Part 2: Preparing
As soon as I felt that magnetic force pulling me toward Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, I prepared and submitted my paper to the Organizing Committee for the 6th Pan African Reading For All Conference.
When I received word that my paper had been accepted for the conference, I was deliriously happy! I felt as if Dar Es Salaam itself was calling me home, whispering, “Yes, yes, you belong here.”
Here is the abstract of my conference paper:
“Peace Through Fiction: The Field Guide: Exploring a Novel Way to Change the World.”
My paper examines the worldview that readers can achieve peace through fiction, and presents the first dialogue method that can be used with any novel, in any setting, as a way to increase personal and interpersonal peace.
For my presentation at the 6th Pan African Reading For All Conference, I illustrate the Peace Through Fiction method using the great African novel The River Between by Ngugi wa Thiong’o.
Three ideas support the Peace Through Fiction worldview:
(1) we hunger for stories—to hear other people’s and share our own—but need new ways to experience them;
(2) we want to share true dialogue, but need to know how; and
(3) we feel ambivalent about peace, or disagree on its meaning, and need new starting points.
Anyone may use the Peace Through Fiction dialogue method to discuss any novel for real-life benefits. Readers share dialogue about positives, negatives, and world views, using any novel’s characters as starting points. Characters help readers recall stories of their own experiences; then readers reflect and develop new, more peaceful ways of being in the world.
Peace Through Fiction’s key qualities enhance its usefulness and relevance:
(1) the Peace Through Fiction method is universal: it taps into human desires for self-understanding, learning, and interpersonal connections;
(2) it is international: it works in any country or culture; and
(3) it meets readers where they are: it works for all ages, life stages, education levels, beliefs, and values.
Next I plunged into getting to know Dar Es Salaam and making arrangements for my travel.
As I researched the city’s history and current culture, I was struck by its citizens’ diversity and tolerance, and its politically secular, peaceful society. The people of Dar Es Salaam practice Christianity, Islam, and traditional beliefs in equal measure; Hinduism is also practiced.
The longstanding peace of Dar Es Salaam beautifully reflected the goals of my passion project, Peace Through Fiction—another reason I felt naturally connected to the city.
Next I familiarized myself with the venue for the conference, the University of Dar Es Salaam.
From the list of acceptable hotels provided by the Organizing Committee, I chose to stay at the Palm Beach (“the name may be deceiving, as the hotel is not on the beach”). The Palm Beach Hotel provided modest lodgings in the city center. I wanted to avoid the more rarefied hotels near the University, committed to participating in normal daily life with citizens of the city.
For example, tap water in Dar Es Salaam is unusable, not only for drinking but also tooth-brushing, hand-washing, and fruit rinsing; it must be boiled to be safe. Bottled water is available for purchase, but is expensive. When showering, one must avoid getting water in nose, mouth, or eyes. I wanted that inconvenience to be part of my daily life. (The higher-priced hotels had their own purified water systems for guests.)
As I corresponded with the Palm Beach Hotel’s manager Eric about my plans, we had this exchange, which led to a meeting with destiny.
In addition to airport pick-up, I will be going to the university for five days, Monday 10 Aug through Friday 14 Aug, and will need to get a taxi ride both ways each day. The times will be a little different from day to day.
For me, it would be great to have one driver to depend on for the whole week. Could you see if it’s possible for the gentleman you know to do so?
I will arrange the driver for you — his name is Iddi.
Continuing my research, I also happened upon the mention of a small bookstore called Soma Book Café, which I felt definitively drawn to visit on my trip; I wrote the address in my notebook.
Then I began contacting Tanzanian journalists in and around Dar Es Salaam in hopes of meeting them in person when I arrived in the city, and to encourage them to cover the conference as press. Two journalists in particular became mentors and conference supporters in ways that transformed the outcomes for me and others who attended.
Young Kimaro was a columnist for the Dar Es Salaam newspaper Daily News, which is how I found her. Young is a political scientist and economist by training and a literacy activist by avocation. Our first email exchange was the beginning of a friendship that continues to this day.
Hello, Ms. Kimaro,
I’m writing to you from the U.S. to thank you for the excellent article in the 27 June 2009 edition of the Daily News in Dar Es Salaam.
Your article, including your proposal for “science stimulus packages” for Tanzania’s secondary schools, was of tremendous interest to me.
