Archive for the ‘Africa’ category

When is a Bag of Nuts a Window?

February 11, 2014

Our journey from Musanze to Kigali was an adventure.  Ron and Carolyn Stansell, Fred, the FTC librarian, John Muhanji, Debi Miller and Eloise Hockett joined me as passengers in Dave Thomas’ sturdy Land Cruiser. John and Ron were sitting in the way back. Dave had loaded all the luggage on the top rack and then neatly bundled them in tarps.  It was raining as we loaded and we anticipated rain most of the trip.  Dave was pretty wet by the time he finished the loading.  After a lengthy negotiation with the office manager of the guest house regarding fees and statements, we were ready to go! Marie Claire, the young Rwandan women who exchanged email addresses with me wished me a “safe journey”.

I got into the passenger seat next to Dave at the insistence of my colleagues.  I had to reach through the open window because the outside door handle was broken. When I sat down and prepared to roll up the window, I discovered that it was stuck about two-thirds of the way up.  Dave got out of the car to get next to me on the outside to work with the window.  “Open the door so I can try”, he said.  Well, you can guess what happened then.  Right, the door was stuck as well.  We fiddled with the window and door for about five minutes until I realized that a partially closed window and a stuck shut door were better options than an open window or a door I would have to hold closed for the entire three hour trip.

Dave told me that we would just find something to block off the opening.  He asked anyone if they had a plastic bag.  Someone said, “In my suitcase”, but Dave was not going to unpack that skillfully bundled load on the top of the car.  I remembered I had a gallon-size zip lock bag in my briefcase with some cashews in it.  This bag had the leftovers from my plane ride to Rwanda. I dumped out the few remaining nuts and gave the bag to David. He rummaged around under his seat and found another zip lock bag there and several pieces of used duct tape somewhere in the back of the car.  He and several of the men did a temporary patch.  As we pulled away, the tape failed and the bags came loose.  Fortunately I caught them. Plastic bags are illegal in Rwanda and we may not have found others.  After a trip to a local store, Dave returned with some strapping tape.  He and John and Fred made a better seal, wiping the wet car and window with a rag which was used to clean the inside of the windshield. While the window-building was going on, Ron and Carolyn told us about the Thomas fixit gene and how David’s father, Hal, and other male members of his family were geniuses at solving all kinds of mechanical problems.

As we drove down the road, the bag-window fluttered and crackled.  We wondered if it would hold.  A couple of kilometers down the road, Dave stopped for fuel and again, he did additional work at securing the bag-window.  I am happy to report that the window held for the remainder of the trip, three hours across the Rwandan countryside through varying degrees of African rainfall.2014-02-02 09.54.53

We did make one stop on our way back to Kigali.  The photo is of a roadside restaurant and bus stop. At this place was a famous food stand.  We had very good goat-on-a-stick here, which we enjoyed in the car as we traveled “home”.


Basic Assumptions

February 10, 2014

While sitting at breakfast this morning at the CINFOP Guest House, I composed a list of basic assumptions about staying in hotels that one should not make while traveling to Musanze Rwanda. For those of you who are used to staying in hotels in the United States, please slow down and read this list carefully if you are considering a trip to Musanze, or for that matter, many cities in Africa.

