Saturday, November 23, 2013

The 2013 African Awards

Sipping tea in freezing Illinois, it seems impossible that a week ago I was in Africa. It is hard to believe that the reality of both places exist simultaneously and that in the matter of 24 hours (24 very,very long hours) you can be in the other reality.

I’m trying to process the experience of the last few months and have something meaningful to say. Those thoughts aren’t quite collected, so until then, here is something much less shallow, but nonetheless entertaining. When I was a Resident Director, we gave out ridiculous and arbitrary awards at the Christmas Party each year, and since I enjoyed that power, I have decided to give out awards to Africa. I believe that one day this will be a highly coveted award, and that Tina Fey and Amy Poehler will host the ceremony. Until then, we will just use this smaller venue to announce the winners. In no particular order, I give you the 2013 African Awards....

Best Store: The Quicky Picky (Wobelinzi, Uganda) 

Least Appealing Establishment: Tied: The Tick Hotel and the KKK Restaurant (Uganda) 

Most Honest Nametag: No Sex Before Marriage (sported by a young man at church in Uganda) 

Boldest Public Health Tent: “Men Get Circumcised Today” (seen on the side of the road in Kampala) 

Best Personal Ad: Seeking a white, born-again, sugar mummy, age 30-35. (in the Kampala newspaper) 

Best River: The Nile 

Best Mode of Operation: The motorcycle (boda) 

Best quote: (under age 12 category) 

Right after Isaac (age 9) threw some trash on the side of the road.... 
"Isaac - in America, we call that littering." 
"Well, in Africa, we call it freedom." - Isaac 

Best quote: (male over age 12 category) 
Keith- “Emmanuel, don’t we need to put some more chorine in that well?” 
Emmanuel- “Keith, that water won't kill an African. It might kill you, but it won’t kill an African!” 

Best quote: (female over age 12 category)
"Nothing like some rebels to ruin a good road trip!" - Esther, on wanting to drive to South Africa with her friends

Biggest Hearthrob: Pee-Wee the driver (Liberia)

Although highly contested, I have to give it to Pee-Wee, who not only scored a soccer goal for me at a crazy game, but also attempted to save me from the ocean (although I was not in danger, he is petrified of the water and thus very brave). In his last moments with me, he told me he would learn to swim by the time I came back. A man who will face his fears, now that will win some points. 

That concludes the awards for this year. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Life in Liberia: part two

Here are a few more photos and stories as we get ready to leave our friends. 
The time I ate mud: although I consumed a lot of strange things these last few months, this one had to take the cake (oh how I wish it was just cake). Emmanuel and Pee-Wee, our driver, had been telling me all about the outrageous customs of Liberians. When they moved to the topic of their food, with frog soup and ghost peppers on the menu, I wasn't prepared to hear that people ate mud as a treat. They were so kind to send one of the kids to buy me a bag and all gathered around to watch the spectacle. Here is Emmanuel taking the first bite:
 As a small child, I had consumed a fair amount of mud, but it has been a few years since I had indulged that far. But with the pressure of forty kids and a few grown men heckling me, I tentatively took my first bite. It was hard as a rock and tasted, well, like mud. Smokey, charcoaly mud. Not what you want in your mouth. After laughing at me as I attempted to get the foul taste out of my mouth, the kids clamored around me for my leftovers. Thank you Liberia for a wonderful culinary experience. Don't think I will be coming back for seconds.  

 The kids are doing really well with their reading, and one of the next projects is a library at both homes. We all think it should be called "Grandma's Reading Room" in honor of our one Kay Knapp. It is hilarious to me that almost everyone we meet calls her Grandma. 


Thankful for the time with these four crazy people. It's amazing to see the rich relationships between them, what a partnership across cultures can be, and how a common faith and heart for the kids can bridge differences across thousands of miles. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Life in Liberia!

Flying over Africa was an adventure, but I have made it safely to Liberia. Moments before we were supposed to land, the pilot announced that the runway was closed in the Monrovia airport. What? There was no explanation offered and we began circling low and swinging violently over the water. Just when everyone was getting a little panicky to the point of holding hands with strangers in the next seat, we landed the plane in the opposite way that all other air traffic lands and somehow arrived in one piece. None of the crew blinked an eye, but ushered us off the plane as normal. Welcome to Monrovia, people!

