Monthly Archives: August 2014

“I’m Pretty Sure They’re all Dead.”

NOTE: I wasn’t sure that I would be able to post this week. Last Sunday’s quake was quite a shaker! Special thanks to all of you who reached out to see how we were doing. All my scotch survived and just a few glasses to drink it. All is good. I thought I would lighten it up this week.

“I’m pretty sure they’re all dead.” My Dad said when I asked him about our relatives in The Netherlands.

In 2011, I published a blog based on a paper I wrote in 2010 while finishing my undergraduate degree at Sonoma State University. This paper was the second to last I would have to write to complete my 31 year college career.

The paper was about illegal immigration. My views previous to talking to my Cousin Karel Reyenga were fairly straight forward: If you were here in this country illegally you need to go home.

My Dad said that the first of us to arrive in the United States came here illegally. Johannes Reijenga (He changed the spelling to Reyenga when he stayed in the States. Easier to pronounce).  Johannes was Karel’s father so I went to the source.

The result of my publishing that blog was astonishing. They are all, in fact, not all dead.

On March 30, 2011, I received an email from some guy named Stef van Hage. “I have read your very interesting blog about the immigration of Johannes Reyenga. Johannes Reyenga was the brother of my grandmother.” Stef goes on to say that he knew my great Grandfather Ludwig Arnold Schneiders.

My first reaction was this could not be possible, they are all supposed to be dead, but Stef included a photo (see following) in his email. The photo was taken in America, most likely in Crockett, California, and included my great grandparents, my grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins. After an email exchange Stef explained that our Great Grandmothers were sisters.

This was the beginning of a wonderful Internet friendship and sharing of family stories and information. Stef had been building a family tree for some time and came across my blog because he was doing some name searches on the internet. On that occasion, he was searching “Reyenga.”

Before Stef contacted me my wife Patti and I were planning a trip to Amsterdam and surrounding areas. Stef invited us to stay with the family. This trip became much more than fun in Amsterdam, it was the beginning of a new family.

Stef’s interest in the family tree came together several years ago while tracing the tale of Jetze Reyenga, He was Johnannes Reyenga’s father. Jetze was a notorious character. Rumor was that he had killed his three wives and had many girlfriends. Life was hell for young Johannes. That is why he joined the Dutch Navy at such a young age and eventually jumped ship in San Francisco.

The Schneiders in America all live relatively close to each other.  This new discovery of several cousins of my generation and their children was beyond what words can describe. This discovery has been life altering. All of a sudden the bits and pieces of scattered family stories, all of which would have been lost when my generation passed, came to life. The pieces were beginning to fit.

World War II stories began to come to light. The Netherlands under Nazi rule was hell.  Family stories of Grandmothers being arrested by the Nazi’s,  and the family being connected to “Fat Man” the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki in 1945. My study of World War II suddenly became personal.

Since then another cousin has made contact from New Zealand and told me of a bone chilling connection of the family to the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz.

There was always this empty place in my soul and  ever nagging questions: What are my roots? What is our history? The hole has been filled and the questions are beginning to be answered. Just think, this all came about because of a simple rambling about illegal immigration and a well-timed search for “Reyenga”  that originated half way around the world.

I wonder if Johannes Reijenga knew when he jumped ship in San Francisco that he would be the key to bringing family to America and be the guy that reconnected family a century later.

Special thanks to Stef van Hage, my third cousin!

 

Stef's original email

Stef’s original email

schneiders

The Schneiders from Stef’s first email

Holland 2012 (407)

Stef and me in front of the old church in our ancestral home, Lemer, The Netherlands. Our great-grandmothers were most likely baptized here.

 

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Tales From The Road – When Machetes Ruled The Day

I spent New Year’s Eve, 2008, at 36,000 feet somewhere between New York and Dubai. I was on my way to Kenya for the third time in 6 years. My friend Pat and I decided to break up our long travel itinerary of about 24 straight hours from San Francisco to Nairobi by stopping for a few days in a place where neither of us had been before, Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

After three nights at the Dubai Sheridan, we were sitting in the bar watching the television in disbelief. In Kenya members of the Lao tribe were in the process of slicing up Kikuyu tribesmen. The weapon of choice was a three foot machete.

The week before, in a hotly contested national election between the incumbent Mwai Kibaki (Kikuyu) and his chief rival, Raila Odinga (Lao). Kibaki was the clear winner but the election was a joke. It was proven that both sides were guilty of cheating and election fraud.

The rift between the Kikuyu and the Lao began many years ago during British rule. The hate was cemented when, in 1962, the British left Kenya and installed Jomo Kenyatta, a Kikuyu as president. Political nepotism became the order of the day and Kenyatta installed his Kikuyu tribesmen in key government positions. The Lao were pushed to the fringe. Their lives for years were ruled by the Kikuyu.

The Lao thought that 2008 was their year. Their chance to rule. Their chance to get even. They felt cheated. Actually the Kikuyu were just better cheaters than the Lao. The Lao were determined to even the score and hack to death as many Kikuyu as they could find. We watched all this on CNN.

Pat and I watched with great concern as we saw the ruins of a church were 12 Kikuyu ran to hide. The Lao burned the church to the ground killing all inside.

I was more than content to spend a week or so in Dubai and then go home, skipping Kenya all together. Dubai is a place where there is clearly too much money. I had a great time. Except for the evening Pat and I ventured out to the local market place (Think Indiana Jones and The Raiders of The Lost Ark marketplace) and walking through the crowd, a man grabbed my crown jewels and gave them a gentle squeeze. He disappeared into the crowd. After I made a few phone calls to friends in Nairobi and were assured that all was well in the city, it of course was not, we knew it and still left Dubai as scheduled and completed our travels to Nairobi.

