" Ghana "

Friday, May 29, 2015

Awake at 6:30; no one else is up. After my shower, I wander past the 3 sleeping beauties on the kitchen floor (this is becoming Standard Operating Procedure by now) to have devotions in the living room. That done, with everyone else still horizontal, I make my way up to Internet Access Central to post yesterday’s blog and, since speed seems pretty good this morning, to post some photos in earlier entries. (You might want to check those.) While I’m at the chapel, Gershon comes in and gets some work done. He has a girlfriend back in Hong Kong, you know, and they do a lot of communicating.

As I head back to the house, I see the hair salon is already set up under the shade tree next to the volleyball court. (Cynthia much prefers to do the braiding outside; I assume it simplifies cleanup.) Michaela is the subject this morning, with Charity helping.

Back at the house, Sarah and Jessica are making some breakfast. Looks like the crew is up and at ‘em. We spend the morning doing the usual array of stuff, from laundry to online stuff to reading to (in Jessica’s case) playing the piano at the chapel. Temps are relatively cool this morning, for which we’re thankful.

Ivy brings Chinese fried rice and fried chicken for lunch. It’s delicious. I’ve noticed that they don’t conform to the standard 8-piece butchering structure here; they kind of cut the old boy (or girl) up into whatever shapes and pieces suit their fancy. So you’re not always sure what you’re getting until you bite into it. On the plate, half a breast can look very much like a thigh. Though the legs are pretty much always recognizable.

After lunch the braiders go back to work, while the crew does the necessary planning for this afternoon’s VBS. They’re handling this like Charlotte Bronte now. (That’s “old pros,” in case you didn’t get the joke. And if you still don’t, give it some time; it’ll come to you.) There’s some confusion about VBS; some of the Ghanaian workers think it’s happening, and some don’t. One of the ones who doesn’t, unfortunately, is the bus driver, so the group is delayed as they fetch him from someplace distant. Eventually the whole group heads out.

My students are a little later than usual gathering at the chapel; we start about 20 after 5, but I have an impressive stack of hand-written final exams on my desk. I’ll spend the weekend grading them, but my initial thoughts are positive; it appears that they have done some writing, at least in volume. The schedule for NT Messages is ambitious; we’ll need to cover the introduction, all 4 Gospels, and Acts tonight. But the power stays on for all but about 5 minutes, and the group is attentive, and we move right along. I even let them go a few minutes early.

We’re covering the major theological themes rather than just listing content, so I enjoy seeing the students appreciate hearing things that they haven’t thought of before, such as the theme of authority in Matthew and the prominence of women in Luke / Acts. A light comes into their eyes when they recognize a new pattern. That light is every teacher’s inspiration. It’s a joyous experience.

After class, the house is empty. Where is everybody? Turns out they’ve gone over to the seamstress’s place to try on their new dresses (or in Gershon’s case, a shirt) and to make any adjustments. Many are planning to wear the dresses to tomorrow’s wedding, so they’ll need to be sure the clothes fit at least reasonably well. Soon a car drives up, and a parade of happy people piles in the front door. How did it go? Fine, great, awesome. I don’t ask for a parade of costumery; we’ll see them all dressed up in the morning and get some photos posted. I promise.

After devos we decide to have some ice cream. There another bag of vanilla Fan Ice in the freezer, which Timothy dropped by, as well as a plastic carton of strawberry, which our tall young friend Simon donated to the cause, so we have choices. Which we exercise.

Then to bed. We’re leaving for the wedding at 8:30 am, and there are showers and dressing up to be taken care of, so we’ll need to get moving quickly in the morning.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Some of us are planning an early hike to town this morning to hit an ATM and to get a few things in the market. We hope to leave at 8, to avoid the heat later in the day. As it turns out, Timothy is heading over to the school about the same time, so Amber, Jessica, Jess, Gershon, and I catch a ride with him, along with Sarah, who wants to visit the seamstress who’s working on the girls’ dresses and get a look at how she operates. She’s right by the school, so that’ll be convenient.

