Friday, December 14, 2007

subject to change

Where I'll be when over the next few months and beyond is still being sorted out, but for those who want to know (and for those who don't but wander over here anyway!), here's the plan I've got so far:
  • now - Dec. 22: livin' it up in Nashville
  • Dec. 22-sometime after Christmas: finally catching up with the fam in East Tennessee, the land of my birth
  • sometime after Christmas-sometime in late January: keeping my parents company at their Kansas digs
  • late January/early February: back to Nashville for some work and a "report from Africa" gathering of some sort
  • February: some traveling for such purposes as scouting out future options and saying thanks to supporters
  • March-ish until sometime: livin' it up in Nashville

I appreciate your prayers as I also pray and listen, seeking to hear where and to what God's leading me next. I plan to continue freelancing, but beyond that the road ahead's wide open. I've got ideas, but they're not quite blog-worthy yet. Mostly, I'm praying I'll be a good steward of the opportunity I've got to move almost anywhere or to stay where I am, the opportunity to re-evaluate and make an intentional and hopefully obedient decision.

Monday, December 10, 2007

pray for the folks in bundibugyo

Please join me in praying for the World Harvest Mission team in the Bundibugyo district of western Uganda. I spent a brief two days with them in early October (here's my post from that visit). Last night I received a message from one of my friends from that visit. Amy has returned to the US since I was there, but she's stayed in close touch with what's going on there.

You may have heard news, as I did, that there had been an outbreak of the Ebola virus in Uganda. In the midst of my travels and minimal internet access, I never had a chance to check further into that report. However, Amy's message brought that report slamming into my very recently re-acquired American life.

Bundibugyo is the location of the outbreak. The World Harvest Mission's team leaders in Bundibugyo, Drs. Scott and Jennifer Myhre, as well as a short term staff person and physician assistant, Scott Will, are working in the thick of the outbreak. The district has few doctors and the Myhres serve as doctors supplementing the staffing of the government medical providers. Scott Will had worked in Bundibugyo previously. When we flew to Bundi for our information-gathering visit, he was with us, fresh from his flight from the States and excited to be returning for another short term stint in Bundi.

I didn't know much about Ebola prior to today, but today's lesson has explained that it's a virus mostly confined to Africa. Previously, four different strains had been identified. Early indications are that the Bundibugyo strain is a new one. So far it's never been found to be airborne, and it's transferred by contact with body fluids and dead bodies of infected people. Early indications are such common-seeming symptoms as fevers, vomiting, and diarrhea, but the disease progresses to internal and external bleeding. The death rate of those infected is typically very high--50-90%--but so far the numbers in Bundibugyo have been closer to 25%. From what I've read, it sounds like one of the greatest dangers is to people caring for the sick before they know what they're dealing with and know to use extreme measures of protection. The virus resurfaced earlier this year in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but I think that was more in the western part of DRC. Bundibugyo borders Congo on the east.

All members of the World Harvest Mission team, including the Myhre's kids, have been evacuated to Kampala except for the two Scotts and Jennifer.

One of the greatest costs of this crisis has been the death of Dr. Jonah Kule. We met him while we were in Bundibugyo, though I didn't interview him. The Myhre's described him as their best friend in Uganda. He was working as a medical officer, and the Myhres/WHM helped fund him through medical school. His return to his hometown in remote Bundibugyo to practice medicine was significant, as he could have made much more money practicing medicine elsewhere. The Myhre's described him as a man of great integrity.

Please pray for physical protection for Scott and Jennifer and for Scott Will and the rest of the health care providers. Please pray for the Myhre family as they are separated from each other. Pray for the WHM team as they grieve the losses and live in the intense uncertainty of this time. Please pray for the spread of the virus to be stopped, for the patients who are already ill, for people grieving lost family and friends, that Dr. Jonah's death will somehow bring glory to God's name.

You will find more information on Scott and Jennifer's blog and on Scott Will's blog.

I didn't take many photos in Bundibugyo because I was so busy collecting information, but here are some of the photos Layton took.

the airstrip facing the Rwenzori mountains
the excitement generated by the plane's arrival

one of the buildings of the Nyahuka Health Center, in the town where the WHM team is based. the isolation wards for Ebola patients are at the Bundibugyo town (the district and its main town have the same name) hospital and another hospital.
Drs. Scott and Jennifer Myhre

Saturday, December 8, 2007

almost home

I’m sitting in the airport waiting for the final flight of this trip. It’s been delayed, giving me time to sit by myself and ponder, giving me a moment of pause before I fully re-enter a version of my old life. Though I’ve now been back in the U.S. for almost a week, it’s the return to Nashville that will signal the real end of this Africa trip. Even there I’ll still be in transit, surrounded by suitcases and without a physical home, but in spite of that I will have to take up some version of normal life and responsibility again. I have Africa assignments to finish, but I’ll be buying my own milk and cereal after driving myself to the grocery store. I’ll be checking in with clients and facing a mountain of mail. Though I’ll still have Africa in my head and on my fingers, I won’t officially be traveling anymore.

I’m nervous as I head back, though less nervous today than yesterday. Still, I don’t think my old life will fit me anymore. More honestly, I’m hoping it won’t, and perhaps I’m more afraid that it will fit. I don’t think I want it to.

