Saturday, November 24, 2007

Any thoughts from expats in Africa?

Dearest expats who have lived in Africa or have thoughts about self-exile,

I just got an email from New York-based dancer Nora Chipaumire saying that she is interested in collaborating with me during her Florida State University choreographic fellowship. Since some of you lived in Africa for a bit, any thoughts about Nora's work in relationship to mine and your own expat experiences would be helpful. More about her plans during the residency is at

Video clip of her style

I'm thinking flooding the stage with animations of floating figures, white on black, swooping down, something like the one above.

Let me know if you have any ideas.

Having lived in two African countries, Nicola Jane Barratt suggestions are below.


Two (3, 4?) separate trains of thought on this:

1. Last night i watched "Darwin's Nightmare". if you haven't seen
it, check it out. It's basically about how the west rapes Africa of
all her bounty and leaves her starving, homeless and dying of AIDS.
not very uplifting, but they show a local artist in the film called
simply Jonathan - he's just as impoverished as the rest of the people
of Mwanza, Tanzania. Not that people don't buy art, but the buing
power of the people of Mwanza is highly limited - not many tourists
there. There are wealthy locals - someone is definately getting rich
from the Nile Perch industry in Mwanza, the export rose market in
Zambia and Kenya, the gem market in Madagascar. But the money never seems to trickle down to the people - I have been watching it for years. The best explanation i can come up with, is that the wealthy people don't keep their money in-country and they don't seem to be locals. For whatever reason: fear of government confiscation of property, massive taxation, lack of infrastructure, government instability... people transfer the majority of their money to Europe, the US, South Africa - buying houses or other investments - instead of spending the money in the local economy as immigrants to the US and
Europe did and do....... the locals are not "in charge" - why? have the capable ones left? are the locals not educated enough to run things? for whatever reason, there is a small and not growing middle class of black Africans ........ are we taking artists, the same way we take the fish, roses, gold and diamonds ?????????? should we be careful ????

One of the great things about living in Africa is our ability to
purchase high quality original art (which is pretty much impossible
for us in the US or Europe). It isn't cheap here, but it's doable,
even for teachers. which brings up point #2 ...

2. the value that our culture places on different occupations. as a
teacher, i can't afford to live in the US and raise my children
without losing my sanity - hence, my self-imposed exile. our culture
does not value child-rearing enough to allow one-parent to stay home
part-time (unless the other one is a financier and hence, taking part
in the rape of Africa - see point #1), or both parents to work
reasonable hours and have time to be parents. our culture does value
entertainment and art - the very highest paid artists and entertainers
are multi-millionaires....... in Africa, teachers and artists make
similar amounts of money (do they?-or is this my perception?) - they
are valued equally (or is this perception?) is my life possible here
only because I , in turn, am raping the locals? even in my purchasing
of art for "reasonable" prices?

Nora and i have exiled ourselves for the same reason people have
always exiled themselves - opportunity - for financial security,
freedom of expression, freedom to live closer to one's values .......
For some reason, it's often easier to live closer to one's values when
one lives in exile. The locals tend to leave you alone, to live as
you wish - they figure that you are foreign and entitled to your
values, as long as you don't bother them, whilst those who remain "at
home" are pressured into conforming - which, in the US, means
pressured into consumerism: getting the kids the latest electronics,
getting that new car, getting that new coat of paint on the house -
spend, spend, spend .....

i wonder if Nora's topless performance would be seen so positively if
she was white? could she do this in Zim ???? do American's allow and
promote her because she is "primitive" - "that's just how African's
are" ??????? do Africans allow me to walk around braless because i
am vahza, muzungu, foreign, white????????? or do they silently judge
me, despise me but are too polite to say anything?? do i offend or
am i invisible? do i bring more to this impoverished country by
spending 50% of my dollars here (because i have a big family and hire
nannies, buy lots of local products, believe in buying local art) than
i destroy with my flashy wealth, condescending attitude, promotion of
English, promotion of independence, promotion of women's rights
......... aaah questions for the ages....

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