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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Eye to eye by John von Daler

               The young Danes, husband and wife, had just moved to the #Tanzanian village. The idea was to help with things like water projects and to live simply, not exactly like the villagers, but like Danes living simply.
               They brought what they could with them, but some things they had to get a hold of on the spot. Like a good sitting chair.
           The young man worked his way slowly into the little community. Blond foreigners were not an everyday sight here. He wanted to be discreet, easy, slow.
            He went to village meetings, leaving his wife to talk with the other women. He learned who did what in the village and how the various hierarchies were formed.
            After a few months he thought he knew enough to approach the village carpenter with his project. He spent a whole night laboriously drawing the simple four-legged straight-backed piece as true to life as he could. After all, he was no draftsman. By morning he thought he had a pretty good likeness.
             He visited the man and spent an hour or so talking in Swahili as well as he could. He showed the man the picture and tried as best he could to describe the function the piece would have: he wanted it to face his makeshift desk so that he could write letters and read the papers he had with him.
             The carpenter seemed to understand his guest's request and agreed on a time about a week later. They chose a type of wood that seemed good and solid for the legs and some straw-like material for the seat. They even talked about the price, and as far as the Dane could tell, it was reasonable. The carpenter seemed content, too.
             On the morning the chair was to be finished the young Dane pocketed some money and started to walk through the village. As he passed the various huts he noticed that everybody was up and standing about in doorways or in the places where they cultivated their crops. Everyone watched him go past them with a kind of amused look - you know, the way kids look at you when someone has stuck a piece of paper on your back with the words, HIT ME!
              Now I was not with him at the carpenter's, so of course I cannot describe this event I have not witnessed, but I can tell you that his walk home, chair in hand, was like an Easter Parade with just one float. People laughed and cheered and whistled and slapped their knees or whatever it is that one slaps in Tanzania.
              The young Dane was carrying a straight-backed, four-legged, wooden chair with a flat, straw seat in front of him. The front legs were about two inches longer than the back ones. Obviously nobody here in the countryside of Tanzania had seen anything this crazy before. How can you sit on a chair with short back legs without falling backwards onto the ground? You've got to be a little daffy to order something like that.
              He had drawn the picture in perspective, something I myself never have mastered, thank God. The carpenter, despite everything he felt he knew about the making of a good chair, had constructed it precisely according to the picture drawn by his crazy customer.
               Now the young Dane uses his chair to look at the stars. Sometimes you reap what you sow. That's easy enough. Knowing precisely what you've sown is the hard part.

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