The E-report from Windhoek

 

Or I Always Said Convents Were a Great Place to Meet Single Women

Or Get Your Hand Out of Maputi!

Or Don't Cry for Me, Bulawayo

Or Zebra: the Other, Other, OTHER White Meat

Or When in Doubt, Get LOST

 

Hello again, all. It's been too long - though it may not feel that way to

some of you, as I understand a few are still getting through that last

novella, written in mid-June from Johannesburg. I recently arrived in

Namibia, and believe it or not it's my fourth country within a week. You'll

soon learn about my trials and tribulations through Zimbabwe (in

particular), Botswana, and another brief taste of South Africa. But first,

two quick public service announcements. When I tried to send out that last

15-page booklet, there were some problems as you might imagine, Hotmail

didn't take too kindly to sending out so much junk to so many good people.

So for those of you who didn't receive it, and still want to spend a couple

days reading it (as well as those of you who are completely new to my email

distribution list), please go to the Eric Apgar web site:

http://apgar.net/chillye/ -- you'll find all three of my previous bulletins,

as well as this one in short order not to mention a small flattering

caricature (which will probably be the only things short and small about

it). [As an added incentive, for all those who are fans of fab folk music

star Dar Williams and/or fun outdoor activities in the Napa Valley area, I

encourage you to check out some of the other funky aspects of Gar's site.]

Secondly, as I am getting prepared to head north toward Angola, and do not

expect to be online for a couple weeks, please make SURE that if you send me

an email that you do NOT enclose the original text of this long message to

you. I do want to read your correspondence, so I don't want my Hotmail

account to crash! Thanks. Now settle in for a few hours of reading.

 

As you may recall, I was preparing to head north to Zimbabwe for the latter

half of June, against the advice of anyone who was reading the media reports

about the violence that had been taking place prior to their national

elections on June 24-25. Nevertheless, I'd been invited to a gathering of

Episcopal missionaries from around Africa, and if they were all able to

brave the turmoil, I was not going to back out. The challenge was getting

there. The bus was dicey, the plane was expensive (I expected a better

rate, but with all the international observers coming in for the elections,

apparently the air tickets were just as costly as ever), and I'm a bit old

to start hitching rides. But as it turned out, I basically ended up doing

the latter. My buddy Dylan put me in touch with a travel agent friend of

his to find out about visa requirements, and as it turned out, his boy Peter

was planning to head (home) to Zim' for the weekend on the same day that I

was going! Bonus. So I was picked up at about 4:45am by Peter, a Charles

Dutton (TV's Roc) look-alike, and his pal Zino (?), the third founder of

the previously highlighted African hip-hop site http://www.rage.co.za, an

ugly hour when you stay up until close to 2am the previous night (but whose

fault was that?).

 

The drive through the northeastern part of South Africa was

unremarkable, although the 3 hours of sleep that night might have discolored

my view. Or maybe I was just feeling a bit down that I was leaving on

'Youth Day,' the anniversary of the Soweto uprising. In retrospect, it was

most likely due to the way that Zim tried to entrance me shortly after our

arrival. As we made our way northward toward Masvingo, the main city in the

center of the country, we passed large ant hills, high red grasses that

reminded me of rose-colored pussywillows, massive baobab trees that looked

like something out of a Dr. Seuss book, and incredible rock formations.

Monstrous stones, the size of hills, were accompanied by rock pilings that

just HAD to be put there by some prehistoric Giants. It was incredible:

multi-ton boulders were perched precariously on top of one another, a

blown-up version of the small columns one often finds around Stinson Beach

in Marin County.

 

Those small piles back in the S.F. Bay Area always moved me, for some

reason. I think it was because they represented some minor appreciation of

humankind for Creation reshaping a bit of what God had offered to us,

without destroying it (a rarity, in terms of our species' modification of

what's around us). A couple years ago, I went to Las Vegas for the first

time. And no, I didn't gamble. I went to attend a small gathering of

peacenik-types for an anti-nuclear vigil and protest at the Nevada Test

Site. About thirty of us took the protest onto the grounds of the test site,

a rather easy feat, since the barbed-wire fence that we crossed onto the

government land was still about 20 miles from the nearest building. Before

the state trooper came to escort me to the outdoors cattle-style holding pen

(in which we sat in the burning August sun for about an hour, as a minor

penance for our sins), I sat in the Nevada desert and created a couple of

those rock pilings. It seemed to me an appropriate tribute to the true

ownership of that patch of earth, for some reason. I've often wondered if

they are still standing.

 

As we made our way further north toward Harare, I felt an increasing

difference between this rural landscape from the urban environment of the

northern Gauteng Province of South Africa, in which I'd spent the previous

week. Oxen and goats grazed freely along the roadside. Low-hanging clouds

cast dark shadows over the bumpy landscape, adding to its dream-like

sensibility. The people standing in the small villages we drove through

were taller and darker than their southern neighbors. And the traffic- yes,

I soon learned that in Zim a traffic jam can be defined as three cars on

your side of the road and two on the other (preventing you from passing the

slowpoke in front of you). Actually, this happened more than I might have

predicted, for a few reasons. For one, the omnipresent old Datsun cars

(circa 1975) are barely able to drive more than 50mph, keeping those of us

in more modern transport in perpetual frustration. More seriously, the

trucks and busses moving slowly along the highway spewed filthy dark smoke

into the air, inciting a game of close-the-window, open-the-window every

time a large vehicle came into view. Add to this the ugly road conditions

in some of the areas, and our arrival was going to be a later one than we'd

hoped.

 

But it was the last hour that was the nail-biter. Due to the political

situation, petrol (gas) has become a rare commodity, and we learned that the

hard way. About 90 minutes outside our destination of Harare our gas gauge

approached empty, and we looked in vain for the final 100km for a petrol

station that actually had petrol! Somehow we managed to make it to the

outskirts of the capital city, despite running on red/E for the last hour of

the trip: apparently three combined sets of prayers worked. As we entered

the central city, I felt we'd been transported Star Trek-style to another

H-lettered capital city, Havana. Street lights were out all around the

downtown again due to the power shortages, no doubt lending an eery

quality to our careful crawl past corporate headquarters, foreign embassy

gates, and quiet shops. That night I stayed with a wonderful family - of

course, to me anyone who's lived in Poughkeepsie gets automatic bonus points

- Masimba and Joy Kambarambi. Joy (thanks to her brother, the Rev. Petero

Sabune) lived with my close family friends, the Bunnells, whose daughter

Becky is internationally-acclaimed as being my favorite babysitter when I

was a kid (and now holds the decidedly less-prestigious title of being a

CDC-affiliated medical doctor in Uganda).

 

Unfortunately, I was only able to stay with the Kambarambis for a few hours,

because early in the morning I was off to the Bernard Mizeki Christian

Festival, which is the largest annual gathering of Anglicans on the

continent of Africa. This year was to be an extra-special affair, as people

from four countries - Zim, Botswana, Malawi, and Zambia - were to convene to

elect a new archbishop (or 'primate,' in Anglican terminology) for the

church in Central Africa. In a large open space next to a local farm, that

I felt was vaguely reminiscent of a Woodstock festival, about 10,000 of us

gathered for a worship service, with a bevy of bishops (a gaggle? herd?

pride?) at the rear of the procession (you just TRY to get a bishop to move

to the less-important start of the line).

 

Admittedly, I've attended several bigger services than that, so I wasn't

overawed. Instead, my mind wandered as I sang along in Shona and Ndebele,

and mused about the number of languages in which I've participated in the

Eucharist besides English - hmmn, let's see: Spanish, French, Arabic,

Chinese, Japanese, Tagalog, Portuguese, Xhosa, Afrikaans, Zulu, and several

American Indian dialects are all immediately memorable. One nice thing

about being an Anglican (Episcopalian) is that, by and large, the service is

the same pretty much anywhere you go, so even a linguistical dum-dum like

yours truly has a basic understanding of what he's saying in whatever the

tongue-o'-the-day is.

