Happy Thanksgiving

I posted this last year, but I’d like to share again with you this year, and I’ve added in a few more photos.  I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving filled with love from friends and family and maybe even a few strangers! I’ll put the closing thought up top because I mean it so much

With that I will close and wish all of you the very best this holiday season. Remember, life is precious so take a moment to smile at people, call an old friend, put aside petty differences with family members, make a commitment to make the world a better place, do something nice for a stranger and most importantly, be good to yourself and make life great!

tdinner malawi

A “traditiona'” Thanksgiving feast in Malawi, Central Africa!

 

I love Thanksgiving.  I think it is the ultimate American holiday where for just one day of the year almost everyone in this great big crazy spread out disparate country of ours is doing the same thing.  And while others may do it now, the idea of having a holiday where we simply give thanks for all that we have always strikes me as uniquely American (and something we should do more).

If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to share with you my most memorable Thanksgiving, which happened in 2001 while I was living in Malawi.  I was volunteering at theMalawi Children’s Village and was teaching, primarily math and English. The event of 9/11 were still, of course fresh.  I sent out the below dispatch and I’ll just let it speak for itself.  Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

With Biston, who always would grab my goatee

 

December 9, 2001

Hello and happy holidays from Africa.

I hope everyone is having a wonderful holiday season. Being literally on the other side of the world I can only imagine what things are like in the U.S. and how special these holidays must be. As I think I have said recently, it’s during these times that I really miss being home with friends and family.

Many of you have asked how I spent my Thanksgiving and I would like to devote most of this dispatch to
that.

Obviously in Malawi they don’t celebrate U.S. Thanksgiving, matter-of-fact they don’t even know what it is. Having lived in Malawi for a while now, maybe I had fooled myself into thinking that I had assimilated into the culture more than I had (well as much as a 6’4, 230 pound red-headed American can). I sometimes forget just how big the cultural divide can be, which was brought home for me in trying to explain Thanksgiving to my students.

At the Christmas party with Jonathan and his mom. Smiles.

 

To digress for just a moment, one of my biggest frustrations for the people here is the utter lack of variety that permeates almost every aspect of their lives, their diet being a perfect metaphor for this. As I have mentioned in past emails, the staple food in Malawi is nsima, which is made from corn meal that is sifted and then boiled until it takes on a consistency of overcooked Cream of Wheat, without the flavor.  You eat it communally, taking a small amount from the shared bowl, rolling it into a ball in your hand, and then dipping it in a relish – usually vegetable or fish, sometimes chicken. This is what the villagers eat for lunch and dinner, without fail, every single day. If you ask Tamanda what she had for lunch yesterday, it was nsima. Ask Mbubakar what he had for dinner last Tuesday? Nsima. Three months ago Friday for Imed? You got it, nsima.

Now, I don’t say this to sound culturally insensitive, but think about that; what if you ate the exact same thing for lunch and dinner every single day of your life? How would you feel about food? Think of the pleasure we take in food and particularly different foods from around the world. Well for the most part, folks in Malawi are never afforded that simple opportunity. A small example: a few weeks ago, I made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for some of my students – none of them had ever had one – and it was like they were eating at Le Cirque.

So back to Thanksgiving: I explained how all over the country, families and friends come together to enjoy a great meal, each other’s company, and in our own different ways give thanks for what we have. I started explaining how cool I thought it was that on this one day of the year almost every American shares a common experience as almost every household has a turkey, mashed potatoes, apple or pumpkin pie and so on. And then looking at them I realized they had no idea what a turkey, mashed potatoes or pumpkin pie are.

So right there I decided that we were going to have a Thanksgiving dinner.
In case you’re wondering, making a Thanksgiving dinner in third world Africa can be a bit of a challenge (though I am sure Martha Stewart could make a beautiful centerpiece from the dead bird and hippo dropping she found by the lake). You can bet there are no turkeys, and the chickens are all pretty scrawny.

Alila carrying wood home.

 

So I decided we would have a slightly unconventional Thanksgiving dinner – pasta, mashed potatoes and gravy, garlic bread, green beans and a little cake for dessert.

