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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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!

 

 

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

Travels with Charley: In Search of America

The Book:

In 1960 John Steinbeck, at the age of 58, set out with his French poodle, Charley, on a three-month trip across and around America. He drove slow and stopped often, making every effort to engage and experience each passing city, town, farmhouse, and their occupants with the utmost empathy and care. Steinbeck is extraordinarily perceptive and offers a new depth of insight to the most seemingly typical aspects of American reality. I highly recommend this book, especially to bums and travelers.

Reflections:

The young (and I am one of them) are incurably naive. We stumble into a cavernous forest unspoilt by hikers, and we quickly believe that we are the first to find it, and the only ones to know of its existence. Or we discover a new concept or conviction and suddenly think we have thought something new, or fresh. We think we’re breaking new ground, pushing things forward to where they’ve never been before. Especially these days, we love to think we’re radical, but in reality, we are little more than products of our time and circumstances. Just as those who came before.

This is especially true when it comes to travel. Each new traveler is convinced the he or she has seen the most, been the most places, touched the world in totally new ways. The traveler thinks himself to be daring, extreme, a true radical who has defied the status quo and stepped into the next dimension.

But then a guy like Steinbeck comes along and crushes our ego. He speaks unassumingly, telling humbly and honestly of what he saw and thought along the road. And we quickly realize that he traveled further than we did, and for longer. And he did it under much more intense circumstances than we did, and while the world was yet wilder and the paths were still less traveled. And all the while he did this while experiencing the journey more fully and with a greater depth of insight than we almost ever do.

Steinbeck is one example, but there are millions more.

So, young travelers, be humbled by your elders. By those who came before. And next time you step out into the unknown, remember that you are not the first to step there, and neither will you be the last.

The Last Day and the First

Today is March 15th, the ides of March, and it is the final day of our adventure across and around America. Of course, in my opinion, the last day of any adventure is also the first day of the next adventure. So today, on my last day, I hopped on a very early morning flight to San Angelo, Texas, where I will participate in a week-long well drilling course with a group called Water For All International (http://waterforallinternational.org). I arrived in the morning, and the course officially began today, though bad weather and flight delays (of other students) has held us back a bit. Lauren spent her last/first day on a solitary fifteen and a half hour drive from Tampa, FL, to Searcy, AR. A great time for her to reflect on the past month as well as anticipate the coming ones.

Potholes

There’s something Robert Frost never told us about that road less traveled: it’s riddled with potholes. Well, we’ve hit a few of them, which is why we’re so behind on our blog. Issue number one was the death of our camera. That’s right, one of our closest companions on the trip straight-up died right in the middle of it. However, we recovered gracefully and optimistically as Lauren’s Aunt lent us her small digital for the next leg of the trip. But then the bigger blow came: just as I had finished writing a long post bringing the blog nearly entirely up-to-date… our computer quit working. Not permanently dead, just a coma we think; but useless for the rest of this trip nonetheless. Worse, we’re pretty sure it’s the hard drive, which begs the question: will we be able to recover all of the photos we’ve taken on this trip (and the graphic design work Lauren’s done)? Or will we lose it all forever? It hurts to even think of it. Our only remaining pictures would be the ones we’ve already posted on this blog, which is so very few. Oh well, we’re staying optimistic for now since we can’t really do anything about it until we have access to another Mac laptop and a firewire cable (that’s how we‘ll try to tap in and save our files from the hard drive). Hopefully we can swing by an Apple store once we get to Austin, and perhaps they can help us out. Other than saving our files, we’re not too worried about the computer since it’s still under warranty. The main thing is that we’ll be way less accessible for the rest of this trip and won’t be able to work on some important things we needed to be doing over the coming week. Hopefully we’ll still get some blog posts up, but expect a deficit of photos for a stretch of time there.

So, those are a couple of the potholes we’ve hit along this road. I guess that’s what we get for not sticking to the interstate.

P.S. Oh yeah, also, on top of all that, it seems I’ve gotten into a batch of poison ivy. Robert Frost never mentioned all the posion ivy down that road either, now did he?

Day 2: El Malpais, NM – Las Vegas, NV

Day 2  (Tuesday, 2/16/2010)

After a good, well-bundled sleep, we woke early Tuesday morning to find a glittering layer of frost on the inside of our tent and a layer of hard ice on the outside. We packed up camp as the sun rose.

Our first stop was a large rock formation, which we took some time to explore. The view was spectacular as we stood on an escarpment overlooking the shrub-ridden plains, blackened and rocky from the lava flows that filled the valley millennia ago.

We took our time heading out of El Malpais, exploring side roads and taking in the beautiful scenery. We followed one sign leading us to a small snow-covered caldera. Such an interesting place of history; we imagined the lava flow slowly turning into cold black rock.

As much as we hated to leave New Mexico, we had to move on. After passing through several more “Indian Reservations” we entered Arizona and immediately headed into the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest. The desert was beautiful and, in its vast expanses, had an interesting way of deceiving our sense of sight, making the dimensions of the hills below quite difficult to discern. The Petrified Forest was likewise fascinating. The highlight, however, came in the form of… you guessed it: petroglyphs. Travis has always wanted to see petroglyphs, especially up close, and today he finally was able to. As a result much of the conversation for the remainder of the day continued to return to how badly Travis wants a time machine.

From there we quickly headed west across Arizona and toward Las Vegas. Flagstaff area was the most scenic and stood in stark contrast to the rest of the state. Around here was the Kaibab National Forest, a place where the trees mimic those of old Yogi Bear cartoons.

We arrived at Hoover Dam right at sunset. “What’s so cool about a dam?” you might ask. We did. But this, this is more than a dam, this is ridiculous. Enormous in breadth, height, and ambition, a modern marvel shoved between towering red cliffs. It is too huge to describe; too absurd to be imagined. And now to top it all a monstrosity of a bridge is being built high above the dam. Just to look at it caused our knees to knock for fear of heights.

In Las Vegas we immediately headed for our hotel, the Orleans, on Tropicana West. After settling in and getting cleaned up (we hadn’t bathed for several days now), we took the free shuttle to the main Strip. Here we explored Caesar’s Palace, the Mirage, Planet Hollywood, and the Flamingo. We watched the volcano erupt at the Mirage and then headed to the Bellagio where we watched the Fountain show, very likely one of the most spectacular exhibits of this sort we have ever seen. We then rushed to catch the last free shuttle back to the Orleans where we could fall into bed and enjoy our warm room for the night.

Morning at our campsite in El Malpais

Overlooking the dried-up lava fields of El Malpais.

Overlooking El Malpais

Painted Desert, AZ

Petroglyphs!!!

Sunset on the the drive toward Las Vegas

Hoover Dam

Las Vegas

The fountains at the Bellagio