Questions my last year high school mentee in Tanzania asked me:
How do you know what you want? How to know which choices to make and where to go?
The Dutch way: Deciding where you want to go and making a plan to get there.
A very efficient way of building and getting somewhere. Though, because of the focus on getting somewhere you might miss out on a lot of excitement and beauty on your way. Having a goal changes how you live the present. It influences your decision making and activities. This can be a very strong and motivating tool. The danger might be that because the goal is in the future you forget to see and be guided by all the beautiful, interesting and exciting things that happen in the moment.
The Tanzanian way: Having big ideals and we will get there if God wishes.
A very open way of living which creates space to enjoy small things and embrace the unexpected. At the same time dreams and ideals will stay dreams and ideals and not much will be realised. By putting the responsibility outside yourself it becomes difficult to take things into your own hands. The ideals seem far away and almost unreachable without little steps or a plan in between.
In between Dutch and Tanzanian: Investing in the moment and trusting your core.
Having a clear idea of your ideals and holistic view on the world in combination with action, investment and decision making in the moment. The actions, investments and decisions in the present will create the next present. This creates a path that takes you to places that resonate with your ideals and holistic view. At the same time it allows you to enjoy, be surprised and excited in the moment.
This combination sounds great but it also brings me back to the questions my mentee asked me: How do you know what you want? How to know which choices to make and where to go?
What are your ideals and holistic views and how do you make sure your actions, investments and decisions resonate with them?
The only moment we can live in is the present. Moments filled with experience, reflection, thought and action in no particular order. Every moment there is an experience to be lived and decisions to be made. It is a journey of cause and effect in which each present will create the next one. Not only your own past, present and future are connected, they are connected to everyone and everything around you. You could ask yourself: How much choice do we actually have?
I think we have a core deep inside which tells us what to do. You could say this is your gut feeling, unconscious, intuition or what ever name you wish. Around this core there are layers covering and blurring its clarity and strength. Social expectations, parent expectations, fixed idea of perfection, success and direction, fear, need for recognition, external and internal judgment etc.
I think everybody knows what I mean when talking about this core but to hear it, listen to it and trust it is very difficult. At first you have to see and acknowledge all the layers around it by listening, observing and reflecting. What do they say, how do they feel and where do they come from? It is a process of learning to recognise them and face them in a kind but determined way. When you see and recognise the layers you can see through them for a moment and truly listen to your core. The communication with your core might not be clear or explainable as it is a non verbal one. This can be confusing, scary or confrontational.
Listening to your core is a great first step but: How do you communicate that what you feel in an honest, sincere and truthful way with yourself and the world around you?
It could be that the listening in itself is already enough. You might experience an eye opening moment or clarity which shifts something in the way you see, perceive or do things.
It could also be that trust is the next step. Trusting your core, the experience and the choices of the present together with the not knowing. As people we tend to believe our thoughts and see them as the truth. Different people have different truths and a shift in your perception can change everything. What is the truth? Not knowing is scary so sometimes we decide to know. We create ‘fake’ control for ourselves which gives a strong and safe feeling but is this useful? It might help to take a step back and observe without judging by letting go of your control thoughts and trusting the not knowing. Through doing so, you will find out that the present takes care of its own future in which you will be present.
Sometimes it is important to share our deep listening with others. Maybe you need a conversation, a listening ear, understanding, help, challenge, change, support or it could be that simply sharing what you feel is already enough. You might need something from someone and have to find the courage to ask for it. It is as if you are asking them to come over and think with, support, change or do whatever it is you feel is needed. You might not receive but how do people know what you need if you don't ask? Asking someone over is not the same as expecting something and you might get something you did not ask for. This can be very useful but can also be frustrating or disappointing. If what you get back is not fulfilling you can ask again, change yourself or accept.
We listen, feel, reflect and act but sometimes the only option we have is patience, kindness and taking time. Maybe the core needs time. If this is difficult it might help you to decide not to decide or to decide not to know. In the end we are not always in a position where we can change or ask. Once in a while you will get into a situation that goes against your core. This is hard and can be very tiring. Being aware and kind to yourself might be the best solution in situations like this.
