Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Hula Hooping and Other Exchanges in Kisarawe, Tanzania
Post and photos by the Hawthorne Hawkman. Video and photo by "Kaka Tembo," or "Brother Elephant," my younger brother who happens to be an offensive lineman in a Division II college.
After learning to hula hoop last year, the activity has surprisingly become one of my favorite hobbies. I've made my own hoop (with some help), regularly hoop several times a week at Farview, and even went to show some kids at Sojourner Truth Academy how fun this is.
So when I was told I should bring along gifts for a school I would volunteer at while on my trip to Tanzania, I didn't think twice before deciding to bring along hula hoops. I DID have to think, however, about...
...how I'd actually GET the hoops to Tanzania.
When I was packing, I was told, "Set aside only what you think you'll need for three weeks. Then pack half of that." As it happens, I was the only family member to follow that advice, but I got all of my things into one carry-on and one checked item, thus allowing me to check the 100 feet of tubing.
I wasn't able to find the kind of tape I'd need, but it turns out I wouldn't have had time to decorate the hoops anyway. The pipe cutter and connecting pieces went in my carry-on luggage, and then it was just a matter of clearing customs. Checking the hoops stateside was surprisingly easy; nobody even batted an eyelash. In Arusha, though, customs had a hard time believing I was bringing this stuff for something other than selling construction materials on the black market.
I tried explaining hula hooping to the customs people, but it just wasn't sinking in. I briefly considered trying to mime hula hooping. However, I quickly realized that a herky-jerky pelvic gyration looks even stranger WITHOUT a hula hoop. Doing this to an already suspicious customs agent would probably get me locked away in a small room somewhere.
Eventually the family's church trip credentials and the presence of other gifts convinced the guy to let us through. Below are some of the presents my brothers and I gave to kids at the school in the Kisarawe district outside of Dar es Salaam:
My only disappointment was that we couldn't spend more time with the kids. David, Aaron, and I got to watch the World Cup finale with over 100 wildly cheering youth, which was an experience in itself. The broadcast of the game was delayed because every channel was showing the Tanzanian equivalent of C-SPAN. The dominant political party had just picked its endorsed candidate for the upcoming presidential elections, and the pomp and circumstance was being paraded around for all to see.
I told one young man how Obama rescheduled his state of the union address so that Americans wouldn't be mad at him or his party for interrupting a popular TV show. He said, "That's a great idea. I'm not going to vote for this party now." I'm not sure if he was joking, as sarcasm is often lost in cultural translation.
David, Aaron, and I spent time in the classrooms as well. The random neural firings of children who want to know anything and everything about us and about America was enthralling, energizing, and often amusing. One kid asked, "Please tell us about the history of America." We had less than ten minutes before the end of the class period. By the time we gave VERY brief overviews of Plymouth Rock, slavery, and the Civil War, they were on to the next question. "Is Michael Jackson really dead? Because I heard a rumor that he's alive."
Kids also wanted to know about what kinds of accents we have in America. (southern drawl, a midwestern patois, an east coast dialect, and pirate, I answered. Ok, not really with the pirate.) Then someone expressed deep concern that George W. Bush was a Freemason, and didn't they or the government kill JFK? Oh, and are Americans all vampires like in Twilight? (No, but if we were, we would be more like the vampires in Blade. France would get the Twilight vampires.)
As much as I enjoyed the randomness of children, I felt we were doing more to disrupt their planned curriculum than help their education. Which, I suppose, is typical for Americans. I would have preferred to stay longer, sit in the classes, see what was being taught, and then add what I could. My only consolation is that Michael Jackson is probably still alive, because it's incredibly difficult to kill a hula hooping Freemason vampire who talks like a pirate. Or at least that's what I told the kids at Kisarawe.