Memories of Tanzania (2016 Calendar)


One year ago, on Christmas Eve, we were suddenly informed that we had to leave the country. We had seven days to grab a few possessions, say some quick goodbyes, and leave. This holiday season, exactly one year later, we can’t help but look back in confused, swirling emotion. We are grateful to be so close to family this year: to celebrate with them in cold weather and cozy homes. But we also dearly miss something about those hot, coastal Christmases, when we tried to distract ourselves from the pains of homesickness by taking frequent swims in the warm ocean. It wasn’t perfect — it was often very difficult; but we loved so much about it, and there is so much to miss: our warm friends with their kind smiles, the evening breeze off the sea, the rainy sound of palm trees in the wind, the tropical plants and birds, our dog, Lincoln. There is so much more. There are moments I could attempt to describe. Beautiful, unbelievable moments.

One year later, here we are: far from there, not knowing whether we will ever see that place or stand before the smiling faces of those friends again.

As I have tried to process and reflect on our years in Tanzania, words always fail. But clear, simple memories can be kind and healing. So, as a way to process over the past year, I (Lauren), with blank paper and watercolors in hand, have reflected on some moments—images frozen in time—that represent the frequent beauty of the world in which I lived. These are memories of Tanzania—beautiful, wonderful memories that I am grateful to carry with me.

Inserted below are a few photos of the resulting watercolors. I hope they reflect some of the Tanzanian beauty which we are thankful to have known. I did one watercolor for each month of the year, so I will also be selling a calendar that resulted from this work, if anyone is interested. (See photos and paragraph below.)

Thanks for listening and looking. May your New Year be bright.






2016 Calendar: Memories of Tanzania

In hopes that others might find joy in these images, as I have in my memories, I decided to sell my watercolor prints in the form of a 2016 calendar. The calendars come on a 9×6 clipboard, as shown in the pictures. They are $30 each, plus shipping.

I will be taking orders until midnight on Sunday night, January 11th. Calendars will be printed and completed over the next few days and shipped between January 15-17th.

To place an order please click on the “Contact” tab above and use the form to send me a message with your shipping address. I will then email you an invoice with your total cost (including estimated shipping). You will then be able follow a link to pay easily and securely online. (Or, if you would prefer to pay by check let me know.)

Happy New Year!




Thoughts on a Saturday Morning

It is a beautiful, quiet morning in Searcy, Arkansas. I am curled up in a comfy old chair listening to the sounds around me. I can hear the soft click of the keyboard as Travis works on the computer in the other room. The snow and ice of the week turned to rain this morning, and it is lightly pattering on the windows. I hear the soft whir of the heater as it clicks on, working hard to keep us warm.

Oliver is snuggled in bed for an early nap, and I can feel myself slowly settling into the quiet.

What a crazy few months. It is hard to believe that we are in the US right now. In a way it feels like we are in a dream: like I will wake up and be back in my Tanzanian home. Or was Tanzania the dream?

The rain has slowed, and a bird chirps into the break of rain drops. His chirping transports my mind to Tanzania as if he was answering my question. No, this is not a dream. And neither was Tanzania. How many times have the birds in Tanzania sung notes of comfort to my soul? How many times have they reminded me of beauty and grace, and called me to cast down my anxiety?

Deep breath. I sink deeper into my chair.

Tanzania. A world we know so well and are so far from. I know life is continuing on without us. When we’ve talked to our friends on the phone they tell us of the rains. I can picture the flooding. The puddles and mud that make walking on roads tricky. I remember the few leaks in our roof that we have tried to repair numerous times. Did I move everything away from that leak? I think so.

I can see the ocean. Reflecting the green of the stormy sky.

I can see the green grass and foliage that is now alive and thriving — having replaced the dry brush and dusty ground only a few months ago.

I can feel the hot breeze blowing through my ever-open kitchen window. And smell the salt of the ocean in the wind.