 

I'll admit that at the time, I was of the opinion that the Festival had been

'oversold,' to borrow a word used by another U.S. visitor there. We'd been

told to expect 30,000 people, and an energy that couldn't be matched

elsewhere. Seeing only about 30% of that figure around us was a bit of a

letdown; so it was only much later, in reassessing the weekend, that we

realized that the political tensions surrounding the impending elections

kept a great many people away. Likewise, my reaction to the big choir

competition, one of the main features of the afternoon, was

less-than-overwhelming- in this case, because I was expecting 'African'

music, and instead got what I perceived to be locals offering a version of

the Christian music which I don't even listen to back in the States.

Basically, this naive outsider's stereotype of kente-cloth-influenced,

dance-spurring, African drum-driven (or any musical instruments, for that

matter) musicology was crushed by the suit & tie, vocal-only harmonizing we

were privileged to hear. Break out of the box, Flad.

 

My lack of enthusiasm about the day was soon changed by two events. First,

I saw an old friend, the Rev. Dr. Lynn Collins (no, Lynn, I don't mean an

OLD friend!), and met a group of folks she was accompanying on a 3-week

mission exposure program- more about that momentarily. Speaking of old and

Lynn (stay with me here, sister!), she quickly acknowledged my advancing age

with the warm greeting, 'Ethan! When did you get so gray?!' Ah, with

friends like these- Anyway, the second event was when I joined four very

special folks -- two of Lynn's equally striking travel partners, Jewel Jones

and Tacara Soones, and two local hosts, the Rev. Gift and Pamela Makwasha -

on a trip up the adjoining mountainside. Now before I get to the hike, I

want to note that as many of you know, I often have a feeble memory for

names. I prefer to blame it on my dad, which is unfair (not to mention

displacement, or some other psychological syndrome) - but hey, he's a

professor (read absent-mindedness) who willfully acknowledges his own lack

of memory skills when it comes to names. So I prefer to take the easy way

out, and blame my problem on bad genes. I'm pleased to say that I had no

problem remembering the names of Gift and Pamela. Gift, because of his

wonderful name, which reminded me of Peacemaker, the great youth minister

who I met earlier that month in Soweto. And Pamela, because it rhymes with

camera (no joke!), two of which she carried up the mountain!

 

As I was saying, Gift led us all up a path on this mountain. It really did

not need a guide at all because there were dozens, nay, hundreds of pilgrims

going in either direction. All around us were kids in street clothes, young

adults clad in choir outfits, middle-age mothers in their Anglican Mother's

Union attire, seniors using canes and tree branches for balance, all

walking, clambering, grabbing, supporting, moving up and down that winding,

rocky, occasionally steep trail. Two-thirds of the way up the mountain we

arrived at the shrine. It was a tiny cave - a pair of large rocks crushed

together, to the naked eye - surrounded by trees. The tall one closest to

it bore the easily visible mark of having been split in twain many decades

ago; then, years later, the two separate shafts reunited once again to form

a solid, single tree with a huge eye-like feature. Even more striking was

seeing how that tree -- and several others around the cave -- was wrapped

with what appeared to be hundreds of pieces of a natural ribbon substance.

 

I'd heard a bit about the story of Bernard Mizeki, and seen a couple short

pieces of the lengthy drama of his life being enacted in the drama down in

the open field below us. Two young fellows befriended me up by the cave,

and gave me their own rendition of the story, as we sat and listened to

people all around us testifying to God their prayers, sins, hopes, and

deepest concerns. I'll do my best to summarize the story.

 

Bernard Mizeki was an African missionary who was the first person to bring

the Christian gospel to the Shona people. He lived among the Shona, and

married a Shona woman, and for a period of time was quite successful in

converting members of that ethnic group to Christianity. However, the son

of a tribal chieftain who Mizeki had gained the trust of split from his

father and rallied a group of dissident Shona warriors against this outsider

and his foreign religion. Late one night they came to Mizeki's home, where

the son and his Shona compatriots speared Mizeki and left him for dead.

Mizeki dragged himself up the side of the mountain, sought shelter in this

cave, and told his wife to go seek help. When she was returning to the

mountain with others, a terrifying lightning bolt struck near the cave - and

the mountainside burst into flames. When they finally were able to make

their way up to the cave, they discovered that the tree next to the cave had

been cut in half by the lightning, and there was no sign of Mizeki in the

cave. Nothing. And he was nowhere to be found, no trace of him anywhere

providing a clue to his whereabouts.

 

As I stood and listened to these two youth relate the Mizeki legend to me, I

found it impossible for even my skeptical ear to be unaffected. Perhaps it

was because this martyr and his grave site had not yet been commercialized,

unlike the overwhelmingly touristy feeling I've had at other sacred shrines:

Jerusalem, for example. Maybe it was the fact that we were out in the open,

on a mountain, surrounded by trees, rocks, clean air, and other elements of

God's astounding creation. Probably the element of the people around me

speaking directly to God in their own languages had an influence. At any

rate, I was moved to join my two new friends, and those around us, in

tearing a piece of fresh sapling from a branch and tying it around one of

the cave's neighboring trees, while saying a (silent, in my case) prayer.

 

Tangentially, this special moment brought to mind another spiritual mountain

experience, again from the Southwest U.S. Back in 1994, I think, I had the

honor to join a group in Safford, Arizona, east of Phoenix about three hours

on Interstate-70. At the time I was working at the Episcopal Church Center,

and one of my key responsibilities was supporting various efforts in the

areas of anti-racism and racial justice ministries. In that capacity, I was

a member of the Racial Justice Working Group of the National Council of

Churches of Christ, which brought together religious representatives with

regional grassroots activists to develop common initiatives to combat racism

in our nation. The main reason we were meeting in Safford was that it was

located right next to the San Carlos Indian Reservation (the town was

practically surrounded by it, in fact), as well as a mountain that they

considered sacred. Unfortunately, the University of Arizona and the U.S.

government also considered Mt. Graham 'sacred' - atop this natural

skyscraper the U. of A. had erected two huge telescopes, with the support of

our government and some other major international financial backers.

 

This might not have been a big deal to those of us who supported

astronomical science - of course, they had done so without any support of

the San Carlos Apache- but no surprise there. My wishy-washy feelings

immediately changed, when I learned that for the previous twenty years the

local Apache had been denied any opportunity to visit the top of the

mountain and perform their sacred ceremonies. To make a long story short,

our group's ability to push a few key political buttons made it possible for

them to finally do so that weekend. I still have my photo of the sacred

circle of rocks they built honoring the four directions, and the one of

their kids cavorting on the adjacent snowbank, while sacred incense smoked

nearby. Despite the two huge human-constructed edifices in that location, I

had felt the similar confluence of the natural elements: a sacred site,

outdoors, and that rare feeling of being at a place that was, to a certain

extent, untouched.

 

That night I stayed at the home of a local parish priest, and roomed with

two Zimbabweans who, bless their hearts, didn't permit my exhausted self to

get any sleep. Baba Tembo Pearson, our group's beloved van driver, proved

to be one of those rare gems whose snore was full-throated and unstoppable.

Our third, an unnamed fellow, had apparently been up and down the mountain

several times without the benefit of anti-perspirant, much less deodorant.

It was an extraordinary combination. I tried to make do for the night by

sitting in a hard-backed chair with my head resting on a kitchen table- uh,

not a good idea. I found myself reflecting back to January 1998, and the

Grace Cathedral pilgrimage I joined to Nicaragua. There, in the friendly

barrio confines of Casa Ave Maria, I similarly had two roomies, but Bill and

Bear and I probably rivaled one another for stankiness and noise (well, OK,

no doubt I snored the most). And as so often happens, that led to me

thinking of how much I miss 'Oso.' I think the day's Mizeki story provided

me a context for thinking about how much death influences life, and how I've

been profoundly touched by some people that are no longer alive. And so, as

a minor form of tribute, in this short sentence I'm going to offer a brief

roll call of a few of my own saints, each of whom several of you knew and

would testify to their commitment to faith and social justice: Bear

Sebastian, Dr. Jean Sindab, Dr. Gloria Brown, Rev. Peter Holroyd, Bishop Bob

Longid, Jamie Boyll, and Chuck Beattie.

