JANUARY 2016

#1 Happy 2016!

01 January 2016 // Portland, Oregon

Good morning to you! And happy 2016! May the parties you unintentionally end up DJing be okay with you just playing Latin remixes of your favorite songs and in the words of Dawes, may all your favorite bands stay together.

I'm surprised I woke up this early. Sort of.

To be honest, 2015 is a tough one to leave behind. Wedding year and all that. And also, I'm hardcore anticipating 2017. Yes, I said 2017, when I'm done with grad school and free to do something new.

But it's 2016. I woke up just now in Portland. I'm spending the day with a few good friends. Once they finally wake up, that is. Much like this year, I have no idea what's in store for today. I'm not even sure what's open around town. But I've got some good company so I'm sure it'll be a memorable one.
Today and this year.

#2 Escapism Portland

02 January 2016 // Portland, Oregon

Had a lot of fun at Dr. Zylchov’s escape room this morning… but not as much fun as Daniel, considering the theme of this room escape consisted of cats and molecular-level science.

Actually, I’m pretty proud of how we did. Almost nineteen minutes to spare. We killed it.

At this point, all of my 2016 can be summed up as eat and escape the room. Good year so far.

#3 Snowfall.jpg

#3 Snowfall

03 January 2016 // Eugene, Oregon

We only get a day or two of snow each year, if that, so this was pretty exciting to wake up to.

The first half of the day, while we stayed in, was very Calvin and Hobbes. Little kids in our complex made sleds out of garbage can lids and kept crashing into someone's parked pickup.

The second part of the day, when we had more errands, called for trying to pull cars out of driveways by force. A lot more Snowpiercer.

2016 has yet to fully sink in. The past few weeks have been wild ones. I've had visitors and I've been a visitor, sometimes doing both those things at the same time. With a few days to slow it way down before South Africa, it'll be nice to let the present sink in some more.

#4 Daniel at Vero

04 January 2016 // Eugene, Oregon

So glad Daniel I could ring in the new year together, almost like Kathy Griffin and Anderson Cooper. Almost.

Also glad I didn't lose my friend forever sliding down an icy mountain.

Come back to Oregon. We'll have more donuts ready.

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#5 Six Month Gift

05 January 2016 // Eugene, Oregon

Got our mail that was held at the post office while we were away the past few weeks and found this treat... Some really neat card stock square prints of wedding photos from our photographer… Thanks Becky!

At the moment, here's a few good things I've been thankful for.

Getting to have Daniel in town for a few days— Having visitors has always made me excited, especially while I've been living further away from my closest friends. I especially like it when they're the sort of visitor I can totally be myself around.

Blue Star Donuts— Particularly for their Egg Nog Brûlée and rum donut. A brûlée donut is such a good idea, and they're quite generous with the rum.

Getting to do another room escape— its a hot, trendy activity now, and I hope the trend is here to stay.

#6 French Baguettes.jpg

#6 French Baguettes

06 January 2016 // Eugene, Oregon

This year, I’ve made myself a list of 52 recipes I’d love to have mastered by the end of the year. Half of these items are basics I should really know how to master. The other half are things I’ve eaten before that I’ve thought were really yummy and wondered if I could make myself. I’ll be doing what people who do this sort of thing do, which is chronicling my challenge by blog.

Item number one of this year… the French baguette. One of my favorite simple lunches is a slice of prosciutto and a bit of brie sandwiched in a fresh baguette, so these are nice to have on hand. Plus, one of my favorite things about the middle east are the bread vendors who come around every morning with fresh baguettes. They introduced me to the wonders of a really simple but really good egg and cheese baguette sandwich. That fresh baked bread makes a world of difference.

These suckers are actually really sensitive to temperature and humidity. The dough will rise very differently from one part of the country to the next… probably from one room to the next.

Actually, that’s the great debate in New Orleans. The bread process I’m using is used to make the buns of a po’boy sandwich. But does that make it a French baguette? Some would argue that the Delta humidity alters the dough way too much that it’s its own animal.

I guess you could maybe make that argument for the Middle East’s dryness too.

#7 Jozi Prep.jpg

#7 Jozi Prep

07 January 2016 // Eugene, Oregon

Looooooonnng day. Spent most of it doing prep for South Africa.

After getting my computer ready for travel, clearing up memory on all my stuff that usually runs out of memory, making a list of things to buy before going, phone calls and other details, the pending trip is finally beginning to sink in.

And I'm really excited.

From everything I've heard, a TON has changed since my last visit three years ago... A lot good, some not quite as good, but probably mostly good. From the sound of things it won't be as big of a challenge to navigate my way around as it was last time.

