Monthly Archives: September 2009

Space Invaders in Nation’s Capitol

Crazy week at NASA. Space Shuttle Discovery completed her cross-country piggy-back ride from California back to Florida. We announced the discovery of water on the Moon…and more on Mars. The 2009 Astronaut Class and the STS-127 crew came to visit NASA Headquarters in Washington DC. We hosted a Tweet-up with Space Tweeps and the STS-127 crew. (Thanks all you Space Tweeps who joined us!)

STS-127 Crew @ NASA HQ

STS-127 Crew @ NASA HQ

Since I work human spaceflight issues, I love having our astronauts come up to DC. So, I’ll share a few stories with you from this week.

Jules Verne in Orbit:

Veteran Astronaut Dave Wolf talked about his time with the Russians on Mir vs. time on Shuttle and Station. He described Mir (precursor to Space Station) as Jules Verne-like with ivory keys on the control panel and a red leather chair. Who needs a chair in Zero-G, if you think about it? But Dave said he spend time in the red leather chair as best he could on orbit. Velcrow, perhaps?

Smells in space:

Julie Payette answers question

Julie Payette answers question

Both Canadian astronaut Julie Payette and Dave Wolf talked about how the U.S modules on Space Station differ from the Russian side — look, feel, taste and smell. Dave said the smell of the Russian modules reminded him of his time on Mir. You gotta’ wonder exactly what that means…right? But then, if you think about it, our senses are assaulted walking into someone’s home — smell of cookies or fried foods, smoke or new carpet, candles or dirty clothes. Space Station is their home in space. They eat, sleep, exercise, work for up to six months at a time. They will leave their scent, I assume. Hmmm.

Fear of Falling:

Astronaut Chris Cassidy

Astronaut Chris Cassidy

First-time astronaut Chris Cassidy spoke of his first moments after opening the hatch for his spacewalk. He looked out to see the Earth spinning under him. As he watched, he realized he held onto the handle with a death-grip. His brain had to process the reality that he wouldn’t fall…he would float.

Our human brains are gravity-wired. Even with years of training, astronauts have to mentally, as well as physically, adjust to the differences zero-g present.

One-way ticket to Mars:

When asked if any of the STS-127 crew would jump at a ticket to Mars, Chris Cassidy spoke of family and how they factor into the decision. He and Commander Mark Polansky both said the decision might be different if family could go along.

Would you go, if given the opportunity — knowing you would never see our blue planet or other Earthlings EVER again?

Wouldn’t it be cool, though, to have that choice? Someday our planet will be asking our global citizens for volunteers on humanity’s quest for knowledge. Someday.

In the meantime, we’ll host space invaders fresh from our orbital outpost 220 miles overhead.

STS-127 Lift Off

STS-127 Lift Off. Credit/NASA

The Office of Space Operations hosted the brand spankin’ new astronauts for an early breakfast. Our Exploration colleagues joined us.

Astronaut-Africa Connection:

Breakfast with 2009 Astronaut Class

Breakfast with 2009 Astronaut Class

I spent some time with Dr. Kate Rubins, one of 14 members of the 2009 Astronaut Class. She’s an expert on infectious diseases — HIV, Ebola and Lassa viruses, which primarily affect West and Central Africa. She’s been given her “call-sign” already by her fellow astronauts: Bola (as in E-bola). I really enjoyed hearing about her time in Africa working with the people in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  She lamented how so many diseases are preventable with education and simple steps.

Kate is taking action to relieve suffering by founding the Congo Medical Relief Organization to provide medical supplies to the poverty-stricken.

You can become a fan of Congo Medical Relief on facebook. Their first support site is: L´Hôpital Général de Référence de Kole in a remote region of central Democratic Republic of CongoKate told me the Astronaut Office supported her work and encouraged her to continue her efforts. So cool!

Now, if we can only link NASA advances in supporting human life in the harsh reality of space to relieve those facing harsh realities here on our home planet.

Side note: After spending time in Africa (as you can obviously tell from my Africa blogposts), I left my heart there. I would LOVE to find a way to collaborate in some way — taking the best NASA has to offer to lift up those who can’t help themselves. That’s the missionary in me, I guess. Ideas on how to do this?

Viral Space Fever:

Space Shuttle on launch pad.

Space Shuttle on launch pad.

I spoke with many of the Astronaut Candidates about the importance of sharing the magic of space outside our circle of influence. They are SO, SO eager and enthusiastic now.

Jeanette Epps, 2009 Astronaut Class, told me,“We’ve been given this amazing opportunity to live out our dreams.

She and the others can’t imagine NOT wanting to share this experience with anyone willing to hear it.

Sadly, my experience predicts otherwise.