I was able to get the pasta and canned green beans from the Catholic Bishop’s residence (it comes over from Italy … seriously). The tomatoes, potatoes, and onions and garlic for sauce were bought from the local marketplace. And finally from the store in town I bought some powdered mushroom soup (which by using much less water than directed would serve as the gravy), some sausages for the pasta sauce, and some flower, sugar and canned fruit for the cake.

Not quite traditional, but a Thanksgiving feast none-the-less

 

The attached pictures show the process and results; the first is cooking the pasta over an open fire – gathering the wood, lighting and stoking a fire, and then feeling like you’re in a sauna; the second is the magnificent feast; and finally everyone enjoying their first experience with pasta. We had such a fun time that evening and for me it was just so rewarding watching the expressions on their faces as they tried each of the foods and scrambled for seconds. The big
hit, as you could guess, was the cake – like everything else we had that night, none of the kids had ever had cake. Again, it’s flavors they have never tasted or knew to taste and in just a very small way, that they probably don’t even realize, just opening their eyes to other things life has to offer.

This is after the kitchen remodel!

 

The week before, our Form 4 secondary students returned from school having all graduated. They are
now waiting for the results of the national exams to see who will be afforded a place at the University.  It gets me down a little, because once again these kids have accomplished something pretty big – graduating from the equivalent of high school – and no one really recognizes their achievement. So I decided that just the six of us would have a celebration: we went to one of the local hotels where we swam, had a great lunch and I gave each of them a watch and a solar calculator (so they don’t have to try to find and buy batteries) that I had brought with me from the States. They were so excited! Every time I would see them they would be sure to tell me what time it was…

As it came time for me to leave, all the students came by to say good-bye and to thank me for what I had done. I once again told them that the pleasure has been mine, that I feel so enriched for having met all of these special people. Life is an amazing thing, and as I think about the events of September 11th, and what is going on all over the world, I can think of spending time with people from a culture so foreign to mine, and mine to theirs, and how that didn’t matter.
Although there are so many things that are different about us, we shared a commonality, that of being human beings that care about each other and at least here
with these people, that know right from wrong.

My adopted family, the Mtaulas!

On several occasions people commented to me that they just didn’t understand why Americans, who have so much, would come to a place like Malawi, and live with so little and without all the creature comforts of home, and yet actually be happy. And I would tell them if I hadn’t have done this I would have never had the opportunity to meet all of them, experience a part of their life, make these great new friends and once again I would tell them that I took way more out of it than I could have possibly given them.

As has been my norm, I would like to end this dispatch with a poem that was given to me as a Christmas gift
by one of my students.

The Jolly Maker
Samuel Aristotle Mtaula
Jolly maker, oh!
I remembered then, for a moment,
With your golden voice,
You taught students.
With wisdom of yours
You created a nice future.
Jolly maker, hmm!
I salute you!

Jolly maker,
In time of sorrow
You set them with smiles.
When they fall in trouble,
With your presence,
They were self.
Oh! A source of happiness.

Happy maker,
There you are,
Indeed you’re a jolly maker.
Let nothing trouble you,
Since you are
Jolly maker.

With your kindness they enjoyed
Enjoyed swimming
Swimming in the swimming pool

With love,
They chatted
No need to get a witness.
With your presence
Many of t hem visited
They visited many places indeed
Ho! Jolly maker!

Jolly maker,
May the almighty God,
Shower you with blessings,
Guide you,
Oh! Jolly maker.

With that I will close and wish all of you the very best this holiday season. Remember, life is precious so take a moment to smile at people, call an old friend, put aside petty differences with family members, make a commitment to make the world a better place, do something nice for a stranger and most importantly, be good to yourself and make life great!

It’s Official – @Pac12 Officially Says Officials are Incompetent

 

pac12 refs morons

(Pac12 officials being Pac12 officials.   Big Game, 2011)

Let’s begin with this.   Complaining about referees and umpires is a favorite pastime of fans around the world.  It’s fun.  It really is. And truth be told, there’s something really entertaining about it when bad calls go against a home team and the crowd gets riled up.  That sort of primal booing gets us going.

