Tuesday, November 29, 2011


After we arrived in the Dominican Republic in April 1985, we promised Dakota and Tina they could each get a pet. Tina found a beautiful black kitten she named Carbon (accent on the last syllable in Spanish, meaning coal). Dakota wanted a puppy.

From Voluntary Nomads, Part Six: Dominican Republic Dramas, Chapter 23, here is:


Our vet told us about a breeder he knew whose pair of boxers had just produced a litter of ten. He gave me the address and phone number and I called to set up an appointment for Dakota to see the newborns and pick one.
Dakota chose the only brindle puppy. I could see the love in his eyes when he looked up at me as he stroked the tiny head. "I'm gonna call him Spike."
A few weeks later, Spike was weaned prematurely when his mother stopped lactating. We brought Spike home and bottle-fed him. At first the adorable little fellow needed extra care to overcome his poor beginning as the runt of his litter. Technically Spike belonged to Dakota, but most of his treatments required adult-level skills. Who better than Mom to fill in? While Dakota and Tina studied at school and Fred worked at the embassy, Spike and I consulted with Dr. Nova.
Between visits to the veterinary clinic, Spike and I stayed at home. I administered the medication for the calcium deficiency that made his legs too weak to hold him up, and I rubbed him with the ointments prescribed for his mangy skin rash. His artistically cropped ears needed daily bandage changes as well. I wiped up his little puddles and other housebreaking mishaps when Dakota wasn't around to perform that chore. Spike also depended on me to protect him from Carbón the cat, big enough to overpower the awkward little puppy.
By the time Spike was six months old, he had outgrown his puppy problems and developed into a healthy dog. At the end of every busy day, when I sank into my rattan rocker, Spike appeared, pushed against my hand to demand a vigorous butt scratch, then plopped down beside me. He rested his plush chin on top of my bare foot and gazed up at me as I stroked his head until he dozed.
One evening after we had assumed our usual positions, Spike jerked awake and jumped up. He sniffed the air in all directions and trotted to the dining room. I followed to see what had aroused him. A gray-brown blur scurried along the wall and froze in the corner. No doubt in my mind, the intruder was a rat, possibly a refugee from the vacant-lot-cum-garbage-dump across the street. I intercepted Spike, swooped him into my arms and scrambled up onto the top of the dining room table.
Spike barked. I screamed. Fred, Dakota, and Tina ran in.
"Let the dog go!" Fred's shout echoed in the high-ceilinged room.
"No, no, the rat might bite." I clutched squirming Spike closer to my chest.
The rat took off, scrabbled for footing on the slick terrazzo floor, and headed straight for Dakota's room. Tina jumped up on the table beside me and buried her face in Spike's shoulder. Fred and Dakota shot us withering looks, strode to the bedroom, and slammed the door.
Muffled thumps, grunts, bangs and thuds sounded across the hall. Spike whined and quivered in my arms as the bedroom door swung open. In one hand Fred brandished Dakota's tennis racket. In the other he clamped the tail of a limp, blood-streaked rat. Beside him, Dakota cocked his baseball bat and mimed a home-run swing. I wished I could apologize to Spike for spoiling his fun, but if Fred and Dakota couldn't understand my motives, how could the dog?
After our hunters disposed of their quarry and embellished their tale a few more times, we calmed down. Spike curled up with his head on my foot as if to say, "No hard feelings, Mom." ###

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Saturday, November 26, 2011

Leaving Mogadishu

Although no one knows what the future may hold, I doubted that I would ever have the chance to return to Somalia. Unlike the camel in the photo, I had to look forward, not back, and prepare for our move to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

