"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)

5.31.2006

ouch!

Please say a prayer for my friend Emily. She's got an ankle fracture and is expecting her two-year-old's baby brother in just a few weeks. Feel better soon, Emily!

spin me right round

( Do you see where I was on our flip at Total Gunga? Or was this Surf City? I was too busy trying to breathe...)
So today I have a sunburn, bruised nose and chin, my stomach is in total rebellion from the water I swallowed, and I can't walk down steps without feeling excruciating pain.

It was so worth it. Rafting the source of the Nile has been on my list of things to do before dying for a long time. All I can say about it is wow, Wow, and WOW. Class V rapids, a guide who intentionally flipped our boat three times, and on top of that, we were on the NILE. It was amazing, painful, and I wouldn't have traded the experience for the world. Plus it's always nice to discover new muscle groups.

The river itself is beautiful; I wish the photographer had taken more pictures of the birds and villages and crops along its banks. It was hard to believe that we were actually on the Nile.


I went with Adrift, which ran the first rafting expedition down the river ten years ago. It's the longest river in Africa, over 4,000 miles from Lake Victoria to the Medeterranean Sea, but no one had ever tried to raft any of it before they did. Anyway, there are lots of companies operating on the river, but Adrift's boats are heavier than the others', so they can handle the serious rapids. And, wow, are there some serious rapids on the Nile. We didn't do the Class VI rapids (you can't take a raft over those), but we covered everything else on the 31-kilometer stretch of river. The rapids have fun names like "Big Brother" and "Overtime" and "Surf City." It's definitely the most intense rafting I've done. The adrenaline rushes were like nothing else.

Simon, our guide, was great. I was soooooo glad we weren't in the other boat; their guide was a jerk and wouldn't let them flip or do anything interesting. Simon had a little too much fun flipping us without warning, but it made the day interesting. We went over Bujagali Falls, and survived the lower section of Itanda, which means, "The Bad Place" in the local language. They wouldn't let us do all of Itanda - it's a Class VI rapid and apparently people actually have died there. It was the most fun of the entire day - we all wanted to do it again, but no. (Apparently Prince William asked the same thing. Wonder if they told him, "no.")

(Oh, there I am, gasping for air after Bubugo)

My only complaint about Adrift was their really stupid "no shoes" rule. Of course you can't take flip flops on a river that strong, but it's pretty stupid to expect your clients to walk over a stretch of rocky land without their Chacos. Especially when one guide says the guides don't wear shoes, but he just happens to wear them anyway. Grrr. My feet were Not Happy on the climb up the 150-foot muddy cliff at the end. But all in all it was a great day, so much fun, and I would definitely do it again. Although I want to check off the Zambezi first...

God blessed texas

Today makes four years since I moved to Austin, Texas. Best decision I ever made. We drove four days straight from Connecticut, and when I crossed the border at Texarkana, I got out and kissed the ground. Amen and amen.

5.30.2006

apocalypse now

Oh, my. All I have to say about this is that if you can't take the heat in Taylor, you should get yourself to some yuppie place that should have wireless access. And that I cannot wait to get myself to Taylor in a couple of weeks...

5.29.2006

Decoration Day

It's Memorial Day back home. Good to remember sacrifices, and to be thankful for those who serve us now. Be safe, Andrew and Nathan and all the rest of y'all who are far from your families today.

Time made the Congo its cover story this week. It's pretty good coverage, and I like that they emphasize how forgotten the tragedy is. For people who work in Congo, it's sometimes almost hard to see so much attention focused on Darfur, or on an earthquake in Indonesia. More than ten times as many people have died in Congo. All life is valuable. All people deserve a chance. Why we pick and choose which tragedies to help is beyond me.

a little farther [east] a beautiful river runs

Quelle journee! I left Goma on Saturday morning, crossed the border with no problems whatsoever, spent the night in Gisenyi, and caught a ride to Kigali with Human Rights Nick early Sunday morning. It was SO NICE to not have to take the bus -- it took about half the time and I didn't have to listen to any theological and/or political discussions. Plus Nick backed over a moto-taxi (and its driver) at the gas station in Ruhengeri. Nobody was hurt and the gas station guys urged us to drive away before the driver could get his moto started, so I guess it was okay. Poor Nick's going to be hearing about it for awhile, though.

Spent Sunday hanging out by the pool in Kigali, then ran some errands this morning before going to lunch at La Baguette, the German bakery/butcher/place where every expat goes for lunch. It turned out to be the perfect place - ran into my friend Suzy, so we had a nice talk over lunch. She's based in a tiny village in Rwanda and I wouldn't have gotten the chance to see her if we hadn't met by chance. (When did I become the kind of person who unexpectedly bumps into friends in Kigali? It happened in Nairobi, too...)

After that, I met up with the Missionaries, who were sweet enough to take me to the airport for the evening flight to Entebbe. All I have to say about that is that Rwandair Express is amazing. We left early. We arrived early. I was through immigration and customs and had my bags before the scheduled arrival time. They have to be the only airline in Africa that ever arrives early. The guy across from me said, "They'll make up for it in the air," but he was wrong.

Tomorrow the real fun begins...

5.27.2006

give her the wings to fly

And just like that I'm gone. Last night was sad. Really sad. I said good-bye to Aime and cried, then went by to say good-bye to my friend Mama Helene. She gave me a picture of herself and her four sons and said she wanted me to have it to remember her by. So I cried some more, pretty much all the way home on my last motorbike taxi ride. But, wow, what a view.

C and E and Mr. Florida and Junior and a bunch of other people came out for fondue at Doga last night, and then it was time to say good-bye to all of them. More sadness.

This morning I got up, finished packing, said good-bye to everyone at Karibu, and learned that it's much easier to cross the border into Rwanda if you have a Congolese Tutsi as your driver - no one searched my bags at all, which NEVER happens. (The politics of ethnicity are alive and well at the Gisenyi-Goma border crossing.) I gave my UT hat to one of the Rwandan immigration guys (he'd asked for "something from Texas") and over the border we went. Right away I remembered how different things are in Rwanda, because the minute I got in the car, the driver reminded me to put on my seatbelt. No one wears seatbelts in Congo, but here it's the law.
It's so strange how different these places are. Gisenyi has a Nice Hotel, one that has air conditioning (which is totally unnecessary here) and takes credit cards. I spent the afternoon on the beach, trying to do something about my Chaco tan (hopeless). Lake Kivu looks different from here. For one thing, there's a beach. With sand. But overall, it's not as spectacular - you can't see the volcanoes and the mountains don't look as dramatic from this angle. It's nice. But it's definitely the beginning of the long journey home. Tomorrow morning Human Rights Nick and I will drive to Kigali. Monday night I fly to Entebbe, where I'll be through Friday before starting the really long part of the trip. Better enjoy the beach while I can.

5.26.2006

pilgrim through this barren land

It's my last day in Goma. So strange to be leaving. I've been running around nonstop for the last two days, and today won't be terribly different. The Other Diplomat got on a plane this afternoon and the gang is all going out for fondue at Doga tonight and tomorrow I will cross the border and that will be it. My original plan was to go straight to Kigali tomorrow morning, but Human Rights Nick offered me a ride early Sunday and since that's free, I'm crossing to Gisenyi tomorrow, staying there overnight, and riding up to Kig on Sunday. Then it's a few good-byes in town and a trip to Amahoro ava Hejuru and off to Kampala Monday night. Then Tuesday rafting the source of the Nile, Wednesday shopping in Kampala, and conducting the last interview on Thursday. By this time next Friday I'll be in London.

