Beyond Thunderdome

img_2714Upon first appearances, Coober Pedy, South Australia, feels like a post-apocalyptic scene out of a Mad Max* movie. And, rightly so, it was the backdrop for the film, Beyond Thunderdome. It’s eery and vast with mounds of sand and rock piles as far at the eye can see. Coober Pedy is one of the most unusual places in Australia and perhaps the world. It’s also one of the hottest places in Australia, with summer temperatures often reaching 45°C, and ground temperatures reaching as high as 65°C.

Before white fella came into the territory, Aboriginal nomadic hunters and gatherers travelled the rugged terrain constantly in search of food and water supplies as well as to attend traditional ceremonies. In fact, the name “Coober Pedy” comes from the local Aboriginal term kupa-piti, which means “boys’ waterhole.”

img_2703The first European explorer to pass near the site of Coober Pedy was Scottish-born John McDouall Stuart in 1858, but the town was not established until after 1915, when the first opal was discovered by Wille Hutchison. Miners followed in 1916 and by 1999, there were more than 250,000 mine shaft entrances in the area. With laws in place discouraging large-scale mining  any novice with equipment and fortitude can test their luck mining for an opals. Once a license is acquired, each prospector has 165-square-foot to claim their lot.

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img_2708Coober Pedy has a modest local population of about 3,500 and attracts folks from over 45 different countries. Most of them come to Coober Pedy for one thing; Opals.

Coober Pedy is renowned for its below-ground residences, called “dugouts”, which are basically mine shafts, built into homes. Some of them with elaborate interiors, large ballrooms and underground pools.

One of our favorite dugouts was the Serbian Orthodox Church. The Serbian’s came in droves to Coober Pedy to try their hand at Opal mining in the early 90’s and the church was built-in 1993. It is the town’s largest and most impressive underground church, with intricate rock-wall carvings and a gorgeous vaulted ceiling. The stained glass window provide a celestial atmosphere in the standing room only sanctuary.

 

img_2952Another interesting area in Coober Pedy is “the Breakaways.” The Breakaway Reserve gets its name from the massive rocks and plateaus that from a distance look like they have “broken away” from the main range.

Our favorite was the formation known by non-aboriginal people as “salt and pepper” or the “castle”. To the Aboriginal people, they are known as the “Two Dogs (Pupa)” sitting down, one yellow dog and one white dog. To the south-west of Two Dogs is a peaked hill, known as Man (Wati) who is the owner of the dogs.

Practically speaking, the town had all the amenities that one might need when traveling through. There is a local grocery store with a decent organic section, a backpackers, camping, plenty of Air BnB’s and a few nice hotels (most of which are underground), gas to refuel, and one of the best Pizza joints in South Australia, John’s Pizza. There is even a golf course, which you have to play at night with glow in the dark golf balls. And, of course there are Opals.

Whether you are heading north to Alice Springs or south to Adelaide, Coober Pedy is the place to stop.

*Other major movies, filmed here on location include, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Ground Zero, and Pitch Black.

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Lion City

IMG_9100Singapore! What a fascinating place! This small but robust country is located at the southern tip of Malaysia, about 85 miles (137 kilometres) north of the Equator. Singapore Island originally was inhabited by fishermen and pirates, and it served as an outpost for the Sumatran empire of Srīvijaya which was a maritime and commercial kingdom that flourished between the 7th and the 13th centuries, largely in what is now Indonesia. Of course, there has been loads of history from then until now making this little fishing village one of the worlds most prestigious and innovative cities/countries in the world.

If you talk with a local they will tell you with great admiration that the modern progress and peaceful nation is due to their founding father, Mr Lee Kuan Yew. They will tell you stories of a father who traveled around the world to progressive countries, seeking counsel and knowledge from world leaders,  on what worked and didn’t work for their societies. He then took the best of the best ideas and began implementing them in Singapore. He would walk the streets with a notepad and pen in hand, jotting things he saw in need of replacing or repair, as well as, taking note of flow. They will tell you he was meticulous and lead by example, that he cared about order, efficiency and cleanliness.

IMG_9090As visitors we sensed the importance of everyone going with the established flow and a vigilance on behalf of its citizens to keep law and order. It was actually quite enthralling to see such order, to tilt our heads in wonderment at how one gets a whole society to move with such calculated accuracy. The sociological anthropologists in us couldn’t help but asking questions, not with the desire to compare or judge but with complete curious fascination. The architecture and roadways lent to the flow of life but more that was the established rules in place; rules that were at first glance overbearing but after further review actually lent to the harmony one felt when walking the streets. There were camera’s everywhere and on more than on occasion our hosts explained with pride that the crime rate was very low in Singapore because of these cameras. There are eyes everywhere both from the cameras and from the citizens who all worked together in keeping the societal flow strong.

