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A "bad" situation that turned out not so bad

Dear Rudy, I love your show because I travel a lot and lived in Europe for three years. One of my "good" travel stories would take too long to set up on air; but I wanted to pass it onto you anyway.

I'm a clergyman/journalist and was once on assignment for Lutheran World Relief, an international aid agency, headed by a man named Bernie Confer, who had held his job for about 30 years. Bernie and I both lived in Teaneck, New Jersey.

I was in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in 1976, having visited some LWR projects -- clinics, schools, wells -- up around Arusha. I had two days in Dar before I could get a flight back to Europe. The "better" hotel, the Kilimanjaro, was full because of a visit from the Israeli Prime Minister, so I was staying at the Agip, another hotel -- not far from the Kilimanjaro, but a somewhat seedy place.

Wandering the city, I was casually taking pictures; and was suddenly pounced on by two policeman, who roughly grabbed my camera (a Nikon F, by the way); and informed me that it was against the law to take pictures in that place. (I learned later that photos of the harbor area were prohibited.) I protested -- mildly, I thought -- but that upset them so much that they arrested me.

At police headquarters, a very stern captain asked why I was in Tanzania. "I am visiting projects of Lutheran World Relief," I said, and explained that I had come down from Arusha the day before. The eyes of the captain and one of the arresting cops lit up.

"Lutheran World Relief!" he exclaimed. "Do you know Bernie Confer?" I said that Dr. Confer had sent me on this assignment and that my itinerary and papers to confirm this were in my hotel.

"Where does Mr. Confer live?" the policeman asked.

"Teaneck, New Jersey," I said and added that if he would look at my passport, he would see that I also lived in that town.

It turned out, that the captain and the policeman -- cousins -- had lived in refugee camps sponsored by Lutheran World Relief, and that their families were in villages where Lutheran World Relief projects provided medical care and clean water. And both had met Bernie on one of his many visits to Tanzania. For some reason, they remembered where he lived.

Suddenly, my status switched from being a foreign miscreant to an honored guest. My camera and film was returned. They offered me a ride back to my hotel. "The Agip?" they said, "that is not a safe place." I explained that the Kilimanjaro was full because of the visit of the diplomatic delegation.

"Do not worry," the captain said, "I will have one of my men to watch you and your room. He will also see that you get around town and to the airport."

So, for the next 24 hours, I had a car and driver at my disposal, a policeman stationed outside my hotel room at night and transportation to the airport. I took down the names of both the policeman and the captain and had Bernie Confer write a very nice letter of thanks to them when I returned to New York.

My travels have provided me with very many interesting experiences (including meeting in Hong Kong a man from my hometown of Sioux City, Iowa), but rarely has small-world serendipity been so helpful.

Charles Lutheran pastor and long-time journalist


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