I'm so ready to go, and yet it's sad to say good-bye. That's most of what The Other Diplomat and I have been doing - she wanted to meet my contacts and I needed to tell them all good-bye, so we've made the rounds at DOCS and with the Baptists and the NGO's and the grocery stores and the market and the dressmakers'. DOCS was the saddest -- Dr. L. told me that I have become part of their family, that I am Congolese -- but somehow I know I'll be back. Probably many times.

When I first arrived in Goma, I talked with a pastor from Minnesota about his interest in and commitment to Africa. His eighteen-year-old daughter is spending this year in the Kibera slums of Nairobi. He talked about her experiences, how hard it is, and yet how happy she is to be living there with people who suffer, learning from and with them, and helping to make things better. He said, you know, there's something that World Vision says in some of their stuff: "Let your heart be broken by the things that break God's heart."

Dr. Doug asked The Other Diplomat and I the other night if things will ever really change here. I'm not sure what kind of answer he wanted, but I told him that when you look at it all, it's so terrible, but that you ultimately have the choice to despair or to hope. Despair is the easier choice, and frankly it's probably more realistic. The Congo is beyond fixing. Too many people don't want peace. I don't believe that the elections are going to change anything. And deep down I know that most people back home don't give a flip about the suffering of 56 million people who live in the hell that is central Africa.

But if your heart is broken like Lyn's is broken, and like C and E's are broken, and like the Baptists' are broken, and like Dr. Amman's is broken, and like my heart is broken at the utter awfulness of it all, what choice do you have? What it all comes down to is that you have to hope. You have to. You have to believe that God has not forgotten these people despite what often looks like overwhelming evidence to the contrary. You have to believe that the people around you can learn to solve their own problems. You have to believe in yourself and your capacity to use your gifts to serve, to help, and to live. You have to believe, as Paul Tillich put it, that love is stronger than death, that hope is stronger than despair, and that it is worth the sacrifice of your security and your time and your ability to ignore it all to live among the suffering, to let your heart be broken, and to find a way for the truth of the eastern Congo to set you free.

5.25.2006

you know now why you came this far

What I love most about Africa is the stars.

It's a crazy week in Goma. Trying to schedule last-minute interviews, make arrangements for the long journey through Kigali and Kampala and London and Washington and finally home, and say good-bye to friends. I'm learning that "I don't know" is not an acceptable answer to the question, "When will you be back?" Last time I had an answer ("January") and the first thing Aime said when I showed up in February was, "You're late." This time I just don't have an answer.

On top of that, The Other Diplomat is here because her current boss (my old boss) realized that the story they get from the official sources about what's going on here is very different from the story you get from people who are actually from here. So I'm happy to take her around to meet friends while I say good-bye.

Last night Dr. Doug called to invite us to join the group at Lyn's for birthday cake for a couple of the students. It was actual birthday cake, with frosting and everything, and Lyn broke out her stash of Reese's peanut butter cups and licorice and it was a fun party at their outdoor living room by the lake. It was fun even considering the course the conversation took. Somehow we got from Hillary Clinton's viability as a presidential candidate to explaining to Dr. L. that there are people in the U.S. who think the use of birth control is morally wrong. This was beyond comprehension for him and Lyn, but it seems that Dr. Doug believes that Christians shouldn't use birth control because it's an affront to God's sovereignty and he defended that position.

So that was a fun conversation. As you might imagine. What I love about Lyn and Dr. L. is that they are deeply grounded in their faith, but they are also deeply grounded in the reality of life here. So Lyn has no qualms about arguing that providing access to family planning services is the most compassionate, Christ-like thing we can do for women in rural areas whose bodies are exhausted and who cannot bear to watch another child die from malnutrition and disease. Or that giving a PEP kit to a ten-year-old rape victim is the first step in healing her body and spirit in the way Jesus healed, even when (and perhaps especially because) that kit includes the morning-after pill. The simple choices we get to make in an individualistic, peaceful society have almost nothing to do with the reality of Congo. And I actually don't believe our choices are as simple as Dr. Doug believes they are.

We left the Lusi's around 9:30, which is when they turn off their generator. The dry season is starting here, so the wind is high and the skies are getting clearer. The lake sounded like the ocean all through dinner – you can hear it "lapping with low sounds by the shore," as Yeats would put it – and the stars were unbelievably bright. The students wanted to see the Southern Cross, so I helped them pick it out in the great sweep of the Milky Way.

I came home and stood outside for a long time, looking at the cross, thinking about sovereignty and faith and calling and Lubbock's teen pregnancy rate (which was my primary argument against Dr. Doug's support of abstinence-only education) and wondered what it all means, how it all fits together, how an internship six years ago and a crazy conversation with an advisor involving the statement, "I can't actually go do research in the eastern Congo – can I?" and all those dinners with the fundamentalists and the heavens declaring the glory of God in these warm stars – how all of that can somehow lead to a totally unpredictable dinner, and even more, can somehow form a calling, a career, and a life. "What business had I ever to set my heart on Africa?" asked Karen Blixen. Albert Schweitzer said he came to make his life his argument. Me, I'm still waiting to figure it out.

In the meantime, I'm thankful for those stars.

5.24.2006

the story of how we begin to remember

We got the land!!!! The Sake pygmies will now have a place to live and to grow food. We went out to visit the site this morning and it is awesome - one border is a river that flows into Lake Kivu, and the other side is up against the road, so no one can challenge their rights of access. There's a stream flowing through the land which will make irrigation easy. And plus it's just beautiful. I will write more about this later when I have more time, but suffice it to say that today was a Good Day.

it don't come easy

So Lloyd Bentsen and Clifford Antone passed away on the same day. Bull Moose has a nice tribute to the former, and the Statesman covers the latter's amazing contributions to the Austin music scene. One of the last of the great, old-school Texas Democrats and one of the heroes of Austin music, gone all at once. What a sad day.

oh no here we go

Oh, wow. I am sooooo glad I'm leaving this weekend.

Here's a hard-to-read story about what's going on in this part of the world. Marie at the Swedish Pentecostal Mission is quoted at the end - she is an amazing person.

5.23.2006

more than I can handle

I just learned something awful:

Every hour, 80 infants die from HIV. Mostly due to entirely preventable mother-to-child transmission occurring at birth.

That means that during our 8-hour workday today, 640 babies will die. 700,000 babies will die this year.

And 15 babies' lives can be saved with all of $25. Total. It would cost less than $2 million dollars to save all those babies this year.

What a messed up world.

allo guten morgen deutschland

Completely rocking my world right now are none other than Germany's Eurovision Song Contest entry, German country cover band Texas Lightning. It's embarrassing. And true.

Don't believe it? Check out their performance on Eurovision here, or listen to their cover of "Dancing Queen" here. It's official. I may have to give up my music hipster membership card....

maybe someday, someday i'm gonna settle down

Today makes ten years since I graduated from high school. Daddy wrote last week to say that an invitation to our ten-year class reunion arrived in the mail. Ten years? Yikes. Where did that time go? Oh, right. School, school, and more school. Anyway, I don't know if I'll make it to the reunion or not. I've kept in touch with most high school friends, and it's scheduled for homecoming weekend, which will probably conflict with a home game. Although I have to admit to a certain curiosity as to whether the diplomas still feature two Confederate flags...

