Friday, March 30, 2012

Africa! The Safari

      Emily, our only guest house mate, was technically a mini-missionary like us, who usually don't stay longer that a month. But she just could not seem to leave. We could often hear her, talking to her parents on Scype, crying in the privacy of her room. She missed them greatly. But then she would come out, pull herself together, and go sign on for two more months.
      Emily once got a very large thorn embedded deeply in the top of her foot while playing soccer. After some time, she mentioned it to us. I told her, I was very good at digging thorns out with a needle, as long as it was not in me. She finally agreed. I saw it was very deep. As I dug deeper and deeper, she toughened up and never complained, other than making weird little Emily sounds. This was not working. Too deep. Then I thought to ask her how long it had been in there. She said weeks. That changed things. Sooner or later, a thorn will just try to work its own way out. I squeezed really hard all around it, and It just popped out.
There were two other young women missionaries there, and they, also, were very brave. They thought nothing about walking to a distant market in a rough looking area, alone. Or, they might hop in a car and drive long distances alone to a church they had never been to. But when a lizard got in her room, Emily totally came unglued.
      Word was getting around that I worked with wood pretty well, and Yeen Lan wanted me to build her a nice bench. Doug said, just find whatever wood you need, and build it. I found some still rough dark wood, and did it. It looked really good. Too good. When Doug saw it, he turned pale. I had used his Mahogany, very hard to get, very expensive, that he had brought to trim the lunch tables with. A very valuable bench.
Barbara was given the job of looking for baptism records for the children. In looking at all their records, she had an opportunity to see the first picture, taken when the child first came in, beside a current picture. I think that affected her very deeply. In each case, the first picture show a child with all hope gone, dullness in the eyes. In the later photo, they were obviously happy, the light had been turned back on in their eyes. That, as well as anything we saw, showed what was being accomplished at Rafiki.
      Yeen Lan stayed very busy trying to get a birth certificate for each child. It was a major task. Many public officials were very lax, or at best, just didn't care. She would get all her paperwork in order, get it before a Judge, drive a long way over very rough roads to get to court, only to face total incompetency. It just wouldn't be ready. Sometimes, they would complain about all the work involved, expecting a bribe. She would just stare them down, saying, "I only want you to do your job." Then repeat it. Sometimes, she would be told at the very end, "This requires a parent's signiture.""So, you're telling me, I just need to take this orphan out to the cemetery, dig up a parent, and get a signature?" Once, a Judge told her he had left the papers at home. "So let's go get them." The Judge pointed to a long waiting line "I'm sure they would all be willing to wait, so this child can get an identity." So they did. Anything to get this woman off his back. At home, the Judge couldn't find them. She started through his papers, and found them.
      It was time for our Safari! We were to fly, instead of driving as was normally the case, because people were still killing each other in the countryside. When we arrived at the dirt runway in our 30 passenger plane, a man was busy clearing the wild animals off the runway. We were at the Masai Mara, the Kenyan portion of the Serengeti. When we stepped out, Our guide had a small folding table set up beside his 4 wd vehicle. He constantly watched for dangerous animals while we had cookies and tea.
      Our guide, Wesley, drove toward Kichwa Tembo camp, which would accommodate 60 or so, but only we and 4 women were there now. All white people in Kenya now were still UN related or missionaries, and this group was no exception. Wesley had been one of Kenya's top distance runners. He told us they all got into distance running because it was the only chance they would have to come to America. He Ran a 4 minute flat mile in the finals, but didn't qualify.
We went to our tent to stow our stuff, and get ready for our first outing. Monkeys were all around us, and Warthogs were everywhere. When we left our tent, I tied the doorway tightly, as instructed, to keep out Baboons. Our first trip went well, for a time. It was a big plain with sparce trees. Many large animals could be seen scattered throughout the plain. After we had gotten a good close up look at a lot of animals, and were miles from camp, a major storm blew up, just before dark. Wesley got out rain gear for us all in that open Jeep, But it did little good in this storm. The plain was flooded, and we got stuck, again and again, each time finally managing to get out. After dark, I kept my face covered to try to keep out some of the rain. I looked out, Just as a big Lion jumped out from in front of the Jeep, and stared at us hard. I knew this was the last place on earth that I wanted to spend the night. We finally got back to our tent, on the edge of the Plain. We were freezing, but felt safer, and they had placed hot water bottles in our beds. Two guards wandered about, armed with bows and arrows."Arrows? against a Lion?" I thought. But These were Masai Warriors, the most experienced people in the world with Lions. I had read that President Obama had also used Masai Warriors for security when he went on Safari.
      Early the next morning, I was awakened by big animals of some description, growling loudly, around our tent. "You've got to be kidding me," I thought. This just had to be recordings, played to make our experience more real. Didn't need that. It had been far too real already, last night. Turned out, a Warthog was in heat and a couple of males were fighting.
      Once in the Jeep for our morning outing, Wesley got a message from another, in Swahili, so we didn't get the drift, But he headed out fast. On the way, he explained, Large animals just see the Jeep as one big unit. Step out of the Jeep, they see you as a meal. Don't get out for any reason. He told us of a honeymoon couple a few weeks earlier. They were filming a Lion, and the husband stepped out to get a better picture. The wife was operating a video, and she filmed her husband's death.
      Two female lions had just killed an Antelope, And as we got in close one tore the face off. Barbara was on the corner of the Jeep nearest the Lions, but for once in her life, she would have gladly given up the best photo angle. With misgivings, we shot pictures like crazy. Maybe get something for our kids to show at our memorial service back home.        continued             

