We’re Moving


Iris HomeChestnut View

We are moving — from our home in Kennedy Heights, within the city limits but quite suburban,  to a townhouse in the Betts-Longworth district in downtown Cincinnati.

Yesterday, it became real — they moved the piano.  At the recommendation of Don Gibbs, the man who rebuilt our old Baldwin, we contacted A1 Piano Movers.  When we described the piano over the phone, the owner said “Sounds like a Baldwin L.”  Much better than the “Oh, we move baby grands all the time” that we got from the furniture movers – 6 ft. grands are not usually called “baby”.

2016-02-29 Piano Leaving

Mike, Kurt, and Greg

2016-02-29 Piano tilted

Believe me, it’s at times like these when you ant to have confidence that these people know what they’re doing around your precious piano.


2016-02-29 Piano at new home

Safe in our new home

Of course, I will miss seeing the deer wander through my back yard, but I won’t miss finding the half eaten tomato on the ground, or putting fences around all of my trees to protect them from hungry browsers.  Instead of a lawn that takes an hour to mow, we will have a tiny raised garden, perhaps just large enough to provide the little bit of puttering that I would actually enjoy.

2016-02-20 Balcony

View from the balcony

A week ago on Saturday, we got a taste of what our life might be like in our new home.  After doing a few chores, we went onto our balcony to enjoy the spring-like weather.  Then as evening approached, we walked over to the entertainment district four blocks away, noting the difference in the people enjoying the weather on the south edge of the recently renovated Washington Park, who were poor and black, from the young professionals crowding the bars and restaurants one block away where we enjoyed a good beer and a yuppie pizza.

Later that evening, we walked to Music Hall, where we attended the orchestra concert.  The trek from our front door to our seats in the gallery took about 10 minutes.  The first piece on the program: The Unanswered Question by Charles Ives, perfect for starting a new phase in our lives.

Praying with Muslims

Worshippers finishing the ṣalāt al-maġrib at the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati. Charleston Wang, photographer. www.wangnews.net. Used with permission.

Worshippers finishing the ṣalāt al-maġrib at the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati. Credit: Charleston Wang, http://www.wangnews.net.

What do you do when a mass of gun toting citizens, self-anointed guardians of some misbegotten fantasy about the way things should be, gathers outside your place of worship with the explicit intent of being as obnoxious and offensive as our constitution allows?  Invite them in.

When this happened at a mosque in Phoenix recently, the president of the congregation, Usama Shami, did just that, inviting people to join them in prayer.  Two, both wearing t-shirts bearing profane insults to Islam, accepted the offer.  They found the experience of observing devout Muslims in prayer transforming.  Removed from the vitriol of the demonstration outside, they were almost surprised to realize that Muslims were people.  One reported, “It was something I’ve never seen before,” the other left saying “I promise, the next time you see me, I won’t be wearing this shirt.  I won’t wear it again.”

Recently, I had a similar experience observing Muslims in prayer, though, since I entered with less prejudice, it was not as transforming.  I had been involved in an interfaith dialog entitled “Rooted in Abraham”, a set of weekly get togethers among Christians, Jews, and Muslims.  It was hosted alternately at the (Catholic) Centennial Barn, the Valley Temple, and the Clifton Mosque.

The so-called protest in Phoenix (it might have been just a money making scheme on the part of the organizer) points to the value of having open paths of communication between the faith communities, so that a mutual, coordinated response can be easily organized if it is needed.  However, for now, this was just a group of interested people getting together, sharing their experiences, learning from each other.

Of course, this is a self selected group: we who attended were willing to share our experience without insisting that others agree with a particular theological tenet, and were, for the most part, willing to listen and perhaps learn from people with a different point of view.  Some were thoroughly grounded in one of the traditions; others were more loosely affiliated with a faith community or frankly seeking guidance for their own spiritual journey.  Those more concerned with orthodoxy, whether Jewish, Muslim or Christian, did not choose to participate.  For example, Christian evangelists might have thought it a waste of time, because there would not be much opportunity to turn anyone to Christ, and they typically do not think that other religions have much to teach them.

