Tag Archives: connectivity

In Search of Cultural Balance

I’ve never been particularly attached to the clothes I wear.  I have always happily worn different outfits to fit the social situation required — unlike others, what I wear does not define me or so I thought…

I wore a hijab for the first time as a Peace Corps volunteer in The Islamic Republic of Mauritania, a country three times the size of New Mexico in western Africa. It’s a sunny, hot, and dusty place that is almost entirely covered in sand.  Almost all of the women in the town where I lived wore clothing that covered their entire body – only exposing their face, feet, and hands.  Wearing a hijab is as much for practical reasons as it is for religious and cultural reasons; it offers protection from the sun and sand.  In order to be respectful and culturally appropriate, I wore an ankle-length skirt, a short-sleeved blouse, and a headscarf, which left only my face exposed – shining white out of the center of a colorful frame. I embraced this outfit, even in the heat, because it was exciting and new and I could feel that I was more accepted in my community as a result of my efforts.

About four months into my two year stint as a volunteer, I realized that I was feeling rather strange and couldn’t pinpoint exactly what was troubling me. I thought about my daily interactions, the very friendly exchanges I had with Mauritanians. Then it hit me—I didn’t have any real friends.  As an extrovert, I had never struggled to make friends. As I thought more about why, I realized that I had lost my sense of self, my past, my individuality.

In my efforts to be culturally appropriate – wearing a hijab and politely interacting with people – I had suppressed my own extroverted, American self. I realized it’s hard, and almost impossible, to make connections with people when you aren’t revealing your true personality, expressing your opinions and being you. It was in that moment, that I rediscovered Alison within Mauritania. I opened myself up to women in the community, communicating my opinions, interacting with them from this new perspective, all the while still wearing a hijab and my conservative clothing, and almost immediately, I had friends.  Not surface friendships, but real friends.

In The Convert, we watch as two cultures, two religious perspectives compete for the souls of the characters.  To me, Jekesai’s struggle is very real — even though my own personal struggle had much less at stake. Discovering who you are within a different cultural framework and trying to reconcile your own culture and the new culture is a challenge faced by all Peace Corps volunteers.

As a recruiter for Peace Corps, I try to set realistic expectations for potential volunteers, telling my personal story, and encouraging them to watch movies and plays that depict what it takes to live in a culture that is not your own. The Convert gives Americans a glimpse of what it might be like to find cultural balance while they are serving as Peace Corps volunteers.

If you would like more information about how you can serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer, please visit the Peace Corps website at www.peacecorps.gov and contact Alison McReynolds at amcreynolds@peacecorps.gov.

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Woolly through an Intern’s Eyes

Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company has been around for about 30 years now, all under the guidance of beloved artistic director Howard Shalwitz.  His leadership has distinguished the theater as one of the longest lasting contemporary American theaters dedicated to producing some seriously provocative work.  As such, it was my immense pleasure to accept a seven-week internship here at the theater working in the Connectivity Department.  Woolly’s reputation is known far and wide, even reaching to the corners of Vermont, where I have spent the last year and a half in my cozy little liberal arts college.

My experience with Africa has been limited to a bleary-eyed 8am class about its democratization record (spoiler: not stellar).  Imagine my surprise and ultimately, my excitement, when I realized that my internship would essentially revolve around The Convert, a unique play simply by virtue of the fact that it is an African play written by an African woman about African people.  Wait, it gets better – not just a play about African people, but about an African woman. 

Through my work in the Connectivity Department here at Woolly, I have plunged into a deep, refreshing pool of diverse theatre.  The unfortunate reality of being a drama student (and this is anywhere) is that what is often filtered down are the classics—all important, yet all very white.   The unfortunate reality is that not very many stories on the stage have been told about black women – or African women for that matter.  Besides For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Was Enuf, and a few notable others, I’m not sure I can think of many famous shows telling the stories of black women.  And when you broaden the racial scope, you find yourself with even less choices—Hispanic women (West Side Story doesn’t count)?  Asian women?  Arab women?

That’s why I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to work at a theater that has the means and the resources to commit to new shows written by women and men who are striving to diversify contemporary theater.  It makes my job at Woolly even more daunting – while the playwrights are aiming to diversify the plays available, my department is essentially aiming to diversify the audience to match the play.

I hope I’ve done the task justice.

-Tenara Calem, Connectivity Intern

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What’s Your Roots? What’s Your Revolution?

