Sunday, December 25, 2011

Fröhliche Weihnachten!

Christmas 2011
Zermatt, Switzerland

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Ren Fest 2011

Turkey legs FTW

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Gonna meet up with the boys

And see if we can make some noise...

Firehouse Saloon

Thursday, November 24, 2011


Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Thanksgiving Day 2011
Sabine Street Bridge, Houston, Texas

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Richard Wagner’s National Utopia in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

Upon its premiere in June 1868 at the Königliches Nationaltheater in Munich, Richard Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg was immediately hailed as one of his greatest works. Within a year, the opera was performed in Dresden, Dessau, Karlsruhe, Mannheim, Weimar, Hanover, and Vienna, marking a turning point for Wagner on the road to fame. Somewhat ironically, Die Meistersinger is an exception in Wagner’s oeuvre: it is the only comedy among his mature operas and his only work based on a defined historical event rather than a mythical setting. Despite these peculiarities, however, the work epitomizes many of Wagner’s views on art, the state, and the utopian relationship between them that comprised the basis of his life mission. In Die Meistersinger, Wagner represents his vision of a “natural” Germany rooted in a unified artistic Deutschtum, an ideal that resonated throughout the German states at a time of high uncertainty and political agitation.

Die Meistersinger, set in sixteenth-century Nuremberg, tells the story of a song contest for the hand of Eva Pogner in marriage. The plot revolves around the rivalry between Sixtus Beckmesser, the town clerk, and Walther von Stolzing, a visiting knight with whom Eva has fallen in love. Walther, with his unconventional musical style, is eliminated in the preliminary trials, but the night before the final round, he has a beautiful dream, which cobbler and poet Hans Sachs helps turn into a lovely poem. Sachs presents the poem to Beckmesser, knowing that the greedy clerk will unsuccessfully attempt to fit Walther’s verses to his own music. When Beckmesser fails, Sachs proposes that Walther be allowed to compete in the contest. Walther sings a stunning aria ("Morgenlich leuchtend"), winning the contest.

During the 1860s, when Wagner turned his attention back to Die Meistersinger after having shelved the idea for over a decade, the unresolved question of German unification dominated European political discourse. Amid the growing enthusiasm of “Pan-German” associations, as well as Bismarck’s mastery of Realpolitik, the establishment of a unified Germany seemed more attainable than ever, and many prominent German thinkers promoted the role of nationalism in forging the identity of the future state. Few were more dedicated than Wagner, who, in addition to active political involvement—he joined the May Uprising in Dresden in 1849 and was subsequently forced to flee to Switzerland to avoid arrest—saw his works as instrumental in developing German nationalism. The finale of Die Meistersinger, in which Hans Sachs sings the praises of the German mastersingers, captures the nationalism that suffuses the entire work:

Habt Acht! Uns dräuen üble Streich:
zerfällt erst deutsches Volk und Reich,
in falscher wälscher Majestät
kein Fürst bald mehr sein Volk versteht,
und wälschen Dunst mit wälschem Tand
sie pflanzen uns in deutsches Land;
was deutsch und echt, wüsst keiner mehr,
lebt's nicht in deutscher Meister Ehr.
Drum sag ich Euch:
ehrt Eure deutschen Meister!
Dann bannt Ihr gute Geister;
und gebt Ihr ihrem Wirken Gunst,
zerging in Dunst
das heil'ge röm'sche Reich,
uns bliebe gleich
die heil'ge deutsche Kunst!
Hans Sachs invokes that “which is German and true” and urges, “Honor your German masters!” Wagner clearly understood the political climate of his day and published Die Meistersinger, his most openly nationalistic opera, at a time when it was poised to fan the flames of German nationalism.

To dismiss Die Meistersinger as “pure national agitation,” though, would be to overlook the nuances of Wagner’s ideal German state. The strength of the future Germany would come not from unbridled militarism but from “holy German art,” as Hans Sachs sings in the final line of the aria. As Wagner put it in Deutsche Kunst und deutsche Politik, a series of articles in he finished the same year as Die Meistersinger, “only art is the creator of the Volk.” Wagner’s thinking reflects the influence of Herder, who posited that the principal unifying force of a nation was not constituted by language, customs, geography, or race, which were all secondary factors, but rather by the Volksgeist, the unattained folk spirit that could foster cohesion and cooperation among all Germans. According to Wagner, the Volksgeist was the medium through which German art would guide the national consciousness.