Editorial comments (i.e. Soapbox Moment):

Sharing the astronaut experience through public appearances — school visits, events, speeches, and more — must be approved by the Astronaut Office in Houston. The decision to honor the request or not is viewed in light of the mission: sending humans safely to space and back. Here are a few considerations:

  1. Fact: Our Astronaut Corps is shrinking with the close of the Shuttle program in 2010.
  2. Fact: We have fewer slots for longer duration missions on the International Space Station (which increases time needed to train).
  3. Fact: Everyone (or almost everyone) wants a chance to meet an astronaut.
  4. Fact: We have too few astronauts to meet all the requests for public appearances.
  5. Fact: Every minute an astronaut spends attending a public appearance translates into one minute less training for a task on a mission.
  6. Perception: Mission training is more valuable to NASA than public appearances.

Here’s what I have observed of the astronaut culture over the years:

An astronaut who enjoys “speaking with the public” risks being seen as less technically-credible by fellow astronauts.

A less technically-credible astronaut may jeopardize selection for the highly coveted slot on space missions — which take years to secure. Astronauts who are the best “Space Ambassadors” may risk ridicule as “attention-seekers.” Ah, those pesky unwritten rules on how to get one of those few seats on a spaceship leaving Earth.

Several members of the new Astronaut Class commented that they’d been advised to keep a low profile. Yet, I want them to have the HIGHEST of ALL profiles. I say, BRING it ON: hand-held video for YouTube, blogposts, Twitter and Facebook updates.

Let the world be part of astronaut training – right along side them!

 Spacewalk: Coming out of the Space Station hatch.

Spacewalk: Coming out of the Space Station hatch.

One of the former Astronaut Office chiefs told me they worked hard to balance mission-critical training with all the outside non-mission-critical requests for their time. Public outreach/educational events remove the astronauts from the job each was selected for — going into space. Training requires single-minded focus.

‘Really hard to argue against that logic. Mission-critical sounds like it should trump anything non-mission-critical. Right? But really, isn’t that just an assumption within our traditions and culture?

I really don’t envy the Astronaut Office folks. I can only imagine the pressure they’re under to juggle all the competing requirements for their time. I also get our NASA culture: we stick with what’s worked well for us in the past. But…is that the only way to succeed?

Can tradition handicap us, get in the way of creative solutions?

Enter technology — tools that could lighten the load and create new ways to share the training process with the rest of the world. Social media tools make sharing so simple. At one point, we were all afraid of e-mail. Now we can’t live without it for accomplishing work.

So here’s what I would do — in my imaginary world where I’m King of the Universe:

I would rewrite the equation: 1/2 unit technical + 1/2 unit inspirational = 1 Astronaut

NASA HQ employees crowded around STS-127 crew.

NASA HQ employees crowded around STS-127 crew.

In my opinion, social media should be a ‘given’ throughOUT the entire training process. Equip the astronauts with the iPhone 3GS (video) so they can instantly post pics and video inside the simulators, water training, T-38 practice time, and more.

Allow the tax-payer an opportunity to participate and interact WITH our incredible national treasure — the space travelers who’ve broken the bonds of Earth gravity.

If I were King, I would craft a career path that includes time at NASA Headquarters for EACH and EVERY astronaut in the Corps — prior to promotion consideration of any kind. (I realize this sounds harsh for uprooting the family structure, but kids/family members can benefit from time in our nation’s Capitol.) The time would be split evenly:

  1. six months in the Office of Legislative Affairs (sharing NASA’s story with Members of Congress and staff) and
  2. six months in the Office of Public Affairs (learning and practicing communication methods and representing NASA at outreach-type events outside NASA).

Our future as a space-faring nation depends on the will of the people, as expressed through decisions by their elected representatives.

STS-127: Discovery docked to Space Station

STS-128: Discovery docked to Space Station

Our astronauts and our images of the heavens offer our citizens a window into the universe. Our images show the story of what’s beyond our reach. Our astronauts tell the story — how it feels to GO beyond our reach. Yes, training is crucial to get the job done. But, the real job, is getting OUT THERE…in the Universe! We need political will to get there.

Astronauts embody the human drive to push beyond the boundaries of our knowledge.

Yes, the technical aspects of the mission are CRUCIAL. We have human lives at stake. Totally. Absolutely! And, we, at NASA, are incredibly good at conducting missions safely. However, without the storytelling — how it tastes and feels, complete with hair-raising near-misses and close calls — we may not have future space missions to conduct.

Humans are addicted to the drama behind the story.

Why else would we have an entertainment industry that we throw money at — for the privilege of losing ourselves inside the storytelling in novels, movies and TV shows?

So let’s tell our story…using every tool we’ve got!

IMG_0739

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Filed under Africa, culture, Earth, federal government, leadership, NASA, poverty, space, water

JAM: Help Africa Help Itself!

One child dies every eight seconds.

One of the reasons we traveled to South Africa this summer: to survey potential organizations where my youngest daughter might possibly serve orphans who’ve lost their parents to AIDs. She’s completing her grad degree in Counseling, with a specialty in Play Therapy.

