Tag Archives: Zambia

Ode to Spring

My mother celebrates her 80th birthday tomorrow. She’s in Zambia with my aunt and uncle. Before she left, she told me that, at 40, she could never have imagined she’d spend her 80th birthday in Africa.

Zambia: Even lions adore my Mother...

Zambia: Even lions adore my Mother...

Mother at the Cowboy Church in Livingstone, Zambi

Mother at the Cowboy Church in Livingstone, Zambia

I wonder where I’ll celebrate my 80th birthday? In a space tourist hotel? Hey, it could happen!

To honor my Mother, I want to share a poem I wrote for her 76th birthday.

Daffodils from my yard

Daffodils from my yard.

Ode to Spring

Grim, gloomy days. Bleary, bleary.

Barren landscapes. Dreary, dreary.

Frostbite on fingertips. Weary, weary.

Oh when, oh when

come warm tidings of Spring?

Compare the beauty of winter white,

reflecting the sun in brilliance bright,

glinting from mountain peaks in morning light.

Nowhere, nowhere better!

Green gardens of Spring.

Snowdrops, daffodils, and tulips. Jubilee!

Hyacinth and crocus. Fragrant potpourri.

Red bud, dogwood, and cherry blossom trees.

Oh joy, oh joy!

Sweet scents of Spring.

Take flight, old man winter! Harsh adversary.

Melt your frozen pathways. Wary, wary.

Be gone, you wretched nightmare. Scary, scary.

Oh now,  oh now!

Come fresh breath of Spring.

A rainbow of blossoms break winter’s rest,

unfurling new colors with unbridled zest.

Fledgelings eager to soar from the nest.

Rejoice, of rejoice!

New life of Spring.

New dawn awakens with birdsong sweet.

Goldfinch and chickadee twitter and tweet.

Fluttering their wings, early morning they greet.

Oh what, oh what?

Melodic offering of Spring.

Bouquets and butterflies. Giving, giving.

Rebirth. Fresh start. Forgiving, forgiving.

Filled with His Spirit! Living! Living!

Oh welcome, welcome!

Glad tidings of Spring.

Spring at Smithsonian Castle

Spring flowers at the Smithsonian Castle

Happy 80th birthday, Mother.

April flowers to you — from my continent to yours.

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Significance Vs Obedience

I’ve been struggling a great deal since returning from South Africa just one week ago. I’m having trouble readjusting to “normal” — as in my daily routine. I don’t think I’ve ever been happier than when I was surrounded by the children of Bethany House — playing, sharing, laughing, snuggling. Just being fully “present” with them felt important to me, like I made a difference in their lives, though even just for such a short time.

Bethany House

Bethany House CourtyardBethany House CourtyardToddler House @ Bethany House

While we were there, we also had an opportunity to serve meals to the homeless at the new Ikusasa Bethany House homeless shelter for boys. Ten boys are now living at the shelter, and over 50 homeless adults come for meals. My contribution: scooping chicken vegetable soup onto a container of pap, a mashed potato looking food. Such a simple act, yet so satisfying.

Bethany House Ikusasa Shelter for Street ChildrenIkusasa Shelter

Serving others puts “self” in perspective. If you’ve ever volunteered to help those less fortunate in disadvantaged areas, you know how humbling the experience can be.

We’re forced to face the contrast between our lives and theirs.

In America, many of us take for granted our giant TV screens, multi-car garages, family cell phone plans. We accumulate the newest, fastest, coolest fad gadgets, and when something breaks, we see it as a welcome excuse for the newer version of our toy. We don’t worry about where the next meal will come from or where we’ll find shelter each night. We’re not faced with decisions that you see described in the Bethany House poster below. Shudder!

Bethany House poster

Returning home to my “normal” existence here feels something like survivor’s guilt. I’m just not sure what to do with myself. Being at work feels like I’m not doing enough to make the world a better place. I don’t know how to put my life in context, now that I’m back.

