INSIDE THIS EDITION:
- WHO WE ARE: LLC's MVP: Merrie Lavigne
- SPOTLIGHT/THE MEMOIR: My Lovely Uzbek by Karen Longeteig
- POETRY CORNER: Introspection-2022 by Allan Klepper; January by John Updike
LLC's MVP: MERRIE LAVIGNE
I started working as a sub-contractor for BCLIR (now LLC) in 2009. My former employer, Don (who was a member of BCLIR at the time), asked if I would be interested in handling the books for BCLIR. He estimated it would be a few hours of work per month. I agreed, reasoning that it sounded like a great organization and the hours would be minimal.
At the time, I had already been working from home for about a decade, providing office remote support to several organizations while freelancing as a website and graphic designer. I loved working from home and making my own schedule, as it allowed me to be a stay-at-home mom to our two daughters, Maia and Angelina.
Eventually, a “few hours” of work per month steadily grew into a much larger part-time job. In addition to bookkeeping, I was maintaining the website and membership database, formatting newsletters and catalogs, preparing bulk mailings, fielding member phone calls and emails, recording class registrations (with pen and paper), and manually entering credit card payments into the terminal (which was extremely time consuming and during the registration period it could easily take an entire day. I don’t miss that.)
I have seen a lot of changes in the organization over the last 13 years, not least our name change from Building a Community of Learning in Retirement (BCLIR) to Lifelong Learning Collaborative (LLC). I have had the pleasure of working with five Presidents to date, Roberta Segal, Ed Mehlman, Sam Shamoon, Dave Hansen, and Joe Fisler and have seen our membership grow from 300 in 2009 to over 500. Gone are the days of pen and paper; membership and registration are now online. And due to COVID, so are our Webinars and some of our classes. I truly love working for LLC, and have met so many wonderful and kind people along the way.
When I’m not at the computer, some of my pastimes include reading, sewing, camping, and traveling. Along with my husband Joe, we share our home with our youngest daughter and our 10-year-old dog, Georgia. Our most memorable family vacations include London, Italy, San Miguel, and most recently, Paris. Closer to home, south coast Maine is our favorite place to visit. We hope to move there permanently one day. In the meantime, I continue to work for several other accounts, freelance as a web designer, and make and sell custom baby quilts.
Several members have told me that they consider LLC to be a lifeline, especially during the pandemic. I consider myself fortunate to be part of such a unique and valuable community.
Maia (Ribeira Grande), São Miguel, the village where my paternal great-grandfather was born (also my daughter's name)
Leaning Tower of Pisa
My Lovely Uzbek
by Karen Longeteig
Seat yourselves near the fire, my friends, and hear a tale of sorrow and joy.
In 1972 the evil day came when I had to quit my beloved India, as my Peace Corps service and employment as a PC language trainer had come to an end.
My marriage had also come to an end the previous year. After three years we realized we had married far too young and didn’t even like each other that much anymore. Nevertheless, we remained together in our Indian village near Udaipur, Rajasthan, for the last few months to fulfill our two-year obligation to the Peace Corps.
Other American volunteers, scattered in their villages around Udaipur, had known of our turmoil and sadness. One of them, Phil, a wonderful young man, let me unload my sorrows about my husband’s cheating and emotional abuse during a long horse-drawn tonga-buggy ride back from the city to my village. He was so sympathetic but offered no advice. I suspected Phil liked me but also realized I wasn’t emotionally available, and being a gentleman, he never made a move. He did give me a pair of Kashmiri wooden bracelets inlaid with brass wire as a ‘cheer-me-up’ gift.
His own PC term was coming to an end in six months, and he told me of his plans to take advantage of geography and thoroughly explore Soviet Central Asia on his route home, satisfying a lifelong curiosity about these exotic places – especially Uzbekistan. He said he’d be in touch.
That was the last time I saw him, or could have seen him, because 4 or 5 months later he was gone, gone from India and gone from the Earth. He had been traveling away from his village, a casual trip no doubt as he didn’t even have a passport or any i.d. on him. We pieced it together afterwards that suddenly, with a brief headache and fever, he had gone into a coma. Well-meaning Indians tried to care for him, but didn’t even know his name or where he came from, only that he was obviously a foreigner. There were no hospitals within 50 miles. They didn’t know what his illness might be and couldn’t ask him. Finally some local official contacted the Peace Corps Headquarters in Delhi and asked for help. Help came, although HQ didn’t know if this person was even a volunteer. Poor Phil died of spinal meningitis before the PC officer arrived. His death crushed everyone who had known him, he was so well-liked.
I worked my last training program job, and realized I also had to make plans to return home. I had all the time I wanted, so I decided to take Phil’s trip for him, in his honor. For me this was a big step to actually try to plan my own life – I was gaining back the independence and the self-confidence I had lost during my chaotic marriage.
It took me a couple of months to get a Russian visa for Uzbekistan, as the Sovs were used to marketing to group tours and not individual travelers. They probably thought I may be a spy, too, since all Peace Corps volunteers seemed to be branded as such. Finally the visa arrived and I set off, accompanied by a friend, for Afghanistan. That may need a story of its own. After a time I traveled west, alone, to kill some time waiting for my very rigid visa to start, and to explore a bit of Iran. I puttered around in Tehran, went into the countryside and stayed with some Peace Corps volunteers in their Iranian village, and took in the gorgeous Iranian architectural treasures in Isfahan and Shiraz.