Oh, no, Tanzania is not a dream. It is a place that holds us captive. Our hearts will forever be intertwined with our many friends there. It is a place that holds so many of our memories: good and bad, laughter and tears. It is a place we hope to return to: to see our friends, to sit on our front steps, to swim in that salty sea.

Deep breath. I hear Oliver stirring, bringing my attention back to my current surroundings.

I glance out the window. The rain has stopped, and the tree outside is now full of chirping birds. Again reminding me not to worry.

As I stand from my cozy spot on the chair to go get my sleepy boy, one final thought:

May I always be present where I am, but may I never forget where I have been, and may I always be grateful for both.

The last few months…

Well, folks, it has been almost three months since we last posted a blog. Three months!! And, let me tell you, those three months flew by in a flash!

Whenever that much time elapses between blog posts (this, unfortunately, happens more frequently that not), I have a debilitating urge to fill you in on everything that has happened–which, of course, is impossible.

So, in the words of Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride:

“Let me explain… no, there is too much. Let me sum up.”

On March 20 we welcomed a charming little man into our family: Oliver Easton. We have enjoyed getting to know him over the past few months. He has already brought so much joy and laughter to our little family.




Because much of our furlough-time was spent waiting for our baby–and then recovering from an unplanned C-section–we did not get to see everyone we would have liked! If you are one of our many friends who we did not get to visit this time, just know we missed seeing you and look forward to the next time our paths cross.

Though we would have loved to spend more time with our friends and loved ones across the US, the fact that we didn’t have much choice but to stay put for a while actually allowed us some time to rest and rejuvenate–something that we really needed. So, though we may have been a little sleep deprived from the nights with a new baby, by the end of our time in the States we felt rested and ready to get back to Tanzania.


My two boys.

Which brings us up-to-date. We are back in Mtwara! We were warmly welcomed by team-mates and friends. It has been so fun to introduce Oliver to our many friends here!

And since “summing up” is much harder to do in words, I turn to my ever faithful pictures to do the work for me.


Bekari meeting baby Oliver (pronounced: Oh-li-va)


Fatima meeting Oliver

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Aletheia and Oliver

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Jeda and Oliver (the two little boys on the team)


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Swimming with Sarah and Reed

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Oliver’s first swim in the Indian ocean!!



Oliver Easton


Thursday night — at 11:21pm, in Jellico, Tennessee, weighing in at 8 pounds and measuring 20 inches — we welcomed our son, Oliver Easton Trull, into the world.

The name Oliver is derived from the olive tree, which has grown for thousands of years across numerous cultures and religions as a symbol of peace.

The name Easton refers to the direction east, toward the sunrise, symbolizing the hope, possibility, and new life that come with each new day.

The meanings of these names mean a lot to us as we wish for our son a life resonating with peace and resounding with hope and possibility. But in the end the name doesn’t define the person, the person gives definition to the name, and we hope that Oliver Easton will fill his given names with greater virtue, definition, and meaning than could have ever been originally embedded within them.

Waiting for Lil’ Bit

“I held my breath as we do sometimes to stop time when something wonderful has touched us…”  –  Mary Oliver

Life seems a bit unreal these days. We are here in the States waiting to welcome our first child into the world. And, in the few short weeks we have been here, there have been many wonderful moments in which I have held my breath, trying to stop time.

Here are just a few of those moments:

– The day that we drove from Washington DC to Tennessee, surrounded by sunshine and snow.

– The few days my whole family was together in our little Tennessee valley, catching up with each other and eagerly anticipating two new family members — our little boy and my sister’s little girl (both due sometime in March.)

– The moment we met our new little nephew, Tyler Paxton Trull, for the first time. We soaked up many sweet snuggles with him over a few relaxing days at Travis’s brother and sister-in-law’s house.

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Our sweet nephew Tyler.

– Our first evening in Alabama where we sat with Travis’s parents, in their cozy living room, sharing stories and experiences since the last time we were together.