As I pondered all these things this morning, my eyes fell on a book that Steph sent home with me,I Dared to Call Him Father: The Miraculous Story of a Muslim Woman’s Encounter with God” by Bilquis Sheikh. I picked up the book and read it cover to cover, crying through much of it. Not from sadness but because of how amazing God is! I needed this book on this very day. I feel renewed after reading about the faith of one woman, who yearned to know God and risked her entire existence to follow Him.

In the story, set in the 1960’s in Pakistan, Bilquis Sheikh struggled over her lack of “results.” God taught her to focus on obedience, and leave the results to Him. Yes, I cried at this point in the book too. I realized, yet again, that God placed me exactly where He wants me – to accomplish His purposes, not mine. God didn’t ask me to be “significant,” but rather to be obedient.

Significance is all about me. Obedience is all about God. Huge difference.

Right now, obedience translates for me as being a good civil servant. My NASA salary enables me be a “sender,” allowing others to serve God in the mission field while I stay put here at home.

Over two decades ago, God placed a burden on my Daddy’s heart for Africa. He asked our extended family to refrain from exchanging Christmas gifts and donate the money to charities to help feed the African people. He never got to visit the continent he loved, and yet, look at his legacy: Daddy’s little brother Phil and his granddaughter Steph both serve in Africa. How cool is that? One man’s simple act of obedience reaps rewards even today.

One step of faith at a time.

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Filed under Africa, Bethany House Trust, culture, NASA, poverty

I Met Beth Moore!

Coming back yesterday from the STs-132 mission tweetup hosted by the Johnson Space Center, I met Beth Moore at the airport.

Beth Moore. Credit: Living Proof Ministries

Beth Moore. Credit: Living Proof Ministries

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Beth Moore, founder of Living Proof Ministries, let me just tell you she’s an inspiration to women of faith around the world with her books and Biblical studies. My daughters, sister and Mother have all read, taken, and shared Beth Moore studies through the years. In fact, when I was in Zambia visiting my missionary aunt Melody, we watched a Beth Moore series video with the other missionary ladies serving in country. “Breaking Free” was my first Beth Moore experience. My daughter shared “Praying God’s Word” with me when I was going through a tough time. I bought the book to share with my friends. I have a library full of Beth Moore books and devotionals.

No, Beth Moore's hair doesn't look like this!

No, Beth Moore's hair doesn't look like this!

Back to my story: I noticed a petite woman on the escalator in front of me wearing a cute outfit and Texas hair. Those of you from Texas know what I’m talking about. Texas hair is perfectly coiffed. Virginia hair is pony-tailed or clipped. (I moved from Texas hair to Virginia hair long ago. I’ve worked in DC for 20 years now.)

I followed this cutely-dressed woman into the airport tram. As the doors opened, I saw her face for the first time. She looked so familiar. Then it hit me, she looked just like Beth Moore — who I’ve only ever seen in video and on book bios. As we left the tram I asked her if anyone ever told her she looked like Beth Moore. She responded with a laugh, “Oh, I get that all the time.” I laughed and told her I wasn’t surprised because she looked just like her. As I started to walk away, she added,

“….It’s because I am Beth Moore.”

Wow! We chatted as we headed down the escalator and to our respective gates. I told her how my daughter Steph and I visited the JAM facilities in South Africa because of her!

Last Christmas, I attended a Christmas tea at the Willard hosted by a colleague’s church. At the tea, Candice Pretorius, daughter-in-law of JAM founder Peter Pretorius, showed a video with a clip by Beth Moore talking about JAM‘s amazing work feeding poor children in Africa. I talked with Candice about Steph wanting to serve orphans in South Africa and that we were planning a trip to survey potential organizations. Candice connected us with Joy Nell at JAM Headquarters in Johannesburg to learn more about what JAM does.

