Friday, May 17, 2013

Color Gestalt

We played two color games tonight:
1.  On the black pane all three of us looked at the colors shown and wrote down what we would like to name those colors.  
2.  On the white pane the first person chose a color (left column) and gave it name (middle column). The first person then revealed the name they had chosen, but kept the color hidden.  Then the second person chose a color from the palette to match the name the first person had assigned (right column).

Friday, May 10, 2013

Dear Writer's Block,
It feels good to stare you down again.  You have strewn my path with intolerable obtusities.  I intend to slay you.  I will have your secret.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Returning from Retirement

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Yikes. I haven’t blogged in ages. Four countries have gone by without documentation. A person shouldn’t dwell in the past. Anyway, that’s my excuse for not playing catch up. In reality, the fact that I’ll be home in a month makes it pretty hard not to dwell in the future. I’m basically returning from retirement back into the world of responsibilities. Believe it or not I’m eager to get back to work. I suppose a lot of people would choose to travel if they were told they had only a year to travel. I’ve traveled already, I think I’d work…and go camping a lot.

So here’s what’s going on in Africa:

Today I’m a substitute farmer at my friend Hein’s farm on the Zambezi river. Hein had to make a trip to Uganda, and since farms require lots of attention (footloose farmers fail… I think that’s the rule of thumb) he asked Jeremy and me to look after things while he was away. I’m not sure I could handle looking after animals all the time, but substitute farming is great, especially here.

You’re supposed to count sheep “right” before you go to sleep. Not me though, I listen to hippos while I fall asleep and count sheep “wrong” after I wake up. I took three accounting classes in college, but none prepared me for this early morning task. Theoretically there are 531 sheep, including four newborns this week. My totals have ranged from 526 to 538. By the way sheep are sooooo dumb…can a guy who can’t count say that? But seriously, I’m humbled by the fact that humans are analogous to sheep so often in the Bible. Sheep don’t have the first clue about their own wellbeing. They’ll look at a fence, pause in obvious recognition of the obstacle, and then try to run through the fence anyway. The whole time the gate that they’re meant to go through is about one meter to the left. Idiots.
Before coming out to this farm we were at a much bigger farm/project Riverside Farm Institute, the place where Jeremy and I were based during our years as student missionaries. Reuniting with Alan and Pauline -our “African American” parents- has been a highlight of the trip. Alan took us on a church building trip. We camped out, reminisced, told jokes, and guessed at constellations while our fire flickered below. Oh yeah, we built two churches as well. Things were right.
On my first visit to Riverside as a student missionary in 2007 I went straight from the Lusaka airport out to Riverside. I got my first taste of Africa at Riverside and Riverside became the lens through which I viewed Africa. The lens, I realize now, was rose colored. On this trip, coming overland from Ethiopia, I saw Africa in a new and more sobering light. Poverty and spiritual decline are prevalent. It makes me appreciate Riverside and its development model more than I did the first time I was here. Riverside is an epicenter of happiness and vibrant life in Southern Africa.
Africa has been a hopscotch game for us from one mission post to the next. It’s been interesting to see mission work done in a lot of different ways. Our missions page hasn’t been updated during the past several geological periods, that’s something that will have to be remedied.
I’ve been carrying a small anatomy book in my backpack since Seattle (September). I wanted to be ready to study a bit in case I was accepted to medical school. Jeremy found me under a mango tree the other day and told me to read the facebook page he had left open on his lap top. It was a week old post from my mom telling me my letter of acceptance had arrived at home. Jeremy might not have seen it if a friend we met in China hadn’t mentioned it to him in another facebook message that she had seen my mom‘s post and wanted to congratulate me. So I guess I was the last to know, but it’s big news for me, and I’m putting my little anatomy book to use….and dwelling in the future more than I should be. Oops.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


I think there are more donkeys than people in Ethiopia. Armies of asses trudge dusty roads bearing aqueous burdens from distant wells back to parched villages. A five or six year old child usually serves as the marching Sergeant on the way to the well, but once four 20L containers of life’s liquid have been strapped to the donkey’s hide, the Sergeant can go and play. Left to his own desires the donkey invariable points his nose homeward and walks deliberately, never resting, until he reaches his village.

