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Archive for 2012

6 more months of reading

July 18th, 2012 3 comments

A year ago we started our move to Swaziland (it is tough to say what day we actually moved because it took us 72 hours to get from BG to St. Philips).  It has been a great year and the adjustments have been exceptionally smooth.  Some adjustments have been difficult (the heat, loss of electricity, poor internet access, being away from friends and family) while other have been incredible (touring Africa, working for a great organization, meeting wonderful people).  One of the adjustments I have absolutely loved is that I have been able to read much much more.

At the six month mark I had read 23 books (and posted my thoughts here).  Now that the year is over, my grand total is 41.  Here is what I read most recently and a few quick notes on them.

Auschwitz – This is a true account of a Jewish doctor who was employed at Auschwitz and the horrors he experienced.  Excellent reading but a very difficult subject matter.

Beneath the Neon – I heard the author of this book on NPR many years ago and had always wanted to read it and finally did.  It is the story of a journalist exploring the storm tunnels underneath Las Vegas.  It wasn’t as exciting as I had hoped.

Death by Meeting – A practical book about how to hold better meetings.  It was used when I was at Broadway and there are several concepts we can use at Cabrini.

Desert Solitaire – Just finished this book up tonight.  My father always held it high regard and I have enjoyed reading some of Edward Abbey’s other stuff.  It was a bit ironic to read it on an ipod since it is all about connecting with the earth, but that did not diminish the excellent writing.

Desperate Passage – A book about the Donner party.  It was a top seller on Amazon and a pretty good read.

Diamonds Gold and War – technically this one should not be on the list since I haven’t finished it yet, but it is a good historic account of how the British and Afrikaans established themselves in South Africa.  Pretty dense with a lot of names to keep up, but a good read.

Finding Amelia – I watched a show on history channel about Amelia Earnhardt and wanted to know more so I read the book.

Germs Genes and Civilization – Fascinating book on how disease has shaped civilization.  The author outlines some pretty significant ideas that are quite relevant since I literally live in culture that has been shaped by a disease.

Love and Death in the Kingdom of Swaziland – a story about the sisters who run Cabrini that primarily takes place during the first months we were in country.  You can find more information here.

Marine Sniper – An odd book for a pacifist to read, but it is an account of the sniper with the highest kill rate in Vietnam.

Particles and the Universe – Nerdy science book about sub atomic particles.  What can I say… I really dig that kind of stuff.

Physics of the Impossible – Similar to above in its subject matter but deals with quantum physics.  Both books filled my need to geek out on science

Rats – Dad read this book about rat colonies in NYC several years ago and we gave him a hard time, but I finally gave in and read it myself.  It was very enjoyable and well written.

Speaking in Tongues – I needed to read some fiction so I picked up this book by Jeffery Deaver.  Nothing special, but was an easy read.

Spook – This was the only Mary Roach book that I hadn’t read yet.  I love her writting, and while it was not my favorite of her books, it was still very good.

The case of the missing moon rocks – Free book on Kindle that I read quickly while flying all over the place in the states in March.

The Disappearing Spoon – A captivating book about the periodic table of the elements, its history and how the different elements have shaped the world.  Rather long, but I loved every page of it.  I just bought a book by the same author about how DNA and genes affect a variety of things.

Tipping Point – Interesting read about cultural trends, especially after reading Freakonomics.  Fun concepts to think about, but both books paint with too broad of a brush.

Triangle – Short story by Jeffery Deaver.  It was a great read before bed.

Looking back over the last 6 months of reading, I would give the title of "Best Read" to The Disappearing Spoon although Desert Solitaire comes in a close second.  And then, if I rank my top 5 books from the last year, I would put them in this order:

Categories: Reviews Tags: , ,

Product Naming Fail

July 17th, 2012 1 comment

I just put some Balls on my Salticrax and ate it…. it was good!

 

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In all honesty, both products are excellent; they just could have done a bit better with their naming.

