Our Current Trip (from which we just returned)

We have no illusions that we can change the world, or even one small corner of it, in six weeks, so we won’t pretend that’s what we did on this trip. This journey was more subtle and more realistic than that. It’s primary purpose was two of the most important things that we know of:  (1) connection, & (2) learning.

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For six weeks we traveled across East Africa, visiting three countries: Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda, with a primary goal of (in addition to visiting Travis’s parents) connecting with as many people, communities, businesses, and organizations as possible along the way. We hoped that we could provide listening ears and a bit of encouragement. We also wanted to learn as much as possible along the way about the people we meet, about the countries, regions, and towns through which we passed, and about the needs and opportunities that exist locally.

We hope that we can now share with others what we have learned in order to facilitate greater connection and collaboration across this global body of fellow humans who are on a great and complicated journey together. Perhaps by sharing what we have learned and by connecting more people, communities, and resources, some small but valuable positive impact may be made. We also learned and connected with our own futures in mind: what does our own future involvement in East Africa look like? Would we ever move back? If so, to do what? If not, how can we remain connected and continue to collaborate from afar?

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Our trip consisted of 17,056 miles (or so) of flying and over 2,200 miles of land travel (plus a few ferry rides). The scope of resources being used here was and is not lost upon us, and we took this trip very seriously and humbly, aiming for tangible, practical good to grow out of the connections and learnings that were cultivated along the journey.

Over our next few posts we hope to introduce you to a few of the remarkable people, places, and organizations we have met along the way.

In the meantime, here is a photo of some camels. #trafficprobs

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A Daily Journey

Every day is a journey. The sun is rising, we open our eyes, and we are embarking. Bravely, we face the world. We meet other characters along the way, many of them recurring, some new and surprising. Even the recurring characters often surprise us. We meet challenges, face obstacles, and sometimes we descend into darkness. Not every day or every journey has a clear resolution or a happy ending, but at the end of the day’s journey the sun flashes like fire, red and orange, as it sets in climactic glory. We sleep, awaiting another day, another mysterious journey into the unknown future, another chapter in the larger journey of our life.

Once upon a time, Lauren and I were on a journey. A grand adventure. Then it ended. Suddenly it was over, and everything was ordinary. Mundane. That was how I saw it, but for only a moment. Then I learned to see the extraordinary in the ordinary. I met the single, solitary day. I introduced myself. “Hello, today,” I said. “Who are you? What can I do with you? How can I get to know you better?” Be. Here. Now. …this is what I learned to start saying to myself. And it has made all the difference.

Not in the future. Not in the past. Nor elsewhere geographically. Just BE. HERE. NOW.

Geographic travel is empty if you do not know and love the present moment. You must be thankful for today: where you are, what you have, the air that you breathe. When you can do this in your own back yard, then you are prepared for new geography.

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“Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.” – Lao Tzu

Today, I write from new geography, but that is only a side-note. This place is as ordinary as my own back yard, and my own back yard is as extraordinary as this place. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to travel, to see new places and to meet new people. I do not take it for granted. But if the focus is on travel, travel only breeds discontent. My first focus is to be thankful for the very air I breathe and the land beneath my feet regardless of where I am. To appreciate and honor the simplest of things. If I can’t do this, then the trips I make become only a gateway to later discontent.

So when I wake in the morning, no matter where I am, I greet the day and the new journey that comes with it. I am thankful for that journey. And I set forth on the voyage of today.

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Introducing…

Oliver Easton

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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.

Mitty-esque Moments

“To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, to draw closer, to find each other and to feel.” —  The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

We arrived in the States a few weeks ago, here to have our first baby. Life in Tanzania has had a certain intensity to it. It’s as if we’re rafting a river that is all rapid. Paddle left! paddle right! back-paddle! back-paddle! The river rarely slows to meander through a beautiful woodland or along a mighty escarpment. This pace of movement — this relentless intensity — doesn’t give much space to pause and appreciate the adventure.

So our time here in the States serves as a short, meandering moment in our long trip down life’s river. It is an opportunity to reflect, to consider what has happened and where we have come, and it is a rare opportunity to collect ourselves and gear up for the coming whitewater.

As we reflect we see that there is quiet to our chaos. We look back and even through the fog of chaos emerge moments of life’s pristine, humble glory.

