Saturday, August 17, 2013

Grass behind a wall

Against all expectations people continue to view this blog. I feel bad about that since I'm not updating anything.

I wrote this post more than a year ago and have done major as well as minor re-edits. At the end of my journey I had about 900 views. I think I'll post this this time in commemoration of passing the 1900 mark.  Mom and Dad are here in the states for a bit...I'd always assumed it was Mom checking in from Zambia but someone there is reading here. Welcome.

So I could blog. It was something I wanted to do but have been reluctant to do. My life now consists of doing handyman work and remodels. I get to meet interesting people and see how they live. It's humbling the trust strangers place in me, not only to do a good job but also to not steal or needlessly invade their privacy. Which brings me to my dilemma, is there a way to talk about people I meet and work for without embarrassing them or loosing their trust and business. If I were to blog about someone I'd have to take a point of view. Putting that down in black and white will not make everyone happy all the time. With only about one person viewing this blog a day world wide I'm probably safe especially since a number of you are in South Africa presumably looking for information on where the mine is sending you.

Still I think it's a valid question so if you read a name here it will be fictitious, if I mention a place, that won't be it.

Above is a picture that as the title of this entry indicates is grass that grew up behind wood siding on a wall. The bottom two clapboards had some rot in them so they were removed and replaced. This is what I found when I removed the clapboards.

I'll allow you to contemplate the greater meaning in life that can be found in consideration of this grass.
  • The determination to continue after making a wrong turn.
  • The tragedy that it never was green, it stayed useless and yellow its whole life, never photosynthesizing light.
  •   The way it clung to conventional patterns of life in face of failure.
  • How it endured frozen in time inside the wall after the parent plant was long gone.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The death of an idea taster

I’ve been in a funk all day. One of the bloggers, Neptunus Lex, I read regularly passed away this week. I’ve been busy so I didn't hear about it till today. I came to his blog because he was a pilot. It’s no secret that given my druthers I too would have a pilot’s license. There are several different styles of  blog that I read. Some are all original like mine, some are links and some combine the two with commentary along side the link. Lex chose to mix links with commentary as well as original content. After reading his opinion  and the linked piece you began to understand him as a person. There are a few blogs I read that do this. Often I agree with what the blogger has to say sometimes not. Lex was a retired aircraft carrier fighter pilot so he often highlighted stories I would never of read or gave insight not found elsewhere on the web.  These insights will be sorely missed since I have no other comparable source for them.
Not only was his commentary on the events of the day almost always worth at least a quick glance his own original flying stories were a good read. He was a much better writer than I will ever be. He was one who showed what was possible to do with a blog. I do not have the desire or insights do a link blog with commentary but if I did I’d strive to be like his.
Which does not explain why I’m so saddened by his passing. Sure a pilot died doing what he loved but given all his options I think he would rather be alive today. It is true he knew there were risks and was willing to take them. Just like he was willing to put himself in harms way in the middle east. Sleeping safe and sound in my bed at home I’m truly grateful. That he continued to give back to his country in retirement as part of training future pilots only makes him more my hero.
There are so many aspects of his passing that I will mourn but I guess what I will remember most about him is this piece he wrote when Sarah Palin burst onto the national scene.
May God keep and comfort your family.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

an update on my life


Recent stats show that I have had 52 views in the last month which is wholly astounding. Some of these views have come from people who don't know me or automated search engines or something. I say that because Russia shows up as part of my viewing audience. Don't really know anyone in Russia to speak of.... any who to those few family members who have been following along I though I'd keep you up to speed.

For the last three weeks and again for at least part of this week I have been working with two men from church doing remodeling. I'm working as an hourly independent contractor. The first man is someone I've been friends with since '94. He is in his late 60s and gets the contracts. The second is the same family I worked for as a courier. When I started couriering he stopped and handed the running of the company off to his wife. He then went into the contractor business. As a practical matter I work with him every day and am learning lots of the trade. Much of what we are doing I have done at one time or another but the difference is now I'm learning to do it fast enough to make a living at and properly the first time. Stuff like when installing ceiling fans, when they don't work the first time it may NOT be your wiring...try pulling the chain first...guess what I did yesterday. They are more difficult to work with when all the blades are attached.

