Brazil Part 4

On our last riveting installment, named Brazil Part 3, I told you mostly about all the animals we bothered while cruising through the Amazon. In this week, I’ll tell you about some of the jungle we hiked through. There was actually a lot of walking on this vacation for me having signed us up for a river cruise, though considering the cool things we saw, I’m not complaining.

The first thing I was fairly surprised to discover was how like, not strange the rainforest looked. The rain forest had always been this mysterious and exotic place in my head, full of vines and snakes and whatnot. It did in fact have vines in it that you could swing from, and we did that at one point (well, climbed like two feet up and swayed back and forth), but mostly the jungle looked a lot like a number of forests I had camped in as a Boy Scout:

On our hikes through the jungle, our guides tried to show us stuff about living and thriving in the rainforest. At one point, they had us eat a grub (or, at least, dad ate a grub, which he said tasted “like a grub,” and I politely declined). In the photo at the top they showed us how to make fans out of various palm fronds and whatnot, a very useful skill indeed. During one hike we trekked into the jungle and then after we got wherever we were going they told us to figure out the way back. Luckily I was a super-smart Eagle Scout and had studied hard in Navigation class and also noticed the guides had been making marks on trees with their machetes as we hiked along, and I managed to get us out of the jungle. I was very proud of myself. Another survival tip they showed us was that if you let the ants swarm all over you and quickly rub them off, they don’t bite, but do leave a small that discourages other bugs from biting you. Like the grub, I was also too wimpy to try this, but here is dad giving it a go:

These treks also couldn’t possibly go without us bothering wildlife, so here is Elso annoying a tarantula:

One night, we actually stayed in the jungle instead of our cozy bunks on the boat. This was a lot of fun. After we landed ashore, the first thing we had to do was to build ourselves a shelter. This was quite the undertaking. We were of course under the tutelage of our very experienced guides. Step number one was to clear an area to set up camp. This involved clearing away all the small brush and small trees from our chosen location. Dad had a blast doing this. Once he got hold of a machete, he could barely be stopped chopping down the trees that were in our way, and then harvesting the many many palm leaves that we needed to thatch our little hut. Look at him go:

Dad is on the left, Elso is on the right.

One of the things I remember most from this experience was it being hot. Out on the river, every single day was extraordinarily pleasant. Just the right temperature, and cool river breezes. But man, once you got into the jungle, it was boiling. The humidity was at 100% and there was no wind or anything to keep you cool. Just a whole lot of sweat. I was drenched. After finding four suitable trees to serve as the corners of our shelter, assembling it involved tying a whole bunch of sticks together. Larger poles served as cross-beams, and then small poles as the support for the thatching. The whole thing was assembled using tree bark as rope, a technique I later became very familiar with in Zambia but which was new to me here. After all that thatching was cut down, my own major tasks were trying to help tie stuff together and then handing things to the guides, who were clambering all over the structure. After the roof was on, all that was left was to hang up our mosquito-netted hammocks and settle in for the night. Here is the group posing proudly in front of the structure, and me with half my bodyweight in sweat in my shirt:

Dinner that night was the best chicken I have ever had in my life, as I mentioned all the way back in Brazil Part 2, cooked on a stick over an open fire. The only other exciting part of the night was listening for jaguars, which seemed to be about the only thing that Elso was actually afraid of. In the morning I think he reported hearing them, but I was too blissfully asleep by that point. In the morning we awoke to our guides making us a literal pot of coffee, which I found deeply amusing. We drunk it out of tiny little plastic cups, and all in all it was an excellent morning in the jungle:

And that is where I will leave you this week. Come back next week when I will finally reveal… the infamous sloth story!!!!

Veteran Privilege

A much younger me.

The prompt for this post is that yesterday, as I am writing this (you won’t see it until later), I received the first shot of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. My super amazing girlfriend pointed out that it was the one-year anniversary of the pandemic. The reason it is causing me some internal angst is that I only got it because I am a veteran.

Here in Connecticut, they’re deciding vaccine eligibility (at least at the time of this writing, which is gonna be the caveat for this whole post) based purely on age, which I think is probably the best way to go about it. Given my youth and vigor, that would have made me eligible May 3rd at the earliest (at least until President Biden bumped up the time table slightly). However, turns out the Connecticut VA was providing vaccines for any veteran enrolled for health care, regardless of age.

I fretted about whether or not to go get it. I’m very enthusiastic about vaccines in general, and will take just about any I can get. However, during this particular vaccination drive we’ve seen wild disparities in access to the vaccine. As usual, people with money and resources have been able to get vaccines no problem while marginalized communities (I gotta figure out less sanitized language for those groups) have been turned away and maligned despite being eligible. So it felt very weird to me to be able to just waltz in yesterday and get it without even waiting in line.

The level of privilege we afford to veterans in this country is absolutely wild and it has always seemed that way to me. The photo at the top is me as a young Midshipman and it all started there. Even back then I was thanked pretty constantly for my service, despite never ever actually done anything besides go to school. I went to the Naval Academy from 2007-2011, so that was still in the era when 9/11 was a fresh memory and anyone tangentially related to the military got all sorts of free stuff. I think every single one of us felt weird about the whole thing, but I mentally justified my free tickets to Busch Gardens by imagining that one day I would actually do something.

Now, post my military service, I constantly wonder what was so special at military service at all. This hedging might be moot, since no one ever reads this blog, but I know I lived a very particular brand of military life. I never had to face down an enemy trying to shoot me and all my friends, nor did I ever feel that I was in real danger anytime during my service. I was also an officer, which meant that not only did I get eggs to order even when our ship was on a “mission vital to national security” (as the parlance goes), but that I also got to jump right to the front of the waffle line. Even given that, whenever I am afforded a privilege like getting to jump the vaccine line, I’m forced to wonder why I’m so special for this job I used to do.

Military life in many many ways was not a whole lot of fun. We spent a lot of time out at sea away from the world, we worked constantly, and there were a lot of different ways it was potentially dangerous. But is any of that all that special? Long-haul truckers spend a huge amount of time away from their families, but they don’t get the GI bill. Amazon warehouse workers are worked so hard they’re barely allowed to pee, but they don’t get discounts all over the place. And there are tons of dangerous jobs in the world, like loggers and septic tank servicers, but those people don’t get preferentially hired for government jobs and contracts.

I wonder what effect all the privilege granted to veterans has on both them, and currently serving military members. There is plenty of reason to provide veterans with extra resources when you consider that, as a group, veterans can have higher rates of homelessness and suicide than non-veterans (to caveat the other way, I also worry about even bringing that up, because there is another negative stereotype of veterans that they’re unstable and PTSD-riddled, which isn’t true either). My specific worry is that providing all this privilege to veterans is a way to avoid looking at the root cause of many of the problems that military members and veterans face.

I’m sorry I have no idea who originally generated this meme; if this Google image search link works, seems like it’s been reposted a lot.

The above meme caught my eye early in the pandemic. Even outside a pandemic scenario, I really hate martial metaphors in any discussion that doesn’t directly tie to actual warfighting, and even then I don’t like a lot of the terminology. At the beginning of the pandemic, I was especially queasy about all the “front line” language, and it wasn’t until I saw that meme that I really figured out why. The meme criticizes equating health workers with soldiers because it implies a certain number of health workers are going to die and that’s just something we should accept, instead of it being something avoidable.

