Safari: Ngorongoro Crater

Instead of flying home to Texas, Steve & Suzanne invited their kids to join them in East Africa for the Christmas Holidays.


On day two of our Safari, Frank takes us to Ngorongoro Crater, a UNESCO World Heritage Site where most hunting has been outlawed since the late 1920s a fact made believable by the way the animals completely ignore us or see us as no threat.   This Crater is the world’s largest inactive, intact and unfilled volcanic caldera (think a huge sinkhole that collapsed into space where the lava erupted from some 2-3 million years ago).


Drive down into the crater


Side wall of the crater


Crater wall in the distance looks like mountains

It takes us an hour to drive over the rim and onto the crater floor after entering the park.  It is vast and understandably one of Africa’s premier attractions (according to Lonely Planet).  On the crater floor, we are greeted by a huge obstinacy of cape buffalo.  I’m getting such a kick out of these collective terms for African wildlife.


Cape Buffalo


Cape Buffalo Calf


The mud keeps the flies from biting


Look closely and you’ll see a “business” of flies.

Our ears hear Frank using lots of Lion King language, pointing to lions and saying simba (which I later learn means lion in Kiswahili),  pumba, meaning slow-witted for warthogs, jambo, hello, asanti sana thank you very much ploy, ploy, slowly, slowly, and our favorite hakuna matata.


Lion Simba watches while the Nala lioness naps


See how close the vehicles are?


Nala on the move

I think he is accommodating us, playing to our inner Disney.  It’s not a bad thing, but it does amuse me how well our guides understand American culture.  For example, one night at the Tented Camp, Ben asks to be exempt from the soup course, and our waiter makes a big show of taking his bowl, announcing “No soup for you!” and in perfectly accented Seinfeld Soup Nazi. Just how does he know this I wonder?


It didn’t feel as crowded as it looks.


We stopped at this lake for lunch


Lion watch

It takes me a day before I realize Frank isn’t using Disney Lion King language, but it is the Lion King that adopted his native tongue, and I feel somewhere between relieved, and embarrassed.  Even though we left the states four years, I am still through and through American in my worldview.

As promised the crater is thick with wildlife.  The books talk about the 62 lions in the pride of this crater, and some of see as many as 12 of them.  They are majestic and oblivious to our presence, not that anyone got that close, they are lions after all.



Right after I snapped this picture, Mufasa laid down for a nap and was almost invisible.

I take a ridiculous number of pictures.  I have the big camera, and Suzanne uses the point and shoot.  She is the better photographer but likes to be more in the moment than the recording of it.  I wonder why bother taking pictures at all, especially in this digital age when I take too many (4000 on this trip alone), and don’t know what to do with them at the end.  I tend toward taking pictures of what we are doing, over who we are doing it with, which is Suzanne’s forte.  We make a good team, but after I wonder what to do with them now?  It turns out my Canon 70d has a focusing issue, so having lots of pictures to choose from works in my favor, as 70% were out of focus.

We have good friends who make photo-story books.  She will spend months carefully curating her digitals and composing the story of their adventure. They have a shelf of beautifully bound books of their family adventures.  Like digital scrapbooking, the prose and pictures make an excellent evening activity when we stay at their house.  Neither Suzanne and I are that dedicated; a blog is the best we can do.


See the black pixel near the center? That is our rhino.


Now zoomed in.

The highlight was seeing, and I use that verb lightly, a rare black rhino.  It was more of a black smudge in the distance that Frank pointed us to. With the field glasses (binoculars) we could make out it familiar rhino outline, one of 26 of this park.  We feel blessed to have “seen” one, but sad there are so few left.  Frank tells the story of “John,” the oldest of Ngorongoro’s rhinos, who went missing a year ago this month.  He is clearly emotional about it, and the story is hard to follow, but he believes it was sold dubiously by some park officials for $50,000.  “I am struggling to pay my children’s school fees,” he says, “who could say no to that kind of money?”


He is not implicating himself, its more of a statement that reminds me of something Dr. Spong said in my seminary pastoral care course, “You want to know the truth about humanity?” he said and paused, “…everyone has their price.  Everyone.”   He went on to tell us we may think ourselves different, but in the end, you have a price, and its good to know that about yourself.


She has several cubs, just out of sight.


While someone else watches the kids, its naptime.

Toward sunset, we see a family of lions and lion cubs.  They are ours alone, we’re not sharing them with any other Land Cruisers.  Frank turns off the engine, and we just watch, awestruck.  Its quiet, the air has the smell of rain, and we’re not in a hurry.  It feels like dessert lingering over a fine cup of coffee, the beautiful end to a remarkable day.



A herd of Thomson’s gazelle

When we lose the lions to the bush, and start to move, we ask to go back home to the Tented Camp.  We’ve seen enough, and want to relish the experience, not try to stuff more in it.  We are satisfied, deeply.


Jackal on the prowl


Bustards (Thanks Nancy C for the correction)

Besides the concentration of wildlife, what struck me was how often they shared the same landscape.  I think the only time I saw our presence noticed was when an obstinacy of cape buffaloes was on the move and had stopped, waiting to cross the road we were on, us and some number of other vehicles.  This herd just stood there, pacing around in their cape buffalo way, looking anxious to cross, but not willing to engage the two-legged creatures.  Frank said that as long as we stayed in the land cruiser, we were invisible to the animals.  All they saw was a moving metal box, not the people inside.



