Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Departures and Arrivals

In July 2013, we said "Fare Thee Well" both to people, a place, and a way of life.
South Sudan had been our Home Away From Home since March 2012, just over a year.  But it was a sweet and meaningful season.  We discovered great Treasures in the hearts and souls of the people.  The South Sudanese are a sensitive people, quick to give grace, to go out of their way to provide whatever service they see is needed, and take all of the trials that befall with patience, not complaining or arguing as to whether they deserve such or not.

Wau was our home, and it's people became our neighbors for the year we were blessed to call it such.

What follows is a reverse log of our South Sudanese sojourn.

Yohanna on behalf of World Concern Staff
Presents us with a Farewell Cake.
A fluffy, buttery, delicious one at that!
Gourds for all Occasions, and each with a story!
Peter Garang and Andrea Akoon make us smile and feel loved.
Tears fall, friends have been made and will be missed.
Beaded Belts signify being Bound, as a groom to a bride, as brother to brother.
Yohanna presents each of us with a beaded belt, reminding us of our being bound together in Christ and as a Family.

Staff Planning Meeting at Wau Amarula Lodge, February 2013.
Back Left : Lihanda, Joern, Calleb, Andrea; Next row: Damaris, JohnChol, Khamady, Yohanna Phillips, Redison, Lusuli, Peter Garang, John Mbogo; Front: Benson Machar, Moses Korsuk, Kyalo, Boniface, Max, and Mary Akout  
Staff Planning Meeting at Wau, Amarula Lodge, July 2012.
Different faces: Charles Ogeno, Ann, and Makuac (?)

Morning Ruckshaw Ride from Home to Office. It's a good way to ensure Praying Always in the Spirit!

Khawajas (White Foreigners) are SO interesting!!! Neighborhood Children loved to watch us from under the gate.
We'd hear the whispered tones and gentle giggles, then peek at the gate, and there they'd be.  Precious Moments.

Whinnying by night, and dust-baths by day. These donkeys were Beasts of Burden.
Rolls in the dust and feasts on greens were well-deserved breaks.
This scene is just outside our gate, along a path we would daily walk.
Our Local Church, standing amongst the Mangotrees, Wau, South Sudan
A Place to call Home in Wau.
The Property consists of this nice, Kenyan-style house, two out-buildings, and an outdoor privy.
Quite ample space for us, and a colleague, Charles Ogeno. 
Our Cottage in Juba, at World Relief Compound, March to July 2012.

What happens on Cross-Country Voyages in South Sudan.  Patience. Flexibility. And cash to hire a new Land Cruiser.

Juba: Joern with Heidi at Confident Children out of Conflict
Beautiful little girls of South Sudan, I know your Name!

Ann with Beret at Confident Children out of Conflict.

Confident Children out of Conflict exists because of the life-giving efforts of Cathy Groenedijk. She, and the folks working with her, labor to get young girls off the streets into protected housing, and provide schooling for street & slum children. 

 And now, at time of writing, Joern and I are arriving at a new place, a different way of life, living off the land.  We are a Berry Grower and a Shepherd. The Lord knows what He's doing, and we are grateful to be walking hand in Hand with Him as He leads us into another Great Adventure at Bramberi Farm and Gardens, in North Georgia.


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Spring 2012: In to Africa

Neither of us have been stellar with African geography. The Cape? The Gold Coast? The Horn? These have always had a familiar ring, but uncertain physical placement.

Neither of us could have said prior to last year that we had much interest in going to Africa, even. Our thoughts have often drawn orbs around all of the difficulties known to the continent: the wild animals, the intense heat, the persistent sun, the vast deserts, the rampant diseases, and to our "Western" eyes, the seeming lack of "progress". All these had formed a menagerie or montage that made us shrink away. Any "Amens" out there?

Whether or not your minds have formed the question, it has been generally in ours: Why Africa, then? Why South Sudan? Surely, you've all had such questions of your own lives. Ultimately, this is only a question God can answer. We just get enough glimpses to give us faith and courage.

Civil strife in Sudan had been raging since the time of its colonization by the British in the late 19th Century. All of this escalated in the 1970's and continued in varying degrees until a peace-accord was reached in 2005. At this time, the north, which is largely Arab Muslim, agreed that the south, largely tribal of Christian and Animist backgrounds, could be semi-autonomous, and then hold a referendum on the severance of nation in January 2011. Not surprisingly, the Southerns voted overwhelmingly to separate and form their own nation and government. And so, in July 2011, the world welcomed its newest nation: South Sudan.

This begins the next sojourn into a war-bruised nation, where our hearts cry out for God's intervention, and that "swords might be beaten into plowshares".

