Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Year of Living Socially

Last weekend was aberrant, even bizarre for us. Used to weekends in Takoma Park filled with groceries to be shopped, clothes to be taken to the cleaners, broken house things to be fixed, dogs to be walked, assorted errands to be done and occasional exercise squeezed in, this weekend, in a new place where we knew no one two months ago, was socially active throughout.

There is a confluence of good people toting toddlers involved in social change work eager to welcome new people to their ranks. And the funny thing is, my basic misanthropic tendencies don’t seem to be a deterrent.

Bodie is now our little ticket into society here. All his life he has been a taker – wanting food, wailing for something to drink, wanting a diaper changed – but at two-and-half now, he is finally contributing and proving invaluable as our little social networker.

On Friday we hosted baby group/happy hour. The weekly meeting was launched as a baby group, but has morphed into more of an end-of-week happy hour, and oh by the way there are some little kids crawling around the garden. Ten people were over drinking wine and beer, snacking, cocktail partying with no kids reported injured or lost. Somehow the shared circumstances – being in Dar, usually one non-working spouse desperate for conversation, most people involved in some social change work – allows a sense of community to develop quickly.

Saturday evening was spent at a dinner party at Julia and Cory’s home. It was one of those unexpected evenings that everyone there gelled. Coincidentally one of the guys who worked at USAID had been on a conference call with Hillary earlier in the week. The other couple had lived in Mount Pleasant in D.C. All were completely irreverent, continually raising the bar on outrageous stories, bottle after bottle. Cory is a bit of a renaissance man – gourmet chef and collector of African antiquities – and created an amazing meal. Julia had spent her youth in Dar and promised herself she’d be back. It took her thirty years, but she is posted with USAID here. Their 12-year-old daughter is now at the International School, where Julia went at the same age.

On Sunday, we met Teal, Nat and their daughter, Clara, at the beach. Small world is everywhere here – Teal is from DC, they both had Maine connections, Nat’s family is from Princeton, NJ (where Hillary grew up) and Nat knows some friends at home from his work at the World Bank. They had picked up croissants and coffee at the French bakery for an utterly civilized breakfast.

At the next banda hut down the beach, a Canadian couple we know, Michael and Cam (who works at SIDA, Canada’s version of USAID) and their 2-year-old, Adler, showed up with Jenny, Trond (SAIS graduate) and their son, August. Mie and George (the Jane Goodall Institute) were there with their son, Kanto; and Mason and Marion (GTZ) and their 4-month-old son, Arlo.

Most everyone ended sitting in shallow Indian Ocean water, lifting kids as swells rolled in, lounging and chatting. It was like we had summer camp with kids, but without the cliques and counselors.

In the states, to pull together this many people would have required weeks of planning. Everyone’s schedule is so packed and planned. Here, with few places to go, gatherings happen automatically. We invariably run into someone at one of the three shopping centers that ex-pats frequent. Maybe we haven’t been here long enough to sense the undercurrents and dysfunctions that generally come with this sort of small group interaction. At this point, ignorance, and lounging in azure water, is bliss.

No comments: