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Baba and I have written a book, Kpawo, the Bridge: Finding Your Ancestral Connection in Africa. People who work at building this connection with the Motherland are, for us, “Bridge Builders”.

“A Bridge Builder Bearing Gifts” is the title of the last blog entry. It refers to someone doing the work of sustaining our link across the sea. Our first bridge builder’s visit has yielded yet another gift. You may read below the thoughts of our first bridge building visitor.

If I was asked, “What about this journey to your homeland strikes you as being the most important lesson or understanding you’ve received while here?” I would answer, “Simple Pleasures, Simple Beauty”.

From the simple beauty of seeing a young tree establishing its “treedom”, spreading new roots far out from its home trunk; to the simple beauty of seeing a grand old tree. The old tree is well established in its home soil, yet still connected to its environment by roots sunk strategically in its youth and by leaf songs shared with neighboring trees.

From the simple pleasure of eating a vibrant orange papaya ripened on our own tree; picked the day before, dripping sweet juice; to the simple pleasure of sitting under a tree feeling the cool morning breeze waft across my neck.

All of this has taught me to find and connect with the simple beauty, the simple pleasure in life as a means to finding a simple peace within my own spirit… a peace that will mean greater sanity and longer life for all who can make this simple, yet difficult, connection.

ImageIf you’d like a copy of the book, Kpawo, the Bridge: Finding Your Ancestral Connection in Africa, send a check for $25.00 along with your address to: The Magic of African Rhythm, P.O. Box 25096, Durham NC 27702, All book purchases directly support our work here at Shabuta.

 

“I see her! I see her!”
Strucky’s tall
He can see over the crowd

Vigele gele (ululation “li,li,li,li,li”)
My own throat
Sending a signal from the ground

Then …
The ball of light,
Suddenly shining in the walkway
She’s here!

Before her, came REQUESTED GIFTS
in the big barrel

With her came SURPRISE GIFTS
stuffed in baggage

From her lips came HEALING GIFTS
Words uplifting staff
Words healing community
Words strengthening friendships
Words inspiring courage
to drive that stick shift
Songs without words
and a new balaphone to sing them
Old songs sung together
New songs exciting spirit
Laughter of family understanding
A beautiful ritual for a fallen hero

From her hands, mind, her heart came MANY GIFTS
Affectionate hugs and kisses
Second sight for failing eyes
Hair cuts for grey heads
Security training to heighten safety
Support planning for the next phase
Confirmation and projection of family mission

BEST GIFT of all
Enjoying our daughter
Healthy, strong, and full of life

We are truly blessed!

Bala

One day, our friend called and said, “When you come next week, I’ve got some good news for you.” She sounded very happy and excited. And the news was indeed good news:  “My daughter is having a “Traditional African Wedding.” Baba and I were both very happy and puzzled at the same time because most weddings in the towns, as opposed to the villages of Liberia, are either Christian or Muslim – not traditional. She lives in Gbanga town and she and her family are Christians. So Baba and I asked ourselves, “Did we have anything to do with it?”

Before we moved to Shabuta permanently, we had very little cultural impact in the community because we spent all our time building the center. Now, we promote African culture all day, every day. Our friends come to Shabuta to get their African spirits revitalized. We felt, just maybe, some of our cultural seeds were beginning to sprout already. Our friend then asked us, “Have you ever seen a traditional African wedding before?” My mind went straight to Baba’s and my wedding almost 50 years ago in East Africa. And we wondered what this “traditional” wedding would be like in 2011.

We suspected some non-traditional Christian elements would be present, just as some Muslim elements were present in our wedding. Ours was in Temeke, a small community near Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. And sure enough, our friend’s ceremony was officiated by their church minister (even though he removed his collar), just as our wedding was directed by the community sheik (religious leader). A sizable group of the community came to celebrate with us in Temeke. We were all seated on colorful mats with Baba, the sheik, and I in the center. It was inside a cool mud brick building.

The Gbanga celebration was outside in the family yard with everyone seated on chairs facing the minister. A group of village elders were all in a row behind a table. And after family introductions, the husband’s father gave a history of the groom describing his carousing bachelor days and admonishing him to forego all that for his new chosen life as a married man.

