LIFE ON THE SHORE OF LAKE NYASA (TANZANIA)

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We reached Matema, a village on the shore of Lake Nyasa, late in the afternoon and lodged in the house of the organization near the lake. At dawn, I went swimming in the clean water of the lake, which had a sandy beach. I felt like I was at the seaside.
A few women were doing their laundry in the lake. Some of them bathed in their dresses. I couldn’t see any woman wearing a swimsuit. Men used the lake to wash themselves, but rarely to swim. They soaped themselves from head to foot and then dove into the water to remove the soapsuds from their body. I wanted to do the same. I soaped my body and then plunged into the lake. How simple and natural this method was!

This is an excerpt from Travels of the Mind by Ettore Grillo
Ettore Grillo author of these books:
– A Hidden Sicilian History
– The Vibrations of Words
-Travels of the Mind
http://www.amazon.com/author/ettoregrillo

LIFE IN AN AFRICAN VILLAGE

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The village was in the Rift Valley. In the lower area, a few houses remained. Most of the houses were in the upper part of the valley. The two places had different names. The relocation of the population was imposed by the frequent floods of Lake Rukwa, which made the houses of the lower village unsafe. The house of the organization stood in the lower area, the oldest and the most fascinating.
The houses were all thatched, without electricity and running water. I spent my days strolling around. I was attracted by the silence and peace in the village and the simplicity of the villagers. There were two or three shops, but as for style and dimension, they were very different from the European shops. There was a barber who ran his shop under a tree! His tools were just a chair, a pair of scissors, and a razor blade. He was very good at using the razor blade to shave his customers. I couldn’t resist the temptation to have my hair cut, even though I had it short and didn’t need to cut it. I sat down on that wooden chair, and the barber cut my hair in the African style. Despite not having a comb, his haircut was excellent. I paid 200 shillings, the equivalent of a few cents.
In front of those houses, there were mostly women and children. Seldom could I find men. The women burned wood and boiled water in big saucepans, probably to cook ugali, the basic food of those people in Tanzania. Rice was cooked as well, but maybe it was more expensive.
I admired the uniqueness and the attire of those women. They wore long dresses. Over their dresses, they wore long and loose cloths called kitenge or kanga (according to the kind and consistency of the fabric) from the waist nearly to the feet. Most women wore several brilliant and multicolored kitenge or kanga. When the need arose, they slipped off a kitenge or kanga from their waist and utilized the material in various ways: to carry their babies behind their backs, to cover them when it was cold, to make a soft base before putting something to carry on their heads, or even to make pretty hats for themselves. The women also carried heavy things on their heads, yet their spines were perfect and upright like those of the models in a fashion show.
I visited a primary school. The classrooms were very crowded. One had 140 students! One of the teachers told me that it was impossible to take care of all the pupils. The primary school was free and consisted of seven levels. They had to pay a fee for the secondary school. In that village, few people could afford to pay the school fees. For that reason, the children finished their schooling at the end of the primary school.

This is an excerpt from Travels of the Mind
Ettore Grillo, author of these books:
– A Hidden Sicilian History
– The Vibrations of Words
– Travels of the Mind
http://www.amazon.com/author/ettoregrillo