The problem was that this idealized Germany did not exist. During his exile in Zurich, Wagner wrote that he longed “not for an old, familiar, regained land, but rather to one foreseen and wished-for, new, unknown, and yet to be attained.” Wagner believed the artist’s duty was to bridge the gap between the two, a theme that runs through Die Meistersinger. It is no coincidence that the closing aria is sung by the town poet, who reminds his fellow townspeople in the finale, “What is German and true, would no longer be known / If it did not live on in the honor of the German masters.” Indeed, Wagner identified with the historical sixteenth-century character of Hans Sachs and even had the habit of signing letters to friends “Sachs.” Just as the inspired Sachs had unified the town of Nuremberg around the true Meistersinger, so too would Wagner unify the Germans through the glory of their art.

Wagner was keenly aware of the enormity of his mission. The issue of German particularism was a formidable obstacle for uniting—culturally, economically, politically, or militarily—the peoples of the various German principalities, electorates, and free cities. Developments such as the Zollverein customs union had strengthened economic ties between the more industrialized regions, but disunity remained the characteristic feature of the German states. Furthermore, among the various ways to unite the states, art seemed particularly problematic. It was only in the eighteenth century that many nations’ writers became interested in the roots of their national cultures and were proud to write in their native languages. During and since the Enlightenment, writers such as Goethe, Schiller, and Lessing had begun to produce specifically German works, but Germany’s stages at the time of Die Meistersinger were still dominated by French and Italian works. Despite these challenges, Wagner boldly called for the “reconstruction of the German theater in the sense of the German spirit.”

Wagner’s vision for this reconstruction, as well as his plan for achieving it, are evident in Die Meistersinger. First, Wagner believed that history provided Deutschtum with both models for success and credibility through the form of precedent. In his writings, Wagner constantly referred to historical sources in his exploration of true Deutschtum. In particular, Wagner identified with the Greek tragedians, whom he praised, and who themselves had looked to mythology for subjects for dramatic treatment. Indeed, there is no shortage of references to legends in Wagner’s oeuvre, most notably in the Ring cycle, but in this sense, Die Meistersinger, set in sixteenth-century Nuremberg, is a departure for Wagner. His selection of a historic singing tradition in Nuremberg, a center of the Renaissance in Northern Europe, as the content for Die Meistersinger is a clear statement about the legitimacy of more recent German history as a basis for Deutschtum. Additional historical references, such as to the Holy Roman Empire in the antepenultimate line of the final aria, impart a further sense of historical continuity. At the same time, Wagner intended for his only comic opera, conceived on the heels of the tragic Tannhäuser, to simultaneously allude to the Athenian tradition of following a tragedy with a satyr play. Thus, Die Meistersinger references both ancient and more recent artistic traditions, reflecting Wagner’s conviction that Deutschtum needed to be grounded in a continuous artistic narrative.

Second, Wagner also grounded the concept of Deutschtum in truth and originality. In the closing, the idea of ‘Germanness’ is linked with truth, both of which are preserved through the art of the German masters. Wagner elaborated on this critical component of his national utopia in Oper und Drama: “We shall not win hope and nerve until we bend our ear to the heartbeat of history and catch the sound of that sempiternal vein of living waters which, however buried under the waste heap of historic civilization, yet pulses on in all its pristine freshness.” Wagner understood the deliberateness involved in crafting a unified nation, but he saw the process as a rediscovery of an ancient, truly German Volksgeist, untainted by more modern influences. His conviction drove him to make a number of spurious linguistic claims related to German originality, such as a connection between the words “deutsch” and “deutlich,” observing in his diary that “the word ‘deutsch’ is also found in the verb ‘deuten’ (to make plain): thus ‘deutsch’ is what is plain to us, the familiar, the wonted, that which was inherited from our fathers and springs from our very own soil.” Ignorance of the Indo-German root of the word “deutsch” aside, it is clear that Wagner saw Deutschtum as something intrinsic and untainted, albeit dormant, within the German people. In fact, Wagner readily added the prefixes “ur-” (original) or “grund-” (base) to his basic concept “deutsch,” referencing a deeper sense of fundamental ‘Germanness.’

Third, Wagner often defined Deutschtum and his utopian German state by what it was not, namely, foreign. In addition to the standard undeutsch and nichtdeutsch, Wagner considered außerdeutsch (extrinsically-German) to be the opposite of German; “national” was defined as that which remained untainted by foreign influences. Unlike other social critics, who found greater faults in the degeneracy of manners, morals, and literary values, Wagner argued that cosmopolitanism was most noxious in the theater, which for Wagner and his age meant opera. Italian opera, Wagner concluded, was “an excuse for conversation and social gatherings.” His most vehement disdain, though, was reserved for the French, whom he associated with “shameless fashion” and “laughable gallantry”. “So sorry is the state of the drama in Germany,” Wagner lamented, “so infected is it by harmful foreign influences, that the theater must be regarded as the betrayer of German honor.” The reference in the finale of Die Meistersinger to a grave threat from a “false, foreign majesty” is an unmistakable allusion to France, reflecting Wagner’s belief that deutsch existed in opposition to außerdeutsch, epitomized by the dastardly French.

