Saturday, November 15, 2008


The Miller-Wise household welcomes Kiba, who is feasting on Hillary's shoes, and making us very glad that the floors are easy-to-clean tile.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Halloween in Dar

Halloween represents classic American childhood. Dressing up and gathering candy is one of those collectively shared memories, part of every U.S kid’s psyche. I didn’t fully appreciate the importance of candy corns and polyester costumes until being here, when they are not an option. When I asked Tanzanians if they celebrated Halloween, miming for them on my knees really scary faces and kids running around gobbling candy, generally I’d get a slight downward cast glance and headshake. People here, old people and even women with kangas wrapped tightly around their legs, are remarkably adept at quickly backing away from you without ever taking their eyes off you.

Not have Halloween? Preposterous. So, we decided that Bodie should have Halloween, and we should have drinks. A party was called for.

Thirty adults heeded the call toting kids and bags of candy (although some of it was fancy-schmancy European stuff, which somehow ended up behind the juice cartons in the back corner of our refrigerator where I hoped no one would find it). We had trick or treating, or a version of it. Parents sprawled out throughout the garden, nursing drinks and doling out candy, as kids traipsed from one parent to the next. Two hours after the five year olds had taught the younger kids how to mainline sugar, a giant Winnie the Pooh showed up.

One of Bodie’s classmate’s parents runs a costume shop/production company and brought along one of her cast members. The kids loved Pooh and chased him around the garden. Once the running starts, the dogs jump in. Now that’s a Halloween tradition right there, I thought, as Pooh sprinted across the garden with Dexter, our 140 pound dog, giving chase, nipping into his cushy foam leg.

Bodie, in mustache, beard and one of Hillary’s poufy white shirts, was a debonair pirate. Lot’s of “argh”, “ahoy matey” and “trim the sails”. We had spidermen, princesses, snow whites, ghosts, super babies, and ladybugs. I tried to remember back to my earliest costume memory.

I remember being 4 years old and playing Batman and Robin with a neighbor. His mom was, as my mom used to say, “artsy”. She dyed long underwear for our costumes and sewed black capes. I always had to play Robin and the one-year-older and bigger Eric got to be Batman. Always. Had I known then what I know now, I would’ve built an annual review into my contract with an opportunity at the big job. Being limited to the Boy Wonder at age 4 is one of my earliest memories, and I’m not sure how it’s limited my perspectives in life.

One of Hillary’s earliest memories, at age 5, is being dropped in a swimming pool by a playful Uncle Doug. He didn’t realize she didn’t swim yet. (Thirty years later, he still apologizes whenever he sees her.) She remembers looking up at the surface of the pool and seeing the arc of her fully clothed father’s dive into the pool to retrieve her.

Do early memories always have to be traumatic?

If we can have first memories of happy moments, Bodie might be in for a treat. As the party got late -- it must have been pushing 8 pm -- things got a little crazy. Bodie disappeared into a bathroom with Salome, a wily 5-year-old, and Marisa, a crafty 2-year-old. He emerged naked save Marissa’s Lady Bug costume and hat. Juiced on sugar, he ran circles from the living room around the hallway to the kitchen over and over for an hour, flapping his ladybug wings, shouting: “Chase me! I’m a ladybug!”

And if first memories must be of the traumatic kind, good parents that we are, some day, perhaps when he is a teenager with a girlfriend over for dinner, it will be time to talk about our time in Tanzania, and bring out the ladybug slideshow. Then he’ll remember.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


The dawn had yet to come up as we put the dogs outside in a pouring rain, packed up Bodie, a bag of coffee, a dozen eggs, some tomatoes and onions, and headed over to Matt’s house to watch the election returns.

The storm had temporarily knocked out Matt’s TV, which gets Armed Forces Television, so we gathered around a laptop and started preparing breakfast. Hillary watched in her Obama shirt. Matt clutched coffee in his, well matched to his pajama pants. Mason did a sort of cabbage patchy hip wiggle dance shouting Obama Obama Obama. It wasn’t for the faint of heart. Raj, the Australian contingent, filmed the TV once it came back on. Teal and Nat, heading back to DC shortly, cheered loudly with each swing state announcement.

Bodie, indoctrinated by his parents, knows that there is now a “bad” president. Bodie’s take on why he is bad comes from a preschool perspective– “he pushes and he hits” – isn’t too far off. When the anchors said Obama, which was every other sentence or so, Bodie gleefully shouted to us, “he said Obama!”

When Obama gave his speech, tears were flowing. I realized that a little piece of me, a knot, a tension, dissolved. Living overseas, I have to say “I’m American” frequently. And each time I say it, I now realize, it was with a touch of wariness of how it would be perceived, a small dose of embarrassment over the many messes that our country has instigated during this administration.

Certainly Africa, like most of the world, is watching this U.S. election unlike ever before. Tanzanians are exceedingly reserved, yet, when one walks around Dar es Salaam with an Obama shirt, people call out and shout “Go Obama!”. As we watched, Nat received a text message that tomorrow was declared a National Holiday in Kenya.

I’ve known how angry I was over the Bush administration’s mangling of most things it touched, but not realized how I had internalized that as some element of shame. Like good therapy, as Obama repeated “yes we can”, I felt a little weight lift, a sense of pride and optimism replace a knot of shame and cynicism.

The historic fact that Obama is African-American is fine, but the sense of hope comes more from his approach to how this country can care for its people, take a meaningful role in benefitting all citizens of the world, and ultimately create a world that is safer and more hospitable for Bodie and his generation.

I sat next to Hillary, Bodie clutched in her lap, as Obama spoke. A notion of possibility, of a more positive future, is palpable in ways that I’ve never imagined as a result of a politician. While this president is indeed stepping into the deepest assemblage of calamities that the country has seen in many generations, I have a sense of buoyancy that the U.S. will be a country that I feel proud to say I’m from again.