Prairie View

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Round and Round and Spilling Over

I can hardly believe I'm doing this.  According to what I've read recently, this is how men usually process grief--by going over the details of what happened, rather than exploring the emotions connected with the event.

It's like this:  when the possibility was first mentioned that Dad may have died BEFORE his vehicle collided with another, I resisted the idea.  It seemed too much like grasping for straws that might make Dad's actions look more excusable.  I believe in sticking to facts and letting the chips fall where they may in matters like this.  The more I learn, however, the more plausible it seems to me that a medical event actually preceded the accident, and that Dad was likely at least incapacitated before the collision, if not already snatched away to heaven.

Let's get the hearsay component of this scenario out of the way right now.  This needs to be checked out further, but a witness reportedly said that Dad drifted into the intersection rather than stopping and proceeding as he would normally have done.  (We have not seen the accident report that might include this detail if it actually happened.)  That detail meshes with some other details that are on the record.  The news reports said that he failed to stop--not that he stopped and then pulled into the path of oncoming traffic.

Dad had a torn (ruptured) aorta, as shown in the autopsy.  The aorta supplies blood to the lower part of the body.  It is the largest blood conduit of all.  Initially I thought it's quite unlikely that this ruptured spontaneously since Dad routinely had low blood pressure readings.  Then I learned that at the last doctor's visit his reading was 172/88, which was higher than before.  It did not cause the doctor a lot of concern, but he suggested that it be monitored for several weeks.  That did not happen, since the family member who has the equipment and skills to do that was dealing with medical issues in her own household and it required travel elsewhere.  I suspect Dad's blood pressure continued to stay elevated and perhaps became more so.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the medical investigator on the scene said right away that Dad's upper body color was not typical of an accident victim (it was purple), and his facial cuts did not bleed as such cuts normally do.  Both of these manifestations can occur if the blood supply to the upper body is cut off--even in the absence of external trauma.  A nurse in our extended family once cared for a patient who died while in the hospital of a ruptured aorta.  The purple coloration was present in that patient.

Another bit of information is that Dad had an aneurysm in the aorta (a balloon in the wall) several years ago.  When his doctor saw it, he referred him to a cardiologist.  Before Dad saw the cardiologist, he requested and received anointing.  The cardiologist found no sign of an aneurysm.  "These things don't go away by themselves," he said.  Dad believed that the Lord had healed him.  I suspect that the same mechanism that produced the original aneurysm resulted in a rupture on the day Dad died.  People seldom recover from such an event, and it actually feels like a mercy that it didn't happen at a time and place where heroic medical measures might have been automatically undertaken--probably at great expense and to no avail.

Only yards before Dad approached the stop sign where the collision occurred he had successfully negotiated a stop and a right turn.  It seems unlikely to me now that he would not have stopped at the next stop sign if he was in full possession of his faculties.  He was absentminded, but failing to stop at all at this very familiar intersection seems out of character for Dad.

Does any of this matter?  Certainly it doesn't change the outcome.  Dad is as gone one way as another.  Yet I'm surprised at how comforting I find it to think that perhaps the violence of that crash of vehicles happened after Dad's spirit had already taken flight.  I don't think I fully realized how the means of death can complicate survivors' dealing with the death.  A violent death is just so very unpleasant to think about.

The full autopsy report has not been completed.  Initially I thought it would not likely give clear answers about the cause of death, since Dad had multiple injuries that would have taken his life.  Others, however, who know more about autopsy reports than I do say that it's often surprising what can be concluded from the available information.  So maybe we will know with more certainty than I initially anticipated.  I'll let you know whether I was on track here or not after that happens.

*******************

I have the worst cold I've had in a decade, along with a fierce cough.  I brought it home from Bangladesh and thought that it was finally improving last week.  Then it came roaring back.  I'm ready to be done with it--yesterday.  I can't cuddle the new grandson like this.  Not to mention I have so much school work to do, and so little energy to get it done . . .

Do I sound whiney?  I'm sure I do.  Pray for us.

******************

While Hiromi and I were shopping at Walmart on Friday evening (our one big shopping day of the year when Hiromi gets 25% off everything) a mystery was solved concerning the Hutchinson News article about Dad after his death.  We couldn't figure out why anyone thought to do such an article.

Right there beside the fresh vegetables, a gentleman asked Hiromi if he was David L. Miller's brother-in-law.  "No.  I'm his son-in-law," Hiromi said.  The man went on to say that he was the one who called the News to tell them they should do an article on Dad.  He must have noted Hiromi's name tag at another time at Walmart and made the connection from the obituary.  Otherwise, how would he have known to talk to us?

Quite some time ago he had been the managing editor of the News when Dad and a Knepp from Yoder and one other man whose name Mike Welch (as he identified himself when I inquired) came to the News hoping to get the help of the newspaper in de-mystifying the Amish.  Under Welch's direction they did several fairly extensive articles.  I suspect it was at this time that they did an entire section in a separate insert.  Mike was impressed that Dad apparently had the respect not only of the Amish in the Pleasantview area, but also Yoder.  I thought to myself and that was one of his smaller circles . . . little do you know , . . 