Elders, Groom's Father, and Minister

In Temeke, Tanzania, long ago, the sheik sat the two of us down before the real ceremony began and gave us a long counseling session. It was long partly because our Swahili was very poor at the time and he was determined that we understand everything before embarking on our new life together and partly because of the matter of cows. He asked Baba, “Where are your cows?” Since Baba had no cows, he decided 2800 shillings or $700 would suffice. Being almost completely unfamiliar with African customs we thought the wedding itself cost $700. But when Baba gave him the money, he turned it over to me!

Money was also a big factor in the Gbanga ceremony. As the father of the groom continued to talk about his son, he described a certain “bird” his son had seen and been attracted to. He spoke of how that “bird” had led him to a particular house. It was this very house that the young man had approached trying to seek out this beautiful “bird” at all costs. Well, the minister told him that he wasn’t sure the “bird” he was looking for was in that house. “What did it look like?”

“Oh, it had many beautiful colors that were shining all in the sunlight.” So the minister sent someone to look for the “bird” of many beautiful colors. When the person returned, she said, “Oh, there are many “birds” inside this house with beautiful colors. How will we know which one you want?” So the father said, “Bring them out and we will know.” Then we heard some beautiful singing and a whole group of women came dancing out surrounding a woman covered in many colorful lappas (cloths). When they reached the groom’s father, he reached out to take off the cloths and they stopped him, saying, they needed some “incentive” to remove the “feathers”. And so, the man had to pay for each cloth they removed. And, to the enjoyment of all, several “birds” had to come out before the real “bird” of his choice was unveiled.

"Bird" Covered with Many Lappas

The groom’s family was prepared for this and started out giving small denominations of money. I thought, “Oh, this is nice. It will only be token payment for ceremonial purposes.” Little did I know that as each “bird” was unveiled, it became more and more expensive to get those cloths removed until I was shocked at the amount of money paid out that day. And there were also gifts of traditional garments given to all family elders.

Elder Receiving a Gift Shirt

Although most of the Gbanga wedding party was already dressed in traditional-styled African garments, the father of the groom, minister, and most guests were in western attire. It gave a mixed modern/traditional air to the event. The bride and groom, however, were in spectacular African attire.

Bride and Groom

In 1960’s Temeke, I wore a garment I made by hand from some beautiful African cloth Baba selected at the market in Dar es Salaam. He wore his newly purchased African shirt. The sheik and all the community were dressed in African-styled garments.

East African Celebration

Maybe that was because there were no second-hand clothes blitzing across Africa as there are today. Tailors did a good business in those days and cloth with African-style designs was pervasive all over Africa. However, by the 1960’s, too much of the cloth was already produced in Europe.

Our ceremony in Temeke consisted of listening to verses read from the Koran. And the most beautiful part was when the sheik asked us for our commitment to each other. We confirmed several times, after which, he took a cord of sisal and tied one of each of our wrists together. He then led us outside to the court yard where everyone was singing and dancing a greeting to us and giving us congratulations. After the live music, we all had food together.

The ceremony in Gbanga was similar in that the minister put on his collar and began reading from the Bible. Then the music, dancing and food began. However, the music was recorded music with an MC and a PA system.

Elders Dancing

So what isa “Traditional African Wedding?”

Zulu Wedding Dance

What were the traditions like before Islam and Christianity were forced on our people? What do Baba and Mama mean by “Our Traditional African Culture?” Who remembers the ancient ways anyway?

Come to Shabuta and see!

Shabuta

Too Many Firsts

This is the first time we’ve made the transition from farming (as the rainy season ends) to cultural arts programming (as the dry season begins). As in most transitions, there is an in-between time when you are forced to engage in both the old activity and the new simultaneously. That’s where we are now with harvesting still going on as cultural arts programs begin. It is truly overwhelming!

Shabuta Cultural Sundays Flyer

As our children began to approach young adulthood, I saw them become stressed out at certain times – just like us. So I taught them a technique I devised to help deal with spikes of stress in my life. I’d just write down all the specific causes of this spike of stress. Then I rated each item on my “stress list” from one to five. Each week I checked the list and, amazingly, I noticed some items dropping from the list while others were causing less stress. And I felt better! I don’t remember what I figured out caused the technique to work.

