Tag Archives: travel

acr5516202132275221083203

‘CLICK’ GO THE MOMENTS

Story and Photos by Eli Lucas

Editor’s Note: Ray Lucas, our regular columnist, opted to give way to his son for this month’s A Life in Progress column.

s a photography enthusiast, I love capturing images, but I feel it sometimes separates me from the moment. Recently, I was fortunate enough to travel to Southern Africa with my grandmother and my great aunt. As we journeyed through South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana, I found myself in a photographer’s paradise.

A cheetah 2 feet away, elephants by the dozen, provocative urban photos and rolling landscapes that make Floyds Knobs look like an ant hill.

For weeks, I captured Southern Africa through a lens, taking hundreds of images until one man from a village in Zimbabwe challenged me to use my camera with stronger purpose.

The afternoon after I had fed elephants in Victoria Falls, I travelled to the local village, Ko Mpisi. When I stepped off the bus, I was greeted by a man who met me with a smile and a handshake. I smiled right back and pulled my hand away to reach into my camera bag. I asked if I could take a photo of him and he complied.

As I toured his village, he explained that he represented over 1,000 people who lived in the bush and how his way of life was simple and honest. I nodded, smiled and clicked away.

I harvested corn with the locals… click.

I watched a man cook a chicken for his family… click click.

I entered a hut to see where his family slept at night… click, click, click.

I felt a hand on the shoulder that my camera strap rested on. It was the village leader, the same man that greeted me when I got off the bus. He approached to tell me that his village hosted people from all around the world and that I should consider returning. He reached for my hand and shook it but didn’t let go. He held my hand in his for what felt like minutes, as if we had been friends for decades. He asked me to consider returning to his village to live. The feeling of a stranger’s hand in my own as he asked me to adopt his people’s culture was overwhelming; I nodded my head and explained that if I could come up with the funds I would return next summer. He smiled and nodded but didn’t let go. His eyes never strayed from mine and his hand never flinched despite the growing heat between our palms. No photo could’ve captured what I felt in that intimate moment in the Zimbabwe desert.

Going into the trip, I was searching for picturesque material that Google Images showcase.

As the journey progressed, I developed an appreciation for the land that I walked on and the people I met. By the last safari, I decided to leave my camera at the lodge. I took care to listen to the names of each person I met, and I decided to adopt the village leader’s prolonged handshake when I greeted people. When I returned home, I discovered that I had taken close to 2,000 photos over the first two weeks, and less than 200 during the last week. My most valuable photos were taken in one or two clicks, not a dozen.

They say a photo is worth a thousand words.

However, a photo can’t capture the surprisingly powerful hum of a cheetah’s purr.

A photo can’t capture the way an elephant thanks you with her eyes after you feed her.

Or how a fried mopane worm crunches before it melts in your mouth.

I learned that as much as I wish it could, a photo can’t capture the heat that generates between two hands held together beneath the African sun.

screen-shot-2018-06-26-at-12-28-17-pm

Into the Mountains

A Journey of Loss And Acceptance in Wyoming

STORY & PHOTOS BY MIRANDA MCDONALD

“Are you meeting someone in Jackson Hole?” inquired the lady sitting next to me on the plane.

I wondered if she was genuinely curious or simply making conversation because she felt as anxious as I did about the turbulence currently bombarding our tiny aircraft.

“No,” I choked out as I tightly gripped the arm rest of my seat. At this point, my stomach felt like it was permanently lodged in my throat. “I am actually spending the week alone.”

“Oh. What brings you to Wyoming?” she continued. Her confusion now momentarily replacing the fear.

As I looked down at the backpack wedged between my feet, I thought of the list of possible answers I could give her: a failed marriage, the two years of utter confusion that followed, or I could describe the overwhelming guilt I carried with me every day since the moment I decided to leave my old life behind.

“I am here to hike in Grand Teton National Park and do some writing.” I decided to keep it simple.

“That sounds nice,” she replied. “Be sure to take some bear spray and try to find other hikers to walk with on the trails. They say groups of three are best!”

I wanted to tell her it wasn’t the bears I feared. I wanted to explain to her that I was embarking on a spiritual journey with this trip, and that I hoped to unpack all that guilt I had strapped on my back so many months ago and leave it on those trails in the mountains.

Besides the wildlife tour I had booked two days prior to my departure, lightening my mental load was the only thing I had really planned for the trip. Oh, but there was the minor detail of finding a place to sleep for three nights. I had thought about pitching a tent. However, once I discovered the temperatures dipped down to the 30s when the sun went down, I decided to book a stay at a Heart Six Ranch in Moran, instead.

My Arrival

Like the city itself, which has a population of just under 12,000 people, the Jackson Hole airport was small. Well, small enough for it to nestle comfortably at the southern base of the Grand Teton mountain range. As I stepped off the plane and onto the tarmac, I counted the snow-covered mountain caps directly in front of me. The mountains were unlike any I had ever seen.

“I hope you enjoy your stay in Wyoming,” the lady said with a smile as she walked by with her luggage rolling noisily behind her.

I watched her walk quickly ahead of me and into the airport. She had been so kind, and yet I had never bothered to ask her name. I was thinking of our interaction on the plane when my thoughts were interrupted by the sound of another plane flying overhead. I guess names were irrelevant at this point. It was time to gather my luggage and pick up my rental car.

