Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas 2007

Our family has been watching old videos. Seventeen years ago we lived in Kentucky, then Zimbabwe, then Kentucky. Many memories surfaced as we watched the Heise family gathered together for our last time before Dad died. We sang hymns for about 45 minutes in February 1991, a wonderful time together even in death's shadow. Many more memories came with pictures of Mike and Lyn, and of the memorial to their daughter. We saw images of Zimbabwe, from Bulawayo to the Eastern Highlands, a beautiful country, so delightful, and today so ravaged by corruption and greed for power.

Memories are good. They remind us of who we are, for better or worse, and help ground our present existence. Those reminders took me off guard at times as we watched. During Vaughn's birthday party an old man carrying a bag stopped at the guest house, of which we were the hosts. I was taking the video of the children playing, and called out to him, "UBaba, tshaya ibell" -- ring the doorbell, father, implying that someone would take care of him.

I watched that clip, incidental to our family memories, and wondered at myself. Within the Ndebele culture an old man deserves respect. I showed some, by way of the courtesy of calling him "Baba", but I continued my own task of shooting the video. I wished as I watched that I had either stopped the video or handed it to someone else and walked over to him, greeted him with the courtesy due his years, and inquired after his health and life and finally his business with us. It would have cost me little, and would have also showed him a white person treating him with the kind of respect white people too rarely give to others.

In my regrets I wonder also if perhaps I wish this only because then I would have shown myself a better person. Such habits as caring genuinely for others are developed throughout a lifetime, not manufactured for the moment in Bulawayo.

For Christmas 2007 then, I have an early resolution -- to learn from the best of southern African cultures the value called "ubuntu": an acknowledgement of the other person's value as part of the human family, expressed in word and deed whenever I interact with others. This resolution I know I will break, but seeking to carry it out, a practice that takes a lifetime to perfect, is worth the effort.

Christmas Joy to all in my own family and in every part of our world.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Whose Religion?

I teach several courses that include questions about what is true, how we know what is true, and the like. A recurring theme is the fact that everyone has a perspective, a way of looking at life, a way of processing the raw data of reality that bombards us each day.

I remember learning about the beginning of the United States. My school days, when I learned such things, are long gone; but I remember among various influences the desire to be able to worship freely, without interference from the State. People who were religiously disenfranchised in Holland or in England found a place where they could worship according to their own conscience. The way that the United States encapsulated this religious freedom in the Constitution is one of our better moments. We have much to be ashamed of, and much to be proud of in our history. Enshrining religious freedom in the First Amendment and in our laws is one of our better actions.

Of course, the action has been interpreted in different ways throughout our history. Earlier in our life as a nation, the First Amendment functioned to prevent the new country making one denomination the official church of the new state. Americans who had left the established Church of England behind avoided establishing another church in their new country, even when it was the church of their own choice. More recently, as the United States becomes increasingly pluralist (religiously and culturally), the First Amendment has come to serve as a way to keep religion in general out of the public square.

The ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) is well known for its activities in protecting the civil rights of Americans, often with respect to the First Amendment. A statement from its web page on religion is instructive:
"Some people, however, mistakenly use the word "public" when they really mean 'governmental.' This can be seen, for example, with Ten Commandments monuments. The right of churches and families to erect such monuments on their own property is constitutionally protected, regardless of whether it is public or private and regardless of whether someone is offended or not. A Christian cross that is fully visible from a public sidewalk is constitutionally protected when placed in front of a church. But if that same cross were moved across the street and placed in front of city hall, it would violate the Constitution. The issue is not 'religion in the public square' - as the rhetoric misleadingly suggests - but whether the government should be making decisions about whose sacred texts and symbols should be placed on government property and whose should be rejected."

I like what I see on the ACLU's web page. I agree with much that I find there. But their statement quoted above gets at the difficulty I feel. To express that difficulty, I digress into the history of my own church. The Brethren in Christ have roots going back to the Anabaptists, who began in Switzerland, Germany, and Holland at the end of the 16th Century. The Swiss Anabaptists in Zurich, Switzerland began as followers of Zwingli, and his movement against the Roman Catholic Church. I remember in seminary learning about the way that Zwingli and his young followers sought to purify the church in Zurich.

They cleaned out the decorations and symbols of the Roman church, scrubbing their sanctuary clean of all the religious symbols they could. There was one problem. The pulpit set in a clean sanctuary, with white walls and no other symbols, became a powerful new symbol, reflecting the new church's commitment to the preached word. The Anabaptists followed through on the power of the new symbol more consistently than did Zwingli, which became a basic cause of their own separation from him to form their own church.

In a similar way, a public square (or governmental square, in the ACLU terminology) scrubbed clean of religious symbols is itself a symbol of a particular religious commitment. The commitment to "no religion" is a commitment to secularism, in which secularism functions precisely as every religion always has.

One reason that some Christian conservatives have felt pushed out of public discourse in the United States (and in Canada, where I now live) is that they recognize, however vaguely, that their Christian religion has been supplanted by another religion. The problem is not that Christianity needs to be enfranchised, but that Secularism needs to be disenfranchised. What a genuinely free public/governmental square looks like is another question. In this essay I have tried to lay out a basic problem that operates within the USA and Canada, especially in the Academic community (where I make my living) and in that part of the public square which is controlled specifically by the government.

No new ideas here; just a problem to keep wrestling with: Whose religion does the country live by?

Monday, October 08, 2007

Thanksgiving Thoughts (with little reference to thanksgiving)

Today is Thanksgiving Day in Canada. I am grateful that Lois continues to recover, although with occasional headaches and mild mood swings. A concussion will do that to you! We are expecting two families to join us for supper -- one from Zambia, and one from Singapore/Korea. It should be an enjoyable evening.

But my thoughts turn instead to something that I am reading, a History of South Africa by Leonard Thompson. Given that I grew up in Zambia and Zimbabwe, and given my continuing concern with Southern Africa as a whole, Thompson's work is of great interest to me.

I could reflect on various aspects of the story: the way that the indigenous peoples worked with and fought with each other; the story of the European settlers, whose efforts transformed the region for good and for ill; the difficulty of encompassing all the divergent stories in one primary story of the country as a whole. But I make two points only.

One builds on the last of the short list above: divergent stories held in tension within one story. Going to school in Rhodesia of old, I learned the story from the White Settler perspective. Our story was the narrative into which the stories of subject peoples were expected to fit, and within which their lives were supposed to find meaning. Now that perspective is reversed, and our story is seen as smaller than we thought -- important, but only a part of the whole. Our story now derives its meaning from the narrative of the majority peoples of Southern Africa.

The change in perspective is humbling, but necessary if we are to understand what our part really has been in this part of the world. The majority narrative may not understand our story fully; but the total picture surely belongs to the indigenous people of Africa. We are made part of the whole, and the meaning of our part depends on the whole.

Two is a mild critique of one statement that Thompson makes. He suggests that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was ultimately a failure, by which I think he means that it did not bring about a full reconciliation between the races of South Africa. In this he is certainly correct; but I suggest that his definition of success is unnecessarily strict.

Without the TRC, we do not know what would have been over the past 10 years of the new South Africa. Certainly deep divisions remain, primarily (but not exclusively) along racial lines. Certainly many hurts continue to fester. But so difficult and damaging were the decades before 1994 that even a successful TRC could not simply heal all that had happened. It may be that these past 10 years would have been worse, not simply the same, as they in fact were.

Insofar as I have a point, it is this: the story is always more complex than any brief history can describe. Thompson knows that and does a superb job of writing succinctly and accurately. But here (and at a few other points in the book) I think he forgot what he knows. Greater credit than he gives is due to De Klerk, and to other White activists over the past 200 years, and to ordinary people Black and White who were not simply pawns of apartheid.