"I knew those people there now [at the News] didn't know who he [Dad] was," Mike said, "And I thought it would be a shame not to do an article."

Again, knowing how the newspaper article happened doesn't really change anything, but having mysteries solved is really satisfying.

I think this will be one of the delights of heaven:  mysteries revealed all over the place!




Thursday, December 01, 2016

Grandbaby Number Seven

Today our expected grandson arrived.  Ryker Owen Iwashige was born this afternoon to Grant and Clarissa.  He weighed 7 lbs. 9 oz.

Clarissa wrote in an email "And just like that, in 2 1/2 hours and very promptly on his due date [he arrived]."  The baby seems healthy and the mother is fine too.  We're still hoping to get a peek at him at home this evening.

If Dad had lived nine days longer he would have had a chance to meet two more great grandsons--Ryker and Cameron.

Cameron was born to Christopher and Rachel last Friday.  My brother Ronald is Cameron's grandfather.  

I love that God is sending us these wonderful reasons to rejoice during a time when sorrow is still fresh and hard.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Tribute Read at Dad's Funeral

Tribute to Dad: David L. Miller

Written by Miriam, Myron, and Lowell, with input from Linda and Caleb
November 27, 2016

Summarizing and reflecting here on our father’s very public life presents a challenge. We run the risk of countering the impressions of those who knew him themselves. Furthermore, we have acquired so much new information from what people have told us since his death that we’re second-guessing some of our assumptions about who Dad really was. Those stories have enlarged our context and given us many reasons to rejoice in his legacy. They are a comfort in this time of grief and we treasure them. What we offer here should be viewed as our family perspective, with the full awareness that any individual’s story extends far beyond their own family’s knowledge and interpretation. Further extension occurs in the form of influence. In light of this we are aware that Dad’s story is, in a sense, still being written by all who survive.

Dad loved the church and the community and almost everything he did reflected that, whether preaching or managing Farmers Market. Yet, he moved outside that context with ease and was never burdened with a sense that an Amish Mennonite should be hesitant to engage because of the "differentness." It didn't seem to occur to him. He advocated for Amish exemption from high school attendance in the 60's, which led all the way to an audience with the governor in Topeka. In about 2005 he gathered others around him and gained an audience with a legislative education committee to seek an exemption for compulsory kindergarten attendance. He contributed frequently to news venues that allowed reader input.

Dad was often asked to speak for others who felt inadequate to communicate what was needed. Often these people were fellow committee members, students, and reporters or other writers who had gotten Dad’s name and contact information. Sometimes they were people who were seeking understanding about our faith. After Dad spoke to a class at the junior college in Hutchinson on one occasion, the class agreed that if he had chosen a career as a diplomat, he would have been very good at it. On another occasion when he had testified in court, one of the attorneys on the case asked him afterward, mostly in jest, of course, if he wanted to join his law firm. These invitations to communicate did not only happen for people outside this immediate community. On one occasion, a young man from church was especially burdened about the spiritual state of an elderly friend who was dying. Even after a conversation between them, he wanted to be sure that his elderly friend was ready to die. He was reassured after Dad went with him for a followup conversation.

Dad always had time for people. Myron recalls that young people would sometimes come to visit Dad and remembers that on one occasion the visitor left with a smile and a spring in his step, only to return shortly, dressed to help Dad with his work. He recalls another youth referring to a conversation with Dad, concluding with the remark that his dad doesn't have time to talk to him. Several people have told us since Dad’s death that they regretted the lost opportunity to ask him questions they already had in mind to ask.

Dad enjoyed lively discussions and though he had strong opinions and was outspoken, he didn't feel personally threatened by opposing viewpoints. He was open–even eager–to listen to, and consider the expression and defense of contrary opinions. Caleb says that it was from Dad that he learned the sensibilities and habits of a philosopher. Dad was also very curious and, because of that, was good at drawing people into a conversation with genuinely inquisitive questions.

When he discovered something that interested him, Dad loved to share it with others. In later years, as his filter proved less discriminating, this mostly positive inclination sometimes proved to be less balanced and judicious than was the case in an earlier time. Even so, as evidenced by what we’ve heard since his death, people were still being blessed by his interest in their well-being and his desire to help people solve problems.

Dad was never more motivated and engaged than when he was processing good ideas toward the result of concrete actions. The origins of Conservative Anabaptist Service Program is a comparatively recent example. Surely his involvement in the earlier events surrounding the formation of Center Church locally, and missions and publication ventures in the larger church constituency reflect this characteristic as well.

Dad had a strong belief that personal, spiritual, and church life should be carefully considered, and that considering long time consequences was essential when making decisions. Short term conclusions based on current sensibilities was never sufficient for Dad.

In the memories that are being shared since Dad’s death, very few people have mentioned his work as a farmer, which was his means of livelihood. We note that the work he did largely without pay is almost entirely what is memorable to others–not his farming. Leaving his farming endeavors completely out of the picture would be inaccurate, however. In answering an interview question from someone writing years ago for a periodical, Dad articulated the “increase” aspect of farming that he found particularly enjoyable. He mentioned the birth of little ones among the livestock and the pleasure of a harvest from the fields.