Twenty-Six Miles

Even though the temperature was only 50s in Wyoming that day, I rolled down every window in my rental so I could take in the spring air rolling off the mountains. I quickly typed the address to Heart Six Ranch into Google Maps, and it informed me that I only had 26 miles to travel from the airport. However, what Google didn’t mention was that I would be driving through a national elk refuge that housed 25,000 acres of wildlife, or that I would also encounter some of the most beautiful views of the Grand Teton mountains during my commute.

By the time I reached Moran, I had parked to take pictures at almost every turnabout on the highway, stopped twice to allow elk to cross the road and watched a moose graze in a small creek that was just a few miles away from the ranch. Somehow, I turned my 30-minute journey into four hours of sightseeing.

When I finally reached Heart Six Ranch, the sun was going down, and I was welcomed by a furry, four-legged “ranch hand” named Leo. His body stiffened and he began barking as I got out of my car. As a peace offering, I let him sniff my hands. I guess he found my smell acceptable because once he was finished, he walked with me to the lodge for check in. I had been in Moran for less than an hour and had already made a friend.

A Cup of Coffee

The next morning, I loaded my backpack with water, a journal, my camera and a book, and walked over to the main lodge at the ranch. I needed guidance on which trails to hike while in the national park. Leo was sprawled out and still asleep on the couch by the front desk, but the property manager was already up and reading the local newspaper behind the counter.

“I was told I need a big can of bear spray for my hike,” I said as I slung my bag onto the desk. I hoped a little humor would be a good way to start a conversation so early in the day.

“Of course, but how about some coffee first?” he asked.

As we walked into the dining room, the smell of eggs drifted from the kitchen and into my nose. With our coffee in hand, we sat at a large table made of beautiful, tan wood. It matched the logs that constructed the entire building and all the cabins on the property. I sipped my coffee slowly and hoped it would help me shake off the fogginess from another sleepless night. I seemed to be having quite a few of those lately.

“So, what brings you to Wyoming?” he asked.

“I want to hike the trails by the Grand Tetons, and hopefully do some writing,” I explained.

“Oh, you are a writer,” he said with as much enthusiasm as he could muster up before 8 a.m. “What will you write about?”

I picked my mug up and took a large drink of the hot liquid inside. “Divorce,” I explained after the coffee was fully down. Something about his presence made me feel comfortable enough to finally say it. “Well, not just divorce. I want to start figuring out who I am after divorce.”

“I see,” he replied.

“I was recently laid off from my desk job, so my schedule just got a lot more flexible,” I responded with a sarcastic tone as I played with the loose string hanging from a seam in my jeans. “I don’t own a home. I have no kids or even a dog. My marriage is over and there is no significant other that claims me. Oh, and my landlord just sold the house I am living in. So, here I am.”

“I see,” he replied again. “So, you are a gypsy?” His tone made the words sound more like a declaration than an actual question. “At this point in your life, you don’t have anything tying you down to one place,” he continued. “You, my dear, are a gypsy.”

I had never thought about this title before. Of course, I had been labeled many over the years: sister, writer, spouse, friend, coworker and now there was the heavy title of ex-wife. However, this one – gypsy – was completely new to me. I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about it, but I sat there for a moment and imagined myself trying the word on like a new pair of gloves. In my head, I pictured myself slowly pulling these gloves up over my fingers and then onto my wrists. Looking down at them as they covered both hands, I wasn’t quite sure how they fit.

“Now, about that bear spray,” he said after a long moment of silence.

Lake Taggart

After a few recommendations from various sources, I decided to hike the trail to Taggart Lake first. I was informed the walk was under 5 miles and boasted spectacular views of the park.

Once I arrived at the starting point, I laced up my hiking boots, tightened the straps on my backpack and wrapped a denim jacket around my waist. With a can of bear spray also hanging from my belt strap, I started my journey to the lake.

Even though it was May, there were still mounds of snow covering parts of the path. Eventually, I came upon a bridge that had an extraordinary view of a small waterfall. I slowly walked onto the narrow apparatus, and with water rushing over rocks of all shapes and sizes below me, I sat on its edge and dangled my feet over the side.

I thought about why I was there. I forced myself into these woods in search of something that would help me finally move forward and out of my current mental state, but I still wasn’t quite sure what that something was. I guess I was hoping it would meet me somewhere on the trail.

After sitting for a few moments, I realized the answers I searched for were not on that bridge, so I got up and started walking again.

I hiked a mile before I reached a small clearing. The trees were sparse in this area, and the snow was deep. I had only come across a few hikers that morning, but there was still a large path of footprints showing me the way to a part of the woods where the trail picked back up. The sun bounced off the snow with such ferocity that I was forced to shield my eyes with one hand as I walked. Once I reached the next set of trees, the temperature took a noticeable drop. I was getting close to the lake.

After a few minutes of walking through more snow and trees, I came to another clearing and stepped out onto a bed of pebbles. I then looked up and before me was a frozen Taggart Lake and an astonishing view of the Grand Tetons behind it. I walked to a fallen tree at the edge of this frozen body of water, and after a few minutes of stunned silence, I sat down to journal.

This is what I wrote:

At some point after my divorce, I came to believe that I deserved to be punished for hurting a person that I loved for so many years. Even if our 12-year relationship needed to an end, the guilt I feel from leaving my marriage consumes me every day. I still see the pain in his face and the fear in his eyes when I told him I had to leave. I still hear sadness in his voice when he told me not to go. The memory is just so vivid in my mind.

