Category Archives: family

Ottoman Sultans Raised in the Cage

From The Sultans, by Noel Barber (Simon & Schuster, 1973), pp. 77-81:

Mahomet [Mehmed III]… was the last sultan ever to be trusted with liberty during the lifetime of his predecessor. And his nineteen brothers were the last to be strangled under the law of fratricide. (This did not prevent some future heirs to the Sultan from living in terror of the bowstring, often with reason.)

Not long afterwards [his Venetian mother, Safiye Sultan Sofia Bellicui] Baffo was strangled in her bed; her death did not mark the end of the harem rule, but another influence dominated the lives of the princes who followed Mahomet. It was a fate in many ways more grim than death itself. To make certain they would never become involved in plots against the reigning Sultan, any possible heirs were immured in a building in the Grand Seraglio. It was called the Kafes. Its literal translation is ‘The Cage’.

The Kafes was not a barred cage in the accepted sense of the word, but it was most certainly bolted. It consisted of a two-storied grey building tucked away behind a high wall in the heart of the Grand Seraglio, almost opposite the rooms of the first Sultana. It had handsome courtyards and gardens, and its tiled walls were among the most beautiful in the Seraglio. There was, however, one sinister note. There were no windows on the ground floor, though those on the second floor looked out to sea.

For the next two centuries heirs to the throne were immured, sometimes from the age of two, until they were either called to the throne, or their miserable lives were mercifully ended with the bowstring. One heir was to remain nearly fifty years without ever leaving the building, and when he emerged to be proclaimed Sultan he had all but lost the power of speech. The princes’ only companions were deaf mutes [who also served as the Sultan’s assassins] unable to give news of the outside world, and a modest harem of concubines, the only living creatures to who they could talk. Once inside, the odalisques suffered the fate of their masters. They never left the Cage unless one carelessly became pregnant, in which case she was immediately drowned. This happened very rarely for great care was taken to make these women barren – either by the removal of their ovaries or by the use of pessaries (made up by the Seraglio doctors from a bewildering assortment of ingredients, including musk, amber, aloes, cardamom, ginger, pepper and cloves.)

Sultan Ahmed I, who succeeded Mahomet in 1603, founded the cages because he rebelled against the barbaric custom of fratricide; perhaps he was ever proud of discovering such a humane method of guarding his brothers’ lives. But it is not difficult to imagine the debasing effects of years of solitary confinement on men who were expected to take up the reins of office at a moment’s notice after half a lifetime in which their minds and bodies had vegetated. As N. M. Penzer, a leading authority on the harem, wrote, ‘The Kafes has been the scene of of more wanton cruelty, misery and bloodshed than any palace room in the whole of Europe. To its institution are due the weakness, vices and imbecility of so many of the Sultans and, to a large extent, the gradual decay and fall of the Ottoman Empire.’ …

During Ahmed’s reign Mustafa, who succeeded him, spent more than ten years in the Cage, providing the first terrible evidence of its effect on human beings, as each succeeding sultan seemed more made, avaricious, debauched and besotted than his predecessor. By the time Mustafa I became Sultan he was completely demented. He appointed to favourite pages – scarcely out of their infancy – to be Governors of Cairo and Damascus. He dismissed a high-ranking officer so that he could offer the post to a peasant who gave him a drink of water when hunting. He clapped the French Ambassodor in the Castle of Seven Towers on the flimsiest pretext. After three months he was deposed – very politely. A five-day hunting trip was arranged for his enjoyment, and when he returned he was no longer Sultan. He went back to the Cage. His nephew Osman II, who succeeded him in 1618 … was even madder. His favorite pastime was archery, but he only enjoyed the sport when using live targets. Prisoners of war were considered fair game for the Sultan, but when there was an insufficient supply. After four years of misrule – or, rather, no rule at all – the Janissaries decided he must go…. It was the first regicide in Ottoman history.

