Tuesday, January 24, 2023

White Graves

"There are small fortresses on the hills in the background to which the inhabitants flee in times of danger or when bandits attack them.

White graves lie scattered on the slopes lower down."

Those of the Basel Mission captured so much that was striking
From the souls that, through advocacy, they converted to be Christian
To the photos that they amassed, with their typically meticulous bookkeeping
Their legacy is all over the world, they were, as advertised, on a mission

Which is how I came upon the image of the white graves
The tiny speckles that littered that Chinese landscape
Truth be told, this puzzle came by way of a diversion
But I was altogether intrigued by the poetic caption

I'd been searching the archival record for a doctor
Who I'd long known had ties to my grandfather
It's not that I was searching for a (white) saviour
But the title did suggest itself, A Good Doctor in Africa

He was an elusive figure this good Doctor
To whom had been seconded my grandfather
But armed with those keywords, his name and Gold Coast
I quite easily came upon African and Chinese mission posts

The annotation was prefixed by Huppenbauer
And therein lay the little mystery
For there was no known missionary
By that name who worked in China

"We don't know what this means", wrote the cataloger at the mission
This was an affront to their normally excellent record keeping
I guess it was at this point, a century later, that I took a second look
Perplexed, as were those earlier archivists, with the scrapbook

All that we had was the photo and the scraps of metadata
"Black and white positive, paper prints, gelatin silver"
But, you know, browse a little and your attention starts to wander
The trail of missionary Huppenbauers led to the Fophin River


Just past the bridge over the Fophin River
Near the Temple of the Goddess of Mercy
A group of house evangelists gathered
In front of the Basel Mission Station

All bore smiles, some wore hats, while others carried umbrellas
These men were converts, it couldn't have been easy, they were treading water
For they were surrounded by Buddhists who found it hard to relate
Nay, there were anti-Christian placards on one of the town gates

The mission vocation held that, through advocacy, redemption could be found
But there were a few limits: the house for Europeans lay in the background
The station was erected at a remove, a secluded part past the town wall
The mission had an uneasy foothold in the town, especially after nightfall

Still, there were good times at mission station Fophin
The Free Chinese evangelist Lo Wun Tshin
Would play hide and seek with the Meyerholdt's children
Idle moments of laughter in the botanical garden

I then ventured to Limtshai (an outstation of Fophin) on the hills
Navigating past the wet market and river down to the rice fields
The village is not compactly built, with fields between the groups of houses
The vistas laid out in this rural setting, and of course the outhouses

There was more, I continued in that vein, there was no end of material
For the archives were a font of lost stories, fugitive and ephemeral
Imagining backstories of those souls whose likeness had been captured
Conjuring up the rhythms of life of those places and their measure

I guess you could call it an odd form of escapism
To while away my pandemic with rank speculation
To spend time exploring the world of these missions
It might be a peculiar form of cultural projection

I was minded of the ambiguity in the Christian missionary impulse
And the old joke about the encounter with Africa, and our loss
"When you came, you had the good book and we had the land.
Now we have the good book - we read it, and you have all the land"

I would return later to my search for the good Doctor
I am quite hot on the trail but he was not to be found in China
More likely, the note was written by the other Huppenbauer, Hans
Who was on mission in Borneo and pictured teaching knitting class

But back to the striking caption, I beheld at this note's introduction
The small fortresses in the hills didn't look to afford much protection
Flimsy edifices, less robust escape room, and more temporary enclave
No wonder the bandits were wreaking damage as witnessed by the white graves

I was curious about this glimpse of a strange kind of life
The townsfolk regularly having to flee those bandits wielding knives
Only a century ago, at the heart of rural China, during their lost decades
What bothered me was what the missionary observed: the sight of the white graves


Fophin Mission Station, a playlist

A soundtrack for this armchair historian's note. (spotify version) ...

Timing is everything
Observers are worried

See also: Fophin Mission Station in the Basel Mission archives. A mysterious image that troubled this searcher.

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Writing log: May 6, 2021

Tuesday, January 17, 2023


Trained officers
A tough job, we all know,

Jogging. Uppity
A stare. Traffic stop
Or sometimes just reaching

One wrong move
And your life slips away,
Your chest is heaving

Pleading for God and your mother
Or simply lying there

edge by kristin willits

After the killing of Daunte Wright.

Soundtrack for this note


Timing is everything
Observers are worried

See previously: Goody Two Shoes

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Writing log: April 13, 2021

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Soul Inspiration

I saw an opening, that was all there was to it
Soul inspiration, I guess that's what you'd call it
Still, I'm not quite sure about my contribution, it has to be said
But I thought that I should join in the conversation, even if it came in verse

Inspiration is like that, when you suddenly have something to say
A stray word, an odd image, and you're off to the races
You're not even thinking about how it ends
It's all about the pleasures of taking up a pen
Or keyboard, or phone or, of old, a typewriter
You've gathered the writing pad or, in extremis, the scrap of paper
You've found the requisite solitude, it can no longer be denied
The detachment needed is on hand, you've sharpened the splinter of ice

And now that you're ready, the idea simply glistens
You'd explain its beauty to anyone if only they'd listen
But now it's down to you, and you're on a mission.
Who knows whether it will be worth it in the final analysis
But, for the moment, you're finally past analysis-paralysis

It's down to execution at this stage but that is its own tale
And when, no doubt, you revisit it, you'll note the irksome detail
That you had discarded even as you knew that it would matter
That plot point, that loose rhyme, that woolly notion
That you knew later readers would brand as imprecision
The failing you thought you could overlook as you rushed to completion
The fleeting doubt as you faltered in your tower of Babel creation

But nothing is amiss, right now there's a creative abundance
You're merely reaping the wages of soul insurance
Remember, the muse wills what she wants
She, it was, that ushered you in this direction
Be thankful for these moments of soul inspiration


Soul Inspiration, a playlist

soundtrack for this note (spotify version) ...

