Monday, December 17, 2007
We will be staying at our guesthouse, which is a wonderful facility with separate apartments, air-conditioning, hot water heaters and even satelite television (there's nothing on that you want to watch most of the time, but that's beside the point!). It does not, however, have a land line phone, so guests have no internet access. All this to say that I will not be blogging for the next two weeks (unless I try the restaurant that has wi-fi internet). Yes, we are moving up in the world. For those of you that check the blog regularly, I'll be back with you in January.
So, have a wonderful holiday everyone. I will think of you shoveling your driveways as I sit by the pool or walk on the beach.
Saturday, December 8, 2007
Thursday, December 6, 2007
Okay, this has become a contest of wills. I have fixed and eaten a salad, read a chapter of a book, written a couple of e-mails, been knocked off-line (thus having to start the video upload all over again), but I hate to give in. You never know, it might be that the video only has a few more seconds to go before it's finished...
This is the deal. I am going to go get ready for bed. It's getting late and I'm cold. Okay, it's probably in the 70's in the house, but that 's cold for me. I will leave the video uploading until I'm ready to go to bed and then that's it. Be warned. If I quit, there will be no more video attempts, at least not from Africa.
It's official. I have abdicated. There will be no more video attempts until we have a much faster connection. Sorry everyone. I am going to post this stream-of-consciousness blog and leave you all wondering just what jammin' to the exercise ball could possibly be.
Saturday, December 1, 2007
It's amazing what fits into one of those new flat rate air mail boxes.
Okay, I confess. The cat didn't arrive in the box, but it sure is cute. The cat is actually a hand-me-down from one of the missionary families who left. Some people get furniture, books or other stuff, I get a cat. Her family was going to moving to Banjul, so I told them that I would take her. She's not so bad as cats go. Don't tell her this, but I'm more of a dog person.
Saturday, November 24, 2007
I almost had another very sad post, but God is good and has answered our prayers.
A few days ago, I heard from my friend (P) whose daughter died a few months ago. She had been called unexpectedly to another daughter's home because her granddaughter was missing. The child and her mother were visiting relatives because the mother was sick and seeking medical treatment. The evening that they arrived, the child (about 5) went with her cousins and other kids from the neighborhood to watch TV at a nearby compound. The child never came home. The family made announcements on radio and TV, searched the neighborhood, went to all the police stations in the area, but nothing. I didn't hear about it until the child had already been missing for 10 days. My friend called to make sure that I had heard. She was also concerned because she had heard that her daughter-in-law here in the village was sick. P was feeling pulled apart as she tried to support her daughter whose child was lost and also care for her son's wife who was trying to handle the responsibilities at home.
We were horrified at the fact that this child had been missing for so long and of course, we thought the worst. I was also very concerned for P because she was still struggling with the death of her daughter and was now dealing with an emotional pain that might not ever be resolved. We prayed hard for the child to be found and two days later, P called me and said that the child had been found. She seemed to be okay. The circumstances that led to her recovery are truly miraculous. Another child who was being held in the same compound, escaped and told the police where she had been held and that there was another child there. Of course when the police came and told them to produce the other child, the people denied everything. After the police left, the people got nervous and moved P's granddaughter to another compound. They were too nervous to keep her, so they moved her to someone else. Several compounds later, someone finally decided to take her to an orphanage and leave her there. Meanwhile, her family decided to check the police stations and that orphanage again and there she was. God is so good.
I am looking forward to seeing P again when she returns home and rejoicing in the way that God answered prayer.
Saturday, November 17, 2007
In the past few months I have attended 3 funerals of young adults. Somehow those are always the hardest. As we chatted with the family of one young man, they were comforting each other with accounts of how faithful he was in doing his prayers and how no one had anything bad to say about him. I had to bite my tongue not to cry out at the vanity of putting your hope of eternity on your good works or good character.
A good friend of mine lost her daughter a few months ago too. I sat in her house as people came to pay their respects. If she cried, they told her, “Just endure it. All we can do now is pray for her. Don’t cry. Endure it.” My friend still comes to my office regularly when she needs to talk or cry, because I provide a listening ear and I don't scold her for crying. Her daughter was a recently married young adult and no one really knows what she died from. My friend's account of their days in the hospital are heart wrenching as both of them knew that she was dying. All I can do sometime is cry with her because there is absolutely no hope I offer her.
