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Revisit: Words to live by—Lean on me . . .

The purpose of this posting is to share, with anyone and everyone who happens to pass this way, the beautiful thoughts expressed by Samuel Ullman in his poem Youth, excerpts of which appeared recently on Refdesk as the THOUGHT OF THE DAY. The posting is also a recommendation for Refdesk as a home page. Refdesk has an astonishing range—it has never failed me in my searches, regardless of their purpose. Donations to Refdesk are welcomed, but otherwise the service is free!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY:

“Youth is not a time of life—it is a state of mind. It is not a matter of red cheeks, red lips and supple knees. It is a temper of the will; a quality of the imagination; a vigor of the emotions; it is a freshness of the deep springs of life. Youth means a temperamental predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over a life of ease. This often exists in a man of fifty, more than in a boy of twenty. Nobody grows old by merely living a number of years; people grow old by deserting their ideals.” – Samuel Ullman

Here is the poem in its entirety:

Youth, by Samuel Ullman:

Youth is not a time of life; it is a state of mind; it is not a matter of rosy cheeks, red lips and supple knees; it is a matter of the will, a quality of the imagination, a vigor of the emotions; it is the freshness of the deep springs of life.

Youth means a temperamental predominance of courage over timidity of the appetite, for adventure over the love of ease. This often exists in a man of sixty more than a boy of twenty. Nobody grows old merely by a number of years. We grow old by deserting our ideals.

Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul. Worry, fear, self-distrust bows the heart and turns the spirit back to dust.

Whether sixty or sixteen, there is in every human being’s heart the lure of wonder, the unfailing child-like appetite of what’s next, and the joy of the game of living. In the center of your heart and my heart there is a wireless station; so long as it receives messages of beauty, hope, cheer, courage and power from men and from the Infinite, so long are you young.

When the aerials are down, and your spirit is covered with snows of cynicism and the ice of pessimism, then you are grown old, even at twenty, but as long as your aerials are up, to catch the waves of optimism, there is hope you may die young at eighty.

A brief biography of Ullman (from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia):

Samuel Ullman (April 13, 1840 – March 21, 1924) was an American businessman, poet, humanitarian. He is best known today for his poem Youth which was a favorite of General Douglas MacArthur. The poem was on the wall of his office in Tokyo when he became Supreme Allied Commander in Japan. In addition, he often quoted from the poem in his speeches, leading to it becoming better known in Japan than in the United States.

Born in 1840 at Hechingen, Germany to Jewish parents, Ullman immigrated with his family to America to escape discrimination at the age of eleven. The Ullman family settled in Port Gibson, Mississippi. After briefly serving in the Confederate Army, he became a resident of Natchez, Mississippi. There, Ullman married, started a business, served as a city alderman, and was a member of the local board of education.

In 1884, Ullman moved to the young city of Birmingham, Alabama, and was immediately placed on the city’s first board of education.

During his eighteen years of service, he advocated educational benefits for black children similar to those provided for whites. In addition to his numerous community activities, Ullman also served as president and then lay rabbi of the city’s reform congregation at Temple Emanu-El. Often controversial but always respected, Ullman left his mark on the religious, educational, and community life of Natchez and Birmingham.

In his retirement, Ullman found more time for one of his favorite passions – writing letters, essays and poetry. His poems and poetic essays cover subjects as varied as love, nature, religion, family, the hurried lifestyle of a friend, and living “young.” It was General Douglas MacArthur who facilitated Ullman’s popularity as a poet – he hung a framed copy of a version of Ullman’s poem “Youth” on the wall of his office in Tokyo and often quoted from the poem in his speeches. Through MacArthur’s influence, the people of Japan discovered “Youth” and became curious about the poem’s author.

In 1924, Ullman died in Birmingham, Alabama.

