Thursday, December 14, 2006

It ain't over 'til the blog is done

I met a couple of interesting people on the long trip back to Nashville from Cape Town. One was Byron, the very well-mannered 9th-grader who sat next to me from J'burg to D.C. He was traveling by himself (brave kid!) on his way to Ohio to visit an aunt & uncle he hadn't seen in years. Even though his dad is an engineer with an aviation company, Byron was taking his first flight, so I made sure to point out the little tricks I'd learned about using the video screen (turned out I never had to use my trick of detaching the screen from the seat in front of me to get a decent angle...picked that up from Bobby S. on a previous S.A. trip).

At the airport in D.C. I celebrated touching down on U.S. soil by purchasing a breakfast calzone (I suppose that's what you'd call it) and a Mtn. Dew. I had time to pick up a couple more souvenirs (incl. a key chain replica of Air Force One that made airplane sounds when you punch its nose--neato). Then I found I had even more time than I had thought, since when I got to the gate they told us the plane was late getting there and so we'd be late an hour or more. So my 29+ hour trip would be a tad longer. Joy. United/Mesa did not win big points with me on this trip, to say the least. But it did give me a chance to get acquainted with Hugh Cumming, a bluegrass enthusiast from J'burg who has developed his hobby of trading vintage instruments into a business. He was carrying a banjo protected by a case swathed in bubble wrap, to deliver it to one of Ricky Skaggs' band members. Nice guy. Friend of George Gruhn, owner of world-renowned Gruhn Guitars on Broadway in Nashville. I offered to share my ride if there was room, and he said maybe we could split a cab.

Once we finally got on the plane in D.C., there was a feeling that the staff was rushing to make up time (I tried to avoid thinking about the fact that they were more likely to miss something crucial in this state). The stewardess had shut the door and was beginning her spiel, when there a knock on the door. She opened the door and it a female crew member who asked "Are you arriving or departing?" The stewardess refrained from calling the woman what everyone in earshot must have been thinking of her, and answered her, then shut the door, picked up the microphone and after a "sorry about that" continued her instructions. In the crew member's defense we were so far behind some of us were probably starting to wonder if we were coming or going, too. As I said, United/Mesa has won no points with me on this trip. Having to stand out on the tarmac in Nashville for even a few minutes while they pulled my guitar and the other fragile bags out of the hold was a cold welcome home, given the bracing weather that day.

Since I didn't have the number of the guy I had e-mailed to take him up on his offer to pick me up at the airport, (my bad) and didn't see him at the gate or in baggage claim, Hugh and I decided to share the cab. Meanwhile Ricky Skaggs came walking by and I pointed him out to Hugh. He couldn't resist going over to say hello, especially since he was carrying the banjo for Skaggs' band member. Skaggs was polite, and Hugh was pretty excited. It reinforced my unofficial motto for Nashville: "Ya just never know...."

Before long, after what I think may actually have been my first cab ride...can't remember having been in one before...I was thankfully home and unpacked. I called my would-be ride and he was at the airport waiting for me, having left and come back. I told him he still got spiritual credit for trying.

After a few days of getting sleepy very early in the evening and being dismayed at the early darkness (compared to the summer sunshine of S. Africa!), I'm getting adjusted and my answers to "how was your trip?" are getting less wordy. Now that I'm caught up on this blog I can refer everyone to it!

"And now you know...the REST of the story." For now.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Wednesday: I'm so glad we had this time...together...

After taking a little longer to pack than most normal people (at least it's easier packing for the return trip, since there are fewer choices of what to take), I was on my way back to Capricorn, with my reliable guide and driver, Susie. We picked up local resident and volunteer Maggie at the Muizenberg shelter on the way to the HIV/AIDS support group meeting. This meeting would be the first time I had actually spent in someone's home in a township, so I felt some nervousness mixed with curiosity. I didn't really have a biblical "lesson" in mind to offer; I had been conditioned by now to be OK with winging it (in the Spirit, presumably).

The house we went to was very comfortable though small; the atmosphere reminded me of my late grandmother's house. After a very pleasant visit during which I croaked out a few songs (solo and singalong) with my cough-afflicted voice, and after sharing a light snack, Susie and Maggie and I excused ourselves and headed for the airport.