(Emily, do you know the date? And can you believe we're this old?!?)

5.22.2006

we can make it better, put ourselves together

Mawe Hai is a subsidiary of DOCS that deals with agricultural development. They distribute seeds in Goma town for people who still have land (not rocks) in their gardens, and their agronomists run a demonstration farm about 15 miles outside of Goma on the edge of the lake. They use the plot to test different methods of farming and irrigation, to try out new seed varieties, and to teach widows, rape victims who've been treated at DOCS, and others sustainable farming techniques specifically geared to dealing with the rocky volcanic soil around Goma. "Mawe Hai" means "Living Stones" in Kiswahili, which is such a wonderful name for an organization that is bringing life out of the rocks. When people learn how to effectively farm the land, they return to their communities, share their knowledge, and food production improves for entire villages.

Mawe Hai is the organization that will help the pygmy families for whom we are purchasing land near Sake. They will teach the families basic techniques for farming the terrain in Sake, which is very different from their home in the mountainous forests. Because of this connection, I've wanted to visit the farm for a long time, and was glad to have the chance to go with the Minnesota students.

Mawe Hai is so neat. They have a nursery, which the director explained doesn't require a greenhouse since Goma gets so much natural sunlight. They have an incredible irrigation system to bring water up from the lake in the dry season. They also experiment with foods that aren't traditionally grown in eastern Congo, like the papayas here, which were grown with seeds from Taiwan. (It turns out that Taiwan and eastern Congo have very similar climates, so Mawe Hai gets lots of seeds from there.) One of their goals is to increase nutritional variety in the local diet so that people get more vitamins and minerals, so they're always growing new vegetables. We saw cabbages, eggplant, hot peppers, and all sorts of other plants.

Mawe Hai reminded me so much of the World Hunger Relief Farm outside Waco, where I volunteered in college (by "volunteered," here, I mean, cleaned out the goat pens way too many times. I only got to feed the bunnies once.). WHRF is focused on sustainability and was very different (eg, there are straw bale houses, goats, and a lot more land), but the mission was the same: a belief that people's lives can be better if they know how to effectively work the land around them. WHRF brings people from all over the world to Waco to learn sustainable farming techniques.


Mawe Hai offers tangible hope. It gives jobs to agricultural experts, and gives people who have been neglected, attacked, and who have starved the chance to feed their families, teach their communities, and rebuild their lives. I am thankful that they will help the Sake families do the same.

love in the vein

Spent most of Friday with a group from Minnesota. They are all students at a small college that used to be a Bible college, but is now a liberal arts school. I walked into the computer room at DOCS on Friday and it was full of American college students. It was kindof surreal. The first question their professor asked me (after my name and all that) was, "Are you a Christian?" Second question: "And what local church are you active in?"

It's been awhile since I've been in a place where people are that, um, direct with strangers. Or where a simple answer to a simple question settles everything.

Anyway, after assuring Dr. Doug that my eternal salvation is assured, I met the students, who are majoring in things like nursing, youth ministry, intercultural studies, and worship arts. (Did you know that youth ministry is a major? Does being a summer youth intern count for credit?) This trip is part of what's called "international service learning" at their school; they will spend the next two weeks volunteering with several organizations in Goma.

Then I met their translator, whose first question upon hearing "Texas" was, "Are you familiar with Christ for the Nations Institute?" Yes. Yes, I am. Oh, boy.

They were going to visit Mawe Hai, which I'll write about in another post, and so we did that and then they sang at the revival at the church (oh, yes, this was revival week. I missed most of it. One two-hour sermon in French per week is about my upper limit.) and then C and E had everyone over for dinner at their house. We had a great meal, then Steve (the worship arts major) got out his guitar and we sat around the living room and sang.

It was an interesting day. They came to Congo knowing almost nothing about the situation here (Dr. Doug was surprised to learn that there is a peacekeeping mission, for example). They don't speak a word of French or Kiswahili, which is going to make volunteering an interesting challenge. But all in all they're good kids. They're young. They are earnest and well-meaning. They burst into song. A lot. They sang to three wards at DOCS, in the car on the way to Mawe Hai, on the way back, at the revival, and at dinner. At least three asked if I was a missionary.

When E asked them their reasons for coming to Congo at dinner on Friday night, every single student used the phrase, "need to get out of my comfort zone." This will be an eye-opening, life-changing experience for some of them. My hope is that they'll come to a new understanding of what people here really need from short-term mission trips. I hope they'll learn that the Congolese need food and shelter and clothing and safety and medicine – and that the people they're here to tell about Jesus have already learned to depend on God in ways we'll never understand. Simple answers don't work here.

5.20.2006

your heart's been shrinking & you're too busy thinking

Since I have very little to blog about today, I'm posting this super picture my sister took on her trip to Groom this week. I can't wait to be home!

This has been an incredibly busy Saturday - two interviews this morning and finally solving the visa problem (you don't want to know) by going to Rwanda for 20 minutes and coming straight back. It's official. I have to leave the Congo in one week. Not a moment too soon.

In other news, I really like the new Wilco song. It sounds like A.M. Wonder where this is headed?

5.19.2006

profits kept rolling in

Well. Thank goodness. If only they could recover the Nun Bun.

wished i was in austin

My Q-tip supply is low. My flip-flops are changing color. My iPod pretends to erase itself, only to come back to life for twenty minutes every third day. Clearly, it's time to go home. Two weeks to go. To that end, since it's been awhile since I posted a list, here are:

Ten Things to which I am Looking Forward (in no particular order):

1. Seeing my family. Catching my baby sister before she traipses off to Ghana for her own African adventure. One of my daddy's hugs.
2. Live music. Anything will do at this point. Really. It's been so long that I'd see Tanya Tucker opening for Boyz II Men. Almost.

(An aside: ATHFEST is the same week as CBF. Athens, Georgia has the best music scene in the southeast and a wristband is only $15. Anybody want to head up there to catch a show (or five) after the Baptist festivities?)

3. Chips and salsa.
4. Youth Camp. Camp CLC.
5. Not rain every day.
6. Electricity. Running water. Tap water. Internet access. Paved roads. Target.
7. Free nights and weekends. Long talks with old friends.
8. The Attorney's reaction to his souvenir de Congo. And The Librarian's reaction to his reaction. Heh-heh.
9. Summer in Washington.
10. Driving. Le Miata. Avec le top down.

5.18.2006

they're begging me for something, Lord, but I don't understand

I guess I've gotten used to saying no. But I've been noticing it a lot more this week. I don't know what to do. On the one hand, you know people need money. On the other, you know if you give them money, they'll expect more tomorrow – as will 25 of their closest friends and relatives. Part of me rebels against that and part of me wonders why that's such a problem for me. It's not like it would hurt me to give a dollar to 25, 50, or 100 people. But I don't like that idea of creating more dependency in a place where the mentality is very much that of "there's nothing we can do about our situation."

When I taught the poverty class, we spent most of the first six weeks of the semester talking about the causes of poverty. They divide into two basic categories: individualistic and systemic. While far from perfect, this fits in with most political views on the causes of poverty: conservatives tend to believe that people are mostly poor because of bad personal choices while liberals tend to think people are poor because the system (be it economic exploitation, lack of educational opportunities, or whatever) makes them poor. Your take on what it takes to help the poor depends on your view of the cause: if you think people are poor because they're lazy, you'll want to force them to work by cutting welfare benefits. If you think people are poor because of circumstances beyond their control, you might argue that there's a need for government intervention.