We conclude our ATM business with minimal problems and head into the market. Jess, Jessica, and Gershon are looking for some more fabric. We drop by Akila’s shop. She’s not there yet, but her helper is. We pick up some things there and in another large shop across the plaza. Jessica is also looking for some items for a missionary friend’s deputation display board, and we find some of that too. Generally successful, I’d say. We walk the 2 miles back, hoping in vain for an IHOP or maybe a little Mom & Pop diner along the way. As we pass the police station, it occurs to me that we should get some photos for Amber’s father, who works in law enforcement.

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Mama J’s sister, Cynthia, is up from Accra for John Seidu’s wedding Saturday. She’s been helping with the many wedding preparations. By craft she’s a hairdresser, and some of the girls have hired her to braid their hair African style. Emily is the first to undergo the procedure; it’ll take most of the day. Michaela and Charity are in line as well.

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Gershon thinks he’d like 2 or 3 braids on top that he can tie back, but Timothy doesn’t think that would be culturally wise. Ah, the sacrifices we make.

Shortly after lunch I walk out to the kitchen to find a couple of nasalas that aren’t us. It’s Roger and Norene Russ, Baptist Mid-Missions missionaries from up in Lawra, 2 or 3 hours north. They’re long-termers, having been there for more than 40 years. Their latest project has been the NT in Dagari, which they’ve just completed for Bibles International. They’ve decided to start on the OT, which is of course a much bigger project. Since they’re approaching retirement, they’ve decided to base themselves in the States and return to Lawra for brief stints as necessary during the translation process. So they’re headed home, taking a couple of days to drive to Accra and then fly out. They’re dropping off some things here for Kathy Bristol, a nurse who is the only nasala at the Samuel Seidu Memorial Clinic out in the bush northeast of Wa, which is named for Timothy’s father. We met all of these folks at the graduation; it’s nice to see Roger one more time as he leaves. He was quite a bit of help getting us booked into the guest house in Accra during the planning stages for this trip.

Timothy has asked us to sing in the morning service Sunday, so after lunch we practice at the piano in the chapel. We’re planning to do it a capella, unless the church accompanist decides to join in. They’ll do that; you start singing, and he pokes around on the keyboard until he finds the key and then plays along. I’ve seen that done all over the continent. But we’re planning to do Chris Anderson’s “I Run to Christ,” and he may not know that one.

Internet’s really slow today. I use 3/4 of my laptop battery uploading one photo to the blog and decide to try again another day.

On the way to class at 5 I check in on the braiding crew under a tree near the chapel. Emily’s about half done, with tight braids about 18” long protruding from all the facets of her skull.

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Class is pretty simple tonight; I lecture for an hour on the exilic and post-exilic prophets, and then send them off to take their final exam.

It’s a difficult thing, assessing cross-culturally. This course is a survey of the major theological themes of the OT; I really don’t see any purpose in having them memorize details (“Which chapters of Isaiah focus on the sins of Judah?”), and thus an objective test seems out of order. But English is their second language; having them write essays in a brief testing period hardly seems appropriate either. I’ve decided to give them the best shot at showing me what they’re capable of. I have 3 groups of 8 essay questions, 1 group each from the beginning, middle, and end sections of the course. Each student will pick 1 question from each group to answer. They’ll take the test home so they have time to think about their answers. That means it’s open book, but in this case I think that if they essentially research and write 3 brief papers, they’ll understand the material, which is what I’m after.

I’ve given them a few expectations:

  1. They must use their own words. No cutting and pasting from the class notes.
  2. They must tell me more than I told them—give me their own thoughts on the subject, plus examples that they’re able to find in their Bibles.
  3. They may not collaborate.
  4. English correctness doesn’t matter.

We’ll see how they do.

How did the braiding go, you ask? Here’s the final product.

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With the extra time in the evening we all decide to watch a video from some British show called Rosemary and Thyme. It’s a mystery, made all the more mysterious by those British accents. At one point I question the likelihood of a couple of middle-aged female gardeners being thrust into the middle of a murder case each week. I try to make popcorn, with middling success; it’s harder not to burn those babies on a gas stove. And Matilda has brought a case of actual Coca-Cola by, so the kids are pretty much in heaven.

