Monthly Archives: August 2010

What’s Missing From Your Wrist?

One of these fabulous new wristlets from Amani Burundi (aka Amahoro)!

amahoro wristlet

Wristlets created by Burundian women. Available in a variety of textiles.

Burundi products aren’t yet available online. I know, I know…I’m working on it.

In the meantime, check out some of the other items from Amani Kenya online, www.amaniafrica.org or swing by the Amani boutique in Washington DC.

Paint Spill Pity Party: Moral of the Story

Follow up from Crying Over Spilled Milk.

After the storm comes the calm.

After winter comes spring.

After the rain comes the rainbow.

After weeping comes dancing.

And after my pity party came perspective:

I certainly couldn’t recognize it in my self-absorbed state, but eventually I realized that this paint spill was not the end of the world.

Alongside perspective, the moral of the story:

In the paint spills of my life—the messy days, the thunderstorms, the seasons of confusion, the heartaches, the times of chaos—I often become too impatient to wait for the Lord’s solution. Other times, I’m too prideful or stubborn to ask for His help.

And in those instances when I try to clean it up by myself, I only increase the spread of my mess. I make it worse rather than make it better. Oh, my weak faith.

So with this new enlightenment, I’ve been thinking WHAT IF…

…I were patient enough to believe that even in the midst of the storm, He’s working it out?

…I abandoned my own agenda and just surrendered to His timing?

…I could trust that He’s cleaning up this mess even when I can’t see or feel Him?

…I stopped taking myself so seriously and began to find the humor hidden in the mess?

Guess I’ve got a lot to work on. Thank God for His Grace.
Ecclesiastes 3:11 “He makes all things beautiful in HIS time.”

Crying Over Spilled Milk

I fear that sometimes I portray myself as I want you to see me rather than the basket-case that I actually am. So in the spirit of transparency…

This is the real me and the hot mess which is my life.

My time away, be it ever-so-brief, was terrific. But as I made the physical transition from the mountains of Muramvya to the valley of Bujumbura, my emotions decided to tag along. And all too quickly, my soul has descended the mountain top to rest in the valley.

The soul forgets too easily.

In the mountains, my soul was restful. Upon returning, restful became restless

  • Calm became agitated
  • Energetic became fatigued
  • Tranquil became troubled
  • Inspired became indifferent

My first task back in Buja was to finish the signage I’ve been working on for the Amahoro shop. Great plan. Excited to check it off my list.

But then, I dumped a bucket of paint down the front of me and all over the pavement.

worse than spilled milk, no?

A full bucket of oil-based paint.

Black, oil-based paint.

Gulp.

I didn’t get to paint the sign. Shocker, I know.

Instead, I sat in my puddle of black, oil-based paint waiting for someone to bring the only type of remover available in Burundi—petrol, a.k.a. gasoline.

I didn’t sit for long. My impatience—magnified by the midday sun—got the best of me. Alongside one of the Amahoro women, I attempted to clean up the mess with water. Fail.

+ For my skin and clothes, water was useless.

+ For the pavement, water was disastrous. The damage spread like juicy gossip and soon the whole patio was coated in a film of black, oily, watery paint.

Rather than cause any further destruction, I resumed my position, perched on a small rock and roasting in the heat, waiting for petrol.

As the evidence of my oil spill increased, so did my bad attitude.

To be candid, I’m spent. I feel defeated. And GROUCHY.

I feel like God is being unfair, asking too much of me.

Wasn’t 9 months in Congo enough? Was I out of my mind when I followed His call to Burundi rather than return to America? Will I even have enough energy to make an impact at Amahoro?

  • I miss my family and friends. I miss my church.
  • I miss Milwaukee, discovering new music, and high-speed internet.
  • I miss electricity, Alterra coffee, a postal service, and hot showers.
  • I miss chocolate and Sherwin Williams water-soluble paint.

In the midst of my pity party, I am ashamed. On multiple levels.

+ I loathe that the aforementioned list contains mostly material items.

+ I’m alarmed that my paint-spill fiasco roused a spirit of bitterness rather than humor.

+ I’m embarrassed as I type these thoughts, considering they will soon be irrelevant as I return home in a mere 5 weeks.

+ I feel guilty complaining, knowing that my lot in life has been exponentially easier than so many.

In a nutshell, that’s where I’m at. That’s the real me. A broken, hot mess who is crying over spilled milk.

The Poverty of Wealth

This morning Anastasia, mother to eleven children, redefined poverty for me.

She explained that poverty is not the state of being in need.

True poverty is having everything one could need or want yet feeling lonely in spite of it.

Wisdom comes from experience . . .

Anastasia and her family were very wealthy before the Burundian Civil War robbed them of their riches. (More of her story to come.)

