Culture


One of the pleasures of traveling is encountering the unexpected. If you keep your options open and avoid planning and filling every hour of every day, you’ll experience all kinds of unforeseen adventures.

Lois and Günter at the bus stop in Port Sudan

Lois and Günter at the bus stop in Port Sudan

During our world circumnavigation, Gunter and I encountered the unexpected many times. On one occasion, we were guests at a tribal meeting in Sudan. We had a long, hot day running errands in Port Sudan and were dead tired by the time our bus returned us to the bay in Suakin where Pacific Bliss, our catamaran, was anchored. While filling our dinghy with produce and supplies, we encountered Kirstin and Hans, another couple from our cruising fleet.

“Ten minutes, tribal meeting. Mohammed has ordered the minivan for our group,” Hans announced.

“What does it involve?” I asked.

“Dancing,” he said.

“How long?”

“Only an hour.”

“OK, let’s go!”

The meeting was on the outskirts of Suakin. The van emptied, and we walked toward the performance area. Packed bleachers faced each other across a dusty circle; between them stood a  three-sided tent fronted by a row of white-robed, white-turbaned men sitting in overstuffed chairs. We spotted a podium to the side of the tent. Our group of ten cruisers made its way through the crowd of men and boys. Plastic chairs were brought in to seat us in front of the side bleachers.

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Turbaned politicians attend a tribal meeting in Suakin, Sudan.

One white-robed speaker after another came to the podium. After each speech, the crowd shouted hearty agreement, and everyone raised his staff.  This sequence continued for an hour or more, and it was getting dark. The speakers went on and on, and because we didn’t understand what was being said, it appeared as if they were just getting started.  The crowd loved it and erupted into rousing cheers for each message.  Finally, the last speaker wrapped things up, and music suddenly blared from two huge speakers.

The entire crowd rushed to the small circle of dirt in the center of the venue, with staffs and sticks waving high into the air. And the dance began! Chris, our crew, was right out there with them, having a blast. I stood atop my plastic chair taking movies in the fading light. I was over the dancers’ heads, shooting down into the crowd. I could see our friend Patrick standing on his chair, cheering and shouting. Then he couldn’t resist the excitement; he jumped off his chair and into the chaos.

The song seemed interminably long, but suddenly the music stopped.  And that was it! Men crowded around us yachties, laughing, smiling, and shaking hands. We hated to see it end. We’d have liked to spend more time with them, but we were herded into our mini-bus and driven back to the dinghy landing.

The following day, Boris of Li clarified what had happened: “That was a meeting of all the chiefs of the local tribes. They converged on Suakin for their meeting, and politicians joined them to represent the Sudanese government. Last night, each tribal chieftain gave a speech of praise and thanks to the government.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Well, two years ago, Boris explained, “Suakin had no electricity, no schools, and no hospital. These improvements have all been completed within the past two years. So now it is time to show appreciation.

“There were no women present. Why?” I asked.

Apparently, they don’t go to political rallies. These are for men only.”

I’m glad I was not born Sudanese!

Given the town’s poverty, the meeting must have been expensive. Each attendee received a can of soda and a candy bar, and during their stay, Suakin more than likely provided food and lodging for its visitors. We cruisers appreciated being invited for an unexpected glimpse into the culture of Sudan.  This event made our visit to Suakin even more worthwhile.

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Adapted from The Long Way Back by Lois Joy Hofmann. Available from Amazon and www.loisjoyhofmann.com. Photos © Lois Joy Hofmann.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

                                                                                                       ─William Shakespeare

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The name your parents chose to give you is powerful. Yet, many of us do not bother to ask why they gave us the name we have. My parents, uncles and aunts, and siblings called me “Lois Joy” as a child. I didn’t bother to ask why; I just accepted that name until I entered first grade. “Your first, middle, and last name?” the teacher asked as she filled in a line after each child’s seat number.

“Lois Joy,” I said.

“Is Joy part of your first name or your middle name?” she asked.

“My middle name.”

Later, my teacher came across another Lois and came back to me.  “From now on, you’ll be Lois G. and she will be Lois A.”

