Saturday, June 30, 2012

At the end of a hectic week of appointments in the big city, it is probably good to take a moment to reflect before heading off on vacation next week.
Yesterday I had some time to reflect, as I spent an hour and a half driving 12 km to pay a debt and pick up a few things we needed before the weekend. I did some calculations after I got home:
12km/1.5h = 8kmph (and 8kmph/1.6km/mi = 5mph)
So I drove an average speed of a slow parking lot, or maybe a fast walk, through traffic for an hour and a half.  Welcome to Nairobi.
But there were some consolations, like being able to listen to Car Talk podcasts I'd downloaded - one and a half of them. And another was being able to reflect a bit more casually than I normaly do, about the life going on around here. I got to see a lot of people walking (and faster than I was driving, to be sure), and I got to read more of the signs.
We had many appointments booked with various doctors and therapists, and it is somewhat amazing to see that we got it all done. But there are a couple doctors we didn't get to see, who advertise along my route of yesterday, and I was driving slow enough (did I mention that?) to take pictures:
But even if you don't wood to make a sign for a telephone pole, or color ink, or a website, you can still advertise (this is an A4 sheet of paper taped to a tree stump):

I particularly like the breadth of competence Dr. Karim has. He isn't limited to helping you with your marriage/sex/relationship problems, like Dr. Khalif.  Dr. Karim can also help you with politics, and with 'lost items'. I wonder if he can help me find that hour and a half...

Friday, June 29, 2012

Snapshot 10: 4 x 4

In case you missed it, the Snapshot series began here.

We will be taking a break from blogging in July to have a family vacation and get ready for another school year. Don't worry, we'll be back to posting updates in August! And you'd rather be picking luscious berries, hiking mountain trails or just enjoying sun anyway, right?

Now we are at the tenth, and last (for now) Snapshot. I hope it has helped give you word images to better understand our daily life in Congo.

Snapshot 10: 4 x 4

    Man & Machine v. Road & Elements

Background information of note:
There is no pavement where we live in Congo.
Not even a little bit.
I hear there used to be...

The contest: 
Driver and vehicle travel as fast as possible while the road and the elements of the natural world struggle against all travel.

Bodily injury or harm of pedestrians or passengers

Main street, driveways, highways in Congo

Who will win? 

The contestants:

Road & Elements
Rock, paper and scissors are nothing to water.
When it rains, it pours.
If water wins over rock, then it certainly conquers dirt.
Water picks up dirt and carries it away in victory
To create unexpected new potholes, new drainage ruts.
For any opponent who dare try to travel.

Man & Machine
Armed with the most ingenuity and perseverance in the known world,
the Congolese driver knows his machine well and pushes it
to it's outer limits.
This unstoppable pair overcomes constant obstacles
with ease and agility, prepared to fix almost anything
with only a plastic bag.

And everday the contest begins!
The obstacles have moved.
Riding with some drivers is slow and bumpy like a horseback ride.
Riding with others makes your insides feel like hamburger.
It can take constant effort to hold your organs in their right places.
The shocks take the brunt of it and call it quits.
You don't play music in the car.
You wouldn't hear it.
Each rock or bump sounds like a crash.
The driver must focus on the contest.
For the stakes are high.

Man & Machine give it their all.
Many times they fall by the wayside, tip over or breakdown.
In the absence of industrial-sized road graders,
'Road & Elements' wins every time!

We are Dr. Seuss fans. Just in case you've ever read Hop on Pop... We usually drive our bumpy. lumpy roads shouting:

Bump, Bump, Bump!
Did you ever ride a Wump?
We have a Wump with just one hump!
We know a man named Mr. Gump.
Mr. Gump has a seven-hump-wump.
If you like to go Bump! Bump!
Just jump on the hump of the Wump of Gump!

Maybe you can try it when you go over speed bumps and think of us. ;0)

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Snapshot 9: Hospitality

I don't know that American English deserves to have this word in our language: Hospitality. I have known Americans who practice hospitality, some more than others. I am positive I have not usually been among them.

