Category Archives: Uncategorized

It only takes a spark…

Standard
It only takes a spark…

Old First

When I was growing up in Huntington, Long Island, New York, we were members of the Old First Presbyterian Church at 125 Main Street.  The church was (and is) an imposing edifice, a historical building with a long history.

OLD churchOld First 2

My father had been a stalwart Presbyterian since the age of 11 and the church was in his blood.  My father was Clerk of Session, my mother sang in the choir, we all went to Sunday School, and when we were in High School, we all were part of TUXIS.

Dad at OFC.jgp Mom

TUXIS was our church youth group.  The name is less an acronym than a symbol – the “X” in the middle standing for Christ and the letters surrounding it meaning something like “You and I together for Training and Service with Christ as the Center.”  It was old-fashioned even then – but to be honest, I don’t think most of us even thought about what the name meant.  For about 20 years, from the late 1960s and through the 1980s, TUXIS was the place to be on Sunday evenings, from 7:00pm – 9:00pm – no matter what your religion, or even if you had a religion at all.  It was our community.

This past October, Dr. Stan Dransfield, who had been the minister during most of my time at the church, passed away.  One of his sons “discovered” Facebook, found a few former TUXIS members and proposed a reunion.  Being a logistical sort of person, I volunteered to try to organize it.  The response was overwhelming.  And this past summer, about 40 former TUXIS members (and one former youth minister) gathered at the Old First Church to celebrate, to worship, to share community and to remember.

I had not been inside the church since my mother’s funeral in 1996…and then it was just briefly.  So when I walked into the side door by the Parish Hall, the sense of memory was visceral and strong.  The side door where we would wait for my father to talk to “just one more person” during coffee hour.

IMG_1377 IMG_1378

IMG_1343 IMG_1344

The smell of the wood floor of the Parish Hall, and the stage where we would put on our Sunday School plays.  And the huge kitchen with the giant 8-burner stove and hundreds of plates and cups for church suppers.

IMG_1380IMG_1395

The photographs of the previous ministers – all lined up along the wall along with the bulletin boards announcing paryer groups and various events.  The old bell that had cracked while ringing one Sunday.

IMG_1398 IMG_1397 IMG_1396

Behind the stage was the “Cradle Roll” for the babies and underneath the Parish Hall were the old Sunday School rooms and a tunnel that led to the “newer” part of the church – built in 1958.  I have a vague recollection of them putting in the block with the dates when they built that addition.

IMG_1382 IMG_1381

IMG_1345 IMG_1346

The new addition was built with expansion of the Youth Program in mind – there was a full-size basketball court, another kitchen, various classrooms and a “TUXIS” room.

IMG_1383 IMG_1384

Up the main stairs, there was the choir room – still looking exactly the same with the robes hanging in their compartments and the shelves of choir music and folders.

IMG_1386 IMG_1385 IMG_1388 IMG_1389

The Sanctuary is the oldest part of the church – and at one time, it was the entire building.  Not much has been altered.  At some point, the seat cushions were added.  A chandelier has been hung from the ceiling and, contrary to the traditional austere Presbyterian decor, a cross was installed over the altar about 10 years ago.  I spent most of my time in the sanctuary in the choir loft, where I sang alto in the church choir.  A beautiful new pipe-organ was installed in 1982 and the choir loft redesigned, just in time for my wedding.  (The wedding was lovely, the marriage rather ill-fated…)
IMG_1393 IMG_1392 IMG_1390 IMG_1393

What was TUXIS and why was it so important?  Well, it was a community.  A community of young people from varying circumstances and belief systems, who were at various places in their spiritual journey.  And it was a safe place to come and feel that you mattered.  We were fortunate to have wonderful youth ministers who built that community, who listened to young people with great consideration and love and who showed us, by word and deed, what it meant to “be the hands and feet” of Christ.  Many pictures were shared of those times.  We had camping and beach trips, trips into New York City, work-sessions, presentations and performances, discussions, singing and dancing, tears and laughter.

Confirmation 1974 Confirmation 1 Car wash Burt W

Manger scene 2 Joseph Manger scene Linda M

Sitting on stage TUXIS Group w Doug OFC various OFC MOntage cross bearing Campe Westminster TUXIS sign RetreatMe at beach

We put on our own “Contemporary Worship Service” once a month, featuring more modern songs and our own singing group called “The Main Street Singers.”  There was even a “Bible-a-thon” to raise money.

Contemporary worshipHymns Hot Biblethon 2 Bible-a-thonNewsletter Sunday School Singing in sanctuary

We had three youth ministers during “my” TUXIS time.  Don Dempsey was hired at the beginning of my 9th grade year.  There were so many of us that we had a separate group for the 9th grade called “Niners.”  Don was 24, young, idealistic and rather a hippie.  There were stories about him mowing a peace symbol into the front lawn of his house and an incident where the police were called to the manse, because the neighbors didn’t realize he had moved in yet and thought his gathering of TUXIS young people (complete with candles because the electric had not been turned on yet) was a bunch of hippie-weirdos.  Turns out the stories were true – I got in touch with Don, who is still a Presbyterian minister and he had many memories.  We all loved him, but he was summarily fired after 9 months.  The session then hired Howard Warren.  Howard was “my” TUXIS leader and my brother Doug’s as well.

Howard

He was a gentle man, in his mid-thirties, who seemed to know how to handle both the radical young people and the stuffy and staid members of the session.  He had a way of leading us to the “right” decision without us feeling like we were being told what to do.   After Howard left, we had Bill Humphries who came to us right out of seminary, with his very young wife, Cindy.  Bill was youth minister for about 10 years, and was the TUXIS leader for my younger brothers Mike and Tom.

Bill

One very important person who could not attend was a woman name Suzie Viemeister, who was like the mother of us all.  She came on every trip, was there every Sunday evening and her home was a place of refuge for a number of young people who had had a falling out with their parents and needed a place to crash.  She is in her 80s now, but still spry and joyful.

Suzie VSuzie V now

When we all finally showed up at the church, there were many hugs, many remembrances and some tears.  Howard – loved by so many of us – passed away from complications due to AIDS in 2003.  Ironically, he turned out to be far more radical than Don Dempsey ever was.  After he came out of the closet (“exploded out” as some say!) he became an outspoken advocate for inclusion of all in the church.  The Presbytery tried to silence him ; they tried to take away his ministry (my father was furious at this) but Howard persevered and was known as “God’s Glorious Gadfly” for his unrelenting insistence that the Kingdom of Heaven was for everyone.  (Read more about Howard HERE.)

Some of us had gathered for dinner the night before.  Now we shared more food and memories and music and had a communal worship led by Bill Humphries.

IMG_1326 IMG_1324 IMG_1323 IMG_1322

Reunion worship Reunion watching reunion singingIMG_1405 IMG_1407

We were then lucky enough to have a brief talk about the history of the church from John Collins, who was a member of TUXIS and is very much involved with the Huntington Historical Society.  And…we got to climb up into the steeple, which, since the installation of the new organ, now involves a trap door over the choir room, a scramble above the ceiling of the sanctuary and then a rickety climb to the top.  It was pretty awesome…I hadn’t been up there since I was a very little girl.

