ESTHERíS 1999 WORLD TRIP
LEAVING THE U.S.
I left the U.S. in such bad winter weather that Robin, the limo driver, came at 7:30 a.m., an hour earlier than agreed on, in case we had trouble getting to the Philadelphia airport. Fortunately, I hadnít been able to sleep, so was up, with my baggage ó a small carry-on, one huge bag, and one big, even heavier carton ó all three closed, and on their wheels, ready to go. It hadnít helped me to sleep that Tim had called the night before, from the Toronto airport on his way to sunny Jamaica, to say that the Toronto airport was closing down due to a storm, and that the storm was headed this way. The ticket for my Air Canada flight to Frankfurt was routed through Toronto.
The storm did come, and it dumped several inches of snow overnight. When he arrived, Robin the Limo Man said he had been up since 3 a.m. At his first pickup, the steep, iced driveway prevented his getting to the house, so he was braced for ours, which is steep, too. The day before, when he had come in sunshine to take Sara and Katie to the airport, also bound for Jamaica, we had joked at the prospect of sliding my luggage down the driveway on ice to the street the next day. But by the time he got there, sleet had changed to rain, ice was melting, and the snow on the ground was getting slushy. So he easily drove up the driveway to the house for my bags. But to get to his van I had to put on the galoshes which Sara and I had bought the day before, thinking Iíd only need them in my two northernmost stops, Germany and Anchorage.
We were four hours early because there was a jackknifed semi on Interstate 95, the freeway to the airport, which Robin heard about on his car radio, so he took side roads and we ducked right under 95 with its stopped traffic looking like one long parking lot, and breezed on into the airport. Sure enough, the TV monitors in the terminal said my 12:45 Philadelphia-Toronto-Frankfurt flight was canceled. But when I showed up at the Air Canada counter about 8:45, they immediately put me on a United flight leaving in five minutes for Frankfurt via Chicago, instead of snowed-in Toronto. I got the very last seat, in the tail. I felt so lucky. Chicago was clear. Later, I saw in the paper that it was snowed-in and closed a day later, when I didnít need it any more.
As we sat in Flight 944, a 747, waiting to depart from
Chicago, the captain told us which channel to use to listen to the traffic
tower. It addressed planes by their flight numbers, and we were the "944
heavy." Pilots would repeat the towerís instructions and then sign off
with "Gíday" affecting an Aussie accent, or "See you." Then a Singapore
flight crisply responded in a veddy British accent. After that, one which
the tower just called "Dingo" with no number mumbled some sort of reply
in an authentic Aussie accent. If heíd been writing, it would have been
FRANKFURT When we arrived at the airport, I was last off the United plane due to hunting groggily under my seat for a galosh. Iíd finally fallen asleep just before arriving. Not being able to read the airport signs, I simply followed the crew. I started to breeze right through a gate past a very young man who I belatedly realized looked like he was trying very hard to be officious. He had to stop me with probably the German equivalent of "Ahem." When I looked up, he said, "I am Polizei," and I realized that this boy was authority. When I showed him my passport, he just waved me on, almost disdainfully, with a very stiff upper lip. Meanwhile his equally young partner in the adjoining booth had been sheepishly responding to the flirting, joking attendants from my plane, who finally made him laugh, and my guy even cracked a smile, but not until after I passed.
Now I was hearing only German all around, and, being so far behind all the other passengers, couldnít devine which way to go for Baggage Claim because the signs in English were so far apart. A nice lady at a Finland
airlineís ticket desk pointed out to me where I (and a lost little old man who was also pushing a ladened cart and hopefully following me) had overshot. When I did find our belt, no baggage had started coming in anyway and everyone from my flight was still standing there. That gave me a chance to go to the bathroom, "WC" in that airportís sign language, which I finally realized after disbelieving it the first few times I saw it, because itís British for "water closet." I was unsuccessfully seeking the little man and woman figures used in U.S. airports, which meant I passed up a couple of perfectly good WCs. Well, maybe they were perfectly bad, judging from the three very smelly ones I did end up using in the course of the day: three out of three were awful.
Saw quite a few people with dogs on leashes in the airport as well as at the train station. Later, Rosemary Brumfield, my Heidleberg hostess, told me the Germans are very attached to their pets. A neighbor of hers used to take his Himalayan cat (a brother to hers) to work with him daily on his motorcycle, strapped to his chest in a sling, which he also carried it in when he went skiing. Hearing so much German being spoken in the airport, Iíd hear someone laugh or cough and think "oh, at least they laugh in English," and caught myself wondering if a black dog I saw loping across a field barked in German. I was very sleep deprived.
Sara had helped me solve the problem of having promised to take what looked like way too much stuff from my new Ethiopian friends, Fekade Tedasseís kids at Louisiana State University, to their parents and teenage brother (including two pounds of candy bars and M&Mís for him) in Addis Ababa. She said, "Letís get the biggest box permissible, and drop your middle-size suitcase down into it, then pack all their stuff in around it." Presto! It was 18"x18"x 27" and weighed fifty pounds. But the guy at the United counter scolded me for having a box I couldnít lift, saying, "Iím not supposed to step over this" as he stepped over the baggage space in his counter and hefted my monster box (minus its wheels) for the Tedasses over it and onto the moving belt taking it out to the plane. Whew! So far, so good. At Frankfurt, I just tipped it off the moving belt onto a handy free baggage cart. Then I strapped the little wheeled baggage rack Iíd filched out of Sara and Timís baggage closet back onto the carton. When I mentioned it on the phone them (in Jamaica), Tim heartily blessed using it, and said tell them to keep it! I think this was because it had looked like I was going to clutter up their house leaving a lot of that stuff behind. But Iím taking the luggage rack on to Royís extended family since one or the other of them is constantly traveling.
Marla had asked what I was going to say when the ticket agent asked me if anyone had asked me to carry anything on board. We agreed I should not try to go into a big explanation of what was in my huge box full of contraband for the Tedasse family, and "Just say no" to the ticket agent. But I did get flustered when I finally got to the customs agent. When he asked what I was carrying in the big box. I said I had stuff for a six-month trip plus gifts for people on the way. And he says, "Like what?" All of a sudden I couldnít remember anything that was in the box, and started wondering if I could ever find the itemized list to save having him rummage through all the stuff and have to tape that huge box shut again. I mumbled something about lots of clothes as he closely watched my face, and my heart sank. He cut me off with, "Any cigarettes or liquor?" "No," I breathed in relief, and that was that, end of grilling. He didnít have me open anything.
Wonderful, wonderful Frankfurt airport has these free baggage carts, and charged-for, but oh so welcome, baggage storage, which you donít get in the U.S. any more. The Baggage Check room was on the next floor down. I went through a Three Stooges routine of getting stuck in the door to the elevator, forcing my way in, and having a helpful man almost break the little wheeled luggage rack on the monstrous carton forcing it back out on the next floor. Finally on my way to the Baggage Check, I remembered that Joe Rouse, my travel agent, had told me to be sure to reconfirm my next flight upon arrival at each airport.
Woops. Ethiopian Airlines was to be my next one. The airlines counters were all back up on the first floor. This raised a sweat. I removed my coat and sweatshirt, and took the luggage rack off the big box, as I should have done in the first place. Now, with easy simple access to the baggage elevator, I breezed up to Ethiopian Airlines. But noone is ever there until afternoons when their once-a-day flight leaves. Back down by elevator; to check the big box and my biggest suitcase into the Baggage Check (for 48 marks, about $25). But before handing them over, I switched some longjohn pjs Marla had given me at the last minute out of the big bag and into the smallest, for my weekend in Heidleberg with Rosemary. Then I skipped off to the train station feeling very light with only the one small bag, and that on its own wheels.
Seated in a train station pub for breakfast, I saw four beefy guys in leather, Australian-looking hats chatting at the other end of my long table. They each had a foot-high flute of beer for breakfast. One also had a roll. I asked the cashier if they were Australians or railway workers or something. No, she says, theyíre just a social club. A "Stomtisch," Rosemary told me later. A club that meets in bars to drink and play cards. These guys simply left after the 8:00 a.m. beers, without eating.
HEIDLEBERG This is a small town in a gorge on the Neckar River near where it flows out onto the broad valley of the Rhine River. My first evening there, Rosemary drove me up-river after dark to view night-lit castles looming like ghosts, lining the river. Only a couple are still lived in. Everything is very steep, and winterís ice made road travel all the more hair raising. We passed few other cars that late at night, squeaking past them on roads originally built just wide enough for horse carriages, with a sidewalk in some places. Cars park on the sidewalks, leaving part of one narrow lane for two-way traffic. And of course, the Germans are addicted to big cars.
Rosemary teaches a fourth grade class at Patrick Henry Village, which is the dependentsí housing at the U.S. Army base near Heidleberg, so theyíre all American kids. She lives in town in a great apartment perched up high above a monastery a jillion or so years old, and she drives a big Jeep Cherokee, bright red.
"These German drivers are fast and aggressive. I love it!" she says, as she careens down the twisty, narrow streets, which have huge convex mirrors at the hairpin bends. She said that one day a safety teacher came to talk to her class, and, when cautioning them never to accept a ride from a stranger, he said, "But what if itís a shiny big red Jeep Cherokee?" All the childrenís eyes slowly turned in unison and looked at her.
The town itself, a renowned educational center for the past eight centuries, is dominated by a huge castle. I photographed Pongo at it, of course, and I also took his photo on a brass statue of a monkey which welcomes you to the city at the main bridge across the river. Pongo is Jessicaís Beanie Baby chimp who was reporting on this trip to her kindergarten class by weekly post cards. Pongo also later visited a kindergarten class in Addis Ababa, and another one with Mburuís near Nairobi the next Tuesday, and later another one in India, with much taking of class pictures.
Rosemary gave Pongo a companion, a Beanie Baby bear called Peace Bear, to go along with him around the world. (Peace Bear later strongly approved of the peace mission to Angola that kept me from seeing my Addis Ababa hostess, Menbere.)
My last evening there, after we took an English language
tour of the 10th century castle, we followed it up with a visit to the
base cinema to watch Star Wars.
ADDIS ABABA Ethiopia is a high plateau country. When we flew into the airport at Addis Ababa, 6,000 ft, it looked like we landed on a level with the tops of the mountains all around it. In the airport building, it was novel to pass up the check ins for diplomats, passengers, and crew, to stand in line at the one labeled "Aliens."
To kick my visit off on the wrong foot, due to email misunderstanding about the date, Fekade Tedasse and his son, Amanuel, had checked the airport for me on the 15th, 16th and 17th. When I finally did arrive on the 18th, I didnít dare leave the airport building lest I miss them (still expecting to see Menbere, the mom, any minute). This time I knew to immediately tell the customs agent, "No cigarettes, no liquor," and zipped straight through with their contraband. What I didnít know was that, because of security, they were not allowed inside the building to meet me, and were waiting out in the parking lot. Dialing their phone number got me a busy signal ten times over the course of a couple of hours because their phone was not functioning. I snacked in a bar restaurant, and tried out the first squat toilet of many on this trip. Whew, and I thought Frankfurtís WCs were bad. I ended up taking a taxi to a cheap hotel named Yordanus. Meanwhile, they started going around to check hotels. After checking in (and napping off an altitude headache), I walked uphill a few blocks to the Hilton Hotel. It was a beautiful sunny, breezy day. I was soon accompanied by a little leech of a boy who was practicing his English and wiles on me. Apparently I belonged to him, because we were watched with varying degrees of envy, awe, amusement and admiration by gangs of other boys all the way, but none other approached me. He got chased off by the Hilton entrance guards when we got there and before I could tip him, just as he was looking into my eyes soulfully, saying "Forty cents, I hev no money."
Ethiopia is still somewhat terrorized and security burdened after their two revolutions. Before entering the lobby, I had to walk through an airport-type metal detector. Then I went to the check in desk to see if I could use a computer to try to email Menbere, and stood back to wait for several others who were there first. Two of them turned around and came toward me. I didnít recognize Fekade, whom Iíd never met, but the second one was Amanuel! A hopeful grin was on Fekadeís face, and a big welcoming smile on Amanuelís, as he and I had fallen in love with each other back in Baton Rouge when Menbere and I were checking his brother and sister into their dorm rooms at LSU. After the Hilton, they had planned to go check on the Yordanus Hotel. Talk about my guardian angel! It is getting international experience.
The jokeís on me about the Addis Ababa visit: remember I was "going to visit their villa," expecting a big spread? Well, I understand now, they used to have a villa, in fact two or three they owned, plus acreage and some forested lands. But when the Communists who kicked out Hailie Selassie came in, they appropriated everything, and left only one house per family. The Tadasse familyís "villa" means their "house," and itís about the size of Mike and Marlaís on Devon before their addition to it. Itís in a small, hedged compound, down a very rocky street, and hemmed in on all sides by other small compounds, one being a dairy. Thereís no point in upgrading any property because the government says it owns everything, anyway, and can and will appropriate it at will if you do improve it. City streets are not maintained. So, the Tedasse family are living in very reduced circumstances, and have fallen back on their fervent Coptic Christian way of life, to makes it all bearable. Fekade says thereís no point in bitterness; instead the whole experience made him reassess his priorities. Funds theyíd managed to get ahead on since the "Derg" as they call it (comparable to the "Red Terror" in the USSR), are going toward educating their children, instead of building a new house to replace the one theyíre stuck with. It was very gratifying on arrival at their home to watch Amanuel the first evening, lifting the gifts from Fikre and Selam out of the big box, like a Santa Claus, handing them to his dad and the two of them relishing each item.
By the way, the Coptic church historically predates Christianity, being ascribed back to the time of their Queen of Shebaís visit to King Solomon, so the Coptic Christians donít take kindly to modern day Christian missionaries. Trinity Church where Fekade and Menbere were married is designed after one in the Vatican. It was built in 1940 to commemorate Ethiopiaís liberation from WWII Italian occupation, when the British General Wingate returned Emperor Hailie Selassie to his throne in triumph. The high school Fekade attended is named Wingate High School.