 

The next morning was a Sunday, thankfully. Going to service that morning

gave me the opportunity to ask forgiveness for all the evil words I had

muttered about the two bunkmates I'd abandoned unsuccessfully. But it also

provided me with an unique experience: hearing my friend Lynn preach. Have

you ever known someone for several years, but never actually seen them 'in

their element' - do what they do best? I have, many times. I remember

coming back up the Peninsula late one night from a San Jose Clash (now

Earthquakes) game (doubtlessly a loss) with Brian Raimundo and a couple

other Wes friends. 'Homeboy' decided to show us his office - the laboratory

where, chemist that he is, he mixed sinister cocktails of scientific

elements and compounds on a daily basis. It was enthralling! [Really, Bri,

it was!] As long as I'd known the brother - one of my closest friends out

in the Bay Area - I'd never really seen what he did best. How often do we

visit our friends who are fantastic teachers, in their classrooms? Never.

We've all got our own jobs to do, so it's rare that we get to see one

another's gifts shine. Well, this Sunday morning was one such opportunity.

I loved Lynn's preaching. She jokes, talks about her family, makes

connections between where she's from and the place that we're gathered - for

me, it worked.

 

Moreover, I realized that it was a very special occasion in the life of that

church to have Lynn give the sermon there. You see, the Anglican churches

in the Central African province have not yet decided to allow woman priests

in their region of the world. Fortunately, Reverend Doma didn't have any

such hang-ups, and he welcomed this outspoken, African-American, WOMAN

priest into his pulpit. And I was there to witness it. Cool.

 

I was actually privileged to be in the company of not one, but two women

Episcopal priests. The Rev. Jane Butterfield, a colleague of Lynn's in New

York, was the reason I had come to Zim in the first place. Jane is the

Episcopal Church's staff officer for Mission Personnel - for y'all

non-churchy folks, she's responsible for recruiting, deploying, and

supporting Episcopal missionaries around the world. She had generously

invited me to come meet her and this group of 'potential missionaries' at

the Mizeki festival, and to travel with them for a few days leading up to a

big gathering of missionaries from all around sub-Saharan Africa the

following weekend. And the reason that all of this was taking place in

Zimbabwe (all advice to the contrary) was that Jane and her family had

served there as missionaries back in the 1980s, and had maintained close

ties to that region ever since. So, later that day, we all headed eastward

into the country's famed eastern highlands for a more intensive rural

immersion experience. Five of our group were dropped off at one location,

St. Augustine's near Penhalonga, and then the rest of us drove about an hour

southward to another mission, known as Bonda.

 

About halfway to our destination, we came upon a frightful sight -- a crowd

appeared in the road, with a tractor-trailer off in the ditch on the right,

and a car on the left right in front of an overturned truck. It being

completely dark, save the artificial light of our van and some smaller

on-site lamps, my poor vision was unable to make out what else was along the

road as we drove slowly past the scene. Others were not as fortunate. A

local police officer who we picked up and transported about 20km confirmed

the nightmare that some of my fellow passengers had painfully witnessed in

greater detail than I had - a truck had overturned, only about 20 minutes

before we came by, and at least 25 people had died. Bodies had been strewn

about the roadside, a macabre scene taken straight out of a horror movie.

I'm deeply grateful to my colleagues in that trying moment for their witness

and strength as we struggled together to deal with the reality of that

moment. In one destructive action as many people had died as in all the

recorded pre-election violence. More deaths than the combined figures in

Cape Town from the terrorist bombings and the bus-taxi warfare. And this

tragedy had been wrought only moments before our own vehicle had arrived.

 

Perhaps the saddest aspect about it is that it could not be separated from

the political situation, after all. Two issues intricately tied it into

what was happening with the impending election. It turned out that the

truck, overflowing with people, was returning from a Zanu-PF political

rally. [Zanu-PF is the ruling party in Zimbabwe, President Mugabe's party

which at that time held 117 out of 120 seats in their parliament.] Most of

them were farmworkers. And everyone to whom we spoke about the incident was

convinced that many of these workers had been 'encouraged' (forcibly) to

attend this rally, and that was the reason they had been stuffed into an

ill-prepared transport vehicle to get them to and from the event. Strike

one.

 

Strike two came forth in the state-owned media over the next couple days.

As several people predicted would happen, the television and print media

reported the accident had caused anywhere between 5-8 deaths. I had been

told that Zanu-PF party would not want people to hear about the actual

number of deaths because people would automatically know by the large figure

that people had been transported in unsafe conditions. And this would

implicate Zanu-PF, since apparently they had been guilty of similar

'encouragement' elsewhere around the country. It was a sad, sad testimonial

to the level of hostility and dishonesty that had evidently pervaded the

country.

 

The theme of potential violence, albeit of a different flavor, continued at

our destination, Bonda Mission -- a place that seemed to me the most

unlikely of spots to have that worry. Bonda is a very rural, small

community whose corporate life is centered around three significant

institutions: a hospital, a girls' high school, and a convent. I was

depressed to learn that out in this remote location -- miles from the

nearest major town (Bonda doesn't even show up on either of the two Zim maps

I have), with a convent at its epicenter - crime was a serious concern. So

much so, that not only was the entire complex surrounded by a barbed-wire

fence, but they had recently hired a security patrol with guard dogs and

guns at the ready. You can leave the city, but-

 

Our time in Bonda was, fortunately, crime and violence-free - with the

exception of the ways in which I criminally destroyed the Shona language in

my rare attempts to use it with our forgiving nun hostesses. [Spinal

Tap-based pun time: I ask you, how much more black could that habit be? And

the answer is nun. Nun more black.] The Community of the Holy

Transfiguration is an eminently welcoming place, one of those places whose

poverty is belied (?) by its generosity of spirit. My lodging for those

three nights was in a rondavel (the round, thatch-roofed homes that are

normally only one room) occupied by Amos Presler, son of the

previously-mentioned Jane Butterfield. Amos had spent the previous six

months in Bonda as a teacher at the local primary (elementary) school, and

is in my mind well-advanced beyond his supposed teenage status.

 

A few memories of Bonda still come readily to mind, two weeks later. The

first was my introduction to 'sadza,' the staple diet of most Zimbabweans.

Sadza is usually served in the morning as a grits-like porridge (think Cream

of Wheat), and at lunch and/or dinner as a harder cakey substance. Its

taste is therefore dictated by what (if anything) you are given to eat with

it, and I was fortunate to eat some delicious stews in partnership with my

sadza over my time in Zim. The funnest part about the post-noon sadza is

that, when eaten the local way, you do so with your hands - tearing off

pieces of it and grabbing your other foods with them, as if you were eating

Ethiopian food, for instance.

 

On the more serious side, our visits to the hospital, the orphanage, and the

primary school were all sobering, for different reasons. Thanks to

financial support in recent years from a range of international donors, the

hospital has become one of the best medical facilities in the eastern part

of Zimbabwe, and a training center for nurses that adjoins the campus spoke

to the respect it holds in the region. But the excellent facilities and

staff have come with a price: a severe increase in costs for patients. In

the past couple years the number of visitors to it has dropped precipitously

as the costs for care have risen, and the wards which were apparently full

at one time now sit with many open beds. As the Zimbabwe currency gets

increasingly inflated during this bad economic climate, and unemployment

continues to rise, this problem will not soon go away. Nevertheless, it was

impressive to see the equipment and human resources ready and available for

those who needed it. The orphanage, which is run by the sisters on the

grounds of the convent less than a kilometer away from the hospital, is an

entirely different story. It has literally no money, and we were shocked to

see that only two toys were visible in the 'playroom' for the 20+ kids that

stayed there: an old teddy bear, and (go figure) a plastic pistol, which a

couple of the kids kept holding to my head (GREAT). The time that we spent

with these kids seemed to me the most temporary of diversions to their

fairly directionless lives, and I left there with a heavy heart. It's sad

to say that the depressing scenario depicted in 'The Cider House Rules'

would have been a huge step forward for these kids, who had basically

nothing (including adult supervision, for much of the day).

