Me, then and now
Many people watch D-Day ceremonies. Some of the brave, who were lucky to survive, share these ceremonies with us, aged, in wheelchairs, or supported by their siblings, children or relatives. I always wondered why the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. was erected before the World War II Memorial. Perhaps because of the collective guilt to erase the public perception that those who came back from Vietnam wounded but alive were considered less worthy, as that war had been made so unpopular, not in the least by the repulsive Hanoi Jane. But that Vietnam Memorial represents exactly the same spirit as the World War II memorial: it’s for those who died in the fight for liberty and the pursuit of happiness, the freedom of the human spirit and initiative as opposed to totalitarian might and communism.
I am not American, but I considered fighting communism in Asia as worthwhile as fighting Nazidom and Japanese imperialism during World War II. And what would have happened if the Allies had been unable to defeat the Nazis in Europe? Or if they had been unable to stop the Russians at the Berlin Wall? Would communism not have been all over Europe keeping it in a much broader grip of impoverished and mowed-down nations? Would the Jewish population still exist?
I was 8, playing some feeble notes on the piano at my piano teacher’s house when a man came in with an orange pamphlet (the color of the Dutch royalty) stating that the Allied Forces had invaded France at Normandy. I still feel her embrace, screaming, “Johnny, we are going to be free.” Well, that was June 6, 1944. It took a bitter year of bombs falling, Nazi cruelty, executions, razzias, the pursuit of Jews, a horrific hunger winter with deep-freezing temperatures and heavy snowfalls before the Allied forces finally reached us and chased the Nazis out the door on May 5, 1945.
German soldiers going home, defeated.
Today we commemorate the young and the brave who that last year fought their way through the foothills of the Ardennes, the battle of the Bulge, who died in the “Bridge too Far,” the failed attempt by General Montgomery to break through the Nazi lines in Arnhem at the Rhine, who struggled from Belgium to The Netherlands to lift us from five years of tyranny, fear, misery and murder.
This time, my piano teacher could embrace me for real. Her street hung out the red, white and blue flags and orange banners; stalls rose on the sidewalks with food dropped by allied bombers in the nearby tulip fields and meadows; people danced in the streets and embraced the dapper allied soldiers, Americans, Brits, and Canadians. Bands with trumpets and drums marched, making loud music, a festivity I will never forget. Our Royal family returned home from exile in Canada. No more fears of bombs dropping on or near our house, windows shattered, fighter planes soaring through the sky and downed in the nearby wood, eating tulip bread, nettles, or turnips. No more sirens in the night and friends being rounded up and taken away.
“Bombers” dropping food bags
You have to have lived through the opposite to feel what “liberty and the pursuit of happiness” really means. Personally, I find that a good deal of today’s politicians on the left in the West have forgotten what tyranny, communism and socialism, and lack of freedom represents. D-Day is a day to remember that freedom and the pursuit of happiness is a precious gift the brave and the young who fell for it handed us and we should treasure this gift to the fullest. Any doctrine of socialism, communism and totalitarian government runs counter that human right. Such doctrines are creeping back into our world and endanger our freedom-loving society and would destroy it again if not contained.
Marine Corps War Memorial (also called the Iwo Jima Memorial)D-Day is also to remember the Asian war and the terrible loss of American lives fighting for freedom over there.
Celebrations in Holland in May 1945, almost a year after D-Day.
I hope that today’s schools in the West teach the value of D-Day. But what one sees and hears in the media and on the streets, I’m not sure if our “millennials” and future leaders, and a good deal of today’s “loudspeakers,” acquire the wisdom of D-Day, or exude it to prevent that this awful history repeats itself. I want to be optimistic but I can’t say I am.
While stationed in Dhaka, Bangladesh, between 1980 and 1984, for the World Bank, we traveled with the two kids, David and Samantha, (8 and 6), through India on several occasions, from east-west to north-south: wonderful and unforgettable experiences. Some pictures you may remember from your own travels in that intriguing part of the world.
How did we travel? By air (it takes three hours to fly north-south), taxicabs, and rickshaws. We visited palaces and temples of artful architecture which showed the richness of India in the Middle Ages and earlier, while Europe was building its own cathedrals and palaces.
