Travel day, early morning. Security was horrible but normal. The airport was packed in the southern city we were in. The people were heading out of town to join family for a traditional festival.
Once we got to the capital city airport after a three hour flight, we used Yazoo’s gold status and used the VIP lounge with showers and snacks. We missed the lounge when came in country previouly, we would have loved that.
While standing in the security line I noticed several things that were out of the ordinary. One thing was a middle eastern guy who apparently uses steroids or something to make his biceps and forearms swell up. Apparently this is a thing. I was certain I could poke the fake muscles and pop them.
On the 13 hour flight from this capital city to Dallas we didn’t get the good exit row seats, so the flight was much harder to relax on. This flight is the one we had to rebook. Originally we had booked a Saturday flight home. It had been canceled about two weeks before our trip.
Now as I told you previously we didn’t have any details why that flight was canceled. Also, if you remember from the last post, Yazoo had received a call about the in country financial authorities wanting to review the funding of the business.
It was in the airport here that Yazoo confessed to me that he was a little freaked out about that call from the accountant.
Yazoo explained that he was worried that the airport authorities were going to stop us from leaving the country. I said a prayer.
Yazoo said it’s all in the Lord’s hands. So, when we finally passed through security and got on the plane we were very relieved.
We theorize that the Lord made sure we left a day earlier than planned to keep us out of trouble.
On the flight. I saw at least two couples leaving with newly adopted children. One of them was very fussy, earphones required.
I only got about 30 minutes of sleep. Which was fine. It helped me sleep and adjust to central standard time once I arrived home.
I watched several movies on the retractable entertainment unit in the seat. And I got up to stretch my legs several times since I was on the aisle seat.
One odd thing was that the two small asian ladies sitting next to me in this three seat side row never got up once. It was amazing in my mind how they didn’t need to stand up or use the restroom for 13 hours.
Once we got to Dallas, we used Hayes gold status and again used the VIP lounge with showers and snacks. American Airlines has nice lounges for the gold members. But we did have to go through security again.
We only had a couple of hours layover so we just relaxed and enjoyed the current calm.
All three of the flights were full and nerve racking for a guy who tends to introvert as first nature. The worst part was that we had to go through security for all three flights. 😥
I was very relieved to be in the U.S. again. When my wife and kids picked me and Yazoo up at the airport it was an amazing feeling. I felt a joyful and content spirit. I was thankful and blessed.
After dropping Yazoo off at his house. We headed straight to Braums for a chocolate chip cookie dough shake.
Now, time to pray and plan the next journey.
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Thursday was decompression day before our long flight home. I slept well Wednesday night as we were in our original hotel room.
We got up and outside and had an inaugural F3 style workout in this big city. We gave Switzer his name because he is a Sooners fan and it was his first F3 wirkout. I think we almost killed him, so we sat down for the circle of trust at the end. Yazoo did the sixth man life history talk, followed by Switzer telling us about his life.
After we all showered, we ate breakfast at a friendly traditional American breakfast food restaurant followed by another trip to a Starbucks Reserve store.
Then we toured around the big city. We toured the Flower and Fish Market and saw many interesting and colorful things. Including colored turtles and chicks.
The city was getting ready for a big festival starting that night. We didn’t stop to watch the street dances, but I took a picture with some beautiful lanterns.
After this we had a really odd encounter with a man who was very round, had long curly dark hair and no shoes. His feet were such that I knew he had not worn shoes in a long time. His old pants rolled up to his knees and he had on a knock off North Face puffy style coat covered with another traditional local style tunic. He stood out.
I walked passed him at first. He was acting odd and pacing in front of the big stage where a show was going to start in about 30 minutes. I sensed an unusual feeling when I walked by but not a harmful one. As I walked by I looked at a booth for a moment but then I turned around to glance at the guy again and he was staring at me. He locked eyes with me, fell to both knees, put his hands together and then bowed. I started walking over to him and he got up and walked to me. Fulmer came over as well and the man tried to talk to us, but Fulmer could not understand his dialect. He was definitely from a minority people group.
We tried to talk for about a minute until we decided that we could not continue causing a scene where we were. The place was covered with police due to the festival. I’m still not sure how to fully explain the encounter. Was he a beggar or possessed or a fellow brother? I may never know. But I will look for him near that location next time I am in that city.
We also went to a traditional massage place were we discovered a believer friend. They put the four of us in a room together with reclining chairs and TVs. Fully clothed except our shoes and socks.
