The Fateful ’80s: Ph.D., a new life in America and Zindi’s Death
In this period, I created a new life in America while looking back at the NWP in hindsight. I lived for over two years in Syracuse, New York, while working on my Ph.D. Before finishing, however, I moved to NYC to help Zindi when she became very ill and finally died in Oct. 1989.
Hard to resettle in America. It is still difficult to explain, but I found resettling possibly the most difficult transition in my life. Syracuse University (SU) offered me financial support to help finish writing my Ph.D. I lived near the campus and on weekends traveled frequently to Zindi’s comfortable home in Rego Park, New York. Or she traveled to see me in Syracuse. The weekend jaunts were not difficult. The shortages of Zambia’s basic commodities was now behind me. Instead of just searching for a bar of soap (any bar of soap!), I now had 50 choices on any supermarket shelf! Still, I missed the “wide open spaces” and the NWP’s vast country-side. Also, I missed my work as UNZA’s Extra-Muriel tutor for the whole NWP. Above all, I missed the close friendships developed in the 1970s. Still, with the help of my family of birth in Ohio, plus Zindi and her extended South African family of ANC exiles in NYC, I could not ask for more.
Settling into life at SU. Upon arrival in the USA, my brother, Dan, helped me buy second hand car, which was a necessity outside NYC. Within a fortnight, I filled the car with my books and papers that I had sent from Zambia to Ohio and drove to Syracuse. Here I shared an apartment near campus until the summer of 1970. Then I moved into Creekside apartments, a little further from campus but charmingly located beside a lovely stream just outside town and had a one bedroom apartment with more privacy.
SU from mid-1979 to December 1981: PEAS, my university home. The Program of East African Studies was in its final years before being dissolved. As it did earlier in the ‘70s, it became my home on the main campus. Unfortunately, I was assigned to teach American History which distracted me from my NWP research. After one year I decided to resign and write full time, which in turn strapped me financially. You can’t win!
Organizing my vast trove of research materials into a viable dissertation / book, seemed overwhelming. Still, I decided to write it well or not do it at all. My advisors, who knew my research was very sound, just wanted a draft dissertation, well written or not! My own fussiness led me to the brink of disaster in late December 1981 when Zindi’s health collapsed. (See below.)
A few Syracuse pictures in 1979-80.
West Coast Holiday: Northern California to British Columbia. My life was not simply my studies. In June 1980, Zindi and I decided to fly to San Francisco and take a slow three week drive along (or near) to coast up to British Columbia. Unexpectedly, we watched Mt. St. Helens erupt from the northern part of Oregon. We then carefully continued driving north along the Washington State coastline until we got to Vancouver Province where we drove on Vancouver island as far north as Nanaimo. Because of the volcanic ash, we ended up flying from Vancouver city back to San Francisco and then on to New York on one of worst flights of our lives.
My personal computer revolution and dissertation. in the latter part of 1980, I successfully met the computer revolution when I decided to get a terminal in my home and connect, via phone line, to the SU’s main DEC10 computer. Although my advisors and most graduate students in the History Department did NOT support me, I became a word processing “pioneer” simply typing my drafts into SU’s main frame computer. Unfortunately in early 1983 when I finally submitted my dissertation, I had to do so with a copy printed on a dot matrix printer with justified margins, but without micro-spacing that is standard today. (A link to the dissertation appears on the E-book page of this website.) Hence the dissertation seems hard to read by today’s standards and I recommend that anyone wishing to read my work use the new current e-book on this website, rather than trying to read the original dissertation. In early 1983, I had to convince my advisors to accept a dissertation that was not typed on a typewriter! Word processing would only become standard during the next few years.
May 1981 travel to Canada’s Maritime Provinces. Canadian travel appealed to both Zindi and me. Thus, after visiting British Columbia in June 1980, we decided in May 1981 to drive from NYC across New England and across the Maritimes: Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland. We ended up driving eastward until we reached the French island of St. Pierre, Newfoundland’s “nose-drop.”
A writing crisis in the latter half of 1981. I stubbornly continued my quest of making the dissertation easier to read and writing without too much jargon so that anyone with a basic education could easily read it. The result was that my writing bogged down and my finances became precarious. Completing at all, became dubious. Looking back, this was the most depressing and stressful period of my entire life.