 

St. David's Primary School (where, of course, several of those orphans went

to school) offers a middle ground. With few financial resources, the

dedicated staff at that place have managed to create one of the better

primary schools in that part of the country - consistently scoring in the

top five schools in regional academic competitions. A few of us sat down

with the teachers from St. David's over tea and popcorn (known in Shona, to

my great amusement, as Maputi - leading to the suggestive 'Get your hand out

of Maputi') and compared our educational systems. Several members of our

U.S. group noted with appreciation the sense of discipline in the classrooms

here, and the respect with which the teacher is held by the students. At a

time when in our own country students defy, and occasionally even attack

their teachers (the news about the latest shooting in Florida was fresh in

our minds), there was a strong feeling that some discipline back in the

States was definitely 'in order.' At the same time, I spoke to my

increasing awareness of the ways in which the U.S. educational system

encourages independence, for better or worse, as a reflection of (the

mythology of) the individual's ability to go his/her 'own way.'

 

It brought to mind what my dad had reported 3 years back upon the exciting

news that he had been awarded a Fulbright fellowship to teach American

Historical Geography at a university in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan -- a country

that practically none of the members of our cartographically-inclined family

had heard of, much less knew how to spell. For those who are still in the

dark when it comes to the world map, it's one of the former Soviet states in

Central Asia, and sits in the midst of a bunch of other republics ending in

-stan: look for prefixes like Uzbeki-, Kazak-, Turkmeni-, etc. Anyway, the

occasionally-feared but usually-admired Professor Flad (according to a

sample poll I've done of his former Vassar students) indicated that the

topic of his course was to be the least important of three aspects of his

teaching: in other words, if the Kyrgyz kids actually learned anything about

American Historical Geography, it would be a big bonus. The second, more

important aspect was that he would be teaching in English (a good thing,

based on my parents' frustrated communiques regarding their attempts to

learn Russian). As in many overseas countries - like Zimbabwe, for instance

-- the young people wanted to gain command of the main language of

international commerce at this point in world history. But the most

important factor - and the reason I brought up this long, tangential story -

was that he would be teaching in the STYLE of U.S. liberal arts education.

That is, he was not going to be the sole authority in the classroom. Each

student also had a piece of 'the truth,' and the course was to be

interactive, a dialogue rather than a lecture. This was apparently going to

be a radical departure for students who had normally been directed that the

'teacher is always right,' and who were told to memorize what the authority

figure said and to not speak out of turn. Now I realize that it may seem a

stretch to compare the education of young children to that of young adults

in university - and I also realize that many countries need more vocational

and career-oriented learning then what the liberal arts system offers -- but

my main point is that I perceive there to be an essential difference in

educational theory: the prioritization of respect for authority (which

equals memorization principles) versus the view that critiquing authority is

good (which equals a creative, think-outside-the-box mentality). My

Westernized opinion, anyway.

 

Our next stop was Nyanga, a place whose name brought an 'Oooh' from any

Zimbabwean to whom I mentioned it. Cecil John Rhodes, ol' bugger that he

was, had claimed Nyanga as one of his favorite spots. It was pretty easy to

see why. Set in the midst of the beautiful eastern highlands, the

surrounding forest contained various types of trees (including what I

perceived to be pines, which I hadn't previously noticed in southern

Africa), a multicolored paint-by-numbers range of flowering plants (in

wintertime, no less), a cacophony of birdcalls, and even monkeys of a couple

different flavors. The sage-beyond-his-years Amos (well, with a name like

that, what did one expect?) wryly observed that the former colonialist must

be turning in his grave now that the proceeds from the former Rhodes Hotel

(now the Rainbow Nyanga), set in this idyllic location, are funneled into

the political coffers of President Mugabe's political party. Ya gotta love

it.

 

For the next five days I sat as a guest of the aforementioned meeting of

Episcopal missionaries from around Africa. In addition to the natural

beauty of the setting, and the amenities of the 'Rhodes Carlton' (it cracked

me up that Amos and I shared rondavels in two places only 50 kilometers

apart, one of which had no bathroom, one bad mattress, and a roof slowly

disintegrating due to insects, and the other was basically a 3-star hotel

room, with a television to boot), such as full-course meals, there was also

some food for thought. One central theme of the retreat was 'Home,' which

mirrored a subject that I myself have pontificated upon in prior emails.

The context for the meditations offered by the Rev. Titus Presler (husband

of Jane, and one of the foremost Episcopal advocates of missionary

initiatives) was centered around how, when and why missionaries have many

different understandings of home. Over two months into my trip, this topic

struck a special chord with me, as I was struggling to find my sense of

'purpose.' Now, as then, I've wondered where I'm 'going' - not so much

geographically in the next few weeks, but life-wise in the coming months.

I'll admit that I had a view that by this point, I would have developed some

clarity around what was next. Titus' reflections, unfortunately, served to

muddle the picture- but in a good way. I think I'm more open to even

crazier, zanier possibilities than before: while I am not focused on

spending more time abroad, I'm no longer ruling out the idea of spending an

extended tour of duty at a single international destination. We'll have to

see how things shake down over the next year.

 

Another significant focus, which emerged independently out of the group

discussions, was HIV/Aids. As you might imagine, it's fairly impossible at

this time to work in Africa and avoid the topic. Again, I've looked at this

issue in my prior musings, so hopefully I won't repeat below what I've

previously written. However, as the 13th International AIDS conference is

taking place this week in Durban, South Africa, a couple things are worth

mentioning. The first is the current worldwide focus on attacking South

African President Thabo Mbeki, who recently made the unusual call to

reassess whether HIV is the sole cause of AIDS. On the one hand, I resonate

with those who've expressed their disbelief at his insistence of defying the

common wisdom. But on the other, I've sensed that his posturing might be a

clever political ploy. Many southern Africa Aids activists have been deeply

frustrated by the unwillingness of a large majority of the population to

accept that HIV is affecting their communities (the stigmatization of the

disease has led to a virtual silence in many areas). Similarly, less than

six months ago the issue of Aids in Africa was a ho-hum one to the rest of

the world community. So I've wondered if Mbeki's stance has been, in

essence, a publicity effort - by taking this outsider's opinion, he's put

Aids at the fore of the media debate here, as well as worldwide, for much of

the past three months - enabling a new focus on the disparity between the

developed and developing countries of affected populations and resources to

combat the pandemic. And as many of you may know, the sad reality is that

there is, indeed, a rapidly growing gap. A new report that emerged this

week outlined the horrific status of Aids in South Africa: people between

the ages of 15-50 are dying at unprecedented levels compared to just ten

years ago.

 

One more sensitive issue, which came forward in smaller dialogues, was

racism. Certainly missionaries have a pretty poor record, historically, of

addressing the 'race question,' and some of the folks there were acutely

aware as to the ways in which their presence reflected that dynamic. The

majority of the missionaries present were white Americans (like yours

truly), although several of the other guests from the Mission Exposure

Program were African-American. Obviously, being in Africa was a

cross-cultural experience for almost all of us, but I felt two primary

separate interpretations of that situation. On the one hand, there were

those of us for whom the racial/ethnic conflict in the United States forms a

(fairly) central focus of our understanding of our lives. Many of us

struggled, as we strove to view African issues through the lens of our own

racial experiences. There are similarities, to be certain (you can't just

wish away the common bond of a few hundred years of colonial legacy), but

there are also very different tensions that it is hard for some of us to

acknowledge. For instance, to those of us who define racism as racial

prejudice plus power, how do we understand power in an African context,

where basically every sub-Saharan country has a black-led government? How

different is political power from economic power? And how do we compare the

ethnic (or so-called tribal) tensions within countries as a manifestation of

racism --- for example, the genocide that took place of tens of thousands

of Ndebele people in the 1980s by the Shona-led Zimbabwe government, which

parallels the internal warfare taking place in a number of nations around

the continent? Conversely, there were those at the retreat for whom a

racial/ethnic vision of the U.S. is secondary, which of course informs their

African experience. While on the one hand that might lead to a better sense

of openness, uninhibited by cultural baggage, I admittedly take an opposing

perspective. Based on my limited time here, I've developed the opinion that

sending missionaries overseas who don't have a strong understanding of the

ongoing concerns about racism in the U.S. does a disservice to both

countries.

