“Jammin’ Jo-Jo’s” Journey in her Zambia Van
Installment #5: Full circle, a different kind of ride, Jo-Jo almost gets herself in a pickle, and a few days of concern
Yes, indeed, I’ve come full circle. This is going to be a long one, folks! After a month of adventures, meaningful times with special people, a disappointment or two and a near “pickle”, I’ve arrived back in Eagle Harbor, MI, where the journey began. After receiving several messages from friends wondering if I’d fallen off the map, the time has come to put this portion of the “journey” to bed. Trying to weave the disparate threads of the past two weeks into a cohesive design is beyond my abilities, so imagine this as a collage of experiences with Jo-Jo inserted one way or another into each.
In San Antonio, I left Eagle Harbor friend and impressive artist Liz and the peaceful San Jose Mission and headed north to Austin. Last winter I became acquainted with a family — James, Amy, and children Emma and Kyle — with music, theater, art, science and nature in their DNA and most amazingly, they expressed a strong interest in WISE Zambia and have since grown in advocacy for our mission. Through all of these interests and some shared history, we’ve formed a fascinating bond. Our time together was spent in storytelling, relaxing, laughing, and sometimes in deep and wide-ranging discussion. We took in the sights and tastes of the Austin area, enjoyed walking the dogs, and strategized about ways to spread awareness about WISE Zambia in the Austin area.
The single disappointment was that their efforts to find me a spot in local farmers markets were unsuccessful, through no fault of theirs. During Covid-19, none are allowing space for non-profits — totally understandable, disappointing nevertheless. At one market, James and I did try sitting out in the parking lot in front of the Zambia Van, attempting to look as approachable as possible — you know the look: crinkly eyes above the mask — and it was rather striking to see how differently people react when everyone is masked and there are more than just a few people around. Avoidance is the best descriptive! Contrast that to my experiences in campgrounds, at hiking trailheads, or in restaurant parking lots, where people who noticed the van approached with obvious curiosity and started chatting comfortably, albeit at a safe distance.
Other than driving a tractor at a pig farm as I related in my first installment, my most unexpected exploit during the entire journey had to have been at Amy’s parents’ house outside of Fredericksburg. I was aware that her dad restored hot rods but certainly didn’t realize the extent to which he made them conform to — or even surpass — current performance standards. (I should have; after all, he raced at Bonneville!) He offered me a ride in a pristine 1932 roadster, which he had found mouldering in a field and had brought back to life. “Sure, this will be fun,” I thought. As I climbed in and attached the seatbelt, he informed me that it now had a Corvette engine, at which point I knew I was in for it. Once out of the driveway, we began to fly down the dirt road, and on several curves, I’m pretty sure sure we were on two wheels and know we caught some air on a bump or two! Not entirely successful at stifling a few screams, I managed to keep smiling and here we are after entering the driveway, smiles intact. Thanks Clark, for another adventure notched in my “journey” belt.
Yet another side note to this growing relationship is that Emma, now a college sophomore, was the designer of the sides of the van roof, which you may recall was her concept of an African fabric with a river running through it. Isn’t that the neatest ever? It certainly has caught people’s eyes, except at the farmer’s market! Who knows, she just might find me driving through her college campus next winter, displaying her Zambia Van artwork for the college community to admire.
Finding an outside eatery where we could meet a friend for a meal proved impossible, so we devised a quick picnic and met Stephanie, who works in the Texas film and television industry, at a park for an evening of marvelous discussion. We could have listened for hours to her stories of supporting local filmmakers and the filming of “The Undead” at various spooky venues around the state. James and Amy had to leave for another gathering but Steph and I and her sweet dog Millie sat until dark learning and growing in friendship. Forgive my overwrought metaphor, but this sojourn has taken on a similarity to a tree nursery. In every case, we are tending relationships as they grow into ever stronger bonds. Now interconnecting roots are creating new growth, and branches are reaching out beyond where I could possibly have imagined.
