31 December, 2009

New Year's Theme

Ok, so I need some help.

It is now the eve of the New Year. 2010 will be here in 5 hours here in Somaliland and I haven't made any resolutions. In 2008, I decided to go with a theme, and I think I'd like to do the same, but I can't settle for one yet. Looking Great in 2008 was a smashing success as I was told I looked like Salvador Dali when I had a moustache that I could tuck behind my ears for 1/3 of the year and a smaller version for quite a few more months throughout the year. So, for this year I've narrowed it down (after months of contemplation) to four finalists. Please help me know which to pick:

Wear Deodorant now and then in Twenty Ten!

Go on lots of dates with Gwen (or Jenn) in 2010!

Bring the mullet back when it's two thousand and ten!

Looking great again, 2010!

As I sit on the roof and bring in the New Year with my champagne, caviar, and cigar (ok, so I'm not anywhere near so high class here, but I'll use my imagination) I'll try to reach some type of conclusion, but if you have any thoughts, I'll have to take them into consideration.

28 December, 2009

Canadian Pacific Northwest

From Seattle I headed up for the international portion of my journey. That’s right, I wanted to head into the Great White North as the permafrost was thawed and it was a month before things would be covered in snow again. In early September there were few dogsleds I’d have to worry about hitting on the motorcycle, so I figured I was safe. I just had to try to remember not to say anything bad about Bob and Doug Mackenzie or the Red Green Show. And, if I was lucky, maybe I’d meet a few famous Canadians like Mike Myers, Celine Dion, or the Queen of England (ok, maybe not Canadian, but at least I’d see her on the money since they haven’t managed to break free yet from the colonial power). God Save the Queen!

I had a little trouble convincing the border guard that I wasn’t just a freeloader with no job and no money trying to cross the border and take advantage of the system. I guess the beard, motorcycle with Pennsylvania tags crossing the Washington/British Columbia border 3,000 miles from where it was registered, and plastic trash bag rain cover over all my things didn’t give a convincing argument. After a short discussion in which I had to try to prove that I had enough money to make it all the way back to PA, and the border guard being convinced I wasn’t carrying any drugs, I was able to pass.

First stop I should’ve made in Canada: Tim Horton’s. But, I was on a diet of canned beans, saltines, and peanut butter, so I foolishly decided to just drive to Vancouver. Good enough, I found KD had made some great homemade cookies and hot tea waiting on me at my destination for the day. I’d arrived just after lunch time, so had the afternoon to explore the town. Of course, the first place Karen took me was Wreck beach. Sorry, no pictures, but it was pretty cool to be at the Pacific Ocean and see the mountains of Vancouver Island off in the distance. Thankfully it wasn’t too cold as I went swimming along with a few other Wreck beach participants. I guess the Canadian coast doesn’t have as many icebergs around as I’d expected.
Convention Center, think is supposed to be big deal for the Olympics
Vancouver skyline

From there, I got to experience a cross-cultural atmosphere through watching some cricket being played by a group of South Asians with some loud Hindi music blaring in the background at a local park. It wasn’t ice hockey season, so this worked as an international exposure that was overdue since I’d spent 5+ months consecutively in the U.S. (although selling fireworks in the thumb of Michigan for July 4 did feel at times like I was in another country).

Cricket experience! Who understands this game??

Following a good day of hanging out with Karen, I took off the next morning on the bike up the Sea to Sky highway towards Whistler. The site of the 2010 Winter Olympics was undergoing lots of construction. Everywhere there were signs of excitement in eager expectation for the beginning of the festivities. I’d really like to be able to go back during the games, but suppose it won’t be able to happen as it’s only a few months from now. The scenery was gorgeous with the ocean and mountains all so close together and many nice curves and twists along the road. Mountain bikers, runners, hikers, and various other adventure sporters were all around the roads and trails taking advantage of the beautiful creation that they found themselves in.
No snow?!?! In Canada!?!? Oh well, let's go biking!!!

Beautiful scenery on the Sea to the Sky highway
100 kilometres of great views
There's even some nice waterfalls right off the road

A quick stop in Vancouver after heading back south and then I was off to Abbotsford to stay the night with Chad and his parents. It was great to reconnect with them and spend the night a little closer to Western Montana where I hoped to make it the following day. The last little Canadian portion of the trip will have to wait until another day for telling.

07 December, 2009

Pacific Northwest (US)

Once I finally had the bike ready to go from Boise, I headed west to meet up with my friend Chad who I’d worked with in Sudan as he and some friends were camping on Oregon’s Cannon Beach. For those of you who are familiar with the movie Goonies, it was filmed there. For those of you who don’t know that movie, I highly recommend that you drop by the local video store or order it from Amazon and watch. In fact, I think I need to find it somehow over here and watch it again as it has been probably 2 years since I last watched.