We normally hear about how “complaining about officials is for losers.”  And I sort of agree with it. But in the case of the Pac12, so often the officiating in a game is so egregious it warrants discussion and gets attention from national media.

This past Saturday in The Big Game between Stanford and Cal at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, we experienced one of the most hideous displays of officiating people can remember.  And here’s the thing… it wasn’t one call, like in Oregon v Oklahoma.  It was ongoing all game. Even rival USC conceded our game was the worst officiated game!

On the very first play of the game, Cal’s Michael Lowe was EJECTED for an alleged targeting play by umpire Rick DiBernardo.  First play of the game.  No one can ever remember seeing that.  Let’s say for the sake of argument the call was correct.  Later in the game Stanford’s Ronnie Harris takes a completely cheap shot on Cal’s Trevor Davis.  Watch the video.  A few things to note. The pass was well overthrown.  The play is done.  Davis is clearly no longer going for the ball.  And yet Stanford’s Harris hits Davis in the neck and head with his forearm.  A play that should lead to a penalty and ejection.  And here’s the kicker, the official (two in fact) ARE RIGHT THERE as the play happened in the wide open field.  No penalty.

and here’s another view.

Again, the best part is the official IS RIGHT THERE, and yet no flag.  BTW, this sort of play isn’t uncommon for Stanford in Big Games under Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football (seriously,  that’s how Stanford refers to their head football coach) David Shaw.

The personification of Stanford Football

Last year, Shane Skov, one of the dirtiest players in the conference (who was also arrested for DUI), delivered this cheap shot, where he launched himself and delivered helmet to helmet to Cal QB Jared Goff, injuring him so he had to leave the game, which prompted the national broadcasters to say he should have been ejected.  But there was no flag,  let alone ejection.

And of course, no discipline from David Shaw, he of the “Stanford way” fame. (apologies to my Stanford friends, I’m still peeved about that dirty hit)

But that was just setting the table so that the national media could join in.

Late in the 3rd quarter, Cal ran a play for an apparent touchdown as it was ruled on the field.  It was reviewed and determined tho to not be a TD.  Inexplicably the ball was placed at the 1 yard line even thought the ball was either across the endzone or inches short.

On the next play, Cal QB Luke Rubenzer ran a QB sneak and scored.  TOUCHDOWN!  But wait a second, once again the booth official wanted to review and, incredulously, said it was not a TD. You have to understand that in order to overrule a call on the field there has to be “clear and irrefutable video evidence.”

Here is what the reply official could see – there was no clear shot looking down the goal line

And then Jared Goff threw a perfect pass to Kenny Lawler, which was caught for a TD.  But once again the booth buzzed the field and overturned the call. The stadium was in an apoplectic fit with chants of “REF! YOU! SUCK!…. REF! YOU! SUCK!” raining down.

The officiating was so egregiously bad, respected former official and Vice President of Officiating for the NFL and current Fox Sports commentator Mike Pereira felt compelled to do a special commentary on just how bad it was - Bandits in the Booth Cost Cal.  Take a couple of minutes to click on that link to see him rip into the officials.  He literally calls them bandits!! When have you ever heard a commentator use such strong language?

You have to ask yourself if it was in fact corrupt?  Because here’s the sad thing, the Pac12 was embarrassed nationally in basketball last year when it was revealed that its officials were instructed to target Sean Miller, head coach of Arizona, with a technical.

I will give the Pac12 and Larry Scott credit.  Late tonight, after most deadlines, they publicly acknowledged how bad the officials were:

http://pac-12.com/article/2014/11/24/pac-12-clarifies-replay-reviews-stanford-california-game

SAN FRANCISCO – The Pac-12 Conference acknowledged that its instant replay crew made two errors in the Stanford-California game Saturday, November 22, Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott announced today.

During a California possession late in the third quarter, the instant replay crew reviewed three consecutive on-field touchdown calls by the game officials on one California offensive possession.

The NCAA Playing Rules state that to reverse an on-field ruling, the replay official must be convinced beyond all doubt by indisputable video evidence.

Through the Conference’s officiating and game management review process, it was determined that there was not enough evidence through video replay for the instant replay crew to overturn the second and third touchdown calls made by the officials on the field.