As it turned out, JAM really doesn’t need counselors at this time. They focus on feeding the most at risk children. And what a great job they do! See earlier blogposts of our time in Africa.

JAM Headquarters in Johannesburg, South Africa

JAM Headquarters in Johannesburg, South Africa

Steph, BTW, just graduated in May with her Masters in Community Counseling, with a specialty in play therapy. I shared with Beth Moore that she accepted a one-year (or more) position with Bethany House in Johannesburg, South Africa to work with victim empowerment program to counsel kids with untreated trauma. She leaves in July.  Here’s the cool part about meeting Beth Moore: she told me several times how thankful she was that my daughter was going to serve in South Africa.

She told me to tell Steph how proud she was of her.

Bethany House

Bethany House

Just let me tell you, those few words of encouragement on a chance meeting in the IAH airport (though I don’t believe in chance) made all the difference to my daughter Steph. She’s facing some life-altering experiences — both thrilling and unsettling. She’s uprooting to a different continent, leaving friends and family, and starting over with children who desperately need help. She’s following God’s call for her life, but it doesn’t mean it’s easy. Beth Moore’s heartfelt words of thanks gave Steph a boost when she needs it most.

Thank you Beth Moore for all you do! So cool to meet you!!

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Filed under Africa, space, tweet-up, writers

Going Green for Green Sake?

In the mid-1990’s, I traveled to Norway to negotiate NASA’s Sounding Rocket agreement with the Norwegian Space Agency to study Northern lights. (Note: This project nearly caused World War III when the Russians mistook the Black Brant XII, launched from the Andøya Rocket Range, for a U.S. Trident missile.)

NASA Sounding Rockets: Black Brandt XII

NASA Sounding Rockets: Black Brandt XII

In my tiny little hotel on the Norwegian island of Andøya I encountered, for the first time, thegreen hotel’ concept where guests are offered the opportunity to reuse the towels and sheets to save the environment — saving precious water, reducing energy required to heat the water and power the washers, and preventing spread of pollutants caused by cleaning detergents.

Since that time, the idea spread across the Atlantic. I rarely stay in a hotel that doesn’t offer me the opportunity to reuse my towels and sheets.

For the record, I wholeheartedly support the option of green services at hotels. I feel quite nobel for my contribution to help save the world by using ‘dirty’ towels and sheets. (Ewww. Sounds pretty awful though, doesn’t it?)

My sister Aimee, however, doesn’t think it’s noble at all.

In fact, she refuses. Her rationale: she’s paying full cost for the service.

Why should the hotel save money on water, energy, detergent, AND staff labor at the guest’s expense?

My sister believes hotels reap financial reward from environmental do-gooders. Hotels charge daily rates. Guests willingly opt for less service. Hotels come out ahead. She sees the environment less of a concern to the hotel than the bottom line.

She makes a good point!

In the article, “‘Green’ hotels juggle conservation with customer service ,” Washington Post’s Juliet Eilperin points out a totally different issue — hotels boasting green service without the follow-through. Towels and sheets are changed out each day even when the guest wants to save the planet. I guess I prefer the hotel erring on the side of clean.

Tangent: I once stayed at a very nice hotel only to wake in the middle of the night to the pungent smell of dirty hair (not mine) on the pillowcase. Evidently not all the pillowcases had been changed from the previous guest. That’s a little too green for me.

So how do we get this right? You know, the whole saving-the-world-one-choice-at-a-time thing….

What if hotels offered a discount on hotel rates for green services? 10% off the cost of the room, perhaps?

Guests might be persuaded to sleep on the same sheets a couple of nights in a row…and reuse a towel or two IF they have financial incentive.  Going green to save green (money, I mean). It’s only fair, really. Hotels DO save money. Personally, I’d LOVE a discount on my room.

Or, it could go the other way. If we’re not careful (with our precious water), we may find ourselves facing additional fees for water-based services, like clean towels. Look at all the places around the world where people live daily with water shortages.