I don't know if South Africa will move beyond the depressing histories of Zimbabwe and other countries where one-party rule has led to brutal dictatorship. It may; it may not. I don't know. But so far, the progress made is worth a Thanksgiving.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Falling 2

I didn't see her fall
A sound to my left
Thud and bounce of body
falling
hitting
stopping
There was no cry, no shout alarmed
Only thud and bounce of body
on beam and walls and steps and floor

Well-travelled steps
to laundry and family-room
Each day we climb a hundred times
Well-travelled steps
No cry, no shout alarmed
A body lying on her face

The path we all travel someday
loomed suddenly in front of me
I saw the road we follow unwillingly, unwittingly
beside her body, face-down, unmoving

"What day is it?" "I don't know"
"Do you know what year it is?" "No"
In light from common-place questions
the road not yet travelled fades
No stroke, no broken bones (what miracle!)
Bruised and concussed
she heals and walks and sits and lies
with me still

I take well-travelled steps
down and up
a hundred times

As often my hand reaches out
Touches the beam that struck her head
Relives the thud and bounce of body

In mind's eye I see replayed
The fall I never saw
A silent loop of film, no cry of alarm
Fall into the road not yet travelled

Daryl Climenhaga
25 August 2007

Postscript: The prose version appears in the post before this one.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Falling

A week ago last night, Sunday August 5, my life spun round for a bit. It was about 10 pm, we had just finished talking to Nevin on the phone (trying out Skype, with mixed success), and Lois went upstairs for something. On the way back down the steps, we (Kyle and I) think that she slipped or tripped or somehow lost her balance. She pitched forward, hitting her head on something. She then fell, quite relaxed, bouncing from side to side, the rest of the way down the carpeted stairs and lay on the carpet of the basement floor. I ran over to her, and found her unconscious. She did not respond to my calls, and made a sound as if snoring. Kyle Burgess (with us for the summer) immediately called 911, and the paramedics arrived within five minutes. Lois had started to regain consciousness. They asked various questions. “Where are you?” “I don’t know” What day is it today?” “I don’t know” “Month?” “Don’t know.” “Year?” “Don’t know.

They immobilized her on a hard board, checking for other injuries as they did so, and carried her up the stairs and out to the ambulance. Kyle and a friend of his (Jason) helped carry. Lois threw up on the driveway, and then they got her into the ambulance and drove off to the hospital, about two minutes away. Code Amber: with my limited knowledge I think that means serious, but not critical.

At the hospital between about 10:30 pm and 2 am, the emergency personnel did a cat-scan and an x-ray of Lois’ neck. They also kept checking her eyes, ability to respond with her extremities, and asking questions. By 12:30, she was able to point out that it was now August 6, not August 5, because it was after midnight. So her mind was clearing. At about 2:00 I went home and to bed. Lois slept most of the night in emergency. Other cases (an overdose, and a baby who didn’t want to wait for the doctor were two that I remember) meant that they did not move her to a room until early morning, maybe about 6:00. Lois called me at home at 8:30, and I joined her at the hospital at about 9:30 am. She was obviously much better, and at 3 pm, after the doctor on duty had checked her, she came home to rest and recover.

Lois had significant bruising on the right side of her face, and on the outside and inside of her upper lip. We went out a few days later briefly, and the looks we got from passers-by were noticeable. But now, a week later, the bruising has faded; one wouldn't know that for a few minutes my world was reeling on its foundations. "I feel the earth move under my feet" -- but I don't think this is what the song was referring to.

So what could have been very serious has been just a bit scary. Lois is doing well, and I'm recovering. One realizes quickly how we elevate relatively unimportant things in our lives; and such shocks restore needed perspective. We are grateful and thank God for life and health and for each other.

Monday, July 16, 2007

The Garden, Part Two

As I thought would happen, Lois looked at the blog and said, "You were right. You got all the wrong pictures!" I gather I used more annuals than perennials, even though the garden has more perennials than annuals. And I showed too many close-ups so that one cannot grasp the shape of anything, let alone a flower bed. And so on.

She is right. I don't know a pansy from a daffodil. I have learned to recognize autumn joy, but they aren't flowering yet. It's not Autumn! Anyway, the pictures that follow are her selection, and they confirm me in my belief that I am incredibly fortunate to live in the midst of such beauty.













A problem with these pictures is that I don't feel like following the necessary steps for a more attractive format. So I place them here, stacked one on the other like a card house. They need more commentary, so that you can see the fire pit at the back of the yard, or discern where Lois' flowerbed blends into Mary's (our neighbour's, who planned her flowerbed to extend from ours), or see where the local park flows from our yard outwards. But enough. It's summer, and time for gardens.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Summer Garden

In Manitoba winter is for snow, and summer is for gardens. Lois enjoys summer. When we moved here, our yard was surrounded by mature, full, well-tended hedges. But they had fireblight in them and had to come out. They left lots of wonderful space for Lois to express herself.

The boys and I remember the beginning process well. Lois marked out the flower beds, and together she and the boys and I dug out and hauled away the Manitoba muck that permeates our yard and this whole area. This muck grabs you and won't let go when it's wet, and bakes hard when it's dry. Not good for gardens. We brought in and spread topsoil, filling in the beds, which Lois carefully shaped to give her dreams shape.

Since then she has filled the garden, mostly with perennials, carefully placed so as to bloom at different times throughout the summer. We have mosquitoes in Manitoba, and sometimes we have to compete with them to enjoy the flowers. But the garden is wonderful!

The pictures below can't convey adequately what we see in front of and behind the house. Pictures can't. (And I am quite certain that Lois would have chosen different pictures: but I wanted to show a bit of what is there.) We have extraordinary beauty, God-given, carefully tended (Lois as God's steward), constant reminder of the creation: "And God looked at what he had made and it was very good."














In Manitoba winter is for snow, and summer is for gardens. When the winter bites, and snow covers all around, we remember the summer garden. Snow lasts from mid-November (usually) to late March/early April. Close to six months of winter a year. It has its own beauty, and we have come to enjoy winter also. At the moment, we're enjoying the garden.


Monday, July 09, 2007

When you're tagged ...

My sister tagged me. Sort of, she says; but to a brother a tag is a tag! This tag consists of a simple instruction, which I shall try follow, at least partially:
- Players start with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
- People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
- At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to tag and list their names. Leave them a comment telling them they're tagged, and to read your blog. (Participation is optional, and it's OK if you defer.)

I will give eight random facts about myself, but refrain from tagging anyone else, whether by good breeding or shyness or lack of appropriate network.

1) I was born in Zambia. My sister (the older tagging one) says that she no longer starts with the fact of growing up in Africa. I think I still do. Perhaps it is partly because the immigration officer at the border occasionally asks me: "You were born in Zambia. How did you become a citizen?" I was born an American, not an American in Paris, but an American in the Southern Province of Zambia.

2) I cross borders often enough to notice. We went across the border again today, Lois and I. We wanted to send in our American passports to be renewed, and had some questions that a trip to Minnesota helped answer. One of my questions was how I show I am an American if I need to the next time I go down to Minnesota in August. Birth certificate? I was born in Zambia. But I have an old passport (showing a younger and red-haired Daryl), and I have my certificate reporting my birth to the American Embassy in Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia. The immigration officer's son had been born in Japan, so he was sympathetic and helpful.

3) I am a dual citizen. American and Canadian. My American identity is well-established, and if I had to hold on to one or the other, I would hold on to my citizenship by birth. But the Canadian identity runs deep, since one of my grandfathers was Canadian by birth. I am told that when he used to cross the peace Bridge returning to southern Ontario, he would say, "Ah! The free air of Canada!" I'm learning what he meant.

4) I like sports. Cricket; Soccer; Basketball; Football; almost any sport. Cricket and Soccer and basketball and floor hockey for playing. After 42 years without a cricket bat in my hand, I was able to play three times last week because several Indian families have moved to our town. Joy! And the fact that I can still play Soccer, at a slow and gentle pace, is a delight. At 57 I have learned to be grateful for such delights.

5) I like the music of southern Africa. And I like dancing. Lois forced me to take dancing lessons as the price for a DVD player. It was a good deal!

6) My sense of humour is an acquired taste -- like orange soda drunk through a licorice straw (a favourite treat from my college days).

7) Reading, ideas, chess, arguing: I like the things of the mind. Physical play is good; mental play is good. The best jobs have a sense of play within the inevitable drudgery.

8) Perhaps not a random fact: I cannot conceive of life without God. Paul talks about how all things "hold together" in the person of Jesus. Another meaning of the word translated "hold together" is "find their meaning"; that's life for me: something that finds meaning in walking with Jesus. I honestly can't imagine myself any other way. I know that there are many "ways": I teach world religions among other things. But my own life only makes sense within my faith. Maybe it's like that for everyone in one way or another.