In the same way, I think we need to interrogate how all the hero worship of veterans and the military implies about what we expect them to put up with. Another friend of mine from the Navy visited me the other weekend, and we were swapping sea stories when she told me that they recently figured out only at the last minute that one of the sailors she supervised had been planning to murder his entire chain of command (including her) and kill himself on his last day at work. This is a very normal story, actually. One night when I was on duty our topside watchstander (who was armed with a handgun) was talking about wanting to kill himself. I did not handle this situation well (no one was harmed in the end), but frankly it was just like, one of the many annoying things that happened that night. We had a number of suicidal sailors, and like my friend a sailor that I supervised who was armed seriously threatened to shoot a number of people. This event was too mundane for anyone to even tell me directly; I found out about it when it was mentioned in passing in the wardroom.

Suicide is the extreme end of the scale, but there are a whole lot of things that people in the military are just expected to put up with and are somehow considered just the normal and perfectly fine way of going about things. I think because we view military members as heroes that are making a sacrifice, and who will gain benefits for life for these sacrifices, we have no real motivation to actually make their life better. Or, at least, it keeps us from conceptualizing a world where we should do that. Every time I think about the terrible parts of Navy life, I think about the sailors on merchant ships, who do stunningly similar jobs to sailors in the Navy but somehow can also get months off every year just as a matter of course.

There are a whole lot of other things I’m not going to be able to eloquently weave in here that should also be interrogated on this subject (race and class are the obvious ones, but other things too). I think the progressive dream for America is in fact currently being implemented, at least in many ways, albeit it only within the confines of the veteran community. If the progressive dream is good, then it must be good that it is at least being partially implemented, right? But since it is framed as something that veterans “deserve” for their “sacrifice,” I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to work on making military service less of a sacrifice, or more importantly really remember why we granted veterans these privileges in the first place (veterans deserve a lot of things, but since when has what people deserve ever been a basis for governance in the United States?). Until we do the work of figuring out as a nation why we venerate veterans so highly, and importantly what effect and implications that has for every other American, I don’t know if we’ll be able to judge whether it’s more toxic than good.

Brazil Part 3

Last week, in Brazil Part 2, I brought you, my very patient readers, many details about the river boat I stayed on, along with my dad and three German women, as part of a week-long riverboat cruise on the Amazon river and its many tributaries. This week, I shall bring you tales of… adventure!!!!

When I booked this river cruise (I don’t know if you’ve picked it up by now but I sometimes do an absolutely stunning lack of research before going on a trip) I had actually imagined that it would be just that – us on a boat cruising around a river for a week. This sounded great to me and still does. However, turns out this trip was gonna be chock full of adventure. The normal daily schedule for this trip was to actually go on two adventures a day – one in the morning, and one in the afternoon. After the boat cruised to some convenient location, we would pile into the canoes that we towed behind us and go off to look at the jungle. The picture at the top is me in one of the launches, with two of the German girls behind me. I haven’t brought it up yet, but the reason I had that mustache is because at the Academy you aren’t allowed any facial hair, but now that I was a Big Bad Ensign I was of course allowed to maintain my facial hair within normal “Big Navy” regs, which meant that I was exercising my freedom to grow a mustache. My grandma says it makes me look handsome.

Our guide, who I have mentioned several times at this point, was named Elso. He had grown up in the area and told us many tales of going off into the jungle as a kid with his buddies to go hunting and such, only swinging by home when they ran out of coffee or somesuch. He was extremely well versed with the jungle, its inhabitants, and how to find his way around and how to show us all sorts of cool stuff.

One brand of these adventures was going out and interacting with the local wildlife. In the above photo you can see me interrogating a caiman. I think this was one of our very first evenings out and about. The process of catching caimans wasn’t particularly difficult, at least for Elso and his other guides. They shined a flashlight to blind the poor critters for a sec, and then just snatched out and grabbed ’em. The tourists (us) could then pose for photos. In the downtime between caiman photos, we spent the time battling mosquitos. That was a very silly task. During this particular trek I really hated it when someone shined a flashlight, because then you could see the just absolute swarms of mosquitos surrounding us. It was a very, very dense cloud and I have never seen so many mosquitos since. We spent much of the trip rubbing salve over our many many bites.

As I’m writing this I’m trying to remember how much wildlife we actually saw. In some sense it wasn’t all that much, as we cruised down the river there I don’t recall seeing huge troops of monkeys flitting on by in trees or anything like that. We did manage to interact with a large chunk of wildlife, like the caimans I just mentioned, or during a memorable encounter with a sloth I think I will save for next week (not much going on, gonna milk this decade-old trip). I saw a number of animals from far away, as the above photo will attest (the top left photo is a sloth if you couldn’t tell, and the monkey was actually a rather close up one that lived at a lodge we stopped by at). In the mornings I also remember the howler monkeys waking the entire jungle up, and I remember seeing tree branches sway as they made their distaste at our presence known during one early morning trip. Perhaps the coolest thing we saw were some pink dolphins, which we caught only glimpses of. To make up for not having a photo, please enjoy this picture of at least one very pink creature bobbing around in the water:

“But wait!!!!” you exclaim, “What about the piranhas????” Well we did actually see some piranhas; in fact we went fishing for them. As Elso explained to us before encouraging us to jump into the water, the piranhas aren’t particularly dangerous at all during the wet season. With the forest flooded, they can go wherever they want to find food. It was during the dry season, when the piranhas got trapped in ponds with a limited food supply that they become dangerous. No matter what time of year, however, they apparently like steak. Fishing for the piranhas was a fairly straightforward affair; we put a small piece of the aforementioned steak on a fishing hook, and the only trick was you had to yank ’em out of the water real quick as soon as you felt a nibble. Here is me having caught one:

And here is dad proudly displaying our group’s catch for the day:

They later served ’em up to us for lunch. They were good, if a bit bony, and honestly the major appeal was the table-turning nature of it all.

And with that, I think I’ve written enough for this week. I think I can stretch the river boat portion of this thing out for like another few weeks, and then we’ll talk about Manaus itself. Should be a hoot, stick around! Until then, please enjoy this picture of an Amazon sunrise from a canoe:

Brazil Part 2

Last week, in Brazil Part 1, I left you off at the epic cliffhanger of finally, after a plane ride, a boat ride, and then a kinda long actually overland journey, arriving at our riverboat home for the next week or so. It was a pretty neat boat! Here is a more holistic picture of it:

This was a pretty typical boat style in the Amazon. Throughout our week of cruising around, we would pass a number of other boats that were very much like ours, except with different cabin configurations and the like. I would have liked to have figured out where they were building them, and I spent a good chunk of time fantasizing about buying one in retirement and just cruising around the Amazon (provided it’s still there). When we eventually got back to Manaus, it was clear that there were tons and tons of these types of boats:

What I was delighted to learn when we actually arrived is that we had come to the Amazon at more or less the perfect time, at just the tail end of the rainy season and beginning of the dry season. I was stunned to discover just how significantly the river flooded during the rainy season, with the water level being maybe 20 feet or more higher than where it is during the dry season. That meant that our river boat could go all over the place, cruising through wide river channels that in the dry season would be tiny little streams at the bottom of narrow valleys. At night, we would tie up to the very tippy-tops of trees just barely sticking out of the water. Since it was the end of the rainy season, the weather was mostly absolutely gorgeous, with nice breezes keeping us cool as we cruised through some of the world’s densest biodiversity. We did get a few rain showers, but safely ensconced on the boat those were fairly pleasant affairs:

