One of my most influential undergraduate teachers, Sr. Monica Laughlin, OSB (may she rest in peace), was fond of repeating three statements: “Simplify. You are more than what you do. Small acts of love can make a big difference.” She would have shuddered to see how much I try to pack into a d day, and would have rolled her eyes at one particular incidence. (Look up…sorry, Sister.) About five or six years ago I was biking into campus last fall for an 8:00am Piano Proficiency class, balancing both books and coffee while trying to get to class on time. I whisked in under the FAC courtyard overhang and almost ran over one of my students, Connor Sullivan. He paused and watched me set down my coffee, balance my bike, and then pick up my books as the bike slipped to tip over my cup of coffee. I would have said, “sh**,” had Connor not chimed in first, “It looks like you get to drink the last drop first, Mary Ellen.”
Grand Rapids, Minnesota (not to be confused with the much larger Grand Rapids, Michigan) is located at the very tip of the Mesaba Iron Range, about 80 miles from Lake Superior. Even though it’s famous for being the birthplace of Judy Garland, its real treasure is the quiet serenity of the north woods. My teacher-parents helped us spread our wings on the shores of nearby Pokegama Lake, the mighty Mississippi, and the dozens of state parks that dot the region. They couldn’t afford Disneyland, but probably would have still taught us to savor the simple. Coloring books weren’t allowed in the home, but Dad always made sure that we had plenty of scrap paper and drawing utensils on hand. We spent summer mornings in his art room, which was like a dreamland—easels, oils, potters’ wheels—so much more to mess with than what we had at home. My mother was no less resourceful. She filled the house with music, taught us to sew, and always had something special planned for “family day”—even if that meant driving to the dump and sitting in our station wagon waiting for the bears to come out. For my parents, “no things” translated into some really extraordinary somethings.
YOU ARE MORE THAN WHAT YOU DO.
When I left for the College of St. Scholastica in the fall of 1978, the “suitcase” my parents packed for me was filled with everything I needed—their love, encouragement, dreams for me, and a strong work ethic. I wanted to make them proud, but was pummeled by the school of hard knocks and what seemed like a relentless pursuit to fill in the gaps between my small-town upbringing and the institutions and cities that would continue to influence me. I probably worked harder than most to get into graduate school, but managed to finish my doctorate at Wash University in St. Louis at an earlier date than my smarter student colleagues. The GET AHEAD drug was working for me, but it was addicting—and I found myself wanting more.
Instead, I met my husband and we had four children. Many of you who know Mike have great respect for his intellect and achievements as an economic historian, most notably in the world of baseball! It’s unfortunate that he’s defined by his professional work, because I believe Mike’s best work was done playing blocks in our family room, master-minding obstacle course races at birthday parties, and teaching our kids the rules to HUNDREDS of board games (I kid you not). When he attended my daughter’s cross country races in high school, he used to always wait until the last runner came in before he’d meet Madeline at the finish line. At one race, he found her to be rather ornery because she came in second, so made sure that they walked past the girl who came in last place on their way to the car. She was happily bundling her things when they passed, joking with a teammate. He said, “Nice race,” to which she smiled and replied, “Thanks.” Madeline replied with, “Who’s that?” Mike said, “She’s the girl who came in last. Sometimes you have to run for more than first place.” I could bore you all with stories of dystonia and having to figure myself out as a non-pianist, but would rather leave this section of my talk with Mike’s fine lesson in YOU ARE MORE THAN WHAT YOU DO.
SMALL ACTS OF LOVE MAKE A BIG DIFFERENCE.
A few years ago, during the Music History sequence, I received an email from a student who we’ll call Harold. He wrote, “Although I have been saying that I have been doing good lately, I can't sugar coat my real feelings. I lied to you. I am no where near where I am supposed to be for your classes. I have a list of assignments and papers that I haven’t done yet. I keep losing track and getting side-tracked when I begin to think about working on them. I honestly am scared of the next 3 weeks...I am afraid I am not going to pass your course, that I'm going to fail my paper assignments, that I am not going to have enough credits for next semester.” I responded with, “Meet me in my office at 9 tonight” and I readied myself with a print out of weekly schedules, all the while suspecting that he wouldn’t show up. When he appeared at my doorstep at 9:10pm, I could tell that he was trying to hold back tears; I, on the other hand, wasn’t in the mood for mothering. It boiled down to, “If Harold didn’t get his act together, Harold wasn’t going to be coming back to Viterbo in the fall.”
We were preparing for a battle of sorts—Harold and I—and I felt the queasiness of risk welling up inside. I paused to think of my own parents’ thoughts and feelings when they shipped each one of us off. “Does she have enough courage? Will she fold under disappointment? Will there be teachers and employers out there who will help my kid find her path? Did she learn any of the really important things that we tried to instill?” It was one of those indescribable, timeless pauses. I imagined myself in Harold’s shoes, sitting in Sr. Monica’s office thirty-plus years ago, and caught myself saying, “Harold, you could be a great teacher someday, but right now YOU are standing in the way of making that happen. If you can’t get your act together for yourself, the very least you can do is to do it for your future students. In fact, what you do in the next two weeks could make a difference for people who aren’t even born yet.” Two days later, Harold sent a text that he had 11 pages drafted.
I don’t want to pat myself on the back and end this with, “Because you showed some compassion, Harold succeeded in class.” It’s a simple cause and effect explanation that doesn’t fully explain the mystery of compassion. You and I both know that humans respond to even the smallest acts of love, kindness, and compassion. And when those acts of love and compassion are expressed at a time of need, there is almost always a positive outcome. During that timeless pause (when I couldn’t decide between scolding him or taking a deep breath), I unpacked an act of love from the invisible suitcase that my folks packed for me when they launched me into the world. The part of the mystery that isn’t as simple as cause and effect is that Harold had to recognize the compassion in order to be motivated by it. It wasn’t the first or last time where I’ve experienced how SMALL ACTS OF LOVE MAKE A BIG DIFFERENCE – not entirely by my doing.
I would like to leave you all with Sr. Monica’s great advice:
YOU ARE MORE THAN WHAT YOU DO.
SMALL ACTS OF LOVE CAN MAKE A BIG DIFFERENCE.
Zambia December 28, 2017 – January 8, 2018
My last meal before departing MSP was a quick stop at Lucky 13 Pub with Mike and Louise. I was nervous about making all my connections, so was uselessly filling up with doubtful self-talk. Thankfully, my flight to London/Heathrow was uneventful and even seemed to speed by. It helped that I had a daughter-mother duo who were setting out on a month-long trip through Europe to visit Christmas markets. Daughter Erica teaches at a High-Tech High elementary school in San Marcos (language immersion/Spanish), not far from where Matt and Elizabeth live and work. Even though I was flying across the Atlantic, meeting these two women made me feel that the world is small and that good people are everywhere.
London-Heathrow is a glistening airport full of high-end shopping, comfortable seating, fine restaurants and lounges that offer spa amenities – massages, manicures, and pedicures – as well as small rooms with comfortable beds. I had an eight-hour layover, so decided to rent a bed for a three-hour nap. My little space had a sink, toilet, and shower and allowed me to catch up on some much-needed sleep, and even take a shower before the next leg of the trip. In the final 4 hours of my layover I found a seat at La Puccina Italian Restaurant and ate some dinner while working on my course syllabi, courtesy of the airports free wi-fi. The notion that I was vulnerable to a computer virus or hacking never crossed my mind. The place was so plush.
In sharp contrast, the Addis Ababa International Airport is quite diverse, but ever so dirty and disorganized. I sat for three hours in an area lined with chairs, all facing a single direction – sort of like cattle lined up for slaughter. An airport attendant screamed departing flights over a loud-speaker while a woman and her boyfriend took turns staring creepily at me. At one point, I turned and just stared back at the guy. Weirdos. Gate 1A was the departure gate for both Lusaka, Zambia and Harare, Zimbabwe, which was confusing for most of us. The attendant told us that the gate number didn’t matter - “Look at the zone number on your tickets and form a line!” We zone 4 folks were herded onto a bus and taken to a plane that we hoped was going to Lusaka. I got on the correct flight, but my area of the plane to Lusaka was a temporary ED unit because the poor guy in front of me suffered a seizure!
Nomads Court Lodges afforded me some rest before the flight to Solwezi the next morning. They had a pool, large garden area, and offered an inexpensive room with living area, kitchenette, and king-size bed for about $80.00. I spent the afternoon trying to get hooked into wifi, but couldn’t seem to connect. I didn’t think that the problem was anything beyond my lack of technical ability, but suspected something more serious had infiltrated my system when my phone started misbehaving. I helplessly tried to find the root of the problem, and after a fit-filled evening of searching through my mac’s console and terminal, there seemed to be enough suspicious activity to contact Mike and tell him to monitor my bank accounts. I sent a Whatsapp message to both Mike and Madeline, but only Madeline received the message. It was so frustrating to feel that my privacy was invaded; I could feel my heart racing and was shaking with worry. I shut everything down and asked Mike to monitor my accounts. It could have been a virus, but I didn’t want to take any chances.
Madeline looked just beautiful. She was grateful for me being there and I was grateful to find her thriving and happy. Almost immediately after picking me up, the three of us headed for Chimfunshi, a chimp refuge about 3 hours north of Solwezi (outside of Chingola). We didn’t know what to expect from the refuge, but wanted to see Dobby – Madeline and Chaz’s little rescue-pet monkey. Sylvia Siddle met us and showed us to our cottage before arranging a meeting with the chimps. We watched several of them during feeding time and witnessed several very human-like moments that ranged from fighting to care-taking.
At the end of our day, we gathered all the Christmas presents that I brought and sat under the gazebo in the central part of the camp. I had fun watching them open “luxury” goods like pop tarts and Emergen-C, which they really appreciated! Madeline had brought along food that we prepared in the camp kitchen; pasta, caprese salad, garlic bread, and red wine made for a wonderful meal!
The following day, we had our unforgettable walk with the chimps. Sylvia told us to take off all our jewelry and gave us overalls with big pockets that we filled with bread and dog food. Dominic, one of the staff members, led us into the enclosure and asked us to sit down on a log and wait for Cindy, Dee Dee, and Sims, three of Sylvia’s hand-raised chimps. We didn’t have to wait long before the three of them lumbered out and began rooting through our pockets. The three of them knew the drill because they didn’t waste time raiding our pockets, which I suppose was planned to help them trust us a bit more before our walk in the woods. Cindy was more attentive and interested in people than the other two. She would find mushrooms on the walk and would hand them to us so that we would hand feed her. Even though Sims ran off and Dee Dee only occasionally would join us, Cindy stayed with us the entire time. She even took turns riding piggy-back on Chaz and Madeline.
We were happy to see Dobby and hear that he’d been accepted by the other Vervet monkeys at Chimfunshi. Madeline and Chaz said that he’d grown and that his coat looked healthier, but it was obvious that he didn’t recognize them. He came over and drank milk from a bottle from both of them, however. Sylvia said that he had a hard time adjusting at first, mainly because he was so used to being handled and held by Madeline. She told us that not long after Dobby arrived, another Vervet monkey named “Flo” (who was released into the wild) found her way back to the compound and immediately adopted Dobby as her own. Sylvia said that all the Vervet monkeys at Chimfunshi will be released into the wild when Dobby gets big enough to survive.
