Monday, December 30, 2013

Christmas Break

What are you doing for Christmas break?  You know, the time just before 
 Christmas until just after New Year’s?  I find that I am falling into old habits.  After all, as a teacher for many years, I have had time “off” from about December 22 until January 3.  Here, the official church calendar says December 20 through January 6 are vacation days this year.  But, as when I was a teacher, I have a long “to do” list to work through during the break!  Here’s a sample (not necessarily in order of importance) – and my progress to date.

  • Visit with friends and family.  For me the Christmas season is a time to reconnect and spend time together.  In Garoua Boulai I visited various friends during the days before Christmas.  On Christmas Day (reminiscent of last year’s evacuation travel on 12/25!) I drove to N’gaoundéré so I can visit with friends here.  I have talked to family members through Skype and continue to be in contact with Central African friends by phone.  I am enjoying the intentional connections that sometimes get lost in other work at other times.
  • Rest!  I can’t say that my job is strenuous, but it is emotionally difficult at times because of the hardships faced by most Central Africans.  Vicarious stress?!?  So, coming to N’gaoundéré was to take me a step away.  I have had more time to walk and read, but am still in contact with friends in CAR and Garoua Boulai, so really the vicarious stress is only lessened.  I am still glad to have the break.  (Once again, the program won't let me put the pictures where I want, but you get the idea...)

  • Screen Door.  One of my goals for December was to have a screen door made for the front door of “my” guest house in Garoua Boulai.  In Gbaya culture, one judges if a person is home and/or available to visit by looking for an open door.  I never kept my door open because unwanted insects would come in – and maybe unwanted people/animals!  I now have a beautiful wooden screen door that I can lock so people can know I am available, I can get a very nice cross breeze, and unwanted “guests” stay out!  The door was installed during the second half of December – so maybe that wasn’t really a goal for Christmas break, but it feels like a great Christmas present!  Everyone who comes to the house comments on what a great new door I have.
  • Celebrate Jesus’ birth. Services here (either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, depending on the church) include confirmations and baptisms.  I went to the French service in GB on Christmas Eve.  I don’t have an exact count, but between 50 and 75 young people were confirmed.  There were also MANY baptisms!  Long service.  Since I learned that the churches I was considering attending in N’gaoundéré had confirmations and baptisms on Christmas Day, I decided not to attend those long services.  I did go to church here yesterday
    and really enjoyed the music from 5 different choirs. 

  • Car Maintenance.  Since I am in the town with the ECLA car mechanic, I am taking advantage to have some maintenance work done on the car.  Plus, as I drove here, the belt that runs the fan for ventilation and AC broke, so it needs to be replaced.  The mechanic will also try to identify why the gas gauge fluctuations between ½ full and empty.  It gave me a scare as I was driving here to see I had very little fuel left!  I knew I couldn’t have used that much.  I wasn’t worried because the pick-up has two tanks and I can easily switch to the second, but…  Then 10 minutes later I had more than ½ a tank again.  Denis, the mechanic says some wires are touching somewhere they shouldn’t (or something) and that he will explore the problem today. 

  • Haircut.  I have been trimming my own hair which works OK – after all, people here have very different hair and are less likely to be able to tell if I have a great haircut!  On the other hand, I know that lengths have been uneven.  I took advantage of being near Jackie Griffin (another ELCA missionary) who has experience cutting hair.  She has evened things out and I am good to go for a while now – and then to go back to doing it again myself!

  • Visit to the Dentist.  For several years, I have had a spot between two teeth that would occasionally catch food.  My dentist in Pittsburgh said things were fine.  So, when the same spot started catching food more often, I just started flossing more often and did nothing else.  But, Christmas break is a time to get doctors’/dentist’s appointments!  I know, my schedule with this job is much more flexible than when I worked for the Pittsburgh Public Schools, but the dentist is in N’gaoundéré, not Garoua Boulai.  So, December 26, I went to the Dental Clinic of the Protestant Hospital.  The system is that you show up; no appointment necessary. It does mean that you wait.  So, I waited an hour to go into the office; then 20 minutes before an assistant looked in my mouth; then another 15 minutes to see the dentist.  It turns out I had a cavity!  I guess I should have come sooner, but no harm done.  The dentist filled it and I have no more problems!  I can say that the office looked like most dentists’ offices in the US except equipment is older, though modern, and dental chairs are separated by partitions instead of in separate little rooms.  I can also say that I dislike the sound of a dentist’s drill as much here as I did in Pittsburgh!  Visit, notebook to record my history, and filling all for about $30. 

