And we’re off!

After returning back home to Pennsylvania’s verdant Lehigh Valley, I spent about a week running around to doctor’s appointments, stores, and other people’s houses. I got in one last Lindy and Blues night in Philadelphia with Posfe (‘Posfe’ is the collective noun by which I label all my high school friends), as well as one last Posfe bonfire at Sonya’s house, before I had to leave for my New Jersey relatives’ place, which is closer to JFK airport.

Also happening this last week was my yardsale. It was a good excuse for my friends to stop by and chat, and in fact I received a surprise visit from Sarabeth, Caleb, and Janelle, the slightly younger generation of my friends from Camp Brainerd! When asked what brought them out to my neck of the woods, Sarabeth replied “I saw you were having a yard sale, and I really like yardsales and I really like you!” After hanging out and chatting with me for an hour or so, she and her cohorts went home with armfuls of my clothing, books, and beanie babies. 😀

Between my friends, people from church, and people who just came for the yardsale, I raised over $50 in yardsale sales alone, which is not too shabby when you consider that the most expensive item I sold went for a mere $3! I also received almost $150 in straight-up donations, either at the yardsale or afterwards, from people who had meant to go to the yardsale but hadn’t gotten around to it. With that ~$200, the most recent financial report, and my own calculations, I think I have at least $6,192 in the bank or on its way there!

I’m really touched by everyone’s willingness to support me in this endeavor, whether it’s financially or just by telling me they’ll be thinking of me and wishing me the best (or by posting a song about my future exploits on my facebook wall.) The phone at my uncle’s place has been ringing off the hook for me for the past two days. 😀 I’m going to do my best, for you, for Kijungumoto, and for me.

These last three days have been full of preparation, both physical and mental, for the adventure ahead. I stayed up until 4 am packing on Sunday night, but that meant that it was done by Monday! That has given me some time to read up on the agricultural information 2Seeds linked us to, and also to talk to my family here in New Jersey. I realized last night that this week is the first time I’ve actually talked with this particular aunt as an adult- before, she’d always been the adult and I’d been the child, and I hadn’t gotten to know her as a person very well.

My aunt moved here from China 18 years ago. I asked her what it was like, with specific reference to language acquisition. She said that though she’d been one of the best at English in her classes, and she understood at least 50% of the BBC broadcasts and other similar sources of spoken English before coming, when she first arrived here, she found that she couldn’t understand anything anyone said for a while, and her speaking wasn’t much better.

She was also cut off from a lot of her normal emotional supports- her family, her friends from China- and she felt that friendship in America was different from friendship in China. She had the sense that it was necessary to be more guarded here, to avoid possibly being taken advantage of- she grew up in a smaller community, and the easy, sincere hospitality practiced there did not appear to be the norm in America.

She was also a little surprised at the diversity here; America’s fashion magazines and tv shows are still largely dominated by conventionally attractive white people, and I’m sure the concentration was even higher 20 years ago. As my aunt found, the media presentation of the US differs from the reality.

I’ve really enjoyed hearing about my aunt’s experiences, and I can’t help looking to them to give me an idea of what to expect when I move to an entirely new country to live. As my aunt pointed out, the situation is a little different- she was moving in hopes of building a better life for herself, whereas I’m moving chiefly in hopes of a better life for other people, and I have a definite departure date scheduled. But I’m definitely hoping this will give me valuable skills, and perhaps even a sense of purpose. My aunt’s experiences might help me come to grips with both the way my life and perceptions will change, and what changes will go on in the daily life and thoughts of the people of Kijungumoto when we arrive.

I have to wonder what ideas they have of Western culture, particularly the US, that we will confirm or belie. And I’m sure that my sketchy ideas about Africa, poverty, and community will be confronted and readjusted by the next 9 months. I might not know what they are until I get there, though. I think my best bet is to note what I find surprising- and then ask myself, “Why?”

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The 2Seeds Swing Dance Fundraiser

The official summary of this event can be found on the Official Kijungumoto Project blog: http://thekijungumotoproject.wordpress.com/Benefit-Swing-Dance-for-Kijungumoto-and-Tabora/, but these are my more personal musings on it.

It was actually Josh‘s idea to have a swing dance to raise money for 2Seeds, which is a bit embarrassing, because out of the two of us, I’m probably the one that’s most into swing dancing. We both learned how to do some form of East Coast swing our freshman year at St. John’s College, but by junior year I’d started going to lessons and workshops in Philadelphia, Charlottesville, and Annapolis, working on my Lindy Hop, blues, and Charleston, whereas Josh seemed to be content with the bimonthly dances in McDowell Hall.