Some of the rules that we found sort of interesting, “no chewing gum.” You won’t see a single black mark in the sidewalks of Singapore. “No eating in undesignated areas” was another one. We actually learned this rule by accident, as we had brought granola bars with us on one of our outings and while waiting for the train, our son pulled one out. He began to eat it, but was shielded by our host, who let us know under his breath that we were breaking a rule. We all sort of chuckled at what seemed like a silly rule to us but saw our hosts desire to protect us and the plea in his eyes for understanding and out of respect immediately put the snack away.

IMG_9078“No peeing in elevators.” This was most interesting to us from our cultural perspective, as the idea of even having to make a rule regarding this issue seemed absurd. However, it was not uncommon throughout SE Asia to see men urinating in public spaces. And, migrants were  bringing this norm into Singapore. The migrants may have learned that was not allowed in public but still found ways to relieve themselves outside of a designated toilet blocks. The elevators became a hot spot for those looking to take a quick and quiet leak. Now, you have to understand that there are loads of elevators in Singapore. Most of the dwellings in Singapore are massive high-rises and each building would have multiple elevators. And so, to address this issue the Government installed a sensor in each elevator which upon impact of liquid would lock down and not reopen until the police had arrived. I’m sort of cringing and grinning even as I write this as it’s such a clever idea and as you can imagine, very effective.

IMG_9084The layout of the city was impeccable and easy to navigate with a wonderful train/bus system. We were able to enjoy a day at the beautiful botanical gardens, share meals with our hosts, including one of their favorites, Singapore Steamboats. Similar to Chinese Hotpots, the soup pot sits upon a small fire and has two sides of broth, one spicy, one mild. Then throughout the meal you add your selected ingredients to the broth. Ingredients like thinly shaved pork or beef, cubes of chicken or tofu, noodles, veggies, etc… The food was awesome but even more than that was the amazing welcome we found in Singapore.

IMG_9184Our hosts were gracious enough to not only show us their land but to allow us to stay in their space, sharing customs and encouraging each other in community. They even allowed me to cook in their kitchen, teaching them how to make one of my favorite Tex/Mex dishes and serving it to all of their friends and family.

We do not take for granted the gift of hospitality and our friends in Singapore made us feel more than welcomed. They allowed us to explore and ask questions, helping us to make sense of their land, and showering us with kindness and warmth.

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We all have our places where we feel most at home, most comfortable and being with our kinfolk through out SE Asia would be high on our list. But, if you ask our son where his favorite stop in SE Asia was, he will tell you hands down, it was Singapore. He loved the food, as well as the high-tech, modern and hospitable nature of the place. As we continue on our travels, he often is on the lookout for restaurants that cater to the Singapore palette and talks of going back there one day.

The Land of Ten-thousand Pagodas

map_of_myanmarWe knew we wanted to visit Myanmar (Burma) ever since August 2015,  when we sat around a table with Christy & Paul Penley in Colorado Springs and learned about all that was unfolding in the newly opened country. However, our contacts there were limited and so we tentatively only reserved 9 days in the country and planned to take it day by day to see what would unfold. The trip to Myanmar would follow our time in Thailand and we thought we’d be flying from Bangkok to Yangon. However, after more research on the history and areas of Myanmar, we decided that it would be especially important for us to visit the ancient city of Bagan.

This would change our original plan of flying into Yangon and set us back a bit as our flight from Bangkok to Mandalay would mean and overnight bus from Chiang Mai to Bangkok, then a flight to Mandalay, then finally a three-hour bus ride to Bagan. It would be our most extensive and demanding travel in some weeks and thankfully, our hosts in Bangkok, the Tuggy family, welcomed us back for a short two night stay, which broke up our trip and allowed us to find the much-needed energy for the next chapter.

IMG_8794We hailed a taxi in Bangkok and set out for the airport, found the line to Mandalay, got our tickets and boarded our plane. The flight was short, about 2  hours. We landed and took an hour bus ride into downtown Mandalay. Then hopped on a short bus for the final three-hour stretch to Bagan. It was through the windows on that bus that we would catch our first glimpse of Myanmar.

We noticed that the infrastructure was simple and the poverty was striking, yet not offensive. The people were extremely friendly and welcomed us with big smiles (which may also have been a response to Craig’s grandiose mustache). Both men and women were dressed in traditional longyi and many of the women had their hair up and a wore yellow paint on their faces, which we later learned was made from tree bark. We quickly learned the “traditional” Burmese greeting, mingalaba, in hopes that the locals would sense our desire to connect with them. During one of our first interactions at a roadside stand we were well taken care of by three Burmese women who served us our first meal. It was spicy, simple and delicious.