IMG_1419 IMG_1418 IMG_1415 IMG_1414 IMG_1413 IMG_1411 IMG_1410 IMG_1408

Everyone who attended the reunion was deeply moved by the gathering.  And I was near tears when I was given a card, signed by everyone, thanking me for organizing the event.  It was a wonderful way to recall a very important part of my life.

reunion group

At the end of the worship service, people wanted to sing “Pass It On.”  This is a cheesy song, with a cheesy tune and lyrics that don’t quite scan.  But we all used to sing it with great gusto and I had a guitar and we all sang it again.  I am not ashamed to say that I broke up a little when we got to the last verse.  Thank you, dear Divine Spirit, for the fellowship of TUXIS.

It only takes a spark to get a fire going,
And soon all those around can warm up to its glowing;
That’s how it is with God’s Love,
Once you’ve experienced it,
Your spread the love to everyone
You want to pass it on.

What a wonderous time is spring,
When all the trees are budding
The birds begin to sing, the flowers start their blooming;
That’s how it is with God’s love,
Once you’ve experienced it.
You want to sing, it’s fresh like spring,
You want to pass it on.

I wish for you my friend
This happiness that I’ve found;
You can depend on Him
It matters not where you’re bound,
I’ll shout it from the mountain top!
I want my world to know
The Lord of love has come to me
I want to pass it on.

A Zambian Wedding!

Standard
A Zambian Wedding!

Last weekend, I was privileged to be invited to the wedding of my housekeeper’s daughter.  Weddings in Zambia tend to be very big deals – even among the lower-income people.  People of means who are invited are expected to purchase a suitable gift – in fact, Mary asked me beforehand what gift I would get and how much it would cost!  A traditional gift is cookware, or something for the kitchen and I got a very classy and serviceable casserole dish that could be put on the stove or in the oven and had a 15-year guarantee.  Mary seemed pleased with my choice.

The first part of the wedding was a full mass in the Catholic Parish right down the road.  Mary insisted that I sit up in front with her and the family and introduced me to everyone as “her friend.”  I was the only non-Zambian there, not to mention the only white person.  Everyone was very friendly and welcoming and shook my hand in the traditional Zambian way – a shake, then a grasp of the thumbs and then another shake.  People filed into the church, dressed in their finest.  As mother of the bride, Mary had had a beautiful outfit made for the ceremony.  Her mother was also colorfully attired, and had a headdress to match.  Most of the men were in western-style suits.   There was a choir, complete with a drum set and two guitars.  At first I thought their voices were amplified, but then I realized that they were singing along with a recording, which reverberated throughout the church.

IMG_1767 IMG_1764 IMG_1763 IMG_1761 IMG_1760

The groom was escorted in and sat by himself in the front seat.  He looked very handsome and very young.  I asked Mary if she thought she would cry during the ceremony.  “Oh…no, I don’t think so,” she said.

IMG_1768

The music started and the acolytes, altar boys and priests all came down the aisle.  They danced as they came – the music was loud and rhythmic and many of the congregation also danced and sang along.

IMG_1776 IMG_1773 IMG_1772IMG_1791

The flower girls and boys came dancing down, and then the bridesmaids and groomsmen.  The color scheme was green – all the dresses had been made locally.  Everyone was smiling and dancing and singing and moving.

IMG_1779 IMG_1771IMG_1781

Finally, it was time for the bride to enter.  The groom left his seat and went down the aisle to escort her to the altar.  And suddenly, most incongruously, the African music stopped and there came the strains of Wagner’s wedding march, played on the organ!  The bride was demure and shy and dressed in a frothy white wedding dress complete with a veil.  It was hard to get any pictures, because as they walked down the aisle, almost everyone was standing in front and around them, snapping photographs.  This continued throughout the entire service. Nobody seemed to find this the least bit strange.

IMG_1780 IMG_1783

There were several scriptures and several more songs, which almost everyone knew.  I only knew one – a very African-tinged version of “How Great Thou Art” and I sang along with great gusto.  Finally the priest came down to address the couple.  His sermon was half in English and half in Nyanja.  His speech talked about how they should forgive each other and be kind to each other.  He was very good, making the couple and the congregation laugh a number of times.  He made a point of telling them that it was time to “say goodbye” to past boyfriends and girlfriends and had them wave “bye-bye” to the young men and women in the choir and the bridal party!

IMG_0371

There was communion and a few more songs and then finally,  there were the vows – not much different than wedding vows in any other church, except instead of saying “I do,” they answered simply “Yes” to the questions.  When he pronounced them married, the church exploded with yells and cheers and the particular joyous ululating sound made in Africa at all times of joy and celebration.  Two of the bridesmaid had confetti in a can that they sprayed over the couple. (I had taken some videos of both the ceremony and the reception, but unfortunately, they all came out without any sound…a great disappointment.  There is really no way to describe in words the atmosphere of the dancing!)

Then everybody individually went up to the newlyweds to hug and kiss them and congratulate them on their marriage.  Mary hung back until everyone had had their turn (myself included) and then she went to hug her daughter and her new son.  When she turned back towards me, her eyes were wet.  “Oh, Mary,” I said. “You are crying!”  “My daughter,” she said.  “My daughter – now she is gone.”

I drove Mary’s mother and several aunts to their house after the ceremony.  Everyone would rest for a few hours until the reception.  I came back later to pick them up – everyone had changed into clothes more suitable for a party and dancing.  On the way to the reception, Mary’s mother asked me how long I would stay in Zambia and I told her maybe one more year.  “I miss my people,” I said.  She took my hand.  “We are your people now,” she said.  We passed by the house of the Zambian President, Michael Sata.  He has reportedly been ill and I asked Mary’s cousin if they knew anything about his health.  “Who cares?” she responded.  “Sata doesn’t care about us!  We take care of ourselves.  We always have!”

The reception was held in a big hall owned by another church halfway across town.  Everything had been decorated in green and orange and some of the decorations were still being put up.  People slowly filled the place.  Babies were carried in chitenge cloth tied around the mother’s backs.  Children were everywhere. People were dancing, talking, laughing.

IMG_1793 IMG_1796 IMG_1800IMG_1792 IMG_1798 IMG_1816 IMG_1803 IMG_1813

There was a DJ playing music and after a while, some women came around with trays of soda – Coca-Cola or Orange Fanta.  I had a Coke – the first time I’ve had one in years.  I had forgotten how sweet it is!  Mary had changed into a very smart-looking suit.  Everyone was anxious for the wedding party to arrive.

IMG_1806 IMG_1807 IMG_1808

Finally, the MC announced their arrival.  They danced in and you could see that they had spent months rehearsing.  Each “pair” of bridesmaids and groomsmen did their own little dance.

IMG_1830 IMG_1831IMG_0381 IMG_0382 IMG_0385 IMG_0388

The bride and groom finally arrived to more ululation and noise!  They maintained a quiet dignity…and I thought they must be exhausted from all the festivities.

IMG_1823 IMG_1818

The MC introduced all the bridal party, announcing that each one was “single and free to mingle!”  They then left and changed into different outfits – much more suited to the kind of “mingling” that had been mentioned.  More dancing ensued, joined by many of the guests.

