Sunday, April 29, 2012

My Best Friend Tooter

     When I got Tooter in the early 1950's, he was an 8 week old, part German shepherd pup. He had a black and white cross on his chest. I carried him, resting on my forearm, the two miles back to our farm. As Tooter grew, he learned quickly. He became my constant companion as we hunted, fished, and trapped – or just roamed the bottoms and mountains for the fun of it. He quickly learned to “stand,” “heel,” and “back up.” Once learned, he obeyed perfectly. If I needed help getting up a muddy creek bank after setting a trap, or looking for mink sign, I had only to say, “back up.” Tooter backed into position, waited until I grasped his tail, then pulled me up the bank. Tooter was a world class sprinter, by human standards. Using the “stand” command, I timed him at 7 seconds flat in the 100 yard dash, eclipsing the world record by two seconds or so – for a man.
     Tooter saved me more than once. One hot summer day, walking barefoot down an overgrown lane to fish at Lilly Pad Lake, Tooter was in the heel position. He suddenly stepped ahead of me, then jumped aside. Looking down, I saw a large Moccasin, coiled and fangs bared, lying where my next step would have taken me.
     Tooter became a good squirrel dog, though not in the normal sense of the term. He did not trail squirrels, but ran, crashing through the underbrush, scaring any self-respecting squirrel into movement. His sharp eyes caught the flash of fur, and another squirrel was treed. Once he had him in sight, he would follow him when he jumped from tree to tree. We worked well as a team. While I waited quietly on one side of the tree, Tooter crashed to the other side to turn the squirrel. They were an important source of meat for my family. The only meat we ate was either salt pork, which got old after awhile, or meat that I hunted or fished for.
One balmy autumn day, when I was in the eighth grade, I packed my tow sack hammock, food, water, my .22 rifle, and Tooter and I set out to climb Main Mountain. This was the tallest of all the mountains around, seven or so ridges over from our farm. We followed Stowe creek up the holler, avoiding most of the climbing until we reached the big one. It was a hard, tiring climb up the mountain. We reached the summit at sundown. The trees on top were mostly knotty, gnarled Oaks. Fox squirrels abounded here, but many trees were hollow. It was a real challenge, getting a mess of squirrels on top of Main Mountain. I set up camp, we shared the water and food, and I crawled into my hammock. Excited about our hunt tomorrow, I finally dozed off.
     I awoke with a start. The moon was up, and an ominous wind blew through the tree branches. An owl hooted in the distance. Although it seemed I had been asleep a long time, the moon told me it was not yet midnight. My major concern, however, was Tooter. I had never run onto anything in the woods that frightened Tooter. But here he was, whining, crying softly, pressing against me, staring into the darkness. A faint rustling in the leaves came from the direction of his attention. I picked up the .22, releasing the safety. The rustling, about 100 yards out, slowly circled us. With Tooter following every move with his nose, whining, we strained to see through the darkness. The circling continued, at intervals, throughout the long night. Tooter and I pressed closer and closer together. As a faint light appeared in the east, the rustling disappeared. We found no tracks in the freshly fallen leaves, never knowing what had stalked us throughout that long, fearful night.
The hunting was good, and with the sun heading toward the horizon, we headed down the mountain with a full pack of Fox squirrels and memories of a night that the passing decades have not erased.
The good hunting on Main Mountain set up yet another adventure to Wing Hollow. My buddy, Bob Rice, wanted to try his luck with those Main Mountain “foxies.” One Saturday we set out up the holler. After a long hunt, we had a few, and the sun was dipping low, so we turned toward home. Tooter thundered through the underbrush, in his customary manner, a hundred yards to the right. Suddenly, a large gray shadow flashed across the trail in front of us. Bob and I both glimpsed the animal, a large wolf or coyote. I glanced at Bob, noticed his chill bumps were as big as mine, and we picked up the pace.
As we neared the last turn in the trail before Turner's Store came into view, I realized my hunting knife was missing. Remembering the last place we had used it was where we field dressed the squirrels, my concern for my Marine Combat Knife overcame my concern for the wolf. As Bob stretched out on the trail soaking up the last rays of the late evening sun, I started back up the trail. Tooter and I quickly found the knife. On the way back down, a sinister plan began to form in the dark recesses of my mind. Perhaps Tooter and I could use the wolf episode to have some fun with Bob. Just before we came into sight of Bob, I gave Tooter the “stand” command. I went around the curve, saw Bob stretched out on his back, hands behind his head, chewing on a weed. I softly called Tooter, then began running, screaming, “Bob! The Wolf!” I saw Bob glance up, just as Tooter, alias the great gray wolf, burst from the timber.