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Kibera - A Nightmare Place to Be

      Many years ago, during one of the not uncommon periods of major violence, it was built to house a large army. When that need ended, it was just a deserted no man's land. Hundreds of tin roofed shacks, now rusty, most not even tall enough for a man to stand up in. Kinda like our hog houses we had at Wing.
      Kibera now housed many thousands of people. People who, in many cases, were homeless in the bush, and drifted in. The government considers these people squatters, not legal residents at all, and sees little reason to provide services to better the circumstances for these people. They are from the wrong tribe, and they are non-people.
      We drove up to the entrance. Yeen Lan told us to remove all jewelry, carry no cameras. People had died for taking pictures inside Kibera.
      She told the soldiers at the entrance what we were doing, when we should be out. We walked in. There were no toilets in sight. Flying toilets were the thing. Use a plastic bag, throw it up on the roof. Or out on the walkway.
A single, small, plastic water pipe led to the interior, where water was sold by the gallon. The store consisted of a couple of butchered goats hanging, and a couple of sacks containing beans and lentils, by the handfull.
At intervals there were towering mountains of garbage, roamed by dogs and rats. We saw people high from sniffing glue. It was one way to escape one's surroundings, at least for a little while.
      A sweet little girl, in rags, ran out into our path, a sweet smile on her beautiful face. "Hello," she called out to us. "How are you?" Her smile broke our hearts. Barbara and I both just wanted to take her hand, and take her home with us, away from this place.
      If residents had a set of decent clothes, they always wore them. There was no place to secure anything. Surprisingly, one would sometimes meet someone walking out or in, dressed well, probably to or from a job, looking clean and neat, clean shoes on the feces cover walkway. We saw no police presence. We had been told that police almost never venture inside, except to shake someone down.
They had their own system of justice. If a thief was caught, a group of people would gather. An old tire was produced, put over his head, set afire.
      We passed a church, burned to the ground. We had seen this on TV in America, during the recent violence. Many people took refuge in that church during the violence, it was set on fire, and many died.
The people generally, ignored us. Some seemed curious and surprised. Nobody spoke. I was happy with that. From what I had heard, I feared far worse. About 300 yards in, we turned and headed out.
Despite its appearance, Kibera is a powerful political force, by sheer numbers. It was the main backing in the recent violence for the challenger in the presidential election.
      We'll not soon forget Kibera. Barbara wrote that, early on, God just seemed to be giving her a super-human boost in doing this work. As for me, That strange safe feeling that always surrounded me in Peru, seemed to have made the trip here to Africa with me, and kept me in good stead. When we returned back to the village, one of the Mamas had heard we went to Kibera. She asked if they threw stones at us. When we told her they had not, she replied, "You were lucky."
     Our children, since having arrived at Rafiki, have only been taught that which is good. They do not know hate, or prejudice, and very seldom anger or jealousy. They melt our hearts.
      Barbara and I go to a bible study, with a different family, each night. The children were full fledged prayer warriors, for the most part. Some were still too young or shy to talk much. The mama led the bible study, and we were always amazed when they could almost always answer her questions. We all sang hymns, they really got in to it. When it came time to leave, they never wanted to let us go.We were the only mini missionaries there now, but there were normally several at a time. I told the kids how lucky they were. They were surrounded by all these loving people, and I knew of none others who had so many people come from so far away, just to be a part of their lives, for a time.
      On the way back to our guest house, the sounds of hymns being sung by many children, often filled the night air. That blissful scene could sometimes be suddenly interrupted when, without a sound, a big man, with a big club, face covered ninja like with a scarf, was right there. Right at our elbow. Barbara always screamed. That would be a guard. When I got to know the guards better, I asked, "What's with the scarf over the face at night?" "Our face is cold." Barb and I were very comfortable in the cool African night in short sleeves, but they had never known cold. If the temperature dropped close to 70 degrees, they started adding clothes.
The guards laughed at us, carefully lighting up our pathway at night with our "torch." But I knew Black Mambas thrived here. One had just recently been killed. The guards just laughed that off. "Snakes don't crawl at night." They further asserted, "You Americans have used torches so much, you have lost your night vision." There may be some truth to that.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Africa! The Sacred Circumcision tree

