Tuesday, July 18, 2006

ROAD WISDOM

As we were getting ready to leave Africa, I was searching for a single image that would serve as a metaphor for our time here. I think I finally found it, during the journey through the Drakensbergs, back from Okhahlamba to Johannesburg, on the day we were to start our journey home.

As we were zipping along the road at 120 KPH (don't even ask me what that translates to in MPH, I still have no idea), casually observing the large number of pedestrians walking along the roadside even in a remote wilderness area such as this, we saw one pedestrian who really gave us pause. She was wearing what appeared to be a huge, flourescent orange witch's hat atop her head! It made her look for all the world like some sort of brightly festooned and macabre sorceress.

It took me a moment to get images of Halloween out of my head, but then I quickly realized what I was really seeing. There were a number of road cones here and there along the way, where road construction was occurring. (Road construction seems forever to be occurring here in Africa.) She had simply picked one of these up and placed it proudly atop her noggin.

Why? My best guess is it made her more visible, as a pedestrian, walking along a high speed road. Very creative!

Such resourcefulness, I think, will forever stay with me as my primary impression of the Africans I have met. They seem to have the ability to make so much out of so little.

Sure, Africa has its problems, and it is very hard for us Westerners to figure out why on earth (from our perspective) they don't seem to plan and execute self-improvement or development projects more effectively. But Africans know how to live life "in the moment." Conversely, many we met seemed to have difficulty doing any sort of strategic planning that would help them make long-term improvements to their lives and those of their family, community, and country.

I am convinced much of this is just a way of life, the impact of the culture. They are used to living much more slowly, and exhibit a great deal of patience about things that typically frustrate us Westerners in short order.

I wanted to snap a photo, but Mandy (the photographer) insisted that it's best not to be a "tourist," to hang out of the window of the car with your camera and snap photos (without permission) of people as you whiz by, as if they were animals in a zoo. I gnashed my teeth, but she won out in the end. I am learning to respect the dignity of Africa.

So, what I will do is provide you with a photo of the scenery that we saw, during this beautiful drive ... and ask you to simply imagine an elegant and stately African woman, walking alongside this lonely road, with a bright orange construction warning cone atop her head!

Saturday, July 08, 2006

ROAD TRIP

One of the unanticipated frustrations of this resource-gathering trip to Africa has been coordinating our visits to various countries with the World Vision offices that manage the ministry in those countries. For instance, the final three countries we were planning to visit (Zambia, Lesotho, and Swaziland) during our trip have all "fallen through" for one reason or another, usually related to schedule conflicts.

Because of this down-time near the end of our visit, we decided to fly home a week early, and are therefore leaving Johannesburg next Monday evening, July 10. Even so, we found ourselves with a week of time to kill, so we decided on a "road trip" through South Africa. Our plan was to make a huge circle, cutting through the northern part of the country, heading west/southwest from Johannesburg through Bloemfontein with Cape Town as our destination, then following the Atlantic coastline along southward to the very "bottom" point of Africa, then northeast as it follows the Indian Ocean, to somewhere in the Durban vicinity (possibly as far as Kruger National Park) before returning to Johannesburg. Ambitious.

We also held out hopes we might still be called upon to visit Lesotho or Swaziland, either of which should have been reachable (by car) from this route.

After a final day doing internet training in the office last Monday, we departed Johannesburg on Monday afternoon and headed west. The direct distance to Cape Town from Johannesburg is about the same as driving from Seattle to Southern California, and the terrain (at least in the center of South Africa) is also very similar. This time of year, nothing but rolling, grassy meadows. And lots of cattle!

But of course, the distance (and time required) for following the coastline is much greater.

On the journey westward, after about four hours on the road we spent our first night at a very informal B&B just off the highway near Bloemfontein (didn't even have clean sheets, but the price was right), then most of the next day (Tuesday) on the drive southwest, directly through the highlands. Near the end, our progress was substantially slowed by the uniquely African way of doing road construction. Every 10 miles or so, we would stop and wait in a long line of cars, about 15 minutes on average, for the passage of traffic bound the other direction, before being let onto a one-lane stretch of road under construction. This happened more times than we could count, and we found ourselves actually rolling into the large, posh city of Cape Town well after dark. But we had reserved a really nice B&B south of Cape Town, managed to find our way there without incident, and had a lovely (even swank) dinner at their restaurant before retiring.

During the night, a windstorm arose, but the temperature was still warmer than what we had become accustomed to here. I rose up early, before sunrise (which doesn't happen at these latitudes until almost 8 a.m. this time of year) and enjoyed sitting out in the breeze and reflecting on our trip.

After breakfast we headed west to the coast, then spent the day following the coastline northward around the rugged Cape. It was a breathtakingly spectacular drive. In some cases the highway itself is chiseled into sheer vertical cliffs that drop hundreds of feet straight down into the ocean. Imagine narrow roads with waves crashing far below you and a breathtaking view of the ocean. And lots of signs that say "Watch for falling rock" and "Use road at your own risk." (Not sure exactly what you are supposed to do if you see a huge rock crashing down on you?)

Once we had wound completely around the Cape, we visited the "downtown" area of Cape Town itself, did some shopping and had a late lunch, then headed south again to follow the coast and find another B&B.

Our next stop was in a coastal village called "Hermanus." Personally this was my favorite spot in all of South Africa. It is a lovely, cozy little resort town nestled betwixt ocean and mountains. The coastal scenery was gorgeous, even spectacular. If we had such beaches at home they would be an amazing hit with the crowds, even in winter. Right below our hotel was a shielded cove containing "Mermaid's Pool," which anywhere on the coast of the U.S. would have been packed with swimmers, at any time of year. Here we were completely alone.

Whale watching is also popular off this coast, and this time of year we were told "Right Whales" are often cavorting and breeding in the bay, but unfortunately they didn't make an appearance for us.

Thursday morning we left Hermanus and again headed east, following the coast and nearing the very southernmost tip of Africa. Unexpectedly, the nice highways turned to meandering dirt roads -- although not bad dirt roads, they were more driveable than many of the paved roads we had experienced in the Congo or Zimbabwe. Fortunately road signs were in abundance and there was no serious risk of becoming lost in the jungle. After about 50 or 60 kilometers we reacquired a paved highway, and this time turned due south toward Cape Agulhas, the southernmost tip of land for the continent.

A handsome lighthouse sits at this landmark point, but you can actually drive around it to the beachward side and park your car directly on the beach. The coast itself is rugged and rocky, and there are two small promontories stretching out and pointing toward the Antarctic continent hundreds of miles due south. We chose the one which looked like it might stretch furthest to the south, and clambored out among crashing waves onto the rocks for photos and souvenir hunting. We picked up several interesting small rocks and shells. We were completely alone at this southernmost point (though there were apparently other visitors to the lighthouse). I wondered whether, if everyone who visited this landmark spot took a pebble or shell as we did, whether the continent might actually be getting a little shorter each year!

As we sat on these rocks in the breeze (dodging on-again, off-again rainfall throughout the entire day), with the Indian Ocean at our left hand and the Atlantic Ocean at our right, we also enjoyed a beautiful double rainbow which appeared, due south, the sun shining behind us to the north ... something that never happens where we're from (all our rainbows are to the north or east). It made faraway Antarctica seem like the Promised Land!

