Monday, January 15, 2007

Oh sick my cat is eating a gecko

The weirdest part was it's one of those ones that has a tail that comes off easily. But the tail kept wiggling forever on the ground!!!!!!!!!!! It was seriously the craziest thing ever. Then she ate it. She left half a gecko carcas on the ground. I hope the lady who cleans the office finds it tomorrow 'cause I ain't touchin' it. Sorry, this story had to be shared. My life is crazy.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

More Adventures in Congolese Cuisine

So a couple of my friends, Louz and Davi, wanted to see me before I left for Ouesso. They called yesterday and said they were coming over but that I didn't need to do anything. They showed up with everything to make dinner! We had fish and manioc and safu. It was delicious! They even bought the drinks. So cute. I'm still smiling as I imagine them shopping at the market and remember them working away in the kitchen. They're keepers.

Their fish recipe seems pretty simple, I think I'll have to try it out sometime. Maybe when I come home I can give you a taste of Congo! Although it wouldn't be the same without the manioc. Anywho, the fish just gets cut into 3 pieces (head, middle, and tail) and then cooked with oil, parsley, onion, tomato, and a whole hot pepper. I think that's all. At some point you add water. It all just sizzles together for like 30 minutes.

Safu, by the way, is a fruit related to avocados. They are small and have an interesting blue and purple skin. It has a large pit covered by a thin layer of green flesh. It tastes kind of sour or bitter and is good with salt. If you haven't had it there's really no way to imagine, because it's a flavor and texture all it's own. Very tasty and satisfying!

I'll try to post a photo of our dinner, but it's still on Sabine's camera 'cause for some reason when I went to use my camera yesterday it was dead! So sad. I was wanting to buy a new one when I came home anyway. Good thing I already have lots of pics of Ouesso 'cause I won't be taking any on this trip! (I leave for Ouesso on Wednesday. I'll be there for 2 months. Not expecting to have Internet access, although we've been told it might become available while we're there).

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Adventures in Congolese Cuisine

A couple of weekends ago my friend Louz invited me to come to a banquet for his choir from church. The catch? I was signed up to help make the food! It was a cool opportunity for a cultural experience. Here I am cleaning salt fish, basically scraping the crusty salt off before the fish gets fried. The ladies were super excited to teach me and see me doing things their way. I also cut manioc and pineapple. My pineapple cutting has been completely revolutionized! It's so easy the way they do it. I'll have to host an exotic fruit cutting class when I come home :o) Today I made mango jam, but I don't think I'd recommend it to any of you at home since it would cost a fortune for the fruit! Here's some more pics from the choir's banquet. Wish I knew how to post video 'cause I've got a good one of them all singing and dancing. Louz is the one in the purple shirt. He's like my little Congolese brother.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

something you didn't want to know about bats

Yeah, so today I saw a guy at the market ripping off a bat's wing with his bare teeth. The bat may or may not have still been alive. I'm pretty much scarred for life. Just thought I'd share. I hope to include one day a picture of the bats that they sell at the market. Apparently they cook them with green mangoes and eat them whole, head and all. Yeah, I'm sure you didn't want to know that, but, hey, these are the things I have to hear about all the time. Just sharing the joy.

New Year's Eve

This year I rang in the New Year right…at an all night Christian concert! I didn’t come home ‘til 5am, thus endearing myself forever to my Congolese friends who think I’m really cool now :o) I was super impressed with the event. It was TWO whole nights, the 30th and the 31st, of music. Every 25 minutes from 8pm to 5am a different group got on the stage to perform. Most of the songs were originally composed by members of the group. There were probably like 2,000 people there. What do you think, could we pull that off in a city in the US? Two whole nights of original Christian music performed by dozens of groups? Pretty impressive.