Observing nature gave him pleasure also, and farming offered many such opportunities. Miriam remembers that the first time she was introduced to an Indigo Bunting was when Dad identified a brilliant flash of blue as it flew across the road in front of them. When Myron and Rhoda were choosing a site for their new house, upon being asked, he weighed in with a recommendation that they build the house in a place that offers a view of the sunrise and sunset. He missed this view after moving to town. A gift Dad treasured was a rain gauge that measured rainfall to one hundredth of an inch, and we all knew that recovery had begun when Dad called Myron from the hospital after cancer surgery to ask how much rain they had the night before.

Another aspect of farm life that must have appealed to Dad is that working with his hands gave ample opportunity for his active mind to sort through and organize his thoughts. In his sermons we sometimes heard the same snippets that we had overheard when he talked quietly to himself while working. Miriam remembers once when she was ill and sleeping on the couch in the living room, hearing a lengthy discourse on the centrality of Christ late at night when Dad returned from an Upper Room Fellowship meeting with inmates at the prison. That theme often emerged in later sermons. Even when Dad did not speak audibly, his active mind was churning along, making connections, arriving at conclusions, and forming complete sentences. Probably because of this he had a reputation for absent-mindedness as an adult. Hints of this characteristic may have been evident as early as three years old when a household helper noted that he asked questions incessantly.

Dad pondered the ethics of various farming practices, and in a Peacekeeper of the Year award that was given to him in 2004 by the Kansas Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution, Dad’s involvement in sustainable agriculture was cited among the ways in which he had earned the award. We suspect this farming label came as a bit of a surprise for what Dad had done simply as part of his commitment to good stewardship of the resources entrusted to him.

Frugality was another aspect of Dad’s sense of stewardship. In recent months, the soles on the shoes he wore every day had begun to detach. Linda reports that his remedy was to glue the shoes repeatedly. When his Sunday shoes were no longer satisfactory, some months ago he checked with one of his sons to see if he could buy a size to fit himself, but that wouldn’t go to waste later because, as he said, “I don’t expect to wear out this pair.” He was right. Those shoes are still in great shape, and Lowell stands to inherit them.

Frugality was probably the main reason Dad continued to prepare and eat his breakfast at home before he ventured out to the Dutch Kitchen to chat with brothers and friends. After several years of spending a lot of time at home with Mom in the final years of her life, and routinely preparing breakfast for both of them, Dad moved gradually again into circulating throughout the community. The Dutch Kitchen became a common morning destination. He also loved to attend community events and to visit with others in their homes. Some of those who will certainly miss him are those who benefitted from these visits. Dad considered a Sunday evening largely wasted if he didn’t make or receive a visit or have some event to go to.

From his recliner, alone and surrounded by stacks of reading material and a spiral notebook in which he wrote his Observations column and occasional letters to an editor, Dad’s conversations ranged far and wide via his telephone. He outlived many of his longtime phone friends, but others took their place. Some of his grandchildren often got a call from their grandfather. He frequently spoke by phone with two of his brothers, Paul and Perry.

Dad loved well those in his very large neighborhood. Those who were marginalized in various ways found acceptance with Dad, as recent shared memories reveal. Dad always loved children, and we imagine now that maybe our Heavenly Father introduced him to the great grandchild who was born since Dad’s death. He was eagerly awaiting this child’s birth. Dad’s first great grandchild says “I just can’t get Great Grandpa out of my mind.” His younger brother will miss the M & M candy Dad often shared with him and other little children after church. These toddlers and preschoolers provided a huge fan club for Dad.

Many of the rest of us echo Caleb's recognition that Dad embodied characteristics and ideals that have been thoroughly ingrained in us—so much so that probably we don't always remember that we acquired them from his instruction or modeling. For example, mental illness was never in a shameful category in Dad’s estimation. When one family personally encountered it for the first time, they took great comfort in Dad’s confident assertion that “it’s just like a broken arm or leg.” In other words, getting necessary help to move toward restoration is what is necessary–not fearful secrecy. Dad told a young lady outside the family who was about to be married that “Submission does not mean that you become a non-person. Men like women with opinions.“ That his children feel like they've always known these things is probably evidence of Dad's influence.

Dad had a great sense of humor, and especially enjoyed laughing at himself. Once while he was talking to a mother from a church in town, her young child turned to her and asked, “Isn't he handsome?” (Apparently her own father had just begun to wear a beard, and Dad's red beard had caught her eye.) As Dad told the story, the question put the mother in a very awkward position. “Maybe I'll just let you decide why that was the case” he explained once when he told the story. The mother rose to the challenge, however, and answered, “Why yes, in a rugged sort of way.” Dad loved the story.

