The Dumb

May 7, 2011

The scene that presents itself to me as I sit here percolating in my thoughts is criminally beautiful. I’m sitting on the porch of a thatch roofed bungalow. The naked beams and rafters wind their way up to large support pillars hewn from gnarled  and ancient arbor. The tan plaster walls are soaking up the dying rays of the sun setting over the Zambezi river basin. The 5 Jack Russells are lounging lazily… strewn about in haphazard orientation… ears and tails twitching to swat the equally lazy flies that dizzily wind their way through the cooler evening air.

that lucky ol’ sun hangin over the Zambezi

Sheep. That is the sound that is most prominent to my senses. The gentle and persistent bleating of a herd of exactly 531 sheep. Exactly. I know this because I counted them today… twice. I watched 531 of these brainless beasts stumble their way out of their foal, down the chute, and into the big wild and dangerous world. Then at the end of the day I watched the same 531 dim mammals noisily clamor back up the shoot into their nocturnal habitation. Hopeless animals. Counting sheep DOES actually make you drowsy though… I can vouch.

Not that sheep aren’t cute in their own way, but the owner of these sheep once said that he has to beg these animals to stay alive… and he wasn’t exaggerating. They are just about the most dense creatures  envisionable. Say there is an open gate and ten sheep need to go through it, you can bet that at least a couple will attempt entering through the solid wire fence. The expression on the face of a sheep appears just a shade smarter than the expression a bag of rocks might have if you asked it directions to Albuquerque. There really is not much positive that can be said of them in the way of mental capacity. They do stick together… that is a nice feature. Hold on a minute… if Jesus is our Sheppard… and we are his sheep…. HEY!

The scene I described earlier and the setting of all this sheepishness is none other than the fast growing farm of the illustrious Hein and Melissa Myburgh. Hein had to make an emergency trip up to Uganda and ,wouldn’t you know it, we were in the neighborhood… so we got the opportunity to help out at the farm for about a week. Melissa showered up with gourmet cuisine and regaled us with tails of marriage, love, and Hein for the duration of our stay (which was actually quite entertaining). To say she missed her husband is a gross understatement. The week was filled with such activities as sheep herding (also known as idiot wrangling), cement slab pouring, block laying, dog petting, porch sitting, tea drinking, and all manner of other enjoyable tasks.

Mukuyu (the farm) is a supremely serene place. I think my resting heart rate lowered at least 3 beats per minute while I was there. The sounds of hippos laughing and splashing in the swirling currents of the Zambezi is washing over me and lulling my into a sublimity that shouldn’t be possible on this earth. Untainted… that is the best word I can ascribe to this place.

Before we came to Mukuyu, Bjorn and I had spent most of the week building one day churches with Alan Knowles of Riverside fame. I can’t express the joy I have garnered from again spending time with such good people as the Knowles. Alan and Pauline are that rare breed of good that is both magnetic and contagious. People are better for knowing them and interacting with them. This weekend will be spent fraternizing, laughing, and nostalgizing with the likes of these people. Then Bjorn and I will board the Toyota Hilux of Hein and Melissa bound for South Africa and the finish line. The end is near and our time is dear.

-Weaveroftales

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The Run

April 13, 2011

 

In my vast life experience (ahem) I’ve learned that good pursuits often are the hardest to pursue. When I want to turn the TV on or eat a bag of chips… it’s easier than finding a lake in Malawi. When I want to go jogging however, or say, write a blog… turning that potential energy into kinetic isn’t so simple. This is my attempt to do that however. My fingers are methodically plodding their way back and forth across the key-studded surface before me. Words are being produced on the screen my eyes are focused upon. Bloggity, Blog, Blog….

It’s like sitting on the edge of my bed and looking at my red Brooks Cascadias in the corner. I know that I WANT to run… on some level. I know that running will produce favorable results in my body and mind (or so I’ve been led to believe). I know it’s the right thing to do… but my body doth protest too much. Somehow, after much deliberation, I manage to drag myself across the room and grab my shoes and walk out the door. I sit on the edge of the porch, slide my generous size 15’s into my faithful Brooks, lace them to an appropriate squeeze and that is what I like to call the point of no return. Once I have the shoes on… the run is going to happen. Now that I’ve got the shoes on this blog, it’s going to happen. Whether I like it or not.

This morning, strangely enough, I actually did find myself trotting through the tea fields of southern Malawi laced into my running shoes. My point of origin was Malamulo Mission Hospital, where I’ve spent the last week or so. We have come to this place from Tanzania through a series of hitchhikes and bus rides. God worked some of them out for us, which is always convenient. Here’s how it went.

