East Africa

Nairobi National Park: Where Safari Meet City

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In February, my mother-in-law came to visit and we decided to meet her in Nairobi, Kenya since she would have a 24 hour layover. We decided to make it a three day adventure and stayed at the beautiful Ololo Lodge in Nairobi National Park. It's a great place if you are okay with just staying in the park and not doing much else, but don't worry there's still TONS to do. 

You can take a safari every morning and evening, walk the beautiful grounds and see their farm and where they make their own furniture. You can also take a 30 minute walk to a nearby glass factory where you can watch them make glass. There's also a fun little place next door where you can buy more glass products and see animals, and just explore the quirky, fun grounds. 

And if you want to just rest and kick back they have the best space for relaxation. Take up a chair by the pool or grab a book and curl up in one of the cozy nooks around the grounds. 

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 They also grow their own mushrooms!

They also grow their own mushrooms!

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 The dirt contrast!

The dirt contrast!

 They grow their own herbs, veggies, and fruits in the greenhouse

They grow their own herbs, veggies, and fruits in the greenhouse

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 Walking to the Glass Factory & of course little man falls asleep

Walking to the Glass Factory & of course little man falls asleep

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 even the pigs have cute houses!

even the pigs have cute houses!

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 I can't get over all the cacti!

I can't get over all the cacti!

 Little man still fast asleep!

Little man still fast asleep!

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 Ready for a Safari!

Ready for a Safari!

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 of course, he fell asleep through all the good parts!

of course, he fell asleep through all the good parts!

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 It's just like the Lion King out here! 

It's just like the Lion King out here! 

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Swimming With Whale Sharks

Go! Go! Go! The man yells in a thick accent; it actually takes me a second to understand what he said. Then I quickly pull my mask over my eyes, put a death grip on my phone, and jump into the deep ocean blue. Immediately I begin clicking the shutter on my phone, hoping to catch the giant creatures swimming toward me. 

When I heard we would go swimming with whale sharks I couldn't decide if I was excited or scared. The term shark seems intimidating, why would want to go looking something that has the potential to kill us? But whale sharks are gentle creatures and they don't eat meat. There are only a few places in the world that you can actually swim with whale sharks and they are only around for a limited time. 

We packed up our truck with food, snorkel gear, drinks, blankets, and everything needed for a day at the beach. We then headed out of town driving for an hour on a paved road until we get to a bumpy, dirt road. If you didn't know the way, you would never know it led to anything. Another hour past military bases, camels, and goat herds and you reach one of the most serene and unique beaches. 

Instead of sand the shore is lined with large rocks, in the distance there are old run-down concrete buildings, now decorated with graffiti. Once we set up camp we wait for the man to pick us up with is boat. We left Ezra with two of our teammates who stayed behind on shore. They said he did great and only cried once he saw us returning. Finally, our little guy is starting to be comfortable around others!

Once we reached the area where the whale sharks hang out we then wait for the driver to tell us to jump. He does a fantastic job of pulling in front of the whale sharks so when you jump off the boat you land right in front of them! It was amazing! My flippers didn't fit so I wasn't able to swim to keep up with them, but I was still able to grab a few shots with my camera. Which by the way I highly recommend the Lifeproof case for your iPhone. It allows you to take it under water and take photos and videos. A dream come true!

After a few times in and out of the little boat you are so tired and ready to return to shore. We spent the rest of the day snorkeling, eating, talking, and of course getting way too much sun. 

I recently watched a video clip of a guy who traveled to every country in the world. He then would shout off a few things to do in each country, but when he came to our neck of the woods, he said he couldn't find anything to do. Well, mystery man, I feel sorry for you, because you spent all that money traveling all over the world and missed one of the most unique opportunities. I wish I could write him and tell him about all the things there are to do in our little country, whale sharks just one of the many!

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Life in Africa: Part 2

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Since posting the blog A Typical Day in Africa with a Baby, our little guy has grown a lot! He is now 16 months old and all over the place! And now that he is no longer an infant our schedule has opened up to do more in the community. So I thought I'd do another post on what our day/week looks like here in Africa.

