Tanzania 2022 – July 11 – The red hat tale

In our excursions in Tanzania, we were all impressed with the kindness and friendliness of the Tanzanian people. Nowhere has this been more apparent than in the tale of the red hat.

On Sunday the 10th, after attending a church service in Majengo, we arrived at a venue for lunch and a report from some members of ODS, “Open Door for Development Strategies.” This was a group begun by Lameck Sylvester, who was our guide and host while we were in Mtwara district.

The purpose of this group is to train Tanzanians, who are generally very poor and living on about $2 a day, in the mentality and skills necessary to develop sustaining businesses. They have seen many successes. As one of our guides said, “local problems need local solutions.” This is a great example of that. All in the name of Christ.

So, back to the red hat.

After we left the venue, it became apparent to me that I had left my hat behind. Now, I’ve had this hat for over 20 years and carried it with me on numerous trips, wadded up in my suitcase or pack. It’s been on many a hike, keeping the rain and sun off my head. So, I was a little disappointed but resigned to the idea that I would never see my faithful hat again.

A bajaj (ba-ZHAZH)

The next day, our group loaded into bajajes (a three-wheeled motorcycle with a body) to be carried to our next stop. We generally hired these drivers for the day, and they would hang around while we toured whatever we were seeing that day.

This particular morning, I was riding with Lameck. I noticed we were heading in the general direction of the venue where I had left my hat.

“Lameck,” I said, “Are we going to be near The Old Boma (the venue)?” He said we were not. I explained that I’d left my hat there, but no big deal if I couldn’t get it back.

By the time we arrived at our destination, a thought occurred to me. I went to David, one of our group leaders who knows the most among us about Tanzania.

I asked David if he thought it would be alright if I hired one of the bajaj drivers to go to The Old Boma to retrieve my hat. He said he didn’t see why not.

And then something wonderful happened.

Lameck overheard me asking that of David and said, “It’s already been taken care of.”

On his own, he’d asked one of our drivers to go to La Boma and rescue the lost, red hat. Shortly thereafter, I had my headgear back.

Lameck Sylvester

Time and again, we remarked at the friendliness and kindness of the Tanzanian people. There is a selflessness among the believers that is pleasant and “adorns the doctrine of God our Savior” (Titus 2:10). Often ready with a smile, they never seem put out by inconvenience or the kinds of things that would make me lose my patience. This was just another example of that.

I continue to carry those memories.

My trip to Tanzania took place in July 2022.

Tanzania 2022 – What is the mission?

And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.”

Acts 15:36

I leave tomorrow for an 11-day trip to Tanzania, going with a group from my church.

Rather than going to “help them out” or to do for them what they cannot do for themselves, we are going mainly to observe what God is doing.

My church has had an ongoing relationship with the believers in TZ, having made two previous trips there. This is my first, but others have gone before. We have encouraged the saints there with medical service, instruction in church planting, support for entrepreneurial endeavors, and sponsorship of two Compassion International centers.

After our church’s last trip, Richard and Verena, a Tanzanian couple came to Asheville. They operate the Tanzanian Disciple Making Movements, a support group for local entrepreneurial work. They help local Tanzanians to be more productive in business and farming as a part of making disciples. Their goal is to see self-sustaining industries rise that will lift people out of poverty.

While they were in Asheville, I had the opportunity to sit with them and talk about business from a Christian perspective. I shared with them some of the principles that made Chick-fil-A (where I worked) such a success. We parted hoping to continue the conversation in Tanzania someday.

That day was supposed to come in 2020, but we all know what happened. All the support I’d raised was put on hold for a future visit. I appreciate the patience those who’ve supported me have shown. And now we get to go.

Our purpose is to observe. To see what God has been doing in another part of the world. To “see how they are” in the words of Paul (Acts 15:36).

I will also have the special privilege of meeting Talik, a child we have sponsored for several years through Compassion International. That should be a highlight of the trip.

If I am allowed by the sovereign design of God to be able to contribute some thoughts to the believers there, it will not be because I am greater. Rather I hope for mutual encouragement as we all – mmarekani and mtanzania – are “mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine” (Rom. 1:12).