We woke up in the town of Mbeya, which is somewhat near the Malawi border, and had been hitting the tarmac hard all day. It was bus to van to bus and this wasn’t going to change in the near future. We found ourselves wearily slumped in our seats aboard a relatively posh bus (it had reclining seats, and just a little throw-up on the seat in front of me) debating about whether or not to stay on this bus for the duration (which would land us in Blantyre the next morning), get off in Lilongwe at 10 pm, or to get off in the small town of Mzuzu in a few hours before the sun went down. We were strongly considering wandering the streets of Lilongwe at 10 p.m. to look for a hotel upon our arrival when a man and women, who were sitting in front of us, turned around and struck up a conversation. If I attempted to reconstruct this conversation for you I could be convicted of perjury in a court of law, but suffice it to say that the conversation progressed from introductions to a realization that this couple was going to be driving from Mzuzu (where their car was and his mother lived) to Lilongwe in the morning and would get there in time for us to get to Blantyre and Malamulo the next day. “Off course you can ride with us” was uttered at some point. Also an invitation to stay at his mother’s was extended, of this I am sure, because later that evening… I found myself sleeping at his mother’s house. And wouldn’t you know it… they belonged to none other than the Seventh day Adventist church. The next day we indeed did make it to Malamulo after a little more providential help from another bus patron on the way from Lilongwe to Blantyre.

Here at Malamulo we have been blessed beyond all hopes and dreams. We’re staying with the Haytons, a missionary family here at Malamulo and they have adopted our stinky, weary selves as their own. We have been shadowing Ryan (the surgeon here at the hospital), getting to know some of the other missionaries, and generally trying not to be burdensome. Shar, it turns out, missed her calling as a gourmet chef and their two boys (Benson and Hudson) could upstage any of those Welch’s commercial kids. Oh and let us not forget the games… lots and lots of games (Ryan is a diagnosed game-a-holic). We have been blessed to be sure, and next week we will be in Zambia… our African home.

And now my run is done. Always end with stretching…

-Weaveroftales

 

The Kenyan Goat Truck

March 24, 2011

 

I recently found myself standing in front of the grave of a four year old girl named Kathy Jo Saunders. This little girl lived the first four years of the 1960s. She lived these innocent years, not in the US, but in a little town called Gimbi, in the rolling western hills of one of most unique African countries… Ethiopia. Her father was a Doctor here at an Adventist hospital established to ease suffering in a supremely impoverished, if not staggeringly beautiful, place. Had she grown up, I would have likely called her Aunt Kathy. Standing in front of this grave centered me somehow. It reminded me of my roots. It reminded me that service is important. This important. I love you Aunt Neenie.

I was talking with Roxanne Shahtahmasebi on Facebook chat the other day. Most of you won’t know who Roxanne is, but for those who do, you will know that she is a livewire, a New Zealander, and she has an opinion… which she is mostly willing to share. If you, on the other hand, know much about me, you will know that I enjoy a spirited give and take once in while… or often. Therefore, Roxanne just happens to be one of my favorite people to chat with on FB (that’s stands for FaceBook, in case you thought the Federal Bureau no longer Investigated). This was an interchange that took place between us about the last little bit of the trip.

Roxanne Shahtahmasebi

    • how was your cattle truck ride?

Jeremy Weaver

    • haha
    • good memories­
    • it felt a little like a video game at times, fishtailing down a desert road at like 70 kph in a 10 ton truck­
    • full of goats­
    • good stuff­

Roxanne Shahtahmasebi

    • crikey
    • awesome fun

Jeremy Weaver

    • haha, yeah­

Roxanne Shahtahmasebi

    • im sure the driver wasnt trustworthy

Jeremy Weaver

    • he was actually a good driver, but in a bad mood
    • as i would have been­ in his situation
    • “good driver”, as in he could keep it together in sketchy conditions and at high speeds­
    • not good as in “safe”- in the strictest sense of the word. J

Roxanne Shahtahmasebi

    • not safe, but good at keeping it together?
    • Confucius?

Jeremy Weaver

    • Well, he drove a little crazy, but held it together nicely
    • (in other words)­

Roxanne Shahtahmasebi

    • lucky for you!

The Kenyan Goat Truck (possible movie title?) will probably go down in the annals of the whole world round as one of the more epic pieces of traveling that occurred on this trip. We started at about 8 a.m. in the dirty border town of Moyale… where the pavement ended. Ten bumpy, dusty, hairy, sweaty, smelly, exhilarating, breathtaking, adrenaline laced, hold-onto-your-seat, I AM ALIVE  hours later,  we hit the tarmac after crossing through a desert with terrain that could be most aptly compared to the planet Mars. At 4 a.m. we stopped and slept in the dirt (Bjorn) and contorted half out of the passenger seat with feet on the running board and the door open (me) on the side of the road for a couple hours. The next morning, 24 hours from the start, we ended up at the whole sale goat market on the outskirts of Nairobi. We were happy to be there, even if those goats weren’t.  God does bless.

Oh, and if you’re wondering why we would choose such traveling accommodations. No we are not into self flagellation. There simply is no easier way to get from Ethiopia to Nairobi, Kenya. Besides fly. And who would want to do something crazy like that…. Plus it was fun. J

And the journey south continues…

-Weaveroftales

 

The Parental Unit

March 9, 2011


Everybody got parents. This is an undeniable fact of human existence. We all have a mommy and daddy that are responsible for our existence here on this earth in a very direct and undeniable way (I’ll spare you the gory details). Some of these dynamic enterprises are intentional and some not. Sometimes parents are married, and sadly, sometimes they aren’t. It’s a colossal undertaking, being a parent and some folks just are not cut out for this task.