I was comfortably early, and had time to check in without being rushed. Thanks to a good travel plan, and no delayed flights until the final leg from D.C. to Nashville (courtesy United/Mesa), I didn't have to worry about being late for the rest of the trip.

Tuesday, pt. 2: Lunch with a Star

When I got back to the Muizenberg center, I was told that my friend Verity had come by and would meet me at a cafe around the corner (back on my late schedule). I found her at a little table in the sun; it looked like a scene from a foreign movie, only better because I could walk right into it and exchange a friendly hug with the star! After a cup of tea there we walked to a cafe not far away and I indulged myself with the kind of meal I can't easily afford on U.S. dollars in the States; the exchange rate was definitely on my side. We had been in touch via e-mail since the 5 month period she had spent in Nashville last year, which is when we met, but it's always better in person, so we spent the meal catching up on each other's news and sharing all manner of deep thoughts. It was a nourishing time for me (and not just because of the steak).

I'm fascinated by the fact that, despite very different backgrounds (geographic and otherwise), philosophies, and so forth, Verity and I can "connect" so easily (still talking "mere" friendship, mind you), and yet there are people with whom I have much more in common here at home that might as well be total strangers when it comes to trying to have a conversation.

Of course to be brutally honest, in our case part of it may be that we are so clearly separated by the aforementioned factors that there is no question of it being anything more than a long-distance friendship, so we are "safe" to share on a deeper level than we would be otherwise (speaking for myself, anyway). But this is not a bad thing, as far as I'm concerned...I doubt it will surprise anyone that I find it hard to see a down side to spending time with a beautiful single woman! As long as we're both clear on our intentions (we are), I suppose it never hurts to stay in practice.

A similar principle applies to the short-term mission experiences the church offers; being in an "alien" place for a short time with a specific purpose to share the Gospel in some way calls out instincts and impulses in ourselves that would probably remain dormant if we never left home. This doesn't mean we aren't our "real" selves on the mission field; we're allowing new facets of ourselves to come to the surface, and hopefully the positive aspects will stay active after we return home, and we'll be better servants as a result. This is the transforming nature of missions.

Anyway, after lunch Verity allowed me to "put her to work" as a model, so I could capture a shot of her next to her cool little car. As someone pointed out to me, there are hardly any SUV's in S. Africa so it's slightly less dangerous to tool around in these tiny vehicles...but no more comfortable for us tall folks, I would assume. Then it was goodbye until one of us might cross the ocean again for another visit.

I took the opportunity to browse the craft items for sale at the shelter, and interrupted something important that receptionist Siske and Avril were working on to take a picture of the two. They kindly obliged, though Avril's expression seems more one of tolerance than thrill, understandably!

I got back to the Team House well before the team and thoroughly enjoyed the peace and quiet and solitude. I had had enough sun and wind for one day, so I finished my steak over a book in the dining room, then took a nap and did some e-mail. I had taken the approach of "pacing myself" in an effort to keep my health from getting too much worse (though the inevitable cough was coming on), especially since Matt Allison had set it up for me to do a half hour or so at an open mic downtown. Unfortunately after getting there we found it had been cancelled, so Matt gave me and Justin, the team member who had come along, a driving tour of downtown. Good conversation, and since I could barely sing at that point I was more relieved than disappointed.

Tuesday, pt. 1: Discovering New Talent

On Tuesday it was back to Capricorn for me, to help with the Children's Club there; Living Hope staff and volunteers lead this 2-3 hour per day, 2 (or 3?) day per week program that generally includes games, songs, sandwiches and teaching time. The teaching for these clubs incorporates Bible instruction and AIDS prevention the case of these children, it's hardly ever too early to start either one. Innocence, at least as we think of it here in the U.S., is one of the first casualties of the conditions in which these kids live, not only due to lack of moral guidance in some cases (but not all), but also to the lack of privacy, as each child may share a one- or two-room shack with his/her parent(s), older siblings, cousins, etc.

