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Fascinating Tanzania!

Martin Zeilig/map of Tanzania

By MARTIN ZEILIG Our small motorized mangrove and mahogany canvas covered boat bounced along the choppy turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean as the captain and owner, Ahmed, manoeuvred the outboard engine towards Changuu Island, a small island about six kilometres northwest of Stone Town, Unguja Zanzibar.

 

As we sped along, a number of cargo ships and a Chinese fishing trawler were moored off shore, while long thin hulled dhows with billowing sails skimmed speedily on that sun searing day through the world’s third largest ocean.
I was at the tail end of my second trip to Tanzania in just over a year. The first trip was an eight day safari adventure in Northern Tanzania in June 2018. It was, as I wrote in a major two part article for the Lifestyles supplement of The Jewish Post & News afterwards, the fulfillment of a lifelong dream to go on safari in some of the big game parks, including the fabled Serengeti National Park, of East Africa.
This second trip in October 2019 was unplanned and unexpected. I was invited by a Canadian based representative of the Tanzanian government to attend the Swahili International Tourism Expo (S!TE), a three day event (October 18-20) held at the modern Julius Nyerere International Conference Center in Milimani City a region of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Dar es Salaam, which is situated on the Indian Ocean, is the largest city, former capital and commercial centre of Tanzania. The yearly event attracted 426 exhibitors, including safari tour operators from throughout Tanzania and other parts of Africa, and almost 1000 visitors over the three days. It also featured speakers, including representatives of the government of the United Republic of Tanzania.
I jumped at the opportunity. Why not? It also included a selection of four day side trips, or Familiarization Trips, afterwards to other parts of Tanzania. I chose to visit the historic town of Iringa and Ruaha National Park— the largest national park located in the middle of Tanzania and covering an area of about 13,000 square kilometres about 130 kilometres from Iringa. I also spent two days in Zanzibar upon returning from Ruaha.

 

Here are some other memorable moments:
 The Expo centers around inbound and outbound travel business to and inside Africa. Tourism companies from 60 countries —Finland, Denmark, Lithuania, Ukraine, Malaysia, South Korea, Canada, India, among others — participated in the event.
“Protection and Sustainable tourism, and in addition tropical tourism and going inside East Africa, (is the goal of S!TE),” the Tanzanian Minister of Tourism, said during the opening address. “The tourism industry is here to help the economy of our country. Tanzania is a safari country in Africa. We are proud that Swahili was born in Tanzania. We encourage our foreign guests to see why we say, ‘Unforgettable Tanzania.’”

Swahili dancers(at left): Being entertained by the Dar es Salaam based, Tot Jazz Band, one of the biggest jazz bands in Tanzania, at the opening entertainment event at SITE. They perform a fusion of Swahili jazz and more recognized numbers.Strolling along the shore of the Indian Ocean by my hotel, located on the outskirts of Dar, in the evening with the twinkling lights of yachts and merchant ships moored in the distance was a peaceful way to unwind after being at the hectic SITE all day. The surf’s fresh and salty smell combined with the exotic locale was intoxicatingVisiting the National Museum & House of Culture: It takes you on a journey through Tanzania’s colorful past. The museum displays important fossils of some of the earliest human ancestors unearthed during the Leakey digs at Olduvai Gorge. You can also learn about Tanzania’s tribal heritage and the impact of the slave trade and colonial periods. Other highlights of the museum include ethnographic displays on traditional crafts, customs, ornaments, and musical instruments, as well as a small collection of vintage cars, including the Rolls Royce used by former president, Julius Nyerere.

Iringa: Iringa is a city in Tanzania with a population of 1,211,900 (as of 2020), according to Wikipedia. The name is derived from the word lilinga, meaning .
Iringa is the administrative capital of Iringa Region. Iringa Municipal Council is the administrative designation of the Municipality of Iringa. “Iringa has been one of the coldest regions in Tanzania due to its geographical location but that has attracted a lot of tourists from colder regions abroad especially Western Europe,” notes online information. Iringa also hosts one of Africa’s largest national parks, the Ruaha National Park.
We also visited the Isimila Stone Age site, which lies about 20 km (12 mi) to the southwest. It contains archeological artifacts, particularly stone tools, from human habitation about 70,000 years ago. Homo Erectus lived here 300,000 years ago.
Excavation work was done by paleontologists from the University of Chicago, 1957-58; University of Illinois, 1968-70, and South Korea in 2003. Scrapers, slingshots, knives from stones, and different weapons were found and can still be seen in large open sided enclosures.