I don’t know yet exactly how these four months have changed me. Has it been in big ways? Or small ways? Or somehow not at all? It’s in returning to Nashville, it seems, that I’ll begin to see what’s changed in me and what hasn’t. Though part of me doesn’t want to go back there, part of me knows I have to for a little while at least. I don’t think I’ll be staying there. That’s not certain yet but seems likely, which makes returning “home” even more odd and full of mixed emotions. After four months away, I’ve disconnected from the place. It seems a bit tiring to think of reinvesting there for a blip of time before fully moving on. But, at the same time, I need that reinvestment and reconnection. And, don’t get me wrong, I really like Nashville. It’s been a good place for me to be these past five and a half years. So, thoughts of leaving don’t come without sadness.

Already Africa seems a long way away. I know I was there, and I have the stories and pictures and souvenirs to prove it, but already it feels like another lifetime. What was so real in those moments has begun to morph into legend and fairy tale. I guess that’s what happens when you travel through time, when 6 pm to 6 am is 19 hours instead of 12 and you enter your time machine on one continent and exit it on another.

I want the true Africa stories--the everyday, unlegendary, this-is-what’s-in-front-of-me-today stories--to live long. Now removed from Africa, my time there seems too short, too cursory, too much of an overview, like a summary rather than a book. And while I hope to go back some day, perhaps for longer, perhaps under different specifics, I can’t really live in that desire at the moment because I also just need to be home. I need to be with old friends. I need something solid under my feet. I can’t yet strike out on the next adventure. And I’m not comfortable acknowledging these needs, but it feels important to voice them.

Home. I’ve struggled with knowing what language to use as I try to say I’m going back home. With no permanent address other than my p.o. box and no house for my bookshelves or dresser for my clothes, language about home seems false and fake. I watched the movie The Terminal while I was in South Africa. It’s a nice movie to watch while you’re traveling, and I feel increasing empathy for Tom Hanks’ character who’s stuck in an airport without a country, without a citizenship, without a home.

I’ve read some things lately about our home being in God. That’s true. I buy that. And there’s settledness in that. But, whether because I haven’t fully lived in the reality of that yet or because I’m still a human being living on this earth, it seems that however true my God-home is, my feet still yearn for a place to slip off their shoes and prop themselves up on a familiar coffee table when they return from their adventures. They’re not looking to end the adventures, just to have a safe, quiet, familiar place to come back to. But, perhaps being greeted at the Nashville airport by generous, caring friends will be that safe, quiet, familiar place more than I expect.

coffee, coats and cape verde

I’ve hit coffeehouses with a vengeance this week, with an average of 1-2 visits every day, mostly because they’re convenient places for meeting up with my DC friends rather than because I’ve been dying for coffee. Last night was my third or fourth Starbucks visit, all of which have been bittersweet (sounds like I’m describing Arabian Mocha Java or something, doesn’t it? :-) ) because they remind me that I’m just an alumnus of that family now, not a real member anymore.

After I paid for my grande peppermint hot chocolate, the guy behind me in line complimented my coat. For reasons that deserve a whole other story, compliments on my coat are particularly sweet to receive. I explained to him that I’d just returned from four months in Africa, so I’d just purchased the coat.

“Oh, where in Africa were you?” he asked.

I listed the countries. He was excited and envious. He’s never been there yet, but his parents are from Cape Verde. Honestly, I didn’t really know until this trip that that’s a country, an island country off the coast of West Africa. I think coat-complimenter guy said they speak Portuguese there. He’s always wanted to go visit West Africa. (To learn more about Cape Verde, click

He asked what I was there for. I explained I was a writer and had done work for some non-profit organizations. Then tell people, he said, that Africa is more than poor people, that it’s beautiful, that there’s more to the story. I told him that was already in my plan.

He walked off, and on the eve of the real end of this trip I felt like I’d been given a mandate.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

what a welcome home

This, my friends, is a little picture called irony.

See those two bottom slots on the right side of my wallet? For a few hours they held the debit card and solo credit card that traveled safely with me through four months of Africa. But, then, after just 36 hours back home in the land of their birth, I let them down. I apparently left them just unattended enough for someone in Zorba's Cafe to practice a little sleight of hand and snatch them from their comfy little home.

See that white business card on top of the wallet? That's the business card for the kindly DC police officer who wrote up the official report about the abduction of my two precious little plastic cards.

Yep, you're reading what you think you're reading. After four months of safe travels in places lots of people don't think of as safe, I arrived home and quickly became the victim of a crime. After four months of extra vigilance on behalf of my belongings, I had only 36 hours of trying to readjust to an appropriate level of vigilance for an American city before a thief struck. Somehow while I was eating supper tonight with one of my DC friends, someone managed to reach into the purse that was on the floor between my seat and the wall and snag the two cards, without I or my friend noticing. I think the crime probably occurred when I got up from the table and went downstairs to get a straw from the restaurant's counter. My friend never left the table, though. When I returned to my seat, I thought my purse was a little further toward the back of my chair than I remembered, but I just moved it back under the table and proceeded with a lovely catch-up conversation with my friend.