Susie and I got to the orange container before anyone else (a first for me this week!), and some children started to gather at the car. Eventually I pulled out my guitar and sat down on the case behind the car where the shade was, and played a few Christmas songs. One or two sang along softly (or at least moved their lips).

After Sherna and her crew arrived, the kids began gathering and before long were involved in some games and songs (some of the latter led by me, some by their usual experts--and I say that with no irony intended). I consulted with Clinton on a plan for the day: songs, games, snacks. During the game time (in the same basin where the carnival had been), someone introduced me to Basil, a 12-yr.-old who had a song--his very first, I understand--written neatly in a notebook, divided into verses and chorus. I read it and complimented him on the lyrics. It didn't occur to me to ask him to sing it to me, so someone else brought him back to me and encouraged him to do just that. I was even more impressed and we sat down in a quiet spot with a friend or two of his with us, and I played a song of mine and showed him my own lyric notebook (seldom without it!). I asked him to let me shoot him on video singing his song, and he agreed. So maybe one of these days I'll be able to say I knew this successful songwriter way back when!

The original suggestion had been for me to lead some sort of songwriting workshop with the kids, but honestly I had never come up with anything for that. I hadn't felt too confident that I had anything of substance to offer the adults on Saturday, and that had gone OK...but kids can be a tougher "audience." I felt like Basil was enough to fulfill that part of my "mission" that day. Clinton, one of the local leaders who led much of the program, seemed a little stressed that I would not be taking the program off his hands as much as he had thought, but I encouraged him to let Basil share his song with the group and see what they might get from that. The point is to allow leaders to develop from among the people, after all, and sometimes the best way to do that is to get out of the way.

So, after I had helped as much I could to get the sandwiches and drinks served, it was up to Sherna to get me back to Living Hope in Muizenberg so I could make my lunch appointment with my friend Verity, whom I had finally got in touch with the evening before. I hated to be even more trouble to my hosts but I didn't want to miss lunch with a friend, either. We had a very good conversation on the way, and as she told me about her spiritual journey I could see some of the passion that drives her in offering love and time to the children in Capricorn. I told her to look me up when she comes to Nashville for Ashley's wedding in April; I'll be interested to see what she thinks of our town.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Monday: Keeping Up with the Homeless

Monday (Dec. 4) was a day of making up for all that rest the team had had the day before.

My pal Susie picked me up at 8 a.m. to get me to the homeless shelter in Muizenberg so I could lead the devotional for the "clients" and staff. They were already gathered when I arrived, so I found a place in the circle and got ready to dive in. I shared some thoughts on Jeremiah 29, not only the passage everyone likes to quote for comfort (29:11-13, "For I know the plans I have for you...plans to prosper you, not to harm you...") but also the context in previous verses where the Israelites are instructed through the prophet to prepare to be in their exiled (or "homeless") state for quite awhile....not the word they were probably looking for. The point was God is in control even when we are not happy with our circumstances. I finished with my song on that topic, "God Never Says Oops."

During the tea time that followed a few Christmas songs, one of the guys told me he had taken my words to heart. We had a good discussion.

I took some time to step out and take a short walk down the street, to check on the possibility of renting a phone (no dice) and pick up a snack and some vitamin C for my ongoing sinus/cough condition. Forgot they charge 15 cents (100ths of a rand) for sacks, so when I asked for one after paying for my purchase, I sensed the cashier was hiding a bit of irritation at having to ring it up separately. Live and learn!

By the time I returned the team had arrived and the Christmas luncheon was getting underway. Everyone crowded into seats behind tables and the team served up the meal. I pitched in as I found room to stand, passing plates brigade-style. I didn't see a place to stand to serenade the crowd, but Avril asked me to do a few songs for/with them. After several presentations and short speeches of appreciation by various staff, I launched into some Christmas songs on guitar. Before long it was a matter of my keeping up with the enthusiastic singers in the crowd, of which there were many. Then I gave up pretending I was leading the songs and got my camera to try to get some visuals of the celebration, not only of the season, but of life itself, it seemed to me.