So when he mentioned the idea to me at a brief break in the 2Seeds Orientation Weekend proceedings, I jumped on it. About half of my high school friends swing dance at this point, due to intermittent summer exposure to the LaB (Lindy and Blues) scene in Philadelphia.  I figured there would probably be St. John’s swing dance regulars still lurking about in Annapolis over the summer, and I also sort of knew that there were swing dances in Annapolis every Friday night, though I’d only been to those once or twice last summer. Between those three groups, and any friends who would be willing to come out to support us even if they weren’t avid dancers, I figured that we’d have enough people to make an event like that work.

However, I didn’t actually know how to make an event like that work, so once I was settled into my Annapolis apartment, I went to the local swing dance to ask Susanne Sparks for advice.  (She and her husband, Craig, are the Gottaswing teachers/representatives for Annapolis and surrounding environs.) I also went there to get my dance on, and I should add that it was WAY more fun this year than last year- last year I was on someone else’s schedule, arriving late and leaving early, and I didn’t really get a chance to socialize much. But since I was walking there and back, about 15 minutes each way, I had all the time in the world to get to know not just my leads, but also my fellow follows.

Talking and learning new dance moves with my follow posse K, L, and M (you know who you are) was one of the highlights of my summer. Between them and Mr. M, the new manager of the Annapolis Coffee and Tea shop in the Annapolis Bookstore, I finally felt like a part of the larger community in Annapolis. I’m not just a St. John’s student anymore! It’s sort of sad to realize that I probably could have felt this way while I was still a student- aside from Friday Night Lecture, I didn’t actually do that much on Friday nights, and I could probably have spared some time during the school year to chat more with the baristas at the Annapolis Bookstore and/or City Dock. I’m so glad that I was in Annapolis this summer, fundraising and raising awareness about my project, because all of that outreach and networking brought me more than just money. It made me more outgoing and open than I would have been otherwise, with the corresponding social rewards.

The sense of belonging to the Annapolis community, and being responsible for my friends from other communities mingling with my newest one, might have been the most valuable thing I got from helping to plan and run this swing dance fundraiser. That, the dancing (shoutout to my awesome friend with the hat and the other Josh!), and spreading the word to people I probably wouldn’t have been able to reach without partnering with Craig and Susanne, was what made the event worth it for me.

Though Susanne and Craig did most of the legwork for the actual dance, their offer to donate 80% of the profits from a dance they’d host was a pleasant surprise;  when Josh and I first got in touch with them, we had only asked for advice on how to find a venue/band/etc, and they had given us some tips. (So did Jennifer P, mentioned on the donors page under ‘Special Acknowledgements’.) So we’d made some headway on finding a venue ourselves, which was definitely a learning experience.  We’d found a possible venue, but hadn’t tried to contact any bands yet, and we were getting crunched for time when they made their offer. I know I was a tiny bit relieved to take it, especially because it promised a larger range of people than Josh and I would be able to find on our own.

Now, they’d warned us quite early on that swing dances were not particularly lucrative, and our adventures in trying to find a venue that would rent to us at a rate we could afford told us the truth of that statement firsthand! So it wasn’t altogether surprising that we ended up making a total of $210, with both dance proceeds and donations.  Split between Josh and I, that’s $105 each. I admit that I had hoped we’d be able to bring in a little more (my imaginary dance floor was packed with everyone I’d ever known, as well as a horde of dancing strangers, so I’m not saying my dreams were realistic!) but I can’t forget that $105 is nothing to sneeze at, especially considering that the average Tanzanian subsistence farmer makes less than that in a year (and is lucky if he breaks even at the end of it.)

And frankly, I’m impressed at the generosity (or at least tolerance) of the ‘dancing strangers’ that were there, since I don’t think Gottaswing regularly runs the Luau dance as a fundraising event. We were a little out of the ordinary for them, but I hope they had fun regardless. I was also thrilled that so many of my friends came- and I know I’ve said that before, but it bears repeating! My mom and Allison B. came down from PA, a whole host of Johnnie friends came (or planned to come but couldn’t make it- it’s ok guys, I’m really glad that you wanted to come!), and it felt like almost everyone I’d danced or talked with more than twice over the course of 7 Fridays was there. You guys are all amazing, and I hope you had a great time.

Picture by Errol Glazer