Leaving Mogadishu

With the assignment cable in hand, we could start making plans. I brought out the calendar. ASM classes started in August; we would leave Mog in early October; our home leave in Texas and New Mexico would last six weeks; in January Fred had to report to Washington for training, consultation, and Spanish classes; our arrival in Santo Domingo was expected in April. This program looked like fun but maybe not the best plan for school age children.
I didn't want Dakota and Tina to have to change schools four times in one year. I did some research and found out about the Calvert School in Maryland. Calvert School offered home schooling materials with optional teacher support by mail. I signed us up for the whole deal – fifth grade for Tina and sixth grade for Dakota. If successful, my master plan would keep them up-to-date with their studies and able to enter the appropriate grade in Santo Domingo for the final term of the school year.
We asked around and learned that many families faced with the same problems would choose to split up, the wage earner going his way and the spouse and children spending the intervening months in their home of record, until time to show up at the new post when they would reunite. We scoffed at that idea, a practical solution perhaps, but not our style.
I turned my attention from education to logistics. Embassies usually contract with local moving companies to pack employees' household effects. Somalia didn't have moving companies as we know them, so the job reverted back to the employee, or, in most cases, the employee's faithful (or even unfaithful) spouse.
Before I started packing, though, I had to go through the sorting process. Airfreight, sea freight, accompanied baggage, items to discard or give away – our fifth time through the familiar old routine.
As soon as GSO delivered the stacks of packing boxes and packing paper, Dakota got to work. He packed all of his possessions the first day.
In his words, "I figure you'll be needing my help with the rest."
I did need his help as well as Fred's and Tina's. Our team effort finished the job on time and resulted in no breakages whatsoever. Can't say the same for all packers, even the professionals.
We sweated as we worked on our packing at home, and the kids and I sweated at school. ASM had no power for three weeks after a backhoe operated by Somali road crew demolished the school's power pole. An emergency generator ran water pumps to keep the bathrooms functional, but the school had no lights, fans, air-conditioning, computers or electric typewriters.
Tina said she didn't miss computer class at all. Fred asked her why.
"I don't think computers are necessary for my chosen profession."
"And what is your chosen profession, Miss?"
Fred laughed and said he imagined that Tina thought a typical housewife lived in a fine home, had lots of cuddly babies, and told the maid to fix lunch.
As we left Mogadishu, we carried away fond memories of many exciting experiences. But our final adventure in Africa happened during the taxi ride from the Nairobi Hilton to the airport to catch our midnight flight to the States. It was a moonless night, velvet black beyond the reach of the city lights. The hum of the tires and the cozy warmth of the cab almost lulled us to sleep, but the taxi's abrupt stop in the middle of the road bounced us awake. Across the yellow beams of the headlights streamed a parade of phantoms. A herd of wild zebras strolled across the highway, taking no notice of the insignificant intruders in their kingdom. Goodbye, Dark Continent, and thanks for the picturesque farewell salute. ###

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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Farewell to Shark's Bay

Fred and Nancy at Shark's Bay

"Where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise," according to poet Thomas Gray. I cringe at the thought that we lived our lives according to that principle, but when I remember Shark's Bay....

Farewell to Shark's Bay
(from Voluntary Nomads, Part Five: Somalia Safaris, Chapter 21)

On the trip back to town, passing Shark's Bay, Fred drew our attention to the unusual number of cars parked on the beach. A few months earlier the trip to Shark's Bay had been simplified by the construction of a real road. The Somali government built a highway to reach a prisoner-of-war camp down the coast from Shark's Bay, and the road passed close enough to the beach to give access to any kind of vehicle, including ordinary passenger cars and motorcycles. Shark's Bay became a popular recreation destination, no longer our private beach. With the shine of adventure removed, our trips there had become less frequent and we hadn't been there in months.
Fred signaled Buddy to stop, and we walked to the beach to see what was going on. People gathered in small groups. There was not a single person in the water. The absence of laughter and happy beach noises left a disturbing void. Buddy approached one of the groups to ask what had happened. He learned that a shark had attacked the teenage son of an Italian diplomat. Two other men yanked the boy from the shark's jaws, but not before the shark had bitten through his leg. Friends had carried the victim to their pickup truck and raced off toward Mogadishu, but the truck spun out in the sand and rolled over, throwing the injured boy out of the truck bed. With the help of bystanders they flipped the truck onto its wheels and went on to the hospital in Mog. We heard later that the victim's family arranged to fly him home to Italy for further treatment, but he died before the plane reached Rome.
In the following weeks we heard another horror story about a family who had invited a friend of their eight-year-old daughter to go to Shark's Bay with them. A shark attacked and killed the daughter's friend, biting her poor little body in half.
I couldn't count the number of times we had played in the water at Shark's Bay without ever worrying about sharks, much less seeing one. I wondered if the new road had brought so many people to the beach that the sharks took notice. Someone told us that the sharks were Zambezi River Sharks that had adopted an alternate migration pattern.
We knew about the danger of sharks on Mogadishu's city beaches. No one from the international community dared to wade in the water near town where aggressive sharks attacked in the shallows (except for the two German men who were killed on the day of their arrival, without getting a chance to hear the warnings). Mogadishu had become a busy port through the destruction of a protective reef. The sharks had unobstructed access to the offal dumped into the harbor by the large-scale meat processing plant located there. Now the sharks had discovered our former paradise and it would never again be the safe playground we had enjoyed so much. ###

