Monday, January 17, 2011

Goodbye Uncle Lloyd

Monday 17 January  2011

Last Monday, my favorite uncle died.  Uncle Lloyd was the last of five siblings.
My dad, LaVerne, was the youngest and the first to leave us when our daughter Katie was only one year old. We lived in the States and Uncle Lloyd lived in Canada, but whenever we saw him, he easily stepped into the role of grandfather for Katie. That was a familiar role for Uncle Lloyd, who was the best grandpa ever for his own grandchildren and assorted others like Katie.

When Katie was two, Uncle Lloyd and Aunt Liz visited us in New Hope, Pennsylvania. For some reason, Katie called him "Man" and her imperious little voice resounded through the rooms with "Man, do this!" or "Man, do that!" Uncle Lloyd would give her pony rides on his leg and when he would stop (from exhaustion, I'm sure), our princess would wheedle, "Just one more time!" while holding up a finger in case he didn't get the point. And Uncle Lloyd would always oblige with "just one more time".

When Katie was five, she and I visited Uncle Lloyd and Aunt Liz in their winter digs in Panama City Beach.  The first morning, Katie and I were awake long before anyone else and we hopped in the car, found a donut place, and enjoyed a solitary walk on the beach, watching the sun rise. Uncle Lloyd and Aunt Liz were horrified at what we had done. They opened the refrigerator door to show us all the food they had stocked up. "Look," they said. "There is no need for you to go out to eat. Eat here!" Nonetheless, Katie and I woke early the next morning and snuck out to the car for our private together time on the beach ... only to find that Uncle Lloyd had used his car to block our escape. Busted, we returned to the house and hit the fridge.

On the same trip, Katie was learning to ride a two wheeler. Uncle Lloyd, who had recently had triple bypass surgery, would stand at one end of the street and I at the other. He would start Katie off on her shaky solo flight and then run along beside her in case the wobbling became catastrophic.  And when we went to the beach, Uncle Lloyd took along a shovel - the real kind, not those flimsy plastic things - and he and Katie dug a trench about the length of the Suez Canal.

Uncle Lloyd overcame many obstacles in his life. He was a survivor who did not complain. Over the last few weeks, his body began to shut down, no doubt just plum tuckered out after all those years of loving and being loved. He was 93 years old. And, although we will miss him, we know it was his time. 

As is always the way, the funeral brought the family together in a way that we haven't seen since my grandparents died and years later the farm - we called it "Over Home" - passed out of the family's hands. Cousins flew and drove in from all over the world.  It was a fitting tribute to a man who had brightened our lives and whose heart - triple bypass and all - was big enough to hold us all.

Goodbye, Uncle Lloyd. Rest in peace.

"Over Home" Cassel, Ontario. The barn burned down and was resurrected with a real Mennonite barn raising.

Every Sunday, about 30 adults would sit around the long "adult" table Over Home and the kids would sit at their own table.

Probably the last photo taken of all the siblings. Our farm in Embro. Names of spouses in brackets.L-R back row: (Carmeen) Reuben (Jessie) Lloyd,  Gladys (Irvin) Alvin Seated: (Hazel) (Liz) in front: LaVerne

The following are photos I took the night of Uncle Lloyd's funeral when the extended family rebonded at Raym and Marybel's place. I was going to label everyone but figured those who really wanted to know already knew.

Saturday, January 1, 2011


Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year!

It's been a year of change for Greg and I. Mostly really good: the chance to live in wonderful Zurich, and to do the kind of traveling we've always dreamed of doing.  Some pretty bad: we had to have both of our old dogs put down: Roz in February and Abby on New Year's Eve day.  We're thankful to have two amazing kids: Katie and hubby Heath. Without them taking care of our house and pets, we would never have been able to move to Switzerland.
Last summer, Mom fell in her apartment and broke her hip. As bad as that was, it had the good consequence of us being able to move her into an assisted living facility: a much needed move as she is suffering from dementia. Again, I have wonderful family to take care of her: cousins Raym and Marybel, Garry and Diane, and Liz. 