These three elements of Wagner’s utopian Germany—historical grounding, originality, and non-foreignness—are interrelated and form part of a series of binary contrasts that recur throughout Wagner’s operas as well as his writing. The conceptual structure is elegantly represented in the following tabular form by Hannu Salmi in his book Imagined Germany, with positive relation on the vertical axis, and oppositional on the horizontal:
deutsch - undeutsch
grunddeutsch - nichtdeutsch
national - kosmopolitisch
Königtum - Demokratie
Kultur - Zivilisation
Idealismus - Materialismus
Nachbildung - Nachahmung
Originalität - Epigonentum
echt - falsch
edel - verfallen
Vergangenheit - Gegenwart
Wagner saw clear correlations along the vertical axis and considered the qualities on the right, embodied by the French, to be a threat to those on the left, representing true Deutschtum. Wagner’s conception of the oppositional relationship between these elements is apparent in the following diary entry:
The Frenchman borrowed from [the Italian reproduction of antiquity] whatever might flatter his national sense of formal elegance; only the German recognized antiquity in all its purely human originality and as something that enjoyed a significance which was uniquely suited to reproducing the purely human.
This contrast is depicted in Die Meistersinger by the characters of Walther and Beckmesser. The young knight Walther, representing Deutschtum and Wagner’s utopia, describes his self-taught, natural methods of composition before launching into a free-form tune with a distinctive melody. The beautiful tune is punctuated, however, by the chalk and slate of Beckmesser, the spiteful town clerk, who personifies the imitativeness and overly “formal elegance” of the French. Unable to appreciate the natural beauty of Walther’s music, Beckmesser noisily keeps track of every “error.”

The hero of Die Meistersinger is town cobbler and poet Hans Sachs, who recognizes Walther’s potential, helps compose the winning poem, and provides him with an opportunity to compete in the final round. That the contest takes place on Sachs’ baptismal day and that this day is Johannistag provide insight into Wagner’s view of his role in Germany’s future. Like Saint John, Wagner hoped to pave the way for a greater force, in his case, the prospering of Germany, through his art, which would unify the Volksgeist around a new national identity.

By channeling their original inner Volksgeist, Germany would flourish, not only matching French influence, as German Enlightenment thinkers had dreamed, but superseding it and setting an example for the world. Wagner outlined this mission before the Vaterlandsverein in 1848:
Let us do better than the Spanish, who turned the New World into a papal slaughterhouse, and better than the English, who have turned it into a shop. Let us make it German and glorious. From its rising to its setting, the sun shall look down about a beautiful, free Germany, and on the borders of the daughterlands, as upon those of their mother, no downtrodden, unfree people shall dwell; the rays of German freedom and German gentleness shall warm and transfigure the Cossack and the Frenchman, the Bushman and the Chinese.
Though the imperialistic overtones are unmistakable, Wagner did not support the spread of German culture for its own sake, but because he believed that it would benefit all of mankind. Wagner was careful to distinguish in his writing between a Weltbeglücker, a world benefactor, and a Welteroberer, a world conqueror, and argued that the former was the higher ideal and should thus be the goal of the German people. Thus, the ardent patriotism in works such as Die Meistersinger was not a call for unbridled aggression but rather for the awakening of a Deutschtum rooted in the potential of German art.

As the resounding success of Die Meistersinger demonstrated, German nationalism reached unprecedented heights in the years leading up to the Franco-Prussian War and the establishment of the German Empire in 1871. Wagner was overjoyed by the potential of the Vaterland, convinced that it would herald a new era of the “German splendor” (deutsche Herrlichkeit) he dreamed of in his writings. Wagner would stand at the vanguard of the new Deutschtum, he hoped, and he composed the patriotic Kaisermarsch as a possible national anthem with the idea that it would solidify his position as the court musician of the new Germany. Indeed, Wagner was praised throughout Germany as an “indisputable genius” whose work was nothing less than “German national drama.” Wagner’s mission seemed to be off to a successful start; he had laid the foundation for a new German Empire whose power would be based on the national art.