I tell my students that either extreme is simplistic -- most people are poor due to a complex combination of causes, and any solution to poverty had better take all of its causes into account. But here in the Congo, I just don't know. There's something else going on.

My friend Eva talks about this a lot. People come to her asking for water and she just stares at them, then points at the lake. Eva's theory is that 40+ years of oppression and dictatorship do a lot to kill people's belief in themselves and their ability to make things better. I don't know. There's certainly an entrepreneurial spirit alive and well here. But there's also a lot of "give me, give me" with the expectation that those who can share, must share.

I don't know what to think. I don't know what to do. If I were at home, I'd advocate for a higher minimum wage, more job training, and increased childcare for the working poor. Those things don't exist here.

The last couple of days were rough. Tuesday I went to an office to set up an interview, came out, and this old man followed me down the road. All he said, over and over and over again, was "Kusaidia." "Help." In the imperative form. Help me. You help me. Over and over and over.
Yesterday a little girl followed me down the next road over as I went from the internet café to DOCS. I had some lollipops in my bag and gave her one. She ran away and the next thing I hear is the sound of little feet tearing down the street after me. Her friend, Vanessa, came and got a lollipop, too. They smiled at me and then the first little girl (whose name I can't remember) said, "Kesho tena." "Again tomorrow."

At DOCS, I couldn't find Lyn, so I sat around waiting for awhile. A woman with a baby on her back approached me to ask for help. "I'm diabetic," she said, "and I need five dollars for medicine." I asked her if she'd talked to Lyn, and she said she'd been told no. This one was hard. On the one hand, she has diabetes and needs the medicine. On the other, Lyn would kill me if I handed out money at DOCS, because it would give people the idea that they can come asking for everything. So I said no. But it hurt.

When I first got here, this group from a church in Minnesota was in town. They were really nice and I helped them look for fabric in the market one day. I was talking to the missions pastor's wife about their trip and all they'd seen and she said something about how people kept asking for money. She just said, very matter-of-factly, "And I told them that if I gave money to them, I'd have to give it to everyone."

I remember thinking, "So what?"

Now I don't know what to think.

all i wanna do is turn around

So the ACL lineup is finally out. Not a lot of surprises at this point, but it will be fun to see the Raconteurs and see if they live up to the hype.

Regarding the artists in small print (why is it that the headline acts are always the ones I'm least interested to see?), I am so excited to see Texas-Seattle kid Rocky Votolato on the lineup. I've been listening to his Makers a lot lately after hearing a track on KEXP's Song-of-the-Day podcast. It's great songwriting with a bit of an edge. "White Daisy Passing" and "Portland is Leaving" are especially good tracks.

On another note, The Dixie Chicks' new album (coming out Tuesday!) has a song called "Lubbock or Leave It"! You get an extra track if you pre-order it on itunes...

5.17.2006

music in my soul

So the ACL lineup is out as a leak, for the most part. I'm excited to see Explosions in the Sky, Okkervil River, and Centro-Matic, along with the usual suspects and all that. But I think the Bonnaroo lineup is way more interesting and risky. They've got Amadou and Miriam AND the Refugee AllStars of Sierra Leone, whom I'm dying to see. It's so close to Franklin. If only I didn't have objections to sleeping in a muddy field for three days. And if it weren't the weekend that youth camp ends...

Yet another reason Condi bugs me. Kool and the Gang? She's got to be kidding.

And Wes Anderson is a genius. But you should have known that from Bottle Rocket.

In other news, Amy's is now in D.C. Let the summer fun begin!

running to stand still

So I completely failed to write about the crazy trip home on Saturday. After waking up at 5, heading to the airport at 6, and waiting in line until after 7:30 to check in bags for an 8:30 flight (This is normal for Kenya Airways, although when I saw Think Tank Jason in line for his flight to Lusaka, he told me he had actually missed a flight due to their unbelievably poor service.). Miraculously, my bags made it to Kigali on the same flight and the three-hour bus ride back to Congo. The bus ride was long and painful (There are bruises on my kneecaps!) and featured a two-hour discussion of Congolese politics, complete with accusations that a Kinyarwanda speaker wasn't "really Congolese." This election is going to go great.

On the flight, I was seated next to a guy from Portugal. After establishing exactly how little good those Portuguese classes did after all, we talked about his travels (Rwanda is his 93rd country to visit), George W. Bush (that's right, I'm from Texas), his upcoming trip to Vegas, and he and his friend's weekend jaunt to Rwanda. That's right. Rwanda. For the weekend. They left Lisbon on Friday, flew to Amsterdam, then overnight to Nairobi, then on to Kigali on Saturday morning, with the whole thing in reverse on Monday. Seems his friend was invited to run in the second annual Kigali International Peace Marathon on Sunday, so they thought, "why not?"

Now. Several of my friends have trained for and run marathons for reasons ranging from supporting a good cause to personal achievement to just plain pride. The Librarian, The Intrepid Reporter, Laura Prime, Leah the Magnificent, the Dad, and the D.A. have all taken a shot at it, and that's great. It's not something I'm going to choose to do, but, hey, if you want to give it a go, I'll make a donation, cheer you on, and wait with Gatorade and goo at mile marker 23. I'm glad to volunteer at whatever-we're-calling-the-Austin-marathon-this-year, mostly because it's fun to see which of my colleagues are outpacing the others (for the record, Professor S was smoked by his grad student in 2004. Maybe that's why he left us for the big city.). I have nothing against marathons.

That said, you have to be completely insane to run a marathon in Kigali. Rwanda is nothing but mountains. Tall mountains. And deep valleys. Kigali's slightly less steep than the western part of the country, but still. The city is around 5,000 feet above sea level. Nobody steps off the plane without noticing how thin the air is. I've gotten used to the altitude in Goma (except on the volcano), but after a week in Nairobi, I really noticed it coming back last weekend. How you could run up and down those hills for 26.2 miles having been in the country (and at altitude) for less than 24 hours is beyond me. And completely crazy.

5.16.2006

fast, fun, and friendly?

I heard about this from Mary. But OH MY.

Then again, I still can't wait to go to Target when I get home.

oh no here we go

A t-shirt for Jess.

glaciers on the attack!

This is so funny, but it makes me want to cry.

all that's beautiful drifts away

Pretty much every evening since arriving in Goma, I've gone for a walk or run just before sunset. It's a good time to get exercise. More importantly, it's the time you're least likely to scandalize the neighborhood by wearing shorts or running shoes. It's always beautiful – you never know what flowers will have bloomed that day or what birds you'll hear or how the light and clouds will create shadows and colors in the sky.

Last night I was out on my sunset walk and the sky turned this incredible shade of pink and it was as though we were surrounded by light. Rain started to fall and I picked up the pace to beat the deluge home, but then walking towards me was this woman I've never seen before. We said, "Bon soir," and then she just looked around and said, "C'est magnifique." (It's magnificent.) And I said, "Oui." And she said, "Un petit paradis." (A little paradise). And I said, "Oui," and we stood there in the gathering dark, then both said "bon soiree" and went on our ways.

Last night was Goma. It's so indescribably lovely here, and so awful at the same time. The mountains and the lake and the ever-changing light and the volcano's nighttime glow and the dancing and the laughter and the songs live side by side with the lava and the dirty water and the guns and the nighttime and the looting and the fires and the tears and the orphans and the rape victims.