For God's Glory, and our ensuing Joy!
Stay tuned.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

There & Back Again, A Coincidence or Part of The Plan?

Six years ago, this month, our feet first hit Afghan soil, having crossed the banks of the Oxus River, known in Central Asia as the Amu Darya. This ancient river winds its way from the Pamir Mountain of Tajikistan, and in this generation, meets a most tragic end of dissipation. On either side of the Oxus for a lengthy portion of its journey is the Karacorum Desert, a sea of sand and loess.
Sand, sinking, shifting, wafting, pelleting sand, sand that gets into the eyes, up the nose, stuck between the toes, and clogs up every imaginable oriface of man, beast and engineering marvel. Our initial introduction to this enigma of Creation involved a dune shifting across a major artery (of locomotion, that is). We waited it out with the necessary humor.

Humor? What other reaction will keep the sanity? Especially as a new-comer to a foreign culture, and what seemed to be a seriously reckless way of attempting to resolve a problem. Sand, sinking sand!!! We learned the lesson of the engineering marvel: asphault roads! Oh, so necessary to over come the terrestrial fact that windblown sand might not hinder a camel in it progression, but autos with spinning tires...

Surprisingly, life can be sustained in a desert IF water can be accessed. Communities in Balkh consist of family compounds, consisting of sun-dried brick or mud buildings surrounded by a mud wall. In this photo, the compound is under construction, with a rectangular mudpit in the foreground, from which the entire compound is constructed.

The interesting agricultural lesson to be learned here, is that the most valuable, richest & most fertile soil, the top soil, is used to build the house and walls. What's left? Subsoil that needs to be nurtured in order to be productive. The amazing thing about living in this fallen world, is that even if we can improve such environments as the soil, there's still the problem of pests & disease. This broom sorghum (yes, the dried stalk is used as a broom) is suffering under attack from a stem borer, most difficult to control without adequate pesticides.

Just beyond the Karacorum are the fringes of the Hindu Kush, from whence flows springs of great promise. This verdant valley is in Kholm, a community rich in agriculture & holds promise for livestock. It is an oasis, and teaches one of the beauty of the color green. It might not be an easy color to be, sorry, Kermit, but in the monotony of brown, green soothes the soul!

Further to the west near the ruins of the Grecian/Bactrian city of Balkh, is Mazar-e-Sharif (or Noble Shrine). It's foremost landmark is the marvelous Blue Mosque & accompanying Shrine of Ali ibn Abi Talib, the son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammad. Unique to this mosque are its white pigeons. Legend has is that when grey or multi-colored pigeons arrive, they mysteriously turn white. The other claim to fame of the mosque & shrine, that that a piligrimage ending in fervent prayer here on Now Roz (spring equinox) atones for one's sins of the year.

Unlike the greater part of Kabul, most of Mazar's streets remain compacted earth and the women are clad in burqas, white to a greater extent, as compared to Kabul's blue. I once asked about why all the women wear the same color & style of burqa, and was told that prior to the 90's, many women made their own coverings, and did so in the colors of the rainbow. But then, factory-made burqas became available & were reasonably priced. The limitation is that the company only dealt in blue fabric.

To end abruptly, here we are, again, back to where this journey began, and the scene below, from 2004, will be carried into the next decade. We're sad that many of the faces have moved on, but God allows this to make "room" for others who follow.

And so, the sojourning in Mazar resumes. Stay tuned for the progression of life among the Mazaris!

Mountain Hideaway

Summer 2009 found us taking a cross-country roadtrip, with a few weeks spent exploring the Rockies with Joern's folks. Part of our journey took us through Wyoming & Yellowstone Country. At some moment previous to our jaunt through Wyoming, we had a moment of revelation about the state of our hearts. It was actually in the region of Meeker, Colorado. A sense of "We could live here" crossed our souls. We had never considered such a concept, and it took us a bit off guard. All the more, this sense travelled with us, and struck again when going through the Absaroka & Wind River Ranges of Wyoming. So intense was this, that it became a matter of extensive, & heated, prayer. Followed by extensive, & exciting, web-searches while back in Afgh. for properties in Wyoming.
Prior to our return Stateside in November, we had arranged for tours of houses/properties in the vacinities of Dubois & Cody, Wyoming. Both Joern & I had our personal preferences at the time, but wanted to NOT make this our own doing, but something that was of God. After touring some 20 houses, feeling so-so about them all, we visited this cabin in Wapiti. Along the drive out, our excitement climbed --- one awe-inspiring view after another --- We arrived at this little corner of Creation, and had a bravado in our souls, a sensation of "This is it!". Somehow, it became it. And by God's mercy, we find ourselves in the heart of what locals call "God's Country". Truly, it's beauty warms the heart & stirs the soul!
Welcome to Aerie Lodge
View over the porch looking North across Wapiti Valley

Behind is Table Mountain, elev 8,900'
The neighborhood consists of mostly seasonal cabins-- the funny thing is, that when one wakes up, one's never quite sure what season will be on the doorstep.
Southward view through Cody's Country towards Green Mountain
To the west lies the source of the Shoshone River in the upper climes of the Absaroka, and the Gateway to Yellowstone Country.