There's more to the story than just these excerpts -- find the whole adventure in Voluntary Nomads in paperback at Amazon.com (click here ) and Barnes & Noble online (click this ) or digital versions for Kindle, Nook, Sony, Kobo, iReader, all in one convenient location at Smashwords (click now ), or download the PDF for your PC or laptop at Outskirts Press (click away ). So many choices!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Bad Luck?

*Today's excerpt from Voluntary Nomads, Part Five: Somali Safaris, Chapter 20.

Bad Luck?
I've heard the saying that bad luck comes in threes. How about sets of three? A spate of misfortune seemed to begin with my first and only visit to the corner tea hut.

Tea huts were common on street corners all over town, residential neighborhoods as well as commercial zones. From a distance our corner tea hut could be mistaken for a wind-blown gargantuan tumbleweed. Its stick and thatch physical construction may have been haphazard, but the social network was tightly woven. Gate guards and domestic employees stopped by every day for a glass of hot, sweet tea and a bit of gossip. Dakota was a frequent patron too; he bought candy there.

"Mom! Come on – I gotta show you something.'" Dakota pulled me by the hand and dragged me out of the house, through the gate, and over to the tea hut.

I followed Dakota into the dim interior, aware of a sudden dampness in my armpits. A dark shape flew at me and dug its claws into my hair and the back of my neck and shoulders. My flailing and screaming only made the thing strengthen its grip. I ran outside. The creature on my back screeched as loud as a demon from hell. Something limber and rough scraped across my calves as I twisted and turned.

"Mom! Mom! Stop!" Dakota couldn't catch up with my spinning flight.

The tea man rescued me. Why was he laughing at my terror? He grabbed the hemp rope that had been slapping my legs and reached toward me with his other hand. My attacker launched itself from my head to the arms of the tea man.

"See? It's only a monkey, geez." Dakota tugged his cap down over his eyes and scuffed his boot in the dirt.

The monkey sneered at my disgrace. I had never felt more foolish.

I slunk home and retreated to the bathroom. I snorted at my reflection in the mirror – red face, wild hair, torn shirt. A shower would fix me up, I thought. But there was no water.

Muttering expletives, I marched outside to check the water pump. Dead as the proverbial doorknob, this was the sixth water pump to burn out in the nine-month life of our new water system. I was too frustrated to notice any numerological significance of the six and nine, multiples of three.

While we waited for the installation of a new water pump for the house, our car broke down. I cleared the dining room table to make room for another session of gasket making. Fred assured me that the file folder and duct tape replica would keep the car running until we could get a replacement water pump from Nairobi, just as Dave's gasket had done the year before. Fine, I thought. What's next? ###

To find out what's next, get Voluntary Nomads at your favorite retailer. The paperback is available at Amazon.com (click here) and Barnes and Noble online (click this). Or you can download your favorite digital version at Smashwords.com (click! ) or Outskirts Press (click now ).

