Dr. Ida–for the Women of India

The Christian Medical College in Vellore, India, started as a single-bed clinic, by Dr. Ida Sophia Scudder who served as a missionary for 50 years. Today, it is one of the top-ranked educational, healthcare and research institutes in the country.

The first class of 14 women—taught by Dr. Ida and a few of her associates, with only one microscope, one skeleton, and few textbooks—faced regional end-of-first-year examinations along with men from established government-run medical schools.  Dr. Ida tried to encourage the girls:

     “All anybody can expect of you is to do your best.”
     The girls were not deceived.  “Best” to Dr. Ida meant nothing short of 90 percent.  They huddled on the long, hard seats staring at each other in terrified silence…Examinations according to the British system were matters of educational life or death.
     Ida, herself one of the examiners, met Colonel Bryson in the hall…
     “Ah, Dr. Scudder! So you’ve brought up your first class for examination?”

“Yes.”  Ida smiled at him brightly.
            His face clouded with sympathetic concern.  “My dear doctor, please don’t be discouraged if none of your students makes the grade this first time.”
            “None of them?” echoed Ida bleakly.
            “”It wouldn’t be surprising…only a small percentage of men pass it.  Naturally we couldn’t expect too much of such a young project, especially all women.  But they can always try again.  Promise me you won’t give up, whatever happens.”
            “I promise,” said Ida.  She went on, head held high but heart sinking to the region of her shoes.
            The grim days passed. Huddled in a tight, silent group in the mission bungalow in Madras where they were housed, the girls waited to hear the results.  Lists from various men’s college were posted and read with dismay.  Only about 20 percent—one in five—was passing!
            “And we’re only women!” wailed one of the fourteen in anguish.
            In a note from the considerate Colonel Bryson, Ida learned the results before they were posted. The distance from college to mission bungalow seemed interminable.  She wished it were a tennis court or a racetrack so she could run at top speed and still be considered proper.  But she reached it finally, stood in the doorway of the room where they were waiting. They read the answer in her radiant face.
            “Lambs!”  She held out her arms to them.  “You did it!  Passed. Every single one of you.  And four of you in the first class.  And—can you believe it?  This places our school at the head of all the medical schools in the presidency!” …
            The next time she met Colonel Bryson, he shook his head.  “I’m afraid, Doctor,” he said sheepishly, “that your girls are setting too high a standard for our men to live up to.”
            Ida only smiled.

From  Dr. Ida, The inspiring story of Dr. Ida Scudder, fifty years a medical missionary in India bu Dorothy Clarke Wilson.

I’ve read a couple of Wilson’s other books–I’d like to own every one of them.

River Crossing by Elephant

Eric Dinerstein traveled by elephant for the final fifty miles to the Royal Karnali-Bardia Wildlife Reserve in Nepal, where he was to study tigers.  “…and this was a slow elephant.”  In the seasonal rain, the path turned into a mud swamp.

After the rains stopped…we reached the banks of the Babai, and, to my dismay, the river was a deep brown torrent.  Across the surging water beckoned the rosewood and acacia forests of Bardia.  The drivers were determined to cross without delay. The mahout, sitting behind the elephant’s head, urged her down the riverbank.  She stalled at the water’s edge, perhaps guaging the the speed of the current or the stupidity of the humans sitting on her back.  The mahout would have none of it.  Whacking her with his stick across her broad forehead and muttering curses, he drove her forward.  Within seconds, the elephant was up to her knees and elbows, then shoulders, and before I could tell the driver that we might want to consider our plan of attack, we were swept away.

For a brief moment, only the tip of the elephant’s trunk and my head were above water.  Elephants are surprisingly bouyant, however, and powerful swimmers, and the drivers, who held onto the saddle ropes, soon had us back on the riverbank.

I had learned a priceless lesson that all of us must discover in our own way:

When life knocks you off your horse, or your elephant, get back on and cross the river.

Tigerland and other Unintended Destinations

Eric Dinerstein entered college with a goal: filmmaking.  He enrolled in the film school at Northwestern University. Evanston, Illinois.  Perhaps he dreamed of Hollywood, but no Hollywood fantasy could match his adventures since.

During my sophomore year…friends talked me into moving to a farmhouse set on 250- acres of woods, abandoned pastures, and swamp… While wandering along a stream, I accidentally spooked a sharp-billed bird that squawked in indigation and flew off… I did observe the escapee long enough to identify it in my field guide as a little green heron Ia most accurate name, says a colleague, because it sports so little green in its plumage.)… Every new species of bird and wildflower was a revelation, as if I were actually the first naturalist to find it…

I began to dream of the glorious life of a field biologist, while filmmaking seemed less appealing by the moment. The most talented graduates of my program at Northwestern had just been hired to shoot a commercial for a lightbulb factory.

Tigerland and Other Unintended Destinations is Eric’s adventure tales with tigers, bats, hippopotamuses, African wild dogs, snow leopards, American bison, and more.   He’s not only an outstanding wildlife biologist/conservationist, but he’s a great writer with an outstanding sense of humor.

More about Eric Dinerstien and his books later, but I’ll end this post with a quotation from early his career, arriving to study tigers in Nepal:

But on this night, my tent mate was Surya Sharma, a studious, high–caste Brahmin in his early twenties and the son of a famous Nepalese judge.  As we were drifting off to sleep, the sound of loud chewing and lip smacking stirred us awake.  Surya peered through the insect netting.  He reached over and clutched my arm.  “Rhinos!” he whispered fearfully, using the English rather than the Nepali word (gaida), not wanting to gamble our lives on my Nepali vocabulary.  We had been warned earlier that rhinos routinely trample and kill several tourists each year.  I peeked through the fly mesh.  Surya’s grip tightened.  I saw an enormous greater one-horned female rhinocerous accompanied by a calf.  Eventually they wandered off, but the interlopers left a lasting impression on both of us.  For me, it was the first face-to-face experience with a creature I would eventually devote years of my life to conserving.  For Surya, it was the abrupt end of tenure as a Peace Corps language teacher.  When our program was over, he went straight to law school.

