Bringing Tanga to ToledoWritten by Brandi Barhite | Associate Editor | email@example.com
I decided I wanted to go to Africa when I was on the back of my husband’s Harley last summer.
It was the least likely time to be brainstorming, but the road trip to Washington, D.C., was putting me to sleep and I wanted to perk myself up with thoughts of possible projects.
My mind kept going to the Toledo International Youth Orchestra (TIYO). I had written about the group’s trip to sister cities in Germany and Poland earlier that year and knew about its upcoming trip to Africa.
At one point during that interview, someone said, “Why don’t you come?”
I smiled politely. I didn’t start reporting yesterday; I knew this was just the cordial thing to say. But a few months later, with the wind in my hair, I thought, “I am going.”
The decision to travel to Toledo’s sister city, Tanga, Tanzania, ended up being easy. Getting ready for Africa has not.
I leave June 28, but my journey began in September, from the immunizations required for this sub-Saharan region, to my lost passport to all the “concerns” about traveling. When I tell people that I am going to Africa, their first reaction is awe followed by trepidation.
What about war? AIDS? Food? I asked myself these same questions. But I learned rather quickly that Tanzania has had a history of peace; AIDS is rampant, but nothing that can be contracted through casual contact; and food … well, I might come back a few pounds lighter. We cannot eat anything that isn’t cooked. If we have fruit, it has to bear a thick skin; a banana would be OK; grapes would not. The orchestra has hired Tanzania’s equivalent of a “chef” to travel with us. This person will make sure our food is properly cooked and that our bottled water hasn’t been filled with local water, a common practice in Tanzania.
Viewing this type of poverty firsthand is one of my fears. How will I capture it in writing? Will the natives I interview consider themselves impoverished? Will my voice not be sympathetic enough? I am actually still considering if I should wear my wedding rings; I don’t want to be showy.
But those who have gone before me report that the natives are a people full of hope. They think all Americans are rich like LeBron James and live in Beverly Hills 90210. They consider President Barack Obama their idol and receiving something as simple as a 2008 campaign button would be a reason to celebrate. I am bringing a few of them on behalf of my neighbor who worked on his campaign.
I also worry about the language barrier. Those in Tanga speak Swahili and some English. Early on, I talked with a group of people from Tanzania who were visiting Maumee, and while they were hard to understand, I captured the essence of what they were saying.
And what they were saying was eye-opening. They love Americans and are excited to share their country with us.
I plan to send blogs about the trip to www.toledofreepress.com. This might not happen every day as the Internet is apparently unreliable.
Ultimately, TIYO and I are trying to bring a little bit of American culture to the people of Tanga, and I hope I can bring some of their culture back to us.
Brandi Barhite is Toledo Free Press Special Sections Editor.