Rhino (the SUV) New Home – day 4

Steve is driving our beloved SUV, Rhino, to her new home in Liberia with Joey and Cyrus. This is the final day of their adventure.

Day 4 - Rhino's Last Adventure.

Day 4 of Rhino’s Last Adventure

DAY 4 – AT THE LIBERIAN BORDER  After a surprisingly restful night in the otherwise unremarkable VIP Guest House, we were up and at the Liberian Border early.


The front porch view from the VIP Guesthouse

It was not an efficient process. Later, another vehicle joined us, Côte d’Ivoire bound but having the same trouble we were.  At one point it looked like our process needed a little “help” and some rectangular colored paper was pushed under the stack of dusty paper on the officer’s desk.  Enraged, the officer became, indignant that we would dare to attempt a bribe. He is animated, loud and takes the slips of colored paper and slaps them down, threatening to arrest us.  Somehow, a few more slips of paper end up in the stack, and all is forgiven.  So it wasn’t the concept of an inducement that upset him, just the size of it.

The Border.

On the left is the actual border.  FYI – photography is officially prohibited…unless you’re snapping a picture of guinea fowl…then it is OK.

“Was that a bribe?” I asked Joey as we walk out?  “No, that was a service fee,” he said. Working at the University, where bribes are forbidden unless your life is at risk is a condition of employment.  It has left me rusty, and unable to perceive the grey lines of this funny business.    We are told to bring our bags to be searched, but then they are not searched and we put them back in the car.  Joey’s immigration book is still MIA.  Its the book where Liberia stamps entry/exit instead of in your passport and the officer we met last night is holding it until we finish, and we figure he hopes that we will attempt to gain his favor by some monetary means.




breakfast at the Liberian border.

Today its sweetbread for breakfast.

An hour later and we’re standing around eating sweet cornbread with all the officers, while we wait.  In fact, everyone is chewing this bread with their mouth open and smiling at each other.  Its a funny sight, our progress, already at a nearly imperceptible crawl, has come full stop while everyone chews their cornbread.

Cornbread finished, we all wipe the crumbs from our face, and the process is suddenly finished.  Joey takes the papers to get his immigration book and slips him something.

When he returns, I ask: “Was that a bribe?”  “No, that was a shakedown, and we’re about to see a lot more,” Joey says.

RED X - NGOs that left either during the war, or Ebola

An NGOs signboard has a big red X on it, meaning no longer active in Liberia due to war or ebola.

Along the way we see a disturbing number of defunct NGO signboards with a red X, meaning no longer active.  First the war, and then Ebola, and NGO’s left.

Three hours of potholes and we are at Jackie’s Guesthouse, our yesterday goal, enjoying some delicious shawarmas and a cold coke.


Menu Specials at Jackie’s

We’re on a good tar road for the next four hours, and Cyrus drives the whole way.  The only hiccup is an immigration check that goes badly, not because we’ve done anything wrong, but because they see an opportunity.

Cyrus - the driver

Cyrus – our Liberian Driver.

Sometimes a bribe is to get around the law, like you’ve been caught speeding, and the bribe helps an officer look the other way.  But we have followed the spirit and letter of the law. Sometimes a bribe is to give or receive more favorable treatment, as in jump the queue (or line), like when you’re in a hurry.  The airlines call this priority boarding, but we are the only ones at the checkpoint, so there is no line to jump.  This is extortion, pure and simple.   I stay in the car, while Joey goes off to see what the snag is.  I’ve found it helpful to stay in the car and stay out of it.  I don’t know the culture and could only screw things up, worse than they are already screwed up.

Joey and Cyrus hop back in the car.  “Lets Go!” Joey says.  Cyrus plays with his phone, and he is the driver.  No movement.  “Lets GO,” Joey says with more urgency.  Nothing.  I’m not sure what happened out there, but it can’t be good.  “LETS. GO. NOW!” and that gains Cyrus’ attention.  Joey is looking behind, like we’re in the getaway car, and he just robbed a bank.  Extortion is like that I guess, but moments later we pass through the checkpoint without incident or burning rubber.


On the nice Tar Road, finally.

As we near the coast, we enter Firestone’s rubber plantations.  Miles and miles of rubber trees.  This is the second largest rubber plantation in the world, and it is huge.

Rubber trees in the Firestone Plantation

Rubber trees in the Firestone Plantation.

Rubber Trees – driving through the Firestone Plantation.