In 1994, the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the Japan-America Society of Alabama opened the Samuel Ullman Museum in Birmingham’s Southside neighborhood. The museum is located in the former Ullman residence and is operated by the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

In my not very humble opinion, this is one of the most beautiful songs ever written (title and chorus are in bold italics):

Lean on Me
Sometimes in our lives
we all have pain
We all have sorrow
But if we are wise
We know that there’s always tomorrow

Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on
For it won’t be long
‘Til I’m gonna need
Somebody to lean on

Please swallow your pride
If I have things you need to borrow
For no one can fill those of your needs
That you don’t let show

Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on
For it won’t be long
‘Til I’m gonna need
Somebody to lean on

If there is a load you have to bear
That you can’t carry
I’m right up the road
I’ll share your load
If you just call me

Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on
For it won’t be long
‘Til I’m gonna need
Somebody to lean on

So just call on me brother,
when you need a hand
We all need somebody to lean on
I just might have a problem that
you’d understand
We all need somebody to lean on.

Lean on me . . .

All lyrics are property and copyright Bill Withers.

That’s my story and I”m sticking to it.

 

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Paint a Picture, Mississippi (via Jlmccoy86’s Blog)

Kudos to the author for the emotion expressed in Jlmccoy86’s Blog. It effectively captures and transmits the sights and sounds of Mississippi, an oft maligned state, one that in far too many categories lands at the bottom or near the bottom in a list of our fifty states. The love for Mississippi and the personal observations expressed in this posting add emotions and thoughts to those sights and sounds.

I was born in Alabama but I left there as soon as I could, and have claimed Mississippian status since the age of five, a period spanning more than seven decades. Many of my blog postings include references to Mississippi, including discussions of executions, drive-in theaters, drive-up restaurants, gravel pits and orphan homes, Mississippi’s Army National Guard, elementary schools and high schools, squirrel nests, honey bees and summer vacations, ad infinitum.

Click here—https://thekingoftexas.wordpress.com/ to travel from Alabama to Mississippi and from there to various other states and foreign countries including Viet Nam, South Africa, Germany, Mexico, Canada and England—when you get there tell ’em the King of Texas sent you!

This is a preview of Paint a Picture, Mississippi:

When you first think of Mississippi, what comes to mind? Could it be the idea of racist rednecks or cotton?  Do you think about the poverty rate or how Mississippi is the most obese state in the Union? Maybe you are thinking that this state has nothing and is just but a big wasteland. But Mississippi is not this big wasteland that everyone believes she is. She is unique. What makes Mississippi what she is is not in the big high rise building … Read More

via Jlmccoy86’s Blog

 
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Posted by on June 24, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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College Street, #301 & 1/2—a boarding house . . .

For a few weeks during the second World War I lived in a boarding house with my mother, stepfather and an older sister, a young girl that was a complex assortment of tissue, fluids and organs with a brilliant mind and a tendency to manufacture, from whole cloth, tales that were told as true but believed by none. Eighteen months older than I, she was from birth in 1931 to her death in 1992 at the age of sixty-one, a teller of tall tales.

We were together constantly in our early years, but beginning in our early teenage years we grew apart and were together for brief periods only when our paths crossed. She married a military man and moved with him to various assignments, including stateside and oversea locations. I was also in the military, but our paths crossed only once in Germany.

But I digress—this posting deals with our living for several weeks during the summer at an address in uptown Columbus, Mississippi in Mrs. Cooper’s Boarding House, a mini-hotel that occupied the second floor of a building on College Street—several blocks east of the boarding house was the Mississippi State College for Women, thus the name College Street. It was the procedure at that time to give the one-half designation to identify the second floor of a building. I don’t remember what sort of business occupied the lower part of the building, but it must have been something that held no interest for a young boy.

The building’s mailing address was 301 College Street. Mrs Cooper’s Boarding House was 301 1/2 College Street. Had the building sported a third floor I suppose its address would have been 301 3/4 College Street, and it follows that a fourth floor would have been 301 4/4. I know that buildings with multiple side-by-side units—duplexes, triplexes and such—are identified by adding letters, such as 301-A, 301-B, 301-C and so on, normally from left to right when one is facing the building. Perhaps fractions were used rather than letters because letters were already taken to indicate side-by-side units.

