Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Day 5 Critters: Chameleon

Okay, so he was not found in our backyard, but a friend found him and thought our kids would have fun with him. Supposedly if you keep him on cut flowers or greens on your table he won't go anywhere. I had some lilies brought in for a treat, so onto the lilies he went!

Hello little guy!!

I absolutely love how little chameleon feet can fold in half.
Great for grabbing!
This poor guy nicknamed 'Color' by our boys was getting
lily pollen chameleon-prints all over...

As you can see he didn't camouflage himself in lily colors.
I guess some things are just too much to ask.
After a few days he was looking rather peaked.
We decided he needed more bugs then we could offer and moved him outside to the guava tree. Haven't seen him in quite some time...

Monday, June 28, 2010

Day 4 Critters: Fuzzy Caterpillars (Chenilles)

Well, you've made it through the first half of my week about bugs -
surely it's not that bad! =)

These fuzzy friends are deceptively cute, but cuddling up with them can be mildly poisonous. There are many varieties, and we don't see them in the city often. This group was out in the forest sunbathing on a fence post. At least that's what I would want to do...

A similar pokey brown variety were fried up for lunch...

Gotta go!
Apparently when I was driving James back from the doctor's today we ran over a snake and Joel quickly learned the Swahili word: nyoki. Maybe I can get a picture!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Day 3 Critters: Stick Bug

I always wanted to see one,
so it was exciting times when the boys found this guy outside by the car!

They said he walked slowly like a praying mantis
and when he flew he had beautiful blue and yellow wings like a butterfly.
Never would have guessed!
He hides them pretty well, don't you think?
Gorgeous on the inside, with a plain rough exterior.
There are people like that.

Of course they thought it would be fun to give him a tour of our house,
much to their little sister's chagrin...
His shadow makes him look even bigger!

What a creative God we serve!

Sticks that walk?

I could never have come up with that.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Day 2 Critters: Snails

After alluding to snails and puppy-dog tails yesterday, I thought this one fitting for today. My Joelie loves his snails. In fact, one day after a heavy rain, he grabbed an empty honey jar and filled it to the brim with little snails and moved them right into his room.

They were in his windowsill and climbing up the screens
before I was even aware of his little plan.

I finally convinced him to take pictures and moved them back outside
where they are happily eating through
my precious roses
to this day.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Day 1 Critters: Froggy

Okay, every time Africa comes up inevitably someone asks me the critters-question:
What are the bugs like?
Aren't there spiders there?
How about the bugs?
How big are they anyway?
Are there LOTS of bugs?

Regardless of what I say in response, they almost always reply:
Oh! I could never live there!
Wow, I don't know how you do it.
Eww, gross!

I know it will not comfort any of you, but I will say anyway that I am a pretty dedicated arachnophobic (the movie trailers from that movie-which-shall-remain-nameless are with me to this day). AND I have seen more spiders at my parents house in the US than here in Central Africa (no offense Mom and Dad, but there really was a couple years of true infestation). If I can live here, anyone could. Seriously, the cockroaches here are nothing to those in Texas from what I hear. Deep in the forest the biggest spider we ever saw was about hand-size anyway (and that's not where we're living btw).

So hopefully you are past being grossed out and able to enjoy some of the creatures we've discovered in this past year. I will endeavor to post a picture of a new 'critter' for one week. Should be more fun than gross. But I have two boys... what was that about snails and puppy dog tails? What can I say?

So often Joel (aka Master Tracker) has caught some living thing or other and wants to keep it. Seriously, this happens about once a week. The kid knows no fear. Often it was these cute little frogs:





Then last month we found HIM:

Yes, in our backyard.

No, it's not pregnant.

It really is that big.

The video of the boys chasing it around the back porch to the screams of their sister will have to wait for an hour of high bandwidth.

Critter number One: Bullfrog.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Reading about Africa

There are lots of good books many of you have probably already read about this beloved continent, Out of Africa being one of them... (NO, the movie does not count!)

{Side Note: The first place Kent and I lived in Africa in 1999 was in Karen, about 1 mile from the historic home of Karen Blixen, incognito author of that book! Gorgeous place to fall in love with Africa, even if the encroaching capital city had changed the neighborhood a lot...}

Though you may not see them from your Starbucks table at the bookstore or on any billboards, there are two books on Africa definitely worth reading. Okay, I am a bit biased... They are written by two colleagues of mine and much of what they write gives insight into how our lives work day to day.