A little history about Bagan, Myanmar. Officially known as the Republic of the Union of Myanmar but also known as Burma, has an ancient history involving the intertwining influence of both Indian, China and Thailand. And, although historians don’t always agree on the original history, many agree that the Tibeto-Burman-speaking Pyu people, were potentially the earliest inhabitants of Burma. They were heavily influenced by trade with India, importing Buddhism as well as other cultural, architectural and political concepts. It is said that in the 1050s, King Anawrahta founded the Pagan Kingdom and that the kingdom grew out of a small 9th-century settlement at Pagan (Bagan) by the Mranma (Burmans), who had recently entered the Irrawaddy valley from the Kingdom of Nanzhao (Southern China).

IMG_0058It is also said, that Bagan was visited by the Buddha himself during his lifetime, and it was here that he allegedly pronounced that a great kingdom would arise. Buddhism stuck and Theravāda Buddhism      (literally “school of the elder monks”) is the branch of Buddhism that is practiced in Myanmar. It uses the teaching of the Pāli Canon, a collection of the oldest recorded Buddhist texts, thought to have been written directly by the Gautama Buddha himself, composed in North India, and preserved orally until it was committed to writing during the Fourth Buddhist Council in Sri Lanka in 29 BCE. The text is believed to contain everything needed to show the path to nirvāna (or heaven).

IMG_0049During the Kingdom of Pagan’s height between the 11th and 13th centuries, over 10,000 Buddhist temples, pagodas and monasteries were constructed in about a 40 mile radius, with 2200 still standing.

In its hay day, the city was a cosmopolitan center for religious and secular studies, specializing in Pali scholarship in grammar and philosophical-psychological studies as well as works in a variety of languages on grammar, astrology, alchemy, medicine, and legal studies.

After the collapse of the Pagan Empire, the city underwent centuries of changes and has maintained a humble presence as a religious pilgrimage, as well as, a one of the countries main historical tourist destinations with an average of over 300,000 international tourists each year.

IMG_0024It was late in the evening when we arrived to our May Kha Lar guesthouse, ($50USD per night for 2 rooms) where we planned to stay for one night, as that was all we could afford. It would be a short visit but we planned to make the most of our time. We woke about 8am, ate a lovely breakfast, went across the street and rented two electric scooters for $8 each and began to make our way towards the Pagodas. We didn’t have an exact route planned but rather followed our noses.

The Pagodas, traditionally a funerary monument containing Buddha associated relics, were usually built to honor a notable person, or bring lasting remembrance to an important family. They sprinkled along the roadside and fields, allowing us to stop frequently, exploring the in’s and out’s of the structures.

img_1957_lzn1Originally, the bell-shaped brick structures were set on a square or octagonal base, and rose to a gentle peak gilded with metal (usually gold) and jeweled tops with a sacred parasol-shaped decoration called “hti”. Over time, however, the structures have lost much of their facades and most have weaned down to the original brick. All were four-sided with an opening on each side and each side had a large gold leaf painted statue of Buddha in a crossed leg sitting position. Some of the Pagodas had a tunnel that connected between the four sides and some of them didn’t. Some were old ruins and some recently renovated, like the Shwesandaw Pagoda which was built in 1057 by King Anawrahta. It has a bell tower which rises from two octagonal bases and is topped with five square terraces. This was the first monument in Bagan to feature stairways leading from the square bottom terraces to the round base of the pagoda itself and this pagoda supposedly enshrines a Buddha hair relic brought back from southern Burma.

After stopping off for a quick-lunch and seeing more Pagodas than we could count, we decide to seek out some of the famous temples. We learned the temples also known as “gu” were inspired by the rock caves of Buddhist. Different than the surrounding pagodas, the temples were larger multi-storied buildings and were places of public worships that included rich murals with sacred shrines and images that could be worshipped. All of them slightly different in design but most built as square or oblong structure with outer terraces representing Mount Meru, the symbolic home of the gods, and surrounded by a thick wall to separate its realm of the sacred from the outside world.

IMG_0112History and architecture aside, as a person who questions the motives of empire and any really establishment, religious or not, I’ll admit it was hard to make sense of it all. It seemed very focused on wealth and prosperity, which seemed quite the paradox in this noticeably impoverished land. For instance, the outer courtyards were filled with vendors, making their honest yet demanding plea for passerby’s to buy their products. Inside the Temples the walls were lined with multiple offering boxes and filled with cold hard cash and later we would learn about temples in the southern region that were made of solid gold, jewels and gems. As an ascetic however, I did appreciate the offerings of simple objects such as a lit candle or oil lamp, burning incense, flowers, food, fruit, water or drinks.