“To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, to draw closer, to find each other and to feel…”

…that is the stuff of life, and these are a few of those moments.

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!

 

 

Lukwika-Lumesule

The tsetse flies swarm, biting at our skin and through our clothes. This miombo woodland is more of a thicket than a forest, and the winding road, when not dropping in and climbing out of dry, sandy riverbeds, is often swallowed by the thicket, disappearing into tall grass and shrubs.

“Turn here,” says our guide and gaurd, a park ranger armed with an old, black machine gun.

“Here?” I say. He is pointing into a grassy thicket taller than our vehicle. “Really?”

He is sure. And after fifteen to twenty seconds pushing through the grass, following the direction of his pointing, sure finger, we emerge, obviously still on the thin park road just as the guard had assured us.

In this wilderness our car, lumbering slowly through the tall grass, pushing obstacles aside, moves more like an elephant than an automobile. And we’re not the only elephant here, as the two elephant skeletons we come across assure us. One of these, a young elephant, had died of natural causes, while the older, and larger, had been killed by poachers a year earlier. The park rangers leave the carcasses undisturbed: “from dust to dust” the flesh of the dead animals rejoins the ecosystem through the mouths of vultures and hyenas.

Poaching is prevalent here. This Game Reserve is large, incredibly remote, underdeveloped, and gets very few visitors each year. “Maybe twenty on a good year,” we are told. Today we are seven, nearly half the number they might see in an entire year. Thus the government can’t afford to monitor this wild land. Only a handful of men live among the biting flies, tasked with protecting this important migratory route on the Tanzania-Mozambique border. So, to help quell the poaching, the government has made this area one of Tanzania’s many hunting concessions. A single hunting company is allowed to bring hunters here, and, in exchange for this right, that company is required to assist the Park Rangers in monitoring the park and preventing poaching.

However, as Mtwara grows and changes rapidly with the influx of interregional and international business, and as the road to Dar Es Salaam nears completion, growth in the tourism sector is imminent, and this is why we are here in the middle-of-nowhere Lukwika-Lumesule Game Reserve. Moris, a self-taught, jack-of-all-trades who was born and raised in this area of Tanzania wants to be on the forefront of locally-owned tourism in this region. He hopes to advertise, plan, and facilitate tours for tourists, out-of-towners, and bored locals by connecting them to other skilled locals who can provide the given service, such as a traditional sailboat trip with a fishing-boat captain, or a traditional Makonde dance performed by an impressive village dance troupe. Ideally, the goal is economic development through small-scale, healthy, locally-owned and operated tourism. And with this in mind we gather in the rugged bush-land to search for animals and learn about this potential tourist opportunity.

Our visit has been well-met. The officials at the Ministry of Natural Resources had welcomed us warmly in Masasi the night before, accommodating our late arrival by meeting us well after normal office hours, showing us to the hotel where they had booked us, and processing all of our entry permits for the park so we could get an early morning start. An hour and a half southwest of Masasi we found the entry to the Reserve and were again welcomed warmly, this time by the park rangers.

As for tourism potential, this is not a place for the weak of heart, especially in early-July when the grass is still high and the migration is at a low. Since rainy season makes this place totally inaccessible, the very end of dry season, perhaps late-September or early October, would be a better time to come. This is also a time when there are generally more animals in the area as they move closer to the Ruvuma River, more desperate for water.

As for early-July, the animal populations were low, and what was there was hard to see through the thicket. Although elephant, lion, hippos, and leopards all lurked nearby, we saw none. Instead we were rewarded by bushbucks, gazelle, warthogs, monkeys, baboons, a grey fox, an especially incredible bird population, and a single Sable Antelope.

At the end of the day if simply viewing wildlife had been our goal it would have been hard — maybe impossible — to say that what we saw was worth the toll that the rough roads and swarming flies had taken on our minds and bodies. But we had done much more than see animals: we had seen wild, unexplored new ground, been where few go, and discovered the hidden potential of one of the remote places of the world. Perhaps for now this is where the tourism potential lies: in the brave wanderers who leave the beaten path, take the road less traveled, and see the glory of the wild, untamed world.