Zambia: Mukuni Village Water Supply

Zambia: Mukuni Village Water Supply

But in the places-of-plenty, where I live, sometimes the green (dollar) speaks louder that the green (environment).

A “green discount” might just be the place where water conservation and wallet conservation meet.

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Filed under Earth, environment, leadership, NASA, water

Zambia: Thanks for Serving!

If you’ve read earlier blogposts (listed at bottom) that I wrote about Africa, you already know my aunt Melody.

We visited Melody in Zambia this summer while my uncle Phil came back to the U.S. for a medical procedure. Phil is my Daddy’s youngest brother. He’s not that much older than my brother and me, so we grew up more like cousins. I have so many stories I could tell you about Phil, but…I won’t. (Talk to me later.) I met Melody for the first time when my superstar basketball player uncle brought his cheerleader girlfriend home to meet the family. Melody taught us cheers out in my grandparents yard.

We loved bubbly, fun Melody at first glance. And she’s still the same!

Phil and Melody Stephens serving God in Zambia

Phil and Melody Stephens serving God in Zambia

Now Phil and Melody serve in Zambia. I asked Melody to share some of their life with you. I held this post until today, Thanksgiving Day. Seemed like the perfect time to share what they do for a living — a life serving God and giving thanks day by day.

Feel free to fall in love with them too!

I sent Melody a list of questions. Here are her answers:

How long have you and Phil served in Zambia?

3 years. We arrived October 12, 2006.

Downtown Livingstone

Downtown Livingstone, Zambia

What brought you to Africa?

Phil came to see the work of another missionary in 2000 and fell in love with the people. I came the following year and loved the people, but although I knew God wanted us to serve Him here, it took a couple of more years before this “city girl” agreed!

Boy in Mukuni Village

Boy in Mukuni Village

Why Zambia?

Zambians are the people group that God placed in our hearts. I sometimes wonder myself…Why Zambia?? Why not Ireland or Hawaii?? Now, I could really feel the love there if only given a chance. ;)

But no, God chose Zambia and now I am so thankful. I love the people and feel a great burden to teach the children of the love of a Wonderful Savior  — the One who would call me out of my little boxthat I fit so well in– and bring me to this place half way around the world and open my eyes to the needs of the people here. Everywhere we go here becomes an opportunity to share the Gospel with a lost and dying world.

“Zambia was not on my top 100 places to live but it is now the ONLY place that I want to be.” — Melody Stephens, missionary

What you see as the greatest need physical need of the people?

Right now I would say that I think the greatest physical need of the people is clean water. There is a water shortage in the compounds and quite often there is no water for them to drink. The water that is available is dirty and loaded with who knows what. We (Amerians) know when it is so hot that we need to drink more, yet they drink less because of the diseases that come with bad water.

What surprised you most you the most about living in Zambia?

Where to begin…. Here are my top ten:

#10. Weekly power outage (often more frequently) because the government officials say we have excess power to sell to neighboring countries. So, if we have so much power why am I sitting in the dark?? And why can’t they let me know when it will be off so I can plan my life??? (Oops! I’m back in the box!)

Zambia Zebra

Zambia Zebra

#9. I am totally surprised by elephants, giraffes, zebras, monkeys…okay all the “zoo” animals roaming around freely with no barriors.

#8. I am surprised by little village boys who don’t often see vehicles using their flip flops as pretend cars making roads in the dirt and adding the correct “noises” to their game.

#7. Going to the store to buy bread or milk or eggs and finding none…because management didn’t think to place an order.

#6. The beauty of the sunsets and flowers.

#5. No one is in a hurry.

#4. The crude tools used to create works of beauty.

#3. The “Thunder” of Victoria Falls.

Children caring for babies.

Children caring for babies.

#2. Children carrying bables on their backs, and being responsible for siblings at such a young age.

