Friday, November 25, 2011

On buying food

I've been cooking quite a lot recently, as Boaz and LaRae have left for their Christmas vacation, and the lady who usually helps LaRae to cook has also taken off for the month. I've kept careful track of what I buy at the market so that I can learn how to cook things economically here. I thought some of you would be interested to see the things I've gotten at the market the past three trips. 
November 10, 2011

Cost -- CFA / ($)*
1 kilo
150 CFA (0.33)
2 kilos
1,300 CFA (2.88)
1 hand (8)
500 CFA (1.11)
1 kilo
900 CFA (2.00)
2 kilos
700 CFA (1.55)
2 kilos
600 CFA (1.33)
Baking Powder 
250 grams
500 CFA (1.11)
1/2 kilo
500 CFA (1.11)
1 kilo
1,000 CFA (2.22)
1/4 kilo
600 CFA (1.33)
Powdered milk
1 bag
1,500 CFA (3.33)
Green Olives
1 jar
750 CFA (1.67)
  • Conversion based on the exchange rate of 450 CFA / $1.00 USD... this is usually variable between 450-500 CFA / $1.00 USD. 
November 13, 2011

Cost -- CFA / ($)*
2 kilos
1300 CFA (2.88)
4 packages
1600 CFA (3.55)
2 kilos
1600 CFA (3.55)
2 kilos
1200 CFA (2.66)
1 kilo
1500 CFA (3.33)
Peanut Butter
2 kilos
2000 CFA (4.44)
11 bananas
700 CFA (1.55)
Tomato Paste
2 large cans
2,100 CFA (4.66)
1 kilo (4 small heads)
1,000 CFA (2.22)
1 small bunch
100 CFA (0.22)
1 small bunch
100 CFA (0.22)
November 17, 2011

Cost -- CFA / ($)*
 500 CFA (1.11)
White Flour
2 kilos
950 CFA (2.11)
2 kilos
600 CFA (1.33)
1 bunch
100 CFA (0.22)
1 kilo
700 CFA (1.55)
2 kilos
1600 CFA (3.55)
500 CFA (1.11)

Saturday, October 15, 2011

This week

This week I've worked on:

1. Clearing under the Cashew and Mango trees with a machete on the west side of the Dispensaire. I'm slow with a machete, but God has been helping me, and with Boaz's help on Friday -- we've cleaned up a modestly encouraging amount of land. 
2. Taking care of the Baby that has come under Boaz and LaRae's care while LaRae was getting things in town. I don't have any experience in caring for infants (she's about 1 month old), but I've discovered some interesting things in the process of trying to accustom my clumsy hands to the care of such a fragile thing: 
A) Changing cloth diapers isn't too bad. 
B) Baby seemed to calm down and sleep better when I set her beside my computer which was softly playing Brandenburg #5! 
3. Studying french.
4. Cleaning up a 1969 vintage baby incubator. I prayed that God would help the machine to work after I plugged it in, and miraculously enough, the machine's glow-light shone reassuringly and heat began to slowly radiate from the element! With a little electrical tape to cover some exposed wires, we now have an operating incubator for the maternity ward. Praise God!
5. My current housemate (Kintino Biaye) contracted a bad case of Malaria during the week. I was up with him at 2:00 AM one morning to go to rout the nurse out of bed and to get some ampules of Quinine-Resorcine ("Paluject") out of the pharmacy. He spent the rest of the night and a day in the Dispensaire connected to an IV, and now is doing better. Keep him in your prayers! 
6. Working on weeding, trellising, and watering in the Garden. Continued experimentation with Neem tree pesticides. Garden time makes me happy!

Here are two lessons that I've thought of this week:
1. Boaz and LaRae have taught me a lot about thinking about the sustainability of the various plans you set in place in any project. As I worked in the fields this week, I realized that -- as much as I believe that I am making a contribution -- the grass and shrubs will inevitably grow back when I am gone. As I reflected on this, I thought of the only truly sustainable thing that we can do in life: make relationships that lead others to a transformative relationship with Christ. 

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” Romans 1: 16-17 English Standard Version

2. It is a gift to give. This is a hard paradox to express, but here's a crack at it. 

When we give to receive, we will not receive enough to keep on giving. When we give without expecting to receive, Christ, the author of this otherwise impossible act, will fill us overwhelming satisfaction and joy. 

