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Archive for the ‘Marie’s Musings’ Category

Last November, when my sister Sue and I were doing genealogical research in New London, Connecticut, we stumbled across a curious religious group known as the Rogerenes. John Rogers, son of Connecticut founder James Rogers, organized the Seventh Day Baptist Church of New London in 1674. The sect survived into the early twentieth century.

The Rogerenes were sometimes referred to as Singing Quakers, Rogerene Baptists, and Quaker Baptists, although they were neither Quakers nor Baptists. Like Quakers, they believed in peaceful non-resistance. Like Seventh Day Adventists, they observed the Sabbath on the seventh, not the first, day of the week. Much like Christian Scientists, they believed in healing by prayer.

Sue and I were trying to track down our great-great-great-great grandfather, David Rogers who was born around the time of the Revolutionary War. All we knew about him was that his wife was named Mary and they had four children die in March of 1823. We don’t know why they died. In those days, diseases such as Yellow Fever would periodically ravage communities and take out families, but we haven’t found any evidence of an epidemic that year. The children ranged in age from eight to fifteen. Son David G., from whom we’re descended, was six at the time and, of course, survived.

Rogers Cemetery #5

The children were buried in Rogers Cemetery #5 near Montville, Connecticut. We knew that because their graves were recorded on Find a Grave. Finding the cemetery would have been nearly impossible without the help of the local historian, Jon Chase, because there are a good half-dozen Rogers Cemeteries in the county.

Children’s Graves

Other than approximate birth and death dates, we knew little else about David and nothing about Mary. Family lore held that David had been an English captain on a whaling ship and had sailed around the world three times, but family lore can be more fictional than factual. My great-great Uncle Will had our family history traced to the Mayflower, but that document has been lost. Neither Sue nor I have found a connection between the Mayflower Rogers and ours. We spent four days combing through records in Connecticut libraries and city halls. At one time, Connecticut must have had more Rogers than roaches, and many were named David. We kept finding references to the Rogerenes.

Many colorful stories surround the Rogerenes. John Rogers married Elizabeth Griswold four years before he started his church. She not only failed to join his congregation, she felt humiliated by his conduct and sought to divorce him. She described him as a “queer creature who behaved not as other men.” He “entertained strange religious beliefs.” He worked on the Sabbath, refused to pray aloud, and “would not take the noxious medicines prescribed for the ills of Puritan flesh.” The divorce was granted.

The Rogerenes were devoutly Christian but rabidly anti-clerical. The Congregational Church was tax supported. John believed that ministers should not be paid—and certainly not supported by taxes. When they refused to pay taxes, the Rogerenes were heavily fined, and thus had to pay twice.

John Rogers’ House

John Rogers believed one should worship God in a scriptural manner, not by ecclesiastical dictum. “All unscriptural parts of worship are idols and all good Christians should exert themselves against idols.” The Rogerenes didn’t believe in the sanctity of the Puritan Sabbath, holding that since the death of Christ, all days were holy. After church services, they would go about their day like any other. On Sundays, they’d intentionally work where church-goers would see them. If that didn’t get enough attention, they’d march through New London, noisily proclaiming that they were working on the Sabbath.

They’d enter churches of other denominations with their hats on. Sometimes they’d burst in, shouting and disrupting the proceedings, and argue theology with the minister. The women would bring their sewing and knitting to church. Their peculiarities of belief and conduct provoked persecution which “left them neither liberty or property or a whole skin,” according to one chronicler. They were frequently fined, imprisoned, tarred, whipped, and thrown into the icy river for their impudence, but that didn’t change their ways.

The Rogerenes never violated civil laws, only ecclesiastical laws that they believed infringed on their rights of conscience. They fought for religious liberty, against the tyranny and bigotry of the Congregational Church.