A Mighty Tree

A few weeks ago Lauren and I were able to be in the US for Lauren’s sister’s wedding. It was a short but wonderful trip, and Caitlyn and John’s wedding was a truly beautiful event of which we were honored to be a part. I shared some words at the ceremony and thought I’d publish them here on our blog for those interested:

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Love, like life itself, is a paradox. It is a magnet with opposing poles. On one pole we see that:

Love is a feeling. Yes, it’s more than a feeling, but it’s still a feeling as well. I know you both feel it today. That quickening of the heart. That nervous anticipation. Love is a feeling that exists in a single, present moment. It confounds the senses, strikes down logic and reason, leaving the loved and the lover in heartfelt wonder. Gravity and Laws of Nature are turned on their heads as two lovers float into the sky and build a home on clouds of idealistic dreams. This is not naive; this is beautiful, and true, and good, for true love defies obvious conclusions.

True love truly does at times live in the weightless clouds above. But as the good paradox that it is, it also lives in the earthy soil below.

Love is a feeling, but it is so much more. Love is eternal, expansive and unending, uncontainable in a single moment or feeling. More than a feeling, love is action: resolve and commitment executed consistently regardless of feeling. When the weight of the world is upon you and the most difficult thing imaginable is to elevate another above yourself, love is the difficult choice to do it anyway — to choose death to self and abundance for another.

This is the hardest choice in life and in marriage: to sink our feet deep into the soil and and stand firmly in a commitment to serve and care for the other in unending, unselfish love. That is the journey you embark on today, and that is the journey we each embark on each day when wake.

And my challenge today is that your love may be transcendent, simultaneously floating in the clouds above yet firmly rooted in the soil beneath us. Eternal: yet here-and-now, completely present in the moment.

But the soil is the center. There is no reference point for sky without soil below. In soil there is found longevity, and from soil all things grow and vapor ascends to the sky.

How do we live upon the earth in the way of tireless love? When the days become long and our weariness tempts us to make the choice which is easiest for ourselves and less considerate of another, how do we defy our feelings and transcend ourselves, making the seemingly impossible decision to love despite all obstacles?

Many paths are attempted, but you have chosen to follow the path of the one called Jesus. You have asked God for guidance, and He has given you a difficult answer. For in Jesus God doesn’t give you a list of simple answers to your questions, but he gives you a person, a personality, a story. And, like any good story, this story challenges and transforms.

In Jesus we see an incredibly challenging vision of what Love can be. When the judgers judge, Love says, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” And all stones of judgment drop to the ground, forgiveness found. When those who claim to be holy elevate economics to a place of holiness, Love turns the tables and runs them from the temple, challenging their priorities. When crowds of sick and hungry are all around, endlessly crying for help, Love does not turn a blind eye, but heals, feeds, and humanizes. Love makes eye contact, touches them, and affirms that they are of equal… no, of greater… value, and that their problems are worth listening to. And Love defies all logic and declares that all of life, like love, is a paradox: That the least is actually the greatest, and that in death life is truly found. Love raises no weapon in fear or in effort to control the life or action of another, but Love makes that most difficult decision to forget the clouds and sink into the soil of this earth, like a seed that dries up and falls from a tree to be buried beneath the soil and grass, far from view, seemingly dead to all. But as Jesus taught, from death comes life and the seed will spring forth from the earth and rise to the sky a mighty tree, which will yet again touch the sky — and float and live again among the clouds.

In Jesus, in the kind of Love that Jesus teaches, the way of transcendent love is found. So sink your feet into him. Dig your roots into that good, rich earth. And may your love, your unity as a couple, grow into a mighty tree that will stand the tests of time, and that will bear fruit that will feed a hungry world.

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Reflections on Our Time in America

Enjoying the cold weather!

Our feet are on the ground. After 2 months in the US, we find ourselves back in Tanzania. The change was instant. Our final flight left a snowy runway in Turkey and landed in the heavy, wet, 3am heat of Dar Es Salaam. Waking up a few hours later in our guesthouse, feeling rushed to start our day and fight off jet lag, it all felt like a dream. But was our time in America the dream, or were we now in the dream? Neither felt totally real.

In Tanzania once again, we are now faced with the difficult and continuing task of processing our furlough (or “home assignment,” as we may also call it). It is difficult to process for three reasons:

First, our thoughts and emotions during our time in The States were discombobulatingly (is that a word?) all over the place as we tried to soak in every wonderful moment while simultaneously trying to process everything we had felt and experienced in our first two years in Tanzania. It was overwhelming to say the least.

