We’re In the Army Now

October 26, ’42…Today is our 8th anniversary. Little did we dream 8 years ago we would be in the army, living in Miami Beach.

This entry in my mother’s diary started me thinking of the effect WWII had on my parents and America. By reading her diaries and family letters I pieced together some of what they experienced during war time. The entries which are italicized are from letters and diaries of 1941 – 1943.

After the wedding, October 26, 1934

My parents, Maxwell Lee Shahan and Evelyn Elizabeth Morgan,  married in 1934 in Knoxville, Tennessee. They had known each other all their lives as both families had close ties to the rural village of Villanow, Georgia, 36 miles south of Chattanooga.

Daddy graduated from Georgia Tech with a master’s degree in Civil Engineering two months before they wed. His job with the newly developed Tennessee Valley Authority took them to Murphy, North Carolina, Kingsport, Tennessee, and back home to Chattanooga. It was there that my brothers were born, Lee in 1937 and Larry in 1939.

Sunday, December 7, 1941, at 7:53 a.m. the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor. The United States and Britain declare war on Japan, December 8, 1941.

December 8, ’41…Japan bombed Hawaiian Islands yesterday. 

December 10, ’41…Have listened to the war news constantly.  Hope Max won’t have to go, but know he will at any time.

December 11, ’41…More war news. Have done nothing but listen to the radio today.

Still shocked by the attack and declaration of war, Americans were soon faced with harsh changes in their everyday lives. Rationing began as American access to sources for gasoline, sugar, and metals were cut off by the war. 

Tire rationing began on January 5, 1942, following Japan gaining control of countries that supplied 91% of the rubber used by the United States. A “Victory Speed” of 35 miles per hour was put into force because tires wear out half as quickly at 35 mph than at 60 mph. Five tires was the maximum that could be owned.

Soon the majority of everyday purchases were accompanied by coupons from the family ration book.  The Office of Price Administration (OPA) was in charge of the program, but depended on volunteers to help issue and explain how to use the ration book. Mother was one of these volunteers.

April 29, ’42…I went to a meeting to get instructions for helping with the sugar ration books.

May 5, ’42…Helped register at Fortune Grammar School,*  know lots of people. 

*Schools were designated as the places to distribute ration books.

Tension was constant as families waited for loved ones to be called to service.

April 11, ’42…The bottom dropped out of my world today. Max was given notice to report April 28 to Miami Beach, Florida, air corp, non-flying duty. How can we let him go?

Miami Beach became one of the largest Army Air Force training centers and officers candidate schools of WWII.  There was no military base there so the war department leased the Miami Beach Municipal Golf Course for $1 a year to be used as army headquarters and a drill field. At one time they took over 93 apartment buildings and 85% of the hotel rooms for living quarters and classrooms. 

Letters Home

May 1, 1942…Dear family, I am to take a  six weeks officers training course so they put me up here. (Shelborne Hotel) It cost $1.25 a day for a shared room. The man I am with is from Texas. Everything is so clean here, most of the buildings are white and there isn’t a bit of smoke or soot. The boys would not get as dirty down here all summer as they would up there in an hour. 

Another letter from Daddy explained how his time was spent

May 8, 1942…Dear family, We have just had a singing in one of the outdoor plazas of one of the hotels.** All of us have to attend. There are about 800 men attending the officers training school now and there will be 400 men coming in every two weeks. The course lasts for six weeks and after it is completed, the officers will be sent to posts throughout the country to do the administrative and ground training of the Air Corps. 

We start at 7:00 o’clock in the morning with an hour of drill, then a class, then 2 hours of exercising, calisthenics, games, swimming, etc. Then we eat, then drill, class, class, drill and class. It is 6 o’clock then and we have until 8 o’clock free except on Wednesday when we have a singing from 7 to 8.

 At 8 we have to be in our room and at 10 the lights must be out. I think everyone is ready for bed too.

Miami has what they call a dimout, autos use only the parking lights to drive with, the street lights are shielded so that the light won’t shine up into the sky, and all blinds and shades in the hotel are drawn. It’s so a ship at sea won’t be silhouetted against the glow of the city making a good target for a sub.***

 I don’t know about you all coming down. They discourage men in the school from bringing their families. Will try to write more later.

**Tried researching the mandatory Wednesday night singing and found nothing. A WW II buff, Andy Niemyer, suggested, “Mostly likely it was chorus; probably broken down by Company. Something to keep bored, young male minds occupied.”

***On the night of May 14, 1942, a German U-boat did spot a ship off of Miami Beach, and mistaking a neutral Mexican vessel for an Italian one, attacked it.  The U.S. added patrols to the beach area after that.

Daddy’s first assignment was the mess hall May 19, 1942…I work at Mess #1 of the Air Corps Officers Candidate School.  We fed 1300 men at dinner and 1200 at supper tonight. It takes about an hour and a half for them to go through. It is served cafeteria style. I eat there too and it doesn’t cost me anything.

