Viking lore like roaring falls
Plunge deep in rocky chasm
Viking lore like roaring falls
Plunge deep in rocky chasm
Waters from great Skógafoss
Put Iceland’s beauty on display
Rugged land like no other
Heady mix of fire and ice
Volcanoes dormant still remain
Glaciers blue with water pure
Give life to all the huldufólk*
But hidden elves will not show
Unlike the stars in Arctic sky
Snow falling to the ground
Hides footsteps in the plunging mist
Secrets guide the long departed
** — Huldufólk are the legendary hidden people of Iceland.
“Reality can bring more than physical pain. Sometimes, reality can crush the heart.”
Harold dropped his ballpoint pen onto the slightly damp paper that rested on the flat, pitted surface of the ancient desk. In another place, the paper would have been crisp, but not in Sierra Leone. The desk looked like it was a long disused movie prop from when Humphrey Bogart starred in the black and white movie, Casablanca.
Like much of West Africa, humidity was high through the entire year, although there were many months when it never rained. The Sahara Desert played a huge part in the weather patterns, and during the dry season everything would be covered in a fine red dust. The red dust would seep into the very pores of your skin and the simple bucket baths only gave a few minutes of relief.
His shirt, trousers, and even his undergarments were damp from sweat. The sun’s unrelenting heat was never mitigated, and the best you could hope for was a bit of an ocean breeze to bring some relief at night.
Night brought its own terrors. Bugs, mosquitoes, and spiders the size of your hand seemed to double in size when the generator ran out of gas in the middle of the night. Resting on a damp sheet on top of a damp foam mattress, Harold knew the only think that provided some form of protection was the mosquito netting that surrounded his sleeping area. But, he also knew that the African rats scurrying around his room in the pitch blackness could easily chew through the cotton fibers if they so desired.
Yet, the humidity and the lack of modern conveniences were far from the man’s mind as he glanced back down at the paper in front of him. Yesterday’s events had rocked him to the core. The reality of being in a foreign country only brushed the surface of the depth of feelings and emotions that coursed through his body. Harold was certain that his life was forever changed simply by getting on the airplane, but only time would tell how much it had changed.
The taxi driver would be here soon to collect him and deliver him back to Lungi International Airport. It is the only international airport in Sierra Leone, but was not actually in the capital of Freetown. Freetown was across the bay but was a quick ferry ride from the town of Lungi where he was staying at the Mahera Beach Hotel.
Thoughts raced through his brain, but he found there was nothing more that he felt he could write. All he could think of was the lesson young Foday Koroma had taught him.
The last week, Harold had stayed in the small town of Moyamba, which was about a three-hour drive to the east of Freetown. A group of missionaries were teaching local pastors how to teach their own congregations about the Bible, but were also providing much needed services to villages. This included teaching the locals about bee-keeping, better irrigation methods, and improved hygiene.
Apart from a couple of trips to nearby villages, Foday had lived in Moyamba all of his thirteen years. Thirteen was not a clear number though as he had been orphaned during the brutal civil war. He had been passed from house to house but nobody knew exactly how many years had passed. Harold thought the boy might actually be fifteen or sixteen for the lad was the same height as the white man who had become a friend so quickly.
Foday’s schooling had been minimal at best and Harold guessed that the boy might read at a first grade level. Every day, Foday waiting for other youngsters to get off school or come back from the pineapple farms so they could play football, or soccer as Harold liked to call it.
With a little convincing, Foday managed to get Harold to come play with them. Too many years had passed since Harold played sports of any kind, but he had tried to keep up. Blaming it on the extreme heat of the tropical sun, Harold only managed about ten minutes before explaining that he would have to go sit under the tree on the edge of the football pitch.
An hour later, the game finished. Foday and his companions said goodbye to each other, and the young man came to sit with Harold under the tree. His lithe body glistened brightly with sweat as though it had been covered with oil. Grinning widely, Foday was happy for his side had won quite handily. From what Harold could tell, it was not really much of a contest for Foday was quite good with handling the ball at either end of the field.