Interfaith LogoThe format of the dialogs is one that has been honed over the years.  A topic, such as “Extremism” or “The Role of Women”, was chosen for each session.  The evening began with a representative of each faith speaking for about 10 minutes.  Then there was a short intermission, with snacks, before we reconvened in groups of six to twelve people.  These small discussion groups worked well, except when one person was inspired to speak at length, showing little interest in what anyone else had to say.

The emphasis was on our shared humanity.  In such a setting, we tend to see our differences as superficial, less important than perhaps they actually are.  The tone was reasoned and cordial rather than passionate or fervent.

For me, the most memorable evening was the one held at the mosque.  The topic for the evening was “extremism”.  The small group session that I was in was particularly lively.  Some in our group were disappointed that it ended so soon, but it was time for evening prayer, the ṣalāt al-maġrib.

We visitors were allowed into the sanctuary behind the men who were gathering for the evening prayer.  The women prayed in the balcony upstairs.  The men stood in a row, shoulder to shoulder.  The prayers were led by an Imam with obvious skill and devotion.  At the appropriate times, all bowed together, putting their heads to the floor, in total submission to God.  I attempted to follow along in the back, but the movements were too unfamiliar and too distracting for me to achieve any sense of reverence while doing them.  However, I did come to an appreciation for the formal daily prayers of Islam.

When they pray in this formal way, they orient themselves to their place in the universe: where they are on the surface of the earth in relation the sun and to Mecca, their point of reference. The time of the prayer is determined not by the clock but by  the natural cycle of the day, different at each time of the year and each place on the globe.  They pray with their entire body, indeed, with their entire being.  Five times each day, they reestablish their connection with the universe and with the greatest good that they know.  It is easy to understand the continuing appeal of this tradition in our modern world that so often seems rootless, disorienting, and distracted from those things that we profess to be most important to our lives.

ovymehMy local meeting, Eastern Hills, has been hosting a monthly interfaith prayer service, jointly sponsored by Greater Anderson Promotes Peace.  Our suburban location, far from any mosque or synagog, led to limited participation from some faiths, but a couple of Muslims occasionally attended.

The format of these gatherings is based on the unprogrammed worship in the manner of Friends.  For one thing, this is what we know how to do, and for another, we imagined that this is free from dogmatic content.  Our idea is to bring people together and ask them to pray for peace, in whatever way they found most meaningful.

Having witnessed Muslims praying formally in their home sanctuary, I think we were right that praying together is a key to a deeper connection with others, but that we were naive in thinking our format was flexible enough to really accommodate people from such a different tradition. We are coordinated by the clock, not the position of the sun in the sky.  We are oriented to the center of the room, not to our place on the globe.  The arrangements of our chairs interfere with praying with our whole body. One Muslim woman adapted, and offered a prayer, but it was not the same experience that I later saw in the mosque.

The Lions and the Crocodile


As we approached, we could tell that this must the place: the trees were full of buzzards patiently waiting, and  a number of vehicles were parked together on the edge of the dirt road, somewhat off the main drag. We parked among them and looked over toward the trees, hoping to see the lion kill that our safari guide had been told about.  Approximately 50 yards away, a zebra was laying on its side.

Its head moved.  “It’s still alive!”, I cried.  No, the carcass was reacting to being yanked from behind by the huge crocodile, who evidently wanted to drag it to a more secluded spot where he could be more comfortable with his stolen booty.


However, the zebra was too heavy.  Soon, the crocodile gave up on the idea of moving the carcass and started to eat from the hind quarters near the tail.

Someone saw a lion in the bushes, but she had evidently been chased off her kill by the huge marauding reptile.


Once the croc had eaten a bit and seemed calmer, the mother lion decided it was safe enough to come out of hiding.  She emerged from the bushes and walked around, keeping her distance.  One of her half grown cubs followed her example.  Finally, the mother came up to the carcass on the side opposite the croc. She opened up the belly of the zebra.  She offered the guts to the braver of her two cubs.

