Well, it's a rainy day in Cairns, in the land of Oz, so I have no excuse not to update you on my travels since my last letter. I flew in yesterday from Japan via Hong Kong.
First off, thanks to all who responded to my last letter. I'll promise that all replies will receive a personal response from me. How soon I can reply depends on how busy I am and when I can get into cyberspace.
I'll limit this letter to my travels in Africa after Christmas and up until my time in Japan. In a couple of days I'll write about Japan and my first few days in Oz. An atlas would be handy to help you follow along.
To wrap up my account of my time in Zambia, here are two stories which should give you a taste of missionary life in Africa:
The week after Christmas Mom, Dad, Chrissie and I planned on going to a village in the bush where Dad had grown up (and his father had translated/revised the Bible into Bemba) called Kalundu. The reason I was going was to see my Zambian "grandmother", Abiya, whom I had called "Mama" ("grandma" in Bemba) as a boy. She was the grandmother of my best Zambian friend. En route to Kalundu our old Mercedes sedan suddenly lost power. It looked like a problem w/ the injector pump so Dad and I fiddled w/ it for a couple of hours, w/ four Zambian men, taking a break from their hoeing, and a couple of kids, looking on and catching the diesel that dripped onto the road in a metal bowl, presumably to use as lighter fluid. We couldn't get the car started and since vehicular traffic was non-existent we decided to find someone who could rent me a bicycle to ride back to Mansa. Eventually one was found (the owner was fixing one of its flat tires) although it hardly deserved to be called a bicycle: it didn't have real pedals (the pedal axles were all that remained), the chain was loose, the brakes didn't work, the front tire wobbled, the handlebars were crooked, the seat was more springs than padding and rocked back and forth like a see-saw, and the rear fender was prone to twisting over especially big bumps. But beggars can't be choosers so after a photo session and fond farewells I set off for Mansa. I had a temporary setback when one of the "pedals" snapped off. (The thread had been stripped and it had been poorly welded to the crank arm.) Fortunately it happened nearby to a man who operated a bicycle repair shop under a tree. He attached a new crank arm, w/ the help of a hefty hammer, complete w/ a whole pedal! So my left foot pedaled away contentedly for rest of the trip to Mansa while I had to re-position my right foot every so often to prevent it from rolling off its pedal. Nevertheless this bicycle got me the 45 km back to Mansa (22 on dirt, 23 on tar) in 3 and a half hours w/ frequent stops to drink the water that had melted from a block of ice used to keep the cooler cool. By the time I got to Mansa I was a minor celebrity among the kids that lived next to the road who waved and yelled ("HOWAAHYOU!") at the curious sight of a "musungu" (white person) riding by on a very obviously Zambian bicycle. Despite having hardened my behind by playing squash and riding my bike to work nearly every day in Toronto, it was still tender for a day or two afterwards thanks to the seat. Anyway, all's well that ends well: we were able to tow the Benz back to Mansa and two days later we took another car to Kalundu where I had a great time seeing the house that Dad grew up in and was very warmly welcomed by the village kids and Abiya herself. Thanks to her I left Kalundu richer by two (live) chickens, a large basket of "casava" (manioc), a basket of tomatoes and lots of peanuts. The kids at Kalundu were the nicest that I'd met in Zambia: very polite and friendly and when we showed them the soccer ball that we had brought for their Sunday School their screams of delight left my ears ringing. At one point we packed 30 of them into the back of the pickup, which they thought was great fun, and they seranaded us in the front seat w/ Sunday School songs.
Second story: on transcontinental flights you are given a little pouch filled w/ sock-slippers, mouth-wash, tooth brush and paste, an eyeshade etc. Someone sent a bunch of these to my parents who gave them away to some Zambians, including a volunteer in the Emmaus office who in turn sold the aforementioned pouch, MINUS ITS CONTENTS, to a hapless neighbour of his. It really is amazing how the relative worth of things changes from country to country. Anyway, one day while this volunteer was working in the Emmaus office next to the house in Mansa half a dozen police officers (some uniformed, others in plain clothes) pulled up into the yard in a police pickup--under its own power, which is a minor event in itself. Evidently the person who bought the pouch was a suspicious character so the police picked him up and, discovering the (empty) pouch on him, suspected him of stealing it. He protested his innocence, saying he had bought it from the Emmaus volunteer, who was taken down to the police station to make a statement to that effect (and told to walk back). Who says crime is rampant in Zambia?
