Friday, April 28, 2006

On Easter Sunday I went to 7:30am Mass at the cathedral just up the road with my teammates Byron and Annette. Many of the protestant churches here don't celebrate Easter, so we decided visit the Catholics. The service was wonderful. I especially loved the girls in little Girl Scout type uniforms dancing in the aisles and the choir that sang from up in the balcony. Afterwards we had a delicious breakfast of fresh pastries, papaya with lemon, fried plantains, and coffee.

I ate Easter dinner with my 3 roomies and our Kenyan friend Patricia. I was quite impressed with our roast chicken and mashed pototoes, salad and fried bananas. It wasn't mommy's cooking and I missed my sister's deviled eggs, but we didn't do too bad.

On Easter night we had our usual Sunday night service, but we focused on the Resurrection. My friends Gabrielle and Elizabeth led us in a great time of worship.

I led a meditation time where we thought about the life God has brought to us, the things He's resurrected or redeemed for us. When we'd thought of something we each went up to the cross and placed a flower on it. The symbolism was quite apparent as the wooden cross filled up with colorful branches. I thought of two areas where the Lord has brought me life: In my singleness, which in some cultures is considered a curse but which the Lord has used to help me serve Him more, and in my boisterous personality, which has always been a struggle for me but which the Lord has used to keep me dependent on His grace.

Of course after the service we had our usual Sunday night icecream. These are my friends Heather (17 year old tutor) and Brent (7).

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Waves--another song

The wind just kicked up outside of my boat
And I can hear the rain start to pour
Don’t know when I’ll see the end of this storm
But I know the One that I call my Lord.

He is Jesus, He’s the One who calms the waves
He walks on water asking for my faith
He calls to me to join Him on that lake
Don’t be afraid, in spite of these waves.

He is sleeping inside of my boat
I start to wonder, will I stay afloat?
Seized with fear I cry, “Save me, O Lord!”
And he awakens to speak peace to my storm.

He is Jesus, He’s the One who calms the waves
He walks on water asking for my faith
He calls to me to join Him on that lake
Don’t be afraid, in spite of these waves.

I will weather this storm
I will step out of my boat
I will walk on water in faith
And in the rain and on these waves.

(PS: My songs kind of make me sound unhappy. I'm not. But often the hard things inspire creativity.)

Saturday, April 15, 2006

A Song About Nothing: The Story of My Love Life

God has started giving me songs since I've been here in Africa. I wrote maybe 9 within a month's span. Most of them are based on Bible passages. Some of them can pass for poetry, so I'll post them here, although they're certainly more powerful with the music. I have written one melancholic love song, which for some reason I've decided to post first. Careful what you say about it, it's quite personal!!

What can I sing?
It’s all been sung before.
Nothing left to say
when all is said and done.
Nothing new here
under this sun.

It’s the same old story
of a love unreturned.
Nothing left to write;
let’s just close the books.
Nothing new to see;
it’s last season’s look.

Yet I’m reviewing
this issue again.
Nothing’s sorted out
‘cause I’ve kept it all in.
Nothing to end
when we didn’t begin.

But I need to tell you what’s been on my mind,
Even if it’s not new or inspired.

‘Cause I can’t pretend to be alright
When you don’t know what’s inside my heart.

I’ve called you friend and brother,
But have I told you that I love you?

What can I sing?
It’s all been sung before.
Nothing left to say
when all is said and done.
Nothing new here
under this sun.

We have storms a few times a week. They usually roll in like this from across the river. I like it at night when I lay in my bed listening to the rain hammering the metal roof of the carport just outside my window and then suddenly, though I wouldn't have thought it possible, it starts pouring down even harder. The thunder usually just consists of ominous rumblings in the distance, but every once in a while there will be a bright flash and before I can get to "One-one-thousand, two..." a thunder clap hits that jolts my body and makes my heart race. It's quite exhilarating.