      We soon learned that if the table "Mama" spooned our food, she would "do us a favor" by piling it high. We also soon learned, get there early enough, and "fill" our own plate. However, Yeen Lan took into consideration our spoiled palate, and two or three days a week, she had our maid fix up a really good, more American dish, at our guest house, and had it waiting when we came from a meal. On those days, we ate two meals, back to back. But, we both lost weight. Since returning home, we have both lost weight when necessary by going back to our African roots to eat.
      One day at lunch, a child was pointing out the green peppers in our soup. He directed us, "Don't eat that. It's bad." Unfortunately, his "Mama" overheard him. "Young man, there is no bad food here! People are starving to death, right outside those gates, right now! You eat every bite, and thank God for it!" He did, and we did too.
      That Saturday, Yeen Lan scheduled a trip to a tea farm for us. It was owned by white Africans, whose family had been in Africa for generations, dating back to Colonial Days. When we began to see the tea fields, they were beautiful. They looked just like a perfectly manicured lawn, three feet tall, very thick, stretching over the rolling hills to the horizon. The gatherers moved through the tea, and placed a small stick on top of the tea, three or so feet long. Any leaf above the stick was picked.
      The farmhouse was beautiful, straight from "Out of Africa", acres of beautiful flowers surrounded it. Our driver waited in the car. Tea with Fiona awaited. As we had tea and refreshments, she explained all about tea and tea farming. We would normally be in a large group of tourists, but no tourists were in Kenya now, the bloodshed was too fresh. We had Fiona to ourselves.
      The entire meal was totally grown on the farm, including the cow who gave milk for the ice cream. And it was to die for. The meal was totally presided over by two man servants, who had worked there all their life. "Out of Africa" again. They attended to every need.
      A tribesman, giving us a tour of the farm, showed us a tree about as high as a house. It was protected by tribal law, a sacred tree. When a young man was strong enough to throw a chunk over that tree, he was ready to be circumcised. My throwing arm suddenly felt very weak as I looked at it. African males are traditionally circumcised as a young boy. I saw a post by Carolyn Koepke a few days ago on face book. Twenty of the young men were circumcised in one day. Remember, they are being raised as Africans.
      On the way back to Rafiki, our driver told us, "Because of the violence, the food crop is very reduced. Starting next month, many Africans will be starving." We didn't know what to say - -
and we had just attended a fancy tea.
      Sunday, Barbara photographed each family in their Sunday best, as they went to the bus to go to church. We went with one of the "Mama's" group. We were dropped off by the bus in a middle class neighborhood, and walked the rough, rocky street with hundreds of Africans and a lot of goats. Butchered goats hung in the store windows.
      Children screamed and ran when they saw us. We were the only white faces on the street and in the church. Mothers apologized as their children screamed and ran, saying, "My children have never seen a white person before. Barbara was determined to win over a particularly frightened little girl. The little girl screamed at the sight of Barbara, burying her face in her mother's shoulder. Barbara approached her, smiling, and finally the little girl accepted that without crying. Finally, Barbara was allowed to touch her hand. After awhile, Barbara was allowed to walk two fingers up her arm, softly saying, "Here's a little man, walking up your arm!" Finally, a little sweet smile appeared on her face, and she stretched her arms out to Barbara. The surrounding crowd laughed.
      When we got inside the all concrete church, (can't be burned) and they all started singing, "What a mighty God we serve," We knew we would be all right. A very tall, handsome young man was brought forward, and everyone was happy to see him. He had been forced to leave town when the violence started. He was from the wrong tribe, and would have died if he had stayed. Anyway, he sang a very beautiful song with six backup singers. When Africans sing about God bringing them through hard times they mean hard times. Barbara fought back tears through his whole song.
      The next week, Yeen Lan told us that she was taking us on a special trip, personally. I figured out later, that a little statement I had made to the school Headmaster must have gotten back to her. Early on, I just mentioned to him that it seemed like these kids were closed off from the world. Well, I think she got it in her head that she would show us where most of these kids came from. Where they would have lived out their life, which might not have lasted long, if not for Rafiki. She said "We're going to Kibera". Other missionaries were shocked when they heard. They had driven by, but had never ventured inside Kibera. Some had just always heard that if a stranger went into the depths of Kibera, he might never surface again.
Kibera is one of the two largest, and worst, slums in the world.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Africa! Vigilante Justice