Cannon Beach

Riding along through the Columbia River basin across Oregon was beautiful. If it wasn’t for the extremely strong wind, I would have enjoyed the day thoroughly. As it was, I still was glad to be able to make the drive, but my shoulders and back were extremely tired by the time I finished the 500+ mile trip from Boise to Cannon Beach. Arriving at the Pacific Ocean at about 5pm or so local time was a great way to stop for the day. With the sun setting in the West, the Pacific coast enjoys spectacular sunsets everyday. It was almost as good as the sunsets on the west coast of Zanzibar Island. Cooking a can of soup over the campfire, catching up with Chad and telling stories around the fire were a perfect end to the day.

Welcome to the West Coast
Another Beautiful Sunset
Camping here was awesome

The following day we looked into surfing, but it was a bit too expensive, and with the water being so cold and the temperature not so hot in early September, I think we had a much better day anyhow. Hiking around Ecola State Park, going to Haystack Rock, taking a nap on the beach was a great way to spend a beautiful, sunny day on the Pacific Coast. Another night camping right on the beach and cooking over an open campfire made another marvelous ending to a fun day on the journey. And finally reaching the Pacific Ocean after having been on the road for nearly two weeks, and especially after the four unexpected days in Boise with mechanical troubles, made this part of the trip all the better.

Handstand contest??

The next morning I headed up the Pacific Coast Highway and across the Astoria Bridge into Washington State. Unsurprisingly, it was a wet morning and the rain fell till noon. By mid-afternoon, I was able to stop by Black Lake Bible Camp and visit Phil’s (who I worked with in Sudan) parents as I was on my way up to Seattle. It was a beautiful camp with some nice facilities, and it seems like a great place. A nice dinner by the water in Tacoma, Washington with my friend Michelle from Taylor University provided a great view of Mt. Olympia and a couple of seals came up to the surface. From there I went to Seattle to stay with David and Callie, and the hills really made me think I was in San Francisco with how steep it was.

Seattle's Puget Sound

After a relaxing day going to the Pike market and seeing the space needle in Seattle, I went with David and Callie to her parent’s house in Yakima and attended one night of the Dave Mathews Concert at the Gorge. It was a majestic venue and full of people. While I’m not so much of a Dave fan, it was a great event. And spending a day in Yakima, drinking Seattle coffee, meeting Callie’s friends and beating them at Carcassonne was a lot of fun as well (not to mention I got to ride as a passenger in a car for quite a few hours instead of having to do all the work on the motorcycle). On top of it all, a Josh Garrels concert my last night in Seattle was a superb ending to the American side of my Pacific Northwest adventure. In spite of all the rain, it was a splendid time.
Columbia River Gorge in the Background
It rained during the first act, but before dave it cleared off and there was a double rainbow

30 November, 2009

Continuation of the Blue Mamba Trail

I left the story of the road trip unfinished. It’s about time I return to telling that story even though it’s now been 3 months since the events described below occurred

So I left off outside of Denver. Growing up in Chambersburg, PA, I enjoyed hiking in the mountains. Going up tumbling run or to the top of flat rock were always activities that allowed me to appreciate the beauty of God’s creation. The journey out to and from Taylor University in Indiana for the years I attended, I always used to look forward to getting into the mountains of Central PA on the way back, and dread leaving them as I got to hours of flat, boring driving in Ohio and Indiana. After traveling Route 40 from Denver to Salt Lake City, Utah, I recognize that people in the West might not refer to the Appalachians as mountains but rather hills.

The ride was gorgeous. There were steep climbs, beautiful overlooks, picturesque valleys, and fun curves to ride up and down. Hours straight of this made for a great day, until late afternoon when I reached a stretch of road that few people travel. During the stretch of US 40 in the West of Colorado and the far east of Utah, I traveled over an hour where I passed maybe 5 vehicles headed towards me and didn’t see a single vehicle headed in the same direction as me. The scenery by this time had become much more dull than the previous hours through central Colorado had been, so the monotony only made me more tired. In that stretch, there was around 50 miles or so between gas stations (or any business or point of interest whatsoever), so I’m extremely glad that the bike didn’t experience any problems and leave me stranded so far from anything.

After staying the night somewhere east of Salt Lake City, the following day I headed northwest into Idaho. There were some nice views and scenery along this stretch, but the best part of this stretch was Twin Falls, Idaho. I never thought much of Idaho other than laughing at Napoleon Dynamite, and a previous trip across a 20 mile or so stretch of southeastern Idaho with a couple friends 5 years before didn’t leave much of Idaho itself to really talk about. The Snake River Gorge on the eastern edge of Twin Falls is absolutely stunning, though. It really is a postcard type of view, and after a brief stop, I realized I might could actually enjoy spending more time in the city on another visit. But, I pushed on to try to make Boise for the night where I hoped to find lodging with someone from back home in Chambersburg. So after passing by the Humanitarian Bowl’s blue turf football stadium, I pulled into the apartment complex where I was to stay for just the night.