Joint Aid Management, JAM — South Africa’s best kept secret — was our first appointment. Our taxicab driver had trouble finding JAM, but once we did, WOW. Their complex is amazing.

Reception office at JAM Headquarters in Johannesburg.

Reception office at JAM Headquarters in Johannesburg.

What is JAM?

During our meeting, we learned about JAM’s history and how they’ve morphed into the humanitarian organization they are today. We walked the property and watched two movies about their work that brought us to tears.

We learned about JAM’s founder, Peter Pretorius (seen in the portrait above, who “saw the light” after he was abandoned in a refugee camp for ten days. He lived the plight of the refugees, with no food and no care. He watched people around him die EVERY day, and helped bury the bodies. What he saw during that ten days broke his heart. He returned home wanting to help feed the starving people where the need was the greatest.

"Informal Settlement" or squatter park not far from JAM HQ

"Informal Settlement" or squatter park not far from JAM HQ

JAM’s website describes them as follows:

“Joint Aid Management is a South African founded, registered non-profit Christian humanitarian relief and development organisation, with 25 years experience in sustainable development.”

The organization helps almost half a million children in need each year. They focus on the community as a resource to support the children through:

  • school food programs to offer on nutritional meal each day,
  • drilling for clean water convenient to the community,
  • help with proper sanitation,
  • assisting vulnerable children and orphans,
  • programs to combat HIV/AIDS,
  • community training and skills development,
  • agricultural training,
  • assisting projects to bring income into the community.

JAM’s little red plastic bowl (visible in the portrait above) is their signature. Each bowl holds what may be the only meal the child gets each day — a porridge-like nutritionally-fortified food ration made of corn, soy beans, sugar, and micronutrients.

JAM’s little red bowl provides 75% of each child’s recommended daily allowance (RDA), by UNICEF‘s standards.

Right now, JAM is actively fighting back against starvation and human suffering through the schools in several African countries:

  • 237,000 children fed each school day in Mozambique;
  • 202,000 in Angola;
  • 2,200 in Sudan, with plans to increase support to 15,000;
  • 24,000 in Zimbabwe, in partnership with World Vision;
  • 4,948 in an informal settlement in Orange County, South Africa.
JAM Headquarters Offices

JAM Headquarters Building

We learned in our meeting at JAM that feeding children in South Africa has been traditionally lower on the priority scale because needs, until recently, hadn’t been as desperate as in other African nations. With the influx of poverty-stricken immigrants from neighboring countries, the situation has changed.

JAM plans to feed 100,000 children in South Africa within the next five years.

We toured JAM’s headquarters, a complex with an extensive logistics network that includes food storage, vehicle maintenance, housing units for employees, multimedia lab, and office space. JAM employs 700 full time employees, with over 3,000 volunteers. They make every attempt to employ locals in the communities they serve, offering job training and income support to help self-sustain the effort as time goes by.

JAM's Vehicle Depot

JAM's Vehicle Depot

JAM operates a fleet of 170 vehicles, many purchased at auctions and rebuilt for their rugged logistics requirements. These trucks travel over rough terrain where roads may or may not exist. Believe me, after driving in Zambia, I completely understand what wear and tear is expected of JAM’s fleet.

Partnering with JAM, you can “help Africa help itself.”

You can donate online to feed a child for a year. Or fund water drilling, HIV/AIDs support, or emergency relief. The choice is yours. As we move into the giving season, consider giving friends and family the gift of life for a child.

Save yourself a trip to the shopping mall. Give a donation in honor of your loved ones. What better gift can you give?

JAM has a US presence in downtown DC and one in Alexandria, Virginia. You can start here:

900 19th Street, NW, Suite 400; Washington DC, 20006

202.380.3566

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Filed under Africa, humanitarian aid, poverty

Southern Africa: Story Behind the Eyes

Growing up as a kid in Texas, I remember trick-or-treating for UNICEF, an organization that helps at -risk children in developing countries. We collected donations instead of candy. Going to school in Nova Scotia following high school, I organized a 40-mile walk-a-thon to benefit UNICEF. Only three of us completed the forty miles. I only remember dehydration and an emergency room visit upon finishing. The rest is a blur. I have no recollection, what-so-ever, of how much we earned for our efforts. Probably not much.

All that seems so long ago. UNICEF never went away. At-risk children never went away.

Perhaps I lost sight of the cause once my own life got complicated.

I’m looking at it now though. My daughter’s passion for children orphaned by the AIDs pandemic focused my attention again.

Girls dressed in Sunday best.

Girls dressed in Sunday best.

According to UNICEF:

“About 29,000 children under the age of five –  21 each minute – die every day, mainly from preventable causes.”

Boys in the bush.

Boys in the bush.