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Ottoman Marriage and Divorce Practices, c. 1600

From The Sultans, by Noel Barber (Simon & Schuster, 1973), pp. 70-71:

Most Turks at this time seem to have been reasonably happy with one wife, perhaps because the dowry was given by the bridegroom, or because divorce in those days was easy — understandably so, since many boys married at thirteen or fourteen to girls of eleven and twelve whom they never saw before the nuptials.

But easy divorce had several curious consequences. A man could not marry a divorced woman until she had been divorced from her husband for four and a half months. If a man divorced his wife twice, he could take her back. But if, as sometimes happened after marital tiffs, he divorced her a third time, and then realised he still loved her, she could not return to him until she had been married to someone else. This was meant as a check against abusing easy divorce but it soon produced a professional intermediary willing to marry the lady for one night. He was usually old, paid for his services, and expected not to be over-enthusiastic in the performance of his duties.

Divorces — often followed by remarriage — were common among one class in Constantinople: the men who did have one or more concubines. Inevitably this led to friction, scenes of jealousy, and often physical violence, particularly if the wife felt that she was being cheated of her marital rights, for though the husband could call for his concubines six nights a week every Friday was strictly reserved for his wife.

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Match-fixing as rite of passage in sumo

From Sumo: A Thinking Fan’s Guide to Japan’s National Sport, by David Benjamin (Tuttle, 2010), pp. 208-210:

As I’ve pondered yaocho [match-fixing]… I’ve developed a grudging admiration for the Sumo Association’s almost mystical power to oversee it without seeing it. Sumo’s elders keep their little cheating problem in check first by the skillful use of the schedule, giving rikishi every chance to avoid the last-day crisis [finding themselves at 7-7, with the final match deciding whether they will rise in rank with a winning record or fall with a losing one]. Extending this sense of control beyond one basho, I’ve notice that yaochozumo follows a kind of ebb and flow, proliferating for a while, until some silent signal from the Sumo Association curtails it abruptly.

It appears — Kitao/Futahaguro’s disavowal supports the supposition — that many young rikishi are weaned gradually (perhaps reluctantly) into the ways of yaocho. The secret is kept away from those (like, perhaps, Futahaguro) who don’t need help, from those who wouldn’t benefit enough from it, and especially from those who might be indiscreet. By allowing it but holding the secret tightly within a chosen brotherhood, sumo’s elders control yaocho more effectively than if they tried to ban it.

Yaocho‘s profoundest hold on rikishi — and the reason, I think, that the secret is so well guarded — lies in its use as a rite of passage into sumo’s inner circle.

As he reflected on his ten years in sumo, one of Kitao/Futahaguro’s most heartfelt remarks was this: “The rikishi bow to each other before the match and after. Sumo people say that sumo begins with politeness and ends with politeness. That’s a beautiful tradition, one of the things I miss most of all.”

In saying this, Kitao/Futahaguro used the word “rei,” for “politeness.”

Eventually, in that spirit of “beginning with politeness,” each rikishi, at some point, is initiated into sumo’s secret brotherhood by accepting sport’s politest offer. What higher act of rei than to concede the victory to an opponent who needs it? And what better sign of rei in the initiate than the gracious acceptance of the offer? And what better test of a rikishi‘s commitment to the brotherhood than his willingness to subordinate his competitive passion to the greater good of all, the collective need? Especially when he knows that he won’t get in trouble for it! And even better that he knows it will help break down those icy walls that stand between sumobeya, and will make him feel — once and for all — like one of the guys!

Yaocho prevents great upheavals in the ranks, and makes change a gentle process. All the new blood is filtered and diluted by the humbling process of yaocho. One of the sumo nuances that the observant fan eventually perceives is that a young rikishi proves his readiness to compete at the highest level not by showing that he can win in makuuchi, but by developing a talent for judicious defeat.