The second big jolt on my arrival in Addis was that Menbere wasnít there. She works for the United Nations, and after I lost email contact with her in December, she had been sent to Luanda, Angola, as part of the UN peace mission there. They were told it might last as little as three months or as long as three years. Either way, I didnít get to see her at all. Poor Fekade, her husband, was stuck with trying to figure out what to do with me, this unknown American woman who shows up for a week instead of just a few days as heíd understood it. Only sixteen-year-old Amanuel, was home with him. Menbere was off in Angola, and the two older children, Fikre and Selam, were off in college at LSU. Their cook had left the day Menbere did. Fekade had already fired her replacement and was trying another. Couldnít seem to get one that could really cook, and went through four or five of them during my week there.
Desta, their cleaning and laundry girl, was actually doing the cooking. She has a delightful speaking voice, and it lilts upward at the end of every sentence, like a childís. She also has a warm big smile. She adapted quickly to my weird needs ó no frying in butter, mainly. At most meals we ate njera, which is crepes made of tef grain. On these we piled small helpings of several kinds of unrecognizable but delicious fillings, wrapped them up, and ate with our fingers. Desta spent her mornings chopping the condiments for these savories, which were all delicious as long as I avoided the highly spiced ones. Those were Selamís favorites, they said, and I could believe it after having seen her pour on the Tabasco sauce at the Chinese Flower Drum in Baton Rouge.
Having me under underfoot seemed to cause Fekade such stress that I asked him to take me to the library at the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) at the huge UN Conference Center where Menbere works, to look up what I could do on my own in town. Security at the gated UN compound required that he have the right sticker on his car, and that he stop the car so the guards could walk all the way around it with a mirror on a pole to look under the car. This same thing was done at the Hilton Hotel. At the ECA library I made friends with one of Menbereís friends, Mebrat Gebrun Selassie, the assistant librarian, and the newest embodiment of my guardian angel. She obtained reading materials on the country for me, loaned me a phone, introduced me to a couple of other helpful friends, wangled use of the media centerís computers (quite illegally) for me to read my fifteen waiting email messages, and took me to lunch a couple of days in the UN convention centerís cafeteria.
I had been enjoying Mebratís warm companionship very much, but I was puzzled by what seemed like nervousness or distractedness in her. Found out at our last lunch together that she was worried that her brother (and Fekade thought she too, possibly, when I told him this) may be deported, or at the very least lose his job because their parents were from Eritrea, and Eritrea has just gone to war again with Ethiopia over their border dispute. Some twenty other Eritreans (Tigre tribesmen) had already been deported from their professional jobs at the huge UN complex here at the request of the Ethiopian government. They dispersed to the U.S., Europe, Kenya, Uganda, and a couple of them back to Eritrea.
The background story is that seventy years ago, Mebratís parents walked from the Eritrean capitol, Asmara, to the Ethiopian capitol, Addis Ababa, taking three months to do it, half a century ago when the Italians colonized Eritrea and separated it politically from the rest of Ethiopia. Ethiopia took it back in the í60s, then Eritrea fought for and won its independence in the early í90s. Eritrean students Iíve known at LSU are fiercely proud of their countryís independence. However, as I understand it, it has almost no resources and counts on buying raw materials to process into manufactured products to sell abroad. It gets its electricity from Ethiopiaís hydroelectric grid. I was told that Eritreaís leaders are cousins of Ethiopiaís current leaders, the ones who took over after kicking out the Communists who had nationalized everything. So this "war," now is a family feud rather than a full national commitment to war by both countries. Ethiopians say their current leaders have let the countryís whole infrastructure, from roads to the judicial system, degenerate because "they just came out of the woods" and have no idea how to run a country.
I met an American, Janet Kebede, when she was getting her email at the computer next to me. She became a back-up guardian angel. Sheís an American who teaches English there at the UN. Her husband, Negash Kebede who is Ethiopian, teaches physics and high school college prep classes at the International Community School (ICS) in Addis. Among other kindnesses, which included driving me home to Sunday lunch at their house after I caught a toot toot (a taxi van) to meet them at Sunday School at the International Evangelical Church. She arranged for Pongoís visit to a kindergarten class at the ICS taught by her friend Diane Zemichael. When I first met Diane at her classroom, she and other teachers, and a pair of American parents were all animatedly discussing how and why theyíd chosen not to leave the country. The American Embassy had asked for volunteers to leave when the war with Eritrea started heating up, and some Americans did go. We didnít know if it was going to erupt in Addis Ababa, and if maybe theyíd close the airport. It happened, but after Iíd left.
At Janetís Sunday School class, we were addressed by the owner of a large Christian bookstore in Addis on the subject of the Christianís need for expediency in ethics: specifically, whether and when to bribe with money, which in Ethiopia is the birr. He told the story of a friend who is booked on Nigerian Airlines (a ripple of knowing chuckles at that mention), who phones to reconfirm his reservation the night before the flight. When he goes to check in next day, the agent says, "No room for you on this flight." The man declares, "But I called and confirmed my reservation last night!" Peering over the counter, he adds, "and look, look there is my name on the manifest in front of you." The clerk takes a pen and crosses out his name. "Now itís not," he says. The man splutters to his friend there with him, "Did you see that? Did you hear that?" The friend disappears around a corner, and soon returns with a boarding pass in hand. "I hope the Lord forgives me for a 75-birr bribe," he says. The conclusion was that Christians have to be ethical, but when dealing with the unethical, they have to be shrewd, and he backed it up with scriptures.
Addis Ababaís road traffic weaves round at break neck speed, jockeying to miss potholes and to get ahead of each other, preferentially using the lane stripe to drive on if there is one, but miraculously all sorting out into the proper lanes a bare ten feet before stopping at the traffic light. The toot toots were the most aggressive. The tail lights of all of the toot toots were battered, except one I saw that had heavy gauge wire cages bolted down around both of them. When a toot toot goes to a curbside taxi stop to pick up new passengers, it goes to the head of the line of several waiting toot toots. While each toot tootís tout calls out its terminal destination, the vans are all backing up in spurts while people are boarding them. When one arrives at the back of the line, it departs.
A half-full toot toot I caught my last day, heading for the Zoological Museum, started up the long hill past the ECA on a divided highway, and suddenly stopped, out of gas. The driver let it roll backwards downhill a couple of blocks, then U-turned and coasted on downhill facing sparse on-coming traffic until it reached a crossover in the median. He coasted over into the proper lanes, and on we flew like a taxiing plane, down, down the hill. At a flat intersection, the van slowed to a stop right in the middle of it. Passengers and nearby pedestrians helped the tout push the toot toot across it, then there were no more interruptions to our free glide all the way to a gas station at Muscat Square, which was back down the hill farther than where I had first boarded. Oh well. We finally got back up the hill to the museum.
A couple of times, I was walking on the city streets when school let out, filling the sidewalks with kids in their bright red, purple or blue uniforms. Several times as Iíd pass some little boys, one would shyly say, "Alo, muzzah (mother), ow arr you?" and "Alo, muzzah, hi!" It was so sweet, but a wrenching, stark contrast to the little beggar boys whose families could not afford schooling. Theyíd hold out dirty hands, look soulfully into my eyes and say, "My stowmek is empty," or "I hev no money."
Oh yes, I meant to tell you an Ethiopian joke Fekade told me about when the new, very young Queen Elizabeth visited Emperor Hailie Selassie back in the í40s. Selassie had started using the royal "we" for himself all the time. The story goes that he didnít have enough room in his palace to properly put up the Queen and Prince Philip and their whole entourage, so he put them up in a local hotel, the Gion. Then he also took a suite there for himself, to be near them. During the night he went and knocked on the queenís door. "Who is it?" she asks. "We," he replies. "Come in, one by one," she says!
Odd notes: "Ish she" is Ethiopian for "OK," and seems to both precede and follow everything they say. And "Amesegenalow" is "thank you," but seems to be used very seldom. "Chicka chicka" is what Mebrat called pointless meeting talk in a meeting sheíd walked out on to join us for lunch. Foreigners are called "Ferengi" since the French were said to be the first aliens to arrive in the country, and were called "Furenchi," which became "Ferengi," with a soft "g." Since I was an alien in Ethiopia, I always asked if a person I wanted to talk to knew English. A surprising number did. One day I was walking down the sidewalk with a girl named Amarech. After we had passed a sidewalk vendor selling what looked like carved little sticks, I asked her what they were. Her English was shaky, and, as she stumbled over what to say, another man we passed who was just standing there with his back to us watching the street simply said out loud "Colgate" after we passed him. "Colgate" she told me with a big smile. "Toothbrushes?" I asked her "Yes!" Since the Maasai also strip the skin off small sticks, cut down into one end several times with a knife, making a brush of sorts, and brush their teeth with them, it was easy to guess. But those Ethiopian ones had elaborate carving on the handle part. Ethiopians all have beautiful teeth and gorgeous smiles. There are hundreds of Colgate signs and billboards all over Addis, but they had the beautiful smiles long before toothpaste ads showed up.
I met Amarech on a toot toot. At a stop, she had parted
with another girl, affectionately touching her cheek, then kissing her
before hopping up into the van, taking the seat next to me. As we drove
off, I asked, "Your sister?" "Yes!" Big smile. Then she asked, "Do you
know Jesus Christ?" This started off a whole day we spent together going
to the National Museum to see Lucyís 3.5 million-year-old bones, tromping
around the Addis Ababa University campus, having a Coke and donut, etc.
Sheís twenty-three, has finished high school only, and wants to go to the
U.S. with her church choir. We enjoyed each otherís company very much.
Very beautiful girl. Fekade said the name Amarech means "she becomes beautiful."
All the young guys we passed took keen notice of her.
NAIROBI As we flew south from Ethiopia, over the Chalbi Desert, and past Mt. Kenya, then lowered toward the Maasai plains, I was unexpectedly overwhelmed with the thought "Iím home! Iím home!" At Nairobi airport, "No cigarettes; no liquor" worked its charm again, and customs didnít open my bags. There was good old Bob Murungi waiting for me in the crowd behind the ropes, lifting his baseball cap to catch my attention. We got into Janeís familiar brown Toyota which Iíd ridden in Baton Rouge many times with her while she got her masterís and Ph.D. degrees there as a Fulbright scholar. It was still giving good service after fifteen-plus years. We went out to Kenyatta University, which we entered through gates manned by guards in uniform. Itís a huge campus twenty miles from town, having once been a British Army barracks, and their home is at the far perimeter of it where residences (formerly officersí homes) are on a grid pattern of streets now named for African countries and fruits. Jane had just gotten back from teaching a class. Big hugs, big lies traded about how you havenít changed a bit since I was last there in Ď83 (actually her only change was a perm), and big welcome back. And after the dusty drive from the airport it was a physical pleasure to have her offer a cup of tea (of course) and a bath upon arrival ó aah!
Pineapples, bananas, corn, rice, coffee, tea, passion fruit, and flowers in acres of greenhouses ó these were the crops Jane and I saw next day from a small bus we took upcountry toward Mt. Kenya, to their retirement home theyíve been building out in the country, slowly over many years. It is in the southeast foothills, on the road to Meru. They call it their Shamba, which means garden. Iíd been eager to see it, having heart about it from Jane in Baton Rouge and being with her when she went to buy locks to send to out to Bob for all the doors. When we got off the bus, it was only a short walk down a country lane to their huge metal gates set in concrete abutments with a five-foot leaf shape molded in them. A little rapping roused their watchman to greet us and open the gate, and in we went. Itís a pretty and a large house. The grillwork, necessary protection found on all Kenya homes, was decorative white wrought iron, reminiscent of New Orleans to me. Thereís a large, glassed-in, round sitting room projecting from the front of the house, looking out on flower gardens all around. Everything is built with generous proportions, and includes bedrooms for their daughter and three sons, all grown up now. We rested, and ate a picnic lunch and explored the gardens. A short bus ride farther up the road we visited the 100-year-old church they were married in.
Late in the afternoon we caught another bus to go home. These buses are safer to travel in than Kenyaís infamous smaller, cheaper matatus, the freewheeling private vans that jam on as many people as possible, usually donít pass brakes inspection, or much else, always speed, as though to keep ahead of the police, and have many lethal accidents. On its way down toward the plains, the road from Mt. Kenya switches back and forth traversing many ravines with coffee and banana plots planted up and down their sides. I got a seat in the very front of our bus with the driver, right up over the engine, with only the huge windshield between us and the road, and we seemed to swing out over nothing under the front wheel at outer turns, rather like being on a roller coaster. I asked the driver how many years he had driven the bus, and with a wry grin he said "Canít remember but somewhere around twenty." He had to get the tout to come up front to translate our exchange because my Swahili was incomprehensible to him and still very rusty, it being only my first time to use it in seventeen years. It was fascinating to watch the symbolic language he exchanged with oncoming drivers, using headlight blinks and hand gestures. Some made him laugh out loud, and I wondered if they were commenting on his suicidal white passenger.
Seated next to me was a guy who was industriously chewing small twigs taken from his coat pocket. These were picked from a bush grown throughout the area called miraa. Itís called "green gold," and is harvested and sold mostly to Arab countries. Itís a stimulant, curbs appetite, and they say it makes people fierce, ready to kill even relatives at the slightest provocation. There are at least fifty assault cases reported every week to the two police stations in the growing area, the paper said. Pickups and trucks transporting miraa bound for Saudi Arabia, driven by miraa-fierce drivers, still imperiously dominate the roads, as they did in í83, outmaneuvering and outspeeding even the matatus.
