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Click here to see a La Crosse Tribune article about the mission in Uganda.

Sunday, February 27, 2011


Growing up in cities as I did, my experience with wild animals – you know, cows, horses, pigs and the like – was somewhat limited. What I did learn came mostly from observing road kill. It wasn’t until I was ten that I figured out wild animals were usually three-dimensional. Biking through the rural areas around here and even in the grand national parks out west have convinced me that very few small mammals die of old age; rather they end up as dark spots on highways. There is this observation that sums it up pretty well, I think: the chicken crossed the road to prove to the possum (and raccoon) that it COULD be done.

Of course now, what with all of the experience that comes to someone of my advanced age, I am more knowledgeable about fauna in general and, as it turns out, acquainted with a few species on a rather more intimate basis. Specifically, warthogs and cows. As you might guess, close encounters with warthogs, such as the one documented in the picture below, happened during my visits to Uganda. What I learned from these meetings is that, considering I am still here with all of my limbs, warthogs are even dumber than I am.

One of my Ugandan warthog friends

It is much more likely that I will have a run-in with a cow, living in the Dairy State as I do. Recall the story of an encounter on County Road X during a ride a few years ago, which I entitled, Shall We Dance? So you would think, with this experience, that my meeting with the cows in the mountains of the Dominican Republic would have been pretty much a non-event. And if that’s what you’d think, I’m afraid you’d be wrong. Honestly, I’d like to keep this story under wraps. But, in the interest of open disclosure, here it is...

Early on Sunday morning I had gone down to Gracesqui and Ramona’s house at the camp. Because Ramona always had a pot of coffee ready and, for me, a really big cup.

Looking down on Gracesqui and Ramona's house at the camp

Ramona has coffee on the stove!

Don Rafael enjoys a cup, too.

Church services wouldn’t be until after noon, so there was no rush, but as the morning wore on, I began to wonder where Carmen was. She had the large building all to herself and Jeff commented that he thought there was a chance that the door could be locked from the outside. I went up to investigate.

It turns out that Carmen just took advantage of the chance to sleep in; she was up and not locked in, so I turned to head back down to the house. And that’s when I saw them, standing right in the gate I had just come through. Two large cows (they looked large to me, anyway) with a calf trailing behind. They were just standing there. Blocking the gate. Looking at me. I looked back, then took a couple of steps towards them, making what I considered to be a shoo-cow noise. They just looked at me.

This could be a problem...

So, what would they do if I tried to squeeze by them? Rather than find out, I picked up a small pebble and tossed it against one of their flanks. I’m surprised the cow even felt it, but this display of my superior intelligence - and firepower - did result in their turning around and ambling back down the hill. I followed them. At a safe distance, of course.

We had only gone a few yards when one of the young boys who always seemed to be around came up and starting shouting at the cows and waving his arms, causing them to turn around and head back towards the gate. I was pretty impressed that they understood Spanish and that this young boy held such sway over them. They moved sheepishly back up the hill and through the gate. Where they were, apparently, expected to go in the morning.

I’m not proud of the incident and I am sure there are two cows and one young boy in the Dominican Republic who even now are having a chuckle at my expense. But I figured I’d tell the story before they had a chance to and perhaps put my actions in a poorer light than I deserve. If that were possible.

Sunday, February 13, 2011


The flat I experienced riding the trainer the other day got me thinking about breakdowns. I’ve had my share of flats while biking the roads around here, but all in all I’ve been lucky, not ever having a really major, ride-disruptive breakdown. It hasn’t been quite like that on the mission trips to Africa, though. Every trip has included multiple issues with our vehicles. And no, not all of them were driver-induced, thank you very much. Here are a few thoughts about some of the problems we had during our 2010 visit in eastern Uganda:

You know it’s going to be a long day when the spare tire falls out from under your Toyota van on a rough road in Kampala only minutes after you’ve set out for your destination in eastern Uganda. And this was after a belt broke on the same vehicle the night before as we were driving in from the airport in Entebbe. Then, a week later, as we were just starting a journey to northwestern Uganda, our Land Rover stalled just as we got into a roundabout. A popular roundabout it seemed on this morning. There were so many cars trying to get through that if you lined them up end-to-end, they would… well, I guess they WERE all lined up end-to-end, weren’t they? Anyway, we were sitting there like a rock in a stream, fluid waves of cars flowing around us.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said “Life is a journey, not a destination.” I like that. But, with all due respect to the esteemed Mr. Emerson, we do need to have destinations. Without them our wanderings, no matter how exciting the journey, are aimless. If you allow me one more quote, then consider this from Alfred A. Montapert, “Do not confuse motion with progress.” Progress is an allusive concept until we have a destination towards which we can direct our travels. Only then can we measure how far we have come, judge where we are and prepare for what we have yet to do.

OK, Another quote, but this one is mine. I think. “A mission is a journey with a destination.” A meaningful destination adds excitement and a sense of urgency to a journey. And it puts things that happen along the way in proper perspective.

One of the things I noticed when the miscellaneous mechanical mishaps befell us was that we – the bazungu – were the only ones who seemed even the least distressed. For everyone around us, it was just another fact of the trip. Before we even got out of the car, people would suddenly appear to help. It was as if we had pulled up short in the middle of an auto-mechanics convention.

When the spare fell off, a young man came up and engaged in serious inspection and discussion before going off to get a sturdy rod to use as a tool to re-wire the tire onto the frame under the rear of the car. And a goodly number of young men were soon gathered around our stalled car to push it around and through the traffic in the roundabout. We then parked in front of a few shops and waited an hour or so for a replacement vehicle. Again, we were probably the only ones actually aware of the time.

I have to admit, I saw the breakdowns as interruptions in our mission trip. But now I see that they were, perhaps, integral parts of the journey.