The best part of the trip was having tea with Sylvia and her legendary mother, Sheila Siddle. We were captivated by the story of Sheila’s family overland trip from the UK to Capetown, South Africa – a six-month vacation (when she was just a child) that turned into a permanent move. She told us that her father built a camper from parts of old army transports, constructing beds for each family member including their dog, as well as out-fitting the contraption with a full kitchen and sight-seeing windows. Sheila explained that Chimfunshi was first a cattle farm that she and her second husband, Dave, had successfully run for several years. Sheila and Dave raised their five children (all from their first marriages) and were planning to retire when their son-in-law game ranger brought them a chimpanzee that was nearly dead. Their success with “Pal” led to more “drop-offs”, which required the expansion and development of Chimfunshi as a refuge for chimpanzees (and other animals).
Sheila also shared her love of her pet hippo “Billy,” whom she described as her greatest protector. Even though hippos are among the most dangerous (and fastest) animals on the earth, Billy fell in love with Sheila and Sheila fell in love with Billy. Evidently, they were almost inseparable; Billy strayed a few times to follow wild hippos passing the farm via the river, but always returned home. Sheila was almost in tears when she told us that poachers sprayed poison on the grass that Billy often ate by the riverside, and how she managed to get up the hill to die at “home.” Sheila and Sylvia think that poachers either wanted her meat or were interested in getting rid of Chimfunshi’s great protector. We were sad to think that this hippo probably would have outlived Sheila, who is currently 86 years old.
We hired a driver to take us from Chimfunshi to Kasempa, where we made our transfer to Mpungu. Madeline and Chaz said that the trip usually takes three times as long on the bus because busses in Zambia have to fill up before they leave the station/parking lot. The indeterminate departure times make for hours of waiting, so we thought it best to lug our belongings with a driver. It was so much fun arriving in the compound and meeting their dogs, Rafiki (friend – in Swahili) and Kilobo (warrior, mighty man, hero - KiKaonde). The dogs squealed and yelped with delight when they saw Chaz and Madeline and didn’t try to bite me. Madeline and I spent the afternoon with the dogs leading us on a long and lovely five-mile walk through the woods that bypassed the market and people, but led through the dense and lush countryside – over streams and under tall canopies. The dogs are extremely fast and hardy, smart and loyal. Because the pups belonged to their neighbor Nathan, they held and cuddled the new pups from the time they were born. When Nathan moved, he left one of the pups – Kilobo – with Madeline and Chaz, and took the others to his new location. Within a week, 8-week-old Rafiki appeared at their doorstep all covered in mud. Nathan had his hands full, so was happy to give another pup a home. After the walk, we spent a good deal of time talking about how we might get the dogs to the US when their Peace Corps stint is up.
I slept in, so felt fully recovered from my trip. Madeline had mentioned that she really wanted me to see two of their most successful projects in the village, so our first visit was to Ba Gateson in Mpungu-South. Gateson had some success with fish farming before Madeline and Chaz got to Mpungu, but his jealous Zambian neighbors destroyed his dam, which effectively dried up his ponds. One of Madeline and Chaz’s first undertakings when they arrived in Mpungu was to help Gateson and friends rebuild the dam and construct furrows for new ponds (which Mike and I saw in August 2016). This time, I saw an impressive number of reconstructed or new ponds – 14 in all, varying in size from 10 X 15 meters to 20 X 30 meters.
Ba Musoni (another fish farmer from Mpungu South) and his family, as well as several of Ba Gateson’s family members, joined us at the ponds. We fed the fish termites and maize so that we could see the size of the fish, which were ready for “cropping” (harvesting). Gateson seemed to need advice about how and where they would sell all the fish. He was hoping to find a market in the boma (Kasempa), but communication with the Department of Fisheries was sketchy. Madeline and Chaz encouraged him not to wait for fear he would lose money, and offered several ideas on how he might sell his fish in Mpungu. They suggested that he make an announcement at the local churches that they would sell their fresh fish in the market immediately after services. He could also dry whatever he doesn’t sell and still make a profit. They tried to impress on Gateson and his family how important it was to keep coming up with new ideas on how to sell their product, rather than just give up.
Ba Gateson accompanied us on the trail back to home. He addressed me as “mum” and asked how things were at home. I was impressed that this rural Zambian fisherman knew enough about Donald Trump to make conversation in English, no less. I couldn’t help but admire his gentle hospitality and demeanor, which left a deep impression on me in 2016 when I met him for the first time. He also respects Madeline, which is unusual in this patriarchal culture.
The clouds were thickening, so we decided to make only a brief stop to see Ba Trina and Ba Jameson on our way home. We left their place when it was sprinkling and were lucky that the deluge didn’t start until we turned down the lane to their house. The rains here are incredibly intense, so it was nice to be inside and planning dinner. Madeline has become an expert at using wood-fueled braziers for both baking and cooking and makes all sorts of breads, cakes, and even cinnamon rolls. For our New Year’s meal, she made handmade tortillas, which we filled with a soya and vegetables – absolutely delicious. We tried to watch a movie after dinner, but I fell asleep before the credits turned up the title.
There was no tossing and turning the entire night before my birthday - a gift for which I was very grateful! I slept in a bit later than usual and walked bleary-eyed into their living area to the two of them singing “Happy Birthday”! I glanced down to see that Madeline had made a GIGANTIC white, frosted layer cake decorated with fresh mangoes! She told me that they had something special planned near the marketplace, so we packed up the cake and a few other things and walked toward the town center. The HIV/AIDS support group had planned an honorary program to thank Chaz, Madeline, and me for the solar fridge and sewing machine that the group purchased with money from the sale of their hand-crafted items at Newman last summer. It was great to meet all of them and see the pride and preparation that went into this special program!
Two of the men alternated in English/Kikaonde with special introductions of all those in attendance, including the sub-chief and his wife. There were words of thanks and songs by the villagers; they also asked me to lead a song and say a few words to all of them. We sang the “Navajo Peace Song” and I told them how proud I was of them for making school uniforms and other clothing, as well as selling drinks that were chilled to cold with their solar fridge. It was ironic that the man leading the ceremony was caught embezzling from the group. Madeline said that they were coming up short in profits, and after an “accounting” of what was bought/sold, they had enough evidence to accuse the guy of skimming kwatcha from the group’s profits. She said that they had a meeting to discuss evidence against him, but that the members of the group chose to forgive him. Donning wire-rimmed glasses, dressing quite nicely, and speaking almost perfect English, he gave the impression that he is trustworthy enough. It was good that Chaz came up with an alternative solution for manning the store, suggesting a cooperative that requires each person/family in the new cooperative to take shifts in the “store.”
When the “program” ended, the women busied themselves with preparing a nshima meal for us. We sang more songs while we waited. When the meal was ready, Madeline told them all that it was my birthday and asked them to join in “Happy Birthday.” Even though they “sort of” knew the song, it was clear that birthdays aren’t anything special in rural Zambia. Many people don’t know when they were born and they don’t have money to spend on gifts. I almost felt silly drawing attention to my special day, so was happy to have Madeline’s cake be the center of attention. Everyone enjoyed her special treat and even took home extra pieces for family members. It was great!
I took several pictures of the group because I didn’t want to forget the very special people who were in attendance. A young woman, Jetrina Motika, recited a poem about AIDS. Standing confidently in front of the whole group, she recited a memorized poem about the pain, suffering, and ostracization of those with HIV. She was eloquent and memorable. “Mary” is another veritable character who takes an entire day each quarter to walk to the boma to pick up her HIV medication. She wanted me to take a picture of her holding her medication so that her “friends” in La Crosse would know that she takes it regularly. One of the primary purposes of the HIV/AIDS support group (and it’s store) is to provide funds that will pay the taxi fee to/from Kasempa for people who need ARVs (anti-retro-viral therapy).
Our walk home from this marvelous party included a stop at Alex Kyembe’s house. We sat in their living room and had a long conversation about a variety of things. The conversation was philosophical and deep; Alex listened attentively, sometimes putting his head down while rubbing his face, as if conjuring up a thought. The subject of race came up and his response was typically inclusive, “One flower by itself isn’t beautiful, but all flowers together are beautiful.” Their home doesn’t have running water or electricity, but was nicely decorated by Mpungu standards; and their children and grandchildren were eager to try out their English, proudly sharing their school accomplishments. I know that Alex and his wife (who I knew only as Mrs. Kyembe) are the sole healthcare providers in the entire village (which includes a few thousand people). He works long hours delivering babies and treating people for malaria and shares his deep faith without sounding righteous and judgmental. It is clear that it helps him to clarify the meaning and purpose in his life.
Alex and his wife told me how hard Madeline and Chaz have worked for the people in Mpungu; he didn’t want to focus on the future when they would inevitably be gone, but rather wanted to share his gratitude for how much they helped him at the clinic and with the HIV/AIDS support group. I couldn’t keep the tears back when Mrs. Kyembe gave me a rug that she had been working on for me. She had hand-stitched the word “welcome” and then apologized that her English wasn’t better. We were all so overcome with emotion in those few graced moments. Alex Kyembe is probably as close to a living saint as I will ever get.
I consider myself lucky that we only took the bus once – four hours from Kasempa to Solwezi. Alex Kyembe had arranged for a driver to take us to Kasempa, but with limited kwatcha, we needed to pay the cheaper bus fare to Solwezi. When our taxi driver dropped us at the station, the bus was almost full and ready to leave, but there were arguments ensuing about the state of the bus. A few of the men grabbed their belongings and refused to ride, which should have been our first clue. The driver tried to start the bus, but it only puttered and struggled to move, spewing exhaust into the bus as passengers screamed to get the windows open. We made a loop, turned around, and everyone transferred to another bus – better than the first, but still a wreck. The trip didn’t seem that long and was even sort of interesting. Whenever the bus stops, scores of kids run up to the windows selling nuts, fruits, drinks, and water (that consists of old plastic bottles filled with tap/bore hole water). We bought some bananas and hard-boiled eggs for about 5 kwatcha (50 cents).
After checking into our hotel, Madeline and I walked to the Peace Corps provincial house to pick up a few things. One of her friends was a computer science major, so had some good advice for me regarding my computer issues. We watched a vigorous storm for the remainder of the afternoon and finally called a cab to Kwesu for dinner. Zambian taxi drivers are quite deft at steering clear of potholes, and it’s a wonder that the city streets aren’t paved. It wasn’t uncommon to see men with wheel barrows filling potholes with rocks.
Madeline and Chaz described their long and harrowing bus trips from the village to Lusaka as we waited for the plane to Lusaka/Livingstone. They couldn’t help comparing the bus to the plane, saying that they appreciated not having to deal with a possible breakdown, lack of air conditioning, and bodies packed closely together. After only one hour of flight time, our driver from Jollyboys Backpacker Hostel was at the Livingstone Airport to pick us up. We got settled in the hotel and caught a taxi to see Victoria Falls on the Zambian side.
The falls were spectacular, especially dramatic because of the increased rainfall at this time of the year. We walked two of the three main trails and took several pictures and short videos. On the way back to Livingstone, we decided to get a drink at the Royale Livingstone Hotel. Situated on the Zambezi River, just up river from the falls, the five-star hotel is one of the swankiest places that I saw in Zambia, or anywhere, for that matter. We knew we didn’t belong there, but couldn’t resist pretending – ordering fancy drinks and taking several pictures of the mist rising from the falls. We admired the gorgeous sunset from the Royale Livingstone’s riverside bar and caught a hotel shuttle back to Livingstone. Dinner at Olga’s Italian Restaurant capped our fantastic first day.