I feel like an ass (it‘s not the first time, though historically I‘ve described it in different terms). This trip’s finish line is in sight, and I find myself chomping at the bit to get to the end and return home for whatever life will bring next. I’m having to remind myself that I don’t get to Africa often, and I need to milk this experience for all it’s worth. Two months remain before the first of my “appointments” in America, but 10 days of hard travel would probably wrap this whole thing up. I’m road weary. One of the reasons I love travel is because everything is changing/new everyday. But at this point change has become normal. I want to do some “normal” things for a change.

Even if I feel impatient sometimes, Africa has a spell on me. I’m enchanted. Sometimes visiting a place I’ve seen in the movies is disappointing, some places turn out to be less cool than I had imagined. Africa always delivers though, it’s better than the movies.

From Addis Ababa (“new flower”), Ethiopia’s capital, we began hitching rides towards the Kenyan border; ultimately we hitched all the way to Nairobi, Kenya. Hitchhiking is a great way to travel through Africa, a little cash provides good incentive and pretty soon you find yourself bumping along dirt tracks in a Land Cruiser - or a 10 Ton truck full of goats. We spent 24 hour straight in the latter. One chemically enhanced driver (“chat” leaves are quite the stimulant) drove the entire 24 hours at breakneck speed across the worst road I’ve ever been on. It’s a road the government wants to pave the but the lack of water in the area makes it an extremely expensive project.

I had no idea it was possible to make a vehicle go that fast across a road that bad. I admit I made sure I was right with the Lord. I don‘t know how spiritual goats are, but if ever there were God fearing goats they were the ones in that bucking Mitsubishi who were repeatedly launched nearly over the sides of the bed‘s 10 foot high side walls before gravity slammed their whirling bodies back onto the truck‘s steel bed with a bone breaking thud.

I’m sure the Chalbi desert of Northern Kenya is the roughest stretch of earth we‘ll see on this trip. I’m too soft for that kind of life. Water is incredibly precious and tribesman toting AK-47s defend dwindling puddles. The women don’t wear many clothes, though beads slung around their necks mostly cover their breasts.

We reached a small canteen of a town called Mega and got out for a stretch. A throng of playing boys came to beg for money and entertain us with shenanigans. Their ring leader pantsed one of the smaller boys right in front of me to the great amusement of his friends. Soon several of the boys were showing off by sneaking behind the small boy and pantsing him. The small boy eventually started crying so I had to chase down the ring leader and hold him so the small one could properly spank him. Vigilantly justice can be fun.

Ummmm……The End

Monday, March 7, 2011

A Bus, A Statue, A Pyramid, a Big Poo

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I just clicked the internet availability indicator on my computer’s task bar and was informed that no networks are available, so I clicked “troubleshoot connectivity problems” and received error message #321 which reads: “you’re in Ethiopia fool, what do you expect?” No telling when I’ll publish this.

I’ll hit the highlights since the last time I wrote: From Armenia I took a direct bus to Istanbul, Turkey. The bus was “direct” only in the sense that its passengers didn’t have to change buses en route. Geographically speaking it wasn’t direct at all. We headed North instead of West and when we arrived at the border I was sorry to learn it was the Georgian border, not the Turkish. Armenia and Turkey aren’t on good terms, so the border cannot be crossed (this was news to me). I’ve now been to Georgia twice, accidentally both times.

I hated that bus ride for a lot of reasons: Vodka, cigarettes, and Armenians (who tended to annoy me even when sober) yelling, stealing my seat, and sleeping off their hangovers on my shoulder. My lips were the only lips on the bus capable of forming English words, and my teeth were the only teeth that met a toothbrush during the 36 hour trip. My stupored seatmate kept slumping over onto me and expelling the fermented contents of his lungs across the geologically fascinating, but hygienically revolting, layers of tobacco residue and scum that had collected on his teeth.