7:30 - wake up and get going (In an effort to be vulnerable, I'm not a morning person, so it takes me fooooorever to get out of bed, but I aspire to get better and spend some quiet time during these 30 minutes instead of hitting the snooze button) *insert thumbs down emoji*

8:00 - Sometimes Ezra wakes up around this time, but he usually just plays in his crib until we come and get him. Then we change him, give him some milk, and get him in the high chair for breakfast. Sunday through Thursday our house helper arrives and she often takes over on days I have appointments in the morning.

9:00-12:00 - Mondays I spend my time in the home office or visiting the women at our Project House. I'm usually meeting with the jewelry group for Dreamer & Co or meeting with others as I leave this day open for appointments. On Tuesdays we have team meetings, and Wednesday through Thursday I have language lessons. Friday and Saturdays are the weekend here and on Sunday we get ready for chapel at the base.

10:00 - Ezra takes a nap (depending on the day) and Monday-Thursday our house helper is actually watching Ezra and getting him down for a nap so we can attend language class or work in the office. When he wakes up he has another 4 oz. of milk.

12:00-2:00 - Ezra is usually awake by now and we get ready to have lunch. Lunch is the main meal here so we usually have a big spread, pasta and bread, rice and beans, and other dishes prepared for us by our house helper. 

2:00 - 4:00 - Ezra goes down for a nap, sometimes we do as well :) Most places close down for "siesta" time and so we take this time to rest as well.

4:00 - Ezra has a snack, and depending on the day I leave for my next activity. Monday I attend Girl's Run 2 practice, Tuesdays I have women's volleyball, and Wednesday I have women's basketball on the French base. Reed has langugage class Monday-Wednesday so our house helper stays with Ezra. Thursdays and Sundays I use the afternoon to catch up on office work in the living room, while Ezra runs around playing. 

6:30 - We start preparing dinner. I return back from volleyball or girls' running. On Wednesdays I am actually leaving to go to basketball, so our house helper feeds Ezra dinner and put him down for bed.

7:30 - We eat dinner together. Ezra eats with us and we try to get him to eat whatever we are eating as well. But if he refuses it then we chop up some fruit and bread or make a smoothie for him. 

8:00 - Bath, bottle, bed for little man! He gets one more 4 oz. bottle of milk and then goes down for the night. 

9:00 - We watch tv, catch up on emails, and try to be in bed by 10:00pm, however most days it's really more like 12:00 am. But we are working on that, because getting in the morning is so much harder!

Below are a few answers to some common questions we get about raising a baby in Africa:


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1. What do you feed Ezra and does he still take bottles?

We have transitioned from bottles to sippy cups and we hope to eventually transition to milk only being drunk from the 360 cups. Right now Ezra is such a wiggle worm when we change his diaper, so we often use the sippy cup full of milk to keep him still. It's really the only way. As for food, we try to get him to eat whatever we are having, but there are a few foods that we eat consistently that we found do not bode well for his digestive system (i.e. beans). His favorite (outside of all fruit) is spaghetti and musil (a local dish made out of red lentils). We also make him grilled cheese sandwiches and left over rice pilafs for days when he won't touch our food. We can always count on cut up fruit, pureed fruit, and crackers to be a big hit. His other favorite is any kind of smoothie. In fact, if I make a smoothie for myself as soon as he hears the blender he starts whining for some. The good thing about our smoothies is that we use Juice + so we know he is getting a good dose of fruits and vegetables. 

2. What kind of milk do you use?

The milk here is actually a point of contention. A local company started producing milk, but it gives everyone bathroom issues (even the locals won't touch it). But the company refuses to fix the issue and they have stopped letting many companies import other brands. Sometimes we can find milk from France, but it comes in tiny bottles and is skim milk. We would go through four containers in one week! We finally decided to use the formula designed for babies 12-36 months. We can buy it in a large container and it last for a couple weeks, plus it has extra vitamins to help with growth. 