I struggle with death in this culture because I believe that people who die without trusting in Jesus Christ as their Saviour are eternally lost. Are Americans who die without Christ also eternally lost? Yes, of course, but since most Americans have heard the gospel many times, you have some hope that perhaps the person accepted Christ as Saviour before he died. Here people talk about having hope, but they are putting their hope in good works instead of the blood of Christ that paid the penalty for the sins of the world. Their hope is in vain.
Just a few days ago though, we experienced a different kind of loss as one of the believers passed away. Unfortunately, we are still not a strong enough group to have a Christian funeral and a plot of land to bury believers. Her husband is obviously struggling with his loss, but he told me just today that he believes that she was truly trusting Christ. At her funeral, her relatives wanted him to go with them to the gravesite and pray for her to get into heaven as they do at Muslim funerals. He refused and as he told me today, "She has already gone where she is going to go." This death, although painful, leaves us rejoicing that she came to know the Lord before she died. What a difference that makes!
Sunday, October 28, 2007
Saturday, October 27, 2007
Impressive, isn't it?
Our housekeeper, Suna, chopped and hacked at that termite mound with a machete to break it up. She had already removed part of the dirt from around the edges before I arrived and took this picture. She still couldn't get the cabinet away from the wall though, so the majority of the termite mould was left so that you could see the fun we have. (Suellen heard that we had another major termite invasion so she loaned me her camera because mine isn't working. She said I had to get pictures of this one.) I eventually managed to pry it loose by tipping it first one way and then the other.
The other employees arrived and joined the fun as we found that the inside of the cabinet was also invaded. We are having training sessions right now, so we have extra people around too. They were all watching or helping with the removal.
Suna told me that she took out 8 of the trash cans full of termite dirt. Then she said, "And that's not counting what I just carried outside with the dustpan!" The poor woman spends a lot of her time on termite patrol. I even made her go check the building once a week when we were closed in the summer. If I hadn't, the office might have been filled to the brim before we opened again. Those termites are industrious little buggers!
I can't wait until our new office is built. It at least will be cement with solid cement floors. Our current building is cement walls with a dirt floor that was lightly coated with cement. There are many holes in the floor so the termites don't even have to work very hard to get in. Maybe by this time next year we will have our new building. Until then...the fight goes on.
Sunday, October 21, 2007
Monday, October 15, 2007
We just finished the month of Ramadan, the Muslim fasting month. Yippee, hurray! I don't fast during the month, but it is painful for me as well. People are not eating or drinking from sunrise to sunset (approximately 6 am to 7 pm this time of year). At sundown, however, the eating and drinking begin. They "have to" break their fast with a hot drink and bread, then they drink cold water (ice sellers make a killing during this month since most people don't have refrigeration), then they eat a meal. Around midnight, they eat again and some get up to eat breakfast at 5am. They spent lots of money (that they don't have) on food and drink during this month of fasting. Of course, during the day, since people are fasting, everyone droops around and spits. They aren't supposed to swallow their saliva during the fast, so people spit constantly during Ramadan.
During the month, I get lots of requests for help with food, cold water and clothes for the feast day that ends the month. About a half hour before sunset, the water seekers come bearing their containers. I keep about 12 liters of water in the frig and give it until its gone. I didn't have as many water seekers this year, so many days I had water left over for the next day. It's nice to have that over with for another year.
Well, I guess that's all I have to say for today. I'll try to post again soon.
Thursday, August 23, 2007
On the road finally. We jump in the van and head out, but we notice that it needs fuel. We stop to fill up and find that the gas cap is missing. Since it had just come from the shop, we called Max to check on it when he gets to the mechanic with the Nissan. Max meets us on the road with a gas cap that will fit and away we go.
We arrive in Banjul and see that the wait for the ferry is going to be a long one. We find a spot in line and settle in for the day. Since it was so hot, we left the motor running so that we could enjoy the air-conditioning for a while. The line moves forward slowly and we finally turn into the driveway of the ferry terminal. We aren't inside the gates yet, but they are at least in sight. In the process of moving, we noticed that we were leaking fluid. As we pulled into the driveway of the terminal we can smell the antifreeze. When we turned off the engine, we could hear water boiling. A van engine is under and behind the driver's seat, so the car is very hot. We could see a huge puddle of water under the van, so we knew that we weren't going any where with this car.