All of us marvel at the vigor with which Dad lived until the end of his life. He just finished a mowing season in which he mostly did his own mowing with a push mower. He walked daily to the post office–a round trip distance of about one-half mile. The day before he died he attended a farm sale and declined a chair when it was offered. “I’m not as decrepit as some people think I am,” he protested. He had some official evidence for this. When Rhoda accompanied Dad to the doctor before his birthday in October, at one point the doctor shook his head and said something under his breath. When she asked him about it, he said it's "amazing" how healthy Dad is. He indicated further that he sees really good numbers with the blood work and he's in very good shape for being almost 89 years old.

About a month ago, during share time at church, Dad referenced three Scriptures as his personal testimony and Lowell took time to write them down. Dad then also expressed appreciation for the current leadership of Center church. These are the verses he cited:

Luke 12:13 And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.

Psalm 139:23 Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts:
24 And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Acts 24:16 And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men.

Within the past few months, when some of Dad's children were communicating with him about where we were in life, we wrote this: “Dad, this comes with warm-hearted appreciation for your influence on our lives. We appreciate your example of faithfulness to your calling in the past, even when it called for sacrifice and perseverance beyond normal expectations. You have often been perceptive about matters that were a puzzle to others, and you could clarify and articulate the essentials of these matters in ways that were a great help to everyone. You worked well with others and usually were able to sustain friendships even when there were disagreements. Many, many organizations bear the stamp of your visionary and inspiring input. It’s fair to say that they might never have been begun without your help, or they would have been less well-thought-out and less well-balanced without your steady hand on the rudder. Your vigor and usefulness extended well into old age–considerably beyond what most of us have any right to expect for ourselves.”

To his listening audience, Dad often referenced certain themes in familiar terms. We've repeated some of those themes in what we believe Dad would want to convey to this audience: In a shifting uncertain world we need to reaffirm our commitment to the One who is the same yesterday, today and forever, and to build on the things which can't be shaken. Life's decisions, individually and as a church, are best processed by taking the long look, and the big picture into account. Diversity characterizes humanity, but in whatever stage of the journey we find ourselves, it is important to appropriate the grace of God so that we can finish well and arrive safely home in heaven for all eternity.

A young mother from church who apparently appreciated Dad's contribution once told one of Dad's daughters-in-law that she “just wishes David L. would live forever.” When the conversation was recounted in Dad's hearing, he said, “Tell her I've got plans.“

Thank you Dad for practicing what you preached and for making those plans for eternity.

Dad, today we're feeling our loss,  We look into those large empty shoes you've left behind.  Together, collectively, let's put those shoes on and run with purpose the next leg of the relay.  Dad, your course is run.  Rest well.


Friday, November 25, 2016

Dad in the News

Here are several links to information about my father's life and death.  Both are from our local newspaper--The Hutchinson News.

The first is the result of a reporter having called my brother Lowell asking for an interview "because your father was an influential man."  After checking with the rest of us who had gathered to meet with a representative from the funeral home, he invited her to join us afterward.  The article went to press (beginning on the front page) before the day was over--the day after Dad's death.  It arrived in our boxes on Thanksgiving Day.  Here's the link.

We laughed together last night trying to imagine how anyone thought to pursue the writing of this story.  Then we remembered that when he wrote to a newspaper--which happened with some frequency, he was in the habit of showing up at the office of the periodical he was writing to.  Then he asked to see the editor and handed his writing to him personally.  Several weeks ago he and his brother Paul drove together to Newton (about 45 minutes away) to do this at the office of the Mennonite World Review. We could all well imagine that his appearance and demeanor made him memorable.  He was over six feet tall, bald and bearded, with angular features, clearly of the Amish Mennonite persuasion.  He would no doubt have shaken the editor's hand, smiled, and looked directly into his eyes as he handed over his writing.

Here's a  link to the obituary.




Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A Sad Document Title

I seldom feel emotion when I open a new text document, but this morning the action prompted tears.  I saved the blank document with this title:  "Tribute to Dad."  Right away I pasted into it something my brother wrote down after my dad spoke recently in church during testimony time.

When Mom died, my tribute-writing partner was my brother Myron.  He is in Africa now with his family and will not return until the evening before the funeral.  Then, we of course had input from our siblings, and they are beginning to contribute now as well.

Dad (David L. Miller) died instantly in a car accident yesterday forenoon.  He was 89.

First, the gory details.  Skip the last part if your imagination puts in overtime hours.  Unaccountably, according to witnesses, he had failed to stop at a stop sign and drove out in front of a big pickup passing by on US 50, where the speed limit is 65 MPH.  It happened in Pleasantview at the Stutzman Greenhouse corner.  The intersection was very familiar; it was within a half mile of where he was born, and he was always careful to obey traffic laws.  Distraction or simple absent-mindedness may have been factors.  Several observations by the on-site investigator suggested that a medical event that deprived his facial skin of oxygen may have also occurred.  His skin was cyanotic (purple) and there was minimal bleeding from cuts.  The investigator for the coroner's report noted that the severity of his internal injuries made it difficult to determine whether such a medical event had occurred.  It's possible that no one may ever know.

Countering the "medical event" narrative is the fact that a doctor within the past few months pronounced him to be in amazingly good health.