Despite his newfound status, however, Wagner soon discovered that not all German leaders shared his priorities. Bismarck, more a statesman than a patron of culture, considered the arts to have a minor, subordinate role and showed interest in them only when they furthered his political goals. Bismarck described his only meeting with Wagner as follows: “We were taken to sit on a sofa, and he probably conceived that a duet would be played out between us; but it turned out somewhat different. The maestro failed to garner from me a sufficient eulogy; he thus declined to unbend, and went away disappointed.” Indeed, Wagner was deeply disappointed by the lack of support for culture among the Prussian leadership and was forced to spend much of the rest of his life fundraising for his Bayreuth Festival project, even taking on income-generating projects abroad such as the American Centennial March, commissioned by the city of Philadelphia. He realized, gradually, that the new Germany would not be the artistic utopia he envisioned but, rather, a state in which his influence would be limited to stereotypes and skewed propaganda. His fears later proved correct: during a 1924 performance of Die Meistersinger, for example, the audience rose to its feet during Hans Sachs’ final aria and launched into “Deutschland über alles.” Nazi appropriation of the work, such as at the founding of the Third Reich and in The Triumph of the Will, further distorted Wagner’s art from a spring of rebirth to a political façade. Divorced from his utopian vision, Wagner’s works lost their authentic Deutschtum, and even before his death in 1883, he lamented that his dream would never be fulfilled. At the end of his life, Wagner could have repeated the words he had written in Über Staat und Religion two decades earlier: “The artist, too, may say of himself: ‘My kingdom is not of this world;’ and, perhaps, more than any artist now living, I may say this of myself.” Indeed, as the events of the following century would show, his vision of guiding a bringer of prosperity to the world, Weltbeglücker, was being replaced by the ambitions of the conqueror, Welteroberer.


Anderson, Robert. Wagner. London: Clive Bingley, 1980.

Culshaw, John. Wagner: The Man and His Music. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1978.

Curtis, Benjamin. Music Makes the Nation: Nationalist Composers and Nation-Building in Nineteenth-Century Europe. Amherst, New York: Cambria Press, 2008.

“Die Meistersinger in Carlsruhe,” Signale für die musikalische Welt 16 (1869): 242.

Goldman, Albert and Evert Sprinchorn. Wagner on Music and Drama. New York, 1964.

Gutman, Robert. Richard Wagner: The Man, his Mind, and his Music. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1968.

Herder, Johann Gottfried. Ideen zur Philosophie der Geschichte der Menschheit. Leipzig, 1821.

Hofmann, Peter. Richard Wagners politische Theologie: Kunst zwischen Revolution und Religion. Zurich: Ferdinand Schöningh, 2003.

Krehbiel, Henry. Studies in the Wagnerian Drama. New York: Haskell House, 1977,

Merloff, Franz. Richard Wagner und das Deutschtum. Munich, 1873.

Merriman, John. A History of Modern Europe. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2010.

Poschinger, Heinrich von. Gespräche mit und über Bismarck. Berlin, 1919.

Salmi, Hannu. Imagined Germany. New York: Peter Lang, 1999.

Wagner, Richard. Deutsche Kunst und deutsche Politik. Leipzig: J. J. Weber, 1868.

Wagner, Richard. Eine Mittheilung an meine Freunde. Leipzig, 1911.

Wagner, Richard. “On State and Religion.” In Richard Wagner’s Prose Works, Volume IV, edited by William Ellis. London, 1893.

Wagner, Richard. “Oper und Drama.” In Richard Wagner’s Prose Works, Volume II, edited by William Ellis. London, 1893.

Wagner, Richard. Richard Wagner to Hans von Bülow, telegram 24 October 1867. In Briefe an Hans von Bülow. Jena, 1916.

Wagner, Richard. Sämtliche Schriften und Dichtungen VII. Leipzig, 1911.

Wagner, Richard. Über die Bestimmung der Oper. Leipzig: Fritzsch, 1871.

Wagner, Richard. “Wie verhalten sich republikanische Bestrebungen dem Königthum gegenüber?” Dresdener Anzeiger, June 14, 1848.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Est Est Est

"Die Freunde, die man um vier Uhr morgens anrufen kann, die zählen."
- Marlene Dietrich

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Die Meistersinger

Update on my history research paper:

I've decided to focus on Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg rather than Wagner's more famous/musically more significant operas for two reasons. First, given the restricted length of the paper, I think it would an injustice to even attempt to write about about a work like Tristan und Isolde or the Ring cycle. Second, because this is for a history course and not a music course, I want to analyze a work that is more interesting for its historical context than its musical innovation. Die Meistersinger certainly fits the bill: composed in the years leading up German unification in 1871, it is not coincidentally also Wagner's most openly nationalistic work.