I have allowed this memory to block all the good memories that came from my marriage. I have allowed this memory to put a halt to any happiness that has tried to enter my life since that day. My failed marriage has made me also feel like a complete failure.

However, as I sit in front of something so grand and pure, I realize that there is so much beauty to be seen in this world. I have to start making space for this beauty. I have to unpack this guilt and leave it at on the edge of this lake.

I sat on the shore of Taggart Lake for what seemed like an hour. It was so peaceful in this spot that I could hear the silence fill the space around the trees behind me. Tears rolled down my face as I sat in the silence.

Before I started my journey back, I walked to the edge of the lake. There were a few inches of shallow water that had thawed under the warming rays of the sun. Dipping my fingers into the cold water, I tried to imagine the entire ecosystem that existed just below the surface. There was so much life sitting under that ice and it was just waiting for everything to melt so that it could finally reveal itself. Was I like this lake? Was I also waiting for a new season to arrive so that I could finally reveal a metamorphosis that was slowly taking place just underneath my own surface?

I’m Not Good at Goodbyes

After three days of soul searching on the trails of the Grand Tetons, it was time for me to catch my flight back home. I woke up early to see my last sunrise at Heart Six Ranch. As I watched the sun peek over the valley below the lodge, I wished I had booked my stay for longer. Leo must have known I would be leaving soon because he came to sit down beside me around the time the sun was almost completely above the ridge.

“I am not good at goodbyes,” I said to the French Mastiff as I rubbed a spot behind his ear. Besides a small group of bison I stopped for every day while driving back and forth to Jackson Hole, Leo and the ranch manager were the only regular contacts I made while in Wyoming. Most of my days were spent alone, and in silence.

A few more minutes passed before I walked to my cabin to gather the luggage I packed the night before. Leo followed closely behind. I picked up my backpack. It seemed so heavy when I first arrived, but now it felt a bit lighter. I guess I had accomplished lightening my load after all. This made me smile.

“Where will you go next, Gypsy?” the manager asked as I started to walk to my car with my luggage, Leo my faithful escort.

“Everywhere. I will go everywhere,” I declared with a feeling of confidence I hadn’t felt in some time.

After all, I was now a gypsy and there is just so much world to see.

screen-shot-2017-09-25-at-11-06-43-am

Explore | Giving Hope in Africa

screen-shot-2017-09-25-at-11-06-43-am

Local writer goes to Kenya to learn, comes back with a new sense of purpose

BY ROBYN DAVIS SEKULA | COURTESY PHOTOS

I am sitting in a quiet room in the home of Philister, a farmer in far Western Kenya. She lives on a piece of sweeping land under the bluest skies I’ve ever seen. The only sounds I can hear are chickens clucking, the wind rustling tall corn, birds singing and the conversation we’re having with a resilient farmer in a dim house.

It is quiet here, but it is not peaceful. Not for me, anyway. That’s because here in Kenya, I feel the weight of poverty in a way I never have before – and it will change me.

But I don’t know that yet.

What I’m feeling here today in Philister’s packed mud home is my first pangs of understanding that Africa is both gloriously beautiful, sacred and stirring – but it is accompanied by crushing poverty. Philister has land – plenty – to grow the crops she needs to feed her family. But she doesn’t yet have the knowledge she needs to grow the right kinds of crops or to have enough left over to sell.

Philister has an additional burden: she is HIV positive. Most days, she skips meals so that her children can eat at the end of the day. She takes her HIV medication on schedule; the government gives it to her for free. But the doctor is hours away, and her only way to get there is to walk. She can’t even afford to ride on the back of someone else’s motorbike, which is a common, inexpensive way for people to get where they need to go.

It might cost a quarter or 50 cents. She can’t afford that.

When your choice is eat or ride, you choose eat. Every time.

When your choice is to feed your kids or feed yourself, you choose your kids. Every time.

And this is the great pain of Africa – or at least this part of Kenya. It isn’t that people don’t have electricity, or the stuff that we Americans have. I thought that’s what would be sad, the contrast between the ridiculous abundance of stuff in my home and the sparsity of their lives.

But no. That’s not what’s sad.

Instead, what is sad is that they don’t have enough to eat. That every day is another day they wake up unsure if they’ll be able to have a meal. That every day could be the day that challenges them past the point of survival.

And that is why I’m in Kenya. I’m here with Send a Cow, a 30-year-old non-profit organization based in the U.K. I’m on their U.S. Board of Trustees. In my life in New Albany, I’m a public relations and social media consultant with a heart for non-profit work. I’ve done a lot with the Presbyterian Mission Agency as a client and continue to seek out such work. I’m a mom of three girls. I’m 45. I do CrossFit when I get there; that’s usually three times a week.

My world is beyond comfortable. It’s luxurious.

And now, I’m ashamed and not quite sure what to do about it. It was just day one of a week-long trip to Kenya.

FIRST VISIT TO AFRICA

I’ve never been to Africa. Heck, I’ve never set foot in a developing country, save for a January afternoon in Tijuana, Mexico. I’m here to learn about Send a Cow and to understand the work this nonprofit is doing to lead Africans to teach each other about agriculture.

