Friday, September 3, 2010

Pictures of the well in Marale!

This has been a while in coming, but here are the pictures of the newly completed water system in Marale! It almost brings me to tears to think of what God has chosen to do through us. All of you, Matt, Morgan and Myself. I have been truly blessed to be a part of this...

Sorry for the different sized pictures, we had a few technical difficulties.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Coming Home: Matt's Final Thoughts and Announcement

For a few days I was downright embarrassed about coming home. I was embarrassed to be home. I was dis-eased, to say the least.

Before we left I let the lease on my apartment in Huntington, Indiana run out. I wasn't dying to stick around after college. I was also pretty sure that I was going to attend Oxford University's Master's Program of Sociology (a fact that I think greatly surprised my professors...I'm not sure if that speaks to their impressions of my intelligence or to the rarity of getting into a place like that). So anyway, I left without occupying a place to live in the United States.

A few days before the ride ended, I learned that funding was not going to be provided for school like I thought it was. That's never good news.

(I guess it was one of those times that comes standard with being human when you've got things all figured out and then all-of-a-sudden everything goes away and you're left with nothing.)

Being home was embarrassing. Instead of being the one who graduated from college and then went on to pursue significant things that were already set up as the next step toward a successful career, happy marriage, and long and fulfilled life (etc); I wasn't going to do anything. I wasn't going to get more smarter :), or get to meet a lot of famous world leaders (turns out that Desmond Tutu is a visiting lecturer at the college I was going to go to at Oxford this year), or do anything at all anytime soon. After coming from such high plans, from such a worthy journey, that takes a few days to recover from.

It wasn't until the first week had passed that I was able to settle down.

I went, somewhat reluctantly, with my mother to the farmers market one afternoon. Wednesday, I think it was. There were a lot of people who didn't look like you'd expected them to after reading about them from educated, affluent writers in The Atlantic. I think maybe they just get their food from the 'elite' farmers' markets. (I don't care who you are, $3.90 for a peach is always insane; compare to $1.00 for Swiss Cake Rolls).

A guy with an old Brett Favre Jersey kept making my mom laugh with his low, mumbling voice and somewhat off-the-wall comments. At one point he made my mother jump back, raise her voice, and say "No! I definitely do not want to try that plum!" I haven't seen my mom do that in years. She really likes going to his stand. Mostly for experiences like that.

Spending more time with my mother I noticed that her lifestyle has become quite trendy in many circles. She buys her food fresh, in season, and local. She makes a lot of her own things. She's healthy. She's made, makes, or is capable of making her own clothes, curtains, quilts, and just about anything else one needs that has a cloth base. She reads often, and is well read, yet asserts her intelligence upon others only when asked. And when creating any kind of a mood for a home, or someone she's in conversation with, it's always peace.

So I quickly remembered the lesson that riding through green forests beside a river in any mountain range, deer playing in the forest not 100 yards into the forest: this is a moment of life, treat it no differently than the rest of the moments.

I've never been a big fan of the idea that one should "live like they were dying." It seems like if I really did that I would quickly fall on much worse times, as I would not only fail to plan for tomorrow, but I would do things that would probably have negative consequences tomorrow, as I invariably wouldn't have to face them. I'd be dead. I think maybe what the writer of that song was trying to express is this: savor every moment of this life instead of rushing them all along because you're too worried about the future.

And so I'll savor the time with my family. I'll savor the time meeting people at my dad's new church. I'll put mental emphasis on the people around me, instead of the fact that I don't have much to do and the embarrassment that comes with that. I'll enjoy getting to pick on my sister Amy when she doesn't want to do what the rest of the family is doing. I'll enjoy shopping and cooking with Karen. I'll enjoy playing basketball with my dad on Tuesdays. I'll learn from both of my parents via observation. And I'll enjoy spending long evenings talking to them about nothing in particular. I'll enjoy taking care of Andy when he wrecks his bike and tears his face to shreds, just because he's alive. I'll enjoy changing the community and learning from our my parents' neighbor. And I'll enjoy being in eastern penn. It's a beautiful place. Because soon I won't have the luxury of being around these people. I'll have moved on to the next thing, and if I don't cherish this time right now, with these people around me, I won't get another chance to do that with these people again. Not ever again. And so I think I've taken a few small steps toward understanding connection.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Seattle: A rushing end

Our ride into Seattle proved to be, perhaps, the hardest of the trip. The hills were steeper and much longer than any we had encountered to that point. We didn't see that one coming. We also got lost. After a while we asked a lady for directions and she just called her husband to drive us down to the Southworth Ferry so we didn't get lost. We were impressed with the kindness.

