Finding peace and joy: a 16 hour plane ride

Yesterday’s flight to Africa was overbooked. Everyone seems to want to go there. A Delta representative offered me various enticements to give up my seat, and it was tempting.  An overcrowded 16 hour plane ride is something to avoid. Especially when a three year old is sitting behind you and loves to kick your seat.

East african village

Yet in the midst of enduring this misery,  I found what I often do on long trips to other cultures.  Peace and joy. Why does this happen so often?

Sometimes I think it’s due to the movie selection they have on long flights nowadays.  You have hundreds of films to watch.  Because I spend most of my time deprived of popular culture in swamp-east Arkansas, I usually start with the recent releases. Then I try out the foreign films.

On this trip I got to see the critically acclaimed Lady Bird about a girl growing up in Sacramento, the block buster superhero hit Black Panther and a subtitled Japanese film about a weatherman who began preaching to his audience about global warming.

The movies help, but by themselves they would never bring the peace and joy I experience on these flights. Nothing really astounding about them, but they do set the stage for the arrival of peace and joy.

Getting outside the US also contributes.  Who wouldn’t move at least a little toward peace by escaping the interminable cacophony of US politicians and pundits? Sometimes a literal wave of relaxation passes over me when I pass over the US border. Leaving the excessive aggression and competition is healthy now and then.

Another factor is anticipating the work I’ll be doing.  I come to Africa to help small farmers join together to improve their quality of life. Knowing how much they appreciate my coming and how eagerly they absorb new ideas must be part of the peace and joy these long plane rides bring.  The work I do is with people who have few material goods but whose families have survived for hundreds of years on the same plots of ground. They know how to work hard and be satisfied with little worldly income.

They are active and motivated. Some walk five or more miles just to participate in our workshops. They work hard every day just to survive. Their motivation would astound many of today’s Americans. Many of those Americans can hardly be motivated to do more than click a few websites or TV channels. So anticipating the enthusiasm of those small farm families is part of the reason I experience peace and joy at 30,000 feet in a crowded airplane.

But good movies, leaving the US and helping hard-working poor people don’t explain my peace and joy. I even comes over me sometimes in the US without good movies when I’m not helping the poor in the third world.

RiftValley masai

I’d like to have this peace and joy all the time, but I don’t.  Then again, I’m happy I get it at all. Some only get it through drugs.  And they come to think it only comes from drugs. They don’t know that all the drugs do is stimulate nerves to release neurotransmitters which are already present and ready to be released in all our bodies. They could learn how their bodies’ nerves will release those neurotransmitters without drugs.

My heart breaks sometimes thinking of the US drug users who can only find a facsimile of true peace and joy. Especially troubling are those who find so little peace and joy that they commit suicide. So many have such powerful potential and so many material blessings, but choose to end their lives in desperation.  If only I could show them how to obtain peace and joy naturally.Highlands-areas-in-East-African-countries

Peace and joy are so much a part of nature and our nature.  Hope, peace, joy, love, kindness are all naturally generated within us.  We just have to find out how to stimulate them.  Those who artificially stimulate them with drugs just get the result and not the cause. The cause is productive work with other believers in nature.  Do enough of that and you will be so thoroughly suffused with a new spirit that nothing can set you back.

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Sneaky Christians

Summer has snuck up on us here in Arkansas.  The Sun is coming up earlier and earlier here at 34.46 N. Latitude. When I leave to go to town at 5:30 am, its already getting light and when I come back home at 7 am, the Sun is already above the trees.  The Sun being above the trees means something when you live in the flatter parts of the American South, especially in summer.  The Sun is a powerful presence here most of the year, but in summer you almost have to cringe in anticipation of it getting higher than the trees. It’s that hot down here. After all we are at the same latitude as Kirkuk, Iraq.

kirkurk citadel

Kirkuk Citadel

But the strength and power of the Sun is nothing compared to the South’s preachers.  They each are sure they are right.  And most are sure that all other preachers are wrong and need to be rectified. They are very strong in teaching that man should not be foolish and follow the ways of the world. They often ignore the admonition that “if any of you think you are wise, you should become fools so that you may become wise.”[1] They forget how much they do not know. They are rewarded for seeming to know everything.  Who wants a preacher who is unsure of himself? Most of us want a preacher who is sure he knows the truth and isn’t hesitant to tell you the way you should think, act and believe.

