Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Take Away

It's been about three weeks since we've been back from Uganda and Rwanda. We've adjusted back to our busy lives fairly easily. This trip was very different than our last one to Africa. South Africa left me feeling a little depressed and hopeless that the little I was able do there on the ground would change anything. However, it also left me with a sense of urgency to do more once I got back, not just in South Africa, but in all things. We began working with a refugee family in San Antonio that came to be like part of our family. That stirred in us doing missions work full time. We struggled to find where that place was and within a few months, we knew where God was pulling.

Our lives changed drastically after that South Africa trip, but this East Africa trip was so different. We knew there would be no drastic game plan for us when we returned to the States. We were coming back to Chamblee to continue our work with Communicycle and Open Table Community Church. This trip, instead of breaking me down and opening my eyes to pain in this world, lifted my spirits up. I experienced joy and hope. We saw God working and changing the plans of our trip so artfully like a potter molding his clay and it was a beautiful masterpiece starting to take form. I came back ready to serve more faithfully, work harder to get to know those our community, love deeper those who surround us, and let go a little more the plans I had for my life to allow God to rearrange his clay to his liking.

This Saturday, we will set up Communicycle Clarkston. From our first week in Atlanta we knew we wanted a Communicycle shop there, but we couldn't see how to make it happen. Within the last few months, that dream has finally come to fruition and it is a joy knowing this is not something we did. All the pieces fell into places little by little and it is truly the work of God.

We will never forget Rwanda and Uganda. It has changed how we see this world and how we love people. It has fine tuned our work here in Atlanta, given us new fervor in our purpose and we are thankful for the chance to grow.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Day 7- last day in Africa

We awoke in our Ggaba Road hotel to a stuffy room, as the power never came back on to power the fan. Like I said before, this is what happens in Africa. It seems so strange to us to live without electricity for more than a few hours, but no one here has air conditioning and everyone has a generator if they can afford it. We had a small breakfast, packed our bags for the trip home, and waited for David's van to pick us up.

We made our way across town through the crowded Saturday morning Kampala traffic to pick up the boys for a day of fun. Kampala traffic is great! Speed limits are implied, there are no stop signs, and there are very few street lights. Everyone, pedestrians, motorcycles, bicycles, trucks, cars, and vans, all just share the road. There is also no concept of "safe distance" or "personal space." Anything with wheels is used to haul every sort of cargo: human, animal, plant, or object. Jonathan enjoyed the libertarian approach to traffic.

We picked up Nicholas at his home, then Stuart and Brian at theirs and headed off to a market for a little shopping. The market was clearly set up mostly for tourists, so we bought a few gifts for our friends back home and left, lest we bore the boys. Onward to Garden City Mall.

This mall was pretty similar to an American mall, but with an outdoor kind of feel. The boys had not had a lot of experience with shopping malls (perhaps none at all), so this was a very new experience for them. We wandered around the mall a bit and soon decided that we were hungry enough for lunch. Ugandan mall food courts are a bit different from their American counterparts. The basic layout looks just like what we are used to, but instead of approaching the restaurant and ordering, you just sit down and waiters from all of the restaurants swarm your table to hand you menus. There was a pretty wide selection of international foods so Kelly and Jonathan had Greek and Chinese food while the boys all fried chicken and chips (aka fries), with rice and Coke. The food court has a balcony that overlooks a beautiful golf course so we all stood there and watched the golfers and storks that roam the landscape.

We found our way upstairs to an arcade where we spoiled the boys with video game tokens for a while. The boys might never have played games like this before. Most of the games were a bit out-dated but fun nonetheless. They were really into the equipment-heavy games like the ones that have plastic motorcycles you actually sit on and guns you fire at the screen.

The arcade also has a bowling alley, which proved to be the most fun. We thought it best to put up the bumpers on the lane, reasoning that chucking the ball at the pins without gutters might better suit the skill level a group of boys. We were right. We also eschewed all convention and played the most anarchic game of bowling ever played. No one took turns and no scores were kept. The game's computer keeps score, but everyone just hucked the ball at will any time they felt like taking a turn. There was probably more dancing and hand-standing than bowling that afternoon. We had the whole place to ourselves!