Amid uncertainty of how long he would be stationed there and availability of housing,  Daddy told Mother to come and to bring the car.

On May 25, 1942, Mother, her mother-in-law, Myrtis Shahan, and my brothers left Chattanooga to make the 800 mile drive to Miami Beach. The first night they stayed in Ashburn, Georgia. The second night they made it to St. Augustine, Florida and enjoyed a hack sightseeing tour of the city. Her comment, “have had good luck,”  expressed her relief over no car or tire difficulties on the trip. May 27, ’42…Got an early start, arrived in Miami Beach about 6 o’clock. So glad to see “our soldier.” 

My family was in Miami Beach for a year, enjoying the warm weather, local attractions, and being able to walk to the ocean. Those pluses aside, they were there because of a war and the challenges affected every aspect of their daily lives. 

Blackouts, the covering of doors and windows with heavy, dark fabric, was mandatory, beginning before each sunset. Rationing put limits on what amounts it was possible to purchase; shortages put a halt to purchasing. The availability of housing was precarious and children cut down on the options.

June 10, ’42… The police got us again tonight about lights. 

July 13 ‘42…Five of the girls & I went to the drugstore about 11 o’clock tonight, then talked on the lawn til about 1 o’clock. It was fun.

July 15 ‘42…Took our lunch and met Max at the beach. The boys went in the ocean.

July 17’42…The air raid warden had to get us about lights. She said if one more time would be a $75  fine and a day in jail. Lee is so scared.

Jul 19 ‘42…went for a long ride to the Monkey Jungle. Then to M&M Cafeteria in Miami City. Afterwards to the beach with boys.

Jul 28 ‘42…The “gang” & I went to Liggett’s for sundaes. Then went swimming in the ocean at 12 o’clock. A beautiful moonlit night. Sat & talked til 2 o’clock.

Aug 26 ‘42 – Shampooed my hair. Max always seems so tired, never smiles or has anything to say.  Never goes anywhere.  Sleeps most of the time he is home.

Sept. 10 ‘42…A suicide happened in the hotel in our yard, where we park the car. We saw all the ambulances, life guards, doctors who worked with him for an hour inside the building. Another soldier did the same thing last week over a girl. 

Clark Gable

Sept 17 ‘42…The boys & I saw Clark Gable. He passed right beside the car. He looked like any other officer. He lost his glamour when he shaved his mustache.

Sept 20 ‘42We have found out that Clark Gable is now in Cabot Hotel right here by us. We have been sitting within 6 feet of him several times today. He is handsome.

Sept 21 ‘42 – I have gone dopey. I spent so much time watching Gable I didn’t tend to my family. He smiles but never looks at us, not giving us a chance to speak.

Sept 22 ‘42 – I saw Gable 4 or 5 times today. Martha Lee took us to her aunt’s house, which is the former J.C. Penney mansion. Superb.

Sept 26 ‘42 – Have been sitting in the yard today to watch Gable. One of the girls asked him if he enjoyed his lunch. He said, “Yes, thank you,” but didn’t look at her.

Oct 1 ‘42 – Really, these last few months have been a dream for me, I am so afraid to wake up. I haven’t been so carefree in years.

During his time in Miami, Gable endeared himself to other enlistees by becoming one of them and never shirking from duties. He had a rough time learning the classroom material, but tackled it like a film part and spent his nights memorizing the information. On October 28, 1942,  Gable graduated 700th out of 2600 and was asked to give the commencement speech.

Nov 12 ‘42…The Carpenters & I went to see “Somewhere I’ll Find you.”  Clark seemed like some I know–that is what I kept thinking during the picture.


On November 9  of 1942 Daddy wrote to his mother, “The owner of the apartment has decided not to take children and told us we would have to move the first of December. Don’t know where we can find a place that does take children.”

The family’s first home in Miami where the landlord decided not to take children.
The next apartment was one Mother hated. writing in Jan of 1943…Max just killed a big scorpion in the boys’  bed.

Nov 23 ‘42…Looked at apts from 1 to 3, no luck again today. Think we may get to go home, do hope so. I can’t feature Christmas in this heat.

Nov 25 ‘42…Have been looking for apts again today. Just seems hopeless. Hate to think of leaving Max but would like to take a business course at home.

Nov 26 ‘42…We have so much to be thankful for–our health, our being together, that bombs have not not fallen on our roofs, good food and freedom.

Nov 28 ‘42… Have washed & ironed & packed all day although we know not where we are going. I never wanted to go home so bad in all my life.

Life in the Army

Dec 1, 1942 , Dear Myr,

We are moved and that is about all I can say. I have been so busy killing giant roaches and spiders, I haven’t had time to straighten up. We are 5 miles up the beach away from any grocery stores and schools. My stomach turns upside down every time I enter the apartment.

They just this a.m. closed the main street to all traffic except military cars, and the side streets are so jammed with soldiers drilling it is practically impossible to get anywhere.