After a night’s sleep, I got up and went out to prep the bike for a journey that I intended to begin before 8am. When I got outside, though, I realized that the motorcycle had leaked petrol out of the overflow tube all night as a strong odor of gasoline and a discolored pool and trail across the blacktop led to the drain in the parking lot. Knowing this was not a good sign, I went to my gracious host for some help. And thanks to the friendliness and generosity of Michael, his roommate, and their friends, I managed to get a couple of guys to help me analyze the problem and see if there was anything that could be done. It turned out the carburetor had a problem and the gas just kept running into the engine and was being spilled out as well as being spit back even into the air filter box under the seat. Considering my lack of mechanical experience or skill, this was not anything I was going to be able to do on my home. With Rob’s great coaching (and a lot of his work), I was able to get things apart and clean the carbs. When it came to resetting the float level, however, I was unable to get it to work properly and the bike continued having problems after spending more than a day taking it apart and putting it back together again. Thankfully at least I had a place to stay and some good company. And, there was a BMW motorcycle dealership in town that I was able to take the bike to that was able to get it looked at and fixed in a couple days time. But after a four day unexpected stay in Boise, I was able to continue my journey with some new friends made and a great opportunity in which to see God’s faithfulness and protection.

View from Route 40 in Colorado

Snake River Gorge from the Bridge in Twin Falls

Bridge I crossed in Twin Falls

View US Rockies and Snake River in a larger map

20 November, 2009

You can read the article as well here

14 October, 2009

New Update

So a lot has happened since I finished the road trip in mid September. I still haven't finished the reports on my mini Megatransect (see Nat'l Geo magazine to understand the reference) but I'll have to interject the rest of the motorcycle story (some of which should hopefully make for interesting reading) in the coming weeks, likely interspersed amongst some other posts.

I had managed to last almost 7 months in North America before leaving again. It's now been nearly 2 weeks since I flew out of Dulles airport yet again for a trans-atlantic flight as one part of a longer journey. I'm not sure the running total, but am positive I've crossed the equator more times than I have years on earth. I'd try to count, but it's been over ten years since I've had a math class, so I may not be able to get that high accurately. Regardless, it seems most of the poll voters from my question of how long I'd make it in the States were correct. Of course, I think there were only 7 people who voted, about 4 saying I'd leave before the first snow, 1 that I'd be over a year, and 2 only a couple of months.

So I thought I'd avoid the snow, and left just as the leaves were getting some color. I did end up in the mountains of Montana in September a day after they awoke to white snow covered hillsides, but thankfully the day I got there had only started with frost. And, I am just about to head to Switzerland for a couple of weeks, so there's a chance I'll see some snow up in the mountains, but I doubt I'll have the opportunity to be up in the snow. I'm sure I'll be quite a bit colder than I have been the last couple weeks regardless, and am actually looking forward to some jacket weather.

But for the most part of the next year, I'll be trying to avoid the sun and sweating even in the shade. My pants will be sticking to my body nearly every time I stand up and I won't have to look in a mirror as no one will care if my hair or face is messed up. I must like it that way, because I keep coming back for more. Here's some photos for your viewing pleasure (that I am borrowing, I haven't taken any pics yet).

09 October, 2009

The Great Plains

Tiger Walk photos

So the first day was a long one. But I was hoping to make it to Columbia Missouri by the following afternoon, so I was happy to have travelled the greater distance the first day making the next seem tolerable. After crossing some pretty scenic roads in Southern Indiana, I got onto Interstate 65 by late midday and was bored all the way to St. Louis. The Arch was a cool landmark to see in passing as I rolled through and merged onto I-70. Columbia couldn’t come fast enough from there though.

I met up with my friends Ben and Yoder at Ben’s place by about 5pm. It was great to see them again, and Yoder had driven the 5 hours or so from Hutchinson, KS to meet up. Ben helps with the campus church at The Rock on the University of Missouri campus, so we got to attend the Saturday evening service there that night. It was cool to see the ministry that Ben’s now involved in, and they’re doing some good stuff to try to connect with and encourage students from Scripture. It is often a tough transition for students leaving home and all, so please pray for Ben and the others helping with the Rock.

It was welcome weekend for the campus as classes were to start that week. It was quite impressive as Ben and his girlfriend took us for a tour of the campus. I never expected central Missouri to be as nice as it was, but the campus is full of rolling hills, and some architecturally stunning buildings. After my first ever experience eating at Chipotle, we had the privilege of participating in the annual Tiger Walk where the incoming freshmen walk one direction through the huge columns in the middle of campus (by participate I mean eat some free ice cream that is available for those who walk through). It was actually pretty cool as there are 3-4,000 students signalling their entrance into the University, and after 4 years (or however many it takes to graduate), they’ll all (who pass) walk the other direction just before graduation to signal the exit.

The next morning I left through Western Missouri and Eastern Kansas where there wasn’t much of note, but at least a few hills still. I got to stop in Newton, Kansas, where Tina had just bought a house that had been trashed by the previous residents. It’ll be a really nice place when she’s done with it, but she was still in the middle of putting lots of time and energy into it when I visited. I thought about giving a hand with the varnishing of the hardwood floor she was working on that day, but for some reason Tina wouldn’t let me help after I grabbed a can of black spray paint and asked her where to begin. And then that night I got to stay for the first time with an Amish family (a progressive Amish tradition called Beechy Amish). There was some great food and conversation and I learned that a couple people in the family had attended a Mennonite Bible Institute very close to where I grew up. It wasn’t nearly as awkward, nor quite as funny as the double-date my Amish-background friend and I had been on a year and a half before when the one girl was making comments about how weird the Amish were before she knew he had grown up in an Amish family, but it was definitely a good evening.

