Milestones and Celebrations

Today is Pam’s 70th birthday. Honoring seven decades of life on this good earth calls for a special celebration. And although Pam is not fond of surprises, Penny managed to pull one off , much to Pam’s delight.

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Our day yesterday began in our modest little Ecuadorian house, the place our hearts call home. A short distance away, less than a mile, is one of the most beautiful hotel and spa compounds in South America. Our little town of Cotacachi is home to La Mirage, a haven of luxury and tranquility. From its one-of-a-kind rooms to its five-star restaurant, from its gardens populated with peacocks to its solar-heated spa pool, this is a place where every need is anticipated and met with a level of graciousness that is unsurpassed. We don’t often get pampered in this life, but this was a day for pampering.

IMG_7234A short taxi ride brought us to the front doors of La Mirage, where we were welcomed with a cool drink and shown to a room scattered with rose petals and dominated by a huge brass canopy bed. Moments after our arrival, a lovely Indigenous woman came to our door with a plate of chocolate covered strawberries, and Operation Pampering had officially begun.

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First on the agenda was a delightful lunch overlooking the Peacock Gardens, where two peahens surveyed us from the windowsill. One of the owners stopped by to chat, and after lunch we spent the afternoon in the spa, swimming and relaxing.

 

 

 

 

 

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Warmed by the sun and later lulled by the sound of a gentle rain on the roof, we passed the afternoon in complete peace, our only responsibilities deciding what to eat and when to go for another swim.

 

 

 

As evening drew near, we made our way through the gardens to the restaurant, and were met for dinner by our dear friends, DJ and Cindy.

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Our candlelit table looked out into the gardens, where the male peacocks serenaded us in an attempt to catch the attention of the disinterested peahens. Also joining us for our dinner was Anita the goldfish in her crystal bowl.

 

 

 

 

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Both the food and the service were impeccable. Four gourmet courses later, we were just beginning our dessert when the staff appeared with a lovely little birthday cake for Pam, complete with a burning candle and a chorus of “Happy Birthday” in both English and Spanish. We ended our day filled to the brim in many, many ways.

 

 

 

 

Turning seventy gives one pause to consider one’s life and reflect upon the blessings and challenges of seven decades. My life has been, and still is, filled with people who loved me, challenged me, and believed in me. I have worked in professions and have volunteered with organizations that I believe add to the Yes in the world. Like all of us, I have made mistakes and faced obstacles, but there have also been times when I got it right, and managed to overcome hurdles and become stronger. I’ve seen enough of the beauty in the world to convince me that there is beauty everywhere, if only we have eyes to see it.

Yes, every day is a gift. Seven decades of days is a huge gift. To quote John Denver, “I have to say it now, it’s been a good life all in all.”

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In Troubled Times

One of the lessons we learn from our travels is that we belong to a world larger than the one we came from. This is both a blessing and a challenge.

 

The blessing comes from connecting with people who are different from us. . .and yet the same.  We have sisters and brothers in Ecuador, Nicaragua, the US, Canada, Mexico, France, Vietnam, Kenya, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa.  We have different faiths, different histories, different skin colors, different life experiences–but in many ways, the same hopes and dreams. Everyday we pray for and communicate with friends around the world, and we feel connected to them on a deep soul level.  Truly we have come to realize that we are all one family.

The challenge comes during times of trouble. Currently we are grieving with our friends in Nicaragua as their country is overtaken by violence.  Since April 19 over 215,000 people have lost their jobs, many have been killed and injured, countless people have fled the country, and the capital city of Managua is under siege.  It’s easy to feel hopeless and wonder, “What can I do?”

And sometimes an answer appears.

We have just learned that one of the young women we have worked with in Nicaragua lives in a makeshift house that fills with water and mud every time it rains.  Currently it is the rainy season in Nicaragua.  She and her husband have two young children, and it is a constant struggle to keep the family healthy under these dire circumstances.

We who have so much have the opportunity to share and make a significant difference in the lives of this family.  Will it solve the world’s problems?  Probably not, but it will make a difference to two young parents and their children.