Categories: Random Tags: ,

Hiking Execution Rock

July 1st, 2012 No comments

Anyone who has driven the Ezulwini corridor between Mbabane and Manzini in Swaziland has certainly taken note of the large precipice known as Execution Rock.  The mountain is officially known as Nyonyane Peak, but goes by the more sinister moniker because it is said criminals were historically forced off the edge at spear-point for their crimes.

Execution Rock
[View of Execution Rock from one of our previous trips]

Since coming to Swaziland, we have wanted to hike to the top, but it is one of those things where it is so close by, you never get around to doing.  Plus, there is notoriously little information on the internet about.  I knew the mountain was in the Mlilwane Game Reserve, and had heard there was a short route and a long route, but beyond that reports vary widely.  Some sites say the hike takes 6 hours and others say you can get there in 15 minutes.  But, we enjoy spending time at Mlilwane, so we decided to make a day out of it; if we got to the top of Execution Rock that would be great.  If not, then we would enjoy a relaxing game drive and other short hikes.

Mlilwane is a relatively small park, but most of it is criss-crossed with trails.  There are no large predators, but you are absolutely guaranteed to see zebra, warthogs, wildebeests and a wide variety of antelope variations.  Plus it is super cheap.  The entrance price for all three of us was supposed to be E75 (less than $10 USD), but we have a Wild Card that lets us get in free.


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[Execution Rock is the summit on the right, note the hippos on the island to the left.]

At the main gate I asked about hiking trails to Execution Rock and was told I would have to go to the Rest Camp to get a hiking map.  That is only a 3.5km drive, so it was no big deal.  Basically you leave a E10 deposit, let them know where you are going, and you get a wrinkled laminated map.  Here is a photo of the map to give you an idea of the hiking trails inside Mlilwane:

Mlilwane Hiking Map

As you can see, there are a couple longer routes that are possible which start around the Reilly’s Rock area.  We ran into a few other hikers while we were out and they said they were told it would take them 2.5 hours to get to the summit of Execution Rock from the lodge at Reilly’s Rock, but they were able to do it in about an hour and a half (they looked to be in pretty good hiking shape).  You can also see there is a much shorter route that starts most of the way up the mountain.  That is the route we decided to take.  We were told at the Rest Camp that that route takes about 15 minutes to hike.  It’s probably possible to do it in 15 minutes but It took us closer to 40 minutes with our toddler in tow.

The drive from the rest camp to the Nyakato viewpoint took us about 20 minutes to drive.  We had a large 4×4 truck and did the drive in the dry season so it really wasn’t a problem.  If you’re used to driving on mountain dirt roads, I think you could probably do it in any vehicle, but if it rained, I could see how it could get pretty sketchy.

At the Nyakato viewpoint there is a nice picnic table and the views really are incredible.  We could hear the drums from Mantenga Cultural Village and the views of Sheba’s Breasts (neighboring mountain) and down into the mid-veld were pretty incredible.

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[Aloe plants in the foreground, Sheba’s Breast in the background.]

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The trail was well maintained and easy to follow.  I would guess the walk was less than a mile from the trailhead to the summit (1.2 km).  Most it was gradual slopes although the last stretch required careful foot placement and an occasional hand on the ground.

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[Mikayla handled the trail just fine.]

The day we hiked Execution Rock, there were several wildfires burning so the valley was pretty smokey.  However, the views from the top were still incredible.

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[Summit!]

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[Don’t worry, she really isn’t as close to the edge as it looks.]

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[Looking up the valley towards Mbabane]

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[Down the valley towards Manzini]

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[Looking back towards the trailhead]

From the time we left the truck to the time we returned to it, it was probably about 2.5 hours.  The hike up Execution Rock was certainly not an epic journey, but it was a great day hike that you can complete start to finish in 3-4 hours including the drive up to the trailhead.