  1. Animals will not be in your room.  This is not a good assumption to make.  I have found birds and reptiles in my room and there are always lots of insects.
  2. Strangers will not approach you for conversation.  I know it is rare that strangers will approach you in an American hotel.  If you are a Mzungu in an African hotel, be prepared for all kinds of people to converse with you!
  3. You will check in and be asked to register and you will know the financial terms of your lodging at check in.  This is not a safe assumption.  Please be proactive at the beginning so that you are not surprised at the end.
  4. You will have hot water on demand.  Ha!  You may have hot water, at some time during your stay.
  5. You will have water at all.  You may have some water, at some point during your stay.
  6. The water from the tap is safe to drink.  Please know that while many assumptions on this list will cause you inconvenience, this one could cause you distress.  Be prepared to bring your own bottled water.
  7. When you shower, your bathroom floor won’t be flooded with water.  Please be careful on those wet bathroom floors.
  8. Your toilet will flush.  Hey, there is some water in there, isn’t there?
  9. You will have toilet paper, soap and shampoo in your room.  Don’t wait until you sit down to determine whether there is paper in the bathroom.
  10. Your room will be cleaned or tidied daily.  You literally may have the only room key. Be thankful that housekeeping staff finds you when you are around so that you can let them in to tidy up.
  11. You will have electricity.  While you expect this as a basic feature available at an American hotel, I can assure you that electricity can be an occasional luxury in Musanze.
  12. You will be able to read in your room at night.  While you have electricity, there is no guarantee that the light will be sufficient for reading.  Bring a headlamp or mini-flashlight to be sure.
  13. You will have free, uninterrupted access to the Internet.  You may have access to a local newspaper somewhere in the neighborhood.
  14. When you order a meal, you will be served within 90-120 minutes of placing your order.  Be prepared to hear “soon” when asking how long it will be before the food arrives.  If you hear a chicken shrieking at some point after placing your order, at least you know that progress is being made on your dinner.
  15. You recognize the food you are being served.  It’s an adventure, and usually a pleasant one, but please don’t get hung up on actually knowing what you are eating.
  16. You will be able to communicate effectively with hotel and restaurant staff.  Please don’t assume that if someone smiles and says yes that he has understood you and is complying with your request.

At least its not the Hotel California.  I found that I could leave after I checked out.  And regardless of how challenging it seems, I would not trade the memories of our stay at the CINFOP Guest House for anything! The grounds were amazingly beautiful, the people were lovely, the price was right and it was just a short walk to the place where we were working.Scot and Friends

Singing and Dancing

February 9, 2014

Sunday afternoon in the guest house in Musanze

The celebration for the opening of the Rwanda Friends Theological College is over and what a time it was!  I heard signing coming from down the road at about 0830 this morning, signaling the call to worship.  When I had left the church building where our in-service program had concluded yesterday evening, some men were setting up a tent on the road-side of the property, but it was the only preparation I actually saw by the time we left.

I walked down the road this morning feeling quite a bit better than I had felt the morning before.  I was not quite sure if I could sit through a four-hour worship service, but I was ready to give it a go.  My friends and colleagues had gone on ahead of me, as I needed a few more minutes of rest after breakfast.  I did have a little breakfast this morning, and the passion fruit was excellent, as was the African tea with ginger.  Ron and Carolyn Stansell joined us for breakfast.  Ron was invited to give the main address today.  He and Carolyn are on their way to Burundi and the Congo for consultation work there with the Friends churches.

As I arrived at the church site, the music continued, upbeat chorale music with dense harmonies.  I noted all the additional preparations that had occurred, with benches set up in the grassy compound, and already many people seated.  There were scores of people milling around the front of the library and the church building.  As I looked under the tent, I spotted some white faces on the far side and so I walked a little further down the road and entered the church compound through an archway festooned with balloons. I saw my colleagues sitting in the front row.  I went to sit down next to Debbi, who was on the left flank of our row.  A man approached me and moved me further toward the center on the row, next to Ron Stansell, with Nicodemous to my left. Carolyn sat on Ron’s other side and to her right were the mayor of Musanze and David Buchura, the yearly meeting superintendent.

