Quick update!

We’re on our third day in Malawi, currently in Blantyre but soon to depart for the Lake and the District Conference. Yesterday we toured Beit Cure, an amazing orthopedic hospital that is part of the International Cure Organization. It’s a private hospital that receives US funding, but has already managed to institute a program that allows them to generate a third of the money needed annually; primarily they charge adults for their medical procedures and then use that money to fund the free orthopedic services for children. In the afternoon, we ventured out to Mt. Mulounje; the third highest mountain in Africa. We didn’t get a chance to climb the mountain, but we did take some beautiful photographs of the impressive peak and the surrounding tea plantations. We made a brief stop at a local coffee roaster and had a crash course in determining coffee quality. Tamara and Robin were in heaven; we had to physically restrain them from climbing into the bins of roast beans!

May 9, 2010

Today we set off on Kenyan Airways to cross the Zambia/Malawi border. We had to leave some of our belongings (and souvenirs) with our friends in Lusaka in order to comply with the KA baggage weight limits. Hopefully they will make it through the bus trip to Lake Malawi and rejoin us at the conference! We entered the country uneventfully and met up with Rotarians from the Lilongwe Club, including GSE Chair Hutch Mthinda. We deposited our bags at our host homes and headed for the evening Rotary meeting and presentation. Tomorrow the plan is for David to visit the embassy and the rest of us to tour Lilongwe in the morning, then we’ll hop on a bus for a five hour ride to beautiful Blantyre.

 May 7, 2010

Lake Kasiba was amazing! Many of us had never before seen a lake that wasn’t surrounded by lake houses and marinas. We picknicked by the clear water, admiring the fiery red dragonflies and watching the vervet monkeys play on the opposite shore. Most of the locals avoid the lake; there are many stories of supernatural happenings. Some say the lake has no bottom, and the spirits that live in the depths have grabbed swimmers and spirited them away, never to be seen again. It is said that fish caught in the lake cannot be killed and eaten, and misfortune will fall on anyone who tries.

May 6, 2010

 We arrived in Luanshya last night. In true Zambian fashion, we had an enormous amount of delicious food at a braai. We met the famous PDG Patrick Coleman and wife Sherri who offered extra support for our team. This morning we had the choice to either do something vocational or rest, and the Team did a bit of both. After lunch with our hosts, we gathered to visit Zamefa, a metal fabrications plant. We saw how the recently smelted copper is transformed into copper wire and then into power cables. Tomorrow we are going on a hike to Lake Kasiba; we’re all looking forward to that!

May 4, 2010

 A fabulous day! This morning, we toured a local underground copper mine (well, all of us but Robin, whose claustrophobia kicked in at the last second), experiencing two different shafts, the pump house and the winch house, which controls the mine shaft elevators. It was amazing to be inside the Earth that way, and we learned a great deal. If only I were able to post photographs! We all have a great respect for the miners; they work in extreme conditions – some areas of the mine are sweltering, some are partially flooded – and yet their attitudes are upbeat. They are proud to earn their living through hard work, and they could write the book on teamwork. In the afternoon, we had vocational activities. Dee went to a local hospital; Robin spent time with the TV station, David observed city government officials (and a truly hilarious retired attorney), Tamara visited the Sarah Rose Children’s Home, and I visited the local animal welfare organization. We all thoroughly enjoyed learning how our vocations are done here in Zambia. I think we’re all a little more appreciative of the facilities and technological advances back home that we take for granted.

The Spirit of Fellowship

Last night’s progressive dinner was hilarious. Rotarians and GSE Team members flying from home to home, sometimes not knowing where they were going and never knowing who they were going to be eating with next! Our Ndola friends have truly shown us what fellowship is about; their club members are close-knit friends who obviously enjoy one another’s company. We can’t express enough appreciation for their hospitality. We wish we could spend more time here, but they are soon (within the hour) to hand deliver us to Kitwe, which is a mining town. Happily, many of them will be attending the DC in Malawi, so we will get to see them again before we leave the continent!