A couple hours later we walked a few feet down the street to finish off our meal with a Starbucks treat (my first one in four months! and my first full price Starbucks drink in 5.5 years!). An unpleasant sight met me when I opened my wallet to pay for my peppermint hot chocolate.

So, I'm praying nothing was spent before I got ahold of credit card companies, and I'm thankful that nothing more was taken. The thief left my drivers license, my cash, and the receipt for the winter coat I'd purchased earlier in the day. He/She also left my digital camera and my glasses. And he/she didn't hurt me in the process of getting what he/she wanted. So, as crimes go, it was relatively uninvasive (I say this before I've gotten to talk with my bank. We'll see if the story stays the same after business hours begin tomorrow!)

Other than this little incident, my arrival back in the U.S. has been really nice. DC has become one of my hometown cities. Though I only lived here for a couple years, they were formative years right after college. And the city is home to so many good, good friends (with good describing my relationship with them as well as the high quality of the friends themselves!). Some of the trees here are even still boasting yellow leaves, as though they saved a bit of autumn just for me to enjoy, and the nippy air is as refreshing as the diversity of people who live here.

It's good to be home, even on days that begin better than they end.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

more cousins!!

It's hard to see in the small version of this photo but the red roofed buildings in the center of the photo are the buildings of Edwaleni, the Free Methodist mission station my grandpa Carl Rice grew up on. My great-grandparents Silas and Mabel Rice ran a technical training school there, teaching things like auto mechanics, carpentry, and tanning.
Edwaleni was set in the middle of beautiful, rural, green rolling hills.

Five Rice's standing at the gate entrance to the main Edwaleni grounds: Lauren and dad Jimmy (my dad's first cousin) and James (back row); Carole (James' wife, another cousin-in-law :-) ) and me. James and Lauren are my second cousins. James' dad, LeRoy, was Jimmy's older brother. The general consensus seems to be that I look the most like James and maybe a bit like Wendy (see below). Something about the Rice eyes that have gotten passed on to our generation. My dad and bro have them. James' dad had them. And some other people before that had them.

This stone is on the pillar just outside the right border of the photo above. Rev. J.S. Rice is James Silas, my great-grandfather.

Looking out from inside the old carpentry school building.

James, me and Lauren standing at Rice's Halt, as this spot is officially labeled in government books. None of the locals call it that, which is why we created a neighborhood spectacle when we climbed atop the spot named for our family.

Rice's halt is not far from the outer entrance to the mission station property. It's apparently a bus stop.

Jimmy (my first cousin, once removed), wife Mavourneen (I think I spelled it right! :-) ), Lauren and me at their house in Blythedale Beach, north of Durban.

Vourn, me and Jimmy

Today I enjoyed having coffee with another second cousin! Wendy is Jill's twin sister. Jill thinks Wendy and I might have similar eyes, and both Wendy and I think we have long necks. ;-)

Then we picked up Wendy's daughter Sarah. She turns 9 years old tomorrow! Happy Birthday, Sarah!

James, Carole and I wrapped up the evening with a movie night complete with tasty popcorn!

Just to clarify for you guys (since I don't know how to put a family tree on here), all of these cousins are children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of my grandpa Carl Rice's oldest brother Lowell. Lowell stayed in South Africa as a missionary doctor with the Free Methodist Church. His wife Marjorie was a nurse from Canada who came to Africa on her own. She and Lowell met when she came to South Africa from Rwanda or Burundi or one of the Central African countries. Other than short trips to the U.S., Lowell and Marjorie's kids grew up in South Africa.

Friday, November 30, 2007

list of things

As I look forward to beginning the trip home tomorrow, I decided a list was in order. I also decided that you might appreciate some reading material to peruse while I'm making my way back across the ocean. And then I decided that I should be able to read a lot of books during 19 hours of flying, so I'd better pack my carry-on full of them. Additionally, I decided that carrying the books with me might help my luggage pass the weight limit. After that I decided that, while I could keeping deciding for a very long time, I should probably get on with the promised list.

Things I'm looking forward to:
  • doing less math (what do I have to divide by to figure out what this really costs?)
  • cereal - the sugary kind!
  • driving myself places
  • using a flat iron/hair straightener now and then
  • buying my own groceries (i.e. cereal!)
  • being on my own schedule
  • long phone conversations
  • winter
  • wearing different clothes
  • taking naps whenever I want to
  • my teddy bear (hmm, am I serious or not about this one?)

Things that might take time to readjust to:

  • getting into the correct side of the car
  • hearing only American accents
  • "normal life" (whatever that is ;-) )
  • knowing when and where I'll have internet access
  • not prefacing all plans with the words "probably" or "I'll try to" or "I'll make every effort to...depending on whether I have internet access, electricity, and a way to get there."
  • always having a washcloth

Things that make me nervous:

  • not knowing what's next
  • the chance of forgetting important moments from the past four months
  • all the work I still have to finish :-)

Things that make me excited:

  • not knowing what's next
  • worshiping at my church in Nashville again (
  • returning home during Advent
  • giving Africa presents to my family

Things I'll miss:

  • having to go with the flow
  • the tea culture
  • the accents and language games
  • geckos (they're really cute!)
  • traveling
  • my suitcases (I'm kidding!)
  • my South Africa cousins and other new friends

Things I won't miss:

  • having to go with the flow
  • not knowing what you're going to get when you ask to use the bathroom
  • only being able to get Coke instead of Pepsi
  • doxycycline
  • trying to decide when to "when in Africa, do as the Africans" and when to just keep being what I am
  • sleeping on a different bed every two nights

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

cape town cousins

I haven't had much internet access in the past week or two, and I've got it today, so this is mad-dash-update day. Hold on! It's going to be fun!