But somewhere in the middle of the second episode Morpheus comes calling for me, and I go to bed. You’ll have to ask the rest of the crew who the murderer was.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

It’s funny how a good night’s sleep can make everything feel better. I wake up at 6, and several others are moving around the house already. That’s unusual. Bible time, shave & shower, and then up to the chapel for net access. Almost everything’s working today; power’s on in all the buildings, router’s up, fans are spinning (except the ones in the problem circuit in the back bedrooms, which will likely be a long-term project), chest freezer’s freezing, international phones are charging. And Charity is sound asleep on her mattress on the kitchen floor. Nice to be back to normal.

The crew has gotten good at making good use of the free time in the mornings. There’s laundry, and reading, and helping with jobs up at the Seidus’ house, and journaling, and actually sitting around talking. Typically the schedule in TZ ramps up quite a bit, so the time will come when they think back fondly on having a whole morning free.

After lunch, the Three Back Bedroom Girls (Michaela, Charity, and Emily) and Gershon go into town to meet with the ladies who will be braiding their hair, African style. Well, Gershon’s not getting braided, but he goes along for the tourism value of the experience. The ladies weave a bunch of extra hair in when they do it, and they need to work out a match formula for each person. It’s very interesting to watch them work when they’re braiding; they take different colors of hair—blonde, brown, black—and weave them in with the person’s natural hair, and it all looks like the same color. Really remarkable. Anyway, they get everything set up for the big braiding experience.

Back at the house Amber, Jessica, and Sarah are strategizing for this afternoon’s VBS. Sarah told the story yesterday, and she asks for critiques—strengths and weaknesses—which she gets, kindly. This crew is carrying the burden of the work and stewarding it well.

At 3 they head off to meet the bus. I have my prep done for class tonight, so I get a little down time. I joke with Abraham that with the girls gone, I finally get access to the bathroom.

My students start to appear at 4:30 for my 5:00 class. Heh, heh. A third of them are there by quarter till. I hereby announce that “Africa time” is a myth. Give ‘em a reason to be there, and they’ll be there.

Class goes well; there’s a brief power outage, but it doesn’t slow us down. Also, at one point an extension cord bursts into flame—that’s pretty exciting—but we pull it out of circulation and use another one. I joke with them that I’m sure it’ll be back in service tomorrow night, thickly wrapped in electrical tape. That’s how they do things here. The thing is, we have 2 voltages on the compound and 3 different kinds of plugs, and we end up with a patchwork of extension cords and adapters that would make any electrical inspector go into cardiac arrest. But that’s ok; we could just lay a cord on his chest and shock him back to life. :-)

I walk into the house after class ends at 8:30, and it’s all quiet. The 2 mildly sick ones are asleep; one wakes up to tell me that the rest have gone to prayer meeting at church after getting back from village VBS. So I have some leftover supper—big ol’ chunks o’ fish, with the bones still in ‘em and the skin still on! And then clean up the kitchen. As I’m putting the morning’s line-dried laundry away, the crew arrives. I get a full report on the afternoon’s activities.

The VBS was in Deisi, a village slightly beyond and south of Siriyiri. I remember it from 2 years ago. Gershon waxes poetic about the excellent quality of their 2 (2!) football fields. Sarah did the story for the older girls, and it turned out that about 20 of them were actually middle-aged women who showed up for the show. Jessica told the story to the younger ones.

They tell me that one little 2-year-old boy, who had apparently never seen white people before, took one look at Michaela and took off at a dead run, screaming his poor little head off. That’s gotta be hard on a girl. :-) Later his big sister brought him back and he seemed to settle down some.

The Deisi church already has a building so it was a pretty well organized activity. The crew calls it a success.

On the way back, Timothy said he’s giving them tomorrow night off from VBS. Most of the kids chuckled, because they feel as though they haven’t been working very hard. But as always, there are plenty of things they can do.

After VBS they went to prayer meeting at church. Power was out there, so they moved benches out into the courtyard near the gazebo and met outside. Songs, praises, sermon from Timothy, prayer requests, prayer.

Devos are over about 10, and we head to our nocturnal duties. We’re into the “I’m tired and the cultural differences aren’t exciting anymore” phase, what I think is the most important part of their educational experience. For missionaries, missions is not a series of exciting 1-week mission trips; it’s a long, tiring slog, and in the first term at least there are times when the missionary just gets beaten down by the constant struggle to survive in a different culture. I want this group to see that. I’m sure they will.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

We’ve had a couple of kids showing mild nausea and other symptoms of either insufficient hand washing or food contamination (he said, vaguely), but they both feel pretty good this morning. No need to use any of the medications we brought along for the more severe manifestations. Keepin’ it simple.