After the hike, we spent about an hour driving through the park before grabbing lunch at the rest camp.  We were there during the hottest part of the day, but we were still able to see quite a few animals:

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[The animals at the Rest Camp are pretty accustomed to people]

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[Mlilwane is known for its birdlife like this kingfisher.]

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[This is actually the first crocodile we have seen in Africa and it was HUGE.]

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Overall, it was an absolutely great day.  We ended it by eating at a new restaurant called Marimba’s in Manzini that specializes in African cuisine and it was excellent.  We were even able to throw in some grocery shopping and a stop at the airport and still make it home 12 hours after we left.

I am so glad we finally got that hike in.  Now we just need to make time for a few of the waterfall hikes in the highveld that we have been talking about doing.

Alcohol and the Bible

June 16th, 2012 13 comments

I am often asked for my opinion/perspective on issues related to alcohol and Christianity because of my experience as a distiller and as a pastor.  There has been a lot of talk around this amongst my friends because my hometown of Somerset, KY is about to vote on weather or not to allow alcohol sales in the county. I have communicated my thoughts with many people individually, but figured now is as good a time as ever to post them for others.

Here is a modified version of an email I sent to a friend while discussing the issue:

When discussing alcohol and the Bible, I think the burden of proof lies on those who choose to demonize alcohol. Obviously drunkenness is flat out forbidden throughout scripture, but there is a distinct line between the consumption of alcohol and drunkenness. In fact, if anything, the consumption of alcohol is held in high regard in the Bible. Consider the following:

One of the two central sacraments of Christianity involves the consumption of wine. If God/Jesus thinks drinking alcohol is bad, I doubt he would have set up communion around it. (By the way, it was a Methodist pastor, Rev. Welch, who started the tradition of using grape juice instead of wine and that was only in recent history. He went on to found Welch’s Grape juice).

Paul instructs his protégé Timothy to drink wine instead of just water for his stomach (1 Tim 5:23). We get most of our New Testament "dos and don’ts" from Paul, yet here he encourages his (young) apprentice to consume alcohol.

In the Old Testament (and carrying on into the New Testament), wine is not a symbol of sin, it is a symbol of celebration. In fact, THE central symbol of God’s blessing to his people is the symbol of wine. What do you think the phrase "my cup runneth over" means? It means that God has blessed him so much that he has more wine than he can drink. God shows his favor by giving alcohol (If you need references, I have a slew of them). Again, how can we demonize something that God sees as being a symbol of his love and blessing?

We can bring this imagery back to the New Testament when we look at Jesus’ first miracle: turning water into wine. I have 40+ page paper I wrote on this passage (you can read it here), but I will just give you the cliff notes: This miracle in John chapter two is used to frame the start of Jesus’ ministry. Not only is it significant that Jesus turned water into wine (again, why would he do this if God is opposed to alcohol), but the symbolism is striking. The ministry of Jesus is replacing an oppressive system of rules (the water jars were used for ritualistic washing), with overflowing blessing and provision. Jesus isn’t opposed to wine, he uses it as a symbol of showing how great God’s love and blessing really are. When we demonize alcohol, we miss out on ways in which God is showing his love.

Perhaps my favorite alcohol related passage comes in Deuteronomy 14 when it talks about how you handle the tithe. (By the way, I have major issues with the way the church teaches on tithing.  See here and here.) Basically it says you should take 10% of your yield and go to Jerusalem and use it for a celebration of what God has done with your friends and family. But, if you live so far away that you cannot physically bring your tithe to Jerusalem then you should:

"…turn it into money. With the money secure in hand, go to the place that the LORD your God will choose (Jerusalem); spend the money for whatever you wish– oxen, sheep, wine, strong drink, or whatever you desire. And you shall eat there in the presence of the LORD your God, you and your household rejoicing together." -DT 14:25-26

Did you catch that? If you can’t take your physical tithe to Jerusalem then you are supposed to sell it, and use the money to throw a huge party that includes wine and strong drink!

So, when you look at what the bible teaches about alcohol, you find that instead of demonizing it and calling for total abstinence, the bible actually celebrates alcohol and repeatedly uses it as a symbol of God’s blessing.