Preachers are a lot like politicians.  The elect are a lot like the elected. That is, those who are certain of being of the elect usually have strong opinions and are sure they are right. The same goes for the elected. Seldom are people wise enough to vote for someone who is not totally sure he is right in every little detail.

The corollary axiom that preachers and politicians also often miss is that you should let people believe what they believe and know that the resilient will come to know the truth.[2] And the rest will pass away. This can take a while, but it will happen. After all, resilience at its heart is knowing how to act so that you and yours will survive and thrive. The resilient will survive.  The truth will out. I hope these ideas are becoming self-evident to you.

In other words, people who live by the Spirit should be sneaky. Or maybe the right word is humble. Some word between sneaky and humble expresses the spirit of Romans 14, I think. The point is that people grow in their faith, but people who are living in the Spirit will be very strong in their beliefs, even though their faith has not matured. So those who follow the Way should not contradict others who also profess to follow the Way.  As long as they show the fruits of the Spirit (especially peace and joy), let them believe what they believe for the time being.  Knowing that they will come to the truth eventually, or they will just pass away.

 

[1] 1 Corinthians 3:18.

[2] Romans 14:1-22.

Eden is the Oldeani coffee farm

If you like coffee, you should try to spend a few days on a coffee farm.  You’ll love coffee even more. And if you stay at the coffee farm I stayed at, you’ll be next door to the world’s best wildlife reserve–the Ngorongoro Crater.  You’ll even see the lip of the crater from most anywhere on the farm.  You might even see some of the elephants who wander onto the coffee farm at night.

coffee farm

Coffee farms can be idyllic settings because coffee requires what most of us call an ideal climate. If you’re on a coffee farm, it will never get too cold or too hot.  It will be between 60 and 75 degrees year- round.  You’ll have plenty of sun and plenty of rain, but not too much.  You’ll be up in the mountains—at least 5000 feet above sea level.  And you won’t have a lot of insect pests. You’ll also have deep rich soil.

If you’re on the best coffee farms, it will be cool even when the sun is out because the best coffee grows in the shade. You’ll have towering native trees throughout the farm.

If you are a sun lover, you’ll love living on the best coffee farms even more. The best coffee is sun dried to about 10% moisture content.  That means coffee requires a pretty long dry season so the beans can be left on screens out in the sun.

A lot happens to the beans before they are dried.  First, the beans aren’t beans when they are picked.  They’re called cherries. From a distance they look a lot like cherries—bright red and round.  Each cherry contains two beans surrounded by lots of pulp which has to be removed.

Most coffee is picked by hand.  A good picker averages about 100 to 200 pounds of coffee cherries a day, which will produce 20 to 40 pounds of coffee beans. Each worker’s daily haul is carefully weighed, and each picker is paid on the merit of his or her work. The day’s harvest is then transported to the processing plant.

Within 24 hours, the cherries must begin processing which consists of pulping, washing and drying.  The first step is removing the pulp from the coffee cherry. The freshly harvested cherries are passed through a pulping machine which pushes the wet beans through screens to help pull off the pulp.

Then the beans are separated by weight as they pass through water channels. The lighter beans float to the top, while the heavier ripe beans sink to the bottom. After separation, the beans are transported to water-filled fermentation tanks. Depending on a combination of factors — such as the condition of the beans, the climate and the altitude — they will remain in these tanks for anywhere from 12 to 48 hours to remove the slick layer of mush (called mucilage or parenchyma) that is still attached to the inner bean. While resting in the tanks, naturally occurring enzymes will cause this layer to dissolve.