  • Work.  Being an educator, I have always used Christmas break to get caught up and then work ahead.  This year is no exception.  So far, I have updated my financial records and, over the next few days, hope to get things set up for the new year.  I have made some copies for Christian Ed.  (Copies in Baboua are 100 cfa – about 20 cents each.  In GB they are 25 cfa each – about 5 cents each and in N’gaoundéré they are 15 cfa each.  Well worth making the copies here since I am here anyway!)  I can get most of what I need in GB, but there are some things – like a book store – that don’t exist there but do in N’gaoundéré.  Two people asked me to find an English/French dictionary and another asked for a daily devotions book. I found all those.  In the process, I also found a Gbaya/French dictionary!  These are as rare as hen’s teeth, so I snapped it up.  Now I can better work on my Gbaya – another goal for break, although I haven’t started yet…  (Maybe when I finish this blog entry…)  I will be continuing to teach at the Bible School in GB for the second term that starts January 6 so I want to take time to plan the syllabus for next term and work on the first couple of lessons.  Maybe tomorrow…

  • Celebrate the coming 2014.  I will celebrate New Year’s Eve with friends here and continue to pray that 2014 bring more peace throughout the world, and especially in the Central African Republic. 

In all, Christmas break this year is following its usual pattern for me.  More time to relax and visit, but lots of time to get caught up on various tasks. 

I hope your break (even if the one you have/had is short) was restful and productive (however you define that for yourself).  May 2014 bring you all the best.  Pray and work for peace.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Glory to God in the highest

Wishing you a very
Merry Christmas!
Glory be to God in the highest,
And on earth peace among men with who he is pleased!
Luke Chapter Two, Verse Fourteen (English – Revised Standard Version)

Gloire à Dieu au plus haut des cieux
Et sur la terre paix pour ses bien-aimés.
Luc Chapitre Deux, Verset Quatorze (French – Traduction Œcuménique de la Bible)

E gonda Nzapa so ayeke na yayu kâ
Na ndő ti aye kue, siriri na ndő ti sese na popo ti azo so lo ye ala!
Luc Kota Guere Ussé, Kete Guere bale oko na Ossio (Sango Tënë so amu fini)

Gasi Sɂ nɛ ąą yiwese ŋgɔn mɛ,
Ƃɛɛgąąmɔ ą dúk zaŋnu mgarao bíí dua-see-aa.
Luc guna yiitoo gbaa-era ƃu zua taar (Gbaya – Yiitoo Zuduk-aa)

Sorry, only Microsoft Word clip art angels from the US.  I don’t know what angels look like in other languages!

And Peace
on earth.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Handling Small Annoyances

Too many parts of the world are in chaos around us – including the Central African Republic.  We pray and work in whatever small ways we can to better the situation.

At the same time, there are many small annoyances that face us in our day-to-day lives.  How do we handle them?  And, is how we handle them related to how we try to handle/change the bigger problems? 

A constant niggling issue at the guest house is bat guano (poop) and its related smell.  There used to be bats in the
Attic - all clear!
Chalk in a bowl
attic, but I have been assured they are gone.  I actually believe that because I went up into the attic to look – no bats!  The smell up there is still strong, though.  I had the handyman sweep up a bunch of guano – the area still stinks.  Now, I am trying a couple of other strategies.  I have sprinkled vinegar, put out crushed chalk (both odor-eaters, I hope), and am leaving the trap door stand open to air out the space.  I think the smell has permeated the wood of the attic floor, but hope for improvement – it is certainly better than a couple of months ago.

After fires

A related problem is bat guano falling down the chimney.  Early in my time in the guest house, two days in a row, I found a bat in a sink in the morning (one in the bathroom and one in the kitchen).  Jean, the handyman, went up in the attic and assures me that the screening is in place and bats can’t get in anymore.  OK.  They have not been in the house.  (Good!), but are they in the chimney?  He says no.  I am not willing to go up on the roof to look in the chimney and I can’t tell from below – but I can see guano that falls from the chimney on a regular basis! 