#1. But, the most surprising thing of all is the joy of the Lord that a soul set free has here in Zambia. They are not in a hurry to worship. They will sing and praise God all night and all day. And can they sing!

I love to hear the Zambian voices lifted up in praise to the God who set them free.

What do you like the best about your life?

Serving the Lord day in and day out with Phil. I love the people both young and old. I love the adventure, the animals, the flowers and the opportunity fo depend on God daily to supply our needs.

Pastor Kebby preaching

Paston Kebby preaching

How can readers donate?

Tax-deductible donations can be made to our missions agency:

BBFI (for Phil and Melody Stephens–011310)
PO Box 191
Springfield, Mo.65801-0191

Phil and Melody Stephens on the Mighty Zambezi!

Phil and Melody Stephens on the Mighty Zambezi!

You can catch up on our adventures/observations in Southern Africa:

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    Filed under Africa, leadership, poverty, water

    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

    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.

    5 Comments

    Filed under Africa, Earth, poverty, water

    Have and Have-nots: Light years apart

    Koome Village

    Kooma Village

    I’m really strugging with reintry into my 1st-World lifestyle after three weeks in a 3rd-World reality in southern Africa.

    I’ve experienced 3rd-World living before. I studied in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere Mexico during college, and built a church in a little village in poverty-stricken central Brazil. And yet, this transition seems harder for me. The situation in Africa — ever more desperate.

    In addition to extreme poverty among the citizens, the mass migration of millions fleeing from tyrannical governments, such as Zimbabwe, strains scarce resources to the breaking point.

    SnakePark

    SnakePark

    So, what drew me to Africa? Business? Pleasure? A little of both. This trip was an “occupational survey” for my youngest daughter, who completes her graduate studies in 2010 with a degree in counseling. Her specialty is play therapy, to help children work through traumatic experiences. She has a heart for children of the AIDs epidemic.

    Kids from the street.

    Kids from the street.

    Her time in South Africa and Mozambique last summer introduced her to the “child-head-of-household” crisis caused by AIDs. With parents dying and children forced to raise their siblings, they are forced into early adulthood without the emotional maturity for the job. My daughter wants to help the children cope with tragedy in their young lives.

    JAM: Change a Life. Feed a Child

    JAM: Change a Life. Feed a Child

    We embarked on a “survey” of potential organizations where she might contribute her counseling skills. In South Africa, we met with  JAM (Joint Aid Management), which feeds starving children across Africa; Door of Hope, which accepts abandoned babies no-questions-asked (CNN reported on Door of Hope the day we visited), Bethany House Trust, a home for orphan and foster children with a holistic approach to treatment and placement; and a Soweto Township Primary School and Day Care. In Zambia, my daughter accompanied a Play Therapy specialist to a local orphanage to meet the children.

    I offer a few observations from the trip.

    South Africa:

    Nelson Mandela poster in school.

    Nelson Mandela poster in school.

    We saw and spoke with people on both sides of the apartheid system of government in South Africa, which is a relatively new democracy after the handover of power from white to black leadership in 1994. South Africa has 1st-World infrastructure in the historical “have” population, and a 3rd-World reality for the have-nots.

    In the 19 years since apartheid was abolished, South Africa’s infrastructure for the ‘few’ has been shifted to cover the ‘many’ — straining the country’s resources.

    Soweto Po

    Abandoned Power Station

    Electricity, under apartheid, was only available for the white population in the cities. The black townships had no power. Now that the power stations are supporting the total population, the system shuts down regularly. Without new power stations, the infrastructure can’t cope with the demand. Power is often “hijacked” by makeshift power lines strung from the overhead cables to the ground. These wires, when not properly grounded but held down by a pile of rocks, bring tragedy to innocent children playing in the area who stumble across the hot wires.

    Desperate people do desperate things.