After having sat at home for how ever many weeks I informed these guys I would ride along with them for free so I could learn the business. They are paying me but we have no real agreement on how much or for how long. (yes i invited myself into a job just by showing up, more or less) Currently we are doing a remodel on a home in the country about an hour east of Dallas and have been spending nights during the week there. This should be our last week. After that who know. Right now I'm in a precarious balance between saving money cause I don't know if I'll work and spending money on tools so I can work.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Gilding the lily

6/9/12  redacted parts of my "throw away email address" and cell number

Since coming back from Africa I have been NOT writing my resume. While I have written some things, I have in almost equal measure deleted. I mentioned this to someone I'll call Mr. T. who volunteered to bring me some 'good' resumes, properly redacted, that had been submitted to his place of work. I'm not sure this has helped since what I was editing out was tame compared to how these applicants described themselves. To me, telling someone that I'm trustworthy is as unnatural as stomping on a puppy...saying I have integrity, as difficult as eating sand. Who am I to say such a thing about myself, and how should I expect you to believe me? When you drop your welding hood, closing out the world, and it's just you and a puddle of hot metal, it's a good idea to like the you that you find there. Being a man of principals is my ground state of being, to write it all out in black and white seems so put-on, so crass, so affected.

The fact is, I have never gotten a job by means of a resume. When I got my first two construction jobs I was employed mainly on the basis of showing up and being willing to work. The work itself sifted the wheat from the chaff.  I got the last two jobs I've had because the people hiring had know me for years. This selling myself is strange and hard. Maybe I'll just start a 'Mr. Fix It' type business and work for myself. I know I can do the work. Not sure if I'll like the paper work, then again, maybe I can hire that done.  When I was young people used to as what I wanted to be when I grew up. What a silly question. I'm wanted to be ME! I still don't know how I want to make a living so...whattaya got.

In any event, here is something like a resume.

Noel (aka Leon) Carpenter
(214) 445-****

I am trustworthy, honest, conscientious, competent, and hard working with exceptional common sense.
I am ‘handy’- I can understand not only how mechanical things work but often why they don’t. Outside of work I have entirely re-plumed my house and updated both my kitchen and bathroom. The summer before last I built a detached garage for my house.
I enjoy the challenge of learning new skills. While at Copper Craft I learned to TIG weld, spin metal and English wheel because they were more difficult than what I was doing and that interested me.
I am not so hung up on myself that I don’t tell on myself. If I mess up something I’ll tell you rather than try to save face.

1992 Western Nebraska Community College-Sidney campus
     Associate of Applied Sciences-Diesel Engineering

1990 Rift Valley Academy 

Spring of 2011 Six months in Africa.

Fall of 2005. Self employed

Self employed contractor for Emerald Delivery. Most of our work was making ‘hot shot’ air freight deliveries. As a contractor I provided my own car, fuel, insurance and paid my own taxes. The job required:
  • being able to work without supervision
  • having a car in operational condition
  • being trust worthy to handle expensive and fragile packages
  • passing a TSA background check
  • annually recurring TSA security training 
  • an ability to make timely deliveries all over the city and beyond

Fifteen weeks in Africa. Spring 2005

Spring 1996 ARMETCO/Copper Craft (later purchased by Berger Brothers/Euramax)

Sometime in the spring of '96 I changed companies to ARMETCO doing much the same thing as Metal Systems.
Beginning in July '97 I moved into the ARMETCO shop unit, Copper Craft. At Copper Craft I started in shipping and worked my way up to:
  • CNC table router operator
  • TIG/MIG welder
  • fabricator producing many custom, one off products
  • metal spinning 
  • shot bag and English wheel fabrication

January 1993 Metal Systems Inc

In January '93 I moved form Nebraska to the D/FW area and began working for Metal Systems Inc. installing 'pre-finished architectural sheet metal'. For the most part work involved installing standing seam metal roofs. There was a bit of other miscellaneous work such as steel framing. 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The conclusion of the matter

Well a short final post before packing and heading to the airport.

At times like this it is natural to look back and evaluate the trip. Specifically thinking about what I would do differently if I were to ever do it again. The size of my hand luggage was if anything a smidgen too big. So yes you can travel all you like on one hand luggage. The luggage was my home made design and for the most part worked well although my belt was too narrow to be a comfortable strap. That will probably get reworked before I use it again. I'm not much of a swimmer but a number of times on this trip I went swimming. The first time I borrowed some trunks the second I actually bought some used ones in the market. Next time I'll just bring my own. Finally what I really regret is not buying a cheap notebook computer. My main reasons for not doing so in the first place was fear of breakage and theft. Instead I bought an old palm with a folding keyboard. The keyboard quit working after two months so the palm was pretty much worthless. My own computer that had photo editing software that I knew how to use and something I could compose on would have been nice. Oh well not too much of an issue.  Oh yea and I would have thrown some clear packing tape on the back foil of my cough drops since a number have come open and are sticky. Small stuff.

