Retired teacher's suitcase is packed, passport ready CARROLL COUNTY SENIORS

November 18, 1992|By Pat Brodowski | Pat Brodowski,Contributing Writer

Four people stepped along the slim beam of Rebecca Harman's flashlight tracing the narrow path. Thousands of miles from her hometown of New Windsor, Mrs. Harman led her group downhill to their camp. It was night at the foot of Mount Kenya, in safari country.

"Don't look now," she whispered, tapping her friend Dotty on the shoulder, "but there's a Masai warrior behind me."

The Masai, stretching 7 feet tall, held a war club in one hand, a spear in the other. A red sash was draped across his chest. He stood in the grass, watching them silently in the wild darkness.

"Don't worry," Dotty responded. The Masai had followed the group uphill, she told her friend, squatting outside the circle of their campfire while they told stories.

"He's our guard," she explained. He was part of the hotel service for the African bush, there to ensure that each traveler returned safely to the camp.

Mrs. Harman had met the Masai before -- as a child. On rainy days, her father would read "The Dark Continent" to his nine children.

"It was thrill to look at the pictures as he read," she recalls. As they grew up during the Depression, raising their food without tractors and milking machines, travel was only a dream.

She and brother Leon attended a two-room school in Feageville (Frederick County) taught by their older sister, Elizabeth, a graduate of Towson Normal School.

"The other kids thought we got preference. But if we misbehaved, the message was carried home," she remembers wryly.

She and two other sisters also became teachers.

Today she has traveled to every continent and visited 89 countries. She's brought home stacks of photographs, hour upon hour of adventure stories and an enormous collection of dolls and native crafts.

"I have a doll from every country," she says. Like a United Nations of dolls, each represents a national costume, an indigenous craft, festival, or domestic life far away.

There's the Nepalese Festival Days doll with metal foil hat shaped like rays of the sun. Colorful costumed dolls from Germany, Ireland, Scotland, Wales. The smooth black Zulu doll of South Africa holds a spear. The Korean doll in silk robe brush-lettered in gold. The Pied Piper of Hamelin dances in ceramic, luring a huge rat crafted of bread dough.

Dolls from Eastern Europe stand poised in national dress of Estonia, Lithuania, Russia, Georgia and from the national provinces of Yugoslavia now in turmoil.

Her most expensive doll was made by U.S. Indians. A "beaver man" Kachina bares teeth from its painted head as it dances in deerskin skirt, fur and shells.

Her most recent additions are two water carriers from Morocco. In multi-colored sequin spangles, the dolls hold goatskin bags, like those from which the locals still purchase water, she said.

She's saved exotic souvenirs of daily life, too. She used the elephant pick when she rode elephants in India. That's used to get the elephant's attention. It pulls on the animal's tough hide, said Mrs. Harman.

Nearby is an ostrich egg, a token from a scrambled egg breakfast in South Africa. "One egg equals 20 chicken eggs. They're a little darker in color," she said. "You must eat these things or else don't travel."

China in 1985 required a sturdy sense of adventure. "I shall never go there again," she begins.

Food in China is not like Chinese food in America, "No, no, not one bit," she laughs. On a four-day Yangtze River boat trip, she tried "the unbaked dough with lumps of fish inside," and still quivers with distaste.

"I ate nothing but rice," she remembers. One day there were nTC pears.

For the boat trip, they were given a straw mat, a towel and a roll of toilet paper. "We held onto them like gold," she said.

When the golden-robed Buddhist monks came aboard, her tour was bumped out of rooms with wash basins and fans to below-decks -- with 12 people to a room. "I was young, and more agile," so with a friend holding a rickety chair, she said, "I could climb up to the top bunk."

Then she discovered Chinese men in the bathroom, and learned that their luggage was locked away.

"I didn't wash or change my clothes for four days," she said.

At night, Chinese "men with straw mats and teacups" slept in the narrow aisles outside their rooms. "If you stepped on a mat, they would scream at you."

Mrs. Harman began traveling as a widow after retiring from 37 years of teaching school. Her first class was 45 combined fourth- and fifth-graders in a four-room school in Sabillasville. "We taught everything, like jacks-of-all-trades and hopefully a master of a few," she laughs.

At New Windsor's school, she taught as the grades there changed from elementary to high school, junior high, and then middle school, acquiring degrees and certifications along the way. "I helped raise 1,400 children and loved them as if they were my own," she said.

Her first love was physical education, which she taught for 12 years while teaching science, too, in the cafeteria. Later she worked part-time as librarian.

When arthritis set into a knee torn by a tennis injury, "I just couldn't race from the hockey field to the library," so she taught language arts for six years before retirement.

Her first trip, in 1977, was to Oktoberfest in Munich with a tour group of 22 people from New Windsor. "It was wild, it was great," she said. It sparked a wanderlust and three or four trips each year.

Europe offers the easiest travel, she says. But her favorite countries are Australia and New Zealand.

Mrs. Harman always returns to her tidy brick house in New Windsor to resume service on the town council and on the advisory board of Carroll Community College, for which she has worked for 14 years.

But her suitcase stays packed, passport on top.

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