I will be gone from my computer about a week. Next post will be Saturday or Sunday. Thanks for reading.  ______________________________________________________
      Carolyn Koepke, from the US, was the Children's Director, and being a nurse by profession, she had been elevated to everyone's doctor, once here. If we broke a leg, or had a major illness, we would be flown to the US. Carolyn and Doug had been here for many years. He had been a mechanic in the US. They just walked away from it, one day, and never looked back.
      Doug ran the physical plant, all the repairs, woodworking, and metal working. And he taught those things to the boys. Their children grew up here, with a 2 week trip back to the US each year. They raised their own financing, through mail outs and visits to churches when back in the States.
      Barbara worked under Carolyn, in a number of capacities. They knew she was a photographer, but never knew how good she was until she got there. The missionaries all were thrilled, as someone said, "She's a professional, and her work looks like it!" She was quickly given the job of photographing every child, for their permanent records, and furnishing the seven permanent missionaries with photos for their fund raising speeches and mail outs.
      Doug kept the cars going, the water supply good, the electricity flowing. I worked with him, mostly. There was no hardware store to go to with a need. If it was not brought from America on Doug's yearly trip home, we made it. I spent the whole day once, cutting rubber gaskets for the water supply system from and inner tube. I also taught basketball to all the kids, and an occasional science class.
      Barbara and I both read to children after lunch that had been so badly damaged in their early life that they seldom, or never, talked, or smiled. When a breakthrough with one of these kids came, and Barbara had several, it was an indescribable experience, one to be treasured a lifetime.
      Barbara read daily to Moses. He could talk but rarely would although he was now six. Moses was still in some trauma over the conditions he lived in before coming to Rafiki. Soon, he would be eagerly awaiting Barbara at the reading bench, smiling with book in hand, and would nestle up close as she read. In spite of her best efforts to get him to talk, he just wouldn't, week after week.
One day, as Barbara walked him back to his house, he stopped, looked into her eyes, and said, "At night I pray for you." Barbara has just never gotten over that event, and cannot tell about it to this day without tears. And she often does.
      Yeen Lan Lam is the village director, nearing middle age, and very much in charge. She ran the place with a firm hand, but could be gentle when the occasion called for it. She was extremely protective of Barbara and me. She knew the many dangers of Africa, we did not. She worked very hard to make our stay perfect, complete with a trip each weekend, either free to us or at a greatly reduced price. She always provided us with a car and driver. Our four day Safari was about one third the usual cost. She had a lot of influence around Nairobi, and could always just get things done.
      Once her driver ran over a goat and killed it in Nairobi. An angry crowd gathered. The driver was crying, "They're going to kill me." Vigilante justice ruled the African streets, and this was a widow's goat.
Yeen Lan got out of the car, and said to the crowd, "Bring the owner of the goat to me." The widow soon appeared. "What is the value of the goat?" The owner told her, and she immediately paid it. Seeing a Rafiki worker in the crowd, she asked, "John, do you want this goat?" John jumped right on that. Meat was rare. The widow shouted, "No! That's my goat." Yeen Lan explained, "You told me the value, and I bought it from you. It then became my goat, to do with as I please." End of story.
      The children of the missionaries, once they were too old for the school at Rafiki, were driven across Nairobi each day to an International School. The UN presence in Nairobi was second only to
America, and children from all countries went there.
      The far side of Nairobi was a modern, nice city. On our side, it was totally different. Like two entirely different worlds side by side.
      Barbara and I were each assigned a different table to eat at each meal, so that we eventually ate with all the children. They loved it. They soon learned to read the schedule, and we were always greeted upon walking in by, "Uncle Pat! You're eating at our table today!"
      These children ate what other Africans ate. They were being raised as Africans. Beans, peas, and lentils most commonly, or whatever a farmer had donated, or Rafiki had raised. Ugali served as a filler. It consisted of corn flour and water, boiled. No seasoning or anything. Ugali was shaped into a cake and sliced. Maybe a Passion fruit for desert, some sort of meat maybe once a week.
      By American standards, it was just, well, bad. But everybody ate every bite that was on their plate, every time. Including us. I once saw a very interesting thing take place. Barbara was about to eat the last bite of food on her plate. It was a chunk of ugali. The children at her table were all watching her, as always. As she approached her mouth with the bite, a grimace like I have never seen on her face appeared. As she put it in her mouth, a gag was coming up as the food went down. But she kept it down, and soon brought out a smile for the children.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Africa! Part two

