Sidelined in Bolivia . . . for a couple of days

Wednesday morning. Woke up today feeling like someone stabbed me during the night, over and over in one spot just to the side of my spine at about L5-S1. Over the years, I’ve dealt with back pain like many people my age (which is none of your business), but have been really fortunate not to have experienced it for a good long time. I think shoveling mud and sand yesterday with awkward tools from awkward positions (trying to stay out of as much mud as possible) was the final blow in a series of tiny “tweaks” to which I’ve subjected my body lately. Its funny; I thought I’d get sick from the water in the bush, or the bacteria on the hands of the gracious peasant women (who haven’t had sufficient water to bathe, and you can only imagine where those hands have been) preparing meals at the well sites, or drinking “refrescos” made with questionable water, or eating from bowls and utensils that have been shared by countless others and have been “washed” by a quick rinse in unboiled, cold water, already dirty from previous dishes.

Nope; not a moment of being sick since I arrived. Instead, I’m grounded with back pain. I’m hoping and praying that a day or two with no lifting or pounding will get me back to the drill sites again. Until then, paperwork and a writing project to focus on . . . though it’s a challenge to type lying down with a laptop on your chest. Just kidding. I can at least sit and type as long as I don’t move too quickly ☺

Ronald & Melba’s well

It’s Sunday morning and I’m pretty well recovered from 3 straight days of digging. The amount of work required to dig a hole to a depth of 165 feet or so is amazing. We dug through about 130 feet of hard clay and rock, along with another 35 feet or so of hard-packed sand. The hole is only about 3” wide at the bottom and maybe 6” – 8” at the top. The 1” diameter drill stem, filled with mud and water gets really heavy, especially once you get to a depth of over 100 feet. Now, to get a bit of a picture of how this works, you can see from the WFA website ( that the drill stem is lifted by either a group of 4 “rowers” or occasionally by a motor driven rig; then the person holding the drill literally drives it into the hole so the drill bit can cut a bit more. The water displacement process brings the cuttings up through the drill stem and out the “cachucha” pipe at the top.

We’re drilling now where Melba and Ronald live as caretakers for the property owner, and will finish their well this coming Monday or Tuesday. They have 6 children and live in a “house” (about 10 ‘ x 20’) with a dirt floor, no doors on the 2 door openings, one bed and one platform on which all the kids sleep. The entire house is constructed of a single course of 1” x 8” boards, with pretty large gaps. A blue tarp covers the openings at night and when it gets really cold. The corrugated roof is full of holes, so I can’t imagine they don’t get wet when it rains.
All the cooking is done outside over an open fire, but let me tell you . . . Melba can cook! Other than at Terry’s house, I had the best food yet from Melba’s “kitchen!” We had meals of wild tapir (like a wild pig), which one of their dogs killed the previous night; another meal of fresh “tattoo,” which is very much like a Texas armadillo. I drank my first tamarind “refresco,” made from the tamarind tree in their yard.

The best part of the whole deal though, is making life-giving water available to Melba and Ronald (some of the poorest of the poor) in Jesus’ Name, so they don’t have “wheelbarrow-in” their water in jerry cans from another nearby property. Possibly for the first time in their lives, they will have sufficient water available to bathe regularly, for drinking and cooking – and to irrigate a family garden. This well will transform the way Ronald and Melba and their kids live! And I got to be a part of it!

By the way, these are photos of Hugo and Katarina’s completed well, and my new friend, Enrique!

Discouraged . . . ? Maybe not

Well, we’ve been back from Africa just over 60 days now. I’m trying to examine my perceptions and understand why I feel discouraged. It was a great trip. We spent over 2 months in the Sudan, working alongside amazing people. We saw incredible things take place and marveled as God protected us in the midst of extraordinary insecurity – with armed rebel warriors inside our compound multiple times. Temperatures soaring to between 120 and 130 degrees f became common and ceased to be noteworthy. We truly participated in ministry, humanitarian acts of kindness and tasted the bread of everydayness with Sudanese friends. We shared life with passionate and caring folks from all over the world – from Sudan, Michigan, Canada, Georgia, Maryland, Kenya and California.