The grocery stores are jammed, you have to stand in line for hours and by the time your line comes they are sold out of everything.

They have taken nearly every hotel and apt and I do hope and pray that this is not next on the list. This a.m. I even saw store bldgs on Lincoln Rd. the army was moving into.

We used most of our gas hunting apts and don’t have but 9 gallons to last us for two months. It is impossible for civilians to ride buses, they are always packed with soldiers.  

  This was just the only apt we could find cheaper than $100 and impossible to rent one without an army lease for a year.   Evelyn

Other Celebrities

November 30, ’42 ..Took children to the parade. There we saw Walter Winchell, Constance Bennett, and Fred Snite, Jr ****in his iron lung.

****Fred Snite, Jr., who holds the record for surviving 18 years in an iron lung, was an inspiration to others. He enjoyed bridge tournaments, attending sports events, and was the father of three.

Dec 16 ‘42 – Larry & I walked on Lincoln Rd, was so in hopes I could see the Duchess of Windsor who is always shopping, but no luck. The royal couple stopped in Miami on their way to the Bahamas. He inspected the base and had his picture made with a company. 

Jan 14 ‘43 – Dottie, the boys & I ate lunch at the PX. Johnnie, Phillip Morris boy came in his red coat, he talked to the boys and I got his autograph for them.

Dec 24 ‘42…Tomorrow is Christmas and I have never wanted to go home so much in my life.  Neither of us are in a congenial mood at this time.

A Visit Home

Jan 15 ‘43… The order banning all unnecessary driving has struck hard. Kept Lee from kindergarten to save gas to get home(Chattanooga).

On January 30,1943, the family had visitors from Georgia, my  maternal grandmother, Bertha Puryear, and cousin, Octa Morgan. They rode the train down. Daddy wrote to his mother…Evelyn is going to drive them back Monday, she wants to get her teeth fixed and get the car back up there, we can’t use it and the sun is ruining the paint.

His other news…I am trying to get transferred out of here as there doesn’t look like there is anything to the future here.

So Mother was able to go to her parents’ home, taking my brothers …Lee and Larry are so excited that they are going back to LaFayette. They were there for two months. Daddy gave up their apartment and moved into bachelor quarters. 

While there, Mother…Took the boys to Dr. Long for check-up. He said to have Larry’s operation (hernia) done as soon as possible in the army hospital. Lee’s tonsils out.

and…Worked at Red Cross all p.m. registered & obtained our war ration book No. 2.

Mar 5 ‘43 – Arrived in Miami 7:30 p.m. train. Had a good trip. Max to meet us, so glad to see him I just cried.

“Life is wonderful…”

Mar 13 ‘43 – Got a girl to keep the boys. Max & I went to Ida’s Supper Club, ate a $1.75 dinner, danced and had $2.00 each drinks. A grand time.

Mar 25 ‘43 – The boys have been inside most of the day, playing with the new toys. Life is wonderful as long as we can all be together.

Apr 18 ‘43…The boys and I to Sunday School, had dinner with Max at the Shelbourne. Next  to the Surf Club for a water show. Max worked and then met us to come home.

Apr 28 ‘43…We left Miami at 12. We have had such a good time here these last 2 months. I really hate to leave it.

Resolves for 2021

Stephen Blackstock

From my friend of many talents, Ellen Greer…

In 2021 I do resolve to try:

To keep love in my heart. 

To be as water and flow with the proper perspective; finding joy in the small things I encounter each day.

To remember that fear is not real; it is only in my mind; so I will try to keep perceived problems and worries in perspective.

To remember that loneliness, depression, self-blame and guilt will pass – they are only thoughts, not who I am.

To push myself a little, gently, when inertia engulfs me.

To tear myself away from my books & stories, from Sudoku, FreeCell and Catan, from my comfortable, warm seat on the couchand Go outside for a walk, make a little art or contact a friend.

To change conditions & circumstances within my grasp (that I feel need changing) and to…adjust to the things that are out of my control.

To remember those less fortunate, the marginalized, the outcasts – and to think about the direct action that requires, whether financial or sweat-of-brow.

To do something for others as often as possible.

To think of ways to foster Peace in my country.

To keep reminding myself that one person’s actions can make a difference.

To relish my family and friends and stay in touch.

To remember and honor the members of my family who are not longer with me.

To be patient, kind, thoughtful and loving to the one person closest to me.

To make a meal occasionally.

To eat smaller portions of real food, mostly plants. And to eat less sugar.

To keep a carrot in sight – games, travel, books, time with friends, etc.

To use my talents.

To laugh more.

To listen to music more often.

To remember that I am as young as I’ll ever be – and let that be enough.

A Trip To Paradise

In 2017 I traveled to Kenya resolved to visit a place I had dreamed of for over 60 years.