Iringa Region is home to the Hehe people.
“After their stunning defeat at Lugalo by the Hehe on August 17, 1871, led by Chief Mkwawa, the Germans built a military station at ‘Neu Iringa’ to avenge the death of their commander Emil Von Zelewski and to teach the Hehe respect for German authority,” says information in the Iringa Boma – Regional Museum and Cultural Centre. “The fortress and headquarters of Chief Mkwawa was in the nearby village of Kalenga, Alt Iringa.”  It was only in July 1898, after being trapped, that Mkwawa shot himself. The Germans removed Mkwawa’s head and sent it to Germany.
Mkwawa still has “the status of a national hero in Tanzania,” even after  over 120 years.  A movie should be made about this man. 

Ruaha NP: Ruaha is in a northern and southern transition zone. 
elephantsRuaha National Park is the largest national park in Tanzania. It covers an area of about 13,000 square kilometres.
It is located in the middle of Tanzania about 130 kilometres from Iringa. The park, which is located in the Great Rift Valley (East African Rift), is part of a more extensive ecosystem, which includes Rungwa Game Reserve, Usangu Game Reserve, and several other protected areas.

The name of the park is derived from the Great Ruaha River, which flows along its South-Eastern margin and is the focus for game-viewing.
The park can be reached by car via Iringa and there is an airstrip at Msembe, park headquarters.
I was part of a group that included three Dutch journalists. Our safari driver/expert guide, Serafino, was the owner of the Center for Research and Action, Limited (CRA)– a new company that started in 2019– in Irigina.
 During our two days exploring Ruaha we encountered lions– including a male and female that mated several times as we clicked away on our cameras or cell phones– resting under a baobab tree and along a dry river bed; a beautiful male leopard nestled in the shade of an acacia tree a few hundred metres away from the lions; elephants, Cape buffalo, zebra, giraffes, elands and more. Ruaha is believed to have the highest concentration of elephants of any National Park in East Africa.  

 And it’s home to over 10 percent of Africa’s entire lion population, which is estimated to be only about 20,000 animals whereas about a century ago there were more than 200,000 lions in Africa, according to the World Atlas online. The International Union Conservation of Nature, though, has estimated that there might be as many 30,000 wild lions left on the continent.  “From 1993 to 2014, the planet lost 43 percent of its population of African lions, conservationists estimate,” says National Geographic magazine (October 2019).
The park is home to the Ruaha Carnivore Project, which was established in 2009 by Dr. Amy Dickman, as a Kaplan Senior Research Fellow under Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, says the RCP website.
“Ruaha’s Carnivore Project’s work in protecting lions and livestock, and helping local tribes, is clearly a win-win situation,” Sue Wats, an award-winning writer who specializes in African travel and conservation, wrote in an online article, How the Ruaha Carnivore Project is saving Tanzania’s Lions (SafariBookings).
It is also a place where magnificent mammals like Kudu, Sable and Roan antelopes can easily be spotted in Miombo woodland. The park is also a habitat for endangered wild dogs, although we didn’t see any. Other animals in the park include cheetah, giraffes, zebras, impala, bat eared foxes and Jackals.
 The park also harbours a number of reptiles and amphibians such as crocodiles, poisonous and non-poisonous snakes, monitor lizards, agama lizards and frogs. We also spotted hippos relaxing in the Great Ruaha River. Ruaha is famous for being “Tanzania’s bird paradise” because more than 570 species of birds have been identified inside its boundaries, and some of them are known to be migrants from within and outside Africa, says information in a the park’s headquarters.
At one point on our bouncy dusty ride in the Land Rover, Serafino stopped at the side of the narrow dirt road. He got out of the vehicle and grabbed a handful of still steaming elephant dung, and told us all about its different uses by villagers. He then broke it open to reveal insects that were using the manure as a food source and to lay their eggs. 
“When I stop for animals and trees and dung, it’s best for guests to listen carefully,” Serafino said afterwards. “It’s better to share with my guests.” 
“It was gross, but interesting,” said fellow traveller Noel Vanbemmel, editor of the Travel section in the Dutch newspaper De Volkakrant, the biggest serious newspaper in Holland. “I’ve been on many safaris in sixteen different African countries, but this was the first time I’ve seen this demonstrated. He was doing his best.”