Safari_745After a while, the second cub appeared, and got a turn at the innards of the the zebra.

A group of baboons happened by.  Seeing the lions, a male called out a warning.  Some went up a tree a safe distance away to look at the scene for a while.  They soon moved on.

A pair of tiny antelope, perhaps springboks, came by.  I thought they were foolishly brave, as they hung around for several minutes, not far from the huge predators.  However, they were quite safe: the lions, with the gigantic feast of zebra in front of them, were not really interested in chasing after a little snack.


At one point, the crocodile seemed to object to sharing, and the mother lion growled threateningly, “There’s plenty for everyone.  Nobody needs to get hurt here.”


Eventually, the lions had eaten enough for now.  They left the kill and went down to the water’s edge, to refresh themselves, and to clean off their muzzles.


The setting for this drama, on the banks of a little dammed lake in Kruger National Park, lush with vegetation in the rainy season, looked calm and idyllic.  The zebra carcass was behind the trees to the left, presumably still guarded by the crocodile,


Many thanks to Mike Potticary, who provided all of the photographs used here.

White Wedding in Itsoseng: Contents

Santeri and Tsholofelo

Santeri and Tsholofelo

This is a wrapping for the series of posts on the celebration of the wedding of Santeri and Tsholofelo, which occurred in Itsoseng South Africa, following Tswana customs. I am aware that not everyone will want to wade through 11 chapters, however fascinating I think they are.  So I am providing a table of contents, with commentary so you can sample as you see fit.  The posts are roughly chronological, but do not need to be read in any particular order.

If you want to read just a couple, I suggest the Magadi and the Community.  The best pictures are of the Feast.

#1: Intro
#2: Arrival
Our introduction to African Time
#3: Life in the Township
Itsoseng 20 years after the end of Apartheid
#4: The Magadi
Negotiating the bride price.
#5: Slaughtering Lambs
Lots of pictures.  Not for vegetarians.
#6: Buying Cow and Ox
Mostly text, vegetarian safe.

[At this point, the series is interrupted by concert reviews of the Music Now Festival]

#7: Brewing Beer
A Tswana tradition, pictures with a little text.
#8: The Community
Preparing for the Feast.
#9: The Ceremony
The Christian wedding. Lots of pictures.
#10: The Feast
The main event. Lots of pictures, some video.
#11: Epilogue
Kerileng’s birthday celebration, and Final thoughts.

I wish to thank Mike Potticary, for all of the work he did in arranging our trip, and for many of the  photographs that I used in this blog.  In addition, my wife Footie (her web site) provided photographs, videos, and several details that I would not have been able to describe accurately without her help.

Footie and I both wish to thank Sioto and Kerileng Molale for hosting the entire celebration, and Metsiatsile Dinanas Mutloane for inviting us into her home.  Finally, we offer our profound gratitude to Santeri and Tsholofelo, for deciding that such an event would be important, and giving us the opportunity to participate.

White Wedding in Itsoseng #11: Epilogue

After the wedding, we became typical tourists: a safari in Kruger National Park, followed by site-seeing in Cape Town and Johannesburg. A small group of us returned to Itsoseng almost two weeks later, to retrieve the luggage containing the wedding clothes which we had left there, and to celebrate the birthday of Tsholofelo’s mother, Kerileng.


Mike, Mompathi, Onnica, and Tepu

After arriving in town, we visited Dinanas, who had hosted my wife Footie and me, and then Mumpahti and Onicca, who had hosted the Potticarys.  Of course, they wanted to hear about our trip.  They were very particularly interested, pleased, that we had visited the prison at Robin Island and seen the cell where Nelson Mandela had spent so many years: we were connecting with their experience.

2015-01-29 KitchenTo celebrate the birthday, Santu and Tsholofelo cooked dinner and invited everyone who had hosted the foreign visitors for the wedding.  To a traditional South African meal of pap and grilled meat they added a pesto pasta and a salad.  I noticed that Tsholo’s father and uncle declined the vegetables, sticking to their familiar meat and starch.

2015-01-29 Stephen w. kids


While waiting for dinner, we enjoyed time with the children.  Here is Stephen roughhousing with the kids.




