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.


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.)


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.

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Dan Olinger

Chair, Division of Bible in the BJU School of Religion.

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