I continued to drop my middle name, even after my mother explained—years later—that she chose the middle names of all four of her girls—Joy, Faith, Grace, and Hope—for a reason. How thoughtful!  Yet I continued to use only my first and last name, with only a middle initial when required.

When I became an author, I initially chose Lois Joy as my pen name. But that was confusing, and besides, my husband, Gunter Hofmann plays a huge role as Captain of our catamaran Pacific Bliss in my sailing/travel series, In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss, so why would I drop his name?

Before we left on our circumnavigation, I opened a fortune cookie and read, “You are a heroine and will have big adventures.” Lois as the heroine? I thought my mother chose “Lois” as a Bible name. In II Timothy 1:5, the author tells Timothy, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice…” I researched further. The modern name “Lois” relates to an ancient Germanic word meaning warrior. Other translations say heroine. I learned that Timothy was Greek, but his mother was Jewish, which probably means that “Lois” was Jewish as well. In Hebrew, the name is “Laish,” meaning lion, typically a masculine name from the tribe of Benjamin.

During my recent birthday party, a comedian/entertainer sent by Loren Smith Productions crashed the party and asked for “Lois.”

In his skit, he claimed that, after relocating from Minnesota to California, I had changed my name from Lena to Lois so I’d fit in. No way. I was a heroine/lioness from birth! But I held my tongue and played along with his Ole and Lena skit. Today I researched the meaning of Lena. The fictional Norwegian name doesn’t mean anything. I love “Lois Joy,” the name my parents gave me.

What does your name mean?

Do you like your name?

Have you ever considered using your middle name as your first or last name?

Happy Hanukkah!

The eight-day Jewish celebration known as Hanukkah or Chanukah commemorates the rededication during the second century B.C. of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. Hanukkah means “dedication” in Hebrew. Often called the Festival of Lights, the holiday is celebrated with the lighting of the menorah, traditional foods, games and gifts.

My husband Gunter and I visited Jerusalem twice, once as a side trip during the 1990s as part of a business trip to Ein Gedi and Tel Aviv, and again during our world circumnavigation, when we docked our catamaran, Pacific Bliss, in Ashkelon.  Stories and photos of that second trip are included in my recently published book, The Long Way Back.

My favorite city in Israel—a country not much larger than New Jersey—is Jerusalem, her capital. To me, Jerusalem is the one place in the world where past, present, and future become one. I felt that portentous-yet-exhilarating sense of past and future both times.

These are some of my favorite pictures and places in that grand city:

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The Church of the Holy Sepulchre built with the ubiquitous Jerusalem stone

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These olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane may have been there in Jesus’s day

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The wall at the Temple Mount, sometimes called the “Wailing Wall”

Jerusalem had been called some 70 names: Some of the better-known ones are: Ariel (Lion of God), Kiryah Ne’emanah (Faithful City), Kiryat Hannah David (City where David camped), Betulah (virgin), Gilah (joy), Kir, Moriah, Shalem (peace), Neveh Zedek (righteous dwelling), Ir Ha’Elohim (City of God), Gai Hizayon (Valley of Vision), Oholivah (My tent is in her) and, more recently, International City.

Despite its problems, I know I will always love Jerusalem. And despite the danger, I’d very much like to go back again. Have you been in Jerusalem? Would you go back again? If you have not traveled there, is it on your Bucket List?

What do you do first after you complete a big project? Do you:

(a) collapse and kick back?

(b) embark immediately on the next challenge?

(c) celebrate?

I just completed the third book in my “In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss” trilogy, called The Long Way Back. Producing it took me four years of researching, writing, production, and publishing. The final product is a 456-page book with over 300 images and photos, 37 maps and 19 Did You Know sidebars about the countries we visited during the final third of our eight-year, around-the-world voyage of 35,000 miles. I did what we always do after a challenging feat or new leg of a voyage: Celebrate!

Celebration: the action of marking one’s pleasure at an event or occasion by engaging in enjoyable, typically social, activity.

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The book launch party for The Long Way Back.

My motto is “Celebrate, don’t deflate.” Don’t pop your bubble just yet. And do invite your family and friends to mark the occasion with you. After that you can regenerate and kick back. And only then should you invigorate by pursuing your next goal. Continue to live your dream, but give yourself a party and then a break before you burn out.