Conversely, yaocho also identifies dissenters, those whose pride inhibits them from losing even a meaningless match, even to help a colleague. Those rikishi aren’t cast out indiscreetly (perhaps for fear that they might speak up), but their path becomes harder, their progress slower, their status always a little shaky. Among the most prominent of these uneasy princes in past years were Onokuni and Asahifuji. If they submitted to yaocho, they didn’t do it often enough or with the proper alacrity. Some rikishi, I think — especially former collegiate wrestlers — are never initiated into the yaocho club at all, because they might not be trustworthy. Sumo gets them too late in life, too fully formed, and too ethically fastidious.

And some sumobeya are more inclined to play the game than others. The boys from Sadogatake-beya, for example, are always ready to make a deal. But the Kasugano rikishi, not so much.

As they govern all other aspects of their sport, sumo’s elders govern yaocho with a politeness that borders on intimidation. No one, even a yaocho resister, ever steps very far out of line. To betray the group is tantamount to betraying one’s family. When a rikishi resorts to yaocho, he’s expected to use it sparingly, silently, with dignity (rei), and with a consciousness that yaocho serves not to further his private glory, but to keep the family in balance.

Yaocho is an invisible, but palpable presence in sumo. Look for it, and you’ll never spot it. Even resisters — and I’m certain that there are some — will deny its existence. By comparison, the Cheshire cat’s smile is a bite on the ass. But yaocho is there, and will stay there because it ameliorates one of sumo’s greatest problems, the loneliness and persistent mediocrity of most rikishi. When someone takes a dive on your behalf, it keeps you afloat. When you tank a match for another guy, you feel a little more deeply the sympathy of your group, your sense of belonging. If you’re really talented, you can win day in and day out all by your lonesome. But cheating needs company.

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Methods of Social Control in Vietnam

From: Vietnam: Rising Dragon, by Bill Hayton (Yale U. Press, 2010), Kindle Loc. 1550-88:

Since the 1990s, the ‘Cultured Families’ [gia đình văn hóa < 家庭 Ch. jiating, Jp. katei ‘family’ + 文化 Ch. wenhua, Jp. bunka ‘culture’] campaign has become more prominent, mainly because of the failure of a more heavy-handed system. From the earliest days of communist Vietnam, the cornerstone of social control was a system of household registration called the ho khau [= hộ khẩu 户口 < Ch. hukou, like Jp. 户籍 koseki]. It still exists. Every person has to be registered in a specific place at birth. If they want to move, they need the consent of the authorities both where they’re registered and where they want to go. Borrowed from China, the system was initially intended to control anti-communist resistance. Over subsequent decades, even though the central state lacked the resources to ensure it was fully implemented everywhere, it became the basis for economic planning, the provision of social services and the distribution of food and goods.

As the economy liberalised, however, it became easier for people to evade the system. The distribution of state-supplied jobs, food and housing had once been largely dependent on holding a valid ho khau, but as more goods and services became available on the open market, its power was reduced. Villagers left their villages without permission, unregistered housing sprang up in the cities and illegal traders tramped the streets. Daily life could, to a larger extent, bypass the authorities. (Hence the need to augment the ho khau with the ‘Cultured Families’ campaign.) The ho khau survives, however, because it continues to be a useful tool for the state: it reduces migration, provides useful economic data and, above all, helps the police to keep tabs on people. It’s another lever in the official tool kit. Anyone without a valid ho khau is permanently at the authorities’ mercy. Unregistered households have to build a life’s worth of corrupt relationships simply to keep living and working in a particular place. If they misbehave, life can get very difficult.