Well, no tags for anyone else. But eight is a good number. Okay Denise, Donna tagged you too! Your turn!

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Reunions

Last week at this time I was at my 40th High School Class Reunion. What may be surprising about this fact is the limited attention I have given to reunions in general. I would like to get to the annual Slagenweit Reunion each Labour Day in Martinsburg. But I'm a teacher. In Manitoba. There is no way I can be in Pennsylvania at that time of year. I have attended one or two college reunions, and I felt closer to my classmates in college than in High School.

Certainly I had never gone back to see my High School mates. I went to Annville-Cleona Area High School for only one year: grade 12. (That school has been torn down, but this link shows what is there now.) I have lived most of the time since then far away from Lebanon County. I have not stayed in touch with any of my classmates.

Although I have been curious about former friends, even if only friends for a year, I probably would not have gone back this year either; but ... A group of bicycle riders from 1976 decided to have a reunion (okay: it should have been last year for 30, but we made it for 31). Some 33 of us had ridden our bicycles from Kansas to California at about this time of year, led by a group called "Out-Spokin" (then a Mennonite ministry from Elkhart, Indiana) and riding to the Brethren in Christ General Conference, held that year at Azusa, California.

So we had a bicycle reunion on Friday night in Pennsylvania, and a High School reunion the next night at the Timbers in Mt. Gretna. So Lois and I flew to Toronto, rented a car, and drove to Pennsylvania. (On the way we learned that Lois' mother faced emergency surgery, but that is another story.) And we reunioned.

I enjoyed it. I knew hardly anyone there, but that was no surprise. The bigger surprise was that I knew anyone. Certain people (such as the two Harolds) I would like to have seen were not there; but I didn't really expect them to be. And everyone was friendly. They were dressed up a bit more than I was: I really have taken to the informality of the prairies! But they were generally people I could enjoy being with. They looked older, but not older than I expected. There were memories, but not so many thrown out as you might expect. Mostly a realization that this group is part of who I am. I noticed also how little such things as who was popular mattered in a reunion: what matters more is who comes.

One memory stands out. Joan McCulloh was our English teacher, perhaps the only teacher whose name I remember. I remembered her as strict, demanding, and good. I said something about her, and a classmate said, "You remember here because she is probably the best teacher you ever had." Well, I've had a lot of teachers, and I may have been more teachable later in life for some of those others. But I know what he was saying. The ability to construct sentences, to make sense with words, to think with some semblance of clarity: these were gifts from "Flint" McCulloh.

There was a silent auction. Maybe other teachers donated something to the auction as well; I doubt it. But Miss McCulloh did. A quite remarkable connection, a bond that 40 years later jumps out so that the casual observer sees that this teacher and these students belonged together. For one evening 40 or 50 of us belonged together again. Five years from now, some of us will again.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Happy Fathers Day

With my sisters I wish Dad "Happy Father's Day!" Donna remembered several things: I echo three.

1) The hair combing. With his hair combed straight back, Dad appeared to have moderate length hair, but of course, pulled straight forward it became quite long. We used to comb it a lot, especially at Matopo, I think. When my hair was at its longest in college, Dad's hair was probably longer. Mine just hung straight down!




2) Bicycles. I remember learning to ride at Matopo. The long straight drive between the eucalyptus trees. Dad running behind, encouraging, letting go; and the feeling of accomplishment when I stayed upright. Many years later in Ndola I enjoyed repeating the experience with Vaughn.


The pictures above show the house we lived in then, with the driveway passing in front of our house, and some rocks we used to play on, pretending they were a ship in the ocean, or ...

3) Music. The Beethoven string quartets were the Rassumovsky Quartets, somber in comparison to the Haydn Emperor Quartet which he also had. That particular quartet has remained in my memory as a particulr favourite. When Lois and I had our first date, we went to hear a string quartet at Notre Dame. She remembers (I think) that we got lost on the way from Nappanee. I remember that we heard Haydn's Emperor Quartet, with the wonderful second movement known as the Austrian Hymn.

There are many other memories: Thank you Dad! And Happy Father's Day!


Friday, June 15, 2007

Crossing Customs

When I wrote about taking a driver's test in Zambia, Donna remembered the outline of another story from that time period. February 1988. Lois and flew from Pennsylvania to south-central Africa for a three-year commitment teaching at the Theological College of Central Africa (TCCA, in Zambia) and the Theological College of Zimbabwe (TCZ). Vaughn was five years old, and Nevin about 15 months.

The morning that we were set to fly, Nevin started throwing up. We hurried off to our doctor (Lois' brother, Glen), and he told us, "He'll be fine, but you won't enjoy the flight!" In fact we had a great flight: from Harrisburg to Philadelphia (a small plane, 12 seats or so, absurd for leaving for Africa) to New York (another small commute) to London (overnight flight) to Lusaka (another overnight flight). Nevin slept the whole way, including the day layover in London and was no trouble at all.

Sunday morning we arrived in Lusaka. The cold damp of Pennsylvania gone, we entered summer as only south-central Africa can give. Mile high elevation, wonderful blue sky, occasional puff clouds growing to quick thunderstorms, a world away from winter in Pennsylvania.

Customs and Immigration were not in summertime mood, however. We were carrying our computer, with monitor and printer. This was 1988, and we thought that our 20 meg hard drive was pretty hot stuff. So did the customs officer. Once he established the contents of the three boxes marked "computer", "monitor", and "printer", he informed us that the officer who could clear these did not work on Sunday. He would be in on Monday.

Rich Stuebing had met us at the airport, ready to take us on the drive to Ndola, close to 300 miles away. We had no choice. We left my passport with the customs officer and the computer equipment, and gave instructions to the MCC representative (who had also met us) to clear them the next day and pick them up for us. Then we drove to a friend of Rich's who agreed to ship them up for us as soon as they cleared customs. In fact, it all worked. Later that week we received my passport safely, and computer equipment intact. And off we drove to Ndola.

In the late 1980s Zambia had police checkpoints about every 50 miles or so. South African agents made regular incursions into Zambia, occasionally blowing up things, partly to show that they could. The waning days of apartheid were no better than its heyday. There were seven checkpoints between Lusaka and Ndola.

We passed through the first five without incident. Rich responded to the questions routinely. "Where are you going?" Ndola." What do you do there?" and so one. Then came the sixth checkpoint, at Kapiri Mposhi, where the turn-off to Tanzania is. Because of its importance as a junction for international travel, this checkpoint had an immigration officer. And he wanted to see our papers.

Rich handed him his ID card and our (three) passports. The officer looked at the papers, checking each one off against our van's occupants. Then he asked Rich, "Where is his passport?" Rich explained the situation: "We had to leave it at the airport to clear some goods tomorrow. It is coming up this week." "But I must see his passport." Back and forth, speaking more clearly and distinctly with each repetition. Stalemate.

Then Rich handed him the one paper I did have, a copy of my Temporary Employment Permit for Zambia. On the top of the paper, it noted I work for the Brethren in Christ Church. The officer asked, "You re Brethren in Christ?" "Yes," I said. "Do you know Sikalongo?" "That was my first home," I replied.

I was born in Livingstone, when my parents lived at Sikalongo 140 miles away. We lived there until I was three years old, and I have a sister buried there; so indeed, I know Sikalongo. The officer continued, "What was your father's name?" "David Climenhaga." The officer looked at me. "You may go," he said, "I am from Sikalongo."

The customs of the country! We were "homeboys". In Zimbabwe, we would call ourselves "abekhaya": people from the same home. With the whole country to choose from, we got an officer who knew where we came from, even though we left there in 1953. It was good to be home.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Driver's Test

In her blog Donna has recalled her experience in learning to drive ("Now -- weave through this obstacle"). Many of her readers responded with their own memories, and in fact her post had been inspired by one of those same readers, who had described her own life with cars more fully. Which brings me to my own memories of one particular driver's test.

August 1988. Lois and I had been in Zambia for five months, teaching at TCCA in the Copperbelt, waiting for a work permit to enter Zimbabwe. Then the call came: we had a week to drive to Bulawayo from Ndola and take up our work permit. We did so, and drove back just after to wrap up affairs in Ndola. Then flew back to Bulawayo (and that is another story). But here is where the fun started.

