Friday, December 23, 2011

Going Downhill Fast


“Dave Herd, we need someone to go over and race with the class “D” group.”

I had started skiing about 3 years before, taking my first ski lesson at Greek Peak, a small ski area near Cortland, New York, half way between Binghamton and Schenectady.  My girl friend’s home town was Cortland and she was a part owner of a condo just across from the ski area on the town’s outskirts.  At that time, Patricia and I were involved in a new and exciting romance.  We met because I was friends with her ex-husband and when I moved the family to Lancaster, PA, she was there, she was strikingly beautiful, and we were both single.  We had much in common and loved active sports.  What was not to like?

During Thanksgiving weekend 1979, we drove up to Greek Peak with my daughter and her two sons, to spend a couple of days on the slopes.  Talk was that my daughter, Kristi and I would rent ski equipment and take beginner lessons together, while Patricia went skiing with her sons.  And so it happened.

I was both anxious and exhilarated to begin skiing.  I had never been remotely close to skiing and never even knew anyone that was a skier until I met Patricia, other than her ex-husband.  Burnt in my memory forever, is how awkward I felt when boards were put on my feet and I was asked to then walk sideways up a very slight knoll to begin my first descent.

Kristi and I were athletic and determined to become comfortable with the label of “skier” and after many failed attempts to remain upright we were soon making turns with our skies formed in the shape of a wedge.  As I progressed in honing my incipient skills I realized that skiing is all about overcoming fear by gaining both skill and confidence motivated by desire to succeed. Soon I was able to advance to the chair lift and the bunny hill. 

A year later I was able almost keep up with Patti.  She was an elegant and graceful skier while I relied on brute strength and courage trying to master both speed and control.  Many times losing control resulted in spectacular wipe outs resulting ski, poles, hats, gloves, and goggles flying off in various directions with me bravely struggling off still another bruise.  One morning while on a week long ski trip, I was so sore and beat up that I had difficulty getting out of bed after one day of skiing.  I decided then and there that I would devote my efforts to mastering more control and sacrifice some speed, and then start to bring back the speed once the control was better established.
Eventually my days living in the East came to an end and a couple of years later, our romance finally ended also, but the skiing stayed with me and remains to this day.

 Dave Herd, we need someone to go over and race with the class “D” group.”  It is March 1983 and I am on a Midwest bus weekend ski trip with Fort Wayne Ski Club. The person talking to me is the race captain for the club.  We are at Boyne Mountain, near Petoskey, Michigan and all ski clubs that belong to the Indiana Ski Council have descended there for a weekend of ski racing, drinking, and making out as much as possible. 

I explain to the race captain that I have never raced before but that does not dissuade her from enlisting me.  I am given instructions where to go and soon I am standing in line with a numbered paper racing bib on my chest waiting to go as fast as possible around poles with flags on the top and to do so without falling down.

By this time, I have had time to size up some my competition and it is pretty plain to me that I can ski as well or better than most of them as determined how they looked skiing over to the starting area.  Thankfully, I was not one of the first to plunge down the slope so I have a chance to observe what some of the better skiers did.

It seems that there was this wand across the starting place and as soon as your legs push through it, the timer clock starts running and there is an electric eye at the finish line, which stops the clock when you break the beam.  So from my observation point, the goal was to get going as fast as possible at the start.

When my turn comes, I place my poles over the starting wand and as I wait briefly to hear that the course is clear, I try to think, “breathe out fear, breathe in energy” in an effort to eliminate my considerable anxiety.  Suddenly I hear, “go when ready racer” from the starter.  I push out with all my strength and skate hard towards the first pole. Around the first 3 flagged poles (I learn later to talk them “gates”) I go, trying to look ahead and see the next challenge.  I am picking up speed as the slope gets steeper.  At the fourth gate, my instinct takes over and my weight goes to the tails of my skies causing to spin 180 degrees and almost fall down.  I turned about as fast as possible and continued until the 8th gate where a reoccurrence took place.  I recovered again and continued on through the finish line, disappointed that I didn’t do better, but I heart was pounding and I felt the adrenalin kick in.  “Wow, I want to do that again, I know I can do better”, were my thoughts.