     Under normal circumstances, there is a process to be followed in getting to one's feet from his position. I have never been able to explain or understand exactly what happened in this situation, although I have thought through it many times in the past 50+ years. One moment Bob was glancing up, the next he was leaning into the wind, fairly flying down the trail to Turner's store. His feet seemed to scarcely touch the ground. A small cloud of dust marked his disappearance around the bend. When I reached the bend, there was no sign of Bob. Tooter and I set off down the creek toward home. Moments later, a car came speeding up the trail, a large dust cloud boiling up behind it. As it approached me, I made out a wide-eyed Bob, Buell Turner, and some old men who often hung around the store, whittling and chewing tobacco. Guns bristled out the windows. I had some tall explaining to do.         Continued

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Messed Up Bust

     A couple of months ago, Barbara and I were minding a couple of the grand kids for a few days. We had all just been to daughter in law Christi's birthday dinner at US Pizza, and on the way home, we all were to stop at an ice cream hotspot for a bit of dessert. Well, as is often typical of me in a big city, I couldn't find that hotspot, so we just pulled over at McDonald's, so that the grand kids would not be disappointed too much, to get some ice cream. Barbara was ordering, and I herded the grand boys back to a booth, and stood guard, to keep them hemmed in there. That usually helps keep down the ruckus some, although Jackson had already crawled under the booth and sat beside, and made "friends" with, a tolerant lady sitting near by.
      I took my eye off the boys for a moment, and saw that a young man had come in, and had approached Barbara. I strained to hear what was going on. He pointed toward our car, out front, and I heard Barbara ask, "Did you hit my car?" He was shaking his head no, But I could tell he was asking her something, and in spite of the fact that she was cool and smiling, as always, she was getting nervous. I threatened the boys about staying put, and headed that way. By the time I got close to the action, another young man was there, and I heard enough of the conversation to tell they both were telling her they wanted her to go outside with them. When I neared this conversation, Barbara was telling them, "You need to talk to my husband about that," and they just looked at each other, and one said, "Husband?" Then I kicked in with, "What's going on here?" in my gruff voice. They then started saying, they wanted us both to go outside with them. Barbara said, "But We've got grandchildren in here!" Then they really looked puzzled, looked at each other a second, and said, "Grandchildren?" I had not been privy to the fact that they both had flashed their police badges at her, that were on a string around their necks, hidden under their coats. The last guy to show up started quizzing Barbara about where we lived, where we had been, etc. And I was just starting to say, "What business is that of yours?" which would likely have gotten me slammed to the floor and handcuffed, had I had time to complete it. But the last guy changed his tack, and said, "Both of you stay right here, don't leave, we're going outside now, and we'll come back."
As they left, I asked Barbara, and all the McDonald's staff, who had gathered around by now, "Who the heck were those guys?" Seems I was the only one who didn't know by now, and Barbara and the McDonald's staff all chimed in at once with, "The Police!" I turned a little pale.

      In about 5 minutes, one of them came back in, all smiles now, and explained. "We have been following that truck out there, and a car just like yours with a woman in it, for thirteen hours. Somehow, that HHR must have crossed paths with yours, and we got onto the wrong car." He left, and we ate our ice cream with the boys, and apologized to all the people around us that Jackson had been talking to relentlessly while we were distracted from doing our grand parental duty for a while. They understood, and a McDonald's employee brought out a whole armload of toys for the boys. When we pulled out of the parking lot, those undercover guys had the people in the truck handcuffed, and were tearing apart their truck. Jordan and Jackson thought that was just about their coolest trip to McDonald's ever, but Barbara and I just wanted to get home.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Our Ouachita River Adventure - Conclusion

       We saw a boat ahead, turned up on edge against a log in a narrow, fast rapids. Two men were in the water, hanging onto their boat with one hand, and grabbing up their gear as it washed out of the boat with the other. When we came alongside, they said they needed no help, but we might keep an eye out for an awful lot of their gear that was washing on down the river. They were in a small flat bottom boat, about the size of the one Travis and I swamped on our last trip, a couple of years ago. I knew how they felt. As we floated on down into the next big hole, we saw their floating gear lined up in a perfectly straight line, headed on down toward Lake Ouachita. That treasure hunt took our minds off our aching backs a little, and after a mile or so, we spotted Skeet's VERY pretty little red truck. Thirty minutes later, the two wet men in the flat bottom arrived. The older man, 69 he said, mentioned they had been on the river all day, fishing. They didn't have a back rest either, unless it had fell out of the boat, and we knew he must be a very tough old man, because he was not whining about his back like Skeet and I were. But then, he had just had a good dose of excitement mixed in there that could have made a feller forget about his aches and pains. They said their names were Partin, from Mena. The young man was in school at Fayetteville, and they had two very nice strings of fish. They offered us the fish, since we had gathered up a lot of their stuff, but Skeet and I were not in a good fish cleaning mood. All we wanted was a good, comfortable place to sit down. But I did accept a package of his home made deer jerkey, better that fish any day. Matter of fact, I'm chewing on a chunk of it right now.
      Young Mr. Partin said they should have had a canoe, and next time he would have one. Older Mr. Partin said it was not the boat's fault, they just let it ride up too high on the log when they hit it. Young Mr. Partin begged to differ, but he was respectful of the older man in that, ending his disagreement with "Sir," as one should be with a 69 year old man who had just sat in a small boat all day, then got dumped in the river. A couple of good men.