At Pay What You Can Night for The Convert, we asked our audiences what their roots are and what their revolution is. Here’s what they had to say:

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318121_10152578209670543_207590569_n 318199_10152578210170543_1467913841_n 487193_10152578209690543_1766802089_n 524589_10152578209885543_500690783_n 525415_10152578209900543_488937766_n 553343_10152578209300543_140456042_n 559812_10152578210060543_1072608145_n 575006_10152578209390543_2032579274_n 577160_10152578209490543_1367299036_n 581839_10152578209895543_1344616355_n 599022_10152578210035543_1357839532_n 599073_10152578208945543_1092558660_n 601519_10152578209430543_1512965167_n 734844_10152578209250543_1197638359_n

 

How about you? What are your roots? What is your revolution?

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Kurova Guva, a ceremony to welcome home the spirit of the dead, Part II

After death, the spirit is wandering, perhaps waiting and listening for a call to come home.  When our tears have been cleansed by a season of rain and rebirth we prepare to welcome home the spirit of our loved one. 

For the Shona people family duties do not end when we die.  As ancestors, we must provide protection, help resolve issues, and avenge our deaths if they were unjust.  Leaving the physical body allows the spirit to hear and see; moreover, our deceased are in a good position to give us guidance and protection.  In order to fulfill these duties, we must be present with our families. So an important part of our culture is the ceremony to bring home the spirits of our dead.  The ceremony has to take place after a rainy season.  If there is a drought the ceremony is delayed.  There is also a practical reason for waiting for the rain.  The soil over the rain may be displaced or sink in after the first heavy rain so the grave must weather a full rainy season before the tombstone or stone covering can be put permanently on the grave.

 There are no charms, ill wishes or witches fiercer than a mother’s love.  So she is the one seated, all that is needed to ensure the spirit’s safe return.  Before birth, our mothers wait, holding us safe in their wombs. We begin this ceremony, imitating life, with a woman, once again, guarding a gourd.  For seven days our mothers patiently sit and wait for the ceremonial beer to brew.  

If the mother of the deceased is alive, she sits with the gourds or drums of beer for the week or two preceding the ceremony in a small hut built solely for this purpose.  If the mother is not present a post-menopausal maternal aunt or cousin assumes this role.

On the seventh night we, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, children, nieces, and nephews call the spirit home through clapping, drumming, playing of the mbira, and dancing to bring our loved one back home, awakening the night with music played for spirit ears.  

Sometimes a cow is slaughtered the night before in honor of the dead and to provide meat for all who are gathered.

The brothers sing, “Our wives have risen with the sun to clear your grave.  We have compensated them with beer and money and now all is as it should be your way is also clear.  We call on our great aunts and grandfathers to guide you home.   If there was anger between us we will kill a goat in the name of that anger, and share it in peace.  Come and drink with us. All will be as it should be now that you are home.”

After the grave is cleared of all debris by women who have married into the family, gourds of beer are brought to the grave by the man’s closest friend and a nephew.  They may slaughter a goat or some chickens on the grave as well.  The beer is shared by the living and what is left is poured over the grave.  One gourd of beer is saved solely for the deceased.  After pouring the beer on the grave, the gourds and smashed and the shards are left on the grave and the spirit is home.

“We have shared your earthly goods and your wife has leapt over your weapons and proved herself honorable.  To her chosen one she will bring water.  All is as it should be; we now wait to hear who will carry your voice.”   

At the end of the ceremony the possessions of the deceased, including land and clothing, are shared amongst his family members.  His wife is supposed to stay celibate until this ceremony is complete and she jumps over her late husband’s knobkerrie or ax to prove that she has nothing to hide.  The widow also decides at that point if she wants to marry one of her husband’s brothers.  She signifies her choice by placing a bowl of water in front of one of the brothers.  If she does not wish to re-marry into the family she can place the bowl in front of her own son, or her husband’s sister.  The deceased’s oldest son may at this point be given his father’s name as the head of the family and may also become his svikiro (spirit medium).

-Mavhu F. W. Hargrove

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Kurova Guva, a ceremony to welcome home the spirit of the dead, Part I

I have yet to attend a kurova guva ceremony.  Researching and writing this reminded me of my first visit to my grandmother’s village after my grandfather’s death.  I was home for my wedding.  My soon to be husband and I were driven to the village by my aunt.  Soon after arriving, my aunt went into the house and my grandmother, temporarily out of view of her very Christian daughter, pulled me from admiring her lemon tree to the graves which were at the other end of the garden.

I had never paid much attention to the graves, I knew I was related to the people buried there, but most of them had died before I was born.  My grandmother gave me some pebbles and made me kneel at the head of one of the newer graves; I knew it was my grandfather’s.  She instructed me to throw one pebble on his grave.  I did.

Now, tell him who you are she said, annoyed as if I should know what I was doing.

I was quiet not wanting to say the wrong thing and also feeling a bit silly talking to a grave. She hissed at me and pointed at the grave,

“Say, Sekuru, it’s your granddaughter here, Mavhu.  I came to see where you were buried and I have also brought my new husband.”

She nodded for me to throw the second pebble and try again.  As soon as I said his name, Sekuru, everything that he was came back to me.  His grey knitted vests under his jacket, the small black feather with white spots tucked into the band of his hat, the way his laughter went breathy and noiseless when he was really amused.  Right then the word ancestor was not distant or even separate from me.  The five minute ritual prescribed by my grandmother gave him back to me.  He was my grandfather, my mother’s father.  For the first time I think I really understood the importance of Shona people’s relationships to their ancestors.  Because he was, I am.  Our family was central to all that we did and were not divided by death.

The struggle between our own cosmology and a foreign religion began long before I was born.  Like other Africans on the continent and in those taken into the Diaspora, we found ways to hide some of our most important rituals in Christianity.  A goat is always slaughtered at a wedding but we say it is to feed those gathered; there is supposedly no spiritual significance.  The Mbende dance performed by young men and women at the full moon celebrating fertility and family was renamed Jerusarema (Jerusalem) so it could continue to be performed in the open.  The kurova guva ritual performed a year after death became the unveiling of the tombstone or memorial ceremony.   Some Zimbabwean families celebrate the Christian version of our ceremonies; some still practice the traditional.  We don’t seem to disagree that we should somehow honor or acknowledge our own customs but I suspect most families, like mine, are constantly divided over what should be done and how.

-Mavhu F. W. Hargrove

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This Month in Apple

Anything to do with Apple Inc. is breaking news these days. A lot has happened in the world of Apple since The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs premiered at Woolly in March/April 2011 and a lot of us don’t have time to keep on top of the 24 hour news.  This is in no way a comprehensive list, but here are some highlights of the changing Apple landscape.

 NEXT MONTH

 In August, Siri will celebrate her one year consumer birthday. Siri, Apple’s crack at artificial intelligence, created an industry wide focus on voice technology, and a party trick for boring people with iPhones (next time you’re with someone who has her- tell Siri you need to hide a body). She’s also created a humorous internet meme, and on more than one occasion has given you directions to the mall when you’ve asked her to call your mom.

LAST WEEK

Apple tried to remove itself from the EPEAT system – a registry of environmentally friendly products. Apple requested that all 39 of its certified MacBooks and desktops be removed from the registry. San Francisco city officials moved to block the purchase of Apple products for all municipal agencies. Shortly after, Apple back-peddled, calling the decision to leave the registry “a mistake”.

If this experience teaches us anything, it’s that having a strong set of moral values are essential to ensuring you don’t loose money. Lesson learned.

LAST MONTH

The latest Apple Keynote on June 11th drew “ooos” and “ahhs” from Apple fans. Releases included a new operating system iOS 6 with better Facebook integration, a makeover for Siri, something that looked suspiciously like Google Maps, as well as the unveiling of the new MacBook Air & Pro.

ALSO, LAST MONTH

A judge finally made a ruling about the dispute between Samsung and Apple. Apple has been in a longstanding legal battle with Samsung saying that it violated many of Apple’s design patents.  To over-simplify the judge’s ruling: “Apple products were too cool to have been ripped off by Samsung. Ewww.”

In the afterlife, Steve Jobs was seen making the following face:

With its market share growing and the iPhone 5 on the horizon, who could need more proof that we’re still culturally obsessed with Apple and their products? This makes The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs more topical and powerful than it’s ever been. See you at the show!

~ Jordan Beck, Connectivity Assistant

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It’s Apple Pickin’ Season

As I’m sure you faithful Woolly Blog followers are aware, the remount of Mike Daisey’s The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs is already underway. Tonight marks the opening of its three week run in our space. We are all excited to see how bringing this piece full circle will affect us, Woolly audiences, and Mike himself.

All that said; I’m happy to report that we have brought back the Apple Orchard for the run of the show… with one exciting addition! Check out what we have dusted off and are displaying in our lobby right now.

Apple IIe:

Released in January 1983 and originally sold for $1395, the Apple ][e was to be one of the most successful Apple computers ever (it was manufactured and sold for nearly 11 years with few changes). One of its defining characteristics was its ability to input and display lowercase letters for the first time. In 1984 the name was changed from Apple ][e to Apple //e, coinciding with the release of the Apple //c.

Apple ImageWriter II:

Released in September 1985 for $595, the Apple ImageWriter II was the first printer built exclusively for the Macintosh series. Because of the relatively small price and high printing speed, the ImageWriter series was extremely popular amongst consumer computer users. In 1990 the ImageWriter series was replaced by the ink-jet StyleWriter series.

Newton Message Pad:

Released in August 1993 for $800, the Newton Message Pad was Apple’s first completely new product in many years. It represented Apple’s entry into (and perhaps creation of) an entirely new market: Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs). The PDA market was barely present when the Newton was released, but other companies were working on similar devices.

The Newton Message Pad featured a variety of personal-organization applications, such as an address book, a calendar, and notes, along with communications capabilities such as faxing and email. It featured a trainable handwriting recognition engine, but unfortunately this engine was notoriously difficult to use. While later Newton models would show improved handwriting recognition, the Newton’s reputation for poor recognition would haunt it for years to come.

Apple Quicktake 200:

Released in February 1997 for $600, the Apple QuickTake was one of the first consumer digital cameras. The QuickTake 100 and 200 models were only compatible with Macintosh computers, while the 150 model was also compatible with Microsoft Windows. However, none of these models sold well because other companies such as Kodak, Canon and Nikon entered the market with brands that consumers associated with photography.

iMac (Rev. C):

Released in August 1998 for $1300, the iMac was Apple’s computer for the new millennium. Aimed at the low-end consumer market and designed with the internet in mind, the iMac was positioned by Apple as the most original new computer since the original Mac in 1984, and came in a stylish new case design, with translucent “Bondi Blue” plastics. It also included a newly-designed USB keyboard and mouse. By January 1999, the Rev. C iMac came in five bright new colors: Blueberry, Strawberry, Lime, Tangerine and Grape.

iBook G4:

Released in October 2003 for $1099, the iBook was much smaller than its predecessor, the PowerBook G4 and included a faster G3 processor, more RAM, VGA out, stereo speakers, and a higher resolution screen. It also was the first Mac to include a “combo” DVD-ROM/CD-RW drive in the high-end model.

iPod mini 4GB (Second Generation):

Released in February 2005 for $199, the iPod mini was built around a one inch 4 GB hard drive, and raised the bar for portability in a hard disk music player. It was small enough to wear comfortably on an arm band, but large enough to hold nearly 1,000 songs. Apple believed that its small size and consumer appeal would make up for its high price. As Apple hoped, iPod mini’s sold extremely well—the demand vastly outstripped the supply long into the summer months.

The iPod mini was available in five metallic colors: silver, gold, pink, blue and green. In order to fit everything in such a small package, Apple had to change the layout of the buttons from the existing iPod design. The result, which Apple called a “ClickWheel” allowed users to use the wheel as a touch-sensitive scroll wheel, or push on the four corners to click the buttons.

MacBook:

Released in May 2006 (original) for $1099, the MacBook replaced the existing 12- and 14-inch iBooks and 12-inch PowerBook model, completing the transition of Apple’s portable computers to Intel Processors. At the time it was considered one of Apple’s best computers, and around 2008 became Apple’s best selling Macintosh in history. The original MacBooks were available in black or white, and was the second (after the MacBook Pro) Mac to adopt Apple’s “MagSafe” power connector. The MacBook was Apple’s first notebook to use features now standard in its notebooks, such as the glossy display, the sunken keyboard design, and the non-mechanical magnetic latch.

iPhone 3GS:

Released in June 2009 for $199, the iPhone 3GS included both specification and feature enhancements over it’s predecessor, the wildly successful iPhone 3G. The iPhone 3GS included a higher-resolution video-capable camera, an integrated Magnetometer, and Voice Control. It shipped with iPhone OS 3.0 (which was also made available for previous iPhone and iPod Touch models), which included software enhancements, such as cut & paste, pervasive landscape keyboard, search, internet tethering, and a voice memos application. In June 2010, both models were replaced by the iPhone 4.

Stay tuned for another post coming soon about our special artifact, coming to our space on August 4th. Hint? This famed Apple product was in the news recently.

~ Melanie Harker, Connectivity Associate

{& a special shout-out to Brooke Miller, our former Press & Digital Content Manager who helped compile this original blog post!}

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