IMG_0404 IMG_0409 IMG_0403

Food was served – a simple meal, but certainly good.  I was also given a cup of home-made punch with fruit in it.  After one sip, I could tell it packed quite a wallop. I couldn’t even imagine what it must have cost to put the whole party together, buy the dresses, rent the hall, order the food and drink…but as I said, Zambian weddings are a big deal.

IMG_1825 IMG_1817

Finally, the bride and groom did their “ball dance.”  Again, the African music stopped and a slow pop-tune was played.

IMG_1835

The cake was cut, and the bride and groom knelt in front of Mary and presented her with a portion of the cake.  I found this particularly moving.

IMG_1832

There was more dancing and everyone was moving to the beat.  I got up to dance and was immediately swept into the circle by Mary’s cousin and mother and then by several of the groomsmen.  One of the women tried to show me the correct way to shake my bottom, which is a huge part of dancing here.  I tried my best!  It was a fabulous time and I felt very welcomed!

When I saw Mary the next Monday, she told me how everyone was so happy to see me dance and that people had remarked that I “really knew how to dance!”  Which is not something I’ve ever heard before, but it sure was fun.  I was so glad to be invited and be made a part of Mary’s family.

IMG_1841

One short day in the Emerald City…I mean, Paris!

Standard
One short day in the Emerald City…I mean, Paris!

When I was in London last month, I decided to take a day trip to Paris.  Why?  Because I could!  There is something very cool about boarding a train in London and coming out in the heart of Paris just a little more than two hours later.  And, if you book far enough ahead of time, the fares for the Eurostar high-speed rail are pretty inexpensive.  I took the earliest train from London St. Pancras, which leaves at 7:00am.

Eurostar web map ok St_Pancras

 

I got to the station in plenty of time to grab a coffee and a croissant.  I meant to exchange some money for Euros, but I didn’t have time…I figured I’d do that when I got to Gare du Nord.  The train was comfortable and I napped most of the way.  When we arrived in Paris, I immediately went to the nearest Bureau du  Change and inserted my debit card into the machine – as I have done many, many times before in many, many places.  Only this time, the machine gave me this message:

“Transaction défendue. Carte retenue.”

Which means “Transaction denied.  Card retained.”

I stood staring stupidly at the machine for at least a minute.  Then I went over to one of the women behind the change booth.  “Your machine kept my card,” I told her.  “Cards are a 12% commission,” she replied.  I tried again.  “The machine didn’t give me my card back!”  She looked at me with a bored expression. “That’s not our machine,” she said.

I went back to the machine and looked at it again.  My card had not magically reappeared.  I went to the second booth and changed the measly £30 (pounds) I had into €30 (Euros) which theoretically should have been about €37, but there apparently was a 10% commission on cash.  Whatever.  I tried one more time to find out what to do about the card-consuming machine.  This time, I was told, “There’s a number on the machine you can call.”

Figuring that trying to get someone out there to open up the machine and return my card would likely eat into most of my day, I decided to forget it.  I now had a bit of cash, I had other credit cards and most places took credit anyway.  I walked out into the bright Paris sunshine and started to walk towards Notre Dame Cathedral and the Sienne.

Gare du nord Gare du nord 1

I have a love-hate relationship with Paris.  It is not a very friendly city.  People are brusque and sometimes downright rude. The streets can be crowded and confusing.  But – you are never more than 500 meters from a metro station…and wherever you walk, you see gorgeous architecture, fountains and statues.

IMG_1600 IMG_1602 IMG_1603 IMG_1604 IMG_1605 IMG_1607 IMG_1610 IMG_1609

 

It was a hot and sunny day and I stopped frequently to sit, take pictures and just soak in the busy-ness of Paris.  Finally I reached Notre Dame Cathedral.

IMG_1615 IMG_1614 IMG_1617

 

IMG_1619 IMG_1612

 

Entrance to the cathedral is free, but the line snaked all the way around the block…and I have been inside before.  I love the square, though and the magnificent statues around the arches of the doors.

I found a little cafe a couple of blocks away and had a lunch of home-made pâté, crusty bread, poached salmon with potatoes and red wine.  I mentioned my problems with the cash machine to the waiter and he told me he thought all the machines at Gare de Nord were faulty.  Luckily, this place took American Express.

I then continued my walk along the Sienne.  There are beautiful bridges and a walkway right down by the river.  One of them is the famous “Pont des Arts” where it has become a tradition for lovers to “lock up” their love by putting a padlock on the bridge and then throwing the key into the river.   IN recent years, this has become a problem, as there are now so many locks on the bridge that there is danger of collapse and rust from the locks is leaching into the Sienne.  Apparently, a portion of the railing actually did collapse this past June and was replaced by plywood.  There has been talk of trying to ban the practice of placing locks, but to my eyes, this has not had much effect.

IMG_1623 IMG_1624 IMG_1621

I continued walking until I came to the Tuileries Garden.  This used to be part of the Tuileries Palace, which was destroyed during the French Revolution.  The Gardens are now open to the public, with many beautiful fountains, statues and plantings.  It is a popular place to walk, sit, read, get a bite to eat and just hang out.

IMG_1626 IMG_1628 IMG_1629 IMG_1627 IMG_1630 IMG_1631 IMG_1632 IMG_1633 IMG_1634 IMG_1635

 

I found a public toilet at the end of the garden.  Unlike London, which prides itself on its many available, clean and free public toilets, Paris’ facilities will cost you 2 euros.  $2.65.  To have a pee.  I was outraged.  However, I didn’t think anyone would take kindly to my using a bush in the public garden…so I coughed up my €2.

By this time, I could clearly see “la tour Eiffel” in the distance.

IMG_1646

I continued out of the Tuileries and along Avenue des Champs-Elysées…that very famous street with the Arc de Triomphe at the end.

arc-de-triomphe-Champs-Elysees

There was a lovely side section along the Champs-Elysees called “Allée Marcel Proust” with some benches, green grass and a couple of statues dedicated to the writer.  I got myself a fruit drink from a vendor, spread my scarf out in the shade and lay down.

Proust Proust 2

When I woke up, it was a bit cooler.  I continued to walk, past the Grand Palais and the Petit Palais and across the Sienne again.  I made my way down to the pedestrian walkway right on the river and stopped at a cafe for a cappuccino and some people-watching.  I was right by the Pont Alexandre – such a beautiful bridge.

IMG_1642 IMG_1643 IMG_1644 IMG_1645 IMG_1647 IMG_1648 IMG_1649

 

By now it was getting to be late afternoon.  I decided to re-cross the Sienne one last time and find myself a new place for dinner.  I had dearly wanted cassoulet, but it was really too hot for it, so I opted for some delicious French onion soup and a huge salad Niçoise (tomatoes, tuna, hard-boiled eggs, Niçoise olives, and anchovies with a vinaigrette dressing.)  Accompanied by crusty bread and wine, of course!

I took the Metro back to Gare de Nord, went through passport control and found my seat in a half-empty train.  I dozed most of the way back to London and thought what a great thing it had been – to go to Paris for the day.

IMG_1616

 

Johannesburg….sort of!

