Hamat – Just Another Refugee

In the world today there are over 50 million refugees – people who have left their homes under catastrophic conditions and are struggling to survive in limbo without place or country. It is difficult for us to get our minds around the magnitude of this many suffering people. So let me tell the story of a single refugee – my friend Hamat. I first met Hamat when I was doing a linguistic survey in the Boma Hills of southern Sudan. Initially I had a difficult time communicating with the local Murle people since I could not find a common language. While I set up camp crowds of people stood around and watched me. Then I saw a tall man striding up the path wearing a bright white Arab robe. He had a powerful athletic form and was starting to go bald. His white teeth were accentuated by his brilliant smile. He walked up to me and in perfect English said, “I am Hamat. Welcome to Boma.” Within minutes Hamat was organizing my camp. Hamat was a born leader and I soon discovered that he was a coffee trader. He did not come from Boma, but had been born in the Nuba Hills in northern Sudan. The Nubas were famous for their prowess as wrestlers. Hamat himself had trained as a wrestler and eventually became a champion. He then moved to Khartoum where he learned Arabic. I asked him where he learned his English and he told me he learned English from watching Hollywood movies in Khartoum a la John Wayne. Jobs were hard to find so he became a...
Kerosene or Hippo Fat

Kerosene or Hippo Fat

The following blog is taken from my latest book titled “The Red Pelican”. It is the third book of my Sudan trilogy and follows “Drinking the Wind and “Chasing the Rain”. All of these books can purchased at Amazon.com Dick Lyth and his soldiers fought several tough battles against the Italians in the rugged hills of the southern Sudan. They then retreated to a pool on the Kibbish River to rest up and heal from their wounds. Dick himself had a bullet wound in his thigh and needed time to gain back his strength. The camp near the pool may have been idyllic during the day, but it was miserable at night. Everyone was plagued by the profusion of mosquitoes. One morning Dick woke up with a severe headache. By noon he had a high fever and was sweating profusely. He had caught a serious case of the dreaded malaria. He alternated between shivering with cold and burning up with fever. The soldiers were quite concerned. They knew well the dangers of malaria and there was a real possibility Dick could die in the night. Musa, the master sergeant, and Kuju, the orderly, came to talk to Dick. He was lying in a pool of sweat in a fever-induced stupor. Kuju shook him by the shoulder and finally got his attention by shouting, “You are very sick! We want to pray for you so God will make you well!” Dick just groaned, but Kuju persevered. “The Bible tells us what to do when a person is sick. The Christians should gather together, anoint the sick person with oil and pray for him.” Both Kuju...
Becoming Mzee

Becoming Mzee

Vacations at the Indian Ocean have been part of the Arensen tradition for many years. When I was a boy my parents would take the family to the coast once a year – usually for 10 days. We used to stay in a run-down self-serve cottage that cost us $5 a day. However, we did not mind the musty old beach house because we spent most of our time in the warm waters of the ocean – riding the waves and snorkeling over the beautiful coral reefs. In those far-off days we were not aware of environmental degradation and we spent many happy hours spearing fish, collecting seashells and digging up bright pieces of coral. The coral always ended up being a disappointment since the colors faded to a dull gray when exposed to the bright sun. Until this day my favorite vacation activity is floating over a coral reef and watching the myriad forms of sea life. But now I know better than to collect. I just look and appreciate God’s wonderful creation. Recently Barb and I had the opportunity to return to the Kenya coast. Together with Jeff and Sarah and our young granddaughters we rented a beautiful cottage on Galu beach. After several days of relaxing I decided it was time to go snorkeling. I watched the tides and chose a time when the tide was going out, leaving smooth water in the channel. I got my gear together and waded out into the shallow water. I quickly discovered that the rocky bottom was covered with sea urchins and their sharp spines made walking difficult. I...
The Golden Cowrie

The Golden Cowrie

Barb and I met at the Rift Valley Academy where we were both teachers. I had the joy of introducing her to the beautiful country of Kenya. We went on safaris, hunting trips, hikes and walked the sandy beaches where Kenya touched the rolling waves of the Indian Ocean. We were eventually married in the RVA chapel with my father performing the wedding and the RVA choir providing the music. For our honeymoon we rented a cottage at the coast. While walking on the white sugary beach a young Kenyan boy approached us and offered us an unusually shaped seashell. I had been collecting shells for many years. (This was back in the time when seashell collecting was an accepted hobby.) I looked at the shell carefully and realized that it was something special. I had never seen anything like it before. It was in the volute family and had a symmetrical spiral shape with pink, brown and black stripes. The boy offered to sell it for 20 shillings (about 3 dollars). I gladly paid him the asking price and he went away pleased with the sale. After looking in several shell books I was finally able to identify my new shell as a lyreformis – a rare deep water species. A pristine shell such as mine was priced at $400 – enough to pay for our whole wedding and honeymoon. Over the ensuing years Barb and I continued to collect seashells with an emphasis on collecting cowries. These smooth shiny shells come in many colors and sizes and over time we owned over 60 separate species. Most of...
The Greyhound Story

The Greyhound Story

(I don’t have a photo of a greyhound so a cheetah will have to do.) My adventurous travel spirit served me well during my high school days in Kenya and on into college. My best example is what I call the Greyhound story. After my sophomore year of college I was looking for a summer job to help pay for my schooling. I passed through Chicago where I stopped in to see a distant cousin. I asked her about jobs and she told me that the Greyhound bus company was hiring. They were looking for tour guides for their summer excursions around America. Having been raised in Africa, I did not know that much about America, but the job sounded interesting so I thought I would make an application. The following morning I took the train downtown to Chicago and approached the massive Greyhound depot. The building was a beehive of activity with people and buses everywhere.  I finally found the tourism office and walked in. I approached a harried looking man and said, “I am here about the tour guide job.” He leapt up off his chair and said, “You are late. The bus is loaded and ready to go.” He thrust a small briefcase into my hands and then escorted me out to a standing bus. I climbed up the steps and looked at 31 eager passengers – all awaiting their summer vacation. I turned to the manager and asked, “Where are we going?” In his hasty response he told me that I was booked to make a five-day tour around Lake Michigan. Then he stepped down...
Black Spots

Black Spots

Located on the west side of the mighty Nile River is the town called Juba. In the 1980’s this town functioned as the capital of southern Sudan, but it was a small place with only two miles of paved road and a few government buildings. Most of the inhabitants still lived in grass-roofed huts. I worked there and have one primary recollection – Juba was hot!! To get away from the office routine of the week some of us would go hunting. Saturdays were our hunting days and we looked forward to these weekly excursions. We would awaken early when it was still dark and load up my old Toyota Land Cruiser with rifles, food and water. Then we would drive through the quiet streets to the iron bridge that spanned the Nile River. Here we would wait until the bridge was open to traffic. The barrier was lifted as soon as there was a tinge of yellow in the east. We were always the first vehicle across the bridge, leaving the sleeping town behind and heading for the wilderness. Once we reached the east side of the river we turned right onto a faint track and headed south toward our private hunting ground. At first we followed the bank of the Nile, driving through small villages and gardens, but after 30 miles the villages petered out and we were into wild country. Granite hills pointed high into the sky and the land between the hills alternated between yellow savannahs and forested ravines. Once we reached our hunting area several men would climb on top of the hard-topped Toyota...