Also, the last microloan I gave out in October didn't work out because the person never collected the money... So it was returned. I still want to give this thing a legit shot so I found another person looking for one.

Looking forward to seeing you again soon, Africa!

#8 Piano Man.jpg

#8 Piano Man

08 January 2016 // Eugene, Oregon

Coming to the end of my little bit of time in Eugene before going out to South Africa. Decided to take a break from all the trip planning and packing to spend some time with my GCF friends.

That was a good call. We ended up with Andrew on the piano, playing name that tune and just riffing off of nostalgic old ideas.

But, speaking of the South Africa trip, I am getting really excited for that. From all I’ve heard via phone calls and emails, so much has changed that will likely make this a much more productive and enjoyable visit. Looking forward to it!

#9 Running Through Amazon Park.jpg

#9 Running Through Amazon Park

09 January 2016 // Eugene, Oregon

“Initially you're overwhelmed. But gradually you realize it's like a wave. Resist, and you'll be knocked over. Dive into it, and you'll swim out the other side.”

—The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

If these words were spoken by the Dame Judy Dench, they must be taken seriously.

I don't like to run. I live in Tracktown, USA, birthplace of Nike and host of this year's Olympic trials. Still don't like to run.

I wish I could learn how to like running. I know how to run. I don't know how to enjoy it. Deanna enjoys it.

Taking the words of Judy Dench to heart, I signed myself up for the Eugene half marathon on my birthday weekend and bought some cold weather running clothes. I figured at the very least I love wearing those compression leggings, but I think I've taken the plunge even further.

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#10 Fundraising

10 January 2016 // Eugene, Oregon

Deanna and I are super excited to announce the start of one of the big adventures we’re undertaking… we’re looking to fund the refugee of a rescue through Liberty in North Korea.

I interned with LiNK over three years ago, just shortly after Deanna and I begun dating. Although I’m pretty sure most of my friends have heard from me at some point what they’re up to, if you haven’t, you’ve got to check out their website at libertyinnorthkorea.org to see how supporting refugees can help further empower the people of North Korea to change their country from within.

It takes about $3000 to rescue a refugee. I’ve had the opportunity to meet more than a few from North Korea, and their stories are the most amazing. They’re the best reminders on how to celebrate life. I’ll be setting up and sharing a fundraising page for this quest soon.

#11 The Steven Scott Foster Podcast.jpg

#11 The Steven Scott Foster Podcast

11 January 2016 // Eugene, Oregon

Had a blast spending a good chunk of the day talking to Steven and recording a new episode for his podcast.

We talked everything from my last visit to South Africa to narratives for the new year to big shifts in our mindsets concerning our careers.

Steven’s interview skills are tops, and just keep getting better. His is a podcast I really enjoy new episodes from.

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#12 Packing Night

12 January 2016 // Eugene, Oregon

I suck at getting to sleep before an exciting happening, last night was no exception. No big. Thirty-something hours on the plane will help get me caught up.

Last night was an adrenaline rush, as it finally sunk in deeper that in a matter of hours, I'd be back where I was three years ago, surrounded by pink and brown graffitied walls.

I really can't wait. I wonder which of the kids that remember me will be the first one I see. I'm even actually excited to deal with the long flight... Though the chance to sleep may be a factor there.

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#13 Party in the Sky

13 January 2016 // Los Angeles, California

Leg two of the really long journey to Joburg... LAX to London Heathrow. Not exactly my favorite airports but let's make it a good time.

I'm really glad it worked out for us to do this trip via Virgin Airlines... That is a fave, especially for back-to-back really long flights.

So looking forward to seeing some familiar (but now more grown up) faces when our last plane finally touches down. That still feels a ways away right now, so for the moment I'm looking forward to catching up on the movies of 2015 via in-flight entertainment.

UPDATE 2 HRS LATER:

Actually still a party at LAX. The plane had a malfunctioning part and they needed it to be brought in from the other side of LA by somebody on motorbike. That sounds more like a Ryan Gosling movie plot to me, so we opted to hop on the next plane over.

#14 Heathrow Layover.jpg

#14 Heathrow Layover

14 January 2016 // London, England

Back to back flights in double digit hours, but I guess if that’s what it takes to get us to South Africa, so be it.

Not to mention, we got eight hours of London-time in-between. If the Heathrow Airport wasn’t so far away from where our London friends live, and if British airport security wasn’t so strict, it would’ve been really neat to pay some a visit.

But, alas, we settled for this meat pie and pint of ale combo.

#15 Arrived.jpg

#15 Arrived

15 January 2016 // Johannesburg, South Africa

Man, it is so good to be here- and I'm not just saying that because our arrival puts an end to a two hour drive, two hour flight, three hour layover, nine hour flight, seven hour layover, and ten hour flight.