We practiced this motto many times during the eight years of our sailing circumnavigation. Before we set off on our Maiden Voyage, we had a boat christening party at the Catana boat factory in Canet, France. When we crossed the Atlantic, we held a half-way party en route and a traditional celebration at the end.

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Gunter and Lois during the boat christening party in France.

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Our half-way masquerade party while crossing the Atlantic.

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Each sailor puts his or her right foot on the table, a tradition after crossing a big ocean such as the Atlantic.

After our yacht, Pacific Bliss, was outfitted in San Diego for sailing the rest of the world, we held a South Seas party before embarking on a 21-day voyage to the Marquesas Islands the following day. Many friends survived the party and appeared at the dock to wave us on our way 3000 miles southwest. We spent two years Sailing the South Pacific, ending that voyage in Australia, where the final third of our circumnavigation began.

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Friends gave us a send-off before we sailed from San Diego to the Marquesas Islands.

We completed our circumnavigation, arriving at the same dock we left from eight years earlier in Canet, France. Then we settled into a rented villa in France and invited family and friends from all around the world to join us to celebrate our achievement.

I believe in living your life as you wish to be remembered. You never know when a tragic event will strike. Imagine time’s up. What better legacy for your friends and family than remembering all those events in your life that you shared with them!

You cannot live life on a constant high, especially after a long push to reach that success. So, after the party, it’s time to recharge. But don’t deflate: Regenerate! Do whatever it is that calms you down—read that great book you’ve left on the shelf, take a break in that hammock, walk in the woods or head for the nearest lakeshore or beach.

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Aitutaki, Cook Islands.

You don’t want to turn into a vegetable, so after you’re rested, it’s time to invigorate. For Gunter and me, that’s planning a few land excursions—places we couldn’t reach by sea. So, expect more travel blogs to come. You might want to invigorate by taking up a new hobby, embarking on a new learning experience, or searching for that new challenge. And when you achieve that goal, remember this: Celebrate. Regenerate. Invigorate. In that order.

 

 

 

 

“What you see is what you get.” Not necessarily. Henry David Thoreau said, “The question is not what you look at, but what you see.” As a philosopher, I think he was describing what we see internally.

It boils down to this: We only find the world we’re looking for. As photographers, we often search for that perfect landscape, the ones we’ve seen in the photography and travel magazines, only to miss what’s right before us. Instead, we should give up our preconceived ideas of what an image should be and open our minds to the unexpected.

I’ll give you a few examples from photos published in my new coffee table book called In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss: The Long Way Back.  

Visitors and residents flock to Darwin’s public beaches to view the glorious sunsets. While visiting there, of course, I planned to go there at sunset as well. Imagine my surprise and dismay when I arrived to find hundreds of people with the same idea as mine! Many of them had walked right into the surf to take their photos. Being short, I could never walk though that surf to get in front of them; nor I could I shoot over their heads! I decided to take a photo of everyone else taking a photo, and to describe what the people of Darwin came there to do.

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I used another example of this approach when I photographed a crew, Kate, on our catamaran, Pacific Bliss, looking back at the sunset behind her. We readers can then share in her moment of bliss.

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When entering the bleachers to see the dancers perform in the Festival of Pacific Arts in Palau, I caught sight of this dancer beneath the stands, putting on his make-up. That photo became one of my favorite pictures of that event.

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There was no way I was going to make it up all the way to the top of the pilgrimage to Sri Pada (Adam’s Peak) without beginning that climb at 3:30 a.m. so I could photograph the view from the top. I could, however, photograph those who were coming back down. This 82-year-old Sri Lankan guide has been leading pilgrimages there for the past twenty years.

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Sometimes, I see someone walking into the scene and I wait patiently until he or she is just in the right spot:

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Other times, I want to portray how small people seem in relation to the immensity of the structure.

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Truly “seeing” requires that we slow down, wait, and get into a different space in our heads. Try that the next time you take a photograph.

 

Valentine’s Day was a special day when I was in third grade. My teacher would put the names of everyone on my class into a jar, shake it up, pass it around, and everyone would draw a name. That person would be my “best friend” i.e. “valentine” for the rest of that day. In later grades, students exchanged homemade valentines.