We learned on a Monday that we needed to drive south by Thursday. We used the Stuebings' Toyota Hiace van (which we were keeping while they were on home assignment in the States) to go from Ndola to Choma; but we needed a Brethren in Christ Church vehicle for the second stage, from Choma to Bulawayo. (Short version: to cross the border at Victoria Falls, we needed a vehicle with a letter of permission from the owner: thus, the Hiace owned by the BICC in Choma.)

In order to use the BICC Hiace, I had to have a valid full driver's licence from Zambia. I had been driving on a temporary licence, so I had to go take the driver's test at the VID (Vehicle Inspection Department) on Wednesday. I went there duly when the VID opened Wednesday morning, and they told me to return for the test at 2 pm, bringing with me a small photograph, taken at a specified shop in Ndola. I went to the shop for the photo, and the Asian shopkeeper told me it would be ready the following morning. No good! I pleaded with him for faster service; he relented, sort of, and said: 4:30 pm. Still no good!

As I sat for the picture, the photographer stepped beside me and said, "Meet me at the Post Office at 1 pm." I did so, and for the equivalent of US$1 received a set of prints from the sitting. (Later, at 4:30, I returned and received the official set for another dollar!)

At 2 pm, illicit pictures in hand, I went back to the VID. I took the deacon of our Brethren in Christ congregation in Ndola with me, not knowing that he was later to become the mayor of Ndola. Maybe that explains what happened at the VID. As we arrived I saw the driver before me trying to back his car through a row of drums set just far enough apart to allow a vehicle to back between them. (Remember, I had a 12-seater Hiace: no fun for backing!) The driver before me hit the fist drum with his car. The VID inspector got out of the car, yelled something over his shoulder, and went back into the office.

I asked my companion (Mudenda) what the inspector had said. M said: "He told the driver to go home and not come back until he has learned to drive." I wondered if I should have had an envelope with some compensation inside to hand to the inspector and wondered also how we were going to get to Bulawayo without driving down!

we were next. The inspector came and got in the car. We drove out of the VID compound. He motioned to turn left; then three rights; then left again. A triangle of three roads, ending up back at the VID. "Here it comes," I thought, anticipating backing through the drums. instead, he got out, walked into the office, stamped my driver's licence (with its illicit pictures), and handed me my valid Zambian Driver's licence. Good for life!

We drove south, through Zimbabwean Immigration (no trouble there) and Customs (well ... I only lost the computer, which we got back a month later), and headed on to Bulawayo. We arrived after dark, the needle on the gas tank resting on E, drove to Youngways, and started the process of moving to TCZ for the next two years.

I wonder what that VID inspector thought: here was Mudenda, with some muzungu (white guy), with a need for a quick licence. And no extra mula? When I told the story in Zimbabwe, people familiar with the VID in both countries expressed surprise at my good fortune. I just say thanks!

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Random Blogger Thoughts

1. My last blog (May 30) was written to continue various Mother's Day thoughts. It was also my 57th birthday. Time passes, as we observe often, and we grow old(er).
The picture shows an earlier and younger day: Daryl at 13 or 14, Denise at 6 or 7. Yesterday Denise turned 50. The week before I turned 57. Some things don't change. My blog shows that I still start things and have trouble finishing them.
2. Donna was remembering the summer of 1966 in her blog. Other summers come to my mind. The summer of 1968 I spent mowing lawns in York, Pennsylvania. The next year, summer 1969, I spent in San Francisco. Now I watch PBS specials telling me how special and amazing the summer of 1969 in San Francisco was. It was broadening, certainly. I remember also the moon landing that year, and dropping my glasses on the floor to prove that they were unbreakable. (They weren't.)
3. Vaughn is home for a couple of weeks. We've played some table tennis, watched some soccer (and hockey and basketball), and talked some. I've joined facebook now, but I feel like an intruder there. Vaughn is at the upper end of age in facebook, if the pictures and profiles speak true; so I am really over the hill! But where else can one join a group of people who have eaten at Eskimo Hut in Bulawayo? Or a group named "Climenhagas Anonymous"? I had never thought of my name as something to enter group counselling for: "Hi. My name is Daryl, and I'm ... a Climenhaga." There are a fair number of Climenhagas who surface in facebook, but only three Slagenweits. None of whom I know.
4. Last Tuesday I went to an emergent conference in Winnipeg. Alan Roxburgh joined us for a conversation (which is what emergent likes to call itself). Al's contribution was on target: learning to live as strangers and guests who come to our neighbours with no set agenda in our hands, to stuff into their unwilling hands; learning to live with people and discover their stories as part of our own and of God's story. Much more to be said, of course. The only drawback for the evening was that Al stood on a stage (at Ellice Theatre -- itself a wonderful movement within Winnipeg's city centre) and we sat below him in the theatre seats. Hard to converse as equals in such a setting, but one trusts that the conversation will continue in Winnipeg's (and Steinbach's) churches and cafes and pubs and parks.
5. Last evening Lois invited several families who have been part of her intensive English class in Steinbach to join us for dessert. We had 15 of us sitting around conversing in English and Spanish, with a variety of accents. Her invitation extends Roxburgh's thoughts: entering other people's lives, in this case by extending hospitality. Southeastern Manitoba is experiencing huge immigrant growth, so I sat next to a truck driver from England, as he described crossing the channel and driving through Spain. "Winding roads through the mountains. The Italians go through mountains, but in Spain they go around. Harder to drive." A delightful evening as the light faded into darkness somewhere after 10 pm.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Mothers Day, Part 3




On Mothers Day I remembered my mother. Part Two was for Lois. Of course, we remember another mother in our family, who stands in the background somewhat because of the other memories. She deserves to be remembered and honoured.
Two days ago was her and Dad's anniversary. Fourteen years ago David Climenhaga and Verna Mae Ressler were wed. Yesterday was her birthday, so this time of year is full of times to celebrate. Today is my birthday: I now have 57 years from which to reflect on life.
I remember Verna Mae from Missions Office, when Lois and I went to Zimbabwe (1988 to 1992). Lois knew her before that through connections in New Mexico, where Verna Mae worked with the Navajo people, and where Lois lived for three years as a young girl. (Lois' Dad was the clinic doctor at the Brethren in Christ Navajo Mission in the mid 1950s.) Always we knew her as someone who cared for many details around her, competently and carefully.
Now we know her as mother, living with and loving Dad. They have lived together, played together, travelled to many places, and made a home for us to visit from so far away in Manitoba and for our sons to stop in. We are blessed by her love and care and presence, and honour our mother and grandmother on Mothers Day, Part 3.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

More About Lois




These three pictures come from London, on the way to southern Africa in 2003. The second and third pictures were taken on the London bridge, with the Tower Bridge in the background. As our guide told us, the original London Bridge was sold to an American, who was somewhat startled to find that he did not get the Tower Bridge. But then he didn't buy the Tower Bridge!
I put these pictures up because Lois looked at the staged picture from our backyard, which Nevin had taken for a class, and wondered if the two from the London Bridge weren't better. I don't know. Any picture in which I get to be with her is a good picture in my book.
This year marks our 30th anniversary. We have travelled to three continents and lived in four different countries. We have realized some of my dreams, and now her dreams are also taking more realistic shape in our lives. When we got married I was the dreamer and impulsive one. Now I like stability and consistency, and Lois surprises me with new ideas and dreams.
Just now she was talking about microloans with MEDATrust, an organization which promotes microloans in developing countries. I have thought from time to time that we are doing what we should be doing to help others in this world. She keeps reminding me that we can do more, that God wants us to do more.
It's neat being married to someone who keeps growing and developing and discovering more of what means to live in the image of God.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Mothers Day, Part 2


Because of the memories of my own mother on Mothers Day, other mothers in my life get mentioned second. You can't really rank people, placing this one before that one, and no such intention exists in remembering my own mother. Her death on Mothers Day 1991 is sufficient reason for remembering her as we do. Her beauty and character would also be enough by themselves.

But of course I remember Lois on Mothers Day. This year she was visiting her mother a week ago, so we celebrated her special day this evening, going out for supper to a nearby restaurant and enjoying quiet meal and conversation.