The UNICEF website cites frightening statistics for the southern part of Africa:

“The number of children orphaned and made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS is projected to reach 25 million by the end of the decade, 18 million of them in sub-Saharan Africa. This, along with only modest progress fighting malaria, means the threats facing child survival are as grave as ever.”

I’m just now researching the United Nations Millennium Development Goals for 2015. Yes, I know. I haven’t been paying attention.

  1. End Poverty and Hunger
  2. Universal Education
  3. Gender Equality
  4. Child Health
  5. Maternal Health
  6. Combat HIV/AIDS
  7. Environmental Sustainability
  8. Global Partnership
Kids on street in Zambia

Kids on street in Zambia

Goal 6, combatting HIV/AIDS, directly relates to my daughter’s passion for the alarming number of children orphaned by the great killer.  Projections point to 18 million parentless children in Sub-Saharan Africa by next year. These children must assume the parental role of finding food and caring for their siblings, forcing many to drop out of school.

In South Africa, the statistics on the number of individuals, of all ages, living with HIV/AIDs — simply staggering.

This girl's got spunk!

This girl's got spunk!

Everywhere we went during our time in South Africa, the topic came up. Parents are dying. If family members aren’t available to care for the children, the social services steps in. But often, the children slip through the cracks because their parents never informed the schools of their illness. The children simply stop coming to school. As we learned from our interview with the school principal in Soweto Township, she often serves as a detective/social worker at times, trying to determine where the child is, once he disappears from class.

I really started this blogpost to show you the faces of the children we met. Somehow, I felt compelled to add a bit about their world. I don’t know their individual stories to share with you, only the aggregate.

Just look into their eyes. I’ll let the children speak for themselves.

Pretty in pink.

Pretty in pink.

Fighting for the shot

Fighting for the shot

South Africa school uniform

South Africa school uniform

Simply gorgeous

Simply gorgeous

I'm getting a HUGE hug!

I'm getting a HUGE hug!

Now THAT's a pose!

Now THAT's a pose!

Such a tiny one.

Such a tiny one.
He elbowed everyone to get near me.

He elbowed everyone to get near me.

Hopeful, yet measured

Hopeful, yet measured


My daughter is taking a pic of me taking a pic...

My daughter is taking a pic of me taking a pic...

Best friends

Best friends

Full of promise

Full of promise

Not sure of me...

What a dumplin'

She never once smiled

She never once smiled

Play buddies

Play buddies

Thumbs up

Thumbs up

He wanted a "sweetie."

He wanted a "sweetie."

She's not sure about me yet.

She's not sure about me yet.

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Filed under Africa, AIDs, poverty

Mike Boon’s Vuka! Wake-Up Call

Ancient African proverb: “A man without culture is like a zebra without stripes.”

South Africa: 1996

“Mike Boon, a white, was on the mean streets of Soweto photographing anti-apartheid graffiti when he was caught by the mob. About 1,000 supporters of the Pan African Congress – motto: one settler, one bullet – had beaten him, doused him with petrol and were preparing to burn him alive in a horrific spectacle known as necklacing.

“They had the tyre, although they never put it around my neck, and they were shouting for matches,” he says. Mr Boon only escaped a hideous death because he speaks fluent Zulu, and was able to persuade his captors that he was there to promote their cause.”

Paul Rodgers, The Independent, 20 October 1996

Yikes! Meet my buddy Mike.

Mike on his Game Reserve

Mike teaches us about animal poop on his Game Reserve

Mike, the multi-lingual ex-special forces peace-loving folk music guitar-picking minstrel, who founded a marketing company in the 1980’s in a rags-to-riches story. His vision: creating community-based, culturally-targeted delivery of product messages into the hands of people on the streets and in the townships of South Africa.

In order to understand an issue, Mike seeks to understand the root cause — the people, and how they view the world.

Under his leadership, Group Africa grew into a multinational organization of 7000 employees operating in over 25 countries in just 17 years. As he tells it, Mike grew tired of constant international travel and the burden of corporate leadership, and sold his business to an American public relations giant.

For his second act (or third, really, if you count his time in the military), Mike launched the Vulindlela™ Network to help bring about personal and organizational VUKA! — interventions to foster cultural and social understanding and shared vision. Mike’s work brings about reconciliation. Mike’s bio states:

“His work unashamedly acknowledges and deals with the inherent racism, prejudice, anger, fear and denial…”

Tuff stuff, the challenges Mike takes on. What can I say? He’s Superman. So, by now you’re probably wondering how I know Mike. Let’s take a trip back in time.

Texas: 1974

I met Mike Boon in 1974 at a Southwest Texas Rotary International meet ‘n greet for incoming and outgoing exchange students. Mike was going to high school in Gonzales, Texas for the year. I attended San Marcos High School, and had been selected to spend a year in Denmark. Mike and I hit it off immediately.