Westward view in Cody's Country

If you'd like to see more photos of the area, check out our photos at: http://picasaweb.google.com/105421167202405691760/Wapiti#

Au Revoir

In November, we bid Au Revoir to the A4 Project and all of the staff. It is incredible to think that in 2007, it was just the 2 of us, and by the time we left, the staff count was at 12, with partners from additional US universities! The staff became close friends, and we will miss them.
Upon our departure, they threw a lovely going-away party, complete with traditional Afghan clothing, as can be seen on Joern --- hat, vest, coat.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Side Projects

It is a fact of the ages, when being introduced to a new friend or restoring communication with an old friend, the conversation will invariably lead to the question: "What do you do?" It's not as though our identities are here formed or that what we do should even be the signature of our characters, for our doing can often vary more than our wheres. But it does mean something; it helps give others a reference to how we spend our time, and for many, what we consider to be our lives calling.
Since taking leave from Purdue , I have found myself on a journey of discovery, knowing that need does not necessitate calling, but that it certainly should spark thoughtful consideration.
Freelancer I never thought I'd be going by this appelation, but one ought not presume to put constraints upon the future. Opportunities for offering oneself, one's time & skills, is seemingly without end in this part of the world, where we perceive there is always SO much to be done. Various & varied "Doings" have been the mainstay of the past 2 years. I'll offer you a snap shot of the primary ones:
Gardens for Life My relationship with GFL began while still at Kabul Uni, as several of the girls were looking for an opportunity to learn about the cut-flower industry. The gal single handedly running GFL was willing to give these girls a glimpse into the flower industry at large. Unfortunately, the girls became busy with other things and lost interest. But I gained such a deep appreciation for D (as we will call her), that I volunteered myself to her, initially in establishing an oil rose planting at the Garden Training Centre, located in a village a short drive outside of Kabul. Within a matter of weeks, we started a horticultural training program for the village ladies.
One of the lessons was on seed saving & sowing, with time after the lesson to go into the garden and practice.

Another lesson was on bulb-forming flowers, how to store the sensitive ones over winter, and then planting them the next spring. As with any group, there are the do-ers and the observers
By the end of the summer, their labors were fully rewarded with bright bursts of color extending through the entire garden!
In the fall, lessons resumed, with an even larger group of ladies. We had morning and afternoon sessions three times each week. One of the lessons was on "organic" and house-hold remedies for insect & disease infestations. D had bought each of the ladies a set of gardening tools, one item of which was a spray bottle. We each mixed up a potion of water, dishsoap & oil, then set upon the aphid-infested roses.

Lest you think that I am able to speak Dari fluently in presenting the lessons, I must tell you that I had the most proficient & gentle of translators, pictured above. I can only really just get about with the basics, but have noticed that love & affection cross all barriers! These ladies are truly a blessing to me, as they demonstrate much of the hopefulness, earnest desire, and efforts many Afghans have & make, in pursuit of "happiness" & a future. They are incredibly kind an generous ladies, quick to share, even in their want. On the occasion pictured below, a couple of the ladies brought D & me a lunch of bolani & mos (sour yogurt).

Several of the ladies were actually teenage girls, who were fast friends, as they loved to laugh & overcome the language-barrier with forthright actions --- like snatching my camera to take a picture of me--- "now, let's see, how does this work?" What a reminder of the differences between those who have & those who have-not!