The replay crew will be held accountable for the errors through the Conference’s disciplinary process.

But I don’t want to stop there because there’s one more play which absolutely must draw into question the integrity of the officials in Saturday’s game.  Here is a photo sequence of it:

Joined_Image_Onside_Kick_recovery_2

Let me explain what’s happening here. In the first frame you see Cal attempting an onside kick.  In the second frame you see the scrum for the ball and Stephen Anderson coming out with it.  In the third frame you see him running ten yards away – but the officials (unlike every other person in the stadium) don’t seem to see him.  So there is STILL no call by the officials.  Finally, in the 4th frame, you see the back judge Joe Johnston and the field judge Jeffrey Yock, who are still trying to untangle the scrum – not looking downfield to Anderson –  INEXPLICABLY signal Stanford ball.

Think about that for a second.  What is going on?  They CLEARLY cannot see a ball let alone who has possession because THE BALL IS NOT THERE.  Yet with certainty they signal, Stanford ball.  Here’s why that’s important.  Had the ball actually been there, then the call on  the field would have stood under review (I mean come on…).  HOW can the officials make such a blatantly bad call?  It honestly can only be one of two choices – inept or corrupt.  I honestly don’t know  which it is.

So what do you say?  We have official acknowledgement that Pac12 officials in multiple sports are either corrupt or incompetent.  Which do you think it is?

 

“Still no bonfire…” When Cal tricked Stanford into cancelling its own bonfire!!!

WARNING!!!!  This VIDEO IS A SPOILER!!!  Is best to watch AFTER you read the article!!!!

To be sure, there are a lot of storied rivalries in college athletics, but the one between Stanford and Cal is unique is so many different areas, and why it’s held in such affection between the communities of the two schools.  Cal and Stanford are only separated by 40 miles.  One is private the other is public. One has multiple elements on the periodic table (Californium, Berkelium and Seaborgium just to name a few) , the other, well  there’s still no Stanfordium (oh no he didn’t, PERIODIC TABLE SMACK DOWN!!). But most importantly, these are two of the premier academic institutions in the world, both regularly appearing in  the top 10 of world listings – Stanford almost always in the top 3 of private schools and Cal almost always the #1 public school.  And one of the very cool aspects is because the Bay Area is such an amazing place, the whole region is filled with alumni of each institution who see each other every day in their work, social lives, philanthropic arenas, you name it. This is one of the key parts of winning the Big Game – bragging rights!!!

So as between good friends, we like to play jokes on each other – and the Big Game is just ripe for such fun. I don’t think I’m getting old when I say it seems like more of this happened in the “old days,” a category that my time at Cal is sadly starting to enter!   So here’s the story about how in 1990 a group of enterprising Cal students tricked Stanford into cancelling its own Big Game bonfire rally – in the grand tradition of Big Game pranks!

 

BUST - MEMBERS 3

B.U.S.T.  – Burn the Ugly Stanfurd Tree – was a “secret” group at Cal whose main charter was to devise a way to foil Stanford.  And to drink.  Now I’ve put up the old member list here to really drive home how it was another time and place. See anything missing? Yeah, area codes.  Back then the entire Bay Area was 415 so no reason to list area codes! Over shots of Jaeger up at the Big C, or pints at Raleighs, or Golden Bears at Henry’s, or pitchers at the Bear’s Lair  or… wait a second I see a theme emerging here …  we would throw out idea after idea about what we could do to Stanford.  Finally we thought – you think we could trick them into cancelling their bonfire rally?  We all smiled and we knew what our mission was!

BUST 1991

Look at the handsome group of students!  How devious could they be?

Here was the plan.  We’d capitalize on some embarrassing behavior by their band (I mean, how easy would this be) and by their students that had made news to create a directive from then-President Donald Kennedy that he had no choice but to cancel the bonfire rally.  OK, sounds fun, but how do we do it?

First we needed to create an official memo.  Again, this was pre-Internet so there was no easy way to download letterhead or forms… We had to make it ourselves.  Well turns out I had a book on the history of all college nicknames (of course I would have that book…). So I copied the Stanford logo and created some fake letterhead on an at-that-time kick-ass word processor!  Here is a photo of the original scotch-taped document.

