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David Lundberg 8:36am Aug 12
I currently live in Malaysia and am an RPCV from Fiji 2008-2011. Many people (at least 15) in my small town (Bentong, Pahang) ask me if I’m a PCV when they here that I’m an American. After I tell them I am not a PCV but that I was in Fiji, many people tell me about the lasting and wonderful memories they have of PCVs they knew years ago. For lack of a better explanation, it simply makes me feel good that they remember you (which means there’s a decent chance that the kids and adults I lived with in Fiji might actually remember me). Just thought I’d let you know about the lasting impact that you’ve made on the people here.
In May of 1972, near the end of the two years service with PC, I had a motor cycle accident. The PC helmet requirement kept me alive. Barry Morris helped nurse me back to health, and the care of the PC nurse, Shirley Periera, minimized infections. At the earliest opportunity, I left the surfboard in Kuala Trengganu, and traveled to Indonesia. Bali, Borobudur, and Jogjakarta were visited. Renting a bicycle I found my way to the black sand beaches south of Jogjakarta. I think I was plagued with abscesses, residual effects of the road rash from the accident. Their untimely appearances, inconvenient locations and also afflicted at the same time with some home sickness, I decided to return to the states. Trying to maintain a low keyed life, I took night work at a HoJo’s washing dishes, but freeing up the day to work on photography.
My mom commented to me about the use of lots of profanity. She was particularly critical of the use of the F-word. She told me that when she arrived in the USA from Ireland, the first time she heard the F word used she did not know what it meant, but she knew it was bad. I responded in a way that has remained with me 40 years after leaving Bahasa. I asked her which of these two phrases bothered her the most. Was it makan pisan or makan taheet? She said that she did not like makan pisan. I informed her that she did not like eat a banana, and the makan taheet meant eat shâ€|. Thirty-five years later my wife (now ex) chose to take an Alaskan cruise with Holland-America. The officers may have been Dutch, but the crew who took care of the passengers were Indonesians. One day I sided up to one of the workers replenishing the lunch buffet and asked him â€œif he was tired of serving this taheet to the orang puteh. In a shocked response he went to the other side of the buffet table and spoke to a compatriot, gesturing to me. I believe my use of salamat pagi, salamat malam and salamat tidor gave me a level of respect with the crew for the rest of the voyage.
Working nights, freed my days allowing me to do volunteer work with a friend from high school who taught phys. ed. to handicapped students in a local (Long Island) school district. After three bad nights at the HoJo, I looked for other work, pursuing a vocation that Peter M helped me with. I maintained and did repairs on a fleet of Mack trucks (giving me a mechanical/technology back round). I rebuilt the engine on my VW bus. I was still involved with the swimming and ice skating program with the handicapped students. At the same time I was working as a substitute teacher in other districts and getting paid by the district for the volunteer work that I did. Eventually I became a long term substitute for my friend when he pursued (unsuccessfully) an Olympic dream while I continued to work nights keeping the trucks rolling. I thoroughly enjoyed the work with the students, still remembering the name of one student that I threw in the pool on the first session and 8 weeks later I had to go into the water and throw him out of the pool. I went back to grad school and got a masters degree in special education. I started thinking of traveling, so I started working as a waiter on weekends to raise funds (every two weeks there might be a paycheck from four different jobs.)
A photo exhibit of Ansel Adam’s B&W work at NY’s Metropolitan Museum of Art steered me to the West in the summer of 1974. I camped and developed film in the VW bus near locations that Ansel Adams made famous. I remembered many of the locations from the photos that I had seen in the Adam’s exhibit. The Great Sand Dunes National Monument in Colorado almost brought the travel to a halt because the blowing sands required an overnight repair/cleaning of the camera in Denver. This repair almost wiped out the traveling funds. In the Denver Public Library I looked up Mike Caruso’s number and called him in Portland. He was willing to stake me so I continued traveling, meeting with him at his place of work. I had the opportunity to meet his wife, Amy. Leaving Portland, I traveled to the ocean and found work in Ilwaco, WA. The work involved unloading frozen tuna fish from the hulls of the fishing boats and loading it into refrigerated trucks for shipment to the canneries in San Diego. We also unloaded salmon from the sport fishermen. To enable the sport fishermen who were vacationing in the area, the fishing company would take the fresh salmon with its characteristically pink meat and provide canned salmon that had been previously processed with the grey meat of gill-netted fish. One day we started at 8:00 AM and finished at 2:00 AM the next day. There was a rush to get one boat unloaded to set a dock unloading record. Three weeks after I started the work, it dried up when the canneries went on strike. I resumed my travels, getting to San Francisco and then Yosemite. One particular photo that I took at that time was later entered in a California Fish and Game contest. It earned an honorable mention, but more pleasing is the fact that Ansel Adams was one of the judges. In Yosemite, a fire in the adjoining valley filled the park with smoke every night, erasing the fine quality light that allowed fantastic images. I decided to return back East.
Though offered a permanent position at that LI district, I chose to take a teaching position with the Catskill Association of Retarded Children, which at that time took on the responsibility of educating children that the public schools were not required to educate. The education laws changed, requiring the public schools to educate all students. The ARC school closed. I eventually found work in a district near West Point and the Hudson Highlands. My first position was a maternity leave replacement. The nature of the position changed from a self-contained class to a resource room. In very short order I had to become familiar with 4 levels of high school English, 4 different years of social studies, 2 years of science and up to 4 years of math, though 2 were necessary. I had a case load of 20 students and I was expected to help them get through the curriculum for graduation. In my first two weeks of work I had three different teaching assistants. At the time New York State required either passing either Regents exams or competency exams in math and English. The district that I worked at was described in the NY Times as the last bed room community for NYC. In late 1978 people would drive 1½ to 2 hours commuting to NY. The district had a very large population of NYC police and firemen. Though many people left NYC to live in suburbia, they did not leave the problems of living in NYC in NYC. In my first 10 years, two of my students, one who I was close to and thought that we had made significant progress, committed suicide. The first suicide occurred during the summer and I have the satisfaction of having his friends go through school channels to find me (I was in the Finger Lake region of NY) thinking that the deceased would have wanted me at the funeral. Later there were weddings that I was invited to and a second source of pride was being invited to the high school graduation party of a former student’s son. Because of my student’s behavior, he had been asked to leave school and he had not graduated. He was proud that he made his son persevere and he wanted to share that with me. Recently there was a funeral of a former student. He had been killed riding a motor cycle with one of those minimum skull caps. I am sure that I talked to him in my early years about being saved by a helmet. Once again people went through channels to find me, for I had retired from the district and had moved to western Pennsylvania. Vinny looked me up about 15 years after I had taught him and he called to say thank you for being a positive influence in his life at a time when he needed it. At his death he was estranged from his father (I think a NYC fireman).