 

Most of the missionaries offered brief summaries of their work, which helped

us all to get to know one another and the various issues affecting people's

ministry. A few excerpts: John and Judy Gay, a couple who have spent the

past four decades in Africa (Liberia and Lesotho), spoke about the need to

really shut up and listen to people - said John, once you listen, you learn

that what people are doing 'makes sense,' even though it might seem

ridiculous at first. Stewart Lane, who has spent an almost equal amount of

time in Malawi, developed this analysis further: 'the solutions that work

ëover there' do NOT work here, and are often ësolutions' to issues that

people here don't even perceive to be problems! The ëAid virus'

(development monies funded by the World Bank/IMF) is at least as destructive

as the Aids virus.'

 

Barbara Lutton, serving in Kenya, offered a more humorous anecdote. She

noted that for a long time she would create a 'plan' of what she was going

to do each day - but that after long enough in Africa, she realized that it

never goes according to 'the plan.' So she's changed her vision of ministry

to a fairly succinct, 'OK God, what are we going to do today?' It made me

think about the concept of time, which is always interesting in the African

context. I've been reading a wonderful collection of short stories by famed

South African author Nadine Gordimer called 'No Place Like:' (published in

1975). One of the stories talked about a young woman who always needed to

be moving, thinking, doing, and her struggle out in a jungle setting to

realize there was an endless supply of time to do, live, be. I contrasted

this with one of the few quotes I ever remember from a teacher. It was back

in Poughkeepsie Middle School, and my science class (I think it was Mrs.

Bunnell's class) had a substitute teacher for the day - always a recipe for

disaster, as most of you know. After about 10 minutes of being utterly

frustrated by our group's inability to pay attention, the sub blew up. 'You

are wasting my time, and your own!' he thundered. 'I am going to teach you

a lesson, which I hope will stay with you for the rest of your lives!'

[Clearly it did, so he was apparently a very good teacher.] He continued,

'Time is MONEY. And money is TIME. If you lose a minute now, you'll NEVER

get it back. Now stop wasting money!' Woof. I guess that's what happens

when you're always worried about money.

 

Barbara wasn't the only one to offer some humor. Our Boston linguistic

expert, Carole Simon (R's appear and disappear at will), was good for at

least two hilarious quotes a day. In the hotel pub - always the site of the

best stories - one night Carole dropped back-to-back scorchers. 'Who ah

you, my muthah?' she demanded of a member of our group (who was the age of

one of her daughters, and had the temerity to ask if that was Carole's

second drink). Smiling and pointing at the festive cocktail in that

person's hand, she followed that with the zinger, 'And what ah you doing

with one of them hoochie drinks??!' Patricia McGrecor offered comedy of a

different flavor, recounting their family story of trying to get to

Mozambique nine years ago. Her ability to share the seemingly endless tale

of illnesses and plane troubles was touching in light of the fact that their

family had been robbed at gunpoint the first day of the retreat, at a

tourist spot close to Nyanga, a sober reminder of the potential for violence

in the countryside.

 

Fortunately, that personal criminal assault was the only real violence we

heard reported during the week of the national parliamentary elections. It

seemed that the prayers and calls for safety throughout the country during

that tense time period had their effect. The elections took place, observed

by several hundred international monitors, and for the most part were deemed

to be free and fair. Out of 120 seats in the parliament that were being

contested, 62 were won by the ruling party, Zanu-PF, which has held power

since independence in 1980. 57 were won by a new opposition party, MDC

(Movement for Democratic Change). MDC - which is contesting in court the

results of 20 of the seats that were won by Zanu-PF, alleging electoral

fraud in those districts - is amazingly only 9 months old. It was formed

last year as a fairly last-minute protest movement against President

Mugabe's ruling party, which has never faced any strong opposition.

Basically, what it boils down to is that people are fed up with Mugabe, who

has ruled (often with an iron fist) for the past two decades since

independence. I tell you in all honesty that of the several dozen

Zimbabweans that I spoke to in the month around the election, not ONE was

supportive of Zanu-PF. Literally. Everyone who had the ability to vote was

going to support one of the opposition candidates. Now this didn't mean

they necessarilly supported MDC; in fact, some of the folks who shared their

decision with me (occasionally in hushed tones) admitted they had no idea

what MDC stood for, but they were fed up with Mugabe and Zanu. While Mugabe

was not himself up for re-election (the presidential election will be held

in 2002), there is now widespread speculation that his own party may call

for his resignation, so that they won't run as much of a risk of getting

entirely swept out of power in two years time.

 

Many of you will know that the primary issue of the campaign, as articulated

by President Mugabe, was the question of land reform. Mugabe's had assumed

a hard-line stance early this year in support of a group of Zimbabwe war

veterans who had occupied predominantly white-owned farms in protest of the

lack of land redistribution over the past twenty years. This is widely

acknowledged to be a very valid issue - something in the range of 80% of the

arable land in the country is owned by less than 5% of the population, the

majority of whom are white (sound familiar to many other developing

countries?). However, the populace rebelled against Mugabe's decision to

seize this issue in recent months, determining that he had simply done so as

a type of political grandstanding to the poverty-stricken people in advance

of the planned elections. Most people argued that Mugabe's government

should have dealt with this issue long ago, and that it was disingenuous for

him to highlight the problem now. [And some insinuated that he himself has

become one of the largest land owners in recent years.] To me, one of the

intriguing aspects of this debate was the insistence by the majority of the

people I spoke to (most of whom were black) that the issue not be cast in a

racial context. There was, as I said, widespread agreement that most of the

large, absentee farmowners are white, and that some of them are a continuing

source of the problem. But several people also noted that those economic

powerholders form a small percentage of the white population, so to demonize

all whites for the land problem was exacerbating the conflict.

 

This issue at the center of the election debate brought into focus a problem

several central and southern African states are currently grappling with

(and from what I read, other parts of Africa too) - corruption. In the

years following independence and transition to majority rule (1994 in South

Africa; 1990 in Namibia; 1980 in Zimbabwe), the former revolutionary parties

have obviously struggled to establish stable nations. There are many

factors that prevent them from doing so successfully (the aforementioned

AIDS, lack of economic power & racism, international debt, etc.), but a

growing concern is corruption (and power-consolidation) at the highest

levels of government. As unemployment grows and many communities face

economic collapse, they have become increasingly disaffected by the images

of well-paid government ministers and political officials that often appear

to be 'on the take.' This is certainly not indigenous to this part of the

world (that's for sure), but it is a primary concern to the countries here

that are trying to re-build trust in government.

 

--------------------------

Then began the Journey - capital J - my own exhausting version of the comedy

film 'Planes, Trains, and Automobiles,' which I'll call 'Kombis, Trains, and

Busses.' Two of the missionaries that attended the retreat, Minita Finger

and Mike Johnson, joined me in an effort to go to Victoria Falls. All three

of us recognized this might be our only opportunity to see one of the seven

wonders of the world, so we were determined to take advantage of it. At

5:30am we squeezed into a van that was transporting most of the missionaries

back to the Harare airport, and we commenced our pilgrimage to Vic Falls.

Five hours later we arrived in Harare (despite a flat tire that held us up

for a half-hour), and we then spent the next hour driving around the capital

city in search of a way to move us along the road. [Mom and Cristin, sorry

that I did not have the time to connect with the people in Harare you'd

recommended I contact.] At 11:30 our beloved Baba Tembo pulled alongside a

bus just as it was leaving for Bulawayo. We clambered on to this 'local'

bus, and settled down for a six-hour ride on a three-hour road (that's what

happens when the bus makes every stop). Minita located a seat in front next

to a couple chickens; Mike grabbed an aisle seat two-thirds of the way back

by a deaf & dumb fellow who handed out cards asking for donations; and I got

a seat in the last row in between one guy that smelled of alcohol and

another who proceeded to down 4 beers in the first hour of the trip. Hmmn.

I decided that better the guy in the back of the bus doing so than the one

in the front - I'd been warned by people (and my guide book) that drivers in

Zim start drinking early (and often, like they vote in Chicago).

 

It was lucky that we caught that bus, because it got us to Bulawayo at about

6pm, shortly before the overnight train to Vic Falls - the next scheduled

bus would have arrived way too late. We got tickets for a first-class

compartment (it's a relative term, I assure you - but hey, we were sleeping,

so who cares what it looks like?), and arrived on-time the next day at 7am.

