Monday, August 29, 2011

Life in Botswana: Gaborone Recreation

Another excerpt from my parent's memoirs, Life in Botswana.

The baobab is found in the savannas of African and India, mostly around the equator. It can grow up to 25 meters tall and can live for several thousand years. The baobab is leafless for nine months of the year.

Ed thought that after 30 years of rest, his golf game would have improved, but not so. After taking one lesson and learning what had to be done, he quit – at least until he retires and has lots of time for practice?

There is a reservoir nearby, called the Dam, about seven miles long and averaging 1-1/4 miles wide. It is the only water view for hundreds of miles in any direction and we value it highly. In the middle of it is an island with a high point, and on top of this sits a pretty clubhouse owned by the Gaborone Yacht Club. We get there by a ferry which we are going to call the African Queen after its current overhaul. The Club has 150 members, most with families, of which about 30 are sailors. Most members are British, with a number of South Africans and former Rhodesians, and a handful of Europeans and Americans. Boatwise, there are 15 Lasers, five catamarans, six Mirros, a 505, two Finns, one FD, four Optimists (with an active junior sailing program), an Enterprise, three Hunter 19 keel boats, one Mistral (23 ft.) keel boat and some miscellaneous craft. There are also about 15 board sailors and 10 canoeists. Motors are not allowed on the Dam, except for emergency boats. Races are held every Sunday at 10 a.m. and we have 4-5 five-race regattas each year, sponsored by local concerns, including the Kalahari Brewery.

The Clubhouse has an active bar and kitchen, and a veranda with tables and chairs with a beautiful panoramic view looking five miles down the Dam. There are no buildings on the Dam, in fact there are antelope and leopard on the far shore, where the Club intends to set up another facility next year. A 12-foot crocodile was shot two months ago after having escaped from a nearby farm and exciting the whole community for four months. There is an active social program, including a joint venture Raft Race with the Rugby Club and a Guy Fawkes bonfire and fireworks party with the Capitol Players, an amateur theater group.

Ed became a committee member in July, 1990, and last February, when the vice commodore's employment contract was not renewed he was given this post. In July at the annual general meeting he was elected commodore, and so far is enjoying the post, with all of the challenges and problems that crop up.

We should mention the small game reserve which our town established about six months before we got here. it is less than a mile from our house, is about four square miles in size, and has a marvelous selection of animals. They stocked it with only a few of each species initially, but with the good rains in the last two years, the flora and animals have multiplied. There are about 20 ostrich, 30 wildebeest, 20 large kudu, many warthogs and vervet monkeys, 6-8 roan antelope, two eland (the largest antelope there is), some zebra, hartebeest and impala, tawny eagles, and two new white rhinos, for which a special paddock was built. With our little Suzuki Samurai, with the canvas top off and the windshield down on the hood, we often go on our own game drives!

Ed told an old friend in Johannesburg that he viewed our assignment in Botswana as an extended safari, and it truly is.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Photos of the Day – All About Me

According to my mother, the photographer who shot the series of "tanker" photos for the Texaco newsletter fell in love with me (who wouldn't?). He took a roll of film of me dressed in my mom's shoes and hat taking my doll for a walk. I'm guessing I did this activity after the photo shoot when I might have been craving a little attention!


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Letter From Africa

So, how would you feel if your mother was living 7,654 miles away from you and she sends you a letter that starts like this:

Dear Sarah,
Again, it's been so long that I don't remember where we left off. The only thing good about that is that I haven't had time to get bored. We are off to Nxai Pan this weekend and I want to get this to you first in case we are eaten by lions.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Dog Named Jeff

My grandfather, Carl, and his family, adopted a Boston Terrier back in 1915. They named him simply Jeff. Included in the documents my grandfather saved all these years was Jeff's pedigree chart and a couple of blurry and faded photos. I'm not necessarily a fan of the Boston Terrier (sorry to my friends who do have one), despite the fact I have lived in the Boston area for over twenty years. Jeff's AKC number is 210340, and the thought did cross my mind to look into his ancestry – since that is what I like to do on this blog – that is, until I read on the AKC website that all Boston Terriers came from the same two canines. Oh well. Makes you wonder about us humans, doesn't it?