Secondly, it all happened so fast! We had heard from many people that “furlough” is not always relaxing and that sometimes it is almost as exhausting as it is wonderful. For us this was definitely a reality as we pushed ourselves hard to see and visit everyone we could (and still weren’t able to visit with everyone we would have liked!). We know we didn’t “have” to see everyone that we did, but we wanted to so badly, and who knows when our next chance to see each other may be! And truly, every single visit and interaction we had was more than worth the speed and energy it took to make it happen.

Thirdly, and most potently, it feels impossible to process all the overwhelming love and care we felt during our time there. So many people blessed us beyond what they know. We just wish we could express our thanks to everyone who hugged us, hosted us, listened to us, asked us questions, encouraged us, advised us, and everything else. We felt so loved and cared for, which is exactly what we needed to feel during that time.

In attempting to process the above three aspects of our “home assignment,” I have a few short reflections about our time in the US.

First, our overwhelming emotions. The joy of being home was matched by the horror of how soon we’d be leaving again, repeating the unending, tear-filled goodbyes. The pleasure of so many friendly faces, a needed joy after two years of being away, was attacked by the overwhelming shock of trying to catch up with so many friends in such a short time. Our excited desire to spend every wonderful moment with as many people as possible, soaking it all in and seizing every opportunity, was balanced by our intense exhaustion and need for a break.

We found ourselves in a unique position of occupying two worlds — and found that learning to live fully, contentedly, and unswervingly in each world at the appropriate time is a difficult task to learn and is a lesson that tests the mind and spirit regularly. But we find ourselves continually thankful for both worlds, and are blessed by occupiers of each.

Second, a summary of our schedule with some interesting facts:

2 weeks: Searcy, AR
— 24 meals with wonderful supporters
— 15 hours of official visiting time at Midnight Oil, and who knows how many delicious MO cups of coffee!!
— 9 speaking or question/answer events with groups
— 8+ other meetings that don’t fall into a category above
— 2 afternoons with our siblings who live in Arkansas
3 weeks travel time to see supporters/friends, grandparents, and counselors
— 4,547 miles driven by car
— 1 deer hit
— 3 car mechanic visits (window, thermostat, deer)
— 7 States Visited
— 5 additional States passed through by car
— 3 domestic flights
— 13 different homes slept in
2 weeks with Lauren’s family
2 weeks with Travis’s family
And so much more!

Third, and finally, as exhausting and rushed as our time together was, it was a wonderful and incredible experience in which each person we spent time with, however brief, blessed us beyond what they could ever realize. The love, encouragement, and support we felt continually blew us away. On leaving each interaction, Lauren and I continually found ourselves in silent awe, looking at each other and shaking our heads, unable to comprehend such love, support, kindness, and generosity from such amazing giants. We wish we knew how to thank each of you individually. Just know we think of each of you often, and are so honored to know you and to call you friends. We love you. And we thank you.

Grace and peace be with each one of you.

** For my own sake, I would like to make special mention of Dr. Neller, one of our most avid encouragers, whose voice was always near and whose love was always felt. In 2008, when I was graduating from Harding, he sent me onward with a formal blessing, offering words of wisdom and of encouragement, expressing faith in me and belief in my future. There are few gifts greater than to tell someone that you believe in them and trust that great things are in store for them. And to hear a great man, who you respect and admire, say those words to you… that will drop you to your knees. It will humble you as well as inspire you to live up to the challenging vision of who you might be. 4 years later, in November of this year, I sat in his kitchen, sitting across the table from a couple I’ve only grown to know more closely, and I expressed my tear-filled self-doubt, and lack of clarity about who I am and who I’m meant to be. Had I failed to live up to his vision of my potential? Yet again, in honest, heartfelt faith in who I am, he said that he believes in me and is proud of me, and that I should trust in the person that God made me to be, and push onward in humble trust in who I am. I am sad that his voice of encouragement will no longer be heard on our blog or across his kitchen table, but the things he has said, the things he taught us, and the people he made us want to be will transcend time and echo forward through the lives of our children and their children beyond them. I am thankful to have known Ken Neller, and my prayers are with us all as we try to find our way forward in his physical absence. But may his spiritual presence in our lives continue to transform us, to encourage us, and to give us faith.