      When we were headed back to the cabin, Skeet allowed as how Scott and Neal must be really worn out, since they walked a lot of miles scouting turkeys all morning while we mostly sat in our lawn chairs. But as soon as we got back to the cabin, Neal immediately disappeared. Thirty minutes later, we heard him, across the river somehow, and 3 ridges over calling turkeys. Neal Nelson just never gets worn out.
We cooked up a mess of steaks, and our tired backs were forgotten by the time that meal was over. Neal said he sure got hot in his top bunk last night, and I told him he was welcome to share my double bed, but he didn't think that over very long, since I feel sure he had heard all the screaming for Barbara I had done the night before, and wished to not risk being mistaken for Barbara in the middle of the night. He allowed as to how he would just stick with his hot top bunk. I kept my light on that night, just as a precaution.
      The hunters were long gone the next morning when Skeet and I got up. When they got back, no turkeys were in hand this time. As we ate lunch, I thought it was a shame I didn't bring a gun. I could probably have picked off one of those turkeys up river from my lawn chair.
      Trips just seem to turn out better with a couple of preachers along. The last trip, the river took all my clothes except what I had on, but the river gave them all back to me 3 days later, all dried, folded, and packed in my bag. If you wonder how that happened, just ask me. That's a story all by itself. But no, it wasn't a Jonah type thing, even with all these preachers along.Years ago, Neal was taking a bunch of HSU students on a Mulberry River float trip, when the water was too high. One canoe turned over, and a kid got hung up on a limb on the bottom, couldn't get loose, and he was only able to get his head up occasionally. Things looked real bad, except that there just happened to be a whole team of water rescue experts, holding a training session, right there on the bank, who got the kid out. Would that have ever happened, if Neal had not been a preacher? You be the judge.
      As I headed home, just as I was coming into Caddo Valley, a big turkey gobbler flew right over my car. If I had only had my bow and arrow, I could probably have jumped out and bagged him right there. Next time, I'll have to bring it along, and help those young turkey hunters out a little. It never hurts to have a couple of woods wise old men along, passing a bit of our vast storehouse of wilderness lore on down to the next generation. It's just the natural way with things.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Our Ouachita River Adventure

      This past weekend, crack outdoors man Neal Nelson let me tag along, once again, on his spring turkey hunting/fishing trip. He let me do this once before, but after I was in on swamping a perfectly good flat bottom boat in the first fifteen minutes, and helping my partner Travis, Neal's dad, lose most of our stuff, I figured he would try to work around me this time. But no, that's not Neal's way. He's a friend in good times, and a great friend to have in a tight. So naturally, I jumped at the chance to redeem myself. Neal's trips are usually good for at least one good story.
      Neal is the Director of the Baptist Collegate Ministries at HSU, and one of my Pastors. His sidekick, Scott Jackson, our Pastor, Professor at OBU, and owner of Outdoor Discipleship Ministries, carrying many groups of young people to the remote corners of the world, is always along. This trip, my retired friend, "Skeet" Adams, was with us. "Skeet" is short for "Skeeter," short for "Mosquito," I guess.
      The last time I tagged along, we were floating the last 17 miles of the Buffalo River, Travis and I didn't actually turn our boat over, we just took so much water in over the front in a rapids/riffle that it just sank part way. But Travis and I never abandoned ship, we were still paddling for the bank when we were chest deep in water. Neal, watching from above, shouted, "Hey! They made it!" then later, "But they sure look awful short!" Using the term "rapids" sounds better, but with two preachers witnessing, I have to admit, it was more of a big riffle.
      This trip, Neal had gotten a really good deal on a very nice cabin on a branch of the upper Ouachita River near Mt. Ida. Neal always seems to find the best deals, throwing in terms like being a "pore' preacher" and "I have four little kids, and another on the way" with his application. That just seems to always do the trick for him.
      Skeet is a really old man, two full months older than me. Skeet and I got there early in the afternoon and fished and sat around, catching lots of sunfish, while we watched what we felt like were 3 turkeys playing around up river. We had trouble convincing Neal of that though, since he felt like finding 3 turkeys that easily was just too simple. We also saw a lot of deer. Neal and Scott got there in the middle of the night, because Neal felt he should help wife Teresa get the kids to bed at home first.
When they arrived, with two canoes in tow, we got to figuring out who was going to sleep where. Neal and Scott had bunk beds in their room, and the other room had a double bed. Trying to be helpful, I said, "I don't have any problem at all sleeping with Skeet. Sounds good!" As a kid growing up in Wing, we kids often slept three to a bed. But Skeet, an only child, eyed me hard when I said that, deciding I was too agreeable, finally grabbed a couple of quilts, and headed for the couch. So, I had a big bed and a room to myself. Those things just seem to work themselves out better if one is agreeable enough.
Sometime in the middle of the night, I had to go to the bathroom. Quick. Standard fare for us old men. Once standing up, the two minute warning sounds. I like to think that being old was not totally responsible for what happened next, because sometimes, my sleeping pill can make me a little crazy in the middle of the night.
