Wednesday, May 21, 2014

I Tried to Hear America Sing

i hear america singing If America singing sounds like me in the shower, then this play was incredibly accurate.  This weekend, Munchkinhead and I headed to the Skylight Music Theater for I Hear America Singing.  It’s a musical theater production about a musical theater production, and was written specifically for the Skylight.

Munchkinhead and I usually love our trips to the Skylight, but this one fell for flat.  For starters, I’m tired of theater shows about theater shows.  This show had a neat concept but didn’t really follow through on it well.  And all the music sounded the same – except the song about whiskey, we liked that one.  The music to the rest was piano-player-in-a-hotel-lobby style with lyrics very similar to the types of things I make up while singing in the shower, or eating, or getting dressed, or being.

One of the gentleman in the show, Rick Pendzich, was Max in Lend Me a Tenor, which Munchkinhead and I loved.  Interestingly, he played a baritone in this show, even though he was a tenor in the other.  His voice was excellent in both shows.

Part of the reason this show didn’t really jive was that, while Rick  looked to be about mid-30s, his supposed-to-be ex-wife looked to be in her 60s.  Stage makeup may do wonders in a traditional theater, but in a small and up-close space like the Broadway Theater Center’s Studio Theater, you can really see every line and wrinkle in the actors’ faces.  Stage makeup is not enough to make everyone look the same age.  It also might have helped if they didn’t dress her like Florence Henderson in every scene.

Munchkinhead and I have decided we’ll stick to stuff in the big theater, because the studio theater presentations have been less than thrilling.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Watoto Waimba

There was an announcement in the church bulletin.  The Watoto Children’s Choir was coming to Milwaukee.  I didn’t know anything about it but could tell by the “Watoto” part that it had something to do with East Africa, so I decided to go.  There were a lot of people from church there.

Friday night, the choir performed at Central United Methodist Church in Milwaukee, across the street from a Slayer concert at the Rave.  The choir consists of children and adults from a program in Uganda called Watoto that helps raise orphans.  Not a great name by trademark standards as it’s rather descriptive, but it seems like a program that’s been highly successful.  It also struck me as a very strange juxtaposition to have a band called Slayer performing next to a group of Ugandan orphans.

The group consisted of a little over 30 performers, children and adults.  The children mostly ranged from 8 to 10 years old.  The music was beautiful, a mix of traditional and modern East African music sung in English and Swahili – it’s possible some of it was also  in Luganda but I don’t know Luganda well enough to pick it out of a crowd.  (I could pick out some of the Swahili.)  The costumes were quite fun too, also representing a mix of traditional and modern.

I have to admit, I was a little nervous as we began to learn a bit about the Watoto program.  Two things particularly gave me that pay-attention-here warning.  First, it became clear that the tour was part of a fundraising gig.  Second, the organization was founded by muzungus.  Now, there’s nothing wrong either of these things in and of themselves – however, there is along history of muzungus with White Saviour complexes coming into Africa – or even from outside of Africa – doing fundraiser events to try to save the poor, backwards, dark, starving, etc. continent from itself.  I’m not a fan of these things (see my 2010 rant here).

Watoto impressed me.  For most of the program, the presentation felt genuine.  These were Ugandan children and adults talking about their experiences and what being a Watoto child had done for them.  There was a donation aspect and also plenty of good for sale in the lobby, but both were, for the most, were presented in terms of “help us continue this great work.”

There was one big exception and one little exception.  The video that was shown had the big exception.  It was going along with showing Watoto programs and students – and showing some really neat things like trade school classes – and then the founders came on.  Suddenly, it seemed like an ASPCA advert.  All pity and “save these poor creatures who cannot help themselves” mood.  Bummer.  At least it was only one part of an otherwise really well done program. 

The little exception was that everything was presented in terms of “Africa” despite that this group is a Ugandan group helping Ugandan children.  There is a new trial program offshoot in South Sudan, to be fair.  But, referring only to Africa and rarely to Uganda perpetuates the Africa-is-a-country misconception.

I’ve come to realize over the years that as much as some of this bothers me, some of it is necessary to get donations and foreign support.  Muzungu-pandering I call it.  Give the white people what they want to see so they’ll give their money.  I sort of now see it as a necessary evil.  Watoto kept the muzungu pandering well balanced with insight into real Africa, including its beauty and its sorrows.  I liked that.

The most moving part of the evening was during one of the breaks between songs where the children would tell their stories about how they came to Watoto.  There was a young girl stepped forwards to talk about the day she became an orphan.  “I came home from school and found my neighbors standing around my mother’s body covered by a sheet.  They told me my father had hung himself after murdering my mum.”

The sadness and concern in the eyes of the adult Watoto woman standing behind this small girl conveyed more than anything else in the entire program.  That expression, that empathy and care from another human being, from another person in the program reinforced the realness of these children’s stories and the importance of Watoto to them.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014


mommy giving katrina a kiss When Alfred and I were little, we had a couple of cassette tapes that we absolutely loved.  Somehow, Mommy seems to now hate the one that was mine yet still enjoy the one that was Alfred’s, but I digress.

One of the fabulous songs from Wendy’s Little Brown Tape, which has made it into quite a few blog posts over the years, was “Mr. Computer Man.”  Mind you, this is on a cassette tape. This song was written, at the latest, sometime in the early 80s, when few people had computers in their homes.  It’s about how super smart computers are.