Timing is everything
Observers are worried

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Writing log: May 5, 2021

Tuesday, January 03, 2023

Soul Insurance (Part 9 Indemnity Provisions)

The game of thrones never ended... Part 9 of Soul Insurance (see previously)

IX. Indemnity Provisions

The claims adjuster was dissatisfied with all the self congratulating
That the three tribes were engaged in now, with nary a trace of misgiving
For there was, in these matters, a failure to make a distinction
Between an insurance agreement and an indemnity provision

Humanity held the former coverage
   with a dubious advance from Ananse the Spider
But it wouldn't do to let them bypass
  indemnity provisions in their risk transfer
Nyame had authorized the adjuster
  to continue pursuing enforcement actions
Although his claims would be circumscribed
   by the ring-fenced soul section

Soul insurance was now to be an open two-sided market, a free-for-all
Any old middleman could now compete,
   even those without the wherewithal
The gains would be manifold
  if they could find the economies of scale
Thus there were perverse incentives
  for operators to behave beyond the pale

They could bundle up transactions
  and approach the reinsurance market for further sales
Complex derivatives and ostensible dispersion of risk but the devil was in the details
If humanity continued their speculation,
   they would risk the wrath of the Regulators
Who would surely call on, at the appointed time,
   parties like the claims adjuster

The weak link would always be the Ushers,
  they were the soul of complacency
First tribe contentment meant that even the most menial lived in the lap of luxury
The opiates of the tabloid scrolls
  anesthetized them from the glaring inequalities
That the masses faced.
  A situation that suited favorably the ruling oligarchy

The chief linguist of the Ushers was a greedy sort
  and could not resist the temptation
He'd previously mooted altogether reneging
  on Ananse's soul insurance compensation
He had a side hustle with the Carlyle Group,
   those black gold industrialists
Well known operators of banana republics
   and social club of monopolists

The linguist summoned his lawyers and accountants, "Take a look at the contract.
Do not leave this room without a legal opinion
   that keeps our options intact
I seek your counsel, for we have to remove Ananse, of that there is no doubt"
They invoked the Capitation Arrangement,
  suffice to say that the knives were out

mayfield park sculpture

Ananse was well aware that these humans were shifty creatures
Those with the backstabbing bent were like common vultures
But he'd had long, vicious experience of such faithless electors
You always had to account for the vicissitudes of the human factor

Thus he'd previously suborned a few in their ranks, strategically placed
Bad actors he could count on whose moral fiber was suitably debased
So short term was their thinking, he marveled, for it was surprising
You could reach, in barely two steps, the extent of their event horizon

His spy, Fifi, had revealed to him that his main antagonist
Was none other than that old rascal, the chief linguist
Ananse cursed his bad luck, he'd been pennywise and pound foolish
He'd skimmed on the upfront bribes in his dealings and been prudish

Vanity, he'd believed that he could get away
   by sheer force of argument
He'd forgotten the maxim:
  Trust in God but always tie your camel up at night
A trickster like Ananse lived by his wits and powers of persuasion
So much so that he preferred to use duplicity over plain corruption

Still, he thought he could see a way
   to double up on the filthy lucre
Even beyond the glorious bounty from the tribes
   that he'd already accrued
Long ago, one of their prophets had asked
  "What profit a man?", that outsider
He had been hinting to them the perils
  of dealing with Ananse the Spider

He'd play both sides again as he'd seen in the b-movie that morn
The great spaghetti western, A Fistful of Dollars, by Sergio Leone
He decided to enlist his good friend, Sika, she was a skilled actuary
Together, they'd approach the claims adjuster, humanity's adversary

He made the executive decision that he would use the ploy of the indemnity provision
The tro-tro mate started singing "Things dey happen" as they passed Atomic Junction
All of the passengers joined in with the chorus:
   "We suffer oh. This austerity."
They were close to their destination now,
   the meeting would be at Atomic City

atomic city

Indemnity Provisions, a playlist

The soul providence of Carleen Anderson's voice form the spine of this soundtrack to this tall tale. Amy Winehouse was not the only one to note that her vocal stylings struck the same kind of nerve as Donny Hathaway. (spotify version)
warning label: suffocation hazard

Soul Insurance (Index)

A covidious folktale
  1. Ananse and the Chief's Scribe
  2. Enter the Claims Adjuster
  3. An Audience with the Linguist
  4. Pity the Mink
  5. Short Sale
  6. Excessive Liabilities
  7. Premiums Due
  8. Soul Insurance, a playlist
  9. Indemnity Provisions
  10. Full Circle
  11. Enforcement Actions
  12. The Die is Cast

This revival is part of a series: In a covidious time.

Next: Full Circle

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Writing log: Part 9 April 7, 2021