“Mr. Harold, I will miss you when you go. You are good friend.”
Harold remembered the lump that came to his throat as he thought about his upcoming departure. Each day seemed like an eternity in a tropical torture chamber, but the people had made a huge impression on him. People like Foday were kind, gracious, and eager to learn of new things.
Harold simply nodded to his young friend as they stared across the grassless, dust-covered patch of ground that doubled as a village meeting place and a football field.
Looking back at the lad, he noticed the boy taking quick glances from the man’s tennis shoes and back to his own feet. Harold would not have dared to say anything and poverty was evident everywhere in Sierra Leone.
Foday’s black feet glistened through several holes in what remained of the ragged shoes. The boy’s shoes had probably been passed from person to person until given to Foday. They did not even have any shoelaces. How he managed to keep them on his feet, even while playing football, was amazing. Yet, he did and he was clearly one of the fastest in the village.
Something stirred within Harold’s heart and he asked the boy if there was anything he would like as a gift.
Foday thought for a moment and pointing at his friend’s feet, he responded.
“Mr. Harold, if I had some nice shoelaces like yours, I could run even faster when I play football. Do you think I could have your shoelaces?”
Harold sat stunned into silence. It was obvious both of them wore about the same size shoe, but all the boy wanted was the shoelaces to help hold the rags on his feet together.
Any resistance that may have been harbored in his heart toward the people of Sierra Leone evaporated like the jungle morning mist before the tropical sun. Tears had filled the man’s eyes and without a moment’s hesitation, he reached down and carefully undid the shoelaces on each tennis shoe. Slowly, he took off each shoe and handed it to Foday.
It was Foday’s turn to be stunned. He could not believe the miracle that had just taken place. All he wanted was shoelaces, but now he had a pair of tennis shoes that looked brand new. Putting them on, the grin on his face grew even larger than Harold thought possible. The lad felt prouder than if he had been elected as the next village elder.
From Harold’s perspective, the shoes were an older pair that he had brought at the last minute, but was now glad that he had done so.
Back at his hotel, Harold thought through every moment of the interaction. It was burned into his mind as though seared by the hot African sun. Putting the pen back in his damp pocket, Harold knew that it was not just Foday that had impacted his life. Every person, every smell, every plate of food, everything he had seen had changed the way he would look at life.
The reality of life in Sierra Leone caused physical pain to many, but the reality of what he had experienced had crushed his heart. It was not crushed beyond repair, but was crushed from the hardness that he may have felt toward others. It had crushed his need for the finer things of life and he knew he would forever be grateful for everything he owned, which was so much more than Foday and millions of others would ever own themselves.
All because of shoelaces!
Some aspects have been changed to keep individuals anonymous.
Originally from England, I have had the privilege of living on three different continents, have visited almost twenty different countries, and hope to visit many more places.
One thing I found prevalent in every country is that the ugly idea of prejudice is alive and well on planet earth.
Prejudice is defined as a “preconceived opinion(s) that is (are) not based on reason or actual experience(s).”
Visitors to England come with preconceived opinions about the food or the people. It may be something as innocuous as thinking all British food is bland or that all Brits stand around Buckingham Palace waiting for a personal invitation from Her Majesty the Queen while eating another portion of fish and chips.
Foreign visitors to the UK think that we intentionally drive on the wrong side of the road just to confuse the rest of Europe. However, the truth is that Brits know how to drive on the CORRECT side of the road and that one-third of countries around the world also drive on the left side of the road including countries on the continents of Europe, Asia, South America, Africa, and the entire continent of Australia. But I digress.
When we moved to Liberia, West Africa, we attempted to fit in with the culture and lifestyles of those we taught on a daily basis. It was a vain attempt for the primary reason that unless you were raised from birth in a particular culture, it is impossible to live exactly like the local populace.