I totally have my path to the bathroom at home memorized, right down to the last detail, and no light is needed. Can't wake Barbara up. This night, I seemed to think I was still at home. I knew right where the bathroom door was, and it was just where I remembered it, except the bathroom had shrunk, and clothes were hanging everywhere. Well, I didn't have time to move all those clothes, so I headed to the door into the rest of the house. Right where I remembered it. But now, someone had removed the doorknob, it seemed, and it was now shaped more like a window. I was beginning to get in a rush, and I ran back to my light stand to turn on my light. But, I felt all up and down that light, and the switch was gone! Time to move now, and I ran back to the first door, determined to search through all those clothes until I found that commode. Had to be here somewhere! No luck. As I headed back to that door that felt more like a window, The 2 minutes were up. Time for the last resort. I screamed for Barbara, maybe she could get her light on. No answer. Then, a tiny light of reality started to flicker on, and I found my light switch to my lamp way down on the cord. By then it was really getting ugly, so I will spare you the rest of the details, except to say that I had to convince Skeet the next morning why I already had clothes washed, and hanging out to dry, at daylight. "Just forgot to bring extra underwear," I said. Now, that's one of those stories I only share with my computer. I know I can trust it. It never says a word.
      While Neal and Scott scouted for turkeys the next morning, Skeet and I fished some and sat a lot. We had to rest up for the big float trip. When the guys got back at lunch, they cooked up a meal. I had already eaten my meal, a peanut butter sandwich and 3 or 4 packages of peanut butter and crackers. I like to keep it simple, out in the woods.
      We left Skeet's little red truck (Skeet only drives red automobiles, he has 3 or 4 of them. Red is the natural color of a truck, he says) at a bridge on the main Ouachita River. Neal led us to a spot upriver that would make for a four mile float, Neal says, and we launched our canoes. Neal and Scott, with pretty little seats (with a comfortable backrest) in their canoe, paddled a little, and fished a lot. Skeet and I, old men with no backrests in our canoe, (We forgot to bring them) fished a little and paddled a lot, so we were soon far ahead. Let's get this 4 miles in before our old backs give out, we decided, and we paddled on, fishing occasionally. Catching Smallmouth bass was the main goal, and we did finally catch one, along with a large mouth bass and lots of perch and goggle eyes. We paddled past a dead Small mouth bass floating in the water, and I closed my fingers on it's tail momentarily. We had now caught two Small mouth bass. Two Small mouths sounded a lot better that one, which could be considered and accident. We just kept paddling on, and after we had gone 6 miles, Skeet and I figured, no truck showed, and our old backs were worn out. Then we put our rods away, and paddled on, now just trying to survive this thing with a little dignity, and strained our eyes to see that pretty little red truck.        Continued     Thanks for reading!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Africa Conclusion

      Our last week was a busy one. We went to visit a Satellite Village, which was just finished, and ready to be turned over to the Africans to run. The babies were due shortly. There still seemed to be some reservations about whether they could hack it or not, but high hopes. We shook hands until we were tired.
      We helped the children make cards to mail to their sponsors. Sponsors normally contribute about $25 each month to the child's welfare. We later decided to sponsor two children, and we get these cards and letters from them regularly. We picked a boy and a girl who had impressed us with much potential, but had few sponsors.
      Barbara was helping a little boy color a picture in an American coloring book we had brought. It was a picture of a mailbox, and Barbara told him to color the flag red. While he was coloring it, he stopped, looked at Barbara, and asked, "what IS this?" There are no mailboxes in Africa.
      We visited a Masai Market in Nairobi one day. There were many, many Masai there, all decked out in bright clothes, and lots to sell. But there were no tourists. Barbara and I, and one or two more, were about it. While we looked at one seller's wares, others would gather round, trying to get our attention and steal us away. I finally said, "Look, unless you allow us to look at everyone's stuff, we won't buy from anybody." They eased up a little, and we did find some really special things. Barbara bought a necklace from a man for $12. He held it in her hand, held her eye for a moment, and said, "You have no idea what selling this to you means to us." The violence had dried up their income.
      A few really old, old women were allowed to come in and pick up a very large bundle of twigs, to sell for fire building. We let them look at themselves in a mirror, and they went wild laughing. They seemed to look for twigs an awful lot around the garden, and I suspect there was a cucumber, or a squash maybe, somewhere in the middle of that bundle when they left.
      We met each morning, right after breakfast, with the native workers and a few others , for bible study, led by Yeen Lan. Listening to those Africans sing all the old hymn in Swahili was one of the most beautiful sounds I have ever heard. That gave us a good startoff to the day. Yeen Lan, in our opinion, seemed to be pushing the Africans very hard toward Christianity, and since she litterally held their lives in her hand, with these jobs, we wondered how many of them were as sincere about what they said as they sounded. But what they said, they said very well. Most Africans speak Swahili, the universal African language, their tribal language, and a British sounding English.
      The last Sunday, Barbara and I didn't go to church. Barbara wanted to get a photo of the Rafiki gate. All the Rafikis have the same, beautifully designed, steel gate. We got a guard to let us out, and we walked out to the edge of the road. It was a very wide road, with several lanes of reckless traffic, all trying to zag here and there to avoid the many potholes. A man with a child on his shoulders, dressed in his Sunday best, a bible in his hand, worked his way across all that traffic to get to us. He said, "I just want to thank you for coming so far to do what you are doing here. God bless you." It was the first time we had been outside that compound without a car and driver.