Following your core does not mean knowing what is going to happen next. You might know what to do but that should not be confused with knowing what will happen. It simply means making a decision and trusting that because of the intense listening in that moment, it will guide you to the next step on your journey.
How does this translate to a creative process?
My classical training had a very ‘Dutch’ approach in which there is a clear goal or final product. I would work step by step towards this goal or product with a very clear idea of how the outcome should be. It is good or bad and the process does not really matter as long as there is a good outcome. This training has given me an amazing set of violin and musicianship skills. A set of skills which became part of me and I still use every day. At the same time I think it is a very specific set of skills, process and way of thinking which at times made me feel limited or even unhappy. What I missed is openness in the process. Instead of saying: “This is the way it should be done or should sound,” I would have loved to hear: “This is a way it could be done or could sound.” Developing skills is something great and inevitable in the process of learning and creating but I don't think skilfulness should be the goal. I think it is a tool which gives you the opportunity and freedom to create and develop further.
When joining the Leadership Master at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama my classical process got exchanged for a different way of working. We would try and explore new ideas without knowing what would come out or happen next. Process and product were equally important or the same. There was no clear good or bad. People would have different opinions or no clear opinion at all often using the word interesting. My classically trained mind got challenged everyday and slowly opened up for new sounds, concepts and experiments.
The Leadership Master opened a new way of thinking and working which got even stronger when practising ‘trusting the not knowing’ in Tanzania. My artistic practice became very flexible. Every time I step outside my comfort zone or experience something new I change the shape, create more space or even fade out some of the walls after which I probably build new ones again. It is filled with experience, skills and knowledge and shaped by perception.
I like to work in a way that is very connected to ‘In between Dutch and Tanzanian’. I follow a strong idea, process, piece of material or personal interaction while reflecting on the actions, investments and decisions I do and make in the present. I build on the knowledge and experience I have and create new ones in the moment. This way of working creates space for unexpected, new and exciting personal learning and ‘product’ material.
Trust is a key word after my experiences in Tanzania and London and therefore I would like to end this bit of writing with a beautiful quote from Ray Bradbury:
“Learning to let go should be learned before learning to get. Life should be touched, not strangled. You’ve got to relax, let it happen at times, and at others move forward with it. I have come to accept the feeling of not knowing where I am going. And I have trained myself to love it. Because it is only when we are suspended in mid-air with no landing in sight, that we force our wings to unravel and alas begin our flight. And as we fly, we still may not know where we are going to. But the miracle is in the unfolding of the wings. You may not know where you're going, but you know that so long as you spread your wings, the winds will carry you.”
So, there is this small bar on an abandoned train station where children run around while old men drink their beer. Goats, dogs and a random chicken wonder around and bikes, motors and woman dressed in the most colourful clothes pass by, carefully balancing buckets, fruit and other impressively big items on their heads or vehicles. It is a film like, colourful and lively happening and all of this happens set against the backdrop of the Kilimanjaro. It is my absolute favourite place in Moshi and the visit of the Dutch duo Rogier Smal en Nora Mulder seemed to be the perfect occasion to finally organise my dream concert. This train station just had to be our Friday evening concert venue!
After working with a children circus in Mambo viewpoint, Nora and Rogier joined me in Moshi for their final week in Tanzania. We played for and worked with the children in the school, explored the different coffee places in and around Moshi and finally performed together with local dance and music group Kili Wizards. The preparation process was very stressful. I am used to organise things in for example The Netherlands or London and well I can tell you now, in Tanzania things go slightly different! I had to be very patient, take risks and trust that in the end everything would be alright. It was absolutely worth it though because the concert was amazing.
The local children were the first ones to come and check out what was going on. They followed us around to see and try our instruments. More and more people came and at the end we had an amazing mixed audience of at least 200 people! We played, danced and improvised till the sun was completely gone.
Aaa when I think back it makes me smile again!!
Photography: Eric de Clercq
I am in Tanzania for almost 4 months now and it is an amazing journey. It feels as if someone has carefully designed every step along my pathway and each experience comes with a challenge, eye opening moment or deeper understanding. At the moment I am struggling with something which has been growing from the moment I arrived.
