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* What do Tiggers do best?

Back again to a place I’ve spent way too much time in if you ask me. As in not much clarity about what is happening in at least some parts of my life and even less regarding what it means moving forward?

Some time back–several transitions ago–for reasons I don’t remember, I spent some time pondering the implications of the story, “What do Tiggers do best?” Poor Tigger, asking himself what Tiggers do best?, bounces (literally) to his various friends to see if he is good at doing what they do? Sadly for Tigger and for his friends–as Tigger leaves a series of big messes behind with each friend–Tigger is not good at what they’re doing. Finally Tigger bounces his way up to the top of a tree, saying that this is what he does best….until he looks down. And is appalled and totally freaked out to see how high he is above the ground! So he needs to be rescued to get down again as he is not able to do this on his own given how tightly he is handing onto the tree.

However, in going through this experience he realizes what Tiggers really do best–bounce!

So bouncing again it may be. I think I understand what I’m (not) hearing correctly but it’s not being said at all directly and what I am being told is quite confusing. But yesterday I bought a Tigger for my desk to help remind me of my many bouncing experiences and indeed abilities! Time to again see how well I bounce!

how well you bounce


* And here I go again…

Here I am. Again. A whole new decade of my life. My 7th, though I’ve hardly begun this

moi 1966


new one and don’t remember very much of the first. So I’d be a lot younger if this was only my 5th. But it’s not. Which is OK.


Born in the last part of the 1950s, I’ve lived through the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, ’00s,  and more than halfway through the ’10s. Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Clinton, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, Obama and an embarrassment whose name I hope to have forgotten long before I move on!

The Viet Nam War, the Cold War, Invasions of Bay of Pigs, Grenada and Panama, the Gulf War, Bosnian and Kosovo Wars, the War on Terror, the Afghanistan and Iraq wars and


1976 – on the way to Tsivory with a little help from my friends

the War on ISIL. Feels like we’ve been in wars most of the time since I was born. Has it?                                                  The Space Race, the Green Revolution, Small is Beautiful and Appropriate Technology, Saving the Earth, the Whales, the Seals, the Forests and now of all things America First.

Born and lived for just 3 years in Minnesota, then Wisconsin


OK,  this isn’t 1996, but it’s a pretty good picture

for 5, then off to Madagascar for 5, back to Minnesota for 1, back to Madagascar for another 4 (high school), then college, university (and marriage) in Minnesota during the next 6 years, then back to Madagascar with my lovely frau for 9 of the next 13 years.

becky & me

about 2006 or so

And so here I am again at the beginning of another new decade. Somehow this feels a bit different. Maybe one’s decades get bigger as you grow older? Or you have more to remember so the bag of memories keeps getting larger? And certainly part of it is, in part due to one’s age, in part due to what has happened and is happening around you, the end of your life no longer seems so far away. At age 50, there was at least a chance I might live to 100. But now to 120? Not so much.


So are there regrets? Yes, some. But I’m working to spend less time fussing over them as Emery n I (2)life is life after all. Has there been joy? An enormous amount of it, much of it ongoing. And sorrows? Yes, at times overwhelmingly so. But then there have been joys again. And blessings! Many many of them.

Have I achieved everything I was hoping for as a youth? Part of the reality (and perhaps helpfulness in this case) of getting older is that I can’t remember much of what those things were? But, yes, I have been able to achieve some of the things I do remember. And have there been unexpected twists and turns? Yes, more than I actually care for. But I guess the journey hasn’t been boring anyway!

So 60s, here I am, bring it on. And here I go again! With a little help from my friends!


* Minneapolis to Paris Orly to Djibouti and beyond! 1966

I was a big bad 3rd grader. Well big for my age anyway. Kind of like now I guess!