Inside the metal box


Both Lake Manyara, and Ngorongoro Crater were thoughtful parks.  The experience was structured around seeing the animals, but not at the cost of their dignity, or ours.  It was something to be experienced together, not measured in big-five check marks, but in watching these exotic animals live, in their everyday way.  There was no excitement, no chaise of a lion, or stampeding wildebeest, just watching them graze, sleep, sport around like teenagers or play with their cubs.


The hippo pool


Solitary hippo walking around.

On the way back to our Tents, we are snapping pictures and jubilant. Frank is a little embarrassed because today we saw so many animals: four out of the big five, lion, rhinoceros, elephant, and Cape buffalo, but no leopards.  It is not supposed to be this easy.  When Suzanne had started the conversation with his tour company, they initially proposed a much more ambitious schedule.  We’re not that kind of travelers; we try to stay balanced between what we see and do, and the experience.

Tomorrow we leave for Zanzibar and a completely different experience.


Safari:Lake Manyara, Tanzainia

maasai women[Maasai Country Drive]

The first morning from tented camp we drive through Maasai country to LAKE MANYARA, a small national part that the guide books say most safari outfitters overlook, but for us it is a perfect beginning.   About five minutes after joining the good road we’re flagged for special treatment at a police checkpoint, and I hear Frank mumble “beggars in uniform.”

The officer motions us to roll down our window and introduces himself as Officer Julian.  He is a large man, and it feels like he expects to intimidate us, demanding in a forceful but friendly way, to know where we are from.  Suzanne and I, used to big-man police officers, answer him.

Road2[nice roads]

Officer Julian is not the first Tanzanian official to go all big-man on us, or seem perplexed when we don’t cower before him.  “We live in Ghana,” I say apologetically.  He thinks I say Canada, and I correct him, “no we live in Ghana, West Africa” drawing out the est to add emphasis.  “Ah,” he says motioning to Frank, and the two of them step out to have a private chat behind the vehicle.  I know this drill, I’ve seen other African drivers make the same maneuver. When Frank is back and we’re on our way I ask what the going rate is in Tanzania for a police checkpoint shakedown.

“Not much,” he smiles grimly.  It always surprising how little the police in Ghana trade for their integrity. Apparently, Tanzanian police are similar.  I know if I was going to be compromised, my fee would attract a premium.  We’re on our way again, and rumble past a dusty, dry landscape and I think about types of bribes.

Was Officer Julian

  1. given a tip or gratuity?
  2. accepting a gift from the heart?
  3. charging a service fee?
  4. receiving a kickback?
  5. taking a baksheesh?

A baksheesh is a north African tradition where someone who has gives to another who has not.  Its usually something small, like 5-10 cents, given to anyone who does anything for you, like open a door, check you in at a hotel, take your order at a cafe, exchange money at a bank… but I get the feeling Frank hands over more than a baksheesh, but not that much more.  Maybe like Walmart, low price is made up in volume.

LM_IMG_1322_1IMG_0269_1[Sue, Anna, Ben with top open]

Arriving at Lake Manyara National Park, Frank opens the top for a 360 standing view.  As we approach the gate, Ben starts humming the theme song from Jurassic Park. Frank does a brilliant job of staging, introducing us slowly to the wildlife we will see, first at a distance, and then later up close.  I’m not sure if it naturally unfolds this way, or he is brilliantly storytelling our safari, but either way we are drawn in.  We will end up seeing huge elephants, baboons, monkeys, zebras, giraffes, cape buffalo, gazelle, warthogs, hippos, flamingos, lots of birds, and a black mamba snake that crossed the road right in front of us.   And this is just the first day.

suz elephelepheIMG_1039_1[watching a memory of elephants pass us by]

The word safari comes from the Swahili word meaning to journey, or perhaps from Arabic meaning to travel, but it is such an odd concept for me.  Most journeys or travels have a purpose, but Safari seems to have its own purpose.  In our case, to see East Africa’s exotic animals.   Who of us Americans didn’t grow up reading National Geographic and watching their specials on TV?  I wonder how many times I have already seen Lake Manyara, Tanzania’s “smaller and most underrated park,” according to Lonely Planet.

other veh2[the other wildlife in the park, the really dangerous]

Henry Miller once wrote “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things,” and I think we are each learning a new way of seeing thing and I would add, each other.  We recognize these animals from magazines and movies or TV, but they were doing much more exciting things and it was viewed through someone else’s lens, a part of their story.  But here, with us, Frank is unveiling our story, and telling it brilliantly.  We feel the breeze, smell the mud, scratch at the dust, swat away the flies and watch these exotic animals long enough to get a little bit bored.

annaben eleph[selfies!]

fIMG_0703_1[even Frank does a selfie]

I get a kick out of watching our kids selfie pose with elephants, cape buffalo, and giraffes.   When unexpected happens, I see brief glimpses of delight in their demeanor; a momentary respite from the backdrop of the crushing cynicism this millennial generation faces. It isn’t so much a new way of seeing them, more a reminder of the innocence they had as children and a shared experience of discovery we are all having together as adults.  Like an outdoor museum in whih we can drive around, Frank is helping us really see the ever-changing exhibit of animals.