Fateful trip in September 1981. Canada continued to beckon Zindi and I. She had many friends in Montreal in the South African emigré community and my father and step-mother lived 250 miles westward in North Bay, Ontario and Temisciming, Quebec. Thus, in September 1981, Zindi and I, along with our good friend, Pumla Denalane, drove north again. The trip was fateful. The weather was frightful with unending cold rain. We reached Lake Powassan, where my stepmother, Margaret, had a lovely cottage. On our way home from this beautiful place, Zindi’s health started its long decline. This eventually led to her death in October 1989. Early in 1982 she was diagnosed with a variant of lupus that causes the lung’s air sacks to harden as they fill with fluid; no cure is known.
Despite her failing health after this trip, we again revisited a year later with my cousin, Joyce Hathaway (now Kroninger). We stopped in Montreal and visited Steve Hlophe, who gave Zindi much support, before driving on to see my father in North Bay.
Moved to NYC in Nov. 1981. Zindi had never been ill in her life and could not accept her new health issues. She remained determined to continue working for the Visiting Nurse Service (VNS), and she still planned to train as a Nurse Practitioner. To give her support, it was necessary that I move back to NYC. I no longer needed to live in Syracuse to maintain my residence as I had all my research completed and had given up my teaching fellowship. Completing the writing was my remaining steep hill to climb.Thus, Zindi’s brother, Mteto, rented a truck and helped me move back to NYC in November.
Completing the Ph.D. in NYC from Dec.1981 to March 1983. While helping Zindi continue working, I diligently tried to write 4-10 hours daily both at home and also at the main NYC Library on 42nd Street and at the Union Theological Library (now Burke). With my advisors’ permission, I shortened the dissertation, ending it in 1945 instead of 1965 at Independence. This change did not bother my advisors but broke my heart! Still, it looked like I might not complete my writing and I became incredibly depressed. Meanwhile, Zindi slowly resigned herself to not doing graduate studies.
Success! In early 1983, my perseverance paid off when I started submitting final drafts. Dr. James Newman quickly wrote me a letter, which I still keep on my office wall, stating that as far as he was concerned, my dissertation was totally acceptable and done. As he was considered the toughest to please, the others on the committee quickly approved by April. After touching things up, I graduated as Dr. Wilkin in May 1983. Link to Dissertation
Graduation at SU: Dan Wilkin (left) & Mteto (far right)
Broke and seeking work in NYC in 1983! I was elated at finishing my Ph.D. but was financially broke. I also knew that Zindi would have to retire soon as her health continued declining. I put aside my dreams of getting a university teaching job. This would almost certainly have required me to leave NYC, while Zindi needed medical attention best found in the Big Apple. With great determination, I moved forward in promoting and expanding my newly acquired computer skills, plus related skills as proofreading. In short, I simply sought whatever temporary office job(s) that I could get immediately. Hustling hard in Manhattan, I quickly got a short term jobs in May and more constant work during the summer. As word processing on the DEC-10 was not very useful, I took WANG training, which was at its apex at that time. From the basic level of a WANG secretary / word processor /proofreader, I explored the headquarters of some of the nation’s largest firms, including Mobil, Exxon, NY Telephone. I knew I was not in the NWP or Zambia when I looked out from my desk on the 60th floor of Rockefeller Center!
Steady work: Fall 1983-Summer 1985. A temporary job as a proofreader at NY Telephone lasted until October. I then got an interesting position as the main Wang operator at the Equitable Relocation Management Company (ERMC) in Midtown. This work would last for not quite two years and a steady paycheck helped restore both my finances and my self-confidence as much as completing my Ph.D. had.
New NYC life. I now became a NYC man. Many visitors from Zambia and the NWP visited us in NYC, including Muriel Williams Sanderson, Wim Hoppers and Pascal Bwalya Ndakala. I also had dreams (largely unfulfilled) of becoming a full-time corporate trainer. I joined various professional organizations, including the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) and the National Society for Professional Instruction (NSPI). Lastly Zindi and I feel in love with and joined The Riverside Church (TRC), with its socially liberal message of justice and peace. Here, as noted later, Zindi would literally die in my arms and her ashes be placed in their columbarium. Of all our friends’ visits, the one by Pascal Bwalya Ndakala (his first to America) in the late summer of of 1984 is most memorable. We visited many of NYC’s major tourist sights and traveled “Upstate” to the Catskills.