My family and I were on our way to Madagascar for the first time and everything was a Commissing parents (2)bit bewildering for me, anyway. We’d started out in Minneapolis with a flurry, as my grandma Eide, who worked for what was then Northwest Orient Airlines, had gotten to the gate too late to see us off, so she’d talked the ticket agent into coming onto the plane to see us off (before security, but still quite a thing to do!). And almost flew with us as by the time she turned to leave they’d shut the door and were not happy about having to reopen it! But God bless her, she’d given us a box of Fanny Farmer chocolates which would save us boys later in the flight.fanny farmer

Later in the flight. It was now very late for us to be eating (7 pm?) and still no food. And then, with the flourish only Air France could make with what was airline food, it came. Fresh salmon. First, I’m not sure we’d ever even eaten salmon and B. it was cooked in some obscure fashion I’m sure the French enjoyed. Us little guys, however? Not so much. So enter Fanny Farmer chocolate to the rescue!

And then we got to Paris where we fortunately had an overnight in a hotel (airlines used to just give these to you back then). I don’t remember much as I’m pretty sure I spent most of the time sleeping. But there are a few things.

plate of beets

The funniest was when we went for supper, where my parents, who didn’t speak French, pointed at something on the menu, hoping for the best, which turned out to be beets. Just beets. Not our favorite food. They then ordered something else that worked much better as someone spoke enough English to see us through to something less beetish.

And then, on our way down a hall, maybe to our flight(?), I grabbed my little brother Johnny B’s arms and he fell down. On his chin. Blood everywhere. And a big cut. So then we soins medicauxwere all off on an unanticipated (and so much preventable–naughty me!) adventure of trying to find somewhere that could deal with this injury at Orly airport. For a family which spoke no French. Thankfully, there was, though instead of stitching up the cut like they probably should have, they put a big bandage on it.

The next thing I remember was flying through the night in what was either an Air France 707 or DC-8. What was magical was the blue “stars” (lights) the plane had on theb.1770 ceiling. What was awful, in those days before there were even no smoking sections of a plane, was the air was so smoky it was blue on that long flight. A fair amount of it I assume from the infamous Galoise and Gitanes cigarettes. Small, white and strong. Very strong. And a French movie, one of those I most likely wouldn’t have understood even if it had been in English. Of course, I was only a 3rd grader.

Foreign Legion

And then a middle of the night stopover for fuel in Djibouti, which was still a French Territory in those days. As we landed the windows totally misted up as the outside of our plane went from well below 0 to the “cool” 110 degrees it was there in the middle of the night, blocking our view of most of the little which was visible. Getting out, we walked over to a one-story building that wasn’t so big as I remember it which may have been the airport in those days? Walking up the stairs I remember staring up at two very big men with big boots with carefully rolled socks, short pants and holstered pistols. And to literally “top” it off, some of the funniest looking hats I’d ever seen–the French Foreign Legion, providing a lot more security than was usual in those pre-hijacking days. I have no idea why they were needed?

The only other things I remember from the flight was first the hot towels they gave us in pain aux choclat (2)the morning as we flew on towards Madagascar. Heavenly! And the food which wasn’t so much heavenly. French food, which back then I didn’t enjoy. Thankfully I liked a French breakfast better than whatever we had for supper on that flight. And the strangest water. Spring water I assume. In little plastic cups with a plastic cover. I suppose we didn’t realize we could have requested plain old water. And oh, yeah. It began a love affair with pain aux chocolat which has lasted a lifetime–the coffee came quite a bit later. Ah yes, the joys of travel!

* getting reCircumcised? Not interested!

Here’s a real live example of why one (at least me) needs to be careful in how ignorant I am of wearing clothing whose meaning I don’t understand.

I was doing training for Peace Corps once in Antananarivo, Madagascar. A couple days of it on cross-cultural miscommunication, something I felt I could speak about with some knowledge and experience, at least from my side of the fence as I was pretty good at this (the miscommunication part). I also had Øyvind Dahl’s (1999) wonderful dissertation which later became the book Meanings in Madagascar: Cases of Intercultural Communication to work from.