Vank Cathedral in Isfaran, Iran
Finally the real aim of the trip was to begin. I flew from Tehran to Tashkent, the Uzbek capital. The Intourist people seemed frantically trying to think of what to do with me, as I was a Lone Ranger tourist. They kept asking me “where was my group”. I didn’t have a group, so in every city, I breakfasted alone, and they had to give me my own car, a driver, and a tourist guide, because they certainly weren’t going to let me roam around unaccompanied. Spies, you know.
Tashkent was a huge bummer, as an earthquake in 1966 had flattened most of the ancient city center to be replaced by ugly Soviet-style apartment blocks. I had done incredibly little research considering the magnitude of this trip and didn’t even know that. The only good point was my Intourist guide, a woman of Tatar ethnicity, who was unfailingly good humored and who told me as much as she could about the history and current state of the city, without saying anything overtly uncomplimentary because, you know, spies. Either I was one, or some controller-type might be listening in to HER to find out if she was being a traitor to the nation. She was the only Tatar I ever met and I have thought highly of them ever since.
After the few boring days in Tashkent, a visit I was not allowed to shorten, I flew to Bukhara – now that was more like it. Bukhara has given its name to famous oriental carpets, and is also famous for its ancient domed, covered bazaars. A covered bazaar consists of a roof over some shopping streets and commercial squares to keep out blazing summer sun, and the covering in this instance was constructed of mud-brick domes specially built without scaffolding or rafters – sort of like the principle of the keystone arches of the Romans. It is a nearly lost architectural art that was to my eyes unbelievably quaint and handsome.
I checked into the 4th-rate tourist hotel, where my straw-filled pillow came inhabited with a mouse whose scratchings were to keep me awake at night. I went on my first sight-seeing tour that afternoon.
And my Intourist guide. Oh my, what an eyeful. He was an ethnic Uzbek, lithe with golden skin, slightly slanted twinkling dark eyes and a brilliant smile. He was so funny, delightful and so CUTE! We had a wonderful afternoon in the bazaar. I had wanted to purchase a real Bukhara carpet there, but he told me they hadn’t made carpets there for many years! The trade had been banished by the Sovs as “not modern or dignified” and moved elsewhere, maybe to be continued or maybe abandoned altogether.
Silky Bokhara Handmade Wool Rug
We wandered the bazaar, moving from one delightful scene to another – brass coffeepots, embroidered shoes, spices, sewing notions and ribbons – and our touring somehow continued into the evening. As the proprietors of the little shops gradually pulled down their metal gates for the night with a rumble and clang, the crowds left and the noise calmed. There wasn’t much interior lighting except the full moon shining through the odd window or crevice. We found ourselves in the shadows, very aware of each other’s presence. A wonderful kiss or two. Yikes! I told myself to be cautious, as this was the Soviet Union and I was an ex US Government employee, of sorts (to the Soviets, probably a SPY!). I was pretty sure the authorities might be keeping an extra eye on me and would have loved to arrest me for something. I was also pretty sure that this amazingly attractive guy would have happily put his head on my mouse pillow all night too, but somehow I kept my own head and we remained chaste, darting in and out of moonlight and shadow, still smooching but nevertheless heading back to my hotel. Parting was such sweet sorrow! Now I find such great pleasure in thinking about that experience – I forgot nothing about it, except for his name. Thank you, thank you, my lovely Uzbek! Thank you, thank you, my sweet Phil!
Back in the states, I headed for my last home of record, Boulder, Colorado, and learned that Phil’s parents lived nearby in Denver. I arranged to pay them a visit, recalling my own family’s stories that some surviving buddies of my WWII killed-in-action uncle made the effort to call on his parents and family. I thought that I could do that too. Phil’s parents were the kindest people – they had to put me at ease – and this visit obviously meant a lot to them. I told them how very nice a friend Phil had been to me, such a consolation, and how he was held in such high regard by everyone who knew him. Before I left, I took off of my wrist one of the pair of bracelets that Phil had given me, and gave it to his mother to keep. Our three hearts were breaking, but we took comfort in remembering together their very special son and my very special friend – a friend whose sharing of his ideas and dreams had given me such remarkable and unforgettable experiences.
One of Bukhara's Covered Bazaars
by Allan Klepper
Had not been born to; left to choose,
It’s likely would’ve joined the Jews.
Long before modified my views;
Concept of Deity; refuse.
Yet, Services; why do I go?
Many of the prayers are faux
To me, yet I say them: odd?
Since I do not believe in God.
Chanting prayers I enter zone,
Internally my character hone.
Among a throng whom feelings share
Seeking justice! For others care!
Quest for truth! Do what is right!
Virtue kindness! Abhor spite!
Hold to concepts of our faith
Cannot undue a lasting wraith.
Simply put, a friend and I
Had duties switched and he did die.
Instead of living psyche furled.
Tikkun Olam; repair the world.
Perhaps why devoted much of life:
Public service; mistress to my wife.
Too many gone, yet I’m still here;
Thus must make best of coming year!
To my faults, I have a blindness,
Compensate with acts of kindness.
by John Updike
The days are short,
The sun a spark,
Hung thin between
The dark and dark.
Fat snowy footsteps
Track the floor.
Milk bottles burst
Outside the door.
The river is
A frozen place
Held still beneath
The trees of lace.
The sky is low.
The wind is gray.
Purrs all day.