While at one of the Pagodas a man was selling his traditional/religious art. He spoke english and seemed open to us asking him questions. He helped us understand that the material offerings were meant to nurture generosity and virtue, as well as, deepening one’s commitment to the Buddha’s path. After seeing all of the full offerings (money boxes) it became apparent that nurturing generosity and virtue were held in high regard for the Burmese people. But, after seeing all of the poverty around us, the skeptic in me, wondered where exactly all that money went. None the less, I knew I didn’t have the whole picture so I shelved my need to seek justice and resolved to seek out more information about what the Buddhist leadership might do with these offerings.

Plan_of_Ananda_Temple_MyanmarWe made our way to one of the most famous Temples, called Ananda. Said to have been built around 1105 by King Kyanzittha, this perfectly proportioned temple heralds the stylistic end of the Early Bagan period and the beginning of the Middle period.

Legend says that there were 8 monks who arrived one day to the palace begging for alms. They told the king that once, they had lived in the Nandamula Cave temple in the Himalayas. The King was fascinated by the tales and invited the monks to return to his palace. The monks with their meditative powers, showed the king the mythical landscape of the places they had been. IMG_0142King Kyanzittha was overwhelmed by the sight and had a desire for building a temple which would be cool inside in the middle of the hot Bagan plains.

After the construction of the temple, the king executed the architects just to make the style of the temple so unique. Unfortunately, we were not able to enter the Temple because it was closed for a private guest tour. Word on the street was that Bono was there. So, we hung out in the parking lot, which also doubled as a place for vendors to sell their wears.

IMG_8969A young woman approached me. I wasn’t really interested in buying her clothing but felt compelled to talk with her. She had fantastic english and as we sat there for the next hour, she shared her story of growing up in a little village along a river and losing everything in Cyclone Koman. With no government infrastructure to deal with the devastation she along with her large family fled to Bagan to find work. For months they drifted, homeless and shelterless and then finally found work/shelter guarding one of the temples. She and her sisters are no longer in school but rather they sell clothing at the temples to support their family. As we spoke I was taken by the thought that just five years ago this conversation would have never even been possible as the border to Myanmar had only just opened to the outside world. I was taken by her spirit and zest for life, her initiative to learn english by engaging with foreigners and I encouraged her to consider seeking opportunities to use her language skills to advocate for her people. Only 19, she smiled and thanked me for the words of encouragement. Swindled or not, I decided to use my tiny pocket-book to purchase her clothing. She suggested a traditional longyi and allowed me time to leaf through all of her choices. We exchanged e-mails before leaving and honestly, I haven’t stopped thinking of her.

IMG_0146As we turned to go, I saw Craig standing at the side of a truck filled, actually jam-packed with people, both young and old, waiting for who know what, in the hot sun. I realized as I approached the truck that they were absolutely enthralled with his epic mustache. They all sat staring at him, giggling with sheer delight for a good fifteen minutes as he stood by smiling, allowing them this simple pleasure.

From the Ananda temple we made our way to the Shwesandaw Pagoda to watch the sunset (which in and of itself is a good enough reason to visit Bagan). On the way, Craig’s electric scooter got a flat tire and we had to seek help from a local vender who happened to have a cell phone for us to borrow. We called the lady who rented us a bike and with in the hour her husband rode up and exchanged our bike for his. Luckly, the bike debacle didn’t cause to much of a set back and we arrived about an hour before sunset.

We could see the Dhammayangy Temple, also known as the Kalagya Min, the ‘king killed by Indians’, in the distance and decided to take the off-road trails to get to it. This massive structure was built by the cruel King Narathu in the 12 century and was said to be cursed because of his ruthless reign.

dirt bikeWe started to make our way but found that the sand trails were over-cumbersome for our mopeds and began to doubt our decision. We revved our engines and tried to push through but finally after a comical and somewhat dangerous drive we finally found our way back to a main road. We were covered in sand, sweat and our belly’s hurt from laughter. We never made it over to the Dhammayangy Temple. Instead, we stuck the road and made our way back to the Shwesandaw. We climbed up to the top and although it was crowded with tourists the view was spectacular. We didn’t end up getting any photos of the actual sunset but we did get one of this little darling, the sun glowing on her skin.

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After the sunset, we made our way back towards our guesthouse for dinner but found on our way that my bike battery was running low. We struggled to make our way but the battery didn’t last the whole way. Graciana, who was riding on the back of my bike, ended up having to use both of her legs to aggressively push us along. We were laughing hysterically and I’m sure quite the site and as we neared a busier part of town we began to hear cheers and laughter. Her fortitude and my steering finally found us pulled up in front of the moped rental where we exchanged the bike for our final hour in Bagan.

Our last stop was the Black Bamboo restaurant, which combined a wonderful array of French and Burmese cuisine. It was a real treat to be sure and offered a bit of a respite from our sandy, sweaty day.