Last week in Nairobi, I got to see lots of friends. A group from Texas was there to scout sites for a child development center in western Kenya. Preacher Jason, who was the associate minister at my church in Connecticut was on the trip, as was Laura the Elder, who lived across the hall in the dorm at Baylor. And then there were the connections that are an inherent part of life as a Texas Baptist: the minister of education from Amarillo who was on church staff with the pastor of the emergent church that meets at my church, the people who go to the big church in Lubbock where the youth minister was one of our interim youth ministers in Franklin growing up. The BGCT people who know the amazing Suzii. Phil Strickland's widow, who is just amazing. It was so nice to see some folks from home, to hear all the gossip, to help them bargain in the market, and to not have to answer questions about farms, ranches, and George W. Bush. I also got to meet up with friends from when I studied in Kenya, with Think Tank Jason, and with my friend Kat. It was so nice.

On Friday, I got to have coffee with Sam. Sam and his wife Melody are missionaries who grew up as missionary kids in Kenya and Uganda. They are uniquely qualified to bridge two worlds, Africa and America, and they do it so well. They are some of my favorite people in the world. Sam wanted to hear all about Congo and so I told him about this incredible beauty and unbelievable suffering and he listened for a long time and then told me about the sermon he's working on for their time back in the states this summer. He's been reading Richard Rohr and thinking about luminal space – those defining moments in our lives that tell us something has changed, that we are no longer the same, and that our lives must respond to that change. And I won't go into the details, because they'll be at CBF, but what Sam said about embracing the suffering was important. Especially when you are looking at a place as un-fixable as Congo. He said that it's awful, and that it's not good for you to be in it for too long, but that you also have to remember that that's where Jesus always was. With people. In their misery. And in their joy. Sometimes healing them, sometimes not, but always there with them. Sam said we get so caught up in trying to figure out ways to fix things – to have a plan of action, to let our anger at the injustice of it all drive us to do something good – that we're afraid to just live with the pain for awhile.

Sam also told me that there's a brief space of time he treasures when they come back from the states to Kenya after being gone for two months. For a week or so, he said, he notices things that had become routine.

It was good to get out of Goma last week. It was good to be blessed by the presence of friends old and new. It was good to hear Sam's sermon. And it's good to come back and notice things I'd gotten used to. That the children in the market are only pesky because they're hungry. That the constant demands for attention by everyone with a plan to do something here are the result of wanting to make life better. That someone is actually fixing potholes on the road today.

Last night I got back to my apartment and went out on the porch to catch the last bit of dying light from the all-too-quick sunset. I stood there on the porch, looking at the waves in the lake and the clouds in the sky, grateful for the cool raindrops on my sunburned shoulders, and all I could think was, "C'est magnifique. Un petit paradis."

5.15.2006

grace and peace

Bertha died. On Friday. She was 97. Mom and my sister are going to the funeral today. I'm sad that I can't be going with them.

I don't know what to say about Bertha. She was my grandmother's friend. She was the librarian in my mom's small Texas hometown. When we were little and would go to visit our grandparents, going to see Bertha at the library was one of the big treats we looked forward to (the others were getting to drink Dr. Pepper and gettng Slush Puppies at Allsup's. We were the only grandchildren, and we were spoiled there.). She always welcomed us like we were her own grandchildren, and she always had Lifesavers and let us check out as many books as we wanted. When I grew up, she would send letters to Baylor, telling me how things were going back in Groom, how the weather was and how the crops were doing. She always called my parents' house on my birthday to ask them to pass on her best wishes.

I went to see Bertha with mom and daddy two summers ago. She was homebound by then, but still sharp as a tack, and taking as little medicine as possible - she insisted that that was why she was still alive. As we left, she said that she probably wouldn't see us again, but that we would walk the streets of gold together.

She loved us and we loved her. She was one of those rare people who are not your family, not technically, but really are. I will miss her.

5.13.2006

and moses played right guard

Days left in Africa (this time): 20
Days until the season opener: 112
Minutes until I flip out about the merging of two of this blog's topics that should not be mixed: 2.7

I mean, we joke about football being a religion in Texas. Because it's serious. It matters. And we organize our lives around it, at least from August through New Year's. And admittedly, occasionally some of us (not me mind you, but some of us) have more consistent home game attendance records than we do in Sunday School.

But come on. Only in Alabama.

I am just back from vacation week and promise to start posting regularly again on Monday. For the moment, I'm tired from the journey and angry at the border officials who refused to give me a one-month visa. Right now I have one for 8 days. Here's hoping there will be another 8 after that. Otherwise I'm going to Vic Falls. To do this.

(By the way, I'm particularly proud of the lyric referenced in the title of this post. The song from which it comes is linked there.)

5.12.2006

fifteen seconds of fame

So I got published....

5.10.2006

one day at a time

I am enjoying a lovely holiday in Kenya. Dinner with the Buckner group last night, ran into my friend Kat today for lunch, and am interviewing my friend Jason tomorrow. It's nice to see friends. And to have a break. And to speak English.

Anyway, thought I should post the pictures from Sunday's International Orphan's Day while there's a good connection. Celtell was the sponsor, so that's why it looks like one big commercial. But the kids loved the visors, and they got a good meal and some fun as a result of the sponsorship.

I should add that Junior's friend Monique, who works in Kinshasa, was in town for training that week. Monique is from Houston, so of course we've become great friends. We stepped out of the car, looked at the site of 2,000 orphans, and she just said, "How did two Texas girls get themselves into this?"





E and Mama Jeanne, who runs an orphanage in Goma.






There's actually a brass band in Goma. Complete with tuba. Sousaphone. Whatever.










This was really cool. Acrobats. They don't have a springboard, so they use a tire. Check out the guy flipping through the air in the middle-right of the shot.




















Ten of the orphanages took part in the program - some sang, others danced or performed a skit or a poem. This group came out and danced right in front of us - they were really good.



















Two Texas girls in the middle of all this. (on the front row, no less. I ended up seated beside the commander of the MONUC battallion. And the vice-governor, um, hit on me. Oh. My.)





These girls in red are from a group of former street children. Their group sang a song. You could see the sadness of life in their eyes. It was heartbreaking.

















Serving 2,000 children is no easy task! But these mamas were up to the challenge - they have given their lives to helping Goma's most neglected children.








The thing that will really haunt me is the faces.


































This kid had the best view of anyone.


























































Loaded up on the MONUC trucks to head home.

5.08.2006

oh, great light of the world, fill up my soul

Hope. I haven't written about Sake in a week or two, because things have been happening really quickly and I didn't want to jinx it. But here's what happened: in order to help 224 families (768 people) to restart their lives by buying them a field where they can plant crops and build homes, we needed $2100. The Librarian talked to the missions committee (of which she is the chair) at my church, they voted for more than that, a couple others chipped in, and we have $3500.

Which means that, as Lyn put it, not only can we buy them a field, they can have houses, too.

On top of that, Ciza wrote up a plan that will ensure that these families will be able to fend for themselves and to thrive in the future. The houses will be built in stages until every family has its own home. There will be enough money to build decent sanitary facilities. Until they can harvest crops (with three harvests a year, it doesn't take too long here), they will get temporary food assistance from the World Food Programme. FAO will donate farming tools. A local NGO called Mawe Hai will teach them sustainable farming techniques - pygmies are from the mountainous forest and will have to learn how the land here works. Local churches will help them adapt to life in Sake, and will welcome this group which is so discriminated against in Congo. Most importantly, the communities will have title to their land. If banking services for the poor ever come to this corner of the world, they'll be able to borrow against their land. And no one should be able to take it away from them.

