Thursday, August 23, 2007

Car fun

How many cars does it take to get three missionaries from Banjul to Ndungu Kebbeh? In a perfect world, it only takes one. However, The Gambia is NOT a perfect world. Yesterday, Suellen, Teresa and I were coming home after our quarterly field council meeting which was held at our guesthouse. We loaded the car around 10 AM, hopped in to head to the ferry, brrr, the car wouldn't start. It sounded more serious than just a dead battery so we called Max who had the van, which had just been repaired and was also ready to return to NK. Max brought the van. We push-started the Nissan so it could be driven to the mechanic. Then we unloaded all of our junk from the Nissan and moved it to the van. Fortunately only Suellen had done her monthly grocery shopping this trip. We had a lot of stuff, but it could have been much worse.

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

We missed you!

The flow is finally slowing down. Since I have been home from vacation I have had a constant flow of people coming to welcome me home, say how much they missed me and then ask for either their gift from my trip or help with money for _________(lunch, a trip, medicine, mosquito net, candles etc.). One afternoon my living room was full of women and children while the entry way looked like a used flip-flop jumble sale. (I wish I had a picture to show you. My digital camera is having problems.) There were people on the couch, on the loveseat, on the exercise ball, on the kitchen chairs. As chairs emptied, they were rapidly filled again with different people. In the midst of this were the children that came with their mothers. They like coming to my house because I keep balls and other toys for them to play with. That afternoon was a nice time because there were too many people coming and going for all of them to ask me for something. So we were able to just chat. Those with serious business came back the next day.

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

Home from vacation

Just a quick post to let you know that I am back from vacation. I spend my vacation time just relaxing at our ABWE guesthouse here in The Gambia. It's nice to spend some time in the air-conditioning and not have people at the door constantly. My co-workers did have to run interference for me some as things came up with employees in my absence. When Deb is here, we don't usually take vacation at the same time so that one of us is always available. With the literacy ministry closed for the summer you would think that nothing would be happening, but there's always something.

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.