Istanbul was worth the bus ride though; Incredible. That city doesn’t know whether its Muslim, Orthodox, Christian, Eastern, Western, Arabian, European or Asian….heck, I even made friends with a Jehovah’s Witness. Nobody cares though, it‘s Istanbul. Go there, I can’t imagine anyone not liking it. Istanbul….diversity….cool.

The official border between Europe and Asia (since we pretend they are different continents) is at Istanbul. I crossed from Asia into Europe on a bridge across the Bosphorous. Although they comprise a single giant landmass Europe and Asia are so completely different that I’m inclined to excuse the false geographic distinction. My bus between Istanbul and Athens was soooo nice. Sooo clean, comfortable, quiet, and on time. The roadside rest areas had automatic doors and free restrooms (two things that are extremely rare in Turkey, and even more rare farther East). I’m a sucker for a free bathroom. It felt good to enter the Western world.

In Athens I met back up with Jeremy, and his parents flew in for a Weaver family vacation. They let me come along and made me feel welcome (except for the fact that Mrs. Weaver kept encouraging me to move out of our hotel and into the local prison… “hey Bjorn, climb up on that 3000 year old statue, I’ll take your picture).” We had a really nice time though. We ate, drank, and talked about being married (I’ve noticed that married people know a lot more about marriage than unmarried people. Good talks).

We visited ten or so historical sights including Sparta, Delphi, Thermopylae, and Olympia. I sprinted the 192m dirt track in the original Olympic stadium, and Jeremy did the shot put. We felt honored to represent the U.S.A. and, perhaps because no other competitors showed up (but perhaps not), we both won our respective events.

You’ve seen more news than I have about Egypt. Our original plan was to find a ship from Athens across the Mediterranean to Alexandria and continue through Egypt. Long story short: We flew to Ethiopia. The downside is we had to sacrifice our “overland” goal. The upside is that we didn’t get kidnapped and we can travel at a more enjoyable pace through the rest of Africa. I hope to come back someday and complete the overland bit between Addis and Istanbul. We did have a layover in Cairo, and since nobody at the airport thought it would be dangerous, I went and saw the Sphinx, the Pyramids, and the Nile before the short flight to Ethiopia.

I have no idea why there aren’t more Ethiopian restaurants in America. The food is unbelievable. It’s light, so you can eat a lot without committing gluttony, and it’s terrifically delicious. The toilets in Ethiopia, however, are not up to the challenge created by my love of such food. Even industrial, high pressure, commodes back home often choke when pitted against my metabolism, and the trickling little potty at the house where we’re staying didn’t stand a chance. I gave birth in that toilet, I feel certain that healthy newborns have weighed less. There was no plunger. I had to go outside and get a stick. I used the stick to divide my creation into five pieces. I pinned four pieces to the side of the toilet with the stick and tried to get the toilet to accept one piece at a time. I’m not even kidding, the toilet couldn’t flush one part in five. I had to use the scoop and carry method and fertilize some bushes outside.

We know some cool missionaries in Ethiopia (I apologize to those missionaries for not transitioning into this paragraph more elegantly), and plan to visit them before heading South to the Kenyan border. I asked a local guy how long it will take us to get to the border, “At least three days maximum.” Hmmm. I don’t know what that means, but I love it. That’s Africa.

Saturday, February 12, 2011


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In the eight months since I left home I’ve lived out of five different backpacks. I just ordered my sixth and I’m praying it arrives at Jeremy’s parents house before they fly out to meet us in Greece. My pragmatic approach to finding the right travel luggage is made possible by REI’s no-questions-asked return policy. I wish I could get a career with a return policy like that.

I’m a dreamer. I dream about small things… like accessible pockets for backpacks, and about big things…like how I should spend my life. Some weeks go like this: On Monday it occurs to me that I’d like to sell hot dogs on a street corner (I do apologize if you have trouble resonating with my examples, perhaps we have different values). On Tuesday I see a movie in which there is a nomadic bee keeper who keeps bees in the back of his truck and sells honey wherever he goes (Incredible! I don’t know if I can stand not doing this). On Wednesday I’m still excited about bee keeping, but by Thursday I’m on the fence between architecture and plastic surgery. I wish I could approach my career choice in the same way I‘ve approached my choice of backpack. It’d be great to be able to “return” or “exchange” careers. I suppose if I did things as simple as hot dog selling switching would be pretty easy, but I think I want to be a doctor. Doctoring is a career that doesn’t come with a return policy.