For the next four hours there are no stops, and twelve hours after this morning at the border, we pull into Joey’s home. His family is more than ready to have him back.  Love and kisses all around, and I’m relieved.  My prayers were answered, it was a boring day. We made it, and so did Rhino.

Monkey Apples, AKA Lychee is a delicious roadside snack

I have a few relaxing days with his family.  There are morning devotions, going to the beach for sunset, and catching up on the maintenance that didn’t happen while Joey and Cyrus were gone.  They are a delightful family, and so welcoming.

Kerry leading daily devotions with staff.  "Why?!" she asks.


Every workday begins with devotions, led by Kerry

Kerry and Joey's Family on their beautiful beach.

Sunset on their beautiful beach

On Friday, its a quick boat trip across the river, and I’m picked by Johanass, a TMS-Global colleague of ours, who drives me to the airport and I fly easily back to Ghana.


Tomorrow begins the final push to pack up and leave Ghana…in one week!  I am happy to know Rhino has a good new family with Joey and Kerry.  They promise to let us know how he is doing.

Rhino’s New Family



Field testing the bumper one last time.  Little known fact, that stainless steel bumper is all for show, its held on by two thin strips of metal.

[The rest of the family]

Rhino (the SUV) Crossing into Liberia – day 3

Day 3 – Steve, Joey, and Cyrus are on a 4-day road trip from Ghana to Liberia driving our SUV (Rhino) to her new home.  Today we cross the Liberian border, and cross “The Bridge”. 


Day 3 – The journey to Liberia

The 5am Breakfast was a Lie – It was an amateur mistake; I should have known better than ask the hotel for a 5am breakfast.  They agreed, but then I could have been asking for a new Range Rover and they would have still agreed.  People want to be accommodating and agreeable, even if there is absolutely no intent to provide what was agreed to.  But we were sucked into their willingness instead of purchasing the breakfast supplies the night before. Amateurs.


Early morning roads

At 5am I head down to the lobby expecting breakfast and wake up the night guard, who wakes up the night manager, who wakes up the day manager, and none of them are willing to help with anything as minor as a bottle of water let alone the promised breakfast.  Complete unwillingness, and no apology.  So we leave the wide boulevards of Yamoussoukro hangry, thirsty and not-yet caffeinated.  Its 5am, in the closing days of Ramadan (so no shops that serve food are open), and the next town is a pot-hole laced two-hour dark drive away.  Its a good test of Rhino’s shocks, and Joey’s evasive driving skills.


Early morning traffic

Somewhere during this section, a pothole knocks lose a front brake caliper, which sounds like a bushing, so there is a pretty much constant ringing rattle ever time Rhino hits a pothole, reminding us that a breakdown out here would be catastrophic.


Town traffic jam

As wide and perfect as yesterday’s road between the capital cities of Abidjan and Yamoussoukro, today’s roads are terrible.  Potholes evenly, but randomly scattered at the perfect distance to get up to speed before having to slow down again and hit them.  Then there is the southbound traffic, fighting over the same territory in a game of pothole chicken, either we hit each other or the huge pothole.  Joey calls it the African Slalom and we swerve and veer from side to side dodging holes, goats, and oncoming traffic.


First Breakfast – To make matters worse, our CFA (West African Franc) is running low, and refueling (us or the SUV) is going to be a challenge. Another amateur mistake.  Our longest day is not starting out well.  In Manoufra-Sinfra we manage to find a non-working ATM, but its next to an open bakery, so we have fresh, warm baguettes for breakfast.  Its 9am and we think we are making good time.


Baguettes for first breakfast

Second Breakfast – In Issia, we find a working ATM, refuel Rhino, and find a hotel that, after some convincing,  is willing to make us a breakfast of eggs, bread, and coffee.   It will be our last meal until 10pm, but we don’t know that yet, confident we’ll reach Jackie’s Guest House in Liberia by 3pm.


Ivorian Second Breakfast is Served


Breakfast for Rhino – Refueling in Issia

I get an FB message (somehow mobile wifi is still working) warning us that Man (pronounced MON) is not safe.

we heard about Man was on the main driving road cars were being stopped and people robbed. So just go at a busy time of traffic and that should be better. … You are familiar and West-Africa-wise, so I know you and your driving mates will be fine!”


