Update #12: Nashukuru

One evening in the Fall of 2010, my mom and I were up late changing the bandages that covered the wounds on my leg that were refusing to heal after my motorbike accident in Tanzania. It was slow, painful, and difficult work, made more frightening by the fact that the doctors were–at that time–unsure of how to beat the chronic bone infection festering inside my leg. “Amputation” was not a word I was ready to hear, so I denied to myself that it was a possibility, despite my doctor’s warning that if things didn’t get better eventually there would be no other option.

So completely wrapped in shadows, full of fear, we did the work we had to do. And it was then that my mom looked at me and said, “When this is all over, you should get a tattoo. A victory tattoo.” I was surprised that my mother would suggest ink, and took it as a sign of how dire the situation must be, but smiled and said, “Sure.” I didn’t think about it much again. But when my birthday rolled around the following May and I had nearly made a full recovery, mom asked what I wanted and I said, “How about that tattoo you promised me?” I was sort of joking, and she said she didn’t remember making that offer (of course), but the more I thought about it, the more appealing the idea became. But a tattoo of what? What could be good enough to inscribe permanently, irrevocably onto my skin? I realized that a memory and a word had been locked in my mind for some time, ready to be called upon for inspiration.

When I was living in Tanzania in 2009 I worked for Kiva.org, the microfinance platform, at their partner institution Tujijenge Tanzania, Ltd., a microfinance bank that serves poor entrepreneurs, most of whom are women. Part of my job as a Kiva Fellow was to visit the borrowers at their homes and businesses to interview them. I was in a remote part of the city to track down a borrower one day, and despite the oppressive heat, I felt comfortable, at ease walking the sandy streets with a Tanzanian scarf around my head, calling out greetings in Kiswahili, avoiding chickens and goats as I passed. I paused against the side of a building next to a small girl whose yellow dress had fallen off one shoulder, revealing her thin frame and warm, brown skin. She looked at me shyly and said, “Shikamoo, mama mdogo.” My respects, little mama. I responded with the customary, “Marahaba,” which in Arabic means, “I am delighted.” She smiled and said, “Nashukuru.” I am grateful. 

For some reason, that brief exchange filled me with unbridled joy. I felt absolutely present in the moment, truly myself in a foreign land, wearing foreign clothes, with a foreign word still lingering on my lips. “Asante” is usually the word used to mean “thank you” here in Tanzania. Nashukuru seems to be used less often, and with more reverence, just as there is a subtle difference between our concepts of thankfulness and gratitude in English. So after it all, the five surgeries, the months of IV treatments, the pain and depression, I still remembered that moment in the sun, and recognized that I would not trade them. Not for any other life. And that if there were anything I wanted on my body, to remember and to celebrate, it would be this: Nashukuru. A few weeks later I had a tattoo on my right shoulder, a reminder that in the midst of all of life’s struggles, I am grateful.

But what does that have to do with Radio Tanzania, and my connection to you? I guess because it’s the only real way I can give you the full story of why I am here in Tanzania working on this project, and why it means so much to me that each of you have decided to be a part of it with me. Today we reached our $13,000 goal on Kickstarter. So instead of saying nashukuru to the world like a prayer, I now say it directly to each and every one of you. Thank you for contributing to the digitization of this incredible music.

We still have seven full days left to continue to raise money, and I know from my research of Kickstarter, that often the last few days of a campaign can be the most fruitful. It’s my new goal that we raise $20,000 by February 4th, which will allow us to give a larger percentage in royalty payments to musicians, to hire a small Tanzanian staff for research, book-keeping, and translation services, and to purchase equipment for four digitization stations rather than just two (doubling the speed at which we can digitize– which means you get music faster).

Tyler, Benson, Erasmus, and I have made the decision to personally cover all of our own living expenses (flights, accommodations, food, visas, medicine, etc), so that the Kickstarter money can go directly to the digitization, but we are also currently spending a lot of our own money for business purposes, such as registering as an NGO, making copies of Radio Tanzania documents for meetings and proposals, transportation to business meetings, etc. Easing this financial burden would make our project more sustainable in the long-run, as our savings are dwindling already.

Please join us in pushing hard for one more week to gain as much support as possible for the digitization of the Radio Tanzania archives. Thank you for getting us here, and for caring about the music.