Monday, January 25, 2010

"The Wonder Wagon" (my brother at 9, installment 3)

Aaah, the mind of a 9-year old boy!

August 1980
My name is Jack.  I live in Iran.  Iran is like a big, big desert with a few trees and shrubs.  It is not like the USA with big buildings.  The biggest tent is 10 feet high.  Sitting in the meadow was my favorite thing.

"Whacking' the wagons go past and the clip-clop of the horses on the pebbles.  It was a sunny day and the Shah was passing by.  We all bowed and prayed to him.  He came by me and gave me a box.  I looked inside it and saw a mallet, a chisel, a block of wood, and a paper saying that said, "A toy wagon".  There were two horses inside made of plastic.

I ran home and began.  Shavings were on the floor and my baby brother was catching them.  After a week it was finished and was a work of art.  I took it outside to feed the camels. I put a bit of food in a little berry shell and put in the wagon.  Then I pushed the wagon over to the camels who tipped it over.  I fed the camels and turned around.  I saw the wagon move.  The little horses moved.  I ran into the city if Tabriz.  A man was sitting and eating apples.  I put down the wagon and it ran into the man.  The man had such a fright he fell into an oil well.  He came out black. I then went to the market where I saw a girl knitting.  I put down the wagon and it ran and bumped into her.  She lost all her stitches.  I had such fun.

I lived so happily from then on.

The end.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

"The Captured Coral" (my brother at 9, installment 2)

Another story from my brother, at nine years old.
I remember bedtime stories about Pudge and Fish Fingers.

9 September

One August day the captain, Mr Huges, of the Alexander the Great, was getting ready for the long voyage from Spain to Switzerland. At 12:00 the captain called his crew from the pub. They were very drunk. One by one the captain pushed them in the sea. As they came out they were as healthy as a doctor. Sam, Howard, Mr Pudge, Jofhy and their parrot, Fish-Fingers. It was now 1:30 and the harbour was open. The ship moved out to the blue sea like a paper boat. they hoped to make it to Switzerland in two weeks time. But now another day or two. Time past and the saw Rome. A bleek place with tall buildings, short buildings, and small houses. At the end of the point of the island, they saw a reef. A big beautiful place. The ship went past slowly. the crow's nest suddenly shouted. "Sir, the stern". the captain turned the ship but it was much too late. "Crunch" they heard. The ship broke in two. Water filled the hull. Down went the bow. "Help!" screamed Howard the cook. He drowned. The captain and Pudge, Sam and Fish-Fingers were saved. "Where is Jophy?" said Sam. They all looked about. They gave up and started to explor the reef. Howard was dead for three minutes now. The men suddenly saw a chest. Inside was a big piece of coral. "The Stolen Coral" screamed Sam who had just been reading the newspaper. The men were lucky enough to find the boat. They rowed back and were now big heroes.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Going back in time... "What a Shot" (my brother at 9, installment 1)

I have a lot of respect for my brother, the oldest of the three, the only full-brother, the one who is 18 months younger than me. It has always seemed that he had all the luck, all the talent, all the coordination, all the creativity.

He got through school without any studying, he skied downhill the first time he put on a pair. He taught me how to ride a bike, he taught me how to drive. He can play a guitar, a piano, drums, anything he tries is intuitive.

When we were kids, until I was 13, we shared a room (remember the photo of the house?).
Sometimes, when I couldn't go to sleep, he'd tell me stories. The theme/character I remember is the stretchy man, who could stretch to walk over cars and buildings.

Recently, my mom found a bunch of his writing assignments from when he was nine (Standard 2/Grade 4)... I don't know if he'll mind, and if he does I'll take them down, but I'm going to post them here on my "online journal". They make me remember those stories that he told me, and they remind me of those times that he and I were alone - my best friend.

"What a Shot"
August 1980

I was once in a circus. My part was the human cannonball. It was a dangerous act and every night I went on I took two aspirins, a Disprin and a teaspoon of medicine. It was the first night of our act and I was about to go on. "And now ladies and gentlemen, we have the Great Martino Palimino"
I went on. The feeling of fear hit me and I was petrified. You could see my mother in the audience with her hands on her eyes. I could hardly go up the ladder to the barrel. The Ringmaster said "Please ladies and gentlemen, babies, and youngsters, we now see a human cannonball risking his life, so please keep quiet"!!

