Thursday, November 06, 2008

Captured by Facebook

Here's the reason that I have not posted in a long time: I started a Facebook account. There is only so much time in a day and my online social networking time is now spent there. This morning I am going in for surgery (removal of a hand bone that is causing problems), so maybe I can use some "sick" time to catch up a bit.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Possible job change

I am thinking of some changes. Take a look at the video and tell me what you think.
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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Graduation in Kenya

One of the other representatives of Wayland Baptist University just gave me some of the photos he took while in Kenya. This is a closeup of Bella, the leopard that we saw while on safari. She has been the subject of National Geographic specials before. She was resting in a tree when this photo was taken. Click on her photo to see it larger.

One of the big events in Kenya was the graduation of eight students with a BA degree. Here is the lineup as we prepared to march to the field where the tents were set up.

These are the graduates trying their best to all smile at the same time. It was a challenge. We are standing on the grounds of the Brackenhurst International Conference Center. Yes, it stays this green all year long.

Oh, yeah, the Dr. Wayland thing. Well, I backed out, which turned out to be a smart move. The students all crowded around the plaza for the ceremonies and no one further than five or six rows back could see anything. Plus, the sound system was way inadequate; it would have been necessary for "Dr. Wayland" to hold the microphone right at his mouth. And this was all done in front of the new statue of Dr. Wayland that was just unveiled. Imagine acting the part of a character whose nearly double-life-size statue was behind you. Yeah.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Honoring Dr. Wayland

This year, the university for which I work celebrates its one hundredth year of continuous existence. The school was started by a medical doctor who had moved to the South Plains area of Texas for the dry weather (he had asthma). Among the activities planned to celebrate the centennial is the portrayal of Dr. Wayland at the meetings of various civic groups in the area and at some of our remote campuses. The centennial committee has asked me to be one of the actors to play the part. My first opportunity will be next Wednesday when students gather around a newly placed statue of Dr. Wayland for the chapel service. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Kazuri bead factory

One of the places that we visited with the college students was a bead and pottery factory which employs hundreds of women. It is not a sweatshop; the women are extremely grateful for the work as the company provides health benefits as well as school uniforms for the workers' children. They are all single mothers living in the Karen area near Nairobi and this factory is a place which pays living wages. Some of the women who work here walk miles to work each day; it is worth it to them. Kazuri Beads was started in 1975 as a project to develop employment opportunities for Kenyan women who had limited job skills. At first they imported clay from England and sold products locally. Today they process local clay and sell globally. A huge dry-erase board serves to chart orders indicating how many thousands of beads are needed each day.

When visitors stop by the factory, they are given a brief tour. The first stop is the machinery which mixes and prepares the clay. Bars of freshly pressed clay are stacked up to be taken to the women inside the shop. Next one enters the bead-making portion of the factory. This is a large series of rooms filled with tables where scores of women sit doing specialized tasks. Some are rolling clay into beads according to specific patterns. Others apply glaze in patterns and colors corresponding to the hand-written lists in front of them. Still others string beads into earrings, bracelets, and necklaces to create the final products listed for shipment that day. Between these three stages, the beads are fired (cooked) and cooled, sometimes several times.

The penultimate stop was the pottery production area. Fewer workers are involved in this process and many of the pots are created by men. Firing the pots takes several days and the number of patterns available are necessarily limited.

Of course, the last stop was the gift shop where one could see thousands of combinations of beads. While it is possible to buy loose beads, the greatest number of sales are of pieces already made up, either individually or in sets. The girls in our group spent many minutes considering and consulting before making their purchases.

Most of the women who work at Kazuri Beads were cheerful, at least in our presence. They chatted with one another, but kept busy. Our tour guide encouraged us to keep moving. I suppose that frequent conversations with visitors would hamper production. But the women were always glad to show us what they were doing. They produce some beautiful handwork. Cat is delighted to own some necklaces and bracelets from this community-minded enterprise. You can buy Kazuri beads online, but there is nothing like seeing the shop in person.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

More animals

A parade of wildebeests observes our caravan with some suspicion.