Despite the stresses, there were some very lighter moments. Looking at the needs of one student I identified some programs that would help him build his self-confidence (he was a school phobic who wouldn’t attend. One day I visited him at home and when he bolted I chased him down through the woods.) One of the programs I identified as being potentially helpful was Outward Bound. I was reluctant to recommend it based just on reading their literature, so one summer I enrolled in a 29 day program oriented with the sea that was designed for teachers. Our classroom was a two masted ketch in a sailing environment off the Maine coast. (In present retirement I help teach sailing to a group of handicapped students.) Among other things, I learned about analysis/paralysis and useful exercise. The useful exercise led to a return to bicycle riding, commuting the 11miles one way distance to work. Into November I rode the bike. One summer I cycled about 1,000 miles through Ireland. Getting involved with the extracurricular activities at school, I also learned to snow ski, got fairly proficient at it and when the opportunity arose I chaperoned ski club trips. Eventually I coached the school ski team. From a squad of 8 boys and 1 girl the team expanded to more than 30 skiers. Three nights during the week of the ski season I would leave home at 7 AM and return home around 11 PM. They were long days. The Assistant Principal once asked if the class room was actually a ski shop. One year I succeeded in encouraging a senior who was a gifted athlete to join the team and qualify to represent herself and the school at the state championships at Lake Placid. As a coach I was paid on the third tier, tier one being football and basketball. Coaching 30 athletes compared to the 12 for basketball, I asked the athletic director why the skiing salary was only at tier 3 and he responded that there was no tier 4.
Summers were spent at Skaneateles Lake near Syracuse NY. I developed a lawn service for a number of summer estates. Early spring required me to race up to Skaneateles, a 3 ½ hour ride, to prepare for summer mowing and into the fall I had to take care of the leaves. This work fine tuned my mechanical skills. I developed a proficiency at diagnosing problems and then fixing those problems, because the tractor I was using was well worn.
The stress of teaching, the extensive time spent with the lawn service, burning my candle at both ends and some poor communication skills negatively affected my relationships with some women. I soon realized that I needed a change. At 39 years of age I reapplied to Peace Corps. I was accepted into a technical program that required me to teach in French in the former Belgian colony of Burundi, Africa. I had to get out an atlas to find it on a map. Located on Lake Tanganyika and not too far from Lake Victoria, I was about to embark on one of my most rewarding experiences.
Remembering how poorly I had learned bahasa, during training, I doubled my efforts with French. I went to sleep with head phones, listening to French lessons on tape. Those efforts paid off because the students that I would teach said that my French coming in was better than my predecessor’s when he left. A year into service I requested and received permission to take Swahili lessons and though not as proficient as the French, it was fun to use in the markets through Africa and has proven to be useful here in the United States. My poor language skills in Malaysia made me work that much harder at them when I was in Africa.
I was one of 6 volunteers going to Burundi to teach in its technical schools. The school I was assigned to was built with World Bank funding. The school’s focus varied from architecture to road building. The students I would work with may have never ridden a bicycle, but as graduates of their program, they were supposed to be hired by the Burundi Government to operate heavy equipment that would be used to build and maintain the roads of the country. That was the description provided to Peace Corps.
I had no curriculum, but there was a garage that had some simple tools and equipment. There was a Renault engine on a frame that had not run in the previous two years in that garage, and the school’s truck was stored there. There was also a shop that had hand tools as well as a metal lathe and a milling machine that could cut and shape metal. I had no experience with either of these. I was expected to prepare classroom lectures as well as lab work in the garage and the shop that would expose them to simple diagnostic and repair skills.
I only had to teach 3 or 4 days a week, so there was plenty of time to prepare my lessons. When I was able I picked up a secondary project of doing anything and everything at a Methodist Hospital run by Dr. Frank Ogden. The hospital was located about 25 miles away and I would bike the distance, stay overnight to do what could be done from the list Dr. Ogden had prepared, and return the next day.
Gitega, where I was posted was on a plateau at an altitude about 5,000 feet. Bujumbura, the capital where the Peace Corps office was located is about 2500 feet. The change in elevation had a tremendous effect on the temperature and there was a helluva hill that had to be ridden down or climbed. The road down the hill was a favorite for the bike riders who transported the 5 or 6 regimes (stalks, with 5-10 bunches of bananas, maybe 200 pounds of bananas) to the markets in the capital. On one occasion I made arrangements to meet someone in the capital. He drove and I biked down, maybe 35-40 miles. We met and I put the bike in the back of his truck for the ride home. On another occasion I biked down and then biked back. The hill up was about 10 miles of climbing, with very little chance to coast. I had 18 speeds on my bike and one of the delivery men decided to ride with me. He had one speed. He stayed with me for most of the climb but near the end of the climb he sprinted ahead. He was at the end of his journey, I had another 70-80 miles to go.
The two years would be the most satisfying time of my life. Long after the lights went out across the school, where both students and faculty lived on its grounds, I could be found in the shop. While I was teaching the students the use of hand tools or simple repairs of an engine, I was teaching myself how to use the lathe and translating that information into French. I had a rudimentary machine shop manual in English. When I was teaching the students how to use the lathe, I was teaching myself how to use the milling machine. I tried to find practical information that would help them with their future, and I tried to create situations that would make them think. Our program was considered the foster care program. I was never offered a budget to work with. There was no provision for supplies. There was no money for gasoline to put in the Renault engine. One day when the school truck was parked in the garage I showed the students how to inspect the gasoline to see if there was water in it, or check to see if the gas was reaching the carburetor by disconnecting the fuel line and trying to start the engine. I used the experiences as teaching opportunities all the time capturing the gas in a container that we would put in the shop engine. That engine ran for the first time in a long time. One day I discovered students wearing rubber O-rings as bracelets. I asked about it and they said that it was supposed to protect them from lightening. I took them to the garage and hooked a battery cable to the old battery that we had in the shop (charged to 10 volts because one cell was dead.) I asked one student with the O-ring around his wrist to put the other end of the battery cable on the other terminal and when the spark flew he jumped back. I told him I thought the O-ring was going to protect him and if he had the problem with 10 volts, how was he going to be protected from 10,000 volts. I was extremely happy with both the work I was doing and the living in Africa.
