Tribute to an Angel From Uganda

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My mind is so much with my faraway friend, Barb Mal, as she hits her milestone 50th birthday, and the first without her sweet, charming, mother who recently passed away, I remember (as I often do) with so much appreciation, respect, and love for how our bond began.

I was “shipped away” to Quaker boarding school in Nowheresville, Ohio, my last year of high school. Apparently my penchant for good times and bad grades had hit the ceiling for my parents (LOL) and off I went, kicking & screaming. Of course, in my teen angst I was determined to hate it there (which, fortunately, did not last long) and my first day there was sheer misery. Lonely and isolated, I was a stranger in a strange land, as I watched the many returning students hugging & laughing after a long summer apart in an era where email & texting had not yet been invented and long distance phone calls were a luxury due to the cost. Witnessing all of these joyous reunions only served to make me feel more alone and so I wandered down the brick path of the grounds to a swing set that was located away from the main building but still visible. I sat there silently swinging alone and crying, throwing myself a proper and fully self-indulgent pity party, drowning in loneliness, distress, and anger, when I saw out of the corner of my eye a lone girl walking down the path towards me. I was thinking to myself, “Please don’t talk to me. Please don’t talk to me. PLEASE don’t talk to me!” (LOL) as my pity party only had an invitation for one and that was ME. Still she walked closer until she got to the swing set and silently sat down next to me. I did not look up, as I was crying, embarressed, awkward, and dedicated to being anti-social so as not to like anything about the place. She sat and began swinging slowly next to me in silence as I continued to stare at the ground until, after a short time went by, she quietly said, “You know, it’s not so bad here.”. OMG – I literally am choked up writing this! It truly is the sweetest, most selfless, kind thing that I think anyone has ever done for me. It’s especially notable because Barb was a returning student and so easily could have chosen (as I’m sure I would have) to have focused her attention on those happy, post-summer, reunions but she went out of her way to comfort a sad & lonely stranger. I knew from that moment that she was a very special person. 32 years later, we are still bonded. My parents referred to her as their “bonus daughter”.
She is kind, strong, intelligent, cultured, and empowered. Not only do I love her, I respect her enormously. She is an incredible single parent of a wonderful daughter, Edisa, whose father she met as we were out for my bachelorette party and whose flirtation I unapologetically interrupted as I stole her back away for the night! LOL I was with her to go home from the hospital after she gave birth, this tiny, new, adorable, creature SCREAMING in the backseat of the car with us laughing hysterically in a state of shock & awe, exlaiming to one another, “WHAT DO WE DO NOW???”. She figured it out….like a champ.
I love you, Barb Mal, and look forward to spending your next milestone birthday TOGETHER!!!
We should all be so lucky as to have a friend like her. ❤

The Trucker & the Damsel in Distress

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Filing under “Strange but True” facts, I went to Quaker boarding school my senior year of high school.  No, my family was not Quaker nor affiliated in any way and I chalk my parent’s selection to send me to that particular education location based on a combination of relative affordability and its incredibly remote location in B.F.E. Ohio.   Despite my bucking bronco arrival & drop off at the school it ultimately resulted in cherished life-long friends and memories

Fast forward to one year later and the commencement/graduation of the class below mine.  Let it be noted that when you live in an isolated environment for an entire school year with only 50 peers you get to know one another pretty well, for good or for bad (though mostly good).  Living just one state away at the time of the following year’s commencement, it was an obvious choice to make the journey to attend this production starring a cast of many friends.

I set off on the approximate seven-hour road-trip dressed, excited, and ready for a happy reunion and a weekend of celebration.  Wearing a full length, white, fitted skirt, a thoughtfully accessorized upper half, and white dress flats on my feet, I settled into my dad’s orange, Datsun B-210 for the solo road trip, my permed 80’s hair standing at attention through a cloud of suffocating hair spray that occupied the remainder of the vehicle.