*Monkey photo courtesy of Free Digital Photos.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Charge of the White Rhino

In the spring of 1983, after a rough period filled with grief, illnesses and mishaps, Fred took action to cheer us up. Read this excerpt from Voluntary Nomads Part Five: Somalia Safaris, Chapter 19, to find out what happened:

Charge of the White Rhino

Fred came home from work one afternoon and handed me a tan government transmittal envelope, printed on both sides with lines and spaces for the date, the recipient's name and office designation. The last line read, "Date: April 5, 1983 – To: Nancy, Dakota, and Tina – Subject: SURPRISE!" I fumbled with the waxed cord that wound between two closure disks on the flap. Inside were four tickets to Nairobi, Kenya.
"I figured we deserved a get-away vacation during Spring Break."
I answered with a smile, a hug, a kiss and a whooping cheer that brought the kids running to see what was going on.
Fred whetted our appetites with an enticing description of the superb breakfast buffet at the Nairobi Hilton. I could almost taste the pink strawberry milkshakes, sweet golden pineapple, and crusty fresh bread (without the ever-present weevils found in local loaves).
Fred brought out the photos from his TDY in Nairobi five years ago and we talked about all the animals we might see. I looked forward to the chance to reunite with Barbara Koch, the embassy nurse who took such great care of Tina when she had quinsy in Cameroon. Fred had already called Barbara at her new post at the embassy in Kenya and she promised us another treat – a guided tour of Nairobi National Park.
For our trip to Nairobi's game park, Barbara borrowed a Land Rover, a large sturdy four-wheel drive vehicle with bench seats front and rear as well as jump seats in the cargo area. Barbara drove, Fred sat next to her, I shared the back seat with our picnic supplies, and our kids perched on the rear jump seats to take advantage of the great view out the open hatch. We chatted steadily, making up for lost time, while keeping a sharp lookout for animals. Barbara stopped first for a mother monkey sitting in the middle of the road nursing her baby. The monkey watched us watching her. She gave us a bored look after a few minutes and sauntered off into the bush. We moved closer to the river to observe a fat hippo basking in a sunlit pool.
On the next slope, we spotted three giraffes nibbling tender young green leaves from the high branches of an acacia tree. Their nimble blue-black tongues and limber lips slipped around and between the sharp acacia thorns and captured bite after bite of leafy nutrition.
(click here to find the audio clip that tells the rest of the story)

Monday, November 14, 2011

Motherless Child

Thinking of Mom

My mother died of heart failure at the tender age of 62 and I mourned for her in the sand dunes of Somalia. Mom left us almost 3 decades ago, but this year brought a surprising gift of closure with my story's validation as grand prize winner in a contest and selection for the beautiful anthology Wisdom Has a Voice: Every Daughter's Memories of Mother 

From Voluntary Nomads Part Five: Somalia Safaris, Chapter 18, a very brief glimpse of a much longer scene:

Motherless Child

Of course I expected to be sad. I didn't expect to be overcome with paroxysms so fierce they turned my body and my spirit into one wrenching spasm. I remembered the overpowering contractions of childbirth as I suffered the agony of motherdeath. But there was no gain in this pain, only loss. Grief overwhelmed me at odd moments, once in the middle of a ladies' luncheon at the home of the DCM. One second I was talking about the batch of new educational video tapes donated to the school library, and the next second I was sobbing into my napkin. There was no logic in it. Waves of sadness ebbed and flowed in a tide that bore no relationship to my conscious thoughts.
When I thought about my mother, I regretted never telling her that I understood why mothering was a difficult role for her. She had been traumatized at the age of two when a stroke killed her mother. Her only memory of that time was the painful one of being held over the coffin in the parlor and forced to kiss those cold, hard lips. From age two to eleven, she lived in an emotional limbo with her withdrawn father and stoic German maternal grandmother. When she was eleven, her father hired a housekeeper, a "widow" with a one-year-old daughter. Within a year, the housekeeper became Mom's stepmother and Mom lived her adolescence like Cinderella, chastised for leaving dust on light bulbs or forgetting to take the washing down from the clothesline.
I wished I had encouraged my mother to seek help for her depression. As a child I felt responsible for her moodiness, but try as I might, nothing I did made her happy. My childhood, indeed my whole life, was dedicated to being good, to pleasing my mother and taking responsibility for the happiness of everyone around me. I tried to be perfect, as if that could cure all ills. The burden of guilt warped my childhood, fueled my decision to study psychology, and spurred me into therapy in my college years. But I never discussed depression with my mother.
If we had ever had a heart-to-heart, I would have told Mom that I loved her. And I would have praised her intelligence and her accomplishments in business, art, and music. But Mom was gone and I could only mourn her passing and the lost chances to mend our tattered relationship. ###