I booked my two day tour to Zanzibar at the SITE with Hassan Luzuba Majid, the owner of Hazaim Holiday and Safaris. His company is based in Zanzibar City (or Zanzibar Town or Stone Town, often simply referred to as Zanzibar)–the capital and largest city of Zanzibar, in Tanzania. It is located on the west coast of Unguja, the main island of the Zanzibar Archipelago, roughly due north of Dar es Salaam across the Zanzibar Channel. 
My boat trip was onboard a super fast twin turbine powered ferry boat operated by Azam Marine Boats in Dar. The trip took a little over two hours.
I stayed at the not too pricey exotically named Golden Tulip Boutique Hotel. The rooms are spacious and the service is first rate.
Its open rooftop restaurant has a stunning view of the harbour.  

Among the places I visited were the Jozani Forest, the largest area of indigenous forest on Zanzibar Island. Situated south of Chwaka Bay on low-lying land, the area is prone to flooding, which nurtures a lush swamp like environment of moisture-loving trees and ferns.  Josanzi is the home of rare Red Colobus Monkey, which is only endemic to Zanzibar.  We also spotted some grey and black monkeys.
The nearby Jambo Spice Plantation, about 12 acres in size, is owned by three families. This is a demonstration farm where you can see all different varieties of spices grown in Zanzibar. This farm is only for demonstration system.
Changuu Island saw use as a prison for rebellious slaves in the 1860s and also functioned as a coral mine, say the historical markers.
The British First Minister of Zanzibar, Lloyd Mathews, purchased the island in 1893 and constructed a prison complex there. But, it never held prisoners. Instead it became a quarantine station for yellow fever cases. The station was only occupied for around half of the year  and the rest of the time it was a popular holiday destination. Visitors are able to explore the old prison and even stop for refreshments at an outdoor restaurant. 

Tortoise edited 1Spending time, along with other tourists, amongst the 200 giant Aldabra tortoises on Changuu Island was a wondrous experience. In 1919 the British governor of Seychelles sent a gift of four Aldabra giant tortoises to Changuu from the island of  Aldabra, say information signs. These tortoises bred quickly and by 1955 they numbered around 200 animals. The Zanzibar government, with assistance from the World Society for the Protection of Animals- Now known as World Animal Protection– built a large compound for the protection of the animals and by 2000 numbers had recovered to 17 adults, 50 juveniles and 90 hatchlings.
Their ages are painted in blue on their shells.
“The oldest right now is 195 years old,” said my outstanding guide in Zanzibar, Nemes Raphael. “The youngest brother is 161 years old, but bigger in size.”

 

 

Slaves edited 1Old Stone Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s narrow, meandering streets mean that pedestrians vie with motorized vehicles for the right of way.
I also took a tour of the former slave market site. On June 6, 1873 the slave trade was officially abolished in East Africa. The slave trade continued  underground, though, until 1909. It’s a sobering and claustrophobic experience to spend even a short time in the dank dungeons from the 16thcentury where slaves were squashed together under inhumane conditions before being taken to market for sale. The slaves from West Africa were sent to America. Those from East Africa were sent to Arab countries.
In 1869, Bishop Edward Steere from England settled in Zanzibar.  Along with some British missionaries, Bishop Steere purchased the site of the slave market and began building the Anglican Christ Church there.

“He didn’t like the selling of slaves,” my guide at the site, Freddy, said. “He decided to go to the slave market. After purchasing slaves, he would teach them the bible and convert them to Christianity and then set them free. This is history. It’s very terrible. Sometimes I feel pain. My ancestors were among those who were set free from slavery by Bishop Steere.” 

