Saturday, October 27, 2012

A Visit to the Pumpkin Patch - Sort of

This morning, Jackie and I went to visit Antoine and his family's farm land.  He works for the national church in Bouar, but also works the farm.  We drove about 20 km. (13 miles) to get there on an unpaved road.  Fortunately, the road is in good shape – only a few puddles and rough spots.

Cornstalks amid lots of green
Seed Squash
When we got there, we walked for about an hour through the fields seeing all of the different plants they are growing.  We saw corn stalks that are mostly dried up since the season is ending.  Then we saw the pumpkin patch!  Well, actually was saw lots of squash plants – of three varieties:  one dark green, one beige, and the other whitish.  This last one is grown for its seeds – the flesh of the plant is not eaten.  By this point I realized that it is almost Halloween and we were doing what many people in the US do in the fall!  Of course, there was not hay ride, not orange pumpkins, and no jack-o-lanterns.  Still, I greatly enjoyed getting out to see the land.  We even brought two squash back with us, one for each family.  I think we’ll eat it, though, instead of carving a face. 

The farm is about 4 hectares – huge.  They also grow cassava (manioc), lots of sesame, peanuts, and have now planted some trees – oranges, avocados, and even some teak (for its wood).  About 20 people work on the farm.  It is a lot of work, but looks beautiful and will produce lots of good food.

There is a small building near the road where they store huge baskets used during the harvest.  They have put in a slab of concrete next to it as a place to try manioc.  The root is broken into small pieces and then needs to be soaked water for 3-4 days.  After that it must be dried and then pounded or ground into flour which is then added to boiling water so it can be eaten. 

For those of you who pay attention to details, you will remember that I was supposed to go to Bangui today.  That trip has been delayed until tomorrow.  The church president’s wife has not been well.  Since they both are to go with me (or I with them), we put it off for a day.  That still works out since the office in which I need to get my visa is not open until Monday.  So, on the road again tomorrow! 

Friday, October 26, 2012

Things I Wonder About

This entry is a compilation of things i have been wondering about.
This shows a good part of the road – watch out for goats, though, who like to lie on the warm ground or wander across slowly…

Every time I go somewhere I think about roads.  I didn’t do that in the US except when snow or ice was predicted.  Here it is frequent.  When I walk, I can see the path where the motorcycles drive and walk to the side.  There are many more motorcycles than cars or trucks in Bohong, but still not many of those.  When it rains, there are, of course, puddles – sometimes mini-lakes.  Last week I saw a duck swimming and bathing in such a puddle. The road between Bohong and Bouar is not in good shape.  There are parts that are OK and a driver can even get into 3rd gear.  Most of the time the driver must be 2nd gear, though, or maybe first – navigating around and through puddles, gullies, and rough spots.  The trip between the two towns is 60 km. (37 miles).  On a good day you can drive it in two hours. That’s an average of 30 km. per hour (22 mph).  On one hill not far from Bouar the road is clay – we have a lot of that around Pittsburgh, too.  Imagine a hill like the one on Negley Avenue that is clay.  Then imagine lots of rain making a slick, uneven surface.  The last time I went to Bouar, a large truck trying to get up the hill got stuck ¾ of the way up going off into a ditch on the right side.  We were able to get around it without too much trouble.  On the way back, a 2nd truck, trying to avoid the first, slid off the other side of the road into another ditch!  As we came down the hill, I didn’t think our pick-up would fit through.  I was so glad Pierre was driving!  A man guided him with hand motions.  Even in 4-wheel drive, he slid a lot.  We did get through and then slipped and slid – and drove a little – on the rest of the way down the hill.  In theory, you drive on the right side of the road in CAR as we do in the US.  In reality, on unpaved roads, you drive anywhere that there are fewer ruts or craters, I mean, potholes.  
So, who decides when roads are repaired or paved?  I know it is a government job and it costs a lot of money.  I am very grateful that the European Union and China have decided to pave the main route between Bangui (the capital of CAR) and Yaoundé, Cameroon.  I am also glad that Bouar and Baboua are on that route.  Bohong is not… 

Some villages and neighborhoods take some repairs on themselves.  They put rocks, dirt, and even small cut branches in the holes – pot holes we would call them, but they are generally larger than any potholes I have seen in the USA.  Sometimes they ask drivers who pass to contribute money for the work.  Why not?  They are providing an important service.  So, maybe next time you see a pothole, don’t just complain, get some friends together and go fill it in!

One Young World
I listened to a report on the BBC World News on Saturday, October 20, about a conference in Pittsburgh called One Young World.  Young people from around the world met to discuss problems and possible solutions.  Any of you hear about it?  Did local news cover the event there in Pittsburgh?  I was glad to feel a connection with the city!

My Sango has advanced greatly.  I was even able to prepare a 6-7 minute meditation that I read during the morning chapel service.  I prepared it, but then had a lot of help from André to make it comprehensible.  Later he listened to me read it several times so that I could get the phrasing and pronunciation correct.  I think he know the work better than I did at the end!  Still, people were able to understand and even laughed a little at appropriate places.  On man commented afterward about the content.  So that has to be considered a success!  I wonder when I will get to the point when I can answer easily when people speak to me (more than “Hello, how are you?”) and when I will be able to understand everyone who speaks quickly or indistinctly.  I know I must be patient, because it has only been a month.  I understand quite a bit and can talk a lot if the person I am speaking to has the patience to wait while I think things through.  André has been great that way.  I really appreciate his help this week.  I have been able to make great strides with his help.