Wait . . . maybe I’m not so discouraged after all.

Nairobi, Sudan and Mambas

I’m not gonna lie to you. I think I’d rather be in Sudan. In Bor its hot (I think we averaged in the 120’s the whole time), muddy, full of bugs, snakes and scorpions – and oh yeah, people shooting at each other. But Nairobi? Posters in the guesthouse where we’re staying warn that you can basically expect to be mugged, especially if you look like a tourist, so they request you NOT leave the premises after 6:30 pm. And there isn’t a lot I can do to hide the fact that I’m not from these parts ☺ There are millions of people in this city, and I think every one of them has a vehicle that belches 6 pounds of carbon with every lurch forward (of maybe a foot at a time) in the unbelievable traffic. The diesel exhaust lays like a blanket over the entire city.

It is oases like the Mayfield guest house and the people who come here that make visiting this city wonderful. Just tonight we met a young lady who is a nurse, working for the past 2 years at a clinic north of Werkok, in Nuerland, just east of Malakal, near the Sudanese border with Ethiopia. Sherry learned a new treatment for snakebite . . . Tazer! Yes, they treat snakebites with a stun gun! Even the deadly green and black mamba bites are rendered powerless with a few hundred thousand volts! I wonder if they found this out by accident . . .

More later . . .

Governors and Tractors

One of my last blog entries talked about “waiting . . .” and feeling a bit melancholic about my time here at Werkok, after having such wild success meeting with the Governor early on about our Ag project. I think now I know what I was waiting for! When Sherry and I returned from Uganda several years ago, we wondered at what training we might seek, to make us more useful in Africa. Sherry received her graduate degree in Nursing School and I got a degree in Animal Science, followed by a graduate degree in International Development. My thought was that I could use the animal husbandry as a part of development to have some type of significant impact in the lives of even a few people. I dreamed of farms and animal projects, but wondered how they fit with the hospital. Almost immediately after arriving in Werkok, Sherry was immersed in the life of the hospital and in the lives of the hospital staff and patients who have grown to love her (no surprise there). I was here . . . still just sort of . . . waiting, for our AgSudan project to take off, and trying to busy myself in whatever construction projects Dave (Mueller) needed help with.

A few days ago, here in Werkok, we received a visitor from an organization called World Gospel Mission (WGM). Reuben is a specialist in Community Development, with particular expertise in agriculture. When I described my “dreams of farms and animal projects,” he got all excited and said that when he was here last October, he prayed for exactly the same kinds of things – and that I was the answer to his prayers! We started brainstorming last night about how we might provide some hope and empowerment for a group of “women-at-risk,” and talked more this morning about whether we might have enough time before the rains really start, to cultivate several acres for planting either sorghum or maize. If it was to happen, we needed to get our hands on a tractor – TODAY! We’ve had over a week of no rain, following several days of rather heavy rains, so everyone is madly tilling the softened soil to get ready for immediate planting. About 3 weeks ago, Governor Kuol Manyang promised us a tractor, which was to be delivered by the Commissioner of Bor – but we still haven’t seen it, so Reuben and I decided to head to Bor to “collect the tractor promised by the Governor.”

Getting with a Governor isn’t an easy thing. We arrived at about 12:30pm and found him there, but in meetings that had started early in the morning and still continued. His secretary, Jacob, suggested we get lunch and come back at 3:00pm. After a wonderful meal of ugali, 2 goat dishes, cow pea greens and pinto beans, washed down with 2 ice-cold Cokes (at the Freedom Hotel), we headed back to the Governor’s office. He had left directions for us to meet with the Minister of Agriculture. Reuben, Jacob, another aide named Bol, and I piled into the Land Cruiser and tracked down the Minister, and caught him napping. He roused himself (he’s rather elderly), met with us and told us we could certainly have a tractor, after we paid an installment of 10,000 Sudanese pounds. This caught me completely off guard. When the Governor told me we could have a tractor – twice – there were no conditions. I had heard some buzz that there was some sort of price that might be charged, but I had no idea that it was the equivalent of nearly $5,000! I only had $1,500!!