After the dinner was over and the room had been cleared (inviting attendees to accept a gift on their way out), the team hurriedly cleaned up and jumped into combies to head for the next party, the carnival at Capricorn. Most had not had a chance to eat lunch, so in the inevitable delays getting started some grabbed a soda as they could from a nearby store.

The area Living Hope refers to as simply Capricorn is a settlement or township with sparse infrastructure (water, power, etc.) and too many hastily-built homes (many of them shacks) crowded into the given area. It lies in utter contrast to the neat & clean developed community that is alongside it, off the same traffic circle. Living Hope has a bright orange shipping container as a semi-permanent base of operations near the entrance to the impoverished community. Containers are often used as ad hoc buildings in these areas.

The local volunteers and staff had already set up the huge inflatable slide when we arrived, and the jumping castle was being inflated. The sunken "field" they were in was basically the overflow basin for both communities; hence the lush covering of grass at the bottom. That and the occasional shard of broken glass in it made it less than the ideal place to tromp around in; I was glad I wasn't barefoot like most of the kids...and especially glad for dry weather.

All this was irrelevant to our 300-400 attendees, though. They stood patiently (considering) in line to climb the back of the slide for the thrilling ride down, and to jump in the castle. And for everything else being offered. Keeping kids in line was not just a metaphor today! Some received pinwheels on sticks, some played with homemade Play-Doh, and I joined a few in squeezing out the last few bubbles from a soapy concoction in a basin.

While taking a much-needed break from the searing sun (never have been a hat person), I was entertained by Ed Newman's tale of dealing with an area bank after a malfunction at the ATM. He's not one to suffer fools gladly, but few enjoy telling the story afterward more than Ed. After a couple hours or so of crowd control, taking pictures, and escorting a couple of team members to the nearby shopping center for bathroom visits (and for myself, a sample of biltong; like soft beef jerky), it was time to head home.

After dinner I had a visit from a South African songwriter named Donovan, whom I had met on my previous visit at the songwriting seminar I taught for the MusicMakers meeting. We had been corresponding via e-mail about a possible co-write, but I never could come up with anything to offer the song he had in mind. I don't have much experience in co-writing so far, though I'm willing to try. We shared some songs and got better acquainted during his short visit.

Monday, December 11, 2006

(anything but) Another Pleasant Valley Sunday

Well, this blog has become more of a memoir, but I'll continue the saga.

In some ways Sunday (Dec. 3) was a fairly typical for me: church, lunch with friends and spending money (only I usually include a nap in there too). But of course the difference is in the details.

Tagged along with the Extreme Response team to attend King of Kings church, a familiar spot by now. I sat with fellow BBC'er Ashley L. and a couple of the kids she is seldom seen without these days. Jeromy D. and Brian Barefoot (also of FFH) were working their new (temporary) roles as worship band members at K.O.K. In his sermon, Pastor John Thomas spoke about the dynamic power of God...and the stormy weather outside provided the sound effects as illustration. I asked him how he arranged for this; he didn't share.

After a cup of hot tea in the lobby, we were off to Masiphumelele Baptist Church. There were only a handful at the service when we got there, and unfortunately the choir was not "in formation" but the congregational singing was still strong and welcome to my ears. Pastor Phillip took the opportunity to show our group more opportunities to help (financially or otherwise) and while services continued, took our group on a quick "tour" of the currently closed clinic facilities in the back of the church building, and of the recently-paved area outside. The wind was chilly and no one seemed to linger out there for long.

After another 20 minutes or so, and long before the service was likely to be over (they can last awhile), we departed for the home of John and Avril Thomas. We were in the comfortable tour bus the team was using part of the time; definitely a nice change from being packed into the combies (a VW van and a Range Rover).

After a nice lunch (of very familiar dishes, whether for our sake I'm not sure, but very welcome), Pastor Thomas shared the story of Living Hope and an update on new developments. I've heard the history more than once but it seems I always hear something new; it's quite a story--definitely the makings of a great book. Avril shared that she is now coordinating the "prevention" efforts of Living Hope; this would include the children's clubs, adult support groups, etc. where they teach how to avoid contracting and spreading HIV/AIDS. I'm sure like most people she would just as soon have stayed in the role she was in, managing the Muizenberg shelter, but the nature of the ministry the Thomases have continued to pursue doesn't allow for much comfort.