Madeline, Chaz, and I had breakfast at Kubu Coffee before Madeline and I set out on a day alone together. Chaz wanted to do some writing and thought it would be nice for us to have some time alone. We decided to see Victoria Falls from Zimbabwe, so caught a taxi to Zambia site and then walked a few miles to the border. The checkpoint was frustratingly inefficient. More and more people were packing into the building, but no one was being checked through. After 45 minutes of smelly sweaty, stinky bodies, I was able to get a KAZA visa, which allows tourists to cross the border into Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Namibia.
I wondered if the falls would be more dramatic from Zimbabwe (because they were so gorgeous from Zambia) and wasn’t disappointed! There seemed to be more mist and less people (which is a nice combination on a hot day), not to mention DOZENS of monkeys and their tiny babies. They seemed to grow in numbers as we walked further and further, yet didn’t show any distress at the presence of humans. Some of them were sucking on human garbage (chip bags and the like), so I’m guessing that they’ve figured out that where there are humans, there’s a treat to be had. I’m not sure if they’re considered pests or not, but could easily say they were far less pesky than the African men who kept asking Madeline if she would pose in their “selfies” (because they evidently like to post pictures on Facebook of themselves with young white women.)
We walked back into Zambia through the same border control, only to have the same slow-poke of guard stamp our passports and smile, “It’s you again. I hope you had a nice time.” We had missed the “Boiling Pot” trail the day before and had some time, so trekked down into the gorge. The foliage we deep and lush, wet and tropical and we made the sometimes steep descent. People were wearing dress shoes and flip flops and wondering why they were having a tough time. I could only attribute my slow pace to my age and was glad when Madeline would stop long enough for me to catch up. As got close to the “Boiling Pot,” we started noticing baboons – mothers with their babies, younger baboons playing with each other, and big males getting groomed. Just as monkeys were everywhere on the Zimbabwe side, baboons were in the trees, on the rocks, and even on the trail in Zambia.
It was a hot day, so anyone under 25 was jumping into the pools that were formed by the rocks at the river’s edge at the end of the trail. We enjoyed watching the kids mess around in the water and had an exceptional view of the bungee jumpers from the bridge. We saved our swimming for the Jollyboys pool before our meal out at the Zambezi Café. We ordered a large platter of meat with the most succulent crocodile that I have ever tasted. My only memory of crocodile was chewy and rubbery at a Cajun-style restaurant that I seemed to have forgotten. This was a tasty cross between chicken and fish – really delicious.
The first day that we got to Jollyboys, Madeline and Chaz recommended that we look at some of the activities that the resort offers. They told me that one-day safaris were fairly cheap, so we reserved three places on a one-day safari at Chobe National Park in Botswana. A driver met us at Jollyboys at 7:00am and took us to the Botswana border, taking care of stamping our passports (which was a very nice change from the previous day in Zimbabwe). Our driver, Isaiah, was very good at pointing out the landscape on our hour drive to the ferry, where we crossed the Zambezi with views of four different African countries – Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia, and Botswana. Once we were safely across the river, an articulate tour guide by the name of Fraybie drove us to “Coffee Buzz” for breakfast.
The morning safari was on a big, flat riverboat down the Zambezi. There wasn’t much to see early on in the cruise and I was beginning to think that we were only going to see a few random birds. As we moved slowly down the river, however, more and more wildlife began to immerge. There were impala and water buffalo, as well as hippos – a mother with her baby, an ostracized male doing “penance” in a pool, and a few stray males on land. What was really impressive was the number of elephants that we saw! When we spotted them at a distance, I remember feeling impatient with the driver (who wanted to point out two African Bald Eagles), thinking that the elephants would disappear before we could snap a few pictures. I couldn’t have been more wrong! There were, at the very least, between 30 – 40 elephants playing in the waters – mothers and babies; and then further down, a group of “bachelor males” who weren’t allowed to be with the females (or risk a tussle with the dominant male). The bird life and crocodiles only added to our amazing boat ride, which was capped with a tasty buffet back at “Coffee Buzz.”
Fraybie was our driver/game ranger through Chobe National Park - animated and knowledgeable, he made phone calls to other game rangers when he didn’t have ready answers for some of the safari guests. We didn’t see much wildlife for the first 15 minutes of the drive into the park, but Fraybie assured us to just pay attention and keep watchful eyes. We saw mongoose (in a bush – at least he said they were there), some interesting birds (which weren’t really that interesting), and then drove down by the shores of the Zambezi for what was to be a feast for the eyes. There dozens more elephants playing in the mud (which Fraybie said acted as their “sunscreen”), eating grass, and spraying one another. We also saw a sizeable hippo family move from their mud pit into the greater river, water buffalo, impala, antelope, and a male sable antelope (which Fraybie said is one of the few antelopes that lions can’t seem to capture and kill). We were lucky to see three lions taking a nap in the shade and were told that it was better to see them asleep than awake. Fraybie was noticing fresh lion tracks and said that the dominant male may have been “out with a female.” He pointed out the carcass of a giraffe, which had been killed by lions and picked clean just last week. On the way out of the park, a mother warthog crossed the road in front of our vehicle followed by four little baby warthogs (really cute, by the way). Almost immediately, an elephant roared and charged; I couldn’t tell whether it was after us or despised warthogs.
Madeline and Chaz said that they only saw a few elephants when they were with Chaz’s Dad, Jorgen, in November 2016. Fraybie said that drought conditions were drawing animals toward the river, which made viewing that much more spectacular. It seemed appropriate that the end of the day be a shared poolside reading of Sheila Siddle’s book, “In My Family Tree.” Since our trip to Chimfunshi, we took turns reading chapters of her fascinating story, finishing the book on the day of our safari through Chobe National Park. (Did I forget to mention the yummy sushi at Ocean Beach?)
Today was the Solemnity of the Epiphany, which we celebrated at St. Theresa of the Little Flower, a Catholic Church just a few blocks from Jollyboys. I thought it started at 8:45am (because that was on the sign outside the church), but learned that it really started at 9:00am! It turned out to be quite the celebration – a choir of high school kids sang, while elementary-aged girls danced to the music. Ah, the music! They sang loud and long, often accompanying their singing with dancing. The processional included the dancers, several altar boys, liturgical ministers, the deacon and priest. The choir sang and opening hymn, but the whole congregation erupted during the Gloria. People were ululating randomly and everyone in the congregation was swaying/dancing, even if they weren’t singing. Preparation of the Gifts was especially cool because people brought their gifts forward rather than drop money in a basket. They danced their “change” up and back to their seats, followed by people who brought of material goods – flour, sugar, eggs, etc. The sermon lasted a full 45 minutes (which was long, but impassioned) but the fantastic music brought everyone back into the spirit of the liturgy. I went up to the balcony during the second collection so that I could get a video of the girls dancing and all the people swaying. It was an uplifting and glorious 2 ½ hours!
The temps for the day were going to soar into the 90s, so Madeline and I decided to put our swimsuits on under our shorts and head for one last adventure at Victoria Falls. We took trails where we could stand in the mist and not mind getting wet. I purposely didn’t bring my camera because I planned on getting really wet! We were set on getting into one of the pools at the end of “Boiling Pot” trail, so made that our purpose. There were plenty of baboons again, this time more familiar than the two days before. They didn’t deter us as we soon found our way close to the water’s edge. Madeline had mentioned going to Devil’s Pool with Jorgen, but I told her that I wouldn’t be able to stomach sitting in a pool at the top of the falls. Sitting in the shallow pools with easy rapids was a better alternative. It was also free…and lasted as long as we wanted to sit. It was sort of funny to watch people go by – some who turned to see us, while others walked on by. Many laughed and took a picture, which made us both laugh. We decided to call it quits when my foot started cramping – making it all the more ridiculous.
Baboons were all over the trail, so it was sort of a trick trying to avoid stepping on their tales. My final dinner with Chaz and Madeline was at Zest – artfully prepared skewered meat with rice and sauces. It was a pleasant way to end my unforgettable trip to Zambia.
Every link on the trip home went without a hitch. From the moment I said goodbye to Madeline and Chaz, every connection was on time and stress free. Considering the number of connections and length of total travel time (Livingstone to Lusaka – one hour, Lusaka to Addis Ababa – 4 hours, Addis Ababa to Paris CDG – 7 hours, and Paris CDG to MSP – 8.5 hours), I can’t help but be grateful.
IN and OUT of AFRICA
As I write this, I’m sitting in a hotel room in Lusaka, Africa for one last night before flying back to the states tomorrow. Our experiences in the remote village of Mpungu left a deep impression on both Mike and me. We were struck by the simple life of villagers who were living happily without electricity or running water, but were profoundly moved by the hospitality that they extended to us.
Every other evening that we were in Mpungu, a family invited us into their home for a meal consisting of “nshima” (a white maize brazier bread), greens, and bush meat or chicken. Most Kaonde villagers can’t afford to eat much protein, but still killed their prized chickens for us. It was humbling to receive this extreme, radical form of hospitality (for us, at least), especially knowing that their children might be eating our leftovers. Madeline said that there is no expectation of returning the favor, only that it’s an honor for Kaonde to welcome guests into their homes.
The first thing that we learned upon arrival in the village was that the Kaonde have several different greetings, depending on the person and occasion. Elders and children alike are greeted with the prefix “Ba” before their first names, which is a traditional sign of respect. Villagers would never make the mistake of calling someone by their first names without attaching the respectful “Ba” in their addresses. Handshakes are also important. The older the person you are greeting, the lower you bend your knees. All variations of greeting include a clapping of the hands with the common “mwane sankyo mwane” (thank you very much) – an expression of gratitude with each encounter.
There are seventy-two tribes in the country of Zambia; the Kaonde (which is the tribe of Mpungu) occupy a smallish stretch in the northwest province. Several of the wealthier Kaonde live in the larger towns of Kasempa and Solwezi, but most live in rural villages that are supported by agriculture, fish farming, and bee-keeping. Their families tend to be quite large, so the meager income from their work barely feeds them. The Luweleke’s, our daughter Madeline’s host family, live in a house that is about 500 square feet. They have eight of their own children and adopted two “cousins” whose parents couldn’t provide shelter, food, and clothing. (Evidently, it’s common for children to move from one home to another; Zambian village culture always makes room for need, despite the lack of space.) The Luweleke’s spend most of their days outside and sleep on floor mats each night; they greeted us cheerfully each morning!
SING WHILE YOU WORK
The Kaonde women are remarkably strong. They carry water (and other things) on their heads, cook over an open fire (each day), and do laundry in the river with a small baby strapped on their backs. Madeline’s host mother Ba Gladys would do all that and sing while she worked! During our stay, she decided to make a traditional maize dish that required pounding the corn with a metal pole in a big pedestal. I could barely lift the thing, while she heaved it effortlessly…over and over again…until all the hulls had been released from the corn kernels. She then separated the chaff by tossing the mixture in the air. The whole process took hours and when the dish was finished, she brought over enough for an evening meal.
RESOURCEFUL CHILDREN are JOYFUL CHILDREN
Ba Alex, the director and principle medic at Mpungu Village Clinic, said the highest mortality rate among in the village is the “one to fives” group. Mothers take pride in their fat babies because they know that they’ll have a better chance when cooler weather and rains come. Families raise chickens and goats, but not enough to eat that kind of meat every week. Protein is supplemented with small animals or birds (bush meat) that are either caught in homemade traps or with sling-shots.
One of the last days that we were in the village, Ba Gladys came over to show me the mouse that Reowes caught in a trap he made out of a soup can, sticks, wire, and a piece of plastic. Mothers in America would have screamed, but Ba Gladys was brimming with pride. Her kids play outside every day; the village is their playground. Trison (11), Reowes (9), Bierne (8), and Tortoy (3) entertained themselves from dawn to dusk with toys they made out of discarded stuff, games with sticks and balls, bike rides throughout the village. They laughed and played together, had their fights, but didn’t have anything that was hoarded as their own. We didn’t see the inside of their home, but Madeline said that they probably slept on floor mats (without complaint).