During summer vacations I had an opportunity to visit some of the game parks in Kenya and Tanzania. I saw the Serenghetti, Ngorogoro Crater, and Amboselli National Parks. With Greg M. another volunteer in my group, we climbed Mount Kilimanjaro to the crater rim. Outside of the park entrance we made arrangements for guides and porters. Next we tried to rent some warm clothing from a shop inside the park gate. The selection was meager and all that was available for thermal underwear was the shirt that the attendant was wearing. He sold it to me, right off of his back. We each had porters and the young man assigned to me would carry my Kelty backpack on his head. I had brought an official Champion cross-weave heavy duty hooded sweat shirt with the high school’s ski team emblem spread across its back. At the end of the climb I gave the jersey to the porter. For years afterward I have looked at National Geographic specials to see if that shirt was still being worn but to no success.
We failed to get to the summit because we did not realize that the peak being two or three miles away, was only a couple of hundred yards higher in elevation. We had reached Gilman’s point, just shy of 19,000 feet elevation. The climb was very difficult. The elevation produced a constant headache for the lack of oxygen. Wearing someone else’s thermal underwear who had a very different sense of personal hygiene made sleep extremely difficult. Every rise of my chest to take in the needed oxygen at 15,000 feet elevation brought a whiff of the thermal owner’s body odor past my olfactory nerve endings and this made sleep almost impossible.
I wanted to extend my African experience for a third year. I would have been the first volunteer in Burundi to do it. I was able to get an extension on my leave of absence from the school district and I put in motion the request for the extension with the proper Burundian ministries. Peace Corps was in favor of it but no one in the Burundi government seemed to want to take the responsibility for saying yes, or saying no. In reality the country was poor and there were not enough positions for the government to hire the graduates of the program. The World Bank eventually recognized this and stopped funding the program. They were willing to extend me for two months into November, until the current group of students finished. I had another plan and I would need as much time as I could muster. Remembering my limited travel after Malaysia I did not want to visit only one country and then return to the US.
With my sister’s guidance (she was a flight attendant at the time [if you do not recall, she brought my surf board to me in Malaysia]) I was able to bring my bicycle with me as part of my luggage to Africa. My plan was to cycle to the tip of Africa, get on a boat to Argentina and then cycle north through South America, Central America back to the US. It did not happen. I did visit parts of Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi, crossed Mozambique in the back of a truck because of the insurgency, and entered Zimbabwe. A variety of events changed the plan. When I left Peace Corps Burundi, the number of malaria pills that were given to me was rationed. The PC nurse was new and she was not experienced in travel as a former volunteer, not like Michelle the previous PC nurse who had been a volunteer in Liberia. Along the border between Malawi and Mozambique there was a refugee camp and I met an elderly gentleman who was sick with the shakes. I counted out the malaria pills that I thought I would need for the rest of my trip (I had seen a text book map that showed the extent of malaria in Africa and because of the lower latitudes I thought I would not need them for the entire trip). I gave the rest of the pills to the elderly man and I continued on my travels.
Arriving in Malawi I needed some work on the bike. The spokes, particularly those on the rear, began to ping. I needed a special tool to remove the rear cassette in order to change the spokes. I did not have the tool so I trusted one of the local bike repair people. I am not sure if he had ever worked on a bike with 18 speeds. Needless to say the rear cassette was damaged. I was directed to a machine shop and a machinist spent the day creating the piece needed to make the cassette usable. At the end of the day after a full days labor, there was no charge for the machinist’s time or the piece that he created. I set off to continue my journey, seeking a border town where a convoy was to be organized with military escort to cross Mozambique and continue to Harare, Zimbabwe. About 5 miles from the border town, the cassette loosened up, the bearings fell out and the only way to move the bike efficiently was to stand on one pedal and scooter the bike forward. I reached the border crossing and slept through the night. I was ordered to get into the back of a truck that was going to Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital, where I had the cassette replaced. Though bombed out shells of vehicles could be found along the sides of Mozambique’s road, I never felt in any danger.
Up until Zimbabwe, I stayed in flea infested hotels or with PC volunteers. On Lake Tanganyika I sailed on the sister ship of the boat that was the role model for the movie African Queen. There was a ferry that the British used and when the Germans threatened to capture it, it was scuttled. Tremendous care was taken when they did it, covering the metal parts of the engine with grease. After the war, the boat was refloated and was still in service in 1990.
Zimbabwe in 1990 was a traveler’s dream. Living was cheap and almost everything could be had. The opportunities for doing things were greater than I had seen elsewhere. Raft the Zambezi, canoe safari down the Zambezi, visit Victoria Falls, ride in a steam locomotive, I did them all. If you look at a detailed map of Zimbabwe, there is a rail line between Bulawayo and Victoria Falls. There is a straight stretch that is apparently in the Guinness Book of Records as the longest stretch of straight track. The straight track indicated that the land was flat and riding would be boring. There was no passenger train service during the day and when I asked about this I was directed to the train headquarters. A gentleman gave me permission to take the goods (freight) train during the day. A short time in the caboose informed me that the scene from the movie Out of Africa when Meryl Streep was riding on a steam train in a white dress was absolute silliness. The smoke from coal as a fuel blackens everything. Initially I was placed in the caboose, but when we had to stop for coal and water I was invited into the cab of the steam engine. As a guest, they would not allow me to shovel the coal. I vividly recall the damage elephants would do to the trees along the tracks. I also recall watching the elephants being chased from the tracks by our movement.