James took me to visit a colleague and friend from his company who has played an instrumental role in his life in recent years. Peggy, a down-to-earth lady with a green thumb and a serious botanist’s brain, showed us all the details of the garden she designed and had built for her aging years — not that she’s there yet! She thought of everything, from the raised beds to the aisles wide enough for a wheel chair, overhead hoses, even down to the drinking fountain like the bubblers we had in elementary school. Forging another warm connection to treasure from “Jo-Jo’s Journey” — growing another branch!
Tying up Austin area visits was an all-too-short lunch with Mel, a vital, delightful woman and sister of a beloved friend who died suddenly a few years ago. Catching up on our current lives and the connection wrought of shared experience make times with her heartwarming and healing. She’s been a strong supporter of WISE Zambia ever since she learned about our work and was happy to take a stack of literature to have on hand in her yoga studio.
Can you believe that the day I left Austin was only the second time I had shopped for groceries on the entire trip? I hardly believe it myself. Colby, Butternut’s previous owner, equipped her with a sizable solar-powered fridge that keeps food fresh much longer than a regular fridge. Those file cabinets that Eagle Harbor Bryce found at the Habitat Restore hold a phenomenal amount of food, plus utensils, pans, clothes, toiletries, and of course, there’s always room for a few bottles of wine! If I had planned better, I probably could have survived for the month on one shopping trip. Now, I did happen to eat more than half of my meals with my many hosts — outdoors. You know: Covid! There is that…
Turning north for a night at Cedar Hill State Park near Dallas, I reserved a site online, having learned that can be a wise move during the Covid camping craze. As I drove up to the registration booth, a staff member was practically hanging out the window, “The lady from Maine! We’ve been waiting for you. This so exciting. Welcome!” We chatted briefly and they sent me on my way with compliments on the van and the fact that I had registered”perfectly”, leading me to wonder how unusual that was. After a quiet night (no critters, no ants, no mosquitoes), a retirement community in Dallas was the destination for the following day.
How to describe the two hours with an old Eagle Harbor friend I hadn’t seen in several years? A long-time member of our Book Group, inveterate berry picker and jam-maker, poet and artist, Elaine was always active intellectually and physically. Now 98 with failing hearing and dimming eyesight, on oxygen and using a walker, she was so excited at my impending arrival that her caregiver told me she was practically dancing in anticipation. A large breakfast sat untouched for a time while the news and memories tumbled forth. The patio, surrounded by lovely plants and trees, gives Elaine pure joy. “Jo-Jo, don’t you think this is a perfect place? I’m so lucky to be here.” She was energetic, bubbling with conversation, and moves with vigor despite her restrictions. Typically persuasive as she attempted to convince me that there would be a perfect unit available whenever I’m ready to move in, Elaine is a model for aging with grace and the determination to engage and learn. She’s blessed with a joie de vivre impressive in people half her age — that smile tells it all! And yes, those are Lake Superior rocks on the table.
Goodby’s were said with hopes that we would meet again. As I continued north, I reflected on how easy it is give a little something of yourself to others — in this case, two hours — and how that multiplies as it comes back in gratitude and joy, then is spread to others though stories, smiles, laughter and memories.
Now to the near “pickle”: I had planned on reaching Bentonville, AR after leaving Elaine, even deciding that there was no more perfect place to try out a Walmart parking lot for the night than the home of said company! A Zoom meeting slowed me down more than expected, and I realized I needed to find a closer spot, quickly finding Lake Fort Davis State Park on my phone. I left the interstate, thinking I’d find gas in the next town. Arriving in tiny Mountainsburg, which should have given me a clue as to what was ahead, I found there was none available. Ok, the dash indicated that I had just under a 1/4 tank of gas — no problem, only 9 miles to the park. I was not aware that the drive ahead, which would not have been a problem if relatively flat, was directly up a steep mountain, with only a few switchbacks! The yellow warning light came on 6 miles before the park, which typically wouldn’t have raised concerns but… As I climbed steadily, the gauge plunged dramatically so that by the time I reached the park, it appeared I was running on fumes — the indicator was flat-lining!