The next country in my African tour was Zimbabwe where Mom, Dad and I went on a brief holiday before dropping me off at the bus for Johannesburg (henceforth Joburg) and Chrissie at the plane for Kenya. Zimbabwe is a beautiful country w/ many hills, rolling farms, and fascinating gravity defying rock formations. On the way to Harare I took a brief look at at an underground pool that is at least 300 feet deep. It was in a cavern w/ the roof open to the sky and the perfectly still water was a wonderful green-blue colour. I regretted not having my tripod w/ me. We stayed at a guesthouse in Harare mangaged by Phil and Marilyn Barnes so it was nice to talk to some fellow Canucks. (He's the brother of Doug Barnes of Wildwood.) From Harare we went to the Eastern Highlands where we spent a very pleasant day at a hotel. Then it was back to Harare and after saying goodbye to M&D&C I got on the bus for Joburg.
I suffered a bit of "reverse culture-shock" in South Africa: good roads, bank machines, shopping malls, McDonalds! There were probably more whites at a shopping mall I went to Joburg than there are in many malls in Toronto which felt strange after having been a very visible minority in Zambia (although less so in Zimbabwe, which still has a relatively large white minority). I stayed at a youth hostel in Joburg's eastern suburb. Downtown Joburg is virtual ghost-town and not somewhere you want to be found alone after dark, or any time of day for that matter. Security in Joburg was the worst that I've seen anywhere: any decent house was surrounded by a brick wall topped by any combination of spikes, vicious looking rolls of barbed wire and/or an electrice fence. Most of these systems were connected to security companies which would dispatch armed guards in the event of a break-in. Nevertheless, I risked a mugging by walking across a park to a McDonalds and celebrated my arrival by having a Big Mac combo, a real novelty in Africa. The hostel I was in was apparently a dope den disguised as a hostel so I was glad to get on the youth hostel bus on Monday for Durban, south east of Joburg, on the coast. The trip took all day but the scenery was nice, w/ lots of farms and rolling hills. We passed through Pietermaritzburg (frequently contracted to PMB--you'll notice that South Africans have a penchant for giving long names to their cities) which was a very attractive city, full of gardens and beautiful old buildings. Durban was less attractive, but it did have a nice beach w/ great surf where I watched some surfers catch some waves. There was also a very sorry collection of weather-beaten white beach bums who would hit me up for change for a bus ticket home. Sure, buddy... Still, were I twenty years younger Durban would no doubt seem like a great place as paddling pools, water slides and ice-cream vendors abounded. Next day I was on the bus again, ending up in Cintsa, a village just north of East London. The drive down was very scenic since we went through the Transkei, Nelson Mandela's boyhood home. There were endless rolling green hills w/ cattle, sheep and goats grazing. The hostel I stayed at in Citsa was really more a collection of cottages set on a wooded hillside overlooking the beach. I cooled off after the long day in the bus w/ a swim in the pool and some monkeys in the trees overhanging the deck kept my company. I took a surfing lesson at the hostel and by the end of the day I had gotten up and was standing on the board. That and breakfast and lunch for a mere $40. After that I got on the bus for Cape Town, w/ a brief stop for the night in Port Elizabeth, arriving in Cape Town on Friday night, again after a beautiful drive through the famed "Garden Route". In terms of the variety and beauty of its scenery, I'd say that South Africa takes the cake for southern Africa. Sorry Zambia (but it has Victoria Falls).