I’m involved in Send a Cow because a dear college friend, Douglas Smith, asked me to get involved. Doug is an extremely intelligent, progressive Christian, like me, and when he asked me to join Send a Cow’s board, he told me it was low commitment and an interim appointment, just until they could decide on strategy for the U.S. group.

But I don’t do anything halfway, and suddenly, I was holding small meetings for Send a Cow supporters in Louisville and committing to a trip to Kenya.

What sold me on Send a Cow was the research I did before I committed. I poked around Send a Cow’s website. I watched videos that explained their work. I read about them. Everything I saw confirmed what I want to see from nonprofits and ministries: their work is done in partnership with people who live and work in the countries they serve.

This means that the organization doesn’t show up with 200 cases of food, shoes, Bibles – whatever – and drop it off and leave. And it also means that the organization hires and works with native people, who know best the culture, language and nuances of the people they serve.

Send a Cow employs about 250 people in Africa; all but three are Africans. They work in Kenya, Ethiopia, Zambia, Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda. The workers there are peer farmers who go from farm to farm offering help and advice on raising livestock as well as crops. They are helping farmers in Kenya move away from tobacco, which provides no nutritional value, strips the land of valuable nutrients and no longer brings in the cash it once did. They teach farmers specific farming methods, such as keyhole gardens, which include a compost pit in the center, and plants positioned around it in a ring. It holds water well and keeps crops alive during times of drought. They also provide vital training in gender and social development so that husbands and wives can work better together.

The name suggests that Send a Cow sends cows to developing countries. When it started almost 30 years ago, that’s exactly what the organization did. Send a Cow is finding now that the organization can have greater impact in some areas that they serve by training people in agriculture, rather than or along with giving cows, goats or livestock. The Kakrao project will work directly with 600 farmers in Africa; if the organization attempted to give livestock instead, it would take far longer and the cost would be prohibitive. Also, the organization doesn’t ship cows over any more; they buy local livestock that will fare better, since it is native to the country.

Livestock – particularly cows – are a wise investment, though, for Send a Cow. A cow provides dairy, and the manure will enrich the soil on the farm and allow crops to flourish. Then the cows breed and the offspring are passed along to another farmer through Send a Cow. We had the opportunity to attend a passing ceremony, and it was lovely to see the joy in the faces of the farmers receiving a cow.

But it’s not always the right choice, and I love that Send a Cow evaluates carefully what farmers need before working with them.

Kenya varies in climate and soil, so needs vary. But one thing that affects all: Kenya is often stricken by drought. The country depends on the “long rains,” but they did not come consistently this year. Some places we traveled had had too much rain to grow what they called ground nuts (perhaps peanuts, I wasn’t really sure). Other places were so dry they had struggled to keep banana trees alive.

PREPARATIONS FOR TRAVEL

In preparing for my trip, I listened to a podcast called “Otherwise?” that was created by a Kenyan journalist. She spends 10 to 15 minutes each week exploring an aspect of modern Kenyan life. Hearing her talk about drought and famine in Kenya helped prepare me for this trip, as did her discussion with a medical student about the doctors’ strike that had occurred earlier in 2017. In Kenya, public hospitals are run by the government, and doctors were striking for better pay and working conditions for themselves, and for better patient care.

I also sought out Kenyan-born authors to read and understand more about the country. One thing to know about Kenya: it was a British colony until 1963, and you can see this influence throughout the country. While the native tongue is Swahili for most of the country, many people we met, even in the most remote parts of Kenya, spoke English.

I’m not really interested in the stories of the white colonists who came to Kenya, no matter how benevolent. Out of Africa doesn’t interest me. What do those who are truly born of Kenyan soil have to say about their world? That’s what I want.

Many of the names of people we met were downright Biblical: Titus, Nicodemus, Isaac, Sarah… and that directly reflects the high number of Western missionaries who came to Kenya. Some early missionaries erased some of the native culture of the country and contributed to the westernization of Africa.

I saw some of the worst parts of U.S. culture popping up all over Western Kenya as we drove through small towns: Coca-Cola ads at nearly every stop. It bothered me deeply to see this country with high rates of malnutrition advertising so heavily for soda pop.

But back to Philister.

BEFORE SEND A COW

We started our first day at Philister’s home, meeting her granddaughter and her mother-in-law, who told us she was 97 but none of us were quite sure of that. She seemed more like a tough 75. This is a place where people may not even know their own birth dates.

From Philister’s, we drove to the home of Caren, who spoke to us brightly about her life. Caren lives in Kakrao where HIV rates are twice as high as Kenya’s national average and most of the population lives on less than $1 per day. On this day, she seemed almost perky as she told us how her children remind her it’s time to take the medication. Later, we learned that she was probably putting on a good face for us. Her three children, the oldest of whom looked about 10, stood around her as she talked to us under the shade of a tree. They were not in school that day; she may have kept them home to meet us or may not have been able to send them for some other reason. I wasn’t sure, and such questions felt like judgement. So, I didn’t ask.

Our next stop was a dairy co-op. This was the first breath of hope we saw on our trip. The co-op leaders explained that farmers were bringing in milk and banding together to sell their milk as a group, getting a higher price than they could any other way. They had purchased a pasteurizing machine, which was expected to arrive soon, and would dramatically improve their efforts.