As with many of our domiciles were during the years we were with our mother and our stepfather, we lived in one room. Toilet facilities were always down at the end of the hall, or down the hall and left or right to the end of that hall, depending on one’s room number. The rooms did not include cooking or eating—Mrs. Cooper cooked and served three meals daily at a long table in a cavernous room with windows facing the street. Meals were served punctually—breakfast at seven in the morning, dinner at twelve noon and supper at six in the evening.

Yes, dinner was at noon—to my knowledge nobody in the south at that time ate lunch—we didn’t even know the term. If someone got the best of us, we never said Wow, he really ate my lunch! Nope, we said Wow, he really got the best of me!

I have learned since then that the difference between lunch and dinner and between dinner and supper depends on which of the two is the more important meal. If the big meal is served and eaten at noon, it’s dinner and the meal served and eaten in the evening is supper—we dine at noon and we sup in the evening. Conversely, if the big meal is served and eaten in the evening it’s dinner, and the meal at noon becomes lunch. Then of course we have brunch, a meal enjoyed between breakfast and lunch. I suppose a meal enjoyed in mid-afternoon would therefore be a combination of lunch and dinner—linner—or perhaps a combination of dinner and supper—dupper—if one has dinner at noon and supper in the evening.

Enough of that, so back to my original subject, namely Mrs. Cooper’s Boarding House. Meals there were always interesting. We comprised a motley assortment of people representing diverse occupations and all races, all that is except blacks, a group now known as African-Americans—the term was unknown in my childhood. Mrs. Cooper employed such persons in her establishment but none ever lived there and none ever sat at the table, at least not when paying guests were seated there. This was deep in the segregated south sometime during the Second World War, long before Lynden Baines Johnson, Martin Luther King, Jr., the civil rights marches and the cattle prods, snarling dogs and snarling policemen in Selma, Alabama.

As an aside, I’ll say that I was stationed at Craig Air Force Base in Selma for some six years, from 1955 to 1961, and I was therefore familiar with Alabama and Dallas County’s system of segregation of the races. Stay tuned, because I plan to discuss Craig AFB, Selma, Alabama, fishing and segregation in future postings.

I have no memories of Mrs. Cooper’s Boarding House that are worthy of sharing with my viewers, but I remember a cute story told to me by a lady in a different town and in a different but similar setting. My mother was an LVN, a licensed vocational nurse and for a year or so she tended a bedridden wheelchair-bound elderly widow in Durant, Mississippi. a small town northeast of Jackson. Her compensation for that task was the income generated by a large house owned by the invalid, a house that had been converted into several apartments. Our family had a furnished apartment at no cost with all utilities paid, and my mother managed the facility, renting and collecting the rents and maintaining the house—anything left over was her salary. Her patient also lived there and my mother furnished around-the-clock nursing care for her. Incidentally, this was during a period of a forced separation from our stepfather, one created by him as were all the other times we were thrown out to continue our lives in whatever way we could.

Click here for that story—it features a violent incident, a threat, a shotgun and two children hiding in the woods—shades of Hansel and Gretel!

That’s about it—I posted this item for no other reason than to discuss the oddity of an address ending in a fraction. I haven’t seen it anywhere else, but of course I have never really tried to find another fractioned address.

Oh, I’ve decided to save the story told by the invalid lady in the apartment house my mother managed, but stay tuned—it’ll show up in a future posting, and it’s really funny! Sadly though, it’s a clean joke—not even the suggestion of a bad word or thought in it, not one double entendre in it, single, double or otherwise—bummer!

Speaking of a double entendre, the image on the right is an 1814 engraving of one such. The balloons above their heads read as follows:

He:My sweet honey, I hope you are to be let with the lodgings!

She: No, sir, I am to be let alone!