As you’ve probably caught glimpses of, and of which you shall catch more glimpses, don’t you worry, along on the trip with us were three German women. They were very pleasant company to have on the trip, though I remember being very disappointed that they weren’t more impressed with my super cool Actual Naval Officer status due to my being a newly-minted Ensign (“And what do you do?” “Oh, I’m an Ensign.” [here I showed off my Naval Academy ring] “And… what is an Ensign?”). They were backpacking around South America I think, on a very impressive trip, and had opted to “rough” it by sleeping at night in the upper deck in hammocks. That was the option I was initially going to sign dad and myself up for, but at the last minute back in Maryland, unsure of exactly what I was willing and able to put up with in the world, I opted to get us a cabin. This is that cabin:

I took this picture towards the end of the week, and the cabin at this point bears witness to the debris of our many adventures. Since I had paid for the trip, I claimed the bottom, larger bed, relegating dad to the top bunk. The biggest drawback of the cabin, despite it being advertised as its best feature, was actually the air conditioner. This is probably because we had no real idea how to actually operate the thing. When it was running, it was VERY effective, and rendered the cabin freezing cold. We actually asked our hosts for a blanket (there had only been a sheet), a request to which they responded by looking at us confused and then bringing us an additional sheet. Horrible problems to have, I know.

One of the things I remember most fondly about this whole trip was the food. I promise, I have never had so much good food and so consistently as I did aboard that tiny little boat in the Amazon. The cook I remember as being a tiny, old, wrinkly, hobbled indigenous woman, and I swear I contemplated marrying her so I could bring her home to the states with me. Above is a typical breakfast spread, with fresh fruit and fried eggs and local cheese and stunningly good coffee and my absolute favorite, fried plantains. I would eat plantains every chance I got until I was ready burst. Lunches and dinners were also stunning, usually featuring fish just plucked out of the river, along with sausages and rice and of course more fresh fruit and toasted manioc powder to sprinkle over everything. To this day the best chicken I have ever had is a free-range one that our guide had purchased from a riverside homestead that morning and then cooked on a stick over an open fire in the jungle that night.

But that’s just the boat and the lifestyle. Next week, we’ll discuss…. adventures!

Brazil Part 1

As I mentioned somewhat in passing in my last post, back in 2011 I went to Brazil. To set the scene: I was a young, newly minted Ensign, having graduated from the Naval Academy like a month before. I was granted about 30 days of basket! (the exclamation mark is because I couldn’t remember that it was called “basket leave” until just now) leave, and wanted to spend it in some dramatic way. I chose to go to Brazil! Specifically, Manaus! The reasons for this were several-fold: 1) I had for some time wanted to see the Teatro Amazonas. I forget how I first came across the Teatro there, it was potentially on Atlas Obscura, but once I got it in my head I wanted to go that was that. I’m not even like, an opera fan. Next, 2) I wanted to see the Amazon rain forest before it all disappeared. The sense of urgency was probably prompted by both like, reality, and also a memorable display at the National Aquarium which showed in a series of LEDs the whole Amazon disappearing. I figured I should look at it before the illuminated prediction came true. And probably 3), people who go to Brazil go to Rio or something like that, and I gotta be hipster and different!

I had been planning this trip for a bit, but, lemme tell ya, not too well. I convinced my dad to come by offering to buy his plane ticket, which I thought would be relatively cheap for me because I had a voucher due to a disastrous series of events that went down in the American Virgin Islands just months before, but in a fit of Spring Cleaning I think I threw it out. That’s pretty irrelevant to the story, actually. I figured it would be nice to bring dad because I dunno, he’s my dad, and also because he spent several years in Brazil as a youth and I thought his familiarity with the terrain (not that familiar, he had never been to Manaus) would be handy. Bringing Dad along came even more in handy than I thought it would, because this being my first big international trip that I had planned I was pretty dumb (hence my “not planning it too well” comment from the beginning of the paragraph). I had been out of the country before, but other people had planned those things, and I just followed instructions. It was Dad that brought up unsavory topics such as “have you applied for a visa” to which my answer was “what’s a visa.” American privilege at work!

Because by this point we were pretty late in the process, getting the visa was another harrowing series of events involving an impromptu trip to the Brazilian embassy, beseeching mom’s lawyer cousin to act as our legal representative in picking up those visas, and then mailing them overnight to an at-that-point-unidentified motel in Florida where we stayed while watching the Shuttle launch. But it all worked perfectly! I was pretty stunned. If I was by myself this would have been a very short trip, involving me flying to Brazil probably and then flying right on back, if I even made it that far. As it was, travelling there went great, and the only downside was a pretty long layover in Panama which was boring. The only other solid preparations I had made in conjunction with this trip was buying some shirts and pants I thought would be rainforest-appropriate, and trying to study Portuguese only to never make it much farther than “Não falo português.”

The trip itself was to be split into two parts. The second part was going to be a weekend in Manaus, looking at all the sights. The first part was to be a very exciting week-long river cruise along the Amazon! Very cool I know! I was looking forward to this because I like the concept of boats! Dad as well! Awesome. I don’t remember exactly how I found the company, I think on Yelp or somesuch, but I had contacted them via email and I think had to provide a down-payment via international money order or something else terribly straightforward. This was 2011, I guess they might have had a website, but it couldn’t have been great. Nevertheless, I had sent the company my flight information, and we were expecting to be met at the airport by one of their representatives who would take us to suitable lodgings for the night.

And they did! Again it worked perfectly. Dad and I landed in Manaus and got through customs and a very nice lady met us there and between dad, myself, and this lady, we cobbled together enough Portuguese and English to confirm we were the people they were expecting and that we should get into the van. After getting into the van, we proceeded to drive into Manaus. She drove us to a part of town that now, in my worldy and cosmopolitan post-Peace Corps days I would probably find very very lovely, but back then in my cloistered youth seemed suspicious. We arrived at a corner that appeared to hold an office, and she turned around and asked us for the relatively large amount of money our trip had cost, an amount we had on us in cash (as we knew would be required), but which was a fact we were loathe to admit to here in the dark. Dad and I looked at each other, and then dad suggested to our host we pay after actually seeing the river boat, which apparently was amenable to all parties. She then drove us to a hotel and we checked in.

We awoke in the morning to discover that we had already achieved the end-goal of this whole trip, in that the hotel room had a lovely view of both some electrical infrastructure and also the Teatro Amazonas! Looking back at the pictures I had actually identified this the night before, but that makes for a less dramatic reveal. We had an amazing breakfast, and before long our friend was back to pick us up and carry us off to an adventure of a lifetime!

Here a lot of my geographic sense is going to break down. The whole time we were on the riverboat I knew we were like, on the Amazon, or near it at any rate, but I never had a solid clue of our exact coordinates. I only bring that up to say that it was quite the journey to the river boat from downtown Manaus. The first thing we did was see one of the sights of Manaus, which was the riverside fish market. I think the point of this part of the journey was to demonstrate some of the huge diversity of ichthyic fauna. There were a lot of fishes, let me tell ya! None interesting enough that I thought them picture-worthy, apparently, but I didn’t have a way to charge my camera the whole time I was in Brazil so I was worried about conserving battery life.

The next thing we did was to hop on a ferry to take us across the mighty Amazon river. This was super cool, because, as you’ve picked up by now, I like being on boats. Being on this boat gave us an excellent view of the economy of the river. Manaus is where it is because it is about as far up as sea-going vessels can travel on the Amazon. It’s kinda crazy to see cargo ships like the ones I captured above this far essentially inland. Pretty neat!