Back in Nairobi, my guardian angel got some more international work one day. We were going to go in to town, and were prevented by a student riot as we headed toward the entry gates of Kenyatta University. A relative of Janeís whom Iíd met on the previous eveningís walk, flagged down our car and warned us that students had captured the gates. We took a side street and parked where Bob could go on foot and have a look, and sure enough, students had massed, were carrying large stones, had hijacked a truck, and chased off the security guards. Being once burned, twice shy, Bob turned the car around and we returned to their house, more than a mile from the gates and a much safer place to be. As a matter of fact, he has been more than just once "burned."
Recently they woke up during the night to find burglars sawing through the exterior wrought iron grillwork on their bedroom window. The would-be intruders would have been at the living room windows if theyíd just wanted the TV and video, so, based on how other such stories have run, he was pretty sure they were coming for him personally. He got a pistol out of his bedside table and shot toward them. They left. But now he fears that since theyíve learned he has a gun, theyíll return armed next time. So heís acquired two dogs, Spike and Hercules, gangly pups with big grins and big feet, and full of beans, who look more like theyíd like to love a person to death than bite them. But they do bark at night most ferociously. Their night watchman, who takes over from the daytime guard, was nowhere around during the incident. He claimed next day that the intruders had threatened him and heíd gone for the police because there was a small crowd of them, but Murungis think he was just in cahoots with them. So now they have a new night watchman, and every evening Bob takes a bow with some arrows and a very big, very bright flashlight out to him. Also, we slept every night with all the windows closed and bolted, no matter how hot or stuffy it got.
Anyway, when we turned the car around and returned to the house, we went in and watched reports on TV of students from the University of Nairobi rioting in town, also armed with large stones. In past demonstrations, theyíve trashed or abducted vehicles, and the police and the military were called out to restore order. Students and police ended up in hospitals, not a thing to get mixed in with. Jane and Bob wondered whether this might blow up into a real attempt to oust President Arap Moi, since the country is falling apart. He was just "reelected" for another five years, the elections being outrageously rigged. An ousting would be great for the country, but whatís more likely is that heíd impose an authoritarian clampdown on all liberties. This time the students were rioting to protest the actions of politicians and friends of the president who have been selling off parts of a national forest within the city limits to wealthy developers and pocketing the proceeds. In the end, the student riots were quelled, with students and police ending up in the hospital again, and the outcome of the illegal hijacking of forest property was not resolved. People continued building on the properties, under police protection.
Well, there I was, back in balmy, breezy, sunny, beautiful as ever Kenya. Took pictures next day where we lunched with Bobís niece, Doreen, under huge yellow-trunked, towering acacia trees at the UN compound where she works. The big trees reminded me of the ones on the sports grounds at Narok where I remember camping with Mother and Daddy when I was a little girl, and getting splinters in my bum from sitting on orange crates for camp chairs. I love those yellow trees with their feathery, tiny, pale green leaves. The British colonists dubbed these yellow trees "Fever Trees," because they thought they caused malaria. What caused it was their pitching their camps where the trees grew, down along river banks where mosquitos thrive.
Rena and Jay once gave me a blown-up picture of white flowers with a yellow center that smelled so good and grew on low bushes, which they photographed on their honeymoon in Hawaii. Thereís a grove of seven trees of that flower, frangipani, right by Murungiís entrance gate, with the sweet blossoms all way up too high to pick! Their poinsettias are also out of reach, 15í to 20í high.
My idea of recording this whole journal on tape fell apart because sleep happened instead. But one evening at Murungisí Bob got out his guitar and played some elegant classical Spanish pieces and I taped him. So thatís what the tape recorder came to be good for ó music and bird songs.
Another evening there at Murungis, fitness-buff Bob was showing some floor exercises to Barbara, a very Americanized niece who was living with them while attending college. She pulled a muscle and couldnít turn her head easily for a couple of days, which made Bob feel awful. When I was first getting acquainted with Barbara, I thought she said her mother likes opera, and I was very surprised. When she asked if I do, too, I said I really only enjoy the orchestral introductory music, but not all the singing. She looked a little mystified. Later I discovered that she was talking about Oprah on TV, whom she called Opera. Jane and Bob and apparently everybody all watch "Opera," as well as a string of other U.S. TV shows, like Friends and Sienfeld.
Back to Bobís being more than once "burned." One time back when he was Assistant Vice Chancellor there at Kenyatta University (which post heís since been demoted from because he refused to go along with the corruption required), he had to announce a government imposition of new fees. The students stoned him, clipping off the tip of one earlobe and causing other painful bruises. Another time when he was in that office, he was run off the road by political enemiesí hired thugs, but a passing funeral procession included friends who recognized his overturned car and rescued him out of it. Years ago, Bob left a lucrative teaching position in the U.S. to come back and contribute his talents and career to his country.
Now he wanted all the AARP information I could get sent to him in case they decide to retire in the U.S. where their kids are. Their pension system is next to worthless, and things keep looking worse politically rather than improving. Heís one who researches everything thoroughly. For example he had high blood pressure trouble and took firm control, curbing it by cutting out all salt and fats completely, and doing exercises. He eats arrow root and cod liver oil with his breakfast, and has robust health.
Things soon quieted down enough for us to go into town so I could meet my second Nairobi hosts, the Mburus, who also live quite far out of town at Kikuyu. I had been temporarily out of touch with them, but at the last minute, Rosa Mburu phoned and made contact, thanks to Marlaís sending the Murungiís phone number to the Mburus by email from California. We arranged to meet them next day at the Mayfair Hotel.
We left my biggest suitcase at Murungisí so I wouldnít have to cart it to Mburusí and then all the way down to my brother Royís in Tanzania and back with me on the bus, as I would be returning to their house after Royís to catch my flight to South Africa in a few weeks. So we went off to the Mayfair Hotel with only my two smallest suitcases. I bid Murungis a temporary goodby, and met up with Mburus for my weekís visit with them: Rosa, Mburu, Kendi, and a niece living with them to help care for granddaughter Kendi, who is Jessicaís age.
We lunched in grand style at Karen Country Club, established way back before Out of Africaís Karen von Blixen/Isak Dinesen bought her coffee farm nearby. We had a delicious buffet meal, all very hoity toity. There were weathered old whites lunching at the verandah tables overlooking the golf course. Many looked like left-over ex-colonials who had probably been coming there since they were youngsters, back when it was strictly for white settlers. Now, African golfing buddies of Mburuís came in off the course and greeted him in passing as we ate. A former public health colleague of his from Norway was having a family reunion at the next table. We lost Kendi, and found her at the swimming pool where she takes lessons. She had taken off long stockings and shoes, and cooled her tootsies.
It was a long hot dusty drive out to their house. The road was even worse than in í83. Their house, so new and almost empty of furniture then, is now thoroughly, luxuriantly furnished with things from several African countries Mburuís been working in with USAID. Some were museum quality pieces. They have a new building under construction by the servantsí quarters which is to include a studio for Rosaís batik and tie dying hobby which she picked up while they lived in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. She gave me a Tanzanian outfit sheíd made, and I practically lived in the pants the rest of my trip, with an Ethiopian Wildlife Society tee-shirt.
Kendi is a very self-confident kindergartener. Hyper, smart, resourceful, totally preoccupied with her own imaginative play at times, interested and demanding of adult attention at other times. She built a little house of chairs and cloths right in the way of traffic between kitchen and dining room the last morning, and was busily going through a dayís schedule of cooking with toy pots plus real ones, going to "bed," cleaning, and goodness knows what, all oblivious to the rest of us. I got the sense of Mburuís feeling a lot more bamboozled by her than he was with his own kids, Mugure (Kendiís mom), Martin and Tanya, who are now all grown up and in the U.S. working. I missed some of the relaxed fun and go-with-the-flow that he had with them. Rosa says none of their own were as much of a challenge as this child is, and Rosaís a tough school teacher! Keep tuned!
All of what were just beginnings of landscaping around the house in í83 are now full, luxuriant flowerbeds, flowering bushes and mature trees. We took a photo of Pongo and Peace Bear, plus Kendiís own Peace Bear, with Rosaís cows when touring her shamba below the house, and later another with Kendi and her kindergarten class
Rosa was again in a servant limbo, looking for a replacement for the current unsatisfactory worker, just as she was back in í83. It was similar to Janeís problem with her cook, Pinky, whom she recruited from out in the country. She was getting sloppy and bored with her job once the novelty of living in town had worn off. Janeís sending her to tailoring classes so sheíll have a livelihood when Jane fires her and gets a new girl. This is a recurrent problem in both households.
Rosa took me to the Giraffe House gift shop. We saw some tourists feeding giraffe, but we got there too late for the tour ourselves. The grounds of the stone mansion are the site of Raising Daisy Rothschild and other books by Betty and Jock Leslie-Melville about their pet giraffes. It is now an educational nature center, established by them as a place where African children can learn about wildlife and its value to their countryís economy, which is based on tourism. Most Africans never see the more exotic wildlife, and when they do, they see them as predators who ruin their crops or raid their livestock.
Rosa also took me to the offices of the African Academy of Sciences. We met Serah Manycky and gave her the lion story manuscript by my elusive Maasai author, Eliud. Iíd lost contact with him lately, but hoped to find him on this trip. She was interested in his stories for a proposed magazine for teenagers named Team. I crossed my fingers.
Mburu is running his consulting business in public health from home via email, fax and mobile phone. Regular phone is undependable. (Especially when I sent them the wrong number for Murungis on my itinerary, anyway.)
I was having no luck at getting through to Roy by either phone or email. Finally did by email by way of our old nursemaid, Sophieís, granddaughter, Irene Jacca, who lives right there in Nairobi. She works for HDL, the Kenya equivalent of UPS. The day before I was to take a bus to Tanzania, she relayed the message to me at Mburuís that Royís son-in-law, Steve Simonson, would meet me at the bus stop in Arusha, and theyíd keep me for the weekend there at their home, Olasiti. Then Iíd go on to Roy and Bettyís for almost three weeks, in Moshi right in the foothills of Kilimanjaro. Yahoo!!
The Davanu shuttle bus took me from the Norfolk Hotel in Nairobi, to the Novotel in Arusha, via Athi River, Kajiado, Bissel, and Namanga, the border crossing between Kenya and Tanzania. The smooth, newly black-topped road off the Nairobi-Mombasa road at the Athi River turn off, showed that they do know how to fix roads after all, although you wouldnít know it in Nairobi. I wanted to photo every fever tree we passed; many were flanking the road out of Nairobi. After the Athi turn off into dry scrub country, almost immediately we saw a billboard totally in Maasai, my very first.
Rolling Maasai plains, scrubby trees, infrequent herds of cattle, goats, zebra! Almost missed the zebra, they were so well blended with the plain. Felt so good to be doing this by road again, as Iíd done so many times with Mother and Daddy in the past. Even better than flying over it as I did in í83 in the Flying Doctors plane, exciting as that was.
Slowly we left the Aberderes Mountains behind us on the far horizon north of Nairobi, the Ngong Hills slid past on the right, after Lukenia on the left, then, over some low horizon bumps dead ahead, Kilimanjaro!! Way higher than I expected, again, as it always was. I saw it before the bus tout pointed it out to the other riders, heh heh.
I relished the excitement of looking out for and finding wild life again, even if only zebra, tommies, and impala, Maribou stork and baboon livened it up a bit. I had thought Iíd catch some sleep in the bus to Arusha after talking with Rosa until the wee hours the night before, and thought Iíd read the paper Mburu bought me, but NO!! Too much to see. Saw two Africa Inland Church buildings at Bissel, one new, and one little and old ó was that one Daddyís, still there after 45 years? YES! Roy told me later, so I photographed it on my return trip.
At Namanga, the border crossing, I spoke in Maasai to some endasati, dear old Massai grannies, selling beaded stuff, and smelled their dear old familiar oil and ochre odors. Started seeing Maasai red shukas (togas). In fact, beyond Namanga on the Tanzania side, we saw throngs of ilmuran, warriors, in ochre shukas gathered in clumps at buildings far off the road. I heard later it was a tax revolt. They were gathering to refuse to pay some tax.
Kili grew on the left horizon to its full 19,304 ft. height
as we approached Mt. Meru just west of it, with Arusha at its base.
ARUSHA Steve met me in his Land Cruiser (their ads say "the best 4x4xfar") and we lunched at an Italian place al fresco. Then we stopped by his Serengetti Select Safaris office to look at my email, then rushed out to Marilynís school, International School Arusha, where she teaches French and special ed. We attended a meeting of parents of kids with special needs featuring a speaker from the U.S., held in Mareís French classroom. There I met the current owner of Marangu Hotel and his wife, who took it over from our family friends, the Lanys.
We rushed to church for play practice, "Godspell," which both Mare and Steve had parts in. I chatted in the parking lot with the husband of the headmistress of the Lutheran Maasai Girls School at Monduli. Then home to Olasiti, Steve and Mareís semi-circular, beautiful new home under construction, with stables for their nine horses which were built in a mirroring curve behind it and already in use. They and their two boys, Lane and Caleb, were still living in a tiny temporary cabin near the new house. I spent the night in the finished kidsí bedrooms wing of the new house, in Serenaís (with a spinet piano in it). We rushed off next morning without a good look at the construction yet. I wondered what had become of the legendary slow pace of living in Africa?
Steveís dad, Dave Simonson, is one of the missionaries in Gokooís (Motherís) story to whom she taught the Maasai language at the Lutheran Mission around on the other side of Kilimanjaro from us at Lasit. Read in Road to Kilimanjaro, I think in a chapter titled "Lasit," about how she started a girlsí school there because the government didnít provide education for girls, and Mother and Daddy wanted literate, trained, Christian girls for the new crop of converted Christian boys who were growing up, graduating from high school and having a hard time finding educated wives. Well, itís still a problem. Today there are good schools providing education for girls throughout Kenya, but Dave says they are clogged with non-Maasai politiciansí and tycoonsí daughters, so the Maasai lose out again. So, as his last big hurrah before retirement, Dave, with the collaboration of the local Maasai Bishop Kariungi, who happens to be our old nursemaid Sophieís son-in-law, is building a private girlsí school exclusively for Maasai girls, to be run by the area Lutheran church.
