Just another day in paradise

Pennsylvania was my favourite state and we spent the build-up to Christmas in fairly rural Lancaster county.

One of hundreds of Amish buggies in Lancaster PA


Outstanding chow!


The Smuckers brand is everywhere in Pennsylvania


Iconic Shoo-Fly pie on the move. We did indeed get a free taste as advertised.

Part of the appeal of Pennsylvania is the history of the state. Called the keystone state because of its involvement in the Second Continental Congress and two of America’s founding documents drafted by the founders there: the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States (Independence hall in Philadelphia).

Merry Christmas 2019

Pennsylvania is also interesting in the people that settled there and live there today: the Amish, descendants of German Christians, and Mennonites. From our visit to the Mennonite information center, I discovered that in terms of their being Anabaptists, I had no cause to disagree with the Amish or the Mennonites in their doctrine.

Replica of Ark of the Covenant at the Mennonite Information Center

Anabaptists hold to adult baptism and separation of church and state. Nothing wrong with that.


For the first time in a decade or more, I found myself in the theatre watching a play. Twice in one week. We attended a Christmas play at a large 2 thousand-seater auditorium which was well put together and included live animals and stunning props, actors and backgrounds, which really brought to life the birth of Christ.


The other play was more contemporary and intimate with a much smaller venue. The setting is a fictional town called Paradise. I found it more emotional, especially the portrayal of the mother with dementia, Hazel, who at the climax of the play suddenly remembers a large portion of Scripture and quotes it verbatim, reveling in Christmas.




Christmas miracles in 2019 Paradise, PA, where even dementia can’t keep away the meaning of the birth of Christ. ‘Just another day in Paradise’.



At first glance it may seem like the name of a fictional town, but there really is a town in Pennsylvania called Intercourse. Which I imagine is one of the ways the town population persists.

Pennsylvania Dutch cooking; mac & cheese, pulled pork and sauerkraut on mashed potatoes, while tasting birch beer, root beer and Dr Pepper.

I first saw a Trump bumper sticker in Pennsylvania, a state that unexpectedly broke for him in 2016. The people I met were genuine and down to earth.

Street in Ronks PA

We attended a small church of around 10 souls in Strasburg with traditional hymns, organs and a member of the congregation playing a mountain dulcimer (which I’ve read is part of the zither family of instruments).

Small baptist church in Strasburg PA

Far from bustling New York, Lancaster county was an oasis, a place of tranquility and simple faith and a man could be happy there.

Engelsman in New York

I started off 2020 by taking a few hours with family to visit the iconic city of New York, scene of a thousand movies and television programs, and home to 8.55 million residents.

Besthesda Fountain in Central Park, NY

The average South African would find the regular sight of homeless people familiar.

View of Belvedere Castle, Central Park, NY

The unquestionable highlight was the 9/11 memorial in downtown Manhattan. I distinctly remember where I was when I heard about September 11 on the news and when President Bush made remarks later that morning (afternoon for us in South Africa) to the effect that the United States was going to ‘go after the folks’ who committed those acts, I felt a flood of righteous indignation towards the perpetrators.


In a way, and it wasn’t only me but many people the world over, I had an instant kinship with the people of New York and indeed the Unites States.


The 9/11 memorial site was busy and lines snaking into the museum would have taken hours which we didn’t have.


I saw names on the memorial panels that I knew from reading hundreds of articles. People I’d never met but knew something about their lives. Fire chief Pfeifer, Franciscan friar, Fr. Mychal Judge, Lauren Grandcolas and her unborn child.

Names on one of the panels in Manhattan from United 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania. They fought back against the terrorists.

It was surreal. As we wandered through the site, air traffic directed the attention skywards, helicopters every few minutes, commuter jets as well as light aircraft from nearby JFK, or possibly La Guardia.

Entering New York City from under the George Washington Bridge


86 Street subway station on the way to the World Trade Center memorial

Police were everywhere, NYPD and PAPD. Hundreds of police, reportedly 38 thousand NYPD with another 10 thousand or so auxiliary, around 2 thousand PAPD officers spread over New York and New Jersey.