We just came back from a week spent in Egypt, another place on our Bucket List. I've given a lot of thought as to how I should describe the experience and I've decided to crib a description from our guide book. It's a description of Cairo but could just as easily apply to the whole of Egypt.
... sprawls a vast city, the color of sand and ashes, of diverse worlds and epochs, and gross inequities. ... Every year its polarities intensify, safety margins narrow and statistics make gloomier reading.  The abyss beckons in prognoses of future trends, yet Cairo confounds doomsayers by dancing on the edge. (The Rough Guide to Europe 2010 pp73-74)

Egypt is a desert country and although the Asswan Dam now prevents the annual flooding of the Nile, the population still clings to its banks. When you drive in the country, the narrow green running parallel to the river ends as suddenly as if a giant hand had painted the line between fertile verdant land and dusty desert.

The Nile is beautiful as it flows placidly north but its banks are lined with garbage, as are the banks of the canals running from it and the streets of the towns and Cairo.  Our guide told us that they used to pay people to cart away the garbage until  the government insisted that citizens pay a garbage tax. The tax was paid, the local garbage men were out of business and the garbage remains: the authorities have not organized garbage collection.  Our boat driver blamed most of the garbage along the Nile's banks on the cruise ships that illegally dump their garbage during the night. In spite of the pollution, we saw people fishing and washing clothes in the Nile and its canals.

woman washing carpet in Nile


fishermen in front of cruise ships

Valley of Kings in background

We originally had planned to spend a few days in Sharm el Sheik on the Red Sea, snorkelling and diving. Just before we left, four shark attacks followed by a shark fatality closed the beaches and we quickly changed our itinerary to start in Luxor. We stayed in the Sofitel Luxor Karnak on the banks of the Nile.  It was a good choice, allowing us time away from the culture shock of Egypt.  Luxor is a small town with the feel of a village.  It's perfectly safe to walk the streets but you are exposed to almost constant hustling as the natives do their best to separate the tourists from their money.  Baksheesh is an important part of their livelihood as most Egyptians earn less than $82 a month.  It was unnerving when we went through security at the Cairo airport and the officer who searched our bag made the finger motion indicating we should pay him! The same was true at the security checkpoints the day our guide took us to Dendera and Abydos.

kids playing soccer outside Luxor Temple

Katie and I are huge fans of Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody series: a strong willed Victorian woman of means who becomes an archeologist along with her husband. She and all the other upper class Brits stayed at the Winter Palace in Luxor and so of course I had to go see it and take pics.

shades of Rule Brittania!

We found a travel service Greg and I aren't much for traveling in a group and so were happy to see that hiring a guide for just the two of us was an affordable alternative. The best part is that you can choose your guide from the biographies provided. Our Luxor guide was Hamada Elsharbiny, who has a degree in Egyptology, history and archeology. Our first full-day tour took us to the Valley of the Kings (the tombs of King Tut-Ankh-Amon, King Merneptah, Ramses 4 and 9); the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut, the only pharaonic woman to rule ancient Egypt; the colossi of Memnon (once stood by the facade of a big temple);  back to the east bank in Luxor, to visit Karnak Temples; and end the day with - to quote Hamada - a relaxing hour cruise on the Nile at sunset in a felucca. (HA! More on that later!)  We have no photos of the tombs in the Valley of the Kings or even the valley itself as any attempt to take photos would result in the immediate confiscation of your camera. Greg actually saw that happen to a young guy but we figure that if he had enough sense to offer some baksheesh, the guard probably sold it back to him.  Greg was a little underwhelmed by the valley - he was thinking there would be something more impressive than holes in the sides of the cliffs. But to walk into the wide, high passageways covered with heiroglyphics - many bearing the original paints from 3500 years ago - was truly awesome.

We saw a plethora of temples: Hatshepsut and Karnak on the first tour, Luxor on our own, and Dendara and Abydos on our second full day tour with Hamada.  They were beautiful and awe inspiring.