The term let, of course, means rent. It refers to lodgings for let, or rooms for rent. The gentleman is hoping that the girl comes with the lodging. I mean, like, hey, those folks in the Victorian era were really raunchy, huh! Just consider the dissolution, dissipation and disintegration of acceptable social mores during that time, the sexual overtones in that conversation, all reflecting a time in history of debauched living, and look—they’re even touching! Ostensibly in an attempt to chuck her under the chin, a move that she is warding off, his hand is perilously near her breast—horrors! It’s sad to think that young children were exposed to such filth during the Victorian period. You’ll never find anything like that in one of my postings—except for this time, of course.


 
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Posted by on June 16, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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13 weeks of basic training . . .

This is the first of what may be many postings concerning my 13 weeks of basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. The training was a lifetime crowded into a mere ninety-one days. A related posting covering my enlistment and arrival in San Antonio can be seen here. That posting also has some interesting insights on Boy Scouts, rattlesnakes, John Wayne, Mississippi’s National Guard, tortoises, snipes and bacon and eggs and wieners and various other unrelated items—trust me, a visit is well worth your time!

And now on to the first day of my 13 weeks of basic training:

I entered the United States Air Force’s basic training course on March 7, 1949 exactly 61 years, one month and 29 days ago as of this date. I was there for 13 weeks, and to this day the sights and sounds and smells and events, whether positive or negative—and there were plenty of both—of that 13 weeks are just as strong as they were then, more than 61 years later. I can successfully recreate in my mind—and as one will see, in print—the tiniest happenings and recall of the faces and many of the names of most of the people involved—fellow trainees, training instructors, commanding officers, chaplains, cooks and Red Cross representatives. I can vividly recall my first day at Lackland Air Force Base here in San Antonio, Texas, a day of whirlwind events involved in the requirements of first-day processing.

We started by stripping to the buff—off with shirts, pants, shoes, socks, undershirts and shorts. Our clothing and shoes were picked up and placed in a container labeled with our names. We were told they would be held and returned to us at the conclusion of basic training—unless we indicated that we did not want them back, and in that case we were told they would be donated to various charities. I cheerfully abandoned my T-shirt, shorts, jeans, socks and scuffed sneakers. They were called tennis shoes back in those days, even though nobody played tennis, at least not in my level of society—come to think of it, nobody plays tennis in my current level of society either—not much change there.

In return for giving up our garments and our modesty, we were issued a Towel, bath, olive drab, 1, an item that we dutifully wrapped around our waists—unrolled, of course, to provide a modicum of cover both front and rear. There were several people that had to hang on to both ends of their towel at all times—their ample waistlines prohibited knotting the corners together at one side or the other to provide cover.

From there we submitted to the official ministrations of barbers, gentlemen that were proficient in rendering one unrecognizable to one’s mother or any other person, with just a few strokes of an electric clipper. The barber shop was a large room with multiple barber chairs, each with a long wooden bench directly in line with each barber’s chair. We straddled the benches and hitched our way from the rear to the front as the work progressed, and then from the front position to the chair. The hitching along generated lots of jokes, most obscene but all funny, many involving splinters and sitting too close to the man ahead, or for lagging behind (so to speak) and not putting enough distance between one’s self and the man directly behind (again so to speak).

When the barbers finished with us, not a hair was left standing—one could see where the hair had been but could only speculate as to the nature of the departed coiffures. For many of the trainees, ears that had been invisible—including mine– were now quite prominent. We were directed from there to the shower room, a huge area with multiple shower heads on both sides, closely spaced, and once there we doffed our towels and showered. Here, as in the barber shop, there were many jokes, most off color but most were funny depending, of course, on whether one was the butt of one or more jokes—and I’ll have no more to say on that subject!

After showering, we girded our loins with our towels, now quite wet, and joined a line to pick up military clothing—olive drab undershirts, olive drab shorts, olive drab one-piece fatigues, an olive drab fatigue cap, kakii shirts and trousers, collar brass, an olive drab web belt and brass buckle, hat brass and a garrison hat, a stiff-brimmed hat that was issued in two pieces—the hat cover was separate but was not available. We wore the hats to our quarters with no covers, nothing to protect our bald pates from the merciless summer sun of South Texas. Our issue of clothing included four sheets and two pillowcases, one pair of brown low-quarter (dress) shoes and two pairs of  brown brogans (work shoes), a laundry bag and and a duffel bag—both olive drab—carriers in which we stuffed our newly acquired wardrobe.