My love for Kenya began when I was twelve years old. A book, with a cloth cover of zebra stripes, stood out in the family bookcase–I Married Adventure by Osa Johnson. This true story of Martin and Osa Johnson, a young couple from Kansas, who travel to exotic lands to film headhunters and wild animals, captured my imagination. Next I read Four Years in Paradise, in which Osa Johnson vividly described their lives in a permanent camp beside Lake Paradise, near the town of Marsabit, Kenya, in the 1920s.

Osa Johnson pictured outside the Johnsons’ home they built close to Lake Paradise, reproduced from Four Years in Paradise.

On my 54th birthday my children surprised me with a Kenyan safari. I fell in love with the country and after returning home started researching parks and reserves for a return trip. I asked about visiting the site of the Johnsons’ camp, but was told it was unsafe to travel to Marsabit National Park.

Located top of a volcanic mountain the area was often raided by robbers coming from across the Somalian border. These attacks and the loss of rhinos and other large mammals kept visitors away.

Almost twenty years later, the area had calmed down down and I decided on one more safari to explore this long held dream. I called Mbuthia, my driver on my previous tours, to plan my journey.  I first met Francis Mbuthia Muchri when he drove the van carrying six women, all of us on our first trip to Africa.

The African Queens in Kenya, 1999. l to r, Diane Campbell, Barb Padilla, Joann Arney, Sharon Dagsland, Francis Mbuthia Muchiri, Danise Williamson, Judy Blackstock

An excellent driver, he also excelled in spotting and identifying birds. On a day long drive from Samburu to Amboseli he taught us the words to “Jambo Bwana” and we learned that he was a Kikuyu, one of the largest of the 42 tribes in Kenya, long known as crop growers. I kept in touch with him after I returned home and through him met Irene Mugambi, his cousin who was also a safari guide. With their help I planned my next two trips to Kenya and each one was a special adventure.

Mbuthia retired several years ago, but his son, Bernad Ndegwa, followed in his father’s footsteps and now drives for a touring company while studying to become a guide. I asked if he would take me to Marsabit and he replied enthusiastically, “Hakuna Matata!” Plans were made for an eight day safari which would take me to Nyeri, Marsabit and Maasai Mara. I flew out of Knoxville on November 15, 1917.

Mbuthhia and Bernad met me in Nairobi and from there we drove to their home in Nyeri. On my 2001 trip we stopped here on our way to Samburu and had tea with his family. One of the highlights of this trip was staying with them for two days, giving me a chance to meet the whole family while enjoying Kenyan hospitality. The news of a visitor spread quickly and neighbors shyly approached to say hello to the first white person to visit in the Mucheri home.

Mbuthia’s wife, Catherine, did everything possible to make me feel comfortable. With my very limited knowledge of Swahili and her limited knowledge of English, our attempts to converse caused a great deal of laughter between us.

She is an excellent cook, using her wood oven, paraffin heater, or gas burner. Fresh cabbage, carrots and tomatoes, from her garden or a vendor, are turned into delicious soups, well seasoned with cumin, garlic and coriander. I feasted on goat stew and, in return, they got a taste of country ham and grits. No one liked the salty ham, but the grits were close enough to their ugali (cornmeal mush) to be eaten.

Trying to be a considerate guest, I said I would wash my own clothes. Catherine did let me make a stab at the chore, but her efficiency soon took over. After all, she also needed to milk the goats and start preparing the next meal.

When she did sit down, it was often to listen to a religious speaker on the t.v. Both she and Mbuthia are hooked on an Indian soap opera, dubbed in the Kikuyu dialect! Their granddaughter, Abi, loves American cartoon shows, and the news was watched by any adults who happen to be in the house.

Early on November 18, 2017, Mbuthia, Bernad, and I set out for Lake Paradise. The route took us through familiar territory, past Mount Kenya, with a stop for tea at Mountain View Curio Shop outside Nanyuki. Mbuthia and Solomon, the owner, are longtime friends. Solomon was puzzled as to why I wanted to go to Marsabit since there was no longer good animal viewing. After I told him my story, he said, “O.K., from now on I will call you Miss Marsabit.”

For the eight hour drive from Mbuthia’s home we had good paved roads. Now, at the entrance to the park, we switched to a one lane dirt road, winding through the forest.

Marsabit National Park is located in northern Kenya, halfway between Mount Kenya and the Ethiopian border. We entered at the Ahmed Gate, named for Kenya’s most famous elephant who was born and lived in the park until his death at age 55.

Cresting a hill we looked down on Marsabit Lodge, a plain and simple hotel next to Crater Lake. This was home for the next two nights.

Marsabit Lodge is the Motel 6 of all the places I have stayed in Kenya. My accommodations were adequate and clean and safe without any luxury. We were the only people staying the first night, and that happened to be the night the cook got stuck in town. The manager took his place in the kitchen and served unknown fried chicken parts with greens. It improved after that. My only complaint was the Nescafeˊ coffee.

l to r, Jarso, Mbuthia, Me, and Bernad

The security guard at the lodge was Jarso Godana, a member of the Gabbra (camel herders) tribe. He guided us everywhere, rifle slung over his shoulder, very often checking his cell phone. I never saw him talk on it, and a cell phone seemed out of context for the setting, but 85% of Keyans have one. He told me he had 3 daughters in school; education is very important to Kenyans and they take it seriously.