According to the AKC, the Boston Terrier is nicknamed the "American gentleman among dogs" because of his characteristically gentle disposition. The breed is a true American breed, resulting from a cross between an English Bulldog and a white English Terrier.

Around 1870, William O'Brien of Boston sold an imported dog named "Judge" to Robert C. Hooper, also of Boston. This dog was commonly known as "Hooper's Judge" and became the ancestor of almost all true modern Boston Terriers.

He was mated to a white bitch owned by Edward Burnett named "Gyp" or "Kate"(one of Jeff's ancestors listed on the chart is a Gypsie J. – most certainly just a few generations removed from Gyp). From that mating descended a dog named "Wells' Eph" who was bred to a bitch named "Tobin's Kate". The Boston Terrier as a breed evolved from these dogs.

In 1889 about thirty fanciers in and around Boston organized what was known as the American Bull Terrier Club. They were showing dogs name as Round Heads or Bull Terriers. As time went on, these people met with considerable opposition from Bull Terrier and Bulldog fanciers who objected to the similarity of breed name, as they said this new breed was quite unlike their own.

As this breed was in its infancy, the AKC was not yet convinced that the breed would breed true to type. The new breed's supporters would not be dissuaded, however, and they established the Boston Terrier Club of America in 1891, changing the name of the breed from Round Heads or Bull Terriers, to Boston Terriers, taking the name of the city where the breed originated. The American Kennel Club admitted the breed to the Stud Book in 1893.

The AKC says the Boston Terrier is not a fighter, but is able to take care of himself, and is eminently suitable as a companion and house pet.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Life in Botswana: November 1990

A New Adventure - International in Scope

More excerpts from my parent's journal: Life in Bostwana.

Ed and I have had another one of our "adventures". On Saturday, Nov.17, we drove to the far side of Gaborone Dam in the Suzuki jeep to mark the new, additional site for the Yacht Club. Afterwards we decided to drive the length of the Dam, and drove about 12 km to a closed gate. When we started to turn around to return home, the motor stopped. Nothing we tried, including pushing, would start the jeep again.

We thought it would be closer to walk southward toward the Ramotswa road than to walk the 12+ km back to the gate and the road home. This was about 10:30 am. I was in sandals, with a plastic bag for a hat, and carrying a bag with tissues, glasses (not sun), my camera and a hardcover book. Ed had no sunblock but he did have a hat (we later shared) and he was carrying our video camera. We had no water, no wallets, but I did have P17 in my bag.

Gaborone Dam
We followed a car path which followed a fence until it petered out in a rocky, thicketed meadow by the Notwane River. We came to a fence which led down to the water, followed it and swung around the end of the fence into what turned out to be a cattle pasture. We followed along the river, about 15 ft from it, when suddenly we heard a loud splash at the river's edge. We concluded from the huge disturbance we saw in the water that it had to be a crocodile (we had heard reports of a second one). We headed inland a bit before continuing and maintained a respectful distance from the shoreline.

We came to the Notwane Dam and considered crossing the water via the dam spillway which would take us to a visible road. The only problem was that there was an eight foot drop from a cement wall to the curved, sloped spillway wall. We considered various ways of doing this but I was really worried that Ed would break a leg, fall on the rocks, or in the water with the croc, so we decided against that and instead to walk around the dam to the road.

Notwane Dam
Just as the route around the dam appeared blocked we came to another gate, open, and saw a new road, newly graded. We set out, certain that it would lead to the main road. At least we could see if there there were snakes or crocs on a dirt road. We walked along this road in the blazing, hot sun, for over three hours. Then we saw a windmill! How wonderful to see signs of human beings, the first we had seen since we started down the road.

We approached the borehole (dry) and saw two rondavels. After a loud "ko ko" brought no response from the first we went to the second. We asked for water, "metsi", and they brought us a clean, quart-size tin can nearly full. Tasted terrific! We asked the direction to Ramotswa and they pointed in the direction we had been going, so we continued on our way.