I came to Tanzania to challenge and develop myself and to completely immerse in a different culture. I did not come here to help. I want to learn from the people I meet and hopefully they learn from me as well. When you meet someone and there is true interaction both will transform. When interacting and exchanging with people from a completely different culture in a completely different environment the learning curve will increase.
There are a lot of moments where I feel blessed but kind of guilty as well for the life, chances and opportunities I have had and will have simply because I was born in the Netherlands. At the same time I think there are many beautiful things here which we don’t have. The way the west has developed with its capitalistic outlook on life and self centred way of living is not necessary the only way or the best way forward. When going to a country with a different culture I think it is very important to acknowledge and respect this culture and to be aware that there might be things you don’t understand or have to do different from what you are used to. People come to Tanzania to help and I have seen some amazing projects and organisations working together with the local communities to make a sustainable difference. With some other people however, although wanting to help comes from a good place, I think this helping motivation is naive or even selfish. When someone gives money or comes for a short amount of time and tries to change things the way they think it should be without considering the cultural difference, the true needs of the local people and the massive scale of the problems the project will most likely collapse during or immediately after they left. They might leave with a good feeling but the local people are left with nothing but failure, dependence and wrong expectations towards other expat.
At the moment I am part of a local music group. They make traditional music and dance with a lot of drumming, singing and story telling. I love working with them and I learn a lot musically, socially and language wise. I think they like me and love working with me too but at the same time the two only single members of the band told me they are in love with me and want to marry me, they expect me to pay everything wherever we go and they think I will buy them new instruments and make them famous. I love to share my musical knowledge and experience with them and I can brainstorm and share ideas but I am not going to manage the band and pay everything. That would create a strange dynamic within the band, it would make them dependent and then when I leave everything would collapse. That is what I told them during the band meeting yesterday but they did not really understand what I was saying. The conversation was confusing and made me feel very sad because although I wish I would be an equal member of the band during my time here, I realised I will never be.
Here in Tanzania I am Geerte or Helena (my more pronounceable second name) but at the same time I am mzungu. I don’t feel mzungu and I don’t want to be labeled mzungu… but I am.
I have never been so aware of my skin colour as I am since arriving in Africa. I have always lived in the west and I have never consciously felt white. Giving, sponsoring and working for free sounds great but it also creates expectations. A lot of people look at me and call me mzungu and some ask me to sponsor their children, want to be my boyfriend or expect me to pay mzungu price. Most of the time there are no bad intentions behind it and they don't try to insult me or anything like that. There are simply not that many white people here and the expectations are high because we come from the west. I don't like it when they call me mzungu because it feels generalising. I am not mzungu… I am Geerte!
I think there is a strange dynamic between the expat community and the local community and I am not sure where I fit in. I enjoy hanging out with both! I would love to just work with people no matter which colour, age or background but somehow I am stuck between the boxes and labels. I sometimes wish to blend in for a moment and be the same as everybody around me. People treating you differently because of the colour of your skin, assuming things and generalising without even knowing you. I know you can't compare my experience here with the racism black people experience in the west but I think this is the first time I can kind of imagine how it must be to be judged only by the colour of your skin.
I am not sure what to do with the local band situation. I would love to keep playing with them as I learn a lot and it is an amazing experience for me but at the same time I am leaving soon and I don’t want to mess up the dynamics within the band just because of my own enjoyment. I believe in exchange but maybe I am naive and selfish as well. I will go back to the Netherlands or wherever I choose to go but they don’t have that freedom to choose and will have to stay here and continue to survive in the world they live in. Maybe in some cases exchange creates more confusion than enrichment leaving a messed up situation. Do I have to take that in consideration, is it just part of life or is it selfish again to think that my presence will have such a big influence on their lives? I don’t really have an answer to these questions and I don’t think there is one. I do think it is important to think about it and I will try to be thoughtful. At the same time I strongly believe that yes there is a difference, I have a white skin colour and I am born an raised in the Netherlands but lets embrace that difference and learn from each other. Besides that the only thing I can do is keep going, make choices and see what the future will bring.