John Rogers clashed for years with Reverend (later Governor) Gurdon Saltonstall, who was intolerant of divergent Christian sects. One time, John placed his hand on his heart and stated, “This is the humane body of Christ.” Blasphemy! His sentence was to stand on a gallows with a noose around his neck for 15 minutes and pay a 5 pound fine. Further, he had to post bond of 50 pounds to guarantee his future good behavior. It did no good. John spent nearly four years in prison.

Governor Saltonstall

After Saltonstall was elevated to governor, he had John declared insane. As a result, the windows of his jail cell were blacked out (common treatment for insanity at the time). But John’s friends rioted and had the boards removed. In another incident, John was punished for helping a young man escape from prison. When another Rogerene was imprisoned for failing to keep the Sabbath, her supporters removed the doors from the New London jail.

There are several versions of a story about a Rogerene couple who paid a visit to Rev. (or Governor) Saltonstall. He was either dining or relaxing with his cigar when they arrived. They boasted that they were married in the Rogerene tradition, outside the church and the control of civil authorities. They demanded to know what he was going to do about it.

The good Reverend (or Governor) said to the man, “You mean you are cohabiting with this woman?”

“That’s right,” the man said.

“Madam, you are living with this man as his wife?”

“Yes,” she said, just as proudly.

“Then, by the powers vested in me by the Colony of Connecticut, I pronounce you man and wife.” Then he went back to eating (or smoking his cigar).

Rogerenes wouldn’t say grace at meals. They believed all prayers should be said mentally unless the “spirit of prayer” compelled the use of voice. They believed infant baptism was wrong and practiced adult baptism by immersion. Many of their beliefs sprang from a literal interpretation of Bible passages. The Rogerenes believed that Communion, or the Lord’s Supper, should be celebrated only in the evening.

A few years after Governor Saltonstall departed Connecticut to join his Maker, Reverend Mather Byles, being only in his twenties and no match for the Rogerenes, became their target. It got to the point that if he saw them, he wouldn’t leave home to walk to church. If they came to his services with their hats on or asked him questions, he’d discontinue the service. As soon as he could, he left for a church in Boston where he enjoyed an illustrious career.

Rev. Mather Byles

Our ancestor David continued to elude us, but hardly a source we looked at failed to mention the Rogerenes and their antics.

At one point, Sue said, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we found out we’re descended from them?”

Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, check out my book Trials by Fire, available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle.

 

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At first, they called it a novel coronavirus, but it mutated into a real-time dystopian novel.

At the turn of the year, Covid lurked in the sidelines, waiting to take center stage. Initially only a vague specter, it materialized from the shadows to become a source of ghoulish entertainment, dominating the airwaves. Can this be a replay of 1918? Surely not in this age of medical miracles! But the pundits could not hide their dread. Their knitted brows were enough to freeze my spine. Older ladies of my acquaintance, thinking they were prime victims, quarantined themselves. It was rumored this would become everyone’s fate, but surely that couldn’t happen, could it?

1918 Flu Epidemic

On Friday the 13th, the world changed. Schools closed. People stopped going to work. Panicked hordes stripped grocery shelves clean. Of toilet paper, no less. Meetings, travel plans, even weddings and funerals were cancelled. Life, once plotted out in calendar entries, became a fogged-up windshield in a vehicle out of control, hurtling at unknown speed to a nebulous future. That’s when I realized I was living inside a dystopian novel.

Stories and movies came to mind, of catastrophic events that spelled the end of the world: wars, alien invasions, plagues decimating the world’s population. In some stories, heroes emerged to save remnants of mankind, while in others the heroes were lucky to save themselves. Dystopian stories are great entertainment, but they’re no fun for their besieged characters. And now I was a character in one!

As a writer, it’s not such a bad place to be as long as my retirement checks keep coming, the electric grid holds up, and I can get groceries every week or so. If the electricity fails and I can’t get to the store, I’d still survive, as long as my cache of last year’s hurricane supplies held out. But, darn, I’d have to write on paper instead of my computer if the power went off.