To those who hunger, give bread;
To those who have bread, give a hunger for justice.

-Latin American prayer

Mountain Fever

In light of this new reading obsession, I’ve been devouring the classics. My most recent companion: My Antonia by Willa Cather. In the storyline, one of the characters develops an illness called “mountain fever”.

In my imaginary world, I’m suffering from a similar disease. There is just something about the mountains…

Up here, the air is cleaner. Up here, the climate is cooler.

Up here, I can hear myself think. My mind and my heart are at ease.

Up here I can dream. Up here I can imagine.

Spending time in a remote location is always conducive to a creative lifestyle. Hopefully when I return to Bujumbura tomorrow I will feel refreshed, renewed, ready to channel this energy to my work at Amahoro.

Satisfy us in the morning with Your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us; establish the work of our hands for us — yes, establish the work of our hands. Psalm 90: 14, 17

The Building Blocks of Summer

East of Bujumbura, elevated 2500 meters in the mountains sits the rural village of Muramvya and the home of Isai & Samantha Torres, founders of an NGO seeking to care for Burundi’s orphaned children. Through a divine connection, I met this couple and their newborn baby, Malaki.

Mountain Retreat

Thanks to Isai and Samantha, I am enjoying a few days of rest at their home in the mountains.

The first morning I was sipping strong coffee and basking in the warmth of the sun’s rays. Then I began to notice through the fence slats a procession of children wandering up and down this mountain path.

burundi children

It’s 10am on a Wednesday. Why aren’t the children at school?

And what in the world are they carrying on their heads?

child's burden africa

Samantha explains. It’s summer vacation the children are working to help support their families. They’re molding, baking, and carrying bricks.

Together, we wander down the trail from their house to check out the operation. The path is dusty. And steep. How do they manage this trek while balancing a load of bricks on their heads?

Along the way, Samantha greets her neighbors with a warm smile, introducing me in perfect Kirundi. They’re all glad to meet her visitor, but really they want to know, “Where is Baby Malaki?” Its clear to me that she and Isai are well established and have made a significant impact on this community.

About 15 minutes later, we arrive at the brick-making project. There are 50 total workers: 25 men, 25 children. The men fabricate the bricks; the children distribute them.

Brick-making 101

Soil is mixed with water pressed into a wooden frame. The molded mud bricks will spend three days drying prior to baking in the kilns. After baking, they are stacked and prepared for distribution. Each brick costs $0.3, including delivery.

Ranging in age from 7-16, the children earn a humble 500 Francs ($0.41) per day. They make the trip from this valley up the mountain to the main road by foot—barefoot—six times per day. Its an arduous journey, but the children don’t complain. Hunger is strong motivation.

When You Should Be Unfriendly

In Luke 10:4, Jesus sends out his disciples ahead of Him, urging them not to stop and greet anyone along the way. Not to greet anyone along the way?

At first glance, I thought this was a bogus request.

  • Didn’t Jesus’ ministry emphasize building relationships? You know, take time for people. Share a meal together. Have compassion on the children.
  • Didn’t He do miracles by the side of the road? Give sight to the blind man. Clease the one with leprosy. Heal the sick.

But then, God gave me new insight into this passage.

Jesus told them not to greet anyone because He knew they’d get distracted or unfocused and they may never reach the final destination.

So how did I manage to figure that out?

As I continue to participate in African culture, God is giving me new understanding into His Word. Here’s how it went down:

  • Tuesday morning, after breakfast, I leave the house with my hosts at 8:15am, heading into work.
  • 8:16 − 8:20 Just outside the gate, we stop to chat with the neighbors who live across the road.
  • 8:22 − 8:25 Three houses down a construction crew is building a new home. Greetings ensue.
  • 8:28 − 8:34 Political representative for the subdivision is standing at the corner. Salutations. Introductions. Discussion about local elections.
  • 8:35 − 8:42 A friend is washing clothes outside her home. How is she? How is her family? her children? her house? her church? her health?

Now nearly 30 minutes later, we’ve traveled less than 2 km.

Fortunately, work is less than 6 km from the house.

Unfortunately, we haven’t even reached the main road yet. At this rate, we won’t arrive till 10am.

As it turns out, we make several more stops and run a few errands in town. Eventually, we arrived at the office, ready to begin the day at 11:20am.

Have I mentioned that God is teaching this impatient girl the virtue of patience?

In America, I’m classified as type A.

I abide by schedules. I follow agendas. I like arriving on time. No, I like arriving early.

And that’s just one way Africa is changing me…

Here is the church, minus a steeple…

Ever since Solomon built the first temple, places of worship have been important landmarks. The design enthusiast within me has long appreciated liturgical architecture. Some of my favorite structures are churches: St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, Basilica of St. Josaphat in Milwaukee, Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.

