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!





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.

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.

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:



— — —

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.

— — —

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.



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.

Fatima, the little Mtundu (trouble-maker)

Everyone, I would like for you to meet Fatima.

This is the two-year-old daughter of my friend (who also helps me around the house every day), Mama Fatima. Every day, at about 9 a.m., I hear her young voice outside our home call my name. “Anna!” “Anna!” (My full name is Anna Lauren and so most people around here call me Anna. Coincidentally, Anna is also the name of Fatima’s mama. Whew… confused yet?) Every day, she rides to my house tightly tied to her mother’s back with a colorful kanga (piece of cloth) as her mom navigates the bumpy roads on her bike.

Most mornings, depending on what is going on in her two-year-old, drama-filled life, she gives me a smile and says, “Sheeekamo” — a two-year-old version of the respectful greeting between younger and older persons. “Marahaba,” I answer and then turn to her mom, who is my elder by a few years, with the same greeting, “Shikamoo”. The two of us proceed with all the appropriate greetings, asking about each other’s families, houses, and recent news while Fatima runs into the house to explore the world inside.

It has been a blessing and an adventure having Fatima around. She keeps us all laughing and on our toes. She is full of life and mischief. I have enjoyed watching her soak in the world around her, learning from her mother the subtle techniques of her culture, like how to curtsy slightly as you reach for something someone is handing you, or how to kick off your shoes right before you enter the house (she hasn’t mastered this one yet). Her language is developing at an incredible rate and will inevitably pass me by one of these days. And though her words are not all completely comprehensible yet, she has already perfected the melodic intonation of her mother tongue.

Because Fatima is in my home almost every day, she is not only learning about her own culture, but about mine as well. She is learning about computers — how they are fun to look at but not something to be played with. She knows all about cameras and how to ham-it-up when she is being filmed. She is learning a different type of potty training (when you grow up with a dirt floor, accidents on the floor aren’t that big a deal as it just soaks into the earth… thankfully she is getting a lot better at this one!). She is learning from the books and toys my family and team-mates have given her. And, she is learning how to play with her new friends: Reed, Aletheia, and Addie (the kids of our team-mates).

I am not sure if she will always accompany her mother to work, as it does increase her mama’s work.  But for now it is so fun.

She is a little mtundu (trouble-maker). But a sweet one at that!

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?!