The flame lit, I was ready. "10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, shoot!" Pow!! I went flying into the air, the wind rushed past me. I hit the net at a great speed, but I bounced right onto the canvas floor. Wham!

"Ouch", I screamed. The Ringmaster ran to me and asked me to stand up. I could not. I was rushed to the hospital. The next day my feet were amputated. My doctor said, "You did not break your bones on the floor, but from hitting a pole as you flew past it."

The End

Saturday, January 16, 2010


Sigh. What an amazing trip!

Our homecoming was equally amazing.

We read on the weather before leaving South Africa that huge snowstorms were predicted for the Washington DC area for the day of our return. We were worried about our flights getting cancelled, delayed, or diverted. We boarded on time, and flew to Dakar, arriving around midnight on Saturday. The pilot announced that we had been directed to take a three-hour departure delay and that there were too many people already in the airport, therefore we needed to stay on the plane. He actually said: we would rather take the delay than be diverted.
So instead of arriving at Dulles at 6am, we arrived at 9am.
The runway was in good shape, but we drove around the airport while they kept sending us from gate to gate, trying to find an open on. See, all the morning flights had been cancelled, and the airport was jam packed. Finally off the plane, after 23 hours of sitting in the same seats, we made our way through passport control pretty easily. We then went to baggage claim and waited, and waited, and waited. A woman came on the PA and announced that the baggage handlers we're being safe in getting our luggage off the plane and to the terminal. She actually said:

As I'm sure you noticed, it's icy out there, so they are being safe.

I was very tempted to find where she was hiding behind her microphone and ask how, then, was it safe for us to LAND?!

Anyway, two hours of waiting for bags, 30 mins waiting for a cab, a snowy drive to our neighborhood, we finally made it to our street, and the cabbie asked that he drop us off on the corner and not go down the snow-lined streets.

We were both laughing as we pulled all the bags through the snow, trumped through the two-feed deep yard, walkway, and porch to get to the front door.

Of course, we didn't have a snow shovel yet... and for some reason, nor did our Chicago neighbors (?!), but they had borrowed a shovel from the guy on their other side, and he was gracious enough to let us use it too.




The dogs couldn't make it up the pile!

This is the back porch. Look how high the snow is on the railing, and on top of the Weber.

That was an entertaining homecoming!
It took a week for us to get a shovel because the stores were sold out. It took 4 days before I could take my car out because they didn't ever plow our street, and I have these performance (not all-weather) tires, so there was no way I was going to risk it!

The weather was also a good excuse to build a big fire, get the house cozy, and slowly reenter our lives.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


One evening, we went to my Dad's sister for dinner, and she had invited all of the family who were available. We went a little early and had a couple hours to talk with her alone. This was a great moment. She has had an interesting life, with interesting decisions, and it was wonderful to sit there as adults and hear the stories. Her husband came home, and the conversation switched back and forth between our trip, and South African politics.
After visiting the museums, and driving around the more rural areas, it was very interesting to talk to my family about their first-hand experiences living through this monumental change.
We sat down to dinner after my Dad's brother, wife, and daughter arrived. The meal was as delicious as I expected.
You may remember me talking about my Dad's siblings before, because when I went to Toronto, it was to be with the oldest daughter of each sibling.
It was a wonderful evening, full of family, and I'm really glad I had the opportunity to share it with Eric. It was so good to see everyone.

Remember I talked about that bed & breakfast and how much we didn't like it?
Well, when I told my maternal aunt and her husband, they insisted we get out early and spend our last nights with them. So we moved back to the house in Oaklands.

When my family moved to Johannesburg, when I was in high school, we lived within walking distance of my aunt and uncle. This is about the time when things went bad in my parent's marriage, and so we spent a lot of time at my aunt and uncle's house. This is what my afternoon's used to look like when I was in high school.