Now of course, the standard response is that drinking "may cause your brother to stumble" and thus it is better to abstain. I will admit that is a valid point, but only when used consistently. Tea-totalers will often argue that any drinking sets a bad example and may cause others to stumble. Basically, if someone sees you drinking then they will automatically fall off the bandwagon and become a raging alcoholic. I am sorry, but that logic is faulty. In most cases, the only people who "stumble" are the tea-totalers who get all bent out of shape at the thought of a Christian drinking. Of course you should not be taking shots of whiskey in an AA, meeting, but if you are enjoying a wine or beer with friends, I highly doubt that is going to cause anyone to stumble. There are places and times I abstain from drinking, but there is no way you can come up with a biblical argument for total abstention for all people in all circumstances.

I understand there are good reasons to not drink at all, but the problem is, when you insist that approach should apply to everyone, you neglect the good that comes with the risk. Take sex for instance. There are plenty of passages talking about sexual sin, and total abstinence from sex is considered a virtuous option according to Paul. But, if you think that no one should have sex then you miss out on the gift that sexuality in a committed relationship is intended to be. The same is true with wealth. There are plenty of passages talking about greed and living a life of poverty is considered a virtuous option. However, if we demonize wealth then we miss the fact that God often uses wealth to show his blessing (bearing in mind that we are blessed to be a blessing to others).

The same is true with alcohol. It is a virtuous option not to drink, but requiring it puts us in a place where we cannot fully appreciate the blessings of God.

I said before, that logic of causing a brother to stumble must be used consistently. If someone is going to insist on abstaining from alcohol for their brother’s sake then they should never eat a Twinkie in front of a fat person, never drive a nice car in front of someone tempted to covet, never discuss controversial things with someone prone to anger, never have a baby around single people (because a baby requires sex to make that idea might cause a single person to stumble), etc. The list goes on… why should we only pick one example and live rigidly by it while ignoring all the others.

Of course if theological reasoning doesn’t work, you can always remind people that Elijah Craig, the inventor of bourbon, was a Baptist Pastor.

Categories: Faith, Spirits Tags: , , , ,

Pig Roast

June 3rd, 2012 4 comments

For my thirtieth birthday we had a pig roast here in Swaziland.  I am generally not one for big birthday celebrations, but the stars aligned and it just made sense for use to host a big shin-dig and roast a whole pig.  I have never done such a thing, nor had anyone else here, but we figured how hard could it be to slap a whole animal on the grill.  Here is an account in pictures of the event.

mlk with pig

We started by slaughtering the pig.  We had a couple of the staff members do the actual slaughtering and obviously Mikayla enjoyed learning about how a pork chop comes from a pig to her plate.

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Stadium and Fodo did the cleaning for us and did an excellent job.

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We let the meat rest for 3 days to ease rigor mortis.  We would have kept the head for effect, but instead gave it to our staff members (along with the entrails) because they would actually eat them.

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Joe and I then made a few simple cuts to be able to butterfly the pig.

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Then we put it on a a simple braii (grill) stand.

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In order to grill the actual pig, we dug an oblong pit with a stone border in the middle.  That let us build up one side while the the other burned down.  The result was a slow roast that we could adjust.

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All smiles about an hour into the event.

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Grilling on one side, while the other side was flaming up.

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After about 2.5 hours (on a 30 pound dressed pig), we flipped it over to crisp the skin.

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Since there were a few people who were a bit squeamish about the idea of grilling our own pig, we took it safe and cut the shanks off to to get some better heat distribution and ensure a through cooking.

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Joe and I taking a quick bite to ensure doneness.

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The finished product.

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Pork wasn’t all we had.  We added to the festivities with homemade baked beans, pizza, ratatouille, pasta salad, bread, rolls and fresh bar-b-que sauce.