Nicodemous had participated in our workshop and it was obvious that he was a well-educated and studious man.  Ron told me that he would translate for Ron when he brought the message.  I sat behind a table that had floral arrangements on it.  I sat on a very comfortable couch and my feet rested on a carpet.  I looked around me and behind me.  The entire tent area was filled with visitors and honored guests.  On the one hand, I was surprised that we had been designated as honored guests, yet, on the other hand, I realized that the typical cultural expectation here required us to be considered as such.singing

The singing continued, interspersed with a greeting from the presiding pastor and some prayers from various people.  The choirs performed to the accompaniment of electronic keyboards and so we got a very nice lilting, rhythmic effect from the music.  Many of the songs, Nicodemous told me, were composed just for this occasion.  Most of the choirs did wonderful dances as they sang.  At one particular moment, I noticed a young girl, probably about 4 or 5 who was dancing enthusiastically along with the choir. The joy of the Lord welled up inside of me and all I could think was, “My soul does magnify the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my savior”.  I recognized the significant blessing of the Lord in that place, the excitement of a gathered group coming to give thanks and celebrate the goodness of God.

Part way through the celebration, the master of ceremonies called honored guests to stand and walk to the steps of the Bible College building.  We were included in the delegation.  I realized that we would participate at that time in a ribbon cutting ceremony.  As the crowd of honored guests made it down the roadway of volcanic rock, I positioned myself at the bottom of the steps.  Habimana, the Principal of the College, called my name and brought me up to the top of the stairs.  The ribbon was cut and we proceeded into the building, receiving a tour. I am so glad we had taken the time to walk with the entire group of faculty in our workshop through the building on Friday morning, praying for each room.  This brief tour was like icing on the cake, the ceremonial opening.  I feel as if the faculty themselves actually dedicated the space as we did our prayer walk on Friday morning.  The tour ended with a peek at the library and a prayer for it.  We returned to our seats.

The ceremony went on with various prayers, messages and songs.  Remarkably, the program maintained the schedule and I thought I heard a joke from David Buchura referring to them being on Mzungu time for this celebration.  RonRon’s address was taken from Paul’s second letter to Timothy.  He did a nice job of working with his translator and the message was quite stirring and appropriate.  The worship time ended with a speech from the mayor of Muzanse and one from David Buchura.  The mayor was given two bibles as gifts, Ron Stansell was given a plaque in the shape of Rwanda with two hands clasped as a gift to be taken to EFI.  Lon Fendall was given three gifts, a floppy straw hat, a traditional eating bowl and a carved boat.  All were symbolic gifts to reflect the appreciation of the Rwandan Friends to Lon for his years of service in support of them and the RFTC.

At the conclusion of the service, the honored guests were sent back to the steps of the building.  It was to be a time of prayer, I thought.  It was a second ribbon cutting ceremony.  Once again, Habimana called me up to the front, this time, asking me to hold the ribbon as the Mayor cut it.  We entered into the building and there was lunch laid out for us!  I took very small portions.  We sat and visited in the same room we had eaten dinner on Friday evening, this time in a much more formal manner.  I asked Ron to tell me about the roots of the Friends work in Rwanda and he filled me in quite a bit.  Carolyn told me that a book he has written has chapters on this region.

Onions and Carrots

February 6, 2014

I’ll go to the market for onions and carrots, but souvenirs? Aidah agreed to take Eloise, Debi and John to the market this morning.  Last night, they invitedaidah me to go, but when I discovered they were going to the craft market, I kindly declined the invitation.  I will say that going to the craft market in Kigali is quite a bit more tame than going to the market in Kigali or Kisumu in Kenya. However, I am saving my souvenir shopping for later in the trip.

On my last visit here, Celestine took me to the farmer’s market on the way back from seeing a friend.  This was my kind of market, kind of like going to Fred Meyer in Newberg!  All kinds of foods and household items, clothes, tools and you name it.  Better than Freddy’s though, there are all kinds of helpful people at each sales booth, eager to help you make a selection.  Onions and carrots, or a full sack of grain, no problem! Even better than buying meat at Freddy’s, you can go to the butcher stall in the market here and have the fellow carve your portion right off the side of beef hanging in front of you, wrap it and hand it to you on the spot.