At long last! Cousin pictures! Courtesy of the post below, I can now officially introduce you to my SECOND COUSIN Jillian (Jill) Stoltz! Note the cool art in the background...Jill's an artist even when she's not comfortable introducing herself that way! We had a very fun time visiting. Jill is just a couple years older than I am.
Jill and husband Joseph, who I guess is not officially my cousin at all ( didn't say anything about cousins-in-law), but he still gave me a hard time like any good male cousin/brother/uncle should. :-) They treated me to a little sunset cruise the night before I left. This was my first time being in a boat on an ocean. I liked it!

Cute little Hannah Stoltz, my second cousin once removed, chose me to read her bedtime stories a couple nights during my visit. Fun times! (Unfortunately, I don't have any photos of Gabriel, my smiley laid-back 6 month old cousin. I'll have to add a photo of him later!)

Jill and I visited the Aquarium in Cape Town one afternoon. This picture is from the aquarium's cafe deck.
This photo has nothing to do with cousins, except that maybe they will like the photo like I do. It was taken during my short walk on the beautiful, empty beach in Stompneusbaai (Stump Nose Bay) on the coast a couple hours north of Cape Town.

to help you and me both

As I have entered the land of cousins, I figured it was high time I did some quick research to find out exactly what name to give my relation to these folks. was there for me. Here's what they had to say:

Cousin (a.k.a "first cousin"): Your first cousins are the people in your family who have two of the same grandparents as you. In other words, they are the children of your aunts and uncles.

Second Cousin : Your second cousins are the people in your family who have the same great-grandparents as you, but not the same grandparents.

Third, Fourth, and Fifth Cousins : Your third cousins have the same great-great-grandparents, fourth cousins have the same great-great-great-grandparents, and so on.

Removed : When the word "removed" is used to describe a relationship, it indicates that the two people are from different generations. You and your first cousins are in the same generation (two generations younger than your grandparents), so the word "removed" is not used to describe your relationship.

The words "once removed" mean that there is a difference of one generation. For example, your mother's first cousin is your first cousin, once removed. This is because your mother's first cousin is one generation younger than your grandparents and you are two generations younger than your grandparents. This one-generation difference equals "once removed."

Twice removed means that there is a two-generation difference. You are two generations younger than a first cousin of your grandmother, so you and your grandmother's first cousin are first cousins, twice removed.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

wanted: imaginative post titles

I'm back in Cape Town after a couple days north of here in Stompneusbaai (Stump Nose Bay) on the western coast. Today I'm finishing up a writing assignment before going to meet the first of my South African cousins. I'll be staying with Jill and her family for the next few days. She's the same generation as me in the family, and I really don't know much about her, so there will be plenty to talk about.

I'm adding some photos to go with the post below. I wasn't at my computer when I added that post, so I couldn't upload the photos.

the girl in purple on Bukasa Island

Alida, Petronecia, Jonathan, Jonathan, Willie where they live behind a Cape Town liquor store

Thursday, November 15, 2007

here, have my milk crate

Yesterday I spent the day traipsing around Cape Town with my Cape Town host, Gavin. I’m staying with him and his wife Avril. They’re great, by the way! :-)

I interviewed a neat variety of neat people, all of whom I enjoyed talking with. Perhaps my favorite interviews, though, were with some folks who live on the streets in Cape Town. A man Gavin knows named Brian spends a lot of time building relationships with this group of street folks. I talked with them as part of a story about the Upper Room’s Prayers for Encouragement books. The books are distributed widely, and Brian gives the books to folks in the group I talked with yesterday.

I may have mentioned on here before what an honor it was to be invited inside the small one-room tin home of Joyce in Kenya, and I’m still trying to figure out what language to use to even more adequately explain what I mean when I write such a statement. I’m not trying to do the politically correct thing or the polite thing or the “oh, no, the honor is definitely all mine” thing by saying that it’s an honor to talk with folks like Joyce or Willy and Jonathan from the Cape Town street family.

There is something humbling for me in approaching someone whose life is so very different from mine and, well, whose category in society is lower than the one I’d usually be categorized in. To approach them and feel like they have every reason for not accepting me, for not talking to me. But, instead they let me into their space and their home and offer me their milk crate so that I don’t have to sit on the ground while I talk with them. And somehow whether that person knows it or not their willingness to talk with me is a gift of acceptance, a gift I gladly receive, a gift that humbles and fills me in ways I can’t even understand.

Perhaps it has to do with being trusted by someone who has any number of reasons for not trusting outsiders, with being given the chance by that person connect with them. That gift is somehow more meaningful when it is given by people who’ve struggled and been categorized as untouchable types. It’s meaningful in a similar way anytime a friend lets me into their pain, trusts me with their story. But, when a stranger does the same thing, there’s a different sense of accompanying responsibility.