Upon arriving in Harare, I stayed at a house where travelers gathered. 20 or 30 people might be there at any given time. At a common table, someone who had just arrived from Johannesburg South Africa, told the story about a biker riding up the road on the escarpment to Livingstonia, Malawi. The significance of that road is that there are 20 switch-back turns (the British call them bends) and they are numbered. The timing of the story was such that I said that the biker must have been me.
After visiting Victoria Falls I biked back to Hwange National Park. Just outside the park boundary near a private safari lodge named Touch the Wild, I came across a herd of zebra who were grazing near the road. The quietness of the bike allowed me to get very close, spooking them into a run. The big male got between me and the rest of the zebras. I pedaled hard and was almost able to reach and touch him. The zebras found an opening in the brush along the road and disappeared. I was struck by the opportunity I had to touch the wild..
Two nights at the base camp in Hwange and I went to bed with the chills. Through the night there were periods of sweats and then chills. I had malaria.
I am guessing I became infected when I was on the canoe safari. For 6 nights we canoed down the Zambezi. We camped along the shore and one night we camped on an island. That night there was a herd of elephants that were crossing the river and using the island that we were on as a resting place. I went scurrying around with my camera and came within 15 feet of a pissed off matron of the herd. Her body rocked forward and back, towards me and then away. Her ears swayed back and forth also. I learned later that this was a mock charge and if I had not retreated I may have been assaulted. This would have been my fourth encounter with the wild. During language training at Bukavu, Zaire, Peace Corps organized an outing to see the mountain gorillas at Virunga National Park. After a hike of about one hour we came upon a family of gorillas. I had a 300mm lens on the camera which did not focus down to less than 15 feet. The ground was not level and was very slippery because of the previous night’s rain. While watching the silverback through the lens, someone slipped on a banana leaf. The sudden movement upset the male and he charged. I was standing behind the tripod, and he was close enough that I could see his tonsils. The inside of the mouth was a very bright red when he growled. He was too close and the lens was too long, preventing me from getting any picture. I went back to see the gorillas two more times. On the third visit we were with a different family. After some time with the silverback sitting and eating I asked the guide if he would take a picture with me in the foreground and the gorilla in the background. He agreed and took my camera. I stepped to the gorilla and started to pivot. As the other people in the group came into my peripheral vision it was obvious that something was amiss. They were falling to the ground or jumping back. Instinctively, I did an avoidance movement, falling to the ground toward my side. People in the group rushed up to me and asked if I was alright. Apparently my movement upset the gorilla. The guide kept saying that it was my fault. The gorilla had swung at me and though there was no contact, the other people thought there had been. There is a photo of me in the foreground and the gorilla leaving. My third encounter was with an elephant. I was able to go on an overnight camping trip with a crew that was picking up a group of canoeists who had completed their safari. In the morning upon awakening, there was an elephant on the edge of our camp site. I grabbed a large handful of grass and approached it with my hand out as an offering. I could feel the dozen eyes on my back and thought about what I was doing. In a few months, during the hunting season, at or across the river from our camp this animal might be hunted. I did not think it was a good idea to habituate the animal to humans, so I put the grass down and backed off, but I was close, less than 10 feet.
At this point I had been traveling for almost 3 months. I had no spare tires (the tires on the bike were proprietary/prototypes for the Raleigh Tamarack that I was riding) and the rubber was extremely thin. I wore through the treads and had a flat. The cameras after 2 1/2 years in Africa were beginning to malfunction (I lost the opportunity to take a photo of elephants snorkeling across the Zambezi, only their trunks visible with a magnificent sunset behind them.) Using the black market I bought round trip tickets from Harare to NY for about $600. I returned to the US on December 23 and flew to my sister’s in Florida on Christmas Eve. At Christmas dinner I surprised my mother (priceless to see her eyes widen and her knees go weak so that I had to grab her to keep her from falling.) After visiting friends and recovering from the malaria, as well as getting spare parts for the bike and back-up cameras, I returned to Zimbabwe, Africa after a 6 week hiatus. I had been able to leave the bike and bags with someone I met. The rainy season was just about over, and I set out. My family gave me a Handicam video recorder so I went back to Victoria Falls, the Great Zimbabwe and Rhodes National Park to try to record their beauty. I returned to Harare to say good bye. I set out towards the Eastern Highlands, famous for trout fishing. Sometime during the morning I was hit by a truck from the rear. I was knocked unconscious, waking up in a hospital bed. My right hand was heavily bandaged and there was a bandage on my head. My right shoulder and ribs were broken. I think I was given two units of blood.
When I awoke I learned what allegedly happened. Traveling on the narrow roads, a truck and a bus approached each other from opposite directions. The truck swerved to the shoulder to miss the bus and took out me. During recovery there were follow up visits to the clinic in Harare. On one occasion the truck that hit me was pointed out. On a different visit, I had to get my visa renewed. A visit to immigration demonstrated how efficient the Zimbabwe bureaucracy worked. After making the request, the clerk disappeared for several minutes. He returned with a folder that was about 1/2 inch thick that had all of my entries into the country. Every time I crossed the border at Victoria Falls an entry was made. What else made up the bundle of paper work I have no idea. The visa was granted after explaining the truck accident. Besides the damage to me, there was slight damage to the bike. The gear shift on top of the handle bar nearly separated my thumb from my right hand. Superb surgery at the Avenue Clinic in Harare put it back together with no long term side effects. There is a scar and tissue is visibly missing, but I have full range of motion and the nerves are OK. Waking up, I was regularly visited by the Afrikaner family who took me to the Clinic (a fully functioning hospital). After one week of recuperating I was told that the hospital needed the bed and I was to be discharged. The Afrikaner family kindly put me up for the next 4 weeks till I recovered to a state that I was able to continue on the journey. They advanced me Zimbabwean dollars to pay the hospital bill with the proviso that I deposit US dollars in a South African bank account. The family had a very accurate premonition on the direction of the Zimbabwe economy. I had a fixation that bones needed 6 weeks to recover from breaking and I was set on riding in 5 weeks. Staying with the family for that amount of time I was able to see how blacks were treated. Later I would meet a family who treated their workers entirely different. Today, I still have very mixed emotions for the family that took me in, the care that they showed me was quite different than the way they treated the workers who grew up on the farm and worked their farm.