      We had an overnight layover at London Heathrow, and looked for a place to lie down. Although information desks will tell you there is none, we knew that if you go into the very depths of Heathrow, there is a place with lots of long couches.
      I must have picked up some sort of bug from that couch, because the next morning I was a total zombie. It didn't worry me at all when the pilot notified us, once airborne, that we were being diverted to Uganda. Just gave no reason, other than something about needing to pick up some tires, which sounded pretty thin. We would eventually reach Nairobi, but be two hours late. I was still a zombie when we landed in Uganda, and I did not even feel like looking out. Barbara was afraid I was having a bad panic attack, leaving her on her own, not a good thing to be in Africa. When we, at long last, landed at Jomo Kenyatta Airport, Barbara was excited, and I was just there.
      Rafiki headquarters in Florida had sent us a very large bag of books for us to carry through for them, along with the appropriate paperwork. We also had a huge suitcase of toys they requested us to buy and bring for the children. The customs agent told us we couldn't do that, then waited to see if the customary bribe was forthcoming, maybe in the form of a supply of toys for his grand children. Barbara just kept smiling at him, telling him "The toys are for the orphans." He gave us some more reasons why we just couldn't do that, Barbara just kept smiling. "The toys are for the orphans." Finally, he just gave up and waved us on through.
      Our driver, hired by Rafiki, had patiently been waiting three hours now. We kept this same driver throughout our stay, and he was always competent and patient. He had a little sign that said,"Patt and Barbra". Whatever the spelling, we were overjoyed to see him, we're here, and we'll take it.
      It was a 45 minute drive to Rafiki, and the route was directly through the staging ground for the violence. The last mini missionaries picked up, right at the start of the violence, had to pass through road blocks for both sides, and the car had been shaken around pretty good. Yeen-Lan, the director, was in that car. She kept saying, "Just keep smiling. Whatever happens, just keep smiling."
      Well, the warriors, and the roadblocks were gone now, and we were happy. When we entered the gates at Rafiki, we were treated like rock stars. To the children, we were the first mini missionaries to arrive since the violence, and we must have represented the end of that horrible time for them.
Getting out of the car at our guest house, a woman screamed, "It IS you! It IS you!"
We saw our friend Emily running from the guest house to hug us.
      We had assumed the area we had come through near Rafiki was a slum, but no, they said. Upper middle class. Our rock star treatment continued for a couple of days. My strange illness slowly went away. By then, all 80 of the children knew everything there was to know about both of us. The children just loved to stroke the long, thick hair on my forearm. "Uncle Pat is like Esau!" The children always had a neat way of asking a question."Where are you going" woud always be asked, "And you are going where?"
      The oldest of the children were now in the fourth grade. Six native Africans were the "mamas,"
full time care givers. Each mama had 10 or so children, and the goal was, to give continuity, each child would have the same mother until they were grown. But things didn't seem to always work out that way.
There were 16 junior secondary students who walked in to school every day at Rafiki. Some walked two hours through very dangerous streets. Their uniforms were left at Rafiki. They had been recommended by a pastor, because they had very high potential, yet too poor to even buy a uniform to go to public school. One of those students told us her brother was a shoe salesman, and he provides food for the entire family. I asked, "Does he have a store?" "No," she said. "He carries them, tied over his shoulder, while he sells on the street."
      I had never seen such motivated students before, except for one student I once had at Arkadelphia, Ket. She was from Bangkok, and was learning a new language at the same time. We still stay in touch.
Nairobi is located on the equator, at 5000 feet elevation. Cool nights, warm days. Every day. Almost no mosquitoes. We only took Malaria medicine because we would be going into lower areas, such as on Safari and to Tanzania The Rainy season was due to begin just before we would leave.
Many of the secondary students stayed, on their own, after school, to help the kids. You could pass their classroom, almost any time, and think it was empty, it was so quiet. Open the door, and 16 students were working hard. They looked upon this as their only chance in this world to better themselves. If one talked to them about their ambitions, they would all seem to be, what probably was, impossibly high. Brain surgeon, scientist, astronaut, on and on.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Africa! Part One