What I remember most about Mike? His to-die-for accent, easy laugh, and deep dives into the meaning of life. He taught me a bit of Xhosa, an amazing clicking language; and introduced my family to a more efficient method of left-handed eating — keeping the fork tongs-down and the knife in my right hand. We Americans tend to eat right-handed with the tongs facing upward, switch the fork to the left hand tongs-down to cut, then switch back to the right hand tongs-up to eat.

Mike faced a mandatory 2-year term in the military when he returned home to South Africa. I couldn’t imagine the soft-hearted, deeply thoughtful, easy-going boy carrying a gun. Much less shooting it. Much to my surprise, but not really because Mike always exceeded expectations in everything he undertook, Mike went into the military and earned a spot in the elite special forces. The letters he sent from active duty had sections literally cut from the pages.

Mike always wrote me about fighting injustice, opposing the forces of evil, standing up for what’s right, understanding the core of humanity. Deep stuff. Mike stuff.

Mike and I stayed in touch on and off through the years. Our lives took so many different turns. I knew Mike had written a book, and that he’d done well. I had no idea HOW well. We lost touch about 10 years or so ago when my Christmas letters started bouncing back. I kept sending them, they kept returning. Enter the age of the internet. Mike found me a couple of years ago through NASA. I’d spent a few years as Editor of NASA.gov. I’d left digital fingerprints everywhere.

Our friendship spanned decades and continents, yet we’d not seen each other for 35 years. Until this summer.

Summer: 2009

ZambeziCoverPageI learned so much about Mike, the man, during our visit to South Africa. I had really only ever known the boy. Spending time with Mike and his family helped fill in the gaps. Ok, not gaps. Craters.

Reading both Mike’s books before our visit, helped remind me who Mike is — Mike, the philosopher. No depth is ever deep enough for him. He’ll always dig down and uncover another layer of understanding. We are alike that way. I really need to understand what drives things, what makes pieces fit together. I appreciate the way Mike approaches a problem and finds a way around an impasse.

Mike deals with culture in his ground-breaking 1996 book, The African Way: The Power of Interactive Leadership. Reading this book, I understood, for the first time, some of the cultural issues we face, even today, in the United States.

Mike describes the “Western” view of time as individually-focused — control is internal. For instance: “I missed the bus.” Yet the traditional African view of time is circular, where “the past is more important than the future.”  In Zulu, the expression would be, “The bus left me.” In Xhosa, “The bus died on me.” Both are externally-controlled. (p. 6-7) He notes that the pace of business based on an internal or external focus is fundamentally different. On the question of when it’s time to “move on” — forgive and forget — to order to repair the nation after apartheid was abolished, Mike offers this: “The ‘African’ view would be that a considerable amount still needs to be done to settle the damage done by apartheid.”

In a circular view of time, where the past is more important than the future, how long is long enough?

I absolutely have no answer, but at least I understand the context.

MikeBoonZambeziReconciliation seems the focus of Mike’s second book, Zambezi, The First Solo Journey Along Africa’s Mighty River. 1n 2002, Mike embarked on a solo expedition down the Zambezi River from source to sea in a kayak, which had never been attempted before. Missionary-explorer David Livingstone traveled by boat down the Zambezi in the 1850-60’s, and nearly lost his life. Others attempted the journey though the centuries, but never the entire river. Mike knew he would be traveling through war-torn countries and areas of civil discontent. His trip included: Northwest Zambia, Angola/Zambia border, Angola, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique. The river itself has unchartered areas with unknown rapids and falls.

Mighty Zambezi @ Victoria Falls

Mighty Zambezi @ Victoria Falls

In his own words, here’s Mike’s assessment of his chances on the river:

“In addition to the political and geographic challenges, I had to prepare myself for any number of medical eventualities. Injury and trauma could be caused by assault or bites from snakes, hippos, crocodiles, and other animals. Possible illnesses included malaria, hepatitis, dysentery and infection. I needed to be able to self-administer any number of treatments, such as suturing wounds, setting fractures and carrying out amputations.”

Mike indeed encountered near-death in a whirlpool, abduction by military guards, close encounters with crocs, hippos, and elephants. His 99-day physical challenge brought emotional healing from Mike’s ‘military and corporate combat’ demons. The Zulus named Mike, Chunge,” which means “he who achieves even though the road be difficult and torturous.” Perhaps he needs to replace the word “road” with “river.”

Mike, Man of Many Years, at last reconciled with Mike, Idealistic Boy of Long Ago.

During our visit in South Africa, I learned more about Mike’s work through the eyes of his former employee, Doug, who accompanied us to the Soweto Township, home of Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu.

Through Doug, I learned that Mike created the Lesedi Cultural Village for business partners to experience tribal life and better understand the people their products would reach. He recreated village life and brought in families to live and share their culture with visitors. He is no longer associated with Lesedi, which has become a successful tourist attraction, but he met his need to teach the “Western world” partners about African culture.

Primary School has new kitchen.

Primary School has new kitchen.