Standard

I started my long-awaited March break with a plane ride to Johannesburg. I was going to be taking the “premiere class” sleeper train all the way to Cape Town and I figured I’d get there a day early, check into my hotel and then see a bit of Johannesburg. I thought maybe I’d do the open-top city bus tour, stopping off at the Apartheid Museum and perhaps see if there was anything on at the symphony or find a local place where there was live music.

Well. None of that happened, sorry to say. So this post may not be all that interesting…but it will serve to document the first part of my journey and be sort of an introduction to the rest of the trip!

The plane to Jo’burg was small, but comfortable and we were served a light breakfast on board. When we landed, I grabbed my brand new bright purple wheelie bag and went to find the Gautrain, which would take me to Sandton…a suburb of Johannesburg where I had booked my hotel.

About Sandton. Originally, I had booked a hotel right near the train station. I figured that way I could see more of the city, easily catch the hop-on, hop-off bus and be close to where I needed to be for my train trip the next day.

However, more than one person warned me about central Jo’burg in general and the area around the train station in particular. So I listened…and booked a hotel in Sandton, which was suppose to be a “nicer” area. I booked a place right near the shopping district and within walking distance of the Gautrain station. I figured it might be a little more inconvenient, but I wanted to be safe.

Then the hotel I booked emailed me and said that the branch of the hotel I had booked was closing, but they could book me at a sister site, just up the road. So I went with it. In hindsight, this was a mistake and I should have stuck with the place near the train station…especially if I wanted to see any of the city! But…I digress.

The Gautrain (pronounced “howtrain”) is a brand spanking new public transportation system, easily navigated, extremely safe and very reasonably priced. I got my rechargeable ticket, boarded the train and was at the Sandton station within 20 minutes. Then the fun began. My hotel was supposed to provide free pick-up and drop-off to the train station and I had been instructed to call them when I arrived and they would send the shuttle get me.

So I called, but the woman on the other end of the line seemed a bit confused about what I wanted and her accent was very difficult to understand. It sounded like she was telling me to wait at the “tea cup.” At first I thought that perhaps this was the name of a cafe…but finally realized that she was saying “pick up.” I told her that I would wait there and described my purple suitcase and bright white hair.

25 minutes later, I was still waiting and getting a bit annoyed. A woman in a small silver car, who was there to pick up someone else, saw me and asked where I was going. When I told her, she said that she thought it was just up the street. I called the hotel again and the hotel lady seemed just as confused as before…I told her never mind, I would take a cab.

When the silver car woman heard this, she said, “Oh don’t take a cab, they are so expensive, why don’t you let me drop you off?” At this point, the people she was waiting for showed up…an American couple originally from Orlando who had just flown in from Hong Kong. We all piled into the little silver car and Rivita (that was her name) drove me to my hotel, which was NOT “just up the street,” NOT anywhere near the center, but almost 2 miles up the road and near absolutely nothing. Rivita actually called the hotel twice to ask them exactly where they were located…and the lady at the hotel was equally unhelpful both times. We finally found it and I thanked her (and the Orlando couple) profusely.

(I was extremely grateful for this kindness…I promised to “pay it forward.” Who knows how long I would have had to wait for a ride from the hotel!)

When I walked into the hotel, there were drop cloths and ladders everywhere. They were doing a major renovation in the lobby. The place smelled of fresh paint and wallpaper paste. Luckily, my room was ready, even though I was early. I dropped my bags and went to the restaurant (a quasi-Italian joint called “PapaChino’s”) for some lunch; I was starved. I had a passably good lamb pita and a killer mojito.

I still had the idea of maybe going into the city and getting the tour bus….but by then it was 2:00pm. By the time I got there, it would be closer to 3:00pm and bus only ran until 5:00. Besides, I was kinda tired and this was my vacation.

So I took a 3-hour nap instead.

When I got up, I realized that sight-seeing in Jo’burg probably was not going to happen this trip. So I spent the evening curled up in a chair overlooking the garden and pool, reading and having a glass of wine. The next morning, I was pleasantly surprised when the (included) breakfast buffet was one of the best I have ever seen and the coffee was freshly brewed. Getting a ride back to the train station proved to be much easier than I had anticipated.

And now….I am sitting in the premiere class lounge, enjoying complimentary tea and biscuits with the other passengers, while we wait to board our train to Cape Town!

Bits and pieces…

Standard

Here I am, back in Zambia and although it is still warm and the sun still appears daily, it is definitely the rainy season.  Clouds cover the sky at various  (and odd) intervals – sometimes half the sky is black and stormy while the other half is blue and sunny.  And the rains come quickly and seemingly without warning.  Torrential rain with huge drops and wind.  Everything is damp and soggy…but the grass and trees are turning bright green and soon the birds and flowers will emerge.  I hope to take a weekend trip to one of the parks in February.  The rates during what they have started to call “The Emerald Season” are decidedly cheaper (albeit soggier) and there are various “specials” for residents.

When I was “home” over the holiday, I had my camera with me, but could not download the pictures until I got back to my computer.  So, in an attempt to “catch up” here are some random pictures and stories from my US holiday.

Here is a shot of me and the couple I met during the concert at Lincoln Center.  They were nice enough to take me (and treat me) to dinner after the concert at a little French restaurant. I had Malbec wine for the first time and and now a fan!

!IMG_2034

Here are a couple more shots of our B & B in St Augustine…

IMG_2037 IMG_2036

And a shot of the city…

IMG_2043

My beautiful daughter in the back garden at the B & B

IMG_2049

This is the lobby of the Lightner Museum, which used to be one of the largest hotels in the world.  Imagine how elegant it was!

IMG_2053

 

As I mentioned in a previous post, the museum has a large collection of mechanical instruments and we got to see a demonstration. It was fascinating.

IMG_2067 IMG_2068 IMG_2069 IMG_2071 IMG_2072 IMG_2073 IMG_2074 IMG_2075

Of course, there was the fun of eating lunch “at the bottom of the pool” – but we also saw what used to be the sauna, shower nooks and a plunge pool.  The showers and the pool are now part of the museum (although the depression in the floor where the pool was is obvious…right where those stairs go down) but they have left one section of the sauna as it was.

IMG_2077 IMG_2078 IMG_2079

And I got some shots of the inside of the little chapel at the mission, where we heard such lovely music.

IMG_2060 IMG_2062 IMG_2063 IMG_2064

For New Year’s I took a trip out to Rochester, NY to visit my oldest and dearest friend and her family.  Rochester, the seat of Monroe County, is a city with a varied and interesting history and is constantly reinventing itself.  It has been known as both “The Flour City” and “The Flower City” and is  home to some of the world’s greatest pipe organs, as well as the Eastman School of Music.  In 1947, abolitionist newspaper “The North Star” was founded by Frederick Douglass in Rochester and the city was also home to Susan B. Anthony, crusader of women’s rights. Rochester has also been home to many industries, including Kodak and Bausch & Lomb.

We visited the Edgarton Model Railroad Club, which was open for the holidays.  It was started as a club for wayward boys – to keep them off the streets.  Now it is run by a group of die-hard rail-road enthusiasts and is a testament to their devotion.