The ferry came and we rode on. Soon to encounter the city that was our dream all summer. Well, sort of our dream. The ride wasn't as bad as that might imply. Nothing really exciting happened. A pretty girl got on the ferry with us. But then she disappeared and we didn't see her again...I don't think she drowned--nothing in the paper the next day. We must've just missed her.

And so it goes. We rode to our host's home, met his room mate, a German student studying abroad, made some dinner and fell asleep to a movie. They each had studying to do, though the room mate invited us to her friend's CD release party and a few other events around the city that weekend. They were both very friendly.

The next day we were on our own. We explored the city. Morgan walked his bike everywhere, had pizza for lunch, and chilled out. Andy got his friend to get him a free Kayak rental and paddled around the South Lake, along with riding his bike around the city. Matt woke up after both of them and took his time riding around the city, eventually meeting his friend (whom we stayed with the rest of the time) as she got off work. We met up later that night and went to a block party, then a park with a great view of the skyline.

The rest of the weekend we spent figuring out our bikes, shipping, etc for getting back during the morning hours (our host worked the morning hours). During the afternoons we would go to different things: swimming (it was the hottest it had been all summer: 90 +), cooking a huge meal, and going to Mars Hill to listen to Mark Driscoll preach (it might also be noted that our Uncle Steve had some influence in seeing Mark; the other bit of influence was the fact that our host already went there).

Sunday night we also went to a catholic church to hear hymns played by a beautiful pipe organ and different men in the community sing. It was beautiful.

And so that was our last weekend on our bicycles. It was ideal, probably. We all enjoyed ourselves. We enjoyed talking to and learning about our beautiful hosts (they were all women, seven of them, to be exact). We appreciated their hospitality and putting up with our mess as we tried to cram our stuff into big cardboard bike boxes. The whole was bitter sweet. More sweet for some. More bitter for others. The whole weekend was pretty busy though, and there wasn't a lot of time for reflection.

And so the journey ends. It's back to the Americans on the other side of the country--only it'll just take a few hours this time.

Olympia and South Bend: Beautiful People

Cannon Beach wasn't so bad when we didn't need anything from it. So we left.

The coast was damp and dreary, like we expected. The next three days were spent heading up the coast and in to Olympia. There were numerous flat tires.

The ride was gorgeous.

We met a man just outside of South Bend, WA who retired and took off on his bike. He has since been living on the road. He rides around the country. Mostly the west, it seemed. When he gets tired of riding he walks--he was thinking about hiking the Pacific Coast Trail soon. He told us all kinds of stories while we ate our sandwiches--we had stopped at a camp ground to eat. He kept asking us to stay the night. And when we said we needed to keep going, that we were even thinking about hitching, he quickly ended the conversation.

Chuckling, we tried to figure out whether it was that we weren't staying or that we were thinking about hitching that turned him off to us. We still don't know.

We got into South Bend about night fall. On the outskirts of the town a kid called to us, we went over to say hello.

"What's up dude?"

"There's camping here for only five bucks. You guys can pitch your tents here if you want. I didn't even pay cause I only have cards."

"Oh. Ya? Well I think..."

"Ah. These mosquitoes are crazy. Crazy! They're all over me. Crazy!" He was screaming and slapping his legs and running around in circles. Then he stopped.

"So do you guys wanna stay? I could really use some company tonight. Ahhhhhhh! These crazy mosquitoes! They're all around! All over me! Ahhhhh! They're going to eat me alive!" The same slapping and dancing ensued. Now, granted, the mosquitoes were pretty bad. We were right beside a marsh of sorts. But even if we did put our tents up here, this kid was going to talk all night.