At this point I definitely could have used a nap, but we were off to the bus to head for the waterfront. The weather outruled a trip to Table Mtn. so it was time to shop. I found a few things at the African Craft Market (like an indoor flea market in TN) and the music shop.

Eventually most of the group got back together for dinner and then everyone met up to board the bus back to the Team House, to compare bargains and prep for the next day.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Saturday: the workshop and concert

OK, enough with the dramatic pause since last post, here’s how the workshop and concert went.

It was GREAT!!! And most of you know I’m not one to be overenthusiastic in my assessment of things I’m involved in. It was just great.

As per usual this week, I was working on what they call here “African time” (not due to my own tardiness, this time) and got to the radio station at about 9:45. There were about 20 people already seated in the auditorium, having checked in at a table in the back operated by the capable team of Carmen and Tamsa. Matt Allison had the sound system ready to go, and ended up running it all day. I had a quick conference with Ricky, the local person who was my “partner-in-charge” of the event (see his poster in a previous post), and we sketched out what the plan was for the moment and for the day. I gave him the registration/survey forms to be filled out by attendees. Along with the usual basic info, we asked them what they were into musically, what they wanted to get out of the workshop, etc. And at the bottom we asked them to find 3 people who had at least one same answer and write down their names and where they were from, just to get them talking to each other (never a bad time to network!).

Eventually we kicked off with a welcome from Imgard, the station manager, and worship music led by the very capable Darryl. My part involved leading a discussion of the elements of a song (lyrics, melody, meaning, emotion, etc.), and how to approach starting on one (title, first line, etc.). We did some little exercises or games to limber up our writing muscles, such as finishing the phrase “Roses are red, violets are blue” and making randomly-paired words to see what kind of metaphors might happen (thanks Pat Pattison!). The results were interesting to me as much as anyone, since I’d never actually done this stuff before. They seemed to enjoy it.

As we broke for lunch, Ricky “assigned” everyone the task of observing their surroundings and coming up with ideas for the song they’d be writing later. Had a tasty pepper steak meat pie and a Mountain Dew (not exactly the same taste, but close enough) in the park next to the station, with Ricky and Darryl. I was relieved my part was done and that it had gone better than I expected, and now I could simply enjoy the day.

After lunch, Ricky led a session that would probably never happen in Nashville: imagine 60 people in a room writing a song together. At the same time. With no waivers, paperwork, etc. to avoid copyright disputes in case the song ever became a hit. It was glorious. And a little dangerous, if not a tad irresponsible, but the benefits of the freedom and the sense of cooperation seemed worth it. This was Ricky’s idea, and frankly I was skeptical, but it just goes to show how much you can achieve when you don’t realize something can’t be done.

With musical help from Matt on guitar, Ricky got the group started with agreeing on a title, and a musical feel, then generated lines. Most of the attendees are involved in leading music in their churches, etc. and the level of talent was impressive, especially the vocals. Within an hour, they had the place swinging and swaying and shouting with approval at the various contributions from the floor, including some killer vocals. I got most of it on video, but hopefully they’ll get together and do a recording of the full song. But regardless, the experience was the thing, and it was good.

Jeromy Deibler of FFH took the next hour to share his experience, including a song or two. He greeted his cousin, a young woman he had met on his previous trip with Brentwood BC in March. Now he and his family, and his bro.-in-law and his wife, are all on a sort of sabbatical here for several months, working with the praise team at King of Kings BC (led by Living Hope founder John Thomas). His presentation was well-received.