Seriously, if anyone would like to reassemble Pangea so all these places could be closer together, be my guest.

In the meantime, trying to take it all in through a sleep deprived state. The old faces. The new faces. Having Deanna see it all for the first time.

It's been a very hard-to-believe-it's-real day.

#16 The Courtyard of 5Cees.jpg

#16 The Courtyard of 5Cees

16 January 2016 // Johannesburg, South Africa

Oh man, everything comes rushing back in the middle of this courtyard. Some things changed a great deal... Other things seem like they never will.

Today's excitement was provided by Lloyd the dog. Some of these kids were more nervous around Lloyd than they were around lions.

Our first day was a mostly open one... A slow Saturday that allowed us to spend a lot of playtime with the kids. The perfect way to slide back into things.

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#17 Johannesburg Love

17 January 2016 // Johannesburg, South Africa

This city has such a different personality from my own. Large, gritty, competitive, and opportunity driven. Honestly on paper it wouldn't seem like a good fit.

This trip though, I've found myself simply thinking... Man, I love it here. Over and over again.

I'm thankful that this city is where my people are. And that this will be my home base whenever I'm on the African continent. Hope my next visit isn't too far away!

#18 Lindokhule

18 January 2016 // Johannesburg, South Africa

Lindo and I bonded well when I was here last... Probably because he and I were very similar in high school. Spending more effort trying to get out of work than doing the work.

When I arrived here, I was bummed to find out he had aged out and moved away just a month prior. So close! I was looking forward to being reunited.

Then, yesterday, he happens to drop by. Much like the Lindo of old times, but also three years older like the rest of us. He definitely had his share of crazy stories over the past few years, which I got to learn about over the course of tea for four hours. Missed this guy a ton, but glad our paths crossed.

#19 Deanna in Jozi

19 January 2016 // Johannesburg, South Africa

It's been making me really happy all week to see Deanna hanging out around the center, helping with homework, and playing with the kids. Three years ago it was a place she knew by my emailed stories... Now she has stories of her own.

Honestly, I think that when a place or experience in your life shapes you so much, you've gotta let the people you share your life with see it. Even if it isn't the same thing to them that it was to you, it will help that much more with understanding each other.

In the meantime, I get to enjoy sights like this for a little while longer. It's been a good time.

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#20 Art Therapy in Africa

20 January 2016 // Johannesburg, South Africa

Just a public service announcement, Deanna is really, really good at her job.

Today we did a lot of art therapy exercises with the kids. Through the process, we got to hear more than a few of their stories.

“When my brother died,” one of them explained a drawing, “me, my sister, and grandma were really sad. Then I wrote a poem. I still felt sad, but my sister and grandma were happier after reading it.”

#21 Zoo Lake

21 January 2016 // Johannesburg, South Africa

A huge happy birthday to our local friend Bongi! Ever since she introduced me to Arts On Main on my first visit three years ago, she's always been my informant on what's fun in Joburg.

This visit has been no exception. She's been a great source of help to Deanna and I.

I had a blast celebrating tonight in Braam. And I have the fatty bruise on my wrist from a collapsing table to robe it. I never thought I'd say this, but I now know what it's like to be the whitest guy in the club.

#22 Deanna Heads Back

22 January 2016 // Johannesburg, South Africa

Took Deanna to the airport tonight. Unfortunately her work schedule doesn't allow her to stay as long as I get to, but I'm so glad she got to be a part of my second visit to South Africa and see some of the kids I've kept telling her about.

A few things this trip has really helped me appreciate;

1- Deanna's willingness to come along for the experience. I know getting to visit Africa was a lifelong dream of hers, and I'm glad I got to see it happen.

2 - Uber. It makes life easier in the states, but in South Africa? It's given me an easy and affordable way to get around I could only dream about on my first visit. Plus I've had the most fun conversations with my Jozi drivers.

3- Getting around way more easily. My first trip was much more confined. This time, I feel like I have way more access to the city. It's more than just the Uber thing too. I feel more directionally oriented. I know the culture much better. I feel at ease in a place where living isn't usually easy.

#23 The Center’s Alley

23 January 2016 // Johannesburg, South Africa

It was a quieter Saturday at the center… the first one of the year, meaning the kids are still figuring out how Saturdays are going to work with the newly imposed study time and everything.

It was also my first Saturday with Deanna on her way back to the United States meaning that this stay will bear a lot of resemblance now to my previous visit, where we did the long distance thing for almost three months, only being able to email.

It wasn’t easy, that’s for sure. But it actually did wonders for our communication. Being back here, especially knowing that I was able to bring her back this time as my wife, feels like a celebration.