A recent idea was to burn a fire in the fireplace to displace any possible bats and clean things out.  So, on the equivalent of hot summer days a couple of weeks ago, three times I sat and enjoyed a roaring fire in the fireplace!  At first more gunk fell out after the fires, but now the “rain” of guano is back to its slow, steady flow.  Next, I tried an old broom to try to clean off the walls of the chimney (where’s Burt the chimney sweep when you need him??)  I was able to dislodge a little gunk, but the handle of the broom is too long to allow it to fit.  What I need is someone who will go onto the roof to try the broom from the top and to be sure that there is a screen covering the top so that I can be sure there are not bats and to eliminate the guano.  In search of…

Another recent annoyance has been a leaky toilet.  Several weeks ago, a new one was install because, in addition to running constantly, the old one had several other problems.  Great!  But the new one wouldn’t stop running either (less, but still there…).  The owner of the hardware store and plumber came back twice and it sort of stopped.  A week later, the toilet ran constantly and the tank wouldn’t fill.  The owner of the hardware store and three plumbers came to replace the tank innards.  They said that the new toilet came with an automatic innards, but that that kind often leak because the seal at the bottom doesn’t sit right after being flushed.  With my new parts, currently no leaking!

An ongoing annoyance has been finding a tailor who can make me clothes that fit the first time.  I have had several dresses made by several different tailors – you’ve seen some pictures.  Often they use a model; always they take measurements.  Then they make clothes that are so tight I can’t breathe or the zipper won’t close.  I keep going back to have them fixed; I have changed tailors.  For the beautiful new dress I just had made, I emphasized at least five times that it must fit and not be too tight.  The (new to me) tailor who came recommended by a friend assured me he could do it.  He did great sewing, but I swear the top was a Size 4 when he was done.  I was so upset.  He assured me it could be fixed, but I was picking it up the day so many people were arriving for meetings at the end of Nov.  He agreed to fix it and deliver it to the house.  He did – by adding 1 ½ strips of cloth to each side of the top at the seam.  It fit.  I have had him fix another tight dress and it worked well.  I may, sometime soon, get him to make another dress just to see if he can make it right the first time.  (Hope springs eternal…)

My last example is the weather.  The dry season is definitely here.  That means it gets cold at night, but still warms up nicely during the day.  A couple of days ago, it was 59 degrees in my bedroom when I woke up in the morning!  OK, I know that related to winter weather that has already hit Pennsylvania and the northern parts of the US, this is nothing, but it is chilly!!  I decided that it is time to close windows at night!  And, I wear long sleeves.  As I say, thought, with the sun out, it goes up into the 70s during the day, so I have no real complaints about the weather.

I return to the question posed earlier.  Does the way we handle small annoyances reflect how we try to deal with larger one?  I would say yes.  My approach to resolving small problems is with persistence, trying various strategies, and getting help.  For larger issues, I try the same.  Yes, it means frustration often because larger problems are often outside of my control.  That’s when I add prayer, seeking council, and finding small ways to improve life around me even if I can’t see the immediate impact of these actions in resolving bigger problems.  Little steps and banding together raise hope.  When huge problems loom, hope is essential.  We must believe that the unchangeable can be changed.  So, to quote Theodore Roosevelt, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Work for Peace

Many in the US and around the world often say, “We work for peace.”  What does that mean?  HOW do we do it? 

We are in advent, a season of preparation and hope.  We commemorate Jesus’ first coming and his life-saving gift.  At the same time, we look forward to his second coming which will eliminate hate, greed, evil, and destructive actions of some people against others.

As I write a neighbor is playing Christmas carols, reminding me of the season. (Yes, I know it’s not Christmas yet, but here, like in the States, December means Christmas carols – too bad we don’t have more Advent carols!)  Yet, I don’t feel joy or hope.  The news out of the Central African Republic goes from bad to worse to absolutely horrible. 

1200 people are crammed into St. Timothy’s concession in Bangui.  (That the Evangelical Lutheran church near the airport.)  Thousands are taking refuge on runways at the airport.  Then, I hear that the people of Bohong have been attached again.  Many in other towns also face death or displacement. 