BOOK 1: (you know, Thing 1 and Thing 2? Maybe I read too much Dr. Seuss...)

Barbara and her husband precede us by a decade or two, so we have never met in person, but their stories give lots of humor and insight to the realities of working here. Of course our working strategies and details have changed a bit since then, but due to the history of this place there are things she was able to buy back then that we can no longer find here, like brown sugar. I have already read through it twice and still enjoy it. If you're looking for a novel, this isn't it, but it will give you a funny and clear picture of how things work here. She places the emphasis on "REAL" and I can vouch to you that it is just that!


(Yes, the two women are married to cousins.)
Linda is a dear friend of mine. When we first came to Africa 10 years ago she and her husband were working in the school administration where I was a volunteer teacher for missionary kids. We had great fun that year! One time I was trying to make an international phone call to interview for a teaching job back home the following year and Linda was sharing her office for this purpose. (All went well btw - call made, clear connection, questions answered and job taken...) As I turned to leave her office she was locking up behind me and we were chatting when my eyes caught something posted on the wall next to her desk. It looked like a cute stick drawing done by a young child. Slowly it dawned on me that I was not reading the child's scrawl of a beloved student at the school... It said something like, "We miss you Nana." With tears in my eyes I turned to Linda, "I thought it was excruciating to leave my friends and parents behind and come to Africa, but you left your grandchildren!" I can't imagine how hard that must have been, but she did it for the Lord she loves. She did it with grace. And had fun too! Check out sweet Linda's blog here: Quaint I Ain't.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Why my roses make me smile

About one year ago, as we were moving into this fixer-upper with a great yard in a great location, Kent spotted a tiny plant hidden between the dilapitated outhouse and back wall we share with the mosque. Familiar little leaves, like those of a ROSE. Surely roses are not indigenous plants and were probably carefully brought here some decades ago by previous foreigners with a taste for home gardens. Here there are spindly poinsettia trees, and wild hibiscus, lemongrass, bougainvillea and palms and vines galore, but a rose? I was doubtful. With the aid of our handy sack full of bat guano from the attic remodel we transplanted this tiny thing (maybe 11" tall) to the area out our back door. My imaginary back patio, which will one day be more than dirt and rocks...

Flash forward to August 09 when after 2 months of remodeling and 1 month on the road I spend the entire month in bed with 2 bouts of malaria topped off with a dash of swine flu. Somewhere near the end of this month-in-bed, just as I was starting to feel better, I was blasting a Sara Groves song. As she sang, 'Hope has a way of turning it's face to you just when you least expect it... walk through a room, you look out a window and something there leaves you breathless...' And, I kid you not, God's timing is beautiful music, these exact words were playing as I walked down our dark hallway to the cramped kitchen and in a glance I will never forget, saw HOPE embodied. My little rose-ish imp had grown several inches and blossomed the most beautiful of pink blossoms. It WAS a rose after all! God provided us a house, even though it was a time-sink and disappointment in some ways, and just as He had worked healing in my body, I knew He would work healing in our house.

A reason to hope.

As our fall rains came, our little pink picture of hope continued to grow stronger and taller. By the time the Christmas heatwave hit it was over a meter tall (3 feet) with a series of blooms one after another. Sometime in January I noticed something new... a little sprout. (I'm sure you gardening experts have a more official name - excuse my ignorance. For many years now I have not had a garden to call my own, so this is all new to me.) A baby rose plant! Hope begets hope.

As the new growth grew to about a foot and developed roots of its own I prepped soil and cut it off from the mother plant to move it further away. (Someone with gardening expertise is probably going to read this and know better - please just leave it the comments - I'll take all the advice I can get.) The move was really rough on the baby rose and it died down to its second-to-last green leaf (the dog running over it everyday didn't help either, but a fence eventually did...). I started to get bold with pruning the mother plant.

I was taught, in the northern hemisphere, of course, that rose bushes are to be trimmed down to about 12-18" in February or so to allow for the new growth of spring. Well, we don't have seasons like that here (see previous post), so I was a bit lost. I have been trying something new cutting a stem down that far after its thorns turn color and its blossomed already 2-4 times. So far it's been getting me a bushier plant (which = more flowers!).