What can we do?  We can give just a little.  Estimates show that for $1500 their house could be made habitable.  That’s $100 each for 15 people; $50 each for 30 people; $25 each for 60 people.  Maybe none of us can do it alone, but together we can create a miracle for this young family.

We invite you to join us in rising to this challenge.  It’s easy, and every dollar given will move this family closer to security.  There are two ways to give:

You can send a check to:

Friends of Kairos Nicaragua
10953 Thone Road
Woodbury, MN 55129

Mark the check “house”

Or contribute online using a credit card, by using this link and then the “Donate” link on the left side of the page:

https://www.friends-of-kairos-nicaragua.org/contact-us/
Please mark your contribution “house”

99.66% of all contributions to Friends of Kairos Nicaragua go to Kairos directly.  Friends of Kairos is a registered 501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation, and all contributions are tax-deductible.

Please give what you can, and share this post with others. It is our belief and our experience that if we all give what we can, together our collective gifts will help build a world where everyone is valued and all can thrive.

Blessings!  Pam and Penny

 

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In the Valley of the Volcanoes

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In a lush green valley between Papa Imbabura and Mama Cotacachi lies the small village  we now call home.  Cotacachi , a town of about 8000 inhabitants, offers quiet streets, lovely plazas, and breathtaking views.  After two and a half years in a bustling city, we are enjoying the quiet simplicity of this semi-rural area.  We live about half a mile from the center of town on a dirt road where our indigenous neighbors drive their cows to and from pasture every day.  Along the way into town are tiendas, restaurants, small shops of varying kinds, and people who never fail to smile and speak.

img_6670.jpgIn the main mercado we buy fruits, vegetables, corn and beans, rice and most of our groceries for the week. On Thursday mornings the town has two organic markets, where we buy the prized yellow sweet potatoes, good artisan cheeses, homemade breads, and local organic shade-grown coffee.  Not to mention the extra goodies we discover there:  blueberry muffins, pecan pie, brownies, and pineapple empanadas.

At home we are finding an easy rhythm to our days.  From the front yard we have an unobstructed view of the ever-changing vistas of Mt. Imbabura.  Early mornings and late afternoon always find us on the front porch.  We are continually mesmerized. img_4691.jpgOur back sunroom and terrace open onto a view of Mt. Cotacachi which catches the morning sun and delights us as we breakfast each day.  Our large yard offers Yapa room to run and play freely. We have an avocado tree, two lemon trees, a mandarina tree–as well as trees which don’t produce fruit–and an amazing array of flowers.  We have also created beds for herbs and vegetables.  We are blessed with a crew of energetic, knowledgeable, and friendly gardeners who are teaching us a lot (and doing the heavy lifting!).

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img_6685.jpgEvery Saturday morning a lovely young woman named Lourdes arrives at our front door with fresh flowers.  For five dollars we adorn our house with 25 long-stemmed roses, grown locally.  We walk through our neighborhood several times a day and, after only three weeks, already know many of our neighbors by name.  Without exception, the people we have met here have been friendly, helpful, and welcoming.  Our new indigenous friends are introducing us to their customs and even teaching us a bit of Kichwa.

We sleep to the sound of silence and awaken to the singing of birds.  Frogs croak outside our windows; the breeze brings melodies from our wind chimes.  We are enchanted as we watch numerous kinds of hummingbirds flit from feeder to flower.  We are discovering birds we have not seen before.  And late nights and early mornings always yield stars.  We have found peace and beauty here that neither of us has ever known.

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Merry Christmas

Our crèche this year says it all:  There’s room for everybody. In addition to the traditional Nativity figures, ours includes two elephants and a giraffe from Africa, an Ecuadorian alpaca, a white squirrel from North Carolina, a giant tortoise and blue-footed booby from the Galapagos, and a little black rescue dog who has become the light of our lives.

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Maybe it’s not the way we’ve always imagined the manger scene, but who’s to say how it really happened? This one thing we know:  Jesus embraced all living creatures and welcomed them. Can we ask less of ourselves?

In this season of love and light, our wish for you, for ourselves, and for the world, is a renewed commitment to kindness, compassion, generosity, and justice. There truly is enough for us all.