When fermentation is complete, the beans feel rough to the touch.  The beans are rinsed again.  At this point the cherry has been reduced to just the hull surrounding the bean.  Now it’s ready for drying.

The wet beans are spread out on vast fields of elevated screens. Workers rake the beans now and then to get even drying.  When the cherries are down to 10%.  All that’s left is the bean covered by the parchment or silver layer.

Once the beans are dried, the parchment layer is removed from the beans. Occasionally, beans may be polished in a machine designed to remove that last little bit of silver skin. Beans are then graded and sorted, usually by hand.  Then they are bagged, in 60 kg bags in Tanzania, and they are ready to be shipped.

At some point, the beans go through the final stage of processing: roasting.  But that’s not often done on the farm.  Roasting coffee beans is fun and you can do it at home.

Roasting is where coffee’s flavor is fulfilled. The best roasting heats the beans in rotating drums.  Tumbling in the drums keeps the beans from burning.

The beans first turn a yellowish color and smell a little like popcorn. After about 8 minutes, the beans “pop” and double in size. The beans have then reached about 400 F (204 C) and begin to brown as the oils within them start to emerge. This oil is called coffee essence or caffeol. The chemical reaction of the heat and coffee essence is called pyrolysis, and is what produces the flavor and aroma of coffee. A second “pop” occurs about three to five minutes later and signals that the bean is fully roasted.

Roasted coffee beans don’t keep very well.  When stored in air, their flavor starts to deteriorate immediately.

At the farm I stayed at, the whole process is done on the farm. I got to enjoy the farm’s great coffee every morning including a thermos full when I went down the road to see the elephants, lions and rhinos.

Tanzanian coffee and Tanzanian wildlife—can’t get much better than that.

Fungi provide internet for plants

90% of  plants communicate with aother plants and help them through strands of fungal mycelia.  Read more:

It’s an information superhighway that speeds up interactions between a large, diverse population of individuals. It allows individuals who may be widely separated to communicate and help each other out. But it also allows them to commit new forms of crime.

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No, we’re not talking about the internet, we’re talking about fungi. While mushrooms might be the most familiar part of a fungus, most of their bodies are made up of a mass of thin threads, known as a mycelium. We now know that these threads act as a kind of underground internet, linking the roots of different plants. That tree in your garden is probably hooked up to a bush several metres away, thanks to mycelia.

The more we learn about these underground networks, the more our ideas about plants have to change. They aren’t just sitting there quietly growing. By linking to the fungal network they can help out their neighbours by sharing nutrients and information – or sabotage unwelcome plants by spreading toxic chemicals through the network. This “wood wide web”, it turns out, even has its own version of cybercrime.

Around 90% of land plants are in mutually-beneficial relationships with fungi. The 19th-century German biologist Albert Bernard Frank coined the word “mycorrhiza” to describe these partnerships, in which the fungus colonises the roots of the plant.

In mycorrhizal associations, plants provide fungi with food in the form of carbohydrates. In exchange, the fungi help the plants suck up water, and provide nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen, via their mycelia. Since the 1960s, it has been clear that mycorrhizae help individual plants to grow.

Fungal networks also boost their host plants’ immune systems. That’s because, when a fungus colonises the roots of a plant, it triggers the production of defense-related chemicals. These make later immune system responses quicker and more efficient, a phenomenon called “priming”. Simply plugging in to mycelial networks makes plants more resistant to disease.

But that’s not all. We now know that mycorrhizae also connect plants that may be widely separated. Fungus expert Paul Stamets called them “Earth’s natural internet” in a 2008 TED talk. He first had the idea in the 1970s when he was studying fungi using an electron microscope. Stamets noticed similarities between mycelia and ARPANET, the US Department of Defense’s early version of the internet.

Film fans might be reminded of James Cameron’s 2009 blockbuster Avatar. On the forest moon where the movie takes place, all the organisms are connected. They can communicate and collectively manage resources, thanks to “some kind of electrochemical communication between the roots of trees“. Back in the real world, it seems there is some truth to this.

