Monday, September 26, 2011

Embarrassing Moments

So, a funny thing happened today. I was about to write up a blog about a typical occurrence in my life and the electricity goes out. Talk about typical. Fortunately I have battery and some time to kill, so here goes.

I’ve thought for a while about writing this incident, as it is really a great picture of life around here. For all of you that are prim and proper, this may not be the post for you. I can nearly see my sweet Grandma fainting and my wonderful Grandpa saying, “I thought we taught that girl better than this.” Maybe this won’t get back around to them, but at any rate, here goes.

If you’ve been following me for any length of time, you know that I spend a lot of my time in Vridi. It is a lower income neighborhood in our fair city. I came to love it nearly at first sight and have been there regularly for nearly 4 years. Many of the people there are immigrants along with a good helping of my precious Burkinabe women and a host of other lovely people. I’d guess that most of the families that live there make $5 or less a day for their whole family! Many of the houses are made of pieces of falling apart wood nailed together with a piece of metal on top, patched with plastic to keep it semi rain proof. Most often they don’t have running water. The family, which is often 7 or so people, lives in an 8X10 room. They cook outside on a little fire or a gas burner. They share a common “outhouse” that is nothing more than walled, no ceiling, stall with a tile or concrete floor and a drain at the back to take away excess liquid. They would use this for using the bathroom and showering. They would bring in their own bucket or small pitcher or water to use as this area doesn’t have running water either. As many as 5 families or so would share this “outhouse”.

So now that you are all up to speed on the background details that you can’t see, here comes today’s story. I always make sure I use the restroom before heading out to my beloved Vridi for reasons that I am sure are already clear to you! This particular day I didn’t need to go, but I did what my Mom always told me on long car trips and went anyway. We’d had a particularly spicy African lunch and it didn’t really register in my head that I had probably put down a half gallon or so of tea. I was in a hurry as usual and hit the ground running. After about 10 minutes of the car ride there, I realized I “needed” to go again. I should have stopped somewhere at that point, but since I had just gone, I figured it would be OK. After another 10 minutes of the trip, things had gotten to be more of an emergency. I began to look everywhere for a place to stop, but I’d gotten out of the more modern part of the city and couldn’t find any place. I began running through my options in my head and none of them were good. I had about 10 more minutes on the ride to Vridi. I could make it, but it wasn’t going to be easy. I had 20 minutes to get back home and I couldn’t make that. I could have an accident in the car, but then I’d have to walk past the guard and our visitor that was at the house. Not a good option. If I made it to Vridi, the only possibility of in door plumbing would be at a pharmacy and I didn’t think they’d let me back into the medicine area to use theirs if they had one. Being turned away at that point would have probably caused an accident before I could get to another place. This left my only real option of going to some of my acquaintances house where I park my truck and asking to use their “outhouse.” I don’t know these ladies very well yet, but I figured now was as good a time as any to get better acquainted! ;)

All of this terrible problem was compounded by the fact that I wouldn’t be able to use any polite language to describe my predicament. I would generally ask for a toilet, but knowing they wouldn’t have one, made that choice of words impossible. Other polite phrases I know are not always understood by the type of women I would be asking and so I was about to have to walk up to a lady and say, “I have to pee now!” I was excited to see two young teenage girls sitting in the place of my new friends and figured this would be the least embarrassing route anyway. So I walked up and blurted out my phrase. To my chagrine they looked at each other and pointed down the street and said go that way. Now at this point, I HAD TO GO! I didn’t know if they were pointing me to a public toilet, which would consist of several holes in the ground for which I’d have to pay a few cents. I didn’t know if I had a few cents, but I did know I didn’t have time to find it nor the public toilet. So I looked at the closest adult female there and again repeated my phrase. She started to look around and I got desperate. I dropped all sort of manners and formality and said, “I have to PEE NOW!” clapping my hands to punctuate my need. She seemed to understand and started walking back to her house. She didn’t say a word, but I followed like a hungry puppy. She went into her house, but did not invite me. I waited at the door and she returned and signaled for me to follow. There were a few women in her courtyard and she looked at them all and announced, “MamaBenjamin has to pee.” GREAT! Now even more people know. I wave and smile politely. Not sure what my response is supposed to be at this point.

She turned on her heal and headed back out of the courtyard. I have no idea where we are headed, but what choice do I have at this point? We headed down into the next courtyard. We find a lady with a baby in her lap. They have a short discussion, then my “helper” announces AGAIN, “MamaBenjamin has to pee!” REALLY?! Another smile and wave. “Well you can’t take her in there!” says the other lady. “Oh yes she can!” I say. On we go.

Now we come to yet another LARGE group of women. Here we go again. 1…2…3… “MamaBenjamin has to pee!” I’m figuring at this point we should just get a megaphone and let the whole neighborhood know so as to save some time. I gave up with the smile and wave now and try a desperate look. Now my “helper” turns to me and matter of factly says that the woman to my right just lost her mother. HORRIBLE timing! I murmur I’m so sorry and then look to the closest person begging for the directions to the outhouse. She says, “You can’t take her in there it’s dirty!” “It’s fine,” I say. “OK, but I don’t have any water in my pitcher. I’ll have to go get some.” “Water or no, I have to GO!” Another lady offers up her pitcher with an amused grin. As I am ushered around the next corner, I gladly run for the tiny wooden smelly space. I couldn’t have been happier to be anywhere else! As the immediacy of my problem fades, I now realize that I must walk back past all of the women who are just now discussing the nutcase that is using their outhouse.