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With love and peace,

Pam, Penny, & Yapa

 

 

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Africa: The People

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When most of us think of Africa, we think of the wild animals. The Big Five–lion, leopard, elephant, cape buffalo, rhinoceros. The Small Five–lion ant, leopard tortoise, elephant shrew, buffalo weaver bird, and rhinoceros beetle. The birds. And these aspects of Africa are amazing and awe-inspiring, without a doubt. There is something humbling about being in the presence of wildness.

 

But we found that the greatest gift of Africa is her people. Wherever we went–the cities, the camps, the markets, the village and school we visited, we were welcomed with kindness, warmth, openness, acceptance, and genuineness. Not to mention singing, dancing, drumming, and general exuberance. Being in their presence was nothing short of sheer joy.

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On the first day of our journey into the bush, we arrived at the Victoria Falls airport to be greeted by native dancers, singing and drumming and inviting us into the dance to join them.

 

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Each time we drove into camp, the staff welcomed us with rhythm, song, and ululation. At the end of our time at  each camp we gathered around the fire for the boma, the traditional tribal dinner under the stars, followed by music, dance, and the sharing of our two cultures. It was truly magical, and deeply moving.

 

 

 

 

IMG_2006In addition to making us feel welcome and taking care of our physical needs, the camp staff opened their lives to us and shared many fascinating details about their culture and life experience. Many times our beliefs, customs, and traditions were vastly different, and yet their transparency gave us the opportunity to expand our view of Life, and to challenge our preconceived notions of right and wrong, primitive and civilized.

IMG_2386We learned about the complexities of polygamous marriage; about courting and wedding customs vastly different from our own; about dowries and negotiations between families to seal a marriage. We learned about the responsibilities of extended family, both living and ancestral; about respect for elders and the importance of holding modern and traditional ideas in balance. We discussed controversial issues like poverty and poaching and care for the earth. We learned, we struggled, we grew.

 

In the village, we experienced a bit of what daily life is like on a small family homestead, where there is one water tap and one privy; where the women work from 4:00 a.m. to midnight, where there is a single kitchen (where men are not allowed), an outdoor sink for washing dishes, a gathering room, storage room for grains, and several sleeping huts. The buildings, created of termite mud with thatched roofs,  are round in shape, so that spirits and snakes will find no corners in which to hide.

With the villagers, we shared tea and a couple of African delicacies:  Mopane worms (a large caterpillar) and tiny Quelea birds, which are fried and eaten whole. Together we chuckled at our hesitancy to try these new treats. But those of us willing to eat them with grace were rewarded with a certificate signed and presented by the chief of the village. A rite of passage.

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In addition to the village, we also visited St. Mary’s Primary School. This is a school supported in part by the Grand Circle Foundation, the parent company of Overseas Adventure Travel–a foundation dedicated to giving back to the communities in which we travel. We were greeted by the smiling faces of happy children, singing and dancing to welcome us. We mingled with them and heard about their lives and about their dreams for the future.

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But what is a visit with children without play? One of our group brought balsa wood gliders and taught the children how to assemble and fly them. We ended our time with them by all going outdoors to set the planes soaring, amid shouts of joy and laughter–both theirs and ours.

 

 

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Perhaps the deepest relationship we established during our time in Africa was with our trip leader, Bryson. His knowledge of the bush, and of African culture and society, was vast, but what impressed us most was his heart. He shared with us both the joys and the struggles of life in Africa, the triumphs and the tragedies. Bryson is a man whose life is committed to the way of respect, compassion, and peace. His gentleness, humor, and radiating love made an impact on us that time will never erase. We are proud to call him our friend.

 

Trying to capture the spirit of Africa in these brief posts is like taking a photograph of the mountains. You can never fully grasp the multi-layered depth and breadth and height from a mere picture. It’s so much more than can be expressed in words or photos. It’s a journey to the source, and for us it felt like coming home.

 

Perhaps this picture best sums up our trip:  Despite all the ways we may be different…

we are one.

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Africa: In the Bush

On Friday we returned home after an amazing journey through Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. For nearly a year we had anticipated this trip of a lifetime, and we expected to be impressed. But we were unprepared for the depth of awe and wonder we experienced.

This will be one of several posts about our African odyssey–no one blog can possibly encompass the enormity and majesty of the wilderness that is the African bush.