I continued on the journey. I crossed into South Africa about two months after Nelson Mandela was released from prison. It was a very upbeat, optimistic time to be in the country. There were still visible vestiges of the apartheid period of the country’s history present. In one town in the northeast I was part of the town’s lock down, an exercise to shut down any turmoil. There was no difficulty, but the security forces did practice. I meandered to Kruger National Park. I was NOT permitted to ride the bike in the park. I was put on the back of a truck and taken to the camp ground that was enclosed with a huge fence. By hitch hiking at the gate at 7 AM I was able to get rides in the wild section of the parks. On one ride, my astonishment at how barbeque pits were kept hot so that the visitors could have a quick picnic, surprised my hosts. They stopped at a small shop and bought some meat that they promptly barbecued, sharing the treat with me. One family adopted me and took me to two other camps within the park and later invited me to look them up if and when I got to Johannesburg. As of 2010 there were shared Christmas cards and I was informed when his wife died. What a wonderful family. I commented at one point on how they had never asked me how I found South Africa, Alex’s response was that I never asked about the racial situation.
Leaving Kruger I traveled into Swaziland and though I had not realized it at the time each border crossing gave me an additional 6 weeks to travel in South Africa. Riding on some isolated back roads I found that there were people–white and black who would stop their vehicles and ask me if I wanted a ride. I think I counted 13 occasions on the journey when I was offered rides without asking. I was able to do hitching at other times, depending on the need. When I had the malaria symptoms, the first vehicle that could take my bike was a pickup truck and the driver gave me a ride to Bulawayo, the second largest city in Zimbabwe. I was taken to a doctor who diagnosed the malaria based on my description of the symptoms. A blood smear would have taken too long because of my imminent return to the US.
From Swaziland I visited Johannesburg and the family that I had met in Kruger Park. I then rode south to Lesotho. Getting into areas with high altitude and with the latitude, there were freezing temperatures at night. I recall waking to find 1 inch of frost on the tent. I had to delay my departure till the sun got high enough in the sky to melt the frost. The Drackenberg Mountains had snow on their peaks. I visited Durban and then Port Elizabeth. I knew I was near the southern most point of Africa and I started making inquiries about travel options to return to the states. In Port Elizabeth I was given the name of the Harbor Master in Capetown, and was told to ask for his help. In Port Elizabeth I had the opportunity to see the movie Cry the Beloved Country, based on the book by Alan Paton. It was a very moving piece to see at that time in that country. Just south and west of Port Elizabeth I was about to have my own hajj–Cape St. Francis and Jeffrey’s Bay–the location of the “best” waves from the Bruce Brown’s movie, The Endless Summer, about two surfers traveling around the world to find the perfect wave.
Leaving Port Elizabeth I got on one of the limited access toll roads that is doing for South Africa what the Interstates have done for the US–fostering development. I was told not to trip the surface switch because I would then have to pay the toll. I normally averaged about 15 miles per hour for 8-12 hours of riding. I was finding that I was only reaching about 6 mph. I was pedaling into a very strong head wind. I did not know it at the time, but a vehicle passed me, got off at the next exit and doubled back to the exit that I had already passed. It came to a stop and the lady driver asked me if I wanted a ride. She could take me to the exit for Jeffrey’s Bay but she was continuing past that exit. She did tell me to look her family up in Jeffrey’s Bay because they would be there the following weekend.
The campground in Jeffrey’s Bay was at the beach–and the surf was up. That night the southeaster storm that I had been bucking headwinds from arrived with a vengeance. The tent was whipped about in all directions. During the night the tent side was pushed down on my left face cheek and later the same happened on my right cheek. Waking in the morning, the inside of the tent was soaking and the sleeping bag needed to be dried out at a laundromat. Serendipitously, there was a Billabong Surf Competition going on and as fortune would have it the famous break at Cape St. Francis was occurring. It was about a 2 hour ride for me. The locals call these waves Bruce’s Beauties, named after Bruce Brown. When there is a strong storm in the southern Atlantic and the winds are right, the swells wrap around the point of land named Cape St. Francis and sweep along the coast, creating surf rides that Brown was not able to capture on the spring wound movie camera that he had at his disposal. In the movie you could not see a complete ride. The ride was so long that the spring driven motor of the film camera would unwind so pieces of film had to be spliced together to show the ride. I got to see this wave break. I had not surfed in 20 years so I was not about to try to get up on a wave and ruin someone else’s ride. During the competition I recall a wipe-out when the wave crashed on the board, splitting the board in two pieces. There was a time when there were dolphins riding in a wave a surfer was riding on. That storm moved off into the Indian Ocean, and the wave height dropped. It was time to move on. I had been traveling about 5 weeks and my Visa needed to be renewed. At Hermanus, I made inquiries at an immigration office. I was told that they would need to keep my passport for three days or one week. There was nothing to see there that was worth staying that amount of time, so I asked for my passport back. I hoped to be in Capetown within a week or ten days. During that time, before getting to Capetown, my visa expired and I was technically an illegal alien.
Getting to Capetown I went to immigration and asked for a two week extension. I was given my response in about three days, my request had been denied and I had 10 days to leave the country. With the three days that it took them to deny the request and the 10 days to leave the country, I effectively had what I had requested. I visited the harbor master, using his name at the gate. With his name I was welcomed into the port area. Describing what I wanted, the master pointed out a ship that was at dockside. It was going to Port Elizabeth and then would return to Capetown in about a week. I went to the ship and asked permission to speak to the captain. He listened to my request and his reply was that it would take a week before he knew if the home company would allow me to work on the ship for passage. First it was going to Port Elizabeth and then returning to Capetown. Leaving Capetown, it would sail for Montreal, Canada. I was hoping to work on a ship that is described as a steamer that followed a schedule as opposed to a tramp that went from port to port looking for cargo. Jack London would be proud.