BUST - Letterhead

 

Now we had to create an official looking document that sounded like it came from the President of Stanford – just the right touch of pretentious and superciliousness –  and of course we had to plant an inside joke… so here you go and I think you’ll find our inside joke (and no it’s not that I misspelled cancelled).

BUST - letter

And now the fun would begin!  How would be get the word out?  Remember, this is 1990, so no emails, no internet, no Facebook… Well that group of fine looking Cal students took it upon themselves to go down to Stanford in person.  Over their B.U.S.T. t-shirts on they all put button down shirts and red ties or red sweater (they felt dirty!).  Then they loaded into a few cars with hundreds of copies of the memo.  And down to Palo Alto they drove.

Now, while my brave comrades were doing that, I had to work.  But I wanted to make sure people actually knew about what we were doing.  So I called all the local media outlets and faxed over a copy of the memo to them (Oh my god, even back then I was doing PR!!).  Would it work? Again, just to give you an idea of the times, here is the note sheet I was using.

BUST - Members

 

At about 6PM, we all met in Senior Hall on campus, and we found out some great stuff.  One, the B.U.S.T. group was able to circulate through the campus, posting the flyer all over.  They presented themselves as members of the President’s Student Leadership Committee. Luckily for us, Stanford students had no idea no such group existed!  But best of all, not only were they able to post the flyers,  they actually got Stanford students to post them for them, in dorms, in residence halls, at fraternities!!!  And people were really disappointed the rally had been cancelled!

And then we had to wait.  And wait.  Would they figure it out?  Would they be able to mobilize in time to save the rally?  OK, now you can go watch that video… as the planned 8PM start time for the rally approached, no one was there.  The Stanford football team showed up, no one was there.  9PM.  No one.  10PM.  A few people and now they were trying to get word out that it was a HOAX!  So they got word out that the rally would start at 11.  And in came all the broadcast news teams for live shots of the “cancelled” rally – they had ALL bit on our fax!!!!

And you know what, every single 11PM broadcast news had a story about the cancelled rally, and how it was pulled off by Cal!  And it made it into the papers the next day, even including secondary researched material by reporters!!!

BUST - Examiner

And should Stanford people try and muddle or confuse or cast any doubt on the success of this, I’ll leave you with how the then-NBC affiliate KRON signed off at 11:30PM, which is the title of this post.

I hope you enjoyed this and if it does nothing else I hope it encourages our current generation of Cal students to have fun and do you what you need to do!

GO BEARS!!!

 

 

 

GO BEARS! Growing Pains Can Be Fun!!

Cal lost to UDumb, sorry, UDub, on Saturday at Memorial, in Berkeley. I’d rather win but as we know this is going to  be a learning experience for these young Bears.  It’s a process so we’re going to get games like this.

So a few day-after thoughts. My feelings are sort of like after the UoA game… rough loss, but tons of positives to take away for fans.

We knew this was going to happen you guys. We knew at some point this season we were going to get a sort of clunker. So it happened. Walking up to the stadium I told some friends “You know, I think our defense is going to play really well today, I think we can blow them out…” OK the second part didn’t happen, but the first did. Really solid job by the defense.

This is all new for these players. After the last 3 years, I can forgive them for maybe just getting a little heady. And now a great lesson. You’ve to work hard and keep at it. If you want to listen to some great interviews and immediately feel good about the mindset, attitude, fortitude and approach of this team, check out Jared Goff on youtube. When asked “Does this shake your confidence, he says “NEVER!. We know not to get complacent” That is exactly what you want to hear.

Daniel Lasco says “It’s a lesson learner, we’re going to play even more tough next week! It’s just unacceptable as an offense. We got to watch the social side of it… there was a lot about scoring 50 points earlier in the week and people forget how hard it is… at the end we needed this.” I love that approach. One thing about the “social side” of it.  As fans we’re supposed to have fun.  I am a big believer in living in the moment and having fun  with it but this is a new world so some  of that stuff  may just cross a line. It can seem harmless but these are basically kids and can buy into that stuff too easily.