As the Minister of Agriculture explained the new deal, and sent us on a wild goose chase to another government official, I wondered if we shouldn’t again try to get some clarification from the Governor. We went back to his office and found him gone. Jacob said he had meetings all afternoon with UNHCR folks and other Ministers . . . but if we wanted to wait, we might try again at around 5:00pm when he might return for a few minutes. We headed back to the Freedom for another round of cold drinks and at about 4:15 trudged back to the Governor’s office. He was there. Jacob said he’d been waiting for us and he would take us in to see the Governor momentarily. The Governor looked tired after an entire day of meetings, dealing with inter-tribal warfare and insecurity, UN folks wanting info about Darfur and we were talking about a tractor. He remembered our AgSudan plan, remembered Mamer, and remembered our meeting with him last March. When I told him I was confused about the Minister of Agriculture demanding 10,000 Sudanese pounds (as a down payment) for the tractor, he shook his head, called his secretary and asked her to call Dr. Biar. About 15 minutes later, in strolled the elderly Minister of Agriculture we had caught napping and who had sent us to another official. Governor Kuol told him basically that he was to find a way to give us a tractor – today and for the $1,500 I had with me! He reiterated that the money wasn’t the issue; what mattered is that we had committed to invest in the lives of the people.

The poor Minister of Agriculture was a bit frustrated. He was told to give us a tractor for the $1,500, but the Finance folks were already gone, the technicians assembling the tractor components were gone, but I was still standing with him, smiling and telling him I had this window of dry weather and needed the tractor now . . . and how could we work this out? He made some phone calls, the Director General came (I have no idea who this guy is or what he does, but he was the keeper of the tractor keys) and said that with the Minister’s and Governor’s signatures, I can pick up the tractor tomorrow morning at 8:30am. “Don’t worry about the money; you can bring it sometime on Monday,” was the Ministers comment as he left. Really? They’re letting us take the tractor before we’ve paid them? Were my ears deceiving me? I could almost hear the Lord laughing with us as He moved the hearts and hands of Sudanese government officials!

Werkok Memorial Hospital – Hope for the Hopeless!

Well, its been a wild ride for these past several weeks! I looked over my past messages and see that they’re a little on the dark side. I’m not gonna lie to you, this has been one of the hardest things I think we’ve ever done. However, coming out of a bit of a funk, I have to admit that I completely see God’s hand in our lives and in this place (Memorial Christian Hospital, Werkok). It is the one beacon of hope for the people anywhere within at least a 2-hour driving radius. Twice now, we’ve had some folks (3 white guys from Nashville) working on a mission school in Jaleh bring some of their injured to us. The first one was a young man who’d had his finger crushed by a 50-gallon drum full of fuel. When they arrived, the end of the finger was hanging by a thread. Dr. Ajak and Sherry put it back together and when we saw the same guys again two days ago, they said he now has feeling in the finger and is able to move it!

When they came this time, they brought a young girl who’d been attacked by a crocodile! I’ll leave details of the story to tell you in person! So many other things . . . malaria, scorpion stings, new babies being delivered. Two of the ladies who’ve recently delivered babies here are widows from the recent fighting and without this hospital would have had no support.

Everyone in the vicinity says this is the best hospital – even better than the one in Bor, which is the nearest city. The Governor of the State even chose to bring his wife and mother here instead of the hospital in Bor! It is an amazing privilege to share a part of being Jesus’ hands and feet to the people of Southern Sudan!

APRIL 17th

It started out like a normal evening; we’d had a good day of work around the compound. Josh and Aaron had made good progress on the VSAT. It was set on the pole, trenches dug for the coaxial cables and the lines laid. Just waiting to try and point the dish, capture the satellite signal and set up the software for the modem. Visitors were coming, too. In fact, 7 representatives from Samaritan’s Purse, Canada had arrived about 15 minutes earlier and gone off to visit a small clinic about 20 minutes away. I’d set up 3 tents and got all their mattresses and linens ready; Sherry had been busy cooking and cleaning all day.