Yep, I joined the Brown Shoe Air Force—black shoes and blue uniforms came in 1951—I was in Japan when the first GIs arrived with the blue winter uniforms and the blue accessories for the summer kakis. When any of the Japanese girls asked why the others wore blue, we told them that the blue uniforms identified men that were afflicted with a social disease, men that  should be avoided at all costs. It worked for a little while, but it was too good to last.

As an aside, I must state that I was the only trainee that was issued white T-shirts instead of the olive-drab wife-beater undershirts. The smallest size available  was too large for me, so I was given a supply of T-shirt, white, round neck, 7. At first I felt special because I had always worn T-shirts, but as basic training progressed I would come to hate those T-shirts—more details on that later.

We marched several blocks to our barracks, a two-story edifice built before World War II began, constructed of wood with asbestos siding and standard roofing. Our home for the next 13 weeks was identical to all the others in that area, differing only in the building numbers—ours was numbered 4029, just one of many in Lackland’s 3724th Basic Military Training Squadron (BMTS). I said we marched, but it wasn’t much of a march—our combined movements were simply pitiful attempts to keep in step to the cadence voiced by our training instructor (our TI).

We entered the barracks, picked out a spot on the lower floor of the building, put down our bags and sat on them while our TI briefed us on things to come in the next 13 weeks. His first words on entering the building, after taking a long look at the group, a prolonged look at each man, some of the looks prolonged to the point of nervousness on the individual’s part. After staring at each trainee, his gaze returned to me, and he held that gaze while he said “Well, you look like a pretty good group—with a few exceptions.”

As one might expect, I took that to mean that I would find some obstacles in the road ahead—and I did. However, although I took some pretty hard hits none stopped me—I encountered rocks frequently in the 13 weeks, but one by one I conquered them by ignoring them, climbing over them or going around them. I graduated successfully in spite of being one of a few exceptions. At the end of the 13 weeks I proudly sewed on the single stripes of a Private First Class in the world’s greatest air force, a promotion after only 13 weeks in service! I accepted my pay raise of $2.50 a month, making my total compensation a whopping $75 per month and left for home, with a ten-day delay authorized while en route to technical training at Chanute Air Force Base at Rantoul, Illinois.

Hey, don’t laugh about my salary! My food, lodging, clothing, cleaning, laundry, medical care and dental care were all free, and all I had to do was follow orders and say sir to everybody with more than one stripe. I was just 16 years old and I had the world by the tail with a downhill pull—a veritable bird’s nest on the ground. And I was no longer under the watchful eye of a certain Salvation Army captain, the duly empowered truant officer in my small Mississippi town. I was free at last, and all I had to do was  go to places such as Japan and Korea and Germany and Vietnam whenever I was told to go—I figured that was not too bad a deal, except when wars were being fought in such places. Since none were being fought at the time, I felt little concern about future wars—perhaps I should have, but I didn’t.

I’ll get back to you later with more details.

 
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Posted by on April 6, 2010 in Humor, Military, Travel, wartime, Writing

 

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Botswana and termites . . .

Botswana and termites . . .

Excerpt from a previous posting on Botswana:

In 1985 I traveled to Botswana under the auspices of the United States’ Department of State. At that time I was gainfully employed with the United States Customs Service, and the purpose of my travel was to represent our government and U.S. Customs in a law enforcement conference. The conference took place in Gaborone, the capital city of Botswana, at a complex that included a Holiday Inn, several restaurants and two Las Vegas-style casinos. Except for South Africa, every country in Africa was represented. That nation was not represented because it was not invited, ostensibly in criticism of its rule of apartheid.

