Friday, March 26, 2010

The Trip Over the Tundra to Singapore

I didn't take this photo but it did look a lot like this out the window

I left JFK airport on Friday March 19 at 4:50 p.m. and arrived in Singapore a day and a half later at 6 am Sunday morning. If you look on a globe you'll see that Singapore really is on the other side of the world. Add in the drive from home to New York City, a six hour layover in Bejing, China, and the trip to the hotel in Singapore, and it was roughly 32 hours travel time door to door. Although that's a lot of time to be traveling it is absolutely amazing that we can be half way around the world in such a short period of time. I find it absurd when I hear fellow travelers complaining about the duration of the 13 and half hour flight from NY to Bejing, but I have to remind myself we all have different tolerances. I'm fortunate in that I actually enjoy the challenges of long distance travel. I like airports and I don't mind waiting in lines. I read two books and did lots of writing on this trip.

The flight to Bejing took us over northern Alaska, and I assume that generally speaking we were in the vicinity of the Arctic and the North Pole. The scenery was stunningly, starkly gorgeous. It was a harsh, white and shadowy gray, crumpled terrain, divided by countless sqiggling fissures that appeared like rivers but were actually cracks in the snow and ice. As awesomely beautiful as it was I couldn't help but wonder how much of what I was seeing may be the result of climate change. Knowing that we humans are living in a manner that may be altering the balance of this magnificent planet left me feeling bothered and a little ashamed.

After arriving in Southeast Asia it took me about four days to adjust my sleep to being 12 time zones away. When it is 12 noon in New York it is 12 midnight in Singapore. For the first four nights there I was awaking while most sensible Singaporeans were fast asleep. There is a comforting silence to those wee hours of the night. More to come when I'm better rested.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Sad News From Zambia

Richard and Friends the day we visited Prince Takamado School

Over a month ago I received an email from Zambia titled "Sad News." I was reluctantly compelled to open it, not sure I wanted to know the contents of the message. Life is harder in "developing" countries than we here in the US can understand. I was fearful that the sad news was the death of someone I had met while I was there in October. Fortunately, that was not the case but the title "sad news" was still very apt. Richard Lungu, the gardener I had met and become friends with was in trouble.

Richard and his family live in Bauleni, a compound that we might call a slum or shantytown -- very small houses, many poorly constructed, nearly on top of each other, garbage strewn about the landscape, high unemployment, etc. etc. (For a detailed description of Bauleni and how I got to know Richard see the Oct 22 Blog Entry)

Richard was more fortunate than many in that the house he rented was sturdily built, and he had a steady job working at the American International School of Lusaka. He and I quickly became friends when we met and he acted as my liaison and guide in my visit to the Prince Takamado School in Bauleni. He had a warm and outgoing personality and a generous, gracious manner. I really liked him and was grateful to know him.

The "sad news" was that Richard had been caught stealing from the faculty and staff at the international school and that he had lost his job and may be facing very serious prison time for the offences. When my friend Kate sent me the news she wrote, "I can't imagine why he would risk such a good situation for short term gain?" In my reply to Kate I wrote, "I can't imagine either, but I also can't imagine what it is like to live in Bauleni, or what his motivations may have been." As of now, I don't know what has happened to Richard. He didn't answer the email I sent him a few weeks ago. In the meantime, I did learn from Kate that he had passed along something for me. It was a phone number for the school. I suspect he knew he wouldn't be able to a act as the go-between any longer and wanted me to know how to contact them.

A painting I photographed in a hotel. It seems to fit this entry.

He may already be in prison, which according to Kate would be a very difficult experience to go through and overcome. Not knowing enough details to have an opinion as to whether "justice" is served by imprisoning Richard I can only hope and pray that he gets a chance to make amends, and work to regain the confidences he had enjoyed in the past. I also hope that he and his family can find peace and comfort.

It truly is "sad news" when your friends are in trouble.