It's been great to hang out with my parents and our dear Liberian friends, Emmanuel and Ramona and to get to spend time at the orphanages. Mama Kay had her birthday last week, so celebrating her in Liberia took on a different flavor than central Illinois. (let's just say there isn't usually African dancing at Kay's birthday parties. dark chocolate, yes. booty shaking, no.)

 The reality of life here has been shocking in a different way than the village in Uganda. It has been 10 years since the civil war has ended, and the city is still trying to rebuild after a 14 year period of violence. Life is hard here. Yet it has been amazing to see the joy in the kids and what there lives are like compared to what they could be if they weren't living in the orphanage. This picture above is a girl named Nelly, one of the deaf kids that lives in the orphanage. In this culture, she is considered cursed, and may be a slave or living on the streets if she wasn't in the home. It is devastating to think about how her sweet spirit would be so different if she wasn't protected. 

It has been an intense time, yet filled with laughter and hope. I am amazed at the tenacity of the people and especially the grit and perseverance of those working day after day to make Liberia a better place. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Life in Uganda: Update Ten

Hi friends! Have made it safely to Liberia - will post about that soon! For now, here's a story from my small group Bible Study in Uganda. Over the course of the last ten years, I have led an absurd number of small groups. When these groups go well, it is one of my favorite parts of life. There have been some ridiculous groups, one when a girl put Vick's Vapor Rub right under her eyes and spent the rest of the group time running her head under the shower. In a few others, a few of the girls weren't speaking to each other, so the group turned into full on conflict resolution and many tears. 

With a decade of this madness under my belt, I thought I could handle any strange small group situations. If I have learned anything about Africa, it is just when you get cocky about not being easily shocked, She will throw another punch in your direction and knock you out if you aren't paying attention. It's not for the faint of heart. 

For the past few months, my friend Esther and I walked a few miles to a little mud hut on Tuesday afternoons to teach Bible Study. It is a beautiful path through the jungle, with a great view of the hills and scare-monkeys (instead of scare-crows) dotting the fields. 

inside the house - see the toothbrushes?
One day, we barely made it to the house before a huge rainstorm blew into the village. We squeezed inside the tiny mud hut and lit the kerosene lamp so we could continue the 
study. During the next hour, all kinds of critters wandered inside. Edith, who lives at the house, kept throwing a cat onto a big pile of stuff, trying to keep her two year old away from the cat. A chicken and her chick ran in squawking to get out of the rain. A variety of children were in and out and I kept bumping into the toothbrushes that were wedged between the mud bricks supporting the house. The metal door kept slamming shut,and at times the rain was coming down so hard we could not hear each other talk. Not exactly the ideal situation for a profound spiritual discussion. 

The women did not seem phased by any of this, so I attempted to proceed as if all of it was normal. I was doing a decent job keeping my cool until the next course of events. The two year old was not impressed that the kitty was being thrown away from him, and started screaming. His mom whipped out her boob and tried nursing him but he wasn't having it. Without skipping a beat, her friend took the child and also began nursing him, all while looking at me for the next question. This shed some new light on the phrase "it takes a whole village to raise a child." I attempted not to stare, but I'm not sure how successful I was. I was just hoping they got the memo that I didn't have any nursing babies, lest I be expected to join in on the circle of fun. 

Despite the crazy, it actually turned out to be one of the best discussions we had during my time there. Over the rushing sounds of the downpour, we talked about Psalm thirty-four, how the Lord is near to the brokenhearted, how He rescues us from our afflictions, and most importantly how He redeems our lives. As we all shared ways that God has changed us, it became a sweet time of friendship and sharing; talking about forgiveness and family conflict and war and hope. Although these women live in great poverty according to our standards, they were filled with joy and thankfulness to God as they named the ways He has changed them and provided for their families. 

As we walked back on the muddy path, I was laughing imagining the look on my face as I absorbed the menagerie of life happening in that tiny room. I was also humbled thinking of these wonderful people who were so eager to study their Bibles and so willing to learn. I was reminded once again that it isn't about how much we have that makes life worthwhile, it isn't our stuff that makes us happy, and that joy come easiest when we are focused on how much we have been forgiven. 

Edith and I on our last week together. She gave me this beautiful handmade basket and attempted to teach me how to be an African woman. I was mediocre at best. 

The whole crazy group on our last day. So much laughter.....will miss these women. 

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