The land scouts have already been out to look for a place. When the chiefs heard that this was going to happen, for real, they asked that the land for the houses be in town so that their children can go to school. So that's what will happen: part of the land will be in town, and the fields will be outside of the town. Being close to the village means that the families will be able to reach the health centers, too. We hope to have the land purchased in the next week or two, and to go out to Sake for a celebration before I leave.

Hope. $3500. Redemption. Abundance. Amen.

hope to carry on

Sunday was International Orphan's Day. E talked MONUC into sponsoring the day and helping with transportation, convinced the Goma Technological Institute to let us use their grounds, and got Celltel, one of Africa's big celluar service providers, to pay for everything via our friend Junior, who is Celltel's regional chief. I'm about to hop on a bus to catch a flight to Nairobi and don't have time to upload pictures right now. We fed 2,000 orphans lunch, enjoyed dancing, music, and acrobatics, foiled an attempted robbery, and had quite the time. For now, this picture says more about the day than words ever could.

I am constantly amazed by the names mothers give their children here, in the midst of war: Baraka (blessing), Binja (goodness), Esperance (hope). This is Innocent. Based on what he's experienced in six short years of life, Innocent doesn't seem like the right name. But you wouldn't know it from his smile.

i'm gonna get out of here someday

Today, in fact. Off to Kigali to catch a flight to Nairobi. I really need a break from central Africa. Nairobi is perfect - it's a big, cosmopolitan, modern city with everything you need or want. Plus I have old friends there! I'll be meeting up with most of them, as well as with a group from Buckner that includes: 1) Jason, the associate pastor of my church in Connecticut, 2) Laura, my across-the-hall neighbor from the dorm sophomore year, and 3) a whole mess of Lubbock folks. I am so excited! And did I mention that you can get actual quesadillas in Nairobi? And see a movie? And go ICE SKATING? Plus Jason is carrying a package of stuff from my parents. Yahoo! Given that I will be catching up with old friends and doing a lot of shopping, and that internet access in Nairobi is pricey, posting this week might be light.

5.06.2006

i miss kentucky, and i miss my family

We're just not going to talk about it. Or the fabulous hat I am not wearing today. Or the parties. Or the fact that my cheese grits souffle is so much better than her recipe.

last week in live music: in my mind i'm gone to carolina

Today marks a Texas in Africa first: a guest post. Longtime readers of the site will have noticed that since the "in Africa" era of this blog commenced, the number of reviews of live music shows has declined precipitiously. This is due to the fact that it has been 107 days since I last saw a live show (which is about 106 days too many). But never fear, my Attorney has come to the rescue with the following fantastic review of last weekend's Merle Fest in Boone, North Carolina. Unfortunately, his wife The Librarian wasn't up for publishing her catty festival fashion commentary - if you want to hear us talk about inappropriate footwear, men in skirts, and various configurations of confabs, you'll have to join us at ACL. Thanks, Attorney!

=============================================
Guest Post: "There's no such thing as too many banjos,"* or "Nothing like a yodel gone wrong."**

It's hard to avod hyperbole when describing my impressions of Merle Fest 2006. Of course, it didn't hurt that the whole trip was gratis thanks to my spouse's Select-a-Set(TM) skills. Suffice it to say, it was a great 4 days. No rain, which is apparently unusual for this festival, plenty of shade when it did get warm (I'm looking at you, ACL festival), and GREAT music. A few observations, which may apply to North Carolinians generally, I'm not sure: (1) more non-ironic use of overalls than I'm used to; (2) Pete Seeger is NOT the guy who sings "Old Time Rock'n'Roll," but he is a really big deal; (3) lots of beards - Sam Beam would have an easy time blending into the MerleFest throngs; (4) most bands played more than once or twice, so if you missed their big show, you could catch them at a smaller stage and get really close.

Without further ado, here is the soundtrack, roughly in the order that I saw each band:

1. Doc Watson - "Fire on the Mountain"
Merle Fest is named after Merle Watson, Doc's son who died in a tractor mishap (driving a tractor through the mountains at night!?!!) back in the 80's. Doc is in his 80's, but he seemed to be playing somewhere constantly all 4 days of the festival. He is still as awesome as you would imagine.

2. Darrell Scott - "You'll Never Leave Harlan Alive"
Best singer-songwriter whom you are likely to mistake for a crazy homeless guy.

3. Jim Lauderdale - "Sandy Ford (Barbara Lee)"
Jim Lauderdale apparently uses the same hillbilly hairdresser as Marty Stuart. Great traditional bluegrass, though, plus some surprisingly swinging jazzy stuff.

4. John Prine - "Fish and Whistle"
Friday night's mainstage headliner. During "Some Humans Ain't Human," a falling star fell behind the trees that grew on the side of the hill above the stage. The audience applauded. The Librarian thinks John Prine is cute, in that he resembles MerleFest's raccoon mascot.

5. Chip Taylor and Carrie Rodriguez - "Once Again, One Day . . . Will You Be Mine"
As a loyal Austinite, I didn't feel that the MerleFest audience appreciated Chip Taylor and Carrie Rodriguez as they should have. I had no idea Chip Taylor wrote "Wild Thing" and "Angel of the Morning." And now he performs cool Texas fiddle versions of those songs with Carrie Rodriguez, along with their even better new stuff that they wrote together.

6. Caitlin Cary and Thad Cockrell - "Two Different Things"
In a just world, they would be the voice of mainstream country radio. I don't think they had any songs about what heaven is like or the statute of liberty beating up people.

7. The Avett Brothers - "The Lowering (A Sad Day in Greenvilletown)"
Kind of like North Carolina's version of Split Lip Rayfield, but they also sing some mean ballads, including the above. That's Greenville, NC, by the way.

8. The Mammals - "Way Down the Old Plank Road"
What Nickel Creek might sound like if they were from Woodstock, NY, and fronted by Pete Seeger's grandson.

9. Gillian Welch - "Red Clay Halo"
I want to describe Gillian Welch as a less strung-out Lucinda Williams, but that doesn't do her justice. Her harmonies with David Rawlings are near pitch-perfect. Plus, Emmylou Harris came out to sing a couple of duets. [Texas in Africa Note: Welch's new single, "I'm Not Afraid to Die," recorded with Willie Nelson, is haunting and beautiful.]

10. The Duhks - "Leather Winged Bat"
What Nickel Creek might sound like if they were from Winnipeg, crossed with the Barenaked Ladies, and fronted by Pink.

11. Chatham County Line - "Arms of the Law"
Straight-up traditional bluegrass sound, and the whole band plays on stage around a single microphone. We brought home a copy of their "Route 23" Cd as a souvenir, and it's really good.

12. The Ditty Bops - "Sister Kate"
I finally got to see the Ditty Bops in the dance tent (Hurricane Rita kept them away from last year's ACL fest). The tall one came down and danced with the audience during "Sister Kate." Because they're so skinny, I'm guessing that they're probably vegetarians. [Texas in Africa Note: Okay, but how comfy were their shoes?]