Dad had just stopped in at Golden Rule Travel where Linda and Myron both work and where Marvin and Lois are the business owners.  He wanted to send a fax but realized that he had left the necessary phone number at home, so he was heading home to retrieve it when the accident happened--less than a half mile from Golden Rule.

The other driver is a local young man who was quite traumatized by the accident.  He refused medical assistance at the site and did not appear to be injured.  His grandmother, Judy Fritzmeyer, who is a nurse, took him in her own vehicle to be seen by a medical professional.  Obviously, he bears no blame whatsoever in the accident, and I know that if he could, Dad would be ever-so-quick to offer his apologies and comfort to that distressed young man.  Judy was an across-the-street neighbor to Joel and Hilda while they lived here and Myron and his boys have often played basketball informally with the young man.

It's hard to have Dad taken so suddenly and violently.  We had a long time to prepare for Mom's home-going, and had the beautiful experience of singing for hours around her bedside and saying goodbye individually.  No such luxury here.

Many blessings are present now, however.  Four years ago Dad had colon cancer.  At that time the doctor told him that it often returns in five years or so.  The cancer had not returned so far.  He had recovered well from an accident several years ago when another driver ran a stop sign, and the collision resulted in a broken leg for Dad.  He had provided companionship and care for Mom till the end of her life.

Dad did not suffer pain or become incapacitated either mentally or physically.  He was still mowing his own lawn with a push mower and walking to the post office daily for the mail.  He was still writing, both for his monthly column in Calvary Messenger, and in contributions to The Hutchinson News and the Mennonite World Review.  He was still visiting regularly by phone with friends all over the country.  He attended every church service at our church, and often took in events at other churches or in the community.  He still contributed occasionally in church services.

I learned about Dad's death in the middle of a workshop at the Christian school conference in Wichita when Arlyn N., our principal, called me out to deliver the message about Dad's death which he had gotten in a text from LaVerne.  Norma was already on hand to take me home if that's what I wanted to do.  We had yet to retrieve the keys from Sharon N. so that we could take her minivan, and then we drove the hour home.  I talked to Linda a time or two by phone on our way home and talked to Norma and thought and tried to digest the new reality as I rode along.  Norma was the perfect traveling companion, and I was very grateful for the people around  me who stepped in to help.

At first Linda answered from the scene of the accident, but everything had been cleared away by the time I arrived home, and she had gone back to work to wrap up some things that could not easily be turned over to others.  She had walked to the accident site from Golden Rule (Dorothea had stepped outside and then reported that there had been a crash.  She didn't think it looked like Dad's car, and Eldo had passed by and didn't think so either, but Linda knew she had to know . . .)  She learned quickly from Marvin M. (an emergency services responder we know) that it was bad and that she should stay back.  Only later was she told (after Marvin and Lois had also arrived) that it was Dad and he had not survived the accident.   They had sent out a message on the family email group that there had been an accident before the outcome was known.

Dietrich had "snapped" his cousin Bryant , and he retrieved the message around midnight in Africa.  It was a great relief to know that Myron's family had been informed.  They had just arrived at a place where an internet connection was possible again.  Myron called early the next morning there--while all the local siblings were seated around the table at Dad's house, making plans.  Via speaker phone, Myron joined the planning.  Local people who want to meet Myron's family during calling hours should know that they will be present only during the evening calling hours--right after their arrival here.

The funeral is scheduled for 1:30 on Sunday.  Calling hours are the day before--from 2:00 to 4:00 and from 5:30-8:30.  All are at Center Church.

My Facebook post (I have an open account so anyone on Facebook can go there) invited friends who knew Dad to share their memories.  I'm opening this space to such comments as well.  I'm thoroughly enjoying hearing those memories, and am humbled by people's kindness and by Dad's influence on others.





Saturday, November 19, 2016

Cruising

No, this cruise wasn't a switch or an indicator light on the steering wheel or dashboard.  Neither was it a luxurious life on the ocean, surrounded by hundreds of wealthy vacationers indulging in fine wine and fancy banquets.  If my bunk mattress had been just a smidgen more substantial, and if the younger boys had been able to lower the decibel volume just a bit at times I couldn't think of a thing that would have improved the BD river cruise from Khulna to the Sunderban.

Here's an aside for the angst-smitten among us who really want a good handle on how to say things and to know what those things mean.  I note that Sunderban is actually pronounced with an initial sh sound, as is true for many s spellings in Bangla.  Also, the first u is pronounced like the oo in look.  Ban is, of course, pronounced as the a is always pronounced by international pronunciation rules--like ah.  All together now . . . Shoonderbahn.

Another perplexity I encountered is that at times the article "the" was present before "Sunderban" and at other times it was missing, and an s was attached at the end.  How can it be both singular and plural?  One possible answer is that a very large Sunderban area in southern Bangladesh is government land, but this is divided into three separate areas, roughly equal in size and shape, and easily designated as a western, eastern, or central region. I'm not sure what (besides location) distinguishes each area except that I learned from our guide that the western part has far more sea water infiltration, so the mangrove trees--the signature feature of the Sunderbans--are much smaller and less vigorous.  And for those angst-smitten readers who noted that I omitted many needful quotation marks above, I apologize--sort of.  Feeling lazy.  Back to cruising.