Next Matt took the unenviable position of closing the day. A few of the attendees had had to leave before his session, and the rest were getting a little tired from the day (or was that just me?), but his info on the business aspects of music, and his own take on songwriting, were a vital part of the picture, and he fielded several questions before we wrapped up. I wish I could remember all the accolades and honors he’s received so far, but you can check his website for the full story:

Matt and Jeromy & I left Ricky in charge of the house and shared an enjoyable cafĂ© dinner up the road. When we returned, we set up for a round on stage, but as it became apparent that the concert would not be drawing more than a handful, someone suggested we put the chairs in a circle to include performers and audience. This was the perfect solution, especially since we had offered a few folks the chance to do one of their own songs in a limited open mic. The group grew to about 25, and it was a great evening of sharing songs of all sorts of styles, as well as an impromptu guitar lesson as Jeromy got Darryl to show him one of the chords he’d used. Darryl is one of the many people that day that proved that the instruction was going both directions that day, between Nashville and Cape Town. It was really more a matter of us proving why they don’t really need us, but we’re glad to be here anyway!

So, in case I didn’t mention it, the day was a great success, not only numerically, but also in achieving what we were after in concentrating the enthusiasm that existed already and giving it a nudge. It was great to see the faces and hear the feedback from the attendees. One little girl named Tabitha, 11 yrs. old, showed me the lyrics to her latest song (complete with verse and chorus divisions indicated). If you ever doubt the value and the future of music, come to S. Africa.

Here's a video of (most of) the song they came up with:

Monday, December 04, 2006

Friday: Massive party in Masi

On Friday, I began the day at the homeless shelter/office in Muizenberg. Since I got there too late for me to lead a devotional for the handful of homeless folks gathered there, I agreed to lead it on Monday.

Took part of the morning just to get in touch with my surroundings on my own. I walked up the street, bought a snack at the grocery store (called Checkers), and generally took in the sights of Main Street, just off the beach.

After lunch Susie drove me to meet up with the Extreme Response team in the township of Masiphumelele. They had things rolling by the time I got there (seeing a pattern here?). The leader, Tom, had given us the schedule the night before, but I guess it didn’t register in my tired mind that it was different from the itinerary I had been looking at. Anyway, this was a children’s carnival, and it took place in the fenced-in elementary schoolyard. Approximately 700 kids were enjoying the activities, which included a huge inflatable slide, an inflatable jumping castle (the kids did the jumping, not the castle), facepainting, a puppet show (translated by their Children’s Club teacher Natalie via a bullhorn—magic!), and an opportunity to get a Polaroid picture made. Polaroids were the most economical way to allow them to take a picture with them. Apparently they took the song “Hey Ya” literally, because they were shaking their Polaroids (sounds like a euphemism) and sometimes ruining them. But overall they seemed ecstatic. The team and local volunteers were doing well to maintain order and keep a fun and loving atmosphere, if not a clean and tidy one. It was definitely trial by fire for much of the team, many of whom never having even been to S. Africa before.

I saw several familiar faces from the Masi Children’s Clubs from the past 2 years. My buddy Darren came by and showed me the guitar he acquired in Sept. Darren was such a big help in the clubs, and is a spiritual big brother to the kids around him. He is in need of lessons, so I’m praying God will provide someone for that, as well as to give him the mentoring that will help him continue on the path toward being a true spiritual leader in his community.

As we wrapped up, the inevitable wait for the actual departure allowed me a few minutes to sit down and play a few songs for a handful of kids just outside the gate. Carnegie Hall, Schermerhorn…you can have ‘em.

I will admit that in various degrees I was fretting (no pun intended) all this time about my lack of a phone (lesson: rent a phone at the airport on arrival), my own car, and especially the foreboding feeling of unpreparedness regarding my part of the songwriting seminar coming up the next day...the fact that all of these were based on my own decisions and/or lack of effort did not help. So I was looking forward with as much dread as anticipation, but at the same time I knew it would be better than I expected, and different. I was right on both counts.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Thursday: Missions is no picnic...except today

Continuing to catch up:

My first assignment was to meet with 3 different HIV/AIDS support groups offered by Living Hope. I found out on the way (running late due to my ride locking her keys in the car) that the 3 successive meetings had been combined into one, and it was a braai (barbecue) at a park on the shore of a small lake near the ocean in Muizenberg. They were honoring a gentle-voiced young man from the Democratic Republic of the Congo named Jean Paul. He had been working with the groups closely as an internship and has completed his studies and moved to an admin position with Living Hope coordinating the groups.