When next we jumped into the car, this time we began heading northeast, still following the coast. After a short time we veered directly to the north, inland, and spent the rest of the day cruising through rolling farmlands and then following a range of spectacular mountains, a hundred or so kilometers inland, which stretch west to east throughout this southernmost portion of South Africa. Some of the immense, starkly vertical crags looked like a rockclimber's dream-come-true, and beautiful green valleys rolled downward from these peaks.

In mid-afternoon we passed through Mosselbaai, which I had originally intended as as destination for my 320-kilometer bike ride. The actual distance ended up being much farther due to our zigging and zagging throughout coastal communities and inland areas. I now know there would have been no possible way to do this ride in two days, especially with the days as short as they are. It probably would have taken two or three times that long, in reality, and the rain which fell on Thursday would have further slowed things down (had it occured when I was riding).

At this point the return trip began to get a little gritty. Mosselbaii itself is not what I expected, at all ... not a beautiful coastal town, like Hermanus, but a ghetto town filled with thousands of shanties. Many of these towns were originally created as fairly lush resort towns but have grown into shantytowns due to the influx of hundreds of thousands of impoverished Africans who have immigrated from God only knows where throughout Southern Africa. We tried to find the actual waterfront in Mosselbaii but were unsuccessful, just wandering around in various decrepit townships. Ultimately we wound our way back onto the highway and continued northeast.

Our backup plan was to find a place to stay and dinner in Nysna, a resort town recommended to us by an earlier B&B manager. However, Nysna had an Oyster Festival going. The town was packed with traffic and the inns were all full. (I had also been warned that this week is a school holiday.) So we continued northeast and finally wound up in the Bayview Hotel in Plettenberg Bay. As I am writing this on Friday morning I have a very pleasant third-story window view of the Bay, and the fog is clearing to reveal intermittent sunshine.

One other interesting incident, and here's something that would never happen to you on a Seattle freeway: We were cruising through an area of lush pine forests and noticed numerous signs commanding, "Don't feed the baboons!" Such signs are all over South Africa. When we first started seeing them, naturally we craned our necks into the trees, looking to catch sight of a wild baboon. But this was fruitless craning for so long that we finally became cynical about whether there really were wild baboons here, or whether they just put those signs there for the tourists.

Anyway, this forested stretch was pocked with baboon warning signs, and we had passed the very last one and were almost out of the area when we rounded a corner, doing at least 120 kilometers per hour (what's that ... 80 mph?) when there were two enormous baboons suddenly right in the center of our lane, directly in front. They were huge and hairy and black and ominous looking. I hit the brakes but was too close. I also hit the horn simultaneously, and they were smart enough to flee -- in opposite directions. I skidded right between them.

If I had hit one of those large animals no telling what it would have done to the car ... and I'm sure the baboon wouldn't have fared well either.

Actually it was just one of many close encounters with various road animals over the last few days ... horses, cows, goats, sheep, you name it. But this near miss was our only baboon sighting.

With all the animals on the road you would think there would be a lot of animal vs. car accidents. Today we actually saw a horse ... or rather, half a horse, as the rear half was completely splattered over an area about 50 feet in diameter ... laying to one side of the road. Almost as sad as it was gross. I'm trying to imagine what that must have been like for whoever was driving the truck or car that struck it. The horse was literally cut in half.

OK, I ended on that happy note on Friday, but now I'm finishing this blog entry up on Saturday evening. We left Plettenberg Bay about 11 (I decided to let Mandy sleep in a bit) and drove northeast. We didn't really have a target, were just hoping to get as far as we could get, that would put us in a position to stay in Bergville at Anthony's again (our overall favorite B&B since we've been here). Darkness overtook us when we were in the East Cape Province, inland in a fairly mountainous area, and driving there was extremely hazardous, with various road obstacles, animals, and even trucks (creeping along with their lights off ... unbelievable). We narrowly missed plowing into one from behind.

It was such slow going and so frustrating and hazardous that we decided to pull into the first hotel we found, in the town of Mthatha. We were willing to pay basically whatever they charged just to get off the road. Which was fortunate, since they were charging way too much for what the hotel was worth. It was clean, and comfortable, but the rooms were small and the walls exceedingly thin. The din of music and partying around us continued until after midnight, then the cleaning crew began their work before 7 a.m., chattering and hollering and banging. It was one of the least restful places I have ever been.

But we got a decent dinner (a pizza) and breakfast there, and hit the road once more by 10 a.m., headed for Anthony's. We achieved our objective about 4 p.m. and it was like coming home.

I don't think I've ever driven so much in a single week in my life. And in such a difficult and challenging place to drive. Enough to last for quite awhile. I'm exhausted. We are simply going to camp here at Anthony's until it's time for us to leave for the airport Monday afternoon. Mandy wants to do some hiking tomorrow, which would be fine with me, as long as we don't have to drive too far. I've had enough.

I would also like to go with Carol to her Anglican church tomorrow. And tonight, we are waiting for some friends we met (the first time we were here) so we can go out for a bite to eat. Saturday night is the one night Carol doesn't cook for her guests.

Well, I probably won't blog again on ShBlog until we get home. On the plane, I will work on something to summarize our general impressions of Africa and thoughts as we are leaving. But with the anticipated jetlag, that may not get posted for a week. But check back, you never know!

PHOTO CAPTIONS:

Top, left: Father and daughter perched on the edge of the precipice, hundreds of feet above the ocean, during the drive along the Cape, overlooking one of many small coastal villages, with a winter storm playing light upon the waters of the bay below.

Next, right: Mandy walking along a seawall near one of the beautiful beaches on the Cape. Fishermen were fishing on the rocks and we found seashells aplenty.

Third, left: The rocky coastline at Hermanus Beach, looking down toward Mermaid Lagoon.

Fourth, left: This rainbow framed Cape Agulhas, the southernmost promontory of land for the African continent, as we approached.

Fourth, right: This is the southernmost seagull in Africa. The rocks below stretch out toward Antarctica in the unseen distance. The Indian Ocean (left) meets the Atlantic ocean (right).

Bottom, left: The view of Plettenberg Bay out the window of the Bayview Hotel.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

GONE TO GOKWE

Before I launch into my "Zimbabwe blog," first some light housekeeping: SchlogNet is changing its name, and will henceforth be known as ShBlog.org. (I discovered that the word "schlog" has negative connotations to some, and decided a more neutral name for my blog would be better.)

So, you are now able to find this site at
http://www.shblog.org/. Until mid-August, the old URL (http://www.schlog.net/) will also continue to work. But after that you'll need to use http://www.shblog.org/.

Now ... before I tell you about our "interesting" week in Zimbabwe, let me relate quickly one "interesting" incident that happened on the way back (from Ndola, Zambia) to Johannesburg (to which we have been retreating each weekend).

We were flying in on a nice and newish little jet plane, courtesy of South Africa Airways. Before we actually reached Johannesburg, our flight attendant was taking our refreshment order when she apologized that the captain was calling her and she went up to talk with him. It was a few minutes before she came out again, and casually finished our order. This struck me for some reason as a little unusual.

