Just thought I’d share this with you guys. I spent 10 days in Africa with Hoops of Hope and kept a diary of the trip. Enjoy!!
AFRICA TRIP 2010
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
We departed Phoenix, Arizona at 1:45pm to begin our lengthy trip to Lusaka, Zambia. Originally we booked our flights way ahead of time on British Airways with only a small layover in London, England before getting to our final destination, but the airline decided to go on strike about a week before our trip. By a small miracle, we were able to rebook our flights on KLM/Kenya Airways at the last minute. That miracle included stops in Detroit, Michigan…Amsterdam, Netherlands…and Nairobi, Kenya before finally touching down nearly 36 hours later in Lusaka, Zambia.
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
We landed at a familiar place for me, Schipol Airport, in Amsterdam around 11:30am and had an 8-hour layover until our flight to Nairobi. We decided to throw our bags in a couple lockers at the airport and take the train into the city centre. It was a perfect weather day as we enjoyed one of my favorite cities. I played tour guide since I’d been there several times before. We grabbed some lunch and then coffee afterward in the square. After taking pictures and some light shopping, we headed back to the train station to return to the airport.
As we were walking back to the station, I heard someone say my name. I looked up and saw Mark Hall and the rest of the Casting Crowns people! It’s strange enough to run into people you know in the States, but in Amsterdam? On the same street? At the exact same time? It turns out they are on their own World Vision trip to Rwanda, Africa. They even wound up being on our next flight to Nairobi. Weird…and awesome. So we all headed back to the airport together to rest up before our next flight.
As per Stellar Kart tradition, I had to make a stop at the McDonald’s in the airport before we left. After finishing my nuggets, I slept for the first time on the trip. I took about an hour-long nap on a very uncomfortable bench (which my “friends” with whom I am traveling documented with an amazingly unflattering photo) and then took off on my second 8-hour flight in 24 hours. The movie selection on the previous KLM flight was amazing, but the in-flight entertainment on Kenya Airways did not work at all. I tried to fall asleep while crammed in the seat next to a man wearing an oversized puffy coat that far surpassed the space allotted to him on this plane. Fortunately, exhaustion set in quickly and I was able to nod off for a few hours on the way to Kenya.
Thursday, June 3, 2010
After a pretty uncomfortable flight, we landed in Nairobi, Kenya at dawn. We had a very short layover, so we walked immediately to the coffee shop for one of many cappuccinos I would consume on this trip. We boarded our next flight and began the 2 and a half hour journey to Lusaka, Zambia. All these long flights have offered me a chance to catch up on some reading. I have read Austin Gutwein’s “Take Your Best Shot” and “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” so far. I know, I’m behind on the HP books, but better late than never. So I settled into my window seat and cracked open “Soul Survivor” by Phillip Yancey.
We arrived in Zambia at around 10:30am and got our visas and bags. I was amazed that our bags made it despite the crazy itinerary. We met our driver and ground contacts and hopped on the bus to the hotel. By this time, exhaustion is once again setting in and I can’t wait to get horizontal for a nap. We got to the hotel and in true Stellar Kart fashion, everyone’s rooms were ready except for mine. We went and grabbed lunch and walked around while waiting for the room to get ready. Finally, at around 3pm I got to take my nap. I set the alarm for 2 hours later and didn’t wake up until I got a phone call from downstairs at 7:30pm where everyone was waiting for me to head to dinner. At dinner I was able to meet our entire team (all 20 of us) and we talked about our schedule for the next week. Even after my lengthy nap, I was having a hard time staying awake through dinner. I honestly didn’t even look at the clock when I went to bed and fell asleep almost immediately after my head hit the pillow.
Friday, June 4, 2010
I woke up refreshed at 6:45am and headed down to breakfast. After we ate and had our morning devotional, we loaded up in the bus and headed to a place called Chikumbuso. Chikumbuso is a school/safe-house for women. We played soccer with the kids and handed out candy. The women have a small shop where they make handbags, purses, bracelets, and other items out of recycled trash bags. They are absolutely beautiful and we bought a ton of stuff from them. After spending about an hour at Chikumbuso, we headed to the “mall” to load up on supplies (water, powerbars, tp, etc…) and soccer balls. We bought about sixty soccer balls to distribute to the kids in the villages while those in our group who get to visit their sponsor children bought items like cooking oil, corn meal, sugar, salt, and other items we use on a daily basis that these people rarely get to use.
