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Saturday, March 28, 2015

Karamoja and Kidepo with Good Shepherd

Right now, and for the past week, my oldest son, Britt, and I, are up in Karamoja with a couple of guys from our home church in the U.S., Good Shepherd Community Church.  They've been involved in a ministry among the Karamojang for many years.  Our good friend and missions pastor, Jonathan, and a few others were coming over to visit some of the things they are involved in, and they invited us to join them.  What a great opportunity!  Here's a shot of some Karamojang villages.  The ones we visit will probably be similar to these.  I'm sure I'll share some photos from the trip once I'm back again.


One of the things that I really enjoyed about our time in Indonesia was the direct interaction we had with the people interior.  We (my family and I) had many opportunities to build relationships with, and be involved in, the lives of people in the remote villages we served.  Things are setup a bit differently here, and for a variety of reasons that type of interaction isn't quite as feasible.  So this is something that Britt and I are really excited about!  I hope that maybe I can take the rest of the family up there sometime, and maybe even find a way to get us involved in some of the stuff going on there.   I know that Joy and the other kids would LOVE it!  The photo below shows some of the colorful Karamojang kids.  


And heres' two more "generic" shots of the general area where we're going.  These were actually taken some time ago, when it was still a bit "greener".  It's now totally dead and brown.  It looks like a different planet up there--like the monochromatic surface of Mars.   All the rivers and streams have been dried up for months.   I can't understand how they can keep themselves and their cattle alive when it's so dry!  Where do they get their water from??  I guess by now I've either found out the answer to that question, or died from dehydration!



If all goes according to the plan, after a week of visiting with pastors and the ministries going on up there, we're going to swing up to Kidepo National Park for a weekend, before heading out.  Kidepo is the most remote, wildest, and least-visited park in all of Uganda.  And for those reasons it's often considered the best of Uganda's parks, and one of the best in East Africa.  There is a small airstrip there in the middle of the park, and although I've never had a chance to explore the park itself, I have landed at the airstrip a few times.  Here's a shot taken from the cockpit as I taxied out for takeoff a few months ago, with a buffalo staring me down.  If you look closely you can see that there is actually a security fence around the perimeter, but somehow this fellow is on the wrong side!


The park is located right up in the Northeast corner of Uganda, bordering Kenya and South Sudan, and not too far from Ethiopia.  It's a gorgeous area!  Right now it's nearing the end of dry season, so everything is totally brown...except for the watering holes and marshy areas.  What that means is that all of the elephants and other animals have migrated down from the mountains, and congregated in these areas with water.  So, from what I've been told by park rangers there, this is actually the best time of year to visit the park and view the wildlife.  I can't wait!  The photo below was taken last year, when it was still green.  If you look closely you can see a heard of elephants just above that pond down there.  There were more than 30 of them!


Since we're a small group consisting of a just a couple of adventurous guys, we're planning to bush camp out among the wildlife and surreal landscape.  Should be awesome!  I'm sure I'll have some photos to share with you upon returning... so long as we don't get eaten by a lion. :-)

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Around Our Yard

Here's a view of our house from the air.  It's the one in the yellow circle.  The current MAF office (a new one is being built out at the airfield in Kajjansi) is a rented, old house at the tip of the blue arrow.  As you can see from the picture, there's a lot of trees and greenery around, which is really nice...even if it is covered by a thin film of red dust much of the time.  Ironically, it's the little dirt roads around our house that prove the most challenging of all the roads we've driven here so far.  Indeed, there's been a few times when we wouldn't have made it too/from our house without 4WD, b/c of the steep hill (you can't tell there's a hill in the picture) with very deep ruts and huge rocks.  When it rains, we almost need a winch to pull us up! :-)


We feel particularly blessed to have a big yard, something we certainly don't take for granted after having a very small one in Indonesia.  We've had the opportunity to use this yard for hosting a lot of activities, like the kids' youth group, MAF events, local Ugandan kids playing soccer, etc.


Here's a few shots from an MAF social a few weeks ago, where we welcomed a few new people to our team, and said goodbye to a few that were leaving.




Here's a quick shot from the side of our house.  Those are our bedroom windows on the top right.  There's a small veranda (porch) just outside the windows.  We love to stand there and look out over Kampala in the early morning and evening.  The windows face East, so we get to see the big, red African sun coming up in the morning. (This picture is taken in the late afternoon as the sun sets in the West.)


Here's what it looks like from that veranda, after the sun sets and the moon is rising over the city.  That little hill over there is called Tank Hill.  The kids' school is just to the right of that hill.  It's only about 2 miles away, but it can take 45 mins - 1 hour to make a round trip to the school and back because of traffic.  And that's not even the bad-traffic part of town!  As crazy as the traffic can be, it's sure peaceful looking out over the city from this vantage point, hearing the distant car horns, dogs barking, chickens squawking, and a few distant mosques.