Then I found out how much I depend on technology. One day, my phone stopped working. Good, no spam calls for a few days until a technician can fix it. I still had internet. A week later, the internet went out! I nearly panicked. I was a character in a movie, surrounded by unknown perils, cut off from the outside world. How could I survive without email, Google, and Wikipedia? Fortunately, the phone company had it fixed within hours.

The first week of quarantine was unsettling. The second, I settled into the unreality of it and watched the movie play out around me. But the surreal turned bizarre when the world began to morph into my dystopian novel.

My yet-to-be-published dystopian novel takes place in the future when solar power has replaced fossil fuels, but it didn’t happen soon enough. South Florida has gone the way of Atlantis and autocrats build houses that can withstand Category 7 hurricanes. Books aren’t banned, but they’re obsolete. My heroine collects books on history and studies them to uncover lost truths. When information is stored digitally, it’s easy to rewrite history.

The federal government is weak and ineffectual and the US has been partitioned into autonomous regions, each with its own set of laws. When a killer hurricane strikes, Georgia closes its border to keep Florida refugees out. Hospitals are out of supplies and the sick and injured crowd the hallways and cover the floors. The poor are hit hardest and rich see opportunities to enrich themselves. Until the pitchforks come out…

 

My novel is a fantasy, a series of events that (I sincerely hope) won’t come true. Or will they?

Coastal communities are already dealing with sea level rise. Hurricanes are becoming more powerful. (My fellow Floridians really dread the advent of this year’s hurricane season.)

As Covid went viral in New York and New Jersey, and hordes of Yankees headed south to escape, there were rumors that Florida was setting up roadblocks to keep them, and their contagion, out. Hospitals are over capacity and undersupplied. An economic bailout has the rich corporations making out like bandits while the rest of us are being thrown crumbs.

I wrote my book long before all this became reality, and I never expected to see it happen. Each development has made me pause and reflect. Just coincidence. I’m certainly no prophet.

Then a government official gave out erroneous information and the website he alluded to was later altered to agree with what he said! Rewriting history is not a new idea. Remember 1984?

Now several states, frustrated by the failed leadership of the federal government, are forming regional coalitions to make pacts on how to keep their citizens safe while restoring normalcy.

But not all is gloom and doom. In my book, the heroes encounter good people, many of them have-nots, who share what little they can. Even some of the well-to-do show their charitable sides.

In the current pandemic, people are stepping up to contribute what they can to those in need. Mom and Pop restaurants are feeding the hungry. Ladies with sewing machines are stitching up face masks. It’s refreshing to see that compassion and service survive in in our present dystopia, as well as the fictional ones.

I’ll tell you, though, if any more elements of my book come to pass, (if the pitchforks come out!) I may just have to rewrite it. Maybe as a cozy romance? What could be the harm in that?

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Forest bathing, a form of Nature Therapy, has been around as long as people have lived in the woods. The Japanese call it Shinrin-yoku, or “taking in the forest atmosphere.” It’s a great way to cope with stress. I’m sure that’s what made Thoreau’s life at Walden Pond so therapeutic.

A nice place to bathe.

Today, everyone blogs about how they’re coping with Covid 19. I follow several blogs. Some folks, who used to post weekly or monthly, have taken to posting every day. I suppose that’s how they cope, but I don’t have time to read them all. You might say I cope with my bulging inbox by ignoring some of them. Sorry, fellow bloggers.

I follow all the health guidelines, but I don’t obsess about the virus. It’s been years since I had a cold or flu. Not because I haven’t been exposed. The past two flu seasons, I’ve gone to the elementary school to work with the children’s school gardens and found half the staff and student body out with the flu. Most of the teachers wore masks. They offered me one, but I declined. Although children hugged and touched me all day, I didn’t get sick. (I just hope my luck holds out!)

Several things keep me healthy. One is my well water. Sometimes people who come to the house mention the taste or smell of sulfur, but I’m so used to it I don’t notice. Sulfur water is good for you.