Again, we all climbed back into the bus that was now completely filled with luggage, soccer balls, cases of water, and cooking supplies. We set out on what we were told was a 3-hour drive (approximately 180 kilometers) to the Kozo Lodge in Choma. Almost 6 hours later, because of poor roads and a slow driver, we arrived just in time for a dinner of pumpkin soup, shema (a doughy, thick, mostly tasteless vat of cooked cornmeal), baked chicken, rice, bread, and vegetables. After dinner, we met Charles, the World Vision leader for the ADP (Area Development Program) in Twachiyanda and he briefed us on our schedule for the next four days. When it was time for bed, I walked in to my hut (about the size of my master bathroom that literally had a grass roof) and set up a mosquito net over my bed for the first time in my life. I was asked earlier in the day to lead the morning devotional, so I laid down and read to prepare for the morning.
Up to this point, it seems as though I have been constantly traveling. My patience has been tested and my physical limits pushed by exhaustion and I haven’t even reached the field. I am reminded again that life is indeed a journey, and does not begin only once we’ve reached our destination. I tried during this quiet time to focus on what exactly it is that I am trying to accomplish here. I believe that this trip is simply a way for me to act out my faith and prove that my faith is alive. I am called to care for the widows and orphans, give hope to the hopeless, and help those who cannot help themselves.
Saturday, June 5, 2010
I woke up to find that I had only one visitor (that I know of) through the night. Attached to my mosquito net was a black spider about the size of my thumb. I assumed he wanted to be returned to his home OUTSIDE my hut and I kindly obliged. I headed out to breakfast and devotions. Here are a few of the verses I used for the devo along with some notes:
Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to HIS MERCY He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, Whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, That having been justified by HIS GRACE we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
*if we believe, we are guaranteed heaven because of MERCY
*the only justification for this is God’s GRACE
*it doesn’t end there..
This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men.
What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and without daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith BY my works.
Isaiah 62 - talking about Jerusalem, but could easily be referring to Twachiyanda.
For Zion’s sake I will not hold My peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a lamp that burns. The Gentiles shall see your righteousness, and all kings your glory. You shall be called by a new name, which the mouth of the Lord will name. You shall also be a crown of glory in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. You shall no longer be termed forsaken, nor shall your land anymore be termed desolate; but you shall be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah; for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married. For as a young man marries a virgin, so shall your sons marry you; and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you. I have set watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem; they shall never hold their peace day or night. You who make mention of the Lord, do not keep silent, and give Him no rest till he establishes and till He makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth. The Lord has sworn by His right hand and by the arm of His strength: “Surely I will no longer give your grain as food for your enemies; and the sons of the foreigner shall not drink your new wine, for which you have labored. But those who have gathered it shall eat it, and praise the Lord; Those who have brought it together shall drink it in My holy courts.” Go through, go through the gates! Prepare the way for the people; build up, build up the highway! Take out the stones, lift up a banner for the peoples! Indeed the Lord has proclaimed to the end of the world: “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Surely your salvation is coming; behold His reward is with Him, and His work before Him.’” And they shall call them THE HOLY PEOPLE, the REDEEMED OF THE LORD; and you shall be called SOUGHT OUT, a CITY NOT FORSAKEN.
Before we could head into the bush, we had to transfer all the stuff from the bus to the Land Cruisers because the bus would not stand a chance on the small, rutted, washed out dirt roads. We piled in and said goodbye to civilization for the next 4 days. A couple hours into the trip (and about an hour after abandoning the paved road) we were greeted along the side of the road by a dozen children from a basic school who had been impacted by the Hoops of Hope ministry. They were holding up signs they had made to welcome us to the ADP. We stopped and visited for a few minutes, then continued on our journey. The roads in the Twachiyanda ADP are without a doubt the worst I’ve ever driven on in my life. Imagine the worst remote road in the US and it cannot compare to the pain these roads inflicted on our bodies.
FINALLY, we arrived at the World Vision compound, which was comprised of a few small buildings with two light bulbs each and mattresses on the floor (both of which I learned were huge upgrades from last year), but no running water. We set up our mosquito nets and unloaded all the gear from the trucks and got ready to head out to visit some of our team’s sponsor children. We loaded up in the vehicles and AGAIN took off down the aforementioned roads for about an hour to a remote little village where two sponsor children lived. What awaited us there was something I will never forget.
We pulled into the village (which consisted of maybe a dozen huts) where there were nearly a hundred people waiting for us, and as soon as they saw us, they began singing and dancing and smiling. I’ve never seen so many people smiling as genuinely as these people were. As the dancing concluded, we were invited to sit on wood benches while the rest of the village either stood or sat in the dirt. I observed the exchanging of gifts with the sponsor (Denise) giving cooking oil, salt, sugar, and a soccer ball to the child (Prince) with him in return giving her a hand carved wooden fish. It was amazing.