Here's a closer shot of that same moon, just a minute or so later.  But this photo is exposed for the moon itself, which is why the sky appears pitch black.


And here's one more--a cropped picture of the one above.  I love how you can see the craters and texture on the surface of the moon.  It's actually a pretty sharp photo, for being taken with a 70-200mm with 2x tele.  Not really the best setup for doing shots like this, but its the poor man's solution. :-)

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Over The Past Few Weeks

It's been good to have Joy's parents visiting over the past few weeks.  On Tuesday, her dad, Alan, road along with me on a flight up to the S. Sudan border, and then over to Karamoja.  I also had our friend Chaundra, the wife of another one of our MAF pilots, Matt, along for the day.  Since Matt and Chaundra have young kids, she wasn't able to ride along with him, but still wanted to see what goes on out there on a typical flight day.  Below, Alan and Chaundra hanging out with some Karamojang kids up in Kotido.


They took turns sitting in the co-pilots seat, with the other one directly behind watching.  Here's a shot of Alan and me, taken on my camera by Chaundra.


The day before, Monday, as I returned to Kajjansi, I saw a huge plume of black smoke billowing from downtown Kampala.  I had no idea what was burning, but it was obviously big!  I found out later that it was a factory that makes mattresses and foam, here in town, and it burned to the ground.  Sadly 6 people died in the blaze.


Last weekend we drove up to New Hope Uganda to visit our friends, Keith and Laura Beth McFarland.  They are a part of an awesome ministry going on up there, and we love seeing what they're doing, and just getting out of the city.  Here's a shot of one of the New Hope facilities.


We enjoyed walking around the "campus" and visiting with the McFarlands, hearing about the ministry and just hanging out together and being mutually encouraging to one another.


On the drive home we had a full van--10 people, including our family plus Joy's parents, 10 large chickens under the back seat, (that we purchased from the Pastors Training Institute run by New Hope), and a big, fat chameleon that the McFarland kids gave to our kids.  The chickens are part of our effort to cut down on the grocery bill--they will provide eggs, and eventually be eaten (although our kids are trying to get us to change our minds about that).  The chickens sat (mostly) quietly under the seat, too terrified to make much noise, but occasionally pecking the feet of those in the back.  The chameleon hung from a branch wedged between the ceiling bars of the van, occasionally getting knocked off by the relentless bumps in the road, and swinging by his tail.  But he would slowly pull himself back up and cling on again for dear life. At some point it struck us that the comments we were making without a second thought, about chickens pecking our feet and chameleons falling off the ceiling, were actually quite abnormal things to be discussing in the context of a family van, for everyone other than missionary kids.

Speaking of chickens, we also got a handful of baby chicks two weeks ago in town.  We are raising them along with the already laying hens, so that when the older ones eventually stop laying, we can start eating them while the younger ones will still be laying.  We hope to keep this pattern going, as we can sell the excess eggs to pay for their feed, and it will cut a chunk from our grocery bill to not have to buy eggs or chicken.  Plus, it's good experience and chores for the kids!  This is actually a "bathroom" which has a "squatty potty" on the floor.  I covered it with an old piece of plywood and made it the temporary home for the chicks.


While we're on the animal theme, here is a picture of a lizard that lives in the eve of our neighbors roof.  I took this shot from our second floor window, as the lizard was peaking out of the roof tile while a bird sat oblivious just above.


This is a male, as indicated by his bright colors.  There are several varieties here in Uganda, and they are all quite striking when they're full grown and sporting their colors.  I guess that's what attracts the females.  Meanwhile, the females are mostly brown, which I guess keeps them more camouflaged and less likely to be eaten by other predators.


Previously I mentioned that Chaundra rode along on a flight, and that her husband, Matt, is one of our pilots.  We've really enjoyed getting to know these guys, and consider them great friends!  Although a long-time pilot, Matt is the newest one to our MAF Uganda team.  Even though he's very experienced, when a pilot is new to an area like this, it's typical for MAF to require a few "supervised" flights where one of the other pilots rides along for the first few days of operational flying.  I had the privilege of riding along with Matt a couple of times.  Here he is in Moroto, doing all the hard work while I snap some shots. :-)


And I also had the privilege to ride along with Rembrand, who was previously one of our Cessna 206 pilots, and just recently got checked out in the much larger Caravan.  Below, in Kalongo, Rembrand is talking with a representative from the local hospital.