On the Man by-pass, Cyrus is driving

So we take the Man bypass and drive past the campus of The University of Man (aka U de Man).  Its 2pm by the time we reach Danane, the last Ivorian town of any measure before Liberia.  Even though we think its only two hours more, we top up the diesel, and ask directions, not completely trusting Google Maps.  I’m a beta-tester for the next version of Google maps, and so far this new version has been pretty good.  That is about to all change.


Chinese road to Guinea

There is a main road between Danane to Liberia, but for some reason, we get on the new road to Guinea.  Its a huge Chinese construction project, but we’re oblivious, feeling super confident that we could have driven Rhino from South Africa.  We are that good.  We’re cocky and feeling a bit disappointed the road trip has been so uneventful.  After the detour/diversion, or dérivation (in French), we mistakenly turn right toward Guinea instead of left toward Liberia, and thus completely miss the direct road out of Danane, but Google maps, the fine people of Danane directed us another way, by bush road.


Bush road to Liberia – following a TroTro carrying a sofa & two men off the back

The bush road starts out nice, we’re following a TroTro that has two men holding a large plastic sheet over a sofa, hanging off the back, and holding down a billowed sail.  It is raining and as we follow, we see them getting drenched.  I pass the TroTro, but hardly notice how much the distinction between where the bush ends and the road goes has disappeared.


Bush road in the rain

We stop at a few Ivorian border checks.  This should be where our passports get stamped as to leave Cote d’Ivoire, but its more Joey talking them out of arresting us and takes over the driving.


Last Ivorian check point near the border.  Guard: Why didn’t you use the other road?  Joey: Wait, you mean there is another road?!!!

Then we come to The Bridge.  I’m not sure I should really call it a bridge, more of a linear collection of river driftwood lined up with the road.  If you ever played the game Pick-up Sticks, jackstraws, or spillikins,  it was the bridge looks like, at the beginning play when you drop a handful of sticks.


The “Bridge”

The mud is deep on either side and we see where previous vehicles have gotten deeply stuck while turning around.  We carefully pick our way across the sticks and are encouraged to see vehicle tracks on the other side.  A bunch of kids appears out of the bush to watch.


“Do cars come across this bridge?” I ask and they laugh at me.

Video: “Do cars come across this bridge?” I ask and they laugh at me.  [VIDEO of Kids]

Joey and I decide Cyrus should drive.   Joey says he is the best bush driver, but it makes us look like we passing the danger to him (we are).  We play pick-up sticks with the planks of wood, and re-arrange them to allow a more continuous path of crossing.

Video: Cyrus driving Rhino across the bridge [VIDEO of Crossing]

Cyrus puts it in 4-wheel drive and scampers Rhino across the bridge. Joey and I jump out of the way as she passes, spinning mud. She ain’t stopping.  The kids cheer as we drive away off to find the Liberian border outpost.


Liberian Border outpost, see the Liberian Flag?

Its 4:45pm when we reach the Liberian border outpost.  It takes an hour to realize that they can’t stamp our passports, nor give us the paperwork to import a car to Liberia.  An officer hops in the car and Cyrus drives us the “45 minutes” (actually Liberian minutes, it took well over two hours).  Its quite dark now, the roads are worse than we have seen all day and this officer thinks the SUV is a time machine; we can traverse two hours of bone cracking potholes in one.  In the back seat, I’m thinking I’m sure glad this isn’t my SUV.


“Don’t make me get back in the car!” Steve shouts before 2 hours of bad roads to yet another Liberian border.

The officer takes us to the home of the commanding officer of the border, who radios ahead, telling them to expect us.  After 9pm, our passports are stamped, but not Rhino’s.  We have to stay the night and come back tomorrow.  Rhino is impounded. I’m actually relieved.  Even if Jackie’s Guest House was a 5-Star (it wasn’t’), I could not even manage the thought of another 3 hours on this dark, potholed, moonscape of a road.


The “VIP Guest House” – Didn’t find a review on TripAdvisor

The VIP Guest House was every bit of a $15/night hotel, and their hot dish of potato greens and rice, filling. It had been 10 hours since we last ate; 15 hours of hard driving today, so sleep was not long coming, even if Joey and I had to share a bed.

I fall asleep thinking we are safe, in Liberia and have had an adventure.  I pray tomorrow is boring and in a few brief moments of gratitude, I am fast asleep.