#24 Ivin

24 January 2015 // Johannesburg, South Africa

Actually I was originally named Basil. Or perhaps it was Basel. Anyways, when I was registered for school there was a spelling error and they called me Baryl. I thought it sounded like a girls name so I changed it to Ivin.

Ivin the security guard is quickly becoming one of my most favorite people in South Africa. He kind of reminds me of my stepdad, and he's been making me lots of curry.

While at the center, I like to imagine who the staff members and characters would be if it were Hogwarts. Ivin is definitely Hagrid.

#25 Meet Max

25 January 2015 // Johannesburg, South Africa

Lemme introduce you to Max. One of the guys I've really had the pleasure of getting to know on this trip.

This guy works hard and sends so much of what he earns to his family. He's also brilliant. He's given me more insight into inter-tribal dynamics than anyone else. He's also a great role model for the guys at the center, which can't be over valued.

I'd bring him back to the U.S. if I could. He's kept me informed and enlightened with many great chats about race, politics, theology, and food.

#26 Classic Sifundo

26 January 2015 // Johannesburg, South Africa

The funny thing about being back at the center after three years is that if something has drastically changed, it'll amaze me. Also, if it hasn't changed at all, it'll amaze me too.

When I was here last I taught Sifundo how to use my camera, and while we were playing around out front I had a moment of taking it all in and being fully there.

Then a couple days ago, I was hanging out with Sifundo atop the teenage dormitory and just like old times the camera came out and we started taking pictures in the sun.

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#27 Alexandra Township

27 January 2015 // Johannesburg, South Africa

The goal isn't wealth or poverty but contentment.

—Ross Lester

Went with some of the group to a nearby church on Sunday and actually really connected with what was spoken. Trying to learn to see things through the lenses of generosity and contentment and learning how to make the most of both seasons: thin and plenty, and the in between.

South Africa gives such a unique vantage point into the economic disparity that exists in many spots around the world. I'm staying in Hillbrow which is the most densely populated mile in Africa. At night I can stare out towards Sandton, a bright light in the distance that represents the wealthiest mile in Africa. I spent most of my day in the township of Alexandria... These informal settlements are a whole different world.

This trip is teaching me so much about the complexities that come from such a disparity. Having a lot makes you susceptible to greed and having little makes you susceptible to desperation. Contentment is a good remedy on both ends.

#28 The Kiddos

28 January 2015 // Johannesburg, South Africa

There’s a reason why I’ll always be wondering how soon I can make my next visit to South Africa. There’s a reason why even when I’m back home South Africa stays really close to my heart.

It’s not the gorgeous mix of coastline and mountains and hiking trails, although that’s there. It’s not the rich history that overlaps with my lifetime, though that’s wonderful too. Then there’s the cuisine… the seafood and the mix of adapted Dutch and British recipes alongside indigenous food habits. But that’s not the main reason either.

Nah. It’s all about the people. Whether they’re older and helping to run the care center or they’re some of the youngest ones I’ve had the chance to play with, I’ll have to keep planning to come back. And hopefully they won’t be too much bigger by then.

#29 Enter the Kingdom

29 January 2015 // Oshoek, Swaziland

How’s this for an exciting night… I got to waltz in to the Kingdom of Swaziland.

I hopped on a bus in the afternoon, with only the roughest idea of how to get where I was supposed to go after crossing the border. Thankfully, we met one of the kindest souls on our bus ride who offered to let us stay at her place in Mbabane so we could find our way in the daylight.

We arrived after dark into one of the more peculiar countries the world has to offer. I could only make out the subtle outlines of mountains in the dark, but I could already tell, this was going to be a gorgeous place when I could see it.

#30 Swazi Hike

30 January 2015 // Piggs Peak, Swaziland

This was my weekend.

Being led out on a hike by a bunch of Swazi boys in the middle of some mountain that I'm not sure even has a name. Stopping at each of the fruit trees to pick and taste their unfamiliar produce. Sitting on rocks and staring into valleys for hours on end.

Good weekend, man.

#31 The Kingdom of Swaziland

31 January 2016 // Piggs Peak, Swaziland

Made it! An unpredictable journey over from Joburg and taking chances on unnamed dirt roads led to this rewarding view.

Swaziland is one of the last remaining true kingdoms in the modern day and I can understand why... I feel like the number one activity to do here is to stand on a tall rock, stretch out your arm and shout the word "behold!" That and hiking.

This country had me impressed from the get-go with its mountains. If this is how green it looks in a severe drought, I can only imagine it's normal state. Cheers to country number thirty-nine.

Philippe Lazaro365