At dinner that night, we were exhausted, drained and quiet. The day had been hard and sad, and had left us feeling a sense of emptiness as we contemplated what the lives of these two women were like on a daily basis. We looked at our own food gratefully, knowing we were fortunate to have it.

Though the day was heavy, it was a good way for us to understand what life was like for farmers without Send a Cow. We’d spend the next three days seeing what productive farms looked like.

When Send a Cow starts its program at Kakrao this fall, both Philister and Caren will receive agricultural training and help. Knowing that was the first glimmer of hope I had on the trip and it set the tone for the rest of the week.

screen-shot-2017-09-25-at-11-07-01-amLIFE IN KENYA

I get motion sick very easily. I worried what the travel would be like in Kenya, but somehow found myself in the third row of a Land Rover-style vehicle we called “the beast.” Funny thing: when you are staring at the outside world in a moving vehicle, you don’t get car sick. And that’s all I could do in the beast.

Titus Sagala, country director for Send a Cow, sat next to me in the third row, and I had a million questions for him. What’s that vehicle? Why are there so many people on that motorbike? What happens if you get into an accident? Do you get speeding tickets here? How do you say thanks in Swahili?

Titus put up with our questions with the patience of a saint. There was so much to see, absorb and learn simply staring out the windows.

For the record, Titus’ answers to the questions were:

• “That’s a tuk tuk.” (It was a three-wheeled vehicle used as a type of taxi, giving hired rides.)

• “People pay to ride on the back of other people’s motorbikes. I’ve seen people put their cows on motorbikes.” (What? I never saw that but I wanted to. Desperately.)

• “If you get into an accident, mostly, you go on with your life if everything is OK.” In fact, we did, and we just went on.

• “Speeding tickets are a big deal and can cost a lot of time and money if you have to go to court.”

• “Asante sana.”

We saw lots and lots and lots of people on foot throughout Western Kenya on main roads. They walked with shoes, without, some dressed up in smart suits or children in school uniforms. We saw people in western-style clothes and people in more traditional dress, especially women, which included a head wrap. Some were barefoot; most were not.

Just as you might imagine, women carried things on their heads, backs stick-straight as they balanced wide, shallow bowls filled with bananas on top of their heads. More commonly, we spotted tall, white bags on their heads. They carried water in big, yellow jugs – but not on their heads.

My western viewpoint told me this was a hard life. To them, it is just life. You walk where you need to go, you learn to balance things on your head at a young age, you grow your own food, you hang up laundry to dry outside. You live in a mud hut because it is what you have. If you are fortunate, you receive a full education, but nothing is offered for free beyond primary school.

And that presents the common thread I found throughout this trip, the thing that unites us all and changes my perspective: We all want the same things. Me, sitting in my home in New Albany, happy and air-conditioned: I want a good education for my children, and for them to receive as much education as possible.

Philister, on her farm in Kenya right now as you read this, wants that, too. She wants her children to receive as much education as possible.

We all want the same things. For some, though, it is much more a struggle to get it.

MORE FARMS, AND HOPE

The farmers we visited in Kenya in the next three days of our trip all want that, too. Every time we asked about their hopes and dreams for the future, it was never for themselves. It was for the next generation. Children are inescapable in Kenya; they surround you at every farm. If you live in Kenya, you’re raising your own children, and likely someone else’s, too, maybe a sister or brother who has passed on or who has “gone away,” as we were told more than once as part of a family story. Where did they go? They shrug. No one knows.

These farmers met us joyfully. They wanted to show us their beautiful land, the many crops they grew, their prized livestock. At one farm, the three goats bore the names of the two Send a Cow peer farmers who had helped her, and the third was named Nelson Mandela. Banana trees were lush, green and large.

A male farmer, whose wife had worked with Send a Cow for years before her death, proudly showed off the kitchen he used, which simply had two designated spots to build fires for cooking, and proudly showed off the drying rack for dishes that he had built. Until someone from Send a Cow showed them, they simply do not know it isn’t sanitary to put washed dishes on the ground.

They just do not know, and as simple as that change is, sanitation can save lives.

At this farm, we were invited to plant a tree there, and they would name it for us. It was a tiny sapling. The farmer dug a small hole, and we placed the tree in it. I covered it in dirt, watered it a bit and everyone clapped.

It seems ridiculously silly, doesn’t it? At this point in the trip, I was craving the ability to provide some type of tangible help, and this was more than welcome.

There is a tiny sapling in Africa named Robyn. It makes me stupid happy to think about it.

After we planted our trees, we toured another farm. This farmer had a drip irrigation system, which Send a Cow helped her create. They bought the hoses with holes punctured in them and would fill a large cistern with water they carried from a stream or watershed. Gravity would carry the water through the hose and gently water the crops.

This farmer stood in the midst of her bright green field, brimming with crops, in a beautiful orange dress and sang us a song about how much Send a Cow meant to her. It was delightful, and it conveyed to us the joy that she was experiencing every day in providing for herself and her family.

So simple, but so powerful – and one of many powerful women we met.

screen-shot-2017-09-25-at-11-19-07-amGIRL POWER

At the end of days two and three, we visited co-ops where people came together to work with each other and grow their farms. The loveliest part to me was the “girl power” involved: those leading the way at each place were women. One man in our group asked why that was, and he was answered by one of the men, who said simply that women return messages and calls, and they get things done. The other men in attendance laughed, and shook their heads in agreement.