This afternoon we’ll have our first village VBS, the primary purpose of our trip. The plan is to go into a village where we have a church plant, play with the children who will inevitably come out to see the busload of nasala, and establish good will with the parents and especially the chief, whose favor on the church plant can make the difference between success and failure, in human terms at least. I had asked Timothy to schedule the first one close to us, so I could go along and still get back in time for class at 5. He’s chosen Siriyiri, a village just 10 minutes or so west of downtown Wa. Unfortunately, however, the children have school this week, so we can’t start until 3:30, too late for me to go along. So the team will be on their own this afternoon. I’m confident they’ll do fine. The logistics will be easier in that the numbers will be considerably smaller, and the first game will simply be football, which will attract all the children. (We’ll do the games first in the village version of the VBS.) In some villages the lower proficiency numbers in English will make communication more difficult, and translation pretty much absolutely necessary, but here, close to the city, that will be less of a problem.

So I tell the team to use their morning free time wisely, resting, doing laundry, studying (“Remember during the school year, when you said you didn’t have enough time to do the kind of devotions you wished you could? Well, now you have the time.”), helping up at the Seidus’ house. As it happens, Timothy’s brother John is getting married this Saturday, and there’s a lot of preparation going on. I’m sure the team will be able to be of use in those preparations, and they’ll learn something about the local marriage / wedding customs in the process. So the time need not be wasted.

But the power’s out on this side of the city this morning, so that rules out laundry, which a lot of us were hoping to get some progress on. C’est la vie.

Power comes on just around noon, shortly before lunch arrives. Lunch is a very large pasta casserole; we’ll need a couple of meals to polish that off.  Several kids finally get to their laundry, while others read or work on their journals.

The 2 mildly sick crew members stay home from VBS today, mostly because the toilet facilities in the village are completely unpredictable, and I don’t want a case of diarrhea to get really ugly. The other 6 head out to the bus shortly after 3.

They bring supper very early, around 3:30, because Ivy and the girls need to go to choir practice at church. It’s rice with tomato sauce and banku. I’ll eat after my class is over tonight. The crew will eat when they get back from VBS in Siriyiri. We’ll see what they think of the banku.

I head to class at 4:30. The power’s out. Sheeeeeeesh. I send 3 students to get the generator and set it up. Fully one-third of the class is there by 4:45. I guess this casual approach to timeliness really can be modified if the motivation is right. Two-thirds of the class is there by 5, and the generator is up and running, so we start pretty much on time.

At the first break at 6 the power comes on. Perfect. Under the newly spinning ceiling fan, I check my email during the break to find 3 emails from my wife and 1 from my daughter. Life is good once again. After class I’ll catch up on 3 days of blog postings.

Then power goes out again. For the rest of the evening. We sit in the dark heat, and I lecture by the light of my laptop and an LED bulb plugged into a generator-supplied socket. I realize how much I depend on visual feedback from my students; when the room is dark, I have no sense of how I’m doing or whether they’re getting it.

But we finish about 10 minutes ahead of schedule, and I send them home with a well-deserved break.

My first question for the crew when I get back is how they liked the banku. Um, nah. My second is how the VBS went. They had 100 kids or so, when we expected about 50 max in the village. That’s good. They recognized that the English skills were much lower, and they relied more heavily on the translators. But they feel like the first day was generally a success. I remind them that our primary goal here is not a thorough Bible education; it’s softening the ground for the church plant in this heavily Muslim village. The local church will take care of the heavy lifting of evangelism and discipleship. That’s as it should be.

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It’s dark and hot. We’re tired; 2 of the kids are sound asleep in chairs in the living room, and 1 more is in bed. The 6 of the rest of us sit around the kitchen table in the light of a single flashlight standing on end, pointed at the ceiling. I talk about culture shock, and how the differences, especially the inconveniences, just wear you down. We’re all feeling it tonight.