Me, my mom, and aunt, all hanging out with tea in the living room. Usually the two small girls would be napping around this time (now one of them is married!). My aunt and uncle were like second parents to me. When my parents went on vacation, we would stay with my aunt and uncle. The longest of these stays was six weeks, and we actually changed schools for that period of time. My aunt is also a teacher, and there was no way she was going to be driving us to Aloe Ridge each day, so we went to her school for those six weeks.

My cousins were very young when I moved to America, and I don't think they have a consciousness of me in their lives as solidly as they are in mine. Its strange to be in this house, which is the closest remnant to "home" for me, and realize that they have a whole growing-up with a different consciousness of this house as home.
I feel at ease with my aunt and uncle as you do with your parents. I know they are there for me as my parents would be - whether we talk every week or not.

Its reassuring to know that you have these types of real relationships or connections with your family. Keep in mind, that for me there is a great amount of actual land distance between me and most of my family (actually all of my family, my brother in Brooklyn is the closest), so its not easy to "feel" that connection. You have to just know that its there.
Going on this trip was a reminder, a renewal, that I'm not alone. That there are these people all over the world who I care about, and who care about me.
I feel a lot of regret that my life has not been in a space that would free me to be more present in their lives. It's another reason that I am grateful for where I am now, because I don't feel that heavy pinned-down feeling anymore. I have promised myself that I will do whatever I can to not let that huge lapse happen again.

In fact, the daughters of my cousin in Toronto have their batmitzvah this month. Her parents (my paternal aunt and uncle) are going to fly in for the occasion. Toronto is 1.5 hrs away from DC. I took time off work, I used some miles, and I'm going to be there!

I miss my family a lot. It is a sadness for me that I cannot stop over for Friday dinner, or go to tea, or have them over to my home. That my Dad can't come over and help build some furniture, and my Mom give us advise in the garden. Even if I wanted to make a move to be closer, someone would always not be - Sydney, Green Valley, Johannesburg, Brooklyn, Toronto, Cape Town - they are too far apart!

On the bright side. My new home is very close to a LARGE international airport (IAD), I have a wonderful guest room (hint, hint), I have SO MANY frickin airline miles, and a job that allows me to save up money and time to be able to make a plan to be with my family more.

...and I plan to do it!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Some South African cultural experiences

We did a couple cultural things around Johannesburg. We went to the Apartheid Museum and the Cradle of Humankind. Both were very well worth the time.

The Apartheid Museum is a museum and a memorial to the memory of the apartheid years in South Africa. There as a very interesting special exhibit on the life of Nelson Mandela, and then the resident experience of the history of this political construct. It was interesting to me because they created a chronology that helped put things into perspective, and it was interesting to Eric because he wasn't aware of the specifics of South African history in that way.
It is a very modern exhibit that allows you to learn while experiencing as they move you through the spaces in the exhibits. There are photos, stories, and artifacts. I would recommend that everyone go check it out when they are Johannesburg.

The Cradle of Humankind is on the complete opposite side of Johannesburg and encompasses a large piece of land were the majority of evidence for early hominid development has been found. We toured the Sterkfontein caves and walked through the exhibits at Maropeng. If you have a strong opposition position to evolution, you would have a serious issue with this facility. They have very good timelines showing the development of our planet and how it has evolved to support life. They talk about each period of mass destruction, what was lost and what was gained. They have experiential exhibits that demonstrate the uniqueness of humans, interspersed with skulls and figurines that show the differences and similarities between us and the other hominids. It was also a very interesting museum, well worth the trip.

We talked about these museums between ourselves and with my family. We imagined that neither of these locations would have existed during Apartheid. Obviously not the apartheid museum, but Maropeng celebrates the inhabitants of Africa, and focuses on them as the first people to live on the earth (we also didn't think that a museum like this would ever be built in America... or if it was, it would say "the Theory of Evolution this..." and "the Theory of Evolution that...".

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Plot 136, Walkerville

Before leaving South Africa, we had a couple days in Johannesburg. I wanted to take Eric to see where I had grown up, and have a little more time with my family.
We had planned to stay in a bed & breakfast in Melville. This is a pretty hip area with a lot of restaurants and art galleries. We arrived late in the afternoon, and the security guard showed us to our room and gave us a key. There was no information in the room about the area, or the facility. Things just felt strange. Perhaps after all the attention we'd gotten at the other hotels we were used to people being more inviting. Since we couldn't really pin-point what was making us uncomfortable, we figured we'd stay and see how things went.