3. How do you keep Ezra cool in the hot climate?

From November to March the weather can range from upper 60s to upper 80s. While it's still warm inside the apartment we have found it's not too hot for sleeping. So Ezra will sleep in his crib in his own room during this months. We run the a/c for two hours before bedtime and then shut it off when he goes to sleep. We also keep his ceiling fan on high and have a tower fan blowing on his crib. So far, he hasn't woken up sweating, so we count is as success. During the hot months we will move him into our room with the a/c and he'll sleep in the pack-n-play. During the day we keep the fans running and if he's out in the stroller we have a portable fan that attaches to his tray and blows on him. It works wonders! During the hot months if it gets too hot inside then we run the a/c for a little bit and make sure he stays cool. 

4. How do you get clothes and other supplies for him as he transitions?

We plan ahead. We have yet to find a place that sells affordable baby clothes so we find it easier to bring several sizes with us. We have stocked up through size 2T and when we travel during the summer we will plan for the next year. We also have visitors that come from the US during the year and will ask them to bring us something if we find something breaks or we need something.  

5. How did you get Ezra to sleep through the night? 

When Ezra was four months old we read the book, 12 hours by 12 weeks. We started following the guidelines and with a lot of practice we got Ezra to sleep through the night. He would still wake up around 6 am, and sometimes have an occasional mid-night wake-up, but around 1 year he started sleeping 12 hours at night and waking up anywhere from 8am to 10am! He was also going to sleep at 9pm or later. That's the downside of sleeping in the same room, he can't fall asleep until we are quiet in bed and all the lights are off. 

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Who Runs The World?

Life is much easier with a one year old than a newborn. I am finally plugging into community here and able to be away from the house for more than a couple hours. One of the joys of my new schedule is getting to work with our running girls. Every Monday I drive out past wadis, camels, crazy drivers, and end up at a huge stadium with turf grass and an actual track. Underneath my sheet dress is my scandalous capri pants and t-shirt waiting to be seen by this group of teenage girls.

The girls start by warming up for 15 minutes around the track. Afterwards they do their stretches as a group and then for 30 minutes I work with them on strength training. It can be a challenge tailoring exercises for 9 year olds all the way to 17 year olds. We've done sprints, push ups, squats, stairs, resistance bands, and medicine balls.

A few weeks ago we had to break up a fight between two girls because the younger girl kept talking bad about the older girl. And their natural instinct is to start fighting, pulling hair, crying, the whole shebang. But how can you blame them when they have never been taught anything else? How do you teach respect? Well, first off, you model it.

We try to live our lives with respect for the culture, the people, and the customs in the country we are guests in. Second, these girls will have to endure lectures and be disciplined according, something they have never really seen before. Most of their discipline has been in the form of physical abuse. We want to show how one can love sternly but still gracefully. 

So this past week we began implementing discipline. The girls have started arriving late to practice, talking back, and refusing to do drills. It's frustrating to have to tell them to go home for bad attitudes or starting fights, but as I've discovered it's necessary to teach them respect and the importance of listening. So when they arrive more than 10 minutes late they now have to run extra and do push-ups. When they refused to listen, push-ups, when they talk back, push-ups. Yes, some girls began crying and faking push-ups, but others got down on their knees and did what had to be done. It's a slow process, but a necessary one. 

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Ethical Gift Guide

This might be a little late, but at least I got it out before Christmas! Besides, we always need gift ideas all year round, birthdays, mother's days, etc. So here it is, my gift guide that gives back.

One of the things I've been wrestling with lately is understanding where our goods come from. I'm not even close to having an ethical shopping life, but slowly maybe by thinking through our purchases we can make this world a little bit better place.

Here are six of my favorites from this year:

1. AKOLA PROJECT

I've been following Akola for a few months now. "Akola is a nonprofit jewelry brand that empowers women in Uganda and Dallas, TX to redesign their stories. Each piece is handcrafted by 1 of 500 women in poverty working to redesign the future of their families. 100% of Akola revenue is reinvested in our mission to help these women transform their families and communities."