I felt the same way in Nashville last year when I got to visit the home of a woman living in the housing projects. We met so I could to talk with her about her participation in a community garden. I was so thankful that she would invite me into her home, offer me a seat on her couch and answer my questions.

A different situation in Uganda produced the same feeling in me. As we returned to the airplane from our second day in the Lake Victoria islands, a group of school children met up with us along the path from the boat to the plane. Most of them ran on ahead of us, but one particular girl ended up walking much of the way with Layton and me. This girl probably would have been ridiculed mercilessly by school kids in the US for her appearance. She wasn’t ugly but had features that apt-to-be-cruel appearance-conscious kids would have made fun of.

While the pilot got the plane ready, I entertained myself and the kids by taking some photos. Then I began saying goodbye to our hosts from the island. During my travels I’ve shaken lots of hands but exchanged far fewer hugs. I’d already shaken hands all around with the school kids, who were from a village on the other end of the island from the one we visited. They weren’t kids we’d met prior to this moment. The goodbyes to the island church team, though, turned into hugs. And, while the other school kids played and ran around the plane, the girl in purple, as she’s been named in my head, stood on the edge of our group watching these goodbyes. Then all of a sudden she turned to me and hugged me too. And that hug was the biggest, humbling, wonderful gift. Whatever her motivations, this unattractive little girl jumped into my world and gave me this wonderful little hug that spoke of trust and of some sort of relationship that had sprung up without any word-based conversation.

If such responses from me to such actions from others were only about being received by someone different from me, then I would expect to feel the same way when life or work takes me into the homes of the very wealthy. But, in general, I don’t feel the same sense of honor or humble gratitude. I can’t say why or whether that’s right or wrong or something inside me or something inside them because I don’t know. Perhaps it just is. But, whatever the reason, the time with folks like the ones I spoke with yesterday feels like a gift to be treasured.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

can't figure it out

Today I’ve had a nice tour of Cape Town. I haven’t really walked any streets yet, but I’ve seen many parts of the city through a car window and been introduced to a number of people from outside the car window. It’s an interesting city, with sections of town that appear quite different from each other. The scenery is mostly all stunning of course.

Also today I stepped into the eastern edge of the Atlantic Ocean. Though I saw the Atlantic when I was in Cape Coast, Ghana, I never made it down to the beach there to actually feel it. The ocean water here was cold but not unbearable even for my cold-avoiding self, though cold enough that I wasn’t tempted to run back for my swimming costume (that’s what they’re called here) so I could jump in. Sometime in the next couple weeks, whether here or later in Durban, I’ll get to check out the supposedly much warmer waters of the Indian Ocean, that ocean we Americans barely remember exists.

As I mentioned, it’s beautiful here. It’s a different kind of beauty from the other places I’ve visited on the continent, which have mostly all been stunning but in a plethora of different ways. I think I feel different coming here after three months in other parts of Africa than I would if I’d just arrived here on holiday (it’s beginning to seem odd to use the word “vacation”…holiday is quite a pleasant word). I think it’s also different being here to work rather than to holiday (um, I’m not sure you’re supposed to use that word that way, but, hey, I’m in Africa; I should experiment, or something). This place is a beach town. Parts of it even have a Mediterranean appearance (I say that with a superb level of authority, of course, based on all the years I’ve spent idling away along the Mediterranean). It seems like a place for vacationing, in spite of the obvious work being done by the employees in the maritime industry I’m realizing know nothing about.

All that said, I can now say that there’s something in my response to this place that I can’t identify. After all my talk about not categorizing people and places because it can be so detrimental or limiting, I find myself trying to figure out what category to fit this place into, at least to fit it into long enough to help me figure out what nags me. It’s still Africa, but it does feel vastly different from most of the other places I’ve lived during the past three months.

When I consider whether I will ever live on this continent and if so where (which, by the way, I’m not feeling called to do in a long-term way in the immediate future…but maybe someday…and maybe a sooner someday than I currently expect…anything’s possible at the moment), it seems that Kampala and even the rural parts of Uganda, for example, felt more comfortable to me than Cape Town does. And I think it’s because somehow the category-driven part of my head says that if I were going to move somewhere like Africa, I would want to live in a place that was obviously different from what I’m used to because then I would anticipate the uncomfortable things I’d run into but also maybe because part of the attraction of living outside America would be living outside America. Here, it seems like it would be easy to live a life that almost allows to you avoid really living in Africa. And then I’m not even sure what I mean by that. This is the first place I’ve landed and wanted to say to it, “Don’t become too much like the West! Don’t lose your unique beauty!” I might have thought that in Joburg, too, but I didn’t end up seeing a whole lot of Joburg, and maybe it helps that my early days there included a visit to the informal settlements in Soweto. But, then I wonder why I think all these things. Is it because this Cape Town Africa doesn’t fit so neatly into the categories that persist in my head--even after these months of category breaking--of what Africa is supposed to look and sound and feel like?

This continent is vast and varied, complex and contradictory. It should not be expected to be homogeneous. It’s so easy to try to fit all of this place under one umbrella description: things that are true about Africa. And, certainly, there are some general characteristics that hold true throughout, but one must leave room for all the things that aren’t the same from place to place. And perhaps that’s what’s nagging me as I stand between Cape
Town’s sea and its big mountain enjoying the view.