But first, the animals.

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We expected elephants and giraffes–and we got them in spades. Up close and personal. There’s no way to describe the excitement (and not a little fear) of being ten feet from a massive bull elephant feeding in the marsh outside our tent. This was no zoo. This was no tame pachyderm. This was a wild creature, roaming free in a habitat in which we were the visitors.

 

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We also discovered that adolescents of all species can have attitude. On one game drive, as we were marveling at the “Parade of Elephants” surrounding us, one young male decided to demonstrate his prowess by charging the jeep and trumpeting loudly. Believe us, that gets your attention.

 

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The beauty was almost palpable:  stately giraffes and graceful impala heading for the water hole at the end of the day;

 

 

 

 

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a mother lion sleeping in the grass with her cub nearby;

 

 

 

 

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an old scarred male lion sunning himself;

 

 

 

 

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the elusive leopard

 

 

 

 

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and the massive hippos.

 

 

 

 

 

And the birds:  the lavender breasted roller, the tiny green bee eaters, the stately Marabou stork, the ever-vigilant fish eagle, and the red-billed hornbill–called by the locals “the flying chili pepper.” These were but a few of the hundreds of birds we saw.

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This complex ecosystem, so far not destroyed by human “progress,” holds valuable lessons for us. The elephants, for example, could be considered destructive in knocking down trees for food, but in so doing their massive frames open up the bush, creating paths to the water source for the smaller animals. Because they have a rather poor digestive system, using only forty percent of the food they eat, other creatures feed on the grasses and seeds found in their dung.

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The cape buffalo is one of the largest and most dangerous of the “Big Five,” but it lives in a symbiotic relationship with the tiny buffalo weaver bird, who keeps the parasites off the buffalo and uses tufts of its fur to build its hanging nests.

 

 

 

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During our adventure, we lived in tents on the marsh, along the rivers, near lakes and streams and watering holes. We were entranced with the beauty, and yet the water holds its own dangers. Two of the most dangerous creatures in the bush share these waters–the vocal hippos and the silent crocodiles. For all the animals which call this wilderness home, living to see another day requires constant vigilance.

 

Life feels real in the African bush. There is a reverence here for the natural cycles of life and death. The humans who live here walk gently on the earth. This experience, sharing the world with the wild things, is a gift that has changed us. In three weeks, we have gained a deeper appreciation for wilderness. It is inconceivable that anyone would wish to harm these beautiful creatures.

And yet….

Every sixteen minutes, an elephant is slaughtered for its ivory. The black and white rhinos are almost extinct because they are hunted for their horns. While there are many efforts to stem the tide of destruction, poaching continues to threaten this primal way of life. And once these magnificent animals disappear, there will be no more. Eden will be gone forever.

Our prayer is that reverence for life will triumph over human greed. May it be so.

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Africa Calling

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The first two rules of travel:

1) Plan carefully.

2) Expect unexpected changes to the plan.

 

 

In three days we leave on the trip of a lifetime–three weeks in tent camps in the heart of southern Africa. We have planned this trip for over a year. Every detail has been examined and re-examined. We have packed and re-packed; we have checked and re-checked our flights; we have read and re-read all the information provided by the company organizing our trip. In short, we were prepared.

Or so we thought.

Today, while writing down the dates of our many flights into and out of six countries, we discovered that–oops!–our flight out of Johannesburg at the end of our trip was scheduled for a day after everyone else left. How could that be, as organized and diligent as we both have been?

A quick call to the tour company confirmed the truth:  The end date of the trip in their literature is the day travelers are due back in the U.S.– not the date they leave South Africa. Who knew? Obviously, we didn’t.

What to do, what to do? Well, there was nothing else for it except to enjoy an additional day and night in Johannesburg. And so we shall.

One of the many gifts of travel is the opportunity to learn flexibility, to enjoy the adventures you did not plan and never expected. And to smile through it all.

And so, on Friday evening, we leave Ecuador on our way to Africa. Along the way we get to spend a little time in Madrid, a little time in Dubai, and a lot of time in four of the great national parks of Africa. We find ourselves wondering what other surprises lie in store.

Stay tuned….

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