Some things I'm especially thankful for this week:
1. God's love and protection, his judgements and mercies. 
2. My wonderful, wonderful, fiancée Martina! 
3. The chance to work with my hands. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Bird List

I've been trying to identify some birds while I'm here. To be honest, some of the birds on this list are as mundane as a Crow in America (see Pied Crow) ... but as a complete novice, I'm happy with what might be boring to a better birder.

That brings up an interesting point.

I've discovered the joy of observing birds only in the past two years. My newfound incompetence is matched only by my budding enthusiasm. My work in Senegal has brought me into contact with a rich variety of new birds, and each bird that I see is a peculiar blessing from God. Other things that I've had a liking for (I think of collecting stamps when I was little) have faded away into obscurity. I certainly hope that the familiarity and competence that I hope to someday gain as I watch birds will not make me lose the joy of simply watching them, and delighting in each one. This makes me think of my walk with Christ.

 4Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.
 5Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.
Revelation 2:4-5 KJV

Great White Pelican
Yellow-billed Stork
Pied Crow
African Finfoot
Laughing Dove
Speckled Pigeon
Piapiac (aka African Magpie)
Blue-Breasted Kingfisher
African Pygmy Kingfisher
White-Crowned Robin-Chat
Northern Red Bishop
Lavender Waxbill
Red-Cheeked Cordon-Bleu
Red-Billed Firefinch
Pin-Tailed Whydah

Saturday, October 8, 2011

mind the gap

I was working to dig out stumps in the orchard one morning. The Senegalese hoe is wide and flat with a short though substantial handle. It cuts clean through the sandy-soft soil, but my soft hands exact a blister per stump mileage that is almost as painful as the thought of driving a Hummer down the highway. I paused mid-stump to wipe the sweat sting out of my eyes, and was surprised to see a gum-booted lab technician ghost into the orchard atop his smoothly purring motorcycle.

The apparition introduced himself as Kalidu ______, a man paid by USAID to work with NGOs and local fruit growers on reducing the fly population. We shook hands gingerly: I because of my blisters, he because of how dirty my hand was. As I returned to work, he abruptly said:

"Why are you doing this?"

I stopped, and straightened again to answer. Before I could, he resumed:

"It is very hard for you. You could pay someone here to do this for you."

"Because I want to understand. ... And because I feel like God has called me here to do this" was my oblique answer.

We stared at each other in friendly, but deeply uncomprehending silence. I believe he understood what I had said, but we were separated by an idealogical chasm that went far deeper than language barriers. He was fed by a culture of aid that says: "Pay the locals to accomplish foreign agendas." I was the living antithesis to that culture.

As I turned back to digging on my stump, I couldn't help but wonder if he was right. Thousands of airfare dollars later (dollars that could have been used to employ local workers), I was blistering over the slow performance of a job that would have been child's play to a local worker -- toughened and trained as they are to crank out hard manual labor by the necessity of a lifetime. "Yes," I thought to myself, "maybe the Dispensaire would have been better off if I had ..."

A branch snapped nearby and I looked up to see the fly-man placing a perfectly good mango in a small shopping bag. Sometimes one might pick a diseased or infected mango to control flies, so I bit my tongue and kept working, with one eye on the tread of the gum boots. I watched in disbelief as Kalidu continued to fill his shopping bag with perfect mangos. The white lab coat fluttered in the breeze under his well-stuffed backpack as he puttered out through the gate with a friendly wave of his hand.

There is often a gap between ideas and application. When ideas cross cultural boundaries, the rift potential increases. USAID pumps money into an idea: reduce flies in the Casamance, and you'll jack up fruit productivity and cut disease. The application? USAID pays for a man to steal mangos in a white lab coat and gum boots.

The gap between ideas and application is a problem that afflicts every level of society. While it is most obvious on a "big level," where money and culture and religion gets thrown into the mix, it is most intransigent on a personal level.

Our garden beans are getting eaten by bugs. I tried making a natural Neem-tree pesticide for our garden here. Following the directions of an organic gardener (originally from france) named Lucas, I put the leaves of a Neem tree in a 5-gallon bucket, and waited for them to turn white -- the point where the leaves have released the active ingredient to combat the biters. At this point, I was supposed to add a little bit of soap so that the mixture would stick to the leaves, and spray it on. The idea appealed (and still appeals) to me as an eco-friendly solution. Five days after my attempt at applying the idea, I'm frustrated to find the Neem leaves are still quite green. As I watched the bean plants slowly disappearing, I decided to resort to spraying a pesticide self-labled as "DURSBAN: 480 g chloropyrifos-éthyl" [(not quite IUPAC, is it ;)] on the beans. The pesticide reminded me forcibly of some nasty paint I put on the bottom of our sailboat every spring: I'm not sure whether that testifies more to the illegitimacy of "Dursban" or the toxicity of the paint. At any rate, you can see how my application of an "eco-friendly" control of the buggers quickly degraded itself into a corrosive slap-dab last-ditch attempt that would justify my immediate expulsion from the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) that I was once an upstanding member of.