I don't think we know half what it means.

Congolese Hospitality (and African Hospitality in general), on the other hand, is rich with depth.
(All these things I have seen or experienced recently.)

Congolese Hospitality welcomes you to eat at the table any time, any day. No reservations desired.

Congolese Hospitality sees that you may have cold feet and lends you slippers so you can go to the cold tiled floor of the toilet without getting too cold.

Congolese Hospitality lends you matching clothes, so you will look good at that choir performance.

Congolese Hospitality takes in that widowed cousin with her two fatherless children to make sure they belong to a family, have a roof over their heads and can pay for a decent education. They may stay 1 year, they may stay 10. They are family.

Congolese Hospitality loves it when you arrive unannounced at the back door.

Congolese Hospitality is not offended when you need a favor.

Congolese Hospitality walks you halfway home.

Oh that we would learn the depth, the breadth, the importance of
'Consider others better than yourself"

Make room for those in your midst.

Seek to meet needs.

(Self-sufficiency is a lie.)

Share life,

not just the pretty parts.

True Hospitality.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Bye Bye Baby Tooth

The moment we've all been waiting for for weeks, 
finally arrived last night.

My baby girl lost her first tooth. 

It would really not be possible for her to be more excited about this step in growing up.

Sheer bliss of the long-awaited

James had seen it hanging by a thread and threatened to pull it out yesterday evening. They were watching Rapunzel (again?!), but decided to watch it in Spanish. [And no, they don't really speak Spanish. They just have the movie memorized. Anna was surprised to see that Rapunzel does know Spanish, and since her Mama also knows Spanish, she decided to try learning a few words.]

She just pulled it out herself somewhere when Rapunzel and her novio were singing about Las luces. =)

She kept marveling that she lost her first tooth on vacation and that it was in the same place she was born (Kenya). People here told her she is Kenyan, so now when we pass the Kenyan flag, she says 'There is my flag!" 

And in case you were wondering, the tooth fairy does make it all the way to Kenya, but prefers to do business in US Dollars...

Absolutely thrilled to be growing up!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Snapshot 8: Fruit is for kids!

Walking along our muddy street last week,
I noticed a few kids throwing rocks at my house.
Band of ruffians doing harm?

You see, we have mango trees.
It's mango season.
Any fruit falling over the edge of a wall is fair game.
It's practically a law.
But sometimes the mangoes need convincing.
They chuck rocks up into the air trying to knock down a snack on their way home from school.
You see, fruit is for kids!

Remember those commercials for Trix cereal?
The rabbit always wants to taste it
and the kids always stick it to him:
"No Silly Rabbit! Trix are for kids!"

One sweltering day on which we happened to have huge luscious papayas,
I decided dinner would be fruit.
And I was the rabbit.
No Silly Rabbit! Fruit is for kids!
Guavas, papayas, passion fruit, mangoes.
Not considered dignified 'food' for adult consumption.
Trees brimming with packaged snack foods.
Free for the taking.
Perfect for hungry kids between meals.
Just climb up and pick.
Stick them with a pole.
Hit them with a rock.
They don't even have to be ripe.

You say you like mango?
No Silly Rabbit! Fruit is for kids!

Friday, June 22, 2012


Just in case you haven't followed updates on facebook...

Anna did continue to improve and healed completely just in time for our long journey across Congo, Uganda and Kenya. She did amazingly well in the taxis and buses. The night before we left she downed a double serving of her dinner and topped it off with 3 small bowls of potatoes! She made up for lost time after keeping nothing in for days.

So all's well.

And none of us ever did get this flu, though we all thought about it several times and wondered... I'm fighting off a sinus infection. But what else is new?

Thanks so much for your prayers and encouragement!

As I began to worry about whether this trip (much like this one!) could or should really happen given the sickness and logistical hiccups, several of my sisters from choir came over to pray for our trip. They read from Exodus where Moses heads out and God promises, "I will go with you."