I was proud to be a groupie of my musician friends who each performed with like 4 different groups. They were obviously very popular. Their main group was composed of about 8 guys who I know plus a few musicians. You should have seen the girls go crazy. It was a little embarrassing :o) During their last song all these women flooded the stage and started dancing with them. The security people were trying to pull them off, but they all just danced off the stage at the end in a Congo line (no pun intended). So now I know I’m in with the popular crowd :o)

I didn’t realize I was an official groupie until they came and fetched me afterwards to go eat. Apparently behind the stage there was all this food for the musicians after their performances. I don’t why I had the right to go back there, but everyone was freaking out at the white girl eating manioc and salt fish. Wish I had more and better photos to show you. It was a really fun night.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Thankful in the New Year

At the New Year is a good time to look back at the last year, evaluating how we did, thanking the Lord for what He did.

Psalm 103
Of David.
1 Praise the LORD, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
2 Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits-
3 who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion,
5 who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.

It’s interesting hearing what the Congolese thank the Lord for. They thank Him they are still alive. They are grateful for their health. They praise God that their country didn’t have a war this year. Just a different level of seeing things than the average American.

Being here also leads me to see things a bit differently. I too am so thankful for my health. I praise God I haven’t had malaria! I’m grateful for personal safety and that I don’t feel threatened. I’m happy I come from a country where sexual activity at a young age is discouraged rather than encouraged. I’m glad my family doesn’t put pressure on me to get married and have babies. I feel blessed to have received so much good Christian teaching and biblical instruction. I thank the Lord that the food I eat doesn’t make me sick. I’m full of joy at the thought of all the people I know, both here and at home. So much to be thankful for.

This year I have learned to live in Congo. I got to study Lingala. I found a new church home with a pastor I love and young girls to minister to. My sister had a healthy and delightful baby whose name I picked out! I joined a Congolese music group. I made it through hard times with the help of the Lord. I got to go to Switzerland on vacation and taste the amazing grace of the Lord towards me.

I hope you too can look back over the last year and just breathe a happy sigh of gratitude for all that the Lord has done. Forget not all his benefits!

Happy New Year!

It’s 2007. Can you believe it? Seems like just the other day everyone was freaking out about Y2K. But it wasn’t just the other day, it was 7 years ago! Sheesh.

My pastor here has done a couple of really great sermons on the subject of the New Year. We make all these New Year’s Resolutions like “I want to lose weight” or “I’m going to exercise.” But Rock (my pastor) asked “Why don’t we make a spiritual plan?” Something like “This year I’m going to give away more than I did last year” or “I’m going to be more faithful to study the Word” or “I’m going to focus on loving people.” Instead we aim for all these really worldly things. And when we look back on the last year how do we measure our success? “I made money”? “I earned a degree”? What about spiritually? If we gained the whole world yet didn’t produce fruit that lasts for eternity, was the year a success? No, he says, it was wasted time.

Not only do we make Resolutions, we make Proclamations. “This is going to be the best year ever!” “May you have a prosperous New Year!” But, asks Rock, does the act of proclaiming actually have any effect on how the year turns out? Of course not. There’s only one way to make this year a success…

John 15
The Vine and the Branches
1"I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
5"I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. 8This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

I have hope that this will indeed be my best year ever! I’ve got some pretty cool plans: Jan-March in Ouesso, April-June in Brazzaville, July-September at home, October in Kenya, Nov-Dec back to Brazzaville to welcome two new teammates. It’s gonna be a cool year. But more than that, I know that I can make of this year what I want it to be. I get to choose to make this a new start with the Lord. With His help I know I will become more of the person He wants me to be. Through His power I will walk in what He has for me!

Something to make you smile

Ogden Nash

The panther is like a leopard,
Except it hasn't been peppered,
Should you behold a panther crouch,
Prepare to say Ouch.
Better yet, if called by a panther,
Don't anther.

Ogden Nash

I don't mind eels
Except as meals.
And the way they feels.

More Christmas Fun

Sunday the 24th I helped lead carols at church with my girls who come over on Thursdays. I found French versions of a few familiar ones on line (O come all ye faithful, Noel noel, Angels we have heard on high, and Silent night). The songs were new for most people but the pastor had us sing them again at the end of the service, so they must have liked them OK. Here Christmas is considered by most (except perhaps those in the more liturgical churches) as a children’s holiday, so in my church the kids all sat in a special section and had some special activities and prayer. We ate cookies and peanuts afterwards

In the afternoon I took Carol with me to a theatre production I’d been invited to by some Congolese friends Nadine and Alan. Not only was the French difficult to understand, but the themes were so cultural that I could hardly understand what was going on. My translating for Carol was less than helpful, so she made up a story line in her head. The rest of the audience seemed to really enjoy it, though, and I think it was well done.