      Africa has few opportunities for employment. We had met many Africans who had a college degree, very bright young people, working as a maid. Or a waiter. Or looking for a job.
Whites are expected to hire many Africans, and are looked down upon if they do not. Thus, everyone had a driver. One young man asked us that last week, "Do you know anyone in America who wants a driver?" He really didn't understand when we told him, we just don't know many Americans who employ a driver.
A maid, or a cook, may be keeping many Africans alive with the wages they make. There was a good reason that we had a maid, a person who washes and irons our clothes, and a driver. Rafiki employs 50 nationals, and I am sure, if we knew how many ate each day because of that, the number would be staggering.
      Possibly the only thing we ever said to Yeen Lan that could be considered negative, was said at our departure interview. Barbara mentioned to her that she seemed to be pushing too hard in trying to convert the workers. Yeen Lan started her reply with, "Well, I'm sorry if I frightened you -" Barbara just had to interrupt her there, and tell her, "No, you did not frighten me." Nobody frightens Barbara, and she just wanted that clear on the front end. Yeen Lan continued, "This is the only chance those people will have at Christianity. I have to make the most of it."
      I want to give to you the contents of Barbara's last e-mail to America before we left, in her words.
"Let me close by telling you once again how precious these kids are. I have always had a theory that prejudice is taught. They have confirmed that. They could not love us more! They enjoy every tiny thing about us, and don't miss anything. I was sitting by one little girl one day in the dining hall, when Pat walked in. She looked at him across the room and so casually said, "Uncle Pat has new glasses!" He had changed his glasses, and the difference was minor.
      We had our meeting with the director about our stay here, and she wanted to know all the good and the bad and ways they could improve. I told her that one thing we have seen first hand, that could never be faked, is how happy these children are. The light is back in their eyes that was not there when they came in. She loved that!
      Our flight leaves at 11:30 PM on Monday night so in typical Nairobi fashion, we will leave here at 6:00 PM to get there on time in case the traffic is snarled. We are dying to see our family and friends! Our love to all of you, Barbara."
      We came to Nairobi right after the President signed a power-sharing document. While we were preparing to leave, the opposition seemed to be beginning to think he didn't really mean it. Perhaps we came at a good time, and perhaps now is a good time to go home. But Africa has a way of making one want to return. Most likely, we will never see our wonderful kids again. But one never knows. Perhaps we will. Either way, they will be in our hearts forever.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Africa! Never underestimate Barbara - -

      Masai often open up a vein in a cow's neck, drink the blood, and close it back up.
When dry times hit, and the grazing dries up, They move the cattle into downtown Moshe, in the moist micro climate. They have been doing this for eons, long before Moshe, and besides, who is going to stand up and tell these warriors no? Since they strongly believe that all the cattle, and the grazing, in the world belong to them, they go where they wish.
      Before we reached the border, a large truck had wrecked, totally blocking the road. A large crowd of very scary people had gathered. The bus driver just hit the ditch, spun, backed up, over and over again, before getting around this. It looked like an impossible thing to do, but even I knew this would not be a good place to stop. When we hit the pavement, I yelled, "Let's hear it for THE MAN!" He got a big hand.
An older man and woman were on that bus. They looked like they had been out in the bush for a very long time. I sat down beside them, and started a conversation. I just had to know their story.
      They were missionaries from Oregon. They came to Moshe, regularly, and stay a few months at a time. They daily travel in a 4 WD to remote Masai village, and minister to them. Their last trip to Africa, they went to a village where the children of the chief were sick. The witch doctor was not able to help them.
The chief called on the missionaries to heal them. They doctored them, to the best of their ability, and prayed for them. When they returned to that village on this trip, the children were well. The chief gave them, and God, all the credit. Along with that, he gave them a large plot of land. They were returning to America to start raising funds to build a hospital and a church on that land. He said they had gotten malaria a few times, but they take a shot and go on. Their African guide and interpreter is also their African connection, and travels with them.
      We have all heard stories of brave and dedicated African missionaries. The African bush is full of many more we have not heard of. Many self sacrificing men and women, from many countries, are fulfilling the Great Commission. These people, and the seven missionaries at Rafiki, and Deb, are just a few. They are bypassing the comforts of home, family, and security, and giving their lives to this work. It is an honor for a pretend missionary, such as myself, to be able to know and work alongside these people, if only for a short time.
      When we got to the border, things were just as congested as before. Barbara picked the visa line she wanted, because it was manned by a guy who seemed relatively friendly, and occasionally smiled. When we got up to his desk, Barbara poured it on. Smiling, laughing, telling all about us being missionaries, and on and on. She passed the visa over to him. He was totally won over, and stamped our old visa, not valid now, and smiling, said, "You have a great day." We thanked him, and got gone quickly. Barbara just has a gift for having her way with any man. But fortunately, she only uses it when I am at her side. At least, I think so - - -mmmmm - -? (Just kidding, really.)
