Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas 2008

Dear Friends and Family,

This is a difficult letter to write. Probably because we crammed so much into 2008 and came away at the end of the year needing a rest cure, which we are now getting at Becky and Kurt’s on Christmas and Boxing Day. In total we have spent over four months this year in South Africa and as we get more involved with the homeless here, the time we spend is getting too short. There is such need. But I digress.

Last Christmas season we came to Cape Town in early December and stayed until March 1st. Because we now have a tiny flat at the edge of Green Market Square in the heart of the city, we have a new appreciation for the hardships of those living in this first world, third world country. It is first world when you are a tourist; third world for those trying to get things repaired or those living in poverty who can’t find jobs and are without support services. We had an eye-opening experience when we started going to the Central Methodist Mission church right on the Square. Literally, they feed the homeless on the street each Sunday. In the summer they get a sandwich (peanut butter or perhaps one slice of bologna and butter on bread) and tea; in the winter a cup of soup, a sandwich and tea. This is their meal for the entire day. We began adding fruit to their diet. Now we have come to know some of the men and women who live on the street and each week we try to do our small bit to support the greater effort.

Last winter we also attended Summer School at the University of Cape Town, including hearing lectures on the Sounds of the Night Sky (did you know that stars make sound?), on South African economics, and on the Karoo, a desert area northeast of here. It was fun and I hope we get to do it again. We also travelled with Becky and Kurt to the Drakensburg Mountain area of SA and to Lesotho (pronounced Lay-su-tu), a beautiful, rugged, mountainous, remote country embedded inside South Africa. It was a wonderful trip. We walked rugged hillsides, ate pap and spinach, visited a sangoma, and one fine day I slept under a tree and pretended I was in the
movie, “Out of Africa.” Do you know it?

From March to June we were back in Glen Ellyn for a beautiful spring. Floyd was on the committee to hire our new Pastor, taught computer classes for North Central College and the College of DuPage, gave several presentations to the Southmen (a group he has breakfast with each Wednesday and would you believe leaves at 6:00 am to do so) and supported our home church as a Deacon and as a member of the Communication Committee. He also is Editor for the Northern Illinois Hosta Society and the Mid-West Hosta Society newsletters. Betsy has focused on her roles as a church Elder, the Property Chairperson, and a member of the Finance and Mission committees. In March, she was Show Chairman for the Earth Science Club of Northern Illinois’ Rock and Mineral Show. She also volunteers weekly at SCARCE (a recycling
center for books which are given back to those in need and which provides books for our Ghana effort); and for Walk-In Ministry. Together each week we sing in the church choir and give out food through the People’s Resource Center’s local food pantry. It feeds over 1700 people each month, a very important community asset. It is no wonder we needed a rest cure.

We did get to visit friends and family too. We were happy to have Becky come for a visit in April, then Lauren Schroeder, a graduate student of Becky’s from South Africa stayed with us for a few days, and in June we went to a Rogers’ family reunion in Oklahoma at Red Rock State Park. We were especially glad to see relatives Floyd hadn’t seen since childhood. It was also our first tenting experience in years and we were delighted to find out we could still enjoy it.

In mid-July after the Midwest Regional Hosta Society convention we returned to Cape Town to try out South Africa’s winter. We cooked the homeless a huge pot of soup each week, and I got tired of making the same thing over and over again, to match what others were making. Dried lentils, peas, beans, water, fresh carrots, and celery all simmered in beef broth. When done, we added cooked spaghetti and salt. One
Saturday night I decided to add just a little bit of blue cheese for flavor. Becky had done something similar a few days before and the result was delicious. By morning there on the stove was this frothy, rancid smelling, witches’ cauldron soupy mess that we were supposed to provide at 9 am. It was definitely uneatable. A cookbook stated baking soda would solve the problem. I headed for the street. The food stores were closed. Finally, I asked myself, “Where might I find baking soda?” and remembered it was used for putting out kitchen fires. Sure enough, in the local coffee shop under the counter in the bottom of a rusted tin was baking soda. It saved the day. The people on the street got their soup. I tasted it. If you knew what you were looking for you might have tasted the baking soda. It was okay. The street people loved it and to this day call it “American Soup.” Becky suggested I had changed their internal flora forever.