The consequence for the unregistered can be severe. If an unregistered couple wants to get married, register the birth of their child or even be buried in the cemetery they will find it difficult, sometimes even impossible. They could return to the place where their official ho khau was registered, but if they have been absent for more than six months, they may find that their name has been removed from the register. As a result they will be officially beyond the law. Often the only way to survive is through bribery – paying local officials either to grant them a ho khau or to turn a blind eye whenever they need to do something which requires it. Their births won’t be registered or their marriages licensed, their housing will be illegal and their living conditions precarious. They’re not included in population statistics, poverty calculations or social services provision. More than a quarter of the babies born in 2000 weren’t registered. In just one year that implies 250,000 undocumented children. As a result, the government was forced to adjust the rules to fit reality. New laws and regulations were introduced from 2004 allowing children to be registered where they are born, not where their parents’ ho khau was issued. But local authorities are reluctant to regularise so many new inhabitants whom they would then be obliged to take care of. Consequently communities are growing up across Vietnam, perhaps a few million people in all, who do not officially exist.

In spite of this, and other, clear evidence of the failure of the ho khau system, there’s no sign of it being abandoned. In part, this is because it continues to perform its original function, allowing surveillance of the population. In addition to its more general roles in controlling movement and guiding economic planning, the ho khau is the basis of the Public Security Ministry’s system of political records, known as the ly lich [< 履歴 Ch. lüli, Jp. rireki, as in rirekisho ‘curriculum vitae’]. The ly lich has a long history. In its original incarnation, in the 1950s, individuals were obliged to write their life histories for the police. Those who had worked for the French, been members of non-communist political parties or were part of the landlord class, or whose parents or grandparents did so, could then be kept out of important positions or pushed down the queue for goods and services.

Today the legacies of those old ly lich continue to blight the lives of descendants, particularly among former officials of the old Saigon regime and their children. And new ly lich are still being written. The essay format continues to be used for most people applying for jobs in the public sector and for anyone wanting to join the Communist Party. But the police also compile their own ly lich on those they consider subversive or worth watching – journalists, foreigners, those who have contact with journalists and foreigners, and so on. It may no longer be a universal requirement and it’s no longer such a public procedure but it continues to exist in the processes of the Ministry of Public Security. From secret police files and residency permits to neighbourhood wardens and cultured family campaigns, Vietnam has built a low-tech but effective system of near-total surveillance.

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Far Outliers Off to Africa for Two Weeks

The Far Outliers leave tonight for a two-week trip to Cameroon to visit my historian brother who’s on sabbatical there helping to document some languages from neighboring Central African Republic, where he served in the Peace Corps many years ago. It’s a long way for a short trip, but it’s the chance of a lifetime. It’ll be our first trip to the continent. We’ll be in good hands, but we’ll have very limited access to email and the web, so I may not be able to respond to blog comments. I hope to take plenty of photos to share via Flickr and to get some firsthand exposure to the English-based pidgin, Kamtok, which I understand still thrives in the northwest region (former British Cameroons).

With all the economic woes facing highly developed economies, it’s heartening to read some good news about economic development in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The economic transformation that has taken place over the last decade has laid out a solid foundation from which to build on. According to the International Monetary Fund, real GDP in sub-Saharan Africa increased by 5.7% annually between 2000 and 2008, more than double the pace during 1980s and 90s.

The collective output of it’s 50-plus economies, meanwhile, reached US$1.6-trillion, far greater than, say, global industrial power Republic of Korea.

Not surprisingly, Africa’s impressive economic momentum over this period owes much to its natural resource wealth that includes a majority of the world’s platinum, chromium and diamonds and a large share of global oil and gas reserves and gold and uranium deposits. However, rising prices for these commodities is only part of the story. According to McKinsey, natural resources and related government spending accounted for 32% of Africa’s GDP growth, with the remaining two-thirds nicely distributed across other sectors, notably wholesale and retail, agriculture, transportation and telecommunications.

Underlying this economic breadth, says the report, is the African consumer. From 2005 to 2008, consumer spending increased at a compounded annual rate of 16% and rose in all but two countries. Millions of Africans have moved from the “destitute” level of income below US$1,000 a year to the “basic needs” level between US$1,000 and US$5,000. A smaller portion have moved into the middle income bracket of US$5,000 to US$25,000.