IMG_1096_1[kids laughing]



A confusion of wildebeest graze next to a dazzle of zebras

yellow bird[the animals really do occupy the same area –  wildebeest, zebra]


cape buff2


Yikes, an obstinacy of Cape Buffalo block our way

Cape Buff[Cape Bufflow shots, distant, up close, in the mud]

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAfrIMG_0606_1[Frank, our wonderful guide]

On the drive out there Frank asked us if we knew the “Big-5”, a task we fail at, even with some major hints.  I wonder if this is his measure of our preparedness, how much fact checking are we prepared to do.  When the best we can do is elephant and lion (including incorrect guesses: giraffe, hippo, tiger), Frank probably knows he can tell us anything–and we’ll believe him.

sIMG_0527_1[Suzanne viewing]



A dazzle of Zebra

IMG_1133_1monkey1monkbaboon1bw birdostrage


A flamboyance of flamingos 


A bloat of hippos

graff sideviewgazIMG_1111_1psfIMG_1234_1


And this was day 1.








Tanzania for Christmas

Instead of returning to Texas for Christmas, this year we are exploring more of the continent we call home. 

From neat and orderly Rwanda we flew to Dar Es Salaam, or Abode of Peace as the Arabic is translated. We are here to wait for Anna’s boyfriend Benjamin, and our son Fox, to join us.  DAR is a historic, modern city but it is no Kigali.  It feels like any number of African cities I have visited lately, each with an ebb and flow to its people, their pace of life and traffic (made all the more challenging by the–more of a preference than a hard and fast rule–left side of the road driving). DAR is relaxed, chill, and feels like we’re back in Africa; not so neat and orderly.  


[Christmas Eve Pictures]

While Anna waits for Benjamin to arrive, Suzanne and I attend an English/German/Kiswahili Christmas Eve service.  Its held in a beautiful late 19th century AZANIA FRONT LUTHERAN CHURCH.   We sing all verses to most of the traditional Christmas Carols to their proper tunes accompanied by an in-tune brass choir, but slightly out of tune with the organ.  


Christmas Eve Brass Choir

The service was beautiful, multicultural, and we leave feeling all Christmasy.  I say proper tunes because in Ghana, we often use the British tunes, which Steve refers to as dreadful.  In Steve’s opinion, many of the British hymn tunes plod along with no thought to singability, rhythm, phrasing or vocal range.  But if these are the hymn tunes you grew up singing, then I guess the fun jaunty German tunes we sing tonight would be too much fun for your stiff upper lip.


[Catholic Mass Pictures]

Earlier, I had gone to Catholic Mass at ST JOSEPH’S CATHEDRAL, a large German 19th-century Cathedral a few blocks away.  I had not been to Mass since Camino last summer. It feels good to be back and embraced by the holy rhythm of its worship.  I miss the mystery of Mass.  The worship in Ghana is about as mystical as a slap in the face, which we will learn is what the word coffee means in the local language Kiswahili.  We are warned, “Don’t ask for coffee (slap in face), ask for Ka-ha-wa.”  The worship in Mass is gentle, sweeping, and I vow to be more faithful in trying out worship as I travel.  I am always looking for honest cultural things to do when traveling, often this means a museum or city tour, but those can feel so staged.  Worship feels honest to me, joining the people of this culture as they connect with God.

maasai huts

The Maasai Village we “tour”

Talking about staged, on our way out of the safari tented camp, we stopped for a “tour” of a Maasai Village on our way to Kilimanjaro International Airport (another KIA).  Our guide Frank, also a Maasai, suggested this stop.  We pour of out of the Toyota Land Cruiser and are greeted by 20 Maasai in full costume, after paying what should be $50, but ends up closer to $60 in the exchange to TZS.  


maasai jump with ben

Ben and dancing the jumping dance

These tall and beautifully costumed people dance and sing the welcome dance, dress us in some (foolish looking on us) Maasai clothes, and then invite us into their “village”, which turns out to be a collection of six huts, and a thorn-bush corral, with tables of Maasai arts and crafts at exorbitant prices, prices  that won’t come down (much). 

maasai shopping

Thorn-bush corral, and Maasai shopping

maasai - tough Suz

Suzanne scrunches up her face saying “Really?! Is that the best you can do?” This Maasai woman was one tough negotiator.

In Ghana, to not bargain is an insult, a rebuff of an invitation to friendship, a chance to connect and tell your story, to laugh, listen and be playful.  There is none of that inside the not so OK corral.  The young but tough lady is grim-faced, and not willing to even engage.  I watch Suzanne, an unusually firm negotiator who can always charm the price down, attempt to walk away, and she is stopped and the price falls somewhat, but still, there is no joy in Maasai-town.  Suzanne again attempts to walk away from the Christmas ornament and bracelet, things she doesn’t need or particularly want, but is buying to be a gracious guest.  This is not fun.  Later we see the same items for sale at 1/10 the unhappily negotiated price, further sealing Maasai-town’s fate as a cultural-like experience in much the same way that Olive Garden is an Italian Restaurant.

maasai corral

Driving away, Frank does damage control explains to Suzanne the difficulty of Maasai life the traditional way, and how much our “donation” will help them. Fox and I notice at least six more of these “villages” set off from the road, with other Land Cruisers parked in front of them, and tourists like us in various stages of Maasai dress, listening to the Welcome Song.  This is what I might call staged authenticity at best.  But in worship, be it an expat Christmas Eve, or the earlier morning Mass, the experience is real, honest, and I feel connected to the people of this culture, and seek with them how God is known here, as I connect to the Mystery with them.  

maasai village

The Maasai village could have left a bitter taste in our mouth about Frank, but we choose not to let those tastes linger, and trusted that our “donation” would help the people in real ways.  He was a kind and intuitive guide, who understood the animals and, while in the national parks, while other Land Cruisers were racing by to find the next big game, Frank would say, “poly-poly,” and when no one else was around, we watched the animals just stroll up to our vehicle, slowly, slowly.  