I have been doing some experimenting with what I eat lately.  I came to CAR with no spices.  I have been able to find beans and rice, so I am happy with the major staples of my diet – although I sure miss brown rice. 

In a store in town I found a man selling millet.  I bought some – after all, I had eaten it in Pittsburgh and it seemed to be a whole grain.  Good for me, too!  The first time wanted I cooked it; I found that it doesn’t look like the millet I have bought in the US.  Some of the grains had their little “caps” on and these had to be removed.  As with all grains here, a cook has to pick through them to remove little stones and then wash them to remove dirt.  I am still not sure I know how long to cook the millet, but it is edible even if I have not yet perfected the technique.

Greens and vegetables are harder to find here.  People don’t have the habit of eating them, except for cassava leaves.  Fortunately, one of the guards at the compound where I am staying grows and sells parsley and some other green spice. Those plants, bouillon called Maggi, onions, and salt have made up my seasonings.  Twice now I have bought greens in the market to prepare.  I have asked the women what they were and they answered, but I still don’t know since they answered in Sango...  I prepared them with a peanut butter sauce.  The first ones were a bit bitter.  The second ones are better.  I would buy those again.   

So who decided which greens we eat?  Why lettuce and spinach?  Why kale or other greens?  I don’t know, but I know they are important for good nutrition, so I will keep experimenting.

Last week I was trying to have a conversation in Sango with one of the market women.  She was selling what seemed to be spices and since I don’t have any, I asked what one was.  She confirmed it was a spice.  I asked what food I would cook with it.  She said all food.  I decided to try it out paying 25 cfa (5 cents), but when I got home, I was hesitant to put it in anything without knowing more about it.  I asked a couple of people who didn’t know.  André, during the break of one of my Sango classes, took me to ask a cook who prepares food for the girls at the school on the compound.  She said it is dried okra and is used to cook meats.  I am not ready to take on the buying or cooking of meat yet – or plucking my own chicken, so I will just keep it for now.

I wonder if I could find a pressure cooker in Bangui or Yaoundé.  It would make cooking grains and beans much easier!  I will have to look when I am in these two larger cities.

That brings me to something else I wonder.  What is a good way to cook okra?  It is in season now, but in the US I have never liked dishes I have had with okra in them.  Anyone know a good recipe?  Please remember I have limited ingredients…

Church Roof
I am happy to report that ¾ of the nearby church roof is now in place.  It should all be done soon.  Men from the congregation gathered to help put it up and women came to prepare food for them.  Have you ever thought about how a roof is put in place without cranes and other machinery?  It takes a lot of manpower.  And, a lot of women power to make the food they all eat when work is done.  The worked stopped until church members can rais more money to buy the rest of the supplies.  Here are a couple of pictures of the work in process.  Pierre borrowed my camera to take the pictures since I was in Sango class. 

In the afternoons I have been going to the clinic to volunteer.  It is a chance to practice some Sango although a few of the people, especially women, speak another local language and not Sango.  Still, I have figured out how to take their temperatures in centigrade.  (We do it under the arm to minimize the spreading of germs, although we have to add 0.5 degrees to the final temperature to make it match one taken in the mouth).  Many days all I do is take temperatures, but sometimes I can take a basic report of the complaints of the people.  I know how to say, “Do you vomit?  Cough?  Have diarrhea? And a few other similar phrases in Sango!  Hopefully, I will never need them to describe what is happening to me. 

This clinic is called Santé Maternal et Infantile (SMI) because it was built to service pregnant women and infants.  Now, though, they will treat anyone.  If cases are too serious, they are taken to the hospital in Bouar.  (Imagine traveling the roads I described before in the back of an ambulance!) 

Patients pay, but amounts are low.  It costs 100 cfa for a consultation.  Most medicines I have seen them buy are less than 1,000 cfa.  Remember that $1 US is about 500 cfa.  Still, these prices are hard for many people to pay since they earn little.  The clinic is also able to do blood and stool analysis although they do that only in the mornings so I have not been around to learn more about those.  (I am, of course, in Sango class in the mornings.) 

I wonder what people do who have no money or live too far from a clinic such as this one. 

Rainy Season
The rainy season is coming to an end.  Every wonder about how that would happen?  I thought that there would gradually be less and less rain – that is, rain on fewer days or maybe less when it came.  But that is not what is happening!  Recently, we have had hard rain all night several nights in a row.  We have also had more rain during the day.  I asked André about it and he said that is normal.  As the rainy season ends, they get more rain until one day it quits coming.  Interesting.  Anyone know why that is?

I have notices that the most common bars of soap and the laundry detergent often sold here both share a common quality.  The soap is hard to rinse off hands or out of clothes.  Anyone know why that is???

I was not wondering about this, but discovered that when some cuts grass it smells the same whether it is done with a lawn mower or a sickle!  (A man came to cut the grass around the guest house where I was staying in Bohong this week…)

So write to me about what you are wondering about!  Maybe it is about my life here or maybe it is about things around you.  I would like to know! 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Church on Sunday

The first Sunday I was in Bohong, two local congregations combined their services.  They had had the district meeting the day before and named the district council.  Sunday, these people were introduced to everyone and installed.  I was also introduced to everyone as well.  I can say that I understood about 25% of this service – and most of that was because I knew the order of service and a few words they said in Sango.  After the liturgy, food was served to the new council in the church.  The Andre, chaplain who is my Sango teacher, another woman who just finished her seminary studies, and I were also fed in the pastor’s house.  We had gozo (manioