Notes from Tzania

(credit: Mankwe Ndosi)
[Both nights, Mankwe Ndosi closed “Girls in Their Bedrooms” with live vocal improvisation, poetry reading and a slide show of images and short videos from her recent trip to visit family in Tanzania. Below are words she shared and transformed with her powerful voice.]

Mambo Arusha? (Poa!) 

Vipi? (Safi!)

Jina Langu Mankwe. Ninatoka Minnesota, Mmericani na Meru. Mimi ni Mmeru Mnegro – TanzAmericana.

Naomba kuimba kidogo sawa? (Sawa)



Don’t bring zippers to the ocean
Just skin and wood and stone
Shell and scale and feather
Weed and twine and bone


The ocean will change your metal to fossil

The ocean will turn your iron to sand

The ocean will pull your mind through the reef
And wash your spirit free
And wash your spirit free

Float on – open your hands…
Float on – open your hands…
Float on – open your hands…

Daily work of women
Hard work
Same drudgery every day
They are each others’ flowers
Strong clean hands
Full of intent
Raw from soap and heat and water
Careful with sharp objects
I watch like a spoiled child
Hope to bring something fresh – some new interesting to their lives
Something to nourish their days
Instead of being extra burden
I am humbled by their strength and sweetness
Their openness to me


No (on being a stranger)

No traveler’s checks
No right shoes
No language
No manners
No understanding
No proverbs
No familiarity
No excuses
No worries
No intimidation
No misery
No hurry
No quiet
No rest
No use
No one to trust
But ancestors
And creator
And through them
To trust my steps
Trust my vision
Trust my tongue
Trust my gut
Trust humanity
Especially those
Who would meet my eyes
With theirs
Compassionate and
Loud beauty
Dusty grace
Rugged dignity
Tired eyes
Glowing skin
Masterful laughter
Resilient souls
Wisdom fingers

tree across dry stream connect (Photo credit: Mankwe Ndosi)

tree across dry stream connect
(Photo credit: Mankwe Ndosi)

Ol home Minnesota … discomforting assumptions.

I’m the black girl down the street
The one you watch so vigilantly
For signs of niggerosity
           I’m so visible
           but unseen


I’m the black girl down the street
The one you love to measure out
The one you love until I’m not needed
You out of comfort
Unconscious assumptions
Niceness transforms
As live stresses
Underline the differences


Dandelions do my work for themselves
I don’t worry
As you squirm
Toxic lawns push so hard
Poison better
Than being different it seems


I’m not from here
Neither are you
Just assume ownership
Of anything that you fence off
But fences don’t penetrate the heart.
My people are from over there and under
But we stick to our swords
We stick to our places
We stick to our worth
And to our loves.


Dalla smash

1600 shillings to our every US dolla
and no one gets paid enough
            except the dealers
and the bankers
and anyone else
trying to squeeze out a little more from the ones, we can squeeze it from
squeezed in – realizing that my adventuring is daily struggle
not for research amusement or story experience
but for dusty flat foot survival and revival
maybe the wazungu are more honest
drive thru in SUV’s like tour busses – go-pro cameras out to record the daily prowl
out to stop for awhile – then back to that other world / easy world
            – but that’s me isn’t it?
            – But that’s not me
It’s hard to explain to my family and friends
Or the mountain
– that I don’t want to be a tourist – do the tourist attractions:
game park/mountain climb/street food/fancy hotel
It’s hard to explain that I’m not a tourist – or rather – it’s not that I don’t want to look at the animals or climb the mountain
Just that I can’t make it my focus
My priority is my family
And on setting the conditions for me to return.

Home Tools at Agape (credit: Mankwe Ndosi)

Home Tools at Agape
(credit: Mankwe Ndosi)

Oil Poor


flies drowning in our oil dreams
ant stranded in honey
ruin paradise for currency
ready to be wash down gutter liquefied


we replace the oil
with our bodies
just take an eon to press us down into the next
for our family to come…


Warm with the wind

Unwind your mind
Warm with the wind
You aint gotta be
Nothing you ain’t . . .
You ain’t gotta do
            Nothin’ you don’t wanna
All this protection
Watchin’ for ya
This your time
Lean in to it
Don’t know one mind
Ain’t no one tryin’ to fret ya.


Unwind your mind
And let the living respect ya
Show you how
To be cared for
Be expected
To care right back


You awwriiiight


Just let us know
Where your line is


Feel yo’ might


An tryin to  be part of it


We don’t know
any more than you
Where this high
tide is takin’ us


Feels awww riiight


And whatever life leaves us
We’ll be fine
Pole pole
Pole pole
Makin’ it right / makin’ it right


Pole pole
Pole pole
Makin’ it right / makin’ it right


Do you feel it gal.
Do you feel it right.
Do you feel it gal.
Do you feel it tight
Do you feel it gal
Do you feel it true
Do you feel it
Movin inside you
Movin’ movin’ movin’ inside you.




This home

I have secured by returning
alone. . .  and early. . . to be with them
…even when I do not need to
to honor them and care for those who care for me.
(for Lucky, Teddy, Paulo, Edmond, Martin, Louis, Tommy, Alpha, Felicitas)

(credit: Mankwe Ndosi)

(credit: Mankwe Ndosi)