Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The birds, the chickens, and the sheep wake me up at 6; I suspect I would have awakened pretty soon without their help. As usual, it’s a bright, sunny day, cooler in the morning than it will be later, of course, but every promise of a typically hot one.

Without tap water, washing comes from the large plastic barrels, one of which, nearly empty, is in the bathroom (I’m speaking of the guys’ house), and the other, full on the front porch, where it was kindly dropped off the other day by hardworking fellows. We have 2 smaller buckets for transfering water from the barrels to the sink or to the toilet tank for flushing.

There’s no mirror in the guys’ house. Neither of us really has the kind of face that we want to see in the mirror anyway, but shaving a straight line along the edge of the beard happens by braille rather than sight. I guess it’s OK; nobody has commented about it for the time we’ve been here.

Early morning reading and correspondence; there’s no wifi at the guy’s house, but I do have a stack of emails that downloaded last night in the classroom while I was teaching. Clean most of that up in short order, and get the team financials caught up as well. It’s all looking good.

I wake Cam up around 7.30. We’re planning to head over to the Christian school (Times Baptist Academy) around 8 to get a short tour and a sense of what our folks will be dealing with if they choose to spend some time helping the teachers in the classrooms. Cam wants coffee, and since we’ve agreed not to show up at the girls’ house in the mornings before 8, we have a deep psychochemical quandary. Is 7.53 a violation of our solemn oath to our strong female fellow laborers? Will our SFFLs now view our word as untrustworthy? Can Cam survive without his morning infusion? Just how much is a human life worth, anyway? And what’s the relevance of God’s judgment on Saul’s violation of Joshua’s vow not to harm the Gibeonites? Vows matter, right? But time is relative, no? Wasn’t Einstein essentially right on that?

What to do? What to do?

We head over a few minutes early. A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.

When we arrive at the house, the girls are up, of course, and getting a little breakfast. But we find that we’re out of coffee. All that mental anguish for nothing. Cam’s gonna have to survive on water and a slice of bread with jam.

There’s no caffeine in jam, is there?

The puppy—I haven’t mentioned the puppy, have I? The Mapeses have a puppy, who scampers around and is curious about everything, his little tail perpetually in motion. The Mapeses have asked us to help a little with his training, so we’re scolding him when he excretes inside the house, and we’re trying to break him of his passion for chewing on everything, including furniture and human feet. If he chews on that bag of drinking-water sachets on the floor in the kitchen, he’ll get a real surprise. He’s a delightful little guy, and we’re pretty sure we’ll help him make a little progress on his social skills.

John comes by to take us to the school, where I first take the crew by the kitchen, where the children’s lunch is prepared. It’s a simple, dark room, with some sacks of rice and maize meal. A step out the back door into the small courtyard reveals a wood fire under a large pot (maybe 5 or 7 gallons), where the day’s porridge is bubbling. The area is hot and smoky and simple and functional. The ladies, and a few of their toddlers, are getting the cooking done; they smile as they show us their work, and we express our thanks for the hard work that they’re rendering.

We drop by the office to let the staff know we’re here, and they tell me it’s fine if I drop in on a few classrooms. Typically, when the children see us, they are completely distracted from their school work, so we try to get in, say a few words, and get out, so the teacher can get on with business. After a classroom or two, David Issahaku, the elementary principal, joins us and shows us around the rest of the facility. The crew already knows him; he’s the choir director at Faith, and he’s wanting to rehearse them to do special music in Waali next Sunday. They plan to start rehearsing tonight.

After a quick tour of the elementary and high school campuses, we flag down 3 taxis in front of the church. Audrey, Karen, and Lauren head off in the first one; I pay the driver ahead of time so he doesn’t have to wait for me to arrive when he drops them off at the house. A minute or two later we send Kait, Flavia, and Brigitta, with Cam and me shortly after.

We’re in a bit of a hurry; it’s just after 10 am, and that’s the time the seamstresses are coming to the house to help everybody pick out the patterns for what they want made out of the fabric they bought yesterday. When Cam and I walk into the house, the 6 girls are seated in a circle in the living room, poring over pattern illustration books filled with colorful photos.

Oh, this is going to be fun.

I sit nearby and just enjoy watching them enjoy themselves. Cam has a book open as well, surveying shirt styles. There are lots of options. In time, each girl shows her selected pattern to the boss, gets measured for a custom dress, and continues giving advice to the dwindling number of those still waiting. Cam goes last, because, well, he just goes last.

The ladies gather up the order sheets and the fabric and disappear out the door. In a few days, they say perhaps by Saturday, either we’ll go by their shop for fittings, or they’ll come back by here. And then Sunday—or the Sunday after that—the crew will wear their new outfits to church. This is more than tourism; their delight in the local fashion will demonstrate admiration and respect for the Waala culture, and the locals will appreciate them for it.

There’s a lot of talk in the US these days about cultural appropriation. In any social argument there are unreasonable people and unreasonable arguments, but there are some interesting competing ideas in this particular discussion. My experience has been that the difference between abuse of a culture’s ideas and proper use of the same is the simple matter of respect. I have never dealt with a culture that objected to an outsider learning about its ways, seeking to understand them better, and seriously trying to do things the way they do. Every human knows the difference between a sincere, respectful, even though clumsy attempt to speak their language or practice their ways and a condescending, ignorant, uncaring view of their culture. This doesn’t have to be a war.