Read about Days 1 & 2:

– Rhino (the SUV) The Last Great Adventure – day 1

– Rhino (the SUV) Crossing the Ivory Coast border – day 2

Rhino (the SUV) Crossing the Ivory Coast border – day 2

Steve, Joey, and Cyrus are on a four-day adventure driving our SUV (Rhino) to Liberia. Today we crossed over into Ivory Coast.

Rhino the SUV came to us our first month after returning to Ghana in 2014. We were at church one Sunday when Suzanne mentioned it to Frances, who mentioned it to a friend who wasn’t using their SUV, and a few weeks later, the SUV was ours, and she came with a name: Rhino. We found the words of Moses true The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; (Deuteronomy 31.8, NIV) in this provision.

Rhino was a seven year old and all her maintenance had been done at the local Mitsubishi dealership. Dealership means parts are replaced with parts from Japan, shipped from Japan after one puts down a 30% deposit. This works great until a minor part of a major system goes, say like a bushing in the power steering goes out and the dealership wants to replace the whole assembly for $8000. That is when we started using John, the shade tree mechanic. John got her running, was inexpensive, didn’t require a month-out appointment, and quick, all qualities lacking in the dealership. Replacing the bushing and a number of other worn parts: $500 and Rhino never saw her friends at the dealership again.

We left Takoradi after a big American hotel breakfast and arrived at the Ivorian border before 10am. There was no line, 100s of overloaded and leaning trucks full of I don’t know what, but no line. There wasn’t much of a “border,” either, we could have driven through it, but were flagged down after we crossed and border patrol woke up. Ghana stamped our passports, and then we met Aziz.

[Steve & Joey at the Ghana border]

Aziz is a handler, who sort of speaks English and French, and seems to know everyone and the process. He checks our papers and then takes me to meet The Big Man. I don’t address The Big Man directly, but he speaks to Aziz, in a high pitched, rather feminine voice. His office walls display posters of the contraband that has been found, shotgun shells-under the floorboards; drugs-in the seats, small children-not sure how they were smuggled, Ivory tusks, and counterfeit money. I get some good ideas about where I could hide stuff if I turn to into the import business.

After looking at Rhino’s passport, our West African Insurance, my Ghana International drivers license, and passport, Big Man gives me a form, which Joey, Aziz, and Cyris all help me fill out downstairs. The form goes back to Big Man, then to the “typing pool”. The officer in charge is dead-ringer for Thomas Sankara, the founding father of Burkina Faso, the northern neighbor of Ghana and Ivory Coast.

[Thomas Sankara founder of Burkina Faso, and a dead ringer for the officer in charge]

I ask the officer if he knows Thomas Sankara, and he says in English “you mean I look like him?” I pull out my phone, find a picture, and pass it around. Everyone in the office looks at my phone, then at the officer, and nods, saying what I can assume is “that looks like him” in French. I think maybe this wasn’t a good idea in case Lt. Sankara wasn’t really killed, but in hiding, working in Ivorian border control.

The typist has stopped typing and started playing with his phone. Aziz motions to me, I motion back “what do I do?” He taps his pocket. I think back to the day before when Suzanne and I were on our morning walk and a guard–one we didn’t know–kept saying to us “My pocket is dry.” He is new, and not likely to last long if he keeps begging. Someone else will report him, but seeing Aziz tap his pocket, reminds me, and I understand, the typist’s pocket is also dry. A green 5000 CFA note is pulled out and when its only us in the room, Aziz slides over to his desk and slips it under a foot high stack of paper. He puts his phone down and starts typing.

“Was that a bribe?” I ask Joey later when we’re discussing what he missed. Its a question we will have many more occasions to ask this trip. This time we decided it was an expediting fee.

With the information entered, we accompany the printed form to Big Man again. Same process. Aziz knocks, we enter. He motions for me to sit, paperwork is handed to Big Man, who stops watching the TV to look at it, then shuffles the papers around on his desk, and then hands back to me whatever Aziz had given him. I’m sitting behind him and he holds out his hand without looking for me to take and then goes back to watching the telly. We exit quickly.

The paperwork is given a stamp, fees are paid, with a visit to Big Man between each iteration and then he signs it and we are on our way without paying a “processing fee”. We saw him six times, and I can only guess they have another arrangement.

At the final border checkpoint, it costs us a few more green 5000 CFA, and we are in Ivory Coast. We decide these were Thank You Gifts, you know for letting us enter their country.