Last weekend I was on tour with Nora, Rogier, Erik and more than 30 local circus children. After sending instruments to the already existing circus group, they worked together for 2 weeks in Mambo viewpoint. Mambo viewpoint is a beautiful place on the top of a mountain just outside the village. They invited me to join the final performance tour in the surrounding villages which was an amazing experience!
We toured around with the children for two days in a car and a truck. We played some amazing circus/music concerts, got arrested by the police (30 children, some adults and instruments in the back of a truck is not really allowed..) and slept together, spread over mattresses, sofas and beds in our final performance village Lushoto. What a beautiful project Nora, Rogier and Eric!
While the children were packing their stuff to go home and teachers used their last bit of energy to finish their work, I was preparing myself for an exciting month of traveling. During my time in Kenya I lost all my travel fear so besides some city's to visit and people to meet there was not much of a plan.
After 3 days in Mombasa (mainly filled with sleeping on the beautiful beaches) I traveled to Dar es Salaam together with Jay. I met Jay one month earlier in Mombasa and we decided to travel together over christmas. In Dar we stayed in the house of his aunt. The most welcoming and caring family I have ever met! Everyday the house would be filled with different family members and friends. With some of them I could speak English but with others it was a daily Swahili practise. Every day I would sit with a different family member to learn new words and have very basic conversations. Where in the Netherlands I can not sit still for more than half an hour, here I would spend whole days sitting, napping, chatting and eating whilst from time to time moving to a different place around the house trying to escape the heet.
I have never experienced such extreem heet and most of the time we would only be active and go out after 4pm. I really got along with Jays family so in the end I stayed with them for two weeks. After that I continued my travel to Dodoma together with my friend and colleague Esnath. Esnath lives in Moshi at the moment but her family lives in Dodoma so we could stay with them.
When staying with local families I shower with a bucket, eat with my hands (only the left had actually) and sleep on a matras in the living room or share one of the other rooms in the house. My body is not really used to the heet, the food and the water and when I arrived in Dodoma I became ill for the 3th time. The idea was to finish in Mwanza and then fly back to Moshi but after more then 20 bus hours, illness and medication I felt very tired. It was time to go home.
I feel that my last week experience of traveling with my amazing friend Anna Kolodziej, who lives in a Muhuru bay in Kenya and works for doctors world wide, can't really be shared in words so I will keep it short. Anna, you are the best!
I slept outside under the stars, in a car and on the floor in a house with 50 other people. Showered with a bucket and in Victoria Lake. Traveled with all possible vehicles filled with impossible amounts of people, got lost and left behind at the border and saved by a motor taxi. I lived with a local family, walked around in traditional clothes and tried to communicate in Swahili. I got drunk and ill (most likely connected..) and got stuck on an island.
Sadness and happiness. A dying patient and a new born. A traditional birthday and a traditional funeral. Exciting, intense and beautiful. Amazing people! I miss my new family now already!
I am here for almost 3 months now so I it is time to learn some Swahili. Every evening I go and sit with the gard and we talk about the stars, food and other things we can talk about in our limited Swahili/English communication. He is a great teacher and we always end up having interesting and fascinating conversations. When people ask me what I studied or what kind of work I do they often respond very surprised. Being a musician is not a very respected profession in Tanzania so the idea that I finished my masters and earn my money by being a freelance musician is a strange idea for them. What shockes them even more is the fact that I am 24 and single. I should at least have a boyfriend if not be married and have children. The idea that I have had boyfriends and lived on my own in London is a confusing and almost unacceptable thing for some of the people I talk to. This is of course not the case for all local people but things like arranged marriage are still common in Tanzania. An other common thing in Tanzania is lying. There is a lot of lying and I had my first full experience during my safari.