I call the day off, and we head to bed without devotions.

At 10 the lights come on. Power. I run up to the chapel immediately to get the blog postings out and take care of some time-sensitive email. Make hay while the sun shines. Or doesn’t.

Monday, May 25, 2015

I see lights come on around the house at 4, so the kids are getting up on their own. Brief Bible time, then run up to the chapel to see whether the net is back. Nope.

We’re at the bus at 4:45. They load a bunch of food, take care of some last-minute business, and we’re on the road by shortly after 5. These people really want to go to the park. There are about twice as many Africans on the bus as team members, mostly about our age, but a few younger ones, including Timothy’s 3 sons, and 1 older man (meaning about my age).

We ride in the dark for an hour or so, dozing as the eastern sky begins to brighten. Then the church young people begin to sing, which they always do on long trips. They sing through a mass of Waali songs, some tunes recognizable—mostly old gospel-song standards like “Send the Light” and “Nearer, Still Nearer”—and some not. Then they sing some in English, and our kids join in. I just listen, enjoying the harmonies, improvisation, and antiphony so characteristic of singing all across Africa.

Shortly before we get to the park, we pass through a village with a famous white mosque that appears in a lot of tourist photos. During the building of the mosque centuries ago, allegedly they moved a rock and found it back in its original place the next day. Moved it again; same thing happened. So they built a little shelter around it, and people come from all over to see the rock that can’t be moved. I’ll admit being a little tempted to wait until dark, toss it in the back of the bus, take off, and see what happens next, but I’m pretty sure that whatever happens next wouldn’t be very nice.

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After about 2.5 hours we’re at the entrance to Mole National Park, where there’s a gatehouse to collect fees and a sign thanking the Netherlands for their help organizing the current park. After some haggling about the fees, we drive farther in and find the main parking lot. There we hire a guide. You can drive through if you want, but if you want to see more wildlife, you really need to be on foot, and the park requires hikers to be accompanied by an armed guard. We have 2, Robert, who leads, and Albert, who brings up the rear. Both carry ancient wooden bolt-action carbines. I ask Robert what ammo he’s using, and he says .270. I ask if that will stop an elephant; he says it will. I doubt it, but maybe my NRA friends can set me straight.

We start out a few minutes after 8. As we hike, everybody’s having a really good time, chattering and laughing. If you’ll think about that for a moment, you’ll realize that that’s not really a recipe for spotting wild game. I tell the team to keep their voices down, but the church folks chatter on, and I figure it’s not my business to tell them what to do, especially since this is their country, not mine.

So we tramp through the woods like a pack of laughing hyenas. To my astonishment, Robert brings us pretty quickly to a family of warthogs, the parents and one little one. They seem unfazed by our presence, even the pointing and chattering of most of us. I ask Robert about it later, and he says that this group is so used to seeing humans that they’re essentially tame. We hike some more, and he points out various trees and fruits and birds. Then we come out of the wooded area into an open grassland / wetland of sorts, where I see 2 herons, or something similar, next to the river, and on the other side, at perhaps 200 meters, a—cluster? pack? tribe? mob? herd? flock?—of elephants. Too far to get a clear look at them, but a promising sign. Robert says there are 400 elephants in the 4500 square kilometers of the park. I do some quick mental math and come up with about 2500 square miles, or 6 square miles per elephant, but I suppose sticking close to the water raises your chances of seeing them.

Through some brush we go, and there, at a bend in the river, are 3 large bull elephants, drinking water, ripping branches off trees to eat, and spraying mud on their backs. They’re about 50 meters away, across the river. We cluster on the bank, shooting photos as fast as we can.

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We see other wildlife—monkeys and baboons most spectacularly—but it’s approaching 10 am, and the best morning viewing is from 7 to 9, when it’s relatively cool and the game are feeding. Robert says we’re pretty much done for the day. (I need to be back in Wa to teach at 5 pm, so an afternoon hike is out of the question.)