We tried to call Max to find out the status of the Nissan, but the cell phone network was not working. After trying all of our phones and all of the numbers for Max, Barney and Adelia, we decided to go call from the telecenter (like a phone booth, but manned). We found Max waiting for the mechanic to call and tell him that it was ready. (It turned out that it was just a loose connection in the Nissan.) After waiting for Max for over an hour, we decide to go back to the telecenter and call again. Turns out he had been trying to call us, but couldn't reach us because of the network problem. He was on the way with some guys from the mechanic's shop.
Max arrived and we persuaded the ferry workers to let him pull in behind us so we could transfer baggage yet again, this time with many interested onlookers. I took position near the back of the van to keep sticky-fingered observers away and Teresa and Suellen took turns guarding the back of the Nissan and carrying stuff. Thankfully we were inside a semi-protected area with security people all around, not in the open street. In fairly short order we had the stuff packed in the Nissan. The mechanics added water to the van and were going to follow Max to the shop. Max manuevered the van out of the crowded line and we hopped in the Nissan to wait for the ferry. Since the line was so long and the ferries running so slowly, we ended up only losing about 5 places in line and crossed on the same ferry as we would have if we hadn't broken down. As we say here, "Yalla baax na". (God is good.)
We arrived home at 6:15PM, hot and tired, but happy to be safely home.
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
In the midst of all the visits, I still try (vainly) to get some other work done. Some mornings I run away to the Literacy Center to work, but people follow me. The flow of people continues the whole time I am there. The good thing is that I am fresh back from vacation so I have more patience with people. The bad thing is that it is exhausting to deal with all the requests all day every day, so pretty soon I'm going to need another vacation!
So many needs and so many stories of need. Determining who really needs help and how to help them is a constant challenge. The rainy season is a time of increased need as people have used up every bit of last year's crop and put all the money they could scrape together into repairing houses or buying seed and fertilizer. Food is scarce and money scarcer. Meanwhile with the rains come mosquitoes bearing malaria. So people are hungry and sick, but still trying to work in their fields so that they will have something at harvest time. Only someone with a heart of stone wouldn't feel compassion on people, but the needs are so many that you have to triage. You do what you can do and leave the rest to God. Most people have a whole network of relatives, friends etc who they depend on to help them. Although every single person who tells me their tale of woe claims that I am "their only hope", I know that people survived before I came here, while I was on furlough and they will continue to survive if I leave here. Knowing this is true doesn't make saying, 'Forgive me, I can't help you today.' any easier though. Especially difficult is refusing to help one of the "family" because they are too dependent on your help. Sometimes help isn't really help.
I don't know if this blog is making any sense to anyone except those of you who have been here or somewhere like this. My goal is to help you get a glimpse of every day life here and this issue is a big part of every day life in The Gambia (even if you're not a "rich missionary").
Wednesday, August 8, 2007
One tragic event shocked me as one of my employees called to notify me of the sudden death of one of the literacy facilitators. The young man was a teacher at the primary school in our village and he had just finished teaching the first year literacy class in his village. His village was our first class in Serer and he did an excellent job of teaching the class. He had over 30 students and all but 2 passed the exam with over 60%. His death was very sudden. It sounds like it could have been an anerysm since he complained of a severe headache and was dead within an hour of arriving at the hospital. Death isn't reserved for the elderly. My other employees may find this a wake-up call as this young man was younger than most of them and very well liked and respected. He leaves behind a wife and 2 small children.
Saturday, June 30, 2007
The teachers have some of the top students demonstrate the things they have learned: alphabet, counting to 100, writing numbers to 20, writing their name, colors, shapes, reciting the days of the week and months of the year, etc. The boy below is MKN's son.
Some of the students are just too good at what they do. Behind the men in the picture is a little girl who was counting to 100 VERY QUICKLY. Every time I tried to get her picture, she had disappeared again before the camera got the shot. I tried twice, but she was too quick for me. People were very impressed with her though.
Finally after everyone and his brother had a chance to make a speech, it was time to hand out certificates. Thirty children received certificates and "passed out". They will be going on to first grade in the government school in the fall. This little girl is Kumba. She is named after my sister, Ruth (Ruth's Gambian name is Kumba Bah). I was running around like the mother of triplets because I had several kids "passing out" that I needed to get pictures of. Of course, I wanted to get pictures in general, too, to share with you all. I must say, this blog is making me take more pictures.