I've  never been on the water much.  Several short rides in small boats over my lifetime pretty much covers my experience.  The river cruise was deliciously "other."

At first, since our departure point was from a sizable city, we saw many other boats docked nearby or moving in either direction alongside our own Chuuti.  Some were small open boats with their pointy prows and sterns rising high above the water.  Sometimes they were apparently functioning as ferries, full of people, all standing during the crossing--in the dark, silhouetted against the water and the sky.  Others were likely fishing boats, and still others were probably being used to transport goods from farm to market or from city to home.

Some boats were much larger than ours--"ships" is surely the right word.    Some of these carried passengers too, but most of them were transport vessels--many of them probably ocean-going ships that had sailed inland on one of Bangladesh's great rivers. Our captain steered expertly between them all.

Our cruise ship was apparently freshly painted for the beginning of the main tourist season in the Sunderban.  It had only 20 bunks for passengers.  In our group, made up of five families, plus Christy and me, there were 26 people.  Double-bunking and floor mats provided sleeping space for all the children.  A gathering room at one end of the ship offered space to play games, eat, and socialize.  The top deck was available for that also when the weather permitted.

The routines of moving about--or not--on the water soon became familiar.  In our ship the anchor was lowered when we "parked" and raised before we began to move.  The engine was fired up whenever the anchor came up.  A bell sounded before the ship began moving.    At night a generator powered lights and fans.  Movement over the water was normally smooth and restful.  The coast line slid away--sometimes much closer on one side than the other.  Green--all of it, except where villages and buildings and farm animals appeared--and then, later, in the Sunderban, when wild animals presented themselves.

The banks revealed a lot of tide influence, with a six-foot water-level difference which appeared at low tide.  Many, many smaller creeks and streams emptied into "our" river, and at times our boat appeared to turn aside into a different channel, although it was not always easy to identify the main channel.  Our outbound destination was the mouth of the river we were traversing--at the Bay of Bengal.

In an earlier post I referred to a storm in the Bay of Bengal that was taking shape before we ever left Dhaka.  At that point reports said that the storm would likely soon be named, as cyclones always are (and hurricanes, their counterparts in other parts of the world).  It sounded ominous, and we wondered if our trip would occur as planned, but we proceeded in faith.  That turned out to be a good course of action.  The storm never did strengthen to cyclone status, although it did pack a good punch.  It made landfall about 850 kilometers from where we were, so we were spared the worst of the weather drama. Besides getting rain-soaked quite a lot, and besides feeling a little vulnerable when the wind and waves came up while we were anchored very close to the Bay--and besides not being able to loll about on the top deck, we mostly experienced the cruise we expected.  When we left the Bay, the motion of the boat was less smooth than at any other time--but nowhere close to triggering sea-sickness, for me at least.

Those cruise banquets?  We had all the good food minus any accompanying drama, except for a few over-eager little boys whose determined early entrance into the serving line and whose big scoops of rice overshot the edge of the plate and had to be plucked off the floor so as not to be tracked elsewhere.

An on-board cook must have been kept busy in the kitchen.  The great cooking smells drifted up from the hold below, and we heard the occasional chopping, stirring, sizzling noises that normally accompany food preparation.

I ate fresh water chestnuts for the first time.  And guava, sliced into apple-like wedges and served with salt.  Also, milk from green coconuts.  These were prepared in time for the returning boaters who had been out a long time in the rain.  A thin slice from the bottom allowed the coconuts to sit squarely on a flat surface.  A bigger slice across the top exposed the center cavity.  A straw was stuck into this cavity, and our container-drink combination was ready.

We had three good meals every day, and mid-morning and mid-afternoon snacks.  Hot coffee and tea were always available.  I lost track of many of the names of foods we ate, but it was all delicious.  I'm hoping that H will have time to send me a list of the foods we ate so that I can mark them in my Bangladesh cookbook and try them again some time.

We  left Dhaka early on Wednesday morning and returned early on the following Monday.  During that time the weather had cooled off substantially, and temperatures were pleasant during the rest of our stay in the city, with no rain.  Since the rainy season had just ended, the dry season dust had not set in yet but the humidity had mostly vanished.  This is Bangladesh weather at its finest.  Later on, the weather can be uncomfortably cool I'm told, and earlier, it can be very hot and humid.  At Latitude 24 (compared to our 38), the weather obviously never gets really cold at 13 feet above sea level--as is true of Dhaka.  

This mid-continent flat-lander has acquired a taste for water travel and relaxation.  I wonder if somewhere in the US someone has established a river cruise company.  Let me know if you know of one.
 

Underrated

After many consecutive hours of doing nothing except staring into space on my trip to Bangladesh, I decided that doing so is vastly underrated.  I highly recommend this inactivity as a stellar de-stressor. I didn't read, I didn't watch movies or listen to music, I didn't visit with my neighbors, and I didn't even sleep much.  I thought and processed thoroughly some of the less savory events preceding my travel.  Mostly, I savored my freedom, confined though I was in the seat of an airplane.  For me, hyperactivity has always been confined to the inside of my cranium, and that could proceed unhindered with seat belt firmly latched.