[Aziz and Joey on the Ivorian side]

We pay Aziz about $25 which I consider a good deal. What do people without an Aziz do to navigate the process? Altogether Rhino cost us about $110 and takes less than an hour.

The roads in Ivory Coast are in great shape, at least the ones we travel today are. I think that is something I will take from our experience in West Africa, to never underappreciate a good road, and these roads are fantastic, and getting better.

[The wide roads]

The Ivorians have a different way of transporting cassava here, and all the trucks are packed identically. Joey is driving now. In Ghana, I did most of the driving as he did not have a license that would not attract attention. Here is Liberian one works fine, a fact we get to prove several times. With Joey driving it feels like we’re in a West African Twilight Zone, passing what looks like the same cassava truck about 100 times. They are just packed identically.

Ivorians do this thing called road maintenance, where when a road starts to fall apart…they send a crew to fix it. In Ghana, road maintenance is just as an alien concept as punctuality.

We drive past the large ships in the port of Abidjan and see in the distance the tall-tall buildings of downtown on express toll roads. There must be a problem with counterfeiting here because the ATMs give us 10,000 CFA notes, but nobody wants to break them and make change.

[tall buildings of downtown Abdijan]

We arrive in the administrative capital of Yamoussoukro around 4pm and easily find our hotel, one I’ve prebooked on Kayak. While its not as nice as Joey’s Best Western, it was a whole lot easier to find. We walk the wide streets of Yamoussoukro and see the new construction in the distance. There are signboards for hotels and restaurants, but when looking in we see these are hotels from the same chain as our third last night, unfinished.

[Ivorian chicken dinner]

Over an Ivorian dinner of chicken and rice, we make plans to leave tomorrow at 5am. It will be our longest, most challenging day, so the hotel has agreed to serve us an early breakfast. The challenge will be to make it across the border and into Liberia.

Rhino (the SUV) The Last Great Adventure – day 1

The last adventure of Rhino driving to Liberia

Suzanne and I are two days and a fortnight away from leaving our beloved Ghana, so while I should be helping Suzanne pack up, instead I’m taking our beloved SUV, called Rhino on one last Great Adventure. Actually, we’re giving it to our TMS Friends Joey and Kerry who served in Liberia, and Joey and I are driving it there along with Joey’s Liberian friend Cyrus.

[Rhino saying goodbye]

We had visited Joey and Kerry at Easter and saw their need for a 4×4 Family car.

[Joey took Steve and Suzanne kayaking…it was great fun in Liberia]

So on Friday, Joey and his Liberian son Cyrus flew in and we loaded up Rhino will all sorts of junk household items that we thought might be useful to their ministry.

On Saturday morning we set out for Liberia (Google Maps said it would be a day and two hours of driving).

[how Steve was really feeling “Don’t goooooo Rhino]

The drive was amazingly easy and quick, beaches that normally took us 3-4 hours (Till #1) took less than two.

[Joey, Joey wake up! —to be fair Joey had just learned he’d had malaria]

The traffic was small-small, and roads were in good better condition until we met Cape Coast, where we stopped for lunch at Coconut Grove.

[lots of butterfly and beautiful flowers]

After lunch, it was one long stop and go traffic jam all the way to Takoradi. We pulled into our first hotel, “Dan to be Lodge” which we picked because Joey just liked the name. Kayak, Hotels.com, and Booking.com all said there was available, but as we pulled into the very empty parking lot, the hotel manager came out to tell us, “We are full up.” Joey looks up to see no lights on in the Hotel, and I ask “Are you sure?”.

[The first day]

So off we go, to find a close hotel with a less interesting name, but the one we find had 100s of youth loitering around aimlessly. It is now quite dark, no streetlights, and a mile off the highway down a bad, dark road.

Not feeling it, I pick another hotel. Thoughts of that bad, dark were quickly forgotten as Google Maps took us down one lane streets village obstacle paths of drunks, small children, goats, and Ghanaian men talking on their cell phones. Again no street lights, as I dodge the random pedestrians oblivious to how close they had come to meeting their maker.

Next deep mud channels allowed me to show off Rhino’s unstoppable high clearance 4×4 ability and after that we hear those wonderful words from Google Maps:”You have Arrived!”

[I’m not kidding, “You have Arrived!” is what we heard when we pulled up to this]

It was a partially built building. This hotel had great reviews about the friendly staff and good food and those reviews were, I guess, all aspirational fake …the building wasn’t even finished yet.