When rains come to the Masai Mara, the zebras and wildebeests migrate with gazelles, impalas, etc., northward into Kenya. Zebras travel in herds but the wildebeests tend to form long trains. Sometimes you can't see the beginning or the end of the line. Wildebeests look to me like they were put together by a committee. When they run, it is a loping gait, so you see horns and heads bobbing up and down through the line. Because these herbivores migrate, the carnivores follow them.

Gazelles are slim and swift. We didn't see many of them this time, but I think our driver was looking for the more dramatic animals for us to see.

Our driver took us to a bend in the river where hippos congregate. Here is Cat standing near our Masai guide with hippos in the background.

Unfortunately, the hippos were not particularly interested in putting on a display. They submerged for about a minute before surfacing with a blast from their nostrils. Here is one that yawned for us--facing the opposite direction, of course. Every evening the hippos clamber up the river banks to graze in the savanna. Typically each animal will tuck away 100 pounds of grass a night. So the river is where they catch up on sleep. This is the safest time of day to observe them because they can be vicious when coming out of the water. Maybe it's because they are hungry.

These zebras are carrying along some birds that remove the lice and other pests from their backs. The birds are yellow-billed oxpeckers. Yeah. Zebras when threatened will gather and mill around. The stripes help them confuse the predator by making it difficult to distinguish one individual. We saw a number of foals whose coloring tended to be reddish brown rather than black. Note that no two zebras have identical markings. You did note that, didn't you?

You might think that lions and leopards were most dangerous to humans, but it is the cape buffalo which can be most threatening. They just don't think twice about attacking.

While the others in our group looked for big animals, I was fascinated with the birds. The martial eagle is Africa's largest. This one is probably a female, exhibiting more of a brown color than the males. We saw several of these perched on treetops. I did see a couple in the air, but they were far away. This bird has a wingspan of about 6 feet and can take down an impala.

Here is an eland, the largest antelope in Africa. We only saw one of these on this trip.

It was very nice to come across this group of lionesses and their cubs. We watched them nap for a while. One of the cubs (the one in the center) played with a stick, but could not arouse the interest of any playmates. But he entertained us.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Seeing the animals

If you go to Africa, you have to see the animals, no matter what the original purpose for your trip. After all, God gave us this great variety of animals on the planet; we ought to view and appreciate what God has done. Our team did this on a couple of occasions. Trips to see the animals became the bookends for our Kenya experience this year.

The first opportunity was on the Saturday after we first arrived in Kenya. The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust maintains an animal orphanage which focuses on orphaned elephants. Visit at noon and you can observe the feeding of the little pachyderms plus learn tons of information from the affable, experienced handlers. The babies are not terrified of people and will come up to the crowd looking for interaction. One learns quickly that squatting before a baby elephant is an invitation to play, and they think that play involves pushing. It's good not to wear your finest clothes when you make this trip.

Next we stopped off at the twiga farm. Well, at least that's what I call it. I can't remember the official name, but it is a preserve for a certain type of giraffe. The crowds love to feed these majestic beasts with long, sticky, purple tongues. Some of the giraffes have learned to open their mouths so visitors can throw nuggets of animal feed in. The giraffes approach visitors strictly for the food. To get a good photo of a giraffe head near your face, you have to turn your back on the animal and hold food out in front of you so the giraffe's head comes over your shoulder.

We ended our experience in Kenya with a safari to the Masai Mara, a massive wildlife preserve in southwest Kenya. This savanna continues south into neighboring Tanzania where it is known as the Serengeti. Normally the herds of wildebeests and zebras migrate north (into Kenya) with the start of the rainy season in August. But the rains started early this year, so there were plenty of animals to be seen. We saw lions (very close) and a leopard (who just finished a meal), hippos (mostly submerged) and giraffes (with babies), elephants, wildebeests, zebras, hyena, gazelles, impalas, topis, and one eland. I will just display a few photos to give you an idea. Click on any of the photos in this post to see a larger version.

