A May 19th Memory

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photo by Larry Goldman

 

Reflecting on, and with respect for, the courage shown by Tanzanian park rangers and my kidnapped research colleagues on this unforgettable day 43 years ago  —  I’m reposting this again as part of my Gombe saga from when I worked as a student research assistant for Jane Goodall in western Tanzania in 1975.

At first glance,  Gombe National Park in Tanzania felt like paradise—a serene piece of the earth filled with exotic and fascinating wildlife, an abundance of fish and fruit to eat, and the rich unfamiliar sounds and smells of the tropical jungle.  It was a façade.  It was surrounded by the turmoil and upheaval of political rebellion and insurgencies in its neighboring countries, inflamed even more by the fall of Saigon in Vietnam a month previously due to the earlier pull out of the Americans from that long and tragic war.

Only a few miles north of our research station in Gombe National Park in western Tanzania, there had been years of civil war in the small land locked country of Burundi.  When the wind was just right, we could hear gunfire and explosions echoing over the valleys that separated us.  Escaping refugees would sometimes stop for food on their way to villages in Tanzania to the south, seeking safe haven in one of the poorest countries in the world, only a decade into its own experiment with socialism, Ujamaa.

There was also word of ongoing military rebellion against the dictatorship of President Mobutu in the mountainous country of Zaire twelve miles west across Lake Tanganyika.

Morning comes early for field studies of wildlife, as the research day must start before the chimpanzee and baboon subjects wake up and begin to stir. Before midnight, while we slept soundly in our metal huts scattered up the mountainside, a group of armed soldiers arrived by boats to the shore of Gombe National Park.

Storming the beach huts housing two unarmed Gombe park rangers and their families, the soldiers seized one and demanded to be told where the researchers were. The ranger refused to provide information and was severely beaten about the head and face by the butts of the rifles carried by the invaders.  The armed soldiers then divided into smaller groups and headed up the trails leading to the huts, coming upon four sleeping student researchers, tying them up, taking them hostage, forcing them into boats and taking them across the lake back to Zaire.

Asleep farther up the mountain, we were wakened by other researchers who were fleeing, hearing the commotion.  No one really understood what was happening down lower on the mountain. There were shouts and screams, and gun shots had been heard.  Had someone been injured or killed?   There was no choice but to run and hide deep in the bush at a predetermined gathering spot until an “all clear” signal was given by the rangers.

We hurried along barely familiar  trails in the black of the jungle night, using no flashlights, our hearts beating hard, knowing we had no defense available to us other than the cover of darkness.

That was the longest wait for morning of my life, sitting alongside Jane holding her son Grub.  A hand full of other students had also made their way to the hiding spot, none of us knowing what to think, say or do.  We could only barely see each other’s faces in the darkness and were too frightened to make any sounds.  We carried no weapons, and there was no way to communicate with the outside world.   We had no idea how many of us may be missing, or possibly dead.

Jane held Grub in her arms, endeavoring in vain to keep him quiet, but his eight year old imagination was ignited by the events that had just unfolded.

“Will they kidnap me, Jane?  Will they come for me?  Where will they take us?  Will they shoot us dead?”

Jane, her face hidden by her blonde hair loose about her shoulders,  sat rocking him, cradling him. “Shhh, shhh, we don’t want them to find us.  We’re safe staying right here.  Everything will be fine in the morning.  No one will take you from me.”

Grub began to sob silently into her shoulder.

When the morning of May 20 dawned, the park rangers located us, and pieced together the events as best they could–the soldiers were Zairean rebels living in remote mountains, fighting  an insurgency against the Zaire government. Seeking funds for their cause, they saw a kidnapping of Americans and Europeans as a way to raise quick funds and world publicity and sympathy.  Four of our friends/coworkers were missing, the camp was ransacked and the rangers beaten but with no life threatening injuries.   There was no way to remain safe at the Park, and our colleagues needed whatever help we could offer for their rescue.

We were able to send a messenger to a nearby fishing village, and a radio call was sent out to the small town of Kigoma, then relayed to Dar Es Salaam and Nairobi.  Help arrived within a few hours, when a United Nations boat monitoring the civil war activities in Burundi pulled off shore near our camp.  We were told we needed to evacuate Gombe that day, and would be taken to Kigoma, and then flown by bush pilot to Nairobi, Kenya to cooperate in the investigation of the kidnapping.