The big attraction in the middle of the river, however, is the Meeting of the Rivers. At this spot, the dark-colored Rio Negro meets the light-colored Rio Solimões to form I think the Amazon proper. Because of the different characteristics of the rivers, they meet but don’t immediately mix, allowing enthusiastic tour guides to park their boat right on the border of the rivers and provide ample opportunity for neat pictures. If I recall correctly, legend says the two rivers never really mix. So that is cool. After gazing at this, we had more river to traverse, and I remember admiring various ranches with cattle and other animals abutting the river and getting my first glimpse of something jungle-like. After a while we finally disembarked, and then there was a very long (it felt like) land journey in jeeps (or jeep-like things). To break up that part of the trip we saw several more sights, including very large lily pads:

And a cashew in its natural habitat:

Until finally, have a long and perilous journey, we arrived at…

The boat!!!!!!!!!

Aaaaaaand that’s where I’ll leave you for this week. Return next week, same time, same place, for the interestingly-named, Brazil Part 2!

The Last Shuttle Launch

If it wasn’t clear, I didn’t take this picture.

Reading this week:

  • The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson

I saw the last launch of the Space Shuttle! Not recently of course. Avid fans of space will know that the last time a Space Shuttle was launched was back in 2011. Astute readers of this blog will also know that I have been in New Haven recently because of grad school, and haven’t gone anywhere at all because we’re not supposed to leave New Haven. That has left me with a dearth of things to write about (my super amazing girlfriend (hi!) suggested I write about cats, a suggestion I callously tossed to the wayside, though maybe I could have combined these topics), so I think I will dig through the unpublished annals of my personal history to come up with some things to write about. Thus, today, I am talking about the last Shuttle launch.

To set the scene, it was way back in the halcyon days of 2011. I had, just that May, graduated from the Naval Academy. Upon graduating the Naval Academy, the Navy guarantees you, after your four years of hard work, 30 days of leave. This is nice! There was some special name for it. Guaranteed leave or comp time or something. The name is bugging me. Some people, like the very eager newly-minted Marine 2nd LTs, decided to forgo this leave and jump right into training. Not I! No siree, I took that leave. Plus Nuke School didn’t start until like September anyways. I spent some of that summer in a stash job (the Navy needs to justify your paycheck or whatever, so they “stash” you in a job somewhere) at an officer recruiting office which was both low-stress and illuminating, but for my big vacation I decided to uh, go big. Specifically, I decided to go to Brazil so I could see the Amazon rainforest before it all disappeared.

I did not watch the last launch of the Space Shuttle from Brazil. I watched it from the Kennedy Space Center, which is where they launched Space Shuttles from, but you see it was all part of the same trip, which is why I bring it up, and also some foreshadowing that the next couple of weeks probably will be about Brazil, or what I can glean from the pictures, at any rate. Anyways! I think this was my grandma’s idea (she lives in Florida), or else my aunt and uncle’s idea, who are the kinds of hip and cool people that would come up with the sort of idea to go see the last launch of the Space Shuttle. I was rather excited at the prospect of seeing a Space Shuttle launch. I, being at times uncreative in my youthful interests, used to be a big fan of space, and had even gone to Space Camp when I was younger. And since this was gonna be the last chance to see one, it seemed like a cool thing to do.

I had nothing to do with the planning of this portion of the trip, and was therefore carried along somewhat bewildered at it all, the same way I imagine the various animals they’ve sent to space must feel. The crowd for the launch included my grandma, my dad (who was coming to Brazil with me), my aunt (the three people just mentioned are pictured above), my uncle, and myself (neither of us pictured above). Apparently, to see a Space Shuttle launch, you show up very early, which is why it is dark in the above picture, which depicts us showing up very early. We set up chairs and a blanket to claim our spot on the lawn of the Kennedy Space Center, and fell asleep again.

By later in the day it had become much more crowded. To justify the ticket price, I suppose, NASA put on a whole morning of events for us to watch. They hauled out some astronauts that weren’t flying that day to talk to us about like, space and stuff, and a jumbotron that displayed interesting facts and stuff. One thing I remember being particularly perplexed about was them droning on and on about how impressive the commander of the Shuttle mission, Christopher Ferguson, was, specifically due to all the time he had spent in space (if I’m doing some math right from his Wikipedia profile, 27 days). Meanwhile, they were like, oh yeah and Sandra Magnus is flying too. This is perplexing because Dr. Magnus there, due to a stint on the International Space Station, had spent (again if I am doing some math right) 143 days in space!!!!! A friend of mine tried to argue that ISS time was less impressive than Space Shuttle time, but I’m Team Magnus all the way.

There was some tension that morning because there was a chance that the Shuttle might not go to space that day, which I suppose is always a chance when it comes to these things. Those coy people at NASA also like to amp up the suspense by pausing the countdown at various intervals. But eventually, the Space Shuttle launched! That was really cool! It looked like this:

Please admire the guy closest to the camera, who is my dad, praising the Space Shuttle as the super cool thing it is (as an aside, during nuke school, they tried to emphasize how smart and stuff we were by saying that nuclear submarines were the most complicated machines on the planet, except, they admit in a touch of modesty, the Space Shuttle). I know that picture isn’t very illuminating, so I prepared a closeup:

So that was super neat! As you have gleaned from the pictures, we weren’t particularly close, so the noise wasn’t particularly Earth-shattering or anything, but it was pretty cool! And now I can say I saw it. Having been at the Kennedy Space Center since the wee hours of the morning, at this point we went and saw the rest of it. I had been before (both during Space Camp and like, other times), but rockets are always cool, and especially cool that day was an exhibit they had on Star Trek (the original/best series), which included several sets you could take pictures with. I am a particular fan of the below picture, because it looks like I am in charge of the Enterprise, but my crew has all been turned into children, a fate I was spared from by being on an opportune vacation:

So that was seeing the last launch of the Space Shuttle! Highly recommend, though that’s not a very useful recommendation. Please come back next week, when I will (probably) write about going to Brazil!

Zoom U

Be forewarned! Today’s post is largely me whining. I think there may be a point to my whining, but that is largely irrelevant; I gotta get a post out and this is the only thing I’ve been really thinking about. What am I whining about? I am whining that the world has not heeded all the wonderfully amazing advice I gave in my post Zoom Pedagogy.

As you are probably well aware, unless you are from the future and haven’t learned about it in school yet (or I guess a time traveler from the past just getting their bearings and for some reason using my blog to do it), there is a pandemic on and that has forced many schools, including the one I am currently going to (Yale, nbd) to shift to largely or entirely to remote classes. I am not fundamentally particularly upset about this. I would prefer that classes be in-person and that we could all jostle together and discuss deep thoughts while huddled around tables (or whatever it is we used to do here at Yale, it all seems so long ago now), but it’s vastly better we take measures so that we don’t all die and/or suffer the long-term consequences of COVID. And also while this isn’t the Yale experience I was expecting, I didn’t actually know what to expect anyways before I came to Yale, and I am taking it all in stride as an experience that isn’t necessarily better or worse, but just different. I’ve also gotten very used to not having to run around campus to get to my classes and can instead just open up a new browser tab to get to my next class and being remote makes it much easier to play Pokémon during class. This is not really the point I am trying to make!