Also of note is a sense gleaned from conversations during these two and half weeks of South Africa that racial issues are complex here these days. You can feel that things are still being worked out here. In other places I’ve been, while there are certainly white Africans in them, the majority of the white people I saw were still expats. Here the majority are South African, many of whom have families that have been here longer than my family has been in America. I would never call myself anything other than American, and I’m not regularly asked how long my family has been in America. Yet, here I find myself asking my white hosts such questions in an effort to figure out what’s going on here.

I am almost more aware of my skin color here than I’ve been during other parts of this trip when I’ve been the only white person for what appears to be miles, like when I was in downtown Nairobi visiting some alumni from Africa University. Here I wonder what assumptions are connected to me even though I’ve not been a direct part of the history of this place. Even in Zimbabwe, I didn’t encounter this sense of racial difficulty. The everyday Zimbabweans I encountered seemed much more concerned about economic crises than anything race related.

When a driver was picking me up from the b&b I stayed in my last two nights in Joburg, the host’s elderly aunt accidentally left the house door open when she came out to collect the key. The family’s large, black and potentially-mean dog came running out toward Patrick, the driver, and me. However, the dog bypassed me and instantly ran up to the driver. The aunt apologized profusely and told us all to stand still until the dog calmed down. There was never any clear danger, but, then, I wasn’t the one with a big dog bounding toward me. Later on the way to the airport, Patrick, a very nice, pleasant man, commented, “Did you notice that the dog came to me? It’s been trained to see color!” I asked how that made him feel. I’m not sure he answered my question, but he did note that there’s a hard history between black people and dogs here. He doesn’t especially like dogs because they’ve been used for some bad things.

And so it goes. It seems almost nothing is simple here. But, maybe that’s true everywhere.

Monday, November 12, 2007

cape town, how do you do?

Hi, friends! Just wanted to let you know I've arrived safely in Cape Town, where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet, where cold water joins warm water. Famous Table Mountain was completely hidden behind clouds when I arrived yesterday, but today it's been in full view. I'm quite backlogged in things to tell you. Time and head space for writing haven't kept pace with things to experience. :-) Stay tuned for more. You may have to keep reading this blog for a year after I return just to catch up on all of the worthwhile stories. :-o!

Sunday, November 4, 2007

it's been a while

Hi, friends! Sorry for the long delay in new posts! I've arrived safe and sound in South Africa. I'll be in the Johannesburg area for another week before heading to Cape Town for a week and a half and then rounding out the trip visiting relatives in Durban.

You haven't heard from me partly because I've just been tired of writing. Yes, that even happens to writers. This first week here in Joburg has turned out to be unexpectedly refreshing, though. The first half of the week I overlapped here with some friends from Nashville who were my original connections to working for the Upper Room. We've never spent so much informal time together, so it was a treat to visit with them here.

The second half of the week I had planned to do some interviews, but the people I needed to talk with weren't available until this coming week. I ended up with about four days with nothing scheduled. The down time has been great. I've slept a lot and had time for praying and reflecting and trying to catch up with my email inbox (putting all those things in one sentence shows I'm not buying into any sacred-secular life divide, right? :-) ), and I feel ready to work again. I did have a bout of loneliness yesterday, but God unexpectedly managed to provide a good conversation with an instant new friend and prove that He's watching out for me.

As my itinerary marched toward South Africa, folks have commented fairly regularly along the lines of, "Oh, it's a lot like America." And, I have to say that it was nice to arrive at the airport and find that that comment seemed true. And then to leave the airport on roads that felt like roads at home. And then to eat at a nice restaurant that seemed much like something from home, except for the "monkey gland burger" on the menu. Go google it to find out what it is if you're curious enough. My second day in town I made a quick shopping trip. Somewhere along the way I commented that it seemed like the racial mix might be similar to that at home. Are there really so many more white people here than in the rest of Africa?

My friend explained that South Africa is actually 80% black and 20% white. It really is still Africa here. Places have been built so that you don't always see those percentages. Oh. On Day 3 I went along on a tour of some of the informal settlements where folks with the ministry Come Back (who I'll be interviewing this week) work. It was interesting to find so many similarities to things I've seen on other parts of this trip. It doesn't feel strange to be here because it feels familiar now. And it's different from America. This is really still Africa.

And then I started wondering how often at home we don't see the poor places where the people who live with less live. How often are those places hidden away from view, suggesting a reality to casual travellers through our cities that isn't real. I've been struck before by how pretty and glossy things can seem in Nashville. It's the good life there. Then I would meet the homeless man who frequented our Starbucks parking lot. Hmmm.

I don't really have many conclusions to share yet. Just these observations. I'm still in Africa.

And though I'm ready to be home, I'm still glad to be here. I've been here long enough that it's almost beginning to feel like I live here. Things are starting to feel normal.

photos that either make me laugh or smile very widely

While in Uganda I stayed with my friends Pam and Simon Wunderli and their kids Joshua and Zara. I had a great time with all of them. Here are some photos from my last night in Kampala. I hadn't taken many photos of Joshua, so I asked him if I could take his picture. He said yes but was very particular about how it should be done.