I’ll leave the Xs and Os to other people. Loss aside, what a great day at Memorial. After a few bad years in a row it takes a bit for fans to get back into. But almost 45K filled into Memorial yesterday and they were excited. There was a palpable buzz before the game… the houses around campus had bigger pregame parties… it felt good. Unfortunately with that first bummer fumble / 100 yard TD it made it sort of tough for the crowd but here is the REALLY COOL thing about having an offense that can score. Going into the 4th Q down by 21, almost NO ONE had left. And they didn’t really start leaving until just about the very end.

HUGE HUGE HUGE THANKS to Beth Graham Yenser! I tell you I think Zach Yenser outkicked his coverage with her! She is awesome. Also, I really want you guys to know how much the Cal family is invested in this. Kate Golding Dykes is so cool, and she’s one of us. I know it’s easy to say when her husband is the coach, but she has really become a part of the Cal community.

Kate Golding Dykes putting up with an aging loud alumnus

You know what I love about Cal football (and life) is I can be having a bad week and then I go to a game and see all my old friends and meet new friends like Christian Eric Dean.

And be inside beautiful Memorial Stadium and see the Campanile at Sunset and it reminds me how lucky we’ve got it.

So now the key thing. BEAT THE BRUINS!!!!! Every time you see someone from the satellite campus in LA, the FIFTH of the UC campuses, make sure to tell them

GET YOUR OWN COLORS!
GET A REAL BEAR
GET YOUR OWN DAMN FIGHT SONG!!!!

Why I Fist Bump 9/11 – Mark Bingham

Originally posted on i Am Fiat Lux:

Image

YOLO!!!!  You Only Live Once.

Oh do I get grief for that.  And for my obsession with the fist bump – the exploding fist bump!  So I thought I would take a moment to share with you the genesis of that.

Yep, it’s 9/11, so time for my annual homage to my great friend Mark Bingham, who was taken from us entirely too early 12 years ago.  It would almost be impossible for any of you reading this, who likely know me, to not know of Mark Bingham.  Mark was one of the heroes of United 93 who in a selfless last act of courage helped bring down the aircraft which experts believe had the US Capitol Building as its target.

Mark was one of my best friends.  Now the great thing about Mark is you could probably ask 20 people and each of them would also say “Mark was…

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My Thanksgiving In Africa

I love Thanksgiving.  I think it is the ultimate American holiday where for just one day of the year almost everyone in this great big crazy spread out disparate country of ours is doing the same thing.  And while others may do it now, the idea of having a holiday where we simply give thanks for all that we have always strikes me as uniquely American (and something we should do more).

If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to share with you my most memorable Thanksgiving, which happened in 2001 while I was living in Malawi.  I was volunteering at the Malawi Children’s Village and was teaching, primarily math and English. The event of 9/11 were still, of course fresh.  I sent out the below dispatch and I’ll just let it speak for itself.  Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

 

December 9, 2001

Hello and happy holidays from Africa.

I hope everyone is having a wonderful holiday season. Being literally on the other side of the world I can only imagine what things are like in the U.S. and how special these holidays must be. As I think I have said recently, it’s during these times that I really miss being home with friends and family.

Many of you have asked how I spent my Thanksgiving and I would like to devote most of this dispatch to
that.

Obviously in Malawi they don’t celebrate U.S. Thanksgiving, matter-of-fact they don’t even know what it is. Having lived in Malawi for a while now, maybe I had fooled myself into thinking that I had assimilated into the culture more than I had (well as much as a 6’4, 230 pound red-headed American can). I sometimes forget just how big the cultural divide can be, which was brought home for me in trying to explain Thanksgiving to my students.

To digress for just a moment, one of my biggest frustrations for the people here is the utter lack of variety that permeates almost every aspect of their lives, their diet being a perfect metaphor for this. As I have mentioned in past emails, the staple food in Malawi is nsima, which is made from corn meal that is sifted and then boiled until it takes on a consistency of overcooked Cream of Wheat, without the flavor.  You eat it communally, taking a small amount from the shared bowl, rolling it into a ball in your hand, and then dipping it in a relish – usually vegetable or fish, sometimes chicken. This is what the villagers eat for lunch and dinner, without fail, every single day. If you ask Tamanda what she had for lunch yesterday, it was nsima. Ask Mbubakar what he had for dinner last Tuesday? Nsima. Three months ago Friday for Imed? You got it, nsima.