      Back at the village, the rainy season had started. It seemed to only rain at night, and that was good. Things were greening up, and the insects, particularly the termites, were flogging. When we came out of a cottage, after visiting a bible study one night, termites waiting outside on the porch just swarmed into the house by the thousands. When we finally got away, the children were still scurrying around, gathering them up by the hand fulls. They are welcomed by the Africans. The termites were about the size of a wasp,and they just shucked the wings off, fried them up, and eat them. There is little protein available in East Africa.
When we got to the guest house, they were also swarming about our small outside light by the thousands. Boonie Babies were having a field day, gobbling them up. Boonie Babies are mammals, larger than a squirrel. They have very short back legs, but can leap extraordinarily far in the trees. They have giant eyes, the better to see with in the dark, and often can be heard making a noise not unlike the the cry of a baby  in the African night. They're not to be seen during the day.
There was a one inch gap (Just big enough for a Black Mamba to slide through, I had always thought) at the bottom of the door, and when we went inside and turned on the light, they came under by the hundreds. We quickly retreated to our room, with a tighter door, and cut off their pursuit. The next morning, thousands lay on the floor of the guest house.                    Continued

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Africa! In the Shadow of Kilimanjaro

      Rafiki Tanzania had been completed for only a short time, and only had high school age walk-ins currently. They were preparing for the babies. The first group would all be babies, and the next year, as they grew, another group of babies would enter.
      The bus pulled up at the border, stopping on the Kenya side. It was a hectic, confusing place. People of every nationality, color, and tongue crowded into those small offices. We stood in very long lines to show our visa. Mostly, they just let everybody figure it out themselves. Barbara and I got help from a very tall, blonde German woman, who spoke very good English. Somehow, in the lines Emily got separated from us. We finished first, and headed back to the bus. The driver said he had to drive the bus to the other side, and the remaining passengers would walk across. Emily finished, walked back to the bus, and It was gone. She was in panic, momentarily, then thought, "Barbara and Pat would never let that bus leave me in this awful place." She was right. She finally located the bus.
      We arrived at Moshe, and were picked up by the village director, Deb, a very nice lady from Texas. Rafiki, a few miles out, was shiny new, Surrounded by a tall wire fence. It was not as secure as our rock wall, but each house was a fortress in its own right. They were brick, with heavy metal grates over all the windows and doors. A beautiful mansion stood on a hill nearby. I asked who lived there. "Oh, that's the African Mafia," Deb said.
      The majesty of Kilimanjaro did not appear until later in the day. When the top did begin to show, we had to raise our eyes up higher to see it than we would have ever thought, far above the cloud layer. Words can't describe it, so I won't even try. Kilimanjaro is 19,000 feet high, the tallest free standing mountain in the world. It is snow capped, standing on the Equator. Deb had hiked it years before, a four day climb, the last day being through hellish arctic conditions. A guide service was a requirement, and it was very expensive. We were far too old, and way too poor, and not enough time.
      Deb took us to Moshe, to show us around. The stores were very inexpensive, selling unbelievable things, but carrying them home is another matter. For lunch, we ate Somosas, a triangular shaped meat pie. Very good.
      Native women, hair cut to the scalp, huge earrings hanging far down, in brightly colored wraps walked the streets. They carried large round platters filled with a very large load of bananas Barbara longed to photo them, but felt that would be impolite. Kilimanjaro produces a moist micro climate in Moshe, in this dry, arid bushland that is East Africa.
      An old house beside the village housed 15 teenagers who go to school there. They make fantastic crafts to pay the rent. Barbara bought note cards, made from Banana leaves. We can look at them, but never figure out how they did that.
      We went to church on Sunday with Deb. It was different, but we have the same God. A man and three women walked around, singing different parts of Christ's resurrection. It was very powerful.
We all drank from the large silver cup for communion. That part of the service was identical to that of St. Andrews church in Little Rock.
The Tall blonde German woman who befriended us at the border was there, and she turned out to be a friend of Deb's. She was a missionary, and spoke 8-10 languages.
      Driving out of town, we saw a hospital that was named after Rosemary Jensen's husband, Dr. Bob.
Yeen Lan called us the last day. We were able to tell her we had seen the top of Kilimanjaro every day, a rare event She told us she had prayed for us to see the mountain in all its glory. She said some people stay there for weeks without ever seeing the top. Don't doubt that Yeen Lan has those connections. I personally believe Yeen Lan is an African legend in the making. If we live long enough, many people will be enthralled to find we actually know her.
      We got bad news just before heading back to Kenya. Deb told us our visa was a one way thing, and we would have to buy another to cross the border back into Kenya, at $100 each. No way around it, that's just how it's done. We didn't have that much on us, and only cash could be used.
Deb insisted on cashing a personal check of ours before we left. Barb seemed confident we would never need that money, I wasn't so sure, and I took Deb up on her offer. But, as I well knew, its very easy to under estimate Barbara's abilities, when it comes to public relations.