Here is an article from 2008 in the Harding Alumni Magazine about the blessing ceremony at my graduation. At the bottom you can read the brief section on my own experience of the ceremony.
http://www.harding.edu/Mag_fall08/feature3.html

Trull Family Vacation, Part 2 — Vic Falls

They call it Mosi-oa-Tunya, or “the smoke that thunders.”

Approaching from the Zambia side, at the top of the falls, from miles away you can see a misty smoke blown high into the air. And you can hear the thundering.

Everything else after that is a dream.

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Trull Family Vacation, Part 1 — The Road

Setting out on a 7,000 km African road trip is quite an endeavor. That’s the equivalent of driving from Little Rock, AR, to Los Angeles, CA, and then turning around and driving all the way from Los Angeles to New York City, NY. Except instead of well-maintained interstate highways bordered by rest stops, gas stations, and fast food restaurants, our road is a two-lane obstacle course: littered with potholes, crowded by pedestrians and by animals (from chickens, goats, and cows to antelope, giraffe, and low-flying birds), and sometimes overwhelmed by oversized trucks and buses turning sharp corners at absurd speeds. Other times there is nothing at all: no sign of life, human or otherwise, and vast stretches where no food or fuel are anywhere to be found.

Through Tanzania.

Trucks: the most constant obstacle.

Caution: Wild Animals.

(including giraffe)

Our obstacle course proceeded across 4 nations, totaling (roundtrip) 6 international (and logistically complicated) border crossings, and passed through at least 20 different linguistic regions. Our trip lasted 18 days, with 11 of those days spent almost entirely in the car. It had us staying in 6 different hotels and/or campsites, paying 2 speeding tickets, locking our keys in the car 1 time, changing 1 flat tire, spending time in 7 National Parks, and passing over 100 broken down Cargo Trucks (we quit counting at 86-ish).

Baobab Valley.

The Road.

Construction: One-way traffic only. Follow the lead car.

Driving from Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, to Victoria Falls takes three 12-14 hour days, depending on speed, traffic, wildlife, border crossing time, etc. We started in Mtwara, Tanzania, so that added a fourth 9-10 hour day.

As one drives south from Dar Es Salaam they will watch the land transform around their vehicle. Three mountain ranges, one National Park with elephant and giraffe viewable from the main highway, three major cities, the Baobab Valley, the road following high above the Ruaha River, a steep, twisting, cliffside climb around broken trucks and buses and up toward Iringa, a short section of marshland, huge plantations of pine trees, and so on.

Tanzania’s Southern Highlands.

Tea fields near Mbeya.

Zambia is a different story. There are hills and valleys, but overall the drive is long and straight. Little traffic, little change. On all sides, dry, golden grass grows high and shrubby trees grow short. Village settlements are small, but beautifully laid out, with special care given to the painting and decorating of the mud huts. However, as you near Lusaka you enter a vast area of well-developed farmland. This feels different from the rare plantations of East Africa. Too much of it. Too green. Even the structures in smaller towns look more like something you’d see in rural Australia than in rural East Africa. It is a sign of the change — for Zambia is no longer in “East Africa,” but in “Southern Africa;” and by appearances, this regional change does seem to actually represent something in reality. An actual change. One that is geographical, yes. But even more, a real historical difference.

the golden Zambia.

Zambia by night.

For example, even medium-sized towns in Zambia may have a fast food or grocery store chain out of South Africa (while in Tanzania these chains are pretty much only present in Dar Es Salaam, the economic capital). There are also more frequent lodges, campsites, safari companies, farms, and Camper Vehicles owned by either “foreigners” or “Africans” with European ancestral roots. And, in general, the further south one goes, the more true this gets. In Zimbabwe, for example, along the road there are even frequent pull-offs with cement picnic tables under shade trees. For a kid like myself, born and raised in and around East Africa, the whole thing is in some ways more reminiscent of what I imagine the Western part of the US was like in the 60s, or what like the more remote parts of Australia may look like today. But then, I’ve never actually seen either of those except on movies, so my framework may be a little lacking.

…and American food chains as well. (@ Lusaka)

A drive-thru?!