IMG_2100 IMG_2102 IMG_2101 IMG_2103 IMG_2109 IMG_2118 IMG_2117 IMG_2116

The trains are housed in the basement of the Edgarton Community Center, a beautiful old brick building with wonderful original woodwork. which also contains the historic “Stardust Ballroom”

IMG_2119 IMG_2121 IMG_2122 IMG_2126 IMG_2123

There was a meeting going on in the ballroom itself, but this is a photo from another website.  Gorgeous, isn’t it?

Ballroom

 

The building behind the Community Center is the High School…and apparently started as a Women’s Prison!  The irony!  Here are my friends Nancy and Tess, posing in front of it!

IMG_2125 IMG_2128

 

One of Rochester’s biggest industries today is the Genesse Beer & Ale Company.  They have recently refurbished an old building as a brew house and restaurant.  It sits right on the banks of the mighty Genesee River, near the Upper Falls.  It was a cold, cold day…we were glad to be inside, sampling beer.

IMG_2130 IMG_2131 IMG_2132 IMG_2133 IMG_2134 IMG_2135 IMG_2136 IMG_2137 IMG_2138 IMG_2139 IMG_2142 IMG_2143 IMG_2144 IMG_2146 IMG_2147 IMG_2148 IMG_2150 IMG_2151 IMG_2155 IMG_2154 IMG_2152 IMG_2156 IMG_2157 IMG_2158

 

IMG_2162

I was happy to ring in 2014 with my friends…in their warm and cosy house all decorated for the season!

The end of the holiday saw me back down in NYC.  I brought my two grand-daughters with me.  We ate giant burgers, saw “Waiting for Godot,” took a tour of Lincoln Center, did a bit of shopping and visited MOMA.  And tried to stay warm!

IMG_2166 IMG_2167 IMG_2169 IMG_2172 IMG_2173

 

IMG_2178 IMG_2176

It was a wonderful holiday in every way!  And now…back to warmer weather!

IMG_2175

 

 

 

The oldest city in the USA!

Standard

20131224-115854.jpg

20131224-115919.jpg

My daughter and I decided to spend the weekend before Christmas in Saint Augustine, about a two-hour drive from her apartment in Orlando. Saint Augustine, founded in 1565, is the oldest continuously occupied European-established settlement and port in the continental United States. It was owned by Spain for over 200 years and then the British. It has seen missions, battles, slave traders, mariners, teachers, politicians, entrepreneurs and now, tourists. There is plenty of fascinating history behind the storefront facades and brick-covered streets.

20131224-120410.jpg

20131224-120513.jpg

Many of the period houses have been lovingly restored and turned into elegant B & Bs. Ours was called “The Peace & Plenty Inn.” Like all the houses on the street, it was brightly decorated for the season!

20131224-120651.jpg

20131224-120703.jpg

Our room had a gorgeous antique four-poster bed, a private entrance through the back-garden and a jacuzzi tub!

20131224-120850.jpg

20131224-120933.jpg

The house was beautiful, with crown moldings, lots of dark woodwork, a fireplace in the living room. And every night, they had sherry and port wine and an assortment of gourmet cakes laid out.

20131224-121056.jpg

20131224-121108.jpg

20131224-121127.jpg

20131224-121143.jpg

20131224-121157.jpg

That first night, we walked around the city, which was brightly lit up with lights. The tour trolleys were lit up as well, and would pass us full of people singing carols and in general good spirits.

20131224-121320.jpg

20131224-121407.jpg

Saint Augustine has many interesting and unusual shops…including a store called “The Ancient Olive” which sold infused olive oils and balsamic vinegars…and had a tasting bar, where you could sample all the different flavored, along with some nibbles on the side.

20131224-122336.jpg

The city was once home to the Flagler Hotel, which had what was then the world’s largest indoor pool. The pool has been drained, and now you can have a delicious lunch in what used to be the deep end! Very cool!

20131224-122527.jpg

20131224-122540.jpg

20131224-122548.jpg
<

The rest of the the hotel is turned into a museum, which houses an eclectic collection of items from the past few centuries…and most interesting to me, an entire room full of mechanical musical instruments. Huge music boxes, which played music from giant metal discs, a antique Wurlitzer, an automatic organ suitable for use in homes (and sold by Sears!) and a giant German-made contraption which could sound like a full orchestra! We were lucky enough to get there just as the demonstration was starting!

20131224-123012.jpg

20131224-123023.jpg

20131224-123033.jpg

20131224-123049.jpg

There are many antique and curio shops, some which sell treasures and some which sell items of a more…dubious nature.
>
20131224-123900.jpg

20131224-123908.jpg

On Saturday evening, we walked along the water past the fort to the mission, which was having a special Christmas program of 16th century Spanish music, drama, food and traditions. The whole place was lit up by candlelight and the little chapel where they sang the old Spanish carols was all aglow.
>
20131224-124207.jpg

20131224-123330.jpg

20131224-123341.jpg

20131224-123353.jpg<br /

20131224-124138.jpg<br /

It was a wonderful weekend…and now, I am ready for Christmas!

20131224-124424.jpg

Start spreadin’ the news…

Standard

The “Festive Break” (as they call it) finally arrived, and I was on a plane out of Lusaka on that same Friday evening (along with more than a few other teachers and their families.). The quickest way home is on Emirates…they fly to Dubai (their “hub”) and from there, to almost any destination. 7 hours to Dubai, a 90 minute lay-over and then a 14 hour flight to NYC. I had obtained some kind of snooze-inducing medication from the local chemist (it was actually an anti-histamine) and managed to sleep for a good part of the first flight and about half of the second…so I was not as jet-lagged as I could have been. Emirates has pretty good service and seating, even in economy . Their entertainment system is top-notch, the food is decent and the drinks are free.

New York, New York, a helluva town.
The Bronx is up, but the Battery’s down.
The people ride in a hole in the ground,
New York, New York….

I arrived at JFK at about 2:4m, got through customs (it is all done now with self-serve computers…no more “Welcome home, citizen!”) and then….waited almost an hour for my luggage. I know somebody’s bag has to be the last, but you never think it will be yours. I had pre-booked a shared shuttle to my hotel thinking that I didn’t want to be dragging my huge suitcase up and down subways and along the snow-covered streets. However, the shuttle was horribly slow and once we got into Manhattan, it was even slower. As the driver crawled through the center of Times Square, some pedestrians took umbrage at how close the van came to their kids and started banging on the windows, shouting and hurling insults at the driver, questioning his intelligence, driving ability and parentage. I elected to get out and took the R down to Union Square, dragging my huge suitcase down the subway stairs and then through the snow-covered streets. It was blowing and cold and wet and I was happy to finally – finally! – arrive at my destination – The Seafarers and International House.

20131216-180329.jpg

My room was small, but warm and comfortable and the shower was hot. I bundled up in the layers I had brought and pulled on my boots and headed out into the snow! The snow! So glad to see snow. There was the annual Christmas market in Union Square and I bought a pair of hand-knit mittens and a hat from the Himalayan shop. My ears were freezing!

20131216-181623.jpg

20131216-181633.jpg

I had promised myself that as soon as I hit NYC, I would get some honest-to-God draught beer. And so, I did.