How I became a “hobo”

“It’s a mighty river, rollin’ along…oh, washin’ clean, I’m over my head”

It was the summer of 2018, and I was standing in Headwall Sports, a thrift store in Jackson, Wyoming, browsing some used shirts. Eventually, the store’s music came creeping into my conscious thought. It was a long song with a driving groove and haunting fiddle part. Definitely jam band material.

“Hey, what’s this music?” I asked the shopkeeper.

He looked at his iPad. “That’s Railroad Earth. The song is “Seven Story Mountain.”

“Thanks, man.”

When I got into my car, I pulled up Amazon Music and did a search. For the next 14 minutes, I listened to a live version of that song (listen here) which is a heart-cry of regret and longing to live fully and speak boldly. My guess is that it’s roughly based on the book, Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton.

Oh Lord, to see a light, but fail in strength to follow
Sometimes it’s hard to let it go
Oh Lord, to fail in heart, and each day grow more hollow
Sometimes I just don’t wanna know
But the road that led me here, it’s begun to disappear
Sometimes I wonder where I am

Oh Lord, to hear a voice, but let it fade and wallow
Sometimes it’s hard to let it to
Oh Lord, to find the words, but keep them in and swallow
One day the top is gonna blow
But the road that left me here, it’s begun to disappear
Sometimes I wonder who I am

Oh Lord, to stumble blind, for years without knowing
Sunrise has burned my eyes again
Oh Lord, to crumble quiet, watching from the silence
Sunrise has burned my eyes again
It’s a seven-story mountain. It’s a long, long life we live.
Got to find a light and fill my heart again.
It’s a seven-story mountain. It’s a long, long life ahead.
Got to find a voice and fill my throat again.

-Railroad Earth, lyrics by Todd Scheaffer (?)

I can now scarcely read these lines without an emotional reaction. So many times I find myself lamenting over missed opportunities and wasted moments. But then I’m reminded it’s a “long, long life ahead.” There’s still time to “find a voice and fill my throat again.”

Anyway, fast forward to January 2022, and Railroad Earth was coming to Asheville for a show at the Orange Peel. Now, I had only listened to other material by the band in small measure. Nevertheless, I thought it would be fun to hear them live despite only really knowing one of their songs. So I invited a friend and we gathered at the Peel.

What a show! Two long sets of Americana greatness. Think “Grateful Dead with bluegrass instruments.” Long extended jams. People bouncing, swaying, happy-dancing. But, no “Seven Story Mountain.” Still, a fun time.

I spent the next few weeks rectifying my Railroad Earth illiteracy, listening to and learning the songs I’d heard live and many others. Nugs released a recording of the very show I attended, so within a couple of days I was reliving my Orange Peel experience. I don’t think I really listened to much of anything else in those weeks.

A lively tune called “Elko” told the tale of travelers in the Nevada desert “shutting it down for the night” and “needing a winning hand.” It became my end-of-day work shutdown song. Songs had me “smilin’ like a Buddha” and “chasin’ a rainbow, no good reason why.” Sometimes I’d find myself falling into something, but, whadaya know, I “came up smilin’.” Other times I might feel like “just another bird in a house, trying to get out.” And in a cover of a George Harrison tune, RRE reminded me, “if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.”

So now it’s the middle of March, and I get an ad across my feed that Railroad Earth is closing their spring tour with two shows in Charlottesville, Virginia. “Hey, that’s only 5 hours away. Why not?”

I get there early on Friday night so I can stand up close. I meet some people for whom this is not their first or second rodeo; one fellow had taken the week off to follow the band and attend 5 straight shows. Others had been to dozens of RRE concerts. I come to find out that, much like devotees of the Grateful Dead were “Dead Heads,” these fans are “Hobos.” I guess I am too, even if on a lesser scale.

The lights dim. The band takes the stage. The drummer begins his cadence. Could it be? The fiddle comes in. Yes! It’s “Seven Story Mountain!” I wipe away tears of joy as I join the happy dancers. I punch my hands in the air and sing along, “one day the top is gonna blow!”