In the morning I coasted down to the Visitors Center after walking to the Marina to see if there was gas available there. Of course not. Having arrived after hours, I registered and paid my fee then explained my situation to the friendly, helpful staff person. She called maintenance, learned that approval was needed for providing a few gallons of fuel, called the supervisor in Little Rock, immediately received the ok, called maintenance back and told him approval had been obtained. Chug, chug, the little maintenance vehicle arrived. I thanked the gentleman — calling him “my savior of the day” — and after refusing that title, he looked me directly in the eye and said, “We all need to have compassion, no matter what our beliefs or differences are.” He poured the gas in my tank, refused payment (they offer the service to “distressed motorists” — in my case, an accurate description) and after I thanked him, he again said something like, “If we can’t have compassion, where would we be?” Gosh, it would be wonderful to be able give a hug at such times, wouldn’t it? He gave me directions to the closest town where I could fill up. All went well from that moment on and I’ve learned not to trust the gauge when it hits a 1/4 tank.
To a person, every staff member and volunteer host at each park on this trip has been welcoming, cheerful, kind, and helpful — and masked! Just one more point in favor of van camping.
Crystal Bridges Art Museum in Bentonville — what a surprise. Thanks to Liz for pointing me there. A special Ansel Adams exhibit was the frosting on the cake of a perfect visit that included a glorious art collection, gorgeous architecture in a perfect natural setting.
This brings me to the final visit of my journey. Pat Stockford, longest serving Board member of WISE Zambia, hosted me for two nights at her home in Springfield, MO. Even when you’ve known someone for years, you always learn more when you slow down and take the time to really talk. That’s pretty much what we did, since once again, the farmers market plan didn’t work out. One of many things we agreed on was that we can always tell when someone “gets it” when told about our project’s mission. There’s a light that comes on in the person’s eyes and they want to learn more. Her latest experience was with the representative of a farmers market, who was extremely apologetic that we couldn’t have a spot, but was eager to hear our story and wanted literature. The same thing happened to me several times on this trip. I saw “the light”! It gives hope that, despite our current difficult times, there are folks in this country who understand that there are people around the world just as deserving of support as those here.
Sadly, I had to depart a couple of days earlier than expected when I learned of water problems at my Eagle Harbor home. Darn, not enough time and I sure could have used my usual Pat hug. Next year! She and I have shared huts in Zambia, taken the grueling flights to Lusaka together, and hung together for WISE Zambia since our first trip in 2014. But her commitment is unmatched— ever since 2004!
The “days of concern” began during my two day trip to Eagle Harbor: Headache, some muscle aches, developing congestion! When I woke with a low-grade fever last Monday (September 28) after my night in an empty college parking lot, I decided the time had arrived for a Covid-19 test. Waiting somewhat anxiously with one more morning of mild fever brought the relieving news on Wednesday that the test was negative. Lest anyone wonder if it’s a false negative, that’s usually due to incorrect swabbing. (Later update: Not always! So who knows — was it Covid?) I can attest that I felt the twinges in my nostrils for several hours following the deep swabbing! Going on the assumption that this is a sinus infection now that my ears are blocked and I’m not fatigued, I’m continuing to exercise extreme caution.
It’s a little crazy to go from temps in the 90’s to the 40’s in just over a week. We seem to have skipped October completely and jumped right into November on the Upper Peninsula of MI. There was a dusting of snow yesterday and today the rain is mixing with snow. If we hadn’t been gifted with especially vivid fall foliage this year, it could have been a difficult re-entry, but the colors have been “on fire” and keeping the spirits warm.
That’s my journey: Full circle with a full heart and headful of memories .
Once home in Maine, I’ll put up an Epilogue, covering the post-”Journey” leg. I’ll also attempt to put the trip into the context of my work as WISE Zambia Board President. Will I be able to view it as other than a rewarding, personal quest for “Jammin’ Jo-Jo”, global activist on the road during the days of Covid?
Joanne (Jo-Jo )Bollinger, WISE Zambia Board President (email@example.com)
Joanne Bollinger - Board President - WISE Zambia (Women's Intiatives that Strengthen and…
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