Throwback Thursday: Surprise Safari Edition

“Pack your things, we’re going to the farm,” he said nonchalantly in his smooth South African accent.

Farms. Plots of land surrounded by four-board fences (wire or other various materials, if you’re not among the posh farms of Central Kentucky), filled with horses (or livestock). That was my definition of “farm,” and given that my friend Monte is a horse veterinarian and knows horse people, I figured I knew where we were headed. I packed a change of clothes, my camera, and the optimism that we’d make it back from this farm in time for my flight back to the States the next day.

Just back from two weeks of heart-rending ministry activities in Kenya, I was up for a getaway of sorts; I was even happy to be away from the Western civilization “norm” I felt during my stopover to visit Monte and his mom. So I jumped at the opportunity to climb into the borrowed red SUV and head toward … well, I didn’t really know which direction we were heading, now that I think about it.

A few hours into our drive we stopped over at a shopping center for one last pit stop and food-purchasing opportunity before heading away from civilization. Monte bought some coffee and snacks and, pausing by the car, told me to close my eyes and open my mouth. Not completely trusting this sometimes-mischievous friend, I immediately opened my eyes when I felt the odd texture of an unfamiliar salty food against my tongue. Depositing the snack into my hand, I saw it was a chunk of dried meat that looked a bit like beef jerky. It’s biltong, he explained, and this time it was wildebeest. It was surprisingly good.

A quick stopover and an introduction to biltong.
A quick stopover and an introduction to biltong or, basically, wildabeest jerky.

Driving onward, when Monte began looking for the spot in the road where Ampie “usually sees the python,” I realized this “farm” wasn’t going to be like anything I had experienced.

And it wasn’t. More than a thousand acres surrounded by 10-foot fences on the border of Botswana, Ampie’s family farm boasted some of the most beautiful vistas of the African bush that I have ever seen.

Ampie gets a higher vantage point at Tweerivier.
Ampie gets a higher vantage point at Tweerivier.
Ampie checked fences while he, Monte, and I took a walk after arrival  at the farm.
Ampie checked fences while he, Monte, and I took a walk around near camp.

Upon arriving, we tossed our things onto beds in tents up on a platform built into several trees, then loaded up the refrigerator with food, padlocking it “to keep the monkeys out.” (I never saw one, so Ampie might have been pulling my chain). After a short tour and checking on a few fences (not an activity limited to horse or cattle ownership), Monte donned his camouflage and headed out on foot with his rifle, while I climbed into the roofless/windscreenless military jeep (right-drive, manual transmission) with Ampie. Monte’s goal was game, and mine was photos. Below are a few of the sights I saw. (Please note that the giraffes and zebras are off limits for hunting!)

As I head back across the ocean next week for my third visit to this amazing continent, I thought it appropriate to reflect on some of my favorite memories from trips past. Each journey has held a different purpose. This time I will be in Ethiopia, learning about infectious diseases of working equids (mostly the donkeys seen far and wide), which is a unique combination of several of my interests: Enjoying horses, understanding science, and helping working families in developing countries.

Surprises await, and while not of the safari variety, necessarily, I look forward to experiencing them.

Ampie displays the talents of the "wait a bit" tree.
Ampie displays the talents of the “wait a bit” tree.

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A Lifelong Connection

When I returned from my first ministry trip to Kenya, I felt despondent; besides the culture shock of being back home and becoming reacquainted with my usual creature comforts and excess, I missed the lovely people I had met, and I had the sense that the experience’s impact on me might be fleeting if I didn’t take some sort of action.

My strategy for staying connected to Kenya, and keeping it on my mind and heart, was contacting Compassion International and seeing if there was a child in need in one of the areas I’d visited. I began sponsoring a tall, serious-looking 14-year-old orphan named Betty. I visited her project and her home during my next visit to Kenya two years later. (I blogged about this experience in a guest post over at today.)

My visit with Betty, July 2011.
My visit with Betty, July 2011. Photo by Julie Broderson.

After this second trip and meeting Betty (who, as it turns out, wasn’t as serious as in that sponsorship photo!), my outlook was much different. In my first days back in the States I don’t remember sulking over my access to unlimited clean water or guilt-moping over my overflowing refrigerator drawers.

Rather, a particular prayer need demanded my attention: Betty, at this point almost 16 years old, was six months pregnant—an especially precarious position for a young woman in a crowded and impoverished community.

I must admit I was a little fearful for the outcome. As cliché as it might sound, for someone like Betty, education is key to ensuring a solid future, and I was worried she’d leave school. Then there was her physical safety and health. I prayed for her, I wrote for her, and I waited. I wanted to do more, but my options were limited.

Her first letter post-visit arrived several months later and was a delightful departure from the letters we’d exchanged in the past. In the two-page missive she asked about my friends and family members by name—we’d moved beyond the standard “What’s your favorite color?” and “Here’s my favorite Bible verse” fare.

Though she was happy in reflecting on our recent visit, she was seemed uneasy about the upcoming months, including her baby’s birth and how life would look for her afterward.