I think it was Sherry who first noticed that all the villagers were running. The people here NEVER run – unless something (usually bad) has happened. In fact, when you run for exercise, you’ll generally get chided and often yelled at, because when people see anyone running, they think there is a problem and they want you to stop immediately! It turns out there was indeed a problem. We caught bits and pieces as packs of men ran by, all carrying their guns. In the little village less than a mile away from us, 2 children had been abducted from the side of the road by a small group of Murle (neighboring tribe) and the entire village was running to try and find them. Then, a pickup truck came barreling down the road and turned into the hospital compound to deliver one of the young moms who’d been shot in the leg above her knee, shattering her femur. She was in incredible pain and we were praying she wouldn’t lose her baby as she is 7 months pregnant

After a preliminary surgery to attempt removal of the bone fragments and any visible bullet remnants, Dr Ajak took the injured lady to Bor Hospital, where there was x-ray equipment to make a complete diagnosis. . [As of 25th April, the lady is doing well and Dr. Ajak saved her life!)The crazy thing was that we, along with all of our visitors had been in Sudan long enough now – that none of us were terribly surprised or shocked about the evening’s events. Once the immediate excitement died down, we all just sort of went back to our regular conversations! Imagine. After only 5 weeks here, we’ve begun to grow accustomed to the violence. I hate that.

Nairobi: 3:30 am

I’m trying to think of lots of clever things to say, but all I can get out is . . . “why the heck couldn’t I sleep!!???” I intentionally stayed awake over the duration of both our flights – starting at 9 pm in California (9 hour 46 minutes flight to Heathrow) until we arrived in Nairobi at 7 am (8 hours from Heathrow to Jomo Kenyatta) Sunday morning. The best I can figure is that “Saturday” for us only lasted 4 hours while we were in London. At Jomo, smiling, giant white-teeth John, the hotel’s driver, greeted us. Walking to the van, we were accosted by several men trying to wrench luggage out of our hands to “help us.” They were greatly disappointed at (1) Sherry’s vise-grip on her carry-on bag, (2) I carried my own luggage and (3) when one finally grabbed my large backpack and threw it into the van during the millisecond I set it down, I only gave him $1. John just laughed.

Arriving at the Heron Hotel, Sherry showered and went straight to bed. The staff here are wonderful. The desk clerk arranged for a new cell phone, which we’ll use whenever we’re in Africa – he assured me it would even work in the US. If you need to reach us for the next couple of months, the number is (254) 071 706 0345. I finally gave in to the need for a nap, and so slept from about noon to five. We wandered around the hotel for a bit, sat on the terrace enjoying the cool breeze and trying not to be grouchy at each other because we were so tired. By about 8 pm I could barely keep my eyes open.

I was sure that a tall Tusker (African beer) and 2 melatonins would do the trick and I’d wake up cheerful, rested and ready for the day . . . at about 7 am. So at around 9 pm, I climbed into our very comfortable queen-size. No dice. Awake every two hours or so and at 3:30 am I was wide-awake, listening to a mosquito dive-bombing my ear; I finally caved at 4:30 . . . and so here I am. Thanks for being interested enough to read this far!

The Long Beach Armada

My hunch is that your first response is NOT, “What a cool name for a baseball team.” Nonetheless, that is exactly what it is – a semi-pro baseball team whose home park is Blair Field in downtown Long Beach. We were treated to a special game tonight, in which the Armada defeated the Orange County Flyers in a come-from-behind victory. You’d think that fantastic offense and dazzling defense are what made the event special. Not even close; it was the announcement between the 8th and 9th innings, “We’re sorry to inform you that due to City Noise regulations, we will start the fireworks show . . . right now. We’ll finish the game after the fireworks!” It was 9:55 pm and the game wasn’t done – but the fireworks had to be complete before 10:00 pm. A few seconds later, the fireworks started – all the lights still on in the stadium – and at 9:59, the fireworks show was done. 4 stunning minutes of pyrotechnics muzzled by stadium lights. End of evening, right? Hardly. Still one more inning to go!

There has to be a message here. Maybe something about planning? Or about things not ending up quite like you thought they would? Or perhaps its nothing more than a reminder that at times, life is absolutely hilarious and the unexpected is what gives life such texture and flavor. Drink it up.