Then when we reached Johannesburg, we began flying in tight little circles around the airport. This also struck me as unusual, since the airport is not usually that crowded with traffic.

After a time we descended and made our approach. We came down much faster than I have ever come down for a landing in any jet before. The real wheels touched down but the pilot kept the nose high in the air as he sped down the runway.

We seemed nearly halfway down the run, nose still high in the air, when we looked off to the right side of the plane and saw a row of fire engines and ambulances sitting and facing us, all their lights flashing. About this time the pilot, finally, and very gently brought the nose down. We noticed with some degree of concern that all the fire engines and ambulances pulled out after the plane and began pursuing us down the runway.

It took the remainder of the runway to stop the jet, but at the very end we turned aside. A bus pulled up and we were invited to disembark. (I have expected we might have to jump down the slides, but they simply wheeled up an ordinary ramp for us.) No word of explanation from the crew. The fire engines and ambulances caught up with us, turned their lights off and slowed down, then turned back to wherever they came from.

One other interesting thing was the fact that, as soon as we had disembarked, three uniformed engineers rushed up the stairs and huddled with the pilot and copilot, still on the plane. They were all talking excitedly. I would love to know what they were saying.

My best guess is that perhaps there was some sort of problem or indicator light on the nosewheel gear. The speed of landing and attitude of the plane was such that the pilot could have floored it and taken off quickly again. Perhaps they were waiting for a visual check that the nose gear had actually engaged or locked before putting it down. I can't imagine what would have happened, at that speed, if it hadn't.

It all happened so quickly, we had no time to be scared or to do anything but wonder what was going on. I've been debating ever since then whether I would have preferred for the flight crew to warn us of a potential problem, or to handle it just the way they did, with no announcement.

Harare

Anyway, that was Saturday afternoon, and Monday morning we were back on another South Africa Airlines flight, this time headed to Harare, Zimbabwe. I had read about Harare but was still surprised to see what a delightfully elegant city this was. The grounds of our hotel in Harare were immaculately cultivated. The only hitch when we arrived was the need to change rooms, in order to get into a room with two single beds. This later would prove a significant source of much heartache.

World Vision has a significant presence in Zimbabwe, more than 150 staff in our Harare office. Our second day in Harare, we were privileged to meet with our national director, Leslie Scott, who told us about the rural area to which we were headed later that afternoon. The project is called "Gokwe North" and it is located about 6 or 7 hours to the northwest of Harare.

Gokwe North

So we left our hotel on Tuesday and drove halfway to Gokwe, staying at a beautiful conference center in a town called Kadoma. The entire area northwest of Harare is predominantly devoted to cotton crops, although maize (similar to corn) and groundnuts (peanuts) are also cultivated by subsistence farmers.

Shortly after leaving Kadoma, where World Vision's Gokwe project office is located, the roads turned very rough. We were jarred for nearly four hours en route to Gokwe North, and I kept thinking about the recent concussion which I was hoping my jostled brain had fully recovered from.

Though it is a very rural area, Gokwe is home to large numbers of people. As usual we stopped and greeted the local officials (we were told this is a requirement wherever we traveled) before heading out to actual projects.

Juliet is World Vision's project manager in Gokwe.

On Wednesday we visited with Judith, an AIDS orphan who was being cared for by extended family. World Vision had helped build the small mud brick home which sheltered the family, and also provided cattle and other necessities. We also were warmly greeted by a large contingent of orphans and their caregivers, and got to see some wonderful gardening projects and meet with members of a sewing cooperative and youth organizing group.

Our tour to this very out of the way spot was sadly too brief. We started back late Wednesday afternoon and did not arrive back at Kadoma until well past dark.

Stuck in Zimbabwe?

Our arrival in Kadoma was overshadowed by the discovery that I was missing the packet which contained my passport, plane tickets, American Express checks and other important documents. While we visited the field project, World Vision staff in Harare searched the office, cars we had travelled in, and contacted the hotel.

I met with the hotel staff upon our return. Though we had ascertained the hotel as the most likely place of loss, the packet had not been located anywhere. The hotel staff seemed relatively sure that the packet had been stolen. So I began the tedious process of trying to reacquire the documents. I spent most of a frustrating day Friday at the U.S. embassy in Harare, at the Harare Central Police Department, at the Bronte Hotel where we were staying, meeting with staff, searching the WV office some more, at the Immigration office, and on the phone trying to get our tickets reissued.

On Saturday morning, we were 10 minutes away from leaving for the airport when we received a call from the hotel. The packet had been found, turned in by the resident of the room which we had been assigned initially but had moved out of. (This was the same room the hotel staff had assured me they had cleaned and searched thoroughly.) Why the room's resident waited three days to turn in the packet, I'll never know. I wonder if it took them that long to figure out that they would not be able to cash the traveler's checks, even with my passport.

I was grateful for the return of the packet, even though we had already purchased a new passport and new airline tickets. South Africa Air had refused to refund the lost tickets, but we managed to arrive at the airport in time to make our flight with the recovered tickets. (I assure you I will never again fly South Africa Air, if I can help it.)

Methinks Thou Prostesteth Too Much

My overall impression of Zimbabwe is somewhat mixed. I appreciate our staff there, and the work they are doing in a difficult environment. The country seems somewhat paranoid to me. Politics are difficult there and much of the world has condemned the Zimbabwe government for human rights abuses. This seems to have made everyone a little defensive; I don't know how many times people insisted to us that Zimbabwe "really is a safe place, despite what you read in the world press." Hmmm.

We were also a little creeped out by the many warnings that, whatever we did, we shouldn't appear to be journalists. Apparently journalists are not welcome in Zimbabwe, where the very idea of a free press is considered unpatriotic.

I was a little depressed when told by the U.S. Embassy that I might have to hang around another week to get my passport reissued. But fortunately everything worked out.

We appreciated the way the people in the rural projects we visited were taking their futures into their own hands. Many of the projects were started by local Zimbabweans long before World Vision arrived on the scene; we are merely partners in many cases.

But we also sensed a bit of an unusual "entitlement" mentality. Whenever we asked a beneficiary what they wanted to say to their sponsors or donors, without fail they gave us a laundry list or wish list of more things that they wanted. Not a single interviewee thought to stop and say "thank you."

I will be praying for the ongoing development, growth and freedom -- spiritually as well as physically -- of Zimbabwe.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

THE HEART OF AFRICA

The Congo: We just returned from a full week in what has to be simultaneously one of the strangest, most tragic and most wonderful places in the world, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It is a place made infamous by Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" novel in 1899. It is a vast land of jungle and savannah, the size of the western U.S. It is a place where 3.9 million people have died as a result of a civil war and related conflict, since 1998. A place of holocaust and hope.

The DRC is to be distinguished between the "other" Congo, to the northwest, a smaller country known as Congo Brazzaville. The equator runs through the northern portion, along with an immense river (the Congo River), but we were so far south of that steamy and humid jungle that the air still had the cool chill of winter, a brisk breeze blew much of the time, and everyone bundled up in sweaters and jackets.

Our visit started when our plane landed in Ndola, Zambia, and we proceeded overland by Range Rover north to the border (about a two-hour drive), across the border (an amazing and incomprehensible experience in itself, which took about two or three hours), then on up to Lubumbashi (another two hours).