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Friday, November 11, 2011

Hunting for Hippos

Transport to Adventure

Reports of a pod of hippos sighted in the Shabelle River a few kilometers from Mogidishu inspired a group of expats to organize a day trip to see for ourselves. From Part Five: Somalia Safaris, Chapter 17 of Voluntary Nomads here we go ---

Hunting for Hippos

The Kilometer 25 sign was missing, but Dakota's sharp eyes spotted the jeep track. Past the turn, the primitive road wound among trees about two miles to the place Fred's colleague had mapped to show us where to look for hippos. As our trucks slithered along in the deep sand I remarked on the lush growth of vegetation. Trees and bushes crowded the track and branches scraped a shrill screech along the sides of our vehicles. Rounding a long curve we saw our destination – a clearing among the trees, the perfect place to park and picnic.
While Jo Ellen, Flynn and I brought out the coolers and unfurled our picnic blankets, the rest of the group went off on various missions. Fred and Margie bushwhacked toward the river, hoping to locate the hippos and find a satisfactory observation post. Hippos are dangerous, unpredictable animals. So are their neighbors, the crocodiles. Because our group of children ranged in age from five to eleven years, we needed to take extra safety precautions. Like the animals, kids can be unpredictable at times.
Before joining the other kids on a sweep of the picnic area to gather kindling, Tina had an urgent request. She stood on tiptoe to whisper in my ear, "Mom, I have to pee."
"Me too. Let's head for the bushes."
We had learned about the benefits of wearing a skirt as the Muslim women did for modesty. A skirt also provided more privacy for impromptu pit stops. We found a clear spot in the thicket. Together we lifted skirts, lowered panties, squatted, pulled panties out of the line of fire, and tinkled. As we finished and began readjusting our clothes, I heard Fred calling our names. A sudden eruption of wild cacophony answered his shouts.
Crashing and thrashing and hooting and barking drowned out Fred's voice. I looked at Tina. Tina looked at me. We both looked for Fred.
Fred stood still as a statue. An agitated baboon faced him, pounding his chest, barking and yakking. Long sharp fangs glistened in his wide red mouth. He lunged at Fred in short bursts, threatening again and again. Louder and louder he shrieked and hooted. Tina closed her eyes and covered her ears. I wrapped my arms around her. Fred stood his ground.
The baboon flashed his eyelids at machinegun speed and yawned wide to show his teeth. Fred squared his shoulders and straightened up as tall as a superhero. Baboon and Man locked eyes in a stare down.
I held my breath. The long minute stretched taut until the baboon broke his gaze and pierced the silence with one last loud yak. He leaped sideways and crashed away through the bushes.
Fred ran to us and we dragged each other, trip-stumble-run, to the picnic site, looking behind, feeling baboon eyes on our backs. When we felt safe again among our friends at the picnic area, we tried to figure out what had happened. I thought the baboon objected to us outsiders making "marks" on his territory. Tina believed the baboon saw us as predators and was trying to scare us off. Fred decided the baboon had fallen in love and wanted Tina and me for his harem.
After lunch the group sat around the fire, roasted marshmallows, and reflected on the day. Each one in turn described a favorite experience. Tina was the last to speak. With the wisdom of an eight-year-old she said, "Well, I guess you never know what might happen when you go hunting for hippos." ###

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Tuesday, November 8, 2011


True Nomads

We headed for Somalia with National Geographic pictures dancing in our dreams. Reality woke us up.

When we left Washington on that Tuesday afternoon in October 1982 we expected to spend the next two days in Rome – one day for sleep and one day for sightseeing. But at the end of the seven and a half hour flight from New York to Rome, we learned that our hotel reservations were for the previous night, our airline reservations for Mogadishu had us leaving that very night, and there were no hotel vacancies for even a quick nap. Fred phoned the communicator at the embassy in Rome who offered to let us rest at his house, but the distance to his neighborhood precluded that plan.