Both of us were only momentarily refreshed by the water and were individually wondering how much longer we could go on when Ed spotted another rondavel and a car! Ed asked the driver how far it was to Ramotswa. He said it was 20km, on the other side. "What do you mean, the other side? "In Botswana - this is Bophuthatswana - South Africa." Ed pointed to the ground "This is Bophuthatswana?" "Yes." We were astounded! We had walked 10 miles straight into South Africa without knowing it and without seeing any people.

The driver agreed to drive us to the border at Ramotswa for 20 rand. We offered him our 17 pula and off we went, 5km on the same dirt road and then 15 more to the BOP border post. Our driver beat a hasty retreat.

Well, the immigration people didn't know what to do with us. The BOP commander said it was "like you had come from the sky". After much conferring among themselves they decided to ask the South African police who were posted there to advise and train the BOP immigration and customs people. The SAP were nice, if somewhat sceptical at first, and sat us in a cool office, gave us cold Cokes and offered food, which we declined. 

One of the BOP officers went over to the Botswana border post and came back, saying that it was all closed up (it was about 4:30). The SAP kindly offered to drive us 50-60 km to the Kopfontein gate, opposite Tlokweng, giving us (and themselves) a cold beer as soon as we left the compound and another one half-way. They returned immediately for a goodbye celebration, as they were all returning home on Wednesday, after four months in post. The SAP thought we would have to get our passports in order to leave Bophutha-tswana, but the senior BOP officer said "No problem" and had his man escort us on foot across the border to Botswana immigration, who were incredulous when they heard the story from the officer in Setswana and our version in English. How happy we were to be home - almost.

By now everyone whose phone number we knew by heart was at the Marine Ball (we were supposed to be there also) except for our Canadian friends, the Loves. Thank goodness they were home! They drove to Tlokweng to vouch for us. Ed meanwhile wrote a summary of what had happened for the supervisor and we filled out forms. They still required our passports so Ed drove back with the Loves (I remained as hostage, reading my book), got them and returned. We finally reached home - and water, water, and food, at 8:30. We were very tired.

The jeep was recovered Tuesday evening. Nothing was touched, not even my shovel inside the open-backed vehicle. We learned later that the Botswana-South Africa border fence (which we went around) extends to the center of the Notwane River, about 500 meters below the Notwane Dam, and goes midstream to the Dam wall, through it and the Dam itself, continuing up the river. At the point where we rounded the fence, the point of South Africa is about 400 meters from the Lobatse highway.

Several morals which result from our (mis)adventure are:

  1. Whenever you leave civilization (people, houses) always take water with you: the corollary is, if you do not have water, don't go to the bush, even in Gaborone.
  2. Better go on a known route, especially when walking, than attempt to find another way home. Going back the same way we had driven was a much shorter (and safer) distance than we walked trying to take a short cut.
  3. Always take a hat
  4. Keep sunblock in the car.
  5. Always take a reasonable amount of money when you drive – anywhere. 
  6. Memorize the telephone number of the Embassy. There's always someone there to answer the phone.
Nancy Ambrose

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Letter to Nancy Louise Ericke

Strikingly similar in tone to my last post, I found a heart-warming letter that my grandfather, Carl Ericke, wrote to his daughter (my mother Nancy) after she broke the news that she was engaged to my father, Edwin Ambrose. This letter also starts out funny and sweet, and then you begin to feel the overwhelming love and support between a father and a daughter, much like we witnessed in the letter between a son and his mother in my previous post (Please note that I went back to the last post and added the text in case you had difficulty reading it).

May 9, 1952

Dear Nancy,

Now I know the origin of the expression “This is so sudden!” We were waiting for a call from Bill. When I heard your voice I knew something had happened and I’m glad you kept on talking since it could have been most anything. I guess the rush of recent events here has me in the qui vive. So I am glad the news was what it was.

Comparing you with your girlfriends, I know you have a lot of common sense and good judgment. Comparing Ed with the other fellows I have met, I’d say he has what it takes. In the abstract, therefore, your decision appears to be a good one.

For me, to theorize is one thing but for you it must be more than that. So since you sounded happy it must be alright. And when you are happy your mother and I are happy too!

Since you say there is no rush – relax – be happy – have fun! I like Ed a lot and you know you are my darling.