After dinner, we dropped of the bikes, picked up our luggage, which the guesthouse had been minding, and made our way to the bus stop for a long night of travel. We were exhausted but so pleased as to all that had transpired over the past twenty-four hours.

We still didn’t have answers to some of our questions but we left Bagan with more understanding of the common people and our hearts were full.

 

When Worlds Collide

The plan had been in place for months. Craig Greenfield and his Alongsiders in Phnom Penh, Cambodia had been in conversation with a group from Singapore about hosting a round table discussion about the heart of God for justice and how that translates to our worship. It would be a sort of meeting of minds, an opportunity to gain perspective, learn and have eyes opened and hearts reshaped. At the same time, we wrote Craig about a potential visit to Cambodia. We met Craig two years prior at a social justice conference in Australia called Surrender. We were taken by his story and stayed in touch with him. When our vision shifted from bus life to backpacks, South East Asia came on our radar and we reached out to Craig. He responded to our request stating that our dates lined up with the gathering he would be hosting and invited us to participate. He asked us to put together a few ideas for workshops and began preparations around the subject at hand. He painted a picture of what to expect when we arrived explaining that we, along with a handful of kinfolk from Singapore, would be staying in Phnom Penh for a few nights and then taking a van south to a small village for a weekend homestay, learning about local life and faith. It would be during this time that we would be sharing our workshops with the local villagers. He explained it all, however no words could have really prepared our hearts for what we would experience. We had no idea that we were about to experience the ministry of reconciliation.

imageWe arrived on a Sunday evening and were welcomed by one of the Alongsiders staff, Darath. It was late and dark, our least favorite time to arrive in a new land. But Darath was very helpful in getting us acclimated to our new surroundings. The next morning we rose and met the Alongsiders staff, as well as, the Singapore team (KCC) at the office for our first of many Khmer meals. The meeting was surreal. It was pure joy to be in the same room with so many saints from this side of the globe.

Over the next two days we would all ride tuk tuk’s (local form of taxis) to the Killing Fields and to S-21 Prison where we would take a tour and learn about the recent Cambodian history and genocide. Our first stop was the Killing Fields  and the mood was sober as we all donned the headsets and began our way through the horrifically descriptive and heartbreaking tour. The emotion felt after learning about the Khmer Rouge left us all dumbfounded, angry and sad.

imageFor those who haven’t learned about the Cambodian Genocide in school, the basic gist (and, this is very basic, and in no way is meant to minimize or justify, it’s juswhat we gleaned from our visit. So please investigate more if you feel led) as I was saying, the basic gist involves a rebel party of farmers and men from the countryside who felt city folks were exploiting them and had esteemed goals of transforming their country under a communist ideology. They fought the existing Government for five years, simultaneously during the Vietnam war. In 1973 the Vietcong tried coming down through Cambodia to attack South Vietnam and to stop them the US launched bombs on Cambodian soil, killing thousands of Cambodians. This strengthened and fueled the rebels as they believed the US was in bed with their oppressive government. In 1975, the US pulled out of Vietnam and subsequently out of Cambodia, leaving a hole in the armor and the Capitol city for Slaughter. At that point, one of the rebel leaders, Saloth Sar emerged as sole leader (killing off some of his inner circle), renamed himself Pol Pot and declared himself Prime Minister and leader of newly named Democratic Kampuchea. He renamed his rebel forces Khmer Rouge and set out to systemically purge his country of anyone he felt opposed his views, really anyone he felt like killing. Most of those murdered by Pol Pots Khmer Rouge were educated city dwellers but many country folk were killed as well. Over time, the KR soldiers began to doubt the sanity of their leader as they saw their own family members, who were meant to be protected, murdered. And in 1979, the Vietnamese had had enough of the Khmer Rouge threatening their borders and in the name of liberating the Cambodians they initiated an assault and swiftly defeated the Khmer Rouge. They were ruthless in their “liberation” and for a period conditions did not improve but eventually, the Cambodian people pulled themselves up out of the ashes and began a slow, even to this day, rebuild. In the end, the Khmer Rouge murdered 2.2 million of its own citizens. Pol Pot was never brought to justice, in fact from 1979 till his death in 1998 he and a remnant of the old Khmer Rouge operated near the border of Cambodia and Thailand, where they clung to power, with nominal United Nations recognition as the rightful government of Cambodia.

Sounds like a nightmare right?! Like something from another dimension, another time. But it was only 40 years ago. Only 40. And, although we were horrified to see the evil man can fabricate, it is really nothing new. It happened to the Jews and many more in Nazi Germany, Rwanda, Guatemala, East Timor, in the US and Australia to its First Nation peoples, and even today in places like Tibet, Iraq, Syria and Ethiopia.