Conversations about my plans for the future have historically frustrated me. I have felt judged by well-intentioned older folks and their questions about my goals. What do they want me to say? “I’m on track to do something great with my life…see Bjorn run…see Bjorn succeed.” I don’t like disappointing people who want to hear me say those things, but I also don’t like lying. I don’t know how to answer my girlfriends’ parents when they ask what kind of work I intend to do (actually I don’t have a girlfriend, I bet that‘s why). Are there wives for the whimsical? I don’t want a marriage with a return policy, just a career.

Traveling has been fun because the strangers you meet and talk to, unlike your girlfriend’s parents, have no incentive to judge you. If I’m not going to see you again I’m not worried about sounding consistent. I can tell you about hot dogs, bee keeping, or anything else that intrigues me. It’s a bit like “trying on” a career.

Friendly Questioner: What will you do when you‘ve finished traveling

Me: I’ve though of opening a kitchen design studio.

Next Questioner: Same question.

Me: I need to find out what it takes to get into cattle ranching in Mongolia.

Next Questioner: Same.

Me: I may go to medical school (I “try this one on” a lot because I’m serious about buying and there’s no return policy).

The conversations that follow these questions are edifying. I find myself learning how serious I am and whether or not I’m well grounded in my thinking by trying to answer the questions my new friends ask. My new friends have a lot less at stake than my hypothetical girlfriends’ parents, so they don’t judge me. It’s great. The only person who could judge me in regard to consistency is Jeremy, and while I do suspect he thinks I’m crazy, he doesn’t seem prone to judging.

Speaking of Jeremy, I haven’t seen him or any other English speaker in a week. Where I’m at there are a lot more terrorists than there are tourists. I heard through the grapevine (which is to say through face book) that Jeremy is in Poland. I’m in Armenia. Jeremy likes WWII history. I like getting off the beaten track. We decided to divide and conquer. We’ll meet back up in another week. Traveling alone is a good time for self discovery. Thanks to traveling alone I’ve learned I prefer not to travel alone. Could this have been learned any other way? I think not. Also I learned some other stuff, but that’s the main thing.

I’ve been relentlessly on the move since I left Jeremy in St. Petersburg, sleeping every night on trains, ferries, or buses to cover more ground and to save on hostel costs. The buses don’t have bathrooms but I’ve got a few tricks to keep myself from needing to use the bathroom. Being thirsty sucks, but so does needing to pee, so when I’m thirsty I eat oranges. They’ve got enough liquid to quench thirst w/o making me need to pee. To keep from having to poo (what an odd word…I think we have a major lexical gap. “Poo” is a cute word for something that‘s not cute and “Defecate” is way too bookish and medical sounding for regular people) I eat white bread ‘til I‘m constipated. There are great bakeries in Turkey and Armenia, btw. I had everything under control until yesterday when I became painfully aware that my two methods are at odds with each other. I was properly constipated, but I got really thirsty and ate too many oranges. I forgot how fibrous oranges are. Things happened kinda fast.

“Pull over!!! Pull over now!!!” I frantically shouted to the driver of the bus. This was one of those “pack ‘em in” buses, the isle was completely crammed full of people and stuff. I knew I’d have to crowd surf my way to the door. Crowd surfing requires team participation, so I did a quick motivational charade in which I acted out what my body was about to do. This produced the desired effect from the crowd. I made it out of the bus. There were no trees. There weren’t even bushes. Everyone just watched. I think I was supposed to feel embarrassed. I certainly felt bare-assed, but I was too relieved to be embarrassed.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Still Talking About God