Best wishes to you both –

Love, Dad

What record will we have of love letters written in 2011? Even if one writes an email or a text, how many people actually archive them? I heard someone say the other day how they'd forgotten how to write cursive. I think it was a joke, but honestly, the last time I wrote in long-hand was last year when I sent thank-you cards after my mother had died. It's nice to see these handwritten notes, especially of such importance, and to be able to pass them on to generations to come. It makes you wonder. What tangible evidence are we currently leaving for future generations?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Letter to Louisa Steiner Voegtly

My maternal great-grandfather is Adolph Nicholas Voegtly. His nickname was And, or Ad, the spelling of which changed depending on who was doing the writing. Adolph was born on April 1, 1871, in Allegheny, Pennsylvania to Louisa (Steiner) Voegtly and John Voegtly, Jr. He was the youngest of five children, three girls and two boys. I'm not exactly sure what is meant by his reference below  – 12 girls to one man – as I'm still researching this side of the family. But it wasn't unusual for families to have half a dozen or more children back then as their mortality rate was quite high. The Voegtly's were part of a very large extended family that lived in that area of Pennsylvania. Much more about that later.

In June, 1895, at the age of 24, Adolph wrote a letter to his mother telling her of his engagement to Nancy (Nannie) Hays. They were married two years later and had two children, my grandmother Sarah and my grand uncle John.  Anyway, it's another lovely letter that my family has kept and passed down for over a hundred years and I thought I would share it with you. Click on them to enlarge them or read below.

June 28, 1895

Dear Mamma:

You left your poor orphan children rather suddenly. I was never much more surprised than Wednesday evening when I found you had gone, on such short notice. You’ll be almost as much surprised to get this letter from me, as I was to find you missing. I have something very important to tell you that I want you to know before I tell anyone else. Can you guess what it is? I bet you can. Something that you have suspected would happen before long. I’ll not keep you waiting any longer. The news is that I thought there were not enough girls in the family – only about twelve girls to one man – so thought I would invite another to join us. In plain words – I love Nannie Hays – she loves me, and we are engaged.

I hope, dear mamma, that you will learn to love Nannie. I am sure you won’t find that very hard to do. I know it was the easiest thing in the world for me to do.

I needn’t tell you how good and nice and lovable she is – you will find that out yourself, and I know she’ll find out what a dear, good mother I have always had.

And now, mamma, dear, ask God’s blessing on Nannie and I. I asked His help and guidance in this matter many, many times. I believe He has led me to this step. We need His help and guidance now, more than ever. Pray for us. I will write again soon.

Your Loving Son,


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

My Dad, the Jammer

My father wasn't a big talker. Perhaps this was a combination of being both Norwegian and male. Sure, we heard some stories over the years, some more than once, even before he was diagnosed with dementia. Mom and I would "lovingly" exchange glances at the dinner table when we were about to hear another rendition of a familiar tale.

I remember stories about his first few jobs: a soda jerk, a code breaker, and a tour bus driver. In high school, he worked as a soda jerk at the local drugstore. In the Marines, he worked decoding messages. And one summer in college, he drove a tour bus in a national park. When I looked through my parent's massive book collection this summer I was surprised to find evidence of one of these jobs. And no, it wasn't a book on how to make an egg cream (milk, seltzer, chocolate syrup) though he would often reminisce about how much he enjoyed them back in the day. Something even better.

I found a 1949 driver’s manual for Glacier National Park (GNP). Did he drive Bus #91 as scrawled on the title page? The manual is annotated throughout with notes about the flora, and where in the park they could be found. These notes were all in his handwriting, despite the fact that others had used this manual before him. I never knew he could identify Solomon's Seal or Pearly Everlasting. It’s obvious he took this job very seriously – as he did most everything – from the completeness of his notes.

The funny part is, my mother was the master gardener in the family. Was she impressed about his interest in the flowers and trees in that park? Did she see all these notes? Did she visit him when he worked that summer? It was the Summer of '51, the year before they graduated from Univ. of Michigan and two years before they married. I like to think she did.

GNP is still using the same buses that my dad drove over 60 years ago. They’ve been refurbished and are now automatic (though still not handicapped accessible). Built by the White Motor Company in Cleveland, Ohio, between 1936 and 1939, the buses were the third generation of buses to be used for touring the park.

