Archive for the ‘travel’ Category

An Example of Why I Love my Wife

6 February 2012

I recently received the following volley of emails from my wife while she was waiting to board a plane.

Subject: Animal plane
Maureen to: Toby
02/02/2012 08:39 AM

You know Frontier is the airline with the talking animals commercials…i’ve been excited all morning to find out which animal would be on my plane….but I can’t see it due to the sun!!! it’s either a lemur, a leopard cub, or a skunk.  Maybe I’ll ask the pilot, ha…


Subject: Animal planes
Maureen to: Toby
02/02/2012 09:00 AM

Update…possibly a white tiger cub????!!! Still hard to say.


Subject: Re: Animal planes
Maureen to: Toby
02/02/2012 09:06 AM

Oh my gah its a BADGER!!!


G-Star Raw

24 July 2008

Passing briefly through a place significantly different than your usual surroundings offers a unique chance to pick up on cultural trends. Brief contact with a culture in action is much like a cross section view of a whale–the unusual perspective offers details you might miss in the sweep of the whole. In the dim and dreary delirium that makes up most of my international flying, these unexpected sights and sounds seem to me to make up the leitmotif of the experience. The motifs of course being sleeplessness, greasy forehead, and frustration at being coralled. Being told where to go by chrome poles and extensible nylon bands makes me feel less than human.

In December of 2005, for example, the leitmotif in Europe was boots. Absolutely everywhere I went, the boots were simply everywhere you looked. In those days, if one were not wearing boots, one could hardly call oneself a lady. The airlines had actually developed a “boot scanner” to allow women to pass through security without removing their variously tight and bulky footwear. I have not seen it in use since then. Perhaps we are past the pinnacle of the boot in Europe.

I only bring this up because my most recent trip from East Africa to the US and back was the first time one of these leitmotifs spanned two continents. The fad in question this time is the phrase “G-Star Raw”, particularly printed on a piece of clothing.

The hip hop thug pastiche is well entrenched in all but the most remote places in Africa. As such, I was not surprised at all when I started seeing shirts and hats emblazoned with “G-Star Raw”. None of these messages suggested whether the wearer were claiming that they themselves were a raw g-star, or whether g-stars were simply inherently raw. What is for certain is that white, bold Gothic lettering is the preferred means to transmit such a message.

I suppose it was the moment that I saw a Dutch toddler wearing a jumper proudly emblazoned with this phrase that I knew something touching the universal heart of mankind was happening. In my worldview, fashion trends are not generally shared between Sudanese men and the smallest children of Holland. With my awareness newly awakened to the globe-spanning presence of “G-Star Raw” I began to see it everywhere. Did I actually see a woman’s purse with this message, or did I imagine it? I cannot reliably say one way or the other.

What does this mean? Has the finger I always keep on the pulse of world fashion lost it’s place? Every appearance of the mysterious phrase crashed like a battering ram on the now seeming-fragile surface of my sense of commonhood of man. What is it that Europe and Africa know about G-Star Raw that I do not?

– Toby 07.19.08

Toby Update / An Africa I Didn’t Know

31 March 2008

I’ve been in the Nuba Mountain region of Sudan for some time now, and I
have given few indicators to few people about what it’s like. This is

Part of my slowness in sharing about this place is the familiarity of it
to my past experiences in Kenya. There certainly are many factors of
life here that hearken strongly to the blessed days I spent in the
Northern deserts of Kenya with AIM-Tech. Probably the single biggest
difference is the fact that I am no longer going to many distinct
locations and people groups. I lay down to sleep in the same place every
night. I am part of a community and economy in a way I never experienced
in Kenya, or anywhere else, for that matter.