Dave and Eunice had invited me to join a tour they were giving the next day for a group of executives who came out to see the Lutheran Monduli Maasai Girls School before they started a climb up Kilimanjaro. (How I wished I were going up with them!) During the tour at the school, I split off and went to talk Maasai with a wonderful old lady who was sitting on the ground in the sunshine sewing a beaded necklace. She, as a tribal cultural treasure, had taken part in the schoolís inception. She knows no English, so I had to stretch my memory and blurt out what Maasai came. Sheíd listen to what I was trying to say or ask, correct my Maasai and Iíd repeat it right, then sheíd answer, and weíd plunge on. It was, whew, invigorating. When I really got stuck, weíd fall back on Swahili, an iffy thing for both of us . Sheís sort of a grandmother to all the girls at the school, hired explicitly to pass on good old Maasai lore and traditional decorative bead-sewing skills.
That girls school is an inspiration. The girls are so eager and bright, and so decorous, the Maasai way. It was cold, so the uniforms they had on that day were red sweatshirts over blue skirts. Dave Simonson is a formidably successful fund raiser. He goes to CEOs and other moneyed people in the States (mostly in the Minneapolis area) who are interested in a walking tour adventure in Africa, and says, "Iíll walk you across a desert and you will barely survive, return looking haggard, pounds lighter, and love it, and donate some classrooms for the school," and it works.
However, yesterdayís tour group werenít cross-country hikers. They were "only" doing Kilimanjaro. They included a handsome young guy who was taking and handing out Polaroid pictures of the girls while they were mixing with us at tea time (tea served with boiled eggs). He was the director of the Mayo Clinic, where Jordanís King Hussein was currently under treatment for cancer and shortly died. The Maasai elders gave Dave the land for this school, just like my Dad was once given Lasit around the mountain for a mission station, but not until heíd shown them the plans for the school, all laid out in a circular pattern like a Maasai kraal with a strong security fence around it all. The matron, an American woman, has had a career in education, and was most recently dean of women at a university in Seattle. I had chatted with her husband, Marv, the AA meetings leader at Simonsonís church, out in the parking lot while Godspell was being belted out in practice inside.
Dave and Eunice took the tour group to lunch back in Arusha, the Mezza Luna again, then we wished them well on their Kili climb, and returned to Steveís office to join the rest of the family who had arrived from Moshi: Arlene and Serena who came up by van from their boarding school, the International School Moshi, and Carolyn, Roy, and Betty who drove up separately. Carolyn teaches French at ISM. We all went out to Steve and Marilynís Olasiti for the weekend and a grand tour of the new construction.
This time I moved into the "boysí room" with Carolyn; Roy and Betty into Serenaís room; Serena and Arlene into Arleneís; and Mare and Steve and the two boys remained in their little cabin. Full houses.
Next day, Steveís brother Nathan and son arrived to help Steve work on the master bathroom, Roy worked on making a rope ladder to the boysí room loft, and we ladies kibbitzed. That evening we had a barbecue with Dave and Eunice at the cabin, with Sophieís daughter Penina, her husband, Kariungi the bishop, and their teenage son, Kasaine, joining us to map out plans for driving around the mountain to visit Sophie, and Maho, her sister, the next week.
Dave Simonson had such a quintessential Gokoo story to tell us. She stayed at their home once while doing translation work, in their early days when things were still primitive on their station, and they had a longdrop for a toilet. He said the hole in the wood seat was cut out pretty far back, and apparently Gokooís legs stuck straight out when she sat on it. So, of course, being Gokoo, she let it be known. Without telling her, he went to town and bought a proper toilet seat, sawed out the front of the hole closer to the front edge and installed the real seat. Next morning he says they were all sitting on the verandah when she went in, and watching when she burst out, arms waving, exclaiming "Praise the Lord, they fixed the seat!!!"
I still had not found my lost Maasai author, but we were going on safari to the other side of the mountain, and who knows, I thought, he might just walk in out of the bush!
MOSHI Later at Roy and Bettyís, Betty heard me complaining bitterly about writing by hand, and reminded me I could be keyboarding on their computer and print it out. Wow! what a concept! Back to civilization. Up to then, Iíd been trying to keep my journal in an elegant, blank, soft leather-bound book , "just like the one Magellan kept on his exploration around the tip of South America," which the Department of Geography and Anthropology at LSU gave me when I left for my trip on retirement. Alas, the pristine blank pages intimidated me when they proved that I didnít know how to write legibly any more. Back to the keyboard. Roy and Betty are so high tech. Every morning they check their email for the three or four messages that usually come in from some of their scattered kids in Tanzania, Malawi, Florida, New Mexico, and Alaska.
How I enjoyed beginning to get to know all those sweetheart-grandkids of Roy and Bettyís. Caleb and Luke energetic preteens; Serena, Marilynís daughter, and Sandra, Carolynís, both in the throes of filling out and sending college applications by email. The four teenagers ó these two plus Marilynís Arlene, and Steveís nephew Seth ó were attending high school in Moshi at ISM, and going home to Arusha weekends. So when they have free time Tuesday afternoons, they get to walked over to Grannyís to hang out and munch cookies with juice.
In Moshi, it was so good to hear the African mourning dovesí call again, unique and completely different from American onesí. I taped them. They go "Coo, coo. Cí cook coo coo." The rhythm sounds like "Hey, there. Who cooks for you?" (with apologies for borrowing the words out of Louisianaís Barred Owlsí beaks).
Iím getting houseshoe-trained. In Addis, Fekade had insisted I borrow Amanuelís flip flops as house shoes while there (after first making him scrub them clean for me!). Then at both Nairobi homes, Murungis and Mburus, they provided me with them as well. So here at Moshi, I preemptively bought a pair for the rest of the trip.
Roy, Betty, Carolyn and I spent a weekend away in a Maasai boma. A boma is a kraal occupied by a large extended family, in this case some of our host's twelve brothers and sixteen sisters and their spouses, each wife having her own separate hut (which she built herself, of course). Unfortunately, our host, Ole Kinue, had a real house so we didn't get to sleep in a hut on skins on a rack, but every other home on the premises had just that. In one sense, it was reassuring to me that the old world I was familiar with and grew up in still exists out there somewhere. But of course, at the same time I regret that such a majority of the tribe are still having to live so uncomfortably (by my standards).
We went in Carolynís car, "since hers is the reliable one at the moment," with Ole, as heís called (which actually means "son of"). He was one of the medical students in the Assistant Medical Officer program at the multiracial Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre (KCMC) where Roy teaches. Ole is actually a pretty big local political power at home, not just a lowly student. He and his wife have a precious little guy, Melita, our grandson Nicky's age, plus school-age twin girls. They have the girls living in town with an aunt in the "servantís house" on Roy and Betty's doctorsí housing quarters in the KCMC compound, so they can go to school and learn English. A nephew of Ole's has also been brought there to live away from the village for the same purpose, because he's so bright. They're representative of the lucky ones who escape living "in the bush." And the bush is where we went after we left Moshi and turned off the tarmac road and on to the dirt track.
"Now it's going to get very dusty," Ole warned. We immediately started jostling wildly as Carolyn drove fast enough to stay ahead of the dust cloud kicked up by the car. I had to rediscover that you ride best if you relax to jelly on these roads instead of trying to brace yourself to anticipate the jolts. Off we went across a plain dotted with scrub brush; it was desolate looking, but for Ole, and I suppose for Roy, it was teeming with life he could discern in the distances. In fact at one spot he asked to stop just a moment so he could deliver a message, and we looked around in bewilderment for a message receiver. Off he loped, and sure enough a habitation appeared in the bush a distance the equivalent of three blocks off the road. Roy tells of a trip he took with another guy out in the boonies where they came up over a rise, and five miles away they could see a herd of cattle looking as big as grains of pepper. "Oh," says the guy, "those are my cattle!"
At one time, this area we were heading for was known for the great number of giraffe that lived in it, so in Maasai it's named the equivalent of Giraffe Place. But, except for one fleeing dik-dik, we saw no game all day, much less giraffe. A dik-dik is a wee antelope that might come up to the ankle of a giraffe. We did see day-old elephant droppings, which prompted Ole to tell how when he was a young herder and they'd happen upon an elephant, they would hang a white garment on a tree, then flee the other direction while the elephant dealt with the cloth by stomping on it and ripping it up, even tearing up the tree bark where it had hung. Daily, as Isak Dinesen says in Out of Africa, "as though meeting an appointment at the end of the world," the elephants march from the hills where they feed on greenery, down to the nearest water course, in this case a river about 10-20' wide, with huge trees marking its snaking course across the otherwise empty-seeming plains.
The "road" got worse and worse, and in a couple of places the great billowing pillow of dust following us rushed up and completely engulfed the car so Carolyn was blinded momentarily as the windshield turned ochre, cause for great merriment, rather than consternation. Everything's an adventure "or else you develop high blood pressure," as Ole commented more than once. The road degenerated into cattle trails and soon it was braiding. Ole had to keep Carolyn on it by directing her "left, right, left, left," or even "straight ahead" (which was NOT always obvious!). We passed several bomas before arriving at his a couple of hours later.
In the middle of the boma is the thornbrush-enclosed cattle corral, with a separate entrance into it for each male head of a family. I lost count of the number of entrances into this one, because it kind of snaked around instead of being in a neat circle. Just outside each entrance is that man's first wife's home on the left, then subsequent wives on the right. This particular cattle boma looked like it might cover half an acre, because this family was very wealthy with many cattle. It is so old that it is mounded several feet above the surrounding ground, and they said it has already been lowered once by setting it on fire and having the fire smolder underneath several days, then the whole thing collapsing. You'd think it would stink peeyuu, being a pile of dung, but it doesn't since it's all dried out, and when walking on it, you just have to watch to avoid that day's fresh contributions.
We arrived early enough in the afternoon to find only women around, and a horde of children. It seemed like the kids engulfed us. They were all wearing little shukas, ranging from very grubby to very clean. We sat and drank tea on the shaded, afternoon side of Ole's long, six-room house, which is oriented north-south. He designed it that way with a morning. and an afternoon shaded side, with a bench built into the house wall down each side of the length of the house, where the elders can come and sit to hold discussions.
A few white goat kids bounced and bleated around, while the Maasai kids shyly drew shapes that resembled letters in the dust on Carolynís car. Then they got bolder and bolder, and finally ended up all up inside the back of the suburban when they saw it was ok with Carolyn. They started singing songs antiphonally, one kid belting out a lead, then the others all chiming in with a response. They sang with a strong beat and even got in some syncopation.
Evening drew on and we started hearing the cattle's bells approaching. Oh, but first, the comical little white kids, on their pointy stiletto hoofs, sensed their mama goats approaching, and rushed off to attack their udders before they'd even fully arrived and stopped walking. Then as cattle started pouring into their corral, Ole said to come meet some of his brothers, and we all migrated over there. The eldest brother is tall, stately and wearing glasses; another is a bit roly-poly and gregarious; two or three others are all different, but each one, including Ole, carrying a long whitish herding stick they occasionally leaned on, all the while talking. Conversation concerned our family and theirs. The eldest brother said his chief wife is like an mzungu (white) because she only had two children. Betty pipes up and says she had six, and he exchanges high fives with her, or rather the palm, thumbs, palm handshake, saying she makes a good Maasai wife. Joking is a big part of Maasai's lives. He said he was on the lookout for another good wife. Carolyn looks pretty good, he says, nice and tall. When she asks what dowry he'd pay, he says whatever Roy asks. Lots of shared laughter.
When the cows first came in, the ones in milk were lowing insistently for their calves, but the calves were herded, or rather shoved most unwillingly, into a calf-holding pen. One by one each calf was released to its mother to help let the milk down when the owner was ready to milk it. Each wife milked her own cows, milking on the side opposite the calf, into a pint-sized enamel cup. Each cow seemed to be only good for less than a cupful, which was poured into a gourd before loosing the next calf, and going to its cow. One cow kept kicking at the milker's hand, and finally knocked a big splat of milk all over her foot. Betty and Carolyn murmured "Pole" in dismay, but got no response from the woman. (Pole [po-leh], said once, means commiseration, and has no equivalent in English.) But just then another wife walked by and noticed the spill, then the two of them let out a peal of laughter together. Obviously their pastoral ancestors must have been the ones who invented the saying about not crying over spilt milk. One woman apparently lacked a cup because she was trickily milking directly into the less-than-two-inch mouth of her gourd. The cow repeatedly kicked at her hand and spoiled her aim, trying to give its calf all its milk, they said, but the woman finally outmaneuvered it by pulling the teat up higher than it could kick, and tugs of milk whooshed down into the gourd.
The next morning, Ole suggested a walk, and it ended only part way around the boma at the home of a widowed sister. Her home was the traditional kind of oval hut, and she invited us in to view it and have a cup of tea. There was a three-stone fireplace in the center of the floor. First Ole explained facets of the interior architecture of the structure, dictated by tradition, and much more complex, intricate, amazing, and cunning than Iíd ever known could be incorporated into a "simple" dung and mud hut. Then she got some kindling, stirred a coal out of the ashes and built up the fire, produced a pot of water, and some cups, sugar and milk, "from my storeroom," she chuckled as she reached under her bed, and soon we were relishing a proper Kenya "cuppa" tea.
A week later, we went to Tarangiri Safari Lodge, where I stalked a troop of baboons and ended up so close to them I was too scared to turn around and retreat. Thank goodness when I heard footsteps come up behind me it was Roy. Whew! It happened this way.