So why are the tour bus drivers called "Jammers"? According to the brochure provided by the Red Bus, “The drivers of the Red Buses are called Jammers by the locals; a name which carries over from the days when the Buses had standard transmissions and the drivers could be heard ‘jamming’ the gears as they drove up and down the rugged mountain highway.” So I wonder if my father jammed those gears on Bus #91? I like to think he did.

My parents took a cross-country tour in 1985, after my dad's early retirement and prior to their move to Botswana. They started out in Connecticut and went through Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, and down through Michigan. One of their stops was GNP, where they took these amazing photos, including the one with the old red buses.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Travelin' Toddler

Do you remember an earlier post where my dad recalled exploring the streets of Syracuse when he was four years old? Well, I think I just found the photo that went with the article. My dad, the one with the wanderlust gene, is on the right. Classic.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Wheel of Grief

Some days are just sad. And today is one of those days. It has nothing to do with work or family. Or in my case, the weather, which usually has a huge impact on my mood; it's a beautiful day in New England today. I can still be productive, engaging, and responsive. But silently, often surprising me, the tears will collect in the corners of my eyes, tempting gravity.

Was it the contentious meeting yesterday that prompted this unsettling feeling? Was it the thought of talking to my insurance company again in order to resolve a year-long billing problem that has suddenly dragged me down? Or was it driving home through Concord Center last night, stopping at the crosswalk while a mature woman and her elderly mother were crossing the street? Yes, that might have been it.

I was so envious of the two of them. I imagined they were just walking back to the car from dinner out at Helen's, a diner-type restaurant in the center of town. I went there with my mother too, what seems like a million years ago. And I'll never be able to do that again, with my mom. So yes, I was envious. And angry. And it surprised me. It made me think about the stages of grief, and wonder, just where the heck am I now in those stages, more than a year later?

So I looked through all the handouts I obtained from my support groups (yes, all 3 of them), and all the books I ordered online. I decided the 5 stages of grief don't really fit me anymore. The first 4 are bad (#4 is especially bad, and long, the big D – depression) and the last step, #5, is: OK, deal with it and move on. I think I've been at this stage for a little while now. It doesn't seem logical, to me, to step backwards from step 5 to step 4 (although my grief counselor said people experience grief differently), so I decided to look for another definition of grief.

On a side note, we haven't sold the house on Martha's Vineyard yet, and the article in the Wall Street Journal the other week actually confirmed my mood. Take a look at the image from the article and tell me you don't see the irony:

WSJ: The other market is still very much in crash mode. In places like Miami, Fla. and even Martha's Vineyard, Mass., prices have continued to drop as foreclosed properties flood the market. But bargains abound as sellers cut their asking prices or accept less to unload properties.

So, back to grief. Online, I found a grief wheel. To me, that even sounds funny since it reminds me of Wheel of Fortune. I can just imagine Vanna standing up on stage in her sequined gown and long tresses pointing out the depressing categories on the Wheel of Mis-Fortune. These, too, can occur at any time, in any order (isn't that comforting?). But somehow, in my opinion, it seems more organic to show them in a circle.

  • Shock.
  • Emotional release.
  • Depression, loneliness and a sense of isolation.
  • Physical symptoms of distress.
  • Feelings of panic.
  • A sense of guilt.
  • Anger or rage.
  • Inability to return to usual activities.
  • The gradual regaining of hope.
  • Acceptance as we adjust our lives to reality.

Now this is a visual I can relate to. I still remember my favorite class in elementary school when we were allowed to make our own color wheel out of acrylic paints. And then again, in college studying graphic design, we had to make a color wheel out of Pantone sheets. Oh, the days when you could accomplish something so simple and so beautiful – so easily.

Maybe this weekend I should make another color wheel, using my mother's watercolors, and then write these stages on it. Then I could spin it daily, and spend ten minutes meditating on wherever it points. That would be a very rational and systematic way to think about grief. Force myself to go through all the stages completely. Would that accelerate me through the grief wheel faster? I doubt it. Writing this blog helps, as do the kind and hysterically funny words today of my friends, Adam and Frank. So things are looking up. And I'm hopeful – no I'm certain – that I'll be a different color tomorrow.