The terrain of Marsabit National Park is closer to the Smoky Mountains than any other land I have seen in Kenya. So I wasn’t disappointed that the only mammals I saw were bushbuck and impala hiding in the forest and Cape buffalo grazing near the lodge. Elephants are still seen around the edges of Crater Lake, but not during our visit.

Lake Paradise is another six miles past the lodge. To get there you have to use a four wheel vehicle and it was the roughest road I have ever traveled. It took an hour of careful maneuvering on Bernad‘s part (with help from Jarso and Mbuthia) to get there.

We drove down to the lake and walked part of its edge. I was awed by the thought that my footprints were surely covering the invisible marks left by the former inhabitants. I had made it.

Hamerkop and Egyptian geese were in the water and African fish eagles soared overhead. Lots of familiar cattle egrets were around also. Marsabit is a birding paradise with over 490 avian species.

As we walked, I received botany lessons from my guides. Jarso pulled up a plant growing close to the ground and explained that the root is chewed and mixed with saliva to fight the flu. Mbuthia showed me one that rhinos like to eat, commenting that if such plant growth could be encouraged, Marsabit’s isolation might provide the safety needed to help this endangered species. The plant is also used to make a yellow dye.

That evening I sat on the porch outside my room and heard the haunting Islamic call to prayer floating over the hills from the town of Marsabit. As darkness fell I heard a hyena roar —not laughing or yipping, but roaring. With the generators turned off at sunset, the lodge is very dark, but the darkness brings out the beauty of thousands of stars in the clear sky.

I thought of having walked where Osa Johnson had once energetically made a flourishing home for herself and Martin. All visible traces are gone now, but the spirit of the land is still present, waiting for the next chapter of its life.

On my fourth trip to Kenya, I found that, again, the reality was better than the dream.

This Year I Will

Two months into this year I came across an audio book on my library’s shelves, This Year I Will…How to Finally Change a Habit, Keep a Resolution, or Make A Dream Come True by M.J. Ryan.

After listening to it at least six times, I have new thoughts and ammo to make the changes in my life I feel are important to make.

Here is just a little of what I got from Ms. Ryan’s book:

  • There is no one right way to make changes. Read, study, and decide the right way for you.
  • New Year’s resolutions need to be backed by “preparation, when we are getting ready to do it, action, as in ‘I’m starting right now’ ; and maintainance, which means we keep going until we get where we want and stay there.”
  • Understanding why I am the way I am is not nearly as important as I try to make it. Basically, I am who I am. Concentrate on changes I can make now to move towards my goals.
  • To prepare for change, M.J. Ryan includes a practice from Dawna Markova, author of The Smart Parenting Revolution. This is the first step: Write every goal you think you’d like to accomplish in the next twenty years. Write as fast as you can. (Taking my age into consideration, I quickly decided to narrow that down to five years! )
  • We do what we do because it serves some need.

I like this book because it is full of practical, common sense statements that I could relate to. She gives detailed explanations on the difficulties of making a change and follows through with steps to make the change and maintain it.

I purchased the book so I can re-read and refresh my memory as I take the first steps towards a change. I promise to report on how it is going in June.

More on M.J. Ryan and her books: http://www.mj-ryan.com and http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/282538.M_J_Ryan

City Life

City Life
Is very different from life in the suburbs

Note: This blog was written in October 2018.

Hurrying out to work this morning, I almost collided with two wildly enthusiastic dogs who had escaped their fence. With my dog watching anxiously from the living room window, I managed to check their tags, and with the aid of dog biscuits, coax them back to their surprised owner.

City life is not static.

The evening before I found evidence of a mouse in the house. Exasperated, I told my housemate that I was off to buy traps and would return shortly.

We live on the non-historic side of Historic Old Knoxville.  I turned left onto Woodland to hit Fellini Kroger or Ace Hardware in the Knoxville Shopping Center. Rain had started to fall.

Right before Fulton High School, I saw a woman, on crutches, walking on the side of the street. I turned around and asked her if she needed a ride, or was she just out for a walk in the rain on crutches. (I know, but it fit the moment.)

She looked startled, then smiled and said she sure would appreciate it. She wanted to get to a bus stop to catch a ride to her apartment out near the Fountain City Duck Pond. “Easy enough,” I said so we headed that way.

Ally had just left Tennova, or what used to be St. Mary’s. She had gone to the emergency room the night before and was diagnosed with pneumonia. Then given fluids, breathing treatments, antibiotics and a discharge. She is on crutches after her leg was messed up in a bad car accident several years ago. She has had four surgeries and is looking at another one. Her boyfriend was working and couldn’t pick her up. We both love dogs and believe pit bulls get a bad rap.