At Tarangiri we looked down on miles of baobab tree-dotted savannah spread out in a vast basin, with a braided river running through it off to the right. We were high on a ridge where the lodge is perched just right so you can sit on the verandah sipping something delicious and watch the Garden of Eden in business. First when we arrived about noon, I saw one or two elephants down there and excitedly shot pictures where they occupied about 1% of the frame. Then I looked again, and realized that there were dozens of elephant, zebra, and giraffe ó I swear you could just sweep across the view with binocs and have some sort of animal in the field the whole time. Had to drag myself to join the others for lunch, Roy, Betty, Carolyn, and Sandra. Scrumptious watercress soup, mouth-watering roast beef and several other kinds of meat, and vegetables, salads, fruits, feast time. The huge circular dining room under a thatched roof also looks out toward the view, wide open with no windows, just a low stone wall. We visited with Annette and Jon Simonson who were lunching late like us. Jon is the brother of Steve (Roy's son-in-law), and the two of them run the lodge and Serengetti Select Safaris, Jon at the lodge, and Steve in town in the office handling bookings and logistics of transport and provisions for tour groups.
Annette told us about their kitchen visitors and that low stone dining room wall next day. You see, the back side of the kitchens and food storage is very securely walled off with thick, high stone walls, impenetrable roofing, and metal gates so no predators can get in. So instead, a leopard and a badger came in after hours our first night there through the dining room, going for the smell of the roast beefís grease in the kitchen ovens. The guard heard a racket. It was the leopard knocking pots and pans with his swishing tail, and as the guard went in one of the double doors to the kitchen to investigate, he passed the leopard exiting out the other half of the double doors. But the badger had already done the actual damage; it had ripped the doors off the ovens.
Anyway, as you can guess, we spent a lot of time on the verandah watching herds of beasts down below, or rather I did. The others spent more time at the swimming pool since it was all familiar to them already and the day was beastly hot. At the pool and even in all the trees around the tent/cabins there are jillions of birds that alone could occupy your whole time for watching stuff.
Sometimes there were elephant or giraffe or whatever down at the river drinking, or sloshing around in it all at the same time. Everybody down there seemed to keep on the move; it was too hot to stay still. If they did stop and lie down like I saw three wildebeest do, it was only briefly, then they were up and moseying on again. It was interesting to see paths cross, and predict who would give way to who. Baboons gave way to impala.
That troop of more than fifty baboons came on the scene late in the afternoon. I was excited to see them, as we used to watch them from across the valley raiding corn plots a lot at home at Siyabei when I was a kid. First they showed up way down on the left side of the arena, all scattered but moving slowly and persistently toward the right, so I was pretty sure they were heading for the river. Actually however, their path converged with the humans' path, which I was conscientiously staying on as requested by signs on it, up on the ridge. I didn't know they converged, and just thought it was great that they were coming parallel to me. Then I was surprised that it seemed like they kept coming higher and even closer. Finally the truth dawned on me when the front big guys showed up ahead of me on "my" path, right where it reached a crest at the end of the ridge. There were all the juveniles and mamas and babies (occasionally screaming for attention) and a few more massive males coming right along through the bushes just below me, heading up to the crest. That stopped me and I started taking pictures.
They studiously ignored me twenty or thirty feet away and seated themselves in a row on the crest with their backs to me looking at the beautiful view out over the river and valley below. But, in keeping with the way they'd been constantly on the move, gradually they started disappearing over the edge, and at last all that was left was one very big male, and a smaller juvenile, and a big mama with a baby. The mama made grunting noises to the baby, groomed it, let it run a little, hauling it back. The juvenile appropriated it and started grooming it. Then the big male came and dragged it away by one leg, about ten feet. The baby screamed, lying on its back and baring its whole mouthful of teeth up at the male, screaming nonstop. The male looked bored. It looked like he might have had a toe holding down the baby's foot. Suddenly, the baby shut up, moved away a little, and, realizing that he'd gotten away with it, scampered away back to mama. Each of them, even the baby, had glanced at me once or twice, but didn't find it very interesting. However, other times I've seen baboons suddenly unexpectedly attack each other, so I was both scared, well aware of their huge powerful jaws and teeth, and rooted.
This is about when Roy came up behind me, giving me a start. But when I saw who it was, rather than another baboon, I felt much safer, and we watched quite a while. I had wanted a look at the view from the crest in the first place, so I kept expecting them to move on so I could go look over the sharp dropoff. Finally all went over the edge except the big male, apparently the rear sentinel. We approached a few steps, and he continued to look bored. A few steps more, and he just barely moved over into the shade of a bush on the very edge, but no more. So we conceded that spot to him, and went over to the left of him to look over. There were the rest of the troop, just over the edge and keeping silent, right there in the tops of small trees which grow on the steep wall of the ridge, just feet away from us, grooming each other. We all eyed each other a bit, then we decided to leave them in peace.
Roy suggested we go to the other end of the path, past the dining area and all the cabins, to where Jon's house is, near the water tank. There was a delegation of elephants waiting for us there! Not really us. They were trying to persuade some workmen to cease work so they could get to the leaking water supply tank. It's a big metal reservoir way up on sturdy legs, sort of small city size. They had caused the leak earlier by bending the outlet pipe, and the workmen were there planting posts to erect a fence around the outlet pipe so it could be mended. They were joking rather nervously with Roy in Swahili, and he said they're wondering if the elephants wanted the water or the workmen. Soon more and more elephants, whole families, were showing up, all facing the tank, switching their trunks and moving about restlessly. When a couple of huge bulls moved a few steps closer, the workmen dropped their tools and retreated. Another tourist couple had joined Roy and me, standing near Jon's house, watching. There's a small pond behind his house, and grudgingly some of the elephants had started going to it, obviously much more interested in getting at the fresh cool trickling water coming down from the tank. I took a couple of pictures, and about then Jon drove over in his Range Rover.
"If they decided to come, you'd never outrun them," he observed dryly. We moved off. "Jon's very protective of his elephants," Roy said. "He gets eyeball to eyeball pictures of them at his living room window at that pond, and doesn't take kindly to gawkers riling them up, no matter who it is."
LASIT Well, the highpoints of this trip kept leaping higher and higher, like the stock market back in the U.S. at the time. But after I got back to the U.S. and people asked what I enjoyed most on the whole round the world trip, this next one was it. Iím writing this part months later back in Pennsylvania, and still finding it very hard to adequately express, to do justice to such a rare, quintessentially life-compressing experience.
The bare facts are these: Roy arranged a small safari around Kilimanjaro from Moshi on the Tanzania side to Lasit (rhymes with Ďloss ití) in the foothills on the Kenya side. This was where I was taken when newborn, and where we five kids did a good portion of our growing up.
Dad built a small dam at that mission station where we swam and fished and rafted. He installed a pipe where the Maasai could come and catch their water directly into their gourds. High Lasit trees (acacia) shaded our home, as well as Eucalyptus, and other trees called Grovillea robusta which Dad got as slips from the government agricultural service. They grew tall and straight and eventually made church pews for many of the small churches he eventually built all over the Maasai Reserve. I remember our taking evening walks to look again at the bleached skull and pelvic bone of an elephant not far from the house. Elephants loved the deep gorges cut into those foothills of Kilimanjaro, so deep that the tops of trees in the mature forests down in them were even with the ground we were walking on above. Yellow-barked fever trees lined a little river below the ridge our mission station was on, where guinea fowl flocked to roost every evening. They made good eating, nabbed with a small .22 rifle that left only one bullet to remove before we plucked and roasted them. We all knew how to shoot and handle a gun properly. We lived on wild meat, especially liked waterbuck, and hardly knew what beef tasted like. Another favorite, pungent memory is snitching half-cured banana slices which Mother was drying in the hot attic of the garage to store later and take as snacks on safaris. Aah, Lasit.
Well, back when the newborn baby "Esita" was brought back from the hospital to Lasit, two young sisters were also brought into our home: Sophie as a nursemaid, and Maho to help around the house. Over the years, with few lapses, Roy, whose career kept him in Africa, first in a flying doctor service and later in health care training, stayed in touch with Sophie. He and she have called each other brother and sister all this time. So, off we went around the mountain to look up Sophie and Maho, and to see what Lasit looked like these days. Sophieís daughter Peninaís family in their car accompanied Roy, Betty and me in Carolynís car.
Deep blue Lake Chala was on our route. Itís a crater lake, and we drove up to the rim to look almost straight down into it. Kilimanjaro is only the youngest of a string of volcanic eruptions in that part of the Great Rift Valley, 6his worn down old volcano and Mt Meru among them.
After Chala, we found Sophie at her home at Taveta, half-way to Lasit. We exchanged hugs, and warm handshakes with all the relatives who had also shown up. Although Sophie doesnít speak English, most of the younger generations do there now. Peninaís siblings were especially interested in seeing her. A sister, Elizabeth, and her husband, who have an insurance business in Nairobi, had driven all the way down to join the occasion.
Of course, our arrival meant it was tea time. My command of Maasai was so shaky that Penina had to do a lot of translating between Sophie and me, though I caught a lot of it. Sitting practically nose to nose talking avidly over our tea cups, Sophie exclaimed to me, "You have your fatherís eyes!" and I said, "Ah." Then a little later she said, "You have your motherís nose!" and we all cracked up.
The more we talked, the more I began to recognize the zesty personality that had attracted our parents to Sophie as a child, and moved them to give her a home. Iíd always wondered why my memories of Sophie were such a blank when the rest of the family had talked about her avidly over the years. This was when I finally realized: it was because I was an infant at the time, she was my nursemaid, or ayah, and I could not have remembered her!
After tea, we drove most of ten miles then walked the rest of the way to visit her lush banana garden. Each tree grows in a 3 ft-deep well which holds the water ditched to it from an elaborate irrigation system which has been maintained by the tribe for generations, and keeps the area lush. Mighty palms and jungle-high tropical trees line the main source canal. At 74, Sophie has finally given up bicycling there daily on her own, and because of arthritis in her knees has agreed to riding side saddle on the back of a bike kindly pedaled by a teenage grandson. That night she put us up for the night in the country mansion of an absent rich relative, a Nairobi architect.
In the morning, with her in Penina and Kariungiís car, we went on around the mountain. We drove carefully along cow-track-like roads, but fast enough to keep ahead of the dust billowing up from behind, and with the two cars spaced well apart.
First we went to sister Mahoís at Loitokitok six miles up the road from Lasit. She and her daughters and granddaughters had prepared a big spread, and almost all of her eleven children and their offspring were present. We feasted at a big, lace-covered picnic table out on her front lawn under huge shade trees, with Kili as the backdrop. We visited and walked and visited and walked. At one point in the house eating a light supper, I took off my shoes. "You have your Motherís feet, too!" Sophie observed. It was funny and comforting to know sheíd known our parents so well.
We began learning some of the great gaps in their livesí stories. For one thing, Maho had never lived in our house as Roy had remembered. This was because she and Mother could not get along. We were amused to hear that this was because they were both kali. That means sharp, or maybe monumental when applied to personalities. Anyway, they didnít coexist smoothly, and Maho chose to live in the village with relatives, even though she came to work every day. When I got back to the States and talked about this to Grace, who likes to reminisce about being the rebellious one of us five, she remembered being buddies with Maho.
"We tried to do everything we could to get out of eyesight and earshot of Mother because she couldnít stand seeing us enjoying ourselves and not putting us to work. Sophie was old enough to be a responsible ayah, but Maho and I were the same age and just kids," Grace said. "They became Ďcloserí than the other girls and boys Gokoo took under her wing, and Maho was more of a sister to me than Ruth Marie was because she (RM) was away at boarding school when I was the barefoot neo-Masai brat running around getting tapeworm and flat feet and wishing I didn't have to wear clothes, and especially a hat!" Grace would have been six when the two sisters first arrived. She remembered going out into the woods with Maho and other Maasai women and girls, gathering firewood, hot sweaty work, and bringing it back slung from a tumpline across her forehead, working just like an African woman. Theyíd "sell" the wood to Mother for pennies. She also remembered sitting around with the little girls in the Girlsí School sewing classes, sewing dresses out of cloth gleaned from disassembling missionary barrel dresses by picking the seams apart.
Before we left Loitokitok, the two old sisters spoke earnestly to us about two of their adult grandchildren who needed a break of some sort, preferably jobs to get them out of a bleak situation. We couldnít offer anything but advice to complete high school first.
They put us up for the night in an empty missionaryís
house at Loitokitok. Next day we drove over to look at Lasit, which has
completely changed except for the presence of the spring where our lake
used to be. The water is still channeled through a pipe for the peopleís
access as before, only now they use more plastic containers than gourds.
We think we found one bedraggled old Lasit tree that might have been the
one in our front yard, now in the soccer field of the local primary school.
The "mud and manure mansion," as Mother called our home, is long gone,
as is the tin church. But the current local pastor at a small stone church
was very excited about our visit because he had recently read a copy of
to Kilimanjaro and wished he knew how to get in touch with the Shaffer
family. And here we were!
NAIROBI "Subj: Found lost author!" I emailed home when I backtracked to Nairobi to catch my flight to South Africa.
This is how it happened. I stayed overnight with Murungis, and the next day, before my evening flight, Jane drove me across town for a cuppa tea with Sophieís Nairobi daughter, Elizabeth. Then is when lightening struck. I tried one more phone call, and bingo! found my lost Maasai author!
Iíd been trying all sorts of strategies to find him, but it looked like he was lost for good. Then I called World Vision where he worked five years ago. The operator remembered his name and asked, "Didn't he go to Daystar?" I called Daystar University, and the registrar said, "I was just in a class with him." Jane Murungi drove me straight there. When we arrived, he was called out of his next class, and, was he ever surprised, once he figured out who I was. We sat down together and I got to hand him his manuscript, and give him the name and phone number of a publisher in Nairobi whoís interested in his work! Whew! We talked and talked, sometimes both at once.