The women had such a strong sense of pride in their groups. They sewed dresses out of the same bright fabric to create uniforms that would all identify them as part of the same co-op.

They even loaned each other money, doing some table banking, for expansions or other needs.

The shift from that first day that started with Philister to the next few days was a change from resignation to joy, and that was wonderful to see. It was largely that sense of community that changed things for these women. The presence of a peer farmer from Send a Cow or a member of your co-op buoyed your spirits. It has long seemed to me that large amounts of money are necessary to solve big problems, such as hunger in Africa. But it’s not that way.

Solving big problems starts with listening. It starts with understanding the root causes of the problems. It starts with knowing that the person who stopped taking their HIV drugs did so because it made them feel terrible, and they felt terrible because they didn’t eat enough before they took the drugs.

Why don’t they have enough food? Because they aren’t growing the right kinds or using the best techniques.

While I can’t solve the hunger problems in all of Africa, I can help Philister, Caren and 598 other families grow more, and better, food. I can help them protect their watersheds.

I can do all of that.

SO, WHAT NOW?

I landed in Louisville on Mother’s Day evening. My husband, mother and three daughters were waiting for me at the airport. We went directly to Red Robin for something I desperately wanted: a cheeseburger. And it was delicious.

I fell into a deep sleep that night in my own bed with vivid dreams due to the malaria medication. I took a single day to edit down my photos, nest at home, catch up on laundry and just enjoy the quiet.

But by day two at home, I could feel something in me shifting.

There is a shift that occurs in probably anyone who has truly experienced a developing country and has really listened, absorbed and understood what they were seeing.

My question now is what I will do about it.

I’m not certain I have an answer. But I do know this: I feel a deep sense of duty to change the world. For me, that service will be through Send a Cow. I want to continue to serve in any way I’m asked. I will go to Africa when they ask me to go. I will support this organization financially. I will speak about this incredible work to whomever will have me. It is the support I can give, here, right now.

You see, it’s not really necessary for me, a person with no background in agriculture or living in Kenya, to give up everything here and move there to help. Chances are, I’d do more harm than good.

The best thing I can do is remember, listen, read, and talk about my experiences.

The best thing I can do is continue to see.

Once you see, you cannot unsee, says Greg Ellison of the Chandler School of Theology at Emory University. I heard that quote in my work with the Presbyterian Foundation, and I’ve never forgotten it.

I have seen Kenya.

I have seen Philister.

I have seen Caren.

I cannot unsee them.

And I never want to.

Robyn Davis Sekula is a public relations, marketing and social media consultant and speaker who lives in New Albany. She is a member of the Board of Trustees of Send a Cow, an international non-profit that works in some of the poorest countries in Africa. In her working life, she primarily consults with organizations and business in communications, social media, public relations and marketing and is a frequent speaker on social media, communications and branding, and yes, she would be happy to talk to local groups about Send a Cow’s work in Kenya. A former journalist, Robyn has served as President of the Society of Professional Journalists, Louisville Pro Chapter, and as Membership Chair of the national SPJ organization. In her personal time, she is a mother of three girls, CrossFit enthusiast, avid traveler and music junkie.screen-shot-2017-09-25-at-11-07-51-am

screen-shot-2017-09-25-at-11-08-00-amInstead, what is sad is that they don’t have enough to eat. That every day is another day they wake up unsure if they’ll be able to have a meal. That every day could be the day that challenges them past the point of survival.

If You Go… 

GENERAL: Kenya is an excellent place to visit, but do be aware that 2017 is a presidential election and it is more chaotic than usual there. Protests can break out spontaneously and without much warning. I visited Western Kenya with Send a Cow, and while I found it fascinating, I would only recommend it if you’re going with a group and have identified what you’d like to do there. Nairobi is definitely worth your time and has lots to offer tourists. Coastal areas, which I did not visit, sound lovely, but are predominantly Muslim, so take care in how you dress.

GETTING THERE: I flew from Louisville to Newark, and from Newark made my way by taxi to JFK airport. The taxi ride was about $130 including tolls, so this was far pricier than I expected. Train/subway, bus and shuttle are also options. I took the subway/train on the way back. JFK handles most international flights out of NYC. I flew Emirates, a Dubai-based airline that I highly recommend. It was about a 13- hour trip from JFK to Dubai, and then another five-hour flight from Dubai to Nairobi. Once in Nairobi I had to go through customs and immigration and find my group. I exchanged money at the airport just to have some on hand in case I needed it.

PAPERWORK: A visa is necessary to enter Kenya. It is an easy application online, and it took about two days to get approved. It costs about $50. If you plan to visit other countries in Africa, go for the East Africa visa. You may have to prove that you have the Yellow Fever vaccine to enter some countries. You need a passport, too.

HEALTH: I visited the University of Louisville Travel Clinic, but note that the clinic does not accept health insurance and you will spend about $500 to get fully vaccinated for a trip to Africa. This clinic handled all of my vaccinations and gave me a prescription for malaria prevention medication. To prepare, I received the Yellow Fever vaccine, which is in short supply, and Hepatitis A and B (given as one combined shot, but you will need two more boosters for it to become permanently effective). I opted for typhoid prevention in a pill because it lasts longer, though it is a pain to take with very specific instructions that must be followed.