Consequently, there are certain children who, through no shortcoming of theirs, end up with parents who are not fit for the task. In too many cases this lack of parental prowess is picked up by said unlucky child. In other cases however, a child is supremely blessed to have a set of parents that are so about their children that they cannot help but do a good job. Maybe these parents don’t have all the right answers.  Maybe they feel as lost as the next bunch at times. Maybe these parents even screw up now and then like every other parent. The difference is this: they are in their child’s camp 110 percent. Whether they know it or not their children sense this unconditional support… and that makes all the difference. THIS set of parents… this is MY set of parents.

And now I shall take this opportunity to brag on, and rag on, this particular dynamic duo.

My beloved ma and pa just uprooted themselves from their comfortable home in South Lyon, MI drove to the Detroit metro airport, and boarded a plane that took them to Athens Greece. They took off work, canceled appointments, and I’m sure suffered all manner of other inconvenience to do this on their own dime and time. What was in Greece you might wonder that could be worth all this trouble? None other than their good-for-nothing, bum of a vagabond, middle son; who is off gallivanting around the world. I believe his name is Jeremy John Weaver… or something like that. They did this because they love him. And he knows it and appreciates it… more than he sometimes expresses.

Sometimes this son might feel slightly embarrassed at his parents. Like when his dad’s booming voice can be heard above the din of any other noise in a crowded Grecian restaurant as he recounts some embarrassing family story, the details of which may or may not hold up in a court of law (“they’re better that way”). Or when his mother dolls out health advice liberally to anyone within earshot, including the waiter, because she catches a whiff of partially hydrogenated vegetable oil in a pastry (“it’s in everything you know”). It is times like these that the son might shrink a little in his chair and look around casually as if trying not to implicate himself as an associate of these two maniacs. “What them? No, I don’t know them… they’re out of control though. Someone should report them before they run amok and tear this place apart.” (Those of you that know this particular pair, will agree that I exaggerate only slightly).

However, having said all that. This son also knows that his embarrassment is unfounded.

His father is the best provider he knows of. His father would gladly put himself in the poor house to make sure that his kids have every opportunity this world has to offer. The son knows that even though the father talks a big line about kicking his kids out in the cold and making them haul wood through a blizzard, up hill both ways (among other forced labors), it is only out of love that he does whatever he does, and that his children mean more to him that anything. He sees it in his father’s tears as he says goodbye to his son at the Athens airport.

He also knows that the high volume of his mothers advice is due only to the fact that she wants her son to have the best life possible. She doesn’t want him to repeat any mistakes she might have made. She doesn’t want him to have to suffer the excruciating joint pain that she suffers every day. She has so much passionate knowledge about life and health and she loves him dearly and so she imparts this to him so he can succeed. She doesn’t think he listens. She despairs that her middle son is head strong and stubborn like her. And sometimes he is… but he hears more than she knows, and loves her unconditionally. He feels it in her extra squeeze at the end of her long hug as she says goodbye to him at security in the Athens airport.

Yes, this son may feel those hot twinges run up his neck as his parents show their stuff in rare form and loud volume, or give him advice unsought in doses that would be lethal to anyone that hadn’t built up a healthy tolerance. These days though, these twinges are fewer and farther between… and the son realizes it’s all part of the love. After all, if a parent isn’t embarrassing their child, they’re not really doing their job. Right Dad?

The Duo in action

I love you both, thanks for coming to visit. Can’t wait to see you in a few months.

Side note: I am back in the land of Injera, Shiro, and Ambo. In case you have no idea what I’m talking about its Ethiopia. Mother Africa has once again accepted us into her bosom.

-Weaveroftales

 

The Rink

February 23, 2011


I am sitting in a chair. I am sitting in a white chair. I am sitting in a white, plastic chair. I am sitting in a futuristic, white, plastic chair which wraps comfortably around my posterior and successfully supports my lumbar spine. I am comfortable. This white plastic chair, which was so ergonomically designed, is located at a black vinyl table in the food court of a shopping mall. This food court is mostly unremarkable and not unlike any food court that can be found in any large city anywhere in America… save two things.

The first blaring detail is that this particular food court is not in any mall anywhere in America. It happens to be located on the southwest side of Bucharest in Romania. How I got to the southwest side of Bucharest, Romania from my last known destination isn’t relevant to my thoughts at this moment, so that will have to come later. The other detail that separates this humble food court from any other is the fact that as I sit looking out over my table, I am confronted with an odd spectacle for a food court. I am watching a group of about 25 children, ranging in age from perhaps 5 to 10, skate. That would be the ice variety. There are two dimes and a nickel’s  worth of kids having an ice-skating lesson, in a food court, in a mall, in Bucharest, Romania and I am watching all this over a black vinyl table, sitting in an exceptionally comfortable, white, plastic, futuristically AND ergonomically designed chair. That got me to thinking…

Ice skating is a funny thing. It’s even more of a funny thing when you are watching the skating and the people doing the skating are not very talented at it. These kids here mostly fit that bill. There is the short kid in the red sweater and green gloves that seems to wish he had four sets of skates, two for his feet and two for his hands. This judging by the amount of time he spends with his hands planted firmly on the ice. He wants to skate and is out there trying, bless his soul, but this young man happens to be exceptionally terrible at skating and he is going nowhere. Then the Instructor skates over. She rights him and gives him a smile and even though he still stands motionless, daunted by the sheet of sheer ice he stands atop, he seems to gain a bit of confidence and takes his first timid glide… without his hands.