      On the bus headed out, we saw many small, circular compounds in the bush. Mud and cow manure huts were surrounded by a high fence of thorns. Most were unoccupied. The Masai, with their herds of cattle, mules and goats, just went wherever the grazing was in this dry, arid land. The donkeys were used to haul containers of muddy water from sources that might be many miles away.
      Drinking water was a real problem there. The Masai often had to drink from the same source the cattle had been in, a very bad thing in Africa. Many people die because of the water. Modern water wells and filtering systems could save many lives there.
      Young boys herded the goats. "Isn't that dangerous?" I had asked. "Yes, we do lose boys often." Those who survive and become a man are a very formidable force, with only a spear, in protecting their herds.
Traditionally, a young Masai man has to draw first blood in the killing of a lion to become a man. One young warrior showed me how this was done.
      When a lion stalks their animals, four or five warriors track it down. They surround it, each with a spear and a cowhide shield. The young warrior seeking to become a man confronts it. When the lion charges, he braces the back of the spear with his foot, points the spear at the charging lion. If things go well, the lion will be impaled, and the warrior crouches behind the cowhide shield. Other warriors then move in and help. This is technically not legal now, but many older men still show many scars from the day they became a man.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Africa! Heroic Journey through a War

      Our Rafiki, we found out, was the only one of the ten that had not been broken into. Neutralize the guards, then rob everyone. In addition to the high rock wall, which the others did not have, there was a security service that could be called, if there was time. It consisted of a truck load of big men with big sticks. Gun use was rare. Usually, only the military and the police had guns. Yeen Lan said she could have gotten guns for the guards, and could have had broken glass embedded on top of the wall, as most rock compounds in Nairobi had. But she felt guns and glass was just in violation of what we were about.
She did allow plants to be planted inside the wall, with long sharp spikes on top. Jumping off the wall inside in the dark could be a very painful experience. The houses were virtually forts, complete with panic buttons.
      The rock wall was possible because Rafiki sat in the middle of a rock quarry. Workers used very heavy, long pieces of re bar, sharpened on the end, to drill blasting holes into the rock. Men punching holes in the rocks could last at that about four years before being totally broken down. Life expectancy was in the 40's. It totally amazed our kids that a man as old as me, probably the oldest person they knew, could still run. Even play Basketball. But my age didn't mean they took it easy on me when we played basketball. Once, I fell down. The game continued on, around and over me. I was on my own, getting out of the way.
      Police often use instant justice. If they pretty well had a robbery pinned on someone, a bullet in the head greatly sped up the wheels of justice.
     I got to noticing during the afternoon play period that most of the kid's soccer balls and basketballs they were playing with were partially deflated. I dug around at school until I found a pump and inflation needle, and headed out into the masses of kids. I started pumping up balls, and the more I pumped up, the more balls they were showing up with. I think they were running to the houses and digging them out from everywhere. At long last, completely exhausted, I pumped the last pump on the last ball. Within minutes, they started showing up for a re-pump. Then I realized. Many of the trees in the compound were thorn trees, and almost every ball had a hole in it.
      Barbara found three bottles of bubbles in an old chest in our guest house, and She took them out to where the kids were. I've just got to tell this story in Barbara's own words -
      "Oh my goodness! I was more popular than a rock star! It really was fun but somewhat taxing. I got my reward when a little girl named Susan laughed at the bubbles. It made my heart soar. Susan's mother was killed by her father when she was in her mother's arms. She had been at Rafiki just more than a year now, and she had not smiled once that first year. To see her beautiful face light up was such a treasure!"
     We were contacted by three women we went on Safari with and invited to dinner at the home of the UN attached lady who lives across town. They were all very nice women, but we had to turn down the offer because it would have been too complicated. The gate here is locked at night, and the guards don't have a key. One of the missionaries has it at his house. The director really didn't want us to go, but suggested that if we did, we should hire a security company to take us, wait for us, and bring us back. The missionary with the keys would need to be waiting at the gate when the security company arrived, and open the gate only on the signal from the car, so that it never stopped at the gate. Most robberies occur when a car stops at a gate. That all seemed like a bit much to just go to dinner. Besides, we hated to disappoint the kids at the supper table.
      Doug had been hijacked once when stopping at the gate. These particular robbers had a gun, and the gate guards didn't. They drove him around awhile, took all his stuff. Trying to decide what to do with him, One robber asked him, "What are you doing in Africa?" Doug told him he was a missionary, and about his work. The robber said, "That's a very nice thing for you to do." "Then why are you robbing me?" "The need is very great." They finally let him go, minus the car and all his stuff  Because they had guns, the best guess was they were policemen.
      During the violence, Yeen Lan had 100 mouths to feed, and they were running out of food. In addition to the children, the national workers who were of the wrong tribe stayed there also. Leaving would have meant death. Yeen Lan worried about the situation, one morning at her desk. Looking out the window, the Mango tree nearby was loaded with ripe fruit, a couple of month's early. She sensed God was saying to her, "Oh you crazy woman of little faith! I will provide." That spurred her to action. She called the UN across town. Yes, they had food. No, they could not bring it. The town was torn by violence. Sending the national workers for it would have meant sure death. So far, they were not yet killing whites. Doug and another White missionary Built a hidden compartment in a station wagon. They had to cross town multiple times, passing through roadblocks for both sides, to get the food back to Rafiki. The food, in the hidden compartment, was not found. Doug told me that during the violence, once a group of hundreds of warriors walked past the gate, all making their war sounds. Not a fun time. A great fear during that time was that a large group of tribesmen would come in and try to kill all the children that belonged to the other tribe. The child's name often gave away the tribe name. Remember Kip Keno, the great Kenyan distance runner? Many children from his tribe were in our village. They all carried the name "Kip."