 Having just seen the movie Bohemian Rhapsody, I visited Freddie Mercury House, which is now the Tembo House Hotel, on Kenyatta Road in Old Stone Town. Mercury, the former lead singer of Queen, was born in Zanzibar in 1946 where his name was Farrokh Bulsara. His father worked for the British colonial service and the family lived in various locations in Stone Town before immigrating to England.
Meanwhile, Forodhan Park is a busy seafood night market with n open sea front garden where people wait for friends or colleagues who are either arriving or leaving on the ferry. 

I crammed so much into my two day visit to Zanzibar. 
Tanzania is unforgettable.

 

 

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Features

Brothers Arnie & Michael Usiskin’s Warkov-Safeer a throwback to days of long ago

Arnie (left) & Michael Usiskin

By MYRON LOVE Step into Warkov-Safeer on Hargrave in the Exchange District and you’ll feel like you’ve walked back in time to an earlier era. The shelves are crammed full of shoe-related accessories – soles, heels, laces, polish, threads, needles, dyes – and other leather-related needs. 
“There used to be a shoemaker on every corner,” says Michael Usiskin, whose family has operated the wholesaler for more than 50 years.  “People used to keep their shoes for years.  They might resole them ten times.  Now you might have five pairs in your closet – different shoes for different occasions, and buy a new pair every year or two.”
Usiskin adds that “there is no place else like us between Toronto and Vancouver.  When we moved here in the 1970s, this area was buzzing with garment workers and sewing machines. This was a hub of activity. It’s a lot quieter now.”
While the Usiskin Family has been connected with the company for 85 years, Michael Usiskin points out that the company – originally catering to the horse trade – was actually founded in 1930 in Winkler by the eponymous Warkov brothers – Jacob, Mendel and Morris – and their brother-in-law, Barney Safeer.  Larry Usiskin, father of Michael and his brother and partner, Arnie, went to work for the company in 1939, four years after the partners moved the business to Winnipeg (to a location at Selkirk and Main).
The late Larry Usiskin and his late wife, Roz, were leaders in Winnipeg’s secular Yiddishist community.  The Usiskin brothers received their elementary schooling at the secular Sholem Aleichem School at the corner of Pritchard and Salter in the old North End.
“Our dad was maybe 16 or 17 when he went to work for Warkov-Safeer in 1939,” Michael Usiskin notes.  “He would do deliveries on his bike to shoe repair shops.”
He never left.
Michael Usiskin relates that, during the war years, the company relocated to larger premises at King and Bannatyne to accommodate a growing demand for its expanding product lines.
Larry Usiskin bought the business in 1969 – with a partner – in 1969.  It was not a given that either Michael or Arnie would join the family endeavour.  Michael was the first of the brothers to come on board. That was in 1984.
Michael had been working for Videon Public Access TV for the previous seven years.  “I was a producer, editor and camera man,” he recalls. 
Among the programs he worked on were Noach Witman’s Jewish television hour and such classics as “Math with Marty”  and Natalie and Ronne Pollock’s show.
“Dad began talking about retirement,” Michael recounts.   “With budget cuts and lay-offs coming to Videon, it was a good time for me to get out and join Dad in business.”
Michael became Warkov-Safeer’s managing partner in 1995 on the senior Usiskin’s retirement.  Arnie joined his brother in partnership in 1998.
“I had been working for CBC for 17 years as a technician,” Arnie relates.  “A confluence of events presented me with the opportunity to go into the family business.”
Although Arnie bought out Michael’s previous partner,  he continued on at CBC for another four years before accepting a buyout. 
“I went from show business into shoe business,” he jokes.
Today, Warkov-Safeer has customers from Ontario to the West Coast. “Things have changed considerably over the years for our business,” Michael notes. “Our shoe market is now solely more expensive brands. And we also supply a lot of leather and leather-related products for hobbyists.”
He reports that a lot of their marketing has long been done by word of mouth.  “We used to go to a fair number of trade shows, but not so much anymore,” he adds.  “We now have a number of sales representatives throughout Western Canada and Ontario.”
“We’re not high tech,” Arnie points out.  “We have a niche market.  What we sell is a form of recycling – allowing people to look after and fix their shoes.  We see a trend developing in this area.”
While Arnie and Michael Usiskin have no plans to retire quite yet,  they do acknowledge though they are not getting any younger and would welcome someone younger to come into the business who might be willing one day to lead Warkov-Safeer into the future. 