The next day we went to Walkerville.



This is where I grew up. My parents bought this house a couple months after I was born. Over the years they added the second floor, and redid the thatch on the roof.


They built a small cottage next door for my maternal grandparents, put in a pool and tennis court, and my mom landscaped the full five acres. It was a great place to grow up.
There were no walls, wires, or major fences when we lived here. We just had a barbed-wire fence.

This house is not very large. The upstairs has two bedroom - one for my parents and the other I shared with my brother. There is only one bathroom downstairs. It is made out of brick, and has no ceiling blocking your view of the underside of the thatch.
We moved out when I was 13 because there was (and still is) no high school in the area and my parents didn't want to send me to boarding school. So, we moved to Johannesburg.

We took a drive to my primary school - Aloe Ridge


We spent a lot of time at this school outside of regular school hours. Since my mom was a teacher at the school, my brother and I would be here before school started, after school ended, and on those days that only teachers were there to prepare for the start of the next term. My parents would play tennis here on the weekends with a group of other families.


Since the area I grew up in is mostly rural, the school was the gathering point for the kids, so this is where I have most of my memories of interaction with other children.

For example:
One weekend, we took our bikes to the school (we couldn't ride bikes at home, because all the roads were dirt... ie there was no-where to ride them). My brother was going to teach me how to ride. I remember him setting me up at the top of the driveway facing towards the school. In my memory this was a steep downhill that went on forever! At the bottom were the steps that went into the administration building. As I approached those steps I realized I didn't really know what to do. I didn't know where the brakes were, nor how to steer... so I hit them. Yip, over the handlebars.
Looking at that drive in 2009 was one of those feelings where I just couldn't believe how short and not steep it was!


The urban sprawl and development of Johannesburg seems to have not reached Walkerville yet.
The shopping center is still the same (well, there was another one across the street that wasn't there in the 1970's).



This part of the shopping center used to be the post office and switchboard. When I was a kid, we didn't have our own telephone lines out here in the country. Instead, you would have to ring up the switchboard on one of these and ask to be patched through to Johannesburg.

I'm glad we made this trip to Walkerville. It's good to go back to your roots and make sure you know where you come from. It was also really nice to show all of this to someone who knows me in America.

Friday, January 08, 2010 the meantime.

I owe you one more post to finish up our trip to South Africa, in the meantime, it snowed again last night. Here are some images that I enjoyed this morning.

The footsteps of the dogs walking a path on the deck looking for a place to pee.

The snow on top of the ornaments still hanging from the neighbor's tree.

The view from my office window as the sun comes up.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010


So, I'm a planner... you probably know that...
but I did not do a good job planning for the walking in the bushveld.
In case you are on your way, here are some things I had and was grateful for, and some things I didn't have and wished I had thought to take on my trip.

Walking Safari Packing List


● Sunblock
● Lip protection
SmartWool socks
● Tank tops
● Trail-runner sneakers
- these were fine, and I can't say that I would have preferred hiking boots. It was very wet in the morning from dew, and maybe gore.tex would have been better. The water was not an issue thanks to the SmartWool, and the sneakers dried out in the afternoon so were ready for the next day.


● WOMAN's long-sleeve khaki shirt
- Apparently brown attracts the flies, and I completely did not think about what I'd be wearing, so ended up borrowing this shirt from Eric.

- Boy, I feel stupid for forgetting these
Rhino Toilet

● Camelbak
- I had my bottle, but the pack would have been easier

- WISHED I'd had some of these!

● Brim hat
- I got a suede-breezy Rogue on the way home, but wished I'd had it during the hiking. I used a baseball cap, and they are not the best sunprotection for ears.
Bernard (Ranger)
(nice hat)

And since this is a post about LISTS, here is all the other stuff (besides the basics, like, underwear and toothbrushes) for the two weeks, and four different environments: Wedding, Diving, Safari, and general summer.

This is my suitcase/bag (well, I have an older version).