The older girls had plenty of work in the compound, but also found time to dress nicely and do their hair. Friends would come over to the house to sit under the kinzanza (like a thatched-roof gazebo) and spend hours braiding each other’s hair. Florence and Luweednis were fond of dressing up and going to the market, while thirteen-year-old Majo assumed the lion’s share of work. She seemed to spend most of her days baby-sitting while her parents worked in the village, at home, or in the fields. It was common to see her baby brother Reneija slung on her back or side; Madeline and Chaz said that she was always the one they counted on to feed their dog, Kibinda, when they were away.
The kids in the village were very curious about us and could hardly contain their stares. The first Saturday in Mpungu, we attended a village soccer match to see the Luweleke’s nephew (Ba Nathan) play. Madeline chose the side of the field with the fewest people, but within minutes of our arrival, about 50 kids migrated across the field to check out the muzungu (white people). Their good fried, Ba Newton (who is deputy of agriculture in the village), came over to shoo them all away! Needless to say, we were quite the attraction during our entire stay in the village!
SUSTAINABLE FOOD PRODUCTION
We were especially impressed by the work that Madeline and Chaz are doing with fish farmers (within a 20 mile radius of the village), their assistance to Ba Alex and the village clinic, the many bread baking workshops that Madeline has done in conjunction with fish farming meetings, and more. Their determination, resilience, humor and good will were evident in everything from building fires for cooking, walking the daily trek for water to and from the boar hole, communication with the villagers (while doing their best to remember names and faces), showering in a bucket and going to the bathroom in a hole, and generally – living the simple, yet incredibly rewarding life of a Peace Corps volunteer.
Peace Corps isn’t new to the villagers in Mpungu. There were volunteers in the late nineties that assisted fish farmers in the region; a small percentage of farmers continued the work, while many abandoned it for agriculture. The possibility for growth in the region was/is evident, so sending two volunteers with experience in sustainability and environmental studies seems a good risk. Madeline and Chaz had a big meeting with all the farmers at the outset of their service, and have continued meeting with smaller groups (by location) each week. They continue to supervise dam building, furrow digging, composting for algae blooms, and general pond management.
One key part of the project is to improve the management of the Fish Cooperative, which contains several ponds dedicated to fingerling production. Most of the farmers in the village are working to improve their ponds, but will need fingerlings for stocking purposes…which can only be provided by a more efficient Fingerling Production Center. It was fascinating/frustrating to hear Madeline and Chaz talk about how challenging it has been to persuade farmers that there might be more effective ways to manage their ponds.
CATHOLIC CHURCH in MPUNGU
As luck would have it, there was a Catholic Church in the village, albeit without a reliable clergy presence. Mass was scheduled to start at 9:30am, but like most Zambian activities, wouldn’t get going until at least 10:00am. So when we arrived at the church (about 10:00am), there were only two other sitting outside. By 10:45am, there were a few other stragglers and no sign of a priest, so two elderish-looking men announced that we would be having a service instead of Mass; they asked that men sit on the right side of the church and women on the left.
The service started at about 11:00am and didn’t get over until almost 1:00pm. The two elders found a couple of albs and assumed responsibility for the readings, preaching, prayers, and intercessions. A couple of times throughout the service, they would duck down behind the altar and whisper (loudly) about what they were going to do next, then pop up and continue. One of them delivered a 30-minute sermon; he would pause, look at Chaz and Madeline to translate what he said, and then continue. During the preparation of the gifts, a woman in the back grabbed a bible and had her young daughter stand up in front with it opened for offerings. The smallest bill that I had was 5K (worth 50 cents), which Madeline said was too much…but I gave it anyway.
The musicians didn’t appear until about noon. They were all in their teens or early twenties; two of them had babies strapped to their backs and one was taking care of a toddler. Once they arrived, the service was more meaningful, less disorganized, and even uplifting. At least half of them used drums for accompaniment to songs that were primarily call and response (for assembly and the rest of the choir). At the end of the service, they asked us to stand in front of the group so that Madeline and Chaz could introduce us. Each and every parishioner came forward to greet us, which was followed by clapping. The sub-chief gave some announcements, but spent most of his time bawling out those who came late. Madeline pointed out that he was one of the last people to arrive.
Impressed by the young music ministers, I was able to convince Madeline that it really wasn’t that weird to ask them if I could record them singing something after Mass, to which they happily agreed. The two “presiders” had taken off their albs, but quickly put them on when they saw the opportunity to be captured on film.
Madeline continues to run each day and will start training this fall for her first marathon in Tanzania (Mt. Kilimanjaro) at the end of February. She is committed to educating young women and getting involved in the Peace Corps sponsored program GLOW, which promotes leadership among young Zambian women. Majo is on her “radar” as a potential candidate for some of their off-site experiences. Chaz downloads favorite movies on the ipad, has about 10,000 books on his Kindle (that he says he’ll probably finish in the next two years), and is interested in writing a book.
Mike doesn’t know if he’ll ever go back, while I’m looking forward to further exploration. I do hope to put the Kaonde lessons of hospitality and gratefulness into practice, while being happy to subsitute “nshima” and bush meat for American food! Thanks for braving your way through this narrative - “Lesa emipeshe mwane” – GOD BLESS YOU!
Our long day of traveling was made longer because we were detained at Ben Gurion. Sonja went through customs first – ME second, and the two us must have looked like terrorists because we were sent to a "holding" room. After two hours of waiting, we were called (separately) into an official's office for further questioning. It was good that I'd been to Israel before because I could sound believable about the sights that we wanted to see while here. It was good to get released, but really quite sad that we didn't get our teary goodbye with the Israeli girls. I should be thankful that we weren't sent on a plane back to the states.
Our contact in Bethlehem speaks Hebrew and Arabic, having studied both languages in school and spending 1 1/2 years living and working here. She was very concerned about our encounter at the airport and cautioned us about using the word "volunteer" or "service" in our descriptions - mainly because she said it's code for any sort of relief work in the West Bank. She met us at the bus station across from Damascus Gate, after-which we ate at a Jewish vegan restaurant. When the conversation switched to Jewish - Arab relations, she got VERY nervous and reminded us AGAIN that we needed to avoid any Arab references in Israeli territory.
We took the bus to the nearest stop outside the Bethlehem wall and walked to the checkpoint. There were several young men in an argument with one of the soldiers. They looked as if they were smashed against the iron fence, just trying to get through. Garbage was strewn all over the streets as we made our way toward our guide's apartment. (Tomorrow we're set to stay at one of the camps in town). We made one quick stop at a Bedouin store owned and operated by her friend, Moajte. Not only did he have personality (plus), he decided we needed a trip home!!
We had a fine morning with our guide, hearing about all her exploits has been eye-opening, indeed. She told the story of a 15-year-old boy who was captured in one of the Bethlehem camps and later burned at the stake. It irritated her that the Palestinians tried make it sound like he died honorably - fighting back. She described their coping as suppressing all feeling and trying to hold onto what little pride they have in themselves and in their country (what little they have left). We did get a lot of advice from her, as well as some of her personal story. We also made a stop at Bethlehem University and were welcomed by Brother Stephen Tuohy, who is the Vice President for Development.
So, after coffee with our guide and visits to the Church of the Nativity, Milk Grotto, and Bethlehem University, we are back to pack our things for the rendezvous with the coordinator for the Noor Women's Project stay.
Surprise. surprise. They DO have WiFi in Aida Camp! We are staying with a remarkable family - the last name I don't know. Islam and Ahmed have six children, one of whom is severely handicapped. They have several small apartments in a large complex that houses hundreds of people. I am impressed by the laughter and genuine kindness of these people. We helped Islam prepare the iftar meal and enjoyed learning some Arabic from her daughters. The oldest girl (Rua) is fluent in English, and the others know enough to have a conversation and share some laughs.
They had some interesting extra guests this evening - the International Director from Notre Dame, along with their satellite directors from Chile, Ireland, and England. They were meeting at Tantur Ecumenical Institute and made arrangements through their director (Jill) for iftar. I was impressed that they were bold enough be there. Nice people!
Tomorrow we're going to another camp for some music-making. I've been forewarned that the kids are very badly behaved.
It's 11:30pm in Aida Camp and EVERYONE is still roaming around. I don't think that they sleep during Ramadan. When we arrived this evening from our dinner out, we took a wrong turn into the camp and got lost. It doesn't help that there aren't any road signs to mark one's way - just skinny alley's separating the compressed cement. We stopped to ask for help at a carpenter's house (who was working in the evening) and he led us to a small shop for assistance. The proprietor had a brother who spoke English AND had a cell phone (that worked, unlike ours), so we were able to contact our hosts. They had to come and fetch us because there really is NOTHING to mark one's way in this camp.
It IS curious that I was never worried about our safety. Children (dressed very sweetly) don't hesitate in asking questions, hoping to practice their English. Despite their sweetness, I booked a room for Friday night at the St. George Cathedral Guesthouse on Nablus Road. This way, we'll have an answer - and no further bumbles. (Sonja admitted that her hedging probably got us into trouble on the way in. I think that she learned her lesson about "telling the truth"!)
Today was intense. We met our guide at the Intercontinental Hotel at 7:00am to catch the bus to Jerusalem where we met her teacher-friend (and Bethlehem University graduate) Soma. She is currently teaching English at the Shuafat Camp School and made arrangements for us to teach some music classes as the creative component for their summer school program. So, with some teacher support, I taught three classes, each with about 30 ADHD 7-8 year-olds in a room that wasn't much bigger than my kitchen. The kids were wild, but in a fun sort of way. We were doused with water during recess, but they seemed generally happy that we were there. Both our guide and Soma said that it's good to have people come from the outside to do things because it makes them (probably their parents) feel less forgotten.
After the sessions, Soma took us for a walk through Shuafat Camp. There was garbage strewn all over - a REAL DUMP - and I could only wonder how they endure. I learned so much from the teachers and kids at that school; the memory of a group of kids walking out the gate (into that God-forsaken mess) wearing their orange shirts and matching baseball hats, is burned into my brain. Our subsequent visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre softened me just enough to cry some heavy tears for those kids and their families.
We had another wild and crazy day in this wild and crazy country. Half the charm of this trip can be attributed to our guide, without whom I wouldn't be listening to the clatter of the camp or inhaling rotting garbage while trying to get some sleep. The irony of that is the disguised joy of this place - the children, their families, and the generosity of our hosts. Islam teaches cooking classes on a regular basis and is used to serving large groups of people. She has even published her own cookbook – all to benefit the lives of families with disabled children. Her service to the camp is done humbly, in an environment that would crush many.
Our schedule meeting with the father-daughter director team of Sumud Story House went very well this morning. They are very excited about the sophomore composition project, even though the meeting droned on and on and on...mainly because the former director had a religious agenda (fallen away Catholic turned evangelical). He's all about peace...even though he is passionately opposed to the "rules" of the Catholic church. His daughter, the new director, had to leave the meeting early, which was doubly unfortunate because his babbling led us way off topic. After the former director got everything off his chest, he asked me to email him with specifics about the project. I had to chuckle because I could have done that in the states!!!!!