Elephants strolling by our Landrover


After the boys both arrived, we all fly to Arusha, a wide spot next to the road with one landing strip and a colonial age terminal.  Calling it a terminal is kind, or insulting to other terminals, let’s just say it was old, and small – 14 seats in the waiting area, but thankfully no forms to fill out and no screening or X-rays machines.  


I thought Ghana was the only place that scanned your bags before you enter the airport as you prepare to leave the country.  Sometimes they also check your boarding pass as you deplane, or my favorite leave-the -country exercise is when they look at your yellow card as you leave the yellow fever endemic area (and by the way, according to the WHO, yellow fever is no longer a risk in Ghana, but we still have to do the yellow fever vaccine and card thing).  But Tanzania likes to be sure too, so landing in Arusha, after a 45-minute domestic flight from DAR, our bags had been scanned no less than four times, twice in each terminal, and by the time we leave Tanzania 17 days later, they will have been scanned at least six more times.

Frank our wonderful guide and driver.

Frank our wonderful guide and driver.

We meet Frank in outside the dusty Arusha airport and drive a few hours to our tented camp overlooking Lake Manyara.  It is dry, and we pass the Maasai move cattle across their dusty expanse.


We arrive at KIRURUMU MANYARA LODGE and it feels good to welcome the new travelers into our party.  The food at the tented camp is fresh and delicious and reasonably portioned.  The service is the best we will encounter in Tanzania, and everyone seems genuinely friendly.


This is our tent

We’ve seen these tented camps in Ghana, at Zaina Lodge.  They are an interesting mix of a temporary tent and a permanent building.  Think tent camping with room service, a proper bed, self-contained shower and an inside flush toilet.  Plus an amazing view that you don’t have to set up.  Plus hot coffee delivered to your tent at 6:30am! So yeah, we’re totally roughin’ it. 


View from our tent

At night, a cool night breeze ruffles the tent walls all night long as the mosquito net sways around our bed.   We sleep well, and deep.   St. Augustine wrote “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”  Tomorrow we begin a new chapter of this book we are calling our Christmas Vacation.

Steve & Suzanne Christmas Day 2017 overlooking Lake Manyara

Steve & Suzanne Christmas Day 2017 overlooking Lake Manyara

Rwanda – our Transitions Culture


With a painting of Mr. Paul Kagame, president, and hero of Rwanda

Each year, since returning to Ghana in 2014, Suzanne and I have come back to Texas at Christmas because we get kicked out of our on-campus housing at Ashesi. This year will be different. We were back so often these last two years as Nelda was sick and later passed, and ten months later, my Dad. It was high time we visited more of this continent we call home, Africa.

So it is off to Tanzania for Christmas, but on our way there, we made a three-night stop in Rwanda. We’re calling it our transition culture, a palate cleanser of sorts, between our home in Ghana and this holiday vacation in mainland Tanzania and then island Zanzibar. A palate cleanser is a neutral-flavored food or drink that removes food taste from the mouth, allowing one to more accurately assess a new flavor. For us we come to Rwanda hoping to remove the residue of a difficult and stressful year whose details need not be rehashed.


Rwandan Coffee is amazing!




Stocking up on good coffee to bring back to Ghana!


We really didn’t know what to expect when we landed in Rwanda. Ashesi has a number of fine Rwandans, who are excellent students, ambitious people and deeply kind-hearted. Each has a story to tell of the Genocide that scared their home 23 years ago, forever altering the trajectory of their lives, but it is not our story. We also knew that Kigali, the capital city, is the cleanest African city, a designation that is quite safe from any city in Ghana. And the wonderful coffee. Oh, my! A Rwandan student gave me two pounds of amazing Rwandan Coffee, last fall which immediately after one sip became my preferred coffee country of origin. WOW!

Disembarking at the unfortunately initialed KIA (Kigali International Airport) we were thinking about Genocide, cleanliness, coffee and palate cleansing, arriving on an overnight flight from another KIA. Kotoka International Airport, Accra, is ironically named for Lieutenant General Kotoka, a co-conspirator and announcer on radio of the successful overthrow of Ghana’s first republic, and Ghana’s first president Kwame Nkrumah. A little over a year later Gen. Kotoka died in another coup attempt, he was literally Killed In Action.


the view from our hotel window

After checking into our hotel, we walked around Kigali and we learn many things: while Rwandans drive on the right side of the road, they mostly walk on the left. Suzanne and I try to go with the flow, but the flow goes against us. Opposing walkers we expect to pass on our of left suddenly move to our right and we end up in frantic near misses. Both of us look at the cars driving on the road and try to do as they do, but the other walkers don’t. It feels like we’re walking in Japan, the UK, or Australia. Countries in which one can understand why they would walk on the left, because the cars don’t drive on the right side of the road, but here it doesn’t make any sense.