The following day was a lot of driving through the flat, open expanses of Western Kansas and Eastern Colorado. Passing through Dodge City and the site of the first rodeo was not nearly as exciting as I was hoping it would be, and a crazy Midwest storm a couple hours outside of Denver made for a fitting end to a lousy day. The torrential rains came from a pitch black sky in the late afternoon and winds and rain that forced me to wait at a gas station for over an hour and I still drove an hour or so in the not so heavy part of the storm. But, by the end of the day, I was near to the foothills of the Rockies, so I knew I had some nicer roads to look forward to.

That will wait for another day.

01 October, 2009

Day One

I woke early August 21st in the hopes of getting started as the sun rose and possibly ending the day around sunset. The goal was Bloomington, Indiana, a distance of 600 miles. Riding a motorcycle requires stopping every hour or so just to stretch, and is much more exhausting than driving a car. On quite a number of occasions I’d driven for 10 to 12 hours in a day and gone 700 or more miles, but this would be a couple hundred miles further than I’d ever driven in a day on a motorcycle. (I did drive from 6am until 4 or 5pm on a motorcycle from Foya, Liberia to Bo, Sierra Leone back in 2006. While that was maybe 200 miles, it took all day as the road was mud and dirt until the last 50 miles of pavement. But oh how nice that pavement was to drive on as I hadn’t seen any for the month and a half prior to it. But I’m not going to get into stories about driving motorcycles in Liberia, because that could take a while as well.) So I had what was an ambitious goal for me, but given the delay in the start to the trip, I wanted to cover some long distances early on.

I hadn’t gone more than 20 or 25 miles, and it was maybe a quarter after 8 in the morning when the rain started. A steady rain at first turned into a downpour in another 20 miles or so, and just as I was nearing the West Virginia border on I-68 cars were slowed down to 30 mph on the interstate due to the lack of visibility. I actually could see much better than the cars with their windshield wipers flying back and forth, but it was too wet to really continue too easily, and after going through several huge puddles and realizing I didn’t want to end up having a hydro-planing caused accident in the first hour and a half of the excursion, I stopped to wait out the rain a bit and get a hot drink. After about half an hour the rain had slowed to a normal rain, so I continued. It rained until about lunchtime almost all the way across West Virginia and finally as I was entering Ohio on US 50 the clouds started breaking up. After shedding my rain gear, the next couple hours were pretty enjoyable as Southern Ohio is a lot more scenic and a better drive than Interstate 70 is. I’ve driven along 70 between Indiana and Pennsylvania probably 25 times, so was really surprised and pleased to find such a scenic route only 50 or 60 miles south.

I managed to meet up with my good friend Jonathan and his wife Sara in Cincinnati for a few hours, but was feeling pretty good and decided I’d try to make it to Bloomington still instead of stopping early. So I left Cincinnati about 9pm for the hundred and fifty mile stretch. It wasn’t too long until I started to recognize the wind picking up and realize that ahead there were no stars or anything visible in the sky. After half an hour I’d realized it was a mistake to try to go farther, but I’d already started, so I thought I’d just push through the rain that was starting. So the rain wasn’t too heavy, but I was right at the edge of the storm, so the wind was just howling and really tried to whip me around on the little motorcycle. I’d lean one way and then a gust would hit from the other direction causing me to drive about 15 miles an hour under the speed limit for the rest of the way to Bloomington. The first day ended with me soaked (I was optimistic in thinking it wouldn’t really rain, so didn’t put on my rain pants until I’d already gotten pretty wet) at about 12:30am at the University of Indiana campus where my friend Corey lives. It was great to see him, but I soon fell asleep while he was talking as it had been a long day, but I had managed to cover 625 miles on the first day of riding on the trek. Not the way I’d have chosen to start the trip, but thankfully the rain held off for a few more days after this.

To be continued again (it won’t be one day per post most of the time, but I’ve realized this is already a long post so am not going to add anything else now and don’t feel like going through and editing this. In fact, I should be packing right now as I leave in 12 hours for Nairobi, but I wanted a distraction because I really don’t feel like packing.)

26 September, 2009

By the Numbers

In spite of the early difficulties, I did make it all the way to the Pacific and back.
Here are a few stats from the trip:
the general route is pictured above. Couldn't get the googlemaps highlighted map to display correctly, but this is close

18 U.S. States and 1 Canadian Province
7,300 miles (11,700 kilometers)
That's the equivalent of driving from New York City to Nairobi, Kenya
29 days, 28 nights
16 days over 100 miles driving, 13 days under 100 miles (incl. 7 of 0 miles)
average of 440 miles per day during driving days
longest distance in one day - 640 miles
18 different locations for the night, 5 stops for multiple nights
3 nights staying on my own, the rest with friends

More stories to come...

25 September, 2009

Is this going to happen?

I was about to start a trip westward with my recently acquired BMW 650 motorcycle when I rode it nearly 100 miles (2 hours) away to Johnstown. It was a very nice ride across Route 30 over the mountains and should have been a great warmup to the trip I was to begin 2 days later.