Baseball hat
Board shorts
Flip flops
Jeans (wore only on plane)
Sneakers (wore on plane)
Sun dresses
Tank tops

General antibiotics

Aloe gel for sunburn (needed more)
Deet (life saver)
Dr Bronners
Hand Sanitizer

20hrs of entertainment (flight planning)
Books (barely read)
Car charger (USB car adapter to charge both iPhones and Blackberry)
Daypack (flight carry-on)
Headphones (didn’t use)
Kipling pouch
PADI and DAN cards
Passports (scanned and emailed the picture page to myself before leaving)
Presents for hosts and wedding couple
Printed directions to all locations
Power converter (used two of these. I love them because you can’t lose the adapters)
Suunto D6 dive computer
Travel candle (didn’t use)
Travel tide (didn’t use)
Tweezers (didn’t use)

Packed in this Akona bag:
7mil wetsuits

Monday, January 04, 2010

A Surprising Lunch Date

I got a text message from my cousin, the bride, the last night of our stay in Swaziland checking in and asking how we were... we went back and forth a bit and figured that there was a chance we would be in the game reserve at the same time.

I drove that day, and... yes... I pushed it a little!!

They were on their Honeymoon headed east to Mozambique for a month of exploring!
They started their trip with two nights in Kruger, and out of chance, their travel through the game reserve coincided with our travel in.

So we met at Skukuza and had lunch together.

It was really nice to have some quiet time with her and her Husband. We talked about the wedding, South Africa, their trip, our trip...

For me, it was one of the highlights of our trip.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Moving Pictures

Here are some of the videos we took of our animal experiences.

Day 1 of walking, headed back to the camp in drizzle, Rangers were tracking a buffalo... and they came up right on him.
He was not happy! and became a aggressive.
Right when we arrived at Plains Camp, Bernard made it clear:
When the animals start running, head behind a tree! we did.
Bernard and James worked on scaring off the buffalo, and it took some effort. They were concerned that he wasn't responding. They got him to move around so that he was downwind of us, and then he realized he should just run away.

Here is a bit of video of a Rhino who was not too happy about the big unrecognizable thing (our truck) in the road.

On the first day at Kruger, we set out early to a dead hippo in the trees, just off the road. By this time it was a vulture and hyena feast. We noticed some interesting activity going on with the hyenas, and spent some time trying to figure it out. At first we thought it was some mating aggression, but then we realized it was dominance of one clan over the intruding member of another clan. Marieka is explaining to us how hyena work.

This is the fighting tortoises!! It was the highlight of the day, and we told all the other rangers from the Rhino Post about it. Bernard and James couldn't believe that we were so lucky to catch this... they said that in their 30+ years of experience, they had never seen two tortoises fighting! It was very funny and we spent a long time watching!

Just a personal record of the tent at Plains Camp. The architecture was amazing! The basin and shower were very creative, and the whole look really completed that Imperialist Colonial Explorer look and feel!

Saturday, January 02, 2010

The Bushveld

The last stop on our road trip was the Kruger National Park.
We stayed at the Rhino Post Lodge for one night, and at the Plains Camp for three.
The Rhino Post (B) is a concession northeast of Skukuza (A). And again, we were the only people staying for the first 3 nights.

(Link to Google Maps)

It's really difficult to write something concise about this experience because every moment was so amazing; from the lightning and thunder one night on the plain to the architecture of the accommodations, everything is worthy of description.

(Gabion for the walls at Rhino Post - such a harsh construction style that is turned into something straight and soft by tying it into the raw wood and canvas of the other walls.)

(The detail of the wall hanging above, for my Mom and Aunt.)

Lounge at Rhino Post Lodge
(The lounge.)

(The wine room.)

Lounge deck at Rhino Post Lodge
(The view from the Rhino Post deck that overlooks the river.)

The way Rhino Post and Plains Camp organize your day, is that you are up at sunrise for a drive (if you're staying in the lodge) or a walk (if you're staying at the camp). You come back at around 10:30 am for brunch, and then you take a rest until 3:00pm. After some high tea, you head out for a drive that includes "sundowners" somewhere interesting at sunset, and then you get a taste of the night at the game reserve as you drive back to camp.

(One-eye staring us down.)

This schedule really works to give you the most of the experience.