You’ll be proud to know that I got myself together. Walked back out like nothing was going on and faced those ladies. I walked directly to the poor soul that had just lost her mother and asked for the details. After being sufficiently informed, I asked to pray for her. This also gave me a few seconds to ask for divine help for my wounded ego. Fortunately it also gave me time to remember that He cares more about my humility than my comfort. I drew myself back up, thanked all of the women for their kindness and hit the road to find some more friends and see if anybody needed to hear a story.

I am sure that news of my exploits has leaked far and wide by now. I hope that I have been sufficiently deflated so that more humiliation can wait a few days anyway.

Here’s hoping that I have decreased so that He can increase.


Sunday, September 18, 2011

New Friends All Around

So something unexpected has come with our return. Everyone is making new friends. As I'd already mentioned, word has gotten out about my Moore speaking skills (or lack thereof) and that has won me some new buddies in Vridi. Mike has turned into a tea drinker so that he can hang with some new buddies in Marcory. Some men drink a mint tea that goes on for several rounds. The tea gets weaker and sweeter as you go. I'd found some guys that get together every afternoon to drink tea. They kept wanting to talk to me and so I figured I'd introduce them to Mike. They are very friendly, but also very closed to the gospel. We'll see how it goes in the long run.

We'd found a little basketball court that the kids played at some. Now they took down the goals, so there is no way to play there, but there is a soccer field right beside it. As we've been in the area for the last few weeks, Caleb has gotten more comfortable with the kids there and has started to play soccer with them some. Fortunately sports is a universal language and their love of sports helps them all to just all hop in there together.

Most of the kids in that neighborhood are Ivorian and the little girls are usually busy helping mom or when they are a bit older than Karis, getting their own work. We've run into a few girls, but girls don't usually play ball. That means that Karis would have to make small talk and that is more complicated than just language skills. It means knowing what a little girl that age would talk about here. Since that is complicated, Karis has had a hard time finding buddies. She had a buddy during our first year here, but since she moved away, not much else.

Yesterday I had our pile of kids out and about. They were all grumbling except for Ben who was enjoying the stroller outing. The big kids knew that the walk was going to be over 2 miles round trip and weren't thrilled about that. Caleb was griping that he wanted to go play soccer with his new buddies, but that involved a separate 3 mile walk that I wasn't up for in the hour or so before I had to start dinner. Since he's twelve now, he thinks he can do anything, but I didn't want him making that long trip alone including crossing a 4 lane divided highway. Since we all know that moms of 12 year olds are all mean, you get the gist of the conversation. Finally a few blocks from home, we found another group of boys playing soccer and so he joined them with promises of being home in an hour. Karis, Ben and I hit the road and as we were just about home, we ran into a pack of girls on bikes. There must have only been 7 or 8, but as we stopped to talk to them they were all talking at once and I thought there were 50. After there initial shock that children in the US don't speak French they speak English, we had a few other interesting discussions. They each pointed out the houses they belonged to, right on our road, but behind HUGE walls. After I carried on with them for 20 minutes or so, I left Karis to talk to them. First I had to pry her fingers off of my shoulder and pull her out from behind me. Then Ben and I made a sprint for our gate and slammed the door. ;) She was afraid at first, but after a few minutes, the girls had begun to be buddies. When they all had to go home a half hour later, they were all sad and we tried to figure out when they could get back together. They wanted to come to the gate to get Karis this morning at 9, but since today is Sunday that didn't work. They were here around 3 this afternoon when Caleb and Karis went out to greet them. They took them back to one of their houses to swim. Since they had 3 nannies with them, there were no worries! Now I just need to hook Ben up with a family like that, I can sit around and do nothing all day! Unfortunately school is an all day affair here, so there will only be the weekends to play, but that is better than nothing! We are so thankful for new friends.

Now if I can only form my new Vridi friends into storying groups, we'll be all good!


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Full Days

Ben has become fascinated with sunglasses and disinterested in photos! No more posing!

There's a highly irritating song that goes with the Cool Cat look. Aren't you glad I can't figure out how to get a video from my camera on here?!

Sunday morning in Vridi

Ben's buddy, well... sometimes. ;)

Since the big kids are doing school every morning and a little after lunch, Ben has become great at using the Ipod. He's always loved music and so now that he can cruise his way through Veggie Tales music, Wiggles music and GoFish, his favorite word is IPOD! I think he knows more about using that thing than me!

Caleb is starting is first online class this year and seems to be a little nervous, about getting everything just right. Hopefully this school will prove to be a help when he moves into 9th grade and needs to have more official records kept. We are trying it out this year with a Science class to see how it will work for us. I think Caleb is going to enjoy this little dose of independence.

