#26 1965 – 1966 The Year of Mwamedi

It’s been over two months since I posted a new story! Today is the last day of 2019 so with this post I’ll have averaged one every two weeks. I had hoped to enter more, but life and writer’s block just kept getting in the way. No matter. I close this first year of Quaker Stories with a bunch of memories from my year at Pendle Hill, the Quaker retreat and study center outside Philadelphia.

Our family’s year at Pendle Hill started at the Philadelphia International Airport. We had traveled from Tanzania after two years in the AFSC’s Voluntary International Service Abroad (VISA) Program. My husband Harold, more often called Baba, had served his conscientious objector (CO) requirement there. We were bringing our to be adopted son, Christopher Paul, with us. He was then known as Mwamedi. He was three years old, talkative, friendly, and very active. He’d spent the flight from London making friends with a very patient African American man who spent the time listening to Mwamedi’s tales of his travels in Tanzania and England and his expectations of seeing his friend Yummy at the airport.

As is often the case with families flying with young children, we were among the last to deplane. When we reached the top of a long escalator, we encountered our friend Barbara, shaking her head and looking quite puzzled. “The strangest thing just happened to me,” she said. “A tall, quite handsome African American man passed by me and remarked, ‘You must be Yummy.’ He kept right on walking, chuckling to himself.” “Don’t worry,” Mwamedi excitedly told her. “That’s my new friend!”

Barbara hugged him and directed us to the baggage claim and out to her car. We arrived soon after at Pendle Hill and settled in, ready to start training new VISA Tanzania volunteers. When that period was over, we were offered the opportunity to spend the coming year as residents at Pendle Hill, thanks to the Director of Pendle Hill and his wife, Dan and Rosalie Wilson. Pendle Hill became Mwamedi’s “village” and our chance to experience its community of Quakers from many parts of the globe. Some had come to take non-credit courses in Quakerism, social justice, meditation, or Bible. Others were regrouping, finding a new direction in their lives. A few just wanted to live in a Quaker community. The three of us were to learn a great deal and make friends still precious to me in 2019.

An overnight at PH in November after a meeting of the Friends Historical Assn. in Philadelphia brought back so many memories I would have loved to have shared again with Baba, but unfortunately he died in 2014 after 52 years of marriage. So I share them with you after hours of recalling people and events with Christopher Paul, now a father and grandfather. Ironically, I was placed in a room in Firbank, our home on campus that year of 1965-1966. Our former first floor apartment now houses the pottery studio, then in the basement. This was the place where Baba learned to “pot” with the help of Betty Gilson, an experienced craftsperson from New England. From her, he learned the exciting mysteries of clay, glazes, and firing as well as building wheels and kilns. He would take these skills back to Tanzania with him and train schoolboys and staff, among them the first graduate from the University of East Africa with a fine arts degree in ceramics.

At PH, Baba met a resident from Palestine, Vladamir Tamari, an artist whose parents had become Quakers. After a surprise discovery of a tile dump in Gwyneed Valley, PA on one of our visits to AFSC friends, he persuaded Vlad to help him create the PH logo sign that still hangs on the wall of Chase, a PH residential building. My task in this project was to scramble up and down the piles at the dump, digging out the prized bright colored tiles among the ordinary pale bathroom squares. It was cold, wet work, but the reward was great. The creation took shape. Another resident, a skilled carpenter, Walter Smalakis, built the frame. When finished, it was presented to the community as Baba and Vlad’s term paper.

Mwamedi became very fond of Walter and his wife, Laura. They lived in Firbank on the third floor with their three children – Joey, Susie, and Naomi. Laura was a Montessori teacher, who gave us many lessons in parenting at which we were real neophytes. Once Mwamedi was taught the boundaries of PH, he claimed the property as his own. He helped make apple cider with a 200 year old hand press from a Quaker farmer. He rejoiced in helping rake leaves and even more so jumping into the piles and carting the leaves to the composting area in “his” truck. Everyone at PH had weekly tasks, and once a week all joined in on a special work day. Mwamedi had a tremendous appetite and loved nearly everything Betsy B. and her helpers cooked. For a while he sat wherever he found a seat in the dining room, chatting away about his day. One of Laura’s first lessons was to pull us aside and suggest we rein him in a bit so he would know who his parents were. We took no umbrage, followed her suggestion, and spent time with him at meals until all three of us were retooled.

One of the “fellows” Mwamedi liked to hang out with was Dick Lee. Dick was good at languages and joined the military as an interpreter. Then he was made an interrogator and had his skill become a hardship. He had finally left the military and come to PH to heal. There were several conscientious objectors living at PH at the time, including Baba. They were a big support to him. Another of Mwamedi’s young adult friends was Lou Kubicka, a young man from the Midwest, who never seemed to tire of the youngster’s desires to be with him.