A second reason why we did not fit in is because we were very white or light-skinned compared to every single one of our neighbors. This is a problem because everybody not only sees you as different, they KNOW you are different. You are NOT one of them. The result is unfair trading practices that would never be allowed against foreign visitors to the USA. Rent or housing is generally much higher, as are basic commodities like food, utilities, etc. In many countries, there are “local prices” and then there are the “white man prices.”
Arguing and becoming bitter though will not accomplish anything because you must remind yourself that you are NOT in the USA. Things are different in every single country in the world and unless you were born there, you are to some degree a foreigner.
In this context, foreigner is simply being defined as “a person born in or coming from a country other than one’s own.”
Understanding this basic reality will help make or break your stay in whatever country you have chosen to live in. If you are a European living in Asia, or Asian living in Africa, or African living in the Americas, it is still incumbent on you to learn to live within the rules of whatever country you have selected as your primary domicile.
This is where Americans have sadly become the laughing stock of the rest of the world. My thoughts here do not obviously define every single American, but my travels have revealed the sad reality of the Ugly American syndrome.
Wikipedia defines the term “Ugly American” to “refer to perceptions of loud, arrogant, demeaning, thoughtless, ignorant, and ethnocentric behavior of American citizens mainly abroad, but also at home.”
Let’s give a few examples –
1. Going abroad to a country that speaks a language (normally other than English) and expect them to learn your language to make life easier for you.
There is a rich vastness of human language that will increase your knowledge by simply making attempts to try and learn a local language. It will endear you to many of the native population and enrich your own travel experiences.
By the way, speaking louder than normal in English with animated gestures will not make you any easier to understand, but will simply peg you as an Ugly American.
2. Going abroad and expecting the locals to act like America is a huge faux pas that will not only upset your hosts, but will just make you an Ugly American.
There is no country in the world that is just like America. Conversely, there is no country in the world that is just like Azerbaijan, Armenia, Botswana, Cambodia, France, Ghana, India, New Zealand, or any of the almost 200 different and distinct countries of this little blue ball we call Planet Earth.
3. Going abroad and reminding your hosts how much better things are in your home country will not make you flavor of the month.
The fact that you even have the funds to visit a foreign country means you are wealthier than a fair portion of the populace in the country you are visiting. Visiting other countries, or even living in a country other than the one where you were born, is a privilege. It is not a right. You are, and will always be, a visitor in some way or another.
4. Going abroad and flaunting your money is an unforgiveable error.
When we lived in Liberia, it was considered to be the fourth poorest country in the world according to the United Nations. The average person lived off of less than $1 (USD) per day. For those who could get work, it would mean working 12–14 hours per day for that amount of money.
Our family had to learn quickly how to go about helping others and disbursing our own funds. We were obviously more well off than any of our neighbors and they never expected us to live off $1 (USD) per day. However, we did try to make sure that we lived within our means without becoming an Ugly American.
I remember while in Liberia staying in a home where we had an African American visitor come for a visit. It was his first time to West Africa. In fact, he admitted that he had never even visited a country outside of the US. He was in his mid-30s. Everything he said and did quickly became an offense to Liberians and it was painfully obvious that he was just intent on being an Ugly American. To him, the food was horrible, the room not cool enough, and there was never enough that was being done for him by the locals. He complained about everything and though throwing more US dollars at select individuals would help him be more comfortable and live just like he was in America.
5. Finally, going abroad and not using common courtesy will make you an Ugly American.
This is actually quite simple. Ask. ASK. And then, ASK again if you want to do something like — take videos or pictures of the local cuisine, of the locals, of buildings, of anything. Some countries have taboos about you taking pictures. In some places, you may find yourself breaking the law simply because you think you are entitled to point a camera at whatever suits your fancy.
Sadly, we can even find Ugly Americans in America. We were at a church years ago and had a Ukrainian choir come for a visit. It was their first time to ever leave Ukraine and this was shortly after the fall of the Iron Curtain. The pastor of the American church did a brief slide show and made fun of the food he had eaten while visiting their country the previous year. He talked about how bad the food was and that he was glad he finally found a place to buy a hamburger. The Ukrainian choir had given their best while he visited them, but it was not good enough. Many in the congregation laughed along with the pastor while the Ukrainian visitors hung their heads with shame and embarrassment.