Luxor Temple:

some 19th century graffiti

Greg Hill, Photographer Extraordinaire!
Temple of Hatshepsut:


sphinxes lined both sides of the broad highway that ran from Luxor to Karnak (about 2 Km)
Most of them still lie beneath the city of Luxor and are being excavated.


Our felucca trip was a blast but not in the way Hamada meant it to be. We got to the boat as the sun was setting. Our captain asked if we would rather go by motor boat but we opted for the relaxation of a sail.  The problem is, the current was so strong, we didn't leave the bank!  The other Feluccas overcame this problem by having a motor boat pull them out into the center of the Nile and then drifting downriver but nope! Not us!  First, the heavy oar that our first mate was wielding broke. We managed to hit three other boats as we returned to the dock to get a new one.  Then, in spite of an impressive exhibition of male hormones, the current kept us velcroed to the bank. At one point, we had to yell "Look out!" to keep our intrepid sailors from hitting the cruise boat tied to the quay. Our captain stood in the bow and walked our boat along by hand over handing it along the other boat's upper rail. A couple of tourists on its deck watched us warily - I think they were wondering if we were pirates. Finally, our captain gave up and insisted we share some hibiscus tea with him, which we insisted we did not want. We were alarmed to see him pull out a propane gas cylinder. We just knew we were going to blow up! (Although the ineptitude of our crew ensured that we would not have far to swim.)  Fortunately, he was unable to get the cylinder lit and so we were finally able to drift back to the dock, hitting only a couple of boats in the process. The best part of the experience was that Katie and Heath think Greg and I are terrible sailors (which, in fact, we are) and it was refreshing to discover that we aren't alone.  It may not have been quite the ride we expected but we did get some lovely shots of the sunset and the flocks of birds flying home for the night.

The best part of our three hour ride to Dendera and Abydos was the chance to see the countryside.  The houses are built of mud brick. Many of them have one or more stories topped with rebar sticking out of the roof. Hamana explained that this was because it allowed for adding a new floor as the family grew and also the taxes are less if you can claim the house is incomplete. Greg pointed out that nearly every house, no matter how poor, had a satellite dish.  Hamana told us that when Nassar gained power, he broke up the agricultural monopolies and gave farmers their own land. It occured to me, as I was commiserating on the poverty I was seeing, that at least these people had their own land and a roof over their heads ... which is more than the rising ranks of the homeless in the US can claim.

not looking good for you here, water buffalo!

After four days in Luxor, we flew to Cairo. Again, we had opted to stay at a luxury hotel - Conrad Hotel - on the Nile and, again, it provided a sanctuary against cultural shock.  Cairo is a mess.  Its buildings seem to be made of the same materials used in the villages and many of the buildings seemed to be missing the top floor. Traffic is congested with the dotted line dividing the two lanes used as a third lane by motorists. As elsewhere in Egypt, there is a constant cachophony of horns. 

Sherine Karelous, another Egyptologist, was our guide for a full day tour to North Saqqara, the royal burial ground for some of the earliest rulers and their courtiers that was used for over 3000 years. We visited a Mastaba. During the Old Kingdom, nobles were buried in subterranean tombs covered by large mud-brick superstructures. (Rough Guide Egypt p 175)  The Step Pyramid, 27th C BC, was the first pyramid.

We stopped to visit a school where the ancient art of carpet making is taught and watched a young man tie the knots with amazing speed. I tried my hand at the knot making ... speed was not how you would describe my attempt.

Then it was off to see the Great Pyramids and the Sphinx.  I got on a camel for a photo op and a moment or two of pure terror. The camel lurches up and down in three jerks. I was sure my photo op would consist of me sailing over the head of the camel but my fears were unfounded due mostly to my death grip on the saddle horn. You can see that Flat Stanley came with us!

time for a nap

The next day, we spent hours at the Egyptian Musem with about half the planet. 

The day after that, we were back in a Swiss Air jet heading for home in Zurich.

Egypt may not have been a life altering experience but it certainly offered a look into a culture that felt both familiar and foreign. Will I go back again? No. Am I glad I went? Most definitely!