We met some 32 years ago. I had just returned from three years of teaching secondary school in Zimbabwe. Mother invited three young women for lunch. They were from our church and were attending Goshen College, and Lois was one of them. We had met 10 years before. Our family had come back from almost 20 years in southern Africa, and we stayed with her family. I played chess and table tennis with her older brother, who later became my classmate in college. I didn't notice his younger sister. I was 15; she was 11.

Ten years later in Nappanee, I noticed her. We dated for a year or so. Then she went off to Belize for Goshen College's "Study Service Trimester" (SST). Before she left we stopped dating. I thought it would be good for both of us to be free to pursue other relationships while she was gone. I was wrong! I don't remember how long it took for me to know how wrong I was, but a few weeks later I wrote to Lois to ask if our relationship could be back on. She agreed, and sometime after she returned from SST we were engaged and married. It has been almost 30 years.

The picture at the top was staged: Nevin wanted a picture for a photography class he was taking. But there is no pretending in how important Lois is to me. I don't know how I would have experienced the past 3o years without her. I know that my life would have been much poorer, and I know that I am more grateful than I can express. Happy Mothers Day, Lois!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Welcome Home!

Last night I went to the airport to pick up Lois. The plan was simple. Lois went to Ohio last week to spend mothers day with her mother and younger sister. She was set to return from Dayton to Chicago to Winnipeg, arriving about 10 pm.

Kyle and I drove in from Steinbach, arriving just before 10. The board showed that her flight was delayed (en retard) until midnight. I am grateful to Kyle for accompanying me. We spent the next hour and a half cruising around Winnipeg: Grant park to Corydon to Osborne Village (sort of a miniature Greenwich Village, I'm told), on to Broadway, Portage, and north to Red River College, and finally back to the airport.

The board was unchanged, and at midnight around 100 passengers emerged noisily to the waiting crowd. Passengers from international flights come in to the lower level at the Winnipeg airport, go through Immigration and Customs, then pass through opaque doors to those waiting for them. The trouble was that no one from this noisy crowd was from Chicago. They had arrived from Minneapolis. The flight from Chicago was still "en retard", with no clear idea of when it would arrive.

We learned later that Lois boarded her flight on schedule in Dayton, then sat in the aircraft on the runway for about three hours because of stormy weather in Chicago. The controllers refused to let the plane take off when they knew it could not land in Chicago; so they waited. And waited some more. About the time Kyle and I first checked the board in Winnipeg (10pm), Lois was landing in Chicago.

An hour later she was on her way to Winnipeg, while we waited in the terminal. Kyle was cheerful, enjoying the random responses of the few others who were still waiting for the Chicago flight. I was less calm, walking up to the observation deck and back to burn off the energy that comes from frustration and annoyance. I talked with another man waiting for one of the passengers, and we agreed that we were needed to hold up the central pillar of the waiting area. So we leaned against it. Then I talked with another woman who turned out to come from near Johannesburg. Her husband is (if I remember the story right) planning to bringing the King Pie franchise from South Africa to Winnipeg. So perhaps I can get some good meat pies now in Winnipeg!

The board gave no new information, and no one from the airlines or airport was left around to give information. There were security personnel, and two of them did some checking for us, finally telling us that the flight had now landed. But no one came out: another delay, waiting for baggage. Then everyone else came through the automatic opaque doors, but no Lois.

As people went through the doors, we could see others waiting at the baggage carousel. Lois and I saw each other, and she gave a gesture of helplessness, waiting for bags that never came. Finally at about 1:30 am she too emerged, baggage-less, but with a form that promised she would get her bags the next day, sent out by bus to Steinbach. So today she has to go to the bus terminal and pick up her luggage. We hope it's there.

We got home about 3, and to bed and sleep around 4 am. A late night, and today has enough to do. But she arrived safely, and I am grateful. And the visit with mother and Janet was good, and I am grateful. Waiting isn't so bad, even if I do dislike it. At least, when we're together again, the waiting doesn't seem as bad. For the longer separation .... We'll cross that bridge when we come to the river.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Mothers Day

Both of my sisters have already posted, remembering our Mother, who died on Mothers Day in 1991. Sixteen years ago, 12 May, 1991. Donna tells the story of Mother's last months: surgery on the day after Easter to replace a defective valve; complications after the surgery including a staph infection that eventually took Mother's life; the last days as family and mother knew that she was dying; her death on that particular Mothers Day.

It is a story worth telling, worth remembering. Mother was the centre of our family, as we knew well. Dad has told us often that his life would have been less fulfilling, less significant without her. I have often thought that Dad and Mother complemented each other particularly well. She grew up in dairy country in western Pennsylvania. Morrison's Cove: a beautiful place, which always remained as her heart's home, I think; yet a place that would have been too small for her if she had stayed there all her life. Dad grew up in Zimbabwe, and Pennsylvania, and Oklahoma, and California. He has told us how he once filled out his address on the front of a map, reflecting his own sense that the world itself was his address, and that he could not call any one place, this one or that, his home.

She gave Dad roots; he gave Mother the world. Both benefited and their lives showed it.

Donna told how she and Denise both spent time with Mother before she died, but on her advice I stayed in school in Kentucky, waiting for the end of the semester to come home. I have never (that I remember) felt as though she gave me bad advice, or that Lois and I made the wrong choice. But of course not seeing Mother in those last six weeks remains a loss in the whole experience. Some years later (1995, I think it was) I did have an experience that helped bring further closure.

Bethel was a member of the congregation in which I was the pastor, a small church of 40 or so people gathering each Sunday morning. Bethel had three daughters in the church as well. She was in the hospital, and I knew from the family (the daughters were close to my age) that their mother was in serious condition. One afternoon they called and asked me to come quickly; I drove to the hospital and joined them for the waiting that precedes death. The medical personnel had said that they thought Bethel would die that evening, and the family asked if I would be with them.

I remember well enough how the evening went. We waited sometimes at Bethel's bedside. She had been in a coma and unresponsive. We waited outside of her room in the "waiting room", talking as people do in the presence of death: mundane conversation, as we cloak our deepest thoughts with everyday realities.

Then the nurses called us, hearing the distinctive breathing that heralds the last moments of physical life. As we stood beside her, I took Bethel's hand. She looked up at me, focused clearly, and a tear came from her eyes. Her daughters became very excited. (I normally avoid the use of "very": a weak word, but the only one I can think of for this account.) "She recognizes you!" Their mother had been gone from our awareness for more than a day, but she was clearly back with us. Holding her hand, I prayed aloud for her, for us, for her family, for her church. As I prayed, the monitor beeping in the background went flat -- I now know what "flatlining" is. She stopped breathing, and she was gone, at least gone from us.

In some indefinable way, as I held Bethel's hand while she died, I held my mother's hand also. They were two different people, but they walked the same path, the path that we all walk. It is a strange path from our perspective on this side of the curtain. I and her daughters and their husbands walked with Bethel as far as we could, and then she was gone. She walked through a door, or behind a curtain, somewhere where we could not see or go. One moment we were in each other's presence; the next, we weren't.

The old song says, "You've got to walk that lonesome valley, you've got to walk it by yourself. Nobody else can walk it for you. You've got to walk it by yourself." True, but not completely. Bethel, and Mother, and each of us goes on alone, at least alone so far as our eyes here can see. But we all walk the same path. And Bethel gave me the great gift of seeing where my own Mother walked, and taking me as far as anyone can be led on that path.

I think also of C.S. Lewis' words when his wife died -- something like: "She smiled, but not at me." Mother, and Bethel, and all who truly walk with God, walk the valley with a kind of joy you can't get here. Perhaps that sadness and joy were mingled in the look Donna describers from their last Thursday together. Mothers Day is bittersweet indeed, but I'm not sure that the bitter remains forever bitter. Always grief, always sorrow, always on this side of the grave an emptiness that only Mother could fill. But also always, on both sides of the grave, a joy deeper than any sorrow. "For all the saints, who from their labours rest; Who Thee by faith before the world confessed; Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blessed: Allelluia!"