In Nairobi, at the US Embassy, I met CIA agents who viewed our wild primate studies with suspicion.  Each of us were grilled individually as to our political beliefs, our activities at the camp and whether we may be somehow involved in subversive actions against the Zaire or Tanzanian governments.  We were dumbfounded that our own countrymen would be so skeptical about our motives for being in Africa.  It became clear our own government would be no help in resolving the kidnapping and bringing our friends home to safety.  The agents did not shed any light on whether they knew our friends were alive or dead.

We were then hustled into a press conference where we were interviewed for television and print media by the worldwide news agencies, and my parents saw me on the CBS evening news before they actually heard my voice over the phone.  I flew back to Stanford the next day, spending 24 hours on a plane that made six stops up the coast of West Africa on its way back west, to tell what I knew to Stanford President Lyman and other administration officials as they prepared a plan to locate and free the students.   I then returned home to Washington state to await any news that came too slowly from a place so far away that I remain astonished to this day that I was ever there at all.

It took over three months, private negotiations and ransom money to free all four of our friends back to safety. They remain close to each other and the remarkable man who helped free them, Dr. David Hamburg. We have had several reunions together over the years to remember those days of living in a place that at one time seemed like paradise.

several of my colleagues have written books about their experience at Gombe:
Following Fifi by Dr. John Crocker

The Ghosts of Gombe by Dale Peterson

Jane Goodall by Dale Peterson

The Jane Effect by Dale Peterson

and of course, Jane’s wonderful books that led me to Gombe in the first place:

In the Shadow of Man

Through a Window: My Thirty Years with the Wild Chimpanzees of Gombe

Reason for Hope

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photo from a press conference at Stanford a few days later

 

 

Alumni during the HumBio 40th Reunion.
Gombe Alumni and faculty in 2011 at Stanford (I’m in the very back 5th from the left)

Two Kinds of Infection

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Good things as well as bad, you know are caught by a kind of infection.

If you want to get warm you must stand near the fire:
if you want to be wet you must get into the water.
If you want joy, power, peace, eternal life,
you must get close to, or even into, the thing that has them. 

They are not a sort of prize which God could, if He chose, just hand out to anyone.
They are a great fountain of energy and beauty spurting up at the very centre of reality.
If you are close to it, the spray will wet you: if you are not, you will remain dry.

Once a man is united to God, how could he not live forever?
Once a man is separated from God, what can he do but wither and die?

~C.S. Lewis- Mere Christianity

 

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Each Monday morning, as I transition once again from the observance of Sabbath with God’s people to move into the secular world of government work, I feel an acute separation.

I want to remain infected (and contagious) with the reality of God yet my life feels necessarily compartmentalized.

On Monday, I’m gloved and masked to prevent my infecting others.

All week I am exposed daily to the reality of the world and must defend myself from getting infected.

If I’m to be contagious, let it be because I’m overwhelmed with the Spirit, not the world.

 

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Tempted to Run and Rush

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The duties and cares of the day crowd about us when we awake each day
– if they have not already dispelled our night’s rest.

How can everything be accommodated in one day?
When will I do this, when that?
How will it all be accomplished?

Thus agitated, we are tempted to run and rush.
And so we must take the reins in hand and remind ourselves,

“Let go of your plans. The first hour of your morning belongs to God.
Tackle the day’s work that he charges you with,
and he will give you the power to accomplish it.”
~Edith Stein from Essays on Woman

 

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Rushing headlong pell-mell tumble-bumble into the day is a specialty of mine.  Once I step out the door there isn’t a single moment of quiet breathing space until I step back in the door 12 hours later.  I realize this is a daily choice I make to live this way: no one forces me to see just one more patient (or four) or complete each chart before I leave or make sure I have responded to a hundred messages.

I would not rest well until the work is finished.

Therefore my hour of quiet starts very early in the day, usually before the sun rises or the birds start to twitter, when there is no every-fifteen-minute appointment schedule and the phone remains silent.

However the rising morning does not belong to me: God knows what I’ll need to get through the day.  He reminds me to breathe deeply, find time to smell the tulips, and take a walk with a buddy,  always remembering I’m not alone.