In June I hit the road to close all the literacy classes until January. Sometimes the roads I hit are interesting like this one. By the way, this wasn't the worst one by any means. It looks terrible, but at least there's a "bridge". More fun are those places with no bridge. The same day that I crossed here, I also crossed at a place where they are building a bridge, but since it's not finished you have to drive around the bridge through the muck. We haven't had much rain yet, so the roads are still in good shape.
As the two literacy supervisors and I arrive in the villages, the class participants start to gather. We make some speeches about education and thanking the teacher, the students, the village chief etc. Then we hand back their exams along with certificates and prizes. Everyone who took the exam (even if they only scored 1%) received a cassette with 4 lessons from the Bible in Wolof. Those who were first or second in the class received bigger prizes like a bowl or machete or watch. Then we have more speeches as the class members thank us for bringing the class to their village etc.
Living in Africa though is sometime like being in a musical. You just never know when people might break out singing and dancing! In one village an older lady got up and started singing a song praising their teacher etc and the whole class chimed in echoing her words. The clapping and drumming on the yellow jerrycan quickly followed as various class members jumped up to dance.
You just never know what might set off a round of singing and dancing! You'll be happy to know that although I was invited to participate, I refrained ; )
Saturday, June 23, 2007
At this point in the rainy season, we can go a week or more between rains. The humidity rises and rises until you think you are going to dissolve in a puddle of slime. Most days it's probably in the 90's with 80-90% humidity. I'm not sure how that rates on the "heat index" that the weather forecasters use, but it's definitely sticky. Suellen insists that I don't sweat, but that's not true. It's true that I don't DRIP sweat, but I do have a good glow most days. (Haven't you heard that ladies don't perspire, they glow.) At the clinic, they used to mark the FST (first sweat time) each day. When the FST is 8 a.m., you know you're in for a bad day unless it rains. The rain itself is wonderful as it usually is accompanied by cool breezes and a reduction in humidity (at least temporarily). I also enjoy the sound of rain on the corrugate roof. In a bad storm, it's deafening, but in a gentle rain, the sound is soothing.
As much as I enjoy the rain, I feel sorry for those who have to cook outside over an open fire. Many have a separate building that is the kitchen where they can have their cooking fire, but some people don't have a kitchen or their kitchen fell in the rains. (A mud-brick building tends to do that.) So on rainy days, when the rain lasts all day, most of my friends have to struggle to cook for their families. Not to mention that the bathrooms are outdoor pit latrines. Not much fun in the rain.
The rain ruins many roads. Most roads are just dirt paths, so they are washed out easily and develop mud holes that are car traps. The trick in driving on these roads is to follow the cart tracks and see where they go through the puddles and where they go around. (It also helps to have 4-wheel drive : ) My favorite technique is to avoid driving on the worst roads until they dry up, but that isn't always possible.
My next blog will have a picture of one road that I drove on recently. Some people say that most of the roads I take to the villages with literacy classes aren't really roads. That, however, is another blog.
I follow this custom on a very small scale with my employees. On the day of my birthday, I give them money so that they can have attaya (a strong green tea) and hot sweet milk. Sometimes I tell them that it's my birthday and sometimes I don't. I didn't tell them this year. When I do tell them, they suggest all kinds of other things I should do for them to celebrate my birthday. A Gambian friend of mine heard from one of the other missionaries that it was my birthday, so she came to "get her share" of the birthday. Yes, she thought I should give her something so that she could celebrate my birthday.
My fellow missionaries don't follow this custom. On the day of my birthday, they came to my house just as I was getting home from the literacy center. Teresa had made a carrot cake (my favorite) and she, Suellen and Jean brought it over, sang "Happy Birthday" and then we enjoyed the cake. That was the extent of the celebration though. Short, but sweet, then back to work.
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Well, once I broke free of the swarm, actually, I didn't really break free. I just moved the group in the direction I wanted to go. I convinced the children that I was taking a picture of the climbing structure that we just moved from the old school. So they swarmed the climbing structure (instead of me) and I took this picture. You can't really see the climbing structure, but it does make a nice tiered effect for the picture.