Later, “Elko” was launched and the guy next to me starts tossing playing cards. A young woman gives me a card because I had none. Puzzled, I look around, and hearts, spades, diamonds, and clubs are flying all around the venue. “I need a card, I need a card, hit me! Not too hard!” Todd sings, and cards go flying up to the stage. What fun!

And then I learned something about Railroad Earth shows. They’re interactive. The next night, when “Give that boy a hand” was sung, tiny rubber hands were flying around. I also learned that it’s most definitely worth it to go multiple times. The second night, the song set was completely different. No repeated songs. In fact, only 7 songs from the Asheville show two months earlier were performed in Virginia. The extended jams might be different from one time to the next. It’s as close as I’ve come to what I understand the Grateful Dead experience was like.

I ended that weekend feeling happy, refreshed, positive, and content. I met some new friends. Some fellow believers in Christ. Some fellow musicians who talked tech with me. I joined the Hobos Facebook group.

I’ve been to 3 Railroad Earth shows. I can sing along to more and more songs. I hung a concert poster in my office. I’m awaiting the next tour.

Does that make me a Hobo? I hope so!

Finally, Tanzania bound!

In the summer of 2020, I was making plans for a trip to Tanzania with a group of people from my church. We were going to encourage the saints that we have come to know, visit a couple of Compassion International centers (and perhaps meet our sponsored children!), and help Christian entrepreneurs develop the skills necessary for self-sustaining business.

An itinerary was set, tickets were purchases, a Visa was secured, funds were raised.

Then COVID happened.

Like so many other endeavors, our plans had to be scrapped. But not without hope.

Like Paul and his desire to visit the Roman church, I felt that I could say of my friends in Tanzania, “Without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you – that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine” (Romans 1:9b-12).

I like how Paul adds that last thought, that of mutual encouragement. For I was not thinking in a morally superior sense that I had anything to impart, but judging from past interactions with some of these African saints, I knew that we would strengthen each other.

Fast forward two years, and it looks like prayers are being answered. We now have tickets, an itinerary has been made, and all those funds raised two years ago will be put to use this year. We will be heading to Tanzania in July 2022!

Back in 2019, Richard and Verana Okech, a husband and wife from TZ met with me at a Chick-fil-A in Asheville. In Tanzania, they work with local entrepreneurs, hoping to train them to become self-sustaining in business. They wanted to “pick my brain” on some of the business practices that have made Chick-fil-A such a success. (If you aren’t aware, I have worked for my local Chick-fil-A for 9+ years in leadership development and guest experiences.)

We spent three wonderful hours together, showing them some of the systems that we employ, as well as some of the “theory” behind what we do. Richard and Verena took turns furiously writing in their notebook, passing it back and forth. It was a time of mutual encouragement.

Later, Richard emailed David and me (David is a local man in my church who is heading up this trip) saying, “It is our prayer that the Lord will keep us connected in our journey of doing business and creating the movement to many in disciple making who are doing business.” In a subsequent email, as we were planning the 2020 trip, Richard said, “Most who heard the stories we shared with them about the things we learned from you asked, ‘Can he [Mark] come and talk with us?’ My response has been, ‘let’s pray for that opportunity.'”

It has been exciting and eye-opening seeing how God is working through people like Richard. Instead of coordinating the receiving of a never-ending stream of financial support (which he sees often goes to corrupt officials), Richard and others are working toward ways that Tanzanians can grow their own businesses to support themselves and others. What I have seen work at Chick-fil-A, both before and during the pandemic, I believe is transferable in some way to other settings and cultures.

I truly feel that this is one of those Macedonian calls – Come and help us. I am humbled that I might have even a small part in building up the believers toward discipleship and sustainable business growth. But I know that at the end of it all, it will be of mutual benefit as I see our Sovereign God at work on a global mission, to the ends of the earth.

Additionally, I may be able to actually meet one or both of the children we sponsor through Compassion International. What a privilege!

So, I urge you, my friends and contacts to pray. Pray that the global situation with not prevent our travel. Pray that we remain healthy enough to travel. Pray for my companions and their fundraising efforts. As for my funding, I still have the funds I raised two years ago. I may still need a little more, so if you are inclined, you can contact me, and I’ll let you know how to give financial support.