And so it began.  Later that night at the awards banquet, medals were handled out for the first 10 places in each racing category.  I came in 9th even with all the mistakes I made and I was amazed.  Obtaining a 9th place medal in the lowest race class helped me realize I had potential but that is something I kept to myself because a 9th place finish is not exactly something to bring up at a cocktail party.  But the fire was inside me and it burned intensely. 

Two years later I won the ski club’s “Most Improved Skier” award and also the Veteran Men’s Challenge Cup for my overall season performance covering several races.  My name was engraved on the club’s huge Challenge Cup and I was presented a miniature cup to keep.  I got to keep the big cup for a year and fortunately I had a fireplace mantel to give it prominence.

When I came to Chicago and joined Lake Shore Ski Club, I was soon well known because I started winning the club’s ski races dethroning the long time champions.  This in turn led to becoming the club’s president as well as several other positions within the club. I became a certified ski instructor when I retired and I also met my wife on a weekend bus trip.

I have a trophy case filled with medals and trophies and sitting in the center is my 9th place medal in honor of how it all started.  I sometimes think of Ted Baxter on the Mary Tyler Moore show who liked to say, “It all started at a 5000 watt radio station in Fresno, California”.  My saying would be, “it all started at a “D” level race course in Boyne Mountain Michigan.”

Skiing is a life sport and if there is a desire to keep improving, it is possible.  This requires more mental than physical effort.  So as I start my 31st year skiing, I am positive that I will continue to improve, not only as an all around skier but on the race course also.  It probably it unrealistic to think this will continue forever, but I really don’t want to think about it.  Not now anyway, I am having way too much fun.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

My Acting Career


While attending Iowa State, I was in the cast of the university’s annual open house show called “Stars Over Veishea” twice participating as a dancer.  Veishea is an acronym formed from by using the first letters of the five colleges at that time, Veterinary medicine, Engineering, Industrial Science, Home Economics, and Agriculture.  I was and still is, the largest student run university musical events in America.  In addition, I performed in the annual Modern Dance Club recital each year I attended ISU.  These activities helped me immensely by providing me diversions from my rigorous engineering studies and various jobs I needed to have to provide money for myself. 
Anyway, I had dancing in my blood and spending a year out of college dancing and teaching at Arthur Murray’s only reinforced my craving.  So I after the family and I moved to Dayton, Ohio to work at Frigidaire and after I got settled, I started looking for a way to continue dancing on stage.  I got a part in “Guys and Dolls” being produced by Dayton Community Theatre.  I didn’t have a speaking role but I was required to look slightly thuggish, something I probably have a natural talent at. 
One day, the actor (who resembled Pacino) got a hair up some opening of his body which seems to irritate him to no end and I noticed it caused the director to question his whole approach to playing the part of Nathan Detroit.  He and she had words, He walked out. The director turned to me and said, “I want you to play Nathan”.  I was stunned and did not feel I was ready to make such a psychological leap, and I protested, sighting my lack of singing talent, only to be cajoled and “a we need you now” plea from the director. 
So for two nights, I held my play book and read my lines to help out, and felt the first realization that I was starting to enjoy this and all the challenges it might bring.  Then HE came back.  The humble and contrite one came back and reclaimed his rightful place as Nathan Detroit, leaving me with mixed feelings, with relief being the strongest one.
So the play went on and was performed and we all did a great job.  I studied how to play the part of Nathan secretly, just in case.  Nathan was the central figure in the play and the actor did a great job.  It was a great feeling to be in a cast, to be part of something that was so rewarding. 
My wife and I did meet a lot of people in amateur theatre after that and much of our social life was tied to people that attended amateur theatre or took part in it. 
Eventually, we moved from Dayton to Marion, Indiana home to RCA and a manufacturing plant just starting to mass produce color picture tubes, where I work at various engineering related jobs. 
After one lives in Marion for a while, a town of 42,000, one finds time to wonder “that am I going to do with all this time on my hands?”  I searched and found Marion Civic theatre in answer to a small notice in local paper of tryouts for the play, “Never Too Late”.   I went only to check everything out but was asked to read for a very small part in the very first of the play.  And I walked away with the part of Doctor Kimbrough. 
As it turned out, this was my first role with many others to follow.  I can count 26 roles I had either at Marion Civic Theatre or in Kokomo Civic Theatre.  Probably the roles I had most fun portraying was Oscar, in “The Odd Couple” and Col. Thomas McKean in “1776”.  What roles do I think I portrayed the best?  That would be the brother Tom in “Glass Menagerie” and Creon in “Antigone”. 