She asked if I would mind dropping her off at the Sonic; she was starving to death and could get something to eat and then go to Kroger’s to get her prescription filled. I offered to take her, but she said no thanks. After four years she was pretty good at getting around on crutches.

I decided to go to the big, fancy Kroger’s since I was right there. The only mousetraps they carry are ones that have the sticky pad so I scurried back to my own stomping grounds.

The Fellini Kroger’s is noted for oddball customers and funky happenings. I really like it. Great customer service ninety per cent of the time. Not as wide a selection as some others, but very convenient.

You learn to navigate the parking lot, which has an above average number of people down on their luck, plus a bunch of career scammers. I have made my peace with how I handle requests. That is how I met Joe.

I was getting in my car when he approached, asking for money. He said he hadn’t eaten in three days. I said I didn’t give money but would take him into Kroger’s for a deli meal or to Taco Bell. He chose Taco Bell, just two soft shell tacos and water. I did add a burrito supreme without knowing if he liked them or not–to make my bleeding heart feel good?

We sat there waiting for the food and he told me he did get a check but had been robbed, and now had to make it to the end of the month. He asked me if I wanted to buy a cell phone and charger. He had slept outside in the rain the night before.

I asked if he had tried going to KARM or VMC. I mentioned under the bridge and he said he wouldn’t go there. I told him I just meant people did bring food there on the weekends. He said he had heard there was going to be bbq at the bank on the corner and he was going to get some of that. Wishing each other well, we shook hands and I left.

No, city life is not static.

Resolutions to Try

A friend sent me her list of resolutions for 2019 and gave me permission to share.

To keep love in my heart and find joy in the small things I encounter each day.

To remember that loneliness, depression, self-blame and guilt will pass – they are only thoughts, not who I am.

To push myself a little, gently, when inertia engulfs me.

To use my talents.

To laugh more.

To listen to music more often.

To remind myself that one person’s actions can make a difference.

To be ready to listen rather than speak.

To accept the things I cannot change.

To relish my family and friends and stay in touch.

To remember and honor the members of my family who are no longer with me.

To try to keep perceived problems and worries in perspective.

To breathe…and practice staying in the moment.

To eat smaller portions of real food, mostly plants. And to eat less sugar.

To not let fear limit me from doing things I really want to do, like traveling…

To keep walking and perhaps add strength training (inspired by RBG).

To keep a carrot in sight – games, travel books, time with friends.

To find ways to help others.

To remember that I am as young as I’ll ever be – and let that be enough.

Not Today


Please don’t make me get up today.

Don’t make me face the drama or lack of

Don’t ask me to be of use to others

Don’t look for wise food choices from me

Don’t think that just because I know better I will do better

Just for today let me wallow in a state of nothingness

Let me neglect myself and by doing naught for myself do nothing for others


I have taken a deep breath and girded my loins

Thank you for this day

May I be open to all the opportunities that come my way


Exactly and precisely…as you are

Last week I was with Max, my youngest grandson who is turning 18 on March 15. I was admiring him from behind and made the idle remark that I didn’t know if the back of his head looked like his dad’s or his Uncle Stephen’s. He turned and in an exasperated tone said, “Why can’t it just look like my head?” 

I felt his frustration at my remark. I hugged him and assured him that his head was his precious own.

It was a reminder to me of how often my words sound as though I am not satisfied with someone. I am guilty of uttering such remarks many more times than I should, to him and to all the people I love.

Feb 19, 1968, was the date for the first episode on PBS of Mister Rogers Neighborhood. May you enjoy being yourself today.1-IMG_1980

 I Like You As You Are

Lyrics by Josie Carey | Music by Fred Rogers

I like you as you are
Exactly and precisely
I think you turned out nicely
And I like you as you are

I like you as you are
Without a doubt or question
Or even a suggestion
Cause I like you as you are

I like your disposition
Your facial composition
And with your kind permission
I’ll shout it to a star

I like you as you are
I wouldn’t want to change you
Or even rearrange you
Not by far

I like you
I like you, yes I do
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Bucket List: Visit Fisi Camp, Masai Mara, Kenya.

Three years ago I wrote an article for Knoxzine (Getting the Last Laugh in Africa, Oct 2, 2014) about Knoxvillian Dee White and her involvement with the Michigan State University (MSU) Hyena Research Project.    https://www.facebook.com/MaraHyenas

Dee’s background of being one of the first female zookeepers in the United States and1-12640452_10153472911083915_5661967952454593693_o her serendipitous reunion with Dr. Kay Holekamp produced this unusual, fulfilling work in retirement.

From our first meeting I felt bonded to Dee through Kenya. We kept in touch after the article, discovering mutual friends and concerns. I must confess turning a putrid shade of green every time she went back to the Masai Mara.