Giving children the opportunity to read is my passion so we also carried a suitcase full of books for Stepping Stones; a preschool for children of the working poor. Each week every child takes home a book. Although many of these children speak Afrikaans, English, and their native language, often their parents and sometimes their teachers can’t read. By getting books into children’s hands, we are hoping that will be read to by siblings and others that can. The desire to learn is certainly there.

While in South Africa, we also traveled to Calizdorp in the Klein Karoo (small desert) with Becky and Kurt, staying at the Old School House for a few days. This is port (wine), lamb and ostrich country. We enjoyed the solitude of the area, just dark starry nights, big fires, great food and family time.

Late August is early spring in South Africa, and Floyd and I got into the car and drove north to an area near the Namibia border called Namaqualand. Because of heavy winter rains the flowers were in bloom. For a few weeks, orange, red, yellow, purple, blue, and white flowers carpet the land everywhere you look. Getting to see it was a once in a lifetime experience that we really enjoyed.

September, October, and November we were back in Glen Ellyn, volunteering and working. We were able to support our on-going Ghana project, packing books for a shipping container that went to two Kasei and Ejura area schools plus schools supported by a United Nations project in Ghana. And in November, I took a class in grant writing at the College of DuPage. December 1st we again returned to South Africa, last week helping the Central Methodist Mission provide 120 homeless men, women and children with Christmas dinner. Thanks to our friends at Southminster for help in funding this effort. I will write another letter about it soon.

As we end the year, it gets harder and harder each time to leave the other place. We miss our friends and family when we are here, and miss Becky and Kurt and friends when we are there. There is so much to do, so little time. For all our relatives who would like to have a picture of Floyd and I, Becky and Kurt, here is one taken at Moyo, an outdoor African restaurant last week.

As we end what for all of us has been a difficult year, our thoughts are on the year ahead. Wishing you all health, happiness and peace, we are thinking of you.

Betsy and Floyd

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Stone Age Tool Find

Acheulean is the name given to an archaeological industry of stone tool manufacture associated with prehistoric hominins during the Lower Paleolithic era across Africa and much of West Asia and Europe. Acheulean tools are typically found with Homo erectus remains.

I picked this particular handaxe up on a public beach in Cape Town. One of the local experts said that the find had no particular scientific value because the origin of the artifact could never be determined. So, it will make a nice paperweight. The length is approximately 18cm and the handaxe is water-worn and smooth.

It was the dominant technology for the vast majority of human history and more than one million years ago it was Acheulean tool users who left Africa to first successfully colonize Eurasia. Their distinctive oval and pear-shaped handaxes have been found over a wide area and some examples attained a very high level of sophistication suggesting that the roots of human art, economy and social organization arose as a result of their development. Although it developed in Africa, the industry is named after the type site of Saint Acheul, now a suburb of Amiens in northern France, where some of the first examples were identified in the nineteenth century.

The Lower Paleolithic is the earliest subdivision of the Paleolithic or Old Stone Age. It spans the time from around 2.5 million years ago when the first evidence of craft and use of stone tools by hominids appears in the current archaeological record, until around 100,000 years ago when important evolutionary and technological changes (behavioral modernity) ushered in the Middle Paleolithic.

Early species

The earliest hominids, known as australopithecines (personified by the famous find of Lucy by Don Johansen in Ethiopia) were not advanced stone tool users and were likely to have been common prey for larger animals. Sometime before 3 million years ago the first fossils that may be called Homo appear in the archaeological record. They may have evolved from the australopithecines or come from another phylogenetic branch of the primates.