And I directed 8 productions including, “Music Man”, “Picnic”, “Antigone”, “I Never Sang for my Father”, “Plaza Suite”, “Six Rms Riv Vu”, “Prisoner of Second Avenue”, and “Play It Again Sam” with the help of my daughter Vikki. 

The photo below was taken for the Kokomo Civic Theatre program of "Desperate Hours" where I played an escaped convict, one of Humphrey Bogart's roles.

I was president of Marion Civic Theatre for a long time, I build sets, I lugged chairs and platforms, I helped with lighting, and I sold tickets along with several other dedicated people.  It was what I did, that, and playing golf in the summer.
Vikki went off and became a theatre major, first at Penn State University, then at Pittsburgh University where she received her MFA.  She has used her talent by appearing in several plays in small Chicago theatres, before getting married to an actor and moving to Los Angles.
When I moved away from Marion, I never felt the urge to start over at another amateur theatre group.  I found skiing and tennis and they have commanded my attention.  I did gain a lot in my theatre experiences and I did slowly become a better actor and perhaps if I stayed with it longer, I could have become a good actor.  But the flame that burned so intensely for such a long time is keeping me warm and comfortable now by my occasional looking back at it with wonder. Ok, with a little pride also.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

My Music Career


Looking back on how I started to try to master the piano, I can point all fingers at my mother.  I never quizzed her later in life or at the time how she came to be a somewhat competent pianist, but she could play pretty well and had memorized permanently a couple of rather sophisticated pieces. 
The first house I remember living in was at 122 Grace Street in Council Bluffs, Iowa.  I don’t remember that there was a piano in the house.  We moved when I was in first grade to 620 Harrison Street so I must have been between 5-6 years old and my mother had acquired a Steinway upright that must have been handled down from her family. How else would she be able to play?
Pianos were much more popular in the 30’s and 40’s in households back then and having one was a symbol of status and, in the days before  television, were a source of entertainment.  If there was a piano in the house there was someone who could play it, and people could gather around and sing carols at Christmas time or when company came and the conversation started to drag a bit, the piano was used to put some energy back into the room.
My mother arranged for me to start taking lessons soon after we moved.  And like all beginning piano players back then, I was taught out of Thompson music books.  I can remember that first I was taught to read notes in the treble clef and used my more dexterous right hand, then the bass clef using my left hand.  I was quite proud when I played my first tune using both hands at the same time.  Soon I was able to translate what I saw on paper to my fingers which produced correct sounds that reinforced what I was doing.  If the product didn’t sound right, I knew I made a mistake.  What took place also was the ability to later be very accomplished with the typewriter.  At the time I took typewriting, I was the second fastest typist in my class and the fastest was a girl who was a better pianist that I was and never got anything but “A’s” for grades.  I am sure this speaks to my brain getting itself organized to be adept at hand-eye coordination. 