Long before we arrived in Israel, our guide decided that a trip to Hebron was in order, so we hopped a bus and bumped our way to what could be named Really Crazy City. Unfortunately, the bus dropped us in a place unfamiliar to our guide, which meant relying on her intuition to get us to the central part of the market for a visit with her friend, Laila. The streets were really crowded with people, so I tried to stay right behind our guide. A middle-eastern man took a shine to Sonja and ran up to her asking, "Would you kiss me?" She freaked...and ran to catch up with us - staying close by. We thought we lost him until he reappeared on the next block, coming back at her, this time with us in close proximity. Our guide was OUTRAGED...and ran after him, yelling, "Eib...Shorta"! In seconds, the guy was surrounded by about 50 Arab men who asked Sonja what she wanted them to do - police? She seemed to think that an apology was enough, so settled on that.
The shop was small, but had some beautifully embroidered goods made by the Hebron Women's Group - a cooperative of women with disabled children. Laila was definitely interested in selling, but was more concerned about Sonja and her experience, convincing Sonja and our guide to go to the police and report the incident! While they were gone, I bought several Christmas gifts that Laila will ship to the states...AND watched the parade of Israeli soldiers parade back and forth and back and forth. Laila said that it doesn't stop and is so discouraging.
When the two of them got back, they purchased a few things before we visited the tomb of the patriarchs (which was rather anticlimactic after our street episode). Our guide likes to live on the dangerous side, so we walked down Hebron's "ghost town" and through a Jewish settlement enroute to the bus stop. After the bumpy ride back to Bethlehem, we purchased dinner at Casa Nova, but that didn't matter to Ahmed and Islam - who stuffed us yet AGAIN! Ahmed smoked cigarette after cigarette and talked incessantly while we ate. I think that Arab men like the sound of their own voices!
Today started slow, but ended like most of our days here...rather harried with some "near miss." We decided to go back to Manger Square for a last peek at the sights and decided to take a different route - this time down Star Street (the old pilgrimage route). Our good luck has been great, and today we happened past a lecture inside a side chapel that looked to be on iconography. When I looked in, the guy giving the lecture said, "Come on in!" He turned out to be the director of the Bethlehem Icon Centre (http://www.bethlehemiconcentre.org/) and was speaking about the wall icons that he was painting for the side chapel. Afterward, we took the stairs up to the center, which had a nice lecture hall for tour groups.
We also made a second visit to the Milk Grotto - this time to see the chapel and garden that we missed the first time around. The time whizzed by and we found ourselves hustling to get to Vicki's place by 2:15pm - only to find her in need of a nap. We touched base and then doubled back to cross (yet again) Manger Square toward Aida Camp, agreeing to come back by 4:15pm. There were yet a couple of important things to do - stop at THE BEDOUIN STORE to ask Moajte (our guide's friend) if he'd send our suspect Palestinian books and cards with gift items back to the US and pay/say goodbye to Islam and her family. Everything seems to take longer here (maybe because I'm schlepping another person), because by the time we finished these two errands, it was already almost 4:00pm.
We walked as fast as we could with our 50-lb backpacks and reached a fork with Manger Street on the left and Star Street on the right. Instead of taking Star Street, intuition and a vague memory of Vicky’s recommendation led us down Manger Street (which we learned was the LOOOONNNGG way)!! We walked and walked and walked and I was getting crabbier and crabbier and crabbier. By 4:25pm, I could see the spire for the Mosque of Omar in the distance and knew that we weren't going to make it back in time. Suddenly, we heard a honk with someone yelling, "Ladies, it's too far walk. I give you ride." We thought it was just another taxi-jerk until we looked up and saw Moajte sitting in his car motioning...come on. I teared up when we sat in the car...mainly because this was the THIRD time that Moajte helped us out.
Our guide's friend, Fatima, invited us to iftar with her family this evening in a small village outside of Bethlehem. The house was very clean and well decorated - quite different from Aida Camp! Fatima is a French teacher (born in Kuwait; educated in Jordan), who wants her daughters to see the world. She's not very fond of living in a village, but has made the best of it. We helped with the cooking and learned to make some things that I'm not going to try to transliterate (especially after yesterday). Fatima's husband dropped us at the checkpoint and we decided to play it safe and take a taxi back to Jerusalem.
Our taxi driver (who wasn't really a taxi driver) dropped us off in the wrong place near Damascus Street, which I was trying to avoid. (Wandering around in the dark with heavy backpacks is not my idea of fun - nor a very smart thing to do.) After about 20 minutes of wandering and asking questions, we found the St. George Cathedral Guest House and checked in. When we asked about getting a sherut for tomorrow's ride to the airport (65 NIS each), the hotel attendant said that it was Shabbat and that the sheruts weren't running. He did say that he'd be happy to book a ride for us to the airport FOR 300 SHEKELS each!!!!! Ugh. Neither of us had that much money left, so ventured out to find an ATM. The nearest was the OLIVE TREE HOTEL...and my card worked for the first time since Poland! We decided to celebrate at the Grand Court Hotel, where we stayed for the DSBS tour in 2008!
Currently sitting in the airport, happy to have breezed through security!
Mary Ellen Haupert
Trying to recall all the unique experiences of Budapest and our arrival in Novi Sad will be almost impossible given that my foggy, jet-lagged brain has been undergoing some major sensory overload for the past 48 hours. So, disclaimer accomplished, here goes…
My first induction into the Hungarian language was a taxi driver who tried to convince us to pay him 24 Euros for a trip from the airport to our hotel (10 minute drive). Since I couldn’t understand a word of what he was saying, I noticed instead his smoke breath and his spew of spit (that I wiped off my face during the pressuring). I’m sure that I needed a bath after the plane ride, but not that kind of bath. We ended up opting for the MINIBUS, which cost a reasonable $7.00.
I chose the Hotel Atlantic because reviews claimed it was clean and close to the train station. The reviewers didn’t say anything about the depressed nature of the neighborhood and the mile walk to anything resembling civilization, which thankfully didn’t end up being a problem. Arriving at the Atlantic, I did get a smile from the young man (with studs in his eyebrows and lip) working at the desk by asking him to teach me how to say “thank you” and “goodbye” in Hungarian. I’ve decided that THANK YOU should be everyone’s first word.
Budapest is one of three cities that the 19th-century Habsburg dynasty spruced and endowed. While Vienna and Prague seem to be the Habsburgs’ survivor children, Budapest (even without the same resources) has retained plenty of its own charm. The subway system is the second oldest of its kind (London being the first), with tiled walls and carved woodwork at some of the stops near the city center. (I decided to pay for ride just to say that I had done it, and was surprised at the LACK of graffiti on the walls. I thought it was mandatory in subways?) The streetcars are clean and efficient, and the BUILDINGS…. While the Hapsburg-era buildings are ornate and detailed—striking, even though many of them have broken windows—what caught my eye were the Secessionist buildings that were the “thing” when Budapest shared the role of the Austro-Hungarian Empire with Vienna (more about this at: http://www.bohemianink.net/?p=191). The architects who defined this new style were reacting against other fads throughout Europe—creating just another they could call their own. They didn’t shy from color (especially on roof tiles), which pops architectural details that Mike Mader would know about.
Even though I was jet-lagged, the city, the language, the baths, and St. Stephen’s at night lifted my adventurous soul last night! (BATH SIDEBAR: Yes, I paid $4.00 to swim in the Szechnyi Baths—which is supposed to be THE Hungarian bathing experience. I didn’t have a towel and brought my stretched out old blue suit and thought I’d be cool sitting with the natives in their gargantuan hot tub…until. Well, the bubbles stopped and a swirling current started that took all the natives and me on a ride around and around and around the center of our giant hot tub. Unfortunately, my stretched out suit couldn’t handle the ride and I had all I could do to keep my private self under wraps…not a good thing in company with young Hungarian males. I threw the suit away after my bathing experience.)
Up at the crack of dawn, I was determined to capture the city when it was waking and getting ready to roar. I walked three miles to the Danube and crossed the beautiful Vamhaz Korut bridge while dodging biker after biker on their way to work. The scenery was gorgeous and the citadel impressive, but I was most impressed by the bike paths and pedestrian walkways, as well as the number of folks who walk, bike, or use public transportation in Budapest! Yes, I know that the price of gas probably drives their choices, but that didn’t really matter. This morning, Mary Ellen from La Crosse walked along the Danube while a bunch of people from Budapest pedaled themselves to work. I really liked that.
The train trip from Budapest to Novi Sad started with some stress. We probably should have scoped the distance from the hotel to the train station, but estimated the walk via map and more knee-jerk than reason. Sparing the details, we landed in our seats with 10 minutes to spare before leaving Keleti P. When I booked the train tickets, I was dumb enough to think that 6 hours of scenic countryside was in store. Instead, we traveled through flat fields of sunflowers and corn that resembled our Plains states. I couldn’t help but think of Hungary and Serbia as mere margins between Vienna and other slick cities like Athens and Istanbul. I wanted to think of Serbia as having more personality than a chunk of land, but keenly felt its old east-block residue when we stopped at Novi Sad:
We stopped in a city (after miles of farmland).
There was [one small sign] marking destination at the train stop (which we missed enroute).
The conductor didn’t say where we were (like they do in Germany and Scotland).
It had been six hours (signaling that our time was up).
I asked the young girl in our cab if this was NOVI SAD.
She replied, “Yes, and you should hurry to get off the train” in perfect English.
So, how long does it take to shake an east-block way of being? They seem like sweet people, but the second generation of WWII still hasn’t figured out that they might welcome outsiders better with signs at the stops, etc! It was all very curious, understated, and thought-provoking. I’m guessing a piece of this puzzle is that they are more Russian than any western flavor. (Serbian is written in both Latin and Cyrillic forms, so I am constantly at the mercy of the map—which primarily uses the Latin script.) Their blend of both East and West is worn as resilience and courageous, maybe even stubborn. I was appalled to read about the Novi Sad Massacre—a massive killing by Hungarians (Axis) in 1942 of 3,000 to 4,000 citizens of the city (a quarter of whom were Jews). I took a picture of the sculpture (on the Danube) commemorating the victims.
Bear with me. Once you get past the train station, the city is a hidden gem. It reminds me of Bamberg, Germany (where my daughter spent most of 2011) with its cafes, churches, museums, and scenic attractions. Our hotel concierge tells me that the city hosts many religious flavors, with Roman Catholic and Serbian Orthodox the most common. Just today I slipped into a Serbian Orthodox service, a Roman Catholic mass, and discovered two 14h-century Greek icons. When I got back to our hotel, I relayed the events to Marijana (our concierge) and was lucky enough to get a tip for my next adventure.
Evidently, there are 12-15 monasteries on Fruška Gora mountain, which I’ll be able to get to via bike rental tomorrow afternoon. I AM SO EXCITED ABOUT THIS! I’ll practice for my allotted 2 hours in the morning, sit in on some sessions, practice with Tim @ 12:00NN, and then TAKE OFF!
Today is more normal than yesterday, if waking up in Serbia is what would be considered normal for me. Jetlag caught up with me, and my intention to wake early and practice by 8:00am was bungled by the absence of an alarm. Even so, I managed to clean up, eat, and get to the practice room by 8:30am. Teaching studios in the Isidor Bajic (Bah-yich) Music School are being used for practice and performing participants can sign up for up to two hours per day. I worked on three different pianos this morning—one Petrov and two Bluthner instruments, each with LIGHT actions and bright tone. There is no air conditioning in the building, so the windows are opened to the street. When I walked over this morning, I could hear practicing from a block away. I could also smell cigarettes while practicing and could have easily eaves-dropped on the café customers below my window if I knew the language.