Local-market I am sure my friends will enjoy their visit to the market.  I hope that their families will enjoy the gifts that they receive when my friends return home.  I wonder what the Transportation Safety Administration and the Customs officials are going to say about my onions and carrots?

Post Script: On our way to the north, my friends Debi and Eloise shared photos of their market visit.  They had photos of beautiful fruits and vegetables!  I guess I could have gotten my onions and carrots after all.

By the way, if you want to get a feel for the energy and atmosphere of the market, listen to this:

Typical Precautions

February 5, 2014

There are typical precautions one takes when traveling to the developing world. Or, I should say that there are typical precautions that are suggested or prescribed by various authorities.  There are precautions regarding your health, your safety and your finances.  There are precautions regarding travel arrangements, accommodations and communication.

Here are a few precautions that are typically presented to American visitors to East Africa, for instance.

  1. Make a copy of your passport and put it in a place other than where you keep your passport.
  2. Use a money belt or similar device to protect your currency and other valuables.
  3. Get inoculations for protection against various illnesses.
  4. Use a mosquito net.
  5. Only drink bottled water.
  6. Inform your credit card companies of your international travel.
  7. Arrive early to the airport for international flights.

I am sure that there are many other precautions one could undertake. If you  have traveled to the region, you could probably list others precautions, as well. These precautions are made to help reduce uncertainty and risk while traveling away from home.

I admit that it has become easier for me to ignore potential risks and to take certain things for granted while I travel in Africa at this point in my life.  I suppose that my own familiarity with general situations and procedures in Rwanda and Kenya after a dozen visits gives me a certain set of expectations that allows me to be less cautious.  I also realize that my continued travel to this region has provided me with a number of opportunities to rest easy in the presence of Christ. During my first trip to Africa, about a decade ago, I had a very powerful experience of God’s presence as I stood in an abandoned rail yard in Okahandja, Namibia. Since that day, time after time as I have walked in cities and in rural areas, had conversations with educators and farmers, sipped tea in front rooms and cafes and marveled at the beautiful countryside of the Western Province of Kenya, I have sensed God’s presence.

The darkness of uncertainty persists, although at times I will even embrace that uncertainty. I know that in spite of taking precautions, not all variables can be accounted for. I never really know what person or event will cross my path.  I do know though, that light pushes back the darkness. Today, I read this line from the first chapter of the Book of John:

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Darkness has not and will not overcome light.  That assertion gives me hope.  I am hopeful within the darkness of uncertainty as I recognize the light of Christ shining there.  At times I find myself wondering why I did not notice the light.  The light was there.  What is it that cause me to miss the light at those times?  We have all experienced the phenomenon of our eyes getting used to the dark.  Our eyes adjust to the ambient light in a darkened room, allowing us to see light that was not apparent prior to that adjustment. In a similar fashion, I think that my spiritual eyes make adjustments, as I become quiet and patient in the darkness, allowing the light of Christ to appear, growing brighter as I become more fully aware.

In that rail yard in Okahandja many years ago, this verse of scripture came to my mind: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. (Matthew 13:44)”. I meditated in that moment on the meaning of the verse.  What was so valuable that I would sell all I had to obtain it?  I initially concluded that it would be the presence of God.  And yet, as I thought more about it, I recognized that God is always present.  Therefore, what was priceless to me was my own recognition of God’s presence.  As my own recognition of Christ’s light grows, the darkness is pushed back, I have less concern about risk.  Uncertainty is not something I fear, but accept, for all things can be illuminated by the Light of Christ.

Typical precautions are necessary and prudent, bringing some sense of safety.  Recognizing and responding to the Light, however, brings acceptance, joy, and hope.

Road Tested

February 4, 2014

Most of the road was an air-road, pointing East and South. Early Sunday morning we arrived at the airport in Portland and began our long journey to Rwanda. My colleague, Debi Miller and I arrived safely in Kigali Monday night, somewhat tired and road weary. Never-the-less, we arrived at the end of our long journey, that moved us eastward through ten time zones and southward some 47 degrees of latitude.