As I advanced through the Thompson books I soon reached a point where sheet music was introduced.  Each year as I advanced through grade school, my musical talents also improved.  At some point I studied under Mr. Sandborn whose studio was in Omaha, just a short distance from where my father worked.  To attend my lessons, I would leave after school traveling by way of a neighborhood streetcar to the center of Council Bluffs then transferring to the Omaha streetcar.  Later the streetcars were replaced by buses, but the routine remained the same.  After my lesson, I would eat at the diner my father managed before making the return trip.  Four times a year, Mr. Sandborn would hold a concert in his studio with a program supplied listing all his students in order of skill, with the most skilled playing last.  As I grew older and more accomplished, I managed to play third from the last before moving on to a different teacher. 
My move was done to avoid the long trek to Omaha and to study under a woman who would teach me ragtime and boogie and other music of my own choosing.  I played with a lot of passion but my fingering technique was anything but classical.  This finally caught up with me when I tried to play more difficult pieces, like a Rachmaninov where all five digits of both hands need to strike the keys rapidly to produce dramatic wonderful chords.
Harrison Street grade school only went up to 5th grade.  So for 6th grade I transferred to Washington Street grade school which went up to 8th grade.  This was the first time I didn’t stay in one room for the entire school day.  There were 6 rooms for 6th, 7th, and 8th grades, two for each class, and we rotated after each hour.  Classes were English, arithmetic/spelling, art/reading, geography, physical education/science, and music/penmanship.
Our teacher for penmanship and music was Miss Wind.  I imagine she was in her sixties because she had white hair.  She was tall and always dressed in long black dresses with accompanying old lady black shoes. And she was not especially fond of children, particularly those of the male gender.  It all honestly, her appearance could have made her eligible to be a character in the TV show, “The Adams Family”.  However, the characters in the show seemed to be happy with their macabre outlook, and any display of being happy was not something she shared with her classes.
I am not sure how this started but, sometimes she would leave the room and my classmates egged me on to play the piano while she was absent.  So I played “Bumble Boogie” or “Sabre Dance” which I had memorized, to the delight of my classmates, whose ears were longing for something other than Brahms, Bach, or Beethoven.  Of course, she happened to come back as I was playing, but I think she was in a position where she could not disapprove.  After all, it was a music class.

In my class reunions many years later, my former classmates would reminisce with me about my boogie-woogie days, something I had forgotten about.  I guess I made a lasting impression in a very small way.
When I was in high school, the music teacher encouraged me to play the organ situated in the school auditorium during my study hours and I continued to dabble here and there playing for school events.  But I had long stopped taking lessons and my interests in sports, girls, and making money dominated my life to the detriment of my music career. 
I have no regrets about this.  I make no efforts to dig out my electronic keyboard, the sheet music I still have, and play to amuse myself.  But, if I had a baby grand sitting in my front room, I would be tempted to give up crossword puzzles and to master those wonderful Rachmaninov chords.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Trek to Mount Bromo