What I am here to whine about is the fact that we are somehow not all phenomenal at teaching online. Here at Yale, we have recently begun the spring semester. It will be my second-and-a-half semester of taking online classes (half of the Spring 2020 semester, all of Fall 2020 semester, and now Spring 2021 semester), and I gotta say, we don’t seem to have gotten any better at this. When all of our classes suddenly went online over Spring Break last year, I was very sympathetic to teachers that were struggling to make the transition to online. Teaching online is a very different beast than teaching in a classroom, and it was a hurdle that they were not expecting and is not easy to overcome anyways. But I feel that whatever consensus method we had achieved by about late April last year is just what we’ve been doing ever since.

And lemme tell ya it is not great! That last sentence lacks nuance, so let me put some in. There is a lot of variability in the quality of classes, which comes down to both the fact that some classes lend themselves to the format more, and also a difference in ability between teachers. But as far as I can tell there does not seem to have been any concerted effort to figure out the best way to teach an online class and disseminate that among all the professors. Given that literally every professor here at Yale is taking a stab at the online thing, you’d think it would be a great opportunity to very quickly identify the best practices and the ideas that work and make sure literally everyone knows about them. I don’t seen any evidence of that happening.

I’m getting increasingly frustrated at the little things. I actually have one “hybrid” class, where I am attending in-person (masks, testing, social distancing, all that), but some people are online. The first day of class, the professor was somewhat flummoxed because he had intended to use a white board to keep notes but hadn’t figured out an elegant way to let the online students see the board as well. Then, he wound up walking around holding a desktop microphone because the online students couldn’t hear him. These are little things, and my condemnation here might be a bit harsh, but on the other hand, how do we not have something like a standard package for all of this? That is, as soon as a professor decides they’re gonna teach a hybrid class, why does Yale not have myriad resources that tell them exactly how to do it? “Ah, hybrid class I see. Here is your lapel mic! Were you planning on using a white board? Excellent, here is what we have found is the best way to go about doing that. You’re going to be splitting the students up into groups occasionally? Yes, that is a great learning tool, other professors have found a lot of success using this method…” Why do we have every professor reinventing the wheel for themselves?

There are larger problems as well. My most frustrating experience this semester has been my Spanish class. Again, here I have a lot of sympathy. I struggle to imagine how you could do a really effective online language class with 15 people in it, like we have. If there is a way, however, the Yale Spanish department has not figured it out. One of my biggest frustrations is their decision to go from five days a week to three days a week. When we were in-person, and then last spring when we suddenly went online, we had class for 50 minutes five days a week. Then, in the fall, and now again this spring, they have decided to teach only three days a week for reasons that are mysterious to me. This hasn’t been an unpopular move; it’s kinda nice to free up that block of time on Tuesday and Thursday. However, they still expect the students to do the same amount of work to the same standard. This seems ridiculous to me. If you operate under the belief that teachers add something to a class, then having less time with a teacher is going to make that class less effective. I have to imagine this is especially true in a language course. But instead of cutting out 40% of the work to go along with cutting out 40% of the teaching time, the students are just supposed to do the lessons on their own twice a week. I have found it difficult to teach myself Spanish, which is not surprising, because I do not speak Spanish.

Last Spring, when we all suddenly went to online classes, the school made a huge effort to acknowledge that it was a difficult transition. I realize they were also responding to the pandemic in general, but students were given a lot of leeway in how they managed to achieve the requirements of the course. Professors were told to be very generous with extensions and allowing for Temporary Incompletes with the classes. Every student could change their classes to pass/fail with no questions asked up until the very last day of class. As soon as fall semester hit, however, I guess it was decided that This Is Just What We Do Now, and all that extra leeway was taken away. I understand the need to keep a rigorous standard when it comes to student work, but on the other hand I don’t see that same rigor being applied from above to make sure the classes are effective in the online format. I am floored that a year into online school we all aren’t phenomenal at it, because I feel like we could have been. Where are the numerous online thinkpieces about effective online teaching? Where are the Wikis to cover every conceivable online teaching scenario? Where are the virtual conferences about Zoom pedagogy? Am I just missing them? My super amazing girlfriend, who has thought deeply about education for years, figures that the answer is research universities like Yale just don’t actually care about teaching quality. Let’s hope she’s wrong.


Reading this week:

  • Blockchain Chicken Farm by Xiaowei Wang (beautiful)
  • In the Waves by Rachel Lance

Look. A couple of things. First, I continue to be impressed with the success of my blog post Joe Biden’s Ties (a success not shared by its short update, Joe Biden’s Ties Update). According to WordPress stats, it got like, slightly over two dozen views the other day. Two dozen! This has made me drunk with fame. Expect a biopic shortly. Second, there is a pandemic going on, which has severely restricted the amount of places I can go and then dryly describe for my myriad followers. This has left me pondering if I could maybe even creep up into three dozen viewers on any given day if I dedicate myself entirely to fashion commentary. At the very least, it would save us from being a Chronicle blog. This has made me decide to dedicate this week’s blog in an ode to the greatest fashion in the world, batik.

First off, I apologize; I’m not going to do batik justice here, either in regards to its rich history or to my deep and abiding love for it. I first discovered batik in the usual way: my grandfather died. He was not Indonesian, nor am I entirely sure he ever went to Indonesia, but nonetheless a shirt made of batik wound up in his closet. My dad was too fat for it (that’s not a dig at dad, I’m also too fat for it now, but I used to work out [because the Navy made me]), so I wound up with it. What a revelation! To back up a bit. In case you didn’t follow the link to Wikipedia the first time I wrote batik, what I’m referring to is cloth that has been colored with a wax-resist dyeing technique. If you’re using batik in that general sense, there are a whole lot of types of batik from over large swaths of the world. Given that other parts of the world use other words for it, batik therefore refers more specifically to cloth produced with the technique from Indonesia. It comes in a variety of colorful designs, and people make all sorts of cool clothing out of it, but in my case I exclusively wear batik that has been crafted into shirts.

And I do wear a lot of ’em. Or at least used to. There’s a pandemic on and I can’t stand to muster anything more than a t-shirt for an online class. The picture at the top is a small portion of my total batik collection; I have stowed a large chunk of it away because as I have just complained about there is a pandemic on and I never go anywhere anymore. I wear them for a few reasons. Probably the biggest reason is that they are bold and loud. I remember one day (before my forays into fashion) that I looked at my t-shirt collection and realized they were all blue. And nearly the same shade of blue. This isn’t just a personal fashion choice; look at men (in America at least), any man, and I am willing to bet that he is probably wearing blue. I don’t know what part of that is blue being a flattering color to wear, men being desperately uncreative, or mass-produced fashion having to cater to the lowest common denominator, but men all tend to wear the same boring stuff. There’s no reason to! We can wear whatever we want! We don’t have to wear blue! So batik for me was in large part a major antidote to uninspired dressing.

Another huge reason I like to plug batik is that at some point I decided that it was worth it to look presentable to the world. Batik shirts are a great way to do that. I made this realization at some point with the help of a PutThisOn article I don’t think is up any longer. That article was talking about Aloha/Hawaiian shirts (when I wear batik, it’s usually mistaken for an Aloha shirt, which I also very much love), but made the point that those shirts are actually kinda dressy. Look, I (probably) wouldn’t wear one to a funeral, but the batik shirts I wear (and Aloha shirts) are button-down and have collars. That certainly puts them a step above the t-shirts that my stereotypical blue-clad men wear. And if I come across another man in a batik shirt or an Aloha shirt, I can tell that man has probably put a lot more thought into what he is wearing than somebody dressed in a t-shirt, and out of sheer favoritism I am also going to put him above the polo-shirt clad crowd. And what is the point of formal dress besides an indication that you’ve thought about what you’re wearing and how it applies to the situation in which you will wear it? Also, I meant to point this out earlier, batik is formalwear in Indonesia anyways, so it’s not sorta-kinda formal, it is formal.