We visited an impoverished Township primary school. The school principal told us that the result of one of Mike’s VUKA! experiences, the bankers returned to volunteer with the kids and build a kitchen for the school. (They still need a regulation soccer field.)

Day Care has paint and furniture.

Day Care has paint and furniture.

We spent time at a pre-school day care in SnakePark, the poorest section of Soweto. Two mothers couldn’t bear seeing children without care and on the streets. They formed the Big Smile Little Faces Day Care. As a result of Mike’s VUKA! experience,  a business group returned to volunteer and provide essentials for the children — desks, chairs, rugs, book cubbies, and more.

VUKA! landmark

VUKA! landmark

When I wanted to take pictures of the painted towers in Soweto, not far from Nelson Mandela’s home, Doug pointed out the towers were painted for the community as a result of a Mike’s VUKA! program.

Mike mixes rich and poor, black and white, male and female, young and old  — drawing them together through a transformation process that strips away preconceived  cultural bias and builds bridges of shared humanity.

I saw evidence of his success whereever we went. Mike’s ground-breaking reconciliation/facilitation work is sought at the very highest levels of business and government, including Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama. Mike was flown to the Middle East to resolve settlement disputes between the Jews and Palestinians. Is there anything Mike can’t do? Slow down, maybe. Hardly likely.

Mike’s new challenge: an 8-month river adventure through even more dangerous territory than the Zambezi to draw attention to prejudice in all forms.

But, I’d like to give Mike a different challenge, as if the elimination of prejudice weren’t enough. I’d love to bring Mike to NASA, to challenge our entrenched, bureaucratic culture. I’ve only been introduced to snippets of Mike’s work to bring about reconciliation.

The more I see, the more I want Mike to bring VUKA! to NASA.

Just think, we have our very own whirlpools, rocky embankments, hippos, crocodiles, and infected thinking to offer a tempting challenge to Mike. We’ve had 50 years to develop ruts and dysfunctional business patterns.

Those of you at NASA know what I’m talking about. Folks at NASA field centers and Headquarters often mistrust each other. Organizations build walls to keep out competing other organizations. Power is not often shared well. Threat to power…well, I shudder at the thought. Many individuals and organizations operate under the fear of retribution — for thinking or speaking outside what is deemed culturally acceptable by individual managers. Sad, but true.

Not all of NASA can be described this way, of course, but enough exists to warrant at good look. Good news, though. We have a new leadership team at NASA. What better time to bring Mike in to wake us up, transform our thinking, ignite us for the future? We have much work to do.

Let’s VUKA!

Annie's Treehouse

Mike welcoming us to Annie's Treehouse, an aMAZing retreat he built for his wife!

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Filed under Africa, culture, federal government, leadership, NASA, space

Zambia: Land of Livingstone

Mukuni Village: Home of the Lion King

Mukuni Village: Home of the Lion King

Dr. Livingstone, I presume.”

Do you even know where this quote came from? I knew the quote, but not the context. Traveling to Zambia at the end of July brought the quote to life as we learned more about the country’s history.

David Livingstone statue @ Victoria Falls

Livingstone @ Victoria Falls

Before traveling to Zambia, I’d read about Scottish missionary-explorer Dr. David Livingstone (1813-1873) in Perspectives, a 16-week course about God’s global purpose through a biblical, historical, and cultural perspective. When I learned (though Facebook) that my aunt and uncle live and serve as missionaries in Livingtone, I was amazed. They live in a city named after the missionary I’d studied. I really like David Livingstone’s life story.

Not only was he appalled by the inhumanity of the slave trade, he believed Christianity + self-sufficient commerce could help eradicate the nasty practice at its roots.

Mosi-oa-Tunya

Mosi-oa-Tunya

He explored for viable trade routes to open commerce for the people he came to serve. In his travels, Livingstone “discovered” the massive falls (110m/330 ft down) on the Zambezi River in 1855, named by the locals Mosi-oa-Tunya, or “The Smoke that Thunders.” He renamed it Victoria Falls to honor Queen Victoria. During a later expedition to search for the source of the Nile River, Livingstone was tracked down by a New York Herald reporter, Sir Henry Morton Stanley, near Lake Tanganyika in present-day Tanzania. Stanley is said to have stated, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume.”

Dr. Livingstone headed several expeditions and published his findings. He blazed a path for other missionaries and explorers to follow. I assumed the present day town, Livingstone, is named after the missionary-explorer. My aunt tells me some of the locals disagree. They believe the town name comes from tribal heritage. Who’s to say?

Bungee Bridge over Batoka Gorge

Bungee Bridge over Batoka Gorge

Livingstone — the destination — is a paradise for extreme-sports fanatics.

Tourists flock here for bungee-jumping, white-water rafting, microlight flying, and more. Disclaimer: I’m not a fan of high places I can fall from. I call it fall-o-phobia.