What’s your travelosophy?

What’s your travelosophy? In other words, what’s your philosophy of adventure? How do you structure a trip for maximum enjoyment? There’s no one right answer, and people have been creating different experiences based on their tastes.

I want to delineate two different approaches to a vacation/adventure. See which one appeals to you the most.

The road trip

The road trip

In this kind of adventure, you travel (generally driving) from place to place. The idea is to see as many different places as possible. And this is really the point – to catch as many of the “sights to see” as you can.

This is often a longer excursion, needing as much as a month or more to fully take advantage of the opportunity. However, I have known of some families who try to do this in a 2-week window. There are obvious disadvantages with such a short time-frame; taking up full days just for driving, for example.

The road trip is ideal for those places where there are many destinations in a relatively small amount of space. The Canyons regions of southern Utah and northern Arizona would be an example. An adventure in this region would allow you to see Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Arches, and Canyonlands National Parks (not to mention numerous other national monuments) in a relatively small region. You’ll get lots of stamps in your National Parks Passport book! Keep in mind that spaces, particularly in the American West, are much farther apart than they seem when you look at a map. So don’t overestimate your ability to travel from point A to point B. I once had someone tell me they wanted to take a road trip and see Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon. I pointed out that this would be like taking a day trip from her home in South Florida to Louisville, Kentucky!

The key to a road trip is careful planning of routes and lodging. The problem of an adventure like this is that everyone else is occupying the same roads, restaurants, and campsites! There’s a reason these places are popular. This type of trip may help you check off destinations on your bucket list, but if you’re looking for a peaceful excursion like you see in the car commercials, this probably won’t be the one.

Yeah, your road trip won’t look like this. Besides, this is in Chile. That would be a heck of a road trip. (Toyota commercial)
The home base trip

The home base trip

This has become my preferred method of travel. Find a spot that is somewhat central to a desired location and hole up there. We have undertaken adventures like this that have enabled us to see (in different years) Great Smoky Mountains, Yosemite, Rocky Mountain, Grand Teton, Yellowstone, and Shenandoah National Parks, as well as the many outlying areas that aren’t part of the National Park system, but are nevertheless beautiful and engaging.

We are not campers, so our best bet for lodging is to find a good cabin. Vrbo and Airbnb have made this easier and in many cases, provide a more desirable home base. Oftentimes, I want to go and do something that’s not in Carolyn’s wheelhouse. Our cabin for our last trip was a destination unto itself and as such, was a great place for her to hang out while I traipsed about on a hiking or photography excursion.

Give Carolyn a porch, a sunrise, a book, a cup of tea, and a nearby stream and she’s a happy camper!

We have managed to select home bases that are close to, but not within the major national parks. One advantage of this is that we can get to the usual popular sights if we want, but we can also take advantage of the less crowded, but still wonderful places that are on the fringes of the park or outside the park itself. One of my best hikes ever was in a canyon outside of Yosemite on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada range. There are so many no-name places that elicit the same sense of wonder and awe as the iconic ones in the parks; you just have to get to know the area well.

A no-name lake along the Beartooth Highway in Wyoming. No crowds.

Speaking of getting to know an area, we were faced with a conscious choice a number of years ago: Do we visit new places, or do we return to familiar destinations for a deeper dive? At the time, we had made several trips to western North Carolina (before we moved there) and one trip to Yosemite and one trip to Rocky Mountain. At this point, we were looking at other national parks to take in. But, there was also this sense that we had only begun to scratch the surface at those visited places. After our trip, I would look at a map and notice another trail we could hike, another sight to see. With several vacations in North Carolina, we knew the advantage to going back to the same location. Eventually, this is what we settled on. We’ve returned to Rocky Mountain once, and Yosemite probably half a dozen times. We’ve been rewarded for that increasing familiarity. It was only when my boss paid for a lodge for our leadership team in Jackson, Wyoming that we diverted to a new destination. Then, the Tetons/Yellowstone became our destination for the next 4 years.