Oh, yeah, did I mention the birds? Here's a male ostrich.

Next post I will display some more animal photos.

Sunday, August 03, 2008


I have never met students so earnest, so willing to persevere, so intent on mastering a subject as the Kenyans who completed the requirements for a Bachelor of Arts degree offered by Wayland Baptist University through the Kenya Baptist Theological College in Limuru. The eight who graduated and were awarded diplomas on July 25 inspired praise and admiration from their fellow students, their teachers, and Baptist officials who attended the ceremonies. I have heard a number of student speakers at graduations through the years, but I never heard a speech like the one delivered by Francis Midega, graduating summa cum laude.

Francis described the changes in his life as a result of his studies, changes that impacted the congregation among whom he ministers. Then he spoke of what was missing. He rebuked KBTC administrators for limiting the educational experiences. He demanded to know why more women students were not encouraged to seek advanced education (two of the eight graduates were women). He challenged the moderator of the Baptist Convention of Kenya to address the fact that so few churches had called female ministers into leadership. This is a young man determined to see education make a difference in Kenya.

On Sunday, six of us Americans were finishing up a safari (more about that later) when we decided to accept our driver's offer to take us to a Masai village. Of all the people groups in Kenya, the Masai are most resistant to change. They have not adopted western clothing or living structures; they do not live in cities or have an overarching tribal governance structure. While some Masai have left their villages for education or for work as guards, many still live in traditional villages. Here you see the young men of the small village we visited. The one in blue (named John) is the son of the chief; he conducted a tour for us after collecting 1000 Kenya shillings (about $15 US) from each person. This money goes into a community fund to pay for teachers and health care.

The life of a Masai village revolves around cattle. The men tend them out in the savanna and bring them back into the village compound every night. The Masai drink cow's milk and cow's blood. For special events (three or four times a month), they will slaughter a cow for the meat. The women fetch water and firewood and build the houses, using dirt and cow manure to plaster the walls. They take care of the children and the cooking. More and more Masai are becoming monogamous, but one can still encounter men with several wives. In such a case, each wife will have a house and the husband will sleep in the houses on a rotation.

In the village we visited, the women displayed their beadwork as well as some items the men had carved. The income from sales of these items helps provide for community needs. The children are sent to a school where they learn Swahili and English. There were Christians in the village we visited; some of them had gone to church, a walk of about thirty minutes. John declared himself to be a Christian and we promised to pray for each other.

I have just found out that on the Thursday when our team was finishing up the Bible school in Gachie, a gang of about ten Kenyan men attacked a group of Dutch volunteers who were rebuilding a school (see this news article). Besides robbing the volunteers and the Kenyans with whom they were working, the thugs raped five of the Dutch women. As I reported in a previous post, one member of our team had been held at gunpoint on Monday.

So these days illustrate the different approaches by Kenyans to the strife, fear, and disease that menace the country. The Thursday thugs have adopted an anarchic "survival of the most violent" approach. The Friday graduates have opted for increased education and social concern. And the Sunday Masai have decided to withdraw into tradition. Which way will ultimately prevail in Kenya?

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Education in Kenya

When we informed the schools in Gachie West that we would be around for the next few days, they invited us to speak to the children. The primary school (elementary through junior high) planned for an hour-long assembly. We thought we would be in an auditorium with a stage and electricity for the CD player. Yeah, right. When we pulled up in the matatu (minivan), students in red school uniforms started waving and coming over to shake hands. The bell rang and from all over the campus, children scurried to gather around the flagpole in the central yard. We were introduced to the principal who accompanied us to the meeting area. As we approached, the six hundred or so kids began waving and cheering. They formed a huge ring through which we passed to be introduced by the principal as follows: "These are Americans who have come to talk with you today."