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Back at guard quarters, we fill up a conference room and eat the lunch that a couple of church ladies have kindly prepared for everybody—rice, fried chicken, fried plantains, soft drinks, and banku, a kind of thick grits, or cornmeal mush (think polenta) that’s a staple across Africa; the Swahili word in East Africa is ugali. Banku is distinctive in that they ferment it some, so it tastes a little sour, reminiscent of sauerkraut or kimchi but not really similar. Westerners either like it or hate it. I don’t think any of our kids try it. I’ve had it before, and while I’d eat it if I were hungry, I wouldn’t choose it over, say, mashed potatoes or even grits.

After lunch we pile on the bus to head back. We’re all tired from the early rise and the hike, and the lunch is weighing on us too, and many of us, including yours truly, doze the whole way back. At one point one of the Africans hands me a small fruit to try. You eat the outer husk and a thin layer of flesh with the consistency and look of avocado, but sweet. Inside is a large seed, which the locals break open to get what is used to manufacture shea butter. The fruit tastes good, and then I remember that one of the basics in the developing world is not eating fruit without peeling it. Uh-oh. We’ll see what happens.

We’re back at the house shortly after 3, and the group takes care of needs. For some, it’s a nap; for others, it’s laundry; for me, it’s a shower, some blog work, and final prep for the start of my OT Messages class at 5.

At 4:40 I head to the chapel and get the equipment set up. There’s 220V power, and both my laptop and the data projector are dual voltage. There are several extension cords; one of them has unreliable wiring—you have to keep jiggling the connection to get it to come on, so that won’t be any good. But another one is fine and soon I have the PowerPoint for the introductory unit displayed on the whiteboard, in presentation mode so I can use my notes on my screen, and BibleWorks set to go on the extended screen. Everything works fine.

5:00. Nobody’s here. 5:05. Nobody’s here. At quarter after, 1 student comes in and introduces himself. More trickle in. About 5:25 we have about 15 of the 25 scheduled students, and I get their names into my seating chart. At 5:30 Timothy shows up and does the introductions, and we all get started.

Then the power goes out. No projector, though my laptop is still working, running on battery. And most importantly, no ceiling fans. The room heats up immediately. A couple of students run to get a generator, and I press on with some introductory matters. Some they return with a lengthy extension cord and some outlets. We move the 220V plug from the wall outlet to the end of their cord, and the projector comes on again, and my laptop shows 220V input. But of course, no ceiling fans.

After about 10 minutes the power comes on again; we know because the fans start up. At the end of the first hour, believe it or not, I’m right on schedule in my notes.

Soon after our 10-minute break, the power goes out again. At the second break I learn they’re out of time credit on the building, so someone will have to go pay the bill for the power to come back. So most of the night we work without fans, but the generator chugs away outside, and we get the night’s work done.

Two things about this are most noticeable to me: first, the cultural leniency about taking care of these things ahead of time, and second, perhaps because of the first, the speed and efficiency with which they handle the inevitable exigencies. The generator setup is quick and effective; paying the bill that would have prevented the need for the generator altogether, not so much. To Westerners, it’s an inexplicable combination; here, it’s just the way things are.

At the end of class I talk about starting time tomorrow. Timothy has said we can run either 5:00 to 8:30 or 5:30 to 9:00. Everybody immediately votes for 5:00 to 8:30, so they can get out earlier. I decide to take a risk and talk about the lateness issue. They all laugh when I point out that we were supposed to start at 5:00 tonight, and no one was here then. I tell them that we will start when they are here (I’m thinking 2/3 or so of the students present, but I don’t tell them that), and we will go for 3.5 hours from that time. “If you are here at 5, we will finish at 8:30. If you are here at 5:30, we will finish at 9.”

So I put the monkey on their back. We will see what happens. The Great Cross-Cultural Time Management Experiment. I recall how punctual everyone was this morning when they wanted to go to the park; maybe it’s just a matter of motivation.

Back at the house, the back fan circuit is out again. Gershon and I check the electricity meter; it’s at zero. Surely we didn’t use up all the time that Timothy put on the meter just a couple of days ago?! I run up to the house and tell Timothy; he makes a phone call or two and decides that there must be something wrong with the meter. We’ll get it fixed tomorrow.

So the 3 girls move their mattresses into the kitchen, under that working fan, and Gershon moves his into the living room, under that working fan. And I stay in the back bedroom, because of the genetic and chronological superiority I described here the last time this happened. During the night I actually wake up a little chilly and start using a sheet.