A week or so ago I began to realize that Baba and I are doing much of the work we do now for the very first time. I must admit we’re living the dream we’ve had for fifty years, yet, in the back of my mind, I still held the storybook image of children and grandchildren coming to visit a big, old house where grandma and grandpa would just do the same things they did long ago: cook the same food, sing the same songs, tell the same stories from the rocking chairs. And, instead, we’re doing all these new things.

Farming

No wonder we’re overwhelmed! It would be one thing if they were all passive first experiences. However, they are mostly very active first experiences requiring plenty of action on our part. Maybe if I just write all the specific “firsts” down and share them with you, you’ll send us some of those inspirational comments you’ve been sending, and we won’t feel so overwhelmed. Maybe some of you have even dealt with being in such a new environment that you have found yourselves dealing with “too many firsts.”

  1. Baba and I have never managed more than one-half acre of land at a time. So certainly managing a ten-acre farm and cultural preservation site is a mind boggling first for us.

    Trees on the Land

  2. We’ve managed hundreds of people for performances and workshops for short periods of time, but never all day, every day. Just managing a staff of ten people each day is a big first for us too.
  3. We’ve never dealt with animals at all. I think someone gave Baba a goat once, long ago when we lived in the capital, but we quickly gave it away when we found we had to bring it inside the house at night. I guess we didn’t appreciate goat manure like we do now. And still, aside from bush predators, we’re only dealing with chickens!

    Chickens

  4. Thank goodness we’ve kept a vegetable garden for many years, but that’s nothing compared to farming in the tropical bush. And even when we had fifty pots of plants one year, it could never compare to the multitude of tree crops, fruits, vegetables, medicinal crops, ornamentals, green manure and “of interest” crops we deal with now.

    Tobacco Plant Just Sprouted on It's Own

And then there’s the steep learning curve we’re facing at every turn.

  1. A big first for us is that we’ve never been so old before! We’re learning to drive a stick shift for the first time and I haven’t been able to get past the abominable stretch of road that begins at the end of our local farm road.

    County Road

  2. We prepare all our foods – even oil – from scratch) from farm to table (forget the Magic Bullet). We’re looking forward to eventually getting all the adaptors and connectors that will allow us to connect everything to the solar energy supply we enjoy.
  3. So we’ve been living right here in the forest this entire year with only partial electricity, no running water yet, our Humanure toilet, and all of that is a definite first (albeit a proud one).
  4. We’ve also been trying to learn an undiluted Afrikan language that requires the mastery of tones, particularly unique sounds, and very subtle rhythmic cadences. Since all the African languages we’ve learned before have been in the category of trade languages, this is a first for us too.
  5. A big first is learning to live with so many different kinds of insects. There’s one that we always thought, years ago, was dust. It clings to the walls and is shaped like tiny pumpkin seeds only grey or light colored. Then one day I saw one of them moving! This is definitely the first time we’ve felt so ignorant about so many things. And I can’t find that wall creeping bug anywhere on the internet. What is it??

Not all our “firsts” are so active. Some we experience quite passively no matter how deeply felt.

10. For instance, this is the first time we’ve ever been so far away from our children for so long. Even though our youngest “children”, the twins, are over 30 years old now, we are so closely knit that it’s still like parents and children when we’re all together. On the other hand, Baba and I were actually living with them in recent years and it was more like we left the nest when we came home to Africa.

11. It’s the first time we’ve felt so happy and confident that we’re making the best preparations for our family’s and other loved one’s future. I remember admiring one of our friend’s family’s annual reunion. They all come to their family’s land in the southern U.S.A. Their parents doggedly held on to at least enough land for their entire clan to lodge for this event. At first it was just one person who cared for the site, but gradually they all began to invest in the buildings and renovations of the site. Now they have a fantastic yearly event, conducting a “Susu” where they offer scholarships to the family youth.

12. It’s the first time we’ve felt such an outpouring of love going out from us and such an acute awareness of life. Love flows out for the simplest everyday incident like the innocent look of wonder on the face of a staff member when they see the screen as we start up the computer. Or, like today, Baba and I keep saying we’re going all the way through the grotto to the water, but each time we start out, we lose courage and turn back. Today we started again and were overjoyed to see that someone had cleared a beautiful path all the way to the water. We had never even mentioned it to anyone.