This guy, Eliud Neilliang, and I have been in correspondence for more than ten years, he sending me stories about growing up as both an educated and a bush Maasai, and I was sending him editorial criticisms and suggestions for more material he should write. We had more than ten chapters in the works when suddenly we lost contact with each other. It turns out that he sent me several more letters I never got and vice versa. We were SO HAPPY to get back in touch. Heís been collecting Maasai Mother Goose-type stories to add to his collection. And his wife wants to send me Maasai beadwork to sell for her. Know anybody interested?!
Well, all the other news seemed anticlimactic to me after
that, but of course you will be interested in some of my other encounters.
Like with Mrs. White Rhino in a national park down in South Africa, introduced
personally by Banie Penzhorn. At least it felt like he was personally introducing
me to all the wildlife we crossed paths with that magical day.
PRETORIA Banie Penzhorn is a wildlife vet, doing research, plus some teaching, at the Veterinary School of the University of Pretoria, at Oonderstepoort, which has worldwide recognition in its field. We first met Banie, an Afrikaans, when he was getting his masters degree at Texas A&M in 1969. After that, he did his Ph.D. dissertation on mountain zebra in Kruger National Park. The farther south you go in Africa, the fainter the zebra's stripes get, and the extinct quagga didnít even have any at all on their rear ends. One professor is now trying to recreate them by breeding zebras with lighter and lighter stripes. Some other interesting rebreeding being done is with cheetahs. People used to notice the occasional cheetah with strong black stripes down their backs. So at a cheetah research unit near Oonderstepoort they've been somewhat successful at developing a true breeding strain of them. They're called King Cheetahs. Other far-reaching and much more important work is done at Oonderstepoort; these two projects just caught my fancy.
Banie and his wife, Naomi, live in Pretoria with their two teenage daughters whose busy lives took me back to when our household was dominated by high school and college events. And the town itself was so much like an American town that I kept stumbling over the fact that signs were in Afrikaans instead of English. They have supermarkets, freeways, McDonaldís, Big Bird, and even familiar slang.
On Sunday I had the choice of going to church with Naomi in Afrikaans or with Banie in German. I went for the German, remembering the wonderful German singing with rolling deep basses in Pennsylvania, and I wasnít disappointed. In fact, Banie has a bass voice. The hymns were beautiful, and I taped several.
I also taped some more mourning doves at Penzhornís house. Banie said they were Red Eyed Doves, and the way to remember their song is, "I am, thí red eyed dove," or "Coo coo, cí cook, coo coo." There are Spotted Doves, and they just murmur, "Krrrrr. Coo coo. Krrrrr. Coo coo." In drastic contrast, every morning ugly black Hydada birds came by the house to squawk a harsh, abrupt hello, sounding like nasal crows. They look like crows on steroids. With toucan beaks.
Banie and Naomi took me to Pilanesberg National Park. Itís a gem of a small wildlife park with all the same animals as the big parks like Kruger, but in a smaller area, and just a couple hours away. I thought nothing could beat Tarangire Safari Lodge in Tanzania, where we sat on the edge of the world and watched the garden of Eden below us. But this equaled it in a different way, and itís just crazy to make comparisons. Theyíre both best so far!!
Pilanesberg, named for, Pilanes, a Zulu chief of the Kgatla, is a natural sanctuary north of where the Crokodile (Afrikaans spelling) River joins the Limpopo, where massive landform upheavals resulted in concentric circles of mountains, as though Tolkein dreamed it up. This is Africa as I remembered it, where not only do you closely watch the road ahead, but also keep scanning the understory 360 degrees around because you might ó not only might but do! ó see wildlife living happily oblivious of you.
Even though we saw fifteen of the thirty-three "probable/possible" creatures listed for seeing in the park, we probably missed a bunch more because twice when we stopped and backed up for a closer look at a bird, we also then saw animals. It is wonderful to travel with a wildlife vet who knows everything, bird, beast and reptile (and bugs) by name and habit, and can show it to you familiarly ó and whose wife is as good and sometimes better at spotting them as he is! A highlight of the day composed of highlights was sitting more than an hour in a hide where we watched animals visit a waterhole.
Once he skidded to a stop and backed up to show us a wattled plover we hadnít seen yet, and that made us also spot a bunch of warthogs plus our first wildebeest, there in the shade beyond the birds, which weíd driven right past. Their wart hogs are very shaggy. Another time he stopped for a bird, there in the underbrush was a peaceful big herd of impala silently enjoying the shade.
One of our first sightings of the day, after weíd entered the big gatehouse area past puny-looking but electrified fencing, built high to keep all game in, including elephant and giraffe and leapers like impala, was some giraffe. They were washed out, faded-looking giraffe, who are quite naturally that way, thank you. The great thing about seeing them on their own turf is that you get all excited at seeing a couple, and inch forward and bam there are a dozen more, too many to keep track of all at once.
Our very last sighting was a mammoth white rhino mama, whom I thought was a young elephant at first, browsing along with her "little" baby, who resembled a tractor himself. Banie said white rhinoís big wide mouth makes it sort of mow the grass like a lawn mower when browsing. Iíd never seen such a huge rhino in my life, having been brought up on smaller black rhinos in Kenya. The baby went along ahead of her, true to white rhino fashion. The African tour guides help people remember which does what by saying the black rhino baby comes behind mama like black people carry the baby on their backs, and the white baby rhino goes ahead like white people push their kids in a push cart ahead of them. They were maybe a quarter of a mile away, but the binocs made them look two feet away. After watching about fifteen minutes, we started slowly going on. The road happened to loop right around them, so we got to see all sides. It was hard to see them on the sunny side, they blended in so well, and would have been easy to miss.
One of the most fun sightings was two or three elephants
near the road. They had attracted quite a little cluster of about ten vehicles
which were all practically climbing over each other for better vantage
points, and suddenly splitting, all trying to get out of the way as one
big tusker, looking very mean and determined, chose the road to walk on.
He had one broken tusk. Banie ended up going quite a distance in reverse
as there just wasnít space for all the 4x4ís and vans to turn around in,
in their hasty efforts to get out of Jumboís and each otherís way. Then
after scattering us all like that, Broken Tusk just stood still a long
time in the bushes at the side of the road, laughing I think.
VADODARA (formerly Baroda) Here I was in northwestern India, visiting Ronís college roommate, Amu Pandya, who has visited in our home several times, and his family. They kept asking me if it was too hot there. I told them about Louisiana. No contest. Wish you could have seen me looking swish in a sari, or in the punjabi suit which is more popular with the young women, not being six yards of fabric to keep track of, but rather just a tunic over pajama pants, with only a three-yard scarf tossed airily over one shoulder. They've given me two suits, and a daughter-in-law, Manjari, loaned me a couple more, so I've gone native. You should see the double takes I get, walking out on the street in one. Manjari took me shopping, riding on the back seat of her motor scooter, scarf flying.
First, I arrived in Bombay, now named Mumbai, and was put up for the weekend in the home of Amu and Jyotsnaís friends, the Sharad Patels. It's a mansion, with marbled and tiled walls and floors, and latticed windows and all sorts of ingenious cooling effects in the architecture. No central air conditioning. But there was a window unit in my guest bedroom. And an enormous square mosquito net over the king-size bed, secured to the four corners of the room.
There in the dense city they have surrounded their home with narrow, tall trees which have created a sort of sky-high green belt around the house, and in these trees there were so many different kinds of birds that I taped their calls, yearning to know their names. The doves were there, too. I swear their song was a combination of Kenyaís "Coo coo. Cí cook coo coo" and South Africaís "Krrrrr. coo coo, namely, "Coo cook. Krrrr a krrr a krrr a coo."
Amu, who is retired, had come down to Mumbai for three days of business meetings in his capacity as director of a philanthropic program run by Sharad's company, Aspee, which manufactures and sells spraying equipment for farms. The special program benefits Indian farmers, and this particular set of meetings was called for the board to ratify the wording on application forms that were to be sent to farmers all over India to apply for the "Farmer of the Year" award for the next year. On it, the farmer has to answer all sorts of technical questions about how he runs his farm. Last year was the first time they ran this competition. The award, which comes with a hefty sum of money and recognition at a presentation banquet in the city, was named for Sharad's father, himself also a philanthropic industrialist. Adjusting to needs they stumbled upon from the first yearís experience, this year there will be three award categories: best man farmer; best woman farmer (named for Sharad's mother); and best rain-fed farmer (those not able to use irrigation).
So while Amu was busy at his meetings, he had arranged for a cousin, a lady who is a licensed touring guide, to give his brother who lives there in Mumbai and me a personal tour of some of the high points of the city in one of the chauffeured Aspee company cars (with air conditioning J) She was a garrulous friendly sort, and we three had a high old time seeing the city.
At one time a city water reservoir near a large Jain community in Mumbai was not covered. The Jains are a sect who maintain Temples of Silence where they place their dead on the steps, to be disposed of naturally by vultures. They feared bits were being dropped by the birds into the water supply, so they covered this enormous reservoir, topped it with soil a meter deep, and planted a public garden over it for everyone to enjoy, complete with grass, park benches, hedges, miles of paths to wander in the cool of the evening, and lots of charming topiaries ó camels, bullocks pulling a cart, monkeys, etc. I must have looked like an exotic part of the scenery, too, because after I'd been taking pictures a while, a young girl ran up behind me calling, "Auntie! Auntie! Please take a picture with me!" And sure enough, a relative produced a camera and shot the two of us together.
We went to Gandhiís Bombay three-storied home, now a museum, housing a wealth of material accessible to researchers. There are photos, books, journals, and papers carefully stored in cabinets, plus stacks of string-tied browning papers in piles on top of all surfaces waiting to be processed. Amuís father worked with Gandhi for his movement. One night Gandhi telephoned Amu's father up in Vadodara, and asked him to come to Mumbai and talk with him right away. It was the night before the day Gandhi was to be arrested. He had received forewarning, and he wanted to discuss with Amuís father some details about what he wanted done for the movement while he was in jail, Amu told me. Amu, who was about nine at the time, asked to go, too, and says he remembers the trip well. The house/museum now has dioramas depicting many of the main events in Gandhiís life, objects he owned, and his bedroom as he left it, with the pallet on the floor, his low reading table and lamp, his watch, and his spinning wheel. Many other tourists, mostly Indians, were visiting the day we were there, and it was crowded.
That day we also went to the Prince of Wales Museum of Mumbai, which was obviously started back during the British raj, and really needed two weeks to "do" properly. After that visit we went to a crafts emporium where I enjoyed spending about six times as much as I meant to.
Next day, Amu and I took the train north to his town, Vadodara, which is pronounced so fast the British thought it was Baroda, and called it that for years. Lunch comes with your train ticket, and was delicious. I canít for the life of me remember what it was; just that it was so good. At one point our train was stopped for an hour or so because of an accident ahead on the line. Our car happened to stop right by a tank car on another train, also stopped, on a track parallel to ours. It was a milk tank car, and that led to a brief impromptu seminar in dairy tank car construction, because Amu himself, while a professor of agriculture engineering, had been the one who spearheaded the design of Indiaís own dairy tank cars. They couldnít be simply copied from other countriesí designs because of Indiaís different climate, geography, and engineering systems.
A good friend of his named Kurien is recognized as the father of the "Dairy Revolution" of India, having mobilized farmers to create vast milk collection cooperatives to deliver milk straight to market, bypassing the old traditional impoverishing middle men. Amuís shiny tank cars transport the milk gathered from a grid now covering almost all of India. We went and visited this mover and shaker, Mr. Kurien, in nearby Anand. He is nearing retirement, and has turned his National Dairy Development Board over to a woman who is his match for dynamism and far-sightedness, in addition to being young and beautiful. And the board has moved far beyond simple milk collection to such nation-wide programs as stock breeding, dairy products proliferation, stock feed development, a vet pharmaceutical industry, and family welfare. Itís a far cry from the days when cattle had been bred, if at all, for draft animals, and cow dung was a more important product than milk.
Another of Amuís mover and shaker friends runs an energy research institute there in Anand, where two among the current projects we saw were simple solar-powered cooking stoves designed for home use and mechanized drying equipment for preserving foods. The institute is associated with the local university in Anand.
On we went another day to Ahmedabad, site of Gandhiís ashram, or religious retreat, during the days of the movement for an independent, self-dependent India. Gandhi is recognized for teaching India, and thereby freedom seekers around the world, the principles of ahimsa, non-violent resistance. Here among a well-done series of displays featuring his activities, sayings, and speeches, I was riveted by this quote accompanied by a simple drawing of Kasturba, his wife: "It was from my wife that I learned the lesson of ahimsa....I had always tried to make her bend to my wishes. On the one hand, she would firmly refuse to do so and, on the other, patiently bear with all the hardships that I would inflict on her in my obstinacy. It was her peaceful opposition that opened my eyes. I felt ashamed of myself and was rid of the foolish notion that it is my birthright to rule over her." You could say he made Rule Brittania make the same sort of a discovery.
Amu and his several siblings all have their homes together on the same street in Vadodara, and the Mumbai brother has an empty lot there waiting for the house he's going to build on it when he retires. The Pandyas have created their own lively retirement community right there on one long block, and named the street Sripalli Society. Actually, several of them are still working, mostly M.D.'s. In fact, every other person in his extended familiesí offspring seems to be an M.D., too!
Among these Indian professionals, itís not uncommon for a professionally trained woman to stay at home and not practice. Manjari, Amuís eldest sonís wife, is a lawyer, yet she was expected to stay at home and rear their two very bright kids, now approaching their teens. The boy, is an avid pitcher for his schoolís cricket team.
Evenings I joined Amu on his walk down Sripalli, where weíd bump into one or the other of his relatives coming or going, and out along the busy cross street lined with many small businesses in carts up and down it. He was disappointed to find I already had some house flip-flops when he wanted to patronize one of the street vendors and buy me some thongs to wear around the house. But I met the man who does their ironing there in his little ironing kiosk, and took a picture of him to send back. Jyotsna has a lady come in to clean kitchen pots and do their laundry. Her 9-year-old daughter sweeps the floors. Theyíre members of what used to be called Untouchables, but now are termed the Disadvantaged Class. They are allowed to get an education now and try to better their lot in life whereas they couldnít before Gandhi.