Particularly in the United lounge in Houston, but also in other outbound airports, I poured my thoughts in writing into a green theme book--one of many brightly-colored ones Hiromi purchased at WalMart during their back-to-school sale.  The first part is full of what I was leaving behind.  The last part focuses on what I experienced at my destination.  The writing in that green theme book is another important part of my de-stressing.

In Bangladesh, I often wrote early in the morning, on the chaise lounge just inside the living room verandah at J & H's house, with the drapery pulled back and one glass door open to the morning light and bird sounds (the street sounds gradually ramped up as well).  Once, aboard the cruise ship, with Arwen still sleeping in the bunk above me, I turned on the dim light above my bunk and wrote.  Those lines are squiggly, since I couldn't really see well enough to know where my writing was landing.

Several times I described my experience during travel as "stress draining away."  One great load disappeared during the long journey from home to BD.  What still remained left during the train ride through the countryside to the launching spot for the river cruise boat, and in the days following while we were on the river(s).  After that I simply soaked up what was to be enjoyed around me.

I was pleased to discover what is left after stress  leaves.  The ability to think and plan creatively is one thing--without the feeling that any departure from severe objectivity is a waste of time.  The return of hope is another.  I found it easier to think beyond the task of survival, and  more able to consider the needs of those around me.  The de-stress timing was impeccable for me, although it required sacrifice from others around me to make the trip possible.

Last summer Hiromi and I did not take any time away from home for a vacation--not even for a night or a day.  This fall we've thoroughly compensated for that omission--he with a trip to Japan and I with the trip to BD.  Such lavish compensation can't happen every year, but I'm very grateful for the special pleasures we've both enjoyed recently.    


Sunday, November 13, 2016

A Little Update

I'm home from my two-week trip and feeling like I should be updating this blog.  I think I invested all my writing energy in an email to my siblings and their parents, so I'll be copying some of that email into this space.  I'll try to do some editing to make it suitable for this more public place, but if something surprising or inappropriate slips through you have an a priori explanation.

This answer to Clara [who inquired about pictures] turned into a trip report which grew and grew . . .

At the last minute I left my camera at home.  It's a bulky thing that I didn't want to tote along.  I arranged to have pictures from Joel's camera, and those are not yet in my possession.  I concentrated on soaking up the experience and recording it in writing in a theme notebook that I took along. 

I had a good 8-hour night last night and woke up in time to get to church by 11:00.  We went to Lowells for dinner and I'm hoping to get another good night tonight.  I have studiously avoiding napping today. 

The hours of travel were actually more than 48 hours as calculated from the time I left Joel's house until the time I arrived at our house--maybe more than 50 hours.  There was no need to reset my watch since we're exactly 12 hours apart now since we're back on standard time.

My flight schedule went like clockwork, and I had ample time to make each connection, without hideously long layovers.  In Houston, we benefited from access to the United Lounge, courtesy of Marvin.  That was one of our longest layovers, and the relaxed space and good food were very nice.  All the flights were mostly very smooth, and the security checks were all less arduous than the one in Wichita before departure.  Turkish Airlines offered great amenities--good food beautifully presented, and a nice little comfort pack (ear phones, socks, slippers, eye shields, ear plugs), along with a pillow and blanket for each passenger on each flight.  All together I had four flights with them. 

The route home took me through Istanbul, Frankfurt, and Chicago.  I didn't leave the airport in these cities, of course.

Being in a foreign country during the election was interesting.  Both among the expatriates and the national Bangladeshis, dismay with Trump was overwhelming.  It's easy to see why when productive, hard-working people who have always viewed the US as a friendly, welcoming place full of opportunity for immigrants suddenly feel ostracized and villianized by a US public figure. A Hindu (who feels ostracized by the Muslims in BD) was the only person anyone seemed to have heard of who wanted Trump to win (serves those nasty Muslims right must have been his line of thinking).  I read an opinion piece in an English newspaper, written by a Bengali working as a journalist in the US.  His take on the election is that the US's  reputation abroad has been severely--perhaps irreparably--tarnished by the tone of the campaign cycle.  This was published before the election, so I can only imagine what the same writer might say in a followup column. 

I was impressed by J__ and H____'s facility with Bangla, although it's fair to note that I'm not very well qualified to discern the level of skill involved.  Christy is gamely learning how to navigate between J___'s place and E's by rickshaw, giving the right directions at the right time, etc.  I think she's a good fit for the place.  Arwen had her 4th birthday celebrated while I was there.  I baked a cake and H____ decorated it in the owl design Arwen wanted.  It was a beautiful pink and blue owl.  Lucia is uttering her very articulate, tiny-voiced sentences as competently as ever,   e. g. : "Will you please pass the salt, Daddy?"  She turned two last summer.