We watched the Gometeswara statue above in awe on our way from Bombay (now Mumbai) to Bangalore. The kids were still too young to feel ‘shocked’ by the enormous penis, but on a beach in Goya later, daughter Samantha pointed startled at a live male nudist’s penis because to her big shock it dangled precipitously.
Dave and Sam in front of the impressive Palace at Mysore in southern India, a huge complex designed by Englishman Lord Henry Irwin and built between 1897-1912 after the old wooden structure burned down. Maharaja Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV and his mother Maharani Kempananjammanni Devi, commissioned Lord Henry to build it. The royal family lived in these palaces since the 14th century.
A photograph of the Hoysaleswara temple at Belur. Here is where Sam and Dave disappeared in the dark inside. Worried about child kidnapping in India, we found Sam later sitting with a local family, selling mango fruits as if she had become Indian. They did not want to be photographed. When Sam ran back to us I sneakily took a picture of them anyway.
Notice the natural Indian beauty of the young women selling mangos, squatting with – probably – their mother.
The ancient Indian art of temple sculpture is breathtaking. You see much of that art spread throughout South Asia and the Far East (Indonesia).
Of course, we had to visit the Taj Mahal (“Crown of the Palaces” – in Hindi) in the city of Agra while staying with friends in New Delhi who kindly babysat the kids for this trip. Joy is shown with the Taj Mahal in the background. My grandfather, a great-uncle, and father went there too, so it became sort of a pilgrimage for me. For Joy, all travel in India, in particular Bombay and the south where her family hailed from, was an all-out pilgrimage to visit her roots. Her family name in Guyana being Jaundoo, we searched the English language Bombay telephone book, which listed the name Chandoo. In Guyana, it had become Jaundoo. The pronunciation was exactly the same in Hindi, but spelled differently in English in British Guyana.
The inside of the Taj Mahal glorifies Persian, Mongol and Indian art. It was commissioned in 1632 by the Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan (who reigned from 1628 to 1658), to house the tomb of his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal (source Wikipedia) Next to the Taj Mahal is the tomb of I’timad-ud-Daulah, commissioned by Nur Jahan, the wife of Jahangir, for her father Mirzā Ghiyās Beg, originally a Persian Amir in exile. I’timad was an important Persian official in the Mughal Empire, whose children served as wives, mothers, and generals of the Mughal Emperors.
From Agra we traveled to nearby Fatehpur Sikri, a remnant of the capital of the Mughal Empire in 1571 built by Emperor Akbar, serving in this role from 1571 to 1585 (Wikipedia). It is a remarkable assembly of impressive buildings which excel in structural simplicity.
From there, we traveled to Jaipur to complete the Taj Mahal ‘triangle.’ A historic old town with a remote castle on top of a mountain that one can only reach by elephant.
A ‘Joyful” elephant rider: the elephant seems to like her.
Following are two local Indian paintings we bought in Jaipur. The one with the Hindu figures we could not get because the store where we saw it displayed in the window case was closed. Indian friends of ours – thanks again Anand Seth if you read this blog! – who are from Jaipur purchased it for us later. The other painting displays a typical Indian rural scene as we encountered them on our travels by car.
Back to New Delhi to pick-up the kids to travel to Srinagar in Kashmir, a state torn by strife between Pakistan and India, now dangerous for tourists. We spent there a week in a houseboat on the lake at Srinagar, from where we traveled around Kasmir with its beautiful scenery that reminded me of Switzerland.
Following are some more pictures of fascinating Kashmir with Joy, Dave, and Sam:
It was great to relax in Kashmir. But on a day trip with a rented car, we got a flat…and no spare in the back! I had to walk to a nearby village to get some young guys to help me carry the tire to a local workshop to get it repaired. The young guys said proudly: ‘Kashmir is Pakistan.’ They were also proudly Islamic. It reminded me later when I sat with Palestinian colleagues looking over the Dead Sea at the West Bank mountain ridge. ‘There is Palestine,” they said, as proudly. Behind the scenic beauty in the world, strife is not far behind.