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Late Nights

These weeks are my busiest of the year, even busier than Christmas. Three weeks ago was the last week of classes. One could see students standing straighter as the load of assignments lifted, and teachers bowing over as the same load descended. Two weeks ago I was marking at full speed, while also taking in the faculty retreat. This week were the doctor of ministry modules. I direct the programme, so although I did not teach, I was still on call throughout. The last paper is now finished; the modules are over. Two more weeks of classes in Global Studies (which I am responsible for arranging) lie ahead, but the heaviest times lie behind.

This is the context, then, for last Sunday. Just before 11 pm the phone rang: one of our incoming doctoral students was stranded at the airport. I started calling around, trying to find out what had happened, and finally got in touch with the student himself. Albert's flight from Calgary had been cancelled. He had been put on a flight from Vancouver which stopped over in Calgary, and arrived about 45 minutes late. Meanwhile the student who was to pick him up arrived at the airport, found no evidence of a flight from Calgary, and after waiting an extra half hour, he went back to Providence.

All this we figured out later. At 11:25 all I could do was put on some clothes, get in the car, and drive to the airport. I met Albert at 12:30 am, brought him back to our house (quicker than stopping by the school) by 1:30, and then went to bed. Of course the adrenalin was flowing, and I went to sleep rather later than that. Sometimes you can't just "go to sleep".

The next morning Albert and I were up on schedule and off for the day at Providence. What I notice about the whole thing is how little trouble it actually is to respond to surprise events. I was tired; but doctors in emergency rooms would smile at the thought of so little. Truck drivers regularly deal with harder schedules. To lose sleep one night is less than new parents experience every night -- and forget remarkably quickly as their children get older.

Instead I notice how I had a good chance to be with Albert, and appreciate his genuine interest in what is happening in my life and at the school. We had a brief chance to talk about some research he hopes to do. In all, it was a serendipitous event, good to find oneself in, rather than an imposition or hardship.

There are of course lessons for how to handle airport pickups: provide the person being picked up with a number to call (a cell on the pick up person would work well) to give any changes of plans when they happen. But more important is the goodness of the events we experience. My sister asked recently what lessons others have taught us. I remember this from my mother: good and bad things happen all the time and you can't help that; but you can decide how you will respond to what happens. That personal choice usually matters more than anything. I wish I could always remember that.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

In Memoriam: VTI

I have just returned from our annual faculty retreat. During one session I was reflecting on the shootings at Virginia Tech (my mind was straying a bit). The words below are the result.

A couple of words of explanation. Last Monday the university resumed classes, one week after the shooting. They rang a bell 32 times, one for each of the victims. The number four is associated with bad luck in many Asian countries, since in Chinese it sounds like the word for Death. With those thoughts in mind, my reflections:

PART ONE

Thirty-two tolls
The bell rang thirty-two times
Thirty-two, young and old
The bell rang thirty-two as all fell silent and listened
For thirty-two tolls.

Thirty-three dead
And thirty-two tolls.

Four fours, twice repeated
The Chinese number of death
Squared and repeated
Death takes us all, one day.

Eleven threes: a trinity of twelve less one
Three sets of flawed disciples

Thirty-three dead
And thirty-two tolls.

PART TWO

A family grieves, whose son
Died many times as he died.

A killer justly censured
Turned away from help in others' hands
And filled his hands with thirty-two others.

Caught between cultures, identities, a fractured self
Exploding in misery and rage
Thirty-two tolls from the bell
I grieve also the thirty-third.

Daryl Climenhaga, 24 April 2007

Monday, April 23, 2007

Monty Python

I didn't mean to break a long silence in so ignominious a way. I am in the last week and after of the semester, and grading has squeezed out any journalistic impulse. But this news story from NPR "All Things Considered" at least notice. A crowd of 4,382 "coconut-bangers" playing along with "Always look on the bright side of life". Wow!

Well, back to the papers.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Easter Death


Alvin L Heise: Lois' father.

Alvin and Maxine: Mother and Dad Heise's wedding picture.


We sometimes call this Dad's movie star picture.


Mother and Dad just before Dad's death

One of the last family pictures for Lois' family.

Today is Good Friday, sometimes called Dark Friday. It is good, of course, and it is dark, even though the sun is shining. Easter comes on Sunday. As Tony Campolo reminds us, quoting from a black preacher in his home church in Philadelphia, "It's Friday. But Sunday's coming."


I could run with that sermon, that theme, on this Dark Friday, as forces of evil work behind the scenes in the USA and Zimbabwe and every other country in the world. I could think deeply about the darkness that envelopes Zimbabwe today, in which a cameraman this week was shot to death by security forces, because he dares to take pictures of the brutality that stalks Zimbabwe daily. "It's Friday. And some people in Zimbabwe wonder whether they will ever be free of tyranny and hunger. But Sunday's coming!"


But instead I remember another Easter, 16 years ago. Mother was scheduled for heart surgery the day after Resurrection Sunday, and Lois and I and Vaughn and Nevin were visiting Mom and Dad for Easter weekend.


We lived then at Asbury Seminary in Kentucky, and spent most weekends with Lois' parents in New Madison, Ohio. Dad Heise was dying of lung cancer, and we treasured every moment we could spend with them in his last days. But Mother was scheduled for surgery to correct a defect in a heart valve (I have never been good with these details), and we wanted to see her and Dad before the surgery. So we drove to Pennsylvania for Easter weekend.


Friday and Saturday we spent a lot of time with friends from our days living in Lancaster County. Sunday was set aside for Mom and Dad. Then about 4 a.m. Resurrection Sunday, my Dad came down the steps to wake Lois and me. Dad Heise had suffered cardiac arrest, brought on by the trauma of the cancer in his body, and died just before.


Sleep was forgotten. Plans to be with my parents that day were set aside. We dressed, woke the boys, gave up plans for the day and started driving to Ohio. I don't remember much of that weekend or the week that followed: only pictures in my mind.


The family sitting in a circle, laughing and crying, remembering and grieving. It is quite surprising how much laughter there is in times of grief, as those who have experienced such bereavement know.


Amazingly long line of people to pay their respects. Dad was the family doctor for New Madison from somewhere around 1960 until 1991, when he retired as his cancer took hold.


Nevin standing by the grave as the casket and body were lowered into it: a detail I felt was important -- to see the casket into the grave and throw a handful of dirt there. Nevin (four years old) singing softly to himself. I was afraid that it was his favourite "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles", but it was "1, 2, 3 Jesus loves me; number 4 more and more; 5, 6, 7 we're all going to Heaven; 8, 9, 10 He's coming back again."


The funeral service, as we pictured to ourselves Dad singing in heaven's choir instead of the choir at Highland Church. More tears, more remembering, more laughter, more tears.


Easter Sunday. The day Dad died. Joy and grief live together, a union God has joined together.


Postscript: Mother went into surgery on Monday. Six weeks after Dad died was Mother's Day: May 12, 1991. On that day an infection on the new valve in her heart brought her life to an end. Joy and grief joined together forever.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Men and Women Blogging

In my sister’s blog the question of who writes blogs and participates in the blogosphere more: men or women. It is certainly something I have observed: that in the few blogs I read men and women write and respond quite differently.

I read Vaughn’s blog, a loose collection of thoughts that appear periodically, apparently when inspiration (or guilt at a long time without a post) strikes. Often the trigger is some event in his life, such as driving to help with reconstruction after Hurricane Katrina, or trying to fix the car.

I read Donna’s blog, an equally loose collection of thoughts (I suppose that might be one definition of “blog”) that appears rather more regularly. Either she is more disciplined than Vaughn, or just less able to keep quiet for any length of time. Similar triggers apply: cats and dogs and birds, mixed in with the vagaries of students and weather forecasters.

I would read Kristen’s blog, but she only posts when she is in Ghana. And I would read Nevin’s blog, but he only posts when he travels to Europe. So, although one is male and one female, my niece and son don’t help me with understanding the way that blogging works. Or if they do, it is negatively, by posting only when something quite unique is happening in their lives.

I would also read Denise’s blog, but she posts less often than I do. There is a pattern here: from oldest to youngest of me and my siblings -- either more talkative to less, or more disciplined to less, or perhaps more accurately, from more likely to post on their blog to less likely to post. I don’t think I can discern anything from that!

