Photo by Stephanie


By Stephanie


November 1, 2007


In Venice, a taxi is a boat.   The taxis wait about 200 yards from the airport terminal – lined up between pillars that provide steps for passengers to get on and off the boats.  The water is terminally choppy – taxi boats are arriving and departing hastily and in constant succession.  The steps are reasonably stationary.  The boats are not. The taxis are low and fast, many of them outfitted with beautifully preserved wood and well worn passenger seats.  The drivers are typically handsome, boisterous young men.


Our driver looks like he stepped out of a movie set.  His jeans are just barely too tight – quite intentional, I’m certain.  With very short, neat hair; impeccable casual attire, and the requisite giant sunglasses, he looks like he’s waiting for Mark Wahlberg to appear with a casting director.  Instead, he’s stuck with us:  a misfit group of road-weary American travelers, babbling nonsense from sheer exhaustion.


Once we’re all aboard, we can settle down and relax after the trepidation of trying to step onto this violently rocking beast.   OK, “relax” isn’t really fitting, but being inside the boat is much less scary than contemplating that first step onto it.  At least now we have something to hold onto.  When it’s time to back away from the dock, we do so in the same manner as everyone else creating this giant storm in the water:   decisively, forcefully, and fast.  We’re all awake now!



From our viewpoint in the back,  the stern of our boat is straight up in the air as it builds speed.   There is no way the driver can see where we’re going, and I can only hope he made sure there was no traffic in the way before this suicide bullet boat accelerated.  They must all be used to this, right?  They do it all the time, right?  Right?!   Mercifully, our easy-on-the-eyes driver waited for the boat to level out before he made his telephone call.


With one hand on the wheel, and one hand holding his phone to his ear, he used his right elbow to control the throttle.  Of course, should his telephone conversation require hand gestures (naturally unseen by the person on the other end of the call), he had to relinquish control of the boat in favor of the gesture.  My first thought is, “This guy’s crazy!”  But as I gathered my courage to look up from the floor, I saw other water taxi drivers blasting past us – with their mobile phones similarly glued to one ear.


Are they all talking to each other?  How the hell can they hear anything over the boat engines?  Maybe they can’t really hear anything.  Maybe no one is on the other end of the phone?  Maybe it’s all for show – to impress Mark Wahlberg, when he shows up to cast another movie.  Or maybe they’re all crazy!


As we approach the main island, there is much more boat traffic, and our driver finally slows down to a presentable speed for any low-flying rocket.   At this “leisurely pace,” we can all begin to enjoy the glorious spectacle that is Venice.   There are many taxis like ours, delivery boats with household appliances, large water buses, and tiny motorboats used to run errands.


As we approach a very large freight hauler, I begin to realize that our tiny boat and that large boat are going to cross paths at the exact same spot in the water.  To me, this impending collision seems quite alarming, and I seem to be the only one noticing a problem.  The other passengers are wistfully looking behind us at what we’ve passed.  Our driver is yammering away in a conversation that probably has no other participant.  “Hello? Yo! There’s a big ass boat coming at us!” my brain screams silently.


Mr. AlmostMovieStar casually pulls the phone from his ear, and without even a thought of a warning to his passengers, hits the throttle with every ounce of strength his scrawny body can muster.  Our taxi nearly launches into flight.  We are speeding directly at the freighter, and I can hear the engines shrieking.  Oh wait, that was me.


With frightening determination, our malicious, devil-inhabited, way too pretty, man-boy driver leans forward and ducks into the windshield as be pushes our lovely wood-paneled deathtrap-on-water toward the freighter.
With mere yards to spare,  he hurtles our little boat around the stern of the freight hauler and lands our boat – still on water, thank the heavens – somewhere on the other side.  He backs off the throttle and replaces his hand on the lever with his elbow once more and goes back to his conversation.


As I step off the taxi and onto the island of Lido, I think, “Let’s do that again!”

That First Smile

February 2, 2007


The first smile….


I’ve received several photographs of him – wise far beyond his years, handsome, strong, almost noble in his handed-down pullovers and bare feet.  He tends to stand stoically straight for the camera: shoulders back, head up, back always straight and proud.  This photo was different,  this photo was the first smile.  Its impact is tremendous.  This is my boy. He’s my responsibility for years to come, and I made him smile.  I hope I’m worthy of that privilege again and again.


Living in what United Nations’ hunger task-force has identified as the worst place on earth,  he has seen more death than I can imagine.  AIDS is rampant – his village is filled with orphaned children.  He is one of the very few lucky ones,  both of his parents are alive.  There is no employment, not even an economy.  The water is full of parasites which kill people from the inside out, devastating the population.  Most children aren’t given names until after the fifth birthday – the death rate is so high that parents issue temporary IDs that translate into “boy number three” or “girl number four.”


I sent money through the service organization for the family to spend at Christmas.  My trivial $75 was enough to provide two tee shirts, a pullover, overalls, adidas shoes, a book bag, and a young heifer. Seriously.  That same $75 wouldn’t have been enough to cover the shoes and clothes had I been buying them here for my nephew.  I am moved to tears just considering the hassles of my past week and how important they didn’t need to become.  I see this young man, and I get quite clear on what matters:  love, family, and creating joy.


He isn’t able to write his letters to me in English yet.  He speaks to an interpreter, who then transcribes his letters to me.  He is learning social graces, and inquires about the health of my family and friends.  He is thankful for my sponsorship.  I’m not sure how I to express how humbled I am by him.  He is a living example of all the greatness in the world and he stands as such in the face of the most extreme circumstances.


His name is Tamru,  he is nine years old, and he just bought his family its first cow.