And if you're like me, you see even deeper, darker corners of your life where there exists a gap between "the idea" and "the application."

If we, through the grace and power of Christ, were to start first with filling in the gap between our personal, spiritual ideas and applications, we would see every subsequent layer of society changed for the good. This is integrity: a quality of oneness or wholeness that consistently denies the hypocrisy of personal gaps.

So I've kept away at digging at those stumps. I do want to understand... I want to bridge the gap between my soft hands and their tradition-hardened minds. But most of all, I want Christ to change me ... on the inside. If the world were a subway, we'd do well to mind that voice in the darkness:

"Mind the gap."

"He told them another parable. "The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened." Matthew 13:33 - English Standard Version

Friday, September 30, 2011

No Greater Love

"Do you want to come with me to take a lady into the hospital in Ziguinchor?" Boaz asked.

"Yes... I do. I'll try to be quick."

I ran beside the peanut fields to my house about 150 feet away to change from my work shorts into my last clean clothes (a pair of scrubs I pillaged from a donations pile in Peru, donning with them the role of jungle dentist). Boaz was soon nursing our ambulance skillfully across the badly pitted surface of the road. Dr. Andres (a visiting GP who had worked in Niaguis not long before), Nurse Jean Sambou, and I sat in silence punctuated only by periodic rendezvous with especially savage potholes.

In Senegal, the village is the family unit. The act of life is simply played on a larger stage; as the village is bounded only by the river, the rice paddies, or the untamed vegetation which surrounds it. When we arrived at the mud-brick house, the family was there to greet us... the village family, that is. Women lined the walls of the house, sitting in chairs or on the ground. A crowd of men stood separately under the shade of a mango tree in the front yard. We pushed through the stares to enter the low doorway, as Boaz waited outside with the Ambulance. We were led to a back room, dark except for the dusty light which filtered in from the outside door. In this dim world there gradually appeared two women. Our patient lay face up on a blanket which intervened between her motionless form and the dirt floor. Above her, an older, heavier-set woman stood hunched over in sweaty anguish. The story was simple enough:

"The girl gave birth a few hours ago" --here, the older woman gestured obliquely behind her.

"She bled a lot. Yes, quite a lot."

"She was sitting up after the birth, talking with family. Then she stopped talking. No, she wouldn't respond. So we called you ..."

Dr. Andres knelt on the floor. Pulse -- weak, but still there. Barely breathing.

She stirred once in a weak, restless way.

Cell-phone light to check her pupil reflex. Nothing. That's bad. She's brain dead.

Dr. Andres rose from his knees, brushing the dirt away as he did. He spoke in english to Jean: "She's brain dead. I'd star CPR and take her to the hospital, but even in the unlikely event we could make it 30 minutes over the deeply rutted road, she will be a vegetable. Maybe you should explain to the family... I don't know the culture well enough."

Jean spread his hands palms up in the universal gesture of futility. Turning to the older woman, he explained the situation to her in french. Family members who had been eavesdropping from the door now pushed into the room.

"Why don't you take her to the hospital?" "Is she dead?"

"No, no, she's not dead..." said Dr. Andres. Jean knelt to find her pulse. We joined as he adjusted his fingers for a second try at her wrist... different position... try the neck ... try the foot... nothing ... wait! was that something? ... nothing now, no ... no ... no ... nothing.

Family men chiseled by hard work now surrounded us. "What's going on?"

"We're very sorry, but she was effectively dead before we arrived..." Jean explained again and again as each relative pressed in and wanted to hear the truth for themselves. Grief etched its determined lines over their faces as we watched.

"What about the baby?" Someone asked.

The older woman turned wearily to the bed behind her and scooped up a small bundle of rags. In the faint light, I saw an impossibly tiny form swathed in a single dirty cloth. The mother, it came out, had not yet fed her baby. Hours after birth, this baby -- which at 1.5 kilos would have been committed to a NICU in the states -- was indeed in a bad position.

