Sunday, November 18, 2012

Highschool Retreat...out in the Bush!

 Every year, the highschoolers (6th grade through 12th grade) take a weekend away somewhere.  This year, we went to the Agriculture Site near Kindia.  Maybe I should back up a bit and tell you that every time the Africa Mercy pulls into a new port, part of what we do involves finding a suitable site and facilitating some agricultural training.  (And by 'we', I really mean the people in charge...I personally know absolutely nothing about making plants grow.  I grew up in a desert.)  Anyway, we left the ship early Thursday morning and bounced around in the car until we arrived here, a farm right outside the town of Kindia.
Isn't it gorgeous?  On Friday morning, we got to help transplant banana trees, move eggplant seedlings from the nursery to the regular plot, create compost (apparently a fair amount of chicken poo is invloved--the African man who was explaining the process to us kept trying to find nice ways to say it, but in the end, how many ways can you say poop?), and harvest palm nuts (not coconuts) from these enormous, spikey bunches.  I tried eating a raw nut.  It tasted oily and fibrous, but not that bad.  Kind of like a cross between a peanut and an avocado.  Here is a picture of the palm nuts being boiled as part of the oil making process.  Once they're thoroughly boiled, the nuts are pressed in a machine.  The oil drips out the bottom into buckets while the fibers are squished out of the sides in a way that reminded me of this hippo that I saw while visiting the zoo last April with Jake, Sara, and little Zoe.
 On Friday afternoon, we went on a 'hike' that was really more like a two and a half hour walk.  (You know it's not going to be a real hike when your guide shows up in jeans and a long-sleeve button-up shirt.)  About two-thirds of the way out, we crossed this really cool bridge.  It was at this juncture that I discovered that my students play Pooh Sticks (!).  Of course, they would never call it that, but the rules are the same.  Everyone finds a stick or leaf or somesuch and drops it over one side of the bridge.  Then they all run across to the other side to see whose stick floats out from under the bridge first.  Here's a picture of all the boys leaning over the railing to see whose stick is going to win.  Sometimes I forget that these families don't have the luxury of just driving out into the countryside whenever they feel like it.  Any trip outside the city involves signing out vehicles or hiring a taxi.  Then it takes several hours to get anywhere, not necessarily because you're going very far away, but because you have to navigate through crowded markets and befuddling streets that only travel in certain directions at certain times of the day.  On top of all that, one must consider whether it's safe to travel at all...  We don't any of us get out as much as we'd like.  
 On the other hand, when we do get out, it's Africa we get to see.  And she's a beauty!  At one point, all the students spent an hour or so making 'land art.'  The challenge was to create some sort of art using only things they could find lying around.  Below is a raft some of them built using bamboo and whatever grasses/vines they could find in the surrounding field.  If you look closely, you can see a heart shaped out of red grass.  When the raft was completed, they launched it into the stream, where it got caught on one of the banks.  It was still there on Saturday morning, when we left.
On Saturday, our plan was to see some cool waterfalls on our way back to the ship.  What was supposed to take twenty minutes out of our travel time somehow turned into two hours, but the waterfall itself proved to be worth it as far as I was concerned.  (We also got to wander through the streets of Kindia, which were colorful and exciting!  We even got pulled over by the local police, but they let us move on after a few minutes.)  Anyway, below you will find a picture of me sitting on the edge of the waterfall.  One of the advantages of getting older is that when you go on school trips, you get to give yourself permission to do the fun but dangerous things.  Ben, the Principal, later told me that he'd had to tell the boys that the only reason I was allowed out there was that if I fell over the edge, he wouldn't have to answer to my parents.  This amused me very much.  Bet you didn't know I was such a daredevil.
 The river below the waterfall disappeared into the jungle in a way that put me very much in mind of the Jungle Cruise at Disneyland.  I almost expected to see a boatful of tourists floating around the bend, camaras at the ready, all eager to see the backside of water.
When I stumbled out of bed in the morning, I sure didn't expect to be seeing this in the afternoon.  :)

You know, strange as it may seem, one of the things I've been working on lately is not envying other peoples' lives.  It's embarassing to admit, but sometimes I find myself sighing a little sigh of self-pity when I see my contemporaries all married with houses and children, or off earning doctorates and writing books.  I see time marching inexorably on in the wrinkles that gather around the corners of my eyes and the odd gray hairs I find sprouting here and there among the brown.  In the quiet math of the Single Woman, I've begun to adjust my dreams from having dozens of children to maybe having one or two before my body dries up like a useless husk, and I have to start taking bone supplements and going on power-walks with little pastel three-pound weights in either hand.  But when I look at pictures like these, and reflect on the million billion more equally amazing pictures I hold in my memory, I realize that I am being given a gift worth far more than I could ever imagine or possibly deserve.  I am content.  Thank you, God.  You do very good work.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Hello, friends!

It has been too long since we talked.  The last few weeks have been full of the sort of ups and downs I have come to expect while living in such a unique situation.  I am thousands of miles from my friends and family, yet I see your pictures almost every day on facebook (after the 15 to 20 minutes* it takes to load).  A phone call can put me in contact with any one of you, but the 8 hour time difference means that one of us is usually working or sleeping when the other is able to talk.  While avocadoes and bananas are plentiful, new underwear and comfy shoes have to be ordered months in advance.  This is the only place I've lived where going on a run is more complicated than visiting the doctor.

Please don't misunderstand.  I love it here.  Last night, we had a little evening concert that featured a Gaelic fiddler, a youth praise band, handbells, a ukulele group, and West African drummers.  Earlier in the week, the we had our own little cooking competition based on the TV show 'Chopped.'  And this morning, I went down to deck 3 to have church with the patients and nurses.  I sat on a hospital bed, listened to a great message, and watched African patients and guests take turns cuddling a little white baby, while the pale, blonde Dutch nurse next to me held a beautiful little African baby on her lap. 

In summary: last week I cried myself to sleep one night and spent another night talking with friends, during which conversation I laughed so hard I almost peed my pants.  One day it is homemade pizza and bagels for lunch, and the next day it's mystery rice and some sort of fish soup.  I guess you could say that life here is very vivid.  I am very, very grateful for every bit of it.

Here are a few pictures.  Maybe you can look at them and pretend you're here for a moment.  I'd be very glad of the company.  :)

Guess who played with the ukulelists last night!  Me!  (taa-daa!)

This is a picture of our midships/cafe area.  We're having a harvest festival.  Of course, when you're an ocean away from Target and Wal-Mart, you have to get a little creative with your games...

This particular game is called 'rake the paper leaves with a fork.'  I'm pretty sure the storm trooper won.

Thank you for listening to me, for sending letters and pictures, for taking the time to read my little blog posts, praying for me, and just generally for being the amazing people you are.  You are a great comfort to me.

*Okay, so maybe not quite that long, but it is powerful slow all the same!