The most difficult part of my passion for batik is that it is hard to get. I have bought nearly the entirety of my batik collection on ebay. At some point, I think I was (I might still be) the exclusive buyer of size-17 batik keris (my preferred brand) shirts on ebay. I have an alert set up. In good times, I get an email nearly every morning. I think the pandemic must have significantly slowed the flow of batik into the United States because pickings have been sadly slim. There have been a limited number of other ways I have been able to obtain batik. At one point, a buddy of mine had long been suffering under a deluge of batik, actually. I was jealous of his lifestyle, which involved having an uncle that sent him boxes of batik shirts unsolicited. Both my buddy and his uncle were Indonesian, as way of explanation. While we were in closer proximity, he would pass his surplus to me. This was amazing.

At only one time in my life have I been able to buy batik shirts directly from a store. This was in Singapore. I did not know I was going to go to Singapore when I set out on this particular trip (it was on a submarine, and things are hush-hush on submarines, and also sometimes disorganized), but as soon as I heard we were headed there I felt my batik dreams were destined to come quickly true. I was crushed to not find every street lined with batik stores, but when I finally found one I ran across the street to shop there. At the time I was under the impression you could be caned in Singapore for jaywalking, but such was my dedication to bright and colorful patterns that I was willing to risk physical injury for it. Based on the reaction of the erstwhile shopkeeper, I am willing to say I was the most enthusiastic buyer of batik he had seen in quite some time. Maybe just the least canny. At any rate, it was heaven.

So, uh, yeah. That’s what I got to say about batik. It’s bold. It’s beautiful. It’s a step up from whatever you’re likely wearing (my super amazing girlfriend disagrees [hi!]). Give it a go! Just not in size 17 from ebay. That’s for me.

James Hemans

Reading this week:

  • Ted Hood: Through Hand and Eye: An Autobiography by Ted Hood and Michael Levitt

One of my current pet projects is going through the Chronicle of the London Missionary Society and transcribing all of their articles relevant to the Central African mission. I realize that this blog is becoming more and more “interesting things I found in the Chronicle” (saving us, at the very least, from becoming exclusively a 3D-printing blog), but I think this project has a purpose. All the back issues of the Chronicle are in various places on the internet, and if you search the right terms various things will pop up on Google Books, but they aren’t really accessible to a casual internet search. This is especially true of the pictures, and I think it is important to put that stuff out there.

While that project is progressing (it’s gonna take a long time), I wanted to put some stuff out there about James Hemans and his wife, Maria. I have mentioned Mr. Hemans before, noting that I should do a deeper dive into that. This is draft #1 of that deeper dive. I went through all the issues of the Chronicle from 1887, when the Hemans are recorded as arriving in England from Jamaica, until 1908, when the Chronicle reported his death. This version is crude; I just did a search for “Hemans” in the PDFs, a technique that fails to capture each and every mention of them. This is why I’m doing the longer project and scrolling through all the issues by hand, to try to capture every mention and put ’em in a more easily searchable document.

Anyways, some background. James Hemans and his wife are notable for being Black missionaries sent to the Central African mission of the London Missionary Society. There is a short biography of Mr. and Mrs. Hemans here, which notes that they were not well treated by their fellow missionaries. The most significant chunk of biographical information on Mr. Hemans in the Chronicle (women in the Chronicle are largely ignored except as the wives of their husbands) comes from the June 1901 issue, which noted that he was “a son of West Indian negro slaves, and a child of the Society’s mission in Jamaica” (I want to make an aside to note I’m not endorsing the language or views of any of the quotes I present). The book Jamaica Congregational Churches provides some more background:

In September of the same year [1887] Mr. J.H.E. Hemans and Mrs. Hemans sailed from England on their way to Central Africa, Mr. Hemans having been appointed a missionary schoolmaster in connection with the L.M.S. mission on the shores of Lake Tanganyika. Mr. Hemans from early youth had a strong desire to go to Africa to labor for the salvation and enlightenment of his own race in its fatherland, but his way did not open until he had been trained and has served for several years as a teacher. This training and experience proved to be the best preparation for the important and successful work which, by the blessing of God, Mr. and Mrs. Hemans have done in Africa. Mr. Hemans was brought up in connection with the Davyton Church, and Mrs. Hemans with Four Paths, and they were married while Mr. Hemans was teacher at Porus, where he labored for four years previous to going to Africa. Our friends had a well-earned furlough in 1896, a few months of which they spent in Jamaica visiting the churches and telling the story of their life and work in the Dark Continent. They spent some time in England on their way back, and when Mr. Hemans wrote to our late beloved Queen and told her that he and his wife were children of slaves, whom Her Majesty had emancipated in Jamaica at the commencement of her reign, and that they were now engaged in mission-work among the natives of the extreme part of Her Majesty’s dominion in Central Africa, the good Queen could not refuse their request for an interview. She received them very graciously, and presented them with a large framed portrait of herself to take to Africa with them.

Jamaica Congregational Churches, pgs 14-15

A later passage from the same book notes:

For a long time Mr. Hemans had felt a strong desire to be a missionary in the African fatherland, and Providence opened the way for the realization of this longing. In the year 1887, the L.M.S. having communicated to our Union the willingness to accept one of our Jamaica colored young men for the post of missionary teacher in Central Africa, the Union felt no hesitation in selecting Mr. Hemans – the more so as Mrs. Hemans was a woman in every way likely to be helpful to her husband in this great work. They accordingly proceeded to England, followed by the earnest prayers of our churches. They were cordially received by the directors, and after a few months’ special training in educational methods were sent to the Dark Continent. We are glad to record that their career has been one of great usefulness and success. They are still laboring at Niamkolo, Lake Tanganyika, and it is our hope that they may spend many years of happy and successful toil. Would that more from our churches would arise to follow in their steps.

Jamaica Congregational Churches, pgs 82-83

There’s clearly a lot more to be learned about the Hemans if we dive into the Jamaica records, but that is far outside my wheelhouse, so I’ll have to leave that to others. Let’s dive into what the Chronicle has to say about the Hemans:

The first mention of the Hemans that I found was in November 1887 (pg 495), noting “Mr. J.H.E. Hemans, and Mrs. Hemans, from Jamaica, per steamer Don, at Southampton, October 15th.” Then, in May 1888, Mr. Hemans attended a prayer meeting. Finally, the first substantial chunk of info on them comes in the July 1888 issue (pg 341), where “welcomes and valedictions” were noted during a board meeting of the Society:

The Central Africa party was a strong one… special interest was attached to the departure of Mr. and Mrs. Hemans, negroes from Jamaica, who have volunteered for the work. They go out, having, it is hoped, as African by descent and constitution, special qualifications for the field. They will fill a responsible position, and upon the success or otherwise of the experiment thus tried much will depend. The Directors will follow them with great interest, not a little anxiety, and with much prayerfulness, and trust that the new departure will prove a wise and successful step…

They departed with the rest of the Central Africa-bound missionaries on the steamer Goorkha on June 2nd of that year. Mr. Hemans would have been 31. The next news, from the March 1889 issue (pg 83), relays the story of the group’s overland crossing to the lake, with a brief mention of Mrs. Hemans:

A letter from the Rev. T.F. Shaw tells of his safe arrival at Urambo on November 2nd. Mr. Draper and himself were in excellent health. Mrs. Shaw, during the latter part of the journey, had suffered much, but on reaching their destination at once began to improve. Mr. A.J. Swann also reports that on October 18th, he, and the party he had conducted from the coast, had reached Ujiji in health and peace. Dr. Mather, though still far from strong, was very much better. The journey was accomplished in three months and two days, and without the loss of a single package. The chairs for Mrs. Swann and Mrs. Hemans answered admirably, and proved an economical mode of transport. Both the ladies were as well as when they left the coast. The Arabs were glad to see him back again. No news of Stanley had reached them. The party were to cross to Kavala Island in the Alfigiri. Mr. Carson and Mr. Wright both send cheering news from Kavala Island. They were well, and, by medical work, teaching, and public services, were trying to commend the Gospel to the natives.

