Tree Song

Trees and lake. Ireland
Trees at Muckross Lake. Killarney National Park. Ireland

I saw a tree by the riverside
One day as I walked along,
Straight as an arrow and pointing to the sky growing tall and strong
How do you grow so tall and strong I said to the riverside tree,
This is the song that my tree friend sang to me.

I’ve got roots growing down to the water,
I’ve got leaves growing up to the sunshine and the fruit that I bear is a sign of life in me,
I am shade from the hot summer sundown,
I am nest for the birds of the heaven,
I’m becoming what the Lord of trees has meant me to be. — Ken Medema

I heard this song during Sunday morning worship service. Sung by our children’s choir, the Cherub Choir. With the words and the young voices, I found this song particularly soothing amidst the tensions and conflict of our social discourse. It helped bring me back to my own spiritual roots.

Georgia O’Keeffe’s House

 

On June 28 we decided to make the drive from our casita at Rancho Jacona to Abiquiu to see Georgia O’Keeffe’s house. The drive was about 45 minutes (from Santa Fe it’s about 50 miles). We were able to get tickets with two days notice. Be aware that tours fill up quickly, so plan ahead if you wish to visit. The tour starts at the the O’Keeffe Welcome Center next to Abiquiú Inn.  Here you board a shuttle bus for the short ride up the hill to the house. Photography is permitted on the grounds, but not in house. When we arrived at the house, thunder clouds were gathering and we were greeted by wind and light rain.  Welcome relief from the hot sun and harsh light. I often prefer the soft light of overcast clouds for photography.

O’Keeffe purchased this property from Catholic Archdiocese of Santa Fe in 1945. She had been interested in the property for some time, but it wasn’t for sale. Eventually she convinced the church to sell the property. Over the next few years she remodeled the house to suit her needs and took up residence in 1945.  She spent winters in Abiquiu and summers at Ghost Ranch.

The tour provides some interesting insight into O’Keeffe’s art work and her way of life.

It Takes a Village to Make a Cup of Coffee

Three months have passed since our African Chagga Coffee experience and it’s still an event that’s worthy of a few words. As part of our tour of Moshi our tour guide, Sophie Angostino, arranged for a visit to the Chagga Culture and Coffee. The Chagga people are an ethnic group, and the village we visited was just outside of Moshi on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro.

It’s hard to explain this experience in words. You’ll just have to imagine standing in a circle around a mortar of coffee being pounded with a wooden pestle while chanting and clapping. Music and rhythm are part of the African experience.

The coffee is pounded twice, first to break off the hulls. What results are the tan colored raw beans.

The raw beans go into an iron pot where they are roasted on a wood fire. Then they go back in the mortar to be pulverized by pounding.

The fine grounds are then brewed into coffee, using a variation on what I would call “cowboy coffee,” but somehow their method results in a rich tasting coffee free of sediment. We sipped the resulting  coffee with a great sense of community and camaraderie.

Reflecting on Culture

Earlier this week I was driving down a street in my home town, Marin Avenue in Albany, California. It’s only been a few days since our return from Tanzania. There is a orderly stream of cars moving along. The street is lined with neat single-family homes. There are no people on the sidewalks, no bikes on the bike path, just an orderly stream of traffic, each car with a single occupant. Each of us in isolation. I’m struck by the the contrast to our experiences in Tanzania. Where are the people, the humanity,  the motorbikes, the thousands of small shops, the roadside vendors and the people going about business? My own neighborhood seems stark and sterile compared with vibrant throngs of people on the streets in Arusha. A stark contrast in cultures. I feel like a fish, having just returned to my fishbowl, and having a whole new perspective about water. I see my own culture as one where people are isolated, insular, each in our own carefully constructed realities, where fear, suspicion and anxiety are prevalent. I wouldn’t even notice this if it weren’t for the opportunity to step into another culture. Even a brief visit gives insights about my own insecurities and biases. As we visited with the people in Africa, I began to appreciate a people that seem less anxious, less fearful, and free to express themselves. One morning as we toured the market place in Moshi, I wanted to photograph some of the people. I had been informed to be cautious about photographing people; many people do not want to be photographed. As I worked with our guide, Sophie, I found, that while some people clearly did not want to be photographed, others were more than willing, and became quite expressive. As we passed one little butcher shop the butcher invited Joann into his shop to pose for a photo, nearly grabbing her off the sidewalk. His enthusiasm and joie de vivre were infectious and something that seemed to create a bond of friendship, transcending our cultures. I doubt that such and interaction would happen on the streets of Berkeley.  I doubt that my idea of “normal” will ever be the same having spent time in Africa. Or if life does start to look normal, that will be my cue to plan anther trip.

 

Maasai Boma Visit

As part of our African safari we had arranged to visit a Maasai boma. The Maasai are an ethnic group that inhabit Kenya and northern Tanzania. There are some 120 ethnic groups in Tanzania, The word boma refers the the enclosures in which the Maasai live.

When we arrived at the boma, our driver, David, introduced us to the village chief. The first order of business was to negotiate a fee. We agreed on a fee of $50US, which we paid in small US bills. It seems that the tourist economy in Tanzania runs on American dollars whether it’s tipping a porter or paying a hotel bill. Small bills are preferred since there is really no way for the locals to break larger bills.

Having completed our transaction, the villagers invited us to join them in their traditional greeting. Jumping, chanting and prancing. Once we had been suitably greeted we were entertained with a lion dance. What struck me about the people was their genuine openness, and the passion they put into their activities. Even though we were just tourists the villagers were quite friendly and clearly have a passion for their culture.

Following the dancing we were given a tour of the compound including an a visit inside one of the mud huts, and a tour of the school where the younger children learn English. The older children have the job of tending the sheep, goats and cattle. At night the livestock is brought into corrals in the boma. A fence of very thorny acacia branches surrounds the boma which serves as a defense against predators.

Once our tour was complete we were offered the opportunity to buy trinkets that the villagers sell with the hopes of generating some additional income. We were warned ahead of time that the villagers might prevail on us to buy trinkets, so we were happy when they politely respected decision not to buy.