Zindi visited S.Af. (Nov. 1984). As Zindi’s health continued to decline, we agreed that she should visit her place of birth in Port Elizabeth (PE) in South Africa. Apartheid was cracking and even Mteto had been allowed to visit for several weeks. She now had no problem of getting a visa. Her doctor, however, told me that “I forbid her to travel so far by plane. She is likely to die.” My reply was “if so, her relatives will bury her there, otherwise if she dies on her way back, I will bury her here; she must see her homeland before she dies.” And she almost did die on the outward flight and had to be briefly hospitalized in Johannesburg before traveling on to PE. Fortunately, good medical care in S.Af. and the love and support of her family of birth resulted in a safe return despite her very fragile health.
Summer 1985-Fall 1986. Steady work with ERMC ended in mid-1986 when they relocated their headquarters to Orlando. During the summer, they flew me to Orlando each week to help them relocate themselves. It was tiring but heady work commuting to Orlando.
Zindi’s long fight. Although Zindi kept working, it was clear to everyone (but herself), especially her employer, that this was not feasible. Thus, they let dismissed her in June 1985. She was devastated. I remained determined to help her live as full a life as possible. We drove to Ohio to see my relatives in both the fall of 1983 and 1984. Then in May 1985, we visited Jamaica for a ten day vacation/holiday. She loved the trip but it was hard on her and clear that she could never fly again. Several months later, while commuting to Orlando, I spent the weekends preparing Zindi to be on her own during the coming week. Mteto and S.Af. friends kept a watchful eye from elsewhere in the City. She was depressed but okay.
Trouble finding new work. I struggled in the fall of 1985 to find work. It was more difficult than expected despite my new, more corporate resume. Problems were compounded by caring for Zindi. At an ASTD conference in Great Gorge, NJ, I met a leader in training at Morgan Guaranty Trust who in November offered me a consulting job training their staff on new personal computers (PCs) that were spreading throughout all corporate headquarters. At that time, hard drives were replacing dual disk drives. They needed training on the current software of Word Perfect and especially Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheets. Unfortunately my technical skills were weaker than I believed and in March 1986 I was asked to quit. My ego was devastated. I ended up with moderately paying day-to-day jobs. Zindi and I seemed to be barely surviving. She very ill and both of us were depressed.
Calm returns. In late summer 1986, I started full time work at Merrill Lynch (ML) in Downtown Manhattan and also part-time work with Dr. Agnes Whitaker (and her colleagues) at the New York State Psychiatric Institute (NYSPI): one part of the large medical complex that also included Columbia University / Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Despite reasonable offers from both, I refused to become an employee of either. I stubbornly wanted to maintain my freedom and simply be a “consultant.” Despite my refusal to become an employee, both continued offering me work that continued for the indefinite future. My finances stabilized and Zindi’s health, though feeble, also stabilized.
Professional conferences. Holding to my dream of being a corporate trainer, I stayed active in professional organizations. Besides the conference at Great Gorge, I helped the ASTD organize large regional conferences in the fall of 1986 (Stratton Mountain in Vermont) and the fall of 1987 (Sturbridge, Connecticut). I helped computerize the finances of NYC ASTD’s office. I also presented a technical paper for the regional NSPI conference and taught various secretarial skills at a business college.
Much support for Zindi as she fought to live a viable life. Zindi’s brother, Mteto, and ever-supporting ANC comrades in NYC, spent as much time as possible visiting Zindi. Likewise, my relatives came from Ohio. Ditto, the Rev. Fanny Erickson and The Riverside Church (TRC) gave much never ending moral support for both of us. Even friends visited from South Africa. We attended as many functions as possible and had frequent parties. We became as happy as we could possibly be.
Kenya, with Zambian memories, March 1989.
Zindi knew that she could no longer fly nor travel, but I longed to visit Africa again. She encouraged me to do so. I decided to go to Kenya and visit Shadrack Chengo. I asked two old Zambian friends, James Kanga and Bwalya Ndakala, to join us in Nairobi and update me on Zambia and the NWP. Thus, with the promise of Mteto and many of Zindi’s S.Af. friends to watch and help her, I visited Kenya for three weeks.