This was my first chance to see for myself the impoverished conditions in which these people live. They live either in clay brick buildings (approximately 10 feet by 20 feet) or small huts made of wood and grass, both of which have no floor. It is still hard to understand in my Americanized mind how these people in this moment could be so filled with joy in spite of the fact that they have absolutely nothing and many of them are sick and dying with HIV/AIDS. We had only been in the bush for one day and my world was already being turned upside down. I barely remember climbing into my mosquito net covered bed on the dusty concrete floor when I passed out as soon as I laid down.
Sunday, June 6, 2010
I was awoken this morning at 3:30am sharp by a chorus of roosters screaming at us directly outside the open window above my head. It seems as though they were informed incorrectly of their duty to welcome the SUNRISE, which would not happen for another two and a half hours. Unfortunately, falling back asleep proved more difficult than when I laid down initially and I drifted in and out of consciousness until it was light enough to get up and get ready for the day. I dodged the roosters as I walked outside to the outhouse. There were several small brick structures outside the main building that served as our restrooms. Most of them had nothing more than a hole in the concrete floor, but there were actual toilets added to two of them in anticipation of our visit. These toilets technically “flushed,” but with no pipes or running water, they were limited to single use before adding more water from the containers outside. Either way, it was a vast improvement to the hole.
Before breakfast, we grabbed a football and played a dawn game of 3 on 3 in the dirt lot that made up the parking lot. It was a gorgeous morning with a sunrise that would challenge even my hometown of Phoenix with its beauty. We walked in and had a breakfast of poached eggs and toast along with what would prove to be a lifesaver on the trip…Starbucks VIA coffee.
Soon after breakfast, we climbed into our vehicles and headed to the church service. Again, we drove for probably 45 minutes to get there on amazingly bumpy dirt paths through the trees and bushes. We showed up as the men were outside performing a feet-washing ceremony and the women were inside the small church building. One thing that I will never forget about this trip is how well the Zambian people sing. Throughout the ceremony, they sang what sounded like old hymns in perfect harmony and pitch. A young man would start the song, then, as if rehearsed, the whole crowd would begin singing along in harmony. It was unbelievable. I have traveled the world as a performing musician for several years and have never heard or seen anything like this. They sang every verse to every song and when one song ended, they waited about five seconds before starting the next song.
After the ceremony, we all crammed into the church building. I would estimate about 200 people fit inside with many others looking through the windows. The windows had no glass and provided a small breeze that saved our foreign noses from the oppressive smell of a people who had never taken a bath or shower in their life. We sat through the service for about an hour that included singing more songs, announcements, announcements about the announcements, and a full-blown fire and brimstone sermon. After this portion of the day concluded, most of us lifetime churchgoers would be streaming for the doors and heading to the nearest lunch buffet. Not here. We were not done. Not by a long shot. We all moved outside to accommodate the growing number of people attending and began the next segment of the service. They began with more songs, then a song by the youth choir, a song by the women’s choir, two songs by yours truly, and finished with another full length sermon. The sermons were all quite significant in length, but were made even longer because they were being translated from Tongan to English and sometimes vice versa.
When the service ended, we headed back to our temporary home to eat and prepare for the afternoon activity…soccer with the kids. That’s exactly how it was phrased to me. So we head out to the enormous soccer field and start kicking the ball around with a few young kids. So far, so good. Then, about 8 men came out on to the field wearing no shoes and ratty clothes. We assumed that the few of us would play a friendly game against these guys and then call it a day. We couldn’t have been more wrong. Just then, we looked over and saw 12 high school boys with cleats and uniforms walking onto the field. It turned out the few men with no shoes were our teammates and we were playing against the high school soccer team. Awesome. We played for about five minutes before they scored their first goal. We figured out how to keep the ball away from them for the last ten minutes of the half and survived down only 1-0. I think they felt sorry for us because they wound up trading a couple of their players for our not so great players and we routed them 3-1. They were kind to the Americans when they could have easily destroyed us. Thank you Zambian high school futbol team.
We wrapped up an exhausting afternoon and headed in for dinner. To my surprise, dinner was the EXACT same thing we ate at lunch. I was starving, so I ate as much as I could. The compound had a generator that powered two light bulbs and one outlet in the main room for about an hour after dark. We talked over the events of the day, then I crawled into my mosquito netted bed and read until the lights went out.