An update in June 1889 noted that the Hemans were bound for the Mission at Fwambo, and that “On the new station (Fwambo) Mr. Jones has carried on worship with his men, and has sought to make known the Gospel to the people of the neighboring towns. After the arrival of Mr. Hemans the erection of a school-house was at once begun.” In July it was noted (pg 234) that “The party of missionaries at Fwambo, the new station in the highlands, were all in excellent health. Mr. and Mrs. Hemans were delighted with the invigorating, yet balmy, air which, they say, resembles their native air of Jamaica.”

The Hemans’ aren’t pictured, but I think he might have helped build this house.

Having settled in, it seems to me that Mr. and Mrs. Hemans quickly became the most successful missionaries that the Central Africa Mission would see for some time. James seemed especially industrious, doing in his early days a whole lot of building, especially I think of schoolhouses, being a schoolteacher and all. Reading through the various reports, they were extremely popular and well-liked among the people the Mission was trying to convert, and their pupils were by far the best. The two would wind up in Africa for 18 years or so, a remarkable feat in and of itself when most of their Missionary fellows lasted a few years at most. In light of that, it makes it all the sadder that they were apparently poorly treated by the other missionaries. Strikes me as jealousy through and through.

At any rate, part of a letter from Mr. Hemans was published in the January 1892 edition (pg 12):

“In February, 1890,” says Mr. Hemans, of Fwambo, “I planted four quarts of wheat, which yielded about a bushel. The whole was again sown last February. The field was reaped two weeks ago, and we have got about 7 cwts. of clean wheat ready for use. Should a mill be sent out for the use of this station, the missionaries would, I believe, have no need of ordering flour. In fact the two stations could, without any difficulty, be supplied with the required quantity of flour. Wheat and potatoes thrive remarkably. Here, they seem to be in their element.”

I think that Kawimbi and Fwambo are the same place, though there is reason to doubt that.

By 1892, the Hemans had been transferred to Niamkolo, as part of a consolidation of missionary activities towards the southern end of Lake Tanganyika. A lengthy report in the October edition of that year (pg 228) mentions the work of Mr. Hemans a few times:

Niamkolo is of course on the borders of the lake. Some sixty miles south of the lake, on the highlands of the interior, is our newest Central African station. This is called Fwambo, or, since the permanent site of the Mission has been selected, Kawimbi. There again, in consequence of the shifting of the station a few miles to a more commodious site, the work has been to some extent checked, and building necessities have overridden everything else, but the missionaries have secured what bids fair to become a strong center. The Rev. D.P. Jones, who is in charge of the station, reports as follows:-

“The outdoor work of the station has been carried on chiefly by Mr. Hemans. We have done extensive building during the year, and I think I may venture to say that, both in strength and appearance, they are rather superior to any buildings put up by us hitherto, excepting, of course, as such as have been made of brick or stone.

“Including cattle sheds, outhouses, etc, as many as seven blocks have been erectred since January, each block of dimensions not less than 40 feet by 12 feet.

“Wheat-growing was also undertaken by us on a small scale, and with perfect success.”

Some particular praise for the work of Mr. Hemans, from the January 1893 issue (pg 15):

At Fwambo, the Rev. D.P. Jones has been examining his school, and found that only one scholar was able to give intelligent answers to Scripture questions, all the rest having a confused idea that the first man was made of a bone and found by the daughter of Pharaoh in the reeds, and that when he was a youth he killed a giant with a stone.

School work at Niamkolo, under the care of Mr. Hemans, is very encouraging. All the boys in the village are attending the school, and are now having three hours’ teaching every day instead of one hour only as formerly. On August 10th, Mr. Jones examined the school, and was exceedingly pleased with the result. The scholars gave ample proof that learning had become a pleasure to them.

In July a Sunday-school was started for “all comers,” and more than 150 put in an appearance. One night three lads called on Mr. Hemans and told him “that they found out that they were sitting down as fools, notwithstanding that they had been hearing of the love of Jesus; but they have decided to be so no longer, and wish to make known publicly that they are followers of Jesus.”

In November of 1894 (pg 264), there is a report about the missionaries’ attempts to make inroads with the Bemba people (here spelled “Awemba). A famine had struck, and the missionaries were hoping that an offer of aid would open up diplomatic relations. It didn’t go quite as planned, but the presence of Black missionaries intrigued Chief Ponde:

Under the dispensation of famine in the Aemba country, the missionaries at Niamkolo have been seeking entrance through a hitherto closed door. The Rev. W. Thomas and Mr. Hemans agreed to send relief and a promise of abundance of food if the people would send for it. The principal natives at Niamkolo entered eagerly into the proposal, and early in June a number of men started for Luemba with food. In going to Kitimkuru’s they would first have to propitiate his nephew, Ponde. The messengers returned just before the end of the month, accompanied by twelve of Ponde’s men, including his son and his headman or minister of war. The messengers reported that they had been very warmly received and kindly treated by Ponde and his people. He would not, however, allow them to go on to his uncle, on the ground that he had not been well pleased with the white men, though he went himself to show his uncle the presents he had received, to tell him about the missionaries, and of their desire to visit him. He was highly pleased to hear that two of the mission band (Mr. and Mrs. Hemans) were colored people like himself, and sent a direct invitation to them. The Rev. W. Thomas was absent on a visit to Ponde when Mr. Hemans wrote, and we trust he has had a successful journey.

In March of 1895 (pg 78), the Chronicle reports that the Hemans were transferred back to Fwambo as part of a shuffling of missionaries, but that his schooling efforts were going as well as ever:

The removal of Mr. Nutt to the new station has necessitated the transference of Mr. and Mrs. Hemans from Niamkolo to Fwambo. Mr. Hemans opened a school at Fwambo’s village with ninety-three children in attendance, and the number has daily increased, as has also been the case with the school at the head station. Upon the day on which he wrote (November 2nd) there had been 287 children at the former school and 153 (boys only) at the latter.

Also in 1895, the Hemans returned to England for a well-deserved furlough, arriving per steamer Tartar, at Southampton, October 16th. They were welcomed back at a board meeting on November 12th (December issue, pg 324), where “The Directors welcomed the Rev. E.S. Oakley, from Almora; Mr. and Mrs. J.H.E. Hemans, from Lake Tanganyika (accepting at the same time some of the first copy-books used in the Mission, and specimens of needlework).” Also that month, the Chronicle published a letter that had been addressed to the Foreign Secretary (pg 330):

“A Letter from Tanganyika School Boys”

When Mr. and Mrs. Hemans (whose reception by the Board is referred to on page 324) were about to leave their station the scholars at Kawimbe were greatly troubled. These colored missionaries had completely won their affection and confidence, and very earnestly did the lads plead that a substitute might soon be sent. In reply to their request Mr. Hemans suggested that they should write down what they wanted to say and address it to the Foreign Secretary of the London Missionary Society. At once they accepted the suggestion, and, retiring to the end of the school-house drew up the following petition, which we give in facsimile with a translation appended. Evidently Young Central Africa is getting on!