Tonight at 11:30pm I fly to London. I have 4h and 25min layover and then directly to Dallas. I will land in what is being billed as potentially the biggest civil servant strike in 30 years.  British Airways site seemed to indicate that since I don't have to go through security again it should not be an issue........yea, expect me when you see me. Thankfully I don't have to be anywhere at any certain time.

So in a few hours I will finally be down to no keys, no cell phone and no wallet. There's a certain freedom in that. The wallet got horse traded away yesterday sweetening the deal in the curio market. I like to think I got a good deal.

See you on the flip side. Leon

Friday, November 11, 2011

A very big place

Well it's been a good while since I blogged something. In the little more than a week I traveled from Zambia back to Uganda. The trip was done in three segments of 39, 34 and 11 hours.

The first bus trip started at 8am on Wednesday and didn't end till 9:30pm Thursday. Apart from one three-hour wait at a bus stop it was pretty much constant travel. The final destination on that day was Dar es Salaam. I had hoped to get up and see Bill again, who has moved to Arusha, but we didn't really coordinate that properly so it didn't happen. It is probably just as well as the next leg was probably made more easily starting in Dar. Part of my problem was Tanzania requires you to register your cell phone in order to be able to make calls so I could not communicate till mid-morning Friday. An area wide power outage kept me off the internet...I have become so used to instant communications that a little thing like that was unbearably annoying, at least for a little while.

shy hermit crab
The trip took longer than I had expected so I ended up catching up on my sleep and just bumming about town Friday and Saturday. One thought was that I would go to Zanzibar but, Tanzania likes to charge tourists US dollars to get there. I don't have that many dollars and they are a pain to get so I kept my money and went to a local beach. Someone said that the place to go is Oysterbay so I tried to get a bus there. The English language is a distant third option for many Tanzanians so actually getting there proved difficult. Finally I chose a bus that looked like it was going the right direction and told the conductor I wanted to go to the beach. I didn't get Oysterbay but I did get near. Now here is the important thing about travel, when you miss you may get something just as good or better. Where I was put out was at the ferry crossing where there are a very interesting couple of markets. If I'd had room in my luggage I could have picked up some awesome huge shells for Mom. I wasn't sure about US import law also so I didn't even ask the price.....sorry Ma. Just north of the markets the beach starts. There is a faucet on the outside wall of the market where guys were washing their clothes and washing themselves in the ocean. Be prepared for full frontal. Otherwise the beach was mostly mine...on a Saturday morning. There were tons of smaller shells on this beach. Further north storm sewers empty into the ocean and it's not as pleasant. Around this area I went back to the road where I noticed that if you are lucky you can get a
It's a nice tree but it doesn't really fit my landscaping
beach view room in your hospital. Yep, instead of expensive condos there is a hospital. Not everyone missed out on the opportunities to live across from the beach. Even further up was an expensive neighbourhood where at least a dozen ambassadors houses were. One was flying an an American flag but didn't have a sign I could see. I'm not sure what good being across the road from the ocean does when you build such high security walls, but there it was. I ended up walking about 8 miles to get to Oysterbay. If I had realized how far it was I would have gotten a bus but I could see it so I just kept walking.

I didn't feel secure leaving my stuff on the beach and getting in the ocean so I didn't. That and I really don't like swimming all that much. I brought the stuff with me that I didn't feel comfortable leaving in the hotel room. If you want to swim but didn't come prepared they rent tubes and swimsuits should you feel inclined. I just ate lunch and decided I'd had enough sun. I got to the bus stop and the guy waiting there told me that I should ride the bus he was going to since that was the right one. Before we left I knew he was a politician but I trusted his word and rode with his bus. Never trust a politician. It was not my bus stop when we finally had to all get out. I spent a couple of hours wandering about downtown Dar but could have spent less since I did have the forethought to take a note of  where I really needed to be.

At one point in a quiet area of town I crossed a street and sensed that I was being followed. I headed straight and then sort of slowed and turned and as if lost. I then backed and headed what would have been left. Two of the three guys passed me and then also stopped and came back. I was sort of looking around and then went forward straight in the original direction. As I passed the middle one he reached out and grabbed my right sleeve. "HEEEYY!  don't be grabbing me" is what I said as I swung my fist up and hit him in the forearm. The blow was behind the plane of my back as I was moving away and not very powerful. It was powerful enough, or a show of power enough that he let go. Right then I was passing the other fellow who was on my left. The whole thing happened much faster than it takes to read and I'm still not sure just what all they had in mind. I just kept moving and they left me alone. Around the next corner I stepped into a store and got some ice cream to calm my nerves. A little later some street coffee to put them right over the edge but in a different sort of way.