This particular verse is the one that I clung to when moving to Congo. And here it was again.

As we skimmed the choppy waters of Lake Albert, a beautiful white wagtail raced us in front of the wooden motor boat (and he won). And this verse rang in my ears... "I will go with you."

As we arrived at a tough, rural immigration office and found 2 helpful strangers willing to fight for us.... "I will go with you."

As we thumped along bumpy roads in a small game park in Western Uganda, we were surrounded by gorgeous herds of gazelle... "I will go with you."

I could list tiny moments for 10 pages and not get them all. 
Sunsets, kind officials, potty stops just when we needed them, crisp apples for sale on the roadside, patient kids enduring a 14-hr bus ride without movies... 
taxis waiting for you on arrival
entertaining the kids with the reverse-cam in their car.

Overflowing grace.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Guessing game

Thanks for everyone's prayers for Anna's health.
It's always a guessing game as to what is really going on.
All you can see is cookies tossed, lethargy, fever and total lack of appetite. Which could add up to about 30 different diagnoses. Food poisoning? Flu? Brucellosis? Hepatitis? Giardia? or Deadly malaria?

Not that easy to tell, at least in the beginning. And if we treat for one thing, we may mask the symptoms of the real thing. So the stakes are high. I've been studying faith and trust in God's provision for us. Job says, "How can we accept good things from God and refuse trouble?"

It's so much harder to reach this 'accept' when your baby is so sick.

So we take things one hour at a time.
Keeping our records,
looking for patterns in fever readings,
trusting that the answer will be obvious soon.

Then this morning she woke up
and ate breakfast like nothing ever happened.
Like she didn't spend the past two days
groaning and puking on the couch.
We hum
and play
and look well this morning.
But morning is usually best for her.
Malaria can come in cycles.

Is this the eye of the storm?

 Or is this recovery?

It's anybody's guess.

It's hard not to remember the hundreds of kids fighting for their lives right now in overcrowded bush hospitals.
An epidemic of deadly malaria.

For now, I'm thoroughly enjoying her 5-year-old jokes!
And keeping the thermometer and treatment meds in my back pocket.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Snapshot 7: Beauty Parlor

In case you missed it, the Snapshot series began here.

My Mom used to tell me stories about her mother.
The grandmother I never knew.
She would go every few days to the local Beauty Parlor.
To have her hair set.
It became an idyllic 50's scene in my head.

Ladies sitting under driers in curlers.
Tiled floors, chrome and bright vinyl.
In front of huge mirrors.
Laughing about the latest news.
Heads full of curlers.
Local community sharing the mundane.
Doing hair.

I just never in a million years expected to find the same thing in Congo.

We were preparing for a big university women's event.
We had planned to dress up over at her house before arriving.
Could I just follow her to the hairdresser's for a few minutes?

Unexpectedly, I was transported to that idyllic 50's Beauty Parlor
in Congolese veneer.

Three women in shiny chairs.
Heads full of curlers,
(one under a drier!)
Discussing women's issues.
Local gossip.
Should women really be allowed certain freedoms?
Real questions were argued.
Laughter over the latest news.
In front of huge mirrors with a few cracks.
Plastic chairs, peeling linoleum, wooden shack on a dirt road with a generator and extension cord coming in through the boards in the wall to make things work.
Local community sharing the mundane.
Doing hair.

The decade, the country and the language may be different. 
But I'm sure it was the same Beauty Parlor.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Snapshot 6: Honor

In case you missed it, the Snapshot series began here.

Over tear-streaked cheeks, wails of sorrow ring out.
Our family attends the funeral of an employee.
The crowds mourn a beloved provider.
In his late sixties, Obedi had the national life expectancy rate beat by 17 years.
But his Mom is still around to mourn him at almost 90.

As the rich foreigners, his employers, we are viewed as Guests of Honor.
Fancy wooden chairs are placed in the dust.
Tied up tarps provide some shade in the heat.
For us.
Other mourners file in around us on benches.