During our drives, we saw pretty much everything that you would want to see.
There had been a lot of rain, and the bushveld was green. There were lots of babies everywhere...






I have never walked in the game reserve before, and it was on my "life list." We went with a lead ranger, Bernard, and a "backup rifle," James.

Bernard, James (Rangers), and Lisa
(James was ALWAYS right behind Bernard.)

Bernard (Ranger)

Each day on our walk we learned something about how the animals live. This really added a depth to what you look at when you are in the bush. Instead of seeing trees and growth as obstacles, you realize that there are trails and tracks and clues. We learned about how male white rhinos "toilet", stomp around in it, and then walk the perimeter of their territory. I would never have given these "mud piles" a second thought before.

Rhino Toilet

Something else I realized was that I started feeling like I'd seen much more than we had because seeing the EVIDENCE had given me the impression of actually seeing. This must be my training as an archaeologist. You don't ever see the people you study, you just see their evidence. With that said, we saw porcupine (the dug-up half eaten bulb of a lily), and the rare and elusive black rhino (their dung has sticks because they are browsers, and they use the same "toilet" as the white rhinos, who are grazers).

Our daily walks were mostly peaceful with snack breaks at picturesque spots.

Water hole

A quick rest at water hole

But each day, our rangers tracked one of The Big Five. On day 1 we had a fun interaction with a buffalo (more on that tomorrow).

On day 2 we spent a long time following a rhino mom and her baby. When we finally came upon them, we were SO close!

On day 3, the last day, we saw two elephants.
(can you see it in the back?)

I was nervous the first day out walking, but after about an hour of seeing nothing but trees, bushes, and bugs, I realized that Bernard was in control of what we were doing, and my fear went away. By the time we did see some animals, I knew that we had approached them from the angle he wanted, and he knew exactly what he was doing.


In the afternoons it was luxurious to nap in the tents, sit under a tree and look at the baboons and wildebeest cross the plain, and just enjoy the serene sounds of the bush in the heat of the day.




The Lounge at Plains Camp
(After the "African Safari" theme of the Lodge, the "Imperialist Colonial Explorer Camp" theme of Plains Camp was a little shocking at first. I couldn't help but laugh every time I walked into this lounge.)

Since we were the only guests for two of the nights, Bernard joined us for dinner. It was great listening to his stories about growing up and living in the area, and the work it takes to become a lead ranger. We felt so far away from work, TV, computers, and the complicated technology of our Phones. We really enjoyed this experience and would highly recommend.


There are obviously, a LOT more pictures, so let me know if you want to see more.
Next post will be some videos.

one last thing...
Here's a photo of the skin, belt and knife of Harry Wolhuter. One of the resonating stories of life in early Africa.
Artifacts of Wolhuter's Survival (

Friday, January 01, 2010

A Moment of Peace

We planned this trip with a day off in Swaziland.

(Link to Google Maps)

Diving always wipes you out, and with all the wedding and driving, we hadn't really had time to get over the jetlag. So this day was intended as a rest day before heading to the Kruger National Park.

We had another interesting drive through the Kingdom of Swaziland...


Hamlet in Sawziland

One of the groups of people on our dive boat were from Swaziland, and they were telling us about this big dam project on the Komati river where you could drive over the huge dam. Having just moved away from Arizona and the progress of the Hoover Dam Bypass, we had to swing by and see Maguga Dam.

Phophanyane (pronounced Popanyanee) Falls is a nature reserve in the middle of tree farms (grown for paper).
Phophonyane Falls entrance

Its a progressive waterfall where they have made some pools along its route.

(doesn't look real, does it?)

Adding to the peacefulness was the fact that we were the only guests for the night and day we were there.
(gateway to our room)

It was rainy the whole time, and I decided that meant I should not move off of the bed.
Our bungalow for a couple of nights

Eric was more energetic and went for a walk.
Out for a stroll

On the first morning, we heard this sound like someone scratching their butt, coming from the roof. We went outside to find that we had neighbors.

They entertained us all morning by chasing each other around the swimming-pool deck.


Very serene, very peaceful, the stop definitely prepared us for what came next...

(Just after driving over the border between Swaziland and South Africa)