I would read Hendrik’s blog (a colleague at Providence); but he only posts when controversy strikes, and he seems to be feeling less controversial these days. And I read Ben and Leah’s blog, usually Leah, but sometimes Ben. Here is a seam for mining: compare for gender differences! But the project is scuttled for lack of data. Leah posts more often, if only because Ben is going full tilt trying to finish his M.Div. program.

I read several other blogs periodically: for theology and the emergent church, Andrew Jones ("tall skinny kiwi"); Ed Buller (a former student at Providence now pastoring a church in Hawaii); and so on. But family and one or two friends are the most regular.

When I don my researcher’s hat and put all of these together, I am forced to say that the whole question is scuttled for lack of data. A proper piece of research remains to be done. But here are some thoughts.

1) I suspect that men tend to write more about ideas than women do. Perhaps just a stereotype in my mind: certainly Donna is quite likely to address ideas (such as those surrounding climate change); but I think I am more likely to ramble on about what community means than she is. I also doubt one can read anything into this. If the hunch has any truth, the converse would be that women are more likely to write about stuff that’s happening around them. But then Vaughn and I are just as likely to write about such stuff, so I still doubt one can read much into this.

2) I suspect that men are less likely to make comments on each other’s blogs, except for some specific purpose, and that women are more likely to make encouraging comments, however brief. When men do say something, they may be more likely to cite a point of disagreement. Again, this is hunch based on stereotypes and could be quite wrong. Donna, at least, has always been able to argue when she wants to! Not to mention Denise.

I don’t have other hunches here yet, and I mistrust these two. I think it would be most interesting to do a thorough and careful piece of research, controlling for the presence of stereotypical hunches of the sort I have just laid out and checking to see if more men or more women blog and comment, and in what ways their contributions may differ.

I enjoy settings in which men and women both contribute, and in which whether one is male or female is relatively unimportant. Differences in how we contribute remain (I think), but they are the sort of differences that make the whole conversation richer, more enjoyable, and more profitable.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Helen Keller

We went to see The Miracle Worker last week. It was the major production at Providence College, and Kyle Burgess (semi sort of adopted son living with us: from Zimbabwe; attending Providence) played the part of Helen's half-brother.

(Kyle at Christmas)



Now Lois and I are watching the movie version on NPR with Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke. Or I should say Lois is watching and quilting, and I'm listening and typing. Even this movie, so stirring and predictable (when I have the play fresh in my mind), is hard for me simply to sit and watch. The Final Four tomorrow evening is another matter!

One line out of the play: "Obedience is the gateway to learning": one line stands in sharp contrast to what we think today about raising children. Certain strands of that older way of thinking repel me: the idea that one must break the child's will in order to train the child is not one I endorse.

We have gone to the opposite extreme today. In Winnipeg there is a group of youth who steal cars for kicks, and recently have started trying to run down pedestrians and joggers as part of the game. As we try to work out how to respond to this situation, one realizes that many factors are at work: broken families; schools that no longer engage the children involved; the factors are almost predictable.

But the courts have added their own bit of lunacy to the picture by treating the epidemic as a case of children who just need a scolding. One of my colleagues referred to the practice in New York City of treating juvenile crime more seriously: working on the assumption that, if young offenders are punished severely at the beginning, they are less likely to enter a full life of crime.

I don't know the practice she is referring to, but one sees a kind of basic logic. Children learn early and quickly. If their first lessons in crime and law is that their actions receive a light sanction, they internalize that lesson and build on it. For Helen, breaking the cycle of tantrum-enforced misbehaviour was the first step into unlocking the world for the rest of her life.

I don't know what should be done in Winnipeg to reduce car thefts. Diagnoses are easier than constructive action. But the benefit of discipline is part of the answer -- for me individually, and for the U.S. and Canada as a whole.

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Minnemingo

May 29, 1968: Dale and I had finished our final exams at Messiah. He was a senior, and I a freshman. We decided to celebrate the end of semester by going out on the Minnemingo (Yellow Breeches Creek, running through the campus) on a canoe. Dale might tell this story differently, and remember different details than I do. The event in itself is one; our memories partial and fragmented.

I remember going upstream for a short way; but the creek was high with Spring flooding and running fast. We turned around to go the other way, downstream. I don't know how we planned to return against the current. Maybe we meant to walk back, as indeed we did in the end.

We paddled with the current until we came to a bridge at the edge of the campus, where a branch across the river confronted us at water level. Normally one would have passed well underneath it, but the creek was high! I remember Dale yelling, "Lean left!" I called back, "What?" And we tipped right, into the water flowing swift and deep.

I do not swim. I took seven years of swimming lessons (1958 to 1965), growing up in Zimbabwe. I was told that I was the only one to leave my junior school (Hillside, in Bulawayo) as a non-swimmer. Not one of my proudest achievements.

The water was deep, probably five to six feet in general. Dale was in the back of the canoe: he grabbed the branch that tipped us and pulled himself out. I was in the front of the canoe, and grabbed the canoe. It took several times pulling on the canoe (tipping and re-tipping it) before I managed to support myself with it and float on down the stream.

I remember little of that experience, except that it must have lasted about a half hour. The creek wound through the woods near Grantham, and the road which crossed where we tipped ran relatively straight. One, two, three bridges. At the first, we tipped. At the third, Dale finally caught up with me. He found two men fishing nearby, who both had training in lifesaving. One brought me to safety and the other pulled in the canoe.

Another bystander offered us a ride back to the campus, but it was evening, I was cold and wet and felt like I needed to walk -- both to compose myself and to warm up. We walked several miles back to Messiah, where the ladies in the dining hall were kind enough to find a late supper for us.

I have wondered often enough about that branch, the spinning canoe, and my flailing arms. I turned 18 the next day. Now that our sons have passed 18, and I watch young people of that age take life in their turn, I understand my own actions a bit better. We didn't think. Eighteen-year olds often don't! But we lived through it, and Dale and I are connected forever (whatever "forever" means) by this shared fragmented memory.

A postscript: years later Messiah College bought and moved the covered bridge from the place where I was pulled from the river to Messiah College itself. So now the third bridge rests close to where Dale and I began our canoe trip.

I thought of all of this again when Dale sent me an email yesterday. I end this post with Dale's email and poem. (To see more poetry that Dale has written, click here.)

The Email:
For what it's worth, here's my feeble attempt to commemorate our infamous canoe trip. Dale

Parallel Worlds

If we hadn’t gone canoeing that spring day,
if we had worn life vests or been more careful,
if we had both been strong swimmers,
if my friend had been the one to catch
the tree and work his way to shore…

On the other hand,

if neither of us had made it to shore or
I had run more slowly along the swampy bank,
if there hadn’t been a house with two skilled men,
if they hadn’t acted so quickly and wisely,
if my friend hadn’t been able to hold on…

But in our universe,

we took foolish risks and cheated death
and in that bond maintain a long friendship,
though we still disagree about important things,
demonstrating that neither of us is unnecessary,
that we aren’t wasting the universe we’re in.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

More About Sikalongo from September 2003

A couple of posts ago I wrote about travelling in Zambia. I was looking again at the digital pictures we brought back and wanted to add them to this blog, looking specifically at Sikalongo. We drove out from Choma to see my first home. Lois and I, Vaughn and Nevin piled into the Merc and headed off.


My memory says that we took the Great North Road (the main road to Lusaka) to the turn-off for Sinazongwe, a tarred road that runs down to Kariba Lake. This is not the route that my parents described to me from the days before I remember, but it was the way we were told to drive if we wanted to get to Sikalongo. The road passed through increasingly hilly country as we neared the edge of the escarpment. Sikalongo sits close to the edge of the great plateau running along the centre of the country: the highlands. Beautiful country.
This hut along the edge of the road was one of the more remarkable for its location; for its construction it was unremarkable, revealing the gap between wealthier folk in Zambia and ordinary villagers living in the rural areas. Zambia is 50 percent urbanized, so this scene is both ordinary and beyond the experience of many city folk.

Then we turned off the main road and headed across country, on a track that our sedan could only barely negotiate. A 4X4, all-wheel drive would have been most welcome!


When we say the anthill, which had been raided for brick-making, I knew we must be getting close to the mission school. Bricks mean buildings, and brick buildings often mean schools. The anthill of course also is a common feature of the Zambian countryside: huge hills built up by successive colonies of ants.