    SnakePark

    SnakePark

    Woman Fetching Water

    Woman Fetching Water

    In preparation for the upcoming 2010 World Cup events in South Africa, the government of South Africa is providing propane heaters and cooktops to lessen the demand on electricity. One of our cab drivers told us how welcome the propane units are, though he held held little confidence the units could put a dent in the problem. At least, he informed us, his wife could cook for him when the power went out. (I won’t even TOUCH the division of labor between men and women. That would fill an entire book, not a just a blogpost.)

    Portia's 1-room tin shack

    Portia's 1-room tin shack

    We visited squatter villages, many filled with destitute emigrants who fled from other countries to the cities in “Hope in Africa.” We met with Portia who came to South Africa from an unnamed neighboring country. She allowed us into her one-room shack. No water. No plumbing. No electricity. She graciously told us about her life (as interpreted by my buddy Mike who speaks a dozen or so languages). Outside her little tin shack she planted little cactus gardens. (You can see her water buckets outside the structure in the picture.)

    The human spirit is amazingly abounding, even in the most hopeless times.

    Making the best of circumstances

    Making the best of circumstances

    AIDs epidemic:

    This little girl stole my heart.

    Big Smiles Day Care

    Dan (name changed for privacy issues), our escort for a day in the Soweto Township (home of Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, and Dan), is HIV-positive. He told us the story of how he found out. His second son had health issues. After repeatedly taking him in for treatment, the doctor suggested an AIDs test since the boy exhibited the telltale sign of lumps behind his ears. The boy tested positive. Dan’s wife admitted she was HIV-positive. Dan tested positive too. He felt devastated and betrayed. They lost their youngest boy to AIDs. No medicine was available to help him.

    He wants attention

    Big Smiles Day Care

    Dan had two choices: leave his wife or stay with her. The doctor counseled that their healthy son could soon be an orphan, as so many other children who lose both parents to AIDs. The boy should enjoy his parents as long as possible. Dan chose to forgive his wife and stay a family.

    On the happy side of this story, Dan and his wife have enrolled in an AIDs program through a US NGO (I’m not sure which one) which gives them drug cocktails for free. He boasted his white blood cell count as being in a really good range. He threw out numbers that met the world to him, yet nothing to me. I had to ask what was a dangerous vs. acceptable number. I admit. I really knew very little about the battle against AIDs beFORE this trip. I am now painfully aware now.

    To quote Dan:

    Everyone is either infected or affected by AIDs.

    Plight of Children:

    Primary School Principal

    Primary School Principal

    When visiting a primary school in the Soweto Township, the principal spoke to us in a dark office. Power had been out for a couple of weeks. She’d been assured they would have power sometime the following week. She told us of her challenges running the school. Children starve. Their parents die of AIDs. They, themselves, are infected. Older children care for younger siblings. They may or may not have family to help. Many drop out and end up on the streets.

    Playground Games

    Playground Games

    The principal told us a story. One of her young students quit coming to school. She discovered he was caring for his deathly ill Mother, as well as his brothers and sisters. The principal found a hospice organization to take the Mother in. After proper treatment, she returned home to care for her own children.

    So, why isn’t the same care available to ALL infected parents?

    The principal explained she can’t help when she doesn’t know the family has a problem. Many parents won’t admit they are sick, much less that their children are sick.

    Stigma. Shame. Fear.

    Can you resist that face?

    Can you resist that face?

    The government now provides a grain product so that every child has one meal a day at school. The principal told us that she asks for a donation every week from the children that allows her to buy spices, olive oil and other ingredients to add to the porridge-type substance they serve the children — just to give it a flavor. She also has them bring in containers to take the grain home for the days when school is closed. Otherwise, they may not eat until school opens again.

    Many of the children experience sexual, physical, and emotional abuse. Rape is rampant. How do you build hope in a child who has so little and so little to live for? (Thankfully, my daughter has skills to help.)

    And yet, those with the least keep going…in spite of it all.