Due to some mix up, the driver was not here to pick us up at the Surabaya airport and we had prepaid.  When something like this happens in a foreign country where not everyone speaks good English, it can be the cause of some anxiety.  But Judith was on phone soon, after a few challenges, and was told that the driver was waiting at the train station and it would take 30-45 minutes to get to the airport.  He did come thankfully.  This resulted in a 90 minute delay in getting started on our 3 + hour road trip through insane traffic. But once we started up the mountain we saw an entirely different view of Indonesia. It all started when turned off the main road and started up the mountain.  Soon the vegetation started to change and the road turned from a smooth wide 2 lane avenue with few mild curves to a rough, narrower road with hairpins turns the norm. 
We arrived at the Java Banana hotel, high up the mountain, and the receptionist had no idea of our problem.  We were angry that we missed seeing the sunset due to our delay plus all the hassle we had to do through. We had difficulty negotiating some compensation at first, but in the end things were made right. The room had a great view and was well appointed. There is no internet and no TV except fuzzy local channels, but we didn't care as our main priority was to get up at 3 AM and travel up the mountain via jeep, horse, and foot to reach a high spot for viewing the break of day and to see the shadows and colors around Mt. Bromo, an active volcano.
We had the sequence of events explained to us when we checked in, so as scheduled we were ready to hop into a jeep at 3:30 AM and after 20 minutes up a twisty, dusty, bumpy road upward, the caravan of jeeps peeled off and parked.  I unfold my legs and climbed out.  Up the trail we started and after rounding a curve, came upon the horses and horse valets (to make up a concept) who wanted money to rent their wiry, small horses to take us up the mountain.  It did not take long for us to agree that horsepower was the way to go.  And best of all, the men walked with the horse leading him by the reins.  All we had to do is hang on for dear life.  This is not an exaggeration.    
But eventually the trail narrows again requiring the last leg to manpower.  Fortunately, there are well defined steps and we reach the top, stopping along the way to let our lungs take in as much oxygen as the thin air will allow.  The flat area at the viewing point looks like a miniature village with the local Tenggerese people there with small fires ablaze to heat water for instant coffee, tea, or hot chocolate to sell to the tourist and well as knit hats and handicrafts.
We arrive about 5 minutes before the sky starts to light up.  Capturing the sequence of the sun rise is on everyone’s agenda as people jostle amongst each other to position their cameras with clear shots of the event.




Soon there is enough light to see the three volcanoes, two which line up as if drawn from the same axis.

In the foreground is extinct Mt. Batok with Mt. Semeru behind it.  Mt. Bromo is just to the left of Mt. Batok.  The top of the volcano has been blown off.  It last erupted in January 2011.  Mt. Semeru is one of the most active volcanoes in Indonesia, spewing off ash and smoke about every 20 minutes.
After more light I can see how far down the jeeps are parked.
In our descent, clutching onto the horse’s saddle becomes even more challenging because we need to lean back slightly due to the steepness of the slope.  Back in our jeeps, we travel to another vista where we can see the other jeeps trekking across the “Sea of Sand” to the Hindu temple at the foot of Mt. Bromo.  Look closely to find it.
We declined this part of the tour due to the requirement to do more climbing in the volcanic dust up a very narrow trail without the aid of horsepower.

 Legend of Mount Bromo

There is legend related to Mount Bromo and the region of Tengger. According to this legend, there was a 15th century princess named Roro Anteng from Majapahit who started a principality with her husband Joko Seger. They named the principality Tengger, an amalgam of the last syllable of both their names.

Being childless for many years, the royal couple made a trip up Mount Bromo to seek the help of the mountain gods in granting them a child. The gods agreed to their request, telling them that they would have 25 children, but demanded that they sacrifice their final child. Together, the couple had 24 children.
When the last and final child was born, Roro Anteng refused to sacrifice it. The mountain gods sent fire and brimstone until she finally relented. After the child was thrown into the crater of the volcano, anhis voice was heard asking that an annual ceremony be performed to appease the gods. The ceremony was still being performed to this day. It takes place on the 14th day of the full moon Kesodo, according to the Tenggerese calendar. Rice, fruits, vegetables, flowers and livestock are offered to the mountain gods.
Dear readers, it strikes me that if you happened to be born into a Tenggerese family, you would probably be trekking up to the rim of the cauldron each year, chicken and rice in hand feed the god anhis.  What you wouldn’t be doing is observing special dietary rules, travelling to Mecca, confessing your sins, setting up nativity scenes at winter solstice, going through prostrating rituals, lighting a lot of incense, wearing funny hats, or privately donning special underwear.  You probably would hope that your capricious god would be satisfied enough protect you from the dangers of the world and offer your inner spirit a safe haven after your earthy remains are scattered to the winds.  The more pious amongst your people would know that your god has favored your tribe with the unquestionable truth on how to achieve everlasting peace and any other visions need to be rejected by whatever means necessary to keep your mind cleansed of disturbing evidence to the contrary.

Our jeep driver must have been blessed with skill, acquired knowledge, and confidence because we arrived back at the Java Banana safely.  We took time to meander through the unique flora and feel the warm sun increase the temperature to a pleasant level as we wait for breakfast.
This photo was shot from the grounds showing the small but beautiful Tenggerese houses and an onion field which, along with potatoes and cabbage thrive in the rich soil and cool temperatures.  The houses are constructed mostly with tile and cement which probably is a result of learning to keep trees to help prevent soil erosion.
We leave late morning for our trip to Surabaya and have a chance to see the terrain, villages, and people as we wind our way downward.  Our delayed trip up the mountain was done with darkness close at hand.
We get to the main road to Surabaya and our young driver maneuvers in and out of out-of-this-world traffic insanity of motorcycles, aggressive tour buses, slow over-loaded trucks, ox-carts, bicycles, and risk taking cars and after over 3 hours we get to our hotel in Surabaya, the Hotel Majapahit Surabaya.
Hotel was built around 1910 and is in great shape with 143 rooms and the largest Presidential Suite in Asia. It has a very rich history. I wrote a review on Trip Advisor entitled, “Grand, Old, Elegant Hotel, and great value”. In the restrooms outside of the rooms in other parts of the hotel, it has pull chains for the toilets and long urinals in the men's rooms. Floor standing mirrors, old heavy wooden furniture in great shape, old chandeliers and ceiling fans.  The hotel sits on a very busy street but the property extends far away from the street and no traffic could be heard. 

Judith had business the next day and I hung out at the pool and spa relaxing before travelling back to Jakarta the next day.  There are so many wonderful places to visit in Indonesia and Mt. Bromo and Surabaya should be on any tourist’s short list.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Musings from a 75 Years Old (soon to be 76)


It is 2:30 in the morning.  I have been awake for 2 hours.  I am still jet lagged after returning a week ago from Indonesia, where the time difference is exactly 12 hours, so day is night and night is day.  My body is still confused. 

I know I still have a brief time of lucid thoughts and energy before my brain and focus start to become numb.  So I am driven to translate things running through my mind onto “paper” while I am afforded the opportunity to display what writing talent that I possess.

Let me start by saying that I am not always sure about the degree of writing talent I possess, but I just received a message from someone that read a post I made to my blog I wrote a few years ago about my life as a paper carrier. 

So I opened my blog, signed in, and maneuvered back to my post and re-read it.  I discovered that I like my story much more now that when I wrote.  I was reliving my 64 year old experiences again through the eyes of a 75 year old, and it seemed both like ancient history and like it happened last week.

And it hit me how extremely important my experiences were then to who I am today.  What is so very profound is that I could not have felt the depth of this insight 5 or 10 years ago.  Surely, I am at a wondrous position to see how everything in the past has melded into the present with a richness of insight not within my grasp before. 

I closed my blog and decided to catch up on some internet news and articles.  This is something a do regularly.  I started to read a review of a play written my Lizzie Simon called “Man and Boy”, a father and son drama and I then I read the following sentence.

“Basil (the son) is addicted to the mere whiff of intimacy with his father, operating without strategy or self-regard in an effort to get what isn’t there to be gotten.”

Dear readers, everyone seeking self-discovery and to those who think they already know themselves can now stop and reflect upon how much searching for self-validation we have made in our lives to fulfill buried needs that yearn for resolution. 

Suddenly all my efforts, to connect to my father became front and center.  They are too numerous to list.  I love it when I have insights that were previously only around in the fog of semi-consciousness waiting for the sun to shine and the fog to dissipate.

In my next stream of consciousness, I am reminded how Master Po taught his young grasshopper in the TV series, “Kung Fu

Master Po: Close your eyes. What do you hear?
Young Caine: I hear the water, I hear the birds.
Po: Do you hear your own heartbeat?
Caine: No.
Po: Do you hear the grasshopper which is at your feet?
Caine: Old man, how is it that you hear these things?
Po: Young man, how is it that you do not?

