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.