Meanwhile, Sam took it easy: she ate an apple I plucked from a nearby fruit yard, with the scenic valley and Himalayan mountain ridge in the back.
Next album: Darjeeling and more.
Are Santa Claus and Saint Nicholas the same or ‘brothers’?
Daughter Sam figuring as Santa Claus at Georgetown Visitation, Washington, D.C., schmoozing with Papa John.
The Dutch (and Belgium/Luxemburg and northern France) celebrate ‘Sinterklaas’ (or Saint Nicolas in French) on the evening of December 5 and the morning of December 6 (Belgium/France). In Holland, this is a major festivity, which keeps the children in great expectations of what gifts they will get, on the condition that they behave well. The Dutch Sinterklaas is the precursor of the British/American Santa Claus, which is celebrated at Christmas. Most Americans probably don’t know that, but the American Santa tradition emerged from the Dutch settlers in New Amsterdam, now New York. How this happened is lively described by Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sinterklaas) and I will not repeat it here, but as a Dutch family in the US, we celebrated Sinterklaas with the children when they were young (from 4 to 8) and still believed that Sinterklaas really existed.
Sinterklaas comes around on a white horse that can fly over the rooftops, and drops gifts through the chimneys with the help of his servants, called ‘Black Peters’. The origin for this story is that at some stage the bishop Nicholas moved from Turkey to Spain in the middle ages, and in Spain, wealthy people had servants from northern Africa (‘Moors’) who are brown skinned. The ‘Black Peters’ are nowadays in uproar in the Netherlands because of a culture clash with inhabitants from Surinam and Africa, even though Black Peters were never considered a ‘racial’ matter before. But politics have a tendency to destroy the fun of long-established national customs.
At the time we were on assignment in Bangladesh (1980-1984), the Dutch diplomatic and foreign aid community always celebrated Sinterklaas enthusiastically, and for us parents, the period leading up to it was a perfect time to keep ‘the kids’ in good behavior. Every night they put their shoes out (in the living room) and if they were well-behaved they found a little gift from Sinterklaas. If they did not behave well, they could be ‘punished’ by Sinterklaas when, on December 5, they met him and his ‘Black Peters’ who would put a bad boy in a jute bag to take him to Spain to drill school (of course, if they put one in a jute bag, he was released a short while later).
The main differences between Sinterklaas en Santa Claus are that Sinterklaas rides a horse that flies, and Santa sits on a coach pulled by flying reindeer. Sinterklaas has Black Peters as servants while Santa is accompanied by elves who do not punish children for bad behavior. William Bennet wrote an interesting book about ‘The True Saint Nicolas’ worth reading: https://amzn.to/2LxG8lg
Below follow some pictures of a happy Sinterklaas childhood.
The Dutch Ambassador, H.E. Pim Damstee, receives Sinterklaas at the Dutch Embassy in Dhaka, Bangladesh, surrounded by expat children, and followed by his ‘Black Peter’.
Son Dave (6) absorbing a well-deserved dressing-down by Sinterklaas, reading from his notes about Dave’s bad behavior he’d heard about. Dave narrowly escaped the jute bag.
Sam, whose behavior was more cautious in the face of possible ‘punishment’ by a Black Peter, walks away happily with a gift.
On return to Washington, years later, the Sinterklaas fun continued for the grandkids, at the Dutch Embassy in Washington, D.C. The festivity is organized by the Dutch club “DC Dutch” in collaboration with the Dutch Ambassador.
The Dutch Ambassador, H.E. Renée Jones-Bos, receives Sinterklaas at the Embassy for the annual Sinterklaas festivity (picture dates from December 2011). We knew Renée when she was a young Third Secretary at the Dutch Embassy in Dhaka, Bangladesh where we became good friends. We met her again when she was stationed in Washington as Embassy Counsel, and given her brilliant reputation, we were not surprised to see her nominated Ambassador to Washington years later, one of the highest posts of the diplomatic service. In 2012, she was appointed Secretary General of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the highest level of the civil service, a post she held until 2016 when she became Ambassador to Moskou where she is still today. She was selected as ‘the most powerful Dutch Woman.’ Quite a career!