 

Another similiar jewlery company is 31 bits. They also just released their home collection, and I'm in love! They also have some great ideas for little girls. 

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Premptive Love Coalition works across Iraq, Syria, the United States, and beyond. They started in 2008 helping children receive life-saving medical care. As they have grown so has their work. They started the Sisterhood Collective, which turns refugees into business owners. They make handmade soap, candles, and other refugee-made products. Buying from them helps provide jobs, income, and hope for Syrian and Iraqi families.

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I found out about Starfish Project earlier this year and have been eyeing a few pieces of their amazing jewlery. Even better, they have an amazing mission behind what they do. Starfish Project restores hope to women escaping human trafficking and exploitation in Asia. They provide life-changing opportunities through their Holistic Care Programs and their social enterprise where women create beautiful jewelry and become managers, accountants, graphic designers, and photographers.

 


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I couldn't leave out gifts for babe, now could I? Cuddle + Kind makes beautiful handmade dolls for kids, and each purchase provides 10 meals. The dolls are also made by women in Peru and create sustainable fair income for these women.  


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I love Seek the Peace because they are working locally in Dallas to help refugees. I have personally volunteered with them and know those behind the scenes working tirelessly to help refugees acclimate to live in the U.S. I love their new shop and am eager to try out the candles! 


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Another great company that I have had the pleasure of getting to know on a personal level. Stephanie, the founder, is an amazing woman with an even better heart. She started Vickery Trading Co. in order to help empower refugee women through jobs. They make the most beautiful girl's clothes and also have Christmas pajama pants newly released this season! 

Here's a photo of my cute little niece wearing one of the dresses. ---->


The Sounds of Thanksgiving

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The smell of homemade pumpkin pie, sage, thyme, and turkey roasting in the oven—these are the smells I often associate with Thanksgiving. But since living in abroad over the years, I’ve learned to associate this holiday less with smells and more with sounds. While there may be an occasional familiar smell if some lucky American managed to pack a can of sweet potatoes or pumpkin puree in their suitcase, there are usually new smells that come along with each holiday—some good, some not so good—goat manure, sweat, sweet cake, whole wheat dinner rolls—you get my point.

But no matter where I’ve been on Thanksgiving one things remains the same—the sounds. Upbeat conversations about life and loss carry through the air harmonizing with the call to prayer. Children running around barefoot, laughing, playing, crying, and then snoring from the long-expected nap of a sugar crash.

Our Thanksgiving was nothing less than these familiar sounds. We celebrated on the rooftop of a friend’s house and 30 or so people came bringing their best dish cooked with local spices and whatever else they could find. And as it has become a tradition for our little group of expats, the Sunday after Thanksgiving we all gathered to play the annual baseball game. The kids who are away at boarding school return home and we have more than enough people for two teams.

Last year Ezra was only two months old and fell asleep on my lap as we watched Reed play his favorite sport. This year, Ezra ran around getting chased by local kids who loved his white skin and cute little stature. They tried to pick him up, help me when he was crying (because they were picking him up), and even play peek a boo with him. Hopefully one day soon he’ll actually understand all that’s happening, but for now he’s just taking it all in day by day…and tear by tear.

So in the spirit of Thanksgiving we want to say thank you to those who follow along with us and remember us in your prayers. We really could not live here without you. On days when we find ourselves frustrated at the cost of living or crying in pain at the doctor’s office, or mourning the loss of a local friend, we think of you, and remember we are not alone in this journey.

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 Ezra with our teammate. These two have grown to love each other, mainly because he feeds Ezra all the things!

Ezra with our teammate. These two have grown to love each other, mainly because he feeds Ezra all the things!

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Sunrise Service on the Beach

There's a stillness in the air that happens somewhere in the night—the wind stops, the waves die down, and the mosquitoes buzz. But it's there in the quiet when you realize just how big and vast the world really is.

On Easter weekend we traveled to a semi-secluded beach two hours outside the city, where your neighbors are foreign and local military, a couple of donkeys, and a camel. It’s a typical Horn of Africa scene, at least in our part, but it’s a safe spot where once a year the teams from our city come together and rest.