Another is gardening. Besides the enjoyment, there are scientific reasons why gardening makes us feel better. Healthy soil has bacteria that interact with our bodies, boosting our moods and immune systems. How these bacteria get into the body, scientists aren’t sure. They may interact with the skin or we may inhale or ingest them.

One organism they’ve studied is Mycobacterium vaccae. Scientists have fed M. vaccae to mice and found they have less anxiety and perform better in mazes. They’ve isolated a fatty acid in M. vaccae that binds with receptors in immune cells, locking out chemicals that cause inflammation. They think they can use this to make an anti-stress vaccine. But don’t wait for a vaccine—you can buy M. vaccae supplements!

When we garden together, the children get their hands in the dirt. This contributes to their health. Presently, schools are closed and parents are trying to homeschool their offspring. I hope when they get tired of them underfoot, the parents send the kids outdoors into the sunshine and fresh air to get dirty.

Another thing that keeps me healthy is living in the middle of five acres of woodland. Although confined at home, I have freedom. Forest bathing is an everyday thing for me.

My house in the woods.

Up until a few weeks ago, I was busy with many volunteer activities. So busy, at times I threatened to go back to work so I could get some rest! Or I wished the world would stop long enough to let me catch my breath. Be careful what you wish for.

At the beginning of the month, my calendar for March and April was so full I barely had a day each week to just stay home. Church, Garden Club, Master Gardeners, Writers Alliance—all had demands. This doesn’t include personal and family things, and writing.

I made to-do lists. Lots of lists. On one piece of paper I had five lists. On another, six.

Stop the world! I want to get off!

I was kidding! Really. I just wanted a little relief, some time to myself. Could I be personally responsible for this worldwide shutdown?

Leaves of three–don’t bathe with me!
Poison Ivy

Overnight, everything was cancelled, through April, maybe May, or beyond. No meetings. No plant sale. No school gardens. No granddaughter’s softball games. No church services. (These are being broadcast over Facebook, but I don’t have to go anywhere, just stay home and watch.) Days and days without obligations, nowhere to go, no one to see. I’m an introvert, happy to be by myself with my thoughts.

Virginia Creeper is a good neighbor.

Many people have problems with social isolation. Not me. But I’m not totally isolated. There is telephone and internet. I’m in contact with people every day and there’s still work to be done: approve the Garden Club budget, field questions and information, tend to Writers Alliance business that must go on, etc. I stay busy, but it’s so nice not to have to go somewhere every day. I can wear old clothes and forget makeup and deodorant. I take naps. I’m a hermit. I love it.

I can’t sit still long enough to binge on Netflix. I may watch an hour or two a night, or I may just read. I also listen to self-improvement podcasts. That’s where forest bathing entered the equation. Towards the end of one podcast, the guru said. “Now go out and do some Forest Bathing.” Isn’t that what I’ve been doing?

I write outdoors as much as possible. I’m writing this on my laptop on the porch. I’m moving my houseplants outside. I’m making attempts at vegetable gardening, even though last year the wildlife harvested more than I did. I walk the quarter mile down my driveway to the mailbox. Even though I’m mostly in the shade, my skin is showing signs of tan.

My driveway

But when I googled Forest Bathing, I realized I was leaving out an important factor: mindful meditation. I shouldn’t just scurry around getting my hands dirty. I need to make mindful contact with the soil, breathe deeply, close my eyes, feel the sun on my skin, listen to the birds and beasts that share my little paradise. Smell the wild azaleas.

Native wild azalea.

 

But many of you are still in the throes of winter, or you live in cities where you can’t get out in nature. What can you do? Get a houseplant. Start a tomato plant on your windowsill. Open a window for a few minutes and drink in fresh air. Use your mind to forest bathe. Imagination can be powerful. Close your eyes and picture yourself in the woods. Take a hot bath and pretend you’re basking in a hot spring in the mountains. Make plans to get out into the wild once this is over. Hold to that possibility. This, too, shall pass.