 

 

Crowfoot, Chief of the Blackfeet

I met Chief Crowfoot in 1997 when we camped with grandchildren in Montana and in Canada.  Of course I didn’t meet him in person, because he died in 1890, but I found his biography, and we have driven through the country where he lived.  After reading about Crowfoot, I feel as if I had met him.

“Several Blackfeet women and with a boy were picking saskatoon berries when a grizzly bear surprised them.  The women dropped their berry bags and ran.  The boy tried to fit an arrow into his bow, but the bear swatted the bow away and attacked the boy.  Men from the nearby camp jumped on their horses, shouted, and fired their guns into the air to scare the grizzly.  Crowfoot ordered warriors to the other side of the grove of trees where the bear was hiding.

“With the whole camp gathered at a safe distance, the [men] rode to the other side of the grove.  There, single riders went into the trees and tried to entice the grizzly toward them.  When at last the huge beast came into view, the men shouted to Crowfoot, who was waiting on the far side.  Quickly he guided his horse into the dense bushes and soon was behind the savage bear.  With deadly accuracy, he plunged a spear into the animal and, when his horse became too frightened, dismounted and continued to stab the bear until its lifeless body crashed to the ground…from that time on [Crowfoot] was recognized throughout the tribe as a prominent chief.”

Crowfoot led his people through tragic times in Blackfeet (or Blackfoot) history with dignity and honor.

“Crowfoot learned quickly which white men he could trust, and those men in turn trusted him.  Crowfoot foresaw the end of the buffalo, realized that his people could survive only with dramatic changes in their way of life, negotiated for supplies, tools, and food for his people, protested broken promises and fraudulent dealings.  He co-operated with the Mounted Police and Indian Department officials, not because he could preserve the Blackfeet way of life, but because it was the only way to help his people.

“Crowfoot expected justice from the whites and demanded it from his own people: he was willing to risk his life for it.”
Crowfoot, Chief of the Blackfeet.  He died “beloved by his people, feared by his foes, esteemed by all.”

 

Trapp Family Singers–and a Fly!

When the Trapp Family Singers (Sound of Music) began their U.S. singing tour, they expected audiences who would be impressed by their technical skill and the difficulty of their selections.  Their audiences agreed that they were exceptionally good singers, but that didn’t mean they wanted to listen to a 45-minute-long piece that they knew nothing about!

Their manager said, “There is something you are lacking…something between you and your audience.”

Then came the fly.

The Trapps were finishing a concert of madrigals and motets, Bach and Mozart.  Maria chose a “Jodler”  for the encore.

“In yodeling, one has to take a deep breath and then hold out for long phrases at a time.  We were just in the middle of it when, oh horror!  A fly started circling around my face.  I watched it, cross-eyed, and got panicky,  I knew very soon I would have to take a deep breath, and what if…

“We took our deep breath and it happened.  In went the fly…a good cough would have helped, but to cough the right way on stage is much, much harder than to sing the right way.  I outdid myself in not coughing, but I couldn’t help turning purple.  I happened to have the leading part in this jodler, the melody; but that mountain call had to be finished without it…My brave children tried not to pay any attention to their choking mother, and when they were finished, I was too—with the fly.“

Maria felt she had to apologize.  She announced, “What never happened before has happened now.  I swallowed a fly.”

The audience laughed..and laughed…and laughed.  When they quieted down, she wanted to make up for the spoiled encore with an Austrian folk song.  She explained:  “It describes how a young hunter climbs up in the rocks for hours looking for, and finally shooting, a—”   The animal she meant was a chamois, but instead she said “chemise.*”  Not only the audience, but the rest of the family, shook with laughter.

The missing link had been found–interact with your listeners as if you are at home enjoying a musical party.

  • A chamois is a kind of deer; its hide is the chamois that polishes a car.  A chemise, for those who aren’t familiar with fashion terminology from half a century ago, is a loose-fitting garment that can be a nightgown, underwear, or a simple dress.

 

The Trapp Family Singers: Maria’s Story

Anyone who has enjoyed The Sound of Music is likely to enjoy the true story of the Trapp Family as told by Maria herself in The Story of the Trapp Family Singers.

Yes, the Captain did summon the children with a whistle.

No, he was not nearly the martinet portrayed in The Sound of Music.

It’s fun to read the biography, picking out the details used in the musical.  The rest of the story, after climbing over the mountains (not true) or supposedly taking a skiing vacation (true), continues with as much drama as the beginning, with laughter and tears.

Maria’s struggle with the language made me laugh so hard I couldn’t talk—and then cry because I wiped my eyes after slicing an onion.  I should have been getting dinner instead of reading.  When I could speak again, I read out loud for any family who were nearby, and it even drew a genuine out-loud laugh from a much-too-serious teenager.  Or maybe his funny-bone was tickled because Grandma looked crazy, laughing so hard.

In Maria Trapp’s words:

I invented a method all my own, in which I tried to apply what I had learned about one word to as many like-sounding words as I could find.  … for instance, I learned “freeze-frozen.”  I wrote underneath in my precious little notebook:  “squeeze-squozen” and “sneeze-snozen”.. When I admired the tall “hice” in New York, I got quite offended because they seemed to overlook the logical similarity between mouse-mice and house-hice.”

Maybe the funniest chapter in the book happens before the Nazis invaded Austria, when the Trapp family joined cousins for camping on an island, “Uncle Peter and His Handbook,” but you’ll have to read The Story of the Trapp Family Singers yourself.