Bowling was followed by ice cream! We lounged lazily at the ice cream shop and enjoyed some sweet, cold treats. Jonathan got a coveted energy drink instead, the first in about a week, which is very difficult for an addict. We took the boys to a grocery store downstairs and gave them a little free spending money. Stuart and Brian bought very practical food items instead of toys, which surprised us. Nicholas bought a soccer ball (please note we had given Stuart a soccer ball yesterday so maybe he felt he had what he needed in that dept) Stuart fell asleep in the van on the ride home and Kelly held on to his melted icecream so he would not spill it on himself.

We dropped off Nicholas at his home and met his caretaker, who told us a great deal more about Nicholas' story. It turns out that he has been passed around among family members for several years and no one could take care of him long-term. One person, an Uncle, even tried to kill him at one point. We also heard the story of another girl, Rachel, that his caretaker brought into the family. It is a real blessing that this sweet family has given Nicholas and Rachel a home and that the Africa Renewal Ministries US office can sponsor Nicholas. We left him with some snacks and toys (including a Frisbee we showed them how to use), prayed with them and said our goodbyes.

Next, we visited Stuart's family. Mamma Gitta welcomed us in again and Stuart retrieved a borrowed bicycle to ride with Jonathan. Jonathan, being unable to shut off his bicycle mechanic instincts, pulled out his tools and made some minor repairs and adjustments. Jonathan and Stuart raced up and down the dirt roads in the neighborhood and a small crowd of children gathered on the sides of the street to witness the mzungu on a bicycle doing wheelies in the street. Breathless and sweating, the boys finally returned to visit with Mamma Gitta, Kelly, and Reagan. We gave Stuart a few more gifts, drank some awesome juice, and got to see pictures of their family as they tell us more about their lives. Mamma is an extremely resourceful woman who is friendly and hospitable. Reagan is a bright young man, we see he has a bright future despite the fact that he doesn't have a sponsor to help fund his education. Brian is quite, but friendly. He also doesn't have a sponsor. Mamma Gitta funds their education by selling both her own produce in the market and also working in the market selling others produce for them. She uses the money we send her wisely, buying goats or chicks that she can raise and then sell. They have a nice little house with electricity and all, with 4 banana trees and a small crop of maize in the back which they grow to sell. Mamma Gitta had saved two (live) chickens for us as a gift to take home, but we had to explain that we could not take them home. Even if we could carry them, customs would have never allowed them into the country. The fact that we would not know what to DO with a pair of chickens if we got them home. We did not want to handle them anyways because their were fierce looking chickens. Tiny dinosaurs with feathers! It was the sweetest gift though. We asked her to either eat them or sell them at the market instead.

Saying goodbye was difficult. We have spend several years now sponsoring Stuart and returning his letters, and this time in his home was way too short. We wished them all well and took in all the love and images we could before shuttling off in the van. Stuart was very strong, trying to hold back tears, but who knows how he managed after we left.

We attended the Saturday evening church service at the Ggaba Community Center Church with our guides. This seemed to be the youth-driven service, similar to Sunday evening college ministry services we have attended in the US. The music was loud and the message uplifting. We could not stay late though, we had a plane to catch. We picked up David's girlfriend and drove with them and Michael with his wife toward the airport. We passed miles of suburban Kampala, mostly old buildings, shacks, shops, and crowded roadsides. It was Saturday night and everyone was out walking and riding bikes around the neighborhoods.

We ate dinner at a nice restaurant near the airport and Lake Victoria. It was a lovely cool evening and we were just three young couples enjoying a night out with dinner. It was just like any other night out with friends for us, but these Ugandan friends were new and very different from us in several ways. It's amazing how dinner and Jesus can make all those things fade away and we can just enjoy each others' company.