20131216-181950.jpg

This was at the Heartland Brewery, where I met an old friend from my days of Lord of the Rings fandom and Tolkien message boards. We chatted over more beer and an enormous plate of ribs…which I almost finished. I walked through the snowflakes back to the hotel and fell into bed, with the traffic outside the window lulling me to sleep. New York, New York…

The next day was Sunday and I had arranged to meet an old college friend (and SAI sister.). She had invited me to her church – the Marble Collegiate Church. I had passed by this church many times, but never been inside. It was beautiful and the music was lovely. A most welcoming and warm congregation, with an excellent preacher, too.
>
20131216-185126.jpg

It was fun to see my old friend. We both agreed that neither of us had changed a bit and went out for brunch, complete with bloody Mary’s.

20131216-184934.jpg<br /

That evening, I snagged what had to be one of the last tickets to hear the Lincoln Center Chamber Music Society perform ALL SIX Bach Brandenburg Concertos! They performed in Alice Tully Hall, a wonderfully “live” hall and even though I was in the very last row, I could see and hear perfectly. As I settled into my seat, an almost-late older couple sat beside me and we joked about getting the last tickets. As we chatted in between concertos, I found that they had spent years in Africa. At intermission, they said that they were having dinner afterward and would I like to Join them! We had a wonderful dinner and some great conversation at a tiny French restaurant just up on 68th and they treated me! I love New York.

20131217-062048.jpg

20131217-062122.jpg

20131217-062129.jpg

20131217-062136.jpg

The next morning, I arose to sunshine and the bustle of a Monday morning in NYC. Got breakfast, did a bit of window shopping and then hopped on the bus up to Providence, where my son picked me up and brought me to his house, full of Christmas bustle, the flotsam and jetsam of two teenaged girls and my bubbly and energetic daughter-in-law, who had posted a “welcome home” sign on the door for me!

20131217-062757.jpg

As I woke this morning, my daughter-in-law informed me that it was 2 degrees F. Hopefully I will manage to extricate my car from where it has been languishing in my son’s yard (and provided it will start and can get up the hill…) and drive to my little condo in Worcester today

Shakespeare meets Fleetwood Mac

Standard

The musical at the American International School of Lusaka was a bit…unusual this year.  In a good way.

592-CastPhoto

I have been privileged to work with the drama director at the school, who is incredibly talented, unbelievably creative and just this side of insane.  (As are all good drama directors.)  This year being the 450th birthday of The Bard, he wanted to do Shakespeare…but what to do?  One day, while reading through some of Shakespeare’s later and lesser- known plays, a recording of Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way” came on the radio and suddenly – the Idea was hatched.  I was just along for the ride.

591-IMG_8435

So…this was our production of “Pericles, Prince of Tyre” (aka “Lost at Sea”) with music by Fleetwood Mac.

To sing a song that old was sung,
From ashes ancient chorus is come;
Assuming man’s infirmities,
To glad your ear, and please your eyes

SONG: The Chain

020-IMG_7375

Pericles, a young prince and seafarer, has landed at the Palace of King Anticochus, where he seeks the hand of the Princess.  In order to win the right to marry her, a riddle must be solved.  If he fails, his head will join those who have failed before him…now decorating the upper wall.  However, what he doesn’t know is that if he actually solves the riddle, he will also be killed, as the answer exposes a dark secret between the King and his daughter.

029-IMG_7395

033-IMG_7399034-IMG_7401

Pericles solves the riddle and realizes at once what it means and what it portends for him.  He tells the daughter that he cannot love her and must leave and quickly departs.

SONG: Go Your Own Way

Meanwhile, the King realizes that Perciles now knows his secret and orders one of his servants to find him and kill him.

044-IMG_7426

Pericles returns to Tyre, much troubled.  His Lords make a big fuss over his return, but his oldest and most trusted servant, Helicanus, sends them away, as he sees that his Prince is deeply upset.  Pericles tells Helicanus what happened and admits that he fears for his life.  Helicanus advises Pericles to go away for a while, until Antiochus has calmed down.

052-IMG_7436

059-IMG_7445

Pericles sails to Tarsus, which is in the midst of a famine.  Their King and Queen, Cleon and Dionyza, are despairing about how to feed their people. When Perciles and his sailors show up with food, they pledge undying garniture and loyalty.

SONG: I’m So Afraid

068-IMG_7460 069-IMG_7464

After some time at Tarsus, Pericles and his men sail on, but they are caught in a raging storm.  The ship is wrecked and Pericles finds himself washed ashore, bereft of his armour and alone.

SONG: Dreams

097-IMG_7508 098-IMG_7510

He is found by some local fisherman, who give him shelter, food and the news that he is now on Pentapolis, where good King Simodes is about ready to celebrate his daughter’s birthday and all the local knights are invited to joust in the tourney.  Mourning his lack of armour, Pericles is cheered when one of the fisherman pulls in the net containing a suit of rusty armour.  Pericles declares that he will go and joust with the rest, even in the rusty outfit.

100-IMG_7520 105-IMG_7528 111-IMG_7537 114-IMG_7545099-IMG_7513

The crowd has gathered and the Princess and her father watch as the knights are introduced.  One by one they enter, making a spectacle of themselves.

SONG: What Makes You Think You’re The One

123-IMG_7559

136-IMG_7575 132-IMG_7571

120-IMG_7552121-IMG_7553

When Pericles enters, in his mean and tattered outfit, the crowd falls silent.  Unlike the others, he does not preen, but merely bows to the Princess.

188-IMG_7651

At the joust, Pericles acquits himself most admirably and Thaisa, the Princess, is very much attracted to him.  She places the laurel wreath on his head.  The King then commands that there be music and dancing!

SONG: Say You Love Me

199-IMG_7667 203-IMG_7670 205-IMG_7673

227-IMG_7171 234-IMG_7713 235-IMG_7714

Meanwhile, back at Tyre, the Lords are getting restless that Pericles has been so long away.  They ask Helicanus to assume command.  He demurs, but says that if Pericles does not return within a year, he will reluctantly take the position.

264-IMG_7772

Thaisa has informed her father that she is in love with the Prince of Tyre and will wed no one else.  Simonides is quite pleased, as he is impressed with Pericles, but he decides to make the couple think he disapproves at first!  Finally, he proclaims them to be “man and wife” and sends them off to bed!

SONG: Crystal

278-IMG_7801 275-IMG_7796 285-IMG_7816

Pericles receives word that his kingdom needs him, so he and Thaisa (who is now expecting a baby) head back to Tyre.  A terrible storm hits them and Thaisa dies in childbirth, leaving a little daughter that Pericles names Marina. The superstitious sailors insist that it is bad luck to have a dead body on board, so Pericles allows them to put Thaisa in a casket and, after putting a note and jewels in with her body, casts her overboard.  He decides to return to Tarsus to leave the baby with Cleon and Dionyza, as he fears she will not survive the long journey back to Tyre.  Lychordia, Thaisa’s friend will also go, as nurse to the baby.

SONG: Beautiful Child

295-IMG_7833 302-IMG_7849 304-IMG_7853 310-IMG_7863

Cleon and Dionyza promise to treat the babe as their own daughter and Perciles sorrowfully leaves, promising to return as soon as he can.