NYPD ready for action


PAPD in downtown Manhattan

I thought of the people whose names I knew but I lingered on Kevin Cosgrove. I’m 46 now, the same age as Kevin Cosgrove on 11 September 2001. He was an executive working for the Aon Corporation in the South Tower.

Memorial to special forces soldiers who fought in Afghanistan in the weeks after 9/11

He was on a 911 call when the tower collapsed, his cries immortalised in sound.


A short walk away was Trinity Church. In the middle of a bustling city and a short distance from Wall Street is a cemetery with gravestones hundreds of years old, almost quiet and intimate. I thought of my sister.

The chapel at Trinity Church on Broadway, NY


Quiet parish graveyard in the middle of bustling New York


Ancient gravestones, Trinity Church, Broadway, NY

While looking for Wall Street and the infamous ‘charging bull’ we came across ‘The Trump Building’ at 40 Wall Street, a surreal experience illustrating Trump’s link to New York.

Trump building on Broadway, NY


Charging Bull

Later, coming up out of the subway at Columbus circle we spotted the ‘Trump International Hotel and Tower’ on Central Park West. I suppose New Yorkers are used to seeing President Trump’s name around like its normal.

Columbus circle heading into Central Park, NY


Columbus Circle

New York is busy, teeming with people. It was quite an experience and utterly iconic but I’m glad I don’t live in a city that huge.


Tuesday, 7 January 2020



On the eve of travelling back to South Africa after 3 weeks in the United States, my impressions coalesced into the following:


In Connecticut, the morning appears with more subtlety than in South Africa, like a turn of the rheostat by gentle degrees where the sun is far less visible. It was only on the morning of the 7th that I first noticed morning bird calls;


In the quiet, you can hear the falling snow as it hits the leaves on the ground, as you would hear sugar granules falling on wax paper, or like snap-crackle-and-pop if you had to incline your ear to the cereal bowl;

Semi-rural Pennsylvania is incredibly peaceful, especially in Lancaster County amongst the Amish and Mennonites;

New York City is iconic and every bit of what you’d expect from watching television and movies;

The typical New Yorker (if I could presume to disassociate the locals from tourists) seldom seems to be smiling as he or she is on the way from A to B in the city;


New York City is jammed with people and has more police than I’ve ever seen in one place; sadly I did not see any cops eating donuts;


I saw a lot of Christian sign-boards and references, especially in Pennsylvania;


Hartford in Connecticut has a contemporary Christian radio station (K-Love; WCCC; 106.9 MHz) that became a favourite;


I was fortunate be a brief part of a solid church in Connecticut and attended services where I met very interesting and very real people who fed us with solid meat and fellowshipped with us:


Paul and Karen, Roger and Gloria, Dave, Karen, Tony, Mike, Floyd and Marsha, Annie, Thomas and Gene;


I got to meet a real live WW2 veteran and spoke with local Connecticut Yankees about politics and sports;


I was a South African in the United States who felt intimately welcome in the country; America is big-hearted;


A Twitter post by Grant R. Castleberry stood out to me as a start for the year 2020:


January 6, 2020:


“True greatness is faithfulness over a long period of time;


Faithfulness to God

Faithfulness to your spouse

Faithfulness to your calling

Faithfulness to your country

Faithfulness to your family.”


I want to be faithful to these things, to press on in the race of faith, to be a disciplined soldier, to stand for the Truth and spread the Gospel. To be faithful to God, my spouse, my place in the world and my community.


For the time in the United States, not a single person I met had anything to say on the subject of race whatsoever, a refreshing change from the race-obsessed South African government who function as opinion leaders to thousands of loud political minions;


Faithfulness to my country? That’s a hard one. I love my fellow South Africans but almost half of everything in this country is adulterated with racial politics, corruption and violence. I stopped believing in this government’s ability to be responsible a long time ago. And yet, I was born in this place and that for a purpose.


Ready or not, 2020 is here; all I want is to walk with Him in this year in all things.