The day we were to leave port another storm was brewing and the ocean was wild. I went to a drug store to get Dramamine. I suspected I would get seasick and I was right. The officers of the ship were Norwegian, the crew was Indian. At the first meal into the waves the fried chicken was dry in my mouth and I felt nauseous and I asked to be excused. The next morning I had my sea legs and the next ten days my stomach was fine. I worked as an assistant engineer. The work for passage usually involved spending the days chipping rust from the deck or hull so it could be repainted. Based on my teaching experience in Burundi, I was assigned to help the chief engineer, working from bow to stern, the top of the smoke stacks down to the bilge. Instead of staying with the general crew, I was given the pilots cabin next to the bridge. High up on the ship, my cabin rocked and rolled, heaved and pitched that first day, but we left the bad weather behind. At mealtime I requested the food that the Indians were eating as well as a special request for nasi brianni (spelling, the internal dictionary is worthless.) The Indian crew members treated me as a brother. The ship could carry containers as well as bulk cargo. It was designed to sail on the ocean as well as fit through the locks of the St. Lawrence Seaway into the Great Lakes.
I disembarked in Montreal ending my sea journey. The beauty of working on the ship was the captain’s willingness to allow me to bring my bicycle with me, stored in the aft part of the ship. The first night in Canada it began to rain, so I stayed at a YMCA. The next day I crossed into the US and was stopped at customs. A rug that I had purchased near Port Elizabeth was in plain sight and the customs agent felt that I owed duty and because of extremely low funds, he wanted to confiscate the rug. When I plead poverty he was sympathetic and explained the rules. I was able to demonstrate that the rug was hand woven, allowing it to be categorized as a handicraft. I was allowed to cross into New York. Somewhere near Plattsburgh I was stopped by a motorist who wanted to take photographs. The load on the bike was unique. there were four panniers, a handlebar bag, a tripod, sleeping bag, tent and the rug (6.5ft.X 8ft.) sitting on the rack over the rear tires. Late in the day near Saratoga, NY I looked for and got a ride hitchhiking to get me near friends in Newburgh where I had lived. That journey/adventure was completed.
Epilogue: After the truck accident in Zimbabwe I was given a transfusion. I recall reading the medical report that indicated two units of blood. With medical insurance from the teaching position that was held for me, I thought it would be prudent to have my blood tested for the HIV virus. At a time when HIV was a serious problem, the testing was free. I had to wait two weeks to get the results and they would not give me the results over the phone. Reporting to the doctor’s office I was asked to sit and was told that on an initial screening of my blood, I had tested positive for the HIV virus. I was told that it was not a definitive test, only a screening. I was asked to provide more blood for a more formal test. I had to wait almost six weeks for those results which were negative. I was told that the malaria drugs that remained in my system may have triggered the false positive result on the initial screening test. But definitively I did not have HIV. This eight week period was one of the most stressful times of my life. I chose to say nothing to anyone during the testing. Speaking afterwards to friends, I was criticized about not sharing the situation. My response was what could have been said or done with the incomplete information?
Since the early writing, the wife of the family who showed me Kruger passed away. The gentlman is suffering from altzeimers disease. This past Sunday, May 5, 2013, Alex passed away from complications of the altzheimers.
I met Tom while I was on a German course in Augsburg in 1980. We were the only two Americans and the only ones over 21. It also turned out that we were in Malaysia at Similar times (he in the Peace Corps and I at a University). We became friends and I am the one who introduced him to the State Department Contracting biz. Later I bummed along with him when he bought his first Morgan. Tom has visited us and always enjoyed entertaining my wife and I with stories of his escapades. He was a monk in many ways and riotously adventurous in others. The word unique is over-utilized, but Tom was truly an original.
His death is a loss for all and for getting the best out of the world with among the least footprint. We last corresponded over the summer and unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to say goodbye. He will be sorely missed and the world is definitely a duller place without him.
Best regards, David A. Hytha
Once more the moon comes round to autumn
but where is he gone who loved it then?
I told Tom I was going trekking in the Himalayas, and it would be my very first hike ever. He, being the only rational and prescient one in the room, said that was ridiculous. We immediately made a bet for a 100 ringgit dinner at the Coq d’Or Restaurant. That was a heap of money in those days.
Somewhere in the Himals I gave all of my worldly possessions to Sandi for her one size larger Keds.
Back in K.L. I told Tom I won the bet, but it was Sandi he would take out to dinner. He graciaously accepted defeat and said he would take the two of us. And so he took us out for an elegant and wildly extravagant dinner on Ampang Road. It was probably the only time he escorted two respectable ladies out for a night on the town. OK OK – two slightly used Peace Corps chicks.
Hike some place new and eat well, Susie
Tom was definitely mysterious and as Karen said, somewhat elusive. I don’t think he liked talking about himself very much, but he had the best memory of anyone I ever met. He would listen well and remember something I said 5 years ago and where I said it. He was a very private person, but he liked a good laugh and I never saw him to be down or depressed. He was quirky and eccentric and somehow able to live his life as he wanted. Not many of us can so completely do that.
I think he spoke about 9 languages. In fact, he studied a language every day. He would often study a language such as German in another language such as French. He wrote several books and some of them are available on Amazon.com. His pen name was S Thomas. If anyone wants to find one, I can send you a name of one. I believe his last one was named The Last King of Babylon. He took lessons racing cars and even drove in a few Formula 1 races in Europe. He took flight lessons and also studied movie making one summer at Stanford. He also acted in a few movies shot in the New York area. He bought and sold antique cars and wrote articles for the Long Island Antique Car Club.
He was complex but very intelligent, sometimes cynical but also sometimes coming up with some crazy idea such as taking cooking lessons in Paris. He had few possessions – not many more than when he entered the Peace Corps in 1970.
He lived a fairly simple life, yet he traveled often to Europe and Central America and around the US. He was a real character, the likes of which I haven’t known before. Some days, he would email me 5 to 10 times – short emails. I’m going to really miss him and his almost daily emails. Barry
I also remember Tom with great fondness and I have to smile because he was so much fun to be around and it seems that he was always smiling and had a sparkle in his eye like he was enjoying everything immensely and he was aware of things no one else was seeing. From Barry’s description, it sounds like he had an exceptionally interesting life. I will have to find some of his books and read them — and I hope someone writes the story or makes the movie of his life!