The wooden casket is carried out with a wake of wailing women.
His mother.
His sisters.
His wife.
His daughters.
They sit in the dirt.
Reminds me of those who mourn in Israel in dust and ashes.

But there is also not much room anywhere.
How could his wife be in the dirt, while I am on a fancy chair?
Ancient truths ring in my ears:

"Whoever wants to be first must take last place
and be the servant of everyone else."
Mark 9:35 (NLT)

Honor can be difficult.
It was painful to me to stay in that seat.
It was wrong to sit in the dirt - the family section.
But it felt wrong to stay in the chair.

Last week a friend gave me a string of beads. 
They were important to her.
I didn't need them.

But I took this Gift of Honor,

because it honors her.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Snapshot 5: Storm

I wake to the rolling and rumbling in the distance.
Wondering if (hoping?) it was just something on the roof.
But no, the rumbles grow.
A thunderstorm approaches.
The counting begins.

Sheer force of the King of Nature.
Silhouettes of the barred window panes flash bright light across the dark house.
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8-one-thousand
Wind rushes through like a squire
He announces loud and clear,Arise! His Omnipotent Lord of the Storm is here!!”

Then the pounding begins.
Jamie says the heavens try to 'drown you in a vertical river'.
She's right.
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6-one-thousand
The beating of hundreds of drums.
Gallons of water. 
Pounding on the tin roof overhead.
In a loud steady beat.
So loud you cannot hear your own voice.
I try not to remember the colleague's roof ripped off by this Wind.

Another blinding flash.
The shape of our papaya tree outside is etched on the insides of my eyelids.
1, 2, 3 – one-thousand
That's my cue.
Once it is less than 5 miles away, we manually disconnect our house from the city's electrical chaos. 
Storms can move fast, and we've lost several appliances to neighborhood lightning.
(In the mountainous region to the south of us, they boast the highest number of lightning strikes
 per mile in the world. Here in town several people have been killed by lightning.)

Then the water creeps in.
That window I didn't latch.
The floor floods, seeping into the small rug.
This time it's not toys left unattended.
Or books.

When the full force covers us,
I can't help but recognize my place.
I stand by the back door, in awe.
At 2:30AM.
I am confronted with a terrible Force, Power, Strength.
I can only try to keep my books dry. 
I feel so finite, infantile, tiny, powerless.
I am tired, but could never sleep through this.
I don't want to miss it.
As I watch the flashing, beating, pounding, blowing
I worship.

The only song that seems to fit...
My God is so big
                                     so strong
                                            so mighty!
                            There's nothing my God cannot do!” 
Eventually, wind blows over, pounding turns into dripping, and water is mopped up.
I reconnect our power system and head back to bed.
And the question lingers in my sleepy head:
         If this is God's power in an everyday thunderstorm,
                                                     what must his wrath be like?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Snapshot 4: Fame

News spreads like wildfire here even without social media.
There are only a handful of foreign families in residence.
Wherever we go, people stare.
White people! Mzungu!
                                   Look! It's his wife! 
              And children!
They check out our shoes.
They critique our clothes.
The children touch our skin cautiously.
Once, someone I've never met or seen called me by name on the street.
This must be how Paris Hilton feels.
For someone who loves to sit in the back row and 
work behind the scenes, it gets old.

During a big ceremony, we were seated with the guests of honor.
We didn't flinch at the many cameras and camcorders in our faces.

Par for the course.

The shock came 2 days later.
A stranger in the market shouted, 
                “Hey! Aren't you that guy I saw on TV last night?!”
Guess so.
We had our television debut, and didn't even know about it. 

Monday, June 4, 2012

Snapshot 3: Mainstreet

Main street never rests in the daylight hours.
It is a constant bustle of activity.
Traffic can stop you.
But not like any traffic you've ever seen.