We visited three cities in the southernmost portion only, known as Katanga Province. Our first day or two was divided between Lubumbashi (World Vision's headquarters office for the DRC) and Kipushi (which is nearby, about 30 km). For the third and fourth days we took a small commuter plane up 300 km to Kolwesi (it's at least an 8 hour drive, which in my case and due to the nutzoid roads in the DRC, might have resulted in brain damage), then back to Lubumbashi for our final day. We were accompanied during the entire trip by Vianney Dong, World Vision's communications director for the country, who is based in Kinshasa.

Kolwesi is near the source of the Congo River, a lake visible from our small aircraft as we came in for a landing at the Kolwesi Airport.

The area we were in was formerly controlled by big mining companies. The environmental devastation is obvious (huge mountains of tailings from cobalt/copper mining operations), but the devastation on the people in the area, resulting from when the mining companies collapsed or pulled out about 10 years ago, is even more obvious. Some mining is now occurring once again, but most people now live in desperate poverty, as subsistence farmers and/or street vendors.

There are tens of thousands of street children between Lubumbashi and Kolwesi, and most are out there as a result of abuse and accusations of "sorcery" (basically they are scapegoats for their parents' problems, mostly malaria and AIDS). This is a huge story that needs to be told, and I am working on writing it up. In many cases, I believe even evangelical pastors (hopefully out of ignorance and not simple greed) may be complicit in this travesty. They are charging parents money to "diagnose and treat" situations in which the children end up being accused of sorcery and turned out to the streets. It's heartbreaking.

One small center in Kolwesi which is seeking to help these kids has hundreds show up at their doorstep each day. The center is run by volunteers, completely unpaid for their efforts, including the director, who is herself a subsistence farmer. The funds they need to spend on food and rent for their small office come mostly from World Vision assistance and from the older children knitting and selling sweaters. They have one small room (the size of my bathroom at home) where they sleep nine homeless boys at night. No adult supervision, but it's deemed safer than the streets.

The entire area is plagued by an influx of thousands of truck drivers, mostly from South Africa and Zambia. In addition to various goods, these men import South Africa's HIV problem into the Congo. Street children -- females in particular -- in their desperation to simply survive, are ripe targets for these predators. Getting these kids off the streets would save hundreds and perhaps thousands of children's lives in this area of the world.

The other big plague here is malaria. Probably four out of five people have it, and it takes an enormous human toll. One small clinic we visited had a half dozen children lying miserably in bed. I asked what they were suffering and all but one were there because of malaria.

I was also privileged to interview kids and staff at the province's only school for the deaf and mute, a Christian school called Ephrata, supported by World Vision. Children are commuting in to the school, daily, from up to 30 km away. By commuting, I mean they are walking on Katanga's dangerous roads. Many start at 3 a.m. so they are walking in utter blackness every morning. Can you imagine how dangerous this is? In May alone the school had two children struck by vehicles, in separate incidents. I met and photographed one (in the adjacent photo), who is recovering from injuries very similar to the ones I received in my bike accident. He was struck by a motorbike.

The school wants to build a dorm facility where students who have such a long walk may stay during the week, to minimize the dangers. They are looking for funding.

I am blown away. World Vision is doing so much with so little here, but they are barely scratching the surface. They estimated in Kolwesi that they are reaching only about 10% of the people who desperately need help. The needs are enormous.

We also wanted to visit the Goma area in eastern Congo, but were vetoed due to insecurity. (The city has recently been shelled and raked by machinegun fire from rebel strongholds.) But the tension even this far south in Katanga Province is evident ... there are armed UN patrols and police with automatic weapons everywhere. I read there are more UN troops in the DRC (about 17,000) than any other single country in the world. Even the World Vision office in Kolwesi is guarded by hired police with automatic weapons. It's eerie.

While we were driving in Kolwesi we saw a man severely beating a woman in the street. The driver of our Range Rover skidded to a stop and our staff jumped out. They managed to talk the man down from his rage and partly rescued the woman by inserting their bodies between him and her. I have new levels of respect for what these folks are up against.

The people of Katanga Province impressed me as creatively resourceful and industrious. But in many ways they need a lot of help, in terms of expertise, training and resources.

If you visit the Congo, you will absolutely love the people. They are hungry for contact with the outside world. Everywhere we went, Mandy and I were treated like the King and Queen of England.

At one health center where I was interviewing staff and patients, the whole time we were there we hyeard the sound of loud music and celebration from outside. I asked Vianney about this and she said, "The local churches heard you were coming and organized something." When we went out front there was a "band" of about 50 or 60 native dancers, singers, and instrumentalists (most banging on various types of homemade drums made of hollowed-out tree stumps), and we were also surrounded by hundreds of onlookers who soon joined in the dancing. It was the wildest party I ever saw.

We proceeded from there by foot to our next appointment, a football (soccer) match I think they had organized just for our visit. One team of sponsored children versus another. There were hundreds of onlookers. As we approached the field (we were a little late and the match had already started), people left the sidelines in droves and came streaming toward us. We were pressed by so many excited children, just shaking our hands and touching us, that World Vision staff were forced to intervened and create a corridor so we could join the game without getting trampled!

There is an amazing pre-existing infrastructure in Katanga Province, built by the mining companies. Huge hospitals, schools, roadworks, even tracts of nice homes. But since they left, everything has degraded. Feels like being in some sort of post-holocaust B movie. Nothing seems to work anymore.

I am eager to share the stories that came out of our visit, so be sure and visit the World Vision blog where we will be doing this. I've just posted, first of all, the story of our wonderful visit with Gracia, our sponsored child, and her family. If you are not already a child sponsor, I hope you will become one after reading this!!!

Saturday, June 17, 2006

LIONS, AND TIGERS, AND RHINOS ... OH MY!

I've always enjoyed "Northwest Trek" because of the amazing display of animals that are native to the Northwest. It gives you a real sense of appreciation for the diversity of life that God created on this planet.

Well, this weekend we visited the South Africa Lion and Rhino reserve, and I must say, it makes Northwest Trek look like a sandcastle next to the Taj Mahal.

The Reserve boasts nearly every kind of African animal imaginable, with the exception perhaps of giraffes ... I'm not sure why they didn't have giraffes. (And if they'd had them, you'd think we would have been able to see them!) And many animals not native to Africa.

Most (not all) are more or less roaming freely on the Savannah, in large, fenced-off sections. You drive your car right through the savannah on these very authentic African roads, but you drive slowly and at times can't drive at all because you are surrounded by lions, cheetahs, rhinos, or other animals.

They also have a reptile sanctuary with practically every deadly snake known to man. Fortunatley, these aren't freely roaming the Savannah. And a more enclosed section of the reserve where you can examine dangerous and rare animals (like white lions and bengal tigers) up close and personal.

And a platform high over a swampy area where you can watch hippos do what hippos do best -- snooze peacefully.

Anyway, I won't waste your time with more words. You need to see the photos. We took more than 150. I wish Blogger would let me post them all. Here goes:

Larry and Mandy hold the front page of our local paper, the News Tribune, in a photo with Ronga, a rare white Bengal tiger, who we discovered enjoys an ear scratching just like any other putty-tat. (We're hoping the News Tribune will post this photo, as they often do from readers abroad.)