Other postings on Botswana can be found here: Sojourn to Botswana, here: I downed a lion in South Africa and here: Botswana’s urinals. I have thoroughly enjoyed remembering and writing about my experiences in Africa, and I trust that visitors to my blog will enjoy reading about that nation and the trials, tribulations and triumphs I endured and/or enjoyed while enroute to Botswana, returning from Botswana and everything in between.

Be forewarned! As I manage—struggle—to retrieve memories from the dim past—way back in 1985—there will be more postings related to my trip, including more thoughts on Botswana, South Africa, Germany and England.

The unlikely subject of this posting? One of the most fascinating and destructive creatures on earth—termites!

On the outskirts of Gabarone, Botswana’s capital city, numerous termite towers can be seen, amazing structures that can reach heights up to thirty feet. The following information on termites was gleaned from Wikipedia and is probably enough, or more than enough, to satisfy any longing a visitor to this posting may have for such information:

The termite is the acknowledged master architect of the creature world. No other insect or animal approaches the termite in the size and solidity of its building structure. The world’s tallest non-human structures are built by Australian or African termites. If a human being were the size of an average termite, the relative size of a single termite nest is the equivalent of a 180 story building–almost 2000 feet high. It would easily be the tallest building in the world. How is it possible that this tiny creature has the engineering know-how to erect an edifice of this magnitude? Obviously this knowledge is innate to the termite. The process of construction, the materials and correct combination of materials to yield an elegant, structurally efficient and durable structure is simply awe-inspiring.

In tropical savannas the mounds may be very large, with an extreme of 9 metres (30 ft) high in the case of large conical mounds constructed by some Macrotermes species in well-wooded areas in Africa. Two to three metres, however, would be typical for the largest mounds in most savannas. The shape ranges from somewhat amorphous domes or cones usually covered in grass and/or woody shrubs, to sculptured hard earth mounds, or a mixture of the two. Despite the irregular mound shapes, the different species in an area can usually be identified by simply looking at the mounds.

Formlings, now better understood to depict termitaria (termites’ nests) and termites, are a pervasive category of San (Bushman) rock art north of the River Limpopo. This article investigates the associations of termites’ nests in San thought, belief, and ritual, in an attempt to explain formling symbolism and why termites’ nests, and not other subjects, were chosen for depiction. Unequivocal ethnographic testimonies of San spiritual world-view are compounded with iconographic analysis to show nuances of San understanding and perception of the spirit world. In turn, this ethnographic hermeneutic reveals a significant but previously unexplored facet of spirit-world imagery which evokes notions of creative and transformative power. This newly highlighted vignette of San cosmology unlocks aspects of San imagery, such as the interface between the natural and the metaphysical, that have hitherto been less understood.

Note: The River Limpopo separates South Africa from Botswana and Zimbabwe (from Wikipedia at this site: River Limpopo).

Since my duties while in Botswana did not require any close inspection of termite nests, my relationship and contact with such structures was limited to a cautious 360 degree visual inspection from a distance of several yards. That inspection and my Wikipedian research qualified me to share my new found knowledge with visitors to my blog.

So I shared said knowledge.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 

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I downed a lion in South Africa . . .

Synopsis—A prequel to this posting:

In 1985 I traveled to Botswana under the auspices of the United States’ Department of State. At that time I was gainfully employed with the United States Customs Service, and the purpose of my travel was to represent our government and U.S. Customs in a law enforcement conference. The conference took place in Gaborone, the capital city of Botswana, at a complex that included a Holiday Inn, several restaurants and two Las Vegas-style casinos. Except for South Africa, every country in Africa was represented. That nation was not represented because it was not invited, ostensibly in criticism of its rule of apartheid.

This posting is intended to discuss other facets of that many-faceted trip. It is one of a series of discussions covering my travel to Botswana via New York City, England and South Africa, and my return therefrom via South Africa, Germany and New York City, and discussions on everything that occurred in between. For related postings, click on I married my barber, Sojourn to Botswana and Botswana’s urinals. My intentions are to narrate some of the details of my trip in the hope of entertaining visitors to my blogs, and perhaps even, to some small degree, educate visitors with those details. And now, on to the posting!