Microflyer over Victoria Falls

Microflyer over Victoria Falls

It’s not that I’m afraid of heights as much as that long journey down, should I happen to slip over the edge. The fact that human beings WILLINGLY choose to tie-their-legs-together-on-an-elastic-band-and-leap-from-a-towering-bridge-of-their-own-free-will utterly escapes me. My buddy Mike Boon (see previous blog posts) told me he jumped with his son off the Victoria Falls Bridge into Batoka Gorge a few years back. I shudder as I type. I think I’ll stick to the terror of moving a government project forward withOUT the required 95,000 signatures on the concurrence page. ;-)

Giraffe at Zambesi Sun Hotel

Giraffe at Zambesi Sun Hotel

Tourists can stay at the Zambezi Sun Hotel which is part of the Mosi-oa-Tunya World Heritage site. The current Lion King (more about him below) sold off sections of his people’s land, such as the site of the Sun hotel, which sits on a prime location along the Zambezi River next to the Falls. You can see the spray from the falls from the water-side of the hotel. Giraffe, zebra, impala, and monkeys roam freely among the guests.

Romping Zebras

Romping Zebras

We stopped for a pot of tea at the hotel (July/August are winter months in Africa). As we sat by the pool drinking tea, the zebras joined us. They romped and played for hours. What a surprise and delight! The hotel employs a “zebra-handler” to keep the guests safe. I found myself precariously wedged between the hind-quarters of several zebras. (I was innocently trying to take pictures.) The handler rescued me, leading me to safety. Evidently, zebras like to kick unsuspecting humans…like me.

If I could take home a pet zebra, I would.

Can I take him home?

Can I take him home?

Being close enough to touch wild animals and live to tell about it is the most amazing experience!

Melody welcomes the children

Melody welcomes the children

I’m so thankful my aunt Melody invited us to visit. Two days before we arrived, my uncle Phil flew to the States for a medical procedure. Sorry Phil, but we had such a great time while you were gone.  I wasn’t sure what we’d find in Zambia. Melody and Phil have served in Livingstone for three years now. Phil goes out to the bush to reach out to the villagers — many of whom have never seen a “white man” before.

Melody graciously allowed us to walk her walk during our time in Zambia. She introduced us to the people, places, culture, and customs. She teaches the children on Sundays at the “Cowboy Church” which was started by a fellow missionary and his wife. We went with her to help with the kids.

Clean water!

Clean water!

As we drove up, we noticed women washing their clothes in front of the church.

The neighborhood has no running water or plumbing facilities.

Cowboy Church Outhouse

Cowboy Church Outhouse

We learned that the villagers are welcome to use the water at the church to meet their needs. I must admit that I was unprepared to use the church outhouse, though it offers privacy and a nicely painted exterior.

The people live a simple life — which in no way translates into the easy life.

Running water for villagers.

Running water for villagers.

Women can spend up to 60% of their day fetching water from remote sources. Water is carried in buckets. The same water is used for eating, drinking, cleaning. If you’re well-off, your home includes a water tower.

If water were a commodity, it would be blue diamonds!

Water. Plumbing. Electricity. All luxuries we take for granted. Those who have electricity share frustration with reliability from the electrical utility provider. For my aunt and uncle, Thursday is their day to do without…in addition to the other unscheduled outages.

Flatbed trucks

Flatbed trucks

We witnessed a number of funeral processions. Funerals are an accepted part of every day life. The cause? AIDs. Malaria. You name it. Friends and family cram onto flatbed trucks for the ride to the cemetery. Cemeteries are filled with recent grave markers.

My aunt explained that widows, who’ve  lost their livelihood, are expected to feed and care for all the guests at the funeral. In the US, we take food with us to the grieving widow. What is so foreign to me, is a cultural given to the people who live here.

Uncertainty is part of life in the land of have-nots.

On the days we went out to the villages, I refused to drink anything. I feared needing “facilities” that might not be to my liking. How lame is that? I held out until I could get back to my Western amenities. I’m a wimp. I admit it.

I had trouble adjusting my Western habits to the 3rd-World reality we experienced in Zambia.

But, hey, I DID hard things — like drive in an unknown country, in unknown vehicles, on teeth-rattling surfaces, stick-shift on the left-hand side of the road…and IN THE BUSH! White-knuckle driving, I called it. SOMEone had to. Note: My aunt doesn’t drive stick…yet! It’s only a matter of time, now that’s Melody’s seen me take on the streets of Livingstone and beyond. (Right Melody?)

Deep in the Bush...

Deep in the Bush...

Singing and Dancing!

Singing and Dancing!

We drove out to the bush to help out with the Kooma Community School. Pastor Kebby, who leads the Cowboy Church congregation on the outskirts of Livingstone, shared about God with the students of the school. The government requires “religious” education units as part of the curriculum. How different from the US.