Tom has been our guest in Costa Rica some 15 years ago and stayed with me and my three children for as long as his stay lasted, so we kept our contact and, as I realize now, guarded much affection for each other for all these years without making it a topic.
The only person we know in common is Dr.John Williams, our Costa Rican dentist, he certainly should know about Tom, most probably you did already, as he was the one diagnosing the cancer at first.
Tom was a very lovely person, one of the most interesting people in my life, I will miss him terribly in many ways.
I have also started to translate his book on the Miracle of Monaco, but got stuck to may own duties. In this way, I came to know more about him and his way of thinking, feeling and story telling, I loved to receive his writings and shared his adoration for literature. He had advised me with the professional orientation/study of my children, last thing we talked about was the admission of my daughter into Adelphis in NJ.
At one point back he started mentioning a tiredness and that he feels age coming up, which I thought was exaggerated as he seemed to be so fit, optimistic with his projects and therefore didn’t think of a possible hidden “something” on the way.
I’m German and live/work in Luxembourg since I left Costa Rica in 2004, where we have still a home and lived for almost 14 years. Elisabeth Mevissen
Steve grew up in Blissfield , Michigan where his father was the local high school
principal. His mother was a registered nurse Steve was the youngest of three brothers.
In his last years of high school the family moved to Jackson, Michigan, where Steve
graduated. He attended the University of Michigan where he was a member to the Delta
Chi Fraternity. After graduating, Steve was accepted into the Peace Corps and was off
After his Peace Corps service, Steve attended American University in Washington and
became a paralegal specialist in petroleum law for a Washington law firm. Steve was
preparing for a three month sabbatical back to Malaysia in the fall of 1997 when he died
suddenly from a ruptured aneurysm. He was in the early stages of a disease called
scleroderma, a cruel disease.
We were very proud of Steve and his service to our country. It seemed somehow to be a
tribute to that service that he died on the fourth of July. We miss him very much and
are warmed by the thought that he is remembered well by his fellow volunteers. With
apologies to Edna St. Vincent Millay:
— Steve’s candle bumed at both ends and it did not last the night, but O my friends, it
gave a lovely light— .
Best wishes to all of you and thank you for keeping Steve in your thoughts.
David L. Peebles
I was very surprised and impressed to read everyone’s bios! It all seems so long ago! Thank you to those who have made the efforts to keep the group in touch with each other and plan the reunion! I am pretty confident that my bio will not sound too exciting….
As Linda and Mary have mentioned, we traveled for months through the usual countries on the way home. Upon return to Detroit, I completed a Medical Sociology MA program, worked in an Oncology department, and married. I had four children close together and stayed home for ten years. I returned to work at a Catholic church, taking Pastoral Ministry studies and have worked at different parishes in the Detroit area for over twenty years. (I think I mentioned that this bio might be considered boring….) At one parish we did initiate a twinning program in El Salvador and I did have an extended visit there in 2003. The parish positions were in education, pastoral ministry, etc. I did have a book published about year ago on “Family Gatherings,” by Our Sunday Visitor. I was divorced around 14 years ago with four teenagers. About two years ago, I made a move to a small Michigan town, about 15,000 or so, to work at St. Paul Catholic Parish in Owosso as the Pastoral Associate. I really enjoy the more natural setting with a quieter pace of life than the Detroit metro area. I did go to Ireland this past June and last year had a three week stay with my daughter who lives in Tanzania. My children are 31, 30, 28 and 26. The daughter in Tanzania had a similar experience as Mike Caruso’s daughter – as a PC volunteer in Kazakhstan. (She was there also in 2000.) She had a medical evacuation after 18 months, loved it but it seemed the organization there was completely inept. She (Emily) received her MA from John Hopkins in Public Health, and now works for Harvard in Tanzania. My son,
Ben, is working on his PhD in evolutionary biology in Michigan State University, Nick is a Vista Project Manager in Prescott, AZ and my oldest daughter is a manager in a health food store in the Detroit area. Life is very pleasant at this stage…
I am sorry not to be able to attend the reunion in Chicago – am sure it will be a fantastic time for all!
Judy Elliott Dantzer
Bruce Chelikowski told us when we were sworn in that “we would never be the same”. I was set off down a different pathway in my life.
After my third year with the new epidemiological department, and a bout of dengue hemorraghic fever, I flew off to Sri Lanka to tour the country and to stay with the family of Dr. E.S. Theyvasayam, WHO malaria entomologist. From there I went to Europe to travel around on my own. Sandy and I had arranged to meet in Paris in early November. We chose a date and time, November 11th at 11 a.m. at Café aux Deux Magots. I arrived on time and all the bells in Paris started to ring. We didn’t know that was the time of the annual remembrance of the ending of World War I. Sandy was late and I left but found her walking down the street. While in graduate school my mother and I went to Greece where I met Sandy in Athens. She seems to have been going to Istanbul or going to live in Istanbul. I regret so much losing track of people. I thought I would see them again and then my life went headlong in a different direction. Speaking of that, when Joy left she had had her ears pierced and wanted to borrow my little gold hoop earrings. I gave them to her knowing I would see her again and get them back. I never saw her again. Just two years ago I went out and bought a pair. I think of her whenever I wear them and am so looking forward to seeing everyone.
Shortly after returning home I got a letter from Olga Leary. I loved to take the train to Bangkok to stay with her. At her place she had two of everything: two chairs, two spoons, two cups. I still think how nice it would be to be like that when I am her age. She said that she had left Thailand and traveled to Istanbul where a “small but favorable” colon cancer tumor was removed. She traveled up the Adriatic and recommended going to Split. I think her life was full and wonderfully lived.
I eventually got back to Arizona and applied to the Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences at the University of Arizona. In spite of my undergraduate grade point average of somewhat above a C, I was allowed to take classes. I was eventually admitted to graduate school and have had a wonderful career as a pediatric speech pathologist. I have been fortunate enough to have been in private practice and work with children in their homes. All meetings and dealings with office politics have been mostly avoided. I can tell from reading many of your narratives how blessed I have been being able to work alone.
I moved into the graduate student dorm and in the first week I met David Devine at a small party. I impressed him with my ability to discuss Muammar al-Gaddafi who we credit with bringing us together. He is really looking like hell now. David was in the Peace Corps in eastern Baluchistan in Iran. He was near the border of Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. It was pretty much love at first sight. He thinks my Peace Corps experience in Kuala Lumpur was not authentic like his was.
