open, and the healers setting up their make-shift pharmacies with cures for diabetes and heart problems. I smiled at the herb sellers, and then escaped before they could ask me if I needed help. There were critters in jars, handmade clothes, shoes, baskets, and jungle equipment hanging from hooks. It smelled like leather and grass, insects, and salty things. I never wanted to leave. The deeper in I went, the more alive I felt.

“Vamos?” Sister surprised me from behind. Tem missa às 12:00. Acho que você vai gostar de Igreja de São Sebastião.” I could understand enough to know she wanted to leave and go to mass, but I wasn’t ready. The chaos was making so much sense.

“ok,” I said in a small voice.

We exited through the main doors, and a half-naked man bumped into me. I heard Sister say, “Meu Deus!” but I saw him. He looked Biblical, like a half-crazed prophet with clear green eyes, and bottle-brush hair. He spoke to me with his thin fingers raised to the sky. His Portuguese was smooth and noble. He put his smudged face near mine, and whispered without stopping. I didn’t know what he said, but I cried because it was beautiful. The bells of São Sebastião called us to mass, while the words of the barefoot man flowed deep and cool beside the song of the bell-tower, like two rivers that coexist, but never mix.

Amazon and Tapajos Rivers, Brazil Photo by J. Summerhays

Photo credit: J. Summerhays — Santarem, Brazil

 *****

A Rainha dos Ventos (The Queen of the Winds)

“Muito peso, senhora,” he puffed.

I flushed with shame. I was arrogant about living well on so little, and now! Carting so much stuff marked me American. Rich. Pampered. I despised that, wanting to remain unburdened and free like the wind. But this trip was not a vacation. I’d come to stay.  To experiment with solitude. To write.

“Chegamos!” the driver said with a wet spray. He pushed himself out of the car with a fart, like toothpaste leaving a tube. I walked through the salty metal gate of the villa, and looked down over the dunes.

Ocean unfolded flat and wide, striped with bands of blue: khaki-azure, turquoise, and indigo that fell over the horizon’s edge. It stretched from there to everywhere. A hotel with comic-yellow awnings added color between the villa and the sea. Tiki huts and bars dotted the beach, and fifty meters up from the shore, the dunes were smeared with poverty. A chain of favelas: small slums were connected like knots on a single rope. A dirt path was the expressway between hardship, deficiency, indigence, and privation. Crumbling brick walls and patched tile roofs crouched in low armpits of the land, extending along the coastline. Laundry flapped between open windows, and the smoke from small beach-fires filled the air with gray. Daylight was sinking into the sea, and boys atop mountains of trash cheered for teammates who scored goals between piles of donkey dung.

A swath of yellow grassland was middle earth, where the shanties ended and the villa began.

“My name is Rinaldo,” he said. “But, Naldo will do, just fine.” That was my cue to pay. I handed the driver forty reis, and then I saw that he’d left my bags on the front step of the North house, while I’d been hypnotized by the view.

“Naldo, por favor aceita um pouco mais.” I pushed the extra cash into his hand. He didn’t resist.

“Boa sorte, a senhora,” he said, and then he was off. And I was alone with the sea, and the wind at A Rainha dos Ventos, an isolated villa in northeastern Brazil.

***

The wind blew seven days a week, and swaybacked donkeys wandered the dunes with dry mouths. Eeeeeeeeawawawawaw! The bray shocked me. Even during the day they were terrifying. Deep, honking exhales changed to screams in the wind.

The wind was relentless, howling through the villa nestled in the dunes above Praia do Futuro. The miniature owls roosting in the beach grass bobbed to dodge the persistent blasts. And all the while, the villa walls were unmovable, defending the four houses from the eastern gale. It was in The Garden of Paradise where the East Wind had taken the hero to visit the eponymous garden. But this was a far different East Wind at the villa, that forced itself between the hinge cracks, and loosened window latches at night. This was the trickster North Wind I knew from myth; the wind that is naughty sometimes.

I felt defenseless.

The villa’s exterior wall was thick, white-washed cement. It stood twelve feet high around the entire circumference of the property. A heavy sconce perched on each of the high corners, transforming the villa into a fortress. The four cottages inside were simple, single-story colonials with straight lines. They looked out onto an interior agave garden and fountain, an oasis for black birds and parched creeping things.

The South house was the largest, and painted mustard yellow. The West house was slightly smaller and washed white. The East house was salmon-orange with decorative round curves and shell-like shapes. I lived in the North house, the only cottage with an elevated veranda, and no buffer from the sea winds. Except for mine, the cottages were vacant, waiting for the one-off tourist with a penchant for the primitive.

The straight lines of the villa drew clean boundaries between civilization and savage wilderness, but the wind was a perpetual trespasser. It peeked through keyholes and leaked into electrical outlets. There was no such thing as privacy from the wind.

* * *

I stood at the square bedroom window, pressed my hips against the windowsill, and
leaned out as far as I could without falling. The wind had blown the sea clean all the way from the west coast of Africa. I closed my right eye like a land surveyor, and measured the distance from water’s edge to windowpane. The space between my extended thumb and pointer finger was about a half mile, a trick I’d picked up watching my mother paint landscapes. A kite-seller on the beach held four red diamonds on a string. I drifted to my childhood and the foggy summer months in Daly City with my cousin Bryan and his dragon kite.

I closed the other eye and listened blindly. A wave of sound that started out at sea, was gathering notes as it rolled up the dunes: wet fishing nets slapping wooden decks, a bottle breaking, motorcycle engine, baby babble, snarling dogs, Pentecostal preacher, phone ringing, donkey cry, and a yellow-bellied canary all turned to a wild swell that rode in on the wind, broke through my window, and flooded the room with song.

A Rainha dos Ventos, Brazil  Photo by J. Summerhays

Photo credit: J. Summerhays — Santarem, Brazil

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