It is after 4 AM now.  I have had an epiphany but sleep is now calling me. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Malawi 2011


The primary purpose of our latest trip to Malawi was to again attend a male circumcision ceremony for young Malawi boys from the Yao tribe, who are Muslims.  It has been 3 years since attending other circumcision ceremonies and there were several differences noted. 
One of the present problems in the country as a whole is one of fuel storage.  Long lines of cars and vans are seen at every gas station where there is news that they have fuel or fuel will be delivered the next day.  People line up in the evening and sleep in their cars and vans to make sure they get fuel the next day.  The storage of diesel fuel is more acute, resulting in large trucks parking at the service stations waiting for fuel to arrive, idling labor and the supply of goods and services.   The storage of fuel is ultimately tied into the real or perceived economic strength of the country to pay its bills. 
Another very noticeable thing is the presence of the Chinese.  China has already built one new hotel and is in the process of building a very large hotel which will be one of the tallest buildings in the country.  It's the country's first five-star hotel, $90m worth of well-appointed rooms, a state-of-the-art conference center and 14 opulent presidential suites.
  
The parliament now operates from a grand new building that was opened in June 2010. That project cost about $41 million.
China will assist the Malawi government to build a university of science and technology.  China's presence in Malawi has been growing steadily since the two countries established diplomatic ties in December 2007, and Malawi abandoned its links to Taiwan after 41 years. A memorandum of understanding covering industry, trade and investment was signed between the two countries in May 2008, committing China to help in increasing the productive capacity of Malawi in tobacco, cotton, mining, forestry, fertilizer production and in processing hides and skins.
There have been some notable problems with several arrests and deportations involving trying to smuggle ivory and hard currency out of the Africa.  But all in all, the colonization of Africa by the Chinese continues.
We have a lot of time to spend in Lilongwe because the jondo and our arrival were badly coordinated so we spend time to visit the local markets.  One of the things we found out is that when asked where we come from and say “Chicago” the reply is “Obama” instead of “Michael Jordon”.
Eventually, we are informed that a van, would be arriving the next day to take us to Mangochi, a drive of 3 ½ hours. We travel through small villages along the way.
We stay at the Sunbird Hotel situated on Lake Malawi a few miles north of Mangochi.  It is July and we are about 1000 miles below the equator, so it is winter.  During the day when the sun shines, it is warm and pleasant,, but the nights are quite chilly and daylight is short.  So it is possible to lay out a few hours and soak up some sun given the right conditions. 
We were hopeful to attend more than one jondo, but in the end we attended only one.  To gain permission to attend a jondo one must first talk to the village leader, a woman, who was away attending a funeral, so we talked to her husband, explaining that the purpose was to gain knowledge of practices being used during the circumcision and to use the knowledge gained to see how it can assist in HIV prevention.  Talks with the circumciser, called ngliba, and his helpers were conducted also. The ngliba is the man on the right.  He was very experienced and recently had received a kit of surgical gloves from one of the NGO’s which he used and changed after each boy was cut.
There was a lot of down time where my presence was not needed so I took advantage to take some photos to record village life.  Here is a photo unusual tree with the village mosque next to it and an older woman walking to enter the mosque.
Here is the main form of transportation and a group of women and children waiting to be picked up.  The women are very shy about being photographed, but not the children.