– The fun conversations with Travis’s extended family after church on Wednesday night.

– Sitting down to a true southern breakfast around Travis’s grandparents table one crisp Alabama morning.

– Feeling truly showered with gifts and blessings at three different baby showers in three of our homes: Tanzania, with our team-mates (before we left TZ); in Jellico, surrounded by the women who watched me and my sisters grow up; and in Alabama, surrounded by Travis’s community of family and friends. We felt truly blessed.

– Drinking chai and coffee around our wood-burning stove as winter hesitates to let go.

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Snowflakes in March

– And now, as we are back in Jellico waiting for our Lil’ Bit to arrive, we are soaking up the moments of pre-parenthood by wandering the woods and going to see movies as often as we can.

I want to remember all these moments — so, as each wonderful thing touches us, I hold my breath in an attempt to stop time.

And yet, even though there are many moments we wish we could pause, we are also eagerly anticipating our new baby’s arrival and look forward to introducing him to the world. Though we are not going to get to travel as much this time as we would like, we are planning a trip in April to Arkansas, where we are eager to see and visit with as many of our state-side friends as possible.

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Maternity 005 color


It has been a week of reflection. The kind of week where sad news pauses everything — making us stop and look heavenward for answers and comfort. The kind of week that makes us think about the important things — reminding us of how precious people are and how short life is. It has been the kind of week that reminds us of how each person’s fingerprints on the world are immeasurable.

Last week, one such person left her lovely fingerprints on this world as she left it. There are no words to express the sadness we feel that Lisa Carr, a woman I am honored to have known, is no longer present with us on this earth. And there are no words to express how thankful we all are for her life and for the example she shared of love, grace, faithfulness, prayerfulness, and beauty. To Lisa’s family, thank you for sharing her with all of us. We are thinking about and praying for you!

I don’t know if there are some weeks or months that just hold more sad news than others; but, if so, January was one of those. A number of my friends and aquaintances lost loved ones this past month. To those friends I just want to say that our hearts are breaking for you. And, the world is thankful for your loved ones’ fingerprints.

To the the families of Lisa Carr, Chris Dell, Steve Roberts, Kailey Massey, Polly Hilbert, and anyone else who may be hurting right now… May the God of comfort be with you!


Snapshots from Autumn

Some snapshots (in no particular order) from our “autumn” season:

We were pirates for Halloween.

Water Research Trip

The Tandahimba district water officer shows us around.

Digging for water.

Bakari's Wedding

Bakari gets married at a small ceremony in his wife's village.

Makua Survey with Mozambique Interns

West of Makonde-land lies the Makua area of Tanzania.

Bakari's New Home (in progress)

Newly married, Bakari buys land and begins building a home.

Harding in Zambia: Mtwara and Zanzibar

After 2 months in Zambia, 27 Harding University students came through Mtwara for 4 days.

From Mtwara, the HIZ students set out for Zanzibar.

Alleys of Zanzibar.

Amina's Wedding

Lauren's good friend Amina invited us to her large wedding ceremony in Mtwara town.

Standing, singing, and swaying in unison was a major portion of the wedding ceremony.

Lauren and the bride.

Henna tattoos are a tradition for the bride.

Trip to Meetings in Morogoro and Chimala

Traveling in Tanzania is always an adventure, and this advertisement above the entrance to baggage claim is all too foreboding.

We had a great meeting in Chimala, where coworkers have a mission hospital and various schools.

For Travis's birthday, we spent a night at a coffee plantation near Chimala.

Team Halloween Party

The team in costume. (Hillbillies, Superman and Luau Girl, Pirates, and Chickens)

Our ghostly quarters.

Reed mentally prepares for an intense game of musical chairs.

Things of old.

The Fairy Adelaide decorates her pumpkin.

Our friends Kellen and Jordan became a Halloween decoration.

Aletheia celebrates glitter!

Hillbilly Jeda ponders his work of art.