And after a few dormant weeks here and there, this rose of hope blooms.
And every time I walk in or out of my kitchen I look out the back door to drink in the sight of it. Last month I had not one, not two, but SIX pink roses on that mother plant. And the baby? The baby is now almost two feet tall with its first pink rose and another bud. How far He has brought us all this past year!

That first little rose plant must have been put there years ago awaiting my discovery, that in nurturing I would also be nurtured and would find HOPE. Hope I can look at and touch.

Hope flourishing.

That's why my roses make me smile. They are a tangible picture to me of the unseen work God is doing to settle us here and I have HOPE He will use our lives for his Glory.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


I just love that in Emma Thomson's Sense & Sensibility little Margaret is taught to bring up the weather in the most awkward situations! It is always a safe subject. Well, after actually posting the words 'blood diamond', I am following up with a 'safe' post about weather. =)

Being raised in the Pacific NW, moderate temperatures and occasional rain are really normal to me. Living in the tropics has definitely adjusted my thermostat, but where we are it is quite comfortable (at 2,000ish ft above sea level) between 60 and 100 all year. Most days are around 80 degrees. We are just finishing our spring rains, which brings occasional thunderstorms and cool cloudy days before the dry heat of summer. A cool, rainy spring doesn't feel that strange to me.

Nor does a cool, rainy fall or a warm summer actually. It is the heat of winter that always gets me as totally bizarre. I just can't seem to curl up with hot cocoa and marshmallows before the Christmas tree listening to Bing Crosby when it's 90 degrees and sunny outside... After several years of this, I am finally starting to get used to making potato salad for New Years.

The advantage to this system is that we get flowers year-round!! (oh, and veggies too...)

Monday, June 14, 2010


Anna would like to teach herself to read. She found James' Bible open on the front porch and brought it to me, "Tell me some of Jesus' words." I showed her how Jesus' words were red and we flipped through the gospels looking for 'lots of red'. Matthew 6 eventually came into view with its veritable fount of red ink. Wow, Jesus said lots of words here!

She again asked me to read. (Apparently, I was taking too long scanning for something that would make sense to a 3-yr-old going on 13.) I started in on the Lord's prayer (verse 9 - 14) because her brothers have it memorized, she has heard it often in the evenings and could finish each phrase where I left off. Thinking this would exhaust her curiosity, I turned to shut the Word. She stopped me. "Read more!" I skipped to verse 19, "Do not store up for yourself treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven..."

She understands treasures. And she understands moth and rust destroying. We see it everyday very plainly. Stuff gets yucky here. This idea sated her, as she ran off to play (or change clothes again for the umpteenth time), I was left pondering. This week I've been stuck thinking about treasures. Our money. Our media. Our image. What do we treasure? How can you tell? I think we must be willing to sacrifice something for a treasure.

A few years back several friends said we needed to watch "Blood Diamond" because of the similarities with where we work and live. We knew it would be intense, and I felt I had to mentally prepare to watch it. Last week we did it. I survived with liberal use of the MUTE button and blocking out the violence while reading the subtitles below. I fully own my wimpiness when it comes to violent movies. Images stay with me forever, and I just don't need to witness 500 extra murders however fake they may look to some of you. If you haven't seen it and feel ready to, I will at least say this: it portrays accurate and realistic chaos.

Then Sunday we sang in French how 'God is more precious than silver and gold and diamonds.' As I watched Congolese people singing those words, the song took on new meaning for me. Here it is obvious when a cousin leaves his family to work in the mines, make a few dollars and spend it on worldly pleasures. They sacrifice their entire social network (which means so much more here) in search of worldly treasure. It is fleeting. Spent quickly. Temporary. In that movie, and probably still today in many mines people will sacrifice much, many give their lives in pursuit of gold and diamonds. For what? So some American 20-yr-old bride can get a deal on the perfect ring? We can't pretend we're not involved. What do we treasure?

All I'm saying is that I've got a lot to 'chew on' regarding treasure.
"for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

Friday, June 4, 2010

The New Mundane

People often ask me to describe a 'typical day'. I don't know that there is a really typical day here as everything seems in a slow-motion constant of change. I will endeavor to describe my Tuesday this week, as it was a crazy and productive day that will give a taste for how things work on a household level. It is not mundane. It is never mundane. Something new every morning! [*FYI: This is quite a bit longer than I intended. Read when you have more than a minute...]

This was our first week of summer break, but Tuesday really didn't feel like my picture of 'summer'...