Homo habilis remains, such as those from Olduvai Gorge, are much more recognizable as humans. Stone-tool use was developed by these people around 2.5 million years ago before they were replaced by Homo erectus about 1.5 million years ago. Members of Homo habilis used Olduwan tools and had learned to control fire to support the hunter-gatherer method of subsistence.


Use-wear analysis on Acheulean tools suggests there was generally no specialization in the different types created and that they were multi-use implements. Functions included hacking wood from a tree, cutting animal carcasses as well as scraping and cutting hides when necessary. Some tools may have been better suited to digging roots or butchering animals than others however.

Alternative theories include a use for ovate hand-axes as a kind of hunting discus to be hurled at prey. Puzzlingly, there are also examples of sites where hundreds of hand-axes, many impractically large and also apparently unused, have been found in close association together. Sites such as Melka Kunturé in Ethiopia, Olorgesailie in Kenya, Isimila in Tanzania and Kalambo Falls in Zambia have produced evidence that suggests Acheulean hand-axes may not always have had a functional purpose.

Recently, it has been suggested that the Acheulean tool users adopted the handaxe as a social artifact, meaning that it embodied something beyond its function of a butchery or wood cutting tool. Knowing how to create and use these tools would have been a valuable skill and the more elaborate ones suggest that they played a role in their owners' identity and their interactions with others. This would help explain the apparent over-sophistication of some examples which may represent a "historically accrued social significance".

One theory goes further and suggests that some special hand-axes were made and displayed by males in search of mate, using a large, well-made hand-axe to demonstrate that they possessed sufficient strength and skill to pass on to their offspring. Once they had attracted a female at a group gathering, it is suggested that they would discard their axes, perhaps explaining why so many are found together.

** Most of this text was extracted from where more information may be found.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Historic Day

December 7, 1941 is a day that will live in history. But I would be willing to wager that very few of you know of the significant event that occurred just a few hours before.

December 6, 1941 was a momentous day. Evanston, Illinois was the town; Evanston Hospital was the place; Elizabeth Hamilton Wood was the baby born to Millicent and James Wood.

No, this is not a picture of the baby, but her dad is in there somewhere. But I digress. The baby eventually grew up, married, raised two beautiful daughters, and matured into the lady you know as Dr. Betsy Rogers.

Which brings me to the real reason that I am subjecting you to this trip into the past.

Becky had told us there would be a party on December 6th and that we were expected to attend wearing tattoos, in addition to normal party attire. Where to get tattoos? With the help of some younger friends, we went online and immediately found a source for the type we wanted to take to Africa.

The night of the party arrived. We applied our tattoos, packed up our offerings and headed out. I had made a platter of sushi which disappeared almost as rapidly as the champagne.

The setting was beautiful, both inside and outside. This home is in the foothills of Table Mountain, on a large property with extensive, well-tended, beautiful gardens.

Birds of Paradise, Astrolomaria, Golden Cypress, Bears’ Breeches, Mandeville Bush (not a vine), six foot tall Geraniums, and many, many more outstanding varieties of perennials and annuals. Spectacular!

We sat down to enjoy our dinners and some more wines. It is customary for everyone to bring wine and pass the bottle around so that all can have a wee taste. So we “wee tasted” for some time that evening. We also toasted Betsy and sang Happy Birthday to her.

The evening ended with dessert wines, one of which was purchased quite some time ago, brought to us by Mike and his wife who own a wine shop. It currently retails (if you can buy it) for R25,000 ($2,500) a bottle. It was nice, but get real! Actually, it was really nice.

We had a great time. Happy birthday, Betsy.


Friday, December 12, 2008

Trailer Park Flash

Once upon a time, in a land far away, a little boy and girl were adopted by a woman and her husband. Now this mom and dad had been adventurers all of their lives but had never had time for a family, until it was almost too late. (All characters in this story are completely fictional and do not represent anyone living or otherwise.)

Mom and dad had really enjoyed their lives, traveling to wonderful places, meeting all kinds of strange and exotic people, so they wished their children to experience the same kinds of things. When little Rob and Sasha got to be a bit older and begin attending school, mom and dad bought a camper and began to take them around the country.