The dining room.

MaKuYa Festival

As one group dances in traditional bark clothing, the next group awaits their turn.

Rangi Leaders Visit the Team

Their first time to coastal Tanzania (being from far Northwestern Tanzania), the Rangi leaders pose in front of a pile of sea salt.

Mtwara Salt Farms.

In historic Mikindani.

We Became Uncle Travis and Aunt Lauren

We meet our little nephew Ty via Skype.

We Found Out We Would Be Parents

Lauren made this out of banana leaves from our own trees.

The baby grows.

And So Much More…

Lauren designed this logo/label for a bee-keeping group Andrew is working with.

An old German mission on Rondo Plateau, near Mtwara.

Life at home.

Biking with Andrew to Mji Mwema.

Visiting people's homes.

At home with friends.

Lots of dirt roads to visit people.

Thanks to all our supporters!



Friday afternoon meanderings…

It’s a quiet Friday afternoon in Mtwara, Tanzania. And I have been sitting at this computer for close to an hour now. I REALLY want to put up a blog post because… well, the fact it is that it has been way too long! But sometimes you just feel uninspired. Ya know the feeling?

Well, I’m feeling that way now. (We do have some great stories from the summer that we would love to tell you! Coming soon…)

Since inspiration seems to be eluding me today I’ve decided to just try something different. I am just going to write. (Genius, I know!) I am going to stopping thinking so hard. I am going to stop trying to come up with something profound or awesome. And I am going to just write.

Ok. So. Here I go.

When I say it is a quiet afternoon, what I really mean is that it has not been a very busy day for me. Travis is out in a village for the day and I opted to stay home this time — I am planning on making something good for dinner. I thought it would be fun to have a good Friday night dinner to celebrate the completion of another week. But again, feeling uninspired, even in the food department. Dinner ideas anyone? (I have some chicken, some tomatoes, some dried beans, eggs, and I think one little shriveled carrot. Probably should have run to the market instead of staring at a blank computer screen all afternoon. Ha. Oh well.)

But, getting back to the point, quiet is probably not the best word to describe our little neighborhood these days. Mtwara is growing rapidly, and we have seen our little neighborhood expand a lot, even in the short time we’ve been here.

Let me tell you all the noises I here right now:

Just heard a rooster crow.

I hear a group of vijana (youths) talking animatedly as they pass by our house.

I hear a knock on the gate. Hold on… I’ll be right back.

Ok, I am back. It was a little girl from next door who is learning English and has started coming by at least once a day to practice. (This was the second time this afternoon. I told her politely that I was busy with work, which she then offered to help with. Poor thing… she must be so bored. I explained that I was working on the computer. Perhaps the only thing more boring than reading this post is to watch me write it! I told her to come back tomorrow.)

I hear the call of a lady who is selling corn from the basket she carries on her head. “Whhyyyy mahindi mahindi mahindi!” (This is what they shout to announce what they’re selling.)

I hear the rumble of music from the church next door. They are gearing up for their Friday night service. (Yes, they have a service every Friday night (5-6pm then 10pm – 3am), Saturday afternoon, Sunday morning, afternoon, and night, and then again on Wednesday night. And they enjoy their music LOUD.) I could write a full length blog about how I feel about these loud services, but that would probably not be healthy for me, not very kind towards the church who I know are very nice people, and very unpleasant for you to read. Let’s just say I am learning a good deal about patience. And, about which ear-plugs work the best.

I hear another rooster.

I hear the music of our other neighbors who have recently started a little restaurant. I have a theory that they are trying to drown out the music of the church.

I hear the steady hammering of a group of women who are making gravel out of large rocks. I helped one of my friends the other day chip away at a huge rock, and let me just say that is some difficult, tedious work, folks.

I hear my phone ringing… which is a good thing because I put it down somewhere, and I haven’t been able to find it for a few hours. I have a knack for leaving my phone in the most random places. (It was in the pocket of my apron that I took off before sitting at the computer… I would have never found it!)