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In my notes I’ve reminded myself to write about the smugglers who I met and unwittingly abetted on the Trans-Siberian RR, about the veritable “Wild West” (in the far east) that is Mongolia, and about how entering Russia from Asia (as opposed to entering from the Europe) made me realize how similar I am to the average Russian. I’ve never really thought Russians and Americans had a lot in common, but when it’s just me, a Mongolian, and a Russian together in a room, somehow the Russian and I are brothers.
According to my notes those are the things I ought to write up, but somehow their moment has passed. I had another theological discussion this morning and it’s on my mind.
Any of you who’ve read this blog with any sort of regularity know that this trip, for me, has been a spiritual journey at least as much as it has been a regular journey. I’ve made a habit of posing the question “do you believe in God?” as often as I get the chance. Answers have varied drastically, and in most cases kicked off some worthwhile dialogue.
I woke up early this morning to blog. I was firing up my laptop in the hostel’s kitchen when three noticeably drunk hostel fellows whom I hadn’t met before came in. They’d been drinking all night. They were pretty sloshed (one fell out of his chair at one point, and another just laid his face on the table and started snoring), but w/o my provocation they started philosophizing. I stopped writing and started listening.
The burly Finish fellow was of the mind that death is all there is. “We may as well die, there’ s nothing besides death anyway.” Some of what he was saying would have fit well in Ecclesiastes, except he never thought to add the “fear God and keep His commandments” bit. He had a black and white picture of things, but it was more black than white. His less profound French companion (the one who wasn’t conked out and drooling on the table) argued that life was better than that because of the it’s “high” moments. “Even if you are sad more than you are happy,” said the Frenchman, “happiness is worth more than sadness so it can overcome your sadness and make life worth living.” He thought that buying a new laptop might be one such “high.”
I wasn’t at all sure I should enter the conversation because it was obvious that our ideas were quite different and would hinge on the discussion of whether or not there is a God. I prayed that I wouldn‘t make a fool of myself and opened my mouth.

I made a case for the existence of a God based on the idea that there is an identifiable moral code within ourselves (more fundamental than those that various religions arrive at) that we feel compelled at least to recognize if not to obey. I’ve not worked extensively with this stuff, but that was the angle I took. If there is such a thing as real, absolute right and wrong then there must be a writer of that code, a “something else,” a God.
Coming up with concrete examples is something C.S. Lewis is a lot better at than me, but I did my best. I tried to make it raw and poignant. “If I sleep with the woman you love (ladies you’ll have to adjust the example accordingly) you‘ll be well convinced that the thing I did was ‘wrong.’” I claimed that outside of any religious structure, and outside of any fabricated moral code that a culture has adopted, it would be WRONG for me to do this thing, and that the fact that you would be eager to smash my skull with a heavy stick means you are recognizing my wrongness.
Drunk as they were the guys were really great to talk to. They even helped me revise my example. They weren’t sure how the feminists would feel about the “ownership” that a man’s right to be angry at another man for taking his woman implies. So we changed question to “what if I kidnap your son and make him my slave?” Did I for sure wrong you then? Is that wrong enough to be described as absolutely wrong? Is it wrong beyond any “wrongness” that some well meaning but polluted moral thinker may have come up with in the process of inventing a religion?
At this point the Atheists made historical conjectures, and I made historical conjectures. We agreed that such behavior would illicit indignation in ourselves and in anybody we’d ever met, but they argued that there was most likely a time and a people in the past who would not have recognized this behavior as wrong. I think there was never such a people.

The guys were pretty staunch on the idea that everything we’ve ever recognized as right or wrong is only right or wrong because it’s come to be called right and wrong by the prevailing culture. I can’t prove otherwise my experience points me in another direction.
They’ve got their experience and I’ve got mine. That’s that. They may have been drunk but they weren’t stupid, and they weren’t lazy or wishful thinkers either. The guy from Finland praised the Christian moral code for what it was. He doesn’t think it’s “truth” but he does think it’s useful.
So what does a Christian disciple look like here? I don’t know if better apologists with better angles than me would be more convincing than I was. I kind of think there are enough words and theories floating around. For me the challenge is to be the real McCoy. If this Christianity stuff is legit people will see it in my life and want it. Integrity and authenticity are two things my generation demands. That’s good as long as I’m legit. Am I? Are you?