[Kigali has a great traffic light system with timers telling you the wait]

Another thing we see is Kigali’s reputation for being the cleanest city in Africa is well deserved.  There is no trash anywhere, no black plastic bags, no empty sachet water plastics, no empty plastic bottles, nor mysterious unidentifiable trash.   The roads and landscapes are perfectly clean, and so is the air.     It is a spotlessness that we recognize over and over.



Kigali has very clean streets


We also notice the elderly are few. I think the whole time we saw maybe one person who looked older than me (Steve). It feels like a very young country, and the people are tall, thin, and handsome. I keep thinking I am seeing one of our beloved Rwandan students because the similarities are striking, but catching their eyes I realize it is another.

[Rural sugar cane farming, but again no trash]

We meet Anna at the airport that evening and the next morning head out (via a driver arranged by another Rwandan student) for the Genocide Memorial (what can I say, we know how to show our daughter a good time). Three hours later we emerge emotionally fatigued with a better understanding of the events of 1994, and profound admiration of their challenging path of reconciliation.  Part of that path was a switch ten years ago from French to English as the language of national instruction.  The Guardian reported it was the “latest salvo against French influence” coming weeks after the Rwandan government had accused over 30 French politicians, officials and military officers of complicity in the genocide, including the late president, François Mitterrand.  It leaves me wondering “how does a country just change its language?”  Remarkable.

[Suzanne and Anna at Question Coffee]

It is good to be with Anna, and see Suzanne so happy to snuggle with her last born as they talk, talk, talk like sisters. I love seeing her doing so well, and so happy. Its been a difficult year for her too, but she is young and resilient. The last time I saw her, she had come to Iowa to be with me as Dad was dying. She was a God-send, helping me not hold it together as I watched the sun my planet had orbited for 58 years fade away.

These are much happier times as none of us have to-do lists or expectations much grander than a thorough cultural palate cleansing.

[Welcome to Heaven]

We visit a few art galleries and then attend what we thought would be a Christmas program (again suggested by an Ashesi student), but it turns out to be a scare-them-into-believing collection of skits, how good people are welcomed into Heaven with the Hallelujah Chorus, and bad people are tormented and dragged screaming to Hell, seriously a lot of screaming. The production quality of the skits was outstanding, but what I’ll remember is their surprising focus on The Book of Life. Even the damned knew what that Book is, and why their name is not in it. Not exactly the Christmas message any of us was expecting, but fun and interesting to watch, from a cultural perspective.

[Dragged off to Hell]

I say cultural perspective because in Ghana so much of the preaching doesn’t have this tight salvation (or fire insurance) focus. Its goal is more on providing a way to access the power of the gospel: a power of financial prosperity, protection from demons, or realized good health and many children. So it was is an interesting evening, culturally, just not one we were expecting, just the kind of thing a pallet cleansing culture is supposed to do.  Now we are ready for Tanzania.

[Steve & Suzanne at Storyteller’s Cafe]

Christmas is always difficult to experience far from home, but if, as they say, it is truly where the heart is, then with two of our now four kids joining us, maybe home and Christmas won’t feel so far away.


an obituary for Wes Buchele

Yesterday (23-Sept-17) we held a two hour Celebration of Life for my dad. 


Wes Buchele and his Large Round Bailer (circa 2005)

His inventions changed the landscape of America, and perhaps the world.  Dr. Wesley F. Buchele, ISU professor emeritus in Agricultural Engineering, died Sept. 13 peacefully at Israel Family Hospice House in Ames, Iowa.  He was 97.


Wesley & Luther with their mother (circa early 1920s)

Wes and his twin brother Luther were born in a Kansas farmhouse on March 18, 1920 to Charles and Bessie (Fisher) Buchele.  Wesley and Luther were the youngest of the seven Buchele Brothers.


Dad as a student at KSU (circa 1940s)

At Kansas State University, Wes met Mary Jagger while earning a BS in Agricultural Engineering. Later as a 2nd lieutenant in the US Army,  Mary and Wes married on June 12, 1945.  In the Army, Wes was part of the demilitarizing force on the island of Hokkaido and the northern part of the island of Honshu, Japan.


Early Mom & Dad in Little Rock

After WWII, Wes served in the Army Reserve for 20 years.  He first worked for John Deere in Waterloo where their first child, Rod, was born.   Next they moved Fayetteville, AR to earn his masters degree in Agricultural and Mechanical Engineering, and their daughter Marybeth was born.  Then they moved to Ames, where he earned a Ph.D in Agricultural Engineering, and their daughter Sheron was born; then to East Lansing, MI to teach at Michigan State University where their fourth and last child, Steve, was born.  In 1963, the Buchele family returned to Ames, where Wes joined the faculty of Iowa State University(ISU).


Mary Jagger Buchele and 2nd Lt. Buchele cutting their wedding cake.

Wes’ dad died when he was 11 years old, leaving those Buchele boys to run their family’s farm in south-central Kansas while the boys were still in school.  At age 15 he was running a four-man threshing crew, when “it was 105°F in the shade–and there was no shade!”  The experiences of the sweaty, dirty, grueling work of threshing grain and baling hay led him to a lifelong interest in making the lives of farmers easier and safer.

2006 fall073

Dr. Buchele with his famous 3d wire diagrams

At ISU, Wes’ creativity blossomed working with students and faculty, he published hundreds of technical articles and he was awarded 23 patent, the two most notable being the large round baler and the axial-flow or helical-flow threshing cylinder for combines.