Monday, June 7, 2010
Once again, like horrible mistimed clockwork, I was jarred awake at 3:30am sharp by our rooster friends outside. In college, my apartment was located directly alongside a set of train tracks and every morning at two and four o’clock, a train would go roaring by at full speed. I was eventually able to tune it out and hardly noticed it, but these roosters are devious. Instead of a single consistent noise, they coordinate with each other and take breaks just long enough for the humans to fall back asleep before screaming again. Fortunately, with limited electricity and entertainment options, we all went to bed at around 9pm each night, so waking up at 3:30am each morning was not as tough as it could have been.
Breakfast this morning consisted of boiled eggs and slices of bread. For me, and several others, breakfast included a protein bar as well. Like yesterday, we engaged in a friendly game of dirt parking lot football while we waited to begin the events of the day.
Today was a special day for Hoops of Hope and the people of Twachiyanda. We were dedicating the clinic that was built with money raised by Austin Gutwein and thousands of kids through Hoops of Hope. The clinic will serve as an AIDS testing center as well as a distribution center for the ARV medications that help those already diagnosed with AIDS to improve their quality of life. Prior to the dedication of this clinic, people in this area would have to WALK over 30 kilometers (almost 19 miles) to the nearest facility to get tested and/or receive treatment. Imagine walking for an entire day one way to go to the hospital. This clinic will improve the lives of thousands of people and literally save an entire generation from being wiped out by AIDS.
We climbed in the Land Cruisers and headed out to the clinic. After we had been driving for about 30 minutes, I made the mistake of asking how much farther we had to drive. The driver said, “Twenty to forty minutes.” Apparently Zambians don’t judge time in the same manner us Americans do because this would serve as the answer any time any of us asked, “how much farther?” Whether we had 10 minutes or an hour, the answer was always, “Twenty to forty minutes.”
When we arrived at the clinic, there were already hundreds of people surrounding the dedication site. They had erected a makeshift tent for us to sit in the shade while the majority of the people attending either sat or stood in the sun. We were each handed a schedule of events for the dedication that included each speaker/performer and how much time they were allotted. We would soon realize that these times were in “Zambian time” because 5 minutes of designated time on the sheet for a speaker might actually translate into 40 minutes of actual speaking time.
The ceremony was delayed because we were waiting on the Chief and some members of Parliament to arrive. So, there were some people there who entertained the crowd to kill some time. After being mercilessly prodded, I got up and sang a song. I was always reluctant because these people are such great singers. I would rather hear them sing any day of the week than go up there and play.
Finally, all the dignitaries arrived and the ceremony began. We sat in the tent for hours as several speakers got up and gave their speeches. Some were simple, but many were using this platform as a way to lobby the government officials to get more involved in this community. I appreciated their vision as they applauded the efforts of Hoops of Hope and World Vision, and at the same time implored the government officials to offer assistance in the future with issues such as property maintenance and improving the roads leading to the facility.
The ceremony concluded with a tour of the facility, including the brand new staff housing located adjacent to the property. After the tour, we had lunch in one of the staff houses. To my surprise, we had the same meal for lunch here at the clinic that we had at the base camp for lunch and dinner yesterday. Fortunately, they had some bottled Sprite and Coke that may have saved my life right then and there.
Later that afternoon, we did something that may have been the most memorable two hours of the entire trip. We met the Caregivers. The Caregivers are ladies that ride around on old, worn out bicycles to different people’s homes in order to provide care to those in need. These ladies take medical supplies to families in need and are often there in the last hours to care for people who have nothing. We all split into small groups and went with the Caregivers to various homes in the surrounding area. The home we visited was a small clay brick building (about 10 feet x 20 feet) with no windows, and a small hut out back for the kitchen. Just beyond the kitchen was a small garden with sweet potatoes and a few other vegetables. We met the matriarch of the house, a grandmother whose name I cannot pronounce and her grandson Orlando. We learned that a total of ten people lived in this tiny house. Orlando’s father had been killed by AIDS and Orlando had tested positive as well. I helped sweep out their one room house, dug up some sweet potatoes in the garden, played soccer with Orlando and some other boys, but mostly just soaked up every second I had with these amazing people.
During this Caregiver visit was when my world perspective changed. I had always heard about people in need, especially in Africa, but I had never felt it. I had never seen it with my own eyes. These people have nothing. In fact, they have less than nothing. Some of them are born into the world with a disease that will slowly destroy their life and inevitably lead to a premature death. Their life is hard. Their quality of life is awful. For the most part, they are an uneducated people who should have no reason for hope. Yet, I learned more about hope from this family than I have in 25 years of sitting in church. We asked Orlando how he was doing and he said the last word I ever thought I’d hear come out of his mouth. Thankful. He was thankful that he had his medication that eased the symptoms of his AIDS virus. He was thankful that he could get out of bed in the morning and not be in extreme pain. He was thankful for his life, regardless of the hand he had been dealt. He blew me away with his optimism.