The first morning I proudly put on the long, one piece flannel “shirt” (<<lamba>>) that goes down below one’s knees, with long pants pousse pousseand a regular shirt underneath (it’s cool to cold up in the highlands that time of year). This is what many Malagasy men living in the countryside in the highlands (where we were) wear. I felt pretty good about having it to lend some additional “authenticity” to my training. I am a lot taller than most Malagasy, so I’d had my <<lamba>> custom made for me at the market in Antsirabe, the town where we lived (3 hour drive south of the capital city where the Peace Corps training was happening).
However, in walking by several Malagasy men on the way to training, as far as I could tell they very visibly started to laugh at me. Curious at this, I stopped to ask them “Why? What was so funny?” To my horror they said, between laughs, that they needed to congratulate me because I was obviously going to my circumcision! The real kind! In retrospect I should have asked them why this is how they saw me, as that hadn’t been part of the conversation while I was ordering and buying this garb 3 hours south of where I was doing the training. And maybe I did ask and maybe they told me it was the length, at least in the capital city region as they had different customs? I honestly don’t rememgber. But I was not looking to become circumcised and was so embarrassed by it all that I pondered taking it off immediately. While I did wear it to the training, using the experience to provide me and my trainees with yet another great reminder about why I needed to be emphasizing mis-communication in the training I did.
I never wore that <<lamba>> again. And I concluded that “Be thou careful in what thou chooses to wear that ye has no concept of the meaning(s) of!”

And that’s all I have to say about that!!

* Shipwreck of the “Margaret Oakley”

The year was 1836. A US ship, the Margaret Oakley, was sailing towards Madagascar on its way back to the US, margaret-oakleyreturning from a trip to the far east, when it was forced to anchor in the Fort Dauphin bay as rats had eaten through six of its water casks. And then things went downhill from there, as while building new water casks, the ship, having lost an anchor chain in a sudden gale which came up, was driven ashore.

Having seen this happen before, many of the Malagasy living in that area went to the beach near where the shipwreckMargaret Oakley had run aground. As described by someone who witnessed what happened next:

“Two hundred Malagasy villagers had collected on the beach, all willing to lend a hand, and the captain got them to form a chain reaching from the vessel to the shore, some in boats and canoes, others standing in the water. The Malagasy soon landed the cargo, but ‘amid a scene of great confusion,’ with ‘many a box of costly silks, satins, crapes, and handkerchiefs ornamenting different parts of their persons, while under their arms were boxes of tea, bundles of sewing silk, and other valuables the like of which the natives had never before seen.'” Morrell [the ship’s captain] “paced the beach to and fro like a maniac, with a brace of pistols in his hands, threatening to blow out the brains of the first man who broke open a box. But he was not ubiquitous, and the moment he turned his back, open went a box, and away ran the … contents.”

Captain Morrell could only despair, his vision of the wealth he was going to earn from this voyage shattered and his ship sunk. A hundred bottles of medicinal cajuput essential oil that he had purchased in Singapore? Lost. The sago he had acquired? Ruined by seawater.  In addition Captain Morrell, “though frowning with a cold ftu-harborcommand directed at those who, antlike, emptied his colossal wreck,” which was now destined for the sandy depths that has swallowed beached ships in the Fort Dauphin harbor for hundreds of years,  could not police the chaos involved in saving what was possible, and so he lost a fair amount of the cargo he was able to save to those who had come to “help.” As described above, before long costly silks, satins, crapes, and handkerchiefs were being worn by his “helpers,” even as some hauled entire boxes of tea and bundles of silk up the beach and away from the growing pile of rescued goods.

Once the cargo that could be saved was unloaded, and the crew ashore, Morrell put the remaining chests and crates he’d managed to retain control of under armed guard, securing them initially under tents made from his ship’s sails.

In all, Morrell officially claimed to have saved only 115 of vintage-tea-chest400 full tea chests, 230 of 450 half tea chests, and 380 of 630 tea boxes–only about 40% of the tea cargo he had brought into the harbor. He also recuperated 360 cases or boxes of silks, which was by his estimation about half the total he’d had before the gale that blew his ship ashore. Three cases of chinaware, a case of ink, and eight cases of pearl shirt buttons were also among the items recovered.