Most sacred buildings of the Western world are intricately designed, opulent, grandiose structures. On the opposite end of the spectrum is the religious architecture of Africa. I haven’t yet figured out why, but Africa has never excelled to the architectural standards of Europe, Asia, or America.

African Liturgical Construction
Church buildings in East Africa are all of a similar model. If they came as customizable standards from a development company, the product description would read:

New and Improved Protestant Church Model
Long, rectilinear box. Four mud brick walls with irregular and intermittent punched openings to provide light and airflow. Honoring simplicity, this design has just one entry door by which everyone will come and go.

New model includes a tin metal roof to make the atmosphere extra warm and cozy. More than merely a sauna, this roof will make church an oven. Congregants will bake to a crisp. Nonetheless, the celebration happening inside will be so captivating that none can resist entering this cooker.

Aesthetically speaking, the color scheme is an unembellished, endless sea of brown which allows each congregation to add a personal flair, adorning the drabness with the bright colors of their clothing.

Bonus: For a limited time, this layout comes fully furnished with rough-sawn wooden benches and pulpit.

Perhaps poverty is the reason for Africa’s rudimentary building design.

But maybe its not.

Maybe construction is basic and spartan because they realize that church is less about building size, acoustics, or furnishings and more about unity among believers. From what I’ve observed, there are only two major Christian churches here: Catholic and Protestant. Other than that, little distinction exists between denominations. You attend the church to which you can travel easily.

burundi churchWelcome to the long eternity of an African Sunday…Last week I attended this rural Burundian church.

Church begins when the pastor and choir arrive. Church ends when the congregation has exhausted their voices from singing and shouting, “Hallelujah! Amen”.

You think pews are uncomfortable? Try sitting on a backless, wooden, unstable bench for five hours.

The place has nothing extravagant about it, yet the atmosphere was far from bare.

A Cornucopia of Contributions
The tithes and offerings given by this impoverished people nearly brought me to tears. On a reed mat near the front of the sanctuary, alongside a woven money basket were various items which had been offered to the Lord during service, ranging from fabric to a live chicken to beans.

Oh, how rich these people were in their giving. May I never forget that visual display which redefined my limited understanding of an offering.

During the message I gazed out the windows, marveling at the beauty of this landscape. To my left, the shores of Lake Tanganyika. To my right, the great hills and mountains.

After service, the pastor and elders present me with a gift on behalf of the congregation, expressing their thankfulness for my presence.

Honestly, I still don’t know what, exactly the gift is.

My host family told me we’ll eat it.

I told them they’ll eat it. I’m not putting that thing within 2 feet of my mouth! Okay, I didn’t say it quite like that, but that’s how it went down in my mind.

So, any guesses as to what it might be? I’ll give you a few clues:

m

  • its roughly 16″l x 10″w x 8″d
  • it weighs about 6 kilos
  • shape is amorphic, but reminiscent of a baby seal with a large appendage in front
  • color is brown, skin is coarse and covered with…hair?

Mental Floss 007 – Nostalgia. Words. Addendum.

word cloudMy brief stint as an ESL teacher has left a lasting love of words in my heart. Oh, who am I fooling? I’ve loved words for as long as I can remember…

NOSTALGIA

Some of my favorite memories with Dad are when we would play The Dictionary Game. Sister, Dad and I would sit cross-legged in a circle on the pink plush carpet of our bedroom floor. Dad officiated. Our giant hardcover dictionary sat in his lap, a box of cookies by his side.

What?

You don’t know what The Dictionary Game is? Sad face…

It was something like Balderdash meets Spelling Bee meets Jeopardy. But in lieu of money or fame, we won cookies.

All three of us competed on a regular basis, but I can’t quite remember who was the reigning champion. I assume it must have been Sister. Even though I loved words, I never loved READING words till I came to Africa.

Sister, on the other hand, came out of Mom’s womb with her nose stuck in a book. Okay, she didn’t quite emerge with a novel in hand. But I’m certain the nurses and doctors were shocked when she read her own name on the hospital wristband.

WORDS

The Dictionary Game fostered my love for words. Africa fostered my love for reading them. Teaching ESL combined those two loves, making it a perfectly unified whole.

And since I can’t yet shake the teaching mentality, I wish to give a brief lesson about word selection.

  • endemic: a disease that is continually present in an area and affects a relatively small number of people. Malaria.
  • epidemic: a disease that quickly and severely affects a large number of people. Cholera.
  • pandemic: a widespread epidemic that may affect entire continents or even the world. AIDS.
  • epizootic: a disease temporarily prevalent and widespread in an animal population. No clue, but isn’t it a terrific word?!

In the blogging world, there is not just an epidemic, but a true pandemic of verbal diarrhea. Bloggers are notorious for rambling on and on about what they ate for lunch. Maybe this is why most blogs don’t last.