Put yourself there. Surrounded by students who may never have seen someone from your country up close. You can say anything you want. You have an hour and no props. Go.

As previously posted, we sang and taught songs to them and took turns telling Bible stories using each other (and even the principal and an accompanying pastor) as the characters. When we asked for questions, they would shyly raise their hands, then duck in a fit of giggles if called on. I wound up being the de facto leader of our group, being the mzee (old man). I explained why we had come to Kenya and what we were doing just down the street. I gave a brief summary of the gospel. Then we sang our "Love, love" song and the assembly was over. The kids mobbed us. Each of us on the team must have shaken thirty or forty hands before the crowd began to dissipate in response to the clanging bell and orders from the teachers.

The principal wanted to talk with our team. He was a friend of Vincent, our host. They are both concerned about the physical as well as educational needs of the children in this community. The school has planted some trees and a few vegetables as part of the science classes. I urged the principal to establish a children's garden for which the children themselves could be responsible and from which they might produce enough food to provide meals for the poorer children. We suggested that the schools and the local churches develop a working, cooperative plan that would involve the community in preschool health and education. I promised that if they did, I would look for funding from the US. We prayed in the principal's office.

The next stop was the secondary (high) school where we had two hours with the freshmen class. They were seated in a single classroom and we sat behind a table. The students, though shy at first, were articulate and finally started asking questions which revealed a deeper level of interest than simply American entertainment figures (Michael Jackson is still very popular here). We discussed the value of a democracy and tough issues that these children face. They listed poverty, drugs, tribalism, and government corruption as being disruptive influences in their lives. One fellow, knowing that we were Christians, asked "Why is there suffering?" Others asked about the origins of HIV and AIDS. A boy asked me, "Why do some Americans call our people 'gorillas'?" It was a good two-hour discussion and they sat patiently, manifesting remarkable attention for fourteen-year-olds. Once again, I was able to summarize the gospel and direct them towards the pastor who accompanied us. It was a memorable experience.

I did not take photos of these visits. Here is one of the typical weather while we were there.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Back from Kenya

They loved the jump ropes
This was the shortest trip we have yet made to Kenya, only about ten days. There were three main activities that occupied our time. The first of these was running a Bible school for about 85 children aged three to eight. We did this for five days, about three hours a day, in a crime-ridden town named Gachie. It is one of three towns in Kenya renowned for producing criminals. Drugs are rampant, orphans are numerous, and AIDS is everywhere. One of our team members was held up at gunpoint just a block from the church where we were working. It rained nearly every day, so the yard and the streets were muddy. We did not have electricity in the building because every time the church has wiring and a meter installed, someone steals it to buy drugs.

Note the mud on the floor
But the seven of us wazungu (foreigners) had three to five Kenyans assisting us each day. They translated, restored order, led games and songs, and distributed snacks. In other words, they were vital to the operation. Vincent has been running a program for the smallest children in Gachie West so that they will be prepared to enter first grade. If the children cannot pass tests, they are removed from the (free) public schools and must pay for private school. So it is vital to the community that these children recieve some education. They were remarkable in their attentiveness and learning under the firm but loving care of Everlyne, an extremely dedicated and patient teacher.

For four of the days, we also worked with children from an academy run by Susan and Elizabeth. It caters to children whose parents can afford school uniforms and minimal fees. The academy meets in a church in Gachie East; at least, it was doing so while we were there. Because Susan and Elizabeth have decided to help out the Gachie West church, the pastor of the Gachie East church has told them to find another place to hold their academy. This is distressing news and we sincerely pray that the pastor will come to his senses.

Susan and Elizabeth's academy
The children taught us some games and songs; we taught them games and songs also. The song they remembered best went: "Love, love, let us love. Let us love one another, for love comes from God." They were wild about craft time, asking permission to use another crayon, anxious to apply stickers to their foreheads. At the end of the week, we asked questions about the Bible stories and they were able to answer all the questions. In this photo, you can see the two women leading a game. Across the road, a neighbor girl watched and danced along with the songs. When we handed out pencils to the children in the academy, we also gave some to the kids who were watching from the road.