Probably not the smartest idea to be on the wet metallic roof during a lightening storm, but hey, look at the cool picture I took :o)

Friday, April 14, 2006

The Price Isn't Right

I live in possibly the most expensive city in Africa. Prices are outrageous. Not just compared to other African countries, but compared to anywhere. It depends on what you’re buying, but lots of things are more expensive even than what I would pay in the US. Actually, the US has some really cheap stuff (Thank you, China). There are some things that are less expensive here, like some fruits and veggies, but there are other things that are so astronomical you can only laugh and wonder if anyone has ever bought it before.

Pineapple $2 (good compared to US)
Spaghetti noodles $0.50 (I think that’s cheap, but they’re probably cheap everywhere)
Board game like Clue or Monopoly $120 (seriously)
Large avocado $0.20 (awesome!)
Tailor made skirt and shirt $12 (Does anyone even use tailors in the US?)
Ice-cream cone $1 (nice)
1 plate of Chinese food $10 (This is the European price for Asian food…no cheap Chinese take-out like in the US. By the time you buy a drink and some spring rolls you’re up to $15/person)
Small bottle of Coke $0.50 (reasonable)
1 liter of juice $3 (expensive in my opinion, but worth it sometimes)
Bottle of olive oil $12 (too spendy, but necessary sometimes)
Small wedge of cheese $6 (spendy but it’s the cheapest available and it’s worth it)
Roll of toilet paper $1 (use sparingly)
Long, skinny baguette $0.50 (cheap compared to US, but normal for Europe)
Can of Pringles $3 (expensive but nice to know they’re there when you need them)
Laundry detergent $7 (expensive but what can you do?)
Shaving cream $10 (forget it, use soap)
TV $300 (don’t need it or want it)

OK, I’m having a hard time thinking of the really expensive stuff because I never buy it. You can live without most of it. My roomies and I spend $30 each per week on groceries. It seems like a lot, but colleagues from places besides the US think it’s not much and even our American colleagues think we’re doing well.

An important thing to keep in mind when considering these prices is that the average Congolese person makes $800 in a year. I think our guards at the center earn about $80/month. They are obviously not partaking in a large portion of the items available in this city. I don’t know how they manage. A house lady who does cooking and cleaning makes maybe $6/day, but usually only finds part-time work. Another factor, however, is that if the employer has the means they are expected to pay for things like medical expenses and school fees which would otherwise be way out of the employee’s budget. Somehow people manage. And somewhere there are some very rich Africans buying some very expensive things because there aren’t enough ex-pats here to keep the deli stocked with European cheeses or buy up the overpriced entertainment items.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Not Mr. Roger's Neighborhood

I haven’t written much about my home here in Brazzaville. My neighborhood is rather sleepy, but it’s interesting nonetheless. Our compound actually used to be the North Korean embassy (yes, we have performed the necessary exorcisms to be able to live and work here). Next door is the Cuban embassy. A few lots down is the United Nations. Kofi Annan was actually here last week. I didn’t see him, but we did notice a prodigious number of street sweepers around town. I’m sure Kofi was impressed. At the other end of the street is a cathedral. When we take a taxi home we say “between the cathedral and the UN.”

Across the street from our place is a typical little “Mauritanian store” (many businesses here are identified by the nationality of the people who usually run them). It sells anything from rice to shampoo. I typically go there for cold pop or emergency toilet paper. Went there last week when, as I was in the middle of making tabouli, I discovered the couscous in the cupboard was full of nasty bugs. I got myself a weevil-free box and was back to the kitchen in no time.

Speaking of the kitchen, it’s a dangerous place. I tried to cut my thumb off today. That was 5 hours ago and I’m still bleeding through my bandaid. Not that you needed to know, but I needed to complain.

OK, I guess that’s all I have to say about my neighborhood. A few blocks away is the Meridian Hotel, apparently a nice place to go swimming or take tennis lessons, but I haven’t done either. Also nearby is the university, which we visited last week to present the linguistics department with the latest edition of the Ethnologue (the world’s most extensive catalog of languages, published by my very own organization, I’m so proud). I might even take a linguistics course at the uni. Good way to learn the French vocab I'll need for writing linguistics papers and a great venue for meeting relevant Congolese.