“There is a lot more going on than just natural resources,” Mr. Field-Marsham says. “The middle class is exploding. They are buying soap, they’re buying beer, they’re buying telephones, they’re building housing, and they’re buying cement. Now, everybody has a stake.”

We’re taking a few small electronic gifts for my brother’s friends and colleagues: flash drives, memory cards, rechargeable AA and AAA batteries, and such.

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Winchester, Virginia: My First American Hometown

Fifty years ago this month, I arrived in a snow-covered city I would come to think of as my first American hometown, Winchester, Virginia. I had just spent most of my elementary school years in Kyoto, Japan, which I still think of as my Japanese hometown. My parents were missionaries. I was born in Louisville, Kentucky, where my father was in seminary, and I later attended first grade there during our first furlough while he finished his coursework toward a Th.D. But our two-and-a-half years in Winchester gave me my first prolonged exposure to life in small-town America.

Amherst St. house, Dec. 1960

Mom in front of our house on Amherst St., Dec. 1960

For 7th and 8th grades, I walked to my mother’s alma mater, Handley High School, where I soaped the windows of my homeroom one Halloween, and had a classmate whose parents threw a grand Bat Mitzvah party, for which I learned to jitterbug when other kids were just beginning to dance the Twist. We two oldest brothers were baptized in my mother’s home church, First Baptist, where my parents had gotten married and my father now served as associate pastor during our extended furlough. He would draft us to help shovel snow off its sidewalks along Piccadilly and Washington Streets. My brother and I both had paper routes, delivering the Winchester Star on the way home from school each afternoon. I joined the Boy Scouts, advancing to Life Scout and marching with my troop in the annual Apple Blossom Festival parade. My mother’s two brothers lived a few miles down the Valley Pike, while her sister lived up the Pike outside Martinsburg, West Virginia.

House on Henry Ave., Winchester, Va.

Our house on Henry Ave., c. 1962

My parents resigned after their regular furlough year (partly from burnout), and we moved into a smaller house near Quarles Elementary School, where I had earlier finished the last half of 6th grade. Without a missionary salary, my father supplemented his earnings at First Baptist by substitute teaching at the county high school (James Wood) and serving as interim pastor at a tiny Baptist church in Gore, Virginia (birthplace of Willa Cather and Patsy Cline, I later discovered).

Meanwhile, my mother had her hands full with five kids. Our family car was a Rambler station wagon with an extra rear-facing seat in back. One summer we drove it to Sebago Lake in Maine, where our pastor let us use his summer cabin, where in the evenings my mother would read to her own five children from The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew (one of whom—in each family—was named Joel). My mother, who had dropped out of Berea College after her junior year to get married and become a missionary, always felt inferior to the more educated missionary wives, especially the registered nurses at the Japan Baptist Hospital in Kyoto, where my father had served as chaplain. Perhaps she compensated to some extent by being somewhat of a Japanese-style kyōiku mama (at least where I, her eldest, was concerned).

But I remember those years as the least bookish, most outdoorsy era of my life. We went sledding on the slope above our big old house on Amherst St., and built igloos and snow forts behind our smaller house on Henry Ave. One summer, Uncle Bill took us waterskiing on the Shenandoah River. Dad took us oldest boys along for a campout in Monongahela National Forest with a group from his little country church in Gore. With Boy Scouts, I took a 50-mile hike along the Appalachian Trail through the Shenandoah Mountains, and I remember one Camporee that got hit by such a heavy rainstorm that many parents came to rescue their boys and a few boys abandoned their pup tents to spend the night in the scoutmasters’ vehicles.