My head ached and I strained to think of any alternative to ten hours in the airport (with a nine-year-old and an eight-year-old). I felt like sitting down on the floor and crying. Before I could fall to pieces, Fred remembered the Satellite Hotel in Ostia, where we had stayed on our way home from Cameroon. He called and reserved the only room they had left. There, we napped, had dinner (our cheeky waiter refused to serve us unless Dakota removed his cap) and got ready to take the hotel bus back to the airport for our 11:00 PM flight. The bus arrived late and by the time we checked in, the only four seats together were in the smoking section. It was hot, stuffy, and fumey for five and a half hours to Addis Ababa and an additional two hours onward to Mogadishu.

I watched my family close their eyes, one after the other, Tina, then Dakota, and finally Fred. I envied their slumber while I squirmed and shifted in futile search of a comfortable position. My head grew heavy and my neck felt thin and brittle. Every time I fell asleep, my falling head jerked me awake. I fantasized about an airline seat equipped with a velvet band to wrap across my weary forehead and tether me to the headrest of my seatback. With interruptions for take-offs, landings, food service, and loudspeaker announcements about seatbelts, Fred and the kids got about three hours of sleep to my one, and not enough for any of us.

My first view of Somalia from the airplane window had the intensity of an acrylic painting -- deep aquamarine water met brilliant white sand reflecting searing sunlight, the sky neon blue and streaked with feathery clouds. As I stepped out of the plane onto the mobile stairway, I brought my hand up to shield my eyes from the blinding light. Dry, clear air replaced the stagnant airplane smaze, and I inhaled with pleasure.  I filled my lungs with freshness, such a relief from the second hand smoke that dominated the last eight hours. The air felt charged with ozone and spiced with the perfumes of frankincense and myrrh.

Fred's co-worker Tim and his wife met us at the gate. They explained that they were not allowed to accompany us into the arrival lounge but would meet us outside afterward. The embassy expeditor Hajji Hussein, dressed in a flowing white robe and crocheted skullcap, stepped forward to guide us. We expected him to flash our diplomatic passports and ease our way past the formalities in the manner to which we had become accustomed.

A gray metal door opened into bedlam. Screaming, gesturing, shoving madmen crammed every square foot of floor space in the gymnasium-sized arena. Fred moved close to Hajji Hussein and got a firm grip on Dakota's hand. With Tina in tow, I stepped up behind Fred and wrapped my fingers around the back of his belt. I kept my head down and avoided making eye contact with anyone, especially the wild sixteen-year-old boy soldiers waving their fully loaded AK-47s and shouting unintelligible commands above the din.

Hajji Hussein pushed, shoved, and shouted his way through the mass of bodies. We trailed behind like the tail of a kite. Our destination appeared to be at the center of a siege by hundreds of raving lunatics. Who were these people and what were they doing in this restricted area? ###

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Next time: more from Part Five: Somalia Safaris

Saturday, November 5, 2011

A Marathon is 26.2 Miles

Nancy at Christchurch

My daughter, Tina, ran her first marathon last month in a blazing time of 3:55. As I watched her finish, I remembered my best marathon -- the Nike, City of Christchurch Marathon in New Zealand -- in 1982.

From Voluntary Nomads, Part Four: New Zealand Yarns, Chapter 15:

A Marathon is 26.2 Miles

The City of Christchurch course was as beautiful as any could be. Starting and ending at the Queen Elizabeth II Stadium (site of the 1974 Commonwealth Games), it followed the River Avon, cut through Hagley Park on a cycle path, went out to the airport, and returned by reverse route.
For Fred and me, this was the last chance to run a marathon before leaving New Zealand; in fact, since we would be spending the next two years in Somalia, this could be the last marathon opportunity for quite a long time.
My training for this one went well. I put in six runs of twenty miles or more and another seven runs of two hours or more. Also, I ran a fast half-marathon (2:00:45) on a hilly course just before starting the training program, and I finished a 10K race in 48:38 halfway through my training.
The weather turned out to be fairly decent: 4 – 8 degrees C (about 40 F), mostly cloudy with intermittent rain, and a light southerly wind (behind us coming home). I wore maximum clothes for running: tights, shorts, long sleeved turtleneck, singlet, rain jacket, hat and gloves – and I was comfortable while others who dressed lightly suffered from the cold.
I found my groove and ran the first half at a pace I felt I could maintain forever. I caught up with two fellows and settled in to enjoy their company. As we three ran along, talking about running and training, I heard a cheer aimed at me for "the rose between two thorns." We passed the halfway point in 2:08.
When my younger companion surged ahead and the older guy dropped back, I concentrated on maintaining my rhythm. I started to overtake some of the runners.
After the 40K mark (almost 25 miles), I went on passing people; no one seemed to be in real distress, just plodding along. Before entering the stadium I shrugged off my jacket so my race number would be visible. I waved at three silhouettes standing at the top of the stadium, absolutely sure they were Fred, Sue and Geoff. I realized two days later that not one of those three would have felt like climbing all those steps after running 26.2 miles.
Once on the track inside the stadium I picked up the pace and strode out against a chilling wind. Fred and Sue stood there on the sidelines cheering me on (Geoff huddled in a blanket indoors near a heater). I crossed the finish line triumphnt.