      Barbara and I went to grandson Christian's birthday party in Little Rock one day. We just happened to be talking to a lady who was telling us her family was about to leave for Nairobi, Kenya, to work at an orphanage. She casually asked, just as son Corey walked up, "Why don't you come help us?" Corey waved her off. "Listen," he said, "You don't know my parents. You don't just ask them something like that, unless you mean it."
      Barbara and I looked at each other. We both knew we were in agreement. "We'll do it," Barbara said.
After some investigation into the Rafiki Foundation, we flew to Florida one weekend to train for our mission as Mini-missionaries. Actually, I think Rafiki just mostly wanted to get to know us. Satisfy their minds that we were suitable.
      We quickly picked out Rosemary Jensen from the crowd when we arrived at Rafiki. She looked the part of a semi-angel. She and her husband, Dr. Bob Jensen had been African missionaries for many years. She had also been the international director of Bible Study Fellowship for many years. When she retired, they wished to give her a gift, and what did she want? "I want an orphanage in Africa."
      From this start, Rafiki, which means "friend" in Swahili, the inter-tribal language in Africa, grew quickly. They now have ten villages in ten of the poorest African countries. Plans are being implemented to build ten "satellite villages" in each country. They are built and staffed by Rafiki, then turn over to different church organizations to support and run. Many different church organizations participate.
Baptists churches are not among them. I asked Rosemary why. "Baptist churches in Africa are very loosely organized. There was no one person I could go talk to."
      Rafiki takes in orphan and deserted children, from infancy to six years, though sometimes exceptions are made on the age limit. Their goal is not to adopt out these children. They feed, clothe, shelter them. They give them a top notch education. They give them a strong Christian upbringing. If they are suitable for college, they help them achieve that. The are gradually brought back into the African society.
     They are raised as Africans throughout. Hopefully, from the midst of these strong Christian adults, strong leaders will arise to help Africa move forward.
      We were a small training group, the first since their headquarters had been moved to Florida. Small enough to meet at Rosemary and Bob's house. Surrounded by African decor throughout, we gathered around Rosemary, filling the chairs and the floor at her feet. In the lamplight, a glow seemed to emanate from this great woman.
      "I know what you're thinking," she said. "Because I've been there before. I'm not anybody special, I'm not talented, I'm not extremely smart. I just stepped up and said, here I am, Lord. Use me. That is exactly what you are doing."
      We met a lot of very great people there that weekend, most much younger than ourselves. But then, isn't that always the case? One we met was Emily, and she really stood out. A delightful young woman from Oklahoma, just graduated from college. She became our good friend.
      When we got back home, we had pretty well settled on Kenya. Not only would we know the
Arkansas family already there, at least the mother, but also, Kenya seemed to be one of the most stable of the African countries. Our bonus miles would not completely pay for our tickets, but we got the missionary rate when we bought more. We started preparing for Nairobi.
      Closer to time, things began to change in Kenya. The presidential election went bad, the incumbent representing one tribe, the challenger representing another equally strong tribe. The President won, but fraud was widely suspected. Tribal fighting broke out, and many people were dying.
We got word that the Little Rock family had left Rafiki. Our tickets were such that we could change our destination right up to the last moment, if we wished.
      We started thinking that we could hop over to Tanzania, right next door. No fighting there yet. We changed our destination to Tanzania. We notified their director. We then realized we would still have an overnight layover in war-torn Kenya, and we would be on our own. Tanzania Rafiki was very new, and it was unclear if they would have many children yet.
      There was talk of a power sharing agreement between the two tribes, and it was still awhile before the plane flew out. Maybe things would settle down by then. We changed our destination back to Kenya, and prayed for peace.
      I talked to missionaries on the ground in Nairobi two days out. They told me, "If you fly into Nairobi this weekend, you will be met by a collective sigh of relief, or Gunfire. This is not a good time. Don't come."
      The morning of the day we were to fly out, the big news of the day on TV was, a power sharing agreement has been signed in Kenya. I called the missionaries in Nairobi. "Well, in view of this, now may be a good time to come." We took this as God's sign to us .We went.            Continued

Friday, March 9, 2012

Arkadelphia: The Green Golf Shoes Scam

      By 1991, Barbara had built the business to a point that it was just too much for her. She had workers to handle part of the load but she needed someone else to shoot. We bought our three years back from the Missouri Teacher Retirement System (for Hannibal) and that gave me 25 years, at 75% retirement. I retired.
I did most all of the out of the studio stuff, including a lot of school day photography. School day was always marginal, because schools almost always demanded a kick back to get the job. In Arkadelphia at that time, it was 40%. For handing out the pictures. I also managed the rental properties that were building up. I quickly learned dealing with renters was not a job for the soft hearted. Every single time, and I mean every time, I listened to a hard luck story, and responded with a kind heart, I eventually paid the price. That sounds hard, I know. But it's just the truth. I turned the property management over to Bud Reeder when we left to travel a year. And I have never wanted it back. I now renovate the houses when they are left trashed badly. Might be 2 days, may be 2 weeks. But, you can't dwell on those things. Just fix it back up, keep the shell solid so it won't rot down, and go on. Through a murder in one house in 1998, through many, many drug busts, through a cross burning in the yard, through arson three days later. Just go on down the road. Don't look back. You can't hang with it if you do.
      The US mail is very safe. During the 16 years we operated the studio, mailing out many orders each day, we never failed to get the product back. Once a label came off  in the mail but we got it back.  The package was opened at the dead letter office and eventually returned. You can trust the US Postal Service!
I always thought children would most likely follow the father's footsteps in choosing a career. But, as it happened, both Kinley and Corey chose to follow the mother. But I can't blame them there. Photography offers opportunities to make wads of money quick, if things go right. Teaching does not.
      As Corey got older, He wanted to get into photography. Make some money. We took pictures of youth sports in several towns. You know, the posed, memory mate thing. Well, Corey was always a good salesman. In fact, every job he has had since he graduated from OBU was based on commission sales or his own business. He started visiting sports leagues in larger towns, and picked up a few. He re-designed the sales envelope. Where we offered four packages, his offered dozens. And, his highest priced one was at the top of the envelope. He put on a big show about it with the inexpensive ones at the bottom, little letters. He found out it was as easy to win a large league as a small one. He showed us youth sports could be big money in one day, if you do it right. We started helping on some of the very large leagues, doing multiple leagues in one Saturday. We found that by doing it big scale and right could gross many thousands in a day. I started re-thinking youth sports. I had always hated that job. But, I actually taught myself to enjoy it, having fun with the kids, and started going after larger leagues. Before long, Kinley and Mickey were getting involved in this too.  They still do this only for a living. All over the state. Corey relied on this for years, then got so big in portrait photography that he sold his sports business to Kinley and Mickey.
      Mike Loy is a good photographer. I hired him to help me a lot on sports. He taught me a lot about photography that I did not know. Once, someone told me, trying to make me mad, “Mike Loy said he taught you how to do sports photography right.” Well, I was then a full time photographer, he was part time. I told the guy, “He did. He helped me a lot.” The difference in us was, I married into photography, at a relatively old age. He had been doing it all his life. I knew the basics for what I did. And the part that was hard to argue with, I was making a living at it. I always knew my place, a “line um' up and shoot um” guy. Barbara did the portraits.
      Kinley and Corey loved to pull a good scam. I was the victim of a lot of scams. But I got Corey good once. Corey had left his golf shoes at my house. We were playing in Little Rock the next day. I called him and told him I would bring his shoes. They were the old type shaped like men's dress shoes. I went down to the beehive and bought an old pair of dress shoes, painted them bright green, put his old frayed shoestrings in them to look realistic, and put several of those white, practice golf balls on the shoestrings.
When I got to his house the next day, he walked out to get in the car with socks, only. Perfect! When we got to the golf course, I handed him the shoes. He was horrified. “You painted my new shoes, Dad?” He tried to figure out what to do. “Come on, our tee time is up.” “Well, I'll wear them. But I'm taking those golf balls off!” I don't remember exactly, but I'm sure I paid the price somewhere, somehow. Corey always, and I mean always, got you back.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