I find Amu so Gandhi-like. He and Jyotsna live extremely simply in a house he designed. He employed "solar-passive" features, which, he's assured, will make it impossible to sell his house because it's so eccentric. For example, thereís a shaft up the middle of the house for hot air to rise in. There was a lemon tree planted in the garden right outside my guest room window to help cool the house. Sure enough, if I'd go to bed with the ceiling fan turned on, on an especially hot night, soon I'd turn it off and a cool drift ó not a breeze or even a draft ó but just a gentle drift of cool air dropped in on my bed from the lemon tree. Their gardens occupy triangular-shaped spaces because the house is angled on the property so as to catch the prevailing southwest breeze that comes up from the Bay of Bengal some fifty miles distant. They love their house.
Jyotsna wears saris, and Amu wears a simple dhoti (winding white cloth plus tunic) while at home. He picks their own jasmine blossoms and other flowers to use in yoga and meditation before a little shrine daily, and they both tend their tiny, maximized garden space. Jyotsna's daily ritual is mostly taken up with food preparation, and lovingly watering the small gardens containing an amazing variety of both trees and flowering plants. One day, Jyotsna and a favorite teenage granddaughter who came and stayed with us for a couple of days during a school vacation, took a stepstool out into the garden so she could tie plastic bags around some small, developing fruits, guavas, to keep roving monkeys from stealing them.
At both the Pandyas and the Eapens (in Bangalore, my next stop) they always pick a few jasmine blossoms, mornings and evenings, while they are sharing their heavenly scent most profusely. Theyíd drop some blooms on my bed, or sometimes just hand me a couple to carry around and sniff.
BANGALORE "Welcome to the land of coconuts and bishops!" boomed a friend of Eapenís who is director of an ecumenical conference center. Thomas, the disciple of Christ who became Saint Thomas, brought the Gospel to Kerala in South India, and ever since 2 or 3 A.D. the Thomasine Christian church, whose history thus predates those in the West, has been proliferating with congregations and bishops .
The Eapen K. Eapens, devout members of their local Thomasine church, live in Bangalore near the south tip of India, which is where I flew next after being up north of Bombay with Pandyas. Eapen and I got our masterís in journalism together at Syracuse University, and kept in touch over the years. He, first alone, and later with Elizabeth, his wife, used to visit us in the States, too.
I had asked them to let me meet people rather than touristically chase around to look at temples when I got to Bangalore, and they swamped me with lots of wonderful encounters. One evening we even went to a senior citizens club they belong to mostly made up of retired government officials. Those folks acted like kids together. Ostensibly they had a serious program agenda to observe Ugadi, a Buddhist celebration, that night. Having taken care of that, they then talked several volunteers into going up to the mike individually to sing a song, and from the head-nodding and finger and toe tapping I think most of them knew every one. They also played two vocabulary games on pieces of paper which were passed out. The women, all in saris (me too), had all segregated themselves to the right side of the room, and men to the left. To change that situation and to warm people up for the first game, the emcee said this next game was "something you can do with your husband in public," and everybody paired off to guess the words for the game together, with much joking, and then applause for the winners of the most correct answers. After the games, everybody adjourned to a plateful of food with a cup of tea at the back of the room and out in the yard . There was lots of socializing, plus a few introductions for me. These all seemed to be professionals. Most people were identified to me first by how many relatives are in the U.S., and then what part of government theyíd been in.
I really enjoyed how playful they all were with each other. Out in the yard, one guy on his new motorbike was garnering admiration from both sexes. It reminded me of a bunch of high schoolers. I was quite surprised when his wife, one of the most sober-looking women, in full elaborate, gold-threaded sari, hopped on the back, sidesaddle, and they roared away home. Most of these people had arrived in cars. Actually though, it seems that more people ride motorbikes and scooters than cars in India.
Eapens relished arranging for me to go to two significant expensive clubs they don't belong to, but got member friends to take us. One is the Bangalore Club, which the British established during the raj, and allowed no Indians into (until Independence in 1948). The other is the Century Club established by 100 Indians at the same time as the Bangalore Club, expressly for Indians. They're like country clubs, and the original traditions and services have supposedly been kept the same and up to snuff all these years by the descendants of the original servants. The service was much better at the Century Club. Winston Churchill still owed nine rupees to the Bangalore Club, on a bill duly framed and on display in the lobby.
Dr. Pandya, a sister of Amuís, whose husband is also an M.D., lives down in Bangalore, and had us all over for a wonderful dinner and good, world-wide, far-ranging conversation. They furnished us with a car and a driver every day I was with Eapens. Was I ever grateful for that favor. Otherwise, both there and at Amu's, we rode auto-rickshaws, which are motorized by what sounds like a lawn mower, and indeed starts with a yank on a long lever, has a horn that sounds like an angry cicada, and has no springs. The streets are not well maintained, so very bumpy riding with no springs.
Dr. Pandyaís daughter and son-in-law and two children live in with them. The son-in-law runs a knitwear factory, one of several owned by his family, which Eapen and I went out to the country to visit on one of my days there. They're getting their own bar code number, and soon we'll be able to tell which of the tee-shirts we buy labeled "made in India" are made in their factory. We watched huge knitting machines create bolts of fabric, then were shown upstairs to the cutting and sewing rooms, and I received three polo shirts made right there. Eapen got a nightie to take home to Elizabeth. The son in lawís family are very conservative, and even though the young wife (Amuís niece) is an M.D., the father-in-law requested she not practice since, among other reasons, she would be touching male patientsí bodies, so instead she co-manages the factory with her husband.
I just have to mention the poverty in India, which was right up in my face every time we'd step out on the street to go anywhere in the five cities I visited. One day something seemed vaguely wrong with me and I had to figure out what it was. Finally I tracked it down, after ruling out travel fatigue, homesickness, and indigestion; it was simple depression. It seemed to have built up and descended on me from day after day assaults on my senses and sensitivities. Out in the countryside, slums and beggars disappeared. But within the cities, there are thousands of hovels, each about ten-feet-square or less, made of dirty, earth-stained blue plastic or thatch, with people living in them, lined along paved roads, or on sidewalks and streets, or filling open spaces between developments. At traffic signals when cars stop, very dirty beggars often spread out among them tapping on the window for a handout, with exaggerated looks of woe on their faces, a borrowed baby in arms, or displaying an actual crippled limb. My hosts always said not to contribute because it encourages such behavior, and there is government provision for beggars so they don't have to beg, whether they actually get it or not. It's called a "Cess Tax," meaning (despite the spelling) tax payers are assessed a tax to provide basic necessities for the poor.
Since Eapen is sort of known as Mr. Journalism in Indiaís mass communications field, it was easy for him to arrange having a reporter from The Hindu newspaper, interview me. He really did his job well because he got me to incautiously say things I had no memory of spouting until I saw them in print in his story. "She ventured out often, amidst all the garbage, and hordes of people. ĎMy eyes in Bangalore always go to the dustbins and the overflowing garbage on the sidewalks. The movement of pedestrians and animals along with vehicles on the road shocks me,í she said." Ouch. But he did also accurately quote me about how I found their press: "Indian press is much more lively, a lot fresher than newspapers out there in the U.S."
I was so obsessed by the poverty at first that it took a lot of introductions to such people as that visionary who orchestrated a national network of milk cooperatives among country farmers, which took the distribution and profits out of the hands of middlemen and put it into the farmersí pockets, to wrest my attention away from the ground so I could look up and see some of the overreaching, widespread successful programs going on in India. They just have such a population overburden, it's very hard to see past the poverty to the monumental successes such as the green revolution and the elimination of starvation not many years back; the reusable energy research for farmers and the farmer of the year programs; or a national reforestation project.
One last spot of fun in my India venture: the Cyber Cafes
in Bangalore, the Silicone Valley of India. What a lark to enter a coffee
shop, buy a cup of coffee and an hour of time on a mega-powered computer
for a dollar. Very up-to-date young Indians in jeans and polo shirts, some
dangling motorbike helmets, were meeting there for dates, and their loud
rock music was knocking my brains out. But with access to a computer and
printer, I was briefly plugged into my email and the whole wide world.
BANGKOK I went to visit Anna and the King of Siam's palace. Well, since Joe Rouse had found me good cheap tickets on Korean International Airlines, which stopped at Bangkok and Seoul enroute to Japan, that is, I decided to spend a day seeing Bangkok since it only cost me the $30 a night for my hotel, the Jade Pavilion Best Western. But, once in the air, when I opened a copy of the Seoul newspaper, I wondered if the KIA tickets were cheap because of the troubles in the headlines: "President Kim Asks Officers of KIA to Step Down," because of a rash of accidents and crashes the airline had been experiencing the last few weeks. Well, gulp. The cabin attendants couldnít have been more solicitous and the flight was a delight.
On arrival at Bangkokís airport, I bought a taxi ride to my hotel and with it a packaged tour sponsored by the government, or rather the kingdom, of Thailand, which was once called Siam. The tour would take me to two temples, and a factory the next day. I was the only customer, so got a van with a guide and driver all to myself. When it arrived in the morning, having read my brochures, right away I told my kingdom guide that I wanted to go see the Vimanmek Royal Mansion, the palace of King Chulalonghorn, rather than the temples with the big Buddhas which every tourist just has to see in Thailand. He could scarcely believe me, but after conferring with the driver, accompanied by much giggling, they agreed we could do it as long as I paid my own way in, about seventy baht (thirty-five cents), since it was not on my paid-for schedule. The giggling was infectious. I thought some Indian men in a holiday mood on my plane had been the champion gigglers (at the expense of an obstreperous fellow-flyer who was trying to demand more liquor than he could hold), but these two guys outdid even them. Maybe they were a bit nervous about breaking the rules.
Vimanmek, the King of Siamís sumptuous palace, billed as the "Worldís Largest Golden Teakwood Mansion," was built at the turn of the century. It was a series of rooms after rooms, suites of areas for the families of the King's many consorts. We all padded dutifully around barefoot following our guides, scarcely understanding a word they said in very thick, very enthusiastic broken English, but, my, it was a treat even so! I recognized so much, more from having read the book than from watching the play in New York or the movie. The Western-educated king was much taken with modern gadgets; had more than a dozen typewriters, for example, in one room. But the guides kept saying nothing about Anna Leonowens, the English tutor of King Mongkutís son Chulalonghorn. So, in a room with many family photos on the walls (he had an early Kodak!), I asked about Anna, and received a very vague, evasive answer. It appears that the Kingdom of Thailand won't have anything to do with that story because they feel we seriously insulted their king with our play and movie version, making fun of his accent, the way he comported himself, etc. Thais revere him, and also revere the present King Bhumibol, his grandson. When I was leaving Bangkok, the desk clerk at my hotel, the Jade Pavilion Best Western, gently explained this to me. "It would be like if we made a musical comedy about your God," he smiled. Another example of Westernersí condescending and superficial understanding of reality, I realized.
Since then Iíve discovered a quite a lot more on the net, including a November 1998 news item saying 20th Century Fox announced that its new film version of Margaret Landonís novel, Anna and the King of Siam, will be filmed in Malaysia. It canít be filmed in Thailand because that countryís film board rejected the script, calling it insulting to the monarchy, which is against the law. This sovereign, King Mongkut, repelled the aggressive march of colonialism in other countries of Southeast Asia by firmly establishing his own country as a sovereign state, through skillful diplomacy. At the same time he opened up the country to modernization. Indeed, itís acknowledged by all that Anna Leonowensí original books about her experiences, on which Landonís novel was built, were written with more flair than skill, and historical inaccuracies were included. Jodie Foster is to direct the new movie and play the part of Anna, with Chow Yun Fat, known as charismatic, "cool," and an icon of Asian cinema most famous for "heroic bloodshed" films, as King Mongkut.
After the palace, my Kingdom guide took me to what I misunderstood as being a crafts emporium, and turned me over to a very friendly lady guide, who showed me through a gem polishing plant. Turns out it was "the largest gem store in the world," and they hoped I would buy a few emerald necklaces, or even more. I got away with only buying three tiny jade elephants for my three girls, and felt lucky I wasn't held for ransom at that.
That evening was the most fun, also part of the Kingdom-sponsored
package. "My" van picked me up at the hotel and took me to a dinner theater.
First we ate Thai food, "we" being a fifty-fifty mix of tourists and Thais,
all seated at many very low, long tables with wells under them for our
legs to hang down into, while we watched what was billed as a "VDO" about
classical Thai dancing. Then when the dishes were being cleared away, a
live music group appeared to play drums and marimba-like instruments and
a couple of other unrecognizable objects for a while. After too much while,
finally the curtain rose and we were treated to elegant live Thai dancing,
done in sumptuous costumes. Once or twice actors danced right down into
the audience so we could take closeup shots. Then during a final six-person
dance, they all came down and picked five other people and me to go up
on the stage and finish the dance with them! We gamely tried to place our
feet and contort our hands just right copying them, to much applause and
TOKYO Kazuko and Mo met me at Narita Airport, which is way, way out in the country away from Tokyo, and still being protested and picketed against by remnants left of the farmers who were deposed from their lands in a slick political maneuver to create the airport out there twenty-five years ago. I was lucky Kazuko and Mo could meet me there and shepherd me in the cold weather to the right train in to town an hour away, and from there to the right subway to Kazukoís house. Kazuko Ohta, is a professor of American studies at a womenís university in another city. She has been coming to Baton Rouge several years for field studies of Cajuns, and occasionally stayed with me. The last couple of times she brought Motoshi Nakatani, a stupendous chef masquerading as a grad student.