We were dropped off at the Entebe airport with warm goodbyes, but our hearts were heavy with knowledge that we would soon be leaving this wonderful warm place. The flight back was the usual blur of zombie-like consciousness. We shared a plane with several of the crew we left in Rwanda just a few days earlier, who were all following roughly the same route back to the US through Amsterdam. We had (more) coffee in the airport at Amsterdam and caught up with our crew there to swap stories about the things we did after we split up. Apparently the Saddleback group had more than a few close encounters with baboons in Rwanda. Fun!

We finally arrived in Atlanta after what might have been the longest day ever! We had been chasing the Sun around the globe for a few hours. The day was also our wedding anniversary, but we were too pooped to go out and celebrate. Ian picked us up from the airport and we made our customary visit to Taco Cabana (there's only one in Atlanta, thank goodness it's there though). Every journey should end at Taco Cabana with a friend sharing our journey.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Day 6- Kampala and meeting Stuart

We awoke early to the sound of loud birds, roosters, and honking cars on Ggaba Road. We can see Lake Victoria through the smog and mist from our balcony. We ate a small breakfast with some wonderful fresh juice before Michael and David from ARM picked us up in the morning.

Our van took us through the bumpy dirt roads along the lake, which are lined with tiny shops, salons, and grocers. We visited the Ggaba Community Church Campus, including the ARM offices and Ggaba Road Schools. It was great to see where all the ground-level work goes on for the organization where Kelly worked for several years in America. We met nearly everyone on staff including an old friend, Kenneth, and learned more about their programs and future plans. It's located right along Lake Victoria with a breath taking view.

David then drove us to the Loving Hearts Home for Babies, an orphanage for babies age 0-2 years. The house has about 18 babies in it and we spent the following two hours playing with the toddlers. They were very intrigued with our glasses, our hair, and Kelly's necklace. These children were either found abandoned, surrendered to the orphanage, orphaned by death of parents and various situations. We were left alone in a room with about a dozen babies who wanted to be picked up, sang to, and just needed someone to climb on. We were barely in the door before about 4 started walking toward us with open arms. It's exhausting work and we were only there a short time! We helped the "aunties" settle the kids in for lunchtime and fed them cereal. It was difficult to leave knowing how much attention these kids craved, but we had to head off in other direction.

We ate lunch with David at an Italian restaurant. It was a nice little joint, nothing fancy. It was cool to eat somewhere local. There's an abundance of "international" food in Kampala.

Next, we visited the school that Nicholas, the student that Kelly's former office staff at Africa Renewal Ministries US sponsor together. Nicholas was a very quiet boy at first, but we asked him a lot about his classes and home and such. He is in Primary 4 grade about 11 years old and lives with a caretaker who lives close by to the school. We learned more about his story later, but essentially Nicholas had been passed around among family members for a while, none of them could take care of him. He is now in the care of a wonderful family and supported by ARM to go to school.

Lastly that day, we visited Stuart's school in the Deo ARM Project. We drove into the gate of the school and parked, seeing kids running everywhere in the yard and wondering which one is Stuart. Instead, Stuart found us immediately as we exited the van. He was so quick that we didn't have time to react. It was a wonderful reunion of sorts. We have been writing to Stuart and reading his letters for so long and we finally got to meet our little guy! We went with him to the school office to meet with the staff for a bit and talk to him about school. His english is great!. One of the translaters there asked him in Lugandan if he needed help translating. He said, "No i've been practicing" He's a bright kid, funny, strong, healthy, loves soccer and outdoorsy boy things like handstands. You could tell he was pretty proud of us being there. It became obvious though that Stuart was getting bored sitting in the office while his peers played in the yard or waited in the doorway to meet us, so we went out with him and asked him to show us his soccer moves. He was delighted to show us! Stuart and the students played the wildest soccer game we've ever seen. Every corner of the yard was fair play, with no goals in sight. It was total pandemonium, but it was a game that would never end if allowed to go on.

Eventually we gathered Stuart and his brother Brian and walked back to Stuart's house a few blocks away. He lives in a house behind some shops, guarded by a steel gate. They have concrete porch and a small parlor where we sat and visited for a while. Stuart's mom, who we call Mamma Gitta, was wonderful. The whole family speaks excellent English, so we were glad that language was not a barrier. They decorated the house with posters of photos that we sent them mixed with photos of their family. We learned that Reagan, the oldest brother, is attending a college to study mechanical engineering. We were also sad to learn that Stuart's dad died a few months ago, leaving the family without his financial support. They seem well-off, considering this fact, and we know that Mamma Gitta is a very smart lady who knows how to handle money and resources well. Kelly and Mamma really hit it off. She is such a cool lady. We gave Stuart some new clothes and a soccer ball and just enjoyed each other's company for a while before heading out. We knew we would be back soon enough.

Dinner at the hotel was lovely. Kelly made a special request for matoke and local fish (tilapia) , which was not on the menu. It's a staple food in Uganda made form steamed, mashed green bananas. It is a lot like mashed potatoes but with a slight banana taste. As we finished eating, the power went out and a generator at the hotel kicked in. The generator would continue to power the hotel until about halfway through the night when we noticed the room get warmer because the fan stopped working. The climate here is cool enough that we don't ever recall seeing and air conditioner, just lots of open windows and fans. Sometimes in Africa, the power goes out, and it does not come back on for a long time. Everyone seemed to be pretty used to that.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Day 5, Thursday

This was our final day in Rwanda as we traveled to Uganda. We ate breakfast and said our goodbyes, knowing that the rest of the SBL team has a long, challenging next few days ahead.

We were dropped off at the airport at 9 am for our 10:30 flight. Security was a breeze but check-in was a bit of a hassle for some reason. Once we boarded the plane, Jonathan was seated next to a man named John Baptist who is a evangelist in Uganda. Jonathan had a great conversation with him for a few minutes but then the flight crew told us to exit the plane. It turns out that the cargo doors would not close, so flying would probably result in dropping our luggage all over Lake Victoria. We waited again in the airport and talked to John for a bit, then met a Chinese man who was working and flying with the Chinese ambassador to an east African nation (we can't remember which now, either Sudan or Rwanda).

Then the airline invited us to go have a complementary drink at the cafe, so Jonathan had an espresso and Kelly had a Fanta limon. We met a couple who were from Canada and Panama and talked to an Australian lady about the availability of Fanta in her country. The flight finally boarded again, two hours late, but we had a much more international experience than we bargained for. Jonathan continued his conversation with John on the plane. They talked history, economics, and culture and learned much from each other about each ones' respective country.

The plane ride over Lake Victoria (source of the Nile River) was short, but waiting in line for a Visa was not. Finally, we exited the airport and met Michael and David from Africa Renewal Ministries, who would be our guides in Uganda for a few days. The hotel is very nice and we'll be staying here two night and spending our time visiting with ARM staff, working at Loving Hearts baby home, and of course, hanging out with our students, Nicholas and Stuart!

Day 4 Wednesday

Day 4 Wednesday-
Another night of good sleep. Let's make a regular thing out of this.

Most of day was spent at the Kayonza school visiting with kids and touring the facility. Some kids at this school are orphans and others have families in towns in the region. We drove the bus a few miles out of Kigali before one of our team got very sick. We decided to turn around and take him back to house for the day in case he had further problems. Take two.

The drive too the East Provence took about an hour and took us through even more mountains and villages. We arrived at the school and learned about the houses where small groups of children live most of the time except holidays. Each house has about 16 kids in it and a house mother and they intentionally arrange the house to be similar to a middle-class home so the kids will strive for good jobs in the future. We sat with the kids in the cafeteria and talked to them about their classes, their homes, and their aspirations. While eating corn bread and beans, several boys told me that they are in 4th or 5th grade and most of them want to be doctors or pilots. Jonathan sat with some boys named Moses, Isaac, and Kevin.

After the student's lunch, we our our own lunch and relaxed in one of the houses before the tiring, endless task of entertaining dozens of children outside with games. We emerged and jumped into games of Frisbee and a dodgeball-type game with a home-made ball from plastic bags and rubber bands. Between activities, the kids hugged and clung to every adult they could. These kids have a great loving school staff to support them, but they are affection starved most of the time.

Kelly, Betsy, and Joe of the SBL customer service team got to meet Joyce, the 17 year-old student the customer service team have been sponsoring together. Joyce had been driven from many hours away and stayed the previous night at the school so she could meet us. (Betsy and Joe will see her again tomorrow.) She spoke little English but Obed, a Rwandan student from the same school who now lives in the US, helped translate. Both Joyce and the Americans were a bit overwhelmed and had little to say, but meetings like this require few words to understand the love and appreciation that is shared. As you can imagine hugs were abundant.

Lastly, we visited the decrepit volleyball or basketball, not sure which it was, that we are contributing to so it can be re-done to be a viable athletic court again.

After leaving the school, we visited the home of Emmanuel and his family, the sponsored student of Jimi and Dana on our team. It was a very emotional, eye-opening time for us all, especially for Dana and Jimi. Our presence in this agricultural neighborhood caused quite a sensation. We also learned that Obed's family lives right across the street and met his brother Eric and his mother. We really enjoyed hanging out with Eric. He's is a delightful young man that was a joy to be around and very sad to have to leave him. They have a lovely garden with sorghum, bananas, and corn. Seeing Emmanuel with his sponsors has us very excited about our meeting with Stuart on Friday.

The evening's debriefing discussion was very rich. The illuminations we are receiving are amazing and will stay with us for the rest of our lives.

Day 3- Tuesday

We slept a solid eight hours for the first time in several days. Everything seems so much more lucid today with some decent sleep instead of the zombie state we have been in for the last few days. Breakfast was pleasant and relaxing and we headed back to the Africa New Life Dream Center to tour the women's program there.

Africa New Life invites the most vulnerable women in the city learn to sew professionally so that they can survive on their own financially. We learned that they cost of the program is about $60 a month and the women need a manual sewing machine that costs about $100 to get started when they graduate. The program graduates 70 women each year for the last few years and has been in operation for seven years. We Americans got very excited about this because we realized the opportunity that we have to assist them from overseas.

After touring the training workshop, we met at the church to meet some of the ladies. They sang some songs for us and half of us, including Kelly, danced with them. Africans and sing and clap in such a way that stirs the soul in ways no one else can. The clapping is infectous and you can't help but try to sing along even if you have no idea what the words mean. Their style of singing and dancing expresses so thoroughly their faith and joy, and the faith and joy of this country is tremendous, considering their recent past.

We learned all we could about the program and then some of the ladies shared their stories with us. Both of the stories we heard were very painful, albiet devoid of much detail. These stories of hard lives punctuated with troubles during the 1994 civil war are so painful that they cannot share all of the details. Most profound to us was the story of a lady who, as a young girl, was dropped in Lake Kivu to drown, twice, and survived. That episode would have not had much effect on us if not for the fact that, entirely contrary to our plans, we all considered the possibility of drowning in Lake Kivu ourselves as our rickety boat threatened to capsize. We may very well have walked on the same shores where this lady was sent to die, and the ones where she was rescued. That made it real. That was part two of God's plan on Lake Kivu that seemed so much like a mistake.

We then visited the workshop where some of the graduate women work to support themselves and the education program. Jonathan was measured and has a shirt being made for him and Kelly is having some wrap pants made, which we hope to get by the end of the week. Our small purchase will hopefully lead to more people buying clothes and bags and helping this program to grow.

After lunch, we toured the Kigali Genocide Memorial and it's museum. The grounds have several symbolic gardens and about a dozen mass graves where genocide victims have been given a respectful burial over the past few years. As Kelly approached the last burial slab, she heard and then saw children playing in the village downhill from the memorial. School had just gotten out and the kids were coming home in a city that, from what we can tell, is moving forward away from it's dark past. It's becoming evident as we all share our stories that the museum must have planed this area for the location on purpose, building in a place where life is full and wonderful. It really brings the perspective of change and hope.