6:30am Alarm clock rings and I jump out of bed, make it quickly and grab all the dirty laundry (and soap and iron) to put on the back porch before our handwasher Faustin shows up. If I can get it out there and not have to meet and greet him face to face in my jammies it is better for everyone.

7:00am Kids straggle out of their rooms and need prodding to get on with the morning 'jobs' (making beds, setting the breakfast table)

8:00am Yesterday's milk is skimmed from the fridge (cream kept for making butter later), granola and yogurt are on the table and everyone is eating. Non-fat yogurt for Kent, whole milk yogurt for James and I, semi-skimmed milk for Joel and Anna. Vitamins and medicines taken.

8:43am Just as I notice that our cook Rachele hasn't faithfully arrived at 8:30 (she is very faithful, but her son was ill yesterday so maybe she's back at the clinic with him and will come later)... I get a text message from her but in very bad French (someone had written it for her obviously) saying she was ON HER WAY to the mission hospital with her very ill son when they were in an 'ACSIDA MOTO'. In case you didn't get that, it is bad French for 'motorcycle accident'. They were already nearby 'L'HOPITAL BLAN' (white hospital) and were both admitted there. We have no idea where the 'white hospital' is and pray it is a decent place. Faustin says he knows where it is.

9:00am Having resigned myself to trying to manage the kitchen on my own today, I realize it is baking day and we are due to make 3 loaves of bread and at least one batch of cookies to cover the next few days of lunches. Usually we pick the chaff out of the wheat berries and put them through the electric mill 3 times for fresh whole wheat bread. But the power is off today. And our solar panels only had clouds to work with. And the generator ran out of gas (then after Kent bought more, it ran out of oil and after he bought that, it broke). Kent went to get some, but the car wouldn't start and the battery needed charging. Ugh.

9:30am Impromptu family prayer meeting on the front porch where there is enough light to see well. We feel under attack and pray protection for us and our workers and their families as well. Kids commit to being extra helpful for a couple days and we all feel strengthened by singing 'A Mighty Fortress is our God'. Look on the bright side - we have plenty of water!

10:30am I 'jerry-rig' some bread (can I say that?) by soaking raisin bran flakes (raisins carefully picked out for another occasion) and oats before adding my 8 cups of white flour. The recipe suggests sifting, but I could care less right now. An extra bug won't hurt. Hopefully it will work. It's rising, however slowly, on the stove.

11:00am I start on cookies, and given the kind of day it is, I decide to get out those precious carepackage chocolate chips to make my absolute favorites: oatmeal chocolate chip! Oops. No eggs. Oh well, the Wycliffe cookbook says add a little extra oil and water and call it good. Hey, now I can shamelessly eat the dough! Anna and I decide a lot of quality checking is necessary.

11:30am Loud banging down at our gate signals that the milkman is here. Oh yeah - him. I rush around to find the right pot and filter and go to greet him. Between his French and my meager Swahili we communicate next to nothing very well. But we smile. And we get the milk. He pours us our daily 3 bottles through the filter to get bugs and hair out. I then take it and stick it on the stove to pasteurize/cool/skim/store it in the fridge for the next day.

12:00 noon Water filter is running low and slow. It's really hot and our drinking water is down to a few liters. James fills the bucket with dirty water from outside (commonly known to carry typhoid, but locals drink it straight anyway). Kent hauls it into the kitchen and hefts it above the fridge where the filter can siphon down into a jerry can on the floor. From there I fill up the drinking water in the fridge, and backup storage and kettle with clean drinking water. Right about now I start to realize just how much Rachele does each day! (And start praying more fervently for her full and quick recovery.)

12:30pm Bread almost done in the oven, lunch table set. Twice a week we eat hot bread for lunch with honey, our own ground peanut butter, jam, or fresh-roasted peanuts, or like today some diced avocado from the yard with salt and garlic powder - yum! Oops. I forgot that Rachele also makes Faustin lunch and coffee. Better get going on that... The coffee he likes smells like tar. Yuck.

1:00pm Joel is Mr. Helpful and sets the table for me. We finally eat. We are encouraged - this day is going to work.