I don't normally publish my schoolwork on here, but I've had so much fun researching and writing about Wagner—not to mention the fact that this is the first history paper I've written after high school—that I might post an abbreviated version of my paper after I make some more edits.

In the meantime, enjoy the majestic overture performed by the Vienna State Opera:

And here is Sandor Konya's exquisite rendition of "Morgenlich leuchtend," the climactic aria of Die Meistersinger:

Friday, November 4, 2011

Researching Wagner

Richard Wagner is probably the most controversial of the major classical composers, and for good reason: he was fiercely nationalistic, racist, and anti-Semitic, criticizing the influence of Jews on German culture in his infamous essay Das Judenthum in der Musik (Jewishness in Music). One of Hitler's favorite composers, Wagner and his music were appropriated by the Third Reich and became closely associated with Nazi ideology.

Like many Wagner fans, I fell in love with his music at a young age, long before I learned about Wagner's unsavory political views. In fact, I vividly remember the day when I first heard—and was stunned by—Wagner's Tristan chord, which I assure you was several years before I even knew what anti-Semitism was. (Check out the video below to hear Stephen Fry explain the famous chord.)

There's no denying Wagner's musical genius. But as I grew older and began to understand his motivating ideologies, I started to wonder to what extent art can be separated from ideology, especially for artists like Wagner, for whom the two were so closely intertwined. As Wagner scholar Bryan Magee notes:
"I sometimes think there are two Wagners in our culture, almost unrecognizably different from one another: the Wagner possessed by those who know his work, and the Wagner imagined by those who know him only by name and reputation."
When Professor Merriman told us that we could write our HIST 202 papers on any modern European figure or movement, I saw the assignment as an opportunity to learn and write about one of the most fascinating composers of all time. I began by spending several afternoons in the Sterling music library last week browsing books on Wagner and his work. And while I've only begun to scratch the surface, I'm already amazed by both the richness and sheer volume of published scholarly writing that Wagner has inspired.

And of course, the best part about researching Wagner is being able to blast the epic "Ride of the Valkyries" on loop, all in the name of research.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Blog Drought

If you're reading this, you've probably noticed that I haven't been posting much this semester.

The good news is that I remain happy, healthy, and mostly sane. I'm also enjoying my courses immensely, despite the fact that the workload is probably the heaviest I've had at Yale. Finis origine pendet, indeed. 

I think my lack of posts can be attributed to two general conclusions:
  1. The most important things in life are not necessarily the most interesting to write about.
  2. Not everything that can be blogged about should be made public.
That said, I plan to start blogging regularly again at some point, possibly starting next semester. There's definitely plenty to write about—interesting coursework, plans for next year, and the usual shenanigans. For now, though, life is keeping me busy and I'm just hanging on for the ride.

QOTD: "Man will become better when you show him what he is like."
- Anton Chekov

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Fall 2011 Courses

Here are the courses I've decided on for this semester:

CGSC 490 Cognitive Science Senior Colloquium and Project
Joshua Knobe
A research colloquium leading to the selection of a topic for, and the completion of, the senior essay. Students attend regular colloquium presentations by outside scholars.

ECON 527 Behavioral and Institutional Economics
Robert Shiller
Behavioral economics incorporates insights from other social sciences, such as psychology and sociology, into economic models, and attempts to explain anomalies that defy standard economic analysis. Institutional economics is the study of the evolution of economic organizations, laws, contracts, and customs as part of a historical and continuing process of economic development. Behavioral economics and institutional economics are naturally treated together, since so much of the logic and design of economic institutions has to do with complexities of human behavior. The course emphasizes two main topics—behavioral macroeconomics and behavioral finance—though references are made to other branches of economics as well.

PSYC 152 Moralities of Everyday Life
Paul Bloom
The modern science of moral thought and moral action explored through disciplines such as cognitive science, social and developmental psychology, neuroscience, behavioral economics, and analytic philosophy. Empathy and compassion in babies and young children; emotional reactions to family, friends, and strangers; the origins of prejudice and bigotry; sexuality, disgust, and purity; punishment, revenge, and forgiveness; the relationship between morality and religion.

INTS 428 Social Entrepreneurship in Developing Economies
Robert Hopkins
Completion of the senior essay on a topic related to the use of social entrepreneurship in regional economic development.

HIST 202 European Civilization 1648-1945
John Merriman
An overview of the economic, social, political, and intellectual history of modern Europe. Topics include the rise of absolute states, the scientific revolution, the Enlightenment, the French Revolution and Napoleon, the industrial revolution, the revolutions of 1848, nationalism and national unifications, Victorian Britain, the colonization of Africa and Asia, fin-de-siècle culture and society, the Great War, the Russian Revolution, the Europe of political extremes, and World War II.