I left Dar es Salaam at 6am on Sunday on the Taqwa bus line. Yes, you read that right. Their 'Q' is not the weak feeble one we use that has to go about all day with a  'U' crutch, theirs stands up like a proud and noble beast. As you can see I had little to occupy my mind until we stopped for the night at 9pm. Much of the day was spent looking at a country not worth seeing. The land was covered by low scrubby shrubs and looked entirely blighted. For what ever reason the bus company felt it was too dangerous to travel after 9. I was coming down with what turned out to be the flu and spent an uncomfortable night sleeping staying on the bus. I could have gotten a room but felt they were over priced and worried that I would oversleep as I took NyQuiltm. My final destination for the trip was Kigali Rwanda.

Monday the area of Tanzania as we neared Rwanda was much more beautiful. Rwanda itself was gorgeous. Most of the country is rolling hills and is very green. On the whole the people seem to have their act together. Somehow all the houses seemed nicer. The poor still didn't have as nice houses as the rich but they were not as shabby as those in Tanzania. For whatever reason there didn't seem to be any chickens around, just goats. I'm told there are chickens but I didn't see a one.

The reason for the trip to Rwanda, beyond adding two spiffy new stamps to my passport was to visit the Smiths. Kent and Michelle were both classmates of mine in high school. When I planned this trip I had a grand idea to visit as many of my class as possible and call it "one on one-21" because last year we couldn't organize a 20th year class reunion. So far, this is all I have managed to pull off, what with one thing and another.

The Smiths have three children. Michelle is a stay at home mom and Kent works with youth sports programs as well as doing dicipleship. I ended up extending my stay by an extra day because of my flu. I wish I could tell you a whole lot more about them but I was pretty miserable while there and somewhat out of it. They were completely gracious and understanding hosts. If you must get sick in Rwanda I'd recommend doing so at the Smiths.

In my continuing quest to encourage you, my gentle readers, to abandon a life of debt I can relate that the Smiths are very much in agreement with me on this issue. Part of our discussion about money had to do with a co-worker of Kent who has back problems whom I'll call Peter.* Peter is one of those incredible Africans that all missionaries dream of. He is a firm believer with a heart for his countrymen who pursues his ministry with conscientious dedication. Kent is truly grateful to have him not as a employee (which he isn't) but as a true co-laborer. Some time ago he began to suffer from numbness and tingling as well as pain in various extremities. As he does not have much wealth Kent has helped pay some of his medical bills. No one he has gone to has been any help. In desperation Peter has sought out anyone who
Rwanda is a rainy place
might bring him relief. Various practitioners always have a high opinion of their services but after a number of treatments Peter is the same as ever. Finally Kent said he didn't want to keep paying for useless services when Peter wanted to try foot pressure point therapy. This naturally upset Peter. If it could help how could you not be willing to pursue it...well because it's not Peter's money that's how. The reality is Rwanda does not have the advanced medical experts that Peter needs and it may be the no one can help. Pray for him wouldn't you?

*Not his real name. I forgot to write it down so calling him Peter is not to protect his innocence but rather a concession to my bone idle laziness in the matter. I think, but am not sure, it was Micheal.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


Solwezi is the town that Mom and Dad live in now. When we were growing up it was the end of a string of towns know as the copper belt. Solwezi didn't have copper but it was a provincial (think state) capital and had some, if poor, shopping. Beyond Solwezi you stepped off into bush. The blacktop went another 36km and then on to Mwinilunga. If you were going to Sakeji that was all well and good, but if you were going anywhere else-like most all the places we ever lived-then it was washboards and ruts and painfully slow dusty roads. Now that Mom and Dad have moved into town those roads are paved and only takes 1/3 of the time to travel. Oh well. 

Today Solwezi is a mining town and we have two more up the road towards Mwinilunga. There is talk of two more going in and the ones we have doubling in size within the next few years. Needless to say this has affected life in town just a tad. The other two mines have housing and limited shopping but most everyone comes to Solwezi to shop. Wiki says the town is about 67,000, it serves a much larger community.