The key to a successful home base trip is lodging. What if you are stuck there (weather, sickness, etc.)? A hotel room is not optimal. At the end of our trip last year in Wyoming, we spent the last full day in a hotel in Jackson. Normally, this wouldn’t have been a problem, but there were issues with going out. First, it was extremely hazy due to wild fires in California, rendering outdoor activity fruitless in terms of seeing grand vistas and potentially harmful due to air quality. Mix that with road construction begun in town that made every street and alleyway a parking lot, and we had a situation where we opted to stay in. It was OK – restful – but not the best.

As I said, finding a good cabin/house that’s a home-away-from-home is ideal. That, or a great campsite. You need a sense that the place where you put up your feet is a destination of itself, a place you like going to. That way, if you have to or want to stay put, you still feel like you’re on an adventure. There are always rest days in a good vacation, and having a homey place provides that rest and rejuvenation. And a place to work on a puzzle.

Puzzles. A brainless cabin activity for disconnecting. Probably the most “old man” thing I do.

So, what’s your travelosophy? Have you taken a road trip? Was it enjoyable, or frustrating? How about a home base trip? Was it restful and engaging or boring after awhile? Let me know in the comments. Please like and follow. I don’t always write about travel, but when I do, I like to put up lots of pictures.

Wyoming, Day 10, in Idaho

Sometimes the Google homepage picks a winner.

A couple of months ago, undoubtedly based on other internet searches I’d performed, Google displayed a picture and a link about a little-known sight in Idaho, not far from Jackson, Wyoming.

I needed to choose an activity for our last full day in Jackson, something not too strenuous or complicated. In keeping with our theme of trying new locations, I mapped out a plan for a drive into Idaho to see this small waterfall known as Falls Creek Falls.

For the most part on this whole trip, we avoided the crowded, familiar sights of the national parks. We were highly rewarded for this choice. Day 10’s destination was no exception, and truly could be thought of in a saving-the-best-for-last way.

This small creek flows into the Snake River in Idaho, across the mountains and downstream from where the Snake flows in Jackson Hole. What’s amazing is this small stream ends in a glorious cascade.

As waterfalls go, this one was spectacular. My wife Carolyn often speaks of the “character” of a waterfall, as in, “This waterfall has a lot of character.” This generally means there are many channels in which the water flows, creating visual variety as the water falls to the plunge basin. Niagara Falls is pretty impressive, but it doesn’t have a lot of character.

Being that we live in an area of many falls (western North Carolina), we often see some pretty remarkable fountains. Stepping to the edge of this one immediately took our breath away. Carolyn’s first words to me were, “You made my day.” That was quite satisfying, as that was what I was going for.

Carolyn finds her soul restored with rushing waters. A quiet walk along a stream, standing at a waterfall – these are some of the things that bring peace to her spirit. And, I must admit, to mine also. This sense of tranquility comes from knowing the Creator behind the creation. From knowing that this glory that we see before our eyes is but a dim reflection of the glory of the God who made it.

We spoke to a man who lived in the area but had never been to this waterfall until he saw an online picture. It was not far from the main road, but couldn’t be viewed from the main road. We felt like we’d discovered a hidden gem.

Part of this kind of discovery is wanting to share it with the world. But that often comes with a cost, as more and more people come and possibly overrun a place like this. Just look at what has happened at Max Patch Mountain along the Appalachian Trail. Too much usage has led to a ban on camping after the place got trashed. We are like locusts sometimes.

On the one hand, we all must visit the wild and beautiful places, for in this we come to treasure them. But if we are not careful, our footprint becomes destructive. It’s a fine balance. What I can do as an individual is to follow the old mantra – take only pictures, leave only footprints.

Our journey into Idaho led us through some lush farmland and some autumn colors. In previous trips out here in early September, it had been too early for colors. But this year, owing to a dry season, we’ve seen some stunning coloration.

Day 11 is a travel day, back to hearth and home in North Carolina. We have been rejuvenated and refreshed on this vacation, with a fine mix of activity, rest, and thoughtfulness. I encourage you to seek for those times of refreshing.

Vacation is not the absence of work. It is the intentional pursuit of rejuvenation.