1:30pm Lunch is cleaned up. And yogurt needs doing. Our fridge food is dying having been off for several hours now. I take out things that will not survive and toss them in the compost bucket (life without a garbage service can get interesting). Find the yogurt recipe and need hot water. Kettle is empty again. Find more filtered water. Try not to stress about how little drinking water remains. Heat it and search out the yogurt starter. It's in the bottom drawer of the freezer. It's now frozen shut and I can't get to it. An upper drawer has new starter packets. I go for those. I use two because last time one did nothing. After mixing, I wrap it up in a local wrap and leave it to do it's happy yogurt thing on the counter.

2:00pm In forming my dinner plans, I decide to use bread again, since it went well. I pull out a can of hummus and decide to make a cucumber/yogurt salad (because it's what I have on hand). This means washing up the cucumbers we bought yesterday. This means scrubbing the dirt off and soaking them for 20 minutes in potassium permanganate to kill germs - because we're going to eat them fresh not cooked. Okay, cucumbers, green peppers, green beans and rubharb soaking.

2:30pm Kids are in their rooms napping or having 'quiet time' and all I want to do is curl up with a book. Most places in the house are too dark to read and there are still cooled loaves to find bags for storage. We wash our ziplocs and reuse them, but that means I have to find them in the sea of plastic bags. One worker leaves for the day (he will tell us the next day how he visited the hospital on his way home) and another arrives. He is finishing some painting and gardening outside, so I try to explain in a way we both understand what needs to be done. Vegetables need to come out of soaking, be rinsed with drinking water (by now there is a bit more in the jerry can - yay!) and dried before chopping and storing in the nearly warm fridge.

3:30pm Friend arrives for a haircut while kids are still down. So much for time to read a book. The house is quiet and this is the best time frame for me. I seem to have become the local hairdresser for about 4 ladies. They usually compensate me with goodies, or in today's case, free babysitting. Score!

4:00pm Hair cleaned up. Kids getting up. Warm cookies eaten. Ironed clothes distributed for kids to put away for the day. (We live in a mango fly region where all wet clothes hanging outside have to be ironed at high temperature to kill the eggs. Don't get grossed out. It just means lots of ironing, and without power, it means lots of charcoal ironing - which I don't do myself.) How cool is it that we are done ironing cloth diapers?!

5:00pm It's getting pretty dark in the house, and tonight is bath night, so I need at least two big pots of hot bath water to get the kids clean. I start lighting candles and putting pots of tap water on the gas range. With a pretty quick dinner plan I decide I have time to make dessert for a change and remember that I almost like rhubarb pie when mixed at least 3:1 with apples. Rhubarb chopped. Apples chopped. Topping made. Why not try for whipped cream on top? Someone sent me this powder that is reputed to make a cool-whip-ish thing. Just add milk and whip in the mixer. Hm. Lots of whipping later my arm is dead and the stuff still looks like milk. Then again the directions are in Italian, so maybe I didn't guess it right with my rusty Spanish...

5:30pm Dinner went fine (other than kids complaining about having to eat hummus with a garlic bite to it) and dessert was a big hit. Rhubarb is redeemed for me. I will buy it again. We pour the non-cool-whip-ish stuff over the top and stick the rest in the fridge. We also turn on the batteries after a bit of sun in the afternoon so the fridge can get cool again.

6-7:00pm The busy blur of bathtime and bedtime. The bathwater wasn't as hot as I'd hoped, so washing hair is not a popular idea. We eventually get everyone snuggled and warm after their cool baths. With 4 candles lit we can read altogether. My headlight comes in really handy for cleaning up the table and kitchen. Then Kent reads to the kids while I start cutting out another dress for Anna. Maybe tomorrow I will have power to sew it with...

8:00pm Yogurt actually worked! Will be great cold after a night in the fridge. Food gets brought out to our night guard with coffee in a thermos. We recheck our battery levels to decide how much we can afford to have on all night. Ideally the fridge could stay on, the security lights outside and the fan running in our room to block out noise and help us sleep. On good nights we leave computers, router and internet on as well. Tonight we have to choose one of these three essentials. We decide to turn off fridge and fan and keep lights outside.

9:00pm After reading by flashlight a while, we call it a day. It is exhausting to have a day of changes. But it was beautiful to see the kids pitch in to get everything done!

The daily management of resources like power and water is much more time consuming than we hoped. If you haven't lately, now is a good time to thank God for your power company! =) Believe it or not this was the first of 3-4 crazy days without power, and there were many more adventures of burning the beans, or giving up and serving noodles with parmsean cheese. We were all extremely happy to see Rachele feeling better and able to work yesterday!