Our groundskeeper/handyman for the Literacy Center property is amazing. One of the teachers asked if we could move the climbing structure from the old school yard to the new one. I wasn't sure it could be done, but I asked the handyman. After looking at it briefly, he said," I can do it." I was still doubtful, but he could try. The next day, he took the structure apart board by board, we loaded it into the car and took the miscellaneous pieces to the new schoolyard. The next day, he put it back together like a giant jigsaw puzzle and there is stands. Our 90+ nursery schools students are enjoying having something to climb on (since we won't let them climb the baby cashew trees.)
Saturday, June 16, 2007
This week we went to 3 villages to dye their projects. It's a lot of work!
In about 3 hours we finish preparing and dye about 50 yards of cloth, in 2 yard sections. Each class participant is given 2 yards of cloth to prepare and dye. Some of the styles require preparation on the actual day of dying and others must be prepared ahead of time. Of course there are always some who should have prepared ahead of time, but didn't!
My class supervisors and the class facilitator have their hands full as they try to guide 15-25 women through this process. It gets a little loud sometimes, so it's a good thing the class is held outside under a tree. Imagine 25 women all trying to work on their projects, most of whom have a baby on their back or a toddler at their side. Now add in 2 fires for heating water and spectators of all ages. After all, our arrival is probably the biggest show in town that day.
Thursday, May 31, 2007
A friend of mine came to use my phone today. She was trying to call various relatives who might be able to give her some money or buy her some rice. This woman has four children and a husband who sometimes works. Even when he does work, he often "punishes her" for various offenses by refusing to give her money for food. So she spends her day going to various people that she thinks might help her with a little money or some rice. If she get something, she goes home, cooks lunch and calls all of the members of the compound to eat (7 adults, 6 children). All will eat, even the husband who refused to give her money for food. That will probably be their only meal of the day and the next morning the process begins again. If her begging is not successful, they will not eat that day or at least she and her children won't. The men often eat somewhere else if there's no food in their own compound.
I have other friends who live like this as well. Some husbands will at least buy the rice (a 100 pound bag that will last 10 days to a month depending on the number of people eating) and try to give their wives some money to take to the market each morning to buy the fish and vegetables for the meal. Many women have to supplement what their husbands give them with money that they earn by selling or doing laundry or other small jobs. Imagine waking up every morning knowing that there is absolutely no food in the house and little or no money in your wallet. If you manage to scrape together some change, you go buy something to cook for your family. You eat, then there you are again, no food, no money. That is truly a hand-to-mouth existence.
As one of the "haves" in this society, I am someone that people come to for help. My friend comes to me almost every day, but I can't give to her every day. It is her husband's responsibility to provide for his family, not mine. I would be wrong to take over his job, but it's hard to know where to draw the line between compassion and creating dependency.
I am often reminded of the verse that says that a man who doesn't take care of his family is worse than an infidel. I also think of "He that doesn't work, shouldn't eat".
I know men who have very little money, but they hustle every day to be able to give their wives money to cook with. If they come up short, I don't mind helping them, because they are trying. The lazy ones and the stingy ones really make me mad though. I don't like it that they benefit when I help their wives. Today is one of those days when I want to take all the deadbeat husbands, line them up, knock some sense into them and then make them watch over a period of several days while their wives and children eat without them. Obviously I can't do that, but it would be nice!
Okay, I've vented enough. I'll try for a lighter topic next time.
It's surprising that we don't have more bat encounters since our compound is over run with bats. They love the mango trees especially when the fruit is ripe like it is now. Visitors from the U.S. always ask us what the beeping noise is at night. It's the bats. They sound a little bit like a big truck when its backing up. My attitude is live and let live...as long as they stay out of my house!
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
We know that there is a big snake that regularly tours our compound and the watchmen are sure that it's a black mamba. They haven't been able to find where it lives, but they have followed a large snake track all around the compound. My flashlight is my best friend when I have to leave my house at night. Hmmm, maybe I should have two best friends, my flashlight and my shovel.
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
One day a monkey came racing through the office yard and all of my male employees took off chasing it along with all the men in the neighborhood. Monkeys don't normally come into the village, so they thought this one was probably sick and should be killed. A few minutes later one of my employees emerges victorious holding up the body of the monkey for all to see. So how many of you have adventures like this at your work place?
Yal na leen Yalla barkeel. (May God bless you.)