After the church service, the members put on a huge potluck lunch. The Ukrainian visitors had never seen so much food and a couple of them even commented on the amount of food that was being thrown away in the trash. In the end, all many of them could see were Ugly Americans.
In conclusion, there is a rich heritage in every country, in every language, and in every culture. People in other countries are proud to show off their country and what they have to offer. Here are a few helpful tips that will make your trip more enjoyable.
1. Learn from others.
2. Enjoy the experiences.
3. Travel the world.
4. Practice using a few words in other languages.
5. Don’t disappoint them by being an Ugly American.
6. Be respectful.
7. Remember that you are like a goodwill ambassador of America wherever you visit. Act accordingly.
I have always loved the sound of an LP playing on the record player. For youngsters reading, just Google it. It is kind of like a CD but several times bigger and to listen to an hour of music normally involved turning the LP (or record) over halfway through your song selection.
My British uncle retired from the Royal Air Force after playing the trumpet for several of the RAF bands throughout England, Germany, and in various places around the world. I have just about every album of every band that he played in beginning with his first around 1970–1971 when he was stationed with the Southern Band of the Royal Air Force.
There was a wide selection down through the years that were recorded. These include: The RAF Band in Germany played movie themes, while The Western Band of the Royal Air Force offered a special arrangement of well-known classical pieces.
One of my favorite items that I owned as a teenager was a big record player console. It was a piece of furniture. As much as possible, it had one volume setting — LOUD!
Fast forward to the present and one of my sons obtained a nice little record player box from Sam’s Club. He and my wife promptly went to a local music store and he purchased several old albums including some nice Christmas selections as well as several Glenn Miller recordings.
I must say that the kid has good taste. I taught him well.
My girls who will both be teenagers this year often see me moving to the music and keep asking my wife to dance with me to the crackly tunes of the Big Band Era.
My feet get to tapping when I hear the strains of Chattanooga Choo-Choo, In the Mood, or Little Brown Jug come out of the little box. It just makes me want to get up and sashay across the floor — with my wife.
This last Sunday, I got up early as usual and put on another Glenn Miller album and turned up the volume a notch or two. Considering we had just lost an hour of sleep, I thought that Moonlight Serenade might be in order; however, everybody was still asleep. What I thought about doing was picking up the phone to dial Pennsylvania 6–5000 and ask my wife if she wanted to wake up and come into the living room so we could cut a rug together.
She did wake up, and came to the living room where I pretended that I was asleep in my easy chair. But I had not fooled her because one of my girls had already gotten up and had seen my feet tapping to the sound of trumpets and jazz.
Standing to my feet, I put one arm around my wife, took her hand in mine, and proceeded to waltz around the floor. She dipped while I tried to sashay. She swung around while I tried to shimmy in my best James Cagney or Bing Crosby impersonation.
That’s when I learned the sad truth.
I can’t even make a serious attempt at pulling off a Carlton Banks dance from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. The truth is that instead of looking like a graceful pair of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, my form looked more like — well, the above picture will give you an idea.
At least nobody else saw us and we still had fun!
Rarely do I find anything nice to say about the TSA. Thanks to the events of September 11, the overzealous efforts of Congress, and the willingness to surrender more of our freedoms, Homeland Security began to make life much more difficult for travelers.
Personally, I resent the intrusions imposed on American citizens simply using airlines as a quick mode of transportation from one part of the US to another. However, I do have some appreciation for the protection airport security seems to have provided in keeping terrorists from boarding airplanes again.
Strangely, those same terrorists though can still just walk across a very unsecured border from Mexico into the US or from just about any part of Canada into the US as well. But I digress as that would be a story for another day.