It was Travis saying he is on his way home from the village! Yay!!! Let the weekend begin! I should probably go start thinking more seriously about that Friday night dinner I mentioned earlier… (Any brilliant dinner ideas yet? I’m leaning toward pancakes, which doesn’t involve beans, chicken, or shriveled carrots.)

Congrats to you if you made it to the end of this random, rambling post. If nothing else, perhaps it has broken through my writer’s block. I’ll write more sometime soon. As for now, I’m headed to the kitchen. And as much as I love the sound of crowing roosters, I am probably going to turn on some good music.

I would tell you

I fought hard to get out of bed this morning. It was so tempting to stay under my mosquito net where (supposedly) no bugs can reach me and the three fans (yes three fans! one ceiling and two standing) are pointing directly on me. I knew that if I got up early I could enjoy my hot coffee in the somewhat cool air of the morning, before the sun heats everything up. Thankfully the battle between coffee and bed didn’t last long, and I am now sitting at my kitchen table.

As I sit here at the computer I must admit to feeling a bit overwhelmed. About what? you may ask. About everything. I wish you were sitting across the table from me now, sipping coffee with me. I would tell you all about it.

I would tell you about this fascinating and beautiful place we live. And how, though fascinating, we don’t always love everything about it. I would tell you how this overwhelmedness I feel is weighted on both sides of the scale: positive and negative.

I would tell you about how I have fallen in love with our friends here. How badly I want to help them and how sad I get when I see the complexity of the poverty that they face.

I would tell you about the little deaf girl I met in the village this week, whose sweet face looked at me with earnest curiosity. And about how neither she nor her parents — or anyone else in her village — have any exposure to deaf education and sign language.

I would tell you how it felt this week to be hosted and welcomed so generously in a village: served the best food, given the best gifts, and treated like honored guests.

I would tell you about the heat here. How it drains me and makes me tired. How I miss wearing my hair down because it’s just too hot.

I would tell you about cooking. How I miss the convenience of cold cereal for breakfast (or lunch… or dinner!). And how much I miss a dish-washer.

I would tell you about the bumpy roads. How tense my muscles are after a trip back from the village. How nervous I get when crazy bus drivers fly past us, and by pedestrians, without slowing down. And I would tell you about all the people we pass on the roads whose muscles are also tired — not from riding in a car but from carrying heavy loads for miles on foot or by bike down the dusty road.

I would tell you about the mosquitoes. How they make me crazy with their threat of malaria and itchiness. How every night, before dinner, we spray our legs with bugspray so we don’t get bitten in our own house.

I would tell you about the chickens that make me laugh — just because they are so funny looking. And about the sweet baby goats, whose cry sounds very similar to a little child calling for its mom.

I would tell you about language learning. About how one day I’ll feel good about my language progress, and the next I will be so discouraged and frustrated.

I would tell you about the smell of the air before it rains. A smell that makes me nostalgic and happy and homesick all at once.

I would tell you how thankful I am for the internet — how it connects my world to yours. And I would tell you how frustrating it is when the connection is so slow that you can’t get anything done anyway.

I would tell you about our list of house projects: some for fun — to make our house feel more homey. And some just for maintenance: like fixing all the electrical sockets that have one by one corroded in the salty, humid air; or like fixing our front door that has become so swollen in the heat that it won’t open any more.

I would tell you about the family of birds that live in the corner of our yard. About the vibrance of their colors and the melody of their song.

I would tell you how much we miss our families. About how we think of them every day and sometimes wonder why we chose to live so far away.

I would tell you about the ocean. How it comforts me by its closeness, and how it takes my breath away so often with its ever-changing yet consistent beauty.

I would tell you how it makes me feel to be stared at all the time just because I am a foreigner.

I would tell you about my trips to the market. How I love the interactions I have with my market-vender friends, and how I enjoy filling my basket with fresh produce.