The primary people group where I find myself is called the Moro. Their
lifestyles and appearance are very different from the Dinka tribe in the
South that forms the basis of so much of the world’s picture of Sudanese
Africans. While they are somewhat taller and more massively built than
the average Kenyan person, they are nowhere near the towering heights of
the familiar Dinka. Most people carry in their hearts their mother
tongue, and a form of Arabic only slightly departed from its origin.
Lifestyle, mores, and mode of dress exhibit a similar blending of
African and Arabic traditions. The Moro herd cattle, raise sorghum, and
harvest Mango with equal vigor.

Being more than 10 degrees North of the equator, this part of the world
has genuine seasons, and this is another marked difference from the
Africa I have known. Moro has a long dry season with gradually inclining
heat. This siege is finally broken sometime between late April and early
June when powerful rainstorms appear with daily regularity. The crop
cycles follow with a burst of fruit bearing during the rains.

Our particular area is continuously between 400 and 600 meters above sea
level. Numerous hills and mountains interrupt the flatness by rising to
1500 meters or more. At present the landscape is somewhat forbidding
with massive boulders, sand, and thorned palm trees being the main
features. But here and there shaded areas already hold the promise of
the rainy season. Valleys and horseshoes formed by the mountains shelter
lush trees and green places even in the present dryness.

I look to the rains with both anticipation and dread. I can’t wait to
see this place in its abundance and joy. But I also know that our work
will become much, much harder as roads turn to endless swamps, and
insects breed rapidly.

By and large, I am most interested in the feeling of genuine culture
that exists here. In our area there is an economy that has few outside
influences. It is small in comparison to any I have known, but it is
appropriate to the area. Western clothing has completed its
infiltration. Hip Hop and Reggae music are inevitably following. But
traditions still live on as well. Local wrestling matches and dances
abound. I have seen an entire choir singing Moro songs while dressed in
matching Fubu T-shirts.

I have previously known East Africa as an itinerant worker based near
its greatest metropolis. Now I am settled in one corner of a somewhat
isolated region. I am enjoying learning this place at length. I can only
hope these people can say the same about me.

Toby  ::  3.29.08

Sweet Lady Come and Gone

25 March 2008




Life was rich indeed for 12 days.

Toby Update / Clot of Children

8 February 2008

I was sitting high on a great rock this evening. Far below and to my
left, a group of small children formed. They were more like a clot than
a group–most of them held hands or interlocked arms or legs for most of
the duration of their assembly.

One thing I have never really mastered in Africa is relations with
children. My bizarre aura as a white adult male seems to estrange the
youngest, fascinate the middling, and finally render me invisible to the
eldest of African children.

The children I was delighted to be watching as the sun was fading were
of the very youngest. None of them were yet twice the height of the
piglets and goats they moved among. Thankfully they took no notice of
the kawaja on the rock. Uniformly barefoot, they wore anything in the
spectrum from warmly dressed to stark naked. Their smallest member was
not only nude, but as saturated as his body could be with dust.

I dearly wished that I could understand their words. What an insight
into understanding a people that would be. Sadly, even in Kenya, my
fluency was never sufficient to comprehend the intimate language of
children. And it is likely that even the Arabic I am now studying would
be of little use. These children very likely relied heavily on their
mother tongues, for which no book is written.

I decided to learn what I could by observation. The clot approached a
tree near the base of the hill of which my rock was part. At a small
distance from the tree, the clot formed a ring. Standing with their
faces centimeters apart, they seemed to be holding a conference. There
were some gestures made in the direction of the tree. The smallest,
dustiest boy, who clearly had not made any firm friendship with language
yet, was content to rotate in the center of the committee.

A decision was reached, and two of the children separated from the clot.
They found two long sticks, and began thrashing the lower parts of the
tree. The tree was of a variety that grows seed pods. The pods are a
common snack in the area. There was much shouting of directions and
encouragement from the clot as a few pods fell to the ground.

I didn’t learn much new about African culture from my observations. But
I can share this much. The casual physical contact and sharing of
personal space is something these people take into adulthood. The love
of committees is ubiquitous. And thankfully, the willingness to join
hands in a worthwhile endeavor is also typically African.

Toby :: 02.08.08