I watched with awe as Pastor Kebby talked to the kids with enthusiasm and humor. I couldn’t understand a word he said, but the kids laughed and responded eagerly. I loved getting a glimpse of his unquenchable spirit. Though he was ill while we were there, he refused to slow down. By the end of our day-long journey into the bush and back, he could barely walk. His passion for his people was humbling indeed.

Pastor Kebby in the center.

Pastor Kebby in the center.

We tourists only peek through the window to their world. They live it. We go home to our comfortable routine.

We visited 700-yr-old Mukuni Village, home of Chief Mukuni, the real Lion King. One of the locals walked us through the village and told us about the royal family and their system of justice and administration. They have very little crime among the 8000 villagers. We saw the tiny jail. I wouldn’t want to spend time there either. Ok, I wouldn’t want to spend time in ANY jail!

Livingstone Tree

Livingstone Tree

The Mukuni village is organized around a giant tree where Dr. David Livingstone waited for an audience from the Chief. It’s their “meeting place” to this day…in the land of Livingstone.

Lion King's Throne

Lion King's Throne

Knowing that my aunt is a missionary, our guide described their tribal religious beliefs. She explained that they pray to the God of the Bible, and make certain they bless their food properly in order to keep their ancestors from getting angry. Otherwise, she confided, they could get upset stomachs…or worse. In Perspectives class, I first ran across the concept of syncretism — where several belief systems merge together. Can this be what she described? It’s a subtle distinction.

I merely pose the question, not suppose the answer.

Flower lady

Flower lady

Mukuni village has electrical wires running through it. We walked past huts with radios blaring, wires strung loosely from the master wire overhead. The villagers showed signs of prosperity from the tourism trade (as well as the sale of tribal land for development, such as the Zambezi Sun). Flower gardens. Thatched fences. New huts in various stages of completion. Dirt floors, but bright smiles.

Village Vendors

Village Vendors

We realized, after the fact, that while we walked through the village, the vendors all gathered at the village market — in anticipation of our visit there. Talk about sales pressure. I found it totally overwhelming. Once we walked out of the market, the villagers all filed out and went home. Seriously. Every one of them.

On our way back from Mukuni Village, Melody took us to see the lions and other wild cats at the Mukuni Park Reserve. She told me it was down one of the MANY unmarked paths on the main road. (Road, BTW, is a term I use quite generously. Perhaps I should say crater-impaired clearing between heavy brush.)

Good to know...

Good to know...

Fortunately, Melody picked out the correct unmarked turn-off from the road. It was a one-way crevice filled with deep sand. (Did I mention I have an imagination? Others might call it a generously sandy path.) One of the many dramatic moments of our trip: the mini-bus spun out of control in the sand. I’d never used 4-wheel drive as a separate stick shift. Melody instructed me, from her best memory, how she’d seen Phil engage the 4-wheel drive. Somehow we got “unstuck” but it wasn’t a pretty sight. The lion guys must’ve had a good laugh as we jerked our way to their doorstep.

I never quite got it in gear, so to speak.

Aslan of "The Lion, Witch & Wardrobe"

Aslan of "The Lion, Witch & Wardrobe"

No matter our humiliating arrival, we had an incredible time with the cats. Wow! They’re amazing creatures. The cat handlers will let visitors “walk” with the lions and cheetahs. Fortunately, the cats were all in their cages during our visit. When our guide told us we could play with the cubs, I pictured kittens — the  size that fit in one hand. Uh, no. These were cubs the size of a couch, with paws bigger than my feet.  I would not want to be their dinner. Yikes.

When offered the opportunity to go inside the cage with five of these man-sized cubs, I was less than thrilled. But, go inside I did. Nervously. For one picture. Or two.

Shaka's NOT happy!

Shaka's NOT happy!

The handler got me out quickly. When we looked at the pics later, we saw the reason for my rush exit — a second cub was coming up from behind me. I’m sure he only wanted to play. Or, eat me for dinner.

Now the cheetahs. Fastest animal, right? Well, faster than me! We took pictures OUTside the cage with the cheetahs. Good thing. Here’s Shaka. He was NOT happy to see us. See the fur standing up on his back? Melody told us she was INside the cage with the cheetahs on her last visit. Really? Can that at ALL be safe?

One of the many things I learned in Africa? I’m really, really, really a city girl.

All in all, I’m really thankful Dr. David Livingstone left the comfort of his home and family to minister to the people of Africa. How incredible to walk where he walked, and to have members of my family following his footsteps as missionaries to the very people he came to serve so many years ago. I have so much more to learn about this place so far away from my life in DC. Soon, very soon, I may have a daughter living in southern Africa.

Here’s a cool sunset from the land of Livingstone. Enjoy. I’m sure I’ll be sharing more African stories with you soon.

Sunset in the Land of Livingstone.

Sunset in the Land of Livingstone.

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Filed under Africa, Earth, poverty, water