G&G 205 Natural Resources and Their Sustainability
Jay Ague
The formation and distribution of renewable and nonrenewable energy, mineral, and water resources. Topics include the consequences of extraction and use; depletion and the availability of substitutes; and economic and geopolitical issues.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Take Four

Worlds away from the land of xima and capulanas, here I am back in New Haven, ready for a fourth year of R&R (rehabilitation and responsibility).

Views from our balcony:

"Live neither in the past nor in the future, but let each day absorb all your interest, energy and enthusiasm. The best preparation for tomorrow is to live today superbly well."
- William Osler

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Adeus Moçambique

Upon a friend's recommendation, I stopped by the Parque dos Artesanatos this morning with a bag of old clothes I had been planning to donate and instead traded them for a few handicrafts before heading to the airport for my flight back home. Ended up picking up a small drum, sandalwood vases, a miniature guitar, painted masks, and two stone elephant figurines.

I don't think any attempt to summarize my time here would really do it justice. I can safely say that this has been the most physically as well as emotionally intense trip of my life. Breathtaking landscapes, unbelievable life stories, grinding poverty, and an ambitious start-up project, all on a steady diet of xima and malaria medication. Looking ahead: new perspectives, new friends, and loads of beautiful footage for our senior thesis. Até à próxima, Moçambique!


Crossed the border into South Africa for a one-day safari trip to Kruger National Park. The pictures speak for themselves.




Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Spent the last few days collecting hours and hours of interview footage for our senior thesis next semester. Notable interviewees include Jake, Ana, Sinezia, and John. In addition to clarifying a few points about our experience at the pilot mill site, we discussed the future direction of the Millennium Mills.

Ana also assigned us more reading on systemic design so that we can better understand the complexities of the food system in rural Mozambique.

More on both topics to come in the fall, when we actually put together a presentation about the project.

For now, back to Maputo!

Monday, August 22, 2011

That Time

Remember that time our crazy driver ran over a seagull, a snake, a rooster, and a goat on the drive back to Nampula?

Se lembra dessa vez quando tinha que esconder-me no armário?

Sunday, August 21, 2011


Here's the view we woke up to today:

Spent the morning scuba diving (my first time!) with resident Divemaster Angela. Mozambique's long coastline evidently has some of the best dive sites in the world.
The newbs

After lunch, we spent most of the day reading and napping on the beach. I'm currently halfway through On the Road on Angela's Kindle. There's something beautifully incongruous about following Kerouac's misadventures across America while gazing out at the Indian Ocean.

Pemba Beach
Impromptu concert

"I like too many things and get all confused and hung-up running from one falling star to another till I drop. This is the night, what it does to you. I had nothing to offer anybody except my own confusion."
- Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Finally understand JA's performance...

Saturday, August 20, 2011

New Game

Novo jogo em Moçambique: Beber o uísque rapidamente antes que o gelo derreta para que não tenhas dor de barriga.

On a happier note, we're making an unexpected detour to Pemba, the capital of Cabo Delgado Province, for the weekend.

Friday, August 19, 2011

MMM Food Fair

Today was the big feira, where we introduced new foods and food preparation techniques to Fátima's customers. Ana had spent the entire night baking various cookies, biscuits, and breads incorporating local ingredients. The MMM team also featured various dried fruits and vegetables as well as nutrient-rich powders that could be mixed into the stable xima.

Country director Jake Walter chatting with Belchion
Ana and Diandra setting up the booth
Curious customers at Fátima's mill
The booth
Close-up of the goods
Waiting for the presentation

In a combination of Portuguese and the local Makua, the MMM team introduced each of the food items and then passed around samples for everyone to enjoy. This was then followed by a xima cooking demonstration using some of the new vegetable powders.

After the fair was over, we spent the afternoon in a brainstorming session with TechnoServe country director Jake Walter and his team. Our discussion covered the various options for setting up a dried food distribution network in Nampula Province as well as the importance of including an educational component at each new franchise mill site to teach the local community about the importance of vitamins and balanced nutrition.

We then packed our bags, said goodbye to Cipriano, and headed back to Nampula. Adeus, Ribáuè!


In my earlier I'm-on-a-flight-to-Maputo-but-don't-know-really-know-much-beyond-a-few-demographic-figures post, I included the following gems, extracted from the Mozambique CultureGrams file:
When northern men and women meet each other, they clap hands three times before saying "Moni" (Hello).
Married women usually wear a capulana (wraparound skirt) tied about the waist and a head scarf. In the northern region, a man who cannot provide his wife with at least one capulana each year is not considered deserving of her respect.
I haven't found the former to be true, at least not in Nampula Province. The standard greeting in Ribáuè, Nampula and Ilha is "Salaama" (no clapping involved).