Alfred being a computer man.

There’s the computer, Mr. Computer Man, who probably would have talked like Stephen Hawking if Stephen Hawking had talked like that back then, and was a robotically clipped, stern male voice.  And then there were all the super impressed children who asked him questions.

“Mr. Computer Man, how much is two plus two?”
“AMAZING!!!” the kids would all yell.

Mr. Computer Man puts up with the kids’ questions for awhile, and then he starts getting smart-aleky.

“Mr. Computer Man, how do you spell Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious?”
“With Letters.”

And of course, in a sort of Mr. Roboto fashion, a machine cannot be truly human and we must distinguish ourselves from the machines.  Human concepts cause overload.

“Hello, Mr. Computer Man, my name is Jenny.  I have a question for you.”
”Wait, Jenny does not compute.  What is your number please?”
”Number? I don’t have a number. I’m a person.”
”A person? A person?! AMAZING!!!!”

It’s difficult to spend more than a couple of days with any combination of me, Mommy, Alfred or Munchkinhead without hearing someone say “AMAZING!!!!”  not to mention answering questions with smart-aleky responses like “a heck of a lot.”

If I ever get one of those smart phones with a personality in it, I’m totally going to say “AMAZING!!!” to it every time it answers me.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Pool Time!

Daddy loves us so much that he always made sure we had fun things to do outside.  He put up a swingset, or 3.  He built  a sandbox, or four.  And each summer, he’d put out a swimming pool for us.

When we were very little, it was a plastic, put anywhere and fill with water do-dad.  When we were older and moved into the new house, it was maintaining the in-ground swimming pool that came with the house.  That was a lot of work.  But the ones I remember most fondly were the couple of small above-ground pools he put in the backyard at the old house.

wendy and katrina in kiddie pool Munchkinhead and Alfred in the pool

He had to start by clearing out a perfect circle in the grass, leveling it and laying a base of sand.  - I just put all the super hard work in one sentence like it could be done in a day. – Then he’d unfold the crazy, floppy, vinyl pool side and he and Mommy would fight with whatever other parts went with it to get it into a circle shape on that flat, sandy base.  I think the only easy part was filling it with water once it was up.

I loved that part.  I loved splashing in the first rush to come out of the hose.  The water would feel so nice and warm, heated from the sun.  It would quickly turn cold and the full pool, on it’s first day open, was often quite chilly.  It would warm as the summer went on, well theoretically.  Alfred and I splashed so much, the pool needed to be topped off frequently.

We had so much fun playing in those little pools.  Daddy taught us how to make whirlpools.  How to get the water going round and round where we could lift up our feet and be carried away by the currents.  He taught us how to float and how to dive for things that sank – or at least reach down and pick them up.

My favorite part of the pool was when Daddy would come for a swim.  Or rather, a sit.  He’d take up almost the whole pool!  Stretched out across the middle like a diameter line, a barricade of Daddy down the middle.  He’d relax with a large cup of ice tea and a newspaper while Alfred and I would use him as a shield in splash fights or something to jump over.  And by “relax,” I mean sit there until it was impossible to read or sit or do anything other than get wet and go deaf from squealing girls.

We were so lucky.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Tears of 9ja

I am sad today.  I am sad for Nigeria.  It is a beautiful country full of sparkling people.  Sure, they do yell a bit – watch any Nollywood film, they really do talk like that – but every Nigerian I’ve met has been super generous.  From the colleagues at the office to the people who opened their homes to me and the strangers on the street who welcomed me to their country, Nigerians love to share, their world, themselves.

The country has had a rough history.  It’s known the world over for corruption and scams.  Internet scams are so highly associated with Nigeria that their name even comes from the Nigerian criminal code, 419.  They’re civil war, only 50 years ago, is still fairly palatable.  - Half of  a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Adiche gives a superb insight into this part of history.  -   There’s been military coups and a stream of changing governments.  So many hardships it’s almost easy to shrug off new difficulties.

Yet this past month, the craziness Nigeria is facing seem to be too much.  Is it because of the sheer number of people kidnapped in the school girls’ kidnapping?  Is it because the bomb blasts are now just outside the capital instead of in some far off corner of the north?  Is it because there’s so much happening at the same time?  Is it because all this horribleness comes in the middle of and over shrouds the great news of Nigeria becoming Africa’s largest economy, of Abuja hosting the World Economic Forum on Africa, of Dangote cement expanding into other countries?  Is it because the death, destruction and fear are finally making US news?

I don’t know.  All I know is, my heart is hurting and I feel as powerless as the mothers crying out for President Goodluck’s help.   Albeit with far less pain because no stranger can ever feel their pain.  I worry about my friends, as selfish as it is to care more for them than their country-mates.  I worry about Nigeria as an economy and a country.  I worry what such violence and instability means for the region and the continent. 

I even worry for my own country – what will we be pulled into when the harm is so high we can no longer stay away.  There is talk that America is going to help look for the missing girls.  I have no idea what this help will look like.  Will it turn into another war on extremist Muslims?  A new excuse for groups like Boko Haram to attack the West in the West?  I do not know.

There is a lot I don’t know.  Only that I am sad.  How wonderful a walk down Abuja’s sunny streets would feel right now.DSCI0887