Grotto

13. How do we even describe this feeling of so much life all around us? Everything is resonating with vibrant life. It can be a little scary sometimes or sometimes you just forget to be afraid because the bug (or whatever) is so beautiful, you run to get the camera instead.

Anyway, thank you for listening (reading). I feel better already!

A Bug or a Flower?

The Secret Hunter

How can you tell a planter from a hunter? This is a mystery you may be able to help us solve. Baba and I are always trying to identify, encourage, and retain our planters and harvesters: those who see the value of planting “seeds” for future harvest rather than those who are only hunting for what they can “eat” right now. This metaphor we love to use applies to much more than just farming. It is entwined in a person’s world view. We certainly don’t always succeed in our efforts to identify our planters/harvesters. Naturally, everyone has to do a little hunting in life when things are tough. To us, hunting in extreme situations is totally different from living your life constantly on the hunt.

We love three associates who work with us at Shabuta very much – like our sons. We’ve been working hard to encourage them toward planting and harvesting, but it seems we failed with one. His hunting instincts overcame him just recently. Maybe you can read the three profiles below and detect the signs that we missed. If you share your conclusion with us, it may help us to see the signs of a true planter/harvester as opposed to a hunter/gatherer. Maybe you can solve the mystery of the secret hunter.

First Profile

The first person’s age is between the late thirties and late forties. He’s married with a child. His wife is a trader and he helps her. She travels more often than he does and he handles the household affairs when she is gone. He is a hard worker, always willing if his schedule permits. His trade is building/construction and he has always maintained a small farm, sometimes with chickens. Having knowledge of both building and farming, two of the primary development imperatives of Shabuta, has placed him in a leadership position in terms of project decision-making. He has been instrumental in staffing decisions as well and when he has led us wrong, has gone out of his way to personally correct the errors of the employees he recommended. He also drives, a rare skill in these parts and willingly drives for us when his schedule permits. Driving in this small African country town involves navigating treacherous roads. He also has to help us make purchases because the haphazard post-war condition of walkways and shop entrances make it difficult for old people to maneuver the streets. He does all this without complaint. However, it is difficult to schedule activities that involve him because of his family commitments. Many valuable opportunities are lost because of this scheduling problem.

Builder's Project

Second Profile

The second person’s age is between the late twenties and late thirties. He is also married and has children. His wife is a farm wife, spending much time in her family’s farm. He is an energetic, hard worker who sees beyond the immediate task. He can add value to his work project and the entire site. His trade is farming and he is an artifacts craftsman. He is also a jeli (singer-storyteller) and doesn’t hesitate to end our meetings with an appropriate tale. He understands the mission of Shabuta and contributes his ideas to the implementation of our mission. His farm projects proliferate on the site from building nursery beds and coaxing my arugula and tatsoi seeds to grow, to planting a one acre-plus area on the south-western border of our land which we’re now harvesting. He has also made community connections with neighboring farmers. He rents lodging near the site for him and his family. Although he has a daily work schedule with us, he has many on-going outside projects including spending time on his wife’s family farm and he is almost always late to work and leaves early. This causes a problem with work and projects that are time sensitive.

Farmer's Harvest

Third Profile

This person’s age is between 50 and 60. He has a wife, children, and grandchildren. He is a leader with experience in many fields. His position is Chief of Security which he handles very well. He shows initiative and excels in follow-through. So he has brought many needed projects to our attention and has either found the person to do the work or completed the project himself. He is innovative and can devise traps to protect the crops from predators. Whenever there is a security person absent, he will arrange a replacement or personally replace the absent person. He always has sensible suggestions for problems that arise and so we rely on his opinion in most site matters. His kindly, but firm manner keeps the security staff in line while maintaining a relaxed and pleasant atmosphere on site. The staff trusts him to act on their behalf. He has built his own home and some other small property which he rents. Because of his age, there is a feeling among some younger staff that he doesn’t present a “strong” enough image for a security chief or that if there is a real emergency and there is need for strength or force, he will not be able to handle it. Because of his age, we hesitate to request him to do any task that requires youthful strength or fortitude.