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This was the serving table once we started the meal

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And what what was left… the pot was given away, the bones were use to make a stock, the fat was rendered to cook with and the meat was saved.

All in all… it was a wonderful birthday celebration.  We had no idea what we were doing, but figured it out in style and loved every minute of it.

30 doesn’t feel so bad when you celebrate it this way!

Categories: Events Tags: , , ,

Matthew

May 21st, 2012 1 comment

May has been a tough month for the Cabrini Ministries’ family. 

My last blog post was about the death of two toddlers connected with the organization who drowned in the canal.  Unfortunately, this post is also about death.  Yesterday we found out that our night watchman Matthew had passed away.  He had been battling tuberculosis and other complications for several months now, so it wasn’t out of the blue.  But, to make matter’s worse, Matthew’s son Mfundi is also an employee, so the impact is doubled.

Matthew didn’t speak much English, but he was one of the Cabrini employees that we interacted with most often.  As the night watchman, he often hung out by our door and we frequently shared our dinners with him.  Mikayla was particularly found of Matthew and would run up to him and try to have long conversations with him.  He was just smile and say “Yes Sisi (sister).”

Even though his shift was primarily over night, he would often cut the grass in our front yard with a machete in the dawn and dusk hours.  Many a summer mornings I woke up to the sound of methodical slashing coming from outside.

Matthew was mostly soft-spoken, but when given the chance, he would gladly share from the bottom of his heart how blessed he felt in his life.

He was not without his faults, but he was still a great guy and earnest in his love of Cabrini Ministries and its work.  Sister Barbara was always fond of saying tongue in cheek: "The only security issues we have are with our security staff."  The truth is, whether or not we were safer because of his services is debatable, but what is unquestioned is that Cabrini as a whole was better off for having him as part of the staff.

This isn’t the first time I have had a co-worker pass away, but anytime it happens, it is difficult.Like I said… May has been a tough month for us.  Here is hoping June looks better.

Themba Import (Cabrini Kids) 354 [Matthew enjoying the buffet at the Child Protection training.]

Categories: Thoughts Tags: , ,

There is already too much death in Swaziland

May 15th, 2012 1 comment

Last Tuesday morning started like usual… in fact, it had a certain air of excitement to it: We had just informed a few of our staff members that they would be traveling to the United States for an AIDS conference.  Adults who rarely show excitement were bursting with smiles, almost to the point of giggling.

Unfortunately within a few hours the whole community around us was bursting with a different type of emotion: raw sorrow and pain.  We found out around 10am that the two 2-year-old children of one of our former staff members had drowned in the canal.  They had been staying with their Gogo (grandmother) and had wandered away.  Some of the children on a nearby homestead saw them in the water and called their parents.  By the time people reached them both were already dead.

I simply don’t have the words to express the amount of sadness and grief that instantly swept through the entire area.  The mother, Nakiwe, was one of our brightest employees before she took a new job to be closer to her husband in Manzini.  The father, Felix, is a police officer, but has worked with Cabrini in the education for years and years, he was apart of life on the mission even before the current sisters were.  The grandfather was one of the major leaders in the church and in his chiefdom.  Probably a quarter of our staff live within a couple kilometers of where the boys drowned.

For five days, friends and family came to the homestead to grieve with the family, but despite the crowds of people, there simply aren’t the words that can be said.  You can’t give an explanation for something as tragic as this and any words of comfort will always ring hollow.

On Sunday morning before the sun came up, Beth, Mikayla and I didn’t celebrate Mother’s Day; instead we had to watch a wonderful mother bury her two innocent children.

There is already too much death in Swaziland. 

At least once a week one of our roughly 3,000 patients dies of HIV or TB.  The country has had to encourage people to only bury people on Saturdays because otherwise there would be no time to do anything but go to funerals.

There is already too much death in Swaziland. 

We deal with severe malnutrition and extreme poverty.  Rape and abuse is a common occurrence and it often comes from those closest to the victims.  Life is tough here under the best of circumstances.

There is already too much death in Swaziland. 