Then there is the squirrely looking boy with a nervous and slightly vacant grimace on his face. He is inching his skates across the ice like an old fashioned, wind-up toy with all the grace and beauty of a lump of coal. If there is one thing this boy does not want, it is to do anything that resembles falling. But even if he did fall he is prepared because strapped firmly to his to his nervous dome is a big, blue, shiny helmet. There will be no chances taken for this young worry-wart. The Instructors skates in behind our helmeted hero and glides with him for a score of feet, steadying him between her legs and boosting him to a speed he would never dream of achieving without a hefty supply of bubble wrap protecting his fragile frame. He is smiling. He has a great, big, gap-toothed smile.

The third boy is frozen. Paralyzed with fear. Gripping the rail with all the might in his young hands. He isn’t going anywhere. The septic terror is written all over his face. He would rather die here, gripping this rail of the ice rink in the food court than let go and slide into the unknown and slippery terror that is all about him. He was not born to do this. His mother made him come to this stupid class. He would rather be playing with his hot-wheels on the floor of his bedroom. Heck, he would rather be eating broccoli, he would rather be anywhere. The fear is overpowering his senses and taking hold of his usually rational thought processes. That’s when the Instructor skates up behind him, and picks him up. Cradling him in Her arms she skates him over to the side of the rink to the open arms of his mother. The fear is gone. There is nothing put ecstatic relief in the young boys eyes. He will return to the rink in his own good time.

Not all the children in this rink are such hopeless cases. There are the ones that posses all the coordination and skill required for the task. The Instructor models a half turn and a backwards glide and the girl with the pink sweater and silver clip in her hair repeats the action effortlessly. Again and again she twirls and glides smoothly and confidently across the ice. Some of the others watch and try to emulate this young prodigy, and the girl with pink hair beams a smile back at them as she twirls and glides in sync with her Instructor. To this young, talented girl the Instructor gives a smile and a nod as She skates past to help another less talented girl (also wearing pink) who has just fallen against the rail… powerless to right herself.

The Instructor herself is a woman in her mid thirties. She has hair as black as ebony which is neatly pulled back in a low ponytail. She has a slight build and is all grace and beauty as She glides effortlessly amount Her children. She has a kind and attractive face and though She smiles, you can sense that She has known hardship and sadness. Perhaps being among and guiding these children gives Her a joy that is deeper than most people can understand and teaching these children to skate is the only thing that really matters to Her…. perhaps…. perhaps…..

Perhaps She is like God to these poor sad little children who are trying so desperately to skate.

You think back, and fill in the rest…

There is a smile on Her face as She stands on the side the rink and watches the ice smoothers erase the marks made by the poor, wretched skaters. Every missed turn on the ice. Every hand-print from stumbling. Every gouge from a fall. All smoothed over under Her gaze. The ice is made like new. Tomorrow the children will skate on a clean slate, smooth as glass … and white as snow. And this makes Her happy. Thank you God that this makes you happy.

Oh, and to get here I took a bus from Krakow, Poland to Lviv, Ukraine. There I crossed town and boarded a train bound for Chernivtsi, Ukraine. Here I transferred to a rickety bus that rumbled over the border to Romania and landed me in Suceava. From Suceava, I hopped another bus bound for Bacau. In this area I spent a half week with the kindest Romanians in this large world. Thanks Dragos, Nina, Alen, Solene, Luminitsa, Andre, Silvio, Andrea, little Luca, Elijah, Wana and her family and Irina for showing me what hospitality means. I am truly indebted. (and sorry for misspelling your names) I was dropped off in Bucharest by Wana’s husband today and I took the trolley across town to this mall in the southwest part of the city. Here I found a food court. In this food court I encountered a black, vinyl table surrounded by ergonomically-designed white, plastic chairs … and a skating rink.

-Weaveroftales

 

The Beast in Me?

February 12, 2011


It’s too large and surreal a morsel for my mind to swallow. Atrocities such as happened at Auschwitz, Birkenau, and the Jewish ghettos of Krakow aren’t supposed to be digested by the sane human mind. I, however, spent the better part of today walking on ground where some of the most unspeakable and vile acts in human history occurred. It is estimated that 1,100,000 men, women, and children lost their lives in Auschwitz.  I just can’t come to grips with those numbers. It happened here, right here on this ground I tread upon. My eyes are moist as I type this. I wouldn’t term myself as emotional… and today rocked me.

I think that if a person walked into a large room and that room was half filled with the hair of murdered Jewish women, thousands of pounds of it, and that person wasn’t emotionally jarred… they would be a monster. They would be an unfeeling monster if they stood in a gas chamber where thousands of Jews were murdered… for no reason… and looked at the scratch marks on the walls and weren’t shaken to the core. They would be a horrible, unforgivable beast if they stood in a crematorium and looked at a chimney that once belched the ashes and smoke from the burning corpses of innocent human beings — murdered in cold blood – and not be torn.