SUPPLIES: Since I was attempting to take only carry-on luggage, I opted against liquid bug repellant and sunscreen. Instead, I bought a Neutrogena sunscreen in a stick, and Ben’s Bug Wipes, which have 30 percent DEET to protect against mosquitos. Most hotel rooms have mosquito nets for use at night, but I didn’t tend to use them, as I found fighting my way out of them at 3 a.m. to go to the bathroom immensely confusing. Most rooms I stayed in were air-conditioned and I didn’t have windows open.

GUIDE: I hired Richard Makau Kiathe of Maks Tour Adventures to drive me and two friends around Nairobi for an entire day and take us to the airport the following day. He rented a safari vehicle and recommended places to go. His services were a must for us, and he was terrifically knowledgeable, friendly and just all-around great. I highly recommend hiring a guide.

CLOTHING: I opted for lightweight, long-sleeved shirts and cargo-style pants. I carried about five outfits and hand-washed a shirt or two in a hotel sink. I also had my hotel in Nairobi wash a pair of pants

screen-shot-2017-09-25-at-11-08-16-amBEING SAFE: Nairobi does offer Uber, but I would not recommend taking any taxi or car service that your hotel doesn’t call for you. You may get hit with a high price you were not expecting if you decide to take any taxi you see on the street. Keep your passport in your room, preferably in a safe, and keep a color copy of the main pages separately in your luggage, just in case you lose your passport or it is stolen. As a white person in Nairobi, I definitely stood out and people did want to talk to me, and after a bit of conversation, would hit me up for money. You can decide to give or not. Keeping a little loose cash in your pocket is a better option if you do feel you want to give some away.

WATER: Don’t drink tap water or even brush your teeth with it. Also, beware of juice from restaurants or hotels, as it may be watered down with local tap water.

screen-shot-2017-09-25-at-10-55-50-am

Explore | 9 Reasons You Should Make Plans to Visit Madison

Nestled on the Ohio River, Madison is a beautiful town that also boasts the largest contiguous historic district – 133 blocks – in the United States. Whether you’ve never been or need inspiration for a return visit, here are nine reasons why you should make plans to visit this fall.

By Sarah Prasil | Photos by Cameron Tichenor were taken on a recent trip to the river town

screen-shot-2017-09-25-at-10-55-50-amCHAUTAUQUA FESTIVAL OF ART & OLD COURT FALL DAYS

Enjoy Southern Indiana’s premier open-air juried fine arts and crafts show featuring artists and craftsmen from across the nation. More than 240 vendors will line the streets from Broadway to Vine Street. The Old Fall Court Days will line the streets around the Jefferson County Courthouse with vendors as well. Add the above with the already great shopping in Madison and you have plenty to see and do. Grab the girls and make it a day of shopping. The event is Sept. 30 and Oct. 1. There will be food, entertainment and a children’s activity tent. No admission charge. For more information go to www.madisonchautauqua.com or www.visitmadison.org.

CLIFTY FALLS STATE PARK

Whether a scenic drive through the park or an adventure to hike the trails, Clifty Falls State Park is the perfect picturesque leaf season at its best. There are four wondrous waterfalls to gawk at and make for a great selfie with your loved ones. The fall foliage at Clifty is simply breathtaking. Don’t forget to stop in the Falls Restaurant and get some delicious award winning sugar cream pie.

screen-shot-2017-09-25-at-10-58-51-amTHE BELLE OF LOUISVILLE CRUISES

There are two ways to cruise on this great paddle wheeler on the Ohio River: A public cruise will be available Oct. 23. The cruise, which lasts more than an hour is $15 for adults/seniors and $10 for children ages 3 to 12. On Oct. 24, The Belle will be offering a Fall Foliage Cruise from Madison to Louisville. Transportation will be provided back to Madison. The cost is $97.20 per person. For more information on either cruise, call 502.574.2992.

 

screen-shot-2017-09-25-at-10-59-19-amLANIER MANSION & MADISON GHOST WALK

The first stop on the Ghost Walk will be the Historic Lanier Mansion. A costumed guide will take guests throughout the house, including its eerie basement, and recount stories about spirits that many believe inhabit the home. Then, the group will take to the nearby streets of downtown Madison and stop outside three other locations that are rumored to be haunted. Guests should be prepared to go up and down stairs and walk on uneven surfaces. Tickets for the walk, which will be held regardless of the weather and is scheduled for 7 p.m. Oct. 21, 27 and 28, are $15 per adult and $7 per child (18 and under). The number of tickets for each group is limited. Call 812.273.0556 to get yours.

screen-shot-2017-09-25-at-10-59-10-amNIGHTS SPIRITS AT LANIER MANSION

Come enjoy Nights Spirits at Historic Lanier Mansion 7 to 9 p.m. Oct. 20. Costumed actors portray “spirits” dramatically telling true, 19th century stories of disastrous events that occurred in the beautiful mansion. Tickets are $10 in advance, $12 at the door and $5 for children under 18 in advance or $7 at the door. Reservations can be made by calling 812.273.0556.

screen-shot-2017-09-25-at-11-00-57-amSOUP STEW CHILI & BREW

Soup Stew Chili & Brew is Madison’s favorite fall festival. The event features delicious food, fun activities, live music, shopping, and beer and wine gardens. Nestled in the heart of one of America’s Best Communities, the festival takes place right on Main Street. Soup Stew Chili & Brew is organized by the Madison Area Chamber of Commerce and serves as a fundraiser for many area nonprofits. Come have some soup, some stew, some chili and some brew 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 14.