I wasn't aware that one could actually pet a rhinoceros and walk away unscathed, but here you go. Mandy is doing it. Turns out the big tough things also have a soft spot for having their ears scratched. I'm beginning to wonder if humans and snakes (which have no ears, right?) are the only creatures who actually don't enjoy this.

King of the beasts and king of the road.Driving through the savannah (in the "lion zone") we soon found ourselves in the midst of a pride of lions. (You discover why they call it a "pride" when you get in the midst of one.) Had you dared, you could have leaned out the window and touched them as they walked by the car. (I found it interesting that they warned you not to have any soft or loose objects on the outside of your car which could be chewed off. I guess this includes human heads and arms.) They acted just like they owned the road. Well, I guess they probably did! It took us a full half hour just to get through the pride ... you don't want to offend them.

Dang it! Blogger is doing it again. I'll work on an alternative method for getting the rest of the photos to you, so check back.
OKHAHLAMBA

Okhahlamba (pronounced "Oka-schlamba" with a gutteral sound for the "sch") is a rural highlands area halfway between Johannesburg and the ocean, bordered by the high ridges of Lesotho on the west. It is a geologically beautiful area of high cliffs and mountains, lakes, and grassy savannah.

Okhahlamba is the Zulu name for the area, and the Afrikaner name for it is Drakensberg. I haven't yet figured out exactly which name to use, since I am neither Zulu nor Afrikaner.

World Vision has an "area development project" in the region, in which poverty and AIDS are endemic among several hundred thousand people. Some live in towns and others out in sprawling mud brick huts out in the tall grassy fields. It was our privilege to spend the week with this program and try and document some of the things that they are doing. You can read more about our week on World Vision's blog, http://blog.worldvision.org.

We left on Friday to drive back to Johannesburg, about a three or four hour drive. But we decided to stop on the way at a beautiful part of the northern end of Drakensberg called "The Amphitheatre." It is a valley ringed by 1,500-foot cliffs and geological formations. A waterfall plunges down from the high Lesotho plateau and becomes the Rugela River.

We hiked about halfway up from the furthest point you can park in this national park area, up along the Rugela River toward the waterfall. We hiked for about two hours then had to turn back so we wouldn't be caught by darkness. But it was an enjoyable workout and beautiful hike.

I mainly wanted to use this blog to show you some of the photos from the hike. But Blogger will only let me upload these two for some reason. The one above is a view of the cliffs of "Cathedral" during our hike. Below is a shot from the beginning of the hike.

This hand-made wooden bridge crossed the Rugela River early in the hike. Most of the "rivers" I have seen in South Africa, so far, are little more than a bubbling creek. Though I'm sure they have larger ones.

Monday, June 12, 2006

A WEEKEND TO OURSELVES, THEN SOUTHWARD

Sunday in Johannesburg had two very interesting parts for us. Sunday morning we attended "Rhema Bible Church" in the suburb of Randburg. With 38,000 members, it is one of the largest churches in the world. I'm guessing that the 10:00 service we attended probably held around 6,000 or 8,000 people. It was exuberant worship.

Waterfall at botanical gardens near Johannesburg.Then Sunday afternoon, after a nap, we went to some botanical gardens to the northwest of our B&B. They had a beautiful waterfall and a lot of very interesting birdlife. Some photos are attached.

After a pleasant weekend in Johannesburg, we have finally "fled the big city." This morning we checked out of our B&B in Johannesburg and drove southeast about four hours to a beautiful area of South Africa known alternately, in Afrikaner, as Drakkensberg, and in Zulu, as Okhashlamba (check sp). This is a geologically dramatic area of high plateaus rolling hills, long placid lakes, and ringed to the west by the beautiful mountain ranges of Lesotho.

We are staying in a central town in the region, called Bergville, where World Vision's Okhashlamba Area Development Program is headquartered. We have met the manager of the ADP, Joseph Dladla, and he is going to very kindly show us the various projects that are a part of the ADP over the next two days, starting at 8 a.m. tomorrow morning.

Until then we have some time to settle into our B&B, which is called Anthony's and is just off the main road. It is operated by a very gracious Afrikaner named Carol. Once again we are protected by a very large German shepherd, this one MUCH friendlier than the last two. Every chance he gets he wants to lick our hands and be stroked.

The B&B itself sits on a hillside overlooking a valley between us and the dramatic mountains I mentioned earlier. We are grateful that it is farther off the beaten path than the last B&B, and therefore quieter. We have a lovely cottage with a central living area and kitchen and two attached bedrooms. Mandy is happy to have her own bedroom this time, she says she has had a hard time sleeping the last two nights on account of my snoring. (What, me snore? Yeah, right.)

The cottage is made of stone or concrete and very cool inside, so there are electric warmers in each room. At first we thought we wouldn't need them, but after we turned them off it became apparent why they were there as it grew cool quickly. Remember that it is the dead of winter here. But it is still quite pleasant outdoors until the sun goes down.

It was very quite breezy here this afternoon. We have a large pecan tree off our front porch so the porch is now covered with leaves ... and nuts. There are pecans lying all over the porch, just waiting to be picked up and cracked. They are delicious.

After a nice nap I went on a brief walk with "Shepherd" out as far as the main road. I disturbed some sort of large bird, the size of a goose but with a long curved bill, to one side of the driveway, it squawked angrily and flew over my head to land on the other side of the yard. It stalked around as if it belongs here. Maybe a pet? The dogs didn't seem to bother it.

Darkness has just fallen and as I was sitting out on the front porch and typing this, I suddenly got swarmed by mosquitoes. The first I've seen since being in Africa. So I quickly retreated inside to finish this.

Well, I'm back, but not until after a wonderful dinner. Carol, the woman who runs the B&B, has a long history with World Vision and its project here, and she is full of interesting information. Among our B&B mates are two women from New York who are working on a documentary about AIDS sufferers and anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs). Very interesting. I'm going to enjoy this place a lot!

Early tomorrow morning, we join our project staff and we'll see what the day brings!

Thanks for reading, and for praying. I have lots of photos, but Blogger is still not letting me upload. So check back!

Saturday, June 10, 2006

THE CRADLE OF HUMANITY?

To the northwest of Johannesburg, atop a high plateau of rolling savannah, sits an area pockmarked with limestone caves. They claim the name "The Cradle of Humanity" because the purported remains of some of the oldest hominids have been found in these caves.

Today we descended deep into one of these caves, with a group of other awe-inspired tourists, known as "Sterkfontein." It is deep within this cave, probably 300 feet below ground level, that in the 1980s someone discovered, in a pile of dirt removed from the cave, a number of foot bones and a broken off legbone which radiocarbon dating placed at 3.3 million years of age. Because of the broken off legbone, scientists thought the rest of the skeleton might still be in the rock of the cave somewhere, so they returned and were successful after a two-day search. Digging carefully away at the rock they eventually uncovered an entire skeleton.

That skeleton, nicknamed "Littlefoot," is still mostly imbedded in the rock. The place was carefully guarded by an iron gate replete with alarm system. Our tour guide informed us they are still digging the skeleton out, after these 20 or so years. I asked when he thought they might have it completely removed. "Come back in 5 years and ask me again," he joked, and everyone laughed.