How could a Nazi soldier (admittedly human on some level) work every day at a place like Auschwitz. I kept asking myself that all day as I saw more and more of the atrocities that were commonplace here. How could you not be physically sick all day at an operational death camp. My skin was crawling and the place has been abandoned for more than half a century. I know that there were many German soldiers who didn’t know fully what was being perpetrated by their leaders, but there is no way that was the case with anyone that worked at a death camp like Auschwitz. I couldn’t help the growing sense of disgust and hate I felt for Nazis the whole day. I think had I confronted one today, goose-stepping down the road, I would have had an overwhelming impulse to jump him with my bare hands. I can’t imagine the depth of emotion that was felt at the time by the Jews, Polish, American and Russian soldiers liberating the camps, and everyone else with a sense of decency or connection to the situation. I can’t help but be reminded of the rant in the HBO miniseries  “Band of Brothers” delivered by Private Webster at a string of passing Nazi POWs, “What were you thinking? Dragging our butts half way around the world, interrupting our lives. For what, you ignorant, servile scum. What the are we doing here!?”

Contrastingly, yesterday I viewed the a sight where an absolute good was committed…in the same period… by a Nazi. I walked the halls of the Enamelware factory of Oscar Schindler. The same building stands today, as stood during WWII, on the outskirts of Krakow. Here over a thousand Jews were employed by Schindler and thus saved from certain death at Auschwitz… saved by a Nazi spy, turned businessman, turned unlikely bastion of humanity. In the morning I watched the powerful film Schindler’s List and then I promptly walked 15 minutes down the road and saw the real thing (talk about making history come to life, phew).  In the movie a contrast is drawn between the unspeakable and cold brutality of Amon Goth (Director of Plaszow concentration camp) and the man Oscar Schindler who couldn’t abide such brutality. One man turned his conscience off and one couldn’t. One was capable of absolute evil and depravity, the other of absolute good. In the movie Schindler discusses what made Goth the way he is and points out that if it wasn’t for the war and what it made Goth, they might be very similar men. It chills me to think what a man absent of conscience is capable of and the thin line that separates us from becoming that man… Is that beast in me?

As I walk the streets of Krakow I am amazed. These sad and ancient edifices have seen history in all its raw brutality. Most of the buildings found in the old town were standing when the Germans rolled down the streets in their tanks. They stood as Jewish families were forced from them and herded into the ghettos. Their empty windows saw train load after train load of Jews and Polish leave the Krakow station for Auschwitz… and then the same trains cars return… empty. And yet things go on here now like any other town. Hostels are booked, restaurants are frequented, groceries are bought, buses are ridden, people laugh and love… life happens. The dichotomy of the human race is astounding. Forgive us… for we know not what we do.

-Weaveroftales

 

The Heist

February 2, 2011

The Heist

As I walked down the steps of Mao’s mausoleum (or Maosoleum… I slay myself) in the amply guarded Tiananmen square, the idea for the next great heist movie hit me. It could star Matt Damon, or maybe Nicky Cage (we’re on a nickname basis, no pun intended) with perhaps Owen Wilson or Will Ferrell in a strong supporting role. It could be called The Great Mao Heist, or perhaps  Mao Money Mao Problems. Maybe you’ve guessed the plot, but for those who haven’t, you might not know that Former Chairman Mao is visibly interred in a highly guarded mausoleum off the south side of Tiananmen square. His body has been preserved through some combination of science and wizardry and a person can stand in line and pay his/her  respects… or disrespects… to his glass entombed person if they so desire. I think there’s  great material for a comedy heist movie somewhere in this situation. Maybe the Ocean’s crew could tackle the job or the guys from Weekend at Bernie’s, or a combined taskforce from both movies. Morbid though it may be, I just couldn’t help envisioning someone wheeling  old Mao out in a wheel chair, maybe wearing a guards uniform and sunglasses. Then later trying to fence Mao on the black market (I bet he’s worth some money, I wonder how much). If I tried to post this blog from inside China, I would probably be hunted down and shot or forced to eat dumplings till my death, or some other such fitting punishment for impugning the holy name of Mao. I’m in Russia now though, so… nana nana boo boo.

Oh, the Great Wall WAS Great, and the Forbidden City… not so forbidden (but still impressive).

To get to my current location in Russia we have been using rail service. Once particularly well known rail service known as the Trans- Siberian Railway. To be exact there are two lines out of Beijing, neither of which is the Trans-Siberian in its entirety.  To do the whole ”trans-siberian” proper you need to go from Moscow to Vladivostok which  takes something like 9 days I believe. The Trans-Manchurian goes from Beijing through the northern Chinese city of Harbin and into Russia where it joins up with the regular T.S. on its way to Moscow. Then there’s the Trans-Mongolian. This route, as you might have guessed, takes you from Beijing straight through the heart of Mongolia and dumps into the T.S. proper just below lake Baikal and the siberian city of Irkutsk. This last route is the one that sounded most interesting to our 24 year old minds, and so now we find ourselves on the 6th and final day of our Trans-Siberian Train ride.