I would tell you about the dreams we have for this place: for the people here to find peace and joy. And I would admit to our daydreams of home, where we know the culture and where everything is familiar.

I would tell you how much it means to me to hear that you are thinking about us and praying for us.

I would ask if you need a refill on your coffee, or perhaps a cup of ice to turn it into iced-coffee since the sun has already turned up full throttle.

And I would say, thanks for listening.


Travis’s phone rang. It was 4 a.m. Usually my heart would jump at a call this early, but we had been anticipating this call. RB, our mlinzi (night guard), and his wife were expecting a baby, and we had offered to drive them to the hospital when the time came. RB had just gotten a call from his aunt, who was staying with his wife while he was at work, saying that the baby was coming!

Through the dark of the morning I watched out the window as Travis and RB quickly loaded into the car. I smiled as RB fumbled at the gate — a task that he usually does swiftly and effortlessly he now did with the nervous quality of a man whose wife is about to deliver a baby.

I had offered to tag along but knew there was really no need. Thankfully the hospital was not far, and I knew that there would be plenty of women who could accompany them that knew what they were doing. And I… well, I don’t know noth’n bout birth’n babies! (Gone with the Wind reference). I did make sure that Travis had put the large plastic poncho in the car just in case the baby arrived before they got to the hospital — wise advice we have received from a number of seasoned Africa-dwellers.

There was nothing I could do at this point except crawl back into bed and pray for the safety of these young parents and their new baby. I hated to imagine the delivery room at our local hospital — with crowded rooms, not enough beds for all the patients, not enough medicine and supplies, etc. (See my sister and brother-in-law’s blog for their experiences working at a hospital in Zambia:

My prayers and imagination slowly turned into dreams before Travis got home again. Thankfully they made it to the hospital with no trouble — now we were to just wait for RB’s call to announce the arrival of their new baby.

I’m not sure what time the baby arrived, but we got a call in the late afternoon saying that the baby had arrived with no complications and that they were ready to go home! I knew it was common for women to have to leave the hospital pretty immediately after the birth to provide space for other patients. But it still shocked me to see the little family waiting outside for us to pick them up only hours after she was born.

RB was smiling from ear to ear with pride as we drove up. His aunt held the infant who, thankfully, was perfectly healthy. And the young mother stood smiling shyly, looking surprisingly fresh after just giving birth. It was raining — a sure sign of blessing to this young Swahili family.

When we took them home, we escorted them inside and sat together on their grass mat while friends occasionally stopped by to see their newest neighbor!  When it was my turn to hold the little bundle, I asked her mother if she had a name yet.

“Mwite!” (You should name her!)  She said with a twinkle in her eye. I thought surely I had misunderstood and looked at RB to make sure I hadn’t heard wrong. He smiled and repeated it. You should name her! 

Now giving a person a name is an overwhelming task even when it is your own child! But to name someone else’s child! That sounded crazy! Travis and I smiled and tried to graciously accept this honor while trying to figure out if they were serious or not. We thought maybe this was just something they say to be nice: a polite formality perhaps… we really weren’t sure.

As we left, they said, “Just be thinking about it for a few days. If you think of a name, let us know.” So the next couple days, we scoured the English, Swahili, and Arabic baby name websites to try to find one that we thought they might like.

When we finally came up with a short list of favorites we went to visit. We had a whole speech prepared with many disclaimers about how it is fine if they don’t like any of the names and that they should also give her a different name if they prefer, etc.

But when we mentioned one of our favorites, Nora, which means light, they all seemed to love it. It reminded them immediately of a KiMakonde name, Norati, which also means light.

They had also chosen a beautiful Swahili name, Fazila, which means (loosely translated): Bringer of goodness.

Travis pulled out a pen and paper to document this important moment and wrote her full name: Fazila Norati RB. Bringer of goodness; Light.

We are honored to have a small part in this child’s life, and we eagerly anticipate good things for her future.