During the winter term, two friends from England came to be at PH. Elfrida Vipont Foulds was an author of children’s and Quaker books. She and Mwamedi struck up an interesting friendship. One day, as they were standing in the lunch line, Elfrida pointed out a picture of the Pendle Hill of England and told Mwamedi about George Fox and his climbing the hill, sitting down under a tree, and having God speak to him. Mwamedi, always ready to speak his truth, quickly explained to Elfrida that that Pendle Hill wasn’t very high at all. Why did George Fox get so tired? Why, in his country, there was Mt. Kilimanjaro and he had climbed part way up it! Elfrida was taken aback, but agreed that Mt. Kilimanjaro was indeed much higher. The other English Quaker was George Gorman, the first Quaker public relations person I’d ever met. He was a clever publicist, developing campaigns to spread Quakerism, a man far before his time. He must be chuckling at the recent Quaker Quest in England and now in the US, seeking to reintroduce the general public to the Religious Society of Friends.

Japanese and Korean Friends joined the community and fascinated Mwamedi. Lee Bok Kim, a Korean woman, often wore traditional Korean dress. She loved walking and was seen traipsing about the campus. Mwamedi was enchanted with her. He would join her on her walks, clasp her hand, and tell her she was beautiful. She would squeeze his hand and give him the sweetest, gentlest smile I’ve ever seen. Jae Kyung Chun was a blind student from Korea, improving his English before moving to New York to study. He walked about the campus with his cane that Mwamedi called his “talking stick.” He followed Jae about, closed his eyes, grabbed a stick, and tried to get it to talk to him and guide him around the campus. He suffered many a fall and some head bumps into trees. Frustrated, he asked Jae to teach him how to make his stick “talk.” Jae didn’t understand what Mwamedi wanted at first; when he did, he told the youngster to “listen better.”

Akio and Nobuko were Japanese Friends. Akio was later to become the Clerk of the Japan Yearly Meeting and preside over one of the international meetings of the Friends World Committee for Consultation. Nobuko was later a member of a Japanese committee to support parents of Down’s Syndrome children, a project that attracted the attention of the Empress of Japan. My search recently to reconnect with them was not successful but led me to reconnect with a Japanese friend from university who had been interned as a small boy in one of the WWII camps in the West, a topic of earlier blog posts on Floyd Schmoe and Gordon Hirabayoshi. Akio was an architect, tall, slender, an avid walker. Mwamedi had to almost run to keep up with Akio when they encountered each other. He thought it funny that Akio bowed so often and imitated him. Akio praised him for being so polite. Having discovered it was an important social gesture, Mwamedi took to bobbing his head as a sign of respect.

Anna and Howard Brinton were the elders of PH during our year there. Anna would often ask Baba to take her places in the VW we had. She always gave him a small amount. He protested strongly. She responded just as strongly that if he wouldn’t take her payment, she wouldn’t use his service. He gave in as her wit and conversation during those trips were highlights of his week. Anna and Howard lived in a small cottage on the edge of the campus. There Howard would teach a class and Anna would retrieve books when needed, climbing a small ladder to find a special reference. Students worried about a possible fall, but she poopooed their concerns. Howard’s eyesight was failing. When Mwamedi saw Howard tottering here and there, he would run, take the elder’s hand, and tell him proudly, “I’ll get you where you need to go.” They took many walks that year.

In the spring of 1966, we were at a loss as how to return to Tanzania to complete Mwamedi’s adoption. Mary Morrison, a Bible teacher at PH, brought us a notice of the need for Swahili speaking leaders for some Episcopal workcamps in Tanzania during the coming summer. She told us we should apply. We did and were accepted, only to find out that the Episcopalian campus minister at our former university in California and a dear friend was to lead another of the workcamps. Small world! Mwamedi was excited and spread the word all about the PH campus. At the closing meeting, Howard stood and declared that 1965-1966 would be remembered as the “Year of Mwamedi.” It was quite an honor he had given to his little walking friend.

Pendle Hill is a special place for hundreds of Quakers who have come there as residents or attenders at various meetings and courses. They, too, have their stories. My memories include other people and happenings, too many to relate in a single post. Perhaps another time. It amazed me that I was able to remember the names of 55 people from 10 countries who were part of our year at PH over 50 years ago. Some we have visited in the intervening years, others we have corresponded with, and some we have encountered in the wider, but oh so small Quaker world.

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