After collecting our gear we four athletes shuffled as fast as we could to the car and then to the spa pool at Sue and Geoff's motel for a nice hot soak.
I puffed up with pride when I thought about my 4:17:15 finish. I beat my 4:20 goal and felt like Queen Kong.
After lunch and a short rest, Fred and I went to the awards party for supper and disco – and we had enough leg power to dance the night away. It might have been due to the dancing that my legs weren't stiff at all the next day. Left knee, left foot, and all toes were tender and two right toes burned with small but painful blisters – the only battle scars.
Finally the long-sought-after perfect marathon experience was mine. Even though it took three tries to get it right, it was worth it. These New Zealand marathons, three within eight months, polished my character and reinforced my self-confidence in ways that have run deep and true for the rest of my life. ###

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Wednesday, November 2, 2011


Dakota, always charming
Chapter 14 in Part Four: New Zealand Yarns follows us to Fiji on vacation during school holidays in 1981.


On the way to Rakiraki we stopped at the Pacific Harbour Resort, one of the most popular tourist attractions in Fiji. We toured the mock native village and watched demonstrations of typical tribal dances. We walked through the animal collection and discovered a show in progress.

Two animal handlers fed mangoes and other fruits to several giant fruit bats. These bats were as big as Chihuahua dogs, their sharp teeth quite intimidating up close. A reticulated python starred in the animal show. The animal handler selected Dakota from the potential volunteers and brought him center front, then draped the python around Dakota's shoulders like a stole. The handler turned to the audience and went on talking about pythons, their habitat, diet, and hunting style. Dakota stood still as a statue while the snake's head rose slowly, tongue flickering, moving across Dakota's chest toward the opposite shoulder. The handler answered questions from the audience and didn't notice the snake's progress.

When the snake's eyes were even with his collarbone, Dakota called out in a desperate whisper, "Hey, Mom, can you tell them to take it off me now?"

Leaving the Pacific Harbour Resort behind, we drove on to Rakiraki where we shopped for groceries before catching the launch for Nananu-i-Ra. We knew that our cottage had a refrigerator, so we bought the usual breakfast cereal and milk, bread, a selection of canned goods, some fresh tomatoes, a plentiful supply of beer, and four pineapples. I can't say why we bought so many pineapples for a three-day weekend, maybe they were cheap, but I do know that we ate them all and relished every juicy bite.

The launch, barely big enough to carry us and our baggage and groceries, dropped us off at our landlord's dock after a 30-minute trip across calm water. The landlord showed us around the simple cement block cottage and explained that the fridge operated on kerosene and a generator would provide electricity for lamps in the evening from six to nine o'clock.

While I put the groceries away, Fred and the kids went out to check the seashore. Dakota scavenged a length of fishing line and a hook from the rocks near the dock. He cracked open a few small clams for bait, put on his mask and fins, and snorkeled around in the shallows. By dangling his baited hook in front of tasty-looking fish, he managed to catch enough for our supper. I hope I praised him for his remarkable ingenuity. I kept returning to the same thought, this boy of ours is not quite eight years old and he can put food on the table. ###

Voluntary Nomads is available in paperback at Amazon and Barnes and Noble and in all Ebook formats at Smashwords as well as in PDF at Outskirts Press