This bucket of water was so hot. They started out by putting blazing hot stones in the water that made it boil. Then they pinted for us to put our feet in it. To say the least I was reluctant. But Yazoo assured me that they were not going to cook my feet on purpose.
It took me three tries and very slow depth transition times to get my feet to the bottom. It’s at that point that Switzer announced to the room a very important tip. “Once you get your feet to the bottom don’t move your feet or wiggle your toes.” This keeps your feet from starting the scalding process again apparently.
So I tested it. It’s true. If you move your foot it burns again. But if you leave it still the cooking process doesn’t cause as much pain.
Next, the message therapist basically dug her elbows and fists into every muscle I have while I sat in the chair hoping I wouldn’t pass out. And I won’t even describe the Reynolds wrap knee acid cream torture process.
Yet, while we were there Fulmer kicked off a conversation about faith which opened the door for one of the massage therapists. She was able share with her coworkers about the way. Seeds planted.
After the message we had to visit another Starbucks and ate small snacks while we were there. We had a plan to eat with Kevin for dinner.
After walking around a bit more we headed toward a mall we had not been to before. This mall had a train that docked right inside of it to carry people from all over the region to shop. Kevin was coming into town on the train.
Then we met up with Kevin for dinner and talked business short term and long term planning. I helped explain that we need his ideas. Similar to how Mr. Sam and grass roots ideas helped build Walmart. It really helped get him out of his shell and talking with Yazoo. Kevin sees Yazoo like the big boss man CEO.
Meanwhile Switzer and Fulmer led most of the discussion. And Yazoo laid out the overarching principles of why this business exists.
We let Kevin order for us and it was very local in nature. Wow. Great food and you eat with your hands. They did give us food grade gloves.
After leaving the restaurant we sat in the mall at a DQ for another hour discussing business.
After a while I explained how I agreed with the government agriculture guy we met with. We can’t try and plant whole farms. The farmer will need short term income and a hedge on over production of the crop in the future.
The trees take 2 to 5 years to produce based on initial plant size but the farmer needs to make a living with their remaining acreage without us paying them. We also want to protect the farmer from a downturn in the price of pecans. We all agreed on that.
After finally getting ready to leave Kevin told us that he had not heard from Victor in two days and that his friends were only receiving back canned responses. This is generally what happens when the police take you in for doing the real business work in a new town. We are praying for him. (Update: he was finally released after two days)
It was a long but productive day. And we have to get up at 4:00 am to reach the airport. So we headed back to the hotel.
It was at this point as we walked back to the car that I started noticing Yazoo say some things to Switzer and he seemed uncomfortable.
It turns out that our in country accountant had gotten a phone call from the banking authorities in the country asking about our funding.
Yazoo didn’t make a big deal out of it so I said a prayer and tried to forget it as we drove back to the hotel.
Tuesday night we had a great Hot Pot dinner with a local club family. The man was recently a village leader and the family had just recently believed. We had a great time of fellowship with them and their grandchildren and a few of Kevin’s friends. We joked with him some about a girl that he invited. Kevin is a young man and not yet married.
Yazoo and I made sure that we didn’t take the honor of eating the chicken head or feet out of the hot pot bowl. And we all tried to make sure that we served everyone around the table before they tried to serve us. But, sometimes the other guests would beat us to the different plates of food as they came in and would take it around the table and put some on our plates.
After dinner, Kevin took the company car and dropped off his friends. Yazoo, Fulmer, Switzer and I used and app to get a ride back to the office/apartment. I can’t remember the name of the App. But they used it for everything it seemed.
It was late and we were getting up early to go to some villages in the morning. So, we all got ready for bed and settled down. I was thankful that my room did have an air conditioner. It wasn’t really hot at all, but it just helped keep the air moving and removed the humidity out of the air.
I learned something new that night. A rooster in the city will crow at 2:00 AM until morning when he lives outside under street lights in an ally. It’s true. I almost started feeling like I would eat him if he didn’t shut his beak, but I was tired and he only kept me awake for about an hour.
The next morning we all got ready and packed up to go out to the villages. The bathroom with the shower was set up oddly to me. The shower and toilet where right next to each other with no separator. There was just a drain in the floor in the middle of the room and a squeegee on a broom handle to help move any remaining water over to the hole if it didn’t drain, but it did. It was a tall toilet luckily.
The sink and mirror were on the opposite side of the bathroom. It did seam fairly efficient and easy to clean. I thought to myself that I would just use the hand sprayer to wash off the toilet any time it needed cleaning. The floors were all made of tile, so it was an easy to clean space.
