I Am Asking for Help; A Cycle Less Vicious

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I am asking for help.

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In writing my first novel, multiple dreams have converged. I dream of communities that do not need to depend so strongly on tourism to sustain themselves financially. I dream of a world that understands people and places whom I love in a way that goes deeper than headlines. I dream of setting a higher standard for outsiders (particularly white ones) who want to tell local (particularly non-white) stories. These dreams lay dormant in my mind until I committed to writing this novel. Then, they awoke. They began as feelings, evolved into questions, and are now possibilities.

For sharing, for teaching, for healing

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This space has been for sharing stories.

Two years ago in my first Chicago winter I found myself warmed by the mornings spent teaching English to immigrants: parents, grandparents, refugees from war-torn places. They shared with me until I was overflowing with their stories. Soon, I realized that it might be valuable to give what I had received. I began writing brief stories here on this blog based on what others had shared with me.

Day-Out

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Today marks the 51st anniversary of Ms. Rosa Parks refusing to give up her place on a bus for a white American solely on account of her being a black American. When I think about her story of rejecting an unfair system, I take little solace in the fact that the world has improved since 51 years ago. My uneasy heart is informed especially by a similar experience of discrimination I witnessed just four years ago on a day that was supposed to be only happy. During that experience, I learned from my host sister’s actions that sometimes when the system unfairly rejects you your only choice is to reject that system. Both Rosa Parks and my beloved host sister who I will call by her nickname, Mamu, have since passed. It is difficult for those of us who knew my host sister to talk about her without pain. But, I feel I must tell her story little by little. Here is one little part of my time with Mamu.

Unusual Sounds

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Normally, sounds atop the roof of Chavda Hotel include squawking crows, rumbling motorbikes, and jangling church bells from Minara Miwili nextdoor. The wind also rattles silverware and rustles tablecloths on especially blustery days. Sitting at a rooftop table, we earned wi-fi with purchase of chipsi and chai. Waitstaff tolerated our lengthy visits because we made them laugh, and we said not Hello but Hamjambo. Proper greetings matter.

Proper goodbyes also matter. This is part of why hundreds of Muslim Zanzibaris gathered at a mosque near the market that day. They wished to pray together and feel a sense of community after a deadly disaster. They wished to say goodbye. Just two days before the beginning of Ramadhan, a massive ferry sank near Chumbe island. The international media reported “at least 68” dead. However, Mnazi Mmoja soccer field and Maisara became an impromptu morgue for suspiciously more than 68 bodies. Families nervously entered tents to look for missing loved ones. Anyone unable to make it to Mnazi Mmoja watched the local news, on which–quite shocking to view–video panned over drowned faces hourly. Wailing pierced the darkness that night.

“Entrepreneur”

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In Namibia, there aren’t many people and there are even fewer cars. Thus, when I needed to go anywhere I relied on fate. I donned long sleeves and a hat, and I set my feet to walking on the sandy road. Without fail, some other traveler eventually crossed my path. Sometimes the driver was headed in a different direction, so we smiled sadly and parted ways. Other times, our itineraries matched up–at least in part–and I hopped into a truck bed or a backseat. Surprisingly often, my automobile-owning saviors transported me for free, especially if my desired destination was on their way, anyway.

It’s too Hot

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One of the first tasks to undertake with my Ohalushu-based host mother was to do some shopping in Ondangwa. Ondangwa is the sprawling town just south of home via the B1 highway, which spans all the way from Angola to South Africa. After school ended, we met another teacher at the wheel of her massive pickup. Two primary school students were also present, and I heard them mention being sent to buy fish. The two little girls floated up into the covered truck bed, followed by my awkward and gangly self-hoisting.

Our first stop in the city was at a fish distribution center with the slogan “Power in Fish.” Only about ten customers were allowed to enter at a time, so our driver and the two girls took their places in line. I sat with some strangers and bargained for apples. After a small eternity, we continued on our journey. The truck bed received me, the girls, and four bags of frozen, salted fish.

Tornadoes and Crocodiles

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On my second day as volunteer, one of my fellow teachers approached me with questions about the United States. In the past (cf. Tanzania), questions like “Is Canada a state?” and comments like “But you are European” annoyed me. However, my fellow teacher changed the way I feel about these seemingly ignorant questions.