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Features

Winnipeg-based singer/songwriter Orit Shimoni spreading her wings again after being grounded by Covid lockdown

By MYRON LOVE In the spring of 2020, Canadian-Israeli singer/songwriter Orit Shimoni was in the midst of a cross Canada tour. She had started in Vancouver, had a show in Edmonton and stepped off the train in Winnipeg just as the Covid  lockdowns were underway.  Shimoni was essentially stuck In our city, knowing virtually on one.
Four years later, she is still here, having found a supportive community and, while she has resumed touring, she has decided for now to make Winnipeg her home base.
“I really appreciate the artistic scene here,” she says.  “I plan on being away on tour a lot, but I have understanding and rent is affordable.”
Our community also benefits from having such a multi-talented individual such as Shimoni living among us.  Over the past 15 years, the former teacher – with a Masters degree in Theology, has toured worldwide as well as producing 12 albums of original works to date – the most recent being “Winnipeg”, a series of commentaries on her life experiences, wishes and dreams over the past couple of years – which was released last fall.
She has also produced an album of songs for Chanukah.
According to her website, Shimoni expounds on her “truths, her feelings and tells her stories” in venues that include bars, clubs and cafes, coffee houses and folkfests, theatres, back yards, living rooms, and trains.  Her music is described as a potpourri of “bold and raw, soft and tender, witty and humourous,” incorporating  empathy and condemnation, spirituality and whimsy,” and crosses different genres such as blues, folk and country and “speaks to the human condition, the human heart and the times  that we find ourselves in”.
She observes that the inspiration for her songs can come from anywhere, including conversations with others, nature, history, news and her own lived experiences.
In response to the ongoing situation in Israel today, she reports that she is trying to use her music to create positive energy in trying to foster a commonality between people.
In addition to adding to her musical corpus while in Winnipeg these past four years, Shimoni notes that she has used her enforced lockdown downtime to explore other ventures. One of those new areas that she has been focusing on is art.
“I have always had an interest in painting,” she says.  While she hasn’t had an exhibition of her painting yet, she has prints for sale and is available for commissions.
“My last two albums have my paintings as the cover art,” she points out.
Another area that the singer/songwriter has been developing over the past four years is writing and performing personalized songs for special occasions.  “I can bring to birthdays, weddings and memorials personalized songs to mark the occasion,” she notes.  “It is another way that I have diversified what I can offer.”
One project she completed last year – with support from the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba – was “singing the songs of our elders” in which she interviewed several Jewish seniors – with the help of Gray Academy students – and told their stories in song. 
Among other performances she has given locally over the past year was a special appearance before a group of Holocaust survivors at the Gwen Secter Creative Living Centre, a self-written, one woman show – called “The Wandering Jew” at Tarbut in November and, most recently, a concert last month at Gordie’s Coffee House on Sterling Lyon Parkway.
Another new area of exploration for Shimoni is animation.  In an interview with Roots Music Canada last fall, she embarked on an ambitious animation project based on her song “One Voice,” which she wrote a few years ago, and which perfectly reflects the anxiety that many people are feeling in these troubled times.
 Last October, she was back on tour – with renowned American songwriter Dan Bern  – after three years away from the road.  She did two weeks’ worth of concerts in American West Coast states and Colorado  – and. in late January, she began a month-long journey that started with shows in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal and stops throughout the Midwest as far as Texas.
She recently returned to Montreal for a show and is currently doing a series of concerts in Germany – with further stops in Belgium, Holland and England.
“It will be good to be back in Europe,” she says.  “I have developed a loyal following in Germany and elsewhere.”
A writer for one publication in Berlin described Shimoni as ‘one of the most interesting singer/songwriters I have met in a long time.”
Here at home, Winnipeg concert promoter Ian Mattey observes that “with each concert, her audience has grown – a testament to the wonderful balance of her lyrical genius, haunting voice and musical talent.”
The singer/songwriter feels grounded – in a good way – in our fair city – and we hope that she will be with us for some time to come.