We packed up the little SUV and headed out. But not before Fulmer walked down the block to get some street food on a stick. It looked good, but I stuck to my Premier Protein bar. I did not want to have an upset stomach incident out in a hillside village. Which is why I also made sure to empty the tank before we left the apartment. This is operationally important for many reasons. Trust me.
The journey and the villages were beautiful.
We stopped in the first village up high in the mountains. The town was full of chickens running around in the natural areas around the oddly modern looking housing. It was a foggy morning up in the hills, but I could slightly see a winding stair case that could take tourist up to the top of the peak. It was still early, about 9:30, and not many people were in the village center, but we spotted an older lady using a stack of stones as a clothes washing area. She had a bucket of water and was wetting the clothes and running the clothes back and forth across the stones and then re-soaking the garment. Her hands seemed amazingly strong as she worked the garments. But they also looked tired with age at the same time. I can’t show you the pictures unfortunately.
This whole village thing was not what I was expecting. In my mind I assumed little huts built with sticks or mud or wooden houses with outdoor fire pits. I guess I didn’t stop to think about it deeply before arriving. I was just going because I felt like I was supposed to and didn’t even research what I was going to see. I packed for villages with dirt floors and outdoor cooking. But, these places were well built with tiled flooring, electricity, and aesthetically beautiful.
However the people were still down to earth farmers. They still slaughtered chickens right there on those beautiful tiled floor porches. Oh yeah, and there was a tall pole with government flags and face recognition cameras even out in the remote villages.
We talked to the lady for a while and Kevin asked her about tree farming and if she had heard of pecans. She didn’t know what they were, but she knew about walnuts. We talked for a while more before heading out. She was interested in showing us her house, there was not much to it, but we did notice the wall with the little idols.
We drove down the road a bit and stopped in another village down the mountain. The same scenario almost, not many were in town, but one lady was sitting on her porch stitching graphics into cloth. Fulmer and I made conversion. Actually Fulmer made conversation, and I smiled a lot. Then she offered us some wild picked chestnut type nuts. They were hard to peel but delicious and sweet. I ate several and just hoped I would not get a stomach ache.
She was very excited that we were taking time to talk with her and wanted to take us over to her shop. So we went.
I bought some nice hand made items to hang on the wall at home and took time to try on some of her hand made vests.
This is when a man walked in the door and we found out that he was the village leader and the lady was his wife.
I took pictures with the village leader and his wife who made the stitched items and promised that I would give them to my wife and daughter. And she wanted me to send pictures back for her to hang on the wall.
Apparently that talk time and purchase helped us gain a lot of good will to plant pecan trees. Big win for us. I have since received word that this village was part of our first successful planting of pecan trees, and it was a UUPG village. Now our company has a reason to be in the village. And, oddly, a picture of my wife and daughter may actually be hanging up in the local shop where I bought the handmade stitched items.
Our next journey would take us to Kevin’s home town to meet his family. We were scheduled to eat lunch with them. This would be a very important meeting because we were going to share the Good News with Kevin’s family. We really wanted to meet Kevin’s father.
To our surprise a rock slide was blocking the road on the route that Kevin was taking to get there. But, the detour we had to take took us to a place with a beautiful and very tall waterfall that exists about 8 months out of the year during the rainy season.
When we finally arrived at Kevin’s childhood home, we had a great time with Kevin’s family. Kevin’s sister had prepared us a wonderful meal. As we ate we was able to share the business plan, the Good News and other things with Kevin’s sister.
She was open to the Good News and was asking questions and wondering how our country heard of the Good News. I gave a little history lesson of how the original colonies in the United States were originally established and pulled out some American money and talked about the reason it has the saying “In God We Trust” on the dollar bills. This story resonated with her.
She didn’t make a decision that day, but I later learned about a month later that she did finally make the decision to believe.
After a few pictures we then drove back to the big city via a different road out of the mountains. We checked back into the original hotel we were in and planned out a few places we wanted to visit the next day.
The next morning we woke up at 5:30 and Yazoo and I went for a 5k run. It is high altitude in here at 5750 ft. It was also still wet. So we had fun dodging puddles. But this city is very modern and beautiful. So we had great running paths. You just have to make sure to listen out for mopeds.
They are battery powered and you can barely hear them coming from behind you on the same path. At least twice I was startled by a moped racing past me from behind.
After the run we packed up all of our things and checked out of the hotel. Today we are headed to a smaller city to the other business office and near the villages. But not before another stop at Starbucks. Switzer is very into coffee.