2003 was the year of my last safari to Kenya.  I had almost given up hope of ever returning. Life changes, reality, i.e., finances and aging sets in. Maybe that was the key for me–if I don’t go now, when will I go?

On November 15, 2017, I flew off for a whirlwind 12-day trip which started in Nairobi and ended with a visit to MSU’s Fisi (hyena) Camp in the Maasi Mara National Reserve.  1-IMG_1829Francis Mbuthia Muchiri, the driver on my previous 3 visits, invited me to stay with his family in Nyeri.  He is retired now, but his son Bernard Ndegwa works for a safari company so I contracted with Bernard for his services and a vehicle. 

From her home in Knoxville Dee made the arrangements with Mary and Leah, Research Assistants (RA) at Fisi Camp, for me to visit. My time in the Mara was short; only a day and a half. It was Thanksgiving afternoon when I reached Mary on her cell phone and made arrangements to visit the next day after my game drive.

Bernard and Mbuthia did some good spotting Friday morning along with using the radio for animal sightings by other tour guides. In a 6 hour span I saw cheetah, male lions and a lioness, giraffe, warthog, zebra, eland, wildebeest, topi, hyena, elephant, hippo, and at least 20 bird species.

Except for this one snarl this cheetah was totally chilling out.             Photo by JSB

We made it back to our camp, the Mara Simba Lodge, for a late lunch and short rest before driving to Fisi Camp.


I had hoped to go out and observe with Mary and Leah but that didn’t work out so I contented myself with talking to them for a few minutes and presenting them with Oreos and M&Ms plus ADT t-shirts for the entire camp. The sweets were an immediate hit!IMG_1832The research assistants are in charge of the daily camp operation when Dr. Kay and Dee are not in the country. This operation includes observing several hours each day, photographing, identifying, and writing any new information, as well as taking care of the physical camp with the help of the Masai staff.

I found them to be enthusiastic about their work, as exhausting as it is, and in love with hyenas.When their year here is up, they will look at continuing their education or pursuing other field work.

We toured the camp: a main “living room” and work tent, separate tents for the kitchen, shower, bathroom, and sleeping quarters. 

I saw charts with the latest hyena information,IMG_1836

sniffed a decomposing hyena head,  1-IMG_1847

and met Joseph, camp manager and cook.1-IMG_1843
Best was getting my picture made in Dee’s tent!1-1124170852b


What a fantastic trip! All too soon it was over…

Masai Mara at dusk                                Photo by JSB

1-18-IMG_1906  Dee and I got together shortly after I returned home. She wanted to know what I thought about the camp and I had a slew of questions after my visit.

What is a typical day in camp? Our days start at 5:00 a.m. There’s just time to grab a cup of tea before helping to load the vehicles to be used that day, one for tracking an animal to be darted and one for observing behavior at dens, or kills, or anywhere hyenas are gathered.  After double checking the list of needed equipment, we leave camp at 5:30 a.m.

We are back in camp by 9:00 a.m. unless something exciting, like a kill, is going on. Joseph has breakfast ready and we discuss the activity of the two cars, adding new information to the boards, i.e new cubs found or sexed, or an “amber alert” for a missing hyena.

If an animal was darted, all the biological samples we collected from that animal are processed and preserved before breakfast. Our lab tent and table and our dining tent and table are one and the same.

Everyone has camp duties.  Part of Dr. Kay’s day is spent working on grants, correspondence, and administrative duties connected with running a hyena research camp.

The Masai staff take care of tent repairs, general camp and vehicle maintenance, checking inventories of materials used and replacing them to be ready for the afternoon drive.

The RAs transcribe notes, update photos, service the solar panels, or sometimes visit a local school to give a talk or hold other community relation events.

I maintain darting and necropsy records as well as enter all observational data gathered by the RA’s at our Serena camp.  I also help Joseph with tent repairs, go on the “water run”, and try and pitch in wherever help is needed.

At 5:00 p.m. we go back out again. Vultures flying overhead might lead us to a kill.  We visit known den sites to study the development of cubs and record maternal and other social behaviors.  We use our rooftop tracking device to locate any of our collared hyenas and see what activity is going on. Then it is back to camp by 8:00 unless there is something major happening.

During the rainy season the routine changes a little. When we can’t go out, we gather under the shelter of the lab tent. Downtime is spent refurbishing notebooks, catching up on records, photos, cleaning lab equipment, repairing anything that is broken or worn.  For fun, we sometimes and play board and card games. The RAs rely on their electronic devices to watch videos and keep in touch with the world. I use the time to catch up on my reading. We all sleep in!

Tell me about darting and observing activities: Darting is used to immobilize a hyena in order to take blood, tissue, and bacterial samples, measure all body parts,  and if it’s the right animal fitting a tracking collar on him or her.  We make sure we are able to do this in an open area.

Senior Research Assistant Benson Pion and Dee White with sedated hyena.

We cannot dart an animal if there is any danger that an elephant, buffalo, lion, leopard, environmental danger (like standing water, dense shrubbery, local cattle herders, or tourists are nearby.)