When Tim and I finished our rehearsal at 1:00pm, I walked to the bicycle rentals behind the music school and paid $6.00 for a full day rental. My heart was set on finding monasteries after my chat with Marijana, for which I felt confident that signs would lead me on a pedal-pushing, spiritual pilgrimage of sorts. Soon after I crossed the bridge to the “mountain” side of the Danube, the chain fell off the bike and it took me 15 minutes or so to get the greasy thing back on. Without wipes (remember, I pack light), I looked for a fountain, a puddle, a TAOLET, anything to get the grime off, but didn’t see anything in the vicinity. So, I hopped back on the bike, greasy hands and all, in search of monastery signs. After a few miles of dodging cars and looking for water, I decided that Marijana was smoking something close to her name and turned around.
There WAS a sign for a fortress, so that’s what I would have to do. I sneaked into a public-looking building at the foot of a hill, found a bathroom, and de-greased. Parking my bike, I walked up a path that led first to a complex where Serb parents and their kids were milling around. I could hear several brass instruments from the open windows—including a lick from a Mozart horn concerto. Interesting, but not where I wanted to be. Intending to walk back toward my bike, I chanced another path that wound its way up to the fortress. WIKI tells me that the Petrovaradin Fortress has an extensive underground passage system and has been inhabited and/or used for defense since 15,000 B.C. Fascinating find, but I was still curious about those monasteries!
On the hunt for a place to wash my hands, I remembered a young man sitting behind a desk in the public-looking building and decided that he might know something about the monasteries. His English was almost perfect as he politely told me that the monasteries were out of reach for a bike and that I would do better taking the path that ran along the Danube. So much for that.
The Serbs have done a beautiful job with a 10km stretch of path that includes a bike lane, pedestrian path, AND running path! They didn’t spare expense on the materials—paving the bike lane, bricking the pedestrian path, and surfacing the running lane with whatever that rust material for tracks is called? Bathers were out in droves this afternoon, making me wonder if the city stops working mid-afternoon so that people can have some rec time before going back to work (or not).
The bike path gave me an insider’s view to life in Serbia. Apartments are the norm here…or rather, run-down apartment buildings dot the cityscape without the same slum cloud that similar buildings in the US might have. Even though the housing units look sketchy, there were plenty of outdoor rec spaces that were in full use by the locals—weight lifting, soccer, swimming, barbeque/picnic, playgrounds, tennis, etc. From a spectator’s perspective, they seem like very social people. (The full cafes in the evening are another indicator of this.)
After returning my bike, I gobbled a scoop of chocolate gelato and walked over to The Name of Mary Church for some quiet time. Unable to get past the locked door, I made my way to the Serbian Orthodox church on the other side of the plaza. People were queuing up to reverence the icons before a service and I had the strange feeling that my presence (and not knowing anything about their worship) was ir-reverential. A nice nap capped the afternoon and made for a worthy prelude to the concerts that I’ll attend at the music school this evening.
Just returned from the evening concerts and am ready to call it a night! The first performer was a graduate from the Isidor Bajic Music School and played VERY WELL! He dedicated his encore (Rachmaninov Prelude in D Major) to his girlfriend, whose birthday was [the day of the concert]. The audience of locals cleared out before the Australian couple played their concert of duo and duet music. Too bad. They were excellent.
The only practice time that I had signed out for today was at 8:00am, so after an evening with open windows to boisterous party-ers in the street below, I was CRAWLING out of bed this morning and doubted I would make my start time. (Those of you who know me well, know this would be a mild hindrance…one easily remedied with a splash of cold water in the face and breakfast—not forgetting the strong coffee in the café.)
The walk to Isidor Bajic Music School is about 7 minutes from the HOTEL VELIKI. I have had the pleasure of passing cafes and churches at a time when the most important work is cleaning the streets and opening shops for the day’s business. This particular morning, the church bells of THE NAME OF MARY CATHOLIC CHURCH were ringing, prompting a peak into the church. They were singing the opening hymn for a liturgy celebrating the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, so I took the opportunity to pray with the locals! Even though I couldn’t understand a word, I found the priest engaging. He was an older guy—about 60 and barely 5’5’’ tall—and could barely reach the tabernacle, but his voice was commanding-stretching the homily at least 15 minutes and beyond. It was a pity that the assembly didn’t sing (without even the feeble-ist attempt) and that the choir of senior citizens in the loft sounded like crows. Of course, I loved it. Mass was in Serbian!! So INCREDIBLY COOL!!!
The music school is only minutes from the church, so, practice abandoned, I had plenty of time to get ready for the presentation. The conference team hired an IT person AND videographer for all sessions—making set up simple and worry free. The main hall décor could be compared to what you’d expect from a large European estate--decorative capitals and moldings, curtained windows, and upholstered chairs. Three grands occupy the stage—a Steinway and Sons B, Kawai 7’, with a question mark on the third? My creativity, meaning, and purpose spiel was well-received by the small, but diverse audience—an Israeli, some Australians and Americans, and one Russians. It’s nice to think that I only have one more gig before I can hang this dog and pony show up!
Instead of being preoccupied with my own stuff, today’s effort was getting the gist of other’s playing and teaching. Sophia Gilmson from U of Texas-Austin was purposefully funny in the “promotion” of her DVD on the Bach Goldberg Variations. She’s Russian, but has taught in the states for a number of years and is engaging on the level of COMICAL. (Her CD cover has her poised sexy-style between a harpsichord and piano. Too funny.) Her Bach was predicatably slurpy and overly dramatic, but she demonstrated the transfer hurdles from harpsichord to piano really well. I have enjoyed talking to her because she is outwardly so very eager and enthusiastic.
The Australians are the friendliest crowd here. They are private piano teachers, university professors, and professional pianists. One woman told me that her total travel time was over 30 hours!!! YIKES! (When I’m with them, I can’t help but recall how much Denny and Ellie Dorman enjoyed living in Australia, mainly because the people were so friendly!) These folks go to all the sessions and have constructive, positive things to add…a great addition to the conference. Two stand out: Teresa Lavers is a solid player and as goofy as I am and Lachlan Redd is one of the BEST-YET-DOWN-TO-EARTH pianists I have ever met. I leaped to my feet after he performed Schumann’s CARNAVAL (this evening) and he told me that I “didn’t have to do that” when I congratulated him back stage.
Jane Luther Smith from University of South Carolina-Sumter must work out 6 hours a day in order to pull off the super short dress she wore for her performance of Schumann’s DAVIDSBUNDLERTANZE. (Sorry. She has to be at least 60, and sixty-year-olds really shouldn’t be showing that much leg in concert!) Add leg to lots of make up, dyed hair, and a brand new husband, and the bio showing off her “recipient of the Chatanooga Cotton Ball Fellowship” makes sense. (I’m being a bit of a brat, but the “southern belle” persona gags me.)
Dotan Nitzberg, an Isreali pianist who seems determined to meet everyone at the conference. He looks and acts like Greg Manhart (for those of you who know Greg)—sincere, but carrying some mental baggage. It’s too bad that I missed his session:
“Teaching Piano to People with Asperger’s More Effectively.”
Tomorrow I kiss Serbia goodbye! NOVI SAD is enviably rich in so many ways and my superficial brush with their life-style has rendered some long-overdue espect for their character. Maja # 2 (yes, another desk employee at HOTEL VELIKI named Maja, who speaks perfect English) was telling Tim and I about all the different dialects that are spoken in Serbia. She said that the language is similar enough to Bosnian and Slovenian that Serbians can understand/be understood, but that Russian and Hungarian are different enough to be unintelligible. She told us about a small town near her hometown (Belo Blato) that boasts 17 dialects, three or four faith practices [?] and only one church building in Bela Blato. Her passionate and articulate explanation inspired me to want to visit!
Why did I wait to turn on the air conditioning until last night? I slept soundly in a cool room with windows and shades closing off the noise from the street below and didn’t wake up until 9:00am this morning!!! Cleaning up, I made my way to the music school for one last practice session before eating breakfast and checking out of the hotel.
There are curious aspects of their culture—their food and lifestyle—that I don’t want to forget. For instance, I have a hunch that children start sucking on cigarettes the moment they are weaned. Everyone smokes and drinks as if it is the most natural thing to do. They are buff and fit looking, but insist on smelling up the air they breathe. It’s everywhere. The food, however, is cheap and delicious. Tim bought a piece of pizza (that was as big as a small 9” back home) for about $1.30 and a multi-course dinner at a fine restaurant won’t cost any more than $10.00. Pizza, pasta, etc. can be found alongside local wonders. For example, this morning’s buffet contained a curious-looking salad that warranted a closer look. Fat-laced, sliced sausages and pickles with a mustard sauce would have sent me running the other direction if Mike tried to serve it at home, but hey, I was in Serbia and decided to give it a try. Surprising myself by going back for seconds, I imagined Carolyn and Brandon considering a bite, as well? Savory.
Not everything I tried could be considered winner quality. After I practiced this morning, I picked up a delicious-looking piece of bread that I was going to save for the train ride back to Budapest. Well, after adjusting my butt to the train seat, I pulled it out and, low and behold, there was a wiener tucked inside what was supposed to be my yummy piece of bread. Without any food or water for the six hour train trip, I had to be satisfied with this over-grown pig-in-a-blanket. Kind of yucky—something Mike and Matt would have enjoyed.
I am currently drenched in sweat and feel like a pig. I moved into Tim’s car when his family cleared out…mainly because the two women in my car talked and talked and talked. They had the window open, which made it even more unbearable. Tim’s car isn’t much cooler. I anticipate losing 5 pounds in this traveling sauna and think it’s time to put this heat-generating computer away until later. (LATER: The train car seemed to get warmer and warmer and finally a conductor came by and moved all the passengers to an air conditioned car! I couldn’t help but imagine train travel at a time when people where crammed into cars like cattle and there was no such thing as air conditioning—so I really shouldn’t be complaining!)
We had a Hungarian-style meal (Paprika Chicken with Potatoes and Sour Cream) this evening at an outdoor restaurant near the Danube and just got back to the hotel. Tomorrow I fly to Barcelona and Tim takes at train to Prague.
My breakfast at the Atlantic Hotel was shared with some half-drunk young men who had just spent the night on the town. They wanted me to come and sit with them, but I politely declined while continuing to spar with the drunkest of them. When I told them that they were too squirrelly to trust, one of them decided to call me “squirrel” for the rest of breakfast. It also didn’t help that the vegetables they served this morning were a week old and believe me, I paid for every fateful bite—rivaling the king of gas (and you know who you are).
Everything seemed LONG this morning…the LONG bus ride to the airport, the LONG wait to board the plane in Budapest, and the LONG flight from Budapest to Paris. I was feeling like I wanted to be home with my family and friends and wasn’t looking forward to Barcelona or ANOTHER conference (what WAS I thinking?). Then a miraculous thing happened when I got off the plane. The first lounge we walked through had an upright, FIRE-ENGINE RED (I kid you not), piano with a sign invited people to play. So, I managed to work in an hour of practice before walking 2 miles to my Barcelona gate. I took pictures of the piano as it sat against dark purple walls—thinking I might get an interesting image for the Farrenc CD cover? It’s a happy coincidence when you think about it: Louise’s husband, Aristide FARRENC was probably Hungarian (pronounced far-rents) but made his home with Louise in Paris. So, I have conveniently found meaning in my trip from Hungary to Paris and am happy to say that the red piano put some spring back in my step!