A previous volunteer had introduced us to a local friend of him named Kelly. He told us he was a safari guid and made us a good safari deal. The safari was amazing full of beautiful wild life, nature and sunrise. Besides Kevin, the other volunteer, Kelly and me there were two more people in the car. The driver and the cook I was told. Kelly never told us about a cook and a driver but his english is not perfect so we assumed it was a misunderstanding. The driver/guid was a very nice guy and in a conversation with him he told me the truth (I think). He was the real guid and he often worked together with the cook. Kelly asked them to go on safari with us pretending that Kelly was the safari guid and the owner of the car so he could make some money as well. A strange but kind of funny lie we thought and we did not really mind as it was a good safari deal. This changed when Kelly came to us and asked for 80$ more because he made a mistake in his calculations and forgot to put in the fuel to get back to Moshi. We already payed all the safari money so of course we were not going to pay more especially because we now knew Kelly was lying to us from the start. The real guid told us Kelly had used part of the safari money for himself and assumed that we would pay more when he would ask for it because we are his friends. When he found out we were not going to pay more he realised he had a problem because the money he spend was actually the salary for the real guid and the cook. Even though we kept asking questions Kelly kept lying and he never admitted any of the things the real guid had told us. He told us he would take care of the payment of the real guid and the cook but as I am still in contact with the real guid I know Kelly changed his phone number and disappeared. Right now I am not sure what to believe anymore. I had a very long conversation with the real guid about trust and lying and how these things work in Tanzania. He told me he is happily married and he wants to start his own company in a honest and professional way. I trusted him and I still think he was telling the truth but after a while he started texting me more and more and then there was a text saying ‘nakupenda’ which means ‘I like you a lot’ or ‘I love you’. This was very disappointing and it definitely took away my last bit of naivety.
I have learned a lot from this Tanzanian safari experience. Lies, big and small, to look better, to hide something, to family and friends, it happens all the time. Luckily I have also met a lot of amazing and trustable people. In Arusha, a big city 2 hours from Moshi, I met some amazing artists and musicians with whom I hope to work in the future. I am not sure though when I can travel to Arusha again because of the elections. On Sunday everybody went to vote and now we are waiting for the results. People are very nervous and we have to be careful because no one really knows what will be the situation when the results come out. The ruling party has been leading for a very long time but now the opposition party is very big and might get more votes. A lot of Tanzanian people would like to see a change but we will have to see what the results are and if the ruling party and the people will accept it. Tanzania does not have a violen history though so I hope things will stay calm.
We have school holidays now so at the moment I am exploring Moshi together with Gemma. Gemma arrived two weeks after me and will work for the school for at least two years. We try to go to a different place each time. In some places we can sit and dance without being disturbed but in others we will have a circle of guys around us in 5 sec. This is why we always make sure we never go out alone and we take care of each other.
Next month is going to be an exiting one as I go traveling around in Tanzania and Kenya! I will write an update when I get back :)
It has been almost a month since my last update so I thought it would be nice to tell you a bit more about life in Moshi!
I am amazed how different it is from what I had imagined although I am not sure what it was I expected. On one hand my life is very similar as back home. Together with others I live my life with the usual emotions, worries and daily activities. You always take yourself wherever you go I guess and although flying to a completely different country might feel like a big change, it does not change you straight away. On the other hand things are completely different here and the cultural difference is huge. It won't change you from the first moment you arrive but I can feel that slowly things are shifting in the way I think and act.
In my first week I was not sure how safe it would be to walk outside the campus, go into town on my own or travel by bus or bodaboda(motortaxi). Many school teachers tell you it is dangerous but after a week of campus life I felt a bit locked so I started exploring life outside school. On the street people try to talk to you and sometimes follow you around but overall they are very nice and it does not feel unsafe. I sometimes walk to town on my own or take a bodaboda or taxi when I have to travel far or at night. It feels safe as long as you stay on the main road and don't walk alone when it gets dark.
Stephanie, the one in charge of all the volunteers, is a very inspiring person and she often takes me into town and introduces me to new people. With her basic Swahili and open way of communicating she goes around town and visits the local market and other places she wants to go. We often go to the working place of a local group of deaf people. They have their own sowing workplace above a hotel in town and they make the most beautiful things. To control the size of my wardrop I only allow myself to go there ones a week. It is one of my favourite places as they are amazing people and they charge us normal prices. Whenever you want to buy something in other local places you have to make sure you know the price because wherever you go they will ask a ridiculous high mzungu prices. This is very annoying because it takes a long time to get the price down which makes shopping a time-consuming activity!