The arrival date of the letter was after her due date, so I was frustrated by the mail delay and, again, set to worrying about her. Then I realized that wasn’t doing much good, so I set back to (mostly) patient waiting. I wrote another letter to buoy her spirits and remind her of God’s presence during this challenging time.

Months passed with no word from Betty. One snowy winter evening I called Compassion to see if they had any news, recognizing that by then my Kenyan sister and her infant were in the midst of hot days and frigid nights. The Compassion reps didn’t have any updates on her or the baby’s status, but they urged me to keep writing, to keep encouraging her to return to school and perform well, and to keep praying.

So I did. And finally, just before spring, I received a Compassion envelope with a postmark from Kenya.  I tore into the envelope right there at the mailbox and began reading it as I bolted into the house. Scanning the first few sentences for news of her well-being, I paused in astonishment at the following words:

“I am fine with my health too as well with my baby. My family is fine … they are supporting both me and Little Stephanie.”

I had to sit down right there at the kitchen table and read it again. (Seriously. Wouldn’t you have?) Her daughter … who shares my name … is well, and so is she!

Betty had also returned to school, calling it a miracle. She continued on, her words showing happiness and relief.

 “Thank you for writing and encouraging me in troubled times. Psalms 27:1 ‘The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strongest hold of my life; whom shall I be afraid of?’ God bless you.”

Now, nearly four years after that first decision to stay connected to Kenya, I’m linked to this special place in a way that I won’t soon forget.

Have you been moved by sponsorship and/or visiting your sponsored child?


Critter Alert

A few weekends ago I went on a couple of solo bike rides. Most days if I’m riding alone I notice the clouds, the horses, the sunsets, and the stone fences. For anyone who follows my Instagram feed, that’s no surprise.

But instead of noticing the usual suspects on these rides the other weekend, I found myself paying attention to the critters (the ones smaller than horses). This was for a number of reasons:

That Saturday I found myself riding parts of the final segments of the Bourbon Chase, a 200-mile overnight relay race that ended in Lexington that afternoon/evening. Annually, I always seem to remember at about 4 p.m. race day that the runners are passing a whopping 180 yards from my home. So when I headed out on my ride and began seeing runners, I decided to change my route and multitask: Be a fan as I rolled.

One of the more memorable themed vans I saw on my ride during the Bourbon Chase.

Cheering on people in endurance sports is one of my favorite pastimes. Ever since completing a handful of triathlons from 2006 to 2009, I’ve enjoyed supporting people because I know how much one voice of encouragement can help when you’re about to collapse.

Just ask Julie or Peter, I’m a sucker for riding my bike alongside my friends and urging them on in their pursuit.

Anyway, back to the “critters.”

So besides being on guard for drivers, cyclists, and runners that Saturday, I was on guard for road kill. There seemed to be an inordinate amount of flat, stinky former animals on the road and, due to all the traffic, there were fewer places than usual to steer to give them a wide berth. So as I cheered runners, I began warning them about the upcoming road kill so they could time their breaths and plan their swerves. (Side note: Sometimes runners found enough energy within to ask if I could give them a ride on the bike. Yes, there was some guilt when I had to say no.)

Every few moments I’d hit a cloud of gnats. They were in my helmet, on my arms, and in my clothing, and each time I took a sip from my water bottles, I got one (or eight) in my mouth. I’m surprised I didn’t inhale or swallow more, since I had my mouth open cheering pretty much the whole time I was out there, and the gnat clouds were perpetual. Mmm. Protein. Couldn’t wait to wash shower those critters off after my ride.

When I veered off the Chase route to complete a loop, I encountered the happy chickens on Bethel Road. No daredevil hens tried to cross in front of me this time on either ride of the weekend. But I’m always on my guard at the chicken curve, because a red squirrel nearly took out one of my friends and me a few years ago there.

Truth be told, I was pretty lonely on my Sunday ride of the weekend: There were no runners to cheer, and few cyclists to greet. Saturday was kind of like Disneyland for me. Sunday, though, I was cramming in a workout, chasing the sun and simply trying to get home before dark. My knees hurt, I was over the gnats, and I needed distractions.

Enter the industrious squirrels. Suddenly these little stinkers started scurrying dramatically in front of me at what seemed like every turn. The chilly temps must have them on overdrive getting ready for the winter.

About four miles from home, I saw a particularly ambitious squirrel. He was carrying a walnut the size of a grapefruit in his mouth (OK, maybe it was the size of an orange), green outer covering and all.  I loved his expression when he saw me: “Hmm. Put this behemoth thing down, or make a run for it?” I might be giving him more credit than is due for the brainpower he invested in the decision, but he certainly possessed optimism.

He chose the option that didn’t involve spokes and nut loss, and I got a good laugh out of the fact he could even carry that thing.

Ah, the critters. Just another fun part of bike rides in Central Kentucky, keeping you alert and ready for anything. I’m not going to try to draw any pensive take-home messages with this post, but I will ask you a question.

What types of critters do you generally encounter during your workouts? Any fun stories to share?