Getting Started


Publishing a blog appears to be as much a part of the modern-day process of preparing to go to Africa as are getting all the shots, buying the supplies and making list after list, plan after plan.  I promised myself not to make this first entry too complicated - just enough to make the rest of my learning curve a little less drastic when I have so much to learn next week.

For three months now, I have been looking for possible music pieces I can bring with me.  For three months, I have been learning ChiNyanja, also known as ChiChewa, the local language of the Manda Wilderness.  And for about six weeks, I have been trying to get ready physically, taking a walk almost every day, going up to eight or nine miles on the weekend.

I've learned a lot.
A view not one mile from my home... who knew?
One of the biggest things I've learned while breaking in my hiking boots is just how much I've missed walking!  From childhood all the way through graduate school, walking was my primary form of transportation, at least when I was responsible for getting myself somewhere.  Even at my first job in Montana, I would walk whenever I could - well, at least whenever the temperature was above zero!

Life has a funny way of moving us to different places of course, and it has become more challenging if not impossible to walk as I used to.  Work and home are not nearly as close to one another as they were then (not at all close, in fact).  The next thing I know, I am not walking anywhere any more.  I already owe Africa the gift of restoring my love of walking about, learning what is just outside my door and not just across the globe.

It is not particularly easy to walk here in this corner of New England.  Sidewalks are often an afterthought if they exist at all outside the cities, where they are not usually particularly well-maintained.  Drivers often seem to resent sharing the road's shoulder with those who move along it at a slower pace.  I have taken to carrying a walking stick with me on my journeys, because I have discovered that while a driver might not move over for me, that driver will move over if getting close means that their car's paint might possibly get scraped by a stick!

kumudzi kwathu
The best part of walking again has been the feeling of a strong sense of place again, of being grounded where I am.  My home is no longer set in a vast swath of unknown woods, yards and houses I only glance at as I whiz by on the asphalt ribbon that divides us between what we see and what we actually experience. Now I have walked my neighborhood, the surrounding neighborhoods and even into other towns.

I know that the relationship one has with one's village is of great importance where I will be going, and that questions about how things are kumudzi kwanu (at your village) will be a common greeting.  I am keeping these pictures and others with me to show any I meet there who wish to know more about the place where I normally live.

In ChiNyanja, one does not say "in my town."  Rather, you must always refer to it as "in our town (kumudzi kwathu)."  A community is simply not a place one can claim to possess for oneself, unless perhaps one is the chief of a village.  Your home is a part of you; and you are a part of others, their lives and their own sense of place. Village is a communal concept at all levels.  I find this comforting, even as I find it unsettling: this is certainly not how I have led my life heretofore, or at least not in a good, long while.

Soon enough I will be writing more details about my adventure: what brought me here, what I will be doing and what it is like to do it - whatever it may turn out to be.  For now, though, it is enough to honor the journey as it stands now and to look around at every bend so that I can see where I am, not just where I have been and where I am going.

Ali dere nkulinga utayenda naye.
To say that someone is a certain way means that you have walked with him.


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    A choral conductor walking cheerfully over the world...


    May 2013