As a side note in 2003, Pat and I were inducted into the Kikuyu tribe in the small Kenyan town of Kiambo. In previous visits to Kenya we told everyone we met that we were Kikuyu. This time I told Pat to tell everyone we were CHEROKEE!

The second week of our visit Nairobi was locked down under martial law. Our movements were being tracked and limited. Pat decided to head to the island of Zanzibar for a few days and I headed to Karen, a town outside of Nairobi to visit our school.

Upon arrival at the school, Sister Catherine told me that there were only a few girls there. The rest would arrive tomorrow. So I spent the afternoon playing soccer and talking with the girls. Later I cleaned up and headed across the compound to have dinner with Sister Catherine and Sister Mary. The house smelled wonderful as Sister Mary was baking chicken and boiling potatoes and veggies grown in the compound.

About half way through dinner, Sister Catherine received a frantic phone call from one of the girls, she had made it out of Kibera, the largest slum in Africa with about 1 million inhabitants. Because of all the violence, theft and rape, all bus service was suspended. She had no way to get out of there. Sister Mary literally flew out of her seat like Superwoman and said she would go and get her. Well, I couldn’t let her go alone, so I jumped out of my seat, grabbed a chicken leg went with Sister Mary.

Sister Mary handled that older model blue Toyota Rav4 like an expert as she flew down the pot holed and rock covered road. I held on for dear life while I ate my chicken leg.

Accelerating around a sharp right hand turn, she hit the brakes and slowed to a crawl. There were 5 men running in front of us. Sister carefully stayed behind the men. In the orange, brown and pink African twilight, all 5 men looked the same. All shirtless running like gazelles. The difference was the man in front was running for his life as the four men behind him were carrying thee foot machetes. Sister kept her distance.

The man in front, was losing ground and tried to put a Jerry Rice type move on the other four men. As he cut to the right, machete man on the right swung his machete and caught the runner across the outside of his right knee. He went down like a gazelle who was clipped by a cheetah. He tumbled and laid in the dirt in the middle of the road on his stomach. One machete man raised his machete high in the air and slammed it into the fallen man’s back. The blade was dull, he only bled a little. The other three men finished him off. With a fury like I have never witnessed before, the four men repeatedly slammed their machetes into the man’s back and head until, I assume he was dead. While the murder was taking place Sister drove slowly around the men so we would not be noticed.

About 80 yards down the road, we found our girl. She had been joined by seven other girls. We loaded them and their personal items in the Rav and drove to safety. Not before we witnessed 4 Kenyan military beat the life out of another man with their riot clubs.

We made it back to the school safety and made sure the girls were settled in and fed. I went back to my room, collected my bottle of Johnnie Walker Black and headed for the Sisters home. There was to be no alcohol in the compound, but Sister Mary and Sister Catherine were grateful for a shot or two after that evening’s adventure. I must admit, it was fun watching Nuns drink.

 

Odinga

Raila Odinga

Kibaki

Mwai Kibaki

 

Railia Odinga - Mwai Kibaki, - Daily Nation Front Page, Kenya

Railia Odinga – Mwai Kibaki, – Daily Nation Front Page, Kenya

 

 

 

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Tales From the Road – Kenyatta International Airport, Nairobi, Kenya

Kenyatta International Airport – Nairobi, Kenya – January, 2004.

Two long weeks were finally at an end. My friend Pat and I had spent two weeks in and around Nairobi, Kenya visiting the slums, rundown hospitals and people dying of AIDS. The third world is not for the faint of heart and I was wondering if it was for me. (From this trip Pat and I started a school for girls from the slums, but that is a story for another day.)

We arrived at the airport early hoping to have a couple of adult beverages before we faced the next 24 hours. 20 of which we would spend in a silver metal tube 36,000 feet above the ground and traveling at 600 miles per hour.

Tired, dusty and thirsty we walked into the airport. After checking our bags and receiving our boarding passes we were anxious to clear passport control, find a barstool and…well… drink!

Heading to passport control, I heard a click and felt cold metal against the side of my head. Peaking out of the corner of my eye there was a Kenyan army sergeant pointing a .9mm Glock at my right temple. I froze, stopped breathing and hoped that I didn’t pee my pants.

“What do you have in the package?” Mr. Sergeant said in an interesting Swahili English mix of languages.

“Sir, please take it.” I said in what seemed like slow motion then I meekly handed the package to him.

Earlier in the week, I had visited a wood carving shop in the city of Machakos, about 20 miles southwest from Nairobi and purchased a beautiful hand crafted walking cane. The cane featured and elephant, lion and giraffe beautifully carved just below the handle. The shopkeeper neatly wrapped it in butcher paper so it would not be scratched on the way back to the States.

After handing it to the Sergeant, I realized what the fuss was about. As he kept the Glock pointed at my head (Actually this was a relief because he could have pulled the AK-47 slung over his shoulder.) The cane wrapped up had the profile of a rifle. The sergeant opened the butcher paper with his free hand and started laughing. As he placed his Glock back into its holster he anded the cane back to me. I immediately removed it from the wrapper.

At the gate, the airline person said I had to check the cane in as luggage. She would not let me take it onboard. I’m sure you guessed it. That was the last time I saw my cane.

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