That evening as we warmed up chili over the fire, one by one we slowly sat in our folding camping chairs and watch the embers crack. A guitar started to strum and singing could be heard quietly over the roaring waves. “Oh Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder consider all the worlds Thy hands have mad. I see the stars. I hear the rolling thunder. Thy power throughout the universe displayed.”

Never did those words ring more true than they did that night under the darkness, lit only from the fire, the night sky, and the occasional flashlight. And as seamlessly as the music had started, the stories began. Surrounded by both young and old, everyone had a story, so we sat and cried and laughed and offered thanks to God for his protection and love.

The next morning we had an Easter service on the shore, then we celebrated by swimming, snorkeling, and kayaking. Reed, Ezra, and I also hiked across the little mountain and took photos of the sunset the day before. And while Ezra was sleeping peacefully in his pack-n-play (with adult supervision) we took the kayak out on the ocean and found a sandy beach around the mountain. And greeting us as we arrived was none other than a camel! Only in the Horn of Africa!

Meet Some Fearless Moms

It's my first mother's day as a mother. While last year I got to celebrate mother's day pregnant, this year I get to really understand the joys and struggles that come with being a mother. And I also understand how difficult this day can be for so many. So I'm not going to bombard with you photos my little guy (I'll save that for another day), but I am going to show you some of the mothers I've met over the past year here in Africa. 

Last year I did a blog post showcasing mothers I've met in the past 10 years of my travels, I loved reading your messages and comments about it and so I've decided to share a few more stories. I hope that for those of you who look at today and feel pain and longing that you will somehow feel peace. I pray that you can know that you are loved and thought of and that just because you may not be celebrating today that you still have purpose and life! 

Sadly, a month after visiting with these families we got word about one family who lost their son. He was the only child I didn't get a photo of that day and now I regret it so much. Their son was a teenager and suffered from brain damage, but was able to walk himself. However, he came down with diarrhea and died. It broke our heart to hear of child dying of something so easily prevented. So it's why we work here, training people about the dangers of dehydration, loving on them every chance we get, and giving them something to try and make their life just a little bit easier. 

Our NGO works with a local school run by a woman who has returned to the Horn of Africa after living for years in Canada. She decided to return to her home country and open a school for street children. Many of these children do not have parents and are lacking the proper papers to attend public schools. During her time at the school she also came in contact with several families of handicap children. Many of these children suffer from epilepsy and have severe deformities. They do not have access to wheelchairs to the mothers will carry around their children so they do not have to sit in the dirt all day long. 

Many times when we meet handicapped children in remote areas around the world they are not cared for or given much attention, but the amount of love that these moms (and some fathers) had for their kids was amazing. The moms would wipe of dried boogers or saliva before I took their photo and they would fix their hair and whisper in their ear to smile. 

The lady in the middle received a new wheelchair and her daughter came along with her.

Here they are with my mom, who got to be a part of giving them their new wheelchair and meet all the mother's above.

This mother I met briefly in February at a clinic in town. At first I thought she was the grandmother of this 17 day old baby but it turns out she was mother who had just given birth to this little sweet girl. She was at the hospital because her newborn needed to undergo some test to see if she was HIV+.

The mother was already HIV+ and so now the long wait of finding out if you passed it on to your daughter. I couldn't imagine what she must feel, having a baby only a few weeks old and having to find out if she has a life-threatening disease.

She was sad, and it broke my heart, because usually women will at least smile for me or find pride in showing off their kids, but you could tell she was hurting, tired, and alone. So pray for mothers like her, pray for their children, and pray for the doctors that one day they will find a cure for these heart-breaking diseases. 

Some mothers and their children I met back in February at a distribution where we gave out food, clothing, and blankets. You can read their stories here: Life in a Volcanic Desert

Life in a Volcanic Dessert

As we bumped along the dirt road to what looked like the middle of nowhere, we suddenly pulled in view of what appeared to be a brand new center. It’s off-white buildings perfectly constructed. Even the ground had been covered in rocks to give the compound a feeling of wealth—but that was just an illusion.