Solwezi did at one time have a town plan with nice big lots. Now there is quite a housing shortage. Over time some of those lots have been divided so that there are four houses instead of two between streets.  Somehow no one expected the growth that came with the mines. The town just grew up around the one two-lane road that passes through town. If you need to drive through town right now there is no back way. Most of the neighborhoods you also have to go to the main road and then up to where ever you want, at least if you are driving.  Zambia has different levels of property rights. If you live in tribal lands then you talk to the chief and come to some type of agreement. The other land is leased from the central government, nobody owns land, so the best you can hope for is a 99 year lease. This land can either be obtained by the chief transferring it or it being in town. If you live in town you can also get a plot on city land. Basically what that does is allow you to live there and build. The requirement is that you develop the land and not hold it to speculate. This allows people who are lower or middle class to afford a house and keeps the super rich from holding all the land. You must, however, do some development in three years or the city gets the land back and gives it to someone else. Getting the title deed is your responsibility. All over town people are building houses in advance of the coming rains. They are supposed to get permits and all that but, well, what they don't know won't hurt them, right. It would not take much effort to show you a number of places that people have not built in the right place and since the road has not really been put in except on paper it gets moved. Talking to various people you hear about conflicts between neighbors, that when it gets to court it turns out buildings were built without permits, but often possession is in fact nine tenths of the law, especially if you build with burned rather than mud brick. New roads are being aggressively built and there is talk of a bypass.

The first and pretty much last word for grocery shopping in Solwezi is a South African chain store called Shoprite. Sure there are others shops,  but for what would be analogous to Albertson's or Kroger, Shoprite is it. Someone said that this one has the highest per-store sales of any in Zambia. I believe it. It is always busy. One of the main ways Shoprite differs from any grocery store in America is that the manager plays his choice of music. Most days that means late 80s country music. Some days it's praise and worship music. This is a pretty common phenomenon. If a African hears something they like, they play it. On the radio and in buses the play lists are nowhere near as segmented as you would expect in the US. Commercial television is the same way. When I was in Tanzania I watched a good bit of TV. Lots of the music videos appeared to have been made by someone who had the money to make them staring, them. One hour would be hard core American rap the next local language gospel. With the Christian music everyone was either dressed to the 9s or all the singers had matching outfits. Usually with steps, elaborate steps mind you, but not dancing.

So what, with one thing and another I will have been in town just over two months and Zambia three. What exactly have I been up to? Well I had hoped to do some real work about the place and maybe help people out or something. The main problem was the terms of my visa. Allow me to quote.
So you can see my problem.....

The Wesslers are a young missionary couple who are also with SIM, Luke attended DTS. I have hung out with them some. They have become involved with a home base care program ministering to HIV patients. Besides teaching and discipleship for both the staff and patients they encourage them in various things that they can do to support themselves. Luke and Tiff are very committed to making sure that everything they do can be self sustaining. Beyond that ministry, Tiff has gotten involved with a woman's Bible study for mine workers' wives. There is a large South African community here in town who work on the mine, mostly as managers and specialists. The mine built housing for their managers and since it was really them doing the building, it's nice. The housing is built on a golf course with a good game fence to hold in the impala, zebra and sable. There is a good restaurant and club with a swimming pool, tennis courts and workout room. Initially many of men left their wives in South Africa but the wives soon figured out that they were kissing their girlfriends goodbye at the airport when they flew south to see them. Now there are lots of wives up here living in Solwezi but there is little to do here. Tiff has found that this community, which is insular to most Zambians, is open to ministry for her.

Many of the miners are at best nominal Christians but there are a few faithful  families. I begged a tour of the mine from one. I could bore you with soluble and insoluble ores but really it's best to just say it was cool to see copper at its beginning after having used the end product for so many years. I've included a picture of the pit-just because. Keep in mind the trucks down there are carrying 150 ton. The only thing they are really going after is copper. As a bonus they have a centrifugal machine that takes out the gold which is a minor part of their profit.

Solwezi does have some culture. There is 'cave' with ancient engraving in the rock. Yep it's pretty much that exciting. Just to make it more interesting I'm including a picture of Mom and Dad. Mom insisted that this would be a great place to take a picture, I think she just wanted to catch her breath.

Dad is involved in teaching in churches. The program that he uses was developed many years ago by various missionaries in Kenya and translated to local languages by our missionaries. Dad leaves teaching in churches here in town to local pastors and drives to out laying churches. Every other Friday he travels to his two furthest out and takes a local pastor with him who teaches at one on the way. Mom has a woman's Bible study she teaches every other month. Some time ago she taught on Elijah and some women wanted her notes. That has turned into a small Kaonde book which is currently in the proof reading stage.

I know this is a dead horse, but it's my dead horse. Needless to say both the Wesslers and Mom and Dad are debt free. The only debt that I'm aware of that the parents have ever had was when they got their first house. It is some indication of how far house prices have come since 1968 that the loan that they had to take on the house was only $2,500. They did have a good down payment.