I downed a lion in South Africa . . .

After landing in Johannesburg, South Africa I spent several hours in the company of two agents of that nation Secret Service unit, an organization similar to our Central Intelligence Agency. I surrendered my U.S. State Department passport to an immigration officer at Johannesburg’s municipal airport. It would be returned to me on my return to Johannesburg from Botswana. I did not ask why my passport was held, nor was any reason given.

I would learn later that it was held to ensure that I came back through Johannesburg, rather than leaving Botswana for a different country. The two agents questioned me on the purpose of the conference and which countries would be represented, and questioned me on my return. I answered all their questions freely to the best of my ability, although my knowledge was rather limited. They seemed satisfied with my answers in the prebriefing as well as the debriefing following my return to Johannesburg after the conference.

We stopped at their office and I was asked to wait while they reported my arrival to their superiors, a report that was made behind closed doors and obviously without my presence. Left to my own devices I toured the hallways of the building, taking in views of the city through the windows and views of offices through open doors. In my wanderings I found restroom doors and drinking water fountains marked Whites only and Coloreds only. I also noted that in the wide hallways of the building, colored maintenance and cleaning people stepped well to one side as I neared, and made no direct eye contact, looking away or down as we met and passed.

Those obvious signs of the apartheid rule that still existed in South Africa—a system that would endure until 1994—turned my thoughts back 24 years, back from 1985 to 1961, to a time when racial segregation—our nation’s apartheid—ruled the South. In 1961 I left my assignment at Craig Air Force Base in Selma, Alabama to begin a two-year tour at Bitburg Air Base in Bitburg, Germany, a small town in Germany’s Eifel mountains (a definite subject for future postings!).

My tour of duty at Craig had been pleasant in every respect, both for me and for my family. That tour had lasted more than five years, and I was extremely reluctant to end it. However, my transfer was not an object for negotiation, not even for discussion, so I grudgingly and unwillingly accepted the new assignment. Bummer!

My newfound friends from South Africa’s Secret Service treated me with a tour of Pretoria, the capital city of the nation. Our tour of the city included a marketplace, monuments and various civic buildings. The most impressive part of the tour was the Voortrekker Monument, a massive granite structure built to honor the Voortrekkers, pioneers that left the Cape Colony in the thousands between 1835 and 1854 to explore and establish settlements. Click here for a digital tour of the monument.

We returned to Johannesburg shortly before my flight was scheduled for departure, and a suggestion was made to have a beer before the flight. I declined because the cuisine at the Holiday Inn had not been kind to my digestive system, particularly to the elimination apparatus of that system. However, under duress inflicted by their urging me to have a beer, I accepted a cold beer, attractively packaged in a can. Oddly, however, neither of my friends ordered a beer, explaining that they could not drink while on duty.

I noticed that they watched me intently while I downed the beer, rather quickly because boarding time was near. When I finished the beer, they both smiled broadly and told me that on my return to the States I could truthfully claim that I downed a lion in Africa. A quick glance at the can’s label confirmed the fact that I had indeed accomplished such an unlikely feat—pictured on the can’s label was a male lion with a huge mane and an open mouth featuring large fangs, obviously a roaring lion.

I made it safely home with the empty Lion beer can, and it became the nucleus for a rather extensive collection of beer cans. Several years later  while converting our garage into a rec room, I bagged the cans into several black plastic trash bags, set them into a corner. The bags occupied that space for  a considerable length of time, right up to the time my wife tossed them out with the other trash. She apologized profusely and claims to this day that it was an accident, absolutely unintentional, but I have some doubts. The cans must have clanged and rattled a bit en route to the trash, a sign that the bags contained something other than routine trash. Oh, well, easy come, easy go, right? Bummer!

I downed a lion in South Africa—I no longer have the evidence to prove it but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!



 

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Sojourn to Botswana . . .