Karis is enjoying getting to do her Science without big brother. Up until now all of her Science and History have been done together with him. I think she is enjoying having her own thing too.

Ben's love of music is beginning to get a reputation in our neighborhood. There is a makeshift basketball and soccer field not too far away and we like to go there to play. The basketball goals have been down for a couple of weeks, but Caleb has enjoyed playing a little street soccer with some boys there anyway. He'll be really sad when they are in school until late every day starting the end of next month. Anyway, in that general area, Mike and I have been making some new friends too. I introduced Mike to some tea drinking Muslim men and I've found some tea drinking ladies just down the street. I don't get to drink much tea with Ben tagging along, but he enjoys the family because there is a guitar in the house and sometimes somebody will bring it out and pick a little. The group thinks it hilarious how "stuck" Ben is to whoever is holding the guitar. Since Ben is such an oddity anyway, they think most anything he does is hilarious. He was trying to catch a couple of not so tame house cats the other day and I thought they would bust a gut watching him.

Every Sunday is another marathon day of trying to keep Ben quiet enough and out of trouble. Now I used to be one that would sit in my air conditioned, padded pew and get frustrated if there were too many announcements or my stomach started growling in church, but I am now reformed!!! I have grown to love our 2 1/2 hour services even in French. I won't say that I love the hard benches with no backs we have in some of our churches or the way the sun turns a tin roofed concrete building into an oven, but it's not so bad anymore. Adding Ben into the mix can be difficult, though. One of our favorite churches often has a service that lasts more like three hours or so. He does well through the early part of singing and dancing. This morning he lasted over 2 hours in the service, but when Sunday school let out and the other kids poured into the courtyard, he was ready to "go pway!" The only trouble is that short little Ben with his light colored hair is an invitation to every other kid to come and gather around him like a pack and rub his head. Fiery Ben does not like that at all. In just a few minutes he starts swinging. Once he lands a few whacks, some of them get the point, but they are just drawn to his hair like a magnet and are back in a short time. Some days, they get it worked out. Some days, like today, he just screams and swings at everyone around getting mad and wanting to leave. Those are the days that I wish the pastor might preach on just a few verses instead of a whole chapter of Romans!

I'm still enjoying my new Vridi buddies, too. If you are a prayer, you might write down a couple of names. In addition to the other ladies I've told you about, there is a new lady named Alima, that has captured my heart. She is a Muslim Burkinabe, as you may have noticed how they so easily entangle my heart strings. She is the mother of two little boys and has a beautiful smile. Hopefully I can get a picture soon. Her French is limited, which will be good for my Moore. We've only had limited contact so far, but she wants me to come and sit and talk. She's interested in me, but she does know what I do. Pray for me as I try to begin to share a bit about God's plan for our salvation. I hope that she will accept me not only as a friend, but also as a storier. Pray also for a lady named Aisha (I-ee-sha). She is a non practicing Muslim that says she needs to hear God's word because there is trouble with her husband. I know little more than that her husband is no longer in the house. Pray that she'll find Jesus saving power. She's from an ethnic group that has very few believers. She thinks she can gather others to hear the Bible stories, so Mike will be giving that a try.

Ben's getting a little wild. Guess it's time to go outside!
With Love,

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Last Days of Summer

This little girl is practicing for when she grows up.

Her Dad is the one I mentioned that was lost in the bus accident. Her family seems to be doing OK but can use your prayers.

Wearing Mom's head cover!

Caleb's favorite spot.

Unpacked the slip n' slide

Soccer with the boys

New Hat

Where's the CAKE?!

If it weren't for the kids' school, it would be hard to remember that you all will be moving on towards fall soon. We live in a state of perpetual summer!

Mike and I are concentrating on a couple of areas of town right now with our ministry. I've spent a lot of time in Vridi due to the bus accident. I've made many new friends recently and am excited to see where those new relationships might go. Most of them seem to be women whose origins are from a neighboring country, Burkina. It was that local language that I learned and I am still quite the oddity because of that. I can do a little chit chat and when people first figure that out, women come out of the woodwork to see the white lady do a trick! I am hoping that some of these new relationships will bring new opportunities to share. So far, my success rate with Muslim women is a big zip, so pray for me as I try to explain the gospel. Women are more than willing to listen to me, but I have trouble helping them see what the gospel requires. Beyond that, their social status here is a bit precarious. For a Muslim wife to accept the gospel, she'd likely be divorced and sent packing without her kids. My access is to women, but for them to accept we need to also get to their husband.

I think everyone is getting used to being back in Africa. It feels like we've been here forever again instead of just arriving. We look forward to seeing what God will do here in Abidjan in the coming months.

Serving Him,

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Birthday Girl

We celebrated Karis' Birthday Friday with a quick day trip to the beach/pool. The day time temperature is only around 81 right now, Mike would point out that there is LOTS of humidity, but that still feels too cool to me. The pool was just too cold for Ben and I, but that didn't stop Ben. Twice he stayed in until his extremities were blue and he was shivering. Caleb, Karis and Mike kept enough energy going that they were fine and had a blast!