For the rest of the article go to: http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20141111-plants-have-a-hidden-internet?ocid=ww.social.link.facebook

In the shadow of Ngorongoro

For three days I’ve been living under the lip of the famous Ngorongoro Crater.  From the Oldeani Coffee Farm, we look up across a deep valley to the edge of the Crater. The Crater is in a heavily guarded wildlife preserve.  Many of the 150 people who live on the farm have never been to the Crater.  It’s reserved for those who can spend 500 US Dollars per vehicle and $100 per person.  Mainly well-heeled foreigners can afford to visit.  Tanzanians and poor foreigners just look longingly at it from outside.DSCN8683

Two of those poor foreigners are German girls living here at the farm and working for a year at the kindergarten.  They just graduated from college and are taking a year in Africa to volunteer.  About  halfway through their stint, speak fluent Swahili and dress like Tanzanians—long skirts which reach the floor and blouses which reach the collar bone.

They’ve explored every nook and cranny near the Guest House to find the best phone reception.  One is just outside the gate between the coffee trees.  It’s under a sign saying that these trees were planted in1927-28 by an Otto Koerner from Germany.  He was one of the many European farmers who discovered these “Northern Highlands” were great places to live and farm.

The temperatures here stays around 70.  It might rarely get down to 60 or up to 90, but that will soon pass and the temperature will be perfect again. We’ve had thunderstorms nearly every afternoon.  The locals say the “long rains” have started. These will really intensify in March and last till June enabling the farmers to get a good crop of corn and the coffee tries to set nice plump berries.

July, August and September are the coolest months here and dry.  That’s fine for coffee.  Plenty of sunny weather that’s not too hot means the farmers can spread the coffee beans outside on screens and let it slowly and naturally dry.

I’m here to help reinvigorate this coffee farm.  We want to market it directly rather than having it mixed with lower grade coffees. Don’t be surprised if you see Oldeani Mountain Coffee for sale soon.  You’ll want to buy some. Not only because the beans are treated perfectly but because of the community which treats them.

The farm is managed by three Brothers from a local Catholic order.  They don’t take any salary, but seem to be filled with peace and joy.  They have developed a variety of enterprises on the farm which provide nearly everything the farm workers need.  The farm has enough milk cows to provide milk for 150 people and enough sows to provide pigs for the farm’s families to raise for meat.  The farm provides a mill to grind corn flour to make the nsima (somewhat like fine grits) that everyone eats every day.

At the Guest House, all our food is raised on the farm, except for rice from the hotter lowlands.  For those of us who haven’t acquired the taste for nsima, there are plenty of potatoes.  For breakfast, the German girls especially like “American cake.”  It is dollops of doughnut batter slightly sweetened and slightly fried.  How it got its name or the recipe arrived here are lost in the history of Oldeani Farm.

Breakfast is preceded by the fascinating and ever-varying calls of African birds.  My favorite is the “Go Away” bird which says just that to anyone coming to an East African wildlife area.  The others say all sorts of things, but not in English.  One thing they all say in common: it’s time to get up and go get coffee.

Except it won’t be American coffee.  It will be very strong and always drunk with hot milk. East Africans (who grew the first coffee) can’t understand why anyone would pour cold milk into hot coffee.  They also like sugar in their coffee and can’t understand why we don’t.

If you ever want to see the wildlife of Africa, Ngorongoro Crater if the best place to do it.  And the best place to stay on your visit is the Oldeani Coffee Farm.  Soon you’ll be able to at least taste Oldeani coffee, even if you can’t come here.  That is, if I get back to work and help this community achieve its dreams.