Sometime during 8th grade, I started to show signs of near-sightedness. I don’t think it was while trying for my rifle-shooting merit badge in the old Winchester Armory. I think I first noticed it when I had trouble reading the blackboard from the back of the classroom during algebra class or my tryout semester of Latin. But Uncle Bill likely noticed it sooner when I accompanied him on trips to Baltimore to bring back a tanker of gas for his filling station. He used to ask whichever nephew accompanied him to be on the lookout for certain road signs, landmarks, or maybe patrol cars, and I don’t think I was as good at spotting them as he was—or as my brother was. I went for an eye exam and got a prescription for contact lenses (newfangled and expensive at the time), which were soon replaced by regular eyeglasses after I lost one down the drain.

Sometime during that same school year, my parents opted to return to the mission field, this time to Hiroshima, which became the Japanese hometown of my three youngest siblings. We two eldest sons went off to boarding school in Kobe, and I began my evolution into the most bookish nerd one can ever hope to become.

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Farmboy Seminarian on a Cattleboat to Poland, 1946

Chicken delivery truck, Poland, summer 1946While organizing a bunch of old photos during last week’s visit to my 85-year-old father, I came across a small set I had never seen before of images from his oft-recounted trip delivering livestock to Poland in 1946. His voyage was on the S.S. Carroll Victory under the auspices of UNRRA, but he heard about the cattleboats from his Quaker contacts, who cooperated with the Church of the Brethren and Mennonites on what later evolved into Heifer International. My father was raised a Quaker, but later joined a Baptist church and spent the war years at the University of Richmond on a ministerial deferment. He graduated at the end of 1945, then enrolled in Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, in February 1946.

Horse stalls and hay bales on deck, Poland, summer 1946

The following is my father’s account, very lightly edited by me.

At the beginning of summer vacation in 1946 I heard about the need for volunteers to care for horses being sent to Poland by United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA). The ships that transported the horses to Poland were called “cattleboats” but I do not remember any cattle on my boat. We did take baby chicks and horses. I had worked with mules as a boy but had little experience with horses. The chance to visit Europe and be paid for the trip rather than having to pay for it fascinated me as I really wanted to see other countries but couldn’t afford to travel. So, with three other seminary students I signed up for the trip. The ships were converted Liberty ships from WWII and were manned by members of the U.S. Merchant Marine. I was accepted as a “cattleman” and left Norfolk in June of 1946 on a boat with 800 horses and 3000 baby chicks. The horses were to be used for reconstruction and the chicks for supplying eggs for food in Poland which was devastated by Germany and Russia in World War II.

I had never traveled before on the ocean and was a real landlubber. The beginning of the trip was rather mild but the stench in the lower decks from horses and their excretion made for rather poor sailing conditions for one inexperienced in sea travel. I found that the more marked movements of the ship up and down were not as bad as the swaying motion from side to side. When I felt that I was going to get sick I would lie on my back and look up through the opening in the upper decks. If I could lie still and see the sky my stomach would settle down. Contrary to the reputation horses have for “horse sense,” I found them much less intelligent than mules. When a horse got sick and fell in its stall it would lie there and die. A mule would have struggled to its feet. About 30 horses died on the trip and had to be thrown overboard. For some reason which I do not remember (I probably volunteered) I was transferred to caring for baby chicks, which was more to my liking and more consistent with my experience. However, I found that chicks were even dumber than horses. They would trample each other to death as the boat rocked on the ocean, or they would drown themselves in the water troughs at the outer edges of the coops. I don’t know how many chicks we lost on the trip but I believe a goodly number managed to stay alive until the arrival in Poland. I watched with interest as the Polish men tried to handle the horses as they were lowered from the ship on to Polish soil. Their “horse sense” did not include the understanding of the Polish language and the commands they were given did not communicate well to them the desires of the handlers.

The environment on ship was anything but a churchly one. Of the 90 men on board very few were Christians and many if not most were misfits in society who were only on the trip for the month’s food and lodging and the $150 they would be paid for working on the way over to Poland. There were no responsibilities on the return trip. The four of us from the Seminary held services on Sundays. One young man played a guitar for the hymn singing and the four of us took turns preaching. The “congregation” was certainly different from any I had ever preached to before. In fact, the whole atmosphere on board ship was so foreign to anything I had ever experienced that I felt like I was in a foreign country even before we got to Poland. The food was not too bad but it was certainly not home cooking. We slept in bunks which had been built for sailors.