Come to find out the kid was 18. He had autism. He was riding from Canada to Mexico. His mother put him up to it. She forced him to do it, in his words.

"She said it would educate me about the world!" Wow. I thought I might do something like that to my son if I had the money. But even all that interesting info wasn't enough to overcome the screaming and dancing that seemed to pour out of this kid with consistency that would make molasses look irregular. He also mentioned he had ADHD.

We rode into town, hitched a ride with a really nice trucker, and camped illegally (for the last time on our trip) at a rest stop. It was nearly 1 a.m. before we got to sleep.

The next day we rode into Olympia. The guy we stayed with told us this story. I made him, said I had heard it from his mother:

"So I was at school at Olivet Nazarene. It was finals week of my senior year. (Every year everyone plays pranks during finals week. So this was my big idea.) Every year there's a big chapel service and it's like the final one of the year. So I wake up at like 3 a.m. and go hide on the roof of the chapel--well it's just under the roof in one of the air-conditioning vents. Cause if I would've gone another time campus security would've been all over me. So I hide in this vent from 3 till the service starts at 9 or so. And I have 4,000 firecrackers with me. My plan was originally to light off 1,000 in different spots on the roof and it would make lots of noise and disrupt the whole service. But laying in that air conditioning vent I figured I might as well leave a bunch in there. So about 10 I can hear--well, it turns out the president was giving the message--so I can hear the president wrapping up and I start the firecrackers. The only thing is, once I start the first strand they go off way faster than I expect. So I think to myself, well, I can run now and probably get away or I can just keep lighting them off and get caught. So I just keep lighting them off. And so all these firecrackers are going off and everyone in the chapel--it's this huge auditorium that seats a ton of people--is wondering what on earth is happening. And some of my friends are laughing and everything gets super disrupted. I guess the president handled it really well, like he was acting like he was playin the drum and stuff."

And this whole time Andy, Morgan and Matt aren't saying a word. Just listening, awestruck.

"And then all of a sudden the firecrackers that went off in the vent, the paper and stuff, starts coming through the vents in the chapel. And it looks like all this graffiti. And then the president starts to worry a bit and tells everyone to evacuate. And so I finished lighting them all off and run to the side of the roof and see that everyone's evacuated the building. And then I run to the other side and see the campus security. And I know I'm caught, just like I knew I would be. And so I just stay on the roof and wait for them to get up to me. And I shake their hand and introduce myself. I tell them I'm the one who did all this. And they were actually pretty cool about it. I just went and talked to the dean. They let me graduate and everything. But it cost me $8,000 because they had to clean out the air vents and the whole system."

We slept a little better than we would've that night.

"Now I hear sometimes people talk about me bringing a gun in and stuff. I guess the legend has just gone wild with the stories people tell now. It's crazy."

*It should be noted that this guy is a very successful Army officer now.

Cannon Beach: Social confusion, Hell

All summer we have been riding to the end of the Americas. Riding to the other side of this great mass of land, not a lot different than Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. Only moving was much easier for us. In fact, a lot of the time we were on the same trails they traveled--sort of, I mean the highway folk put up signs that say your on the same path, but lets be honest, some of the places they went over the mountains the highway builders just left alone or went around.

So when we were within a couple miles of the Pacific the highway gave us the option to go to Seaside, OR or Cannon Beach, OR. They were each 4 miles in one direction. Both had been recommended to us. We went to Cannon Beach because we would have to go north up through Seaside--that would allow us to see both.

Cannon Beach is a little town with plenty of beach-line. It's quaint enough, with all kinds of little tourist attractions: shops, restaurants, bed and breakfasts, hotels, and the like. A number of wealthy people lived there, their quaint-looking little cottages on the land coming right up to the sand on the beach. Blues ones and beige ones and wooden ones and stone ones. They were all very nice.

We walked to the beach and looked out into the ocean. It was really foggy. Dreary, really. And the people around us didn't pay much attention until Andy asked:

"Hi. We just pedaled our bikes from New Jersey. We were wondering if you would mind if we left our stuff here while we dipped our tires in the water."

"Uh. ya it's public space here. I think." He briefly turned around to acknowledge us and just as quickly turned back around to keep eating.