We first bought a ticket from Beijing to Ulaanbaatar, which is the capital of the wild and wooly country of Mongolia. Truly the wild west of Asia, I couldn’t help but get the feeling that Mongolians are cut from a more ancient and coarsely woven cloth than the rest of us. The men are seemingly hewn from the frozen tundra that they tread upon. They are thick, heavy handed, squared jawed, large framed beings that were custom made for herding yaks… or mammoths… and living happily in one of worlds more extreme environments. (one evening at about 10 I  checked the temperature and it read 32 F… below zero). The Mongolian women (at least some) possess a certain wild and stoically-vibrant beauty that I found enchanting, maybe reminiscent of the sort of beauty I imagine John Smith must have seen in Pocahontas (corny analogy, but effective).  However, unlike John Smith, I won’t be bringing any back on the “boat” with me… sigh. Our time in this supremely alluring country was all too short as the whistle of the Tuesday train to Moscow called our names. That said… I will be back.

And so the clack, clack , clack of the rail continues into the early morning yawn of a Russian winter. It’s remarkable to me…this train travel business. Here I’ve been sitting in this little apartment for 5 days since Ulaanbaatar, the wintry world whizzing by as we are whisked whimsically westward without a want in the whole wide world. Every few hours I step out onto the platform and inhale deeply the biting Siberian air. I do pushups and pull-ups. I read and watch a movie or two. I sit and chat for hours with new friends from Sweden about things that matter… and things that don’t. I stretch out full length on a bed in a cozy apartment. And all the while Bjorn and I have traveled across the continent of Asia from east to west and into Europe. If watching the world go by doesn’t bore you (and it doesn’t me), and you have the time (and we do), I am wholly convinced that train travel is perhaps the most enjoyable way to transport yourself from one place to another. And so, we are.

There is a lot of details that I want to share, but I don’t really have space… so I’ve decided to re-instate the “Interesting things for People who find them interesting” section from my previous Africa blog, for now at least. And so, without further ado…

Interesting things, for people who find them Interesting – Spotsiva (sp) is “thank you” in Russian * The Black market (called the Zoc) in Ulaanbaatar is known the world over as pickpocket central, sadly Bjorn and I didn’t get to experience this bit of culture as we left with all our money * Lake Baikal (passed on the train) in Siberia is the deepest lake in the world * Bottled water more than doubles in price from east to west in Russia * Sink Showers, if executed correctly, are almost as good as real showers * Many Mongolians live in small, circular, cloth-covered shacks called Yurts and some burn yak dung for fuel * Ulaanbaatar surprised me with its modernicity (dibs on coining that word) * The national sport of Mongolia is a form of wrestling where the two opponents, dressed in colorfully flamboyant bikini/ shawl ensembles, try to throw each other to the ground… most entertaining. * Togrog (besides being an exceptionally cool word) is the national Mongolian currency and about 1250 of them is worth a dollar (sorry Heidi) * that’s all… for now.

-Weaveroftales

 

The Weariness

January 23, 2011


A weariness has crept in. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, it has crept through the back alleyways and convoluted passages of my mind to the core of me. Here, this subtle but insidious disease has been dulling my appetite for the now, numbing my powers of appreciation, and slowly gnawing at the foundational characteristics of travel and discovery I hold so dear. I can’t be sure how long this has been going on for, but it has only now reached a sufficiently detectable mass.

The gradual downward spiral happened by such minute increments that I wasn’t even the one first to detect my lapse in thought process. My dear sweet mother recently wrote me an email pointing out a trend in my writing. She said that , of late, my blog had lacked much of its characteristic intuition and reflection and sounded merely as though I was stating event after meaningless event in a disconnected manner, and besides that the whole thing sounded “weary” (said in true Jeanie Weaver fashion, and I love her for it). My first internal reaction was to recoil at such criticism, after all, at least I put the effort in to get a blog up. But, when I really gave this critique a chance to settle and blossom into something I could use, I realized that my mother had hit on a truth. I felt weary, after a fashion, of travel.

Upon further examination, I think the root of this “weariness” (my mother’s words) is seeded in the ungratefulness that can, and does, creep into any life, at any point. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, who you are, how much money you have, or how blessed or fortunate your situation, without a bit of perspective, anything can be taken for granted. Therefore over the past few days I have been consciously seeking a bit of perspective.

Perspective wrangling (as attempted by Jeremy Weaver) is a subtle art, and it can easily be confused with listlessness by the casual observer, but I believe that to simply be a function of me trying to see me from a different and healthier perspective. A couple days ago I was getting into the book of James and I came across a verse that I have often heard, but which now has a shred of new meaning. Paraphrased, it admonishes one to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger. I think this is an excellent formula for gaining perspective. In my case, I would substitute the word “anger” for “weariness” (my mother’s word). Rolling with the biblical advice, one of my favorite verses in the bible is Paul telling the Philippians to ask for peace from God,  but to do it specifically with thanksgiving, and if you do it in that manner, you’ll get some sweet Jesus peace that will blow your mind (in a fully righteous way).  Sounds like perspective to me.

So here are some situations and nuances of my recent life that I have “thanksgiving” for.