Son David in animated discussion with the Ambassador, her husband Dr. Richard Jones (UK), a writer, sharing in the amusement.
Black Peter entertains grandson Preston and his dad.
Next, Preston John meets Sinterklaas, expecting his gift.
Sinterklaas hands Preston John, called PJ for short, his gift, Black Peter looking on. No jute bag this time.
PJ’s younger sister, Sadie Rose, takes Sinterklaas and all Black Peters for granted and goes for a snooze. She knows she will see her gift later,
PJ to the contrary is admiring his gift.
Merry Christmas to you all, from Santa Claus!
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We entered Bangladesh airspace on New Year’s day of 1980 for a four-year World Bank posting assignment, with son David (4 1/2) and daughter Samantha ( 2 1/2). From the air, the territory looked like water all over. The Biman Airways pilot came from his cockpit in his white robe, kneeled down, and bowed toward Mecca for his morning prayer. We hoped the first officer would keep the shaking aircraft steady.
Flying over, we saw rice field after rice field and more water.
The outskirts of Dhaka looked like an extensive garden. But when we landed, all hell broke loose: hordes of Bangladeshi young men offering their services. Our first experience with an overpopulated country where everybody is fighting for a dime (or Taka, the Bangladeshi money). Fortunately, World Bank staff had come to receive us and guide us through diplomatic immigration while our suitcases were loaded on a huge heap outside on an uncovered platform (nowadays that has all been substantially modernized!).
We were put up in
At night, with the full moon, the backyard was a dream come true for a Dutchman grown up amidst oaks and beeches. For Joy, hailing from Caribbean Guyana, it just felt like home.
During weekends, especially in December when the weather was dry with warm subtropical temperatures during the day, cool at night, the yard was a wonderful place for our kids and their many friends to have party fun. Below, Joy cutting another birthday cake, with head servant Paul looking on.
The kids enjoyed themselves. Our children grew up in a ‘multicultural’ environment.
Dave and Sam on the left, with their Montessori teacher Mrs. De Souza in the background and top right, Dave’s math teacher.
Striking features of Bangladesh were its ships on the broad rivers!
My portfolio concerned industry, energy,
We traveled monthly with a group of local donor representatives to Ashuganj in a diesel-powered train through the flat land covered with rice fields and small rural villages to supervise construction progress and solve project issues. Below is a picture taken from the train window, representative of the Bangladeshi flat land scenery.
Next came a natural gas drilling project (needed to feed the fertilizer company), a very
Because of the distances and weak road connections, many of my energy trips needed to be carried out by helicopter, which also provided a thrilling opportunity to see the country from the air.
I also followed American entrepreneurs involved in oil production and visited their projects. See below one of the rigs I visited.
Below the proud Bangladeshi Energy officials, hoping for a break to help their poor and overpopulated country (100 million+ at the time I was there, now grown to 160 million!, the country with the highest population density of the world. The majority is Muslim.) The fellow in the orange shirt was an American oil man.
Other field trips were carried out by road (with local office drivers, who were very good). There we met workers hacking bricks from clay, dried in the sun, and then pulverizing the bricks again for gravel, depending on the construction needs.
Two solutions: go back home or cross in a little boat, and continue with another vehicle waiting across the ditch, which we did and which landed us in a welcoming village with doe-eyed beauties.
They smiled at us when we left, after having handed them a few hundred Takas for posing on the picture.
After four years and many adventures, our two kids had grown up nicely. Here they are, in our backyard, in front of the poinsettia, with bikes we got for them on our R&R trips to Bangkok.
And farewell it is, to two of our closest friends, the two of us (Joy extreme left, me extreme right) with Jim Curry, Deputy Chancellor of the Canadian Embassy and his wife, Cynthia, who also hailed from Guyana!
Next: our travels to India.
This is a picture of Katoucha Niane, a model from Senegal, showing the eccentric beauty of African women. After living in Mali and Senegal, she moved to France where she started modeling and became well-known. She lived in a houseboat on the Seine in Paris and accidentally drowned in 2008 at the age of 48. She led a movement against the cruel custom of female circumcision in Africa, which is still practiced in African countries, especially in rural areas.