A month or so ago our son's school had a job fair, where they invited various people to come in and share about what they do and what it takes to be involved in that career.  MAF was invited to share about mission aviation, and aviation in general.  Greg and I, both having kids in the school, volunteered to do that.  Although we had some great videos rolling on a big screen, it was the flight simulator we brought along that really captured the kids' attention.  This was at the very beginning of the morning, when kids were just starting to roll in.  But shortly thereafter, and for the rest of the morning, there was a large crowd of kids constantly surrounding the flight simulator, and they each took turns trying to fly, and sometimes crashing.  Greg did a great job of keeping the sim going, while I answered a lot of questions and talking with a bunch of kids about MAF--who we are and what we do and why.  Who knows, maybe some day one of these kids will be an MAF pilot.  It often starts with something like this!


Well, that's a bit of what's been going on over here.  Now I have to go feed the chickens!

Friday, March 6, 2015

Recent Random Shots

Here's a few, recent, random shots.  Below, some Karamojang kids up in Northeastern Uganda. 


This one, taken just a few days ago, makes it clear that it's definitely still dry season up in that area.  Here in Kampala its started to rain a few times over the past couple weeks, and things are starting to grow and turn green again.  But up there in Karamoja, they haven't had any rain since November or December, depending on the place.  With the very hot sun, cloudless skies, and almost constant winds, things are very dry! 


To illustrate the difference that water makes, I thought I'd show you this picture of the Nile River, where it exits Lake Kyoga, half way between Lake Victoria and Lake Albert.  There's a very definitive line of green along the edges, where plants are able to drink from the Nile.  But just beside that, it's an abrupt changeover to brown!


In the area of Lake Kyoga, where the mighty Nile slows down in-between the raging white waters around Jinja and the roaring falls at Karoma and Murchison, there are lots of swampy areas.  These, of course are green year-around.


One thing that strikes me as very different here, as compared to SE Asia, is that there are almost no boats on these rivers and lakes.  I know there are fish--big fish, and lots of them.  Yet, there's very few boats.  If this were Asia, these waters would be jam-packed with boats!  Maybe it's the crocs and hippos that keep the people away?  Or maybe they just don't care that much for fish, preferring the taste of their beef, goats, and chickens instead.  But here in this shot, below, it does appear that people are "farming" or at least cutting sections out of that green stuff growing on the swamp.  I'm not sure why, or what it will be used for, but it certainly appears to be man-made circle cut out of that blanket of green.  Or perhaps its aliens?  One or the other.  :-)  Maybe one of you know why its being done?  Some day I'd love to get up there and explore some of these areas in a canoe.  I bet the fishing is great and there would be a lot of waterfowl, monitor lizards, and other wildlife... including crocs.  That would be fun!--and a great chance for some good photos.


Just a few miles away, this is what it looks like.  Below, the road to Gulu slices a straight line through the brown, thirsty landscape.


Switching gears... these are a few of the guys that make the flying possible.  These are my heroes!  The aviation mechanics (or engineers as they are called here).  We literally trust them with our lives as we fly the machines which they expertly maintain and repair, day in and day out.  These guys work in the background, like so many of our staff here, playing a vital role while the pilots often get all the glory.  Like I said, these are the true heroes!




It's a privilege to be able to serve people on the wings of MAF, and it takes a big team of people to make it happen--from the engineers, to the office staff, to you guys!  We're glad to be a small part of that, and we're thankful to have a fantastic team of prayer and ministry partners behind us!  Thank you!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Musana Camps (3 of 3)

As promised, here are a few pictures of some of the birds we saw at Masana Camps.  I'm not going to try to name them all--I just don't have the time to look them up in the bird book right now, and if I guess, I'm sure some will be wrong.  These were the ones that were catching the giant grasshoppers flying all around.



These little ones were under the eves of the house, building a nest or something like that.



And this one was right out in the grass in front of the porch.


Some horn bills kept frequenting the tree down the hill towards the lake.


Speaking of the lake, there were a lot of birds near the lake itself.  These came flying straight at us and reminded me of fighter jets in some sort of loose formation.


But up close they don't look nearly as fighter-sleek.


A bit tighter formation, but still no "fighters".


This looks like a duck to me.


Besides all the birds, we also saw a few of these monkeys.  Notice the red tail (lower left corner).


And the kids found this just-hatched butterfly.  It's wings were still wet and it was drying them so that it could take off and fly.


Well, I hope you enjoyed the series from Masana Camps.  I know we certainly enjoyed being there for a weekend back in November.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Forney Flyer - February 2015

Here's the latest copy of our Forney Flyer hot off the press.  If you typically get our letters via e-mail, then you should have already received this yesterday.  If you're on our hard copy snail-mail list, then it should arrive in the mail sometime in the next week or so.  If you want to see a larger copy of this letter, just save each of the jpeg images below (one of the front page, one of the back page) to your desktop and then open them at full size.  (For a pdf copy see below.)

