The last two years have been some of the most complex and exhillerating of my recent past. Three trips to Tanzania, and a new found freedom of expression in art, music and – acting. Acting? Yes, if you can call it that!
Approximately two years ago, I met a very talented young actor, Carter Winter, who has now become a good friend and collaborator on several projects. He threw me in to the deep end of acting in a project he created – a web comedy series called StartUps, where I assisted on the production. I was Artistic Director for the project, creating props, and then Carter created a speaking role for me as “Ruby” a random character which, if they had not lost some footage, might have made sense. But in any case, I’m in Episodes 8 at 2:15 and 9 several times. Not only that, I coached one of the other actors – a friend of Carter’s – who played “Mr. Black”. He had a significant role in the project and I helped him learn his lines. Several months later, “Mr. Black” ultimately hired me in his own real life startup! More on that later.
The trips to Tanzania came about because I had an itch to visit Zanzibar. The Spice Islands! I contacted a long time acquaintance I knew from England, who had moved back there from London, and he encouraged me to come during the Zanzibar Film Festival in July (2018). And so I carved out an itinerary of six weeks which included a few days in Dar Es Salaam, a ferry trip to Zanzibar, and a 20180708_181717snorkeling excursion. I had spent the summer preparing for this adventure by learning to swim at the local Parks Department swimming pool near Lincoln Center. Next, I scheduled a bus to Arusha to stay for a few days, and then took a flight to Kilimanjaro, to stay with a young woman and her family with whom I had corresponded on Facebook for several months, along with another visitor from Wisconsin to explore the center of Tanzania. Then I booked a camping Campint safariSafari for 7 days from Kilimanjaro. I did get to see the marvelous giraffes, elephants, lions, hippos, monkeys and all kinds of other wildlife in their completely natural habitat.
The most interesting experience was coming across a group of teenage Maasai. These young men, we were told, had recently been circumcised. The tradition is to circumcise boys at around 14 years. We were also told that it is quite normal for children to not know when they were born, although records are improving these days. So teenage boys are determined to be ready for circumcision according to their height, rather than their age! During their recovery period, they wear white stripe markings on their foreheads; they grow their hair and they are instructed not to wash for several weeks. Their healing time is also a right of passage to manhood. These roadside teens stopped our vehicle and spoke to our guide for a moment. We were later told by park officials that it was not allowed for us to take their photo.
Originally, I planned to head to Nairobi, Kenya after the safari for a week before heading home, and I had an extra week that I was keeping open, which worked out perfectly, because I had fallen madly in love with a young Zanzibari while I was attending the film festival, and so I flew back to spend some time with him. It was all a magical time, and my Wisconsin friend, Alma also joined me in Zanzibar for a few days.
I came back to New York my head spinning from the whole experience, as well as completely smitten by this young man. I was considering ways to bring him to the US, even though I knew I had such limited resources to do so. I even explored going on the TV show 90 Day Fiance, and actually sent them a photo of us together. They called me within two minutes of sending the email. They said to contact them once I filed for a fiance visa (which I never followed up on, because ultimately it didn’t work out).
However, after coming back to the US, I decided I would go back to spend some more time with the young man and see whether there could be a future. In preparation for that second planned December trip, I followed up on an offer I was made by friends of friends to help with a project to work on in Dar Es Salaam Two projects to be exact. One project was to do with music – developing a recording studio for underprivileged young people in Dar Es Salaam – The Invisible Dar People project, and the other was developing programs for European visitors (Dutch and Belgian) to volunteer at schools and medical facilities in Iringa, Tanzania. I worked diligently on both of these projects, and was promised more writing opportunities and support (in the form of food and lodging) for my return trip. I began taking footage to develop into a documentary, and was able to go to eight underground recording studios around Dar Es Salaam.
