Monday, December 29, 2008

I can't save Africa

In his book Beachcombing at Miramar, Richard Bode told this story. He was walking the beach after a particularly stormy night. The swells had washed hundreds of starfish onto the sand, where they were suffering a slow and suffocating death. A lone figure walked the beach, picking up random starfish and throwing them back into the water. Bode approached the man, and asked, 'Why are you doing this? You can't possibly save them all!' And the man bent down, picked up a pale yellow star, and replied ~ 'True. But I can make a difference for this one.'

And so it is in Africa.

A man approached me at our guest house. He was clean but clearly poor. 'My name is Martin. I am HIV positive and need to earn money for my medicine.' He asked if he could wash our car. I misunderstood. I thought he wanted to 'watch' all of the cars at the guest house, and I told him to talk to the owners. "Please." he said. "Please, anything you can do to help. Food, spare clothes, anything."

At that moment, I didn't have anything to give. I couldn't help him.

But fate gave me another chance. I encountered Martin again, that evening, as Perry and I walked home from dinner carrying my leftover tandoori chicken and lemon rice with us.

Martin had a nice meal that evening. And if I see him again, I will give him the boots I won't wear again, and an extra sweater, and I will pay him to 'wash' our car.

I can make a difference with that one.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Bail Out Plan

We have determined that our travel costs have far exceeded our budget.

Therefore, we request a bail-out package from our benevolent and generous government, so we may proceed with our travels in the style to which we have become accustomed.

Just kidding. We can take care of ourselves.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Ten days we spent, exploring the sand trails and mud pits of Chobe and Moremi. The rainy season has made a dramatically early entrance in Botswana. A lightning storm at sunset over the Okavango Delta is a sight to behold!

Almost every traveler we spoke to had been bogged in mud or sunk in sand. But not us, in our trusty, beastly Land Rover Defender! She plows ever forward through sand and mud, over rocks and bush, and swims in the rivers like a mad bull frog. An unbelievable machine .... now that she has been healed with a new fuel pump, that is. (and, ever cautious, we just avoided the major bog-hole roads. Who wants to travel in a vehicle that smells like a sewer?)

Nighttime in the unfenced wilds of Chobe and Moremi provided more adventure than slumber. Elephants rumbling and munching all around our tent-top Land Rover, hippos grunting and squealing, frogs that chirp like tiny bamboo wind chimes, hyenas skulking for random scavenging opportunities (they will eat anything - cameras, cooking pots, plastic bottles) baboons roosting in the trees, enjoying their morning constitutional from overhead at 4:00 am ..... (Have you ever smelled baboon poop? Ugh!) Lions roaring and roaring just close, their silent tracks in our campsite the next morning....

One day, when we returned to our camp, there was a young bull elephant feeding on the trees in our campsite. We parked a respectful distance away, watching him. He ignored us. After about an hour, we tired of waiting and drove carefully into our spot. It's quite an experience, making coffee whilst keeping a watchful eye on an elephant! He moved a little ways off, and a group of cheeky baboons moved in. Perry and I became distracted by our baboon wars - (The active engagement of throwing rocks and hot water at the critters that move in for a quick steal of bread or sugar or anything they might identify as food) As I was chasing one big baboon fella, there was our elephant friend, flapping his ears in warning that all of our frenetic activity was interrupting his feast! Whew - both the baboon and I changed directions at lightning speed!

And this. It is springtime in the African bush, and every day brought more babies out of hiding. Impala fawns, Bambi-eyed and lovely.... warthoglets, all punked out and jumpy, zebra colts, wildebeest calves, giant giraffe youngsters and tiny plover chicks. Sublime!

Botswana proves to be fascinating, frustrating, tedious and sometimes frightening. Poverty, apathy, friendliness, endless rubbish, half-finished but long abandoned construction projects... the "independent" backpackers trying too look .... independent... as they ride around in safari trucks on pre-set itineraries, ablution blocks filled with spiders, the African sunsets that ignite the last fumes of sky, women's enormous butts, men's skinny waists, our dirty laundry, the massive fires set to tame the forests, Germans, Germans, Dutchies, more Germans, those mysterious cat prints in the soft sand, the Land Rover's engine warming up against the cool morning of possibility in a new land.

So now, we rest in lonely and dusty outpost of humanity called Maun. Gearing up for the next exploration into the realm of the San Bushmen of the Tsodilo Hills.....

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


This is the lesson.

Stand in line.

Stumble around the clumsy language differences.

Sweat, hoping the temperature will to drop to a sleepable level.

Watch the mobile phone, trying to make that call during the random moments of service.

Wait for the fuel pump to arrive from Gabarone.

Wait some more.

Read old newspapers.


Monday, November 3, 2008

Godfrey of Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe

A little bit more about Zimbabwe:

We spent a week in that country... after much debate, and querying other travelers, we decided not only was it safe, but it would be a shame to miss it. We are so close! So we endured the obscure bureaucracy of the border crossing, and in we went.

Oh my. Zimbabwe is a sad place. The people are bright and friendly, but the country is completely stalled out. Only US dollars or South African Rand are used, there are few jobs, there's hardly any food (people cross the border, bring back food and sell it on the black market for big bucks) and buying fuel is a joke. But we knew that, so we had plenty of food, water and fuel.

6 days we spent, traveling through Hwange National Park. 3 cars we saw. It once was a grand place to tour, but slowly it decays... almost ghostlike.

Each camp has an attendant, and at one camp the attendant literally RAN to meet us - he hadn't seen a car in 5 days. His clothing was faded and worn, he was thin. His second request, after asking us to stay in his camp, was for reading material. We offered a recent newspaper, and promised to return the next night. When we arrived the following day, this young man had dressed up for us in his best uniform, and introduced himself as Godfrey. We spent 2 1/2 days with him, sharing our food (he had only corn meal and dried meat....) and our reading material and good conversation. He was brilliant, well educated, very curious. His experience with the wildlife of Africa was incomparable. Much we learned in those 2 days!

I offered to make him a beanie, for the cold season, and he eagerly accepted. I suppose you might guess the rest of the story. A bright young man, hungry to learn anything new.... I taught him how to knit! He was fascinated and determined... and incredibly clever. I complimented him on being such a bright student, and he said, 'Then we are well met, an eager student and a wonderful teacher.' In 24 hours he had learned how to knit and had finished one beanie and was 1/2 way done with the next. I left him most of my yarn, sets of needles, anything I could spare. (and all of our sugar!) I intend to send him care packages as often as possible. It's a lonely life for a 25 year old man. But what else is there to do in Zimbabwe? He spends his days making sure the pumps are running so the animals have water, watching the elephants and lions and hyena, and keeping an eye out for poachers. Godfrey was indeed a friend well met.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

What will you do, Zimbabwe?

We have just returned from six days in Zimbabwe.  Truly, it is a "Failed State".

But.  The people we met have not failed.  Amidst currency collapse and violent turmoil, they were kind to us, honorable, and willing to work - hard.

Hwange National Park was once a gem of the African national parks.  We saw rangers ... thin, wary and hard from malnutrition ... tending the camps or on bush patrol with ancient AK-47's to protect the elephants and rhinos from poachers. Imagine this ... these rangers and attendants tried their hardest to make us feel comfortable .... and welcome in our visit.  Tragic.  Ironic.  Absurd.  It nearly overwhelmed us. We bear witness to the crime of poverty, the nobility of spirit in Zimbabwe.

We shall not forget it.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


This dream began without any introduction, as dreams are wont to do. I was just merged into a series of ongoing events......

I was supposed to do something for Uncle Lou, and had not been able to find him. Later, he found me and asked 'Where were you? I needed you!' I explained, and told him I would definitely be there for him the next time. So - the dream shifted to a situation where I was standing outside some kind of venue - maybe a church, or a meeting hall, or perhaps an airport. I stood there, watching, as all of the adult men I've known walked out of this place (much as we stand and watch people walk off an airplane at the airport, looking for our family or friends) the fathers of my childhood friends were there - Bruce Buell, Ken Bueche, some of my teachers, Uncle Johnny and Uncle Henry, Don Fox, Orrin Curtis... and many more. Then Dad was there, and he walked up to me with a big smile and said 'Hi Sport!' and he hugged me. We walked along, holding hands. I could FEEL his hand in mine. So warm, so big. Then I told him I had to find Uncle Lou, because he needed me to take care of him. And Dad said 'I know you do, but I've sure enjoyed spending this time with you.' And as he walked away I felt his hand slip out of mine, and I knew I would never see him again. But it was okay - we'd had that last moment together, and I knew he loved me. Then Uncle Lou walked up with a big smile and said 'I knew you would be here!' And I said of course, I wouldn't miss him a second time. And that was that.

I had this dream more than 10 days ago, and I still vividly remember it, and the emotional intensity of it remains.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Cape Cod ~ Rome ~ Cairo ~ Jo'berg

This, in an email from Perry:

I hope this communique finds you all happy and healthy, wealthy and wise.

We've arrived in South Africa after seven delightful days among the ruins of Roma and Cairo. Beth and I toured the Forum, Colisseum, Palatine Hills and the Spanish Steps of Roma before flying to Egypt. Both Beth and I have been fascinated with the mystique of ancient Egypt since watching the Ten Commandments as children ... and four lovely nights at the Mena House Palace set beside the Great Pyramids of Giza did nothing to disappoint our romantic souls. :)

Our fully outfitted Land Rover was delivered from Cape Town this morning. Tomorrow, Beth's Aunt Paula and Uncle Bruce fly in from Zambia where they've been voluntering their time, efforts and love for the past two weeks to those desperately in need. We'll guide them around Kruger National Park for 12 days or so before heading north to Botswana and the Okavango Delta including Chobe National Park ..... the greatest wildlife refuge on the planet.


There is a wolf in me .... fangs for tearing gashes .... I keep the wolf because the wilderness gave it to me and the wilderness will not let it go.

There is a fox in me .... I nose in the dark night and take sleepers and eat them and hide the feathers .... I circle and loop and double-cross.

There is a hog in me .... a machinery for eating and grunting, for sleeping satisfied in the sun - I got this too from the wilderness and the wilderness will not let it go.

There is a fish in me .... I know I came from salt-blue watergates .... I know I scurried with shoals of herring before the water went down .... before Noah .... before the first chapter of Genesis.

There is a baboon in me .... hairy under the armpits .... here are the hawk-eyed hankering men .... here are the blonde and blue-eyed women .... here they hide curled up sleeping ready to snarl and kill .... ready to sing and give milk .... waiting - I keep the baboon because the wilderness says so.

There is an eagle and a mocking bird in me .... and the eagle flies among the Rocky Mountains of my dreams .... and fights among the sierra crags of what I want .... and the mockingbird warbles in the underbrush of my Chattanoogas of hope, gushes over the blue Ozark Hills of my wishes - And I got the eagle and the mocking bird from the wilderness.

Oh, I got a zoo, I got a menagerie inside my ribs, under my bony skull, under my red-valved heart - and I got something else: it is a man-child heart, a woman-child heart: it is a father and a mother and a lover: it came from God knows where; it is going to God knows where - For I am the keeper of the zoo: I say yes and no: I sing and kill and work: I am a pal of the world: I came from the wilderness.

~ Carl Sandburg ~

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Early Morning Coffee

Two cups just are not enough. So another pot is brewing. And yes, I made it with a 'Perry Pile' of coffee, so that first cup will be enamel stripper strength.

I am compelled to express the thoughts jumping around in my little head, but my fingers are twitching to finish the multitudinous pile of projects sitting in the corner, to move into new color dreams, play with some design ideas. So my keyboard time will be brief.

I was awakened this morning to the dual sensation of the local equine escapees clopping around just outside my window, and a disturbing dream of tragedy. My days are laced together with grief and joy. Death has finally invaded my heart, and as I imagined, it is the living for whom I mourn.

Joy in the world of sorrows. Speak to me, joy.