SONG: Songbird

318-IMG_7877

Early the next morning, Thaisa’s coffin washes up on the shore of the Coast of Ephesus near Diana’s Temple.  It is found by the temple Priestesses, who are helping people after the storm.  Upon opening it, they discover the body, but discern that there is still life.  Using the power of Diana, Thaisa is resurrected.

336-IMG_7906 354-IMG_7934

SONG: Sisters of the Moon

END ACT ONE

As Act Two begins, Perciles is back at Tyre, pensive and lonely.

SONG: Storm

365-IMG_7973

14 years pass.  Marina grows to be a  beautiful young girl, loved by all who meet her.  Dionyza becomes increasingly jealous, because her own daughter is not as beautiful or talented.  When Lychordia dies, Dionyza sees her chance and decides to have her killed – over the objections of her husband.  She employs a servant to push Marina off a cliff, but right when she is about to do it – pirates appear!  They kidnap Marina and take her to a brothel on the island of Mytilene!

SONG: Tusk!

371-IMG_7997372-IMG_8005

380-IMG_8025396-IMG_8064

Bawd and Pander, the proprieters of the brothel are bemoaning their lack of suitable “wenches.”  When their employee, Bolt, shows up with Marina, a bona-fide virgin, they are overjoyed.  Marina, however, has other ideas.

SONG: Never Make Me Cry

431-IMG_8111 443-IMG_8137

It seems everyone who comes to the brothel hoping to sample the wares of the beautiful new girl are talked out of it, and leave promising to mend their ways and never go wenching again.  Pander and Bawd are besides themselves, as their business is being ruined.  When Lysimachus, the Governer of Mytilene (a regular customer,) shows up, Marina is instructed to “treat him as an honourable man” and do her job.  Instead, Lysimachus falls in love with Marina and castigates Pander and Bawd and their brothel!

SONG: Over My Head

457-IMG_8164

462-IMG_8172

Pericles has returned to Tarsus, only to be told that his daughter is dead and shown her “tomb.”  Completely grief-stricken, he declines to talk to anyone or take any nourishment.  Helicanus takes him on a sea voyage, hoping to lift his spirits and they dock at Mytilene, where Lysimachus hears of Pericle’s melancholy and boards the ship, along with Marina.  Marina agrees to try to help Pericles and as they talk, he realizes that she is his daughter.

SONG: Songbird (reprise)

478-IMG_8199

491-IMG_8219

Perciles falls into a swoon and has a vision of Diana and her priestesses.

SONG: Diana (Rhiannon)

511-IMG_8263504-IMG_8248

Upon awakening, he knows he must go to Diana’s Temple to give thanks.  When he arrives, he explains who he is and is shocked when one of the Priestesses come forward, calling his name.  It is his wife, Thaisa.

SONG: Landslide

529-IMG_8287

Pericles cannot contain his joy.  He kisses and embraces his long-lost Thaisa, introduces her to the daughter she never knew and gives his blessing to the marriage of Marina and Lysimachus.

544-IMG_8308 537-IMG_8300 556-IMG_8326

SONG: Say You Love Me (Reprise)

In the epilogue, the chorus tells us that wicked Antiochus and his daughter have been killed by a stroke of lightening, that Cleon and Dionyza, although deserving of death, were allowed to live, that Helicanus was rewarded for his good and faithful service and that the Temple of Diana and her priestesses were ever revered by Pericles and Thaisa…and that Marina and Lysimachos lived happily ever after!

So, on your patience evermore attending,
New joy wait on you! Here our play has ending.

574-IMG_7353

CURTAIN CALL: DON’T STOP

581-IMG_8367

But…what will you eat?

Standard

Grocery shopping in Lusaka can be interesting, but in many ways, is no different than shopping at home. In the past decade, several modern and well-stocked grocery stores have opened here and you can get almost anything you might buy at home.

Manda Hill is a large, modern enclosed mall, with a ShopRite grocery at one end and a large “Game” department store at the other. Game looks very much like a Walmart, so I was not surprised to discover that it is, in fact, owned by Walmart.  (Soon the entire world will be owned by Walmart, I fear!)

There is also a 5- screen movie theater, several restaurants, various clothing and electronics stores and assorted other shops,  beauty salons, watch repair, book shops and internet services.

ShopriteManda Hill, Game

I don’t go to Manda Hill often…it is usually very crowded and the parking lot can be packed full of cars trying to get in or out and people shouting and/or beeping their car horns.  There is another, fairly new shopping plaza a little closer to me called Arcades.  This is a bit more laid-back, with some trendy nightspots, a huge Spar Supermarket (with frequent announcements over the loudspeaker, thanking the shoppers for their “lovely and happy shopping” and telling us about the daily specials and etc…) and various shops and places to sit outdoors and have a cup of coffee or a snack.  It also has a modern movie theater and it is the site for the Sunday craft market I mentioned in a previous post.  They have a large bookstore (fun place to browse) and a huge hardware store that has almost anything you might need for DIY.

Spar1Arcades

A bit closer to home is Woodlands, which has a Pick-and- Pay and also O’Hagan’s – an Irish bar.  They serve the usual bottled beer (Mosi, Castle and Heiniken) and Guinness…also bottled.  As far as I  know, there is no actual draught beer to be found anywhere in Zambia!

Ohagans

Crossroads is a conveniently-located shopping plaza if all you want to do is pick something up on the way home from work.  It has a smallish Spar, a chemist (drug-store) a cafe and a bookstore, as well as internet/phone companies, an appliance store and a fairly large, modern mattress store on the second level!  Pharmacies in Zambia are very well-stocked and will generally fill any kind of prescription, even if you haven’t seen a doctor.  Last week, I had a hideous sore throat and fever…I went in, explained my condition, and walked out with 3 days worth of antibiotics, cough medicine with codeine, anti-bacterial gargle and some aspirin for good measure.

crossroads2 crossroads1

My favorite place to grocery shop by far is Melissa’s – right down the road from where I live.  Melissa’s is a local supermarket, much smaller than the larger chains.  But they usually have everything I need and they are very friendly and helpful.  It is a much more relaxing place to shop. They bake their own bread daily, and also have a decent liquor selection and a butcher.  In the same plaza, there are several restaurants, including a nice Lebanese place, a pizza parlour and a bakery that make excellent lattes and capucinos.  There is an additional (more comprehensive!) liquor store and a “ZamBeef” butcher, as well as a number of ATMs.  At the intersection, you can always count on the locals being there to sell you tomatoes, avocados, strawberries and even watermelons….but you have to make the transaction quickly, before the light changes!

MelissasMezzazambeefpizza

I sometimes walk down to Melissa’s on a weekend morning and have a latte and a croissant and pick up a few things.

“What will you eat” was a question I got asked by the girlfriend of my friend’s son, who didn’t really understand that there would be actual stores in Zambia…with actual food.  (Of course, I did sample those caterpillars that time…and you can buy those in the grocery stores, too!)

Hellen and the Cow School.

Standard

Every once in a while, you meet someone who completely blows your mind.  This happened to me on my trip to Kenya, when I visited the Enkiteng Lepa Community School and met Hellen Nkurayia.