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Tetlelelo, Tsholo’s nephew, was fascinated with our hair, which is of course very different from his own.  He decided to make me look like a rock star.  Here is the result:





2015-01-29 B'day Table2015-01-29 Sioto & MamphutiIt was a typical family birthday celebration.  When the cake was served, they sang “Happy Birthday” familiar to all Americans, followed by the second verse, “How old are you?”.  Then the guys who were out back came in, and we had repeat, with more baritones.

2015-01-29 Kerrileng&Tepu


My favorite picture from the day is this one of the two mothers, Tepu and Kerileng, one white, one black, a Finnish American and a South African talking comfortably together, like old friends.


Final Thoughts

Race matters.  One hundred and fifty years after end of slavery in America, twenty years after the end of Apartheid in South Africa, race is still a factor in daily life in both our countries.   This reality lends symbolic significance to what happened at this wedding.  However, for us, it was not the races that were different, but the cultures.  Our cultures now have a bridge between them, a bridge built on the foundation of our shared humanity.

The next day, before we left for home, Kerileng sat down and talked with me, summing it up this way: “You are just simple people.  You eat what we eat. ”  In other words, we are just like them.

When my grandparents immigrated from Denmark to America, they wanted to forget the old country, to leave it behind, to wash themselves clean of everything that was Danish and to become American.  Tsholofelo has chosen differently. Like so many immigrants today, she does not want to throw away her heritage, but to bring it with her into her new life in this new land.   The challenge she faces is one shared by many in our world today: what can you bring from your traditional culture into the modern, post-industrial world?  This wedding was a step in one family’s answer to this question, and I am blessed to have had a role in it.

White Wedding in Itsoseng #10: The Feast

This was the main event.

Wedding Day_65

 As we got near the Molale home after the wedding, the bridal party got into the back of the pickup trucks, so everyone could see the as they paraded toward the reception tent.



 2015-01-17 12.32.38 HDR

Among the throng greeting them as they approached the tent were the women, still in their aprons, who had been preparing the feast.

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The wedding party paraded into the tent, dancing.

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The tent was huge. We think that there were 25 tables, with ten seats at each table.   In addition to the throne area, there were some couches for comfortable seating.  There was an extension to the main tent that for lounging that essentially occupied front yard of a neighbor.

As we entered, the master of ceremonies assured the people, that although there was not room for everyone inside the tent, all were welcome to participate in the celebration.  There were many more people in the throng outside the tent than had been explicitly invited by the Molales.  2015-01-17 13.48.28

Dinanas, who had hosted my wife and I for the week, arrived with her own little dance.  My wife Footie posed with one of ladies that she had met earlier in the week.

Once inside, there was much that Americans would find familiar.  There was a DJ with an excellent sound system blasting away, making any conversation nearly impossible.

 2015-01-17 14.45.23

 As honored guests, we sat at a table in the middle, near the throne, with the parents of the groom.  This couple, a Molale cousin and his girl friend, sat down with us, and the MC tried to get him to move, saying this table was reserved for the family.  His response: “We are all one family now.”  I nodded in agreement, and they were allowed to stay.

Wedding Day_109

Given all of the multisyllabic Tswana names that easily roll off of the tips of their tongue, I was amused that the MC admitted how difficult he found it to pronounce “Potticary” correctly.

Here the MC is telling people to open the champaign that was on each table.  The fathers of the bride and groom each offered a toast, as did I.

Wedding Day_1282015-01-17 14.07.31

The buffet included the meat from the animals slaughtered for the occasion and plenty of vegetables.  As honored guests, we were allowed to serve ourselves and take as much as we wanted.  Others, including people outside the tent, were served.  We estimate that they fed about 400, all in all.

2015-01-17 15.09.28Wedding Day_168Of course, there was plenty of dancing.  At one point, the infirm, elderly lady that my wife Footie had talked to earlier in the week grabbed her hand and started dancing with her.  “Do you know what this song means?”, she asked.  “Stepping out together!”  She only lasted a couple of minutes, and had to sit down.  Almost immediately, someone else grabbed her to start dancing.  “You know what this song means?  Stepping out together!”