“Kawimbe, 5th January, 1895

“Master, – We want a person who knows to teach well like Hemans. We love Hemans because he generally tells good things to people and teaches well. We want a cheerful, loving, and faithful person. In days past we were in darkness alone, but now we are greatly thanking God, who has brought him, and in our hearts we are rejoicing.

“We are not angry with anyone – we love all; but we want a person who should come from Jamaica, like Hemans.

“We write these words on behalf of all the school children.”

(Signed) Kipapa. Ngolwe. Mwamba. Mauluki. Ndalambo. Mutale. Makiende. Kisimba. Kimvyamuti. Kisama. Kilalu. Musatwe. Kombe. Manyika. Kito. Simbwa. Mulinda. Kamimbi. Maliwanda. Tungo. Kizyemu. Swepa.

The Hemans were busy during their furlough, participating in various London Missionary Society events. They participated in a “Children’s Demonstration” (June 1896 issue, pg 126):

Favored by the sunniest Sunday for many weeks past, the Children’s Demonstration at Exeter Hall, on the afternoon of May 9th, was a record gathering in point of attendance. The large hall began to fill soon after three, and the young people waited patiently for the arrival of “notabilities,” just before four o’clock. A warm welcome was accorded the gaily-dressed missionaries, representative of nearly all parts of the Society’s field of operations; and the missionaries’ children, similarly arrayed, were voted prettier than ever. Very conspicuous and popular also were our friends, Mr. and Mrs. Hemans, from Lake Tanganyika. The huge map used at the September Convention was suspended from the roof, near the organ.

They also got to spend some time in Jamaica, where they did numerous fund-raising events (March 1897, pg 65):

It may be remembered that Mr. and Mrs. Hemans, who have done good service as school master and mistress at Fwambo, left England for Jamaica last May, to spend part of their furlough in their native land. While there they have been hard at work amongst the churches, not having indeed one free Sunday during their visit, which terminated at Christmas. Mr. and Mrs. Hemans have given numerous lectures on their work in Central Africa, illustrated by lantern slides, the proceeds of which have resulted in the sum of £22 7s. 2d. for the funds of the Society. Much interest and enthusiasm have been evoked by the visit of our friends, and they have been the recipients of several addresses, both of welcome and farewell. One of these from the Old Scholars of Whitefield School, Porus, with some forty signatures, stated, amidst many other sympathetic and congratulatory words, that “while England is proud of her Moffat and her Livingstone, Jamaica is proud of her Hemans.”

During that trip, Mr. Hemans got to visit his father, who unfortunately died three months afterwards. Also in 1897 (June, pg 137) was published an article about a Young Men’s meeting where the Hemans are mentioned. It says “Dr. Parker referred to Mr. and Mrs. Hemans, who were seated on the platform, as living illustrations of what the Gospel can do for the world, and added a humorous reference to their audience with the Queen two days before.” I just wanted to say that sounds like Dr. Parker was a bit of a dick to the Hemans right in front of everybody, with at the very least a backhanded compliment.

By May of 1897 they were getting ready to head home. A report of a May 25th board meeting published in July (pg 148) notes “Mr. J.H.E. and Mrs. Hemans, who are returning to Central Africa to resume school work, which they have already done so thoroughly well.” During their second stay in Central Africa, the Hemans’ garnered less mentions (that I found) in the pages of the Chronicle, though it does note some nice things. After mentioning in the 1898 issue (February, pg 46) that the latest batch of missionaries had arrived safely, another newly arrived missionary was making a favorable note in the February 1901 issue (pg 41):

Mr. Draper and Mr. MacKendrick reached Kawimbi on September 22nd, and received a very hearty welcome. At the Sunday morning service, conducted by Mr. Hemans, there were over six hundred natives present. Mr. MacKendrick was appointed to work at Niamkolo. After being there for more than a week, he writes: “The more I see of Niamkolo the surer I am that good and lasting work can be done here. I have been much impressed with the work of Mr. and Mrs. Hemans. Indeed, so far as my experience goes, I have no hesitation in saying that this is the best mission station I have visited since coming to Africa. The school is attended by about 120 children at present, and some of the work I have seen would be no disgrace to any of our English schools up to the third or fourth standard. On the first Sunday, although the people were packed like herrings in a box inside the church, there were over two hundred left outside. The following Sunday it was just the same. In the afternoon I baptized four women, and there are others waiting for baptism.”

The final substantial note came later that same year in the June issue (pg 131), with the mention (partially quoted in the beginning):

Mr. Thompson went on to say that the Directors regarded the development of industries as a matter of very great importance among such people. It had, therefore, been a very great satisfaction to get from men quite unconnected with the mission most kindly expressions of satisfaction with their efforts in this direction, and to find that a number of native youths were already useful and profitably employed as carpenters, sawyers, bricklayers, etc. Mr. Hemans, a son of West Indian negro slaves, and a child of the Society’s mission in Jamaica, had given special attention to agriculture, and had rendered great service to the community at large by introducing improved and new varieties of vegetables and fruit. The Foreign Secretary stated that on the previous Friday he had received from Mr. Hemans an excellent sample of raw sugar produced by the mission. “I hope we have heard that last of giving up the Central African Mission. The new century has begun under the shadow of death, but the prospects of the work are brighter than they have ever been.”

In 1906 (April, Pg 96), the Chronicle notes under its departure announcements: “Mr. J.H.E. Hemans and Mrs. Hemans, returning to Jamaica, on their retirement from work in Central Africa, embarked at Bristol, per steamer Port Kingston, February 23rd.” Then, in 1908 (October, Pg 200), again under announcements: “Deaths – Hemans. -At Hampton, Jamaica, James H.E. Hemans, late of Central African Mission, in his 52nd year. (By cable dated September 4th.)”

That marked the end of the mentions of Mr. and Mrs. J.H.E. Hemans that I could find in the Chronicle. As I go through my project of transcribing the Chronicle, I’ll find more, and I skipped a lot of mentions of regular monetary contributions that the Hemans’ made to the Society. They were really dedicated to their work, and remarkably effective, spending over a third of their lives in Africa. As reflected back in my Mama Meli update, they seem kind and beloved by the people they worked with. If their colleagues mistreated them, that is a helluva stain on their record. Maybe some of this information is useful to other researchers trying to tell their story. Thanks!

Joe Biden’s Ties Update

In a move that has surprised me, my post Joe Biden’s Ties is far and away my most popular post ever, getting sometimes into even double-digit views on a given day. Pretty exciting I know! Given the immense popularity, I feel obliged to my loyal reader(s) to provide a quick mid-week update on potentially our most fashionable president (I know JFK exists). I was tipped off by an Al Jazeera article, but, as you can guess from the photo up top, Joe Biden at least once wore a tie with little sharks on it!!! Very exciting!!! The above photo was taken in 2015, when the sartorially adventures then-Vice President met Xi Jinping as the Chinese president arrived for a state visit. Here’s the full photo: