Saturday, October 27, 2007

God's Provision - The African Farming Village

Our first thought when we think about termites is destruction. Termites eat wood. We build our homes out of wood. Termites can do a lot of damage to a house. When we get termites in our home, they must be treated with heavy duty pesticides. But the story of termites in Africa is a little different . . .

Termites in Africa build huge mounds sometimes 6-8 feet tall.

A closer examination reveals an amazing structure.

I found it amazing that these termite mounds provide building materials for African homes. Termite mounds provide the raw material for making bricks in Africa.

You take the special "dirt" from the termite mound. Add a small amount of water to make a workable clay. Force the clay into rectangular molds to create the bricks. Then you stack the bricks for firing. It is not a perfect arch but you leave this opening for the fire that will harden the bricks.

When the stack is completed, you cover it with more termite clay to insulate it so that all the bricks will be "fired" from the heat of the wood fires underneath. Pretty clever.

I visited Zambia in the dry season. During the wet season they grow crops - maize is one of the big ones. Using natural materials - wood branches and elephant grass, they build silos to store their maize.

And I love their nesting houses for the chickens. Too cute! But what a great use of the ubiquitous elephant grass!

What a testimony for how God provides what we need and how He gave man the creativity and ingenuity to make use of the materials around us!

Friday, October 26, 2007

God's Provision - The African Fishing Village

One of the things that I noticed in Africa was how God provides for the people there. Most of the things that they need to live - shelter and food- are provided from the environment around them.

Elephant grass grows very tall and is plentiful near the villages we visited. It is used for everything from their house roofs, their fences, and even baskets.

Fences are very simple to build. Take long branches from trees or tree trunks, use smaller branches for the cross bracing, elephant grass to tie the support structure together, and then use the tall elephant grass stalks as your fabric. When you cut the seed tops off it becomes an attractive, serviceable fence.

The roof structure utilizes sturdier branches or trunks to provide the support for the elephant grass thatch. Notice how beautifully and carefully this thatched roof has been put together!

The thatch roof keeps both the rain out and provides shade from the sun. But the construction of the walls of this hut are even more amazing.

They take large wooden tree trunk and branches and use elephant grass tied together for the cross pieces. Then they mix water and elephant dung in just the right proportion and work this mixture into the spaces. This wall will be 3 or 4 inches thick. We were at the village at mid-day on a very warm day. The newly built house we entered was cool and comfortable. And even as freshly built as it was, I detected no tell-tale orders.

Chickens are also part of God's provision. Chickens are really amazing animals. They provide eggs to eat-a continuing food supply. They hatch out the eggs and the chicks are eating size in 6-8 weeks. Mother hens do a good job protecting and raising these chicks. While most chickens are fed from the maize that is grown in the area, chickens can also be fed "free-range" from the other native plants around.

And even the chicken coops are made from readily available materials.

This village is located on the Chobe River. The men fish from canoes they have carved from large trees. The fish from the river provides not only food for them to eat, but also something they can use to barter for other things they may need.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


One of the things I realized when we went to Africa was how poor my knowledge of the geography and politics in Africa. Yes, we hear and read news stories of events there. But the last time I studied geography was in high school. Most of the countries have changed names, governments, and even boundary lines since then. There have been wars, famines, and of course the AIDS and ebola epidemics. I knew a little about Apartheid, a little about Rwanda, very little about Zambia, nothing about Namibia. I know that a lot of celebrities spend time there trying to help. I know that land mines are an issue in some places.

I think part of the problem is that not only does Africa seem far away - it IS far away. From Washington DC to Johannesburg was a 16 hour flight - the longest flight I've ever taken. I think that we see so many problems around us, that it is hard to take on all the problems of the whole world. With modern news - we can see first hand in our living rooms violence across the world. Violence we can't stop. Poverty that we feel powerless to combat. And we do have poverty in the United States. If I stop and think about all the problems that I know about around the world, it can be overwhelming.

So . . . I've tried to concentrate my efforts on things that perhaps I can make a difference with. I spent about 16 years being involved in volunteer work in our small town of Hutto. I've been active in my home church teaching both women and children more about a loving God and how to live happy, productive Christian lives. I'm hoping that I can enrich people's lives with my Christian writing and I hope that I can find a way to use my photography to help the environment, to encourage people to spend more time outdoors, and to help people see God at work in nature.

But . . . now I've been to Africa. There is no doubt about it, the needs in Africa are many - overwhelmingly so. Which country to send aid to, which organization to support - what can one person or family here in the United States do to really make a difference so far away. At the Namwianga Mission there is the Milk Fund at Namwianga. This provides formula for orphans who are being cared for by relatives in their villages.

One thing the Gregersen's said while we were there: It is easy to be overwhelmed by all the need and just throw up your hands. But . . . it is possible to just plug away doing little things that will make a difference.

We did not make it to Rwanda, but Sheila Finch, one of my science fiction friends, also went to Africa recently. She visited Rwanda. Her blog about what she witnessed there and the amazing things this country is doing to rebuild after the trauma of genocide is well worth reading.

As I get more settled at home, I hope to read more about the issues in Africa, southern Africa especially. It seems to me that if one understands the situations, one is better able to find a way to help.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

African Coffee - another try

Yesterday I found a Kenyan coffee and a Tanzanian coffee at my local HEB (the big super dooper one). I bought a mix of coffees - the Sumatra one ground for my drip coffee mker and the Kenyan and Tanzanian ones ground for the French press.

I tried again this morning with the French press. I used roughly 3 TBS of the coffee (1 1/2 of the big coffee measure cup I have).
The phone rang while I was trying to make the coffee - so it may have steeped just a little longer than I had planned.

It is still a little strong . . . I'll try one scoop tomorrow.

I hope I can figure it out while my taste buds still remember the African coffee.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Luangwa River Lodge

This post will eventually be merged in with the post below. There was one more safari lodge. We were blessed to stay here for four nights. And the wildlife was incredible. And our guide was excellent. More later. These are photos of our accomodations:

Our house:

The view to the river:

Our room:

The Malibu Canyon Fire

Our daughter went to school at Pepperdine in Malibu. We spent three and one half years making trips out there to visit her. Right before she left California, I spent a month with her. We know Malibu well. We visited the Malibu Presbyterian church - it has some good programs for Pepperdine students. I have memories of a breakfast served before church and very friendly people.

I've been mesmerized today as I try to picture the areas that are burning. It sounds as though one of the houses that burned last January was being reconstructed, and that has burned. The Malibu Colony shopping center with the grocery store Ralph's also has a yogurt shop - Malibu Yogurt as well as a favorite restaurant, Coogies. Sounds like the damage there is superficial, but the photos of the church are sad - it is literally burned to the ground.

The church is more than a building - it will be rebuilt. But they will have to find a place to meet in the meantime.

There is also a Catholic church nearby - I think it is OK but was definitely in harm's way earlier.

But tonight, the fire is still burning, uncontained. There are still students at Pepperdine. It looks like the fire is burning up Malibu Canyon Road - a very scenic, but narrow canyon.

The house where Debra lived at the end of her Pepperdine time is right on the PCH. Hopefully it is far enough down that it is not in danger.

Another of my favorite places is the historic Adamson house. Some of my best rose photos were taken there. Last report is that it is OK. It is a very unique and historic structure - I hope the fires do not go that direction.

I've seen some callous posts at the LA TImes - people who don't have a lot of sympathy for those "rich" folk. Malibu does have a wide variety of incomes. But rich or poor - certain kinds of things are hard to replace - your children's photos, your children's art, family letters. Yes, it is easier for the rich to rebuild. But they have feelings, grief, and pain just like anyone else.

I think everyone in Malibu deserves prayers right now. I hope and pray that the wind will die down, so the firemen can get some firebreaks established and get this terrible fire put out. And I hope that no one else dies anywhere in California from the many fires burning tonight.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Planning for Africa - Your Safari

When I booked my Africa trip, I was really working in the dark. I had not been there before. I did not know how things worked. In retrospect, I could not have planned better - for a first trip. But here are some things to keep in mind when you are planning your safari adventures.

1. Always book your location for at least two nights - and three may be better. When travelling in the United States, it is not uncommon to book your room, do the activities at your location and drive to your next location the next night. In Africa, the distances are longer and the activities at each location take most of the day. By booking for two nights, you will get an evening activity, possibly an all day activity, or a morning and an evening activity. At only one location did we get an activity on departure day. So a two day stay is a minimum. We chose one location and stayed four nights. We got to see much more of that fabulous area. The other advantage of a three or four day stay is that you have more time to enjoy the facility itself.
Remember as well that if you are going between locations that are farther away - most of your day is going to be spent travelling. Only twice did "moving" day take only a couple of hours. By the time you've packed up, been transported to the airport, waited your couple of hours at the airport for your flight, fly for a couple of hours, and drive to the next lodge - your day is gone.

2. Twice we had bookings that were near each other: Sossusvlei Mountain Lodge and Wolvedans Dune Camp in Namibia were only an hour drive apart. Chobe Game Lodge and Chobe Savannah Lodge were close geographically, but by the time you've gone through immigration a couple of times, it took a couple of hours to get from one to the other. However, each lodge is very different and I was glad I had stayed at all of these lodges.

Sossusvlei Mountain Lodge was a luxury lodge - air conditioned stone cabins, a 12 inch telescope with astronomy experts to help you enjoy the southern sky. They drove us to the Sossusvlei and Sesriem Canyon ares of the Namib Naukluft National Park as well as game drives in the Namib Rand Nature Preserve.
Dining was at private tables with your own personal waiter.

We each had our own stone cabin, wonderfully airconditioned and beautiful on the inside.

The Wolvedans Dune Camp is located on top of the dunes in the Namib Rand Nature Preserve.

Our evening drive and our all day drive gave us a very different experience in the Namibia Desert.

And the lodge was a totally different experience - comfortable platform tents, solared powered and community dining.

I really enjoyed sharing a table with the other guests, it gave us a sense of community and we got to know a little bit about the other people staying with us. And they did such a beautiful job with setting the table. And food was great!

Chobe Game Lodge and Chobe Savannah Lodge are owned by the same company. While the Game Lodge does do mid-day and evening boat safari, you also go on amazing game drives through Chobe National Park.

Chobe Game Lodge was more like a modern hotel with air conditioned rooms. It was right on the river and actually in the Chobe National Park. The architecture was Moorish and the modern, air conditioned rooms were comfortable. And the game watching excellent. I even saw a lioness prowling the river as I walked to my room one evening. And yes, there was a fence between me and the lioness.

Chobe Savannah Lodge is just on the other side of the Chobe River, but it is in the Caprivi Strip in Namibia.

Our individual cabin was lovely, well appointed with a great view of the river right outside the patio door.

Game viewing was done in boats along the river which allowed us to approach the river animals more closely than you could in the safari trucks.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Getting back into the swing

The last two weeks have been pretty hard. Two deaths so close together . . . Neither one was a surprise . . .

When an older person dies, one is greatful for a long life, well lived. When a younger person dies, there is the feeling of unfinished business. My father-in-law had seen all of his children married, enjoyed time with all of his grandchildren and had a bunch of great grandchildren. My friend, Debbie will miss all of that.

Both lives were beautiful Christian lives - both of them are in the beautiful mansion prepared for them.

This week I'm trying to get back into routine things. First task was to get my photos ready for submission to the Hubbard Museum of the American West for their annual Fall Exhibition. Originally I'd planned to get started on that three weeks ago when we first got back from Africa. Life got in the way. But I settled down (more or less) and I got all 12 photos printed by yesterday evening. Today I cut foam board and mats, did the center cuts and put them together. Amazingly I only messed up one mat this time, the first one. Since I only do this once a year, I usually mess up several before I get all the skill set put back together.

Here is one of the photos I've entered.

As always, my main goal is for some of the photos to make the exhibit. But last year I got spoiled, I had one win first place in its category.

Next major competition for me is the Toronto International Salon. The deadline is next month.

My goal for tomorrow is to create some order out of the chaos at my house. I also have another African blog ready - I just need to add the photos.

I have much more to say about Africa . . .

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

African Coffee

One of the things that surprised me was the coffee in Africa. I can't quantify or describe the difference very well, but the coffee tasted different in Africa. It was richer, fuller, more robust in a subtle way. When you added milk it did not "lighten" as much as when you would add the same amount of milk in the states. Of course, the milk there has a higher fat content - much more creamy.

I'd been wanting to see if I could figure out how to make coffee that would taste the same, so I bought a coffee press yesterday and some fresh ground African coffee from Starbucks. Debra asked the Starbucks people and apparently when you use the coffee press you get more of the oils from the coffee beans.

Well . . . my first two attempts with the coffee press were dismal failures. The first batch I had used way to much coffee. Strong . . . way too strong. I tried again, but that strong flavor from the first batch was still in my mouth.

I've heard there is a coffee place near Brentwood Oaks that makes coffee that tastes like African coffee. I'll definitely try that as well as continuing my trial and error experiments at home.

Saturday, October 06, 2007


While the reason for the gathering is sad - saying good-bye to Gene, it has been such a blessing to be with the extended family. My children's cousins were all gathered together for the first time in 19 years. We have a wonderful loving family - and I feel so blessed!

We're heading home tomorrow - hopefully my Africa blogs will start back up when we get home.

Friday, October 05, 2007


Life is a funny thing . . . I am amazed at how our bodies are programmed to live. . . to remain here on earth. Even when death is inevitable, our bodies continue to battle for life. My father-in-law died peacefully this week. He had been fading away from us over the last few years, but his strong will and desire to stay to be with Evelyn (and modern medicine) kept him going far longer that most of us expected.

He had a strong desire to die at home and I am so grateful for hospice. With round the clock nurses to care for Gene and administer the medications that kept him comfortable, the family had a familiar, comfortable environment to spend their last moments with Gene and to spend time together in fellowship, comforting and sustaining one another. So much better than a hospital waiting room.

While it is hard to lose such a loving father and husband, we know that he is with God. As Christians, we believe that some day we will join him.

Rest in peace, Gene!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007


As we travelled through Africa, we heard tales about Zimbabwe.

Before we left, Henry had noted that there were travel advisories about Zimbabwe and at one point it looked like we would enter Zimbabwe.

We also knew that there were many refuges from Zimbabwe in Johannesburg - more than the infrastructure can support.

I confess that I only know a little bit about the politics in the southern parts of Africa. My geography dates back from high school and all the countries have changed their names and their political structures since then.

But Zimbabwe is especially sad. They went from being a prosperous country to being one of the poorest in the world. Part of me does not understand how that can happen so quickly.

I found an article today in the Los Angeles Times that talks a little bit about the current issues in Zimbabwe.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Appreciating the little things - water

I have a new appreciation for the meaning of drawing bath water. Linda had warned me to enjoy my bath at Chanter's Guest House, because there were water issues at Namwianga. I am very impressed with the continual upgrading to the systems that is ongoing at Namwianga. They were in the process of trying to get a larger pump to fill the water tanks without depleting the well. But as is often the case, there were obstacles - hidden obstacles that took several days to work out. There was plenty of "lake water" but not plentiful well water.

Henry and I have been campers most of our lives - so we were not too concerned. One morning Linda offered to draw us a bath (which would mean literally carrying water to the tub and heating water on the stove.) I told her that was not needed - spit baths work just fine.

The next morning she had already drawn water in 5 gallon buckets and the water was already hot. You added enough treated lake water to the hot water to get the temperature you desired. A 2 quart pitcher dipped into the warm water and poured over my hair and body felt SO good! It really does not take a lot of water to leave your body feeling refreshed and clean.

And before long, the mystery of the disappearing well water was solved. I could really appreciate the warm water coming from the shower head, but I was still frugal with my water usage knowing we were at the end of the dry season.

As we travelled around the villages - the electric pumps that provide the water at Namwianga are also a luxury. At a fishing village, the "well" was a -8 foot pit with a small amount of water at the bottom. We saw children help pump water at hand pumps near their village (also a blessing - the pumps although human powered were new!). We saw women hauling water on their heads as well as people getting water at the local high school to carry home. One of the more distant villages had to haul water with oxcarts from the river which was quite a distance from their village. I believe they are next in line to get a bore hole. I hope I remember for a long time what a privilege and blessing it is to be able to walk over to a faucet and get clean, pure water.

At the hotel in Cape Town I enjoyed a wonderful, long shower - and appreciated the luxury of a long hot shower. And then again after the long flights home, even the shower in the RV (we spent our first night in the RV - since the air conditioner in the house was out) felt like luxury living.