Women carry heavy loads of firewood on their heads 8 feet long.
Young ladies chat in groups about the latest fashion, crossing the road ever so slowly.
Porters try to keep control of heavy carts loaded with stones or re-bar.
Couches line up in fancy velvet advertising themselves.
Vendors use cement steps to display their wares.
Pedestrians gather around shops with TV or music videos blasting into the street.

Motorcycle taxis zoom past at dangerous speeds.
They make things happen affordably here.
You might see them carry a pile of plastic chairs to a party.
Goat squealing his way to slaughter.
A basket of chickens to market.
10 foam mattresses for a friend hosting relatives.
A family of 5 to a wedding.
Businessmen in suits running late for an important meeting.
Middle-class housewives shopping for dinner.
A subwoofer needed 30 minutes ago in a church service.
All of these fit on a motorcycle.

The stray dog runs across your path.
And that woman learning to drive for the first time can't seem to let you pass.
Kids running home from school play frogger in groups,
their blue and white uniforms getting brown in the clouds of dust.
The wealthy new cars are mostly foreign organizations who ignore their shocks and drive over potholes at twice the posted speed limit.

There is no pavement.
Just clouds of dust.
The potholes change with each rain.
There are no crosswalks or traffic signals.
You're lucky if drivers stay on the correct side of the road.
You're driving English-system cars on French-system roads.
And socially, it's important to stop and shake hands with people you know.
And yet I like it.
You are never alone here.
I begin to take on the African fear of solitude.

It's been said, "People drive here like they're riding a horse in the Wild West."
I wouldn't know.
But maybe.
Maybe that helps explain this bustling chaos.
Daytime quiet?
Not here!

Just another day on [Congolese] Mainstreet.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