BMWs are known to be reliable machines that last and last. I've known people who have ridden them all over Africa, the US, and Canada. Two guys rode from London across Europe and Asia, flew to Anchorage, Alaska, and then continued to New York City on BMW motorcycles several years ago (nearly 20,000 miles altogether), and the documentary (the Long Way Round) was a television series chronicling their difficult journey. The bikes made it ok, though, and if they could make that journey, you'd think I'd have no problem getting across the US and back (ok, mine wasn't as new or the same model they used).

So I'm in Johnstown in the middle of the day and put the key in the ignition. The key doesn't go in. When I pull the key away, I notice the plastic dust guard is cracked. (See the photo with the arrow pointing to where the dust guard used to be if you have any question as to what I'm talking about). I managed to get the bigger piece out, but in the process pushed the smaller cracked plastic piece further into the ignition. I don't know anyone in Johnstown and don't have any precision tools with me and the cycle. So I try using my smallest key and a pen cap to dig the plastic out. No success, but rather it is now even further down the ignition to where there's no chance a key or pen cap is going to fit under. I stop a passer-by who thankfully had a couple of those tiny, long flat screwdrivers that are useful for eyeglass and other tiny screws. I borrow those, which would have been perfect at the beginning, but at this point, I do nothing more than knock the plastic further yet into the ignition, and can no longer even see the plastic without shining a flashlight into the hole. Realizing I'm in a bit of a jam, I call a local motorcycle shop who refers me to a locksmith. The locksmith said unless I had the entire ignition out of the bike, he could do nothing, and that I needed to be careful using anything too hard down in the ignition system as the tumblers (that set the cut for a key to work) could easily be damaged and result in the key no longer working. It's now been 45 minutes or so. Out of frustration, I deduce that since the piece that fell in is plastic, and the screwdrivers are metal, I can carefully smash the plastic into tiny bits so that the key can be jammed in. Of course that didn't work either.

I walk down the road a mile or so to where I was told a motorcycle shop is. The shop owner comes back to the motorcycle with me and takes it back to his shop. It doesn't take long to determine the plastic is not coming out. At this he says he can take a couple hours to get the ignition out, send it to a locksmith, and wait an hour or so till the locksmith can determine if he'll be able to get the ignition opened enough for the plastic to come out, and then take time to put it back into the bike leaving an earliest possible solution coming in the evening for a couple hour ride back to Chambersburg. Of course, there's also the chance that after several hours, it turns out that even this proves unsuccessful and I'm left at square one (minus an ignition). The other alternative is to hotwire the motorcycle and be able to get it home to figure out what action to take. I chose option two. So after an hour or so, my motorcycle was wired up and ran by an on/off switch instead of the key. But I got home that evening.

I didn't feel too comfortable traveling across the country and having just anyone be able to turn on the bike without a key or anything, so started calling to try to get a new ignition ordered to put in. It took a day for the dealership to tell me that they found the right part, but then the next day found the part was discontinued and I had to purchase a three lock set (ignition, fuel tank, and seat) which was 3 times the cost just for the hardware. At this point a friend I was talking with about it said he may be able to drill out the plastic. Having nothing to lose from the ignition being damaged, he tried. It took several hours another day later, but amazingly it worked. An air compressor blew out tiny bits of the plastic, and the final tiny piece that was really jammed in came out through sucking it up into a tiny WD40 straw. Hallelujah!! I can get this show on the road.

Not just yet. In bringing the motorcycle from his shop to my house, he notices an exhaust leak. Instead of trying to start such a long trip like this, I order the part. But, I also got the idea to take the bike to the first stop (a friend's in South Carolina) where there is also a dealer that could order the part, and actually get it in a day earlier. So I ordered it there also and took the motorcycle down in the back of my truck, and my friend in South Carolina was going to drive the truck back to PA. When the store called that the gasket was in, I went to pick it up and it turned out to be the wrong gasket. So, I ended up heading with my friend back to PA the next day, in the truck, with the motorcycle in the back yet again.

The following day I picked up the gasket from the nearby dealer who I'd also ordered from, and thankfully it was the right part. So the bike was put together and I decided to give a third try to the expedition.

To be continued...

22 September, 2009

Walking like John Wayne

It's been a long time since I've updated anything here. Well, that is about to change. I've got some writing material following a cross country motorcycle journey. It was a long time in the saddle, but my tookus is now resting and recovering. It was a blast, and the last five weeks might take a few posts to fill in the details of. I don't have all that many photos, but there should be a few to accompany the stories that will be told.

Since it has been so long since I'd posted, I don't know if anyone reads this anymore. So this is just to give those who might happen to check it a notice to keep checking back over the next few days to hear the beginning of the Blue Mamba Trail saga.

05 August, 2009

Liberian English

In Liberia, the lingua franca is English. There are lots of tribal languages that people speak, but English is the common language you can find all over the country. While not everyone speaks it, most do, but you might not recognize it-oh. You see-oh, the English in Liberia-oh is not the same-oh as in the U.S.-oh. One thing-oh is that they add -oh to the end to a lot of words. Like hey-oh would be a common greeting. Or yeah-oh a normal response in the affirmative. But, the addition of an -oh on the end is not the only difference in Liberian English, it's just the easiest one for an American like me to imitate.