The only word for Cape Town is spectacular. The city's setting is breath-taking, overlooking a sweeping bay and backed by Table Mountain, Devil's Head and Lion's Peak. Cape Town, and the Cape Peninsula, is far and away the place I'd most recommend for a holiday of the places I've been to so far. The South Africans are very friendly and proud of their country, there's a well developed tourism infrastructure, the food is great, and, above all, it's cheap. Anyway, back to Cape Town. My hostel was in downtown Cape Town which is not the most lively place on weekends (think Bay & King on a Sunday afternoon) so I decided to get out of town and rented a cute little scooter just up the street from the hostel ($40 for the day w/ unlimited mileage). Then I took advantage of the unlimited mileage and made my way around the whole Cape peninsula going down to the Cape Point, the windiest point in Africa. I started in Cape Town and checked out the views of the city and harbour from a road midway up Table Mountain. Unfortunately the wind was too strong to take the cable car to the top of the mountain. One of my stops was Fish Hoek, where we used to go on holidays as a family way back, and where I learned to snorkel. I finished the day by watching the sun set over the Atlantic munching on the best fish and chips I've every had. Sunday morning I went to "Holy Eucharist" at a very high Anglican church, complete w/ robes, processions w/ the crucifix, and incense, so to clear my head I climbed Lion's Head at sunset w/ two others from the hostel. The gale-force wind could be a little disconcerting as we wound our way up the mountain. The view from the top though, needless to say, was spectacular w/ Cape Town on one side and the sunset on the other. We sat back and enjoyed the show w/ a bottle of wine that our driver had brought along. Apparently it's a South African tradition, so I did my duty. (I also didn't want the driver drunk for ride back to the hostel.) It was a great way to end my time in South Africa.
Early the next morning I flew out of Cape Town to Joburg and from there to Hong Kong and was very tired by the time I got there since HK is six hours ahead of South Africa, which probably negatively coloured my perceptions of the place. It also didn't help that the HK airport is absolutely massive and simply walking to your boarding gate is a hike in itself. And the weather wasn't too pleasant: overcast and cool--10 degrees C--after sunshine and mid-twenties in South Africa. I had to spend the day in HK before flying to Singapore so I took a bus from the airport (which is on a purpose-built island) through the heart of Kowloon to the ferry opposite HK Island. Everything in HK is taller, including the buses, most of which are double-deckers. There were apartment buildings everywhere (I don't think anyone in HK lives in a house) which were a bit grimy w/ people's laundry hanging out everywhere to dry. The space above the streets was a veritable forest of signs. Must be quite a sight at night. After being accosted by a couple of turbaned Indians who wanted to read my palm (who both had the same introductory line: "I see that you are very lucky today", in a very thick Indian accent--don't forget to roll your R's and L's) I took a ferry to the island where I wandered around for an hour or two and got stuck in some traffic jams on the sidewalks. I'm sure HK is a great place if you like shopping. From there it was back to the airport.
I flew into Singapore late at night so had to taxi into the city and blow $80 on a hotel room. My taxi driver boasted about what a great place Singapore is and how honest everyone is then ripped me off by giving me some Malaysian ringits for change. The first thing I did the next morning was get my ringits changed into Singaporean dollars and then I walked to the YMCA which cost about C$30/night (compared to $10/night in SA). Needless to say Singapore is expensive, probably about 50% more expensive than Canada for day to day stuff like food. It was stereotypically clean but refreshingly green w/ lots of parks and trees. I even saw some jaywalkers, and did it myself a couple of times without incident. I didn't see anyone chewing gum, though. Gum, along w/ guns and drugs (the trafficking of which carries the death penalty), is one of the things banned in Singapore. North American style shopping malls were ubiquitous and they even had whole malls dedicated to computers and electronics. Singapore would not be a good place to set up as a programmer (of shrink-wrapped software, that is) or a musician as piracy was rampant, which was a bit surprising, given its reputation for integrity. Anyone want Microsoft Office for $20? It was nice and hot: 30 degrees and humid. If I remember correctly, it was about then that Toronto was having a -20 cold snap. I felt sorry for you as I swam in the rooftop pool... The Y was just down the street from the famed luxurious Raffles Hotel, named after the founder of Singapore, so I enjoyed walking around a bit, and enjoyed a good Indian curry in "Little India". The next day I visited on aquarium on Sentoza Island, Singapore's equivalent to Ontario Place. It was pretty impressive, w/ an 80 m. acrylic tunnel through w/ you could walk w/ all kinds of exotic fish swimming around and above you. Another nice thing about Singapore was that pretty much everyone knows some sort of English; the population is a mix of Chinese, Malays and Indians, so English is used as the common language.
Well, that should be enough for now. Tomorrow I'm booked to go snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef, so expect a letter on Japan a couple of days after that.