In 2012, our family moved from Liberia, West Africa back to the United States. As we prepared to depart, we checked our bags and entered the Duty Free Zone at the Roberts International Airport located in Monrovia. While there, we availed ourselves of one last shopping experience as we purchased several Liberian artifacts from the various shops.
One of my purchases was a very nice walking cane that had been carved by a local artist. It was carved out of one of the hardwood trees that are found in abundance throughout West Africa. Before making my purchase, I asked to verify that there would be no issues in getting my cane through customs as we made our way first to Europe and then back to the US.
Assured that there would be no problems, I purchased the beautiful walking stick and we prepared to board the plane.
Nobody said a word to me about the cane and one or two stewardesses even commented on the beauty of the hardwood as well as the artist’s skill.
Arriving in Brussels, Belgium, we proceeded to walk through the entire airport for about five hours. Not once did anybody stop me or ask me if the cane was some kind of a weapon. Common sense prevailed and again I had a couple of staff members comment on how nice a cane I had. At no point did I attempt to walk with it. There was nothing on the bottom to prevent it from slipping on the tiled airport floors and it was really only for decoration.
We arrived back to the US and landed in an airport on the east coast. Disembarking, we had to get all of our bags, go through Customs, and then to make our connecting flight, we had to recheck our bag and go through Security again.
Remember, I have been carrying my new West African cane through three different airports on three different continents. Not one time did anybody question me about why I was carrying this cane with me. Not one time did any police or soldiers follow me and wonder if I was going to attack somebody with my prized possession.
Having already been up for way too many hours, we did not want to have to deal with another inconvenience, but had no choice.
Finally arriving at the front of the line, the TSA staff member took one look at my cane and said, “You cannot take that with you on the plane!”
She was NOT rude about it, but simply had a job to do.
I asked what I was supposed to do with it. Her response was that I would have to check it in and it would go into the hold of the plane. However, I knew full well that somewhere along the way that my exquisitely carved cane would disappear and would never make it to our final stop in Memphis, Tennessee where we had family waiting to pick us up and welcome us back to the US.
I graciously told the TSA staff member that I was not prepared to put my nice new cane and asked why there should be a problem. I told her that we had now crossed three continents and three airports without one concern.
She looked at my wife and I for a minute and responded.
“The only way that you can take the cane on the plane is if it is a medical device.”
I looked back at her and said, “But it is not a medical device.”
She paused, looked at my wife again, and spoke again but emphasized a few words.
“Sir, the ONLY way that YOU can take the cane ON the plane is IF it is a medical device!”
My wife nudged me as she caught on a little quicker than I had done. “Sweetheart, she is saying that you have to use it as an actual cane.”
Not wanting to be dishonest in anyway, it was true that I had been sick in Liberia. In fact, one of my daughters and I had almost died. While I did not use the cane to walk around, it often hurt just to walk. My joints ached from the ravages of severe cases of typhoid and malaria, but I did not want to mislead the TSA staff member either. While in Liberia, I did have to use a walking stick regularly to help support myself at times while on the various roads and trails in the jungles.
“Yes, I can use my cane as a medical device.” I informed her hoping that with such a declaration she would let us pass and we could board our fourth and final flight.
The TSA staffer said, “Sir, in order to let you take the cane on the airplane, I will have to see you actually using the cane as a medical device or aid to walking.”
The bottom of the cane was slick wood and we were on a slick tiled floor. By the time I was done demonstrating my “need” for a cane, I probably would need a real cane or a wheelchair.
However, not wanting to lose my cane, I decided it was best to oblige. With a few slightly exaggerated limps, I sashayed, glided, and attempted to do-ci-do across the TSA Security enclosure while making sure that I did not slip, fall to the floor, and crack my head open.
With a wry smile, she responded. “Yep, looks like you definitely need your medical device. Have a safe trip!”
It was all I could do to keep a straight face as I used my medical device to limp my way around the corner and away from the TSA area.
I still have that cane and every time I see it, it reminds me of the day that a West African cane was allowed to beat TSA at their own game.
To the kind, unnamed TSA staff member, “Thank you and walk on!”