"Would you mind just making sure no one takes them, then?" Andy asked. Looking for someone to pay any attention. He wasn't really talking that softly. They had to have heard him.

In a few seconds a lady came over and started talking to us.

"You guys just rode from New Jersey?"

"Ya. We've been riding to raise money for water wells in Uganda..." And thus began the usual banter about what we had just (about) finished doing and why.

She was quite nice. She even took our picture, like we were statues or a coral reef that she had heard about and come to visit there in Cannon Beach. Then she left.

Looking around we figured we might as well head down to the beach. And so we did.

We joked around a bit in the tide. And got some passersby to take perhaps an annoying amount of pictures of us. Or at least that's what their non-verbals communicated (I had just finished a book "The definitive book of body language" by the Peases').

We returned to find that a lady from the hotel we left our stuff sit beside had watered the plants just above our pile. Most of our stuff was pretty wet. So we went down the street to a pizza place. We showed the cashier our brochures and asked for a discount--we hadn't asked for a discount before, but figured we might as well give it a shot as dinner was bound to be expensive and it was the pinnacle of our trip. He said he'd check with the manager. We waited. He asked for our order. He continued his duties, set the brochure under a pile of stuff off to the side, and returned--not having asked anyone about anything--and wrung us up, not mentioning anything.

Well, fair enough. We had experienced the unwelcoming feeling in plenty of towns along the way. All of them tourist places. Or at least rich places.

The whole time I'd been trying to figure out why we felt like we did while in them. I figure they're well off, they don't need anyone else. They've attained what they want in life. They then import people to work the jobs they don't want to put up with and let people come and experience what they live every day for a price, or course.

So it makes sense that they don't want dirty cyclists or homeless--yes, we're comparable at this point--hanging around. It's not good for business--that is, the business classes don't want to put up with or look at people like us. It's scary, especially as they're so far removed from such people. They don't understand them because they don't ever see them.

And a lot of the tourists aren't really interested because we're just in the way. They're here to relax, not to go to jail for accidentally running over a cyclist.

One thing I noticed, though, is that locals don't even pay much attention to the tourists. They just do what's expected and leave them alone. The tourists seem to prefer it that way, as if to say, "I'm on vacation and I don't want to be bothered by some minority I'm not used to interacting with, please don't bother me little Mexican man." And so the menial employees don't bother them.

When I was living in Santa Cruz, CA I would often become irritated with all the tourists on the weekends because they caused an unbelievable amount of traffic. I was the one who lived there. Why couldn't they surf their own part of the coast? It only makes sense that the places where everyone wants to be make money off of their little slice of heaven. And when so many people are constantly imposing their presence on a place it becomes nearly impossible to want any kind of connection. There are too many, too often, and so the human interaction suffers. The locals isolate themselves because, living in such a beautiful place and having so many resources, people always want things from you--I'd imagine.

I wonder if the responsibility of helping the less fortunate is something people consider when they aspire to be wealthy or choose to live in beautiful places. It's certainly not something I considered.

So anyway. We camped, illegally, in the back of the school playground. It was real close to the beach. Only a fence and a bush separated us. A neighbor woke up around 6 a.m. and noticed two tents in the school yard. Terrified or irritated or angry (?) they called the cops to have us removed. Maybe if I ever become wealthy I'll understand that move.

I'll end by pointing out a couple things:

Seaside, a bigger, and perhaps less wealthy town 8 miles up the coast didn't seem to have any rules that didn't allow people to camp.

Is making rules against letting people sleep in your town pushing homeless people to specific places (often cities)? And is it similar to making rules that wouldn't allow black or minority people to sleep in a town?

And that is why I'd go just about anywhere I could connect with someone over the most beautiful place void of any relationship. Solomon pointed that out in one of his proverbs.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Hood River and Portland: Utopian purse thieves

When you think about uptopian places that the world has dreamed about, or wished they would've lived in, you think about the garden of eden or the ideal world that came out of Sir Thomas Moores' brain. But you should also think about Hood River, Oregon.

(The best part is the end. It's the main story.)