Train travel: I have always had a romantic notion of what traveling across country in roaring, clacking train car must be like, and consequently I have always wanted to spend time doing this. Over the past week or so, Bjorn and I have been easing into this mode of travel and I must say that it hasn’t disappointed. It’s seems to me a sublimely subtle way of travel. One can experience the same day-dreaming, stair-out-the-window, aspect that something like car travel would afford, but it seems train tracks inevitably cut through more desolate, raw, and beautiful countryside that a typical highway. One is also afforded the leisure of getting up and walking around, or stretching out on a cozy little cranny –of- a- bed, in turns if desired, as the huge hulking beast clicks and clacks down the tracks and mesmerizes its contents into a particular brand of childlike wonder I have only experienced, as yet, during train travel. We will be on the Trans Siberian before the week is out and can’t help but  feel the giddy excitement of a 5 year old, in a subdued and “ahem” mature way of course.

Beijing Subway Sardines: This is a real game played by hundreds of thousands of Beijingites every day during rush hour. The aim of the game is to see how many people can be packed into one subway car without someone dying of suffocation, or getting a crushed lung. When the sub pulls up to the station, regardless of the amount of humanity that has already been compacted into the car, you are expected to throw yourself at the writhing throng  of persons that it literally bulging out the open doorway. It seems humanly impossible that another soul could wriggle its way into this mass, but it IS done, to the amazement of physicists the world over, time and time again.

As the doors to the subway close, quite literally ON people, there are designated people stuffers dressed in yellow garb that physically compact people into the cars and close the doors before they come spilling back out onto the platform. It whole scene reminds me of a cartoon character trying to close a suitcase that obviously has well over the prescribed amount of fodder. They jump on it, stomp on it, push it until they can barely get the clasp done and then they hope and pray it doesn’t come undone before they reach their destination. I think this largely how the Beijing subway station works. I think some sort of sorcery must be involved though because, like Marry Poppin’s Handbag, there seems always to be room for one more. One nice feature is that you can, and people do, sleep standing up in the subway without fear of falling over. I firmly believe that if a person died in the Beijing subway during rush hour, they would still make it to their destination standing up.

Language barriers: I know this doesn’t sound like something I should be thanksgiving about, but there was a hilarious bit of role reversal in this department recently that I’d like to share. Normally, I assume I am constantly offending people because of some inappropriate word, gesture, or act I commit that happens to be taboo in their culture. Last night though, I was approached by an ashen face Chinese girl of about 21 (girl or woman?) who had earlier checked me in to this very hostel. She was apologizing for some terrible offence she had committed me, but I couldn’t understand, nor did I remember, what this atrocity was. However, after a minute or two of thought I suddenly bursting out in a fit of laughter upon realizing what she THOUGHT she had said. As she checked me in, and after finding out that I was American, she commented that she loved the “Sandy Beaches” of Florida. I probably gave her an odd look as I didn’t really understand what she said at the time, and she must have taken that odd look as me taking offense to an egregious mispronunciation on her part. If you still don’t get it, say “Sandy Beaches” while holding your tongue. The miscommunication was inevitable perhaps, as there do happen to be a number of sand-ridden female dogs in Florida.

…And so I give thanks for the small joys… and hopefully shed some weariness at the hands of perspective.

-Weaveroftales

 

The “Homecoming”

January 12, 2011

It’s interesting to note how traveling for 7 months around the world changes one’s perceptions on things like: daily routine, home, and, “normal” thought processes. Take the second one for example.

We left Chiang Mai on the 29th of December for the Thai/ Laos border at Chiang Khong/Huay Xai respectively. Huay Xai is a lovely, out-of-the-way, border town on the Mekong River. The sleepy feel of the town is augmented by the friendly Laotian faces and slow pace. There is no bridge connecting the two countries here. To cross the border one must check out of Thailand, take a long-tail canoe across the Mekong for a dollar, and then walk up the banks on the other side to the Laos border checkpoint. All in all a pleasant and unique border crossing.

After spending one night at the Friendship Guesthouse (inviting name I thought) we were away on an 8 hour bus to the southern Yunnan city of Jinghong in China. The northern, mountainous Laotian countryside was as breathtaking as it was windy (like curvy, not breezy) and due to the curvaceous nature of the road we enjoyed a soundtrack of mighty chundering, provided generously by a motion sick Laotian, as our bus bumbled down the bumpy road.

At the Laos/China border it was as if we had passed through a wormhole in time and space and warped ahead 50 or 100 years. The bamboo huts abruptly turned into high rise concrete and steel buildings. The bumpy one lane road turned into a beautifully manicured highway, instead of being surrounded by Asian looking people we were surrounded by… more Asian looking people (not being racist, I just have a hard time differentiating between the Asian features, though I will say I’m better at it now than ever before). And strangely enough a feeling of familiarity, almost, but not quite like coming home washed over me.

It took me quite by surprise. I wasn’t prepared for China to feel like home, but inexplicably it did. My explanation for this is that this is the first time (aside from going through the US) that we have looped back to a country we had previously visited on this same trip. The smells, sights, and sounds were familiar, as of a couple months previous, to our senses and I suppose this triggered the overwhelming feeling of home, literally halfway around the world. Weird.