Chief Trapped a Predator

Please help us out by sending your choice of “secret hunter”. You can either click “comment” on the blog’s page or send your response to shabutaso@gmail.com and we’ll respond with a thank you.

 

 

First Fruits at Shabuta

Kwanzaa, a “First Fruits” celebration, begins the last week of December. In January, when we first arrived, everything we harvested was like First Fruits to us. We were delighted with the luscious paw paw (papaya) and pineapples, the tangy soursops, the cashew fruits and cashew nuts, and the surprise harvests of wild mushrooms.

Cashew Tree

Cashew Fruit

Wild Mushrooms

We were truly like small children. A little later on, we got plantain and guava. In this month of September we get to harvest the cornucopia of foods we’ve planted since our arrival, the real First Fruits of Shabuta.

Greens! We’ve waited a long time for African greens: potato greens, water greens, kaless greens (mchicha/kalaloo), and the many other delicious greens that don’t have English names. Baba and I got into raw foods many years ago and I love raw greens. Each year we came, I would try African greens raw, but we could never chew them. So you can imagine our delight to find that water greens and kaless greens picked straight from the farm are tender enough to eat raw!

Water Greens

Mchicha/Kaless Greens

Potato greens, just picked, are tender too, but the raw flavor is so strong, it would take my raw foodist daughters to season them to deliciousness. I did mix some raw potato greens with some raw water greens and that was very nice. I’m just sorry most of these greens are so far on the other side of the farm, but I’ll be there every day picking my greens. Cassava leaf may be Liberia’s all-around favorite dish. It certainly is near the top of our list and it grows everywhere so we can have it whenever we like. We haven’t tried the pumpkin leaves yet. They’re way off in a different direction of the farm. I remember loving them in East Africa. We also planted some arugula, tatsoi, chard, and other western greens. I planted them early in the season and they were simply delicious. Then I tried to plant them again later in the season, but I failed. I’ve learned since then, from the farm workshop we sponsored, that I didn’t store the seeds correctly. Since using the techniques we learned for storing seeds in Africa, most of my seeds have remained viable.

We’re also harvesting the pumpkins. You need ten acres to plant African pumpkin. They run all over everything and love to bear these huge, smooth-skinned fruits that are hiding far away from the original seeds you planted. You have to practice spying them out deep in the foliage and bush.

Pumpkin Hiding in the Foliage

The saying goes that you shouldn’t point with your finger when you spot one, only point with your nose or “they will spoil”. Tomorrow we’ll go pumpkin hunting. I already know where an immensely huge one is, but I’ll save that to share with guests and look for a medium sized one. They are very unlike American Halloween pumpkins. The flavor and texture are more substantial. You’ll enjoy delicious and nutritious eating with African pumpkin.

There are many African foods that are bitter, sour, have a “draw” or are hot. Many of them are eaten for health benefits, but once you begin to enjoy most of them, you really can’t do without them. Take, for instance, bitterballs.

Bitterballs

They are in the tomato family, look like little eggplants and the big ones taste quite a bit like eggplant. The tiny ones are usually our favorites because they have that special African bitter twang to them that characterizes many African foods we love. Bitterballs were planted near the legendary African peppers. Naturally, we have lots of pepper.

Palm trees are ubiquitous on the farm. We love the red palm fruits and there’s nothing like the fresh oil.

Red Palm Fruit

Cassava root, with its more nutritious leaves, is all around too and when it’s fresh from the earth, who can refuse? I just wish cassava had nutritional benefits to match the eating enjoyment.

There have also been some wild fruits for which we don’t know an English word. Our one mango tree that is bearing was picked before we discovered it. We’re watching closely now for next year’s crop.

We feel blessed to have so many First Fruits. We couldn’t put most of our crops in the ground until we got the chickens in their house. They were eating all our seeds and destroying all our beds. At least we got to taste a few delicious ground peas (peanuts) that the chickens missed. The other ground peas, beans, tomatoes, rice, okra, cucumbers, etc. will ripen later, along with the late harvesting ginger and garlic.