As humble as rosemary

A few steps from my back door is a huge rosemary plant. It releases scents you can get nowhere else. Smelling rosemary seems to cause people to be mentally sharper.  I can sure use that. My rosemary bush makes no demands, though I do water it in a drought.  It seems perfectly fine with just supplying me with oxygen and delightful scents. That’s pretty humble.  Just produce benefits for anyone passing by and don’t demand anything or expect anything.

rosemary

I don’t think I will ever be as humble as my rosemary plant, but I’m working on it. Being humble is not what the vast majority of us want.  Most of the world says: praise yourself, promote yourself, make yourself the center of attention, make everyone appreciate how smart and capable you are. Glorify yourself, the world seems to say.

I’ve tried that and it doesn’t work for me. I need to be humble.  Every time I try to put myself first, something puts me back in my place and says, be humble.

That’s difficult for most of us humans.  We want to be first.  We want to be the center of attention.  We begin life as crying babies who are the center of attention for our parents.  Babies cry and smile and do everything they can to insure they stay the center of attention.  At some point, some of us realize the futility of all that.

We realize that peace and joy and love don’t come from putting ourselves first.  Those fruits come from putting first a goal larger than ourselves.

Instead we strive and strive to make ourselves great. Most of the world defines greatness as accumulation.  Accumulating money or houses or cars or adulation. All over the planet are people working themselves to death to accumulate all they can.

I’m pretty good at growing rosemary and strawberries and other crops.  I’ve had a lot of abundant harvests. An old story tells us of the rich man who had such abundant harvests.  He produced so much that he had no place to store it all.  So he decided to tear down his barns and build bigger ones to store all his surplus. Once those were built, he promised himself that he would take life easy, eat, drink and be merry.

But then he was told: “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?”

All over the planet people are living in this delusion.  We are so focused on producing more and more that we are generating millions of tons of carbon dioxide.  Many say those gases are warming up the planet.  The irony is that humble plants love carbon dioxide.  Carbon dioxide for plants is like oxygen for us. It’s not a waste product, it’s the elixir of life. Higher-than-normal CO2 concentrations dramatically enhance the productivity of plants.

By producing more CO2, mankind may be making the planet just a better place for plants.  We may be turning the entire planet into a paradise for plants. We may not like a warmer planet with lots of carbon dioxide in the air.  But plants will.

So all our striving to accumulate, all our striving to put ourselves first, seems to be producing a planet which is best suited for plants.  The lack of humility of man is creating an Eden for humble plants.

We could cease our striving for accumulation.  We could quit producing the noxious gases we are pumping into the atmosphere. We could focus more on humility and joy and peace.

Peace, joy and depression

A white Christmas was fun, but we were glad to travel South when all the forecasters were predicting freezing rain and -12 wind chill. We woke out of our holiday reverie and got a move on. Too bad we don’t have forecasters to tell us when our society is in trouble so we’ll wake up and get to work.

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Societies used to have such people.  One of the most famous was Jeremiah.  He predicted the destruction of his nation.  “You were given a bountiful country and ate of its fruit and its goodness. Then you defiled the land and made it an abomination.” Sounds like any country you know?

Most of us would rather stay in the holiday reverie.  Our lives are fine.  Let’s enjoy life and not listen to the Jeremiahs.  Or maybe there is a way to have joy and peace and still work to resurrect our bountiful country.

Working in countries with seemingly intractable problems, it’s easy to get discouraged and give up. People often ask me how I keep motivated working in countries where nothing seems to change. The key is to not tie your peace and joy to outcomes.  You can invest a lot of time and effort and not see much effect.  If your focus is solely on the effects, then it is sensible to become depressed and quit.

Change your focus to the activity and the people. Share your joy and peace with the people you are working with. As I help people improve their farms and create new enterprises, I try to do everything with peace and joy.  Then, if government, or weather, or big companies thwart their efforts, they aren’t as likely to give up.  They not only have skills, but a little peace and joy to help them continue their battle to improve the world.

Sure it makes no logical sense to have peace and joy when the world seems to be conspiring against you. But it is exactly that inner peace and joy which enables you to continue your efforts and become victorious.

Laugh and relax.  You know what makes the world better.  And you’ll just stick with it no matter what the world throws up against you.