I was perplexed by a number of things at Sterkfontein. One was why, if this is such a magnificent find (the oldest complete hominid skeleton ever discovered, supposedly), they aren't more eager to get it out of there.

The sterkfontein cave contained a number of "death traps" or vertical tunnels to the surface through which numerous animals, and even people apparently, fell to their deaths. Such was the unfortunate fate of Littlefoot, it seems.

I am also perplexed by how unquestioningly people accept the basic premises of evolutionary theory, which seems to be regarded as indisputable fact by the people who put together exhibits such as those at Sterkfontein. They talk about fish evolving into mammals, but then show you a fossil of a fish found so many millions of years ago, and tell you that exact same fish swims in the waters of South Africa today. So how come it hasn't evolved into something else? Something better? Why is the same animal fundamentally unchanged?

And if they are pulling thousands and thousands of animal fossils out of these caves, as they claim (and I saw several rooms full of fossils), why haven't they found even one fossil of some species that is in transition to another species?

It seems that if macroevolution as a theory were to be taken seriously, there would need be at least one example of one species in transition to another, in the fossil record. Doesn't anyone wonder about that?

The Bible says that God created every animal "after its own kind." In other words, you don't transition from one species into another. Which would explain why there is nothing in the fossil record to support that particular theory.

I have studied the Bible very carefully and nothing I've ever seen come out of the world of science ... including hominid skeletons that are millions of years old ... violates anything I have read in its pages. Sure, some people jump to conclusions and construct artificial timetables and make certain assumptions and think the Bible supports the notion that the human race is only 6,000 years old. But there's plenty of room in the Bible I am reading for every proven scientific reality out there. The Bible presents no offense to science.

But science certainly appears offended by the Bible sometimes. Scientists scoff at the notion that an intelligent designer created all the order around us, which the law of entropy assures us is proceeding from that original ordered state into a state of disorder. (Once again, consistent with biblical truth.) In violation of their own principles they suggest that the intricate and amazing design we know of as life proceeded basically out of random chance. From a state of disorder to a state of order. Hmmm. So much for the second law of thermodynamics.

Well, don't get me started. Arrogance just bugs the heck out of me. We seem so sure about things that we really can't know much about because we weren't there when they happened. We need a good dose of humility.

In college I read a book called The Nature of Scientific Paradigms, or something like that. The basic thesis was interesting. It said that about every hundred years ago or so developments in our understanding of how things work so significantly shift our "scientific paradigm" that things we took for granted a hundred years ago become totally inane.

A hundred years is a very short timeframe when held up against the scale of creation and the history of our planet. A hundred years from now, who knows what we will think about all the theories we currently cling so tightly to? A mere hundred years. We need a little humility.

Friday, June 09, 2006

A WEEK IN AFRICA ... SOME IMPRESSIONS

Hi everyone. It's Friday evening here in South Africa (Friday morning there at home in Washington), near the end of a very long but productive week, and I thought I would take a quick break to let everyone know how we're doing, and to get some of my impressions of Africa down "on paper."

Mandy and I arrived here in Johannesburg last Saturday, so tomorrow morning we'll have been here a full week. We've had some adjustments, but I really feel like we're starting to get comfortable. We're staying at a very nice bungalo, a bed 'n breakfast called "King's B&B" in Roodeport, which is a suburb of Johannesburg.

We've worked pretty hard since getting here. We had one full day in Soweto, which is the world's largest ghetto, interviewing and taking photos at World Vision projects, which generated about two full days of work to write up the stories and post the photos to the internet so communicators at World Vision could use them. Some of what we're working on is also being posted to the World Vision blog, so you can read that and see Mandy's great photos at http://blog.worldvision.org/. There are about 5 million people in Soweto, and 37% of them have AIDS. It's desperately poor and very sad.

So, we're looking forward to the weekend. We're even thinking about going to a big game park and looking at the lions!

Johannesburg is very interesting. It's a huge city, a lot like LA, and bustling with people. It's at about 5,500 feet in elevation and it's early winter here, so it can get fairly cool at night (and there is no heating in our bungalo, so we sleep with warm blankets). But during the day the sun shines most of the time and it is warm enough for shirtsleeves.

There is a lot of crime (theft mostly) so we take good security precautions. Our B&B is very secure, surrounded by walls topped with electric wire and even patrolled by German shepherds. Cost of living is fairly low; we went out to a pretty nice restaurant and had a good dinner tonight for a total of about $11 for the two of us. And that's considered expensive here. Our B&B, which is really nice and includes a great breakfast, is only about $30 or $40 a night. South Africa would actually be a great place to vacation. It's beautiful, and cheap, and probably about the most modern place in all of Africa.

We're renting a small car, and it took me a few days to get the hang of driving it. Everyone drives on the left side of the road and the driver sits on the right side of the car. It has a manual transmission so you shift on the left, which is hard to get used to at first. But after driving for 6 days I think I'm getting pretty good at it. It may be hard to go back to right side driving when we get back. Your brain gets adjusted so after awhile you don't even have to think about it much. But the first few days it took so much concentration it made my head hurt.

Other than driving on the roads, most of the differences are in lifestyle. Things are definitely slower here. "You're on Africa time now" is a common saying. And the other thing that's very noticeable is a definite class distinction. The menial labor or very servile jobs are always done by blacks. There are some blacks doing higher level jobs, but not near as many. Apartheid is gone, but much of the culture hangs on.

This will be our last weekend in Johannesburg for awhile. Monday we're driving about three or four hours (toward the southern coast) to a small village out in the country called Okhahlamba. (If you try to pronounce that, I guarantee you won't get it right. It's pronounced something like "Okaschlamba" but with a kind of Germanic gutteral sound.) If you're looking at a map, Okhahlamba is right on the eastern edge of Lesotho, but still in South Africa. It's supposed to be very beautiful, with a dramatic mountain range behind it (on the Lesotho side). Lesotho is very mountainous and actually gets snow in the winter. We will visit there later in July ... when it's colder!

We'll stay in Okhahlamba for three or four days, doing more research and photography in projects there. Then for the following weekend we may either drive out to the south coast, to the Durban area, to go sightseeing and explore KwaZulu-Natal, or perhaps just stay in Okhahlamba for the weekend (if we really like it), or return to Roodeport. Right now we're playing it by ear.

Then the following Monday we fly 2,000 miles north to the Congo, where I'm sure it will be much warmer! We will spend a week in the Congo, doing research in several projects there. After that we will spend up to a week each in Zambia and Zimbabwe, then return to South Africa for a few days before flying back to London, then home on July 19.

So far I have been a lot busier than Mandy, although she's probably been catching up on more rest than I have. She also is becoming an expert at South African TV, which is mostly full of B-run movies or old, cancelled TV shows. Anyway, she's looking forward to hitting the road Monday.

So, Mandy and I are both excited and doing well, though we miss home. We have gotten good resource so far and things are coming together. Technology has been a little frustrating, but we're learning how to deal with it.

I intended to attach a few of what I think are her most interesting photos from Tuesday's visit to the Soweto Township of East Orlando, but Blogger isn't cooperating again. Please check http://blog.worldvision.org/ for photos, for now. I'll post some here later if I can.