You can also read a good book that takes place in nature. I have a suggestion: Trials by Fire. The story will take you out of yourself and into a wilderness far, far away.

Available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle.

 

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You may have noticed I haven’t posted in a while. It’s not that I’ve been idle. This year I’ve done a lot of traveling, besides to Djibouti in January. During the summer, I traveled as far as upstate New York for a family reunion and spent time with my children and grandchildren in the mountains of Virginia and West Virginia. Then in October, I realized one of my life-long dreams and went to Greece—Athens, the Parthenon, and beautiful islands in the Aegean Sea.

As if that wasn’t enough, in November I joined my sister Sue in Connecticut for a genealogy expedition. This was the first time since childhood that I ventured to a northern clime during winter. I survived. When my granddaughter was born in the Blue Ridge Mountains in December, I braved snow and ice for this happy occasion.

So I have many adventures to write about, including the rest of my journey to Djibouti. I promise to deliver.

That doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing, because I have. I’m polishing a novel I wrote during NaNoWriMo a few years ago, while another simmers on the back burner. One of my short stories was published in Bacopa Literary Review this fall. But what I’m excited about today is the novel I just released, Trials by Fire, which is the first volume of a trilogy, The Long Road to Namai.

This story has been down a long road itself. When I was a kid, my sisters and brothers and I would camp out in the backyard on summer nights and tell ghost stories. This was science fiction, not a ghost story, and it was so long ago I don’t remember much about the original version. During college, I developed the story a little more. Through the intervening years, I wrote at least one short story which bears little resemblance to the present incarnation. None of these previous efforts bore fruit.

Then I retired and spent a month writing the first novel length version. I went so far as to self-publish it, but gave away more copies than I sold. A few years later I reread the book and thought, “What a great story, but what lousy writing!” I took it off the market and totally recrafted the whole thing. The story was still good and the writing much better, but it was too long and I couldn’t get the word count down without sacrificing important elements.

I decided to follow the suggestions of friends to divide the story into at least two parts and market it to Young Adult readers. I won’t bore you with all the details involved in getting a book market-ready, but as one person warned me, it takes longer than you think. Finally, here it is.

I’m sure you’ll enjoy this novel even if you’re not into science fiction. It’s also a human interest story and unlike anything else you’ve read. During the coming year, I will finish parts two and three and release them for your reading pleasure. Stay tuned.

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Did you know there is a Trump Tower in Djibouti? It’s a well-kept secret, but pictures don’t lie. (Well, sometimes they do, but I don’t know how to photo-shop.) Not only do few people know about this feat of architecture, even fewer have been inside. I’m one of the lucky ones.

West side of the Lighthouse.

It is better known as the Balbala Lighthouse or the Ayabley Lighthouse, named for the colonial fort that once guarded the city. It stands catty-corner across the street from the Project House. The exterior is an invitation to graffiti, and someone spray painted in large letters:

After we finished our first session at the Project House we walked across the street to the lighthouse.

Town of Balbala from the lighthouse.

Three of the bead girls, including “Rose,” went with us.

Sisters and Bead Girls

When I visited Djibouti in 2004, we were not allowed to go inside, but that has changed.

Djibouti City

A family lives in the lighthouse. We asked for permission to go in and they granted it. The tower is in the corner of a gated wall around a dusty courtyard. We had to climb several stone “steps” to get to the gate, not an easy feat for little old ladies wearing long dresses. The man who said we could come in noticed us struggling to scramble up a two-foot high step and brought out a small stool to make it easier. This was one of the many examples of courtesy we were to experience in this Muslim country.

North view

Inside the building is a steep metal staircase/ladder with rickety railings that may have been there since the lighthouse was built 100 years ago. The staircase shook and swayed as though welds and bolts were ready to come apart. It seemed to be held together primarily by a fresh coat of paint. A reasonable person would have declined to set foot on such a structure, but we had already stepped outside our comfort zone many times on this trip. Faced with an adventure of a lifetime, we refused to let caution stop us. Fortunately, the ladder held together and we met with no mishaps.