NPR reading of The King of Fayetteville

My reading of my story is scheduled on Thursday, March 8 at 7 pm central, FM 89.1. I'm not sure how wide the area is that this covers. Thanks! Pat

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Arkadelphia: Sad Dog Stories

Poor Dumb David.

     The football game was about to start. I lounged in my lawn chair up on the hill, my favorite spot
for watching the action at Henderson State University. Few fans came over here, well away from the bleachers. The first person to come my way was a nice looking lady, near thirty. She sat ten feet below me, on the hillside.

     For some strange reason, a thought from  years past crossed my mind, and I had to smile. She looked like she could be one of poor dumb David's girls.

     I own an apartment house on 11th street. I'm the main fix-it guy  Some of  my tenants seem to
treat me like others do their bartenders. They talk to me a lot about the things going on in their life. It just so happened, at that time, that I had a lot of tenants there who were single women, near thirty. All were attractive, but there was an over-abundance of single women in Arkadelphia, but few single men. Over a period of time, several mentioned to me their boy friend, David. I was surprised to learn, over an even longer period of time, that it was the same David. Finally, I met David. He was tall, muscular, good looking, had a cool truck, a great smile, didn't talk much.

    " I like David a lot," she was saying as I unplugged her sink drain. "He's such a hunk. But he hardly ever talks. He's so good looking, I decided not talking was not such a bad thing. Well, last week, just after our vacation we took together, he finally loosened up and started talking. And, you know what? He just cannot string together five words without saying something dumb. I hate to do it, but I've just got to dump him. It's so embarassing when we're around my friends. I hope, eventually, he can find somebody else some day."
     I know poor David was crushed. But, I guess he was just too dumb to mourn too long about the loss. Some day turned out to be the next day, a cute redhead three doors down.
     A few weeks later, a male tenant called me with concerns about the young lady next door. Her car was in place, but she had just been gone for days. I checked the apartment, all her stuff seemed to still be there. I called her employer. "She's on vacation this week with David," he told me.

     I was beginning to see a pattern develop. It seems poor David was very shy when he began a new relationship. But, eventually, he loosened up, and Poor David's fatal flaw showed up. He was then quickly dumped. At least, all those women felt bad about dumping  poor David, and kept his flaw secret. He never seemed to have a problem finding yet another pretty woman quickly.

     The football game had started, and HSU was drubbing my old alma mater, badly, heading toward a 30-0 trouncing. The game was so boring, I could not help but notice the lady below me was on her cell phone. "Sure, Debbie, come on down and watch the game with us. David is coming too, and I want you to meet him! He's such a hunk. He doesn't talk much, but we're going to be spending a lot of time together at Dallas next week, and I promise you he will be talking a blue streak by the time we get back!"

     Could it be... naw, I haven't seen  David around in years. I felt sure he had flunked out and left by now.  Yet, here he came, older now, but still a hunk. Still with a great smile, not talking much. As she wrapped her arms around poor David, a strange series of thoughts ran through my mind. Poor, dumb David is facing still another broken heart. Yet, he seems to be holding up well under all that heartache. Could it be that David is not as dumb as I thought? No, that could not be. But yet...
     I got my answer at graduation that next spring. David was receiving a Master's Degree. He was finally going to officially become what he had already been for many years. A master of Psychology.