GPFA In both the summer & fall, I had the opportunity of working with this organization, primarily known for their promotion of woodlots & extensive demonstration farm to the north of Kabul.
They have gone to great length to contextualize western systems of agricultural production, such as the irrigation pond & canal system below.
Below is Hashim & Rupert inspecting the popular stool-bed, from whence cuttings are distributed & sold. They brought in clonal species from Oregon, that are incredibly quick growing and dense of wood.
My purpose for being with them was to give the extensionists training in chip-budding of fruit species (primarily the stone fruits: almond, apricot, plum, peach). For those of you not familar with chip-budding, below is a diagram of the final stages of joining the scion wood (of the desireable tree) with the rootstock.
Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation & Livestock Extension Communications Hub
Stemming from an ongoing relationship with UC Davis, I was asked to coordinate the establishment of this hub, which is to focus on the formation & distribution of pertinent horticultural information. Due to insuffient time, I really only organized the equipment/room end of things, while the A4 staff & folks from UCD carried out the training and follow-up.... We'll see what comes of this! Hopefully, a broadcasting of much-needed info!
Mercy Corps The last side-project I'll address was working with MC to develop a production manual for strawberry-transplant nurseries. A USAID-based group has been diligently promoting the growing of strawberries, and has hopes to develop a full-blown industry. They need a champion to follow this through --- we'll see about this one, too, as those of you who know me well, can perhaps also see the berry-bright future.

Green Spring: The effect of one of the wettest winters in years

The winter was mild and the snow was thin, but it kept coming, clear until 19 June. The photo below is a view from our roof looking west.

In its aftermath, a carpet of green on the all-too-often desolate mountains surrounding this ancient city once renown for its forests of pine.

In an attempt to pacify his guests' disappointment of a cancelled buzkashi match (Afghan-style polo), one of the Faculty professors proposed a trek with his family up the mountains abutting his backyard. No well-worn paths marked our way forward, we were each allowed to trample on what lay before us, the fragile and flailed plants, and the loose and easily dislodged gravel & boulders. Even the plant-life is born for adversity: if not devoured by insects & animals, if not desiccated by the sun & wind, the wandering uproots it as a curio.

The most predominate plant on the mountain slope was a tender succulent with a towering floral stalk, reminiscent of a bolting head of lettuce. Below are both the landscape view and a close up, also including our resident trekking guides!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Visiting Afghan Agricultural Faculties

The autumn months brought about in-country travel to three destinations, Mazar-e-Sharif, Bamiyan, and Herat. At each of these locations, the A4 project has personnel working in the universities' Agriculture Faculty. This circuit trip was made by Joern, Hussain, and a visiting soil science consultant, who was assessing the faculty laboratories, instructing students on various topics, and helping to construct composte sites.

In Mazar-e-Sharif, the visit began with a tour of our cooperator's farm trials, as seen above. The production system of vegetables is largely on these 1m beds with furrow irrigation.

Once settled in the faculty, seminars on soil erosion and composting were held, with Matt presenting and Hussain offering translation. The seminars in Mazar-e-Sharif were very well attended, with the majority of the faculty students interested and interactive.

After the seminar on composting, the students were instructed by Matt & Hussain in constructing and maintaining composte heaps. They collected material from obliging ditches & fields. By the end of the autumn, the students announced that their project was a success and were looking for places to use the composte.

The most interesting stop was in Bamiyan, a province known for its high desert environment, a bit like the area to the south of Bend, Oregon, but with less native vegetation. It is less accessible than other provinces, and therefore, most farmers employ traditional methods of agricultural production. An oxen driven plow is a common site.

In 2001, Bamiyan was made known to the world when the ancient Buddha statues in man-made caves were blown up. Currently, UNESCO and other organizations are attempting to restore the sites, as evident behind Matt & Hussain. The smaller caves were dwellings for monks and other religiously significant statues.

The visit to the Faculty of Agriculture at Bamiyan was similarly rewarding. Students were eager to participate in the seminars at took to the fields with vigor to collect the initial batch of greens for the composte pit. Yes, Matt got quite a workout during these visits!

Two of last year's graduates of Kabul University's Faculty of Agriculture are now working in the Horticulture Department of Bamiyan University; they are pictured above between Matt & Joern. The other two are also professors in the Faculty of Agriculture.

Herat is undeniably a city with a living history. Much effort has been taken in recent years to rehabilitate & restore the ancient sites, such as this fortress, from which a view of the entire city can be taken, as seen behind Joern.
Herat University's Faculty of Agriculture is promising, with a motivated Dean, a new building under construction, and a new site for the development of a student farm. Surprisingly, the local PRT has also taken an interest in developing the farm, and has helped to prepare the land & construct a greenhouse. Before these were under way, one of the prides of the faculty was a large farm 20 km outside of the city. The greenhouse and the once flower gardens are in the picture above.

Because of its distance from Herat University, the historic faculty farm has been under-utilized and neglected. Added to this, the environment of Herat, as throughout most of Afghanistan, is semi-arid to desert. Surface water, though abundant seasonally & regionally, is largely not captured. Subterranean water is deep (and deepening), and takes significant energy to pump. Hence, many, if not most, cropland is under-irrigated, and therefore, lacks the bright verdant hues of truly productive croplands.