The time in the Sunderban was a marvelous blessing.  Our cruise ship accommodated our group of 26 with no room to spare, but enough room for all.  The food was fabulous and generous, and the captain of the ship was a veteran of 26 years, and very competent.  We had just a hint of drama with the development of a tropical depression in the Bay of Bengal that threatened to turn into a cyclone (hurricane in this part of the world).  We anchored at the mouth of a river, within sight of the Bay of Bengal, on a day when the drenching rain was unrelenting and when the wind rose and the tide came in while the little boat was away from the cruise ship.  Most of the people had gone to trek for an hour across land to swim in the Bay of Bengal, and after an hour, trek back (during which time the weather worsened), so the return trip in the little boat was pretty exciting.  The boat rode low and the waves rode high, and the man steering the thing made grim sit-down-and-be-quiet motions to anyone who turned a questioning eye in his direction.   Christy thought the journey was the highlight of the trip.  The captain became agitated until everyone was safely on board again (jerked aboard by every available boat employee), at which point he pulled anchor and headed upriver, away from the Bay.  The weather improved as the day wore on, and, near sunset, the little boat went out again, idling along the shore without anyone getting completely soaked.  It was perfect!

We had a picnic on the top deck of the boat on our last night on board.  Only the wheelhouse, complete with a real "ship's wheel" to steer with, created an enclosure up there--except for the rails around the edge, of course.  If it hadn't rained earlier, I think this area would have seen a lot more use. 

We saw no tigers (few people do), but we did see tiger tracks on the shore during our early morning boat ride.  We also saw Wild Boars, Spotted Deer, and Monkeys--some of the other larger animals in the Sunderban.  Most of these we saw from the cruise ship anchored in the river. 

On our way to the Sunderban, we took a 12-hour train ride through the countryside--a wonderful way to see the fields and farms of this productive land.  Poverty was  evident also, but here, it was not the only thing visible, and the trip in an air-conditioned coach with friends all around us was very pleasant.  Present also were several law enforcement officers, apparently called on specifically to protect our little party on the the journey.  They took their job very seriously, carefully guarding both entrances to our coach.  We crossed one of Bangladesh's three mighty rivers on a bridge 3.5 miles long.  Our mighty Mississippi is dwarfed by comparison.  Even minor rivers in Bangladesh are wide and navigable by ocean-going vessels. 

In the city where our train ride ended and our boat ride began, we attracted a crowd when our guide was accosted by three? officers who demanded to know why we were there and where we were going and generally protesting at not having been properly informed in advance so that they could provide good protection for us.  Our guide explained apologetically that things have become very difficult since the terrorist attacks in July--an event audible from the apartment of some new friends I met while in BD.  From our perspective, becoming a spectacle is more unsettling than simply being able to move about quietly without much notice. 

I experienced Dhaka traffic at its best?  or worst?  Thankfully, the times when it ground completely to a halt, we were in an air-conditioned taxi with a friendly, capable driver who passed the down time by creating origami figures for the little girls--after inviting Arwen to ride in front between him and her daddy on the console (no safety restraints in this part of the world).  Riding in a CNG (a three wheeled golf-cart-sized compressed natural gas motor driven roofed-cage vehicle), and riding in a rickshaw were the other ways we moved about, besides walking, of course.  J____ routinely bikes to work, and most people avoid the buses if possible.  They never actually stop, it turns out, so if you want a ride you embark and disembark while the bus is in motion.  Traffic moves without benefit of stop signs or traffic lights, and I find it completely amazing that it doesn't end up as one mass of crumpled wood and steel.  People on bikes dart into narrow spaces between two buses moving parallel to each other down the road.  The buses come up behind a CNG and follow so closely that I could have easily touched the one behind us through the grate.  There's a reason that all the CNGs have steel mesh guards over the front and back lights.  Ours bumped into another on one occasion and the people in the other CNG shouted and our driver sped away as fast as traffic allowed.  Pedestrians cross these chaotic traffic streams and survive!

J___ and his family live on the top floor of a 6-story building on a relatively quiet street.  The bottom floor is a garage with about a dozen spaces for vehicles.  J____'s family is apparently the only one in the building who doesn't own a car.  All the cars I saw are nicer than ours.  Their living space (three bedrooms, living room, dining room, kitchen, utility area) is reached by an elevator.  It's a modern home with tile floors, hot running water and a tub in one bathroom, and two other bathrooms with showers besides.  A generator kicks in any time the electricity goes off, but not all the lights and fans are operable on generator power.  Four verandas with a steel grate (horizontal bars, actually) all the way to the top offer some outdoor play area, along with the rooftop area.  I didn't compare the living space to ours, but I would guess that theirs is bigger.

We met wonderful friends of our family members in BD.  Anyone who loves to do British English would have had a heyday as many of their friends are dyed-in-the-wool Brits by language, although some of them come from down under.  These are bright engaging people with big hearts and many skills to offer the people they've come to love and serve. 

I'd better quit.  I hope to hear a report soon about Paraguay and about Africa [places other family members are traveling to].  Safe travels!  Thanks for your prayers for me.

One more thing:  While I was in BD I emailed Hiromi and asked him to remind me to do the Sunderban river cruise again whenever I'm feeling stressed.  He responded by saying "You might need a sponsor for that!" Details . . .