And then, just when it seemed things couldn’t get any worse, some of the boxes of “curiosities” Captain Morrell had gathered from around the Bismarck Sea (north of Papua New Guinea), drifted ashore at the foot of the bay. When an inquisitive Malagasy opened one of these, he was more than a little shocked to find it stuffed with dried skullsskulls [which Captain Morell had stolen from villages on the islands of Arawe (New Britain) earlier in his voyage, as he felt they would sell well in New York and Philadelphia when he got them back home to the US]. As Jacob writes, the Malagasy were horrified and

“held a convention over them, and concluded that the crew of the Margaret Oakley were a set of piratical cannibals, who had been cruising along the shores of Madagascar, eating the people and preserving their skulls. This came near to causing a bloody outbreak of savage fury upon our party, and it was only by consummate tact on the part of the captain that the enmity of the natives was allayed.”

Before long Morrell had secured a warehouse for his precious, remaining cargo while he waited for a ship to leave on. In the meantime, it took so long for word to get back to the US that the crew was still alive that everyone assumed they’d been lost at sea.

Perhaps in part because of growing questions about just how much of his cargo had been lost, Morrell eventually managed to get what he had left of his cargo on a British ship bound for England (not the US as he should have done), not wanting to face growing suspicions of the owners and insurers of his voyage who ended up facing massive losses from his ill-fated voyage.

* waves

Growing up on an ocean gives one certain advantages. In img118 (2).jpgmy case it was the warm Indian Ocean that surrounded  the town of Fort Dauphin, Madagascar, where I grew up. So unlimited swimming year round. While I didn’t fish in the ocean there were those who did, some from shore, others from dug out <<lakana>> (canoes).

While I loved swimming, what I enjoyed even more was watching waves come in. Who knew how far they’d traveled or what they’d encountered along the way?! Sometimes very big, crashing on the reefs and rocks which surrounded the peninsula we lived on with enough force img124.jpgto make the ground hum. Sometimes as still and calm as glass. Mostly somewhere in between. Always coming in, running up the beach, making the sand glisten, erasing your footsteps. In a way a sort of tick-tocking of an ocean that seemed almost alive.

I miss it. Deeply.

* beans vs. raw meat

To be able to better understand and in turn do one’s work it pays to  have a philosophy tanambao meat marketof what you’re doing and how. In the community development work I was involved with in Madagascar we framed it as being somewhat similar to what  it takes to find protein at a local, open-air market. In terms of the “what” we were doing, then, both literally and figuratively, this became helping to provide additional protein in the lives of those we were working with.

Using the open-air market as a metaphor, there are two very different places to find protein. The first is the meat market section, which generally is given the nicest part of the market, under the best roofing, with lots of energy and excitement surrounding what goes on there. Big men, loud voices, lots of laughter. And flies. Sometimes so many one has to wave your hand over the meat just to be able to determine what kind of a cut it is?

A second very different place to find protein is from the piles of beans for sale. These are generally not found under the roof, but often out in the open sun. Little old ladies with big straw hats to keep the beating sun off them as they wait to make their sales. Also using an umbrella given the glaring sun if they had one. No roof, no big men, no excitement, no flies.

The way we would describe what we sought to do in our community development beansefforts was the latter, beans approach. While not nearly as exciting, it doesn’t attract nearly the flies, either. And in many ways, though less expensive, the protein is of a higher quality, more sustainable, less tempting if you will.

So how did this relate to our community development efforts? Our focus was on working with some of Madagascar’s poorest in ways that were low key, highly interactive, emphasizing Malagasy <<lasin’ asa>> (somewhat similar to the Amish barn-raising process). As such they weren’t high budget, with lots of paid staff, equipment, etc. But the process worked–and generally very well, too.

And it kept the flies away.