Picture #1: he wouldn't look at the camera

Picture #2: he would just give a half smile. Then I would have to wait a little while, he told me, for a full-smile picture.
Picture #3: finally! a full smile!

Then I convinced him to let us take a self-portrait together. By then, though, he really just wanted to be the one taking the pictures.

Next he wanted to take funny pictures. Here's his.

Here's mine. Joshua finally got to be the photographer.

Then Pam came out and Joshua wanted to take a picture of us together. Even though he did okay with the funny picture of me, he was having trouble taking a picture of his mom and me. The first photo just got our legs. This second photo was taken while Pam was trying to explain to him that he needed to hold the button down longer. This was the last picture we took because right after this the electricity went out. :-)

About halfway through my stay in Kampala, Zara started visiting me in my bedroom when she woke up in the morning. Fortunately, I had a lot of early mornings around that time, so I was usually up when she arrived, though one morning I did convince her to crawl into bed with me for a little while. This picture was taken at about 6 am one morning. She's sitting on my bed.

This photo is from the day before I left, and I just think it's cute. :-)

Now for something a little different...during our second stop on the visit to the Lake Victoria islands, I had the pleasure of finally eating something I could tell stories about later. We (Sam the Jesus Film guy, Layton the photographer and I) filled our lunch plates from a generous round of good food that was offered to us. Among the offerings were "small fish." We later learned that these fish are caught and then dried in the sun. Then they were cooked somehow for our meal. They arrive on your plate looking just like they do in the picture. Eye and all. Staring up at you. Daring you to eat it. I took the dare and downed one of the fish. I don't really remember anything about the taste. I just decided there was plenty of other food to eat, and I really didn't need any more small fish to help fill me up. Or something like that. The next day one of the pastors took Layton and me on a little tour of the village. Layton took this picture while Unity was explaining the drying process. If you notice, some of the fish are larger than others. Being the observant type, I noticed and tried to ask Unity if they were all the same kind of fish, if these were more mature versions of small fish, or what. Half kidding, I said something to the effect of, "Are these small fish and these are smaller fish?" The reply, "No, they're all small fish," as though it was crazy to ask otherwise.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

my first african birthday

My birthday was such a nice day. In addition to receiving messages from so many friends and family, I still had a birthday party! My fellow guests and the folks who run the B&B I'm staying at managed to put together a real party complete with presents in just 24 hours! What nice new friends!

Delicious lemon poppyseed cake created by Lucia, the chef who runs the B&B. The electricity stayed on just long enough for Lucia to bake this!

Hmmm, what did I wish for?

The party crew: Lucia, me, Andra (my Africa University contact and Lucia's sister), Julia (guest lecturer from Memphis along with husband Chris--who's taking the photo)

The beautiful jacaranda tunnel on the street the B&B is on. The mountains in the background remind me of home.
Jacaranda flowers, are you ready for your close-up?


For various reasons, I didn’t get to go to church this past Sunday, so I’ve been particularly looking forward to the Wednesday morning chapel service at Africa University. As I walked up the chapel steps, strains of “Rock of Ages” greeted me. Ah, something familiar.

At the end of the opening prayer, together with people from all over Africa I prayed the Lord’s Prayer. With them, I prayed, “Give us this day our daily bread.” We prayed this while standing in a country in which that very thing is hard to come by. To pray for daily bread in a place where actual bread is scarce brings the whole of the Lord’s Prayer alive in a new way. Profound.

I’ve had similar experiences other times these past two weeks as I’ve read passages of Scripture, usually in the morning. It’s amazing how much your physical location can change the way you hear God’s words.

This morning – 2 Chronicles 7:13-15

“If I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or if I command the locust to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among My people, and My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land. Now My eyes will be open and My ears attentive to the prayer offered in this place.”

Does this apply to such a place as Zimbabwe with the problems that plague it? Are the problems here man-made? Is that different than God sending locusts? What would happen if the people of God in this place began a movement of prayer? Would he respond as He told the Israelites He would?

Last week – Matthew 6:25-34

“’For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

“’So do not sorry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.’”

The imagery alone of this passage reads differently for me after spending almost three months in places that are alive with flowers almost everywhere. And birds, too. And I even think of grass differently now. When we were in the village of Kisaba in the Ssese Islands in Lake Victoria, we entered the church building where the Jesus Film services were being hosted. We were greeted by a floor covered with a thick, soft, light green carpet of freshly cut, sweet, sweet smelling grass. Such a wonderful, fresh, gentle scent. But, eventually that grass will get old and have to be thrown out and replaced.

And then to read the words about worry and trust while sitting at a breakfast table in a country where people don’t know how much further down they must go before they reach the bottom and begin to climb again. It already seems impossible to go lower, short of some sort of war. Yet in this place, too, somehow Jesus’ words must be true. Today and tomorrow and the next day.

This morning’s service ended with a second song, this one in Portuguese, by the Africa University Choir, filled by beautiful voices from all over Africa. I could have sat listening to them for a very long time.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

teaching school

Greetings! I’m in Zimbabwe now, celebrating my last day as a 31-year-old! :-) Thanks for all who prayed for my travels here. Everything went super-smoothly and easily with my entrance to the country. I’m staying in a really nice B&B and am not personally experiencing any real ill effects from the things that are affecting so many of the people in this country right now.