The second visit in December 2018 was fraught with problems. Upon arrival, my young friend and lover had come down with a bout of malaria. He visited me in Dar Es Salaam, but was very unwell. Not only that, his father fell and broke his hip and so he had to return almost immediately to Zanzibar. It was not a happy time for us. Also, my projects were not going as expected. My host’s original accommodations had fallen through, and I was staying at a hotel and was given the understanding that all had been taken care of. Then he left for Europe leaving me on my own to fend for myself. The arrangement was collapsing. Happily though, he introduced me to a friend of his who cheerily became my guide and companion.
After my host returned from Denmark, other plans we had made were falling through, including the unfortunate broken promise of returning money I lent him was also falling apart. It took six months for him to finally pay me back, with me feeling the need to hound him weekly to maintain his integrity and keep his promise to pay me back.
My time in Tanzania for the second trip resulted in me become quite attached to my new companion, and I asked him to accompany me to Iringa, along with my host and his Danish girlfriend, which he happily agreed. We spent the next few weeks together without barely leaving eachothers’ sides. We also managed to do a music video — he is a rapper, and I met his family – everyone! His father, sisters, brothers, his 3 year old daughter, and his mother, who he had not seen in about six months himself. Everyone seemed to think we were destined for marriage. I thought the relationship had some potential, but I needed to see if he was able to become economically viable. I was not going to be able to carry him and his family, which is what I suspected was the aim. I helped with some ideas, some equipment – a computer and start up funds. They all came to nothing for a variety of reasons.
When I returned home on the last day of January 2019, February was a dark and sad time. I could not think of anything but Tanzania and I missed my new companion. In just two months I would have a very big birthday, and I decided I wanted to spend it with him. I immediately booked my third trip and returned in April. I stayed with him in his tiny shack in a small town outside Dar Es Salaam. I was already used to the simple life and having his companionship meant more to me than all the luxuries and comforts of home. Never mind no refrigeration, no proper bathroom, no running water, mosquitoes, cooking on propane, no kitchen, intermittent blackouts. It didn’t matter.
I had my birthday celebration where his family threw me a big party and invited the whole neighborhood. His sisters dressed me in a special dress they had made me for the occasion. We were all dressed alike for the evening. It was a great celebration.
Later, I travelled with my friend to Madaba to meet the rest of his family. Beyond that town was his village where the rest of the family lived. We visited the burial ground of his ancestors and cleared the gravestones of months of debris. It was a beautiful experience. No-one there spoke English. They don’t even speak Swahili.
I returned back to the US rejuvenated and ready to take on the next phase of my life. I made a commitment to completing some artworks that had been lying unfinished for years. Although I have been painting without much interruption for many decades, this large piece had been abandoned due to its daunting size. Three large panels – made from full size doors – had been languishing. I had to decide – finish them or throw them out. I committed to finishing them. Currently they are almost half finished. Since they will be hinged together, they need to be painted on both sides, but I’ve only managed to almost finish one side. I will get back to them eventually.
Of course, while I’m painting, all I want to do is write music. When I’m writing music I want to paint. It is a battle. My dear friend Susan Rostow hired me to write music for her stop-motion animations. I’ve now done several projects with her. The latest being Native Curatives, a project created in conjunction with the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, and the work was on exhibition at Brooklyn College in September 2019.
And then September my life suddenly changed again! The man who had played Mr. Black in StartUps tracked my down through Carter Winter, and asked if I would work for him for his own StartUp. I thought I would give it a try, but I had just begun working as a background actor. I had been on a few gigs and was liking the social aspect, as well as the extra pocket money. I had been on the set of New Amsterdam, The Politician, The Hunt, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Akwafina Show, Madam Secretary, and a couple of films and commercials. I didn’t want to have to give up those fun gigs. But for the most part, I have done so for MDPortals. I am managing so many projects for this startup company, and am enjoying it all immensely – seeing the fruits of my labor. Now I am writing this during the Christmas holidays, where I am finding time to catch up on my life. I will be jumping back into the corporate life tomorrow and heading into 2020 with renewed ambition and energy.