      That weekend, Yeen Lan had arranged a trip for us to the Tanzania Rafiki, which lies at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro. This was a six hour trip by fast bus, which had only about three stops. The slow bus, which most of the natives rode, took two days, stopping at every village. At 6:30 AM we loaded on the bus. Emily went with us.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Africa! The Safari, Part two

      Soon two male lions came running, trying to take the kill over while Hyenas circled, waiting for their share. One female Lion jerked off a large chunk of meat, and ran off with it, chased by a male.
Water Buffalo had another Lion treed, and each time he would try to come down, they ran at him with their sharp horns, trying to protect their young. He just went back up the tree to wait them out. These kind of encounters continued for a while, then Wesley drove us back in some woods along a river bluff, overlooking a river full of Hippos, and set up a table for our breakfast. I picked up a huge bone, and brought it to Wesley. "Never do that. There could have easily been a Black Mamba under that."
      He got a call, someone had spotted a Leopard, and we were off, scattering Water Buffalo as we went. Sure enough, a Leopard was treed. We got photos. We got many good photos that morning. One of the most beautiful birds I have ever seen, many animals in the deer family, then a herd of Elephants. Next was a herd of Zebras rolling in the dust. "That's why nobody ever rides a Zebra. Their first instinct, with something on their back, is to lie down and roll over on it," Wesley said.
      When we got to Lunch, back at camp, we only filled up one table of many in the lunch room. "It is just hard to get tourists to come in," Wesley said," when someone's getting hacked to death over the hill with a machete."
      Our group consisted of a war crimes recorder, with the UN, her two sisters from Canada, two missionaries, and us. Using my trademark charm, I told the ladies, "I would have been here long before, if I had only known I would be dining with 6 beautiful ladies." I know they all were inwardly swooning over that, but outwardly, It looked a little more like they were gagging.
      The waiter, not very busy, sat down and talked to us a lot. He was explaining how his generation of Masai were trying to change old customs of his tribe. The old customs largely stripped them of their wealth, and also contributed greatly to the Aids problem. Their Dad wanted to buy yet another wife, but his sons told him he didn't need another wife, he had given far too many of the cattle they had for the group of wives he already had. The dad was pouty about that, but he didn't get the wife. A dead man's wife was traditionally taken by his brother, helping further spread the Aids problem.
      A Masai leader of some sort came to talk to us that afternoon. I think he sorta expected our women to swoon at his full dress costume, But these were strong, outspoken women, and they had their own agenda. "Why do you circumcize your women?" was their first question. Well, all he could tell them was, "It's just our custom." The UN War Crimes woman stated, "Well, its a bad custom, and you need to stop it." Poor guy. He was just never able to get around to his prepared speech, and was happy to see us go. He did manage to ask me if anyone in America had cows. When I told him many people do, he said, "Tell them we will be coming for them." The Masai feel they own all the cattle in the world.
      Wesley got a big scare on the afternoon outing. He saw the end of a woman's toe in the corner of his vision when driving, and I thought he was going to dive out of the moving Jeep. He later told us Black Mamba's, when ran over, sometimes wrap around the axle and get into the open Jeep, and by then it would be very mad. If that happened, it could take out a lot of people.
      We flew back to Nairobi. When we stepped off the plane, our regular driver was waiting. I proudly introduced him to the five new women, my five new "wives," and told him I had spent all my cows.
Back at Rafiki, we had e-mails waiting. Corey and Kinley, our children, were on pins and needles, and wanted to know it as soon as we were off Safari.
     I had befriended our guards, and regularly sat around and talked to them at the gate, before they started their nightly rounds. The women missionaries, they said, offended them because they never came out and visited them like I did. I told them it was a cultural thing. In America, a lone woman just does not normally go out in the dark and sit around with a group of strange men. They laughed at that.
      One asked me if there were people like him in America. "Yes, many." "Well, how did they get there?" I explained to them they would not like to get there the way they did. I told the whole story, and I had to start way back.
      Well, it was way after dark, and we all knew they should be patrolling now, but I had one more story to tell them, and they listened eagerly. Suddenly, right in the middle of my story, I realized they were no longer listening to me. They were staring off down the road toward the middle of the camp. I stared also, but could hear or see nothing. Fully three minutes later, I began to hear footsteps coming up the path. I looked around at the guys, but they were just gone. Every one of them had melted off into the darkness, with nary a sound. Turned out, Doug, their boss, was coming, and they should be out patrolling now.  They must have heard him when he came out his door. I think we have lost our "night hearing" also.
Continued    Thanks for reading!