The sign signalled the presence of the primary school, but of course there is also a secondary school, a Bible school, and a clinic: in the middle of the bush one finds people living and working together and building a life for each other. They take real pride in what they have built, and look forward to what they might be able to become.

The school still bears marks of the mission that once was. The church, the schools, the clinic: all grows out of the work of many people in the past, including my parents, whose names are so well remembered there. The trees are typical. Wherever Europeans settled in the days when they settled Zambia and Zimbabwe, they planted trees: gum (eucalyptus) and jacaranda and others that I don't know. The trees remain.

The grave of Dorothy also remains. The cemetery is well cared for. I found myself really quite grateful for this courtesy. We live across the ocean, but we know that people who do not know us remember our name because a daughter and sister's remains lie in the earth nearby, where they can see the grave site.

Part of the story is that Zambians are generally more aware of death than North Americans. Death is a constant presence in their lives, and they know also that we are all bound together in death and in life. Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu.


But no grave can have the last word in anything (not even the empty tomb). The last word is beyond the skies, and the sun shining through the leaves and flowers of the trees catches something of the beyond.

We spent a few hours there on this trip. We need a week at least: to watch and hear people; to walk around and see the country (not just a few buildings and the space between them). I am surprised as I look at the pictures to feel a kind of homesickness for my first home, a place where I do not expect to ever live in again. At least the beauty there is part of the world God gives us, and points us to a recovery of beauty beyond.

Monday, March 12, 2007

That Car


This is a car. This is a car to remember. When we arrived in South Africa (August 2003) we had three days to get a car and head north to Bulawayo. We went to a car dealer recommended by a friend (without whose recommendation we would indeed have been stuck): the car above was the result. A 1988 Mercedes Four-door Sedan. Looked wonderful. Wasn't.

We made the mistake of setting the amount we thought we could afford, and bought a car for that amount. We sold it when we left in December -- back to the dealer for close to the original price. It all worked out in the end, definitely a better deal than trying to hire a car for five months. But oh my goodness, what a car!

I could write about the roads instead. We travelled over good tar roads and rough dirt tracks. We drove from Johannesburg to Gaborone to Bulawayo, then north to Livingstone and Choma. We drove back south through Botswana to Jo'burg. Then 16 hours West to Windhoek, out to Swakopmund, and back to Jo-burg (but going the long way round. not through the desert this time). So we made the car work.



At first it seemed like a good deal. Nevin wrote in an email that we could never afford a car like this in Canada. Later we could add that we wouldn't want to. Driving north to Bulawayo went okay: we had cruise control and air conditioning. The car was a bit sluggish, but not bad. After seven weeks in Bulawayo we headed north -- 280 miles to Victoria Falls. And the trouble began. We had had new brake pads put in while in Bulawayo: they squealed the rest of the time we had the car. But far worse was the petrol (gas) problem.


We were half way to the Falls when the car lost power and coasted to a stop: quite a helpless feeling on a relatively deserted road in a country with almost no fuel. we looked at the motor, not knowing what we were looking at, then Vaughn and Nevin wondered aimlessly down the road to look at the road and the trees. Within five minutes a car appeared -- a couple with their daughter, on their way back from taking pictures of animals. He was a naturalist-photographer. More importantly, he showed me how to open the fuel line, blow into it to clear it, suck on it to get the petrol flowing again, and replace the line. I did this about 10 times between that first stop and the Falls. We stopped in Hwange, the only town between Bulawayo and Vic Falls, where they blew out the fuel line with an air compressor. Didn't work.

The Falls deserve their own post: enough to say that no human problems with running a country can dim its glory. It truly is an amazing sight. Lois and I had a cup of coffee, while Vaughn and Nevin went to watch the sun set through the spray and haze on the south side of the Falls. At sunset we crossed into Zambia, car and all.

The experience led to a surreal exchange with the Customs Officer at the Zambian border. "This car is registered in your name." "Yes." "But you are a visitor in South Africa." "Yes." "But the car is registered in your name." "Yes" "But you are a visitor in South Africa!" "Yes." I don't know how many times we repeated this; it evidently bothered him. I felt like saying, "That's their [the South Africans'] problem; don't worry about it", but managed to say nothing. Finally with an expression of disgust he stamped the papers and sent us on into the Zambian night.

We were headed about three miles into the country to a well-recommended collection of rondavels, where we planned to stay the night. About a mile short, the car stopped again, and I fiddled in the dark to try and clear the fuel line. Then a pick-up arrived, with load of helpful Zambians on the back. They clustered around, pushed me aside, and fiddled less expertly than I (but with the lights of the pick-up shining on the motor). Then one of them bumped a plastic piece attached to the radiator, snapping it off and spraying hot, hot water everywhere. By the time we had given them all the loose foreign exchange we had (US$5 and 100 Rand) for their help (I use the word loosely), we felt frazzled and limped into the Rest Camp.

The next day I nursed the car on into Livingstone, where a garage owner located a replacement for the broken piece (ordered and then rejected by a local Merc owner!) and drilled a hole in the petrol tank cap (to let air in so that it wouldn't stop on us -- brace try, but wrong answer to the problem). Then we headed on to Choma. Half way there we were able to verify that the fix didn't fix the problem.

In Choma, the mission mechanic (Given Mweetwa: pictured at the top of the blog) spent his off-day -- eight hours on a Saturday -- diagnosing and fixing the problem He replaced the fuel pump: that wasn't it. He then removed the petrol tank through the trunk and found that the filter at the tank was so rusted as to let very little through. He cleaned the filter gently with a toothbrush and paraffin (kerosene), since there were no replacements here in Choma. And that problem was fixed. All the way back to Jo-burg.


In Johannesburg we had a mechanic give the car a thorough over-haul. What he didn't know was that our tires were bad. We had two flat tires on the way to Windhoek -- the second about an hour from the half-way Rest Stop at Kang. As we sat, watching the sun set and knowing we were stuck in the desert, a big new Merc truck pulled up, and picked up our luggage and tire and us and took us to Kang. I got a tire sent up from Gaborone by country bus (no Merc tires there: special order only), had the tire put on the rim, and got a ride back to the stranded Merc. Soon after Lois heard me and Vaughn come driving in: she heard us before she saw us thanks to our squealing brakes.


The next day we set off for Windhoek (day three of what should have been a two-day trip). About an hour out of Kang I stopped to check the tires. They were fine, but when I tried to start the car there was nothing. General electric failure. I guess the Jo'burg mechanic didn't find everything. We should have realized we were in trouble when we entered the Kalahari two days earlier. The air conditioner gave out, and the heater came on. We couldn't turn it off, so we drove through the desert with the heater on, pointed out the open windows -- our contribution to global warming.



Pushing the car didn't work. The first vehicle that came by did what they could, but no luck. The next car by was headed towards the Rest Stop. They took me back to Kang. When I walked in the owner looked at me and said: "What are you doing here?" I said, "General electrical failure." He found an electrician, and provided us with a jeep to take the electrician back to the car, where Lois and the boys waited. They had five hot hours in the more than 40 C (104 F) sun.

There the electrician re-did the connections to the battery, rewired the alternator, and bridged three fuses that had blown out. We had our air conditioner back! We gave him all the Pulas (Botswana's currency) we had left, and headed off for Namibia. When we found a proper garage, we had all of the work re-done, and in Windhoek spent another 2,000 Rand on repairs so as to drive safely back to Jo-burg. But I never did quite feel safe after that.

One can draw lessons. In our time in Bulawayo 1988 to 1992 we drove mission vehicles -- all paid for by the church. This time we experienced life more like many residents of Zimbabwe and southern Africa, driving what we could get. We also discovered how ready people are to help. We never waited more than ten minutes for help, although we were in unpopulated areas. The Kalahari is not where you want to break down!

I remember Nevin's comment in another Rest Stop the evening after the general electrical failure. With five hours waiting in the desert, and another three hours driving to the Rest Stop in Namibia, where we stayed that night, we had finished all of the water and other drinks we were carrying. Just before we went to bed, Nevin said: "You know where Jesus says, 'I'm the living water'': I think I understand better know what he meant."

And I remember the car. Next time we won't ask, "What can we get for this amount of money?" We'll ask, "What does a reliable vehicle cost?" The memories are good, but I don't want to repeat them.