Now, I don’t say this to sound culturally insensitive, but think about that; what if you ate the exact same thing for lunch and dinner every single day of your life? How would you feel about food? Think of the pleasure we take in food and particularly different foods from around the world. Well for the most part, folks in Malawi are never afforded that simple opportunity. A small example: a few weeks ago, I made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for some of my students – none of them had ever had one – and it was like they were eating at Le Cirque.

So back to Thanksgiving: I explained how all over the country, families and friends come together to enjoy a great meal, each other’s company, and in our own different ways give thanks for what we have. I started explaining how cool I thought it was that on this one day of the year almost every American shares a common experience as almost every household has a turkey, mashed potatoes, apple or pumpkin pie and so on. And then looking at them I realized they had no idea what a turkey, mashed potatoes or pumpkin pie are.

So right there I decided that we were going to have a Thanksgiving dinner.
In case you’re wondering, making a Thanksgiving dinner in third world Africa can be a bit of a challenge (though I am sure Martha Stewart could make a beautiful centerpiece from the dead bird and hippo dropping she found by the lake). You can bet there are no turkeys, and the chickens are all pretty scrawny.

So I decided we would have a slightly unconventional Thanksgiving dinner – pasta, mashed potatoes and gravy, garlic bread, green beans and a little cake for dessert.

I was able to get the pasta and canned green beans from the Catholic Bishop’s residence (it comes over from Italy … seriously). The tomatoes, potatoes, and onions and garlic for sauce were bought from the local marketplace. And finally from the store in town I bought some powdered mushroom soup (which by using much less water than directed would serve as the gravy), some sausages for the pasta sauce, and some flower, sugar and canned fruit for the cake.

The attached pictures show the process and results; the first is cooking the pasta over an open fire – gathering the wood, lighting and stoking a fire, and then feeling like you’re in a sauna; the second is the magnificent feast; and finally everyone enjoying their first experience with pasta. We had such a fun time that evening and for me it was just so rewarding watching the expressions on their faces as they tried each of the foods and scrambled for seconds. The big
hit, as you could guess, was the cake – like everything else we had that night, none of the kids had ever had cake. Again, it’s flavors they have never tasted or knew to taste and in just a very small way, that they probably don’t even realize, just opening their eyes to other things life has to offer.

The week before, our Form 4 secondary students returned from school having all graduated. They are
now waiting for the results of the national exams to see who will be afforded a place at the University.  It gets me down a little, because once again these kids have accomplished something pretty big – graduating from the equivalent of high school – and no one really recognizes their achievement. So I decided that just the six of us would have a celebration: we went to one of the local hotels where we swam, had a great lunch and I gave each of them a watch and a solar calculator (so they don’t have to try to find and buy batteries) that I had brought with me from the States. They were so excited! Every time I would see them they would be sure to tell me what time it was…

As it came time for me to leave, all the students came by to say good-bye and to thank me for what I had done. I once again told them that the pleasure has been mine, that I feel so enriched for having met all of these special people. Life is an amazing thing, and as I think about the events of September 11th, and what is going on all over the world, I can think of spending time with people from a culture so foreign to mine, and mine to theirs, and how that didn’t matter.
Although there are so many things that are different about us, we shared a commonality, that of being human beings that care about each other and at least here
with these people, that know right from wrong.

On several occasions people commented to me that they just didn’t understand why Americans, who have so much, would come to a place like Malawi, and live with so little and without all the creature comforts of home, and yet actually be happy. And I would tell them if I hadn’t have done this I would have never had the opportunity to meet all of them, experience a part of their life, make these great new friends and once again I would tell them that I took way more out of it than I could have possibly given them.

As has been my norm, I would like to end this dispatch with a poem that was given to me as a Christmas gift
by one of my students.

The Jolly Maker
Samuel Aristotle Mtaula
Jolly maker, oh!
I remembered then, for a moment,
With your golden voice,
You taught students.
With wisdom of yours
You created a nice future.
Jolly maker, hmm!
I salute you!