Nairobi and then Mombasa. Flying into Nairobi, I took the overnight train to Mombasa along with my friends. For this first half of the trip, I traveled with Shadrack Chengo and James Kanga. Bwalya joined us in Nairobi upon our return; James left before we traveled up country.
In Nairobi, I met my old friend Harrykin Bwanga Ombunga and his wife. Tragically he was killed the next year by an elephant near the Tsavo Game Park and shortly thereafter his wife was murdered leaving behind four young orphans.
Mombasa, Fort Jesus, and game reserve.
With my friends, I traveled up country to see the flamingos near Nakuru in the Great Rift Valley and then to the high lands of Kericho Tea Hotel and the Equator. For this part of the trip, Bwalya traveled with Shad and I. Before James left, we visited the eastern edge of the Great Valley. We had a marvelous time reminiscing about the past ten years and discussing our dreams for the future.
The famous old Kericho Tea Hotel and Plantation
Great Rift Valley again, mile high at the Equator and Good-byes
Continuing work at ML. Upon my return to NYC, my work at ML remained in demand as I continued developing my technical PC skills. I would continue working there until the World Trade Towers collapsed on 11th September 2001. My job, along with a team of talented desktop publishing specialists, was to help Investment Bankers present their work as they sought large financial deals. The work had to be done on a tight timetable, generally in the evenings and at night, for financial presentations the next day. Many investment deals involved much more money than the whole economy of Zambia, a fact of our international economy that I still grapple to understand.
Zindi’s eye surgeries: Fall 1989. Strong medications had steadied her health, but caused cataracts and she slowly lost her sight. She was introduced to talking books, but her greatest desire was to see again before she died, which she knew was quickly approaching. The problem was that any surgery could not include the possibility of anesthesia, as she could not be resuscitated with her failing lungs. No doctor would agree to doing surgery without an anesthesiologist for over one year. Finally, a well-known eye specialist, Dr. Marcovici, agreed to do one eye in the summer and if successful then do the other in early October. She coughed frequently because of her weak lungs; if she did so during surgery, we knew that the eye would be permanently damaged. Rev. Fanny Erickson at TRC taught her visualization: while the surgery was being done, she felt she saw Christ’s hand on her chest keeping it calm! The two surgeries were totally successful.
23 October 1989: Zindi’s death at The Riverside Church (TRC). Zindi had small oxygen tanks (“her portable lungs”) that she could push around. These allowed her to leave home for up to six hours. On this particular Sunday, her breathing was labored and we struggled to get to church to attend the early meditation service, called Morning Light. (I still participate in this service.) From there, we attended the main service where we always sat on the far left side so as not to disturb the service with her frequent coughing and oxygen equipment. When I stood to sing or pray (I don’t remember which), I looked down and she had slumped over. Clearly she had died quietly and painlessly from a massive heart attack. This was not unexpected as her heart had become so weakened by her failing lungs. People around helped me move her outside and several medical doctors sitting nearby tried to help before an ambulance came, but she was gone.
A noble death. Certainly by any standard that all of us can envy, Zindi died a noble death exactly in the place she loved most: TRC. Fortunately, her elder brother, Sipho Gqomo arrived from South Africa in time to join Enoch Mteto Gqomo and myself at the memorial service. (Zindi had helped plan this service.) It was held in TRC’s Nave after the main service on 12 November 1989. My brother and his family (Dan, Jan and Danny Jr.) came from Ohio for the service and my nephew read a poem that his mother had written as a memorial to Zindi. Click to enlarge this poem:
Zindi’s was cremated as she desired and her ashes were placed in the TRC’s columbarium. These pictures below are a memorial of this period of her death.
TRC and its columbarium w/Zindi’s ashes
Entertaining Sipho in NYC
Visiting relatives in Ohio with Sipho and Mteto
Support from Zindi’s friends and family
Memorial pictures to Zindi and Mteto and my family of birth. The following pictures do not particularly fit into this story that focuses on the NWP, but are presented as a memorial to family dear to me. From the top left: Zindi voting as a new citizen, graduating in 1979, Mteto and Zindi dressed formally for our friend’s wedding, Mteto in his new American army uniform after he joined the Reserves, three generations of my family and at TRC with friends.
