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