This looks more solid than it felt.

The bottom story of the tower serves as the family’s kitchen. The floor is hard-packed dirt that seems to slope towards the door. There may have been a reason for that—drainage?—in this land of little rain? The floor may not have been leveled since Djibouti gained its independence from France over forty years ago. What clued me that this was a kitchen was the presence of two refrigerators. There was no stove, only a cooking area on the floor similar to a small fire circle at a campsite. The family did not want us to take pictures of their home, and we respected that, but I was allowed to photograph the staircase.

Northwest view

The windows were covered with boards, perhaps to protect from heat and dust, but there were gaps to let in a little light. Openings in the walls look like slits from which to fire guns. That suggests the lighthouse once served as a fortress.

East view

 

The second floor was bare except for a few pallets and a hammock with mosquito net, obviously the sleeping area. I never encountered any mosquitoes in Djibouti, but I’m told that they can be a problem at times.

Southeast view

In my experience, lighthouses are built near the ocean and I wondered why this one is so far inland. When I stepped out onto the roof, I found out why. The tower is built on the tallest hill in the area and you can see all around the city and countryside for many miles. Its light projects far out to sea.

The Port in the distance.

The lighthouse is, and has been, operational for over 100 years.

The light

The Project House can be seen from the roof, as can volcanoes in the distance.

Project House and gas station, volcano in distance

 

In the corner of the compound opposite from the tower is a covered area. This could have been housing for another family or additional living or work space for the family in the lighthouse. It would have been shady, if not rainproof, but the walls would have blocked any breeze. I didn’t think to ask what it was.

Courtyard

Local author Djibouti Jones wrote an article about her visit to the lighthouse at http://www.ethnotraveler.com/2013/12/light-upon-light/. Please read it. After their visit, she and her friend Sayiid disputed whether there were three floors or four. Sayiid was right. Trust me, there are three: the kitchen floor, the bedroom floor, and the roof. Climbing up in the lighthouse is such a unique experience, it’s easy to see how the imagination could be overwhelmed.

This building next door looks official but doesn’t appear to be in use. The khat stand on the left was probably put out of business by the khat store across the street.

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Saturday morning, Lorraine picked me and Jen up at the guest house and we all went to the Project House. The lobby was full of young girls, the Running Girls, who were there for their graduation.

The Running Girls

The Project house is a center for several programs sponsored by Local Initiatives for Education, or LIFE, the NGO the Nordmeyers work for. It’s housed in a four bedroom, two bath apartment above two storefronts in the nearby community of Balbala. When I visited in 2004, Balbala was outside the city, but by now the city has grown around it. Its name refers to the flashing light of the lighthouse which is located there.

LIFE sponsors a girls’ track team. Until recent years, girls in Djibouti did not participate in athletics. At first there was resistance to it, but it has become acceptable. More than acceptable—one of the graduates of the program participated in the Summer Olympics in Brazil in 2016.

The running girls range in age from 11 to 16. They train at the local stadium and come to the Project House only for special events. To participate in the Running Club they are required to stay in school. On this occasion, each girl received a backpack full of personal items and writing materials. The backpacks were made at the Project House by the Sewing Girls.

Three of the graduates

I’m always impressed by the colorful clothing of the women of Djibouti. Many of the Running Girls are very poor but they wore their best outfits that day. In the pictures, you’ll see that everyone is barefoot. It’s customary to take your shoes off at the door to avoid tracking in any disease-causing organisms you might pick up on the streets. Most people wear flip flops, which are cool and easy to slip on and off. The Running Girls are given athletic shoes for training, but some of them run on the track barefoot because, they say, the shoes are too heavy.

Girls with backpacks and coach

Lorraine called the girls into the work room two or three at a time, spoke with them, and gave them their backpacks. Most of the girls were quite shy. They also kept their heads covered even though they were inside, at a safe place with only women. Later during our stay we attended a track meet and saw some of the girls run.