But to say that northern Mozambican women wear capulanas is like saying that Andover is preppy or that Greece has some budget issues; capulanas are everywhere. They are worn as skirts and head scarves, as the CultureGrams report notes, but they also have many other uses, which include pretty much everything for which you could conceive using a large sheet of colorful, wax-printed cloth. Some of the things I have seen being carried in a capulana: fresh maize, dried maize, milled maize, firewood, cashew nuts, chickens, rabbits, sugarcane, and babies.

Diandra, Angela and I decided to purchase capulanas to wear for the MMM community fair today (next post), and so we followed Belchion to the local market to pick out some designs. We found that even a village of Ribáuè's size has two long rows of stalls selling capulanas in every color and design imaginable, ranging from Dia da Independência-themed sheets to floral prints.

Capulana section of the market

I picked up two to make into shirts and one to display as a wall covering either at home or at school. At a cost of about $7 each (120 meticais for the cloth and 60 mets for the tailoring), the shirts were by far the best bargain I've ever had on custom-made clothing. Here we are below, dressed in our finest capulanas and ready for the big fair at Fátima's mill:

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Saúde e Saudade

This morning, we paid a visit to the local district office of the Department of Health in order to learn more about the issue of malnutrition in Ribáuè.

Serviços Distritais de Saúde

We spoke with the local director and a "malnutrition technician," who confirmed that the community suffers from widespread malnutrition due to shortages during the dry season as well as nutritional deficiencies in the corn-based diet. We quickly discovered, though, that reliable statistics would be hard to come by; record keeping tends to be spotty, and figures such as poverty and malnutrition rates, based mostly on anecdotal evidence, vary widely. The only measure the Department of Health could use to estimate malnutrition rates is the number of patients who come to the clinic to be treated for malnutrition, but these represent only a fraction of the most severe cases, excluding many more who are too far from the nearest clinic or are unable to receive treatment for other reasons.

They told us about a new initiative they are testing with the most severe cases that has been somewhat successful. A non-profit organization helped the Department of Health develop a peanut-based food supplement that can be used to deliver much-needed nutrients to malnutrition patients. We also discussed TechnoServe's goal of fortifying maize meal with vitamins, which they agreed was an untested but highly promising concept.

Next, we headed to Fátima's mill to interview her about her involvement with the Millennium Maize Mills project.

Dona Fátima

She talked openly about the factors that made her an entrepreneur, which include a willingness to think outside the box, as well as necessity—as a single mother, she was driven to find ways to support her children and herself. After working for several years at a nearby cotton factory, she decided to take out a loan and launch her maize milling business. Despite her struggles, she is now doing well; indeed, it was Fátima's success that caught TechnoServe's attention. (As a side note, the MMM's project future mill owners will be women who would not be able to launch a business on their own, in line with TechnoServe's mission of fostering entrepreneurship where it is needed most, but they wanted to partner with an experienced businesswoman for the initial pilot studies.) As we spoke with Fátima, it was clear that she has a knack for business and will be a valuable asset for the MMM project as its leaders seek to expand its impact throughout the region.

Meanwhile, her assistant was packaging maize meal to sell at nearby markets:

After lunch, we interviewed Belchion, a TechnoServe employee assigned to the Millennium Maize Mills project who has been an extraordinary resource during our time in Ribáuè, teaching us about everything from basic words in Makua and local customs to technical aspects of the milling process.

In addition to answering our questions about MMM, Belchion was able to provide insightful comparisons with other TechnoServe initiatives he has worked on. He also added that, as a native Makua, he considers this project particularly important and meaningful.

As meninas, antes da cena que tive que enterrar...

By the way, in case you're wondering why I haven't posted any of the interview footage we have, it's because 1) the files are large, 2) they need to be edited, and 3) they wouldn't make sense for most of you anyway, since they're in Portuguese. I'll try to post a few edited videos along with updates on the project in the fall.

On Stars and Bendzko

Listening to:
"Wenn Worte meine Sprache wären" by Tim Bendzko

It seems a bit strange to be rocking out to the voice of a macunha singing about first world problems on a CD I purchased in Munich ages ago earlier this month. But the lyrics to "Wenn Worte meine Sprache wären" (If words were my language) are actually kind of relevant, albeit not exactly in their original sense.
Mir fehlen die Worte, ich
I lack the words, I
hab die Worte nicht
do not have the words
dir zu sagen was ich fühl'
to tell you what I feel
ich bin ohne Worte, ich
I am without words, I
finde die Worte nicht
do not find the words
ich hab keine Worte für dich
I have no words for you
If it were my song, of course, the next line would be "Because I have no idea what you're saying in Makua."