It’s more than heartbreaking, it’s paralyzingly. It’s one thing to engage and learn, but something wholly other to awaken awareness and empathy for those oppressed. So, what do we do with the emotions evoked by such evil? For starters, our family, had to sit down over dinner and talk about the feelings we had. They ranged the gamut from sadness, fright, paralysis and when we heard that no justice had come for Pol Pot we had to admit feelings of rage and thoughts of murder in our own hearts, our own depravity staring us in the face. Which then, forced us to remember the aged old story since the fall of man and seek something more, something beyond ourselves. We turned our focus to Love and read the ancient text that promises justice, promises that death will be swallowed forever. We read texts that declare that God is Sovereign and will wipe away the tears from all faces and remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth. And then, we had to dig deeper and find more of the story.

It’s one thing to look at the history, read and visit museums but to meet those who have lived through the travesty and find out from them how God was proving faithful is an important part of the process. So when we met Rev Chea, who pastors a little church in the slums of Phnom Penh, and heard his story of losing his family and fleeing the Khmer Rouge, then life as a refugee. To hear the story of a victim finally finding grace and forgiveness was a significant piece of the puzzle.

imageThen we met Pastor Kong, we actually stayed in his home in the little village south of Phnom Penh. He and his family welcomed us to their home, village, and parish for three nights. It was here that we were meant to lead our creative workshops, which we did gladly. But something else was going on in our hearts and souls during our time in the village, specially after hearing Pastors story. This time we heard from a man who was once a soldier with the Khmer Rouge. We heard how he was seduced by the ideology of a better life for he and his family. We heard about his disillusionment after finding the leadership riddled with lies and corruption. We heard about his families decision to flee and life as a refuge in Thailand. We heard about his families decision to return to their village to reestablish a broken but new life. He told us about a man, who was also a refugee and sent to Canada. It was there this man was introduced to Jesus and the redemption story. The man spent the next years in seminary and finally in 1990 this man came back to Cambodia to tell his people about the God of all gods. In fact, during this time thousands of refugees who had had encounters with God in their host countries, returned to Cambodia to testify of Gods grace. And so it was with the man who walked into Pastors village and shared this good news. Pastor, his wife and six children were one of three families that turned their hearts toward God. They experienced forgiveness and mercy for the first time in theirs lives and made radical decisions to become beacons of light in their village.

We were absolutely wrapped in his story but honestly really had to grapple with the fact that he was originally the enemy, yet standing before us was a man genuinely transformed. Pastor Kong was once lost but now found. The words of Jesus rang in our ears, “love your enemies.” And, here standing with pastor, hearing his story, it all made sense. Love your enemies for they may one day become your brother! We glimpsed another piece of the puzzle. It’s true, we can’t see the whole puzzle yet, emotions are still high but we do know God is faithful, even during the darkest hours.

I don’t think either pastor would wish to go back to those dark days of genocide again but I do know that through it all they both found God and in finding God, they found each other, and in finding each other they found us. And, we are one. And, that is a miracle!

Red Apple School

Many people have asked how do connect with so many host around the world? Well it sometimes goes like this, we met a fello Muso at a folk music conference in Austin, TX named Emily Clepper. Over the next five months we became friends with Emily. When we were getting ready to leave Austin and looking at our east coast routing, we mentioned our desire to head up into Canada and hoped to roll through her hometown of Quebec city. She referred us to her friends, Vann and Chantel, who lived just south of the city. We introduced ourselves to them via good old Facebook and they invited us to come. We spent a lovely week with them, sharing meals, story and song. During our conversations, we shared our desire to explore south east Asia. Vanns interest perked and he told us about his friend, Tinh Mahoney, in Vietnam. Vann and Tinh met when they were young teenagers and had kept in touch over the years. Vann told us that Tinh was a musician and film maker and had a wonderful story that included building eight school in Vietnam. One particular school had a unique story as it involved a group of unlikely contributors. The story goes that Tinh was in the United States performing his music and was invited to a prison in Oregon. While there he shared his dream to build a school. The prisoners were touched by his story and collectively decided to donate one year of their wages towards the building of the school. We were inspired by the story and Vann introduce us via Facebook to Tinh. We begin conversation via email and Skype, dialoguing about a potential visit. We looked on the map to see where Tinh lived and began to course our routing his direction.
And that is how it works. And this is the story of our time with Tinh in His hometown, Phan Thiet, Vietnam.
We arrived late afternoon by bus and took a short taxi ride to the Red Apple English school where Tinh works and lives. We were welcomed by his team, Tam and her sister Nguyen. That evening we “sat in” as English speaking guests. Each of us sat at different tables and the students made the rounds visiting each table and practicing conversation with each of us. They asked all sorts of great questions and after the class we all jumped on mopeds and went for dinner. Tinh treated all of us to Pho’ and later we enjoyed a local dessert soup called Che.