The museum exhibits start with a brief history of Rwanda and how division was implanted by colonial powers and how the rivalry between these contrived groups festered and turned to violence. Then it discusses the long-term affects of depression, disease, and destruction crippled the country as a whole for generation. The reconcilliation process is the justice the country is seeking now. Rather than simply punishing the "bad guys," Rwanda is using a tradional African style of court in which perpetrators must stand trial and confess their crimes to their victims and ask forgiveness. This is the only hope they have for long-term healing and we agree that it's much more effective and morally pure than punitive "justice."

In the other section of the museum, the exhibits explore in detail other genocides in Nanimbia, the Holocuast, the Armenians in Turkey, Cambodia, and the Balkans. It's interesting to learn that the US, the UK, and a few other countries are complicit with Turkey in denying the Armenian genocide by refusing to formally acknowledge that it happened. The abilities of humans to be swayed by propaganda to become ruthless killers over religion, race, and culture is astounding. This whole section of the museum has odd-shaped rooms that are difficult to navigate, which is very disorientating, and probably intensionally so. The museum and memorial make a point of education for the purpose of preventing future genocides, so my only criticism is that no mention of genocide in Sudan is made. Maybe they are working on it, maybe they don't have the spare right now. (after thought- Little did we know at the time documents were being signed for South Sudan. When we got to Uganda we found this out. We were told "this is an answer to our prayers. We are so excited for our neighbors)

The last room of the museum is dedicated to child victims of the genocide. A bright-lit room has about a dozen enlarge photos of children age 15 months to 12 years with their names, favorite foods, family members, and how they died. Some were hacked with machetes, beaten with clubs, or shot. One was slung bodily into a wall. Jonathan only made it halfway through the exhibit the first time through and left without reading them all, only to return with a slow-moving Kelly to view the whole thing. Kelly was pretty devastated by this part of the exhibit. Wanting children of our own so badly finding it hard to realize anyone could do these things to a child. The most upsetting that will stick with her, a baby killed by being thrown against a wall.

In the evening we returned to the guest house and visited the market again. We bought a few gifts and exchanged some Rwandan vocabulary for English. One of the teenage boys on our team initiated and thoroughly lost a break dancing competition. More children approached us and demanded cash. They were wonderful kids but we had nothing to give them and it's probably best that we didn't give them handouts. Having satisfied our urge to shop and pursue adventure, we left for home to eat and reflect on our day. One of our team had his passport and ID lifted from his backpack, but we made it home otherwise unscathed.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Day 2

Awake at 4:30 am for breakfast after about one hour of sleep for Jonathan, zero hours for Kelly. A cocktail of noisy neighbors, fighting dogs, airplanes, and general over-stimulation kept us both up most of the night. Coffee, awesome samosas, oranges, and we were on our way to Lake Kivu, in the dark, in a crowded bus. The plan was a ride a small boat to Iwawa, a small island in the middle of the lake where what Americans might called "at risk youth," young men specifically, are sent to learn job skills and personal development so they can be put back into Rwandan society in hopes that they won't return to crime.

After about three hours of cruising the most gorgeous mountain countryside on the planet (fact, not opinion), we arrived at the north shore of Lake Kivu.

*Jonathan's side note- I seriously considered wandering into the bush and becoming a farmer just to enjoy the view. I had moments of inner illumination that I can't describe easily, but it stuck a deep chord in me to see such profound beauty. The mountains, volcanoes, the plants, the people and their seemingly simple ways, it all just drew me in and for a minute there, I didn't want to leave at all.

We arrived at the beach where after a very interesting and adventurous women's pit stop, we would board our boat and much to our dismay, we were going to need a bigger boat. The boat was narrow, wooden, and long enough to hold about 40 people, but it was old and leaking. Speaking of leaking, many had full bladders from breakfast and the subsequent roller coaster ride through the mountains. After taking care of that ( see kelly for more details on this adventure), we boarded the boat and shoved off. About 30 passengers, 3 crew members, and one engine to travel to the center of one of the largest lakes in Africa. About 15 minutes into the journey, we heard a scrape-splash sound as one of the crew members started bailing water out of the boat. it was filling more quickly than the confines of our comfort zone, but after he began bailing for the third time, it stopped bothering us.

What did bother us was the size of the waves on the lake. The boat was old and flopped like a wet noodle on the lake surface. The reason we had to leave so early was because the boat operators know what time the waves get too choppy for the boat and apparently we got there a little too late to avoid wave rush hour. We prayed for a miracle or at least direction, the waves did not calm down and no one volunteered to be the first to walk to the island on top of the water, so we turned back after about an hour of traversing the lake.

* side note the sermon the day before was Matthew 14:22-33 where Peter walks on the water with Jesus. This is the perfect sermon for what we were about to face. We too were in scary waves and looking down on them in fear. What I hadn't realized until this sermon is Jesus doesn't immediately stop the storm. In fact Peter walks out to meet Jesus DURING the storm. Jesus mearly says Don't be afraid I am here. Also going on at the begging of this story what I always saw as a transition, i found out had more meaning. This story backs up to the feeding of the 5000. So this great miracle happens and then "22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd." and guess what Jesus doesn't go with them and they enter this scary storm. So they go from a happy place into a trial. That don't get to linger in that happy place for very long do they? So we sit in this leaking boat on Lake Kivu praying and trusting God's plan... instead of looking down on the crashing waves. Believing God has something else in store and in a sense walking with Him during this storm.

What happens next?

We were bummed that we did not make it to the island, but we landed at a different beach and met some kids that just come out of school. A girl named Diane was very intrigued with Kelly's (my wife) tattoos, so Kelly made some connections with them with that and her general warmth. We at some packed lunches and made a plan B to visit Land of a Thousand Coffees! Oddly enough, LTHC originated in Atlanta and we just visited there. I have been talking to them about working with them through their coffee initiatives and bicycles for coffee growers and our plans changed to include that without my prompting. This truly is the work of our Lord!

On the way, we found difficulty finding a bathroom. We stopped at a gas station in a small town and it became quite an event. The locals saw a group of muzungus roll in and kids appeared from all around. As we others waited in line to use the latrine (a cement outhouse with a hole in the ground), I started gathering trash from the van to throw out. We had accumulated bottles and aluminum trays from lunch so I carried them out to find a trash can. A local boy came and collected them for me. I thought he was just being helpful but then he ran back to a group of boys who started digging through the trays looking for scraps of food. Some of them began pushing each other around trying to take on another's food. My plan to responsibly dispose of the trash backfired and it put a damper on my excitement for the day.

We cut out bathroom break shortbecause the taxi motorcycle drivers started gathering around us and it started getting weird. we kept driving through the mountains and found a spot on the side of a mountain to stop and pee. I can honestly say that I stopped in the most beautiful places I have ever seen and peed there. Some african children spotted us and started gathering around these strange white people. One of our team approached one of the boys and asked him his name. "give me money" was his reply. kids learn early on that muzungus are a great source of money. we were told not to hand out cash to children because they are all supposed to be in school. getting cash is such a rare occasion for these kids that they celebrate by skipping school the next day, which of course is the worst possible thing for them.

We found the entrance to where the farmers are and started barreling down the dirt roads past the farmers' houses. I am not sure of the exact nature of the situation, but I think the whole area we explored is part of a cooperative of farmers who grow a variety of crops. We skidded down mile after mile of narrow, rutted roads with sheer forest drop-offs and switchbacks and roads that were clearly meant to be traveled by foot, motorcycle, bicycle, or four-wheel drive vehicle, not a bus with 20 people in it. Since we didn't seem calmed waves or walk on water, I suppose that not getting stuck, getting a flat, or rolling off the mountain was our daily ration of miraculous events.

LTHC facilitates selling the coffee and gets the farmers a fair price. I ate a fresh coffee cherry and we received a tour of the coffee washing facility. The drive back to a paved road was dark, bumpy, and would have been terrifying if we were not so tired. It took at least an hour to get out but I think that every farmer in the region saw us and waved at some point.