Vic proved to be a mixed experience. The community depends on the tourist

industry, and the political situation meant that virtually no tourists were

there. It was a buyer's market, so for anyone who enjoy taking advantage of

local people with no resources, it was a good time to be there. However, if

that's not your bag, baby, and you don't like being approached by every

local denizen desperate to have you help them make a living, it was a

bummer.

 

It reminded me of going to Cairo back in late January, 1996. My homegirl

Meredith and I soon discovered that we were among the only foreigners doing

the tourist thing in that tourist-dependent metropolis - it was outside the

normal holiday season, and toward the end of Ramadan. We therefore had such

wonderful scenarios as the Gaza pyramids and the Sphinx all to ourselves

late one afternoon, and bargain rates on gorgeous carpets. But it was

depressing, as we turned away person after person who wanted to guide, help,

or beg. I know that is the normal context in some of these cities, but I

can say honestly that it was an exacerbated problem in both of these

instances.

 

I am extremely glad to say that going there was well worth the hassles we

incurred. The Falls were- how should I describe them? Outstanding.

Spectacular. Magnificent. Overwhelming, resplendent, riveting, excellent,

incomparable, tremendous, incredible- [add your superlative here]. Along

with Banff Glacier Park in British Columbia, Canada, they are the most

extraordinary natural settings I have visited. I am not normally one for

scriptural references, but as I sat staring open-mouthed at the seemingly

endless flow of water (and mused, as I have at the ocean, when does it get

turned off?), I surprisingly found myself searching for one of the Psalms.

There are several, but Psalm 93 seemed especially relevant (my apologies in

advance for the patriarchal language of this interpretation):

The Lord reigns and has put on robes of glory; the Lord has put on his glory

and he has girded himself with strength.

He has made the world so firm that it cannot be moved.

Your throne is established from of old; you are from everlasting.

The floods have lifted up O Lord, the floods have lifted up their voice; the

floods lift up their pounding.

But mightier than the sound of many waters, than the mighty waters or the

breakers of the sea; the Lord on high is mighty.

Your decrees are very sure, and holiness O Lord adorns your house for ever.

 

I returned on our second day for a last look at the Falls before our train

departure that evening, this time standing atop the free Zambezi Bridge (as

I decided I couldn't afford a second $20 admission ticket to the national

park). While staring at the mighty waters, just a few feet from the place

where crazy bungee-jumping pilgrims take their leap of faith, I wrote the

following diary entry (excerpt), which draws on my comments above:

'It isn't often that I want a Bible, and I'm guessing that if and when it

happened previously it was out of fear, not glory. But yesterday and today,

as I've stood and gaped at the Falls, I've yearned for that historic book

which might offer appropriate tribute to this seemingly indescribable

wonder. My sense is that only one of those ancient prophets might be able

to capture the majesty of this amazing example of God's creation. It

reminds me so strongly of the lesson Gordon Aeschliman and his 'Spirit, Soil

& Voice' co-leaders tried to teach our study team: using all of our senses.

Basically, it's impossible not to do so here. The thundering of the Falls -

constantly raining down in front of us, at close to 5 million cubic meters

per minute (!) - is an extraordinary sound to these ears normally attuned to

human-made noises of the city. Its touch, and even taste, were overwhelming

yesterday as Mike and I walked further and further northeast toward Danger

Point, finally getting completely soaked by the storm of mist that

incessantly rained down upon us. I had a rainjacket in my backpack, but

what would have been the purpose of putting it on? Only to deny the

wonderful drenching of my pores by this endless litany of aquatic praise to

God's glory. Better to stand, arms wide, letting it soak through my heavy

t-shirt, watching the mesmerizing shower that emerged from three channels of

a seemingly modest river - and to delight in my inability to stop it. My

nose was aroused, not merely by getting wet in the 150-meter high mist cloud

that covered the entire middle section (or Main Falls), but by the SMELL of

wetness - a weird mixture of flora, dirt, rock, and the brief moments of

thick humidity, I suppose. I can't quite figure it out, which perhaps is

its allure - but you can smell it when you get near a small waterfall in a

modest river, perhaps even a large stream, and you can sense it when you get

near an open bathroom shower. And it's practically unnecessary to say how

my sense of sight has been influenced by this magnificent beauty. The first

glimpse of it yesterday morning, in between Cataract Falls and the

Livingstone statue, left me at a loss for truly descriptive words. We came

upon the famous staircase of 73 steps, set in stone at the western end of

the Falls, and unfairly boastful introduction to the spectacle. Our

movie-like view along that rim provided both a close look at the crashing

deluge, as well as a right-below-your-feet view of the swirling gorge at its

base-'

 

I guess you could say that I liked it... The most fun that I had was on the

bridge, when a couple young Zambian kids came up to me to chat. After

getting over my initial reactive response of 'No, I don't have anything to

give you,' I realized they were willing to just talk - a refreshing change.

So for the next couple hours I traded stories with John, Noah, Joel and

Steven, students at the Palm Grove Basic School - who owe me ten Zim

dollars, as I've now confirmed they lost the bet we made (over who South

Africa's opponents are in the World Cup group qualifying stage).

 

The fun ended once I had to return to Bulawayo with my travel partners. We

had booked another overnight train ride, which would get us to the capital

city of Matebeleland on Wednesday morning at 7am. As we sat in the Victoria

Falls railway station, the departure time of 6:30pm arrived and there was no

train. No big deal - it's Africa, it will come in good time. Well, it

depends how you define good time. A little while later an announcement was

made that the train engine was not working, and they had to order another

one from elsewhere in the country - the closest was three hours away. So,

amidst a certain amount of grumbling, everyone on the platform sat down to

wait. Shortly after 8pm our hopes were falsely raised. A freight train

pulled in, and the engine was disengaged to pull our train into the station.

But that was just a temporary reprieve, an attempt to mollify us all and

get us onto the train - a new waiting position. 9 o'clock came, and no

engine. 10pm, nope. 11, the same story. At about 11:45 Minita and Mike

decided to go to be, having beaten up on me in gin rummy for long enough

(watch out when you take on a missionary in a game of cards, that's all I

have to say). Less than 20 minutes later, without any sort of warning, our

train began to pull out of the station.

 

Well, we were about 6 hours late, but no big deal. We'd still get into town

by noon, right? Wrong. At 4am our friendly conductor rapped on our

compartment door to share some bad news. There had been a derailment

somewhere near Bulawayo (which we later found out the train company knew

about all along, yet chose to send us into the mess anyway). We would all

have to get off in about 90 minutes at a tiny place called Dete - the only

real stop between Vic Falls and Bulawayo - and take busses that would be

waiting for us there. True to their word, at 5:30am we pulled into Dete,

and one of the busses was sitting there, unloading passengers who'd come

from Bulawayo and would take our train back north to VF. All seemed to be

working fine. A bunch of the passengers from our train bum-rushed the bus,

and then proceeded to sit on it for an hour while people fiddled with some

mechanical problem. Finally, when another bus showed up, they were unloaded

and stuffed onto the new one. Hours later, around 9:30, two more busses

finally arrived. The rest of us crammed into those disreputable vehicles,

and then suffered the same process - wait, without any announcement. Yours

truly was one of four people standing, as all seats had been taken, and

since I was too tall I stood for the next hour with my head cocked sideways

underneath the roof. Finally, I sat on the floor - and once again, without

warning we soon departed (about 5 hours after arriving in Dete). Less than

an hour later, we pulled off the road - one of our tires was smoking! A

half-hour later, when a 'regular' pay-as-you-go bus pulled up to the scene

of our distressed caravan of travelers, my missionary comrades decided

they'd had enough and loaded our stuff onto the new bus (thanks Minita). We

arrived in Bulawayo at 3-something in the afternoon- having turned what is

actually less than a 6-hour journey into a 21-hour maddening process.