We have lived in Tucson where he has worked as a city planner, an aide for a city council member (we have much the same feelings as you Doug), and as a journalist for a weekly alternative newspaper which is still in business. He wrote a book about his return to Iran, Persian Mosaic, which you can buy from Iuniverse. In the mid 1990s we went into semiretirement. Because we have no children and our mortgage is paid off and we are not interested in stuff we have been able to travel to many countries together. Our life has been easy as we are compatible and enjoy the same activities. We both love baseball.
In 1978 we put all of our stuff in storage and took off for 6 months traveling through Central and South America. In 1980 we did the same going to Southeast Asia and New Zealand. I had been gone from K.L. for only 7 years, and I was completely disoriented by the new buildings. Where the old dirt bus station was there was a 30 story Banku Negara. The Hotel Majestic across from the railroad station was still there so we stayed there. It seemed like the same old Chinese waiters were serving the proper English breakfast. I was shocked to see the doctor from Gombak walk into the dining room. He said that he was working in the Maldives.
We went to Jalan Brickfields to Devis Restaurant. I tried to explain to the guys that I was a friend of Rama and left our hotel telephone number. Later that afternoon we were standing in the roundabout in front of the Railroad station and David’s eyes got huge and suddenly I was lifted into the air by Rama. He had become quite prosperous and had traded in his woodie for a Mercedes. He took us to the Selangor Club twice for drinks. I was concerned about how much he was drinking. We got a wedding invitation several months later. He was marrying a doctor from Kerala. I hope things turned out well and he is mostly sober and still alive. He was a good friend to all of us. Unfortunately, I have eaten one too many chilis and my stomach lining will no longer tolerate small prawn curry.
Rama put us in touch with Mary Ann and Anwar. She was our Peace Corps secretary and he worked for Esso Exploration. After they were married they went to the U.S. where he got a college degree and he went back to work in K.L. They had two kids. He was very discouraged about the political situation and wanted to get out of there. I was shocked to see how many women were covered.
David wrote an article for his newspaper for a Peace Corps anniversary. He had several of our friends reminisce. This is mine.
Heart of Danger
Fear is my most treacherous enemy. Its poisonous tentacles try to paralyze me. Growing up in the fearful 1950s, my favorite book was Howard Pease’s Heart of Danger. Tod Moran, the third mate on the tramp steamer Araby, was my hero. The title came from a Chinese proverb: Go straight to the heart of danger, for there you will find safety.
I dreamed of going to the heart of danger but didn’t know exactly what to do once I arrived. The Peace Corps taught me. I should respect people of other cultures, learn new skills, try new experiences, practice my skills, and deal with problems as confidently as possible.
The learning started the first night we arrived in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in 1970. Staff members checked us into very modest rooms in a downtown hotel. A few of us wandered outside the hotel to find a lively street scene. A man was cooking fried rice in a wok over a small charcoal fire and selling it to passers-by. We watched in fascination and then asked the staff if it was safe to eat.
I truly believed that street food was extremely dangerous. But we were told that since we were watching it being cooked, and it was obviously very hot, it was safe to eat. We ordered our portions, ate our fill of fried rice, and went back into our hotel to fall asleep. Nobody got sick.
That’s not to say that I didn’t get sick. I won’t tell you about the chicken foot soup incident. I will tell you that it was comforting to learn that our entire world is blanketed in medicine, pharmacies, and doctors.
I also found I could travel with no advance preparation or reservations. My first hike was over the Himalayas. We arrived in Pokhara, Nepal, and set off on a jaunt past Machupuchari up to the Plain of Tibet. We ate in teahouses along the way and slept in the back room. The dinners of chepati, dal, and fried eggs were among the best I’ve ever had. I wore a pair of blue Keds sneakers that were one size too small if I wore socks. I won’t tell you what my feet looked like after I took off the 5 day old bandages. I will tell you that I learned that you can get to where you are going if you keep putting one foot in front of the other – even if you are in pain.
I spent three years working in public health with Malaysians. They were Malay and Orang Asli, Tamils and Punjabis, Singhalese and Ceylon Tamils, and Straits Chinese. They were Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Sihks, Catholics and Protestants. They were my friends and co-workers not people to be feared. Safety came from knowing they are not “those people” but “our people”.
I have lived the rest of my life safely in the heart of that false danger.
And now some of the memories that make me smile even after 39 years.
Frani telling me when she was so sick that she was able to live on 7-Up and I could too if I had to do it. Riding with Doug on his motorbike through the park the night before the big Merdeka Day celebration. Learning to dance with Linda and Alice. Sandy giving me her Keds when my feet were bloodied from my one size too small Keds in the Himals. I told her that I would give her everything I had for a pair of larger shoes. It’s good to get to that level of desperation I think. Gary becoming so fluent in Bhasa. Mimi and her mom and me and my mom going to Fraser’s Hill. Sitting with Jim Gourley on the plane to Tokyo and listening to him tell me how me wanted to improve the lives of people. I just wanted to travel. Karl riding alongside our bus in Penang making sure we got to his place. The party at the house of Judy and Linda where we listed to the cassette tape of Jesus Christ Superstar. Eating nasi lemak from the nasi lemak lady at the kedai across from the malaria office. Going to Kota Bharu and going out for dinner with Kevin (Where are we going? To have soup. I don’t want soup. I don’t care we’re going to have soup. No, I don’t want to). It was tom yam which is my favorite soup ever. Riding with Sebastian on his motorbike out to Gombak for the New Year’s Eve party. He was so stoned he was going about 10 miles an hour. I thought we wouldn’t get there until New Year’s Day. Someone breezed by ( I think it was Linda waving gaily). Karen driving around K.L. in her car and her Halloween party where I met Hans Hofer and Star Black of Insight Guides. Steve investing all of his money in the Post Office Savings Bank and making a killing when the dollar devalued. Shopping with Marcia for fabric in the Indian fabric store on Batu Road. Mike Grant patiently explaining to me the provenance of all rock groups (Cream is made up of …….).