Fulmer picked us up and we headed out for Starbucks. I found out that this region grows coffee beans. So I bought two bags of regional beans from the Starbucks Reserve store while we were there. Folks, this is good coffee. I brought back those two bags of beans and ground fresh coffee each Sunday for my LIFE Group class for a couple of months. After taking a few minutes discussing the major coffee growing regions of the world, we were off on stage two of our adventure.
On the trip there are about nine tunnels. One of them was more than a mile long. The mountains on this east side of the region looked like the Smoky Mountains with the fog rolling over. We also drove through a stone forest, and saw live Eucalyptus trees.
Upon arrival we saw the new business office. Fulmer and Kevin did a great job getting this spot. It is a two story store front, and the second level is set up for fairly large groups of business folks to lodge as needed.
We unpacked and set out to attend a prearranged lunch meeting with the local agriculture officials. I was in the back of the car and had no idea where we were going. Kevin was driving and he knows this city. So when we turned into a back ally and pulled into a parking spot with people peaking out from behind the blinds of the small windows of the buildings, I was a little confused. I thought we would be going to a large government building. But this seemed more like a meeting with a mob boss.
We all piled out of the car, there were five of us in the little compact SUV, we were greeted by a young lady who quickly got us out of the ally and into a small building that was just set up as one large room with two table. One smaller six top table and then a very large round table. It was set up with the standard place setting for a meal.
After a couple of minutes a slightly rounded gentleman with glasses came in the door flanked by two well dressed (business attire) ladies. We all introduced ourselves and were motioned to sit down at the table.
We were sitting around a big round table in a private location and it felt like I was living a movie scene. Half scared and half amazed. I watched as the official was served by the female hosts like a king. He came in with a cigarette and the ladies made sure he always had a fresh one waiting.
It was an awesome lunch with all local produce and meats. For free. It was amazing food. I was a bit nervous though. As I was eating Fulmer leaned over and translated a few words for me.
This meal had included some cooked mushrooms that were so expensive if bought anywhere else in the world it is a rich man’s delicacy (like $3000 an ounce).
He and Yazoo sat and talked mostly as Kevin translated. But after a while he and Kevin just talked together as Kevin explained our business model Fulmer, Switzer and I sat on the opposite side of the round table, and I was flanked on my left by the two ladies all around a very large round table with a huge lazy susan.
After eating and talking a while. The official leaned back in his chair as to say it was time to get to business. We discussed business and the official gave us tips based on the information that Kevin had relayed, he then told us we could look around for the best growing areas and come tell him what we needed. It was a God thing really.
He took us up to his office, the ladies served us fresh green tea from local leaves, and he gave us each one of his cards. It was our golden ticket to use if we were harrassed in any village by the police. We were international business men with money to invest in his region, and that was true among other things. We do want to invest in these villages and in many ways.
I was relieved as we left the office and headed out to the car.
As we rolled around town for a while and visited local shops we were able to stop into a shop making garments with local flare. I wanted to buy a dress for my daughter, but they said they make these dresses custom to size. So, we didn’t have time to wait on that.
I was amazed at one point as we were driving around. This smaller city had many high rise buildings with apartments and open air stores/restaurants on the lower levels, similar to the larger city. However, you could tell that the people were not used to this, because they were still farming in every single spot of dirt that was available around these buildings. I found out that many of these folks had to make a decision to leave their villages in order to find jobs in the city.
I saw several small trucks and even makeshift flatbed mopeds with pigs and even cows on them coming into the city and directly to restaurants. They would be quickly dispatched for the customers coming in for lunch or dinner later in the day. They would simply wash off the sidewalk to clean off any remaining body fluids.
After driving around and getting the tour from Kevin, we then headed back to the office to rest before a dinner meeting with another group of local club members.
We set the alarms for an early start Monday (not that I needed it). I got in a short workout in the room with pushups, situps, lunges and squat before taking a shower and getting my backpack replenished for the day out.
Today we had planned a store visit to a large international retail chain store and we hoped to meet with the store manager. We were looking to gain some insight into the local market and product assortment for pecans. Part of the goals of this trip was to help determine multiple revenue streams to fund the company which would then support the local club growth and outreach.
I know a little about retail and eating pecans. But, I’m more of a technologist in the retail sector. I do have a hobby farm at my home which includes four apple trees, three plum trees, twelve chickens and nine muscadine vines. However, on this adventure, Yazoo is the big boss man and I’m just the sidekick. If questioned, I’m just a tourist and maybe I can consultant on business, technology and risk management if pressed for a better reason.