Moving forward as a single person in 1989-1991. My professional and constantly busy jobs (at ML and NYPI) focused my life. TRC gave me moral support as did both my family of birth in Ohio and Zindi’s extended ANC family in NYC. After Sipho Gqomo returned to South Africa, two old Zambian friends came for extended visits throughout much of 1990: James Kanga and Bwalya Ndakala. All of this collectively helped me rebuilt my life.
Zambians in NYC: James Kanga and Bwalya Ndakala
Since I could not at this time of healing visit Africa, especially Zambia and the NWP, these two friends visited. Their journeys resulted in visits to parts of the Midwestern USA and Canada. Pictures below highlight travel to Florida and Ohio while James was in America from mid-April to early June. The pictures of Bwalya Ndakala, who came in mid-August and stayed until January 1991, highlight our visits to Canada and to Ohio.
Southern Florida w/James. I wanted to see southern Florida again, which I felt James would also greatly enjoy. Thus in May 1990, we flew into Orlando and, of course, had to visit Disney World. Then we drove east to the Kennedy Space Center and south to Key West and the southernmost point of the USA.
NYC and on to Ohio w/James. James’ visit in beautiful spring weather resulted in many photos in NYC including the World Trade Center, outside my apartment complex in Rego Park (one with James and one with me just before heading to work at the World Financial Center), friends such as the Rev. Fanny Erickson (who had helped Zindi so much), and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. At the latter, we were allowed to take one picture of a traditional Chokwe chair from James’ part of Africa. He was excited as these chairs are known around the world for their artistic beauty. We would then visit Ohio, where one picture shows James and I in front of my late Aunt Dorothy’s old spinning wheel.
Family in Newark, Ohio. I made an obligatory visit to my mother’s graveside with James and we visited more of my relatives. In the middle picture. I am standing with Joe and Donna Gutridge (cousins from my mother’s family). On the right, I am posing with relatives from my father’s family: my Aunt Dorothy with two of her three children, Gerald, Shirley and also Bob Romine (Shirley husband) and one of their children.
Bwalya Ndakala in NYC. Bwalya arrived mid-August 1990. Before he left in January 1991, we had a chance to entertain and be entertained by many friends in NYC, plus drove to Canada and Ohio to meet more of my families of birth.
Atlantic City and Ohio. We first drove to Atlantic City, a white sandy beach resort area in New Jersey less than 3 hours drive south of NYC. Later we drove to Ohio. Below, the middle picture shows Doris and Don Hathaway (my father’s sister) with their son, Joe, daughter-in-law, Lisa and Jesse. Bwalya has just helped wrap a traditional Zambian chitange cloth around Jesse so that Joe could demonstrate carrying him Zambian style on his back. In the right picture, Bwalya appears with Gary Romine and another relative.
A drive to Canada: Quebec and Ontario. Before the early Canadian winter began, Bwalya and I drove to North Bay, Ontario, via Montreal where we visited Edith Purdon and Ottawa with its magnificent government buildings. My father and step-mother, Margaret, entertained us royally. We then drove back to NYC via Niagara Falls where an old friend, Lillian Wiseman, again entertained us royally. She adopted Bwalya as her honorary son!
One year memorial party for Zindi and another party in NYC. In October about two dozen NYC friends gathered at my place for a one year remembrance of Zindi as shown in two photos below. Shortly thereafter, Dunya (Mteto’s girlfriend) invited all of us to become honorary Jewish and celebrate a special festival: which one I’ve forgotten.
Other pictures with friends in late 1970 or 1971. While Bwalya was here, we had many occasions to meet other friends. The photo on the left shows Edith Purdon from Montreal, and Bwalya with Ruth Joseph and Alice White from TRC. In the middle photo I am with Myers Mudenda from Zambia who made a quick visit to the Big Apple. Thomas and Margaret Samungole in the the photo on the right and sent this to me from Zambia. Dr. Harry Bwanausi visited from Zambia. He had been the best man at Zindi and my wedding (no photo).
In January 1991, Bwalya left for Iowa where a friend had agreed to sponsor him to attend college. He would not return to Zambia for some years.
By 1991, my new life was carrying me forward. My work at Merrill Lynch was now providing me with money necessary to live a good middle-class life in NYC. Along with Riverside Church friends, I now start planning a trip back Africa. Apartheid was just ending and we looked forward to visiting Zindi’s family in Port Elizabeth after visiting the Zambia and NWP.