We miss you all. Drop us a comment!

Monday, June 05, 2006

June 5, 2006

In the Office

Just wanted to give a quick update to say we spent our first full day with World Vision's wonderful Southern Africa regional staff, in their office here in Roodeport, South Africa. What a great group of folks. We are especially indebted to Chantal Meugens for all the work she is putting in getting us set up logistically.

We haven't yet taken any new photos today, so I have nothing to post that you haven't already seen below.

Today we spent getting to know our staff here, and getting logistics worked out for the various countries we'll be traveling to, and getting our internet connectivity working. We've been using dialup at our accommodations, so it's a relief to once again be able to transmit by broadband! I just wish I had some photos to show you. The grounds here, where the office is located, are breathtaking. Maybe tomorrow.

Exciting! Tomorrow, I learned, we are going into the Soweto Townships for a special event with World Vision sponsored children. So our first real resource will probably be transmitted Tuesday evening (our time ... Tuesday morning your time). Stay tuned!

Sunday, June 04, 2006

June 4, 2006


OUR FIRST WEEKEND IN AFRICA

The flight from London to Johannesburg divided the great continent of Africa neatly into two halves. When we first approached the coast from the north, I was astounded to see an enormous, brightly-lit city gleaming below. It was Tripoli. And the lights were the last I would see until day began to break somewhere over the Congo.

After Tripoli, Africa slid by underneath, vast, silent, and shrouded in blackness. After day broke, we could barely make out the blue ribbons of rivers, and the vast undulating plains first of jungle and then savannah.

At one point during the long night Mandy nudged me and pointed. But I had removed my contact lenses for sleeping. "What is it?" I asked. "That light," she said. "I think it's a star -- but so bright." Even without my contacts I could see the gleam, low on the western horizon. Following the path of the sun. Probably a planet like Venus.

But near the far end of the continent, Johannesburg arrives like a return to civilization. The city has more than 15 million people, our driver told us. The streets seemed saner than London, and in most ways it reminded me of my old hometown of Los Angeles.

The B&B we checked into was fantastic, its bungalo-style rooms spacious and well appointed. It sits on a main road in Roodeport, a suburb of Johannesburg where World Vision has its Southern Africa regional offices.

Saturday was filled with napping and trying unsuccessfully to stave off the travel fatigue. A rental agency delivered a car with a manual transmission. I don't mind driving manual, but having to manipulate the shifter with my left hand while seeking to navigate down the left side of the road has me thinking in reverse and feeling tied up in knots. I was able to do a few blocks without killing us on Saturday afternoon, to pick up a pizza, then Sunday ventured out to church and, starting to feel more comfortable, halfway across town to a large park where we practiced photography. Then out again for shopping and dinner. I now feel I am starting to somewhat get the hang of it, though I'm not sure if I'm feeling so exhausted now from the concentration or the jetlag. Probably both.

I think our main challenge at the moment is just the sense of isolation. I expected more from church -- to find a friend or someone we could share our long journey with, but none showed up. Made me wonder how often strangers far from home may feel the same way about my church. We must recommit ourselves to take that risk and talk to people we don't recognize.

Nonetheless, I enjoyed spending time with my daughter. She is brave, and daring, and a worthy companion for such an adventure as this.

Well, it's evening and after chatting with my wife (who is just waking up on a Sunday morning) by instant messaging, I feel better and think I will sleep well tonight. I managed all day without a nap and so I think that means I must be getting back into a "normal" rhythm. Tomorrow morning we meet up with colleagues at the office and our assignment should begin to take shape.

Right now, I miss home something fierce. But we'll see what tomorrow brings.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

June 2, 2006

EN ROUTE TO AFRICA!

Since our flight to Johannesburg had London at approximately the halfway point, we finagled a stopover of two days and one night. World Vision's internet staff at our London headquarters (located at Milton Keynes, about an hour north of London, with a small office in the heart of London itself) graciously hosted our short visit.

Lost and Found

After a smooth, nine-hour flight on British Airways, we were grateful to arrive at Heathrow Airport at about 11 a.m. local time (which was really about 3 a.m. back in Seattle -- yawn). However, our tiredness turned into panic when we discovered, after waiting in the customs line, that my passport was no longer in my possession.

We made our way back to the plane and explained our predicament. They let us on board and we searched all around our seats, but could not find the critical document. I had removed it from the passport holder in Seattle in order to board, so I concluded I must have dropped it there.

I guess I am a fundamentally disorganized person, I am always losing things. I've also discovered that usually, when I lose something important, if I pray about it, it turns up. So, as we waited in the gangway, we prayed and asked God to help us find it. No sooner had I said amen than an excited maintenance worker came rushing out of the plane, my passport in hand. He had found it lying on the floor, somewhere near our seats.

Mandy said he looked disturbed when I threw my arms around him and hugged him, but I didn't care. I wanted to hug God, and he was the nearest one I could find.

So we made it through customs, and ever since Mandy has determined that she would be the keeper of the passports when we are in an important place like the airport.

After customs we were met by David, from World Vision UK's internet staff, who treated us to a rush hour drive out of London and up to Milton Keynes. Our hotel was located right across the street from the WVUK office. We went in and said hi to everyone, then retired for a quick nap before a meeting and dinner.

I won't bore you with talk about the various meetings we had while there, but dinner was fun. When in English, you have to go to an authentic British pub. This one sat on a canal. David explained that a network of canals crisscross England, and these were navigated continually by pleasurecraft. When he said that, I envisioned speedboats, but was surprised to see instead a sort of long, covered dugout. Basically they were narrow little houseboats. People who are well off or retired frequently live in these boats and cruise lazily around England's canals. Cool.

When at an English pub you also have to eat fish 'n chips, so Mandy and I both obliged. But a new addition to the treat was mashed peas with vinegar. This required a certain amount of courage from me, as I am no fan of peas per se, and when they are mashed they are certainly not any more appetizing. But these were tolerable and I was able to down the whole lot. We washed it all down with ale and ice cream and brownies.

Friday morning we checked out of our hotel, had some more meetings, then boarded the bullet train back for London with all our gear. The bullet trains are cool, they are fast, and they are quiet. Rocketing through the English countryside at what must have been close to 100mph at times was the way to go. Then we hired a taxi for the brief ride through London to the office.

The WV office in London is surprisingly close to Buckingham Palace -- just a few short blocks away. It is a one-room office which is used mostly for advocacy work, and was unoccupied on the day we visited. So we stowed our gear there, then set out on foot for a bite of lunch and some touring. We got to pose with the Buckingham Palace guards on horseback (sorry, the photo of us posing didn't work out, but here's one of the guard on horseback), then headed another few blocks away to the National Art Museum.

Mandy has an intense appreciation for fine art and it almost killed her to only be able to spend two hours in that amazing place, looking at original paintings by Van Gogh, El Greko, Da Vinci, Rembrandt and many more famous artists throughout history. They were so close you could touch them, but I suppose if you tried you would certainly regret it. The stern-faced guards in each of the many rooms we visited also informed us unsmilingly that absolutely no photos were allowed.

After this we headed back to the office, picked up our gear, then caught a taxi back to Heathrow for our 11-hour flight back to Johannesburg. We were tired but happy.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

COUNTING DOWN TO AFRICA

Only 10 short days until Mandy and I leave for Southern Africa!