Any talking is done in whispers to keep the animal calm. We do everything possible to keep the hyena from connecting our vehicle and people to the sting of a dart. They are so intelligent that if they associate us with being “bitten” we will never be able to get near them again AND they will pass that fear along to all their friends and relatives and we would have no one left to study.  Along with samples and measurements, notes are taken about any identifying scarring, general health and the condition of teeth.

When we are finished the hyena is moved to the shade and shelter of a bushy tree, then surrounded with brambles to give it protection as the anesthetic wears off.

Pictures are taken to be added to clan albums, an important identification tool. We video kills, clan wars, border patrols, baiting, and matings, and any interactions with lions or other carnivores.

If we witness an animal pooping, we’ll get a fecal sample. Sometimes DNA can be retrieved from the poop. We collect saliva, conduct trials to test learning or boldness, and many other facets of development.

In addition to hyena data we keep track of prey numbers, cattle grazing, weather, and tourism.

I loved visiting Fisi Camp and meeting some of the staff. I know you have great admiration for Joseph, the camp cook. The kitchen is very basic and there is limited refrigeration. What kind of meals is he able to fix? Joseph is an excellent cook. Number 1 on everyone’s  list of comfort food is tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches.  His mac and cheese is another favorite.  We occasionally get meat and he has mastered the art of making hamburgers complete with buns AND french fries. Since meat is a rare treat, he specializes in dishes made with rice, beans, lentils, and local veggies.  

He excels at baking–white or whole wheat bread,  chapati and french bread. And with so many fresh vegetables, he can make any variety of salsa for enchiladas. For breakfast he prepares fruit salad of fresh bananas, pineapple, oranges, mango, and kiwi. We love his cheesy egg casseroles, toad in the hole, crepes with Nutella and breakfast burritos.

I noticed solar panels along the camp path. How much power do they provide? What other options do you have? When the panels are very clean and the sun is shining we have enough to run one light in each sleeping tent for a short time as well as power the pump that provides shower water for the RAs and camp staff. (Kay and I just use sun showers hung from a tree.)

When the sun is not cooperating, phones and torches and headlamps are mostly charged in the cars as we drive on “obs”.

We can usually centrifuge the blood samples we take when we tranquilize a hyena, and we can often, but not always, run the very tiny fridge during the sunlight hours. It has to be turned off as soon as the sun goes down. We usually can’t keep anything cold but we can slow down the spoilage rate a bit.

Dee, this is not easy work. Fisi Camp is one step up from primitive camping. You are there for several months at a time. I understand that you have a passion for the work done here and you love Kenya and the people. What are the hard parts of your job? It varies from year to year. The year that camp flooded was devastating. We lost almost everything and it took us over a month of very hard work to rebuild.  Kay and I had to rewire the entire camp. Everyone worked from dawn til dark, and during the first few weeks, we had little food or water. We all got sick and I lost about 20 pounds.

When it gets very hot, there is no air conditioning, no fans, no rivers or lakes safe to jump into to cool off. You just sweat. During the long rains, you can’t get dry, your feet get all wrinkled and white and there is no way to dry your clothes and at night it gets cold.  

Emotionally the year the clans lost so many dominant females after they ate poisoned carcasses was very difficult.  Not only did animals we knew and loved die a very painful death but their cubs (all but one) slowly starved to death at the dens waiting for Moms who never came home.

Just getting there is a challenge.  There are no direct flights from the states so it is at least two 9 hour flights, with layovers and once there you have a 6 to 8 hour drive over roads that get worse and worse as you leave Nairobi.

And the easy to love parts? The animals!  Not just the ones we watch during our official “obs” but living with so many animals is such an honor.  The bush baby and the gennet who come to the lab tent at night to try and snag some scraps.P1020165The amazing birds who line up in the morning to try and steal tiny bits of fruit. The dik diks who live in camp. The hyrax who screams at night right outside of my tent and even the baboons who regularly raid my tent and steal my toothpaste. IMG_1135 Not to mention the hippos, lions, leopards, hyenas, and buffalo who use our paths to get to the river… all make life in camp exciting and rewarding and wonderful. The cobras, mambas, and siafu (army ants) keep us on our toes and encounters with them are the basis for good stories and sometimes legends.

Sitting around the campfire at night with a glass of wine and listening to the night sounds. Living and working with very bright young people, fascinating scientists, and with the kind and hardworking Masai who keep us healthy and safe and who teach us so much has been a gift beyond price. It is all good.


To learn more about spotted hyenas and the MSU Hyena project in the Masai Mara visit The Kay Holekamp Lab. Her students maintain a blog, Notes from Kenya, with stories and photos of the hyenas, camp life, and research news. Also enjoy the amazing photography on the Mara Hyena Project page on Facebook.

Photographs courtesy of MSU Masai Mara Hyena Project, Bernard Ndegwa, Judy S. Blackstock


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