Instead of a steel/wood structure near each braai, there was a small circle of trees for shade. Very African! When I arrived there were about 25 people lounging about in knots. One older man was playing accordion and leading a group in singing their favorite songs in various accents. Most of the songs pre-dated me by a decade or two. I sat down to listen. They did "The Tennessee Waltz" even before finding out I was a Tennessean; fun to hear that in such a remote place and context. Some of the group participated in some games provided by a local young woman named Kaarin who came by on her off-time to volunteer.

Avril Thomas of Living Hope (my supervisor for this venture) and Jean Paul addressed the group and I sang about 3 songs, and we ate. I played a few more afterward, and we were done for the day. Good times.

Catching up on lost blogs: the trip over

Apologies to anyone who's been checking this blog (as I requested) only to find next to nothing on the trip until now. The pc's at the Team House are down and computer time has been hard to find; we're sharing laptops belonging to the house manager and the Extreme Response team guide, Ed Newman. After a long day it's hard to stay up long enough (or get up early enough) to blog, plus I'm not a big laptop fan (still learning to keep my hands from drifting across the mousepad area--some bizarre things happen when you do that). Pics will have to come later for similar reasons.

So ANYWAY, to summarize, things are going well. The songwriting seminar on Sat. was packed with enthusiastic attendees, and it seemed to be very helpful for them, generally speaking. The group songwriting session led by my local friend Ricky was pretty wild; it's amazing what you can accomplish when you don't realize what can't be done. More on that later.

I started blogging the old-fashioned way on the trip over. I wrote the following on the plane (and have edited it a little).

Wed. Nov. 29, 2:05 S.A. time

The lights have been dimmed and I'm digesting my "beef bourguignon" and the film "A Prairie Home Companion" that accompanied it. Having no one in the seat in front of me saved me from the need to detach the screen from the seat back to see it (a trick I learned from a fellow traveler last year).

Overall it's been an enjoyable day of travel (I have to use the term loosely since it's mostly consisted of sitting still). No major glitches--this category would include sleeping through my alarm (or forgetting to set it or setting it to p.m., etc.)...forgetting something important like passport, tickets or underwear...ride not showing up (Cindy Austin? Not likely).

I did experience a minor glitch in that I was a bit earlier than necessary for my 1st flight (lost sleep time--no biggie) and that flight was delayed from 8:50 to 9:30. I took a nap on the floor in protest. I was concerned that my last minute decision not to take a jacket on the trip would leave me cold on the long flight from D.C. to Joburg, but so far so good.

On the purely positive side I had a pleasant lunch at Dulles (burger & coke--not exactly going cold turkey on the caffeine), where my attention was like a windshield wiper, intermittently switching back & forth between Wild At Heart by John Eldredge (so THIS is what the fuss has been about) and people-watching.

I made use of the airport chapel (complete with a few rows of padded chairs & pulpit for the Christians & a side area with rugs for the Muslims) to practice a few tunes. For the sake of the two or three people who drifted in while I was there, to do a Hail Mary (or whatever) or just check it out, I refrained from actually singing. One person was there when I left, quietly praying (I assume) in the front row--clearly not a Baptist.

Met a few of the Extreme Response team members at the gate/lounge area before leaving for S.A. Nice folks.

After going through the gate I thought we'd be boarding the plane directly, but it turned out to be a bus. I wondered how many stops it would be making on the way to Joburg. I refrained from making a lame joke out loud along this line. The bus was one that has a body that lowers to access the gate and raises to dock with the plane; kind of like a low-rider on steroids, without the decoration or bass-thumping sound system.

Avoided the fate of sitting next to a man at least 3x my size (in cross-section) and instead have an attractive young woman next to me named Deanna. She's traveling from her home in Florida to visit her (cruise ship captain?) boyfriend in Pretoria. I was glad she made the gesture of introducing herself; on a flight this long it would seem awkward to eat, sleep and veg out next to someone without at least knowing a name.

Friday, December 01, 2006

I'm here...more to come

Computer access has not been as available as I had counted on, but I wanted to let you know I made it in one piece and the same for my luggage. Things are going well so far...tune in again for more.