When I picked up my bags, one had a tear in it about three inches long on an outside pocket. KIA had me fill out a form, and two days later an almost identical replacement was delivered to Kazuko's apartment in Tokyo. Only it was sturdier than mine and had one more outside pocket. By the way, at customs, the "No cigarettes, no liquor" mantra whisked me through customs with no bags opened, again.
I jet-lag-slept in my warm longjohns the rest of the day after we got to Kazuko's, and that seemed to completely clear it up for this time. The first morning, she and I went to view cherry brossoms along the moat outside the Imperial Palace. Aaaaaah ... intoxicating. They can call them cherry "brossoms" any time they want as long as they're that beautiful. If I ever learn Japanese, I'm going to have to forget about distinguishing between L and R, and use something in between, and also, for both W and H, learn to put out my lower lip and blow upwards. That's when it has a vowel after it. Or doesn't.
After cherry brossoms and a nap, we subwayed over to Mo's for a sumptuous dinner cooked by him in his teensy tinsey apartment where every millimicrometer of space counts. He let me catch upon email on his computer. We sat on tatami mats around a low table to eat, and laid plans for going to Kyoto three days of the next week all together, including his friend Maho who joined us for dinner.
Next day was a subway ride down to a section of town where there's a big temple guarded by a huge thunder god, and where the road up to it from its enormous gateway is lined with a jillion small shops and booths selling every gaudy thing imaginable. I did buy one set of playing cards, and my guests at home in Pennsylvania are going to have to learn to play it when I invite them over. The designs on them are based on the seasons and their plants and animals, and it's as convoluted and tricky a game as you could wish for.
That evening, Kazuko took me to watch a Kabuki play, but only one segment of it, though, because she wisely guessed how long my Western mind could suspend incredulity. To us their music sounds more anguished than melodious. I couldn't stop thinking of how Uncle Wendell and Lou used to tell about relishing Kabuki theater when they were based here after WWII and he was General MacArthur's secretary. I wished they were there to share my evening with, and please explain a lot of it to me in American! Kazuko was in a sort of trance: "Ah, it was so good to hear good music again."
Kazuko had to go to meetings at her university the next day, so I went along with her on the train, all bundled up against the cold weather, and did my email on her office computer while she met. I almost lost the whole day's output, but the university's webmaster came and rescued it for me, bless him.
That evening, we went to Kazuko's college roommate, Teruko's, home for dinner. It came in many, many dishes. I was beginning to get pretty good at chopsticks, and this kind of food spurred me on to unimagined heights and probably quite unorthodox dexterity. It was sumptuous, but don't ask me the names of what we ate. After the meal, they were showed family photo albums, including some photos with her and her girls in kimono, which led to getting their kimono (you donít add Ďsí for plural) out, which led to dressing me up in one, with its huge obi tied in back, and taking pictures, which led to giving me a kimono the hostess can't use any more! It's heavy silk. They all declared I was born to wear kimono. (The Indian ladies had all sworn I looked born to wear saris, too.)
NIKKO We went and stayed in a traditional Japanese Inn in Nikko National Park north of Tokyo, way up in the mountains where there was still snow. I'd been hungry for some cold mountain air ever since getting just a scrap of it at Kilimanjaro on the way home from Loitokitok over a month ago. Finally, finally, I got to use my galoshes in snow! We took Pongo and Peace Bearís picture in a snow bank and in a large stone lantern.
Nikko is reminiscent of Colorado small towns and their holiday atmosphere. But our innís dinner, served on what seemed a 6-inch-high table in the middle of our futon room, had fifteen little dishes on it, everything unrecognizable and scrumptious. I also knew we weren't really in Colorado because of the temples and shrines we visited next day, all elaborately embellished and lavishly decorated.
One I especially wished Iíd had a grandchild along to enjoy with me had hemispherical boulders strewn around the grounds, all lying on their flat side. Five small stones were placed around each boulder to look like a turtleís feet and head.
HONJO One Thursday I took a late afternoon train trip out to Honjo northwest of Tokyo to visit the Watanabes, who had invited me to visit their home sight unseen. Noriko, the mom, is a close friend of my cousin Dorothy's daughter Becky and her Japanese husband Hide (He-day). Until last September, they lived there in Honjo. I was going to visit them, but they up and moved to California! At least Becky and the three kids did, to give the children American educations. But Hide owns his company and couldn't leave right away. Anyway, Becky emailed back, "Alas, we won't be here, but my friend Noriko wants you to come visit them instead!" So I got acquainted with Noriko by email, and she did invite me to go visit them.
To get to Norikoís home, I took a commuter train out of Tokyo, exactly like catching the el from Chicago out to Wheaton. The train even sounded exactly the same! The multi-storied housing and industrial developments thinned out the farther you get out of town, giving way to grid-patterned small towns ó it was just amazing how familiar it all seemed. Then she met me at the station and we got into her Japanese Mitsubishi Pajero, which feels a lot like our big sports utility vehicles. When we walked into their two-story house, daughter Makiko (11) was just lifting a newly baked loaf of bread out of the bread maker. It was toooo much.
"Hai! Hai!" they say there, upon meeting.
Oh yes ó naturally we doffed shoes at the front door, and Noriko gave me new house slippers, and get this, she inserted warmed insoles that they use skiing! Hot actually. Again, toooo much. I was in heaven. Right away we had tea. And hot bread. The minute I arrived after that long cold trip from Tokyo, she sat me down on the livingroom floor at a low, blanket-covered table where I could extend my legs under it into delicious warmth provided by an electric rug (like an electric blanket), with the warmth held in by the covering blanket, on top of which is a tabletop, and upon which she put the cup of hot tea. Mmmm ^_^ . Noriko is delightful. Meryl Streep looks like her.
Her husband, Tetsuya, who works for Hitachi, drives only ten minutes to work, "but works too late always," and wasnít in yet. Their older teenage daughter, Mariko, came home later for the weekend. She lives in a distant town with Norikoís folks in order to go to a better high school.
In the evening, I displaced Makiko at the computer. The minute she got home from school, she was on it emailing her friends, just like American kids used to get on the telephone to each other right away after parting. Sheís a high energy girl. After dinner she practiced on her electronic keyboard, and later sat the leg-warming table weaving a friendship bracelet of colored strings.
Noriko and her family treated me like royalty. Her two teenage daughters reminded me so much of our own three girls at that age, totally involved with the excitements of a new school term starting up, rejoining old and meeting new school friends, and piano lessons. Tetsuya, their dad, builds and flies radio-controlled model airplanes. I got pictures of Pongo, in a white scarf, and Peace Bear, with Tetsuyaís Snoopy dog on his lap, sitting in one of the planes. Noriko also took me to visit another family who live on the grounds of a Buddhist temple because the dad is the priest, as is his dad, and as was his granddad, and as will be his son. Heís very jolly, and reminded me of the Dalai Lama. He is also a university professor, in social studies. He and his wife and little four-year-old daughter showed us through the temple. What a day!
One of the delicious dishes Noriko served while I was there is called "shabbu shabbu," which roughly means "swim swim," because it's strips of raw meat you dip (swim) briefly in boiling water then in a sesame sauce, then pop into your mouth. Umm-mm. Another ummm-mm was eels, amazingly. Kazuko's sister later served another shabbu shabbu another time in town, different meat, different sauce, same ummm-mm. You get better at chopsticks real fast when there's this kind of stuff on the ends of them.
Hide, who's living in town now, joined us Saturday, then accompanied me back to town the next day to see me safely through the train/subway interchanges, thank goodness ó I mean thank Hide! Now, I couldnít wait to get together with Becky in California in June.
"Next we're doing Kyoto," I wrote home. "I'm composing this at Mo's, having Ďdoneí the Imperial Palace gardens and the National Museum of Modern Art with him today, before going to a grocery store for ingredients for another indescribably fine meal cooked by him, Chinese this time. But I gotta go, so he can get me home before the last train leaves. Do you think I'm enjoying Japan?!!!"
Back in Tokyo, I went to Aoyama University to visit Gail Okuma, another friend of Beckyís. She teaches English, and let me use the department computer to fire off some email while waiting for her to get free for lunch. Sheís Hawaiian, married to a Japanese. They, too, donít want their two children educated there, so when they get old enough, she tentatively plans to go to the U.S. alone with them for their education, as Becky has done, then return to Japan. (Noriko, too, had expressed dissatisfaction with their girlsí educational situations in Japanese schools, but theyíre making the best of it.) Gail bought me a marvelous lunch (salmon), then we went to Starbucks for desert and coffee.
KYOTO Kazuko and I Bullet-Trained to Kyoto two-and-a-half hours south to see temples and geishas. She says thereís as big a difference between the people of the two cities as between our U.S. Southerners and Northerners. Part of the difference stems from Kyotoís strong sense of having been the original capital city. Kyo means capital, and To means city, with the syllables reversed for upstart Tokyo when it took over as the capital centuries ago. The differences show up in idioms she says. In Tokyo for "thank you" they say "Arigato," as in "your kindness is so hard to find (rare)," whereas in Kyoto it's "Okini" as in "your kindness is so large." In Tokyo, they bark "Hai" to each other several times at the beginning and ending of all conversations whereas in Kyoto they'll say it more softly, almost like our "Hi" and "Bye." That difference I could easily hear, but when Kazuko asked if I'd noticed how even the peoples faces looked different, I bowed out. Really! Well, actually, when I used to Amtrak back to the South from visiting my mother in Pennsylvania, when we got south of D.C. where Southerners predominated among the passengers, it did seem like I could see the differences.
We stayed the first night in Kyoto in a ladies hotel which was originally built as a detached part of the palace for the imperial family, so there was scarcely a square millimeter of space left undecorated. In our room, one wall was covered with brocade, one with grass paper, one was mixed blocks of granite, marble and something else, and the fourth was just big enough for the door, because a bathroom had been built into the room, and it was a real door, not sliding rice paper panels. There was also a wood column in one corner with a marble crown at the top of it. And we had real beds.
Our first evening there found us chasing a young maiko, which is a geisha in training, on her four-inch platform wooden thong shoes down an alley so I could get a good look at her. A young man with a video was pursuing her from the other end of the alley. She ducked into a doorway real fast. The reason I was so interested in her kimono is because I'd just finished reading The Memoir of a Geisha, which came out recently, and got fascinated with that whole scene. The book is written about the very part of the city we were in, called the Gion, when the geishas thronged in the teahouses the early part of this century. By the end of the evening, I'd seen quite a few and didn't chase them down any more. Besides, they've thoughtfully provided a very commercial but practical tourist show right there in a hall in that neighborhood. The parts of the program were a tea ceremony, flower arranging, koto music, a comedy play, a puppet play (all of these preceded by the adjective "famous"), and finally, finally a classical dance by a maiko.
Next day on our way to Kazuko's "favorite" temple (she had about five absolute favorites, same as with restaurants). There, right out in broad sunlight where I could photograph them from all angles, were two maiko teetering on their platform shoes, out sightseeing like everyone else.
This temple is called the stage temple because it has a huge verandah-like stage. It is for performance of special dances by the priests, but with no audience to watch them other than the trees in the woods on the surrounding mountain. You can see the stage from several places on a path across a ravine from it, but there's no provision for any gathering of human watchers.
Throngs of people come to this temple daily, some to toss a coin into a box, light incense, clap twice, then pray to the Buddha figure there, just like at all temples. I sat on a step where you take shoes off before going closer, and changed my film before we proceeded farther on up the mountain to subsidiary temples, where some elegant late-blooming cherry trees were resplendent. I missed Pongo when I put Peace Bear up in one for a closeup among the cherry blossoms. Hmm, where was Pongo? That rascally chimp had sat very quietly facing Buddha where I changed film, and I walked off and left him there. After I'd stewed about an hour, concluding I'd left him back in the hotel in the overnight bag, we came back down the mountain via the stage, and there he still sat, chatting away with Buddha while a lady stood right over him praying.
We visited quite a few temples, and their magnificent gardens, each unique. We took a bus across town to get to some of them. That night we watched a geisha dance on a lantern-lit boat out in the lake of a former imperial palace-cum-temple.
The second night we took a room across town in an enthusiastically self-proclaimed Bed and Breakfast in a private home that had us giggling helplessly at its pretensions after the sweet little old lady hostess bowed herself out of the stark room sheís shown us into, kneeled and slid its rice paper panel door shut. But we extracted a good night's sleep out of it after all (first I had to filch an extra futon out of the cupboard), plus an adequate breakfast. This was quite an adventure, especially for Kazuko, for whom traveling in a public bus was also a first.
Unfortunately we couldn't pay for the room. We had both counted on using plastic for all our bigger purchases, like you can do everywhere in Tokyo. They hadn't heard of credit cards in Kyoto, so we had been using our ready cash. This had us giggling helplessly again when we assessed our pitiful combined cash resources, and even more so when we read the guest book entries of our predecessors in lined school workbooks piled on the TV: they were all junior high girls on their first visit to a big city. Exactly how we felt by then. The dear hostess was stunned in the morning when Kazuko told her she was leaving me as deposit while she went out in search of an ATM machine so we could pay cash.
I'm not even going to try to describe the Japanese foods
I've been treated to, and have been indulging in totally indiscriminately,
totally gourmandly. Kazukoís college roommate brought a picnic of sweetmeats
along when she joined us for the return trip out to Norita Airport. Groan.
Couldnít leave them alone, though all four of us declared weíd only be
able to eat one, maybe two. Maybe that accounted for the fact that all
the way across the Pacific back to the States, I was on some sort of high,
and watched two movies wide-eyed, unable to get much needed sleep, then
finally collapsed minutes before reaching Anchorage, Alaska. This was the
first of my ten stops at homes of family and friends down the West Coast
and across the country, decompressing before coming to earth for good at
Sara, Tim and Katieís house in green, sylvan Pennsylvania, which Iíd left
after a whiteout snow storm eight months earlier.
Ā É Ā É Ā É Ā É Ā É Ā É Ā É Ā