Any time we went anywhere that children were around, they would say "Mzungu! Mzungu!" which amused the 17-year-old in our group to no end. Most of the places we went,, the children had never seen a white person up close. We were mobbed at the primary school where we acted out Bible stories and taught them some action songs (think about Cat and me doing the "Hokey Pokey" before 600 Kenyan children). Next post, I will tell you about the conversation with the principal.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Mousetrap, part 3

Friday morning, we had full dress rehearsal at 10:00 AM. That gave time for setting props, doing hair and makeup, posing for photos, and practicing the curtain call. When you are sitting 24 inches from a mirror, it is easy to think you have put on too much makeup. That's what Jennifer thought. She played the part of an eighty-year-old woman and thought that these were too many wrinkles. But When we got on stage under lights, from the third row of the audience you couldn't even see the makeup. She had to add more and darker lines for the performance.

It dawned on me that I had to treat the face that I was seeing in the mirror as a flat, colorless surface on which it would be necessary to paint a face. Every square inch has to be colored with makeup and all wrinkles need shadows. Since my character was a policeman, I thought it good to give him a bit of red on the nose and cheeks. When Cat took this shot, I was about halfway through putting on makeup. There was a student snapping photos all through the week. She promised to send me the files, but I never got them. So I can't show you what I looked like onstage (I know you are bitterly disappointed). But here is one more photo of backstage.

You can see from the people standing there just how tall the set was at the back. The opening in the background entered the stage about two-thirds of the way up. The table there is on a platform which was the highest point at which people walked around. Tell you what, if I get those photos from the student, I will post something later.

The next posting to expect on this site will be from Kenya. Yep, we are going again.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Mousetrap, part 2

We had scripts and full cast for less than two weeks. We assembled this massive set in the auditorium at our university, had two or three days of rehearsal on the set, then took it all down to move it to Ruidoso. We arrived on a Friday and parked the truck and trailer on a church parking lot. Over the next several days we rehearsed in the church gym and once in the sanctuary (where we could not disturb the setup for the next day's worship service). When the Spencer Theater finally was available for us, we spent a whole day putting up the set. The next day we rehearsed in the morning while the technical director set the light and sound cues. So sometimes he would call "black" and all the lights would go off. Made for an interruptive rehearsal, but the show must go on.

On Thursday, all the props were ready, the set was completed, and we could rehearse with light. Sounds still had to be played on a boom box since only the Spencer personnel can touch the sound board. The afternoon was a time to work with hair and makeup. After dinner was dress rehearsal. The youngest member of the cast was grumpy over the removal of all iPods and cell phones from backstage, but we were all eager to get on stage in costume under lights with sound. The director reminded us one more time of how important it was to do an outstanding job. We had all worked very hard, physically and emotionally, and there needed to be a payoff.

Here's what it looked like backstage. The set had a snow device so that when the window was open, little (plastic) flakes drifted down outside. The floor of the set was raked at 8 degrees; that meant that we entered through level doors and stepped onto a slanting stage. That floor was made of 17 full (4 X 8) sheets and at least half a dozen cut sheets of particle board on 2 X 4 frames and legs screwed and clamped together. There were 25 wall panels that were sixteen feet tall, five entrance platforms, six sets of steps, two working doors and a working window. The crown molding at the top was 12 inches wide; imagine mitering those joints!

Only one more full dress rehearsal on Friday morning and we would be ready. We were exhausted Thursday night, but exhilarated by the potential. After lunching on sandwiches for the last week, the possibility of a restaurant dinner beckoned.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Mousetrap, part 1

First let's talk about the Spencer Theater outside Ruidoso, NM. This place is beautiful. The photo here is from the lobby area. That giant red Christmas tree is made of hundreds of individual glass tubes. There is glass art like this throughout the theater. So you should go sometime just to see the place.