So far I’ve mostly had to focus on finishing my writing work from Uganda, so I haven’t been able to explore this place much yet and haven’t had enough free space left in my head to ask people too many questions yet. Still, people talk and it’s hard to avoid gathering a few impressions even when you’re trying not to. Those will have to wait for another blog post, though.

Instead, I’m going to try uploading some more Uganda photos. These are from the one day I sort of took off after nine straight days of gathering info (hence, the full head). My good friend Mary’s sister happens to be studying this semester in the Uganda Studies Program. The program is run by
the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. They have a bunch of great semester-long study programs. I was a student in their American Studies Program my last semester of college. They’ve added a bunch of new options since then. USP is hosted by Uganda Christian University, a vibrant-seeming school where students look much more professional than they do at most American colleges and universities.

I met up with Annie, who reminds me lots of her sister and so seemed like an old friend immediately, and chatted for a while before heading out with her and another USP student, Kelly, to their service project at a local primary school. They’d only been there once before to meet the headmaster and get a tour of the school, so they didn’t really know what to expect on this day either.

Well, the headmaster wanted us to use some Child Evangelism Fellowship materials he had and each teach a class. So, after about five minutes or less of glancing through the materials in my hand and choosing to do the lesson on Jesus’ trial, I entered the class of 56 P3 students (probably equivalent to 3rd or 4th grade or so in the US; the education systems are different, and I never completely figured it all out) while Annie and Kelly were introduced to their P1 and P2 classes. After introducing me, the teacher and headmaster left the room, and I was left with the help of the P7 student, Miriam, who was my translator.

So, it was quite an experience, as the lesson in the book was WAY too long to read and have translated the way it was written. I did a lot of summarizing and ad libbing. The first “example” story was about a kid whose sister spilled ink on the carpet but let him take the blame for it. I haven’t seen carpet in two months, so I imagine most of those P3 kids had never seen it. But, we made our way through and had a good time, and the kids asked really good questions at the end. It felt like quite a moment of responsibility to answer “Why did Jesus die on the cross for us?” and “Why did the people want to kill him?” and to make it translatable. As far as I can tell, though, Miriam did a really great job translating, and hopefully the kids learned about Jesus.

After the 45 minute class, Annie, Kelly and I were supposed to take our classes together to the church and do something with them!? We scrounged around in our heads for songs from our youth, especially ones with motions. We got the kids to sing a few of the songs they knew. And still there was lots of time before they were supposed to be dismissed for lunch. So, we dug deeper into our shallow bags of tricks and decided to have Annie be the narrator for the story of Noah’s ark while Kelly and I acted it out. Let’s just say, we’re glad there weren’t any video cameras around. :-)

After we returned to campus in a downpour, I got to sit in on Annie’s African literature class. It was fun and interesting and now I can’t remember the name of the book they were reading. It was Mission to ?? and it was originally written in French. All in all, it was quite a nice day off. It was also neat because the USP students arrived in Uganda about the same time I arrived in Africa, so we’re on about the same schedule in our Africa semester and are absorbing some similar things. It was fun to chat with them.

Here are photos I took of “my class.” To keep the photo session from turning into mass chaos, I asked them to stay in their seats while I took a picture of each section of the class. See if you can find the student who managed to get into all three pictures anyway! :-) (here's a hint: you can see him best in the third photo. there might be more students who did this, but I’ve only found one so far.)

Miriam, translator extraordinaire

Annie and me (notice the water running off the roof behind us!)

Kelly and Annie, Noah's Ark actors extraordinaire

p.s. I think it’s perfectly appropriate to leave birthday greetings in the comments section of a blog. (that’s a shameless hint, in case you didn’t notice! :-) I think I’m relegated to a virtual birthday party this year. :-) )

p.s. #2: Stay tuned for a post entitled “pictures that make me laugh!"

Saturday, October 13, 2007

want to see what uganda looks like?

It's so hard to choose just a few photos to share with you. Here's a start, though. These photos chronicle our visit to the islands with Sam with Jesus Film Ministries. We visited two islands in Lake Victoria, but these pictures are just from our stop at the village of Kisigala on Kome Island.

First we landed on Bulago Island where we would catch a boat to Kome Island.
Bulago Island is a tropical island in Lake Victoria that has something of a private resort on it. This isn't what we were expecting to see when we landed!

This is our first glimpse of Kisigala. The church is the larger building on the far right.

We were greeted by very cute, friendly kids!

Layton (the photographer freelancing for MAF) and some of the pastors looking at a map of Uganda at the end of our overnight stay in Kisigala.

These are some of the Kisigala church members outside their home. Harriet (in front with red tinged hair) was my pal during my visit. Her English was good, which made it easier to be pals. :-)

Here's a little self-portrait with some of the women from the church who helped cook for us.

This is where we slept that night!

Sam (in the black shirt) prayed with these pastors before we left Kisigala.

This little girl slept on my lap during the film the night before. I sat in the midst of the kids and had about five or six kids sitting on me or leaning against me throughout the movie.

Here's the boat we took back to the resort island to catch our plane to the next island.

This is our breakfast being cooked. If it took me this much work to make a meal, I'm sad to say I'd probably starve.