“OK, I’m calling it,” Joey says and while I’m off taking pictures he programs Best Western into my phone. As I’m driving I realize that was pretty stupid of me getting out of the car to take pictures (for this blog). It would have been a great place to roll us.

Ten minutes later we’re all in our ridiculously comfortable rooms, falling asleep to thoughts and prayers about tomorrow’s border as Rhino prepares to cross over into Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast).

Steve’s Second Law: Mistakes & Learning Opportunities

“It’s only a mistake if you fail to learn something from it; otherwise it’s a learning opportunity.”

-Steve’s Second Law


FUMCAL Altar, circa 2004

The Cut Stone Altar of Foundation Church


This law came into being when I was a pastor in Temple, Texas and had a great program staff who liked to try new things in worship.  Sometimes they went well, sometimes not, but I wanted to be understanding of my staff’s effort to try something new, and not punish when it didn’t.  They would kick themselves just fine; I didn’t need to add to it.   I hoped fear would not impede creativity or progress.  So it wasn’t a mistake as much as it was an opportunity for learning.  Wouldn’t it be easier to be Presbyterian at this point? “I glad we got that out of the way,” as if whatever went terribly wrong had been predestined to happen.

One of the things that exhausts, or maybe the word is exacerbates me is this expectation of perfection in activity.  It seems rare anymore that people just do something because they like doing it. Instead they have to be the best, “Go big or go home,” I believe the expression goes.

Dad used to say,

 “If at first you don’t succeed, fail, fail again”

–Wesley F. Buchele

I like that iterative approach because I think we humans learn so much more from our mistakes, as long as they are new mistakes.  What I can’t abide is repeating the same mistake.



Ann Richards & Clayton Williams


 Photo Credit: The Texas Tribute


In 1990 Clayton Williams and Ann Richards ran for the open seat of the governor of Texas.  Right from the start Williams did well in the polls, and victory looked assured, but then there was a series of gaffes. Texas Monthly reports:

It was a rainy day in March, and the press had gathered at his ranch outside Midland to watch some cattle roping. When one of his hands mentioned to him that the reporters were getting restless, good ol’ boy Williams tried to make light of the situation by comparing bad weather to rape: “If it’s inevitable,” he said, “just relax and enjoy it.” After that comment appeared in print and went on to make national news, Williams’ twenty-point lead over Ann Richards plummeted, and she went on to beat him by a hair.

In between the joke, and election day there we other unhinged moments until a few days before the election Mr. Williams bragged about not paying taxes, and then it was over.

After the election, then Attorney General Jim Maddox remarked:

“I can understand a man shooting himself in the foot; what I can’t understand is Why Keep Reloading?”

My point is, it is not a mistake if we learn something from it, but emptying the chamber into your own foot, and then reloading?  Einstein was wrong, insanity isn’t doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results, stupidity is.  But what is worse is not even trying for fear of screwing it up, because it is those screw-ups that make the journey interesting.

Goat crossing bridge, Berekuso

Will I learn something if I cross this bridge?


In his latest book What Is the Bible?, Rob Bell does a wonderful job of reimagining something St. Paul wrote to the Ephesian church

“to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ”

–St. Paul

He explains that to bring unity can be unpacked to something like–and I’m not really doing justice to Rob Bell–the pleasure God receives in the retelling or reimagining our story.  This unity comes from the LORD knowing all that has happened and seeing its structure as a whole, in the ways our successes and especially our failures led to the person/people we have become today.  Donald Miller of Blue Like Jazz fame wrote”

“Stories have pre-decided plots as opposed to a random series of events.”

–Donald Miller, How to Tell a Story.

He continues:

I’ve realized the films Tommy Boy, Star Wars: A New Hope, The Hunger Games and even Moneyball are basically, at their bones, the same plot. Simply plug in different characters and different dilemmas while keeping the same form and you’ve got a winning structure for a story.

The thing is, God sees the unity of our structure, the pre-decided plot, that feels from our point of view, like a series of random events, successes, and failures.  I suppose that pre-decided plot could be seen as predestination, but for the different characters and different dilemmas.