Christmas with the family (circa 1963)

Wes had many sayings, laws and proverbs. Students and faculty could tell where he was in the teaching of a certain field tillage course when “It’s a SIN TO PLOW!” echoed down the hall from his classroom. (He was promoting minimum tillage, to dramatically reduce soil erosion.)  Another was “The educated mind resists returning to its former state of ignorance,” and finally “A college education is the one thing people will pay good money for and be happy not to receive!”

2007 winter spring summer210

The Family (circa 2008)

His passion for and encouragement of his children helped each child to find their own path in life: Rod was a 4-H Extension agent all of his work life, Marybeth became a homeopath (alternative medicine) and helped Wes recover well from a broken hip in August, 2016; Sheron became an nationally recognized artist in metalworking; Steve became a pastor and now lectures at Ashesi University, Ghana, West Africa.


A mantra in the Wes & Mary Buchele household was, “can you think of a better way to do that?” This mantra led him to serving as an expert witness in product liability trials and farm safety associations around the nation.  Wes conducted some of his research on the front lawn with the help of a few of Sheron’s boyfriends who were initiated into the family by helping Wes mow some processed chickens from HyVee.  This demonstrated how easily the exposed rotary lawn mower blade could slice through flesh, even if that flesh happened to be chicken.  His work contributed to the operator-presence control, AKA “dead man switch” being a part of in every lawn mower sold in America since 1982.


Anna, Fox, and Grace with their Granddad (circa 2004)

Leading up to and after retirement in 1989, Mary and Wes traveled the world, teaching in China, Australia, Tanzania, Nigeria, and the Philippines before settling in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico and driving their RV around the country to stay with their four children’s families.  In 2000, his beloved Mary died unexpectedly and Wes stopped traveling by RV, but still continued to visit his children.  When Wes arrived, he would ask for “the list,” a list of things that needed fixing around the house, promising to stay only as long as there were things to do on that list.  Then he would move on to the next child’s family and a new list.


Bob Schafer, Marybeth, and Dad – working on “Who Really Invented the Cotton Gin?”

In 2011, Marybeth returned to Ames to help care for Wes and together they built a house in west Ames.   They were active in the Ames and Iowa State community. During this time, Wes also authored two more books, Just Call Me Lucky, a collection of stories co-written with his brother Luther, and Who Really Invented the Cotton Gin?  They join his previous book, The Grain Harvesters.


Mom, Dad, Uncle Luther and Aunt Joan (circa 2000)

In the 1960s, Mary and Wes began a life-long association with Collegiate United Methodist Church.   Besides weekly worship, Wes was an active member in the Wednesday night potluck Soup Supper where he stayed late to help clean up.  He will be remembered for Quinoa Evangelism.  Wes saw it as his duty to promote the health benefits of the ancient South American grain Quinoa and he would be more than happy to extol its benefits to anyone who happened to show the slightest interest.  His daughter, Marybeth, continues this “program” in his memory.

Winter trip 2005-2006 012

Doing his Cotton Gin book research (circa 2004)

On Labor Day, as Wes was getting ready to mow the lawn–at age 97– he had a major stroke and fell.  At Mary Greeley and Israel House he was visited by a multitude of friends and family and died peacefully nine days later.


I hold Dad’s hand near the end of his life.

The family wishes to express their gratitude to staff of Mary Greeley Medical Center, 4A floor; Israel Family Hospice House; and pastors Jill and Jen at Collegiate United Methodist Church.  Thanks also to all who visited and messaged Wes, you helped him leave this world knowing he was loved and remembered for how his large round baler changed the rural landscape of the world.


Outstanding in his field (circa Aug-17)

Final Thoughts on the Camino, part 2

This final Camino blog began in Santiago and reflected on after I returned to Ghana.


Toward the end of my time in Santiago, I began thinking about the transition back home, returning to Suzanne who I missed dearly, and to see if this journey has changed me.

  • To be true to what The Camino has taught me about myself so that I might experience ministry as meaningful.  Intellectually knowing what I do here has meaning and feeling that way can be two different things.
  • To help Suzanne seek the life she was created to live, to change our narrative to support that, escape the decaying orbit, and to seek rehabilitation over relief from the life she definitely was not created to live.
  • To be ever mindful of my intent.
  • To leave the rock I left at Cruz de Ferro, and be ever mindful what carrying that rock cost me.



St. James above the main Altar


After receiving communion that last night, I felt a deep presence of God.  I was accepted, and God indeed loved me.  “But I didn’t do the Camino perfectly,” I found myself apologizing, and St. James came to mind. I looked up at his gold plated, jewel encrusted incarnation above the altar and saw Pilgrims wrapping their arms around him,  their face next to his.  It is a tradition that pilgrims may embrace the beloved saint, and during Mass there is an almost endless line to do so.


Around 40 AD the real St. James was praying when Mary appeared to him standing on a pillar.  He was discouraged, few Iberians had received the Gospel, and he felt a failure, which is not exactly how I feel much of the time, but close enough to make the story work for me.   I guess I too needed some reassurance that this walk, this offering had not been a long walk wasted, and the feeling I got was “You walked the one meant for you.”



Mary of the Pillar

Our Lady of the Pillar (see St. James kneeling on her left?)


