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:

2017 – Buchele Laws:

2015 – Rod Buchele:



[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:
[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.


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.

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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!”

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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.

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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)