While the women travel to do the laundry, the men play a game.
A brother and sister dressed in their very best clothes going somewhere and more children posing.
On the way up the mountain to the village, we stop so I can take a photo of Lake Malawi emptying into the Shire River.  Along the way we see a troop of baboons.
When we arrive at the village just before the jondo (circumcision ceremony) we find that the village women are upset at our arrival.  Later we learn that a husband and wife Christian missionaries came to the village and caused all kinds of ill will trying to convert the people away from Islam to become Christians.  So they were very suspicious of a white couple coming to their village and suspected the worse.  Part of this problem was because the village leader had been away from the village due to funeral and had not spent time communicating to the people about our intent.  Later, the Imam talked to the people and explained our cause. 
While I was at the jondo lodge, the men were upset about my presence until the ngliba explained and frowns turned to smiles aimed at me.  Just prior to this the ngliba took me to the side of the lodge and asked to show that I was circumcised after generously showing me that he was first. 
Here are photos of the children not showing any concern.  I made no effort to organize this photo and I love to look at each child’s expression.  To me, this is one of the best photos I have ever taken. I encourage my viewers to enlarge it and study some faces.
As a contrast, this is a somber photo of the boys ready for the jondo.  Understandable, huh?There is a pair of twins in this photo and one is a sister to her brother sitting at the side.
My part of the jondo was to edit the photos I took showing the actual cutting and what happened in the lodge immediately after, then write a description of what I saw, all of which is confidential. 
We drove back to Lilongwe and left for Rome to attend the International Aids Conference.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Long Live the Herds

When I wrote about my father in my writing class last year, I posted my story on my blog and when on Facebook and posted a link to the blog.  These actions resulted in my distant cousin Carol Tanner, who I never heard of before, contacting me through my email address.

She told me about some of my genealogy on our common side of our families, the Herds.  She also promised to send me some additional materials and after several months a package arrived filled with photographs of ancestors, lists of various related family trees, newspaper clippings, records of land deeds, marriage certificates, military records, photos of head stones and old homesteads.  I felt almost overwhelmed with gratitude would got to such lengths to enrich the lives on two strangers, myself and my half-bother Clifford who also received this treasure trove of information about our heritage.

Although I have not completely waded through all the information, this past week end I found out that I am distant relative to Pocahontas, Henry Hudson (the explorer), John Randolph of colonial Virginia, the Bush family and President Obama.

There are stories of my great grandfather Lt. Col. Andrew Jackson Herd having a horse stolen from him by the James Gang and set out after them and recovered the horse.  One of my relatives hung around with Daniel Boone there is a copy of a letter he wrote to Boone about selling a horse to him. 

I can hardly wait to what else there is to discover.


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Punahou Reunion Finale

We rose very early to catch the fish auction breakfast and tour on Pier 38.  We toured the fish auction first.  One of the classmates owns 3 state of the art fishing boats and the Diamondhead Ice plant.
As you might guess, the fishing industry in Hawaii is huge and Hawaiians eat 3 times the national average of fish (42 lbs.).  Fishermen fish within 50 nautical miles of Hawaii and boats come in to unload their catch which has been iced, not frozen, about 1 AM six days a week.  Each fish is weighed, tagged with the vessel name, displayed on pallets, and kept clean and cold.  Before offered for sale, each fish is inspected to insure quality.  Buyers arrive before the start of the auction to inspect the day’s landings and at 5:30 AM a brass bell is rung to start the auction and bidding begins.  Fish are sold individually, buyers are invoiced and fishermen are paid that day for their fish.  Some of the fish are packed immediately and shipped to distant markets. 

A small portion of the fish is cut to show the color and quality of the fish. 
There are many rules and practices that govern the fishing in Hawaii to insure a high quality and sustainable industry.  I was impressed.  One thing of note was that many of the fishermen are foreigners and are not allowed off the boat when it comes in to port.
Later that morning we drove back to the hotel to freshen up and then walked outside to watch the 95th annual King Kamehameha Floral parade. 

That afternoon, the class attended the Punahou president’s reception and after cocktails and pupu, the class matched down to the grand luau preceded by the Oahu College Band leading the way to seat the class of 1961.

Thus came to an end of the class of 1961’s 50th high school reunion for us.  We passed on the family picnic the next day, being guilty of reunion burn out and spent some time around the hotel pool with occasional Mai-Tais protected from occasional light sprinkles under our umbrella. The next day we returned the rental car after some confusion on where to go and flew home.  This was some adventure.