I came across a video where a foreigner in Liberia recorded a Liberian guy talking on the phone to another Liberian. You see, the foreigner couldn't communicate with the Liberian on the other end due to the accent, so there's a Liberian using his phone to communicate what needs to get across. Click on the link to watch it on youtube and see if you can understand anything. I've been away from Liberia for too long, because I can only pick up a few words here and there.

If that one is a little too difficult, maybe start with a couple of sisters who tell their story of moving to the U.S. from Liberia. Their accents aren't too heavy, but I'd guess most people still won't understand a good bit of it. Plus, it's kind of interesting to hear people's thoughts on Liberia and their initial thoughts on coming to the States.

09 July, 2009

Darfur, South Sudan

It's not in the news as much anymore following the International Criminal Court (ICC) issuing an arrest warrant for the president of Sudan back in early March, but Sudan still has chaos in Darfur. Thankfully, people aren't getting killed as much there as they were in the years since the conflict erupted in 2003, but it doesn't look like things are going to be resolved so that people can return to their homes instead of being crammed into camps where there are international organizations present to provide some security and who the people rely on to provide food, education, and most everything else necessary for survival.

And although the killing in Darfur is getting less now, it seems that things in South Sudan are getting progressively worse leading up to the national elections and the referendum on Southern Independence. There have been more people killed in South Sudan this year than in Darfur, but little international attention is given to it. During the 20+ years of fighting with the North that ended with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005, over 2 million Southern Sudanese were thought to have died as a result of the war. A national census conducted last year for the first time in over 50 years listed the population of the South at 8.5 million people. Darfur has had over 300,000 deaths as a result of the fighting there since 2003. And now things in the South are escalating before much of any infrastructure has developed and before the government has really been able to establish itself.

You can read an article just published on BBC news here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/8127179.stm.
Please pray for the people of Sudan.


Bad Axe. That's the name of the town where I spent 11 days selling fireworks. It's in Michigan. I'm not making this up. There's also a town called Hell in Michigan. I am so Bad Axe now. Dr. Mummert and I thought we'd try our hand at sales to try to make some extra cash. We weren't too sure about the whole thing ahead of time, but decided that regardless of whether we made a little money, or none at all, a week and a half in the town of Bad Axe would provide some good stories. And right we were...

For those of you who know anyone from Michigan, you're probably aware that they always use their hand as a representation of the state to reference where their town is located. Bad Axe is in the upper thumb. It's about 15, 20 minutes from Lake Huron on the west, north, and east. Not a lot of people live there. I'm now convinced that it must be because there are no dentists there (or maybe they have them, but the only equipment that the offices are supplied with are pliers for pulling teeth). It's not a wise business move to try to sell things in the state of Michigan during an economic downturn especially affecting the automotive industury (state unemployment at 15%) in a town that has maybe 4,000 people

I think I have an idea of what it's like to be a carny. Selling fireworks out of a tent in a Wal Mart parking lot has to be a lot like running a ferris wheel or one of those stands where you pay $1 to try to throw a ping pong ball into a fish bowl to win a goldfish at a local carnival. The main difference is probably that instead of moving the tent to another town after Bad Axe, we just closed up shop and were done. Since we were responsible for all the fireworks we were trying to sell, and would have to pay for anything stolen, there was no choice but to sleep in the tent every night and thereby spent almost all 24 hours each day in the tent. We weren't busy, and thankfully had brought a bicycle with us, so sometimes one of us would ride around town or go inside Wal Mart and play Mario Kart on the Wii or other things to try and keep from going stir crazy. The tent was 20 ft by 40 ft, and we had just enough room between the tables of fireworks to back the truck in each night so that we could sleep in the bed of the truck. The Econolodge across the street had a shower in the bathroom in it's lobby, so we did manage a few showers. Febreeze and deodorant also helped to keep us smelling fresh enough not to chase customers away before they spent some money.

Although we weren't super busy selling (things picked up on the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th, but before that we were extremely slow), the rain almost every day kept us busy letting down the tent walls and rolling them up every so often as we had to keep the fireworks from getting wet. Not only did it rain nearly every day, but no two consecutive days did the wind blow from the same direction, and it was always blowing hard enough that the rain was blowing into the tent so much it would quickly soak everything on that side of the tent. The inside of my truck has that damp, wet dog smell to it, but hopefully it will go away soon as I air out most of the stuff that was in it.

After the stand, I worked a few more days processing all the returns from the other tents in Michigan, and it was nice to get hourly pay and know that there would be some benefit in the end after spending all day working for commission in the tent. So, after 50 hours of that in 4 days, and the 11 days in a tent, I've now completed this experience. I don't think I'll have any other reason to return to Bad Axe, and will probably leave my interaction with fireworks from this point to watching them and not selling.

