My top 18 in AfricaWritten by Brandi Barhite | Community Ombudsman | firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor’s note: This is a continuing series on Toledo International Youth Orchestra’s trip to Toledo’s sister city Tanga. Toledo Free Press Special Sections Editor Brandi Barhite traveled to Africa with the group.
I am No. 18. I will never forget that number. It was the number I had to yell anytime we did a head count.
I got so nervous about missing my number that I found myself yelling “18” whenever I heard my name, only to realize it had nothing to do with the count at all.
It’s been a long time since I traveled with a large group. I have never filed stories from rural Africa. I learned a lot on this trip and it’s hard to know where to begin.
1. Many Africans have a cell phone, and not just one. Africans might carry three cell phones and change mid-sentence to another phone to get a signal. I learned to not complain when my one cell phone drops one call in one day.
2. I learned how to carry a violin and to act like it’s mine. The Toledo International Youth Orchestra (TIYO) received violins to donate to African musicians and we had to carry them from Toledo to Chicago, Chicago to London, London to Dar es Salaam, Dar es Salaam to Zanzibar and Zanzibar to Tanga. I was asked several times what instrument I played, only to explain I was not a musician. A few days into the trip, I proclaimed I was a violinist. I learned you don’t have to play a violin to be a violinist.
3. I learned how to wrap myself in a mosquito net and sleep without strangling myself.
4. Gate guards are common in Tanga, Tanzania, because robberies are prevalent. Most families have cooking and cleaning help as well. Not because they are rich, but because so many people live in one home.
5. I learned how to pay in shillings, and learned that prices change in Africa, depending on how eager and how touristy you look.
6. Having one arm has no bearing on your awesome ability to play the cello. TIYO member Tommy Canham was born without most of his right arm and plays the cello with the help of his prosthesis. He also plays sports and totally thought I was crazy when I asked why he would decide to play an instrument when he only had one hand. Duh, he loves music.
7. Just because flower petals are sprinkled on your bed doesn’t mean you are staying at a four-star hotel.
8. African tea is the best tea, and scrambled eggs in Zanzibar overlooking the Indian Ocean taste a lot better than “eggs a la Lake Erie.”
9. Some women in Africa try to permanently dye their skin because they believe lighter is better. They damage their skin doing this, making it more susceptible to the below-the-equator sun.
10. Cows are considered “bling.” The more bling you have, the wealthier you are considered.
11. Young children walk unsupervised with babies on the side on the road and adults often mill around with nowhere to go. Everyone is outside all the time.
12. I learned to stop worrying about typos in my stories. I was filing from Africa, folks. My laptop was always dying; the Internet was never working and I was on a bus for a huge portion of the trip — holding that darn violin.
13. Tanzanian time is always late. No one is in a hurry. If locals have to work at 9 a.m., they might come in at 10 a.m., set up for the day and then take a nap.
14. Tanzania has no garbage cans. A bucket on the side of the road is about it.
15. A method of advertising in Africa is buying time on a public announcement system. TIYO’s concert was announced via a van driving around with a PA system.
16. The mayor of Tanga, Salim Kassim Kisauji, stole an idea from Carty Finkbeiner when he visited Toledo in 2001. Just like Finkbeiner, Tanga mayor said he began holding town meetings so he could hear the concerns of the people he serves.
17. I learned that I should not waste food or beverages. I habitually put food on my plate that I don’t eat. When you happen to meet the people who need those uneaten portions, you eat a little differently.
18. I learned that home is good, and you don’t know that until you leave. But when you get to watch fireworks at the U.S. Embassy in Tanzania on the Fourth of July, it sure is cool to be at home in a foreign country.
E-mail Toledo Free Press Special Sections Editor Brandi Barhite at email@example.com.