As we walked away and left the family behind, my brain was racing to try and understand what had just happened. I thought about my own situation at home and all the stress I create in my life. We have so much stuff in our lives. So many things we cling to as if we could not live without them. In those moments, I realized the futility of stress and how absurd it is to worry. My worst-case scenario is better than anything these people will experience in their entire life. There are so many more thoughts about this going on in my head, but I’ll save those for another time, as they would fill another dozen pages.
We got back to the base camp with about 30 minutes of daylight, so Dan and I went for a ride on a couple of motorcycles that the staffers had. This was also one of my favorite moments of the trip, flying down the dirt road (70kph) with the cool African night air in my face. I felt as alone, and somehow at the same exact time, as complete as I ever had in my life.
When I returned for dinner, for the first time I began to understand my fate as far as the dining was concerned. We stared at the same EXACT meal that we had for lunch AND dinner AND lunch AND dinner AND…well, you get it. LITERALLY, the same exact food. Ok. This was the one aspect of the trip that I was not prepared for. Malaria mosquitoes, yellow fever, exhausting travel hours, horrible bathrooms. I had prepared for all things except eating the same thing at every meal. Don’t tell the cooks, but that night my friend Michael and I ate protein bars and a slice of bread with peanut butter. I went to bed slightly hungry, but mostly exhausted and fell immediately to sleep.
Tuesday June 8, 2010
Again with the roosters. Four o’clock in the morning. Wide awake. Today was the day we were dedicating the new high school. Before breakfast, we had some of the now quite depleted supply of Starbucks VIA coffee, enjoyed the sunrise, and played our traditional football game in the parking lot. We were about to take off to go to the school when I asked if, instead of riding in the Land Cruisers, I could follow along on the motorcycle. I was surprised and stoked that they agreed and hopped on the bike. I very quickly learned that something might have been lost in translation because one of the biggest Zambians I had met climbed on right behind me and said, “Let’s go.” Riding a motorcycle on washed out, rutted, bumpy dirt roads by myself was enough of a test, now I had to do it with a 200 pound guy on the bike with me. While not as fun and much more stressful than my twilight ride through the countryside, I still enjoyed the ride much more than I would have in the back of the bumpy Land Cruisers.
We arrived early to the Jonathan Sim School so we had a few minutes to check out the brand new facilities. Dan, one of the leaders of our team works at Intel and showed us some of the stuff they had sent over to the school. Since this area has no electricity, the school is powered by solar energy. Outside there are several solar panels that power the few lights and computers they have. Today was the first day most of these students had ever seen a computer and some of them were surrounding the four brand new ones that had just been powered up. Just in case the brand new facility, solar panels, and computers made me forget where I was for a second, what I saw in the room next door brought me immediately back to reality. On the concrete floor of one of the classrooms there was a giant cow carcass (with the head still attached) drying out and staring at me. Today was the day we would have something slightly different for lunch.
When the Chief and other dignitaries arrived, we went on an official tour of the entire facility. The school looked amazing and what made it even more special were the dorms. Since many of the kids have to walk many kilometers to school, they wind up staying there for the entire week and then returning home on the weekends. They sleep on the floors of the classrooms and anywhere they can find space. These new dorm rooms were full of bunk beds. Most of these kids didn’t have a bed at home and had probably never slept in a bed in their life.
We went outside and took our places under the tent for the dedication ceremony. It was very similar to the previous day’s schedule with speakers lobbying the government for future support and several varieties of entertainment. Also, we helped pass out backpacks from the girls of the Revolve Tour to the kids of the school. One of the highlights of this day’s ceremony was the speech by Kelly Sim, the widow of the school’s namesake Jonathan Sim. Simple and gracious, it was amazing to see her honor her late husband’s legacy along with the hundreds of Zambians in attendance.
After the lengthy event, we had lunch in the school with the Chief and the government officials. The afternoon was relaxed as we hung out with kids and took pictures. The time with the kids seemed to fly by. Before long, it was time to head back to the World Vision office and pack to leave for Choma. When we got back, we played one last game of football in the parking lot while waiting for everyone to get packed. We said our goodbyes to the staff and headed out for a sunset drive through the desert back to Choma.
We checked in to the Kozo Lodge for the second time on the trip and had dinner. We were all pretty exhausted from the day’s events and the four-hour drive to the lodge, so we all went to bed soon after dinner. I was looking forward to a good night’s sleep with no roosters to ruin it for me.
I can’t wait to get back again. I miss it so much. :)