Hood River is a place off of the Columbia River. It's hilly. It's lush. It's green. It's smack between Mount Adams and Mount Hood. Everything grows there: Women and men, apples and plums and cherries and grapes and trees, of course. Grass and animals. Mostly it's just a gorgeous place to live among orchards, even if they aren't making a ton of money these days.

And so we stopped there after camping in a little town called Arlington, OR with a beautiful town park. Oddly enough the people there were kind enough, or not paranoid enough, to let us camp in their town park. The grass was well kept. There was a beach on a little inlet from the Columbia river. We figured more people should be like that, but if that was the case people would start moving out of their homes and into town parks. In fact we were surprised that, in the towns where we were allowed to camp (and not woken up by police because some paranoid...person...had called the cops regarding a tent that was making too much noise at 6 a.m.?) sorry. We were surprised that more people hadn't moved out of their homes and into the parks. They were lovely places to live, after all.

Sorry, I know I've gotten off topic, but I can't help but wonder how a law that doesn't let someone camp in a town park gets passed. How many homeless people come through towns of 50 people? And how many of those homeless people do anyone any disservice or nuissance? It just seems like the correlation between ideas like that and the ideas that go into Sundown Towns (See Dr. James Loewen) is quite high.

And now back to the utopia that is Hood River. Well, it was quite peaceful. The family that put us up was marvelous--the kind of marriage and peaceful family that we all sort of aspire to as youngsters. You know, plenty of resources, plenty of laughter, a lighthearted approach to life, and the love of your life to reproduce with and raise a family. Not to mention in the middle of what is called by historians as the most plush, productive environments on earth. Life doesn't get much better than that, at least for people looking at you. And so we had a great time. We laughed a lot. We ate a lot. We planned a lot. And we learned from that small slice of experience with these people about what it takes to enjoy success in relationships and work.

The ride to Portland was gorgeous. Did you expect to hear anything different?

And a quick description about the amazing family in Portland before I'll tell you a somewhat humorous tale. Well, I think I've already blogged about them.

So on to the story:

Clay and Matt and Clay's friend and girlfriend are going to a place in Portland to meet Clay's friend's girl's brother. I know that sounds confusing, but this was kinda a big moment for Clay's friend. Naturally, I was there to support him. We arrive and think that this guy, who is actually trying to chat up the friend's girl, is her brother. We introduce ourselves. It's immediately clear that I don't know what's going on, and am not from Portland in any sense. So I mention that I just rode from New Jersey--usually a decent conversation starter when I'm looking extremely lost--and instead of hearing "Oh wow" I get, "I don't believe you."

The man flat out tells me he doesn't believe me.

"Oh. I don't really know how to respond to that one." I laugh. "Do a lot of people say that around here?"

"No. You just look like a Portland boy. Did you really ride from Jersey?"

"Ya. I mean but it's cool if you don't believe me. I was just trying to start a conversation because I didn't know what was going on. I'm not actually from Jersey..." At this point I was getting pulled into the place as the other two had discovered that her brother was not among the men who were trying to talk to her in romantic overtones. I might also point out that because of the reputation "Jersey" had gained from folk in Eastern PA I knew I didn't want to be associated with the state. (I hadn't actually spent much time in Jersey, except for the beach, which was sort of dirty but not void of fun, so I figured I'd better make that clear.) Luckily I got that much out before I was pulled in doors.

I met the brother. We hit it off. But his girlfriend, thinking I was the boyfriend (Clay's friend) told him to stop talking to me--"Take it easy on him [insert name]"

He left to convince her...seemed like a real nice guy. He might've even looked a little like the guy from Nickelback--without dyed hair.

Anyway, to the real story.

There's a guy at the bar. What appears to be his friend is on the other side of him playing with his crutches. They're his because he has a cast on his left leg. It's also noteworthy that the guy with the broken leg is, what young people these days call "Double Fisting." He's got two drinks--one in each hand. That's a lot of money, is my point here.

I ask him what happened to his leg (there were a few seconds where no one was paying attention to me. So instead of look awkward, if only for a minute, I figure I'll talk to the guy with the mustache, long hair and caste on his leg.)

"I broke it catching a purse thief."


"A purse thief. Ya. Like a guy robbed some girl of her purse. I saved her."