This is a true story. Mostly.  It has been tweaked just a dab.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Bright Yellow Station Wagon

     When  we lived out in the country in the second house I had built. Corey wanted a car.
Most of Barbara's siblings wound up living at McGehee, Arkansas. Sugar and husband Jimmy bought a service station. After they were doing well, others in the family decided they would too. Sugar and Jimmy also sold used cars, and JD went into the used car business..Sister Eunice and her husband Charlie also went into the used car business. I never understood how they all got along as well as they did, with so many competing in the same business in a small town. But they seemed to make it work, for the most part. They would often go to the auction together, and got to sit around and visit a lot.
     JD was once on the way home from the auction towing a car he bought with his wrecker. Two cars tried to box him in. One really close behind, the other right in front. The front one then started slowing down, more and more, and he realized they were trying to stop him. JD is about the last person highjackers would want to try that on. JD started showing the guy in front why a wrecker is called a wrecker, banging the back of the car up real good. Finally, the guy in front saw the error in his ways, and sped up real fast.
     After that, JD always carried a gun in his wrecker. A policeman once stopped him. JD got out of the wrecker, locked the door. The policeman looked in the truck, and saw the gun stock sticking out from under the seat. He said, "Open it up. I want to look at that gun."
     JD said "No, I may need that before I get home." After they had both repeated their statements a few times, and it was still a standoff, the policeman called his supervisor, who was soon there.
     The supervisor soon evaluated  the situation, too, took the cop aside, and talked to him some.
     The supervisor came over and said to JD, "You have a good day, Sir." They all went on about their business.
      Early on, I saw a way for Barbara and me to save some money on the cars we bought. I was never all about buying a brand new car, preferring to let someone else pay the thousands of dollars the car value dropped, just by driving it off the dealer's lot. JD and Sue helped us out a lot. He could get me in the gate, taught me to drive it a little, back up a little, and taught me what to listen for. He taught me to check the oil, and how to feel that oil on the dipstick, to see if something had been added to it to keep it from leaking so fast. Anyway, once I got the hang of it, I would pick out a car, tell JD what I would pay for it, and he did the bidding.
     I have always been uncomfortable bidding at an auction. I guess that's partly a throwback to the days  when I went with Dad to so many cattle auctions, and Dad always told us to sit very still. If we moved, we might buy a cow. I did actually buy a lawnmower by accident a couple of years ago, when I went to the Back Gate farmer's auction with my friend, Ronnie McMillan. I was just moving around, trying to stay warm on that very cold day, and suddenly, the auctioneer pointed to me, and said, "Sold! To that old guy back there!" I didn't even want that lawnmower.
     I also slipped and fell on an icy spot that day, flat on my face. The auctioneer even stopped the bidding and asked me if I was all right. I smiled, shook my now muddy head yes. But I wished I was home.
      Anyway, I bought many cars for us at the Dealer's Auction over the years. Or, actually, JD did. After learning just what to look and listen for, I had good success at that. I did get beat once, when a dealer slipped a little something into the transmission fluid to keep it from slipping until I got home.
      I always liked it better when Barbara didn't go, because she was very picky about unimportant stuff like the type of car and the color. I got a really good deal once on a bright yellow station wagon, and you wouldn't believe the flak I caught over that when I got home. I tried to explain to Barbara and Kinley how I got a heck of a deal. Nobody else was even bidding on it. They all called it the Yellow Submarine. Barbara took a real liking for the auction after that, and at car buying time, I couldn't even leave out for Little Rock without her jumping right in there with me.
      Well, now Corey wanted to go to the Auction. I explained my policy about never buying anything we had not had a chance to look at and drive. But Corey's budget was pretty thin, and after he realized that he probably was not going to afford any of them, he lowered his standards. He saw one coming through the line that we had not checked out, but JD told him what it would probably go for, it was within Corey's budgetary guidelines,  and it was running, so he just had to have it.
      Corey had always been critical of my habit of buying auction cars, said I was not handling our car situation well. We always wound up driving a piece of junk, to his way of thinking. We had told him if he went to work, we would match him dollar for dollar on his own car. Well, he got that car. Soon, reverse went out, and it was a big problem for him, getting out our driveway. You wouldn't believe the messing around in our woods he did before he got that car out on the road. I finally just could not help myself, and told him, “Corey, you're not handling your car situation well. You're driving a hunk of junk” He finally sold it to a boy from Amity, who was probably in Corey's situation.
      Corey could never keep up with his keys, and his billfold. But, they always came back to him, eventually. Once, he laid his house keys up on his car, got a ways down the road, and they slid off. A dog found them, took them to his owner's porch, and the neighbor returned them. Once he got his wallet, left in a store, back in the mail. His stuff just always came back.