If you'd like to download a pdf copy of this letter or a few of our previous Forney Flyers, or if you want to sign up to receive our letters via e-mail in the future, or if you're interested in joining our ministry team, please check out the right sidebar over at our MAF staff web page here: maf.org/forney.  And of course, if you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment or e-mail me.  Many thanks!



Saturday, February 21, 2015

Musana Camps (2 of 3)

We were only there at Musana Camps for two days, but the sunrises both mornings were magnificent!  This was the view we enjoyed the first morning just as the sun peeked up over the Eastern edge of Lake Victoria.


And this is how far we had to go to enjoy that view...about three feet from the front door of the house where we were staying.  We could watch it all right there from the front porch!  I'm sure Joy and the McFarlands will appreciate me putting a picture on here of them enjoying some quiet time about 15 minutes after getting out of bed.  No makeup, no showers, but hey--they look great don't they?!


While they were enjoying their thing, and occasionally looking up to exclaim something like "wow!" or "amazing!", I simply couldn't take my eyes off the changing scene in front of me.  I love watching the weather, and I obviously enjoy photography.  I sometimes think I could/should have been a wildlife photographer because I would actually have no problem sitting for hours, or even days, waiting for the perfect shot, soaking it all in while I wait.  But since I don't have the time for that (six kids and a busy schedule keeps me from too much down time), or the money for the lenses, I just get to enjoy little bits here and there.  

Anyway, this was a rare morning where I got to just sit there and take it all in.  I loved watching how the scene was continually changing--the colors magically taking on completely different tones depending on where the sun and clouds were.  Every 30 seconds it seemed like a totally different scene to me.  The first picture, above, was taken at 6:32am.  This picture, below, was taken two minutes later at 6:34am.   In two minutes, check out how far the sun has moved, and how the overall colors have changed from shades of purple and deep blue to more of an orange and lightly-muted purple glow. 


Of course, the choice of lens, and perspective can also dramatically change things.  The above two shots are in nice and tight (200mm).  But on the previous post, the first photo I showed was an image shot just a few seconds after the one above, but much wider (70mm).  In that one you can also see the fishing village in the foreground, and more of the sky.  It really changes the look of it.

Now, six minutes later at 6:40am, I put the really wide lens on as the sun climbed high enough to allow the myriad shades of blue to show, while still painting the undersides of the dissipating clouds orange and yellow, leaving those in shadow purple and pink.  So awesome!  (This one was shot at 16mm).


But wait...there's more!  Even after the glorious sunrise was finished, the show didn't end there.  All day long the clouds and weather were constantly changing and fascinating me.  At one point, we saw a few water spouts virtually appear out of nowhere, way out in the distance over the lake.


And of course, as the air warms up and the moisture evaporates off the lake, and rises, it forms new, big clouds, which often develop into thunderstorms.  I bet you can guess what I'm about to say now--yep, I love watching thunderstorms too--day or night.  They amaze me!


The second evening was mostly clear, with just some thin, high clouds, and we made a little campfire up on the hill, overlooking the lake, and made s'mores.  Good fun!


After the younger kids hit the sack, Britt and I spent a few minutes flinging glowing sticks through the air like a couple of crazy men (yeah, that's not a good idea if the little kids are still around).  It might have looked like we lost our minds (and I'm not going to argue that point) but we were actually trying to make light paintings.  Here's one that I made, while the camera was taking a long exposure sitting on a tripod.  It's supposed to be a mountain, tree, and sun.  If you look closely you can see Lake Victoria in the background, and the lights of some fishing boats out on the water.  You can even see the little light trails of a few stars shining through the thin wispy clouds above.  That's how much the earth has rotated during the 82 second exposure.  Cool hugh?


The second morning we were treated to another magnificent sunrise, just as amazing, but completely different from the one the previous morning!


Another thing we enjoyed watching were the birds.  I love watching, and photographing nature.  It's especially hard to get good shots of birds, without the huge (and very expensive!!!) super telephoto lenses, of which I own none, but certainly covet.  However, that just makes it a lot more of a challenge--as I have to be more patient and get a lot closer to get good shots.  I'm not saying these are good, but they give you an idea of what we enjoyed watching.



There were a ton of large grasshoppers flying around--the kids were kicking them up in clouds as they ran through the grass.  Capitalizing on the great opportunity for a snack, a group of kites and hawks were circling close above, diving in and catching the large grasshoppers in their talons, and then quickly gobbling them down while they flew.  If you look closely, you can see one of the just-captured grasshoppers in the talons of the bird below.


Stop by again next week for a few more shots of some of the other birds and wildlife we saw at Musana Camps.