    Thumbs up after receiving new "tropicals" or flip-flops

    Thumbs up after receiving new "tropicals" or flip-flops

    Zambia:

    Streets of Livingstone

    Streets of Livingstone

    My long-lost aunt Melody and my uncle Phil are missionaries with the people of Zambia. My aunt found me two days after I joined Facebook. She invited us to visit. Since we planned to travel to South Africa, we decided to hop over to Zambia while in the neighborhood. We spent a glorious week with Melody in Livingstone while my uncle was in the US for surgery. Girl-time!

    Power is sporatic in the city. Thursday is their “load-shedding” night where the city goes dark for 3-4 hours. I can only assume the government is selling that “saved” electricity to a neighboring country, perhaps. That’s only my speculation. Power went out Saturday morning for several hours, but I’d gotten up early to download pics to Facebook, so I felt proud to beat the outage. No hot breakfast though.

    Lion King welcomes Chinese investment.

    Lion King welcomes Chinese investment.

    What surprised me the most? Chinese infrastructure EVERYwhere. Roads. Schools. Buildings. Why, you may wonder? Infrastructure in exchange for mineral rights. Zambia is rich in copper, amethyst, aquamarine, beryl, emerald, tourmaline, garnets and more.

    Koome Village Community School

    Kooma Village Community School

    In comparison to the shantytowns in South Africa, the poverty in the Zambian villages felt hopeful. I know that sounds strange. To me, the squalor of the squatter towns in South Africa felt oppressive, yet the villages felt almost quaint. They looked artistic, picturesque. Even the poverty of a one-room school hut seems idyllic.

    Mukuni Village: Home of Lion King

    Mukuni Village: Home of Lion King

    The villages still operate with a strong sense of community. Village elders. Social heirarchy. Family structure. They are established and well-run. The shacktowns, in comparison, come together in chaos of uprooted people with no community ties. Society breaks down. Crime and despair follow.

    What’s Next?

    So what now? What can I do to make a difference?

    Zambian boy

    Zambian boy

    Over 30 years ago, my Daddy felt a burden for starving people in Africa. He tried to persuade our extended family to cut back on lavish Christmas spending and give gifts to those who needed it most. We adopted the idea later when my girls were little. We agreed with family to exchange Christmas ornaments and give donations in family member’s honor. Our girls chose Toys for Tots. We gave them an amount we would normally spend on gifts and let them shop for toys.

    Street Boys

    Street Boys

    We piled the toys into a mountain, took their picture in front of it, and give the picture as our gift to family. In recent years, we’ve given gifts through the World Vision Gift catalog. And last year, after I met with folks from JAM, I give gifts to JAM in my daughters’ names. And yet, these contributions feel so incredibly inadequate.

    Mukuni Village Boy

    Mukuni Village Boy

    My time in Africa reminded me of Daddy and how God broke his heart for the people of Africa. (And how cool that his youngest brother is now living and serving in Africa!) There I was, in the very place, looking at the very faces he yearned to help.

    I want to do more.


    Bethany House Transport

    Bethany House Transport

    Bethany House Trust, a Christian-based organization, stole my heart on this trip. I want to find a way to help get the word out about the amazing things they do in their community. Gert Jonkers told us they spend R4000 per month per child ($510). The government reimburses them R1000 per month ($127). The government is five months behind in payment. Gert and Antoinette have used all their savings to keep Bethany House afloat. In this economy, many like organizations already folded.

    Bethany House Playground

    Bethany House Playground

    $1 each would help. $50 would be a tremendous contribution. I don’t think they are set up for US contributions, but you can contact them directly to see how YOU can help.

    So I leave you with this double rainbow I discovered over Victoria Falls. I saw the red flower, walked over to take its picture, and saw the most gorgeous site EVER! What a wonderful sign of hope and new beginnings.

    Double Rainbow over Victoria Falls

    Double Rainbow over Victoria Falls

    7 Comments

    Filed under Africa, AIDs, Earth, poverty

    Culture: Straitjacket or Springboard?