In a recent posting I mentioned a business trip I made to Botswana, Africa via London, England and in that posting I promised—threatened, really—that I would follow up with more details of that trip. One may view that posting by clicking here: I married my barber. Today’s posting is a start to fulfilling that promise—or that threat, depending on how one reacts to my literary efforts.

Sojourn to Botswana

Long, long ago in the past century—1985—I traveled to Botswana under the auspices of the United States’ Department  of State. The purpose of my travel was to represent our government in a law enforcement conference. Botswana’s capital city of Gaborone hosted the conference—every country in Africa was represented except South Africa. That nation was not represented because it was not invited, ostensibly in criticism of its continuing rule of apartheid.

A special note: All the African delegates to the conference were male and black—no exceptions—and all were, in varying degrees, fluent in English. That was especially beneficial to me, because I lack fluency in only two languages—English and Spanish—neither of which is compatible with any of the myriad native languages spoken by representatives of the various African countries. I managed, fairly well, in conversation with the British officer from Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

And that reminds me of President George W. Bush’s answer to a question posed by a reporter prior to the president’s visit to England to meet the queen. The reporter asked the president what he felt was the biggest challenge for him while in England. The president replied, “I may have a problem with the language.”

And some say that George had no sense of humor—imagine that!

The conference leader in Botswana was a representative from the United Nation’s headquarters. Others present included a member of Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the equivalent  of our Central Intelligence Agency. Although I’m at a loss to recall his name, I can cheerfully report that during our ten-day association, I adopted a bit of his British accent and some of his quirky phrases, one of which was a fascinating phrase used to tell someone to expect a phone call at a certain time. We were invited to a dinner with the United States ambassador and his family in his home, and the agent told me, “I’ll knock you up at six.”

Believe me, that’ll make your ears perk up!

Click here for Botswana, a fascinating study of a fascinating country and its people, here for Britian’s Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), and here for our Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). These are only suggestions intended to prepare you for future postings regarding my great adventure in 1985—the clicking is not mandatory, but I believe you’ll find all three sites tremendously interesting and educational, and that’s a good thing!

Excerpts from Botswana’s history:

The Republic of Botswana is a landlocked country in southern Africa. Citizens of Botswana are called “Batswana” (singular: Motswana), regardless of ethnicity.

Geographically the country is flat and up to 70% is covered by the Kalahari Desert. It is bordered by South Africa to the south and southeast, Namibia to the west and north, and Zimbabwe to the northeast.

Formerly the British protectorate of Bechuanaland, Botswana  adopted  its new name after becoming independent within the Commonwealth on 30 September 1966. It has held free and fair democratic elections since independence.

The official languages of Botswana are English and Setswana.

In the northern part of Botswana, women in the villages of Etsha and Gumare are noted for their skill at crafting baskets from Mokola Palm and local dyes.

The prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Botswana was estimated at 24% for adults in 2006. Approximately one in six Batswana has HIV, giving Botswana the second highest infection rate in the world after nearby Swaziland.

I flew from Washington’s National Airport to New York’s JFK, then on to England’s Heathrow Airport for an overnight stay, then non-stop to Johannesburg, South Africa. Immediately on landing I was met by two officers from South Africa’s equivalent of our CIA. They first introduced me to an Immigration officer, and that officer secured my passport and retained it throughout my stay in Africa. It was returned to me just before I boarded a flight bound for Germany.

The two agents entertained me for several hours while I waited for my flight to Botswana. They took me on a tour of their headquarters, and then we took an extensive motor tour of the city with my guides (captors?) pointing out and describing points of interest.

And now I must beg for your forgiveness—I’ll leave you hanging in suspense, waiting for a subsequent posting that will provide more details of that story. A single posting cannot possibly cover all the details of my visit to Africa. Each additional posting will be titled Botswana sojourn continued, or some similar phrase.

Stay tuned for more later, and in the interim it might be helpful—informative and intellectually productive—to spend some of the waiting time on the sites highlighted above.

 

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