Friday, October 31, 2008


Some friends visited Bali about 17 years ago when it was still predominately dirt roads and small villages, but now this beautiful island has exploded into a tourist attraction chock-full of spas and resorts and shopping galore. Some friends and I stayed in the lap of luxury for a few days where the hot sun browned our skin and the ocean swallowed up the black sandy beaches (volcanoes are found throughout the island) at high tide. The sunsets were spectacular and Balinese food divine. I wandered to the Hindu temple pictured above very early one morning before any other tourists and did my best to stay far from the entrance, knowing that my knee-length, sleeveless dress was inappropriate for a visit. I happened upon two surprisingly eager priests who insisted on anointing my head and offering a blessing. I offered a bewildered thanks and gingerly retraced my steps back to the hotel, having no idea what the small grains of rice on my forehead were supposed to mean.

Two highlights of the trip included an excursion into more rural parts of the island, which captures, at least in part, more of Balinese culture. Religious festivals are regularly celebrated and one evening we followed a parade of faithful worshippers that were bringing fruit and vegetable offerings to a nearby temple.

But my favorite excursion of all was my visit to 9th generation medicine man, Ketut Liyer, who studied my hands and face, neck and knees before sharing some wisdom with me. I was utterly charmed by this ancient man whose kind, keen eyes and warm hospitality were a refreshing change from all of the touristy interactions I’d had with locals. He was delighted to find out that I am a “priest” and assured me that this was the right profession for me. He smiled a near toothless grin as he tried to find the right English word to describe me. He stumbled through, “Perfume (perfoom)...fragrance (faygwense)... and after conversing with my friend Becca who speaks fluent Indonesian he looked at me and said “Gardenia.” My mother’s favorite flower was the gardenia, so I took this as a fine compliment.

--Bali is just one of 17,500(ish) islands that make up the diverse country of Indonesia (only 6,000 are inhabited)
--It is nestled in the Indian ocean with Malaysia to the North and Australia to the South
--The population, at least on Bali, is predominately Hindu (yep, reincarnation, karma, etc...), although most don’t practice meditation like their Indian neighbors
--Most Islands in Indonesia have their own language (Balinese for example), but also speak the common language “Indonesian”

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Kingdom of Swaziland

Today we spent time in the Malkerns valley, which is absolutely stunning. Wandered up to a waterfall surrounded by lush green trees and mouthwatering purple jacaranda. Vervet monkeys danced in the branches while a cool breeze tempered the hot sun-- absolutely splendid--- you couldn't ask for a nicer afternoon.

This tiny, circular country nestles into its massive sister South Africa, but shares very little of its sociological complexity. I am trying to be diplomatic here. In actuality, what I love about Swaziland is that it shares very little of South Africa’s paranoia and preoccupation with safety. Don’t get me wrong, South Africa is stunning and awash with charm, beauty, rich diverse cultures, and wonderful people (and perhaps has good reason to be nervous), but I love that I can plop down with Swazi mamas without any pretense or suspicion while they sell jewelry or weave grass into baskets and rugs.

Tracy and I gathered quite the crowd when we asked some women to teach us how to wear proper Swazi headscarves. We received many ooohs and aaahs after we had them on. I looked like I was wearing a turban, which made me laugh and could almost glimpse the camel that would whisk me away into the desert.

We were hosted by a wonderful woman Hlobisle (ummm, lots of “clicks” in their language—very tricky to pronounce) who oversees an HIV/AIDS program with the Mennonite Central Committee. 39% of the population is HIV positive. Yes, you read that right. They have the highest prevalence in the world. Devastating. Polygamy is practiced by its king and I suppose in the rural areas as well. “Free Condoms” were everywhere. Hlobisle said that sex education is not good in Swaziland and starts far too late, but I know there are many organizations bolstering Swazi programs targeting HIV reduction. Everyone is affected in this small country—even if they aren’t infected.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Black Friday?

While the major economies of the world were imploding, I was supposed to be laying on beautiful white sand beaches in Mozambique. Instead, the forces of nature conspired against me and I was down for the count like lots of other folks (except mine was a broken body). Got terribly sick with a serious ear/throat infection. Try dragging yourself to a clinic and attempting to communicate in Portuguese, "I CANNOT SWALLOW AND WE SHOULD JUST END THINGS NOW!" Thankfully, the doc was fantastic and hooked me up with some powerful antibiotics. My friend Tracy and I made it to the beaches of Tofo and the first full day it poured down rain, so we found some fun Swiss guys to hang out with while magnificent storms gathered over the ocean and provided a great backdrop to "Settler's of Catan" (German version), some local bead games, and local brew.
Wish I had the pictures to prove it, but spent one day snorkeling with whalesharks (magnificent, massive creatures that you really should google) and dolphins. Mama and baby dolphins circled our boat while we bathed in delicious ocean spray.

There is more to write, but as always, time is short. I'll give you the Swaziland update soon....

Monday, October 6, 2008

Babies, sweet babies

Well, these little darlings could break the hardest heart. Spent some time with a lovely missionary family in Maseru and Nancy Dimmock introduced me to a local orphanage where I spent two days holding babies, wiping noses, changing nappies and playing some hand-clap games. New people are in and out of their wee lives and although they are clean and fed, they hardly have any stimulation and spend almost every hour of every day in one large room. O babies.

This pic is of me and little Jackson, the youngest of the Dimmock family, with whom I bonded this week. The Dimmock family is multicultural in every way-- get this-- when Nancy had her first baby (1985-- APARTHEID, Lesotho) her husband Frank brought home a little Masotho baby (singular tense for a person from Lesotho) who had been born to an orphan girl who died just days after delivery. They adopted this wee child and can you imagine the stir they caused when Nancy would breastfeed the boys in public-- one black baby and one white baby?! Amazing. Amazing, our fragility. We are capable of both incredible goodness and wickedness-- and beauty and hope emerges-- from the most surprising places.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

In the mountains of Lesotho...

How many kingdoms are left in this world? Can't be too many, but I happen to be in one just now. Went pony trekking in the mountains. Shepherds hang out with sheep and cattle on steep, lonely hillsides wearing traditional blankets draped over one shoulder with staffs clasped in one hand and small plastic containers of snuff in the other. Tobacco and other smokable vegetation are quite popular.

It was so nice to climb onto a minibus as soon as I arrived in this country and feel, for just a brief moment, that I was back at home in Zambia. The people are friendly and sing and drum on the bus (when inspired) just like in Zambia. I just so happened to be in this little mountain village for an annual ceremony that initiates boys into manhood (boys are circumcised at 18 here!). I got to dance with the mamas, watch the men slaughter a bull, turn my nose up to locally brewed beer, and watch the young one's cause ruckus all night. I was with a random Englishman for the trek who walked around with a stunned look on his face. We stayed up late into the night in our little hut discussing the world and theology and finished the evening with a game of "3 Truths and a Lie." This was amusing and he was shocked to discover that being a "Presbyterian Minister" was not a lie I made up for the game.

As always, I tried to upload a video and the net would have none of it. It's not even a big file! Lame, lame, lame. Someday you'll be amused by some short videos, but until then, some pics will have to do...