It was just a feeling, not Mary standing on a pillar talking to me like when she assured the beloved Saint people would eventually accept the gospel, and their faith would become as strong as the pillar she stood on.  My offering was acceptable, I had not made this pilgrimage in vain, but I do wonder if something was lost in translation, because while the story of Santa Maria del Pilar has great meaning here in Spain (there is a whole Pineterest site devoted to this story), the statue of Our Lady standing on the pillar seems silly and a bit undignified to me.



Was I the only one I wondered?  Did other pilgrims struggle with their worthiness?  Does the need to make the right pilgrimage, or do it perfectly outweigh the sheer act of doing it?  “How quiet the sound of the forest would be,”  I heard a pilgrim say one morning,  “if only the best bird sang.”  The early morning’s mist of the Camino was accompanied by the sound of singing birds.


<> on August 25, 2014 in Santiago de Compostela, Spain.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel embraces the statue of Saint James in the cathedral at Santiago de Compostela on August 25, 2014. (credit:GettyImages)


Perfection is overrated when compared to intent, I decide but just be sure I stand in line to embrace the saint.  I had walked behind him once before, but this time I decided to give him a good hug from behind.  As I should have expected, St. James was cold and lifeless, and I felt nothing in doing this, but because so many had found meaning in his embrace, I thought, why not.



Long line of pilgrims applying for a Compostela.


Before leaving Santiago, I applied for a Compostela, or certificate showing I had walked The Way, in case anyone doubted.  This document, introduced in the 13c by the Roman Catholic Church, certifies that Pilgrims have paid their penance; repented of their sins, and would be received into Heaven by showing St. Peter their Compostela.  That is a lot of work for a single piece of paper.  There is a long line because the each Pilgrim’s credentials had to be checked before receiving their Compostela.  While waiting I ran into John, whom I had last seen on the long climb up to O Cebreiro.  When we had walked together when told me:

“Steve, the Camino is just a physical manifestation of your spiritual journey.”

I took what John said to mean this back pain was a physical manifestation of my spiritual pain, or my soul was expressing itself in a backache.  A few hours of meditating on his wisdom, and receiving some relief, I was not sure John had actually existed.  I convinced myself he has been a physical manifestation of The Camino, sent to help me.  But now, standing in line I hear someone behind me say “Hey there Ghana,” and notice John right behind (he is actually in the picture above, I just didn’t realize it when I took it).


Gary - is actually exists.

John exists.  I pinched his arm to make sure.


“John, you actually exist!” I said and told him the story of how helpful his words had been, and how later I wasn’t so sure he actually existed.  John had come and gone so fast.  He introduced me to his wife and family, and we talked for a few minutes before I was called in to examine my credentials.  “Wait a minute,” I said reaching over to pinch his arm.  “Ok, you really do exist.”  His family laughed because he was already too real to them.



Wildflowers, on the walk into Santiago


I spend 17 years thinking about, planning and packing for this Camino, and joined it without expectation, open to whatever The Camino wanted me to experience.   “Every moment is relative and a worthwhile one; just have faith it is enough,”  Simon told me channeling the saint.  It was something his mentor had instilled in him, and he had spoken to me in the same paragraph as the words Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).  Simon was telling me about his mentor who had come to evaluate the work of his former life with KPIs.  What was funny about Simon saying the word KPIs is I had been silently praying for some sign that this exchange was real and relevant, and then out of the blue Simon starts talking about KPIs, something our institution is big on and even I couldn’t miss that out of the blue reference.  It was like God’s Holy Spirit was saying “Listen up Steve…this is important.” KPIs – Ok God, you have my attention.

“Every moment is relative and a worthwhile one; just have faith that it is enough.”

I feel this is my final lesson of the Camino, to see ministry in Ghana as a function of presence, and to just to have faith that presence is enough.  I think Woody Allen said the same “90% of life is just showing up.” The trouble for me is just showing up is not quantifiable, that and me lacking, “to have faith that it is enough.”


I’ve been back in Ghana now for almost three weeks and I’m happy to report that Suzanne and I are both in a much better place.  The Camino was good for us and both of us are making an effort to apply the lessons learned from Santiago.  As Sister Lois said in the benediction of the English Mass in the Cathedral,

“Now your real Camino begins,” (when you go home)

So on this now real Camino I return remembering:

  • the beauty of the Spanish landscape, churches, food, and people
  • the challenge of that journey, physically, mentally, and spiritually
  • the comradery of the Camino, the people I walked with for an hour or several days and the intimacy a shared in a journey of seekers.
  • the connection with The Camino (God) and the amazing things I came to witness
  • the dear friends who followed along with this Camino, praying for me, reading this blog, and encouraging me by leaving comments, sending emails, or checking in with Suzanne.  I thank you for joining me in this journey.

I know I didn’t do it perfectly and knowing that makes me want to have another go of it. Next time to be more intentional about the landscape I am passing through and capturing the contact details of those I was walking with.   But I don’t have to wait to start those practices, I can begin what I learned on The Way to Santiago.

“As you walked the Camino, so shall you walk in life.”








Final thoughts on this Camino, part 1


My first view of The 11c Cathedral


SANTIAGO – The foul mood that came over me after I arrived in Santiago began to dissipate over the next few days. It felt like my body was waiting for my spirit to catch up, and not happy about it.  I thought maybe I wasn’t ready for my Camino to end.