The Project House has a sewing room, a bead room, a store, and a workroom.

Shopping opportunity

Lorraine and her friend Herut teach sewing to young women to prepare them to make an independent living. They make purses, aprons, pin cushions, rag rugs, and other things, including back packs. The girls receive two years of instruction, and when they graduate, each is given a pedal sewing machine. This is important because their homes have no electricity. They leave the program with marketable skills.

 

Sewing Room

Donations of these pedal sewing machines come in from all over the world. A few of the girls have a mechanical bent and have learned to repair the machines for the Project House.

Old pedal machine in good condition.i

The Bead Girls were trained to make beads from strips of paper rolled up and covered with resin. They now run their own business and rent their room from LIFE. I put in an order for a blue necklace and earrings. One girl looks so much like Jen’s daughter Rose that she and Jen “adopted” each other when Jen visited before.

Jen and “Rose”

On Sunday, we returned to the Project House. The Bead Girls were cutting strips of blue magazine pictures for my beads. The Sewing Girls were making pin cushions. These are very nice, but they stuff them with scraps of cloth. Lorraine has suggested they stuff them with hair, which would keep the pins from rusting, but they say no, the hair is dirty. She told them they could wash it, but they hadn’t followed this advice yet. If they’d had pin cushions stuffed with hair, I’d have bought some.

The Bead Girls at work

Jen knows how to reupholster furniture and was happy to teach the girls. A couple of chairs at the Project House needed to be recovered. Jen showed them how to take the seats apart, measure the fabric, cut it, and reassemble the chairs. They worked on a simple chair with a seat cushion and a desk chair. The girls caught on quickly. This was to be a two day job.

Working on a chair cushion

Monday morning, we returned to the Project House where Jen helped the girls finish upholstering the chairs. Now they have an additional skill which will help them earn a living. Sue showed the girls how to make a fabric flower to embellish a project.

Finished chairs

The storefronts downstairs house an auto parts store and a khat store. On the first day, I took a picture. We heard that the men at the khat store didn’t like it, so when we went back, we asked permission. Immediately, they became friendly. So friendly, that when Lorraine told them we were her sisters, they proposed marriage! She said we were already married, so that was that.

Khat and auto parts stores

We returned to the Project House the following Sunday. By now, my necklace and earrings were ready. Herut had made a fabric purse to which she affixed a cloth flower, the center of which was a button. That purse would bring a pretty penny at a fashionable boutique.

This time, Sue taught the girls how to sew a zipper into a throw pillow and we showed them how to make a lapped pillow cover. Covered pillows are yet another product the girls can make to sell.

This was our last visit to the Project House. Djiboutians are generous people who enjoy feeding visitors and giving gifts. The girls probably would have showered us with gifts, but we settled on one apiece. Deka gave me a bag she had sewn. I am proud to use it as a book bag, a crochet bag, and an all-round tote bag.

Deka’s bag and my beads

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Since I last visited Lorraine and John in Djibouti in 2004, they had downsized their living space. The boys had gone off to college and now live in the US. Sadie, the only child left at home, attends school at Rift Valley Academy in Kenya and wasn’t home when we visited. Although the family has a three bedroom house, John uses one bedroom as his office, which leaves only one for guests. And there were four of us.

A few blocks away is an apartment leased by a non-governmental organization. The Nordmeyers rent a room there when they need a “guest house.” We decided that Sue and Nita, who were new to Djibouti, would stay at the Nordmeyers, and Jen and I, who had visited before, would sleep at the guest house.

The apartment is on the second floor in a building with three other units. There is an office used by the NGO staff and three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a tiny kitchen. The dining area in the hallway outside the kitchen has a table that seats no more than four people. Lorraine had furnished us with breakfast items, but we ate most meals at her house.

View from the back window of the guest house. Note the contrast between opulence and poverty.