When the power went out and we could no longer see the actors (ha, ha, gotta love Brazzaville) we decided it was time to leave and have dinner with Anne and Barb, two CMA missionaries that have worked in Africa for like 25 or 30 years. Hamburgers scarfed down, we ran off to another church where my musician friend Louz had invited us to a concert…
He told me it was starting at 8pm, but when I asked what time I should get there he said a quarter to 9 :o) He said it might go as late as 11pm, which would be like my latest night out on this town! When we got there everyone seemed to already be there, choirs practicing, children and old women sprawled out on blankets in the courtyard reserving their places for the show. Carol and I sat at a table and quickly had an entourage of curious people, mostly young African men :o) Carol was like “Why are they staring at us?” “Because we’re interesting and beautiful.” “Oh.” It was fun and we had a lot of good laughs.

Finally at like 11 o’clock (!) the concert was ready to begin and some guy I’d never seen before came to fetch me and Carol and lead us to our seats. The instruments and microphones were set up just in front of the church building and everyone was sitting on the ground or standing out in the large courtyard. To our dismay he led us straight up to the front and sat us in a row of chairs behind the musicians in facing out to the enormous crowd! It would have been rude to refuse and they would not have allowed us to sit on the ground or stand the whole time, so we just had to accept the royal treatment.

We enjoyed a choir and a drama and listened while a pastor preached in a language neither of us understood. At one point a man was making announcements in an African language and suddenly I hear the words “Les Etats-Unis” which means the United States in French. Then I heard my name mentioned like 3 or 4 times!! I had no idea what he was saying but we were laughing so hard. I think he was just welcoming and blessing me and thanking me for being there. This is what it’s like to live in Congo. If you’re white, you simply cannot hide and even though you’re simply a spectator, your name gets announced in front of a thousand people. When I asked Louz about it he was like “Oh yeah, I asked him to do that.” Thanks so much. At 1:30am after we’d heard the kids program that Louz had helped put together (including writing some of the songs in his mother tongue Laari) we decided it was time to go (don’t forget Carol had just arrived the day before and that’s a long trip!). Got home at 2am and called my mommy to wish her a happy birthday. Overall, I’d say it was a very successful Christmas Eve, probably one of my busiest and definitely filled with the most cultural discoveries!

Christmas morning is my favorite morning of the year. Every year we go to my brother’s house for Swedish pancakes and baked grapefruit. I wear my PJ’s. We open copious amounts of presents. This year I did none of the above, and my family swears they ate All Bran with skim milk. I had planned to make crepes and baked pineapple which would hopefully resemble our traditional meal, but we had to set it back a day because my friend Annette was sick. So instead Carol and I ate again with Anne and Barb. Anne is pretty much a domestic goddess, so we had a delicious blueberry bake thing. She even made a cheese ball! The food and the company were both very good. Now none of my presents that were shipped to me have arrived and I confess I cried when Anne handed me my one gift of the day, a box of very tasty caramel corn :o) When I stopped by the Winter’s house to greet them, you should have seen the look on their boys’ faces when they asked what I got for Christmas as they stood in the traditional American wreckage of dozens of unwrapped presents. Guess this makes me a big girl now :o) But I will say that not having gifts doesn’t automatically make you appreciate the “true meaning of the season.” Wherever you celebrate Christmas, in whatever way, remembering Jesus is always an intentional choice.
Not long after breakfast was over, it was time to help get Anne’s little apartment ready for the 12 of us who would be eating dinner there and playing games all afternoon. A highlight of Christmas came that night when I got to call home and talk to the whole family, including aunts and uncles I haven’t heard from in a year!

On the 26th I had my traditional Christmas breakfast with Byron and Annette and Carol. My crepes turned out nothing like mom and Casey’s Swedish pancakes, but they were pretty good.