M. Graham Knox

Wyoming, Day 9, Cody to Jackson

Day 9 was a transit day, as we said goodbye to our cozy cabin in the foothills of the Absoroka Range. I’m sure if we return to this area, we will definitely check out the availability of this lodge.

So, in driving back to Jackson for a 2-night stay before flying home, we decided between returning by the same route that we took earlier in the week (through Yellowstone) or by taking a longer, southern route. Because we were feeling adventurous, we opted for the longer route.

The most intriguing thing about the trip was our journey through the Wind River Canyon. By a strange quirk in the makeup of the rock layers and the canyon ceilings, it can appear that the river is moving uphill. As you can see from the first photo, the road is definitely on a downward slope…I think…and yet the river is running toward me in that shot. It was so unnerving that when we got to our hotel, I did a little online research, and yes, we’re not the only ones who have had that sensation. I found a local blog entry from a few years ago. You can check it out here. So while there were times of downward slopes and upward rises, in general, our road was taking us slightly uphill.

Without getting too maudlin, it makes me think about morals and standards. If I look at the canyon walls of the Wind River Canyon as the standard for whether I am going uphill or down, I might be mislead. And then, against what my eyes are perceiving, the river is running uphill. If I look to the culture around me for whether I am maintaining a righteous and moral standard, then I might perceive myself to be upright when in fact I am not. I need a plumbline to guide me in the canyon. I need a solid standard to guide my thoughts and ways. Only God’s revealed Scripture can be the plumbline.

We continued on until the familiar horizon of Grand Teton National Park came into view. We were thankful that the haze has diminished greatly as we spend our final days in Wyoming. Enjoy the pictures!

Wyoming, Days 6 & 7, Hike & Drive

Day 6 – hike

On Friday, I returned to the mouth of Clarks Fork Canyon, not to off-road with the car, but to hike a bit into the canyon. Carolyn was happy to stay behind at the cabin, reading one of her now 10 books that she’s completed during this trip.

It was a hot day, and I didn’t plan on a long hike, but I did want to get a little bit into this canyon we looked down upon a couple of days earlier from above during our off-road excursion.

As you approach the canyon, it appears that the mountains rise in a sheer wall from the floor of the advancing plain. In fact, the plain actually descends as you draw near the mountains, and then they arise out of the plain floor. I guess that has something to do with the formation of these ridges as the peaks were uplifted and the surrounding floor fell downward. In the Tetons, this same formation has resulted in numerous lakes at the base of the range.

The picture of the red rock formation is interesting. From one angle, it simply looked like a layer of rock within the rock wall. From another angle, it was clear that it was a separate wall of a hollowed out section. One of many surprises we’ve experienced.

Day 7 – road trip

Saturday began with the clearest air we’d seen up to that point of the trip. All week, the views were veiled with the presence of a smoky haze from the fires in California and Idaho. We awoke to clear sunlight with some mixed clouds. This created some deep shadows on the landscape, both from the sun’s angle and the shadows cast by clouds. All day long, sunlight and shadow created some great views and hopefully some striking photos.

We headed back up onto the Beartooth Highway, location of our “walkabout” two days earlier. We decided to drive the loop in reverse from what we’d done before. That meant heading north to Red Lodge, Montana and then driving south on the “212.” One thing we’ve discovered this year is that sometimes, driving in a different direction allows you to see things differently than when you always travel in the same direction. This was now our 4th trip on the Beartooth in three years, but our first time going north-to-south.

Once we finished the Beartooth, we continued on to the southwest through Cooke City (our AirBnB location in the past two years) and on to Yellowstone National Park through Lamar Valley. We hadn’t really seen much in the way of large wildlife, so it was good to get up close with some Buffalo. We opted not to spend much time at all in YNP this year, partly because of the crowding and partly because we’d been through parts of the Park in the three prior years.

In completing the loop, we travelled west-to-east on the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway. Again, the first time we’d moved in that direction. We saw plentiful quaking aspens in golden and orange colors. It seems the colors in Wyoming appeared early this year, possibly because of the dry conditions.

Enjoy the photos!