MADISON MAIN STREET LOFT TOUR

See how the upper half lives as you explore eight historic lofts within Madison’s National Historic Landmark District. While on this self-guided walking tour, you will see spaces in varying stages of development, and even get to visit the highest point in Madison. The tour takes place 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 7. Feel free to take your time and enjoy all that downtown Madison has to offer. Tickets are $15 per person and may be purchased at one of the following downtown locations: Bad Apple Mac’s, Blush on Main, Madison Visitors Center, and Village Lights Bookstore.

screen-shot-2017-09-25-at-11-01-06-amBEAUTIFUL FALL LEAF AND FOLIAGE SEASON

Enjoy the charming river town during leaf season. The fall foliage is beautiful. Make it a part of your trip to Madison while enjoying other

INDIANA WINE TRAIL FALL HAUL

What better reason to get the girls together than for an adventure on Indiana’s Wine Trail Fall Haul event 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Nov. 4. This is an annual presentation at each winery to kick off the fall season. Visit each winery and enjoy special wines, fun recipes prepared with wines and big discounts. Don’t forget the beautiful fall sceneries along the way and of course stocking up for the holidays! Visit all seven wineries to complete your wine trail passport and receive our 2017 Wine Trail Glass. For more information visit indianawinetrail.com.

Writer Sarah Prasil is director of marketing and advertising for Visit Madison, Inc. 


 

off-the-page-feature-295x250

Off the Page with Extol | Bliss Travel

  1.  complete happiness | enjoying eternal bliss in heaven | marital bliss | the sheer bliss of an afternoon at the spa

  2.   paradiseheaven

When your name is Mark Bliss, being a travel agent and calling your business Bliss Travel just makes sense. On this episode of Off the Page with Extol, we talk with Mark and ask the question: What can a travel agent do for you that you cannot do on your own?  We also speak with a fabulous couple that backs up what he says.

The Podcast Kidd’s honeymoon video:

 

1

Find Your Bliss

Find Your Bliss 

Considering a destination wedding? Eager to book your honeymoon? Here’s why you should consider using a travel agent

PHOTO BY DANNY ALEXANDER 

Sure, it’s easy to jump online and book a trip, but there are plenty of reasons why you should consider using a travel agent, says Mark Bliss of Bliss Travel.

1
First and foremost, “Our services don’t cost anything,” he said. “There’s no added cost. You can get the same price by calling yourself.”

Another benefit, said Bliss, is “we’ve been selling travel in this community for 31 years. We’re with you the whole way.” Travel agents can offer insider tips and advice to guide your vacation decisions. They also have access to feedback from hundreds of clients and other agents and personal relationships with people at the companies they sell. You can’t find that type of insight online.

“We prepare you for anything and everything for your trip: what to pack, what not to pack … preventative things you might not think of, what to ask for,” said Bliss.

And, in the event something goes wrong, “We’re only a phone call away,” he added.

Instead of searching on the Internet for hours, days or even weeks – depending on the complexity of the travel plans – your agent does the research for you with your personal needs in mind. They do it for every component of the trip and at no cost to you.

Good travel agents also have access to benefits that can save you money – not to mention time – and provide you with a better experience than you can get on your own. That includes spa credits, free room upgrades, food and beverage credits, hard-to-get restaurant reservations, exclusive access to attractions and other added amenities.

Far too often, when it comes to wedding plans, the honeymoon is the last thing on the list, said Bliss, who also manages the Calumet Club in New Albany, a popular spot for weddings and events.

“The wedding is wonderful. It’s a very important day. The reception is important,” he said. “I might be a little biased, but the honeymoon is more important than anything. I just really think it is – and I’m in the business of weddings. … It kind of seals the deal in this important commitment for the rest of your lives. Theare’s nothing like the memories of a wonderful honeymoon.”

Contact Bliss Travel, 1614 E. Spring St. in New Albany, at 812.945.1212 or www.blisstravelinc.com. 

eventfullyyours-feature-final-300x200

Eventfully Yours with Christy and Laurie | Episode 8: Tips for (Wedding) Trips

Wedding trips, either for destination weddings or for the honeymoon, are blissfully made easy with Bliss Travel. In this edition of Eventfully Yours, Christy and Laurie sit down with Mark Bliss, owner of Bliss Travel, to talk tips and what a travel expert brings to the table. When planning the honeymoon or that special destination wedding, you will be intrigued on just how many things you can make easy by reaching out to a real, live person instead of searching online.

Podcast Sponsors: 

Located in beautiful, historic New Albany, Indiana, Eventful 203 is a truly unique Meeting and Wedding Planning Resource Center focused on creating a relaxed and inspired way of planning your events.

eventful203logo-3-web-150x150

Laurie Hagg | laurie@eventful203.com | 502.905.3054 | www.eventful203.com

 

Facility Sponsor: 

bliss-travel-logo

calumet-header_logo

Mark Bliss | Bliss Travel | 1614 East Spring Street, New Albany, IN 47150 | (812) 949 1611 | markblisstravel@gmail.com

 

Podcast Photos: 

wp_20170302_13_13_34_rich1 wp_20170302_13_13_53_rich1 wp_20170302_13_13_58_rich1