We spent a night in Jinghong, China on the banks of the same Mekong we had previously crossed in Huay Xai, Laos and somewhere in the night a flurry of fireworks ushered in the New Year with a fitting snap, boom, bang. The next morning I actually got the opportunity to watch the ball drop via skypeing with my family because of the time difference. It was definitely the most unique New Years I have ever had, which could probably be said of most of this year.

The next evening we were bound on a sleeper bus from Jinghong to Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province. Here in Kunming we have been given real reason for China to feel like home and this because of the Warsavage family. Ted and Cindy Warsavage, as well as their 12 year old daughter Emily (who will be a finalist on Jeopardy one day or I’ll eat my shorts) are living here in Kunming and are related to Bjorn, though Bjorn had never before met these wonderful people. We were invited to stay with them during our time here and ever since we arrived on their doorstep we have been treated as one of the family. The hospitality in this household… unbelievable. Believe it. Cindy should be a hospitality professor at the leading Hospitality research center in the world (someone should make one of those). She is like the mother Teresa of Hospitality, which I guess makes Ted the Gandhi of Hospitality, and Emily is… going to be on jeopardy someday.

They have immersed themselves deep in Chinese culture and have many Chinese friends which has given us sort of an insider’s perspective of the country. The first night we were invited to eat at Sam and Lillian’s house. They are a Chinese couple, friends of the Warsavages, who used to own and run a restaurant in Shanghai. This gives you some idea of how good the food was and the Chinese humility and hospitality we were shown was staggering. We were set in the living room in front of a table of oranges, walnuts, sunflower seeds, cookies and all manner of other delicious snacks. Then we ate and talked while Lilian prepared something deviously good in the kitchen. After we had sufficiently stuffed out faces with the pre-food we were ushered into the dining room for the “real” meal and it was at that point that we all wished we hadn’t stuffed our maws already. During dinner we discussed such intricacies at the concept of “Face” in Chinese culture and severely tested the limits of our stomachs.

Then there is Elizabeth. She is a 22 year old Chinese girl who works as a translator with Ted and has been our resident tour guide since we arrived. She’s taken us to a cave/theme park, a Hot springs (that has different “flavored” pools such as: milk, lime, mint, strawberry, rose, etc.), and yesterday to one of the most unique and interesting markets Bjorn or I have ever been. Here one could purchase (if one was inclined) such things as: snakes, frogs, crocodiles, clothes for your kid, any manner of fruit or vegetable spice or grain, a hat, some shoes, any tool you would want, or perhaps even a whole skinned dog to eat. It’s called the dragons head market and if you are even in the vicinity of Kunming, GO.

Today we are sad to be packing up and moving north to Panda infested Cheng du, but it is inevitable. However, before we go, we’re gonna get a crack at some good old fashion Asian Karaoke. Elizabeth should be here any minute. And the adventure continues….

-Weaveroftales

The Christmas

January 6, 2011

I got some excellent advice this morning in an email from my older brother Justin. He was quoting the words of the immortal Colonel Sherman T. Potter of Mash 4077 who said, ” If you’re not where you are… you’re no place.” Though this advice is true it is difficult to follow at this time of the year. I am in Chiang Mai, Thailand. But I’m in South Lyon, MI too.

I did, however have a pretty unforgettable Christmas dinner.

Scott Kabel has come to visit Bjorn and I from Taiwan and the three of us found ourselves wandering through the brightly lit stalls and loud voices of the hawkers at the Chiang Mai night bazaar this Christmas night. We were feeling a bit devoid of commercialism and I guess we were looking for our fix. Food was on the brain and as we searched for a suitable purveyor to fill this need we ran across a street stall that fit the bill. (Mainly because “the bill” would only be 30 baht) After searching in vain for a better deal on Pad Thai and looping back around to our original find, we ordered our Christmas supper and sat down.

We just happened to sit at the same table as two american girls (wonder why we chose that table) who hailed from Scott’s home state of New York. This was already shaping up to be a good Christmas meal for a number of reasons when a couple wandered in and joined us at our open air table on the outskirts of the market. This couple just happened to have been on the same bus as us on our trip up from Bangkok, and I had since run into them a couple times, so they felt as close to family as anyone in Chiang Mai. We were now a table of 6, thrown together as a makeshift holiday family… and the laughter echoed off the surrounding buildings.

By the end of the dinner we had been regaled by thrilling stories, enlightened by literary critiques, entertained by a nefarious looking clown (Bjorn ended up with a balloon-heart/teddy bear contraption), and danced for by a troupe of pseudo rocketeers (the gender of which is left open for question), and to top it all… a game of  “Contact.”

I tell you all that to tell you this. That even though I dearly miss a white (snow, not race) michigan chrismas, God saw fit to provide all of us with a little bit of a christmas family right here. Praise Him from whom all blessings flow. No matter how strange they be…. and the advice of Sherman T. Potter rings true.

There is now a great changing of gears in the giant machine that is our trip. We are shifting from the relatively slow gear of spending time in southeast asia to full steam ahead. Our sights are set on Athens, Greece. Our route will take us north through the wilds of western China to the Trans-Siberian railroad and the frozen doorstep of a Siberian winter. Our Grecian deadline is February 10. Buckle up. We’re going to try and be weekly about this blogging thing.

-Weaver of tales