On my many travels in Cameroon in the early nineteen-nineties to review and improve the status of the transport network on behalf of the World Bank, I admired the 80-meters (260 feet) waterfall at Ekom-Nkam. Due to its steep fall, it reminded me of the Kaieteur Waterfall in Guyana (which is 120 meters deep and somewhat wider). It is a beautiful sight in the middle of the jungle because, as the Kaieteur Waterfall, its environment has remained natural.
Not far from there, we discovered a viaduct being built in the middle of the jungle for a road financed by the World Bank (!), where works had been abandoned because of faulty pillars and errors in the investigation of the thermal resistivity of the soil. A huge and shameful “white elephant” wasting millions. That was the point where I got very upset and recommended a totally new approach for a much more efficient transport sector management in Cameroon instead of the piecemeal, uncoordinated development projects. After much ado, it was accepted, though not without difficulty, by both the Government and the World Bank, and became the “Transport Sector Project,” (TSP), including the management of road, railway, shipping, and airline transport. Despite many setbacks due to bureaucratic resistance, it succeeded.
The pictures below were collected by Mr. Jean-Bernard Sindeu, then Chief of the Transport Sector Project Unit in the Ministry of Transport, who directed the critical local steps to move the TSP ahead.
On the road with the Minister of Transport, H.E. Issa Tchiroma Bakari (fourth from left, in yellow robe), a remarkably good man and supporter of the “TSP”. He is now Minister of Communications. The gentleman with the beard, Frenchman Jacques Bret (third from right), was the lead engineer-consultant on my team and a great friend.
Traveling…the many thousands of kilometers, spotting the bad sections and status of often absent road maintenance.
Conferencing stop with the Minister
What happens when roads are not maintained regularly, and trucks are overloaded. This truck driver did not survive.
Road maintenance/rehabilitation underway.
Rural women using the roads on foot to market their goods: we developed built-in separate project components to facilitate marketing and road safety for women.
A stop at a local market where you find amazing things for sale and lots of fresh fruits.
At the side of the road, you see a small class of children being taught or perhaps it was a ‘daycare center.’ Up front a curious young boy.
Our caravan stops at a road crossing with another market. A child wanders on the roadway. Children often roam the streets in villages but more so in cities. The poor fate of lost children in African cities is very problematic. Les enfants perdus or the street children (orphaned due to religious wars, sheer poverty, and carelessness of parents) deserves a separate blog. See https://johnschwartzauthor.com/blog.
A sector-wide project with five main components (roads, railway, Douala port, shipping and Cameroun air) takes many studies and negotiations to prepare. We often had more than 100 Cameroonian staff attending in the room and endured long days of arduous talks and tiring field trips. But in the end, it paid off.
All beginning is difficult.
Trying to make the point…
Interim talks with Mr. Jean-Bernard Sindeu, the Chief of the Transport Sector Unit, to bridge disagreements. Jean-Bernard became later Minister of Energy and Water Resources and signed some important agreements for Cameroon. Having identified Jean-Bernard in the early stages of the TSP as a capable Cameroonian coworker to become the Unit’s chief, and seeing him rise to the rank of minister was a nice example of “capacity building.”
Dr. Amadou Boubacar Cissé, who in his younger years was already a Director General of Public Works in Niger before joining the World Bank, ably advocated the importance of a coherent development approach of Cameroon’s road network. Amadou became later Vice President in charge of Operations of the Islamic Development Bank in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where I worked with him as well before he returned to Niger to assume the function of Prime Minister.
Another view of beautiful Cameroon and the topographical challenges of its road network. Most of Cameroon speaks French (official language of ‘ Cameroun’) but in the eastern part (along the border with Nigeria) English is spoken, all the ‘fault’ of colonial times when France and Brittain dominated Africa.
There are many more stories regarding the railway rehabilitation, the rationalization of port management and shipping, and fights (with Air France, a minority shareholder) over money-losing Camair, but the above seems enough to give an idea of how we fared in Cameroon. The project came to fruition in 1996, the year I retired from the World Bank.