Yes, neighboring countries have sent troops and now the French have sent more to help calm the situation, but, on Day 3, two young French soldiers (ages 22 and 23) were killed while trying to disarm someone.  A merchant here in Garoua Boulai said, “What can you expect?  Why would a Muslim Seleka give up his weapon when there are a group of Christians nearby waiting to kill him as soon as the French leave?”  OK.  I understand, but is killing the answer???

We all want to live.  Of course.  But vengeance doesn’t bring back loved ones; it only makes someone else want to take revenge on us because of our actions. 

I am thinking a lot about Nelson Mandela as his life is celebrated at the time of his death.  He worked for peace and reconciliation.  I am thinking of the women in Liberia as portrayed in Gina Reticker and Abigail Disney’s wonderful film, “Praying the Devil Back to Hell.”  Leymah Gbowee organized the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace getting thousands of Christian and Muslim women to meet in the fish market (and later at peace talks) to sing and pray for peace.  One woman started it and many others joined her.

The massacre of Christians and Muslims in CAR is horrendous.  It is WRONG!  It runs counter to the basic tenets of both religions.  These people DO NOT represent Christ or Mohamad or God.  But they have the weapons.  The Seleka are fomenting hate, discord, and greed.  They are needlessly killing, looting, and provoking a reign of terror.  I can understand those who have said “enough,” and want to strike back.  I understand, but they are now killing, and looting, and provoking a reign of terror. 

When will it stop?  Who will stand up and, in the tradition of Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, and Leymah Gbowee, say enough – at the same time refusing to enter into the violent reprisals? 

I have avoided writing about much of the violence and bloodshed because it is all over the news.  CAR is even making the news in the US – which means the situation is dire, indeed.  Then, there is Syria and all the other war-torn places in the world.  I have thought that by bringing you thoughts and news about other aspects of my live in Garoua Boulai, you could better understand this part of the world and see how much humanity and love we share.

In the past week the news from CAR has been horrendous – again – yet worse than before.  Over 400 killed in sectarian violence in Bangui.  Tens of thousands displaced.  Now I hear that Bohong (village in the northwestern part of the country where the Evangelical Lutheran Church of CAR has a hospital) that was virtually destroyed in August was attached again yesterday morning.  Many Seleka troops were headed that way – to quell the self-defense group.  More slaughter and destruction?

People tell me that I am brave to be working in Garoua Boulai.  Brave?  To be in a peaceful town?  Yes, people here are affected.  There is virtually no commerce with CAR which greatly impacts people’s livelihoods.  I was talking to a trucker (visiting in his brother’s shop) who reported that he drives one of several trucks with food assistance for Bouar that is stuck in GB because there is not escort to get them safely to their destination – he can’t work and much needed food can’t be delivered.  Many Central African refugees have flooded town. But my life and work continue.  I am safe and comfortable in my “luxurious” house. 

I know there are many small things we do, day-to-day, that promote peace in our lives, those of our neighbors, and in our cities and countries.  Somehow that doesn’t seem like enough, but I here are some actions I am determined to continue, I:
·         great everyone as I walk down the street – women, men, children, Christian, Muslim.
·         try to greet them in their own language – as a courtesy, even if I can’t say more than hello.
·         talk to people in town to get to know them and learn about their lives in cultures – esp. those who are different than I am.  (Well, OK, that means most everyone here!)
·         focus on doing my work the best that I am able – while trying to see people as individuals who have more similar to me than different.
·         call my co-workers and friends in CAR regularly so we can work, but also so they know they are not alone.  (OK, that’s hard right now because the telephone network around Baboua is currently down and needs repairmen/supplies from Bangui – who knows when that will happen…)
·         Offer hospitality to all who come to my house.
·         feed those I work with whenever possible and offering meat or fish – not just because it is a sign of respect for guests here, but also because I know that many can’t afford the cost of meat right now.
·         communicate with family, friends, and supporters – to feel connected to you all while a world away and to keep you informed about what is happening for me.

All of these actions are ways for me to show God’s love to others.  He has blessed me immensely; I am grateful and need to pass that love on to others.

So, pray for peace – and send me examples ways you are working for peace where you are.  Maybe I can try some of those. 

If we all pray at the same time and all work to defeat hate and greed at the same time, we CAN and MUST affect change. 

(p.s. no pictures with this blog – if you need to see pictures, watch the news or check the internet; images of war and destruction abound.)