I am prompted this morning, as I sit in the living room of the Go Ed house in Kigali by this brief passage from Psalm Chapter 18 (The Message Version):

What a God! His road
stretches straight and smooth.
Every God-direction is road-tested.
Everyone who runs toward him
Makes it.

My daughter, Livvy asked me several days ago if I liked going to Africa.  My response to her was, “I love being in Africa, the getting there, not so much”.  However, the getting here is so much better than it was in previous generations.  I think about Lois and Earl Aherns, our children’s adopted grandparents, who served as missionaries in West Africa for many years.  Lois told us the story of the ‘getting there’ in the 1940s.  You said goodbye to your family and friends, you got on a ship, you sailed for many days and you arrived on a new continent, committed to a lifetime of service in a new place, with only occasional communication with your people back home.

Both the modes of transportation and communication we employ today makes the nature of a trip to Africa profoundly different than it was in the past.  While I endure a day or so of moderate inconvenience, contemporary air travel reduces the time and the heightens the safety and comfort for intercontinental travelers to the point that coming to Africa becomes a possibility much easier imagined than in the generation of the Aherns family. Likewise, our communications media allow me practically instantaneous exchanges between family, friends and colleagues back home in Oregon.

I am grateful this morning.  I am grateful for the purpose that brings me to Africa once again.  I am grateful for the friends who host me here.  I am grateful to my family for allowing me to travel, and I am grateful to God’s road, stretching straight and smooth.

At this Point, I’ll Take Nairobi

February 18, 2013

Max and I sitting in the transit lounge of the airport in Jo’burg, South Africa.  The airport here is huge and based on previous experience in Nairobi, I felt comfortable in telling Max we should just wait in the airport as opposed to leaving to go find a hotel.  Our plan leaves before 7 in the morning. At this point, i would prefer Nairobi with all is hustle and bustle, all the shops and the people milling around.  It is quiet here and I may be able to catch a nap. But, there are no shops and the only people here are sleeping transfer travelers and an energetic cleaning and maintenance staff.  I am grateful for good wireless internet access and for a fairly comfortable chair to sit in.

We were in the air about 11 hours, flying KLM from Amsterdam to Johannesburg. Max got off the plane from PDX and immediately entered the boarding area for our flight.  I was in Amsterdam for two days and had a marvelous day with Quakers in Amsterdam.  I was hosted by my friend, Paul Arora.  I took the train from Schipol airport, as I had been staying in a hotel with a shuttle service.  Most of the day Saturday was spent in battling jet lag and preparing my presentation to Quakers on Sunday. I got off the train at Amsterdam Zuid Station and after grabbing a grande Starbucks (about 3 Euros), I walked a short distance to the Tram and boarded Number 5 which took me to the Rijkssmuseum. This is the museum that Debbie and I visited in the fall of 2012.  From this stop, it was a brief walk to the Meeting House Quaker Centruum). I took a brief stroll in Vondel Park where Debbie and I searched for a labyrinth with Paul Arora on our last visit.  In the park I was approached by Bosnian exile who requested a Euro for breakfast.

The meeting for worship was attended by about a dozen folks, including a delightful 6 month old baby boy who scooted all across the floor while we sat is silence. We shared a potluck after the meeting, mostly bread and cheese and a quiche, which was very nice.  About 10 Friends remained for my presentation about our work in Kenya and Rwanda.  Several had traveled great distance to be here with us and I loved the conversation.  Later that afternoon, I went to Paul’s house to share tea with he and his wife.  We have a lovely time and then they drove me back to my hotel, the Ibis.

I will need to spend more time reflecting on the meaning of my day with Dutch Friends.  At this time, I am humbled and grateful to have met these folks and to have visited the meeting now four times in the last few years.  I will look forward to learning more with them and from them.