News of the mother's death reached the outside of the house before we did. As we considered what to do, the wild wailing of relatives and friends pierced the former whispered silence. Some were in favor of us taking the mother's body out in the Ambulance, but the family at length asked us to take the baby and leave the mother. The older woman -- who turned out to be a family friend and midwife of sorts-- moved with us carrying the baby to the ambulance. Amidst the wailing women, one passed out cold, but was revived within a short time.

On return to the clinic, we wrapped the baby in a clean towel, and committed the care of the baby to LaRae's capable hands. The first few days were "touch and go" for the baby: risk of infection was enormous ... and dehydration proceeded from the baby's disinclination to drink from the bottle. Dr. Andres placed an IV after several attempts and much prayer in the baby's threadlike veins, and from that point, there has been gradual but steady improvement. LaRae has carefully tended to the baby (now named Fatou by relatives), and the sure reward of such loving care has been that the baby has gained a good amount of weight and smiles a great deal.

The saddest part of this story is the prologue, which was related to us several days later. Fatou's father is an alcoholic ne'r-do-well that depended upon his wife to support the family and his habit. The wife had continued to work at collecting sticks throughout her pregnancy in order to keep food on the table for her lazy husband and small children. This doubtless contributed to the premature birth, but the true irony is that the mother's life-giving spirit -- her overwork during pregnancy -- may have been what killed her.

This strange juxtaposition of life and death reminded me of what Christ did in dying for us, that we might have His life. He who lived that we might live also died that we might live. In some ways, we fought harder for Baby Fatou's life in those first days because we realized at what price she had be born. Do we realize at what price Christ purchased our birth as His children?

"Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." John 15:13

"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Romans 5:8

"This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers." 1 John 3:16

Monday, September 5, 2011

the living word

When I read from Ephesians 3 this morning, it reminded me of the way I write to my fiancée, Martina. When Paul speaks of Christ's love (starting in verse 14), superlatives link one on another, tumbling into a small avalanche of run-on sentences. What struck me before as the dense circumlocutions of erudition are now the hopeless but enduring efforts of a man who is completely in love.

It's a hard thing to describe, but lack for words or eloquence has never halted love's expression. I'm not sure how I'll communicate with Martina in Senegal, but I know I'll try every day this year. I'm even less sure how I'll ever tell her how much I love her, but I'll try every day for the rest of my life.

Paul lived that love for Jesus. I want to do that, too.

God's love, of course, came first. In the beginning was the Word . . . the Word became a human, and lived with us, full of grace and truth. Of all lovers, God is in the best position to write a love letter. He could simply create the perfect words to describe the fullness, the essence, and the intent of His love to his rebellious creation. Yet the Word chose to live among us -- to actively define His love by example. Yes, He left us a book full of the most beautiful love poetry in the world, but that wasn't all. He lived that love for us. I want to live my love to Martina, and I especially want to learn to live that love for Him who first loved me.

Monday, June 13, 2011


In early September I'll fly to Senegal to work at the AHI-run adventist dispensaire with Boaz and LaRae Papendick. From my understanding, the clinic is located in or near Ziguinchor, below Gambia's insertion. I believe I'll be working in the garden and helping out with building construction there, but I'll be happy to try my hand at whatever is needed.

This is my first free summer since the summer after my Freshman year of college; the list of things I would like to do is as long as it is delightful. Most of all, I'm sincerely loving the time I am able to spend with Martina in her study breaks, as she is taking the DAT and Physics here.

It is amazing to see how God has led! Martina has another year at Southern to finish up her degree in Biology; we plan to get married next summer before going back to school at Loma Linda University.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Exceedingly Abundantly Above ...

As of May 20, 2011
We're engaged!

Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
- Ephesians 3: 20-21

Saturday, April 16, 2011

What's in a picture?

I've had my SAU ID card all four years. I've left it at the café twice, and misplaced it in my room many times. As I walked in to my room just now, the lights on the door-lock flashed green and red (usually it just flashes green for a brief moment). I guess that means my card is really wearing out.

I'm not too surprised. It has ridden in my running shorts (see the muddy shorts in the background -- I just came back from a mountain -bike ride) through all my long runs on the biology trails. Speaking of the biology trails, they've been making "improvements" -- widening existing trails, closing the old steep / narrow trails, and blazing new trails through the woods. I've spent countless hours running on the old trails, and as much as I enjoyed my mountain-bike ride, it hurts to see the changes.

I've really loved my time here at Southern. I feel like reminiscing.