Now all that remained was an abandoned center, cut off from funds, full of women, children, and older men inhabiting the rooms, once meant for classrooms. We were hours outside the city and with a minority people group living there, the government overlooked the needs. Others had come to help, but they also had given up, as seen by the classrooms now used as makeshift homes.

When our trucks pulled up with food, clothes, and blankets for this small community, it didn’t take long for word to spread. Soon children and women swarmed the vehicles. We quickly realized that what we thought would be a small gathering of village elders, had turned into a community event. Later that day, we learned that another organization was also planning a distribution that day, which may have led to the community already on alert for distribution of aid.

Mira stood out in her bright blue hijab, the colors bouncing off the background of brown dust. She had a baby slung on her hip and one of her daughters following her around as small children often do. Though she had another child, he was out playing with his friends. Mira isn’t sure what age her children are, as age isn’t something often kept in their community. Instead, she was more concerned with what they would eat and if they are safe.

Asna appeared quiet and uncomfortable, she nestled her little girl in her lap, and after few questions began to smile. She was pregnant. Joy came across her face as she told us, and one could see that having children out here was no small feat. Later when we were eating with the village elders, we learned that many women do not have access to a hospital. If there is an emergency they will go by ambulance to a town several hours away, but for the majority, having a baby is something done at home.

Agnus reminded me of myself. She had a gold nose ring similar to mine, she was tall and sturdy like me, and even had a 4-month-old boy just as I did. It’s funny, seeing yourself in someone, yet living completely different lives. I can’t imagine the hardships that Agnus faces. While we were blessed with a beautiful windy day, there are many months out of the year that their home is considered one of the hottest habitable places on earth. Temperatures sore above 100 degrees, and when you only receive water once every 10 days, surviving becomes that much harder.

Several of the women who received rice and beans at the distribution

 Asna pictured with her daughter

Asna pictured with her daughter

Agnus pictured with her children

Mira pictured with her daughter

We asked the elders how we could help relieve their strain for fresh water. Living in the middle of a volcanic desert doesn’t provide much access to clean water, or even dirty water for that matter. There is a water source 30 minutes away by foot, but it’s not much help, when there is no irrigation system for the water to reach the village. When asked what would happen if the water trucks do not come, Muhammed* replied matter of factly, “We would die.”

In our line of work there are often two things that help people get out of the poverty cycle—nutrition (provided through water and food) and education. But here, in a small village, of forgotten minorities, there is neither. The children do not have a school to go to, though they live in abandoned classrooms. Muhammed said that the older children are becoming restless and starting to cause trouble. The lack of basic needs is why these people feel helpless. Though they keep on having babies and caring for their young, they yearn for more—a place where they can send their children to school and not have to limit their intake of a water, a luxury we so often take for granted.

But since we now live in the country, we have the opportunity to keep helping, to keep loving, and to keep going to the hard and forgotten places. So it's our hope that we can soon send some teachers into this community and begin educating these kids, because we really believe that one of the biggest helps in getting out of the poverty trap is education. 

We feasted on goat meat and more

The fed us enough for days

Ya know, when you get a flat, and it takes 5 gives and two goats to get it done...

Because it's not a trip unless you come back with a goat. Don't worry by the time we were done we had one more goat in the back. Yet, sadly these goats will be dinner soon. :)

I am still amazed at to how they get up there!

Baby toes and the most colorful meal I've ever seen!

The boys hanging out.

Ezra was not into this flat tire thing...
 

This beautiful girl and her father live in a hut on the side of the road that takes us to our destination. We stopped and gave them some of the food we had for our distribution.

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Refresh My Soul: Lac Assal

Back in December we took a family trip to the Salt Lake. It's the saltiest lake in the world and the lowest point in Africa. It's also one of the prettiest landscapes in our country. So enjoy this month's refreshment courtesy of the beautiful Lac Assal.