 

 

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Oatmeal Should Not Be Eaten Alone

 

I eat oatmeal for breakfast.
I make it on the hot plate and put skimmed milk on it.
I eat it alone. 
I am aware it is not good to eat oatmeal alone.
Its consistency is such that is better for your mental health 
if somebody eats it with you.
That is why I often think up an imaginary companion to have 
breakfast with.
Possibly it is even worse to eat oatmeal with an imaginary 
companion. 
Nevertheless, yesterday morning, I ate my oatmeal porridge, 
as he called it with John Keats.
Keats said I was absolutely right to invite him: 
due to its glutinous texture, gluey lumpishness, hint of slime, 
and unusual willingness to disintegrate, oatmeal should 
not be eaten alone.
…I can see him drawing a spoon through the stuff, gazing into the glimmering
furrows, muttering.
Maybe there is no sublime; only the shining of the amnion’s tatters.
~Galway Kinnell from “Oatmeal”

 

 

But now the supper crowns their simple board, 
The halesome parritch, chief o Scotia’s food;
~Robert Burns from “The Cotter’s Saturday Night”

 

 

 

But when the melancholy fit shall fall 
Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud, 
That fosters the droop-headed flowers all, 
And hides the green hill in an April shroud; 
Then glut thy sorrow on a morning rose, 
Or on the rainbow of the salt sand-wave, 
Or on the wealth of globed peonies;
~John Keats from “Ode on Melancholy”

 

 

 

 

Oatmeal mixed up with a bit of chewy melancholy,
reading of poets and peonies and wholesome parritch;
it seems early for poetry on this sublime shrouded morning in April …
yet like porridge, nothing more is needed to begin the day well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Preparing Through Parable: For I Was Hungry and Thirsty

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31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
Matthew 25: 31-46

 

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The final parable of Jesus prepares us to enter Holy Week, as we once again become the crowd shouting the mixed messages of Palm Sunday.

Jesus arrives to Hosannas as a King with glory, laud and honor, not at all treated as the “least of these” on that Sabbath.

Yet within days he was rejected, betrayed, sold for silver, convicted and punished as a common criminal with the assent of those who had earlier welcomed him with such warmth.

So who are we to become on this day?
Do we claim adoration but  in reality practice rejection?
Do we give him a kiss that ultimately is his betrayal?
Do we protest when he washes our dirty feet but argue about who among us is greatest?
Do we prepare a glorious meal but then offer up only vinegar?
Do we throw our cloaks down at his feet, dress him in an elegant robe but later strip him naked to cast lots for the clothing off his back?
Do we rescue him from his unjust captivity or do we turn the other way when he is flogged, beaten and crucified?

Who are we – his people, his family, his church – during this week to come?

We are clearly told: we feed the hungry, offer drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the lonely and care for the sick.  We are his hands, his feet, his heart, his spirit on earth.

Let us never forget.

 

May my eyes see, my ears hear, my heart understand. He prepares me with parable.

 

 

 

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Preparing Through Parable: Be Humbled

 

 

 

“When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. 10 But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. 11 For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

“When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
Luke 14: 7-14

 

 

 

 

 

In the unspoken hierarchy of what makes a church function, I’m a kitchen lady and always will be.  I remember those very women from my childhood church of the fifties and sixties– their tight-knit ability to function as if one organism, swarming in aprons among tables set up in the fellowship hall and bustling around in the back by the stoves with steaming pots and pans and the occasionally dropped plate.

They kept the rest of us alive, those church ladies, by feeding us efficiently and plentifully and never ever sitting down.  I would occasionally see them eating standing up in the back of the hall, chatting amiably among themselves after the rest of us were served, but I knew they carefully wrapped up the leftovers during the clean up to deliver to shut-ins who couldn’t make it to the church supper.

I knew I was destined to become a kitchen lady, shy and introverted as I am, hiding myself behind huge plates of food and piles of dish cloths.  For me, it is a place of comfort and clean up filled with plenty of leftovers for anyone who needs them, and that just about perfectly describes the kingdom of God in my book and His Book.

 

May my eyes see, my ears hear, my heart understand.  He prepares me with parable.

Preparing Through Parable: We Know Your Voice

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“The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.

14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 
John 10:1-5, 14-16

 

 

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Gentle Shepherds
of this wayward flock
each of us wanting to go
his or her own way

We know your voice
and listen intently
to follow you
where you know we should be

You lead us
to the green pastures
of The Word
to fill up full.

Alongside the still waters
we quench our thirst,
we are comforted
that you point the way.

If one has gone astray
we know you will come looking
until we are searched out
in our hiding place.

We rejoice together
in celebration
of the lost
now found.

You know your sheep
through a full generation
of us thriving
in your love and care.

We know our shepherds.
We know your voice.
We know you were brought to us
through the loving grace of God Himself.

Amen and Amen again.

 

May my eyes see, my ears hear, my heart understand.  He prepares me with parable.

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Pastor Bert and Jane Hitchcock — over 25 years at Wiser Lake Chapel

 

 

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