We have all decided that Zambia is the Texas Across the Sea. Everyone is warm and friendly, and they all want to feed guests massive amounts of good food!

Hitting the Wall

This morning we awoke excited about our vocational days; the first we’ve had. Unfortunately, the majority of the activities were cancelled for reasons that remain a bit unclear but likely relate to the untimely death of a Parliament Member and an unexpected election. We were all disappointed, as our time in Zambia is half over and we have had no vocational experiences. Our flexible hosts rewrote our schedule, and we visited a Rotary/OMNI partnership project for children, where the American flag is flown along with the Zambian flag, Rotary flag and OMNI flag. It was heartwarming! Afterward we visited the Copperbelt Museum.

We then had a lunch meeting with the wonderful Ndola club, where we gave our presentation (we are old pros now); unfortunately a bizarre technical glitch shut down our power point midway through. The attendees were very kind about it, but we wish we had been able to do better for them, especially since they have twice now secured a projector for us to use.

Honestly, I think the lack of sleep and the constant schedule of Rotary Meeting and Rotary Projects is taking a toll. While it is wonderful to see the incredible work being done, the sheer amount of need is overwhelming, and we are beginning to feel more helpless than hopeful. We are (still) hopeful that soon we will have either a vocational day or something just for fun, like a safari, in order to get back in the proper mindset. For now, we are looking forward to an evening of fellowship with our new Ndola friends, who are hosting a progressive dinner for us.

In the meantime, your BlogMaster is still trying to upload photos! The Internet connection I have access to today is similar to dial-up and the connection times out while the photos are uploading, but take heart! We have photos, and they are fabulous, and we will share them as soon as we are able. In the meantime, check back on the previous posts periodically, as I am trying to fill in the gaps.

To all our loved ones: we miss you, love you and are thinking of you! Thank you for the kind words of support!

Finally, some news!

28APR2010

Sorry for the lapse in updates, but your esteemed BlogMaster has not had Internet access at all! Even this log I’ve been keeping is not comprehensive, because I’ve had no electricity to power the laptop. And right now I’m on a limited time schedule paying for ‘net on my own dime at a local hotel, so I’ve got to post quickly, and I can’t post pictures from here! Still, something is better than nothing, right?

Today we gave a presentation at lunch, then headed to an elementary school that has 2600 students! They have to schedule them in shifts. We brought stickers and temporary tattoos for the kids, and their response was so enthusiastic you would have thought we were handing out iPods. Rotary helped this school to grow, and the government was inspired to assist as well. It is now mostly government-funded, including notebooks and pencils for the children. We also went to a clinic that is a project of the Rotary Club of Malbua Lusaka; they see about 7000 patients per month! The disease with the highest number of people affected is, of course, malaria, but they also see high numbers of people affected by cholera and HIV/AIDS.  Go Rotary! Tonight we are headed to a District Banquet. We’re told that we don’t have to purchase tickets, but they will make us work for our dinner. Sounds interesting!

27APR2010

Another busy day! We started the day off with a visit to the Umwana Kasembee project in Chilanga. They are home to many orphaned children, and to many success stories – children they have raised and educated that have gone on to University and good careers. I had a blast, because the children invited me to dance with them; there was a group of them playing drums, singing and dancing the entire time we were there. I danced my best, but every one of those children put me to shame! I am constantly amazed how upbeat the children are; it has been that way every place we’ve visited. We then shared lunch with the Rotary Club of Lusaka, and went to visit Old MacDonald’s Farm, a project involved in helping “Street Kids.” The MacDonalds are a perfect example of how one person (or in this case, two) really can make a difference. They started out helping one boy with his school fees, and now have 40 children living with them and/or going to school with their help. While both the MacDonalds work to support the children, they have managed to reduce costs by becoming largely self sustaining – they grow much of their own food, including produce, meat and coffee beans! All the children help with the farm chores, but their Mom makes sure their studies come first.

23APR2010

We made it!