12 June, 2009

Surfing Liberia

I met up with a friend a couple weeks ago that I had worked in Liberia with back in 2006. While we were catching up, he told me about a surf resort that had opened up recently. I had heard about Liberia’s great surfing when I was there, and even tried it myself with no success. When we went to the beach, however, there were no hotels or anything, so the option for overnighting (it was a 2 and a half hour drive from the capital, and night travel was not safe) was pitching a tent on the beach and bringing all the food and cooking stuff you needed to cook over a fire of wood you could collect around.

The resort isn’t so fancy yet. It’s got nice canvas safari tents to sleep in that have beds, tables, chairs, and power. And they have a bathroom with toilets and showers. It sounds pretty similar to the way I lived most of the last year I was in Sudan. But, it is currently mostly relief workers who make the trip from Monrovia for a weekend or a holiday, so there are not enough tourists to make it worthwhile to build something too luxurious yet. However, I’m sure it won’t be long until the condos will be going in and people will be coming in from other countries and enjoying some of the best surfing in the Northern Hemisphere.

It’s encouraging to know that people are beginning to think that Liberia is safe enough to begin investing in tourism and activities that can draw people into the country that has scared so many away. You can see a video from several years ago of surfing in Liberia here. Plus, BBC News just had a picture article about surfing in Liberia. And here are some other photos:

01 June, 2009

Apple Pie

It has recently been pointed out to me that I've still been posting about Sudan even though I've been in the States for a while. At that point, Roller Derby is the only thing about life in the States I'd posted about. So, I think it's about time I make a post to America's Pastimes.

Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet. I've enjoyed all of these in the past few weeks. In fact, just yesterday I enjoyed all of them but apple pie. I watched the Clemson Tigers beat the Oklahoma State Cowboys (a very American mascot) and continue their journey in the NCAA baseball tournament while watching a fan in front of me eat two delicious looking chili dogs (if they weren't $5 at the ballpark, but more like the $1.50 that is still overpriced but reasonable that you'd pay at Sonic, I would have enjoyed more than just the smell and appearance of said dogs and gotten to appreciate the taste), and I went to the game in my Chevy.

Although I have enjoyed America's Pastimes, I have some concerns regarding them right now. I am a Yankees fan (I didn't jump on the bandwagon... I was a huge fan in the late 80s when they had one of the longest pennant droughts in team history, but had the likes of Don Mattingly and Dave Winfield. I watched as the likes of Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter, and Joe Girardi were added and led the team to the start of the recent domination) and with the building of the new stadium and the reports of sky-high ticket prices, it is disappointing that fewer and fewer "normal" people are able to go to games. Hot dogs now get a bad rap for containing all kinds of leftovers of pigs and scraps collected off of floors or whatever other rumors people have started, as well as being way overpriced at any athletic event anywhere in the country. And Chevrolet is part of GM, which is filing for bankrupcy protection. It seems as if America is about to solely rely on apple pie to pull us through. Thankfully, it is still something that happens most often at a household level and no person or corporation has really been able to claim rights to or fame for their apple pie. As long as it stays in the hands of the people, I think apple pie will remain a standard in the good old U.S. of A.

Yum, Yum

25 May, 2009

New Look

Ok, it has been a while since I've mixed up the hairstyle too much. It's been in the medium-long range without anything different for the last year and a half. I'm to the point where I want to do something to change things up. But, I'm not sure what to really do about it. I feel like the mullet works pretty well for me, but I'm also considering going for something new like the fo-hawk or a military cut or another that I happen to think about the day I end up actually getting my hair cut. Hair is great in that it always grows back (or at least has for me so far... I guess that might not always be the case, but hope I have a while longer till I have to worry about not having options of what to do with my hair). My hair is perfectly straight, and doesn't curl no matter how long it gets, so I do have some limitations as to what I can do with it, and it is rather thin. It has treated me pretty well over the years, though, in spite of my negligence to it. I've often gone weeks without seeing my hair in a mirror, rarely style it, and don't concern myself with what type of products are used for washing it. If you've got any thoughts or suggestions for me, let me know. In the meantime, I'll leave you with a couple of photos of hairstyles that I think don't receive the respect they deserve.

Joe Dierte reporting for work

The rat tail... time for a comeback

19 May, 2009

Only in the U.S.A.

(And in a few select Canadian cities).

So I spent this past weekend in Nashville, TN. It was full of some good times, but one in particular I've got to share.

Two words: Roller Derby! That's right, let it soak in.
Since Memphis turned out to be a couple hours further than what we expected, Travis and I decided to stay in Nashville on Saturday instead of going to the bbq festival in Memphis which I'm sure would have also been fun. But, had we headed to Memphis, we'd have missed the excitement and fun of the Nashville Rollergirls crushing the Dixie Derby Girls from Alabama.

I didn't really know what to expect, but was pretty sure that roller derby would be a memorable experience. It turned out to be a lot of fun too. While there were only a couple really good hits in which girls got completely blindsided and laid out by a block, the action was fairly exciting. But I think the best thing about the event itself was the fun atmosphere. The arena was small, and packed. Down on the floor, you could see the expressions on the participants faces as they skated around the rink. They were all having fun, and I don't think any of them are in it for the money (in fact, I don't know if they get paid anything at all). The fans filled in all around the track as well as up above in small balcony areas. Most of the fans were yelling and cheering throughout the entire competition (it lasted maybe an hour and a half total) whenever the team would score any points or when anyone was knocked down.