I don’t recall how far along into the trip I was when an emotional recipe made from ingredients of alarm and concern began baking but I do recall that, when it happened, I was, literally, in the middle of nowhere.  With several hours ahead to my final destination, my tiny, orange vessel began making it clear that it was not happy as it went from a comfortable cruise to coughs, sputters, and jolts increasing in frequency the further I went.  Desperate for an exit there was none to be had while I hoped for the best until…….

D is for Datsun

AND

D is for DEAD

The car coming to a violent, dismissal regarding any further road travel as it came to a complete & uncooperative halt.  I managed to veer it off to the side of the road just as mysterious and unfriendly smoke began billowing out from under the hood.  Seeming the logical next step, I exited the vehicle in this No Man’s Land, pulling the hood lever as it responded with an audible and noticeable “pop” to allow me to look under the hood.  Upon hoisting it I was welcomed with heat and more smoke as I gazed upon a maze of mechanics to which I had no compass. I had arrived at the Deli of the Road, served up one very large & sour pickle.

I scanned my surroundings, a long and empty road with miles of equally empty landscape.  No cell phones back then, there were absolutely zero alternatives to simply beginning to walk.  With the lone beacon of civilization being a farmhouse on a far away hill, a good 3-4 miles ahead of where I stood and a significant way off of the main road, my brutally coifed 80’s hair, ankle length skirt, and dress flats, began the long trek in that direction.  As I fought tears and fears I had only clocked about half a mile on foot towards the Fateful Farmhouse when a large, tractor trailer rumbled by, one of the only vehicles I had seen since greeted with my major dilemma.  Striking my heart with relief that was overpowered by ice cold fear, I watched as the monster truck hit its breaks and purposefully pulled over to my side of the road.  So this is how it ends!  A crazy, substance addled, trucker, dragging me into his cab or, alternatively, the endless field that lay all around, 50/50 odds on the table regarding where I would meet the Grim Reaper, equally unpleasant and unpredicted, distinct possibilities

I froze in my tracks, a spiral permed, blonde deer in the brake lights, as the side door opened and the driver hopped down to the asphalt and walked towards me.  But wait…..he wasn’t just walking towards me….there was a bit of a lurch and deliberation to his stride.  Still frozen as I rode the teeter-totter of gratitude and concern, I came to the sudden realization that the trucker only had one leg, his unique gait the product of a prosthetic leg.  Though clearly not “politically correct”, my survival instincts assessed the situation for themselves, breathing a tentative but audible sigh of relieve with the realization that, should he offer a ride and I needed to bail to salvage my life, my odds of outrunning him were very, very, high, despite my ankle length, albatross skirt that I had come to curse more & more with each step.

Very aware and sensitive to my damsel in distress predicament, the trucker stopped with a bit of distance remaining between us, asking the obvious – did I need help?  Rapidly scanning the landscape once again it was clear that taking my chances with a one-legged, hopefully well-intentioned trucker trumped walking an additional 3+ miles to a remote farmhouse with unknown occupants, assuming that it was occupied at all.  So with pounding heart, I grabbed on to the handles to hoist myself up into the cab of this “King of the Road”, intimidating, steel beast.

He climbed back in on his side and eased into the driver’s seat as he asked me my name and inquired about how I found myself in this unfortunate situation.  As he shifted into drive and we began picking up steam in the vibrating cab, I began sharing my plight as I snuggled against my passenger door, hand firmly rested on the handle in a manner I hoped was not obvious, ready to throw myself out the door and onto the mercy of the asphalt should it be necessary.

The trucker confirmed that I was, indeed, in the middle of nowhere while sincerely sympathizing with both my situation and understood concern.  With a slow moving but large tidal wave of relief, he convincingly told me that I was safe as pictures of his two small children, a boy & a girl, smiled with reassurance from the dashboard, a dangling & swaying crucifix nodding in agreement.  In proper, stereo-typical, trucker fashion, he clicked the button to bring his C.B. to life, networking with his fellow 18-wheelers to find out where the nearest garage was, ultimately leading us to a small one about 20 miles down the road.