 

That evening I was picked up by my main man Kingdom Mugadza, Bulawayo

be-bopper and current University of Cape Town student. Over the next three

nights the Mugadza family set up a full-scale B&B, welcoming not only me but

three of his fellow UCT coeds (as they all were enjoying their mid-winter

break): Roy from Harare, Phyllis from San Diego (who I've praised at length

in previous missives), and my new homeslice Matt from New York - and

Wesleyan! [Just one more year, Matt, you're almost finished with

Middletown.] In Bulawayo I tasted !nara melon (that's right, !nara - the

exclamation point is pronounced as a 'glottal click'), an interesting

cucumber-like food that grows in the Mugadza's backyard, and which we doused

with salt. I also was treated to a 'scud' - a missile of a different sort -

it was the container in which Kingdom purchased the local beer, 'chibuku,'

from a nearby shebeen (illegal tavern). Normally a teetotaler, I figured it

was appropriate for me to take a good swig from the bowl that was offered to

me as an honorary parting gift on my last morning (during breakfast!).

Other highlights of our time included: playing chess (for the first time in

a couple decades) against Kingdom's precocious younger brother; hiking in

the phantasmagorical Matobo Hills National Park (we located the Bambata Cave

-- no known relationship to the Bronx hip-hop legend -- and purviewed its

rock art , paintings which are surmised to be thousands of years old); and

talking late into the night with two of the folks about our different

understandings of Christianity.

 

Our discussion inevitably turned to sexuality, which was no real surprise,

since women's rights to the ordained ministry and gay and lesbian issues

have divided the religious community in recent years. We achieved a

moderate level of agreement about women among the clergy, but when it came

to the more sensitive topic I'm pretty certain that none of us convinced the

other of the 'errors' of our respective belief patterns. Following the

conversation, in fact, I feel stronger than ever about my convictions that

homosexuality is not a sin. Our soft-spoken debate had focused on the fact

that my two friends considered scripture to be the foremost (if not only)

path to God, while I expressed the Anglican heritage of using tradition and

reason (human experience) to 'balance' (in essence) what's written in the

Bible. There was a lot more to it than that, but that was a central thesis.

Another contrast I thought about afterward was how we experience God. For

many people, a personal relationship with God is the foremost expression of

their religious life - and studying the Bible is often the key aspect of

this relationship. I, on the other hand, tend to have my strongest

connections when I am in community with others. It reminded me of a

presentation that Gift Makwasha had made in Nyanga, during which he equated

faith with fellowship. That concept rang true for me.

 

Speaking of gifts (sorry)- Kingdom will always have a place close to my

heart after giving me one of the best compliments I've ever heard: 'Chilly,

you've got the coolest walk I've seen.' High praise, indeed, in my book.

As a teenager I was a copious student of the stride - linguistically I was

fascinated by the fact that the dictionary offered some 30 different words

to describe various gaits, and culturally I was an open admirer of the fresh

diddy-bop sported by young folks much cooler than I. But the most important

reason I watched how people walked was a practical one - I had poor

eyesight. It was before I was privy to the magical world of contact lenses,

and I absolutely hated the way I looked in glasses (what kid doesn't?). The

more I examined my fellow humans, the more I realized that I could pick one

out from a distance by their height and their stroll. This was, as you

might imagine, a very helpful skill for someone who otherwise couldn't

figure out what the heck a person's face looks like until she was about 20

yards away.

 

Kingdom also earns everlasting praise for the way in which he managed to

escort me out of Bulawayo, against some pretty serious odds. I was headed

to Botswana, and despite my prior bad experience with the train, I wanted to

take that route. Unfortunately, train service between Zim and 'Bots' had

been discontinued, so it was back to the bus. We also found out, much to my

dismay, that no luxury busses were traveling directly between the two

countries, so I was going to have to take a regular bus. On Saturday at

11am our posse of six headed off to the bus depot to find out the cost of

the bus we'd been told would leave at 1pm. Kingdom and I walked out

together into the wide-open parking lot to try to get the info - bad move.

We were immediately surrounded by 10 overzealous characters, eager to

'help' us get on a bus, right then and there. I made a hasty retreat to the

getaway car, and Kingdom followed a couple minutes later. Oops. Roy had

headed into the fray to 'save' us, and now he had been encircled. A few

minutes later he managed to get back to the car, and our now-cowed (?) crew

pulled away from the depot and a bunch of men yelling and waving glass

bottles. Ugh. We parked just a couple blocks away, and while the crafty

Kingdom went on a reconnaissance mission with the fearless Phyllis (I like

that), the rest of us made do. A couple hours later, he came running back

and directed us to a new parking position. We were poised right on the

roadside where the Bulawayo bus was to drive away. 20 minutes later it came

by, my protective family flagged it down, and the tall gangly American

jumped on with no angry men to create havoc, but a lot of querying looks

from fellow bus passengers.

 

This story reminds me of my travel credo: when in doubt, get LOST. It

actually means three things. First, as in the story above, if and when one

senses danger, get the hell out of Dodge. No reason to act like a hero in a

strange situation. The second interpretation relates to my policy of trying

to figure out a new place - as long as I feel comfortable, go ahead and get

'lost' in order that I can familiarize myself with the local layout. Still

a relatively young (less so by the day) and relatively healthy (less so by

the year) tall male, I'm often able to meander at will around a neighborhood

so I can feel at 'home' in the coming days. And third, LOST is an acronym

I've made, based on my need to stock up for these endless bus and train

trips. It means 'Lots Of Snacks & Takeaways' ('takeaways' is the southern

African term for take-out food, and takeaway spots are what we call corner

delis or bodegas).

 

Fortunately, I'd managed to pull together a few food items before the

unexpected bus scenario, so I was in OK food shape for the first few hours

of the trip. Since you've had to read all my other complaints about the

prior travels, I won't bore you with the unhappy story of this long

excursion to Gaborone. I will, however, outline what happened upon our

tardy arrival at approximately 12:30am. About 30 passengers got off the

bus, with an equal number staying on - leading me to believe that, as in

many of the major towns and cities during my bus travels, there would be a

second stop in Gaborone (the capital city of Botswana, no less). Our bus

driver then went about 5-10 minutes away, and pulled into a vacant lot with

houses around the periphery. He and a couple of his aides left the bus for

what I assumed was a toilet break or other temporary stop. Wrong (you

guessed as much, right?). An hour or so later, with the other passengers

curled up on seats or the bus floor, I gave in and tried to make do for the

night. I was unbelievably frustrated, as I'd heard no announcement, and

there was no way to extricate myself from this situation. I was in an

unknown community (that looked like the abandoned wastelands of Red Hook,

Brooklyn or East St. Louis, Illinois, to my bleary eyes), with no phone

around, at 2am - at a time I knew that local hosts were awaiting my arrival

(not to mention the fact that I desperately needed a restroom). But what

can one do? So I twisted my body as best possible in the small two seats I

had to myself, and managed a couple total hours of naps in between 3 to 4

hours of angry awake time.

 

In retrospect, I've realized that any trip with Bulawayo in the agenda is

going to be a problem for me! [Did I mention the flat tire our youthful

posse had on the way back to Bulawayo from the Bambata cave? No? Well, no

need.] Perhaps the name itself should have been a warning. You know how

many communities are named after nice things- fields, rivers, or other sites

that brought good memories to the town's founders? Well, Bulawayo means

'the killing place' - a stark reference to its war-torn history.

 

Anyway, I'd made it to Bots. The next morning I finally managed to make it

to the home of Henry and Mary Mikaya, at the deanery adjacent to Holy Cross

Cathedral. [And was able to relieve myself, a not-unimportant concern -

traveling on this excruciatingly long and uncomfortable bus rides definitely

makes one aware of the limits of one's body.] They are truly an

international pair: Henry is Malawian by birth, and served as the deputy

representative to the United Nations from his home nation for several years

in the late 70s and early 80s. Mary is Tanzanian by birth, and is a perfect

example of the warmth and hospitality I've been told characterizes that East

African country. But they are now both U.S. citizens, having lived in the

States for over 20 years, and having served in several Episcopal parishes

there during that time. Now they are Episcopal missionaries in Botswana,

over a year through their three-year commitment to serve as dean of the

cathedral there. I'd met the two of them just a week beforehand at the

Nyanga retreat, and like many of the wonderful folks there they had invited

me to come visit at any opportunity.