I promise never to write about my lunch. I know you wouldn’t care. I assume that most of you are reading this is because Mom sent you a link…and I’m okay with that.

With that in mind, I make a concerted effort to keep my posts brief and my topics relevant (or at least somewhat interesting). And in an attempt to  maintain a low word count, I omitted a detail from my previous post which had greater value than I anticipated. So here I include the addendum to A Birthday Sikuku.

ADDENDUM

If there is any type of birthday tradition in Africa, it is precisely opposite that of America. In Congo, it is typical for a grown child to return home on their birthday to visit with parents—even offering the parents a small gift—to show appreciation for raising and caring for them.

Makes you think, huh?

A Birthday Sikukuu (see-koo-koo)

To my knowledge, there is no Swahili word for ‘birthday’. Imagine that. Throughout much of Africa, the anniversary of one’s birth is not really a Hallmark celebration.

So why then, in America, do we make such a big deal about birthdays? Maybe to make us feel significant, esteemed, loved…

In his book, Don’t Waste Your Life, John Piper opened my eyes to realize that our Western culture has a distorted view of love which tells us that to be loved is to be made much of. And making much of ourselves seems to be our specialty.

It makes perfect sense then, that we raise the roof on occasions such as birthdays. We don that golden Burger King crown, announcing that the world ought to serve us on OUR special day.

Think about it. When was the last time you attended a child’s birthday party? On that day, life revolves around them. They run the show.

I wonder, are we not perpetuating selfishness and materialism at these birthday hooplas?

We start this training early on by throwing a bash before the child can even talk…Happy 1st Birthday, Baby!

As the child grows, so grows the party. Not to mention, the quantity and quality of presents. Soon enough, parents are spending exorbitant amounts, hosting extravagant parties at expensive venues. Don’t even get me started ranting about those Super Sweet 16 birthdays.

For the record, my favorite birthday was 1988, the year I turned six. Mom made a She-Ra birthday cake and all my friends gathered at the local swimming pool. (Not sure how those two were even related, but Mom did her best to fulfill my every bizarre request…why wouldn’t she, it was MY special day?)

I suppose if we’ve fallen into our culture’s notion that to be loved is to be made much of, than why wouldn’t we want to use a day to improve our children’s self-esteem and make them feel good about themselves?

    Happy Birthday to Me

    A few days ago it was my birthday. And to be brutally honest, I wasn’t looking forward to it. Its not that I feared turning another year older, in spite of the fact that I’m now 28. The reason I wasn’t eagerly anticipating my birthday was because I had no one around to make much of me. I longed for fellowship with family and friends, yet here I was in a brand new country, alone.

    I feared that without cake, candles, or song—not to mention the absence of friends and family—I would feel unloved, worthless, unappreciated. Would I even hear one live voice wish me a happy birthday?

    A subtle reminder

    On that day, I awoke early to the sound of the children singing. I can’t yet understand Kirundi, but the familiar tune brought the lyrics to mind.”This is the day that the Lord has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” In His grace, God reminded me that its not about me. Lord, this is Your day. Its not my day. Help me to decrease so that you might increase. Thank you for giving me life through your Son. May I delight in Your love today.

    And much to my surprise, God gave me a birthday sikukuu. (As I mentioned, there is no Swahili word for ‘birthday’, but it certainly was a sikukuu = festive and eventful day; contraction of two Swahili words: ‘siku’, meaning ‘day’ and ‘kubwa’ meaning ‘big’.)

    Here’s how the day transpired:

    • In the morning, I sat with Goreth as she hand-washed mounds of dirty clothes. Yes Mom, I watched Goreth wash. Please don’t be too disappointed. Numerous times I offered to help, but she wouldn’t allow it. So I sat beside her. And as we sang hymns together in perfect harmony, God washed over my heart and saturated it with peace.
    • Arriving at Amahoro, the remainder of my morning was spent combining fabrics for new handbags. My presence and advice brought reassurance to these women who have longed for design direction. Seeing the delight in their faces was mental encouragement which energized my creative spirit.
    • Returning home in the afternoon, I snacked on fried plantains and pineapple juice. Goreth’s children insisted that we dance to African music videos and in doing so, they gave life to my weary body and planted joy deep in my heart. Such laughter. Such good dancing…those kids got rhythm.

    If I had it my way…

    …I would’ve been in America, celebrating with friends and family. Even here in Burundi, I was tempted to take the day for myself. Enjoy some ME time.

    But by allowing God to use me on that day—though I would’ve much preferred to stay in bed, curled up with a book—He showed me that “the really wonderful moments of joy in this world are not the moments of self-satisfaction, but of self-forgetfulness.” (John Piper)