Our community shouldn’t have to deal with pain of losing two toddlers on top of everything else.

I have read the Bible cover-to-cover and spent years studying scripture.  I have a degree in Religious Studies and another in Biblical Studies.  I have spent years teaching and counseling people about God and his work in the world.  But with all that knowledge, I still can’t even begin to answer the question of why things like this happen.  What Nakiwe, Felix, and their families are going through is more than anyone should every have to endure.  We simply cannot justify it or explain it; to even try is insincere and crass. All we can do is mourn and comfort each other in whatever small way we can.

During our time of grieving with the family, Sister Diane had this to say:

Times like these are a great mystery, and while we may never have an answer for the pain we feel, one thing never changes: God has eternal and perfect love for all people.

True comfort will never come in our circumstances, it can only come in understanding and living out the perfect love of God.  It doesn’t answer the question and it doesn’t end our heartache, but hopefully that perspective can help to shape our trajectory in life – even in the midst of pain.

Mabuza boys [Nakiwe, Sisandza,Tandziso and Felix Mabuza at the Feast of St. Philips] 

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Swazi Incentives

April 5th, 2012 No comments

In the United States, it seems companies everywhere are offering chances to win a new iPad as incentive for using their services.  Apparently Apple technology doesn’t have the same appeal here in Swaziland, so they have tried other schemes:

2 cows 
[Advertisement found in local magazine, although billboards of this offer are also prominent in the country.]

I would love to see the logistics involved in making this promotion work.  I can just imagine the fine print:

Offer not available to employees of Standard Bank, their families or the cattle farmers involved in the raising or delivery of above mentioned cattle.

To put it in perspective, if a Swazi did win this promotion, they would already be 1/7th the way towards paying lobola (dowry) for a new bride.

Swazi Classified Ads – Traditional Healers

April 3rd, 2012 No comments

I have commented before on the craziness that is the Swazi Media.  Well today, I wanted to pass along a clipping from the Classified section of the Swazi Times (the most popular paper in the country). 

As you may know, a majority of Swazis visit traditional healers either instead of or in conjunction with western medicine.  This can include everything from "throwing bones" to consulting the spirits to taking herbal remedies to casting spells.  Most of these traditional healers (often incorrectly called witch-doctors) take a spiritual / magical approach to issues.  However, as you can see from these classified, the issues they often work on rarely have to do with spiritual (or even medical) issues. [Click the image for a larger view]

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So, if you need assistance with a "week erection" or are looking for "a specialist in warts and womb cleansing" then look no further than your local Swazi traditional healer – conveniently advertized in the classified section.

This has to be my personal favorite (words in brackets mine):

My muthi [magic] is your answer.  It stops your relationship from breaking apart.  Put him/her under your feet, listen to everything you say [ahh yes… using oppression and subjugation to solve marital disputes].  To apologies when she/he is wrong by using emindi smoke remote control. [I wonder if works even if he/she is not wrong… it’s worth a shot… after all, who couldn’t use some remote-control smoke.]

But, I want to be fair… these listings are more indicative of the newspaper they are in than the overall profession of traditional healer.  The organization I work with regular collaborates with traditional healers, and while there are certainly some who are way out there, most are people whose view on the world is simply shaped by their cultural experiences and expectations.

Anyway, I thought you all would appreciate one of those "Only in Swaziland" insights.

Video Dump

March 8th, 2012 No comments

Due to our poor internet, we rarely get the chance to upload videos.  So, here are three that we have had in waiting.

First up is Mikayla showing off her "Boing-a-hopping"

 

Next up we have Mikayla and I running away from the waves at Mission Rock during our trip to St. Lucia, South Africa:

 

Then, here is a video of Mikayla "reading" a book.  Technically she has it memorized from the Kindle, but I thought it was pretty impressive none-the-less:

 

And finally… just because I can, here are a couple of my favorite videos of Mikayla:

 

Categories: Family Tags: , , , , ,