They visited with the Eskimos, danced with them, ate seals and rubbed noses. Rob really liked the nose thing and Sasha really liked the fur coats – they were warm. When the weather got too cold they packed up their mukluks and drove the camper to a warmer place, a place in Wyoming where wolves and coyotes gathered around a geyser to sing to the moon and stay warm in the thermal baths. Some of the wolves even drank their bath water!

It was a wonderful life for Sasha and Rob. They camped out all over the world and really grew to love that lifestyle. Fast forward about twenty years. Sasha and Rob had gone their separate ways but the childhood memories remained. They were fond memories, but reality told them the memories were all in the past.

And then one day Sasha’s real estate agent called her and said, “Sasha, I have this really terrific opportunity for you. I have this historic hotel in the middle of the world’s favorite city, and the price is right.” Sasha had been toying with the idea of opening a Bed & Breakfast, or of buying a campground so this offer was interesting. The price was right, for two people, so she naturally thought of her brother, Rob.

Rob happened to be between jobs and flew in to check it out. “This is a good place, could be great with some changes. Let’s do it!”

That was the easy part. Then came the rehab challenges. It was a historic building so there were limits on what they could do to it. Painting was permitted so they did that. Sign changes were ok, so the place became “The Grand Daddy” and another idea grew.

“Do you think it would be possible to do something on our roof?” Sasha asked Rob. “You mean up there in the sun where the air-conditioning units sit?” Rob asked incredulously. “Yes,” Sasha replied, “up there in all that wasted space. We could hide the unsightly with clever fences and create our own campground.”

“Campground!?” said Rob. “In the middle of the city? What would the neighbors think? Who would want to camp out on a roof in the middle of the most beautiful city in the world?”

I would,” said Sasha, “and there others like us who would find it quirky and cool. We can hire a crane to lift Airstreams to the roof, do some roofscaping and some lounge furniture. We’ll call it “The Venue” and advertise it on the internet. It will be a trailer-trash magnet.”

“Don’t forget the grills and the bar,” said Rob. “This just might work.”

And so it was born.

The Airstream Penthouse Park (opens Dec 2008) is the only trailer park penthouse suite in the world; this experience is more trailer park flash than trailer park trash. The Penthouse Park comprises seven original Airstream trailers (ranging in size, model and origin) imported from the USA.

Each Airstream has been handed over to an artist or designer, in order to reinvent them as a collection of creative and conceptual moving rooms. Not that these rooms are going anywhere…firmly entrenched in the garden of The Grand Daddy’s rooftop, they are an offbeat alternative to conventional hotel accommodation and an excellent location for a private celebration with a small group of friends or family.

All the Airstream trailers are air-conditioned and have modern plumbing and electricity so their not just for Girl Guides and Wilderness Willies. In fact, the iconic Airstream is cleverly kitted out, luxurious and comfortable.

The Airstream Park is where the journey continues.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Safe Arrival - Cape Town, South Africa - Dec 1, 2008

And the good news is … THERE IS NO BAD NEWS! We arrived EARLY, all of our luggage arrived WITH us, we SLEPT on the flight over.

Becky greeted us with the news that their fish store had SMS’d (text messaged) her with a tuna special. To put this in perspective, sashimi–grade tuna goes for ~$20 a pound in our area when you can get it. With the current exchange rate over 10 Rand to the Dollar and 2.2 pounds to the kilogram, that works out to less than $3 a pound.

We dropped our luggage off at the flat and headed over for some great wine and wonderful sushi. As we pulled up to their home, we were greeted by a group of carolers. We enjoyed their songs, thanked them and headed in.

We are a bit tired, but not so much that we can’t enjoy the scenery here in Cape Town. Did I mention that it is around 75 degrees? More later as things get rolling. For now, we need to restock the refrigerator and get other essentials tended to. Best to all.