10:00 PM or 22:00 hours

Each of us was taken to our host homes, allowed a couple of hours to “rest” and then to prepare for our Rotary Meeting with The Livingstone Club, which was held at a golf course – surprised to hear it? We had an enormous meal – all the food has been delicious thus far, and there are many vegetarians here.

2:40 PM (or 14:40, for those of you on military time!)

We got a beautiful view of the Zambian wild as we flew into the International airport, which was nice, because the second we got off the plane, it started pouring down rain – sheets of rain so thick we couldn’t see anything! Our wonderful hosts, who were there to receive us at the airport, exclaimed that it hasn’t rained here for more than two weeks (until we showed up)! Still, we all made it safe and sound (and so did our luggage, which we’re informed is nothing short of a miracle), which is the important thing.

11:00 AM – on African soil! Well, African tile, anyway.

As I type, we are sitting in the Johannesburg Airport, awaiting transport to our Zambia flight. I’ve been unable to access Internet, but I promised Tammy I’d keep up with our day-to-day activities as best I can without it. We’ve been traveling for three days now, and excessive turbulence made it impossible to sleep on the plane, so we’re all a little dazed and confused. We’re all also really looking forward to a shower!

The flight from DFW to London was packed full but fairly uneventful. The weather was beautiful in London, crisp, cool and sunny. We navigated the Underground like old pros, scurried around taking photos in the Westminster area for a few hours, then met a friend of David’s for a British lunch. We raced back to Heathrow and embarked on the most turbulent plane ride any of us have ever experienced – and that’s saying something! We’ve only been in Jo’burg about 3 hours, but we are already experiencing the relaxed attitude toward time (no rushing!) that Africans are reputed to have. For all of us accustomed to the hustle and bustle of the American rat race, this promises to be a real change, one we’re all looking forward to.

Pins and Needles!

With the volcanic ash cloud still hovering over Europe and London airports closed, our departure date is now uncertain. We’ve been anxiously following updates on the Iceland volcano, the ash cloud, and UK airspace, but at this point it’s a waiting game. We’re remaining optimistic and finishing our packing with our fingers crossed!

Final Prep Meeting a Success!

We had our last pre-departure preparation meeting on Saturday in the thriving metropolis of Detroit, Texas (population 700 – guess it’ll be 699 while Tamara’s in Africa!). Tamara’s mother, Shirley, generously provided us with both a meeting place and a decadent brunch!

The team was joined by District Governor Randi Duckworth, PDG Bill Rains, PDG Jo Ann Parkman and, of course, GSE Chair Tammy Taylor, who was the highlight of the meeting with her happy dance and tears of joy, inspired by the final version of our Presentation. We brushed up on basic Portugeuse, reviewed our packing restrictions, and received some great last-minute advice from our DG.

Afterward we all paid a visit to the unofficial team mascot, Willard, who offered us his sage advice and tried to make a meal of the Team shirts. So now all that’s left is to finish packing, start taking our anti-malarials, and (hopefully) get the final trip itinerary before we go!

Alvin, Tamara, Willard, Casey, Robin, David and Dee!

Meet District 5830 GSE Team Africa!

The District 5830 GSE Team L-R, Back Row David Orr, Alvin Hawkins (Team Member Alternate), Second Row Robin Aaron, Team Leader Dee Bandel, Casey Plummer, Tamara Green, Front Row Peter Chishimba

With less than three weeks until departure, we’ve been scrambling to get packed, vaccinated and started on blogging! Special thanks go to Ryan Hardin for taking time away from his honeymoon to get us up and running! Pictured above are the members of the District 5830 GSE Team with Peter Chishimba. Peter is a District 9210 Ambassadorial Scholar, and he was our  honored guest at the Team Meeting Overnight. We’ll be visiting Peter’s home country of Zambia, as well as the countries of Malawi and Mozambique on our month-long journey! Before we headed out, we wanted to give you a little information about ourselves!

