C.L. Decker

Author of the S.A.L.T. Novels – Seekers After Lost Treasure

Remembering Irma Turtle!

Apr 15, 2021


Irma caring for a sick child named for her in Ethiopia

We would like to introduce you to this very extraordinary woman. A woman we lost...the world lost...the people of Ethiopia, Mali and Niger lost, just a few years ago. We wanted to share her with you because this woman changed our lives forever in 1995.


Larry and I had both been travelers before we met and joined our passion for travel as we met and shared the next forty plus years together—and still counting. We shared a long sought dream to visit Ethiopia and Mali and one Sunday morning in 1995, we opened the Sunday New York Times Magazine and found an amazing story about a woman from Cave Creek, AZ just two hours south of our new home in Sedona, AZ. Her name was Irma Turtle and she had a small company called TURTLE TOURS. The article took us through the writer’s trip with Irma to visit the southern tribes in Ethiopia.

Larry and me with Irma and two of our drivers in Ethiopia in 1996

Well after a short conversation on the telephone with Irma we were booked on her next trip to Ethiopia and her next trip to Mali. We both remember Irma saying to us, “Don’t you want to wait until you’ve taken the first trip before booking the second?” We both said in one voice, “NO.” We knew in our souls that this was the opportunity we’d been waiting for and we weren’t waiting any longer.

The children in Ethiopia liked to play with my hair

Irma changed us as human beings forever before we’d left Ethiopia. She brought us close to these beautiful people who live as their ancestors did in animal hides.

Larry working on his journal along the Omo River

We touched them and they touched us...and our lives would never be the same. Now we had become true travelers...not tourists...but travelers. Irma always brought medicines to treat the people for common ailments and for serious problems, collecting monies from her travelers to send folks north to Addis Ababa for surgeries. She always cleared everything with the chiefs and they knew that Irma would return to see that the care was carried out.

Larry treating children in Ethiopia...
...and Mali

Whenever Irma and her travelers arrived, the tribes knew that help had arrived with her. There always seemed to be a doctor or a nurse in the group and all travelers had come with kits of medicine for themselves, which they readily donated when Irma or the “doc” called for meds.


What Irma had begun as a tour company evolved into a humanitarian foundation called TurtleWill. One afternoon in Ethiopia, as we all sat together under the roof the remains of an old hunting lodge from the turn of the nineteenth century in the steamy jungle on the banks of the crocodile infested Omo River—TurtleWill was born. What had been spontaneous medical care, help with buying a cow or some goats to help someone care for their family from this day on, became an organized foundation dedicated to building schools, digging wells for villages, sending older children to boarding school and even college, starting food co-ops, sewing co-ops, organizing and funding mobile medical clinics, always at the request of the tribal chief who identified their needs, not TurtleWill.


In Irma’s own words... 


“Through my twenty eight years of work in Africa, I have left my own legacy, building schools, digging wells, healing over 100,000 people through mobile medical clinics and bringing a very important sense of independence and self-respect to women, by way of working together through co-operatives.”

Larry became the volunteer Medical Director and Vice President of TurtleWill and I helped with promotion of TurtleWill. Celebrities found their way to Irma. One major singer composer funded a traveling band for disabled young musicians  in Mali and later built a school for TurtleWill to oversee.

The Village Chiefs wanted a picture with the doctor (Larry) and nurse (Carol)

Irma brought us a very special miracle on our first trip to Ethiopia. She gave us the opportunity to meet Yohannes Assefa. He had a dream to start his own ground tour company to serve clients like Irma and more. Irma told us of his dream and we committed to helping him make it come true by adding to the funds he and his wife had managed to save over five years. Red Jackal Tours was born and a resort in Lalibela followed many years later. Now, Yohannes is once more struggling to survive the virus and war in Ethiopia and praying that the travelers will return one day. We are with him always...as we are for all the members of our INTERNATIONAL FAMILY across the world. Yohannes was the first...because of him, we have a large and ever growing family that has joined with our birth families.

Yohannes and Larry at the beginning of Red Jackal Tours
Village boys letting me cuddle their baby goat
Beautiful young ladies with their skins and shell adornments

As Irma’s health declined, she was unable to find someone who could take over for her...she was truly irreplaceable. All of TurtleWill’s funds were distributed before Irma left this earth, and members and supporters were referred to small aid programs in Africa that she trusted.


To have known Irma was indeed a blessing for us as she was a blessing to all she touched. She will never be forgotten. Irma would be proud to have you know that over the life of TurtleWill ninety percent of all donations went directly to our work with the tribes. Few NGO’s can claim such a record.


Until next time–no matter where we all are—please Keep the Faith.


Larry and Carol

C.L.Decker and C.A.Scribner

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We have made great progress with Book #3, which now has a new working title … KRUGER'S CHOICE.

Stay tuned!