Behind the guest house are empty lots surrounded by walls with gates. There may have been buildings here at one time that have been taken down. Two or three men have shelters in the lots. I don’t know whether they live there by permission or are squatting. One morning I watched a man get up, fold his bedding, and prepare to go to work.

Besides use of the kitchen, we had the master bedroom and bathroom. The bedroom has a double bed and a single. The double is so tall one almost needs a stepstool to climb on it. The single bed is a wooden frame with ropes to support a foam mattress. Jen didn’t want to climb, so she chose the single bed and assured me it was quite comfortable.

The frame of the single bed.

Closeup detail.

The master bathroom has a built-in tub with sides two feet high. Why so high, we never learned. The other bathroom has a shower. Few people in Djibouti, other than VIPs from other countries, have water heaters. The city water doesn’t run all the time. When it does, the household fills a large tank out in the yard. While the water sits in the tank, it warms to the ambient temperature. Since it was winter, the water wasn’t very warm. For this reason, neither of us cared to soak in that deep tub.

The water tank is shaded by bougainvillea to keep the water “cool” in the summer.

To take a shower with cold water is akin to immersing oneself in a Florida spring (72 degrees year round). Either ease into the water and wait for your nerve endings to go numb one by one, or take the plunge and get it over with. I prefer the slow option. Turn the water on, slowly let one part of your body adjust to the temperature, then expose another, until you can stand it well enough to get clean.

The water is also brackish, so everyone buys drinking water. I used tap water to brush my teeth as well as for washing, with no ill effects. But the salt is hard on plumbing. When we first arrived, a dish had been set under the toilet connection to catch water dripping from a small leak. I’d empty the dish when it got full. A few days later, the dish was no longer adequate to hold the leaking water, so I replaced it with a cooking pot and asked John to notify the landlord. Before he replaced the connection, the pot became inadequate and we’d come home to a wet bathroom floor. The floor in the other bathroom was frequently wet as well. At first we didn’t understand why. It turned out to be another leak.

I must mention the toilet. Because of the inadequacy of the plumbing, one did not put toilet paper in the commode. There was a waste basket beside it for the used toilet paper. It was the maid’s responsibility to empty it. I felt sorry for her but was glad I didn’t have to do it.

Air-conditioning was available, for an extra fee, so we didn’t use it. We opened windows for a cross breeze. Since it seldom rains in Djibouti, I didn’t worry about rain coming through the windows, but sometimes we’d come back to find the windows closed and the apartment stuffy.

Only a few times did we have contact with the people who used the office. We were usually out and about during the day when they were there. Although the cleaning girl came in sporadically, I saw her only once. The place didn’t get very dirty. Sometimes she did laundry and dried it on racks in a vacant room. People who came in during the day often left dirty dishes that seldom got washed unless we did them.

The maid came in one morning before we left, with a baguette and an orange soda. She said something about “Coke,” but she knew little more English than we did Somali. Finally, I figured out that she wanted to eat her breakfast before working, which she did. Bread and soda. I hope she had more nourishing meals later in the day.

We had little contact with other inhabitants of the apartment building, other than the watchman. Every gated compound has a watchman who lives on the property in a roofed shelter. His job, besides keeping an eye on things, is to open and close the gates. When residents get ready to leave in their car, he’ll open and close the gate for them. When they drive home, they toot the horn and he’ll open the gate. There is a small gate for pedestrians, which we generally used since Lorraine’s house was within walking distance. A few times the latch got messed up, and the watchman came to our rescue.

“Johnny’s” shoes

Someone who lives in the building has a pair of flip-flops he kept leaving in the hallway or on the stairs, not always in the same place. Jen said her son Johnny leaves his shoes in the middle of the floor, so we began calling them “Johnny’s shoes.” One day, the flip-flops were nowhere to be seen. We wondered what had happened to “Johnny.” To our relief, his flip-flops were back in the hallway the next day.

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