GRAVES IN TANZANIA AND AMERICA

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After a short stay in Matema, Manuela took us to her village. She introduced David and me to her mother, who was almost blind, and to her relatives. She was the only daughter still alive. Her sister had died very young, while her brother had died from HIV/AIDS three years before. We met her brother’s widow, who was in good health; she didn’t look infected with the AIDS virus. Manuela’s brother’s grave was in front of the house where he had lived. It was in the street where people walked.
In the graveyard of my hometown, walking on the graves is considered a sin! Manuela showed us two upside-down bottles driven into the ground at a distance of nearly two meters from each other. She said that the bottles were marks that someone had been buried in that place. In that way, people could avoid digging another grave there.
That night, I woke up and sat on my bed. Those two bottles driven into the ground appeared in my mind, as if they were in front of my eyes. The thought that Manuela’s brother had been buried underground without a coffin like a dog made me feel that the end of our life involved the end of everything. Perhaps,in the grave, not only that man’s body, but also his soul, mind, and energy had been buried. Everything vanishes into thin air. We human beings are like meteors, which appear for a while and then disappear. Life is like a firework. It is evanescent. I asked David to tell me something about African burials.
“Can you tell me something about funerals in your country?”
“Sure! The dead person is not buried soon after his death. The dead body is washed and kept in the house for some hours. Then, usually, he is shrouded in a cloth. Often, a few hours before his burial, he is put on a chair in front of the house where he lived. People who knew him in his lifetime can stop there silently and give their condolences to the families.
“In the villages, there are no graveyards. The dead are buried near their houses. First of all, a quite deep pit is dug. Then, a burial niche is made in the lateral wall of the pit. The body is lowered into the pit, taken by two people who are beneath and put in the burial niche, which finally is closed with a cloth. The pit is then filled with earth. The grave is a little higher than the level of the ground and everybody can spot it. But over the years, the traces of the grave tend to disappear. It becomes indistinguishable from the ground. For that reason, Manuela’s sister-in-law drove those two bottles into the grave. She wanted to make it recognizable so that no one could dig another grave in the same spot.”
In the past, I had the chance to visit graves in cemeteries and churches. The grave that impressed me much was Robert Kennedy’s. In my opinion, it is similar to the African graves for its simplicity. It stood at the foot of a grassy hill in the Arlington cemetery in Washington, D.C. One of the richest and most potent men in the world rested inside an unadorned, isolated grave. On it, there were a small cross and a small gravestone with just his name, Robert Francis Kennedy, and the dates of his birth and death.
“When a witch doctor dies,” continued David, “the burial is done soon after his death. People think he can do bad things if his ghost stays on Earth for some time.
“If the chief of a tribe dies, the funeral is different. He is tied on a high-backed chair with a spear in hand. Then, his body and a person still alive, aged between fifteen and thirty-five, are lowered into the grave.”
“But it is just a legend!” said Manuela.
“I don’t think so!” insisted David. “This kind of burial was practiced not long ago. Then, with time, the living person has been replaced with a hen.”

This is an excerpt from Travels of the Mind
Ettore Grillo, author of these books:
– A Hidden Sicilian History
– The Vibrations of Words
– Travels of the Mind
http://www.amazon.com/author/ettoregrillo

AFRICAN DANCES

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On Sunday, William and I went to a village almost 150 kilometers away. There, they were having a celebration for a member of the organization who had been advanced in his career. To get to that village, we crossed a torrid zone of the Rift Valley. It seemed that all the vegetation had been destroyed by a wildfire. The trees were without leaves. William told me to be careful not to be stung by tsetse flies, because I would sleep for a long time or forever if one of those flies stung me. Even the cows sometimes died from a sting of a tsetse fly. I laughed to myself. How could I avoid coming across a tsetse fly? For sure, I couldn’t travel inside a mosquito net! However, we passed that arid zone unharmed. Once in a while, we saw some monkeys and guinea hens.
In the village, there was bustle and a festive air. There were many street vendors. I purchased a flashlight, which can be very useful in Africa.
Walking in the street, I saw something that seemed to be a very old rite, but nobody was able to explain its meaning to me. On one side in a small square, three men were beating
their drums. On the opposite side, there was a big porcupine inside a cage made of reeds on a table. I had never seen such a big porcupine before. The animal was terrified and hook its posterior part, which seemed to be a tail. At almost two meters from the cage of the porcupine, a white circle with a diameter of about one meter was drawn on the round. Inside the circle, there were some quills of the porcupine, a metal tray, and other objects that I couldn’t make out. Two women alternated in dances. The rhythm of the drums was continuous. A man wearing a sharp tail made of cloth danced.
I wanted to know the symbolic meaning of that old dance and of the white circle drawn on the ground. I tried to analyze the symbols, but I couldn’t make out any meaning. Later, I asked a member of the organization to solve the mystery about those symbols. He was an anthropologist and an authority on African lore.
“African dances,” he said, “are just dances of joy and are performed to celebrate something. They are not rites and don’t have any symbolic meaning. Here in Africa, people dance only for enjoyment. In past times, the Africans danced to welcome the warriors who returned from battle. Here, the dances have no other meaning but expressions of joy, love, and peace.”
“What is the meaning of the porcupine, the white circle, the dances of those women, and that man who danced with a tail made of cloth?”
“Porcupine meat has an exquisite taste. This animal is a protected species in Tanzania, but sometimes poachers catch it. The porcupine you saw will be killed to be eaten. The ones who danced are not women, but men disguised as women. The white circle was drawn just for fun to give the impression that they were witch doctors. That dance was just a joke, fun, and nothing else.”

This is an excerpt from Travels of the Mind
Ettore Grillo, author of these books:
– A Hidden Sicilian History
– The Vibrations of Words
– Travels of the Mind
http://www.amazon.com/author/ettoregrillo