Another great thing about the roller derby is the creative and fun names and jersey numbers of each of the girls. The best rollergirl was named Rambo Sambo, and her number was M60. She started out the night with a couple strings of bulets (not real) over her shoulders and a belt of bullets as well. Another was named Smith N. Wesson with the number .357, and there was a lot of fishnet stockings, dyed hair, and war paint.

Now that I've been to one, I will look for more opportunities to go to roller derby matches whenever I can. I didn't realize it before, but after some further research, I found that there are about 80 teams that are registered with the women's flat track derby association. And included in that are teams from Harrisburg and Lancaster, PA as well as Ft. Wayne, IN, all of which are places I could have been attending roller derby matches at before now. You should check to see if there's a roller derby team in a city near you, and if so, invite me over and we'll go together.

(Unfortunately, I didn't have a camera with me, but these photos I found online aren't from the same night, but were from a different match Nashville had).

21 April, 2009

Going Green

It seems most places in the world have a change in seasons. This past weekend I was in Central Park with my sister and enjoyed marvelous weather with sunny skies and temperatures in the mid 70s. The trees are budding and grass is now green as bare dull branches spring to life with purple, white, and various colored flowers showing their buds. The colors started appearing a few weeks ago, but they’ve now taken over everywhere. The beauty of creation is a bit easier to appreciate this time of year than in the winter, and life becomes a little more enjoyable.

It’s about this time that things in Sudan should also be turning green. While the colors aren’t as varied, it is a bit more dramatic. The seasons in Sudan oscillate between completely dry, brown, and dusty to full of life, green, and muddy. While I didn’t see places in Sudan get as beautiful as many other places I’ve been and lived, the drastic change from the end of dry season to the wet, rainy season is more drastic than any seasonal change I’ve seen. I think the closest comparison I could make is when a random snow (enough to cover everything) occurs in late April after things have turned green and trees have flowered. Then, as the snow melts, you see everything go from white in the morning to green by afternoon as the sun melts the little bit of snow. It is almost as quick a change as everything goes from complete brown everywhere to completely green in a matter of days.

The spring brings beauty to North America and we can enjoy getting out of the house or office. Sports go from indoor basketball, volleyball and the like to outdoor baseball, beach volleyball, and others. In Sudan, transportation may go from rough to nearly impossible, but the rain is welcomed by all. If the rains don’t come or get delayed, a drought results in outbreaks of disease and deaths from malnutrition and starvation as nearly all households rely on farming to provide the food that is eaten. Seasons are a wonderful thing, and it’s incredible the different purposes that are served in different areas around the world.

December 28, 2008

June 22, 2008

These photos are on the same hill. They aren't at exactly the same spot, the dry one is looking up the hill as the green one overlooks a bit of the valley, but you can see an example of the difference. In rocky areas such as this, you can hardly tell that any grass would grow when it's dry, but during the rainy season, you would hardly know it was rocky.

07 April, 2009

A Doozy

A couple months ago I had the chance to climb Mount Kenya with a friend working in Sudan. It's an incredible mountain that's located right at the equator (0 degrees, 09 minutes south latitude... that's like 10 miles from the equator). The sun feels about as intense as can be, and I got the worst sunburn on my face from the hike over the last 3 years in Liberia and Sudan. I didn't think about it until after the first day when my nose was fried to put sunscreen on. It's about as close to the center of the earth as you can get and find snow. And that's because the elevation of the mountain is 5,199 meters (17,058 ft) at the highest. The point to which we climbed (to reach the highest point, you need more time, climbing gear, and a certain time of year) is called Point Lenana and it is 4,985 meters (16,355 ft).

Phil's schedule didn't allow us too much time, so we rushed our trip into 3 days instead of the typical 4 or 5, covering 30 miles and going up and back down from the starting point at 11,000 feet (3,300 meters). It was something I'd wanted to do back in 2000 when I was studying for a semester at Daystar University in Kenya, but didn't get around to then or during the last two years in Sudan. Thankfully we never suffered from altitude sickness that keeps some from reaching the top. But, we did also have porters carrying and cooking our food while we just carried our personal belongings. That made it easier for sure, and helped us to be able to do it in the three days.

The last day, we hiked a few miles to the top and back down to the camp we'd stayed the night before and then continued all the way down to our origin. We were up at 3am in order to be able to get that all in, and by the time we reached the bottom, we were completely wiped out. It was worth it, though, to get to be at the top for the sunrise (if we'd had another day, I'd have been ok with starting at a normal time and only coming back down to the same camp for the night and then hiking the rest of the way back down the following day).

View from the start

some weird plants

the long valley

Thankfully it cleared up (but on the way back were too worn out, and didn't get a photo when you could see the mountain)

at the summit

Batian, the highest peak

batian is on the right, nelion in the middle and lenana on the left

scenic trail

Point Lenana

Looking straight up at Batian