The day after we performed, they were having an art auction and so there was even more art than usual hanging around. Wall space was at a premium as indicated by the fact that they had to squeeze this piece between two fire alarm instruments. It was kind of cool hanging around listening to an art expert telling the staff about detecting forgeries and copies of lithographs made after the death of the artist. If I had had an extra million bucks, I might have bought a painting. Just to suppoort the arts, you understand.

Here's another wall of glass art. Cat took all these photos while I was in rehearsal. She was a real trooper, running errands and cleaning up and taking photos. Next posting, I will show you the set. It was truly awesome (and profoundly heavy).

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Volcanus interruptus

Vacation Bible school has been over for a month now, so I decided to finally get the photos off my camera and post them. The top shot is what the volcano looked like when completed. Doesn't look too impressive there because you can't tell how tall it is and it doesn't have all the plants around the bottom.

The only other shot that I got was during VBS from the back of the chapel. But at least you can see the size compared to people. The VBS director thanked us many times for the volcano. (Yes, we got a big "thank-you" card signed by all the first-graders.)

The next posting will be about the play I was in at the Spencer Theater in Ruidoso, NM. It was the Agatha Christie mystery "Mousetrap." We only had two weeks to memorize the script and we played to a packed house. It was wild.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Now for the brown paper skin

wheat paste and kraft paper
Here's a life lesson: when you make wheat flour paste, don't store it in a Tupperware bowl for two or three days. That is, unless you want sourdough. When we opened the tub yesterday, the odor and the bubbles let us know we were fermentin'. The stink stayed on my hands for about 24 hours, even with washing and taking a shower.

lying and dryingBut we got the kraft paper skin on all three sections. The middle photo shows a view of one section lying on its back so the skin can dry. We found that the kraft paper ("kraft" is a German word meaning "strong") was much easier to work with than newspaper: it doesn't shred. Maybe we were hastened by the smell, but we got the brown skins on in record time. Now it is time to paint. (Actually, we have already started the painting process, but the rechargeable batteries in my camera have begun to fail. I bought new batteries and have charged them up. Maybe I can take pictures tomorrow.)

standing tallI did have one problem when trying to move around the dried sections. These things are fairly light-weight, but extremely clumsy for one person to move around (no wheels on the bottom). While moving one section, I accidentally dropped it on its side and the skin popped off--all in one, molded piece. OK, no problem. In fact it was easier to paint lying flat on the ground. Then we stapled it back in place.

As you can see, the volcano is tall. By the time we get the top on it, the overall height will be about twelve feet. Makes the piano look small, huh? I'm thinking that post-VBS we can just keep it in the chapel as a representation of Mt. Sinai. Glue a little plastic Moses to the side with two little tablets under his arm. The preacher could flip the switch to start an eruption when congregants start nodding off. It'd be cool.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Adding the skin

One section with some skin
Whooeeey, we have been busy. Cat and I worked on the volcano all Sunday afternoon, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday nights, and we plan to go again tonight. We have applied almost all the "skin" to the structures. This involves making the glue, wetting paper with it, and applying it to the chicken wire. The glue formula is five parts water to one part flour. Boil four units of water, mix the remaining unit with the flour (whisking to reduce lumps), and adding to the boiling water. Cook for three minutes and you have paste (or really tasteless gravy).

We used newspaper as the base layer; the supply was abundant and cost us nothing. We learned that the paper used by our local newspaper is superior for these purposes to the paper used by the Big Flat City newspaper south of us. Well, there's something to be proud of. You can see in the top photo how the process begins. We have to stand on a scaffold to reach the interior surfaces. The bottom photo, although blurry (no, it's not your eyes), shows a completed section. After the newspaper skin dries, it is time to apply the brown craft paper skin. This will provide a base color and is far easier to paint than newspaper. I will provide photos of that in the next posting.