13. Slaid Cleaves - "Broke Down"
Hard to do much better than Slaid Cleaves. He does Austin proud.

14. Guy Clark - "Dublin Blues"
I'm told this is the song that brought texasinafrica to Austin. I can see why. [Texas in Africa Note: Yep. Pretty much. It's all The Diplomat's fault.]

15. Nickel Creek - "The Fox"
Lots of fun as usual. They're doing a cover of Brittney Spears' "Toxic" now. You can hear it on their myspace page (not recorded at Merle Fest, but you get the idea). While you're at it, listen to "Doubting Thomas." They didn't play this last week, but it's probably going to make me have to buy their new CD. [Texas in Africa note - Oh. My. Oh, my, my. Oh, my, my, my, my, my, my, my. This is wrong on so many levels I don't know what to say.]

16. Eliza Gilkyson - "Peace Call"
Saturday night ended with a tribute to Woody Guthrie, with performances of his songs (including this one) by Eliza Gilkyson, Slaid Cleaves, Guy Clark, David Bromberg, Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion, Jimmy LaFave, Pete Seeger, and probably more that I'm forgetting. At the end, we all sang "This Land is Your Land," including the socialist verses about ignoring "No Trespass" signs.

17. Caroline Herring - "Wise Woman"
On Sunday morning, we caught a gospel set by Caroline Herring and Claire Holly. More than just two pretty girls from Mississippi who sing about Jesus (although they were that as well), both are great singer-songwriters and guitarists who sound really good together. I'm intrigued by their Live at St. Andrews CD, which unfortunately isn't on itunes. [Texas in Africa Note: I loooooovvvveee Caroline Herring's music. She was a UT PhD candidate, dropped out, and has been creating brilliant music ever since. Check out Wellspring. "Trace," "Magnolias," "Colorado Woman," and "MGM Grand" are some of my favorite songs anywhere.]

*A member of Platypus (the Duhks + the Mammals = more than a neuftet!!!)

**Slaid Cleaves

this is just wrong

Oh, my gosh, they made a movie out of the Bell Witch story. If you didn't attend any slumber parties in middle Tennessee in the mid-1980s, you're not going to understand how freaky this is! It was, like, the big dare to go stand in front of the mirror in complete darkness (usually in the bathroom of whoever's house the party was at) and say, "I hate you Bell Witch" I forget how many times and then you were supposed to feel her TAP YOU ON THE SHOULDER and you might see her in the mirror.

Now. All of this is of course total nonsense. But I still can't look in the bathroom mirror when it's dark. The real travesty is that we STUDIED the Bell Witch in school, usually around Halloween. She was from Adams, Tennessee. And I've managed to block out the rest. Creepy.

but i think my timing's wrong

Memed!

I AM: abd
I WANT: a vacation. for real. involving neither interviews, conferences, nor archives.
I WISH: for peace on earth
I HATE: mediocre music
I MISS: texas. enchiladas.
I FEAR: what will happen when all hell breaks loose in goma
I HEAR: dan bern's "jerusalem" (at the moment)
I WONDER: what he meant by using That Word.
I REGRET: most of 2004
I AM NOT: perfect
I SING: along in the car
I CRY: for sick children
I AM NOT ALWAYS: certain.
I MAKE WITH MY HANDS: tortillas. sortof.
I WRITE: when it's too overwhelming to keep inside
I CONFUSE: spanish and portuguese
I NEED: a place to live
I SHOULD: take more risks
I START: what I'm sure I'll finish
I FINISH: what I start
I TAG: emily, jess, ayesha, kirstin

5.05.2006

blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, in tijuana

Friday odds 'n ends:
  • So the game will stay in Dallas. Rusty seats? Not enough powder rooms? Too few seats? To be honest, as long as you get to sit on the 50-yard-line with Aunt Becky and Uncle Steve, who cares? :)
  • Skip sends a link to the Funniest Site Ever. Be sure to check out the "Chicken Fares," the "where's my luggage?" section, and the "new products" catalog. It's almost funny enough to make me overlook the fact that it's an elaborate commercial for Alaska Airways.
  • This is the best piece on the immigration issue I've seen.
  • Jon Meacham's speech for the Lilley inaugural at Baylor is a must-read. It's exactly what Baylor needed to hear, and exactly what she should be about in the years to come.
  • Oh, George Allen. You know, when he was a brand-spankin'-new senator, I was a Senate intern. We went to brief his people one day and it was abundantely clear that they didn't have a clue about foreign policy, 'cause they'd just do whatever they were told to do. People can learn. People can change. But for the life of me I never managed to figure out why he wore cowboy boots either.
  • Pitchfork: love it or leave it. All I have to say is that 0.0 was perfectly just for Liz Phair's '03 album.

already drowned, no bathtub necessary

Next time you're in your city hall or county commissioner's office (or even in the trailer park that is Franklin's sad excuse for a DMV), remember what the chef du territoire's office in Sake looks like. No computers, no electricity, no secretaries ready to take your call.

I continue to hold out hope that Grover Norquist will one day visit Goma. Just to see what no government really looks like.

(Thanks to Mr. Florida for passing on this picture from our visit. And no, we don't normally color-coordinate our outfits.)

5.04.2006

farther along we'll understand why

After awhile, you get used to it. You get used to planning your day to be flexible so you can check your email while there's electricity and, hopefully, an internet connection. You get used to having food on the stove, ready to cook for that precious hour when it comes on. You get used to dropping everything when the water runs so you can take a shower, wash dishes, and do laundry. You get used to the constant requests for money, a job, candy, a ride, a scholarship to a school, any school, as long as it's in America. You get used to the bumpy roads covered in lava rocks, and you get used to being covered in the lava's black dust all the time. You get used to taxi drivers asking for your phone number or your hand in marriage when they don't even know your name. You get used to arguing over the price of everything, until you realize that thirty cents to you is the difference between eating dinner and going without for the woman selling you an extra two tomatoes. You get used to seeing half-naked children running along the streets alone, sleeping under tables in the market, and begging for food from strangers. You get used to the unbelievable disparity between the lifestyle of the aid workers (a lifestyle of which you yourself are a part) and the people they are trying to help. You get used to hearing about plane crashes and earthquakes and foreign army invasions and the misery that will ensue when (not if) the volcano erupts again. You get used to the fact that the place you go when you need a break is ... Rwanda. You get used to the appalling statistics – annual per capita income in the country is $120, infant mortality is 129 in 1000 births, there are only 500 kilometers of paved road in the entire country, 15 soldiers died yesterday. You have to get used to it. Otherwise you wouldn't be able to get out of bed in the morning. But there's a danger in getting used to life in the eastern Congo – if you're not careful, you'll forget why you're here.

Yesterday I saw things I hope I never get used to. Some bigwigs from UNICEF were at DOCS/Heal Africa for a visit and I asked if I could tag along on their tour. With all the time I've spent there, I haven't actually been through the hospital. We visited the wards and saw all these faces. Words aren't enough to talk about the fear and pain and hope on the faces of the patients there. The women in this ward are waiting for fistula surgery. They have been raped, usually violently and often by gangs, and as a result, have fistulas. And I don't mean to offend anyone's sensibilities, but if you don't know what a fistula is, I'm going to explain it here, because you need to understand what this means. When a woman is the victim of a particularly violent rape, the tissue wall between her vagina and urinary tract or rectum is torn, and the tissue just disappears. Meaning that a constant stream of waste passes out of her body. This can also happen in childbirth, but in the eastern Congo it is almost entirely a result of the rape epidemic that has accompanied the war. Many women who have fistulas are cast out of their families and homes – they don't smell good, and their families shame them. They have to fend for themselves, and usually end up in abject poverty, with a serious health problem that won't go away without surgery.