mortis nocturne

Two of the hours I normally would have spent sleeping last night were instead spent confirming myself as a bona fide Congo resident (or so I hear), as well as confirming a few things I've learned recently about rodents:
  1. They will stay where they are hidden until at least 90% of their cover is blown (which is usually about the time you start to conclude that maybe they aren't there after all).
  2. They aren't particularly smart (given that #1 may make their whereabouts clear, even if they think they are hidden).
  3. They are quite quick enough to make up for #2, and are almost impossible to hit when they are running.
This makes the third time in the last couple weeks that I have spent 1-2 hrs clearing out an area with an alleged rodent, and I hope the end of the Rodent Wars saga. If you haven't done this yourself, Episode I went like this:
  1. Find evidence of rodentry where it shouldn't be, e.g., droppings in your (outside) pantry.
  2. Decide to "do this right" and clear out everything from the porch which provides access to the pantry.
  3. Start removing items from the pantry piece by piece, checking for anything living, and sorting as trashed, to clean, or ready to restock.
  4. Continue until the pantry is almost empty.
  5. Sweep out the pantry.
  6. Notice, while sweeping out the pantry, that there is actually a bit of garbage in the corner that has lots of chewed buts of stuff it in.
  7. Start dissecting the pile, and sweeping bits away.
  8. About half-way through the pile, see an actual rodent, who just afterwards sees you, and runs.
  9. Chase it around the pantry with something you grabbed, alternately stabbing and slashing at it.
  10. Realize that what you grabbed was an old umbrella that, in place of a handle, has sharp edges -- and that you're bleeding profusely.
  11. Close the pantry door, and go into the house and bandage your right hand with your left hand.
  12. With the bleeding stopped, and an impressively large bandage on your hand, return to the pantry.
  13. Finally chase the big rodent out of the pantry, into the one part of the porch you didn't clear (the far side).
  14. poke through the nest and set scurrying two younger specimens.
  15. Watch your children spasm through the motions of trapping them under a couple canisters, then refuse to kill or remove them.
  16. Decide on a compromise of feeding them to the neighborhood cat.
  17. Finish cleaning out the depot and securing a number of possible entry points, all while wondering what happened to that one that got away...
Episode II was basically the same story, only it was the woodpile outside, instead of the depot. A week or so after the conclusion of Episode I, we continued to see rodent sign, and heard occasional scurrying around some wood we bought some time ago and stacked to dry (since it is sold pretty green around here). We moved 10+ madriers (8cm x 25cm x 5m) and three planks (3cm x 30cm x 5m) --none of which were light, of course-- and again just as I was giving up on there being any rodents in the vicinity, we moved the last madrier, and out they ran. This was probably where the other ones had come from, since this group had four adults, as well as a few younger ones, and they had been tunneling (I forgot to mention that there is somehow a hole tunneled up through the cement floor of our pantry...). So, after a bit of ditching for cover, chasing, beating and flushing out, only one adult got away --but into our house and through the first door on the right, into the kitchen.
I took some rather long implements and a flashlight to poke/look around behind the range and fridge, as well as the cabinets that I cobbled together, but no further activity. Given the 90% rule that I was formulating, this made sense, so we asked everyone to keep an ear out, left the back door open, and hoped that it would just leave.
But it didn't...
It had been a couple weeks since the tenuous conclusion to Episode II (in which no one lost a hand), and I was feeling rather satisfied that the rodent had decided that it had had enough, and had simply left our house for greener pastures. We heard nothing anywhere, and saw no droppings. Until last night.
Episode III took place in our bedroom, where evidently this pest had found it's way (I'll thankfully say that even afterwards we found no droppings, so I still don't know where he had been the last two weeks). It made some noises around 2am, at which point the half of us that is more skeptical of night noises was awoken. I poked around where the noise was thought to come from, but didn't find anything, so skepticism and the hour took over. But few minutes after returning to bed (reminiscent of the weeks following childbirth now), I heard the noise myself.
So the entire room was cleared and picked through (we have some crafty and camping things there, as well as the usual clothes). Again at the last minute, this guy jumped out of no cover, to hide behind a bag in an otherwise empty nook of a cabinet.  If I had had my wits about me (it was 2:40 by now?) I'd have just considered the bag a loss, and pierced it through with some (sensibly) sharp object. But no, I grabbed a bucket to trap it, and removed the bag.
That one mistake gained me the "quite quick" insight above, but lost me over an hour off chasing it around our bedroom and bathroom. I eventually gave up on the 2 ft. length of pipe I keep handy for security purposes, and went for what I now call "Goliath's Spear", a somewhat ornate but thick (and 5ft long) piece of wood we had removed from the foot of our bed.
He and I were in and out of the bathroom twice, and around the bed (skirting, but never actually entering the mosquito net!) about five times. Once it was hiding behind Kim's cookbooks, and it's last best hiding spot (where I hit the 90% rule again) was under some tile we hope to lay in our bathroom some day... Needless to say, on about 4am, the thing was finally no longer moving, and it was removed from the house to our back porch.
Where I left it, because I didn't want our dogs eating it (someone else's cat is another thing...), and I didn't want to go out into the rain (praise God, after weeks with almost no water!) to throw it in the trash pile. I could easily wait to deal with it in the morning.

Only, in the morning, it wasn't there...

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Snapshot 2: Evil v. Good

We hired our gardener Beleke* because of his story.
(Well, we needed one too.)
Tropical weeds grow fast. 

Last year, just as Beleke was beginning his seminary studies,
his sending church was attacked in a far away village by the LRA.
I do not know the extent of the evil inflicted there.
I'm not sure I could stomach it.
Suddenly, his scholarship/support disappeared into thin air.
His six children had to drop their studies.
He eventually had to drop his studies.
His passion became to work enough odd jobs to save up enough that they could all attend school again next year.
He has a pastor's heart for his people.
And they suffer.
Far away.

Here he tends and hoes and hums a happy tune.
Weeds and tills with a smile.
He gently brings forth life out of our sticky red clay.
We have an abundant garden full of produce and spices in his care.
Sometimes he works a night shift across town and then comes over to water seeds in the morning hours.
He deftly uses these garden tools to bring life.

In a village far away others use them to bring death.

And a verse runs through my mind...
"Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."
Romans 12:21 (ESV)

*Name has been changed.