We slipped into casual and friendly conversation until our exit arrived and he delivered me to a One Horse Town with a mechanic and tow truck.  After I placed a collect phone call to my father I found myself being the one to reassure my Knight in Shining Steel that I would be fine, expressing my immeasurable gratitude to the extent that words would allow. I settled into an uncomfortable, plastic chair for the long wait ahead as his truck rumbled away in one direction, the tow truck in the other.

My orange carcass of a car rolled into the front of the garage some time later, riding bitch to the hulking tow truck.  Upon untangling the chains and locks of the mechanical beast, the mechanic disappeared to take an (educated) look under the hood, returning wearing an expression that did not indicate good news.  Apparently – and pay attention here – it’s a good idea to check and add oil before setting out on an extended road trip.  Who knew?  Well, apparently not me as I had “thrown a rod” due to an empty oil tank and the car, based on it’s current value, was officially pronounced dead.  A rental car was eventually delivered to the doorstep of the garage where I transferred my belongings from one vehicle to another before continuing my onward journey with an additional item packed, a lifelong memory and appreciation for prosthetic wearing truckers with hearts of gold.

An African Boy Named Bob

Racism, poverty, oppression, thou hast an enemy and thy name is BOB!

Trust in today’s shift from this blog’s primary focus on humor and travel to indulge in  unapologetic “heartwarming”.  Warm fuzzies guaranteed – stick around!  Travel is still involved though not my own, this lesson not involving fiascos or mischief but instead honor, example, & kindness. For all seeking menu alternatives to the cold & unappetizing chunks of distressing news and disheartening stories offered up by the servers at the shark frenzy buffet, I serve up this infinitely more appetizing & refreshing tale!  And it goes a lil’ somethin’ like this:

The first of the two “Bob’s” in our story is my father.  He passed away in 2004, a (young) senior, Caucasian man hailing from a small & un-heard of town in Indiana.  He left a beautiful wake positive marks, memories, & respect with all whom he crossed paths with.  He was a good father and a good man.  He made me and countless others laugh in eye rolling and, frequently, embarrassing ways and instilled in me an annoyed, frustrated, yet ultimately appreciated skill regarding mischievous, laughter filled, sarcasm & sparring.  His wardrobe choices bordered on tragic, his vibrant and passionate personality and melodic, deep, & talented singing voice never lost on those who encountered it.  A product of a poverty stricken upbringing, he was raised across the street from train tracks with his parents, a brother, and five sisters in a three bedroom, 1 bath household.  With purpose and determination, he embraced education, both personally & professionally, and became known as a standout in his mathematical career and, mostly privately and always humbly, as a man who strove to improve the lives of others through providing inspiration and opportunities otherwise unavailable.

Twenty some years ago my parents together realized a dream as they set off on an eagerly anticipated African safari.  During their trip my parents found themselves so deeply touched and impressed by their young, local, male, tour guide that my father took it upon himself to rally with their other, newly met, tour companions.  Without direct solicitation but merely through intentionally casual conversation relaying a dream, my father managed to gather significant funds from the other travelers in their group to help this young man begin his own safari/guide outfit in Africa, one that he had wistfully indicated was his dream.  Little did he know that this casual conversation with an American tourist would open a door to a new and better life of independence and financial freedom.

And now we move on to Bob #2.

Fast forward eight years after my father’s passing and 15+ years after the trip in reference, the “safari group” continued to remain in occassional touch, primarily over the holidays.  On this long after holiday season, I received a phone call from my mother to share the most amazing information she had just received from someone within the group.  The news was that a message had been received down the internet pipeline from this long-ago man with a dream, a resident of Tanzania, Africa.  The man now had a son…..and the son’s name is BOB.

Yes, there is an African boy in Tanzania named BOB, after my father.

We all hope to leave a legacy.  Some type of positive mark, memory, or difference in this world after we are gone and I cannot think of a better one.  I am filled with pride, joy, gratitude, and appreciation for being raised by a man with such heart, values, and kindness.  I am quite certain that when this son introduces himself in his native country that it is met with question and that the answer always involves my father in the most wonderful of ways.

A favorite quote of mine goes, “Kindness is the language that the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”.  Helen Keller said that, not Bob….but he could have.

DAD
Bob in his safari hat, ready for adventure!