If they make it to DOCS, they have hope. Because surgery can repair a fistula, but you have to wait one month to start the surgery, then two months to see if it worked. Often it takes multiple tries. There are women who have been at DOCS for two years, enduring surgery after surgery in hopes that their bodies will heal.

These are the women of the waiting wards. The room that is a tent is where the women who have just arrived at DOCS recover from their journey and wait for evaluation. The room that is actually a room is where women and girls wait for one of the two surgeons to be able to operate on them.

They saw our cameras (UNICEF travels with cameramen and photographers) and wanted their portraits made. And so many people smiled, especially the young girls. How do you smile when this is your life?

I have promised to make prints in Nairobi next week and bring them back. UNICEF promised to send prints along as well. It's strange to think that these may be among the very few pictures of themselves these women and girls will ever own. It's sad to know that they are pictures from something sad, and not from their weddings or the births of their children. But maybe for them, the chance to have decent healthcare and to sleep in a clean, modern hospital and maybe, just maybe, to get their lives back is reason to smile.

We went to the orthopedic surgery ward after that. Dr. Lusi is the only orthopedic surgeon in the eastern Congo. Most of the children there arrived with club feet and have had surgery to correct their problems. I talked for awhile with these two precious little girls. They had to travel far – one over 400 kilometers, which is two days' journey – to get this surgery, but they were full of hope and laughter and smiles.

After that we went over to the maternity ward. Almost all of the babies born at DOCS were conceived as a result of rape. These twins, David and Martin, were born one month ago. Their mother is fourteen years old. She was raped by a soldier, had fistula repair surgery, and managed to carry them for seven months before delivery. 30 weeks. If a baby makes it to 30 weeks in the U.S., that baby will almost certainly survive. If a baby only makes it to 30 weeks in the Congo, it will almost certainly die.

David and Martin are perhaps the luckiest babies in eastern Congo, because their mother somehow got to the place with the only incubator in Goma, in a hospital that has a generator to keep the power on. You'll notice that they are not hooked up to feeding tubes or IV drips or heartbeat monitors, as they would be back home. Those are luxuries here. The monitors for these babies are the loving doctors and nurses who keep watch over them all the time; they are fed milk by hand. David and Martin have spent the first month of their life in an incubator next to a desk, where they can be watched all the time and helped to grow. Dr. Lusi, who is eternally full of hope, says that maybe they will be Senators one day.
David and Martin are growing. They have full heads of hair, as you can see. Like so many children in the east, they also have faces that are wise beyond their years. I don't know how to explain it; it is like looking into the face of an old man who has seen too much of the pain and tragedy of life, but who hopes and loves nonetheless. How this is possible for two four-week-old babies who can't really see to begin with, I don't know.

Their mother is having a hard time. I can't imagine what it is like to have twin babies as a result of rape. Or to try to deal with the emotions and physical pain and prospect of a difficult future at the age of 14. But the counselors at DOCS are working with her, showing her love, and trying to help her to love her babies. If this happened somewhere else in the world, those babies could be adopted by parents who could provide a home and an education and good food and warm clothes and love. But here, if she can't learn to love them and learn to provide for them, they will die. There's no one else who can take care of David and Martin.

5.03.2006

wish i was in austin

There's a fantastic film playing at the Alamo Downtown tonight at 7. The Boys of Baraka is a story of inner-city America, Africa, despair, and hope. In addition to being a great film, it also stars my friend Keith. Check it out if you get the chance.

neil young rocks my world

I'm not a Neil Young fan.

There. I said it. It's tantamount to heresy in the circles in which I run. I mean, I appreciate that he's a musical genius and all, but I've just never found his music to be, um, listenable.

So, when all the hype about his new album started, I kindof ignored it. At least until I heard that you could listen to it for free streaming at neilyoung.com. But you can only listen to it all the way through. Then it became a matter of logistics. See, here in the eastern DR Congo, we don't have the "always-on" broadband access you kids back home enjoy. The internet connection goes out, the electricity goes out, and you have to start over from wherever you were.

You can't do this with Living With War. Result? I have listened to the first track a bunch, and have made it as far as the 7th.

Then I found out that you can listen to it in sections on myspace, but for the life of me I cannot get a connection.

Here's the problem: I really like the album. A lot. And not just because of lyrics like, "Flip/flop" superimposed over presidential quotes or, "Let's impeach the president /for hijacking our religion /and using it to get elected/dividing our country into colors." It's fun to listen to, and the message is clear, which is more than you can say for the Democrats. Who cares if it's a little late? Who cares if Young is technically Canadian? This is good music. And I hope the rest of the album is as good as what I've heard so far.

allie's prayer

Sharlande Sledge is the reason I believe God calls women to be preachers. I don't remember exactly when I first came across her prayers, but reading "Justice" made me realize that the shock and frustration and fear we feel when we're confronted with the terrible suffering of the world just might be the thing God uses to push us into action. She has a gift with words about faith that is rare and special and right.

Sharlande wrote a beautiful prayer for Allie's funeral. I cried when I read it last night. I cried when I read it again two hours later. Her words express all the joy and life that was Allie, and the unspeakable void that's left behind now that she is gone. But what's most beautiful is that, while it is a prayer of mourning and despair and lament -- which is what we are all feeling -- it is also a blessing. Which is what we need.

prettiest town I've ever seen

It's a small, small, small, small, small world. Over the weekend I met Patricia, who's from Kenya. Long story short, it turns out that not only is Patricia from Kenya, she's from western Kenya, from a village near Kakamega. I said, "Um, I stayed in Eregi" and Patricia screamed. Yep. Here in the eastern Congo I've just met someone from the random little village we stayed in for the first week of our study abroad program in Kenya in 1998. Here is a photo of the house I lived in in Eregi. It's not exactly the kind of place you'd just stumble onto while traipsing about the countryside. We talked about the church there (her church, the place where I attended the first Catholic mass I'd ever heard, in Kiluhya), the dispensary medical center, and the girls' primary school we visited. We know it's the same primary school because we talked about the uniforms, and Patricia solved the lingering mystery of why some of the uniforms were solid green and some had green checks (something to do with the difference between day students and boarding students). Needless to say, we've become fast friends.

What are the odds? For those of you not familiar with the intricacies of village life in western Kenya, the chances of meeting someone from Eregi anywhere else in the world are approximately the same as meeting someone whose friends from high school were exchange students in Abilene and Lubbock. Except that happened too. What are the chances? Sure enough, met this guy Roger, from Spain, at a meeting on Friday and he says, "Oh, I know some towns in Texas." Too bizarre. This was all topped off Sunday afternoon on the way back down from the mountain when we were stuck behind a moto passenger wearing an Aikman jersey. The world is too small.

5.02.2006

apocalypse now!


So I'm in pretty good shape to survive nuclear holocaust/Iranian invasion:



One Step Ahead
You are 80% likely to survive the end of the world.
You're alive, with minimal effects from whatever disaster struck. You're in good health, with moderate supplies, have a plan, and maybe a few other survivors with you to help out with manual labor. Congrats, you're gonna do just fine when all hell breaks loose.







My test tracked 1 variable How you compared to other people your age and gender:










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You scored higher than 73% on sp
Link: The Apocalypse Survival Test