My second law states that mistakes are not always mistakes, they can be learning opportunities,  but that depends on intent going into it.  Lets take popcorn, for example.  In the Buchele household, popcorn is serious business, especially on Sunday nights–movie night–when it goes by another name: dinner.


cooking oil: neutral tasting, like sunflower seed oil

1.5 cups of popcorn

1 teaspoon salt

turmeric (optional)

In a large heavy bottom stock pot, pour enough oil to cover the bottom with 1/16 inch (1.5mm).  Drop three kernels of popcorn into the pot, cover and place on burner on high.  Wait until you hear kernels pop.  Turn fire off, and remove from stove. Add the rest of the popcorn and wait 30-45 seconds.  This slowly heats up all the kernels so they mostly all pop. 

I learned this technique from Dick Waterbury, or I should say, from his family after the dear man died suddenly when I was a pastor in Georgetown.  For the Waterbury Family, popcorn was serious business too.  I remember more than one story being told about Dick’s amazing popcorn.  “So how did he make such amazing popcorn?” I asked. 

Dick’s method involved warming the cold popcorn first before applying full-fire.   Often I will sprinkle 1 teaspoon of turmeric, atop the popcorn.  Turmeric adds a nice butter yellow color to the popped corn, and its good for the liver.

While waiting for the popcorn to pop, use a mortar and pestle or coffee/spice grinder to make salt dust.   The salt dust uses less salt and provides a much more uniform coating of salt to the popcorn.

When enough popcorn has popped, say 5-8 inches/20cm, remove the cover and let steam escape as the corn continues to pop.  Trapped steam makes the popped corn tough and chewy instead of crisp and crunchy.

When no popping sound is heard for 10 seconds, remove immediately and pour popped corn into a large bowl and stir. Popcorn will continue to cook in the pot and burn.   In three batches, sprinkle salt dust, stir popcorn well, sprinkle, stir…

Serve and taste perfection.

Is perfection (like this) overrated?   I know it seems like a lot of trouble, but it is really above average good, and once you have had popcorn this good, Could it a mistake to make it any other way?

No–if you are trying to further improve on the perfection of popcorn, i.e. fail, fail again.

Yes — if it all seems like too much trouble, you are too lazy, don’t like dirtying two pans, or don’t care.  Microwave popcorn is pretty good too.  We can’t all be the Picasso of Popcorn.

I guess the mistake vs learning opportunity comes down to intent.  The unexamined error is most likely a mistake, but that mistake could be transformed into a learning opportunity by examination.   What can I learn from this, or the why did this happen.  The intent to learn as opposed “oh, well,” “my bad,” “oops.”

“The unexamined life,” Socrates wrote, “it not worth living,” which seems a little harsh, but maybe that is what the living of life is, an examination of what the universe hopes to teach us and when we fear to make mistakes or refuse to examine them, it is as if we are closing our mind off to learning; pushing ourselves away from the table of knowledge saying “thanks, I’m full; I’ve had enough.”

“It’s only a mistake if you fail to learn something from it; otherwise it’s a learning opportunity.”


Steve’s First Law: Three Buckets


The “township” of Berekuso during harmattan.

I grew up in a house where observations about life were often postulated on, eventually turning into theorems and finally laws.  Not like the laws enacted by our legislature, more like the laws of nature.  From time to time Dad would publish his:


Buchele’s Laws of Machines, 1965-1967

Buchele Law of Agricultural Machines, 1969

Buchele Laws of Soil & Plant Dynamics, 1984, 1999

Buchele Laws of Production Agriculture, 1986

An example of one of Dad’s formal laws comes from 1969:

“Any operation performed by human hands can be performed by a machine or series of machines.”[1]

Dad had lots of informal laws, or proverbs, as we called them. Students and faculty at ISU knew where he was in the semester of a certain field tillage course when they heard “It is a SIN TO PLOW!” echo down the hallways of Davidson Hall.  Another was

“The educated mind resists returning to its original state of ignorance,”

meaning that as a college educated person, it was your responsibility to use that education, and continue it, lest your mind return to its original state of ignorance.  And finally one I repeat almost weekly, when I see students underperforming:

“A college education is the one thing people will pay good money for and be happy not to receive!”



Dad & Steve in front of his childhood home

When I went off to college Dad told me “Stay in school until you meet the woman you want to spend the rest of your life with.”  Of course, Dad didn’t anticipate it would take me three years to find that woman, and another three to convince her to spend the rest of her life with me but all I can say is it has been the best advice I’ve ever received.

and finally,

“A poor plan well executed far exceeds a good plan poorly executed.”

and my first corollary, Perfect is the enemy of done.

I know this is a paraphrase of something Paton said, but much more elegant and to the point.