    I’m thrilled to be featured as a Gov 2.0 Hero on GovFresh.com. I received Luke Fretwell’s request while I was in the Orlando Airport, returning home from a previous scrubbed STS-127 mission. Made my day. (THANKS Luke!!) How cool that he thought of me — one of the many fish swimming around in the huge, vast ocean we call the federal government. My initial reaction:

    Do I get a cape? I mean really. Don’t all hero’s wear capes?

    Luke sent me a list of questions for the profile:

    1. What was your path to Gov 2.0?
    2. What area of government offers the biggest opportunity for improvement via Web 2.0 tools?
    3. What’s the killer app that will make Gov 2.0 the norm instead of the exception.
    4. What part of Gov 2.0 most excites you?

    What is Gov 2.0? Easiest explanation: mash-up of Web 2.0/social media tools in government processes. For starters, agencies finding creative ways to “do business” through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, MySpace, etc.

    As I answered the questions, I kept coming back to the same sticking point — culture. An organization’s culture dictates its aptitude for “picking up” new technology to meet daily challenges. Hmm, cultural aptitude tests. Might be incredibly telling.

    My buddy, Mike Boon, describes culture in his book, The African Way: The Power of Interactive Leadership,

    “Culture is not an independent thing. It is what we are as people. Our culture guides us in how to behave, and it is the expression of our values and beliefs.”

    Luke’s Gov 2.o Hero profile questions focus on what technologies exist to transform government. Transparency is the current buzzword with our new President. Transparency is the underpinning of the Gov 2.0 movement — to make what we do inside the government freely and easily available to all those outside the government.

    Personally, I love it. But not everyone does.

    Transparency can be quite threatening, especially if one’s power base is built on insider knowledge that is closely held and doled out like currency to buy more power.

    Will even the most “killer app” technology transform our federal government overnight. Probably not. We are Uncle Sam, after all. Uncle Sam isn’t known for being quick on his feet, now is he? But, what about Aunt Samantha? She just might be a fast-talkin’ two-steppin’ little whipper-snapper who runs circles around ole’ Sam. (Yes, I’m from Texas. Can you tell?)

    Do I think new technology will change how we do business in the federal government? Do I think Web 2.0 will transform our decision-making processes from muddy to clear? Actually, I do. But it totally depends on the leadership and culture of the organization.

    A risk-averse culture views change with suspicion and animosity.

    A risk-averse organization is unlikely to leap into the arms of new technology. More likely, I picture the “concrete boots” reaction. Perhaps we need a VUKA! intervention to shake up our more entrenched organizations. Vuka is a Nguni word that means: ‘to come alive’, ‘resurrect’, ‘bring to life’, ‘wake up’.

    Quick note: I’m traveling with family to South Africa and Zambia. In South Africa, we’ll spend some time with Mike Boon and his family. I know Mike from high school. He was a Rotary Exchange student. Amazingly, we’ve kept in touch ALL these years. Mike’s company, Vulindlela, specializes in organizational interventions. We will accompany him to an event in Soweto, outside Johannesburg, to see how this works. Here’s a quote from his website:

    VUKA! is dependent on an organisation’s willingness to build in processes that ensure the sustainability of the change that will definitely have occurred in each individual!

    Maybe I’ll learn something about VUKA! to bring back to the job to help jump-start Gov 2.0 within our organizations. But even without intervention, we have pockets of open culture within our government already. I work with some amazingly creative, intelligent, secure, energetic, enthusiastic folks at NASA who are chomping at the bit to gallop into the future.

    What can I do?  Open doors, supply tools for the journey, and get out of the way as the stampede rushes past!

    Does this make me a Gov 2.0 hero? Unlikely. But, hey. I’ll take the title! I wonder what I’ll look like in a cape? ;)

    2 Comments

    Filed under federal government, Gov 2.0, leadership, NASA