In other news, here are a few more comments about Ribáuè and our experiences here:

First, I'm surprised by how relaxing our time in Ribáuè has been. 'No shit, Sherlock,' you may be saying, 'what were you expecting to find in a rural Mozambican village?' But really, the slow pace of life, beautiful scenery, and friendliness of the locals are making this week the most rejuvenating segment of my summer. During a post-dinner constitutional yesterday evening against the backdrop of the glowing sunset, I found myself thinking, for the first time this trip, 'This is why people fall in love with Africa.'

Second, on a related note, there is nothing to do after sundown (about 5:30 this time of year) but wait for the stars to emerge. But when they do, it is truly a spectacular sight. I've never before such a multitude of stars so clearly; the night sky appears to hover just above the horizon, weighted down by a million glittering points of light. Particularly memorable was my first sighting of the Southern Cross (the constellation featured as Cruzeiro do Sol on the flag of Brazil).

On a less romantic note, our entire team is suffering from mild stomach issues. Heaven knows from what. A less than perfectly washed piece of fruit? Bacteria in yesterday's sandy xima? The piri piri sauce? Maybe the chicken at lunch was slightly raw? This may call for a temporary retreat to the almond honey flax granola bars I brought from home...

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


When they're not chanting "Whitey!" at you, the kids here are actually adorable.

Especially if you pull out a camera (which I constantly do). They often approach you excitedly with a shy smile and, if you respond with a nod and point the camera at them, they'll quickly strike a pose. Extra points if you show them the picture afterward, which sometimes incites uncontrollable laughter before they run off to fetch more friends.

Here are a few of my favorites from the past week. No captions needed.

Mais Entrevistas

Having seen and studied several mills in action, we decided to focus today on interviewing members of the community about their diets and milling habits and in order to learn more about the local culture.

We started with Senhor Cipriano's family, who live on the other side of the village at the foot of Ribáuè Mountain. He and his wife invited us into their home, which, though small, was tidy and well maintained, and patiently answered the interview questions we had prepared.

We learned that Cipriano's wife purchases 60 kilograms of maize a month, all of which is prepared and consumed as xima by her family. This is occasionally supplemented by vegetables or dried fish, purchased at the market or, more rarely, chicken meat, provided by the few chickens they raise in their backyard.

We also explained that Fátima is considering purchasing a fortification machine to add nutrients to maize flour during the milling process and were pleased to discover that Cipriano's wife understood the importance of vitamins and thought this was a good idea. This was especially encouraging because we had heard from several TechnoServe employees earlier that there is very little awareness of vitamins in many of these villages. In fact, a similar vitamin fortification project backfired in Tanzania because of misconceptions, particularly that vitamins were something for AIDS patients to prevent weight loss and delay death.

Overall, our interview with Cipriano and his wife was quite heartening, as they both seemed receptive to ideas on improving nutrition and milling practices in Ribáuè. Our enthusiasm was dimmed, though, upon seeing Cipriano's underweight, malaria-stricken baby daughter, a sobering reminder that addressing the multitude of health issues endemic in the village and throughout the region is going to require a great deal of focused effort.

Path leading up to Cipriano's neighborhood
Roadside kiosk selling laundry detergent, tomatoes, and snacks
Cabritos near Cipriano's house

Our next interview was with a professor at the local school and his wife. The fact that we conversed in an outdoor gazebo with electric lights and were served Coca-Cola—both status symbols in rural Mozambique—indicated that their family was relatively better off than the owners of other homes we had seen. Incidentally, the Coke was the first soft drink for this non-soda drinker in over two years. Unceremonious, I know, but 1) I didn't want to reject their hospitality, especially given the region's mistrust of foreigners, and 2) at least it was more flavorful than xima.

In order to gauge the milling habits of the professor's family, we first asked how many kilos of maize flour they go through in a month and how often they visit the mill. We found out that the professor's wife does not take her family's maize to the mill herself but rather delegates this responsibility to her children.

We next asked how many children they have. At first the mother replied "two sons," but we could see that there were several more children playing in the courtyard. The professor then explained that they are actually raising seven children, among them nieces, nephews, and the child of a family friend—stark reminders of the toll of the AIDS epidemic in Mozambique.

The professor's home and children
E as montanhas!