This tradition of laws was continued by my brother Rod, and Rod’s Laws became a staple 4H Clubs across the Midwest and a first-year Leadership seminar at a small University in Africa. Just yesterday in class I quoted Rod:

“When you invite everyone, you invite no one,”[2]

Rod would say when he heard a church or 4-H leader say “and everyone is invited.”  Rod understood a lot about the process and reality of how humans interacted with each other, as demonstrated in his First Law:

“When you do not set expectations, you have to take whatever you get.”[3]

The better I understand, and make my expectations clear, the better my students seem to do.  If they don’t meet my expectations, I ask myself in the postmortem, did I set expectations, and communicate them well?  Usually not.   It was Rod who introduced me to many of the great Leadership texts, and his wisdom that guided so much of my university teaching content.


Rod was the MC for Dad’s 90th Birthday

So it seemed natural (especially after my sister Beth prompted me)  that someday I would write my “Steve’s Laws,” which if you have worked with me, or been my student, you have heard.

Steve’s Laws

First Law:  “The Law of Three Buckets”

In life, all meaningful relationships will end up in one of these three buckets,

  1. a bucket for work relationships
  2. a bucket for your friends/family
  3. a bucket for your spiritual life/faith relationships

Each bucket needs a place to get refilled, the faith bucket at worship; the friendship bucket, with friends and family; and the work (or meaning) bucket as we follow our calling. The problem comes when we start combining buckets, say all our set of close friends come from work, but then something happens at the office and there are relationship problems, workplace conflict (type workplace into an internet search engine and it autocompletes to workplace conflict).   What happens to those friendships when people start choosing sides? In this example, the work and friendship buckets were combined and when something happened in work bucket, the friends’ bucket was contaminated too.

Combining two buckets is dangerous, combining three is lethal, and therein is the problem with work in the church. Too often, we church workers combine our three buckets, we work at the church, our friends are at the church, and our faith is fed in church.  What happens in the other buckets when an unpopular decision needs to be made, one that will affect our friends?  Will we have the courage to do what is right for the institution, and make a decision our friends won’t agree with (and most likely will take personally, and take out on us).  When one bucket goes bad, they all go bad.

From personal experience I know when Suzanne and I combined our three buckets, it felt great initially;  when we filled one bucket, all three buckets were filled, friendship, faith, and work. But then something happened, or to put it another way, someone pooped in a bucket.  The bucket began to stink, and the others too.  The work at church stinks, and our friends are angry with me too, and the place we fed our faith, also stinks. Someone pooped in the bucket, and because the three buckets were one, they all stank.

So my advice is to keep three sets of unique buckets.  Have your church friends but let them be different than your work friends, and keep another set of friends in an air-gapped, distinct bucket.  We did that by having out of town Jewish friends; no chance of them joining my church.

It is not a matter of if poop will appear in a bucket, but when, and when it does, wouldn’t it be great if at least one of them didn’t get some stink in it? In those times, it’s only the non-stinky bucket that provides the support we pastors and church staff need to get us through the current poop producing crisis. But working in the church[4] it is hard to keep the buckets distinct, therein lies the problem.


On the “road” to the Traditional Palace, we see the University campus watching over all.

I don’t know how much to say about how our buckets here in Ghana. On one hand, its been easy to keep the buckets distinct, as we live on campus and the city is an hour plus away, so keeping the work bucket separate has been easy.  It also means the other buckets are mostly empty.  When we do make the trek into town, our faith and friends buckets get recharged, but that requires intentionality and a long drive.


Next up: A law about the relationship between mistakes and learning opportunities.

Note: Parts of this post were drawn from earlier posts to my blog

2006 – Three Buckets: http://buchele.blogspot.com/2006/11/my-weekend-with-emmanuel-day-1.html

2017 – Buchele Laws: https://servinginghana.wordpress.com/2017/09/25/an-obituary-for-wes-buchele/

2015 – Rod Buchele: http://buchele.blogspot.com/2015/04/honoring-my-big-brother-rod.html



[1] Buchele Laws of Agricultural Machines, First Law, 1969, in Laws and Models: Science, Engineering, and Technology By Carl W. Hall; also in ISU archives: http://findingaids.lib.iastate.edu/spcl/arch/rgrp/9-7-52.pdf
[2] Rod Buchele Law #3, N.D.
[3] Rod Buchele Law #1, N.D.
[4] by “church” I mean any institution that humans manage.

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.