For those who are visiting because of our presentation at Elim this morning, we appreciate your support. I am attaching below the various maps indicating the stages in our journey.

If you are interested in sponsoring a child from any of the countries we visit, you may do so by clicking here.

To London:













Then on to Johannesburg:














Working in South Africa:














And Swaziland:














Flight to Zambia:
















Drive up to the Kipushi project in the Congo:















Possible work in the Eastern Congo:















Drive south to Zimbabwe:















Drive south, back to South Africa:

Sunday, May 07, 2006

A SPEEDBUMP ON THE ROAD OF LIFE

I've been training pretty hard for Cyclocross Africa, and on Wednesday I hit one of those big speedbumps that sometimes lie along the road of life.

I was biking home from work (about 25 miles, a ride which involves one good stiff hill climb). For some reason I had decided to carry my laptop in my backpack, which was a mistake because this 10 pounds of metal really makes your back ache. So halfway through the journey, I stopped at Nathan and Becky's house, in downtown Puyallup, and dropped off the laptop. I also made a slight adjustment to my seat. Then continued.

My last lucid memory is of pedaling at a steady pace southbound on 2nd Ave. I remember looking up, to my right, and seeing the back side of Safeway. My intention was to turn right on 7th, then left on Meridian, to continue up the hill.

My next memories are a jumble of confusion. It wasn't until maybe a half hour or an hour later when I "came to," thanks to the sound of sirens in my ears and the feeling of fresh oxygen being sucked into my lungs through a nosepiece. I was in an ambulance, and an attendant was leaning over me.

"You already asked me that twice," he informed me. "Don't you remember what I told you?"

Asked you what? I thought, bewildered and frightened by my predicament. I could feel a backboard beneath me and a neckbrace holding my head rigid. There was an IV in one arm, blood on my face and a blaze of pain in my head and neck, my hands, and my right knee.

It seemed like a few short moment later when we were wheeled into the trauma center in Tacoma. I drifted in and out of lucidity. I have only snippets of recollection of what happened there over a period of two or three hours -- of being loaded into an MRI machine and having my brain scanned; of having a second IV started, of having all my clothes cut off, and of having my smashed upper lip stitched up. Soon my wife Darlene appeared, and my daughter Mandy, and they were later joined by my brother Don.

The MRI showed small bone fragments all about my spine, at the base of my neck. Had I had a previous injury, they asked? I told them about my face plant of a few years ago. Since they didn't x-ray me then I suppose it's possible the damage had occurred during that earlier accident.

Yes, I had a concussion, they said, but it didn't seem too serious. Since Darlene is an RN and knew what danger signs to watch for, they felt they could release me to her care. Eventually I got a wheelchair ride out to the car, and then the ride home.

On the way, we stopped at the scene of the accident. Nothing looked familiar. Still no idea why I crashed. Had I struck something? Been sideswiped by a car? Simply blacked out? No way to know. We stopped by the fire department, and they loaded my bike and biking bag into the car. They warned us that the bag was soaked in blood. The damage to the bike, surprisingly, was light -- the right front handlebars were twisted. Not much in the way of clues. I plied them with questions. Was a car involved? They didn't think so, it just appeared that I fell from my bike. If there were witnesses, they couldn't tell me who they were. The woman who was first at the scene, who called them, said she thought I had been "drowning in blood." Apparently from all the blood on my face and in my mouth. A private ambulance which was passing by stopped and rendered assistance, before the paramedics arrived.

The next few days were a haze. I was told to rest. With a concussion, fatigue and depression are often symptomatic. The first two days I took Percoset for the pain, and it was like constantly napping. After awhile I was tired of being fuzzy. I struggled to hold and recall details in my brain, memory seemed fleeting. The line between reality and nonreality became very blurred. I had a number of odd visual effects, more "floaters" than usual and also disturbances like vibration in various parts of my visual field. The ministrations of friends and family during this time were much appreciated and I craved company.

The third day, my muscles were acutely sore and the jacuzzi became my best friend. Normally unused muscles (along the back sides of my arms, for instance, and various neck muscles) burned. Aside from struggling with the feeling that I was in a dreamlike state, I became very grateful that the accident, which could have been much more serious, wasn't.

I was also plagued by odd fears. Several times I thought, "What if I really died out there on the pavement, or in that ambulance? And that my odd, dreamlike experiences since the accident which I don't remember weren't really reality, but some sort of echo in my dying brain?" I wondered if others who had gone through a brain injury felt similar fears. What ultimately convinced me that I was still alive was the pain of recovery.

Where to from here? One of the things I fear is that this may spell an end to my short biking career, which I really enjoy. My wife has already laid down the law: "No biking in Africa!" This is my second serious biking accident, and while the first one was clearly carelessness, I thought I was being very careful and I still have no idea why this one occurred. What's to prevent a third -- and more serious -- accident from occurring? Should I simply stop? But I so enjoy biking (and it's health benefits, at least most of the time) and the thought is truly depressing.

Well, I did get back up on the bike. Secretly, yesterday, I rode up and down the road near our house. Nothing magical happened, no suddenly returning memories flooding my brain. But I did enjoy the exertion of muscles, the coolness of the air, the silence of the forest as it glided by. I don't think I'm quite ready to give it up yet!

Monday, May 01, 2006


SOUTHERN AFRICA, HERE WE COME! It looks like it's really going to happen ... we have all our shots and have purchased our tickets ... in one short month, Mandy and I are headed to the countries of Southern Africa with World Vision to work on AIDS and food crisis-related resource gathering.

We'll be there a total of two months and will be based near Johannesburg (World Vision's Southern Africa regional offices are in Roodepoort), but will travel to various countries (the Congo, Malawi, Zimbabwe, possibly others) to work with field and national communicators. Our goal will be to assist them in developing communications resources (stories, photos, video) for fundraising offices such as ours in the U.S., and particularly from the internet perspective.

We will be sharing and testing technological solutions during our two-month stay, and in general just getting to know the great staff who represent World Vision in Southern Africa. We are very excited!

Since I'll be missing the Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic this year, we also plan to do a version of the STP in South Africa. The current plan calls for us (over a two-day period, July 15 and 16) to cycle along the southern coast's "Garden Route" from Cape Town to Mosselbaai, approximately 330 kilometers. It's possible, given sufficient time and energy, we may push further on, as far as Knysna or Port Elizabeth. (I've been training for the past year and a half solid, and am feeling pretty optimistic!)

I am calling this little adventure "Cyclocross Africa" and am inviting others from our South Africa office to join us. While the costs of our trip are completely paid, we are raising pledges through this event with the funds going to benefit AIDS orphans and vulnerable children throughout Southern Africa. For details see my Cyclocross Africa page at http://www.firstgiving.com/cyclocross_Africa.

Mandy is also excited about the opportunity to represent her employer, REI, on this adventure.

I will write more soon about our preparations for our trip, so stay tuned!

In the meantime I also wanted to let you know that we are nearing the end of our Isaiah study, with our college group, and will probably be finished by the time we leave. While on the long planeride to London, and then to Johannesburg, I hope to post some additional study blogs below.