"You saved her or her purse?" I asked, starting to wonder if maybe she was a little heavier than he expected.

"Well, her purse. I mean. I caught up with the guy who snatched her purse and really beat the [poop] out him. I mean he was pretty [messed up]." A genuine do-gooder, I'm talking to, I thought. I must admit, it had been at least a year since I'd heard a purse-thief story.

He goes on: "And then the cops showed up. And I'm holding the purse and this guy is all beat up so I tell the cops what's going on. What happened you know?"

"Ya. I know." No I don't know. This guy is getting increasingly close to me and I'm wondering where on earth the girl is and how on earth this relates to him breaking his leg.

"And so the cop just says 'run that way real quick'." At this point he's brought the Portland Police into question. Because, I'm not sure if you know much about standard American law, but that's not exactly exemplary police work.

"And so I'm running back to give this girl her purse, ya know?"

"Ya. I know. I mean that's standard behavoir. Return the purse." I hoped the book about non-verbal body language wasn't right about your face giving away what you're thinking. I had a few questions, to say the least: Why didn't the girl also run after the purse? If the cops could show up from who knows how far away, couldn't the girl walk a few hundred yards? And why on earth are you leaning so close to me. I can hear just fine.

He repeats himself: "And so I'm running back to give this girl her purse, ya know?" I quit answering what I now deem as rhetorical questions.

"And on the way there I break my leg."

Now Clay, who is much quicker of wit than I, is listening in: "What? How do you just break your leg running back to give back a purse, man?"

"I broke it on the sidewalk." We all bust up in laughter. I'm not sure why he was laughing.

"You mean you tripped, Bro?"

"No. I mean I fell off the sidewalk."

"And you broke your whole leg?"

"Ya man." he was sticking to his story pretty intently as the bartender called out that the bar was closing. The guy we were talking to was the last to pay his tab.

"Wait. Wait. Where'd that guy who was just here go?" He was referring to the guy who was playing with his crutches earlier.

"Where'd he go? He said he was gonna pay for these drinks. He invited me over to get some drinks. He ditched out on me? I can't believe that. A guy asks you over for some drinks and then ditches out on you? How's that work?! What an A..." I just looked at him. I guess if I had a friend that got copious amounts of alcohol on my tab I'd probably leave him too.

We decided now was a good time to leave. It was getting rather late, after all.

Outside a guy on crutches tried to steal the girlfriend's purse. He didn't get real far before getting carried away and falling off the's a rough life.

Tri-cities, WA: Fine-dining and friendship

The desert wasn't proving hospitable. Did anyone expect it to?

It was hot (who knew). It was well irrigated. A lot of wheat. A few snakes--Morgan almost ran over a rattle snake. It even struck at him, just missing. And so when we arrived at places like the Tri-cities, it was heavenly. (The tri-cities consist of the cities: Kennewick, Richland, and Pasco. All three are in Washington state).

Andy called a church on Google and asked for a place to stay. The result was a house of 20-somethings who lived in community. The core of the group owned and operated a gourmet wine, cheese, and sandwich shoppe. One just completed a comelier course (basically a master wine taster course). One was the head chef. One owned it. And the others helped out, perhaps more than they originally thought they might. There were 7 in all. They seemed to get along better than other communities I have known in the past. The aura they created was impressive. They were loving. It seemed like living like that wouldn't displease a creator. Or it wouldn't displease me if I created things that could sort-of reason like I could and had to live with each other in one way or another because I forced them to when I was wiring them.

It hadn't always been like that in their lives, though. They hadn't always appeared to be peaceful, kind, and fun-loving. Some of them were coming from quite turbid pasts. Some coming more recently than others. But each of them found the friendship, the peace, and the beauty in the situation they had created in that house and with the shoppe more fulfilling than the lives they had left.

They were lucky. They were blessed. They knew the right people with the right ambition and the right resources to be able to live in a house in a place that provided enough of an income for them to continue to live where peace was attainable. Possible. Easy enough.

We seriously thought about staying another day with them. We wanted to very badly. But we had plans to stay with another family down the road, and it was getting close to the end. We couldn't really spare any extra time.

And so we made our way down into the Columbia River Gorge, another one of the most beautiful places in the country.