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After the meal, the wedding party and the parents left the tent to go change.  In the meantime, we were entertained by a traditional Tswana dance troupe.<video> .

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After a while, the wedding party returned in their traditional African outfits.  They had another entrance, so of course, they danced

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Tsholofelo and her mother, Kerileng

Wedding Day_171 Wedding Day_131The parents in their matching traditional African outfits. (On the way home, Tepu had this African hat attached to her carryon bag.  As we left the plane in Paris, a young South African woman came up to her and asked, “Where did you get that cute hat?”) Wedding Day_143

Lots of people wanted to have their pictures with the westerners.. Wedding Day_139




Here I am with a beautiful young woman on each arm.  (The next day at the gas station, the clerk said that she had seen me at the wedding. “You looked like you were having a good time.”)

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They cut the cake and fed each other.  Then, both bride and groom fed their in-laws.

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Presents were opened at the ceremony.




Finally, those who had represented the families in the magadi, the newlyweds, and their parents retired to the privacy of the Molale living room.  Here we all imparted our wisdom to the young couple.  Several of us discussed the inevitable conflicts that arise between husband and wife.  We spent less time on the joys of marriage.  The theme from the preacher’s sermon, that the “woman is the crown to her husband”, came up again.  The westerners did not contradict this directly.  Rather, we talked about the difficulties they were going to face in reconciling two different visions of what marriage is supposed to be, without attempting to define the western ideal.  In all, the atmosphere was congenial but serious.

When we emerged from our session, the party had broken up.

What a spectacular celebration!

White Wedding in Itsoseng #9: The Ceremony

Santeri and Tsholofelo

Santeri and Tsholofelo

The invitation clearly said the wedding was to start at 8:00 am.  However, nobody took that time seriously.  At about 8:00 am, we left the Molale home, with the wedding gown, to go to the guest house in Lichtenburg, about 20 minutes away, where the wedding party had spent the night.  When we got there, the parking attendant commented on how early we were.  Later, I met the preacher, who told me that he had never been to an African wedding that had started on time.

Wedding Day_1b2-wedding dress

The venue was a lovely guest house, one that had obviously hosted many weddings before.  It was all decked out in white, and looked very much like a setting for a non- denominational ceremony in the states.

2015-01-17 10.00.41 HDRWhile waiting for the ceremony to begin, I met a quite a few people, including Chris and Pumla.  Chris grew up in Cincinnati and married a black South African woman “before it was cool.”

The wedding began around 10:30.  For someone who grew up in the carefully crafted liturgy of the Episcopal church, this ceremony seemed a mess.  There was a hymn that I did not recognize but that most people knew well enough to sing without a book; it was in the European Protestant style, sung in Tswana.  When the bridesmaids came in, beautifully dressed in yellow, they had no idea where they were supposed to go, and when they got there they discovered that there were not enough chairs for them all to sit. When the bride and groom came in, they seemed pretty clueless as well.  The preacher directed everyone with good humor, telling the couple to continue standing, or that they could now sit.  At one point, the preacher, who knew that they were already married in the states, asked the two to say why they wanted to get married, and, it seemed they were totally surprised by the question.

The sermon started with Proverbs, Chapter 12, Verse 4: “A virtuous woman is a crown to her husband.”  From the point of view of women’s equality, it went downhill from there.

The preacher finally gave them permission to kiss. b2-1-l-2015-01-17 10.27.56 After the ceremony, there was a brief champaign toast, and the usual posing for pictures. b2-2-Wedding Day_43Wedding Day_53Wedding Day_51Wedding Day_59 It is hard to judge how important the Christian ceremony was to the Molales.  It was not the main event.  Unlike the dancing entrance to the feast later, it was unrehearsed.  Unlike the magadi, it started when they got around to it, in typical African time.  However, the appearance, the setting, the dress, and especially the pictures that were taken afterwards were every bit as important to Tsholofelo as they would be to a typical American bride.