Santiago de Compostela turns out to a delightful reunion where by chance I ran into pilgrims I had walked with on the Camino, and we congratulated each other, celebrating our finish line. We made it! I wondered, was this what Heaven was like, a place we connect with all the souls who shared our journey? Today the feeling of celebration is genuine.

Gary & Helen from Australia

Gary and Helen from Australia

I run into Gary and Helen from Australia. Gary did the Camino last year and wouldn’t shut up about it, so Helen decided to do it with him this year (hint, hint Suzanne). We had cooked together a few nights before, and I learned that Helens Camino was more a move of desperation on her part just to get Gary would not shut up about, The Camino.

Hans, Jannette, & Steve waiting for Mass to start

Two-thirds of the “Swedish Mafia” and Steve” waiting for Mass to start.

Then there was Ellie from Minnesota, the Swedish Mafia, the Germans contingent, but no Tzika, and of course all the other faster walkers who are home by now, resuming their lives. I met up with so many who walked at my pace or slower and go to worship, or to eat, or to just exchange contact information.


Man who gave Jannette the walnut and rose

“Take this walnet and rose from my garden to St. James…for my wife”

A few days before Santiago, Jannette (ringleader of the Swedish Mafia) was stopped by an old man who pressed into her hands a rose and a walnut from his garden. He begged her to take them to Santiago for him and leave them with St. James since he could not make the journey himself. Jannette and I sat together with Hans before Mass, and she pulled them out asking “What do I do with these?”

Jannette, with walnut and rose

“What should I do with these now?” Jannette asks.


I had seen the bones of St. James earlier, and saw people were leaving bits and pieces with the beloved saint. So, while waiting for Mass to start, we slipped downstairs and tossed the walnut and rose, toward the bones of St. James. Crack, rattle, rattle, the walnut rolled across the floor.

Items left near the bones of St. James

Behind these bars rest the bones of St. James, and people leave stuff near them.

And then there was Karen, from Canada but who lives in Hong Kong and another legend of this slice of the walk. She was trying to lose her sock tan from doing the full Camino in just 17 days, “walking” about 50km (30mi)/day. I get the feeling she didn’t sleep in Alburgues with the snoring pilgrims, nor carry her pack, or wrestle with the demons as I did. We all walk our own Camino; she just walked hers faster.


Restoration efforts to the Cathedral of Santiago

Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

Reaching the 11c Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela has been many a pilgrim’s motivation along the journey, imagining what it would feel like when they arrived. On years when St. James Day falls on a Sunday, the gate of forgiveness is open, and since the 14c, indulgences were granted for pilgrims who passed through the gate. Today the heavy brass door is securely locked (I’m told in years past they bricked it up). The next time it will open is 2021, and to prepare for it, the Cathedral is being restored and covered with blue netting. The sound of hammers and power saws is the background noise of the Temple.

Gate of Forgiveness

No forgiveness for me today as the Gate of it is closed until 2021

Mass in the Cathedral is held morning, noon and night, and always full. There is something special about worshipping in a packed house, and a service that took 8-12 clergy, including a Roman Catholic cardinal one night.



There is something very special about a packed house for worship, even if half of them have their cell phones out recording it.


I think about my father-in-law Charlie, who used to go on about how beautiful the pre-Vatican II Latin Mass was, I feel that same sort of mystical quality in the Spanish Mass. Yes, I have almost no idea what they are saying, but how they are saying it sounds beautifully mystical. I’ve been attending Mass every few days now for a month, and all but two were completely in Spanish, (exception German:1, English:1). The Cathedral is no different except the part where they tell us not to come forward for communion unless we are a Catholic. The “husher” (what I called the head usher who spoke to us) they did that in English. I mostly obeyed. Actually at the last Mass before I flew out, the husher told us communion was only for baptized believers in Christ who were in good standing with the Church, but this time he said nothing about which church…so forward I went.

Butafumerio at rest.

The butafumerio at rest (before Mass)

I had seen the butafumerio (meaning smoke expeller in Galician) in the movie The Way, and read about this large incense ball sometimes swung at the conclusion of Mass. The Cathedral began using the butafumerio in the 14c to mask the smell of the stinky, unwashed pilgrims. These same pilgrims were given new clothes once they burned their smelly pilgrim ones on the roof of the Cathedral. My guidebook said the butafumerio only swung on Friday evenings, and holy days.


The eight men in red robes who swing the butafumerio are called tiraboleiros. (Galician for “turifer”, or “incense carrier”)

When I arrived in Pamplona, I toyed with the herculean effort of reaching Santiago on a Friday just to see it swing. Turns out, each of the five Mass’ I attended (Mon-Wed), the butafumerio swung and each time it made me laugh in delight, and wonder in awe. What must it have been like 600 years ago for the simple true pilgrims? I loved going to worship, altogether going seven times over my three nights there. It was a bit of a busman’s holiday, but in worship, I felt at home, and there was nowhere else I wanted to be.


The butafumerio begins to swing after being lit and let go

The first few times, I took a lot of pictures of the butafumerio, I didn’t know when I would see it swing again, but by the last time I just watched its mighty swing and saw so much more of its beauty.



at the top of its arc, it is a foot or so from the ceiling

I wondered about the tension between watching life unencumbered, and viewing it through the lens of a cell phone or camera. See more; remember less. But its those pictures that trigger the stories, but at what cost?



The butafumerio is well documented

Each swing of the butafumerio is well documented.