Jolly maker,
In time of sorrow
You set them with smiles.
When they fall in trouble,
With your presence,
They were self.
Oh! A source of happiness.

Happy maker,
There you are,
Indeed you’re a jolly maker.
Let nothing trouble you,
Since you are
Jolly maker.

With your kindness they enjoyed
Enjoyed swimming
Swimming in the swimming pool

With love,
They chatted
No need to get a witness.
With your presence
Many of t hem visited
They visited many places indeed
Ho! Jolly maker!

Jolly maker,
May the almighty God,
Shower you with blessings,
Guide you,
Oh! Jolly maker.

With that I will close and wish all of you the very best this holiday season. Remember, life is precious so take a moment to smile at people, call an old friend, put aside petty differences with family members, make a commitment to make the world a better place, do something nice for a stranger and most importantly, be good to yourself and make life great!

Good Night Bryan and Thank You

bryan jess and me

This morning I received the awful news that a wonderful friend of mine died last night.  He wasn’t killed.  He didn’t suffer in a terrible car accident.  He didn’t die from a long battle with a fatal condition.  From what I understand, he got home from work last night, while watching TV with his fiance he fell asleep… and never woke up.  Just quietly, peacefully and uneventfully like that.

It’s so tragic it’s almost poetic.  Bryan was such a kind soul and paradoxical to his rally-the-troops way of getting friends together for drinks or a game, he was in fact a quiet man.  He was intelligent and thoughtful, he was sensitive to other people’s condition and feelings.  There was an interesting hard-to-explain calming quality about Bryan.

The photo above was taken earlier this year.  That’s Bryan, his fiance Jessica and me enjoying dinner with other friends Rico and his wife Cat, after an A’s game.  That was pretty much a perfect day for Bryan.  A ballgame, a good meal and drinks over a great conversation with good friends. My heart breaks for Jessica. Her pain is 1000 times more intense than mine.

No conversation about Bryan would be complete without mentioning his love of Cal sports and for his love of bringing people together to enjoy them.  His tailgates were legendary.  Here is one from earlier this year and that’s Bryan right there enjoying the hell out of bringing so many friends together. Tomorrow’s game is going to be hard.

OSU tailgate

The funny thing is it’s not like Bryan and I were lifetime friends… we’ve only really known each other for a few years. But in that brief time a bond was created, the sort of connection that makes life so special.  We’d have late night discussions on Facebook about sports and work and life.. we had the same profession so we’d talk about that and Bryan would say to me “When you start your own company I want to be the first employee…”  We’d agree that Cheers was better than Seinfeld.  That this would be the year the A’s would win the World Series or that Cal would go to the Rose Bowl. We’d talk about how great Jessica is…

Bryan’s passing, in such an non-eventful way and far, far too prematurely reinforces in me the philosophy I hold so dear and share with others.  Carpe Diem.  You have to seize the day.  As I say over and over, life is meant to be lived and for you to have an impact on it.  There’s a great speech by Robert Gordon Sproul, UC Class of 1913 and President of the University from 1930 – 1958, an excerpt of which I’d like to share with you:

If man’s brief stay on Earth may be compared to a splash on the sea of life, his circle of friends and associates is the ripple therewith set in motion.  The larger the splash, the stronger the ripple tends to be and the farther and wider it will extend.

Some men profess indifference to the ripple they create, but modesty or blindness may be suspected in that.  Few of us can turn existence into living without the inspiration and the help that comes from others. The more actively we live, the more important others become – for they are both audience and fellow actors. Among them must be sought a supporting cast for the role we dream of playing and the critics who will help us play it well.  One cannot light a torch in a vacuum.

That was Bryan to a T.  So tomorrow as I know Bryan would want I’ll get together with friends at the Cal game and cheer GO BEARS and, as much as I hate the stuff, I’ll raise a shot of Jameson to him.

The very last thing Bryan posted on his Facebook is below, and I can’t think of a more fitting last thought from Bryan.  Fiat Lux Bryan, keep that torch burning bright.

Bryan facebook post

Thanks for reading and if you have thoughts and memories of Bryan you’d like to share, please feel free to leave a reply.