Freshman year:
GB and GChem were overwhelming. I treasured study times with my lab partners Kelsey and Martina. I got involved with the SAU garden -- which really meant learning from Luke Fisher about how to grow veggies in Tennessee. Barry introduced me to a wealth of good friends, and I was intentional about making friends in the Café. I turned down a lot of options for extra-curricular stuff, and tried hard to learn how to learn.

Sophomore year:
On to Ochem, Genetics, Cell, and Precalculus / Trigonometry. Luke Fisher left, and Andrew Fisher came: we worked together on the garden and developed an incredible friendship. I enjoyed many backpacking trips with the Ellers, and filled out my time as a GB TA. Spring semester was very tough for relational and philosophical reasons. Barry and I spent hours talking to each other from our bunks in our dorm room. I continued to struggle to master my inconsistent motivation to study. I knew I wanted to go to medical school, but it seemed like a very far-off dream, especially in light of a few B+'s and A-'s.

Junior year:
Doug Baasch and I tackled Biochem in the fall. We trained for and ran the Mystery Mtn. Marathon together, and to our own surprise -- came in 3rd and 4th overall. I also took Animal Physiology, worked feverishly on the SAU Garden (Andrew was gone as an SM), wrote a 10 page ethics paper for the Elie Wiesel Prize in Ethics, and worked as a GB TA. I went on to run the Pine Mtn. 40 mile trail run in 7 hrs 31 minutes, the same day that Doug Baasch played his senior cello recital. Second semester I took Human Anatomy and Ornithology.

Senior year:
Fall semester I took Parasitology, Ecology, and Vertebrate Natural History. I ran the Mystery Mtn. Marathon and Pine Mtn. 40 again (this time I shaved off 21 minutes chasing Jessica Marlier, who finished ahead of me!). After much prayer and thought, I asked Martina Houmann to start dating me. To this day, that was the 2nd best decision I've ever made ... the first being to follow Christ. The story of how God led us together is remarkable in its own right. I worked through my medical school applications after having taken the MCAT the previous summer. I'd scored high in several practice tests, and an MCAT score of 30 ensured that I would have to trust in God entirely for my success or failure in applying to medical school. This second semester, I've taken 19 hours of credit, and worked as a Human Anatomy TA. I learned only recently that I've been accepted to both LLU and Tufts University Medical schools: God gets the full credit! Of all the years here at Southern, my senior year was by far my favorite: thanks to God and MLH!

In just about 2 weeks, I will graduate from Southern. I'll miss it -- but maybe it's just in time, that ID card won't work forever!

As I hit the "Publish Post" button yesterday, I realized that my "summary" had really been a study in omissions. Here are some of the more egregious ones:
1. Mom and Dad have been an incredible support throughout college. Without their prayers, applesauce, granola, over-the-phone consults with dad on my scrapes and bangs, long talks with both about life and learning, I'm not sure I would have made it through!
2. I mentioned Barry as my roommate, but failed to recount what an amazing roommate he was. We existed like two mad howe hermits -- which in fact we were. Billy Snow was my roommate my junior year -- we had an incredible year... Billy taught me a lot about studying and keeping my things organized. Stephen Thorp has been a fantastic roommate this year: we've philosophized, danced to Bach cantatas, and shared many excellent meals. I'm so thankful for all of my excellent roommates.
3. This semester, I auditioned the Lalo Cello concerto for the SAU Concerto Competition, and lost.
4. I've genuinely grown to love Biology. My teachers are incredibly committed to helping us to understand and appreciate God's creation. Thanks Drs. Snyder, Norskov, Ekkens, Foster, Trimm, Thornton, Azevedo, and Spencer!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


Christian Theology II:

The application of Christ’s unconditional sacrifice is conditionally proportional to our unconditional trust in Him.


Skeptics have stolen uncertainty (the lack of rational certitude) from its rightful owners: those dispossessed of unfaith.

Evolutionary Analysis:

...The resulting degree (or degrees) of uncertainty demands a methodological system upon which every scientist must make simplifying assumptions. This system is called a bias; bias is usually inextricably linked with our religious experience (or lack thereof), our worldview, and therefore inescapably, our picture of origins. In other words, we have come to the circular conclusion that inquiry into origins is necessarily carried out by application of a bias, which is itself formed by our concept of origins...

Thursday, January 13, 2011

: )

I'm thankful for some fascinating topics of thought for this week: Justification by Faith, Natural Selection, Aeschylus, Erikson's developmental stages, Deuteronomistic History, Bone structure, and Abductive reasoning.

Most of all, I'm thankful for Martina! God has blessed me beyond measure with an incredible girlfriend!