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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Bless the Rains

It is raining this morning. I am sitting in my living room listening to the rain drops pound on my tin roof while I drink a cup of coffee. It is a beautiful morning. Over the last few months, this simple, beautiful, natural phenomenon called rain has come to mean so many things to me. And as I sip my coffee, the old Toto lyrics keep running through my head. “I bless the rains down in Africa…”

Of course rain is such a blessing. When you glance around the landscape of our small East African town you can easily see the effects of this rainy season. Everything is lush and green; the corn crops are tall and almost ready for harvest; the rice fields are thickening so you can no longer see the marsh that looms below their bright green stems. People are gathering water in buckets off the roofs. Rain. Yes, it is a blessing.

However, this morning when I woke to the sound of rain, as shallow as it may be, one of my first thoughts went to the huge load of laundry we did yesterday. A new friend of mine, who was looking for work, helped me wash by hand a load of laundry that has been piling up the last couple weeks. We (mostly she) worked for hours yesterday to get them all finished. Long close-lines were strung all over the yard and our clothes were hanging everywhere. However, as soon as she finished carefully squeezing every excess drop of water out of each piece of clothing, the rain came, and in about 3 minutes, each item was soaking again. Needless to say, the clothes did not fully dry yesterday. So last night, as the sun was setting, Travis and I pulled them all in and hung them in our living room for the night. My plan was to hang them outside again at the first light to let the sun finish the job. But, no, it is still raining this morning. Despite my efforts of aiming a fan directly at the clothes all night, they are already starting to smell soured. Hmm… that rain!

Also, when it rains, we discovered soon after we moved into our house, that a river slowly creeps under our front door and runs right through our living room. By the end of each rain, we have a large lake sitting in the middle of our floor. Though frustrating, I have decided to take each rain as an opportunity to mop my living room (not that I really have much choice!). The good news is that my living-floor is the cleanest in the house!

As I sip my coffee this morning and stare at all the colorful clothes hanging around my living room, my mind visits another friend of mine whom I met a few weeks ago. She does not live too far from me. She too was seeking work because during the last heavy rain, her roof caved in. She described it to me animatedly. I strained to keep up with her fast Kiswahili. I did not catch everything, but enough to picture her small mud house with a grass roof get progressively more soggy until it finally gave. She and her husband have two children and both work hard to support themselves. Suddenly, the river that runs through our living room and my slightly stinky clothes seem a bit trivial. 

The rainy season; it brings so much good. But, it also brings mosquitoes, sickness, and sometimes even tragedy. My mind again wanders. This time to the hardest thing we have faced since our move to Tanzania: hearing the news that one of our acquaintances’ wife and son died. We met him about a month ago when he also came to our house looking for work (are you seeing a trend here?). He told us his son was sick. We were happy to give him a job and were thankful for his help cutting the grass around our house. The next day, he showed up late in the afternoon with the news that his son had died. His sorrow was evident as he buried himself in work. A week passed and he continued working in the mornings and attending the three-day funeral in the afternoons. We mourned with him at the death of his son and could not have guessed that another tragedy was quickly nearing. Only a week later he came to our house reporting that his wife, too, had died. The morning was a blur, yet it is a blur that I will not forget. Seeing him sit next to Travis on our front porch, weeping bitterly for the loss of his life-companion and child, will forever be etched in my mind.

Did the rains bring this tragedy? Was it malaria? Was it dehydration (a bitter irony in this wet season)? We are not sure. But it does remind us of the reason we are here. To help. To bless. And to pray: God bless the rains down in Africa.

Water For All International

According to a 2006 report by the United Nations, at any given time half of the world’s hospital beds are occupied by patients suffering from a water-related disease.

A 2009 report also states that up to 50% of malnutrition is related to repeated diarrhoea or intestinal nematode infections as a result of unclean water, inadequate sanitation or poor hygiene. This 50% does not even include malnutrition that is a result not having enough water to grow protein rich crops or to raise livestock.

Clean water is one of humanity’s most basic needs, yet millions struggle daily to access clean water sources.

In approximately 5 months, we will be moving to the Mtwara Region of Tanzania, East Africa. In this region, a scarcity of clean drinking water affects life drastically.

Water jugs abound as people crowd into this marshy area to fill up their jugs with water. This spot may be as far as 7 miles from their homes.

 

A woman begins her journey home with collected water.

The hospital below that we visited is very new and well-operated, yet it had no water on its grounds. People are paid to carry water from the nearest source for the doctor’s needs. However, patients have to find someone (a friend or relative) to bring the water they need in order to survive during their time at the hospital.

Local hospital with water needs.

Below is a picture of the cistern in front of a local school. It had been dry for quite some time and the next rainy season was still in the very distant future. School children must bring their own water to school or go home to get water whenever they need some.

Empty cistern at local school.

In light of this need in this area to which we will be moving, our team is assessing how we might be able to partner with locals in the search for solutions to water problems. As a result, last week Caleb and Travis were able to attend a week-long training course in San Angelo, Texas, on low-cost, sustainable well-digging and pump technology. The course was hosted by Water For All International, a group with a great deal of experience digging cheap, efficient wells in the developing world.

Here are some pictures from the course:

Learning to put the drill bit and the pump together.

Using a pulley to manually dig a borehole.

Caleb manually drilling.

Building the pump in a completed hole.

Our well drilling crew for that week. A great group.

To learn more about what Water For All International, please visit their website at: WaterForAllInternational.com.