While the crew has been choosing patterns, Mary has been cooking out in the kitchen—a big pot of yellow rice, she calls it, with fried chicken. I think rice looks more red than yellow, but my rods and cones aren’t what they used to be. It’s a tomato base, with sliced peppers and onions, accompanied by a red salsa-sort of sauce made of garlic, peppers, and ginger. I say “fried chicken,” but it’s different from KFC in a couple of important ways: first, there’s no breading, so it’s fried plain, like buffalo wings; and second, they butcher differently here; the pieces are smaller, I suppose so they can get more servings out of each animal. So you don’t see the standard 8-piece arrangement that we’re used to. Sometimes you’re not sure what part you’re eating.

But boy, is it good.

After lunch I get what my Dad used to call the full-belly blues and lie down on the couch under the fan for a snooze. A game of spoons breaks out around the dining table, including both Simon and Prince, who have dropped by. If you know the game, you know it’s quiet for a bit until somebody sneaks a spoon, and then there’s an uproar. So I get woken up occasionally, but it’s worth it. I could go to the guys’ place to map, but I enjoy hearing all the fun they’re having.

They quiet down for a bit, and in a few minutes Cam comes in to ask if he, Brigitta, Audrey, Lauren, and Prince can go into town to Melkom. Well, why not? They know what they’re doing, and they even have a reliable local guide. Prince just graduated from the college this year, and he’s proved himself a young man of solid character. So the usual litany of instructions: Take money for the taxis. Stay together. Pay attention. Be back in time for VBS pickup. Yes, sir. Off they go.

Everyone else seems to be down for a nap, so I take the chance to check on the facilities, make sure there’s water and tp in the bathrooms, the usual stuff. Then there’s some quiet time to work on class prep for tonight, against the aural background of the call to prayer from the mosque across the street.

About 3.30 the travelers return with their groceries. I’m interested to see what they feel compelled to buy on their own.

Alvaro. Lots of Alvaro. And a bigger jar of that Nutella knockoff; they claim it’s better than Nutella, because it has coconut in it. I’m touched to see that they buy some paper towels and more napkins. Good for them. Notice a need, and spend your own money to take care of it.

And a bag of whistle popsicles that I showed them yesterday. Sort of a strawberry creamsicle flavor, and an obnoxious noise too!

So they’ve had a good time, and they’re back in plenty of time for VBS pickup.

I’m impressed.

And so, a little after 4, right on Africa time, they jump in Aquila’s van and head to Faith for the second session of VBS. I expect there will be more tonight than the 200 they had last night. They’re telling the second half of the Joseph story, and they have a better handle on the games. I think tonight will go well.

I spend the quiet time getting ready for class, eventually moving to the chapel to take advantage of wifi, but about 5 a thunderstorm hits. I love those things—they lower the temperature by 10 to 20 degrees—but they also tend to bring power outages, and sure enough, the lights go out, along with the router. It’s simply impossible to tell how long these things are going to last; in this case power is back on in 15 or 20 minutes, so now prep includes wifi, working ceiling fans, AND cooler temps. I’ll take that anytime.

I do wonder how the kiddos are doing at Faith; it’s 3 or 4 miles away, but it probably got the same storm. It’s simple enough to move the children indoors—there are ample classrooms there—but you need to come up with indoor games, and you may have to split them into more groups. We’ll see what they report tonight.

Fortunately for class, the power stays on for all 3 hours. We’re working through the Ante-Nicene Fathers, and I’m trying to focus on things that will either 1) help illustrate the broad arc of church history, or 2) include issues of interest to the kind of ministry these bush church planters face in ministry. My first surprise has been how much of this material meets one or both of those criteria. Not sure I can get through all of this in 2 weeks.

After class the team comes by to practice for Sunday. David has translated “Take My Life and Let It Be” into Waali, and they begin with working on the pronunciation. They sound quite good for this early in the process. We’ll see how rehearsals proceed through the week.

Back at the house, there’s chicken and pumpkin leaves and meal paste for supper. “Meal paste” doesn’t sound like much, but it’s an African staple. It can be made with lots of plants; in Hawaii, they pound taro root and call it poi, here, they may use cassava root to make fufu or corn meal to make banku or other substances. I’ve called this “meal paste” because I’m not sure what the base is. But if you’ll imagine grits with much less water, so you can form it into a ball of dough in your hands, you’ll be pretty close. Essentially it’s flavorless, and you use it as a vehicle for the other flavors in the dish. I like it.

In our evening prayer meeting we share what we’ve learned, and sing, and share requests and pray, as usual. Tonight Lauren gives her testimony, like many others a story of grace. It’s interesting to me how varied the specific circumstances of people’s experience can be, yet for all of us God is telling the same primary story. Lauren’s an example of that.

Afterwards we stay in our circle and talk. This group has turned into a team quite smoothly and nicely. They genuinely like one another, and they’re working and living well together. We’re advantaged, of course, by the fact that we’re together here only 2 weeks, plus travel days; living in an unfamiliar culture is stressful, and staying together here, or anywhere else, for a year, or two, or thirty would involve all kinds of stresses and conflicts and even battles. But we’re all together in this intensely immersive experience for just a brief time, and there are distinct benefits from doing this sort of thing. Just before we head home after next week, I’ll be having a little talk with them about the dangers inherent in repatriation, one of which is that short-termers are tempted to believe that they now know what missions is like. But we’ll deal with all of that in due time. For now, they’re doing great.

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Dan Olinger

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

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