Saturday, June 30, 2007


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.