What started as a sprinkle, tuned torrential by the time I hopped on the bus, but breaking the handle of my suitcase changed that little skip back into a limp. I was tired and didn’t know where I was going and the combination of bad weather and a useless suitcase made for a very mean Mary Ellen. When I finally reached what I thought was the hostel (correct address with a very small sign), I rang the bell and was let into a foyer with an enclosed, stone staircase surrounded by an ANCIENT CAST IRON LIFT. The hostel occupies two floors of the building and is tastefully decorated with brocade pillows and bedspread, a carved mahogany wardrobe and desk (with marble top), shower, and sink. Even the headboard on the bed has carving and inlay---all for about $55.00/night (no breakfast/shared toilet). My guardian angel deserves a raise for this little taste of heaven.
And that’s not all. The neighborhood is so much better than the L’Espanya district where I stayed in 2009. The architecture is resplendent with carving and cast-iron balconies—what Budapest could be (if they had the money). I modified my walk in the rain to a subway destination check--figuring out the route I’m going to take to the conference hotel tomorrow morning. Sight-seeing wasn’t on the agenda, but I did manage to have some quiet time in a neighborhood Catholic Church and visited a tapas bar where the locals were watching the SPAIN-ITALY soccer game. There were fire crackers this evening, so I’m assuming that Spain didn’t give up their lead?
The combination of sunny skies and positive emails regarding Fr. James’ commencement Sunday helped attune my head and heart to the EDULEARN experience. Good news helped free me from the ongoing distraction and frustration of the sinking of NEWMAN. It looks like we are now on a much better course, so the temptation to jump ship is gone. I’m GRATEFUL today.
Even though the Hostel Girona is in the upscale Eixample district, getting through the maze of tunnels to the train for L3—Maria Cristina added a 15-minute walk to a15-minute train ride. (Maybe I’m getting old, but it’s worth it to feel safe and comfortable, not to mention being more conducive to learning.) I’m visiting this conference again because it is SO WELL RUN. The Hotel Princess Sofia is classy and spacious with a facility that can accommodate plenary sessions (500+) and breakout sessions with rooms decked out with tables for 50-100, upholstered chairs, placemats, water, pen/paper, and even complimentary candy.
Aaron Doering (http://chasingseals.com/), the keynote speaker for today’s plenary has charisma, good looks, brains, and an infectious spirit of adventure. He is the university student’s dream teacher and has been wildly successful with his ADVENTURE LEARNING PROGRAMS. Starting his career teaching K-12, he is currently endowed chair in Education and Technology, has earned beaucoup bucks in grants, has several publications (both articles and books), and is an Institute of Environment fellow. A relatively young man, it is doubly impressive to see how he’s used his multi-faceted position at U of M to launch one of the most innovative teaching initiatives I have ever seen. His wild success at linking field experience with classrooms worldwide is almost Disney-esque. The obvious reservation in calling this “active learning” is that HE is the one who is actively engaged, while student world-wide are reaping the benefit of his travels via computer screen. Even with that unavoidable obstacle, his presentation was freshly imaginative. [I couldn’t resist the opportunity to introduce myself, hand over my card, and congratulate him on an exceedingly fine presentation (all the while thinking that he would be GREAT for a Viterbo inservice)! It almost made me wish that I was studying sustainability at the U of M!!!]
Creativity and assessment have caught hold of academics worldwide, but there are international nuances that have been really thought provoking. For example, a young-ish woman from Turkey described her challenges teaching creative writing to her 20-year old students. Because their educational system is so highly controlled, students were actually afraid to try something different! Her culture and learning environment brought a fresh focus to her perspective, changing the way she taught to meet the same outcome. Several of these global teachers are committed to CREATIVITY, but encounter different culturally-embedded obstacles. They are committed to understanding their students’ needs and working with them (and their often limited resources) toward accomplished outcomes.
The technology sessions seemed slanted, so I was relieved to hear an excellent presenter from Australia do his best to remind people that it’s only a tool. (There are some here who actually think that online learning is more effective than classroom teaching, mainly because it appeals to a technology-savvy generation). This presenter gave plenty of clever examples of why teaching/learning works best on a multi-sensory level.
We had a gourmet “dinner” from 1:45-3:00pm, giving us the opportunity to mix with other folks. I had such a nice time talking with Anieska (from Poland) and Lisa (from Australia) that we decided to meet this evening for tapas! (More on that later…) I still hadn’t seen the Sagrada Familia, so ducked out early for an afternoon on my own.
Mike Mader will be jealous when he hears that I only had to stand in line for 5 minutes before getting a ticket. He can now say, “I told you so,” because the basilica is so beyond the imagination in scope, color, design, materials, and theological communication. I did my best to pay attention to my walking tour, but would get distracted/surprised/transfixed by the PERFECT balance of light, natural shapes, and carvings that contributed to the overwhelming mystery of the place. At one point, my eye travelled up the back of the sanctuary, and there below a clear oculus were scale-like decorations forming a triangle that seemed to point through the window. I had to squint to read the words on some of the tiles, “Santo, santo, santo.” With a completion of 2026/28, I might just see it finished before I die?
Those of you who know me, KNOW that I’m no a shopper! Well, on my walk back from the Sagrada Familia, I was tempted by several 50-80% off signs and after losing my black swimsuit in Arizona, have been keeping an eye out for something cute and reasonably-priced. Having NEVER stepped into a lingerie shop in my life (I kid you not), I felt brave stepping in to have a better look at a couple of their suits. It was a family-owned shop with some nice clothing (in addition to all the underwear) and people were sitting around socializing—a very homey, friendly atmosphere. One of the women led me to a changing room so that I could try on the AWFUL, cadaverous-looking suits. BUT, before I could get my clothes back on, the woman opened up the curtain and asked in broken ENGLISH, “if I like-a one?” I wanted to say, “No, that’s why I’m naked AND don’t you knock in Spain?” Instead, I answered politely (while standing there naked), “No they didn’t work for me. I look too skinny.” None of this bizarre interaction seem to phase her as she turned to her cronies (in the chairs) and said something in Spanish, adding “too skinny” (probably so that I would know she was talking about me!). I couldn’t get out of there fast enough!
Meeting Lisa and Anieska for tapas was a great way to end the day. We walked down La Ramblas to the sea and ate at a restaurant overlooking the harbor. The moon was full over the water and the conversation stimulating. Please don’t miss it. I love the idea of seeing it 7 hours before all of you!!!
Well, I’m chairing a session tomorrow morning, as well as giving a presentation, so need to hit the lights.
I woke early so that I would arrive in plenty of time to set up for today’s sessions. In addition to presenting at the morning session, I was assigned as a chair in the BATLLO room from 8:30-10:00am. I would have been a much better fit in the concurrent session across the hall, but I’m guessing that they needed willing participants (whose English was better than average) to act as facilitators. My job was to introduce each speaker, keep time, facilitate discussion, and close each presentation on a positive note. When I first read the titles I thought I was going to snore through the morning, but there were some very nice surprises!!
The EDULEARN team seams particularly committed to providing an environment for interaction on the broadest spectrum—global and interdisciplinary. They achieve this through their impeccable hospitality—coffee breaks, gourmet mid-afternoon dinners, cocktails with hors d’oeuvres, candy and water in each of the conference rooms, etc. The rooms were well equipped with speakers and IT support and there was an assistant assigned to each room for trouble-shooting purposes. They didn’t seem to miss a detail!!
Dinner this afternoon was particularly enjoyable! Even though I didn’t get a chance to see Agnieska, I managed a place at a table with Lisa and a particularly interesting young man from Canada, Kyle Stooshnov. The three of us continued our seriously interesting conversation until 3:30pm, continuing it with a walk to Pedralbes Monastery and the Royal Palace gardens, both in the vicinity of the conference hotel. The monastery church wasn’t open during our first round, so we whiled away time in the gardens until the scheduled Mass at 6:30pm. The priest apparently didn’t get the memo, because the three of us, along with some Spanish stragglers and a handful of old nuns (one at the organ), sat there for a good half hour before finally giving up.
After our walk/talk, Lisa went back to her hotel, while Kyle and I decided to make an appearance at the closing conference cocktail. More music, drinks, and great food gave people the chance to mix and talk one last time before fanning out across the globe. I had an interesting chat with some Kenyans who developed an educational T.V. series with scripts they developed with area teachers. They were giggly and delightful.
I had an excellent day and really tried to make the best of what I had left of my big jaunt. Montserrat is still there. The work on the inside of the church has moved to work on the piazza outside the church. There are also still throngs of people (from all over the world) who are as transfixed as I am with this monastery COMPLEX built on a rocky cliff. The first thing I did was cash in on my free lunch before my hike and gobbled down some cooked vegetables and some shitty looking white bean dish. The hike was an invigorating climb up to what felt like the top of the world. I got a little lost on the way back down, so the whole trek was over 4 hours. I was hot, stinky, but very satisfied!
I purchased a cheese sandwich for later and made my way for the aero-car/train. There was a darling family from Texas who was traveling through Europe for a slated 2 and 1/2 months! He just retired from the Air Force, so they thought the coincidence of putting all their belongings in storage made this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity more feasible. Aside from two of them landing in a hospital, they sounded like they were having a great time! Fun.
This evening was my last chance to see some of the sights that I wanted to catch before leaving, so I grabbed my cheese sandwich and made my way in the direction of the cathedral. Situating myself on a park bench near a fountain in Catalunya square, I pulled out my cheese sandwich and discovered that I had purchased a mashed potato sandwich instead. Yuck. (It reminded me of the way the Serbs slother ketchup all over their pizzas!) I gave it four bites and tossed the sick thing in the garbage. When a sweet old man wondered about squeezing between me and his sweet old wife on the park bench, I thought it best to continue on to the cathedral. There was a violinist playing Vivaldi's spring concerto on the steps (with a recorded orchestra part) and people were tossing a few EUROS into his case. Unfortunately, no one seemed interested in buying the CDs he was selling for 10 EUROS.
LOG 1: July 3, 2010
I’m still mystified that I was able to arrive safely in Barcelona without losing my luggage or missing a connection. That alone is a vote for confidence in this semi-insecure person who feels as if she is masquerading as an academic.
The trip over was filled with pages of Csikscentmihalyi’s book on Creativity, which seemed to set the tone for the venture. Given that I used many of his words to substantiate the paper that I wrote for this conference, it seemed appropriate that it was the first book that I picked up on this trip. Somewhat of a disappointment, the book had a few poignant moments that helped me remember who I am and why I do what I do. The craziness of creativity is so embedded in my personality…I just need a bit of affirmation now and then to remind me that I’m not alone.
A great gift happened after almost missing my flight to Barcelona. Because the flight from Amsterdam was two hours late, I squeaked in just in time to make my connection to Barcelona. A young European woman was seated next to me and I didn’t dare say a word until I was confident that she spoke English. Her interactions with the flight attendant gave way to some stimulating conversation about bravery, courage, and expressing creativity. Tule is a young Finnish woman whose father works with the cell phone company, Nokia. She was lucky enough to spend her senior year in high school in southern California and credits her perfect English to the romance that she cultivated while in the states. I learned plenty about her family and the reserved-ness of Finns, in general. The upside is that they are extremely hospitable and will gladly take care of their own. (She’s staying with some young Finns in Barcelona until she can find a place of her own. She isn’t worried at all and says that she can always trust a fellow Finn.) I told her that Northern Minnesotans invented St. Urho’s Day because the Finnish immigrants were jealous of all the fun the Irish had on St. Parick’s Day. I told her that it was either a day before or after March 17th and the color for St. Urho was purple. We had a good laugh because she was wearing purple.