Everyone here wants us to plant corn, but the corn seed available to us here is that suspect American stuff and so we refuse. We’re looking for some sorghum seed, though. If anyone has suggestions, please send them along. Meanwhile, we’re looking forward to our rice harvest. With the chickens in their house we hope the rice birds don’t eat it all.

Rice Growing near the Chicken House

Thief – One who steals

Rogue – One who makes devious plots for stealing

Brigand – One who makes an enterprise with others for stealing

When we first came to the land before Shabuta had a name, we told everyone involved that we were building on this land for the community. This land was for the good of us all. So the question is asked all across our continent of Africa. The question is asked of the presidents in their western-styled executive offices to the children picking cashew fruit in the village fields: “Why steal from yourself?”

Our project manager with six years tenure disappeared soon after we arrived in January. The assistant was captured, arrested and deported to the capital three months later. Between the two of them we lost property and cash that set our project back thousands of dollars. In spite of this catastrophe, we give thanks for all our blessings. And most important of all, we’re still on course.

Bennu Bird Emerging from Fire and "still on course"

The staff we inherited upon our arrival was part and parcel of the thievery. They were woven into the fabric of the roguish exploitation of the land, for instance. Some destroyed the bamboo grove to make palm wine and we discovered they actually erected a “wine shop” at the intersection of the public road. We have always allowed staff to grow food for themselves and their families, but some grew cash crops and sold them. There were countless rogue schemes going on from “renting” the center for sleeping places to “renting” the land for producing charcoal. So when we moved in, they felt dispossessed. We’re just now seeing the disappearance of the attitude, “this was my land, my place to do with as I wished. You are unwelcome strangers.” This attitude is slowly being displaced with “this is our land”.

And yet, it’s not just a matter of firing the old staff and hiring a new set of people. Of course, the flagrant rogues were fired as soon as we confirmed their guilt. For others there’s no clear proof. In a village community you must take all possible repercussions from decisive actions into account. It takes more time. We just managed to let one old staff person go last week. That went well because we dangled the possibility of contracts coming his way later. There’s one more definite rogue left with two “maybes” still here too. There’s also the fact that since we hadn’t been living at Shabuta in recent years, we’d always counted on our management to select staff. So our selection process, acting as management ourselves, is very slow as we put everyone under the microscope.

Before the war, we never noticed a characteristic that we now see all too often in some people when they enter the center or even the compound. While they are greeting us with a cheerful voice and pleasant smile – their eyes! The eyes are darting over and scanning the entire area as if they are making a mental note of every item which might be of use to them. It is most distressing and discomfiting. For some of them, this mannerism has become a habit. They have no sinister intentions so they may unconsciously ask about something they didn’t see here before. For others, a plan to get those desired items takes shape in their minds – by thievery, roguery, or brigandry. In the old days before the war, I remember people displaying a very relaxed air when entering someone’s place with a sincere greeting in the eyes as well as the voice and the smile. When someone enters in this relaxed way it is such a treat. We all relax and truly enjoy each other.

There is also a small group of people we deal with – thankfully none on our staff – who stop just short of violence to get what they want. In fact, their language, both oral and body can be quite violent. These are the true brigands. They can be the easiest to deal with when we just let security handle them.

Managing a staff of seven to ten people all day, every day but Sunday, is pretty intense for us, even though we had a large enough family for many years: six to nine at various times. But we raised our own children from birth. There’s a big difference when you’re dealing with people other folks raised. We end up involved in the staff’s family “confusions”, their families’ celebrations, illnesses, deaths, and we’re always called upon when they have financial woes (at least one person almost every day). As far as they’re concerned, we could never have a financial woe. After all, we have “inside toilets”. Little do they know!

Thank goodness for friends, supporters, and guardians. Just as the thieves, rogues, and brigands are a sub-species of the hunters and gatherers; the friends, supporters, and guardians are a part of our circle of planters and harvesters. We’re always building this valuable circle and it’s truly growing. We give thanks.

Vai Alphabet Representing "Friends, Supporters, and Guardians"

Question: Why steal from yourself?

Answer: We don’t know who we are.

Question: Figure it out! Who are you?

Answer: I am ________, __________, _____________. (You fill in the blanks.)