The next morning we rose at 4:30 to catch a sunrise at the local beach. It was dark when we left the house and when we arrived, the beach was packed with all sorts of folks. They were exercising, swimming, running the beach, and burying themselves in the sand; as apparently that has medicinal value.

After the beach, we went back home and enjoyed a light breakfast called Xoi (pronounced soy), which consisted of rice black beans coconut crushed peanuts sugar and salt. It was served alongside a big bowl of exotic fruits. My favorite being Dragon eyes. We we napped during the heat of the day, had a light supper and worked with more students in the evening.

IMG_7636We caught another sunrise the next morning. Two sunrises in a row, that’s a big deal for us night owls, but it was worth it. This time we all rode mopeds to a fishing village and watched the fisherman bring in their catch. There were many women on the beach as well, carrying water and making street food to sell. We were absolutely amazed by their strength. And they were absolutely amazed by Craig’s mustache. 🙂

After, we stopped to see the famous red Sand dunes. Rolled up and down the hills. And enjoyed the soft silky red sand.

Then we went to a resort to visit some of the students we had met the night prior. They invited us to come and enjoy breakfast and when we arrived we could hear a beautiful guitar playing. We later found out that it was Tinh’s CD. The food was delicious, the resort was beautiful and the staff very friendly. We were very impressed that one of Tinh’s students named Nhi, could not only speak her Vietnamese and English but she could also speak fluent Russian! We discovered that many of the tourists come to this area are from Russia.

That evening while our hosts taught school I made a simple dinner of Fish, mango salsa, rice and vegetables. We slept hard that night and the next day Craig helped Tinh build the stage and get the side yard ready for that evening’s concert. We took afternoon naps and then begin to prepare a meal to serve all the guests that would come. About 75 guests came, students, parents and a few foreign guests we had met at the resort. The evening was filled with music, laughter and joy. Many of the students performed and even one of the guests who was visiting from Slovenia shared a song. Our set was jolly and we were able to teach many of the students our lyrics so they could sing along, we especially loved hearing them sing “Old Man’s Town.”

The only thing that could have topped our time with Tinh and the Red Apple School would have been to have Vann and his family there to share in the memory. Thankful for those who send us on as connectors and thankful for those who receive us on the other end!

The Kinfolk Road To Philly

Road to Philly JPGOver the course of a few weeks we rolled our way through the northern tip of West Virginia, Harrisburg, PA, through Amish Country finally arriving in Philadelphia. Every stop we reveled in community, seeing old friends and making new friends, learning and experiencing history, culture and the inspiring ways folks do life.

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Our first stop was with the Bannister family. Craig’s old music mate from Australia, Keith, and his family, welcomed us to their storybook town of Shepherdstown, WV.

They invited us to explore around their area, visiting the historical Civil War battlefields, Harpers Ferry where we learned about abolitionist, John Brown. We enjoyed an afternoon walk in the downtown district, shopping and getting a flavor of the local tea and coffee vendors. A favorite was the little ice-cream shop, Nutters Ice-cream, where they served up two huge scoops of homemade ice-cream for $2.00! Best of all, we were able to catch up on all the amazing life stories that had come our way, and theirs, over the past seven years since our last visit. Our last two days with them sickness came our way and it was in that moment that were so grateful to neighbor with kinfolk, able to find a comfort and hospitality.

IMG_2882Our next stop was in Harrisburg, PA  Harrisburg, the capital of Pennsylvania, sits near the middle of the large state. Once a thriving city, but was recently bankrupted by a former mayor. None the less, we found there was a sense of pride and community effort that seemed to keep the city alive. A few of our favorite things we noticed about this city, specially near the downtown area, was the community gardens and Broad Street Farmers Market. We also found the amount of children playing in the streets and folks sitting on their porches, neighbor to neighbor, enjoying the warm breeze and the company of each other, to be invigorating and most encouraging.

Our host in Harrisburg was the Compton family. We met Jake Compton a few weeks prior in Frostburg, MD when we played a show with Jon Felton and his Soulmobile. Jake played in Jon’s band that night and after the performance he invited us to his hometown.

He, his wife Sommers and their darling children, live inner city and are engaged community builders, encouraging their neighborhood by actively caring and connecting, as well as, impacting their greater community through the arts. They invited us to share meals, story and song at their performing space called the Harrisburg Improv Theatre. They use this space for concerts, performances and to teach improv classes. They are a  creative and innovative family, always looking for ways to invite other into life. This young couple expressed a desire for a story like ours and shared their uncertainty about their purpose, feeling like maybe they were missing out, wondering if travel might be the key. But what we saw, was that their life was already full and they were already living the dream. Travel would just be the icing on the cake.