 

Unfortunately I was not able to spend much time in Bots, so I didn't get a

good sense of the issues facing that country. [Nor was I there long enough

for the Mikayas to truly master my name - they had been using Anthony and

Steven as substitutes, which was good enough for me.] Bots is clearly in

better shape than Zim, however, as its currency is one of the most stable in

Africa. It has a small population of less than 2 million people (and

stringent immigration restrictions), a more stable political situation than

some of its neighbors, and a healthy financial base built on numerous

mineral deposits and other natural resources combined with a major tourism

industry. Nevertheless, crime is an increasing problem in its urban areas,

and Dean and Mrs. Mikaya shared with me the news of recent robberies on the

cathedral property.

 

They also reported that the relative wealth of the populace has not

translated to an increase in giving to the Anglican church there. Only a

couple of the congregations in the diocese are self-sufficient. They drove

me an hour south to the town of Lobatse to show me beautiful St. Mark's

Church, which my Lonely Planet guide book (thanks Amos!) describes as 'a

thatch-roofed stone building that would be more at home in a rural English

village' (tells you who wrote it, doesn't it?). Unfortunately, right behind

the church are two good-sized houses that are falling apart. Although they

are owned by the diocese, there is not the money (or at least the will) to

maintain these homes. Worse, perhaps, was the story of the congregation in

a rural community that has been holding its services under a tree for the

past 8 years - rain or shine. The diocese has not been able to provide the

resources to get them a structure, so they've simply kept on worshipping in

a manner far too stereotypical of a bygone era in Africa.

 

Speaking of trees, I almost doubled over in laughter at a sign posted on a

city trash can that read 'Keep Gaborone Green.' The city seemed to me

depressingly brown! I was again reminded of my visit to Cairo, a city that

clearly needed a good hosing down. Gabs' most visible aspect was dirt, so I

wondered where the green was supposed to be. Seriously, though, it made me

think about the lack of environmental awareness I'd encountered during the

previous couple months. Recycling is almost non-existent, which surprised

me. Trucks and many busses spew out black smoke - nowhere near as nasty as

Manila, the most polluted place I've ever been (where citizens routinely

walked around with kerchiefs and cloth held over their noses and mouths),

but bad enough to make you turn your head or close your window. But most

glaringly, people constantly throw their refuse (garbage) right out of their

windows. I've sat in these busses, staring aghast at my seatmates as

they've reached out of the bus to drop any- and everything they no longer

need. Where is the love? On the other hand, I reminded myself that those

of us in developed nations consume something like 80 to 100 times the

resources that people in developing nations use, on average. So it's not

like they are chucking out as much trash as I would use back in California.

Still, it was distressing.

 

Only two days later I was on a bus (again), bound for a brief return to

South Africa. It was July 4th, and my thankfully-short trip (for once) got

me to Johannesburg in time to spend an afternoon checking email again -

thanks to many of you for your good birthday messages - and hanging out with

a couple of my Jo'burg friends. My boys Dylan and Rhameez helped me observe

the big double-three with a complimentary chicken burger for lunch, and my

long-time email friend Khutaza (an awesome storyteller) and I finally met

over dinner, after which she and her friends treated me to a fine piece of

cheesecake. T'was mellow and fun.

 

The next night I returned for the third time to Pobola, the Central

Methodist Mission's homeless ministry in downtown Jo'burg which I described

in my second report. I've been there once a month, and really enjoy the

sense of community it prioritizes - both within the group of people who

gather and go out together, and 'without' in its focus on partnership with

the homeless people in the city. One comment made the evening quite

special. I joined the same group as 'usual,' and the first stop we made was

to a building with about 10 families and a large group of boys (aged 7-13,

I'd guess). When I jumped out of the food truck, the kids had already run

up to the door to await their soup and bread, of course. One of the kids at

the front of the line pointed to my head and said something to the effect of

'Where's your cool hat?' I'd brought along my Jo'burg (gangster) woolen

cap, but it was in my pocket, so I pulled it out and shoved it down on my

head to their delight. Then a couple of them motioned me to lean over, and

they fixed the brim to a more jaunty, askew position, to our mutual

pleasure. I was not expecting anyone to recognize me, and it made me feel

truly welcomed in their community.

 

All too soon, it was time for yet another lengthy bus ride. I left on the

morning of the 6th headed for Namibia. It was to be another 22 hours on the

road- but at least this time there were no chickens on the bus, no bags of

grain to be checked at customs, and best of all, a bathroom on the coach!

Ah, the simple pleasures. It turned out to be a sad day, however. As those

of you who are soccer aficionados know, July 6th was the day that FIFA

announced the choice for the host of World Cup 2006. And as almost all of

you know (soccer fans or not), Deutscheland/ Germany/ Allemagne was picked

over South Africa (thanks in large part to a New Zealander by the name of

Charles Dempsey, who has become Public Enemy #1 in this part of the world).

 

This decision, I must say, was a crushing blow to this region of the world.

Some of you may find this whole issue an inconsequential one, but the

interrelationship between sports, politics, and economics is clearer than

ever, and I would submit to you what took place last week is the best

modern-day example of colonialism. Soccer, as most of you know, is the

world's most popular game, and it has been estimated that at least 70% of

the players around the world are people of color - yet the 24-member

committee that chose the host nation had eight European representatives, and

perhaps a grand total of six people of color on the selection committee.

The end result is that for the tenth time Europe will host this mammoth

event which reaps billions of dollars, while the continent of Africa - which

now supplies European clubs (and even national teams, look at France with

its squad of players plucked from around the French diaspora) with many of

its best and most exciting players - will have to wait until 2010 at the

earliest.

 

The next morning I arrived in Windhoek, Namibia's capital - a very beautiful

Germanic city (and smart enough to downplay its German roots at this

sensitive time). I was picked up by Kelvin Adams, administrator of the

Anglican Diocese, who brought me to his beautiful home where I am being

graciously hosted by him, his wonderful wife Debbie, their sons Julian and

MichaelWayne, and their lovable, rambunctious dog Sandy.

 

You'll have to wait for the next edition of the E-report for news about

Namibia (including my growing addiction to watching cricket, I'm pleased to

report to my Caribbean posse). I can't end without highlighting my first

dinner here, however. Mr. & Mrs. Adams took me out to a quiet spot called

Marco Polo, which in line with its Italian fare offered (naturally) zebra

meat! Debbie and I both had the zebra steak - the other, other, OTHER white

meat (thanks, Austin Powers) - which deserved a better sauce than the guava

one that was provided. I do want to say thanks to Brian, Diane, and Bob &

Evie for encouraging me to come here. Please keep me in your prayers this

week, as I head up near the Angolan border.

 

Finally, I would not dare close without offering my requisite anniversary

and birthday greetings, which I'm going to do for the whole month of July

(as I don't know when I'll next be online). My most special wishes go this

time to two incredible couples whose weddings I'm saddened to miss this

month, Laura & Kenny and Matt & Kate. Blessings to all four of you, and I

can't wait to see you again - we'll celebrate together at a later date. Now

to the birthdays, and a major shout-out to all my fellow Cancers. A very

happy belated to Mike M, the Beast o' Burton, Marcia, Jen B, Vincent J, Jan

A, Colonel Earl (Dave pass it on), Lord Sear (somebody pass it on!),

Super-fresh DJ Beni B, DJ Claude, and Kate W. Happy birthdays to Bill W

(the Notorious B.I.L.), Erik F (via Dave again!), Andrea MC, John F, Sarita,

Alex V, Karen W, Nat P, Gabrielle M, Matt B, Lara Maria, John Michael, Diane

P (thanks for everything!), Kim & Cinco, Anita Applebum, Sarah W, Paul C,

Leila N, Paige, Jason, and Isabel. Happy belated anniversary to Paul & Amy,

and a blessed upcoming one to Dr. & Mrs. Norton.

 

Peace, love, and courage,

Ethan

 

PS, I just received a terrible piece of news ass I was preparing to send out

this note. My good friends Phyllis, Kingdom and Matt (who you've read about

at length) were apparently in a car accident last week up in Zimbabwe, just

days after I left them. I'm told that everyone is OK, but Matt sustained

some bad injuries that will require surgery. Please keep him and all of

them in your prayers. Thanks.