IMG_1743IMG_1737

Hellen is a tiny, round woman with a huge smile, an infectious laugh and the traditional dress and shaved head of the Maasai.  She came bounding out of her office to greet us, and gestured towards the school building, which is painted a bright lavender.  “You have seen our cows?” she inquired.  “They are all colors!  Brown, black, white, gray…many colors!  But have you ever seen a purple cow?   No, you have not!  Well – this is our purple cow!”  And she laughed her bubbly laugh.  “Our cows are everything – and this school and the education we give to our children –  is valuable as cows.  So we call it the Cow School.”

“Enkiteng Lepa” literally means “Cow School.”  Not a school for cows, of course, but an attempt to teach the people that giving your daughter an education is far more valuable than trading her at a young age for two or three cows.  (“Because the cows may die the next year, and then you have nothing – no daughter, no cows!  But an education can never be taken away!  So I tell them – educate your daughter!  Do not marry her off for a few cows!”)

The school motto: “Shule yetu, nguyu yetu” means “Our school, our strength” in Swahili.

IMG_1742 IMG_1741 IMG_1740 IMG_1739 IMG_1738

We visited a kindergarten classroom, which had its own little garden plot.

GARDENIMG_1747

Hellen brought us into a bright and cheerful classroom,  where 37 girls are taught.  These girls are aged about 7 – 11, and are all boarding students, which means they have been rescued from the prospect of early marriage and FGM (female genital mutilation.)  They live at the school until they are educated and old enough to make their own choices.  Then they are reconciled with their families.  Hellen is fiercely protective of her girls and keeps them safe and secure from anyone who might come into the compound.  There have been incidences of girls being “snatched” from the school.

IMG_1749 IMG_1748 IMG_1750 IMG_1751

The girls were all very cheerful and respectful, even though they giggled a bit at my bright white hair.  In Maasai culture, women and men both shave their heads…and gray or white hair is highly unusual, as are white people in western dress.  Hellen told me that once, after a visit by some mzungu (white) people from a sponsoring organization, the girls had decided amongst themselves that “mzungu men had breasts.”  She could not understand why the girls had made this conclusion, until she realized that the women in the sponsor group had all been wearing trousers.  In the girls’ way of thinking, it was more likely that these were men with breasts, than a woman would wear such an outfit!

The girls sang and danced for me and recited poetry and later on, I taught them a song with sign language.  I was thrilled a couple of days later when I saw Hellen again and she told me that they were still singing that song and doing the signs!

IMG_1753 IMG_1754

Hellen showed us the weekly schedule for the pre-school and the primary school.  It included maths, science, social studies, English and Swahili and also a class called “CRE.”  This is “Christian Religious Instruction” and is required by the Kenyan government.  Hellen shrugged as she told me that she was not a Christian, and neither were any of the children, but in order to pass the government exam, the children had to know about this religion and so, she taught it to them.  However, all the government supplied materials had illustrations of a decidedly white Jesus and a white mother Mary and the children would challenge her as she taught.  “They ask me why they should pray and worship a mzungu man?” Hellen said, with a laugh.  I suggested she give them a brown crayon to color the faces in the pictures.

Later, we were shown the kitchen and dining room where the children ate.  Hellen said that several local churches wanted to come and instruct the children, but she refused them.  “Religion here in Kenya is big business,” she told me.  “The ministers who come ask the children for money, and want them to spend their Sundays sitting in church.  But not one church has sponsored a child who needs it.”   She grinned at the children, who were sitting at the table.  “Pretend you are getting ready to eat,” she said.  The children bowed their heads and parroted a grace that they had obviously been taught by rote.  “See?” said Hellen. “That is what the ministers want them to do.  But we are Maasai.  We believe God created everything, and that we are all part of God.  And we believe that every one of us has a star in the heavens with our name on it.”

I told her that it sounded like a good belief system to me and I saw no reason why she should change it.

IMG_1757 IMG_1756

I also told her that I wanted to sponsor a girl.  For an entire year, the cost is $600.  $50 dollars a month…

IMG_1755

In addition to the boarding students, the school also has day students and classes for teenagers and adults in the evening.  One of the projects is teaching young women to sew, so that they can sell their products and make a living.   Hellen showed me the sewing room, where there were about a dozen sturdy Singer machines…the kind with a treadle you work with the foot, as electricity is scarce.  Colorful shopping bags and backpacks hung on the walls, as examples of the wares being made and Hellen told me that the students were now learning how to make school uniforms, since every school in Kenya requires them.  (Her school is one of the few schools where the students are allowed to wear their native Maasai dress.)

IMG_1745

“This is our latest project,” Hellen said, showing me a packet of three objects.  “Do you know what they are?”  I examined what she showed me…and they did look somewhat familiar.  There were three oblongs, made of a thick, soft material, with a lining of plastic and a velcro attachment.  Hellen laughed and said, “These are reusable sanitary pads!”

Reusable-sanitary-napkin-2-300x225

She then went on to explain that about three or four months after she first started the school, some of the women came to her and asked her why she never menstruated.  In the very remote and rural world of the Maasai, (as well as other poor areas) when a woman has her period, she needs to stop everything and spend her time sitting – usually over a hole dug into the ground or on some sort of bucket.  So most women are unable to go about their daily tasks for at least five or six days every month…and here Hellen barely ever even sat down!

How else could a woman cope? Disposable “feminine supplies” were much too expensive and besides, there was no way to obtain them and no good way to dispose of them.  So, Hellen acquired a pattern for a simple, reusable product, bought the fabric and set about making them in sets of three.  “We have bright sun here,” she said.  “So I tell the women – after the first one is used, you wash it and set it to dry in the sun, and by the time you need it again, it will be dry enough for you to use!”

I saw Hellen again after our trek across the Loita Plains…at the second Widow’s Village.  Using land again donated by Salaton, the widows here have created an oasis in the midst of the plains and Hellen decorated it with various artifacts from Maasai culture – old leather bags, horns originally used to carry water or milk, jewelry that the widows didn’t think was “good enough” to sell.  Most of the other Maasai find this very odd – theirs is a semi-nomadic culture and using broken and cast-off items as “art” does not make sense to them.  But Hellen convinced them that the “mzungu tourists” would like it…and this mzungu definitely did!

I heard more of Hellen’s story over a bottle of wine she had somehow procured.  She was going to be forced to marry at age 11, but ran away and was helped “by a Roman Catholic nun” she told me, crossing herself rather incongruously.  “So now, I try to give back.” she said, quietly.   She has never had any children of her own (despite taking part in a lengthy “fertility ritual” where she had to take a 3-month leave of absence from her job as a government head teacher!) but she has an adopted son.  Working with Salaton, she has traveled to places such as San Francisco and New York City to speak about her projects and her people.  (Since Maasai keep no birth records, it took her over a year to get a passport, as a birth certificate had to be created for her!)  She is fierce and dedicated and determined to teach her students to “hold your culture in one hand and your education in the other!”

If you would like to read more about the school and the widows projects…and donate to an extremely worthwhile project, please visit the website HERE.

Cow School front

(This picture is from the Facebook page of the Make It Real Foundation.)