IMG_2920Later that week, we took a day drive out of the city and enjoyed a taste of Amish Country. We stumbled upon a little town called Intercourse and couldn’t help ourselves but to stop and have a photo taken by the town sign. Yes, we were those tourists. Ha! Really though, who names a town Intercourse, unless they were referring to the dictionaries first definition of the word which is “communication or dealings between individuals or groups.” Even so, we had a good laugh.

Once we got over the name, we sat back and enjoyed taking in the Amish way of life. The neatest thing about this area is the opportunity to see from a birds eye view how they farm and live. It was absolutely mind-boggling how hard they must work and so close to the earth, with the whole family involved. We admire and respect this culture and are thankful for the opportunity to see it unfold, even if from afar.

IMG_3017Our final destination on the “Kinfolk Road to Philly,” was Philadelphia, where we connected with kinfolk, Tevyn and Jay. We’ve had many mutual friends for years, and had run in similar circles but this was the first time we connected and shared story with Jay and Tevyn.

We met them at  Fanny Lou’s Porch for coffee and immediately felt like we were with family. We learned about their community, Circle of Hope, and their circles of ten that meet weekly, encouraging one another in faith and love. We visited the communities thrift store, coffee shop and were invited into one of their gatherings.

 

We also learned about Tevyn and Jay’s creative dreams and endeavor with the Carnival de Resistance, a traveling arts carnival and ceremonial theater company, a village demonstration project exploring ecological practices, and an education and social outreach project; all focusing on ecological justice and radical theology. We enjoyed meals, and conversation about traveling and shared stories about mutual friends whom we all love. Yes, we were talking about you, Joby, Seth and Jon. 🙂

IMG_2972We did a little sight-seeing, exploring the cities historical sites, including the Liberty Bell, the remains of the home of George Washington and we saw the statue of William Penn, all of which was just like the text books described but our most exciting day was spent at a local African heritage event on the South side of Philly, called the ODUNDE Festival.

The festival boasts the largest African-American street festival in the US with over 500,000 attendees.  The festival, whose concept originated from the Yoruba people of Nigeria, West Africa, celebrates the coming of another year for African-Americans and Africanized people around the world.

Our day was filled with amazing dance, music, and fool. We’d highly recommend this festival to anyone visiting Philly in June and looking for a fantastic educational and cultural experience.

 

 

D. C. On a Dime

Nomadic life is not the same as being a tourist on vacation. Nomadic life contains all the same mundane qualities of stationary life, just in motion. We have to do laundry, grocery shop, make meals, clean our bus, do school work, book musical gigs, find communities and host families to neighbor alongside, negotiate the road ways in a 40 ft rig, take care of maintenance on our bus and van and sleep, yes, sleep is good. And then, depending on our host and how we are all feeling, we might venture out to see the main attractions but usually our preference is to actively engage with the local culture through the eyes of our host. Once in a while, however, we get to go explore like a tourist. The difficulty for us, is the most of those moments, we’re broke. Ha! So, it was with our visit to DC.

We did find, though, that there were plenty of things to do on a dime. In fact, there were a number of free things DC had to offer. We visited the White House, the Capitol building, most of the Memorials and Monuments, the Smithsonian museums, including the Natural History, Air & Space, US History, the Zoo and Botanical gardens. We had a few spare dollars for parking and for meals. Our first dinner was at an authentic Ethiopian restaurant called Dukem Restaurant and our second meal was at District Taco.

 

And, then as a special treat, Craig took our son, Banjo, to his first major league baseball game. They saw the Washington Nationals vs. Craig’s favorite Chicago Cubs. Sadly the Cubs lost, but they had a great time and Banjo fell in love with the game. Being his first experience in the big leagues, he had a funny little moment while walking in to the stadium, pointing out the Nationals logo on everyone shirts with confusion and asking Craig if there was a Walgreens convention going on at the game that night. Craig laughed and quickly explained that it was the team logo. Banjo, was embarrassed but still found it silly that they would have such similar logos.

 

All up, our favorite museum was the Air & Space and we loved the Zoo and Botanical Gardens. Our favorite monument was good ol’ Abe as it was exhilarating to sit on the steps, people watch, and look across the reflecting pool at the Washington Monument. And for our meals, Dukem was probably a bit out of our price range but we ended up sharing a platter for two and one extra main between the five of us, and it was plenty. The food was amazing! District Taco was fast, delicious and we were able to fill our bellies for about $8 a person.

Our time was well spent and we learned a ton but next time around, we’d hope to connect with a host family or community and get the other side of life in Washington DC.