Will you be attending the Reading For All Conference? It will take place at the University of Dar Es Salaam 10-14 August. If you’re not currently registered for the conference but are interested, please click on “Conference Details” under “Recommended Links” on the conference blog: http://6thpanafricanrfa.blogspot.com
I’ll be presenting a paper and workshop at the conference and will be in Dar from 8-15 August. It would be a great pleasure to meet you in person.
I hope to hear from you! Many thanks for your clear vision for science education in Tanzania.
Hello Ms. Fraser,
Thank you very much for your kind words about my article and for giving it a broad exposure that it would not otherwise have had.
I am very concerned, as are many fellow citizens of TZ, about the spending habits the country has gotten into. With so much easy money flowing through foreign aid, we have lost sense of perspective in our spending habits. The Ministry of Education’s proposal for science labs is one such alarming example.
No, I have not registered for the Reading for All Conference and thank you for sending me the website link to register. I would have loved to attend and to have met you. Unfortunately, I am crossing the Atlantic in the opposite direction next week to spend an extended time with my children and a grandchild, to be what I love to be most — a grandmother — for a change.
Being an opinionated columnist that I am, I do have some strong views about reading, if I can dig it up from my archives. If you would be interested, please let me know.
I would love to hear more about yourself, what you do and what your connection is to Tanzania. Please do write when you have time.
Another mentor who made a transformative difference in my trip was Ndesanjo Macha, a blogger, journalist, lawyer, digital activist, and new media consultant, and Editor for Sub-Saharan Africa at Global Voices. Our first email exchange was the beginning of a wonderful friendship.
Dear Mr. Macha,
Today I discovered your writing at Global Voices Online, where I was reading news of Dar Es Salaam and Tanzania. Your work impresses me tremendously. I share your interest “in finding ways to amplify voices from non-English speaking parts of the world. Global voices, I believe, ought to be multicultural and multilingual.”
In August, I’ll travel from the U.S. to Dar for the 6th Pan African Reading For All Conference, which will be held at the University. The conference will be conducted in English, Kiswahili (which I’m studying), and French.
If you’re interested in attending the conference as press, I’d be very happy to give you the contact info for Ms. Pilli Dumea in Dar, who is leading the conference.
Also, if you’re going to be in Dar between August 9 – 15, it would be really great to meet you in person.
Hope to hear from you!
With gratitude for your good work in the world ~ Nicole
Nafurahi kupokea ujumbe wako!
Great to hear from you and about the conference, which I did not know about. Is there anything online about it? Ok, I will google it -)
I am in Southern Africa (now in Zambia, going to Malawi and probably Zimbabwe). This conference sounds very interesting. I don’t have anything on my calendar on those dates. I will see. I might get to Dar for this. I haven’t been in Dar for many years…I think 8 years! When I go to Tanzania I don’t usually go to Dar. I go to Moshi and Arusha. Dar is too big, too hot, too fast for me!
Which other parts of Africa are you going to visit or you will only be in Tanzania?
Since you are learning Swahili, are you aware of our Swahili Wikipedia (which is the largest wikipedia in an african language?)
You may also watch the documentary that I took part in called Truth According to Wikipedia (google it, it will come up).
By the way, are you on twitter?
Looking forward to hearing from you again.
The third mentor who changed the course and ultimate outcome of my trip was Judith Baker, the educational activist who helped steer the conference’s Organizing Committee from the U.S.
Judith is the Literacy Consultant to the African Storybook Project, which she helped found, and a lifelong teacher—first as a secondary teacher and basketball coach in the Boston Public Schools for 34 years, and as a volunteer working in Africa to support local teachers in a variety of ways.
I took a special trip to Boston to meet with Judith before the conference. She offered guidance to help me make the most of my upcoming time in Africa, and asked me to start and maintain a blog for the conference. (Blogging was a new endeavor for me in 2009, and one in which Ndesanjo provided priceless support.)
Ultimately, one thing Judith said made all the difference.
She told me, “When you go to Africa, you will be overwhelmed by the suffering and the need of the millions of people. You may try to help too many people and in doing so, you will help no one. Instead, go to Dar Es Salaam with the goal of making a strong connection with one person—one person you can mentor, one person you will stay in touch with after the conference and help in the years to come. If you make one strong connection with one person in Africa—that is how you change the lives of many.”
Judith’s advice made instant sense to me, and I promised to follow it. Little did I know that focusing on “making a strong connection with one person” would lead me home to a long-lost son of my heart.
Next month: Arriving
Nicole Eva Fraser is the author of The Hardest Thing in This World, released by Second Wind Publishing in October 2013, and I Don’t Think It’s That Simple, forthcoming in February 2015. Her current project is Quotable Women.