Now, funny thing is, our new friend Fulmer just happens to have a degree in some agriculture science area from a southern college and knows quite a bit about pecan trees. This is another awesome God thing. Putting Fulmer in this region and getting him involved in this adventure is a special kind of blessing. If our first goal is to plant pecan trees and get access to villages, we’ll need to know how to talk to the agriculture officials, farmers and land owners. Now we have a resource in place to do that.
So, we started the day by going to McDonalds for breakfast and coffee. Fulmer picked us up at the hotel and we met Kevin at the McDonalds. Let the adventure begin. Remember, this is my first time ever leaving the U.S., so some items I saw in this store were new to me.
We found only a few pecan related items at the store. But no nicely shelled whole pecans and really no dessert or health food items that incorporated pecans like we do here in the states.
After the store visit, you’ll never guess where we went.
Yep, we went over to Starbucks for a couple hours to discuss the inner workings of the business, management structure, funding and opportunities. Due to my lack of sleep, I was tired but alert and only occasionally interjecting an opinion. But I did partake in quite a bit of people watching. This Starbucks was on the corner of a big shopping area and I could see people walking by from all directions.
It was interesting to see all the different fashions of clothing. I suppose I’m used to seeing people wearing all the southern and mid-western U.S. fashions. So, I don’t think about how many different clothing styles are worn. But, as I sit in this Starbucks and look at these people walk by, it seems like they are all wearing something new and unique from each other.
We left Starbucks and started looking for a good place to eat lunch. We found a great local family owned restaurant that serves what they call Muslim noodles. These noodles are made fresh in front of you and they hand pull and separate the noodles and drop them in the soup base of your choosing. I chose chicken and some assorted greens for my noodles. It was delicious.
After lunch we went on an adventurous ride across town to meet the accountant. We were weaving through the crisscross patterns of traffic and seemingly fearless moped riders. It was more like a running back trying to run through the line of scrimmage than driving on a roadway. But when two weird American dudes stick their heads out the back windows and wave with a big cheesy smile, the locals are stunned long enough for you to nudge your car into the open line.
We were going to meet with the business accountant to check on the status of the money that Yazoo had sent to this country from his bank in the United States. Funding this business had become quite problematic. This country is not friendly to missionary work. So, when Yazoo’s bank accidentally sent the money to the foreign bank with a memo on it that said “missionary funding”, that did not go over well. And it happened twice. It was purely a mistake on the U.S. bank’s part, and the middle man bank that handles transfers. But, funding the business took more than six months and several corrections to paperwork.
The money still had not fully been added to the foreign bank account until the week after we left that country. This little issue would also be the cause of some troubling thoughts in Yazoo’s mind on our last day in the country, but I’ll tell you more about that later. Because, he also didn’t tell me until we were on the way home boarding the final plane back to the U.S.! Which, providentially, the flight was moved up a day earlier than expected two weeks before our trip. At the time we didn’t know what happened, but I checked our flight on the AA app a couple weeks before we were to leave and our Saturday flight home had been cancelled. I texted Yazoo, and he had to quickly scramble to get us tickets home on that Friday. There was no explanation to why that flight was cancelled, but now it seems we may know the answer.
We were at the accountant’s building for a while. So I stood out on the balcony and took several pictures. The ones I can share below are of an area where some outdoor adult exercise equipment was set up. I believe there must have been an assisted living area nearby.
I watched as several people took turns using the equipment. There were also older people sweeping and taking care of the grounds. The brooms were made of full stalks of grass.
It was Switzer’s birthday. So, after planning with the accountant, we went to the hotel and changed into comfortable clothes. We then headed to the huge six story mall for some Hibachi/Teppanyaki dishes and we were accompanied by Fulmer’s family. Among other dishes I had Lotus root coated with peanut flower. This was very good.
While we were eating, unbeknownst to us the rain had started outside. When we got down to ground level the streets were flooding around the mall. There was also a huge leak opening up in the center roof of the large atrium of the mall. Apparently this was very embarrassing for mall staff because they politely asked me to stop filming the big leak in broken English. We quickly made our way to the small SUV that Fulmer had parked in the below ground parking garage, and made our way out. We all worried that the parking garage might fill up with water. Luckily we were able to leave quickly, but once at ground level the water was a couple of inches deep across the whole road for several blocks.
It was a great full day, and that night I slept like a rock after not sleeping Sunday night. I did take two Tylenol PMs to confirm I would fall asleep, because the next day would take us on a trip to our office in the smaller city near the villages.