February 23, 2008

“Webaba silale maweni”

Here’s an obvious life lesson: sometimes it’s the unexpected that can be most memorable.

Last week, I walked in on our after-school program director Mkuseli singing to himself. This is not surprising as he is very musical and music is an integral part of life here. What surprised me, though, was that he was singing a song I knew, “Homeless” off Paul Simon’s “Graceland” album that was written and recorded with Ladysmith Black Mambazo. He was entranced by the song and I by his singing. When he finished, I asked him where he learned the song and he said he heard it on the radio the other day. I don’t think he had any idea who Paul Simon or Ladysmith are.

This week, I brought my iPod to Itipini and showed him how it worked. Words can not describe how much he loves that thing. For two and a half hours on Wednesday, he walked around with the little white ear buds in his ears humming along. I eventually took it back when the batteries were almost dead. As a sign of how much it affected him, when I went to take his picture, he actually smiled!

He listened to “Homeless” and then I showed him the other Ladysmith music I have, as well as some Soweto Gospel Choir. He eventually got out of the South African section and ranged across my music from Nickel Creek to Joan Jett to the Talent Brothers, my own, sadly defunct, band.

On Thursday, we had some speakers so we could listen together. I also printed off the lyrics to “Homeless” and we sat and sang it together (again and again and again…). He taught me what the lyrics mean and I realized I actually already knew some of it with my limited Xhosa knowledge, including the title of this post. (Xhosa and Zulu are closely related languages and Ladysmith Black Mambazo switches back and forth between the two.) But if you want to learn for yourselves, you’re going to have come visit and sing along with Mkuseli and I.

Also on Wednesday, I was playing with a baby in the clinic and decided it’s never too early to teach a child to waltz. (It was a slow day.) So I started waltzing around the clinic. But of course, you need music to dance properly so I put in the ear buds and dialed up my album of waltzes. (Yes, I have one of those. And to forestall the obvious comment, yes, I frequently march to my own drummer or waltz to my own tune, as the case may be.)

My favourite recent picture: the missionary who teaches the baby to waltz but is interrupted by a phone call while the baby’s mother listens to the music.

That trusty little iPod. Who knew it could facilitate the mission of reconciliation?

UPDATE: Those of you looking for the article I once wrote about how iPods were the greatest threat to American democracy referenced in the comments should look here. I was hoping no one would remember that!


GregMac said...

You might try introducing them to some 5o's Du-Wop. The words might not be understood but the vocal harmonies are both beautiful and universal.

Heidi said...

Great post, Jesse!

Jody said...

How funny...it was only four years ago I was getting my first iPod and my wise older brother told me, "iPods will be the downfall of American democracy."

I'm glad that has not been the case (yet). At least it has made Mkuseli smile.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to echo your brother from when I received my iPod and your similar response. Also, I believe I helped to say "you're not a sell out if you bring one to Africa." What's almost as good as the use of iPod in your work now is that you do it while wearing your KNOM shirt!