Team Leader Dee Bandel

Team Leader Dee Bandel is both a Registered Nurse and an entrepeneur! She works as an RN for her husband, Dr. Phil Bandel, and she also runs her own quilting shop, cleverly named “Sew Much More.” Dee and Phil live in Paris, Texas, home of the Texas Eiffel Tower (complete with giant red cowboy hat). They have two grown sons with families of their own, who have provided Dee and Phil with two beautiful grandchildren. They share their home with a beloved cocker spaniel named Bailey.

Dee and Phil have been active in Rotary for over thirty years, and Phil was recently chosen to be District Governor Nominee for 2012-13 ! That, along with two jobs, doesn’t leave much time for hobbies, but Dee finds time to design and create intricate quilts and attend quilt expos, and both Dee and Phil love to travel. They will be visiting China later this year. Dee is proving to be a very devoted , supportive and capable Team Leader, and the Team is grateful to have her.

David Orr

David is the Sustainability and Quality Assurance Coordinator for the City of Texarkana, Texas. He coordinates efforts on behalf of the city for energy efficiency and conservation of natural resources, and he also helps with projects ranging from the City Budget to the 2010 Census Campaign. David holds a Masters Degree in Public Administration from the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville and remains a devoted Razorbacks fan.

David also enjoys volunteer work in his community, waterskiing, cycling and mountain climbing. He is passionate about social concerns in Africa, especially volunteering and supporting Amani Children’s Home in Tanzania. He is very close with his family; his brother Matt is also a traveling philanthropist, currently serving in the Peace Corps in the Ukraine. David can’t wait to get to Africa, but the Team knows he’ll be anxious to get back to the USA too – he’ll be marrying his beautiful fiancée, Laura Green, in August.

Robin Aaron

Robin Aaron is the Editor of the Bowie County Citizens Tribune/DeKalb News in New Boston, Texas, reaching 12,000 readers in and around Bowie county every week. In addition to her writing career, Robin works part-time in ministry with a youth organization in Queen City, Texas, called TRUTH.  She is also a graphic designer; her billboard creations have graced major Texas highways! Robin holds a B.S. in Communications from Texas A&M University, and she is also a graduate of the Texas Bible Institute’s Leadership Training Program.

In addition to all of this, Robin is also a musician and songwriter. She enjoys performing her original work, as well as leading congregational worship services. In the little spare time she has, Robin enjoys traveling, water sports, outdoor concerts and, in her words, “extremely amateur golfing.

Casey Plummer

Casey Plummer works as a Veterinary Technician at the Caldwell Zoo in Tyler, Texas. Her job includes general animal care, preventative medicine, radiology, dentistry, assisting in surgery and anesthesia, providing behavioral and environmental enrichment, neonatal care, and breeding of endangered species. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Texas at Tyler, and is currently back in school to obtain her RVT certification (only two semesters left!).

Casey also has a part-time job teaching Beginner English Riding Lessons at the BCXR Horse Center in Troup, Texas. She loves horseback riding and other outdoor activities such as hiking, swimming and SCUBA diving. When indoors, you can bet she’ll be reading – she generally has four or more books going at once! She shares her home with a talkative Amazon parrot, a boisterous Shepard-Malamute mix and numerous turtles and fish. She’s also the BlogMaster for this trip – keep your fingers crossed for good Internet access in Africa!

Tamara Green

Tamara Green is a Licensed Social worker who specializes in geriatric healthcare. She works at the Clarksville Nursing Center in Clarksville, Texas. The CNC provides care for the elderly who are no longer able to live alone, arranging transportation and mediating family issues, among other services. Tamara is a hometown girl, born and raised in Northeast Texas; she attended Texas Tech University and currently resides in Detroit, Texas.

Tamara also volunteers with several local community organizations and charities. In her spare time, she enjoys gardening and scrapbooking. Tamara also loves to spend time with her pets – her twenty animal companions include a tiny chihuahua, a turkey, and a pet Boer goat named Willard – the unofficial mascot of  the Team.

The five of us hope all of you will keep up with us on this amazing journey, and keep us updated on life back in the states via the Comments posts. Right now we’ve got more work to do in preparation for our last meeting prior to departure, but we’ll update you soon!