The trip to the English Channel took about eight days as I remember. The White Cliffs of Dover were the first sight of land that we had seen since we left the USA, and they were welcome sights. However, they offered no relief from the sea as we did not disembark in England. We could see land and cars and buildings as we slowly made our way through the almost placid English Channel, which was in a good mood that day. We approached the Kiel Canal soon and went through what was for me a fascinating experience of navigating the Canal. We could get a very good view of the north of Germany as we slowly made our way through the canal. I was taken by the beauty of the land. We went through Schleswig-Holstein where Holstein cattle grazed in immaculate pastures divided by rows of trees. In the land of my own childhood, trees were cut down on farmland and farms were not landscaped as in North Germany. The Germany I saw was vastly different from the pictures of bombed out cities on TV.

Flea market, Poland, summer 1946Street photographer, Poland, summer 1946
Shell of a fine building, Poland, summer 1946

Poland was very different from Germany. We landed in Gdansk and the devastation wrought by Germany and Russia in World War II was evident everywhere we looked. We were in port about 4 days and were allowed to go ashore. On the way across the Atlantic we had been told that cigarettes were the best currency in Poland since none were available there. On ship we had been permitted to buy two cartons apiece on about three occasions. I did not smoke and did not intend to engage in blackmarket trading so I didn’t buy any. Several who asked me to buy some for them were angry when I refused. One of the Seminary students and I tried to maintain some appearance of the faith we professed while on ship and in Poland, but the two others bought cigarettes and went to Warsaw while we were in port. We had been strictly forbidden to go anywhere farther than we could return to the ship at night. The two fellow travelers were strongly reprimanded and were not given a recommendation to take another such UNRRA trip. My friend and I were highly recommended for another voyage but did not go again.

Brick building intact, Poland, summer 1946There was a redheaded boy from Franklin, Virginia, on board. I did not know him and was not drawn to get to know him. He tried to get me to go with him in Poland but his description of his planned exploits did not appeal to me. Before he left the ship he started drinking vodka and chasing it with water. Then, as he began to become inebriated, he drank water and chased it with vodka. He left the ship alone. It was not too long before some kind Polish natives brought him back to the ship dead drunk. He lay on the floor of the ship unconscious with flies attending him for most of the time we were in port. Another young man went ashore, visited a prostitute and came back and developed the “clap.” He was so drunk that I persuaded him to leave his money with me before he left again. He cursed but he gave me his money. Later he thanked me, for the suffering of venereal disease was bad enough for him without losing his money too.

We found out why they drank so much beer in Poland. Water was very scarce and what there was tasted awful. We were taken on a tour of Gdansk and as far as Gdynia. There was not much to see. We did visit a few very old church buildings. They were always located on scenic spots and were beautifully constructed. When we remarked to our obviously not very religious tour guide that the cathedrals were beautiful he said, “Yes, and cold.” They were indeed symbols of great architecture rather than ardent religion – as might be said of many church buildings in all lands and ages.

Little girl, Poland, summer 1946After two days I was ready to head for home. On our rather uneventful trip home we had much leisure time to think about what we had seen. There were only two incidents worthy of mention, at least the only ones that I remember, on our return trip. As we were our leaving the Kiel Canal beside another Liberty ship the captains made a bet as to who would get there first. The navigator on our ship took us a tenth of a percentage point off course and we lost. While we were changing courses near the end of the trip to get to Norfolk I was standing on the ship without a shirt on in the hot sun looking for land, and I got so sunburned that I could not bear to wear a shirt. When I arrived at my brother Bob’s and Bertha’s house with a month’s beard and no shirt on my red back Bertha did not recognize me and only my voice persuaded her to let me in.

Street kids, Poland, summer 1946

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