Tule was interested in my project and wanted to hear about my students. After showing her Aidan’s piece, she told me that her name meant “wind” in Finnish. A nice touch. We figured out the aerobus together and saw each other to Place Espanya. I was so tired after 20 hours of travel and thought this encounter to be somewhat strange and wonderful…and I can’t help but think that she was an angel.
The Gaestehaus Gran Via was impossible to find. Even with the address (429 Catalonia), I finally questioned the folks at the Deutches restaurant on the same block as to its whereabouts. I’m guessing that this wasn’t the first time anyone asked, because the proprietor readily showed me the entrance and gave me what seemed like “insider” instructions. Unmarked, simple, OLD, quaint, no air-conditioning….I love it now that I’ve found it.
Catalonians are a vibrant people. I sat outside at the restaurant across the street and gawked at people. Older women than me have no problem with strapless dresses and spike heels. These old crones are out in droves…not always with their husbands…but in groups ready to take on the town. Maybe it’s because the WORLD CUP win has erupted in the city. Horns are honking, people are cheering, and I’m sure a bus or two is being turned over. I learned that Germany took Argentina 4-0 on the plane today, so will be interested in seeing the headlines tomorrow morning.
LOG 2: July 4, 2010
Strange to think that my family is sitting at the lake today and I’m not there. I can’t remember the last time that I wasn’t home for the 4th of July. It almost seems like a sacrilege that the Hauperts aren’t there. I’m thinking that our absence will make Orrin’s absence a little less obvious.
What better way to start a Sunday morning than an exhibit of 11th-13th century Catalayun frescoes from Monasteries dotted throughout Catalonia? After seeing the exhibit, I certainly couldn’t think of anything better. Westerners from the same era could have taken some lessons from their Spanish neighbors. Instead of adult and dour figurines, the Spanish frescoes were vivid and expressive. Each sala was designed architecturally to present each fresco the way we might have in its home church. The exhibit was so well done…mini-model churches with an accompanying map made the exhibit feel more expansive. I adored the reverent Madonnas, majestic Jesus’s, and deep, rich colors that were used for each image. A real treat.
For the next two hours I strolled and wandered, wandered and strolled—peeping into the Caixforum and Poble Espanya before catching a cab up to the Sagrada Familia. What a let down that was. Mobs of tourists were paying 12 E to get a glimpse at this ugly monstrosity that Barcelona claims is one of Antoni Guadi’s best works. To see it in person is something like a prize-winning sand sculptor, but not quite as interesting. It would be better if it was a best kept secret than one of the Barcelona hot spots. The crowds and vendors really killed it for me.
One goal for today was to figure out the Metro before taking it tomorrow morning to the conference. Some know-it-all guy at the airport was telling Tule (remember her?) and I that his daughter-in-law takes it, but doesn’t like to. He told us to guard our belongings and always watch our backs. Given that I’m doing that anyway (maybe too much), I was confused when I saw lovely art work, mothers with babies, and generally, lots of nice folks. It was clean and easy to manage, so the trip to Desscanes (beach area) was a snap.
Most of the rest of today was spent walking, walking, walking. I strolled the Barcenoleta beach area, walked up La Rambla, went to church at the Cathedral (where I met a friendly Canadian family), ate some dinner at a whacky, highly-charged restaurant at the end of La Rambla, and bought some cool gifts for the kids from street vendors. I forgot to mention my detour to the Dahli museum after mass at the Cathedral. It was thundering and sprinkling as the Canadian family and I exchanged our short stories, so we made quick goodbyes and dashed for cover. My cover was the Dahli museum which held a number of his pencil drawings and sculptures. Weird stuff. I always found his paintings of the Last Supper and Crucifixion to be profound, so it was hard to make the connection between the personality portrayed in the museum and those paintings. Photographs show a wild and crazy guy with a waxed moustache…a cross between Groucho Marx and Vincent Price…producing a bizarre mix of fantastical images that span religious to demonic motifs. Yes, weird.
LOG 3: July 5, 2010
Not knowing which stop was the Princessa Sofia Hotel, I decided to take the METRO all the way to the end of the line. The map wasn’t much help with the location of the hotel, but I knew that I was going to be in the general vicinity. Luckily, there was a cab sitting at the corner after I got off the METRO, so I paid 5 E to get to the hotel. I now know where I’m going.
I was so impressed with everything that I experienced today. The facilities are gorgeous and the conference is extremely well-run. We received a computer bag full of amenities and people seemed genuinely interested in sticking around and learning from one another. During the morning coffee break, I met two women from Saint Mary’s University who are presenting their work during tomorrow afternoon’s oral presentations. It was strange that they were standing in line right behind me, waiting for their coffee, just minutes after I made a little prayer asking for the courage to make some good connections.
I’m amazed at how teachers have embraced active learning principles and assessment as the new wave of teaching. Just this morning, I listened to presentations by Irish, South African, Turkish, Pakistani, Malaysian, and American teachers who were all moving away from the traditional, lecture-based style of teaching toward classroom experiences that incorporated work with “real world” media—whatever form that might take. Teachers from fields like Chemistry to Wood-working to Mathematics to English Literature were all coming to the same conclusion in their educational research—students retain more, learn better, and report higher satisfaction when they are actively engaged in the learning process. Countries that I presumed were “backward” in education were coming up with some impressive results. What was even more impressive was that they wrote and delivered their papers NOT IN THEIR NATIVE LANGUAGES, but in English. Needless to say, I’m humbled by their accomplishments.
Beyond brilliance and being multi-lingual, the people I have met are extremely warm and friendly. I was struggling to put my poster up, but the laminate was so stiff that it kept curling and wouldn’t stay in place. Suddenly, this burst of energy appeared saying, “I help you.” The poster refused to stay up, but she was so determined to get it in place, I assumed that she was part of the conference. It didn’t take long to figure out that Lola (University of Malaga, SPAIN) had a poster at the same session and just couldn’t help but be helpful. She just bubbled all over--handing people extra copies of her paper and then beaming with enthusiasm over other people’s work.
The session was scheduled for four hours, and for the three hours that I was on my feet, I was never bored. The same dedication to engaging students was evident in the poster session as well. I especially enjoyed meeting Graziana Ramsden from Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and Glinda Irozoque from the National University in Mexico. Graziana grew up in Barcelona, speaks four languages, and is thoroughly brilliant. She chose MCLA because she professes to be almost fanatical about her passion for teaching and wanted a school where class sizes were small enough that she could get to know her students on a more personal basis. She likes to think that her dedication might make a difference in the lives of her students. Glinda was a pleasure, as well. Her chemistry “lectures” are HUGE (at least 75 in a class), but she’s still committed making teaching more extraordinary than ordinary. She says that it takes forever to correct her self-designed projects, but that the pay-off in their learning makes it all worthwhile.
I’m so glad that I was too nervous to submit a proposal for an oral presentation. Not that it would have been accepted anyway, but the exposure is slim (15 minutes) compared to the lengthy, not to mention personal, encounters I had this afternoon. So many different people were curious about my poster (probably because I’m the ONLY MUSICIAN in this cast of 500) and wanted to learn about the software programs that I use for the composition projects. All were interested in the work of my students and enjoyed talking about interesting projects that moved students toward excellence. I want to name a few stand outs because I don’t want to forget their sincerity: Rui Neto from Portugal struggles with motivating his students, Graciela Ruiz-Aguilar from Mexico was accompanied by her parents, and Christina Xinyan Xie from China was accompanied by an Italian friend who slipped away before I could get his name. Graciela, in particular, is a biologist and her father a retired musician, so he was particularly interested in FINALE. I let him try the program and we talked about how the software might help younger students get interested in theory. I also can’t forget Miguel and Irene (who grew up in St. Louis and teaches medical ethics in Mexico). All in all, there were lots of laughs and discussions about teaching and I’m glad to have accomplished the one goal I set out to achieve—to learn a little about what teachers from around the world are doing in their classrooms.
LOG 4: July 6, 2010
I didn’t get to sleep last night until almost 4:00am and it looks like the same pattern will repeat itself this evening. Maybe I’m just too old and inflexible to adapt to the time change? I did allow myself to sleep in until 10:30am and didn’t arrive at the conference until noon. I caught the session on EDUCATIONAL TRENDS AND BEST PRACTICE CONTRIBUTIONS which included teachers from Malaysia, the UK, Italy, Slovakia, Portugal, and Turkey. The presentations weren’t easy to understand or follow, but I still think it’s courageous for non-native speakers to present in English. The Turkish presenter apologized to the audience for his poor English. Not necessary, but very sweet.
I met Graziana for lunch and we were joined by Glinda and Irene. Glinda and I had a lengthy conversation about her work in Barcelona and her upcoming fellowship to study in Karlsruhe, Germany. She was also apologizing for her English, but I reminded her that I was the one forcing her to work so hard. Between Graziana’s story about buying Barcelona Barbie’s for her twin daughters, Irene’s life experiences which led her to medical ethics in Mexico, and Glinda’s description of her daughters and their life work, I completely lost time and was late to Jane and Eileen’s presentation on the use of Tegrity in the classroom. The Tegrity program sounds like an interesting option for online classes—a sort of file share option that makes lectures available to students. They claim great success maintaining attrition through it’s use in non-traditional education courses, in particular. Irene’s presentation was an outline of her online medical ethics course which she designed and implemented from scratch. Her straightforward and friendly manner made for a pleasant and informative session.
The remainder of my conference experience was spent in the poster room chatting with Glinda, Miguel, Graziela and her father. (I’ve decided that the Mexicans are the friendliest people here.) Graziela’s father is a musician and really wanted an opportunity to talk about his own field. He doesn’t speak any English, so Graziela was forced to translate. She then shared her passion for soil conservation and told me that part of her work is dedicated to ridding farmland of harmless pesticides by introducing a fungus that “eats” harmful chemicals, thereby healing the land. She said that the greatest challenge for her was convincing farmers who couldn’t afford to let the land rest for a year.
She hits road blocks because there isn’t incentive money from the government and many of the farmers won’t take her seriously because she’s a woman. The conversation didn’t stop there. She’s extremely annoyed and anxious over the oil spill in the Gulf and is worried about the extent of long-range damage it will cause. According to her, the bio-remedies that scientists are proposing can only effect a small percentage of improvement. I could go on and on…what a fascinating and lovely person.
My evening was a nice mix of alone and social time. I planned to meet Graziana at Jaume I METRO @ 7:30pm, so decided to walk the distance and take in more of the city’s sights. The route took me past the Placa Catalunya fountains and down the Portal de l’Angel where there are a dozen craft vendors selling earrings, soaps, and other works of art (which I just couldn’t resist). I met Graziana and we strolled through the Ribera neighborhood where she used to live. She waited for me outside the Santa Maria del Mar church—telling me to take as much time as I needed in this pristine 12th century Gothic wonder that was built by the Catalonian people. Stunning. Our meal was at her favorite tapas restaurant—SAGARDI on Argenteria, just a few short steps from the Santa Maria del Mar. She explained that tapas became a fad when one of their kings (I forget who) asked for a piece of bread to cover the top of his drink…then asked for more and more to put on top of the bread. It sounds rather silly, but his requests turned into a Catalonian specialty. In the short time I spent with Graziana, I learned about her experience as a volunteer for the 1992 Olympics, that there are ancient Roman ruins which halted the restoration of the Mercat del Born, and then caught a glimpse of the ornately decorated Palau de Musica before jumping on the METRO (which is great, by the way). She is quite an impressive woman and I was honored that she was willing to take the time to show me around.
Tomorrow is Montserrat.