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Features

A Backwards Family Tree

author Janice Weizman/cover of "Our Little Histories"

By ILANA KURSHAN
The following review first appeared in the February 15, 2024 issue of Lilith Magazine Reprinted with permission.
What does Jennifer Greenberg-Wu, an American-Jewish museum curator working on a reality show in rural Belarus, have to do with Raizel Shulman, a Russian mother desperate to save her triplet sons from being drafted into the czar’s army? The answer spans three continents and nearly two centuries, and it is the spellbinding tale that Janice Weizman weaves in Our Little Histories (Toby Press, $17.95), a novel that unfolds back-wards to tell the story of a family’s history one generation at a time.
Each of the book’s seven chapters focuses on another branch of the family tree that connects Jennifer back to Raizel. We witness the encounter between Jennifer’s mother Nancy Wexler, a young feminist hippie from Chicago, and her distant cousin Yardena, 25 years old and happily pregnant in Tel Aviv in 1968. In the next chapter we meet Yardena’s mother, Tamar, who, while smuggling guns for the Haga- nah, engages in a fateful act of betrayal with a visitor to her home on Kibbutz Hadar, where she has made her home ever since her parents sent her off on a train from Minsk in 1927. In the next chapter we meet Tamar’s distant cousin, Gabriel Schulman, a literature teacher in Vilna, who is attacked in a dark alley in Tamar’s impassioned letters pleading with him to come to Palestine before the situation in Europe gets worse for the Jews. “To be a Jew in Vilna, or Poland, or perhaps anywhere, is to find courage where you thought you had none, to feel it flowing through your veins like blood,” Gabriel thinks in the seconds before he is attacked.
Set one year earlier but thousands of miles across the Atlantic Ocean, the following chapter focuses on a third branch of the family—not those who stayed in Europe or settled in Palestine, but those like Nat Wexler, a first-generation American journalist in Chicago who is also Tamar and Gabriel’s cousin. Nat understands Yiddish but cannot speak it, and prides himself in his assimilation into American culture; he dreads bringing his fashionable, light-hearted Jewish-American girlfriend to the Yiddish theater with his mother, who is eager to meet her. The penultimate chapter takes us back forty years earlier to turn-of-the-century Belarus, where Gabriel’s father Yoyna is sent on a mission by his own father to reunite with his father’s two brothers; all three brothers were separated at a young age. In the book’s compelling, heart-wrenching final chapter, we meet three triplet boys, one of whom is Yoyna’s father, and we learn the reasons for their tragic separation by their mother Raizel in the shtetl in 1850, where “every year, right around the short dark days leading up to Hanukkah, the boys of Propoisk become scarce…gone for weeks or even months at a time.”
Like A .B. Yehoshua’s Mr. Mani, which follows a Sephardi family back in time, Our Little Histories is a book that demands re-rereading, backwards, from the last chapter back to the first. Connecting threads link one generation to another, and serve as leitmotifs through out the book, like the poem in three stanzas that Raizel Schulman pens just before she parts from two of her triplets so as to spare them from the czar’s army; each son receives one stanza, and the poem is published in a 1914 Yiddish anthology which Yoyna gives to Gabriel, who mails it to Tamar, who donates the slim booklet to the Yiddish library in Tel Aviv, where Yardena and Nancy find it; Nancy will give that booklet to Jennifer to take with her to Belarus for her reality show. When Jennifer’s mother hands her that booklet, she is convinced she has seen it before, and her deja-vu mirrors that of the reader, who will encounter and re-encounter the anthology, and Raizel’s poem, in each of the book’s seven chapters.
Our Little Histories is masterfully constructed, such that the book’s final chapter is both inevitable—it couldn’t possibly have been any other way—and yet impossible to predict. The three branches of Raizel’s family, who make their homes in Europe, Israel, and America, offer us an intimate window into aspects of Ashke- nazi Jewish history—pogroms and Zionism, yeshiva culture and the assimilation, the kibbutz and the shtetl. We have all tragically witnessed how the legacy of persecution has reverberated even in the Jew- ish homeland, a reminder of the unbear- able sacrifices and the acts of raw courage that continue to forge us as a people.

Our Little Histories is available in paperback and kindle on Amazon.

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