I start to find my way around and I love traveling with the bodaboda motortaxi. My first bodaboda experience was a slightly weird one though! I was going to visit my friend and I used a bodaboda guy she recommended but when it was time to go back home he did not show up at the agreed time and he did not reply my phone calls. After two hours he finally appeared with a lot of excuses and when we arrived at my house he suddenly started kissing me! It was a very good looking guy but I don't think kissing is part of the bodaboda experience so I quickly went inside and I never called him again. I now have a very nice bodaboda guy who drives safe and keeps his kisses for his wife.
It is time to go out for dinner now. More travel and kissing stories next month!
Today it is Monday the 26th of October which means I am in Moshi for one month and a bit now! On Monday the 21st of September I arrived at Kilimanjaro Airport with my backpack, violin and some mixed feeling of excitement, fear and doubt. Why did I think it was a good idea to book a ticket to Tanzania and trust the not knowing? What am I doing here!? This was also the question they asked me after waiting in 4 different queues to get a visa. My violin seemed to be an interesting and suspicious object and they did not believe my tourist story. 3 hours and lots of questions later I was the only person left in the arrival hall. As a last attempt I decided to give them the phone number of my contact person and luckily this phone call gave me the stamp in my passport to start my Afrika adventure. Thank you Stephanie!
International School Moshi is a 1 hour drive from the airport and if it is not to cloudy it has a beautiful view on the kilimanjaro. I am staying in the volunteer hours together with 4 other volunteers just outside the campus. The house has water and electricity but the candles and torches are always ready because of the regular power cuts. I think we have electricity about 4 days a week and most evenings.
The school feels like one big family. Most of the students are boarders so they live on the campus in the boarding houses and the teachers live on and around the campus as well. We have breakfast, lunch and dinner together in the dining hall in the middle of the campus. During the week we wake up around 6am. This is because breakfast is at 7 and school starts at 7:35 or 8:15. We don't have a television and often we are very tiered in the evening so our bedtime is around 8 or 9pm!
Most of the volunteers in the school are there to organise activities voor the boarding students or they are teacher volunteers. I am a little bit in the middle so there is not really a fixed schedule for me. I have to create my own schedule and that suits me just fine! In the past month I observed, joined in and led a lot of different classes and activities and soon I had a full schedule. Maybe even a little bit too full.. (Moving to an other place in the world does not mean you automatically change I guess haha.)
Susan, the music teacher, is an amazing person to work with. Together we plan which classes I will work with and where I can be most useful. At the moment I am writing a music story with primary 5 and we are creating a future instrument with primary 6. Besides these lessons I work with a vocal group and lead the music fun club for the primary students. With the diploma students I work individually to support them with their homework and assessments. I also assist in the drama class and art class. Next term we will start a school band and I will lead workshops in the interdisciplinary weekend for the m3 classes. It is nice to observe and assist lessons and to lead different groups and projects. There is a lot of space for me to explore new ideas. With some of it I have experience and I feel very comfortable but at the same time there are a lot of moments where I am just trying things as we go. Besides me teaching and leading there are student led projects and clubs which I absolutely love! On Tuesdays students teach me how to play guitar in the guitar club and on Friday I am in the students teach teachers swimming class. They are such amazing teachers!
I really enjoy working in the school but because everybody lives on and around the campus it sometimes feels a bit like a bubble. I try to spend as much time as possible meeting people outside the school and exploring Moshi and Arusha. Two times a week I work in the local nursery school around the corner with about 8 children age 1 t/m 4. They don’t speak English and my Swahili is very basic but we seem to understand each other just fine. I love their natural feel for music and movement so together we make a lot of noise whilst dancing around the classroom!
Every Thursday I visit a local school with some ISM students to talk and debate with each other. The students decide amongst themselves what they would like to talk about and it is always a very interesting afternoon with big topics like aids, arranged marriage, abortion etc. On Mondays some of these local students come to ISM to have 2 hours of music lessons with me. When I asked them what they expected from these music hours they gave me a list of instruments. I hope they were not to disappointed when they found out I could not teach them how to drum, play guitar, piano or trumpet. Instead we made a list of things we could do together and now we work for 2 hours every Monday and try to find ways to express the thoughts and ideas we talked about in the debates through music, text, drama and dance.
That is it for today! Writing regular updates is not really my thing but soon or later you will hear from me again in the future!
Geerte de Koe