But I never really understood where that idea came from. So today, I decided to find out. Valentine was a Christian priest in third-century Rome who evidently had a romantic streak. The Emperor, Claudius II forbade Roman soldiers to marry because he thought that they would prefer to stay at home with their families rather than fight in his foreign wars. Valentine secretly married couples, defying the order.  The Emperor found out and he was imprisoned and eventually put to death on February 14, 269 A.D. After Rome became Christianized, Valentine was made a saint and his day was observed every year as St. Valentine’s Day.

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Photo Credit: History.com

This holiday probably replaced the pagan Roman festival of fertility called Lupercalia. Lupercus was the god of shepherds and his priests wore goatskins. During the festival, those “romantics” were drunk and many ran around naked. The men sacrificed a goat and a dog, then whipped women with the hides of the animals they had just slain. Even so, young women reportedly lined up for the men to hit them, believing this would make them fertile. The brutal event included a matchmaking lottery, in which young men drew the names of women from a jar. They were “coupled” for the remainder of the festival—and longer, if the woman could put up with the beast!

When the festival was changed to St. Valentine’s day, men’s raucous behavior tamed down considerably. The names of Roman girls were written on slips of paper, put into jars, and drawn by young men. Those girls would then be then man’s sweetheart for the year. That process was not all that different from modern times.

 

You’ve already taken your big summer vacation, but now, towards the end of summer, your family may be asking what’s next. Many small towns across the USA tend to hold special celebrations towards fall, just as the temperature begins to drop. These festivals feature a wide variety of themes and often include parades, entertainment, and lots of food. If you take the time to attend one of these events, you won’t be disappointed.

Here in Wisconsin, we are in the lull between the county and state fairs. State fairs tend to be huge events that span a week or more and sprawl over many acres. You end the day with aching feet, too tired to think about the long drive home. So why not attend a county fair instead? That’s what my husband, Gunter, and I did this year. A few weeks ago, we enjoyed the home-town flavor of the local Polk County Fair in St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin. This fair brought back thrilling high school memories of walking the midway hand-in-hand with my boyfriend’s ring around my neck. We were going steady and sat dangerously close on the Ferris Wheel and crushed tight on the Tilt-a-Whirl. Later my steady hit the jackpot and, with a flourish, he handed me the huge teddy-bear he won as his prize.

I pointed to the grandstand, “Wow, that looks so much smaller now!” I explained how, as a pre-teen, I’d modeled in front of those bleachers as a participant in 4-H, an organization country kids joined. I wore tight white slacks made of “white duck” and a red-and-white handkerchief blouse I’d sewn myself. The day Gunter and I went to the fair, the “demolition derby” was the main event; we sat on wooden bleachers cheering for drivers to destroy their opponents’ cars by crashing into each other until they could run no more.

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On the trek back to the field where our car was parked, we stopped every so often along the livestock buildings to pet a calf, a llama, or a goat.  The top winners would go on to the State Fair.

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During the summer and fall seasons in Polk County, one can find a celebration of something almost every week-end. With a lake every four miles and many rivers between them, concerts at the overlook,” usually a village park, are common. You can search the local papers to find fishing tournaments; tractor and lawnmower pulling contests; soapbox derbies; car, truck, motorcycle and tractor shows; brew fests, wine tastings, rib fests, and fish fries; art exhibits; movies under the stars; Monarch festivals; quilting shows; and so much more.

My favorite celebrations are the annual town festivals, replete with marching bands, parades and coronations of all sorts from Cheese Queen to Pumpkin Queen. Amery has the Fall Festival; Centuria, the Orchard Festival; St. Croix and Taylors Falls, Wannigan Days; Osceola, the Pig Roast; Milltown, the Pumpkin Festival; Luck, Lucky Days; and Clayton, Cheese Days.

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Next year, consider celebrating America’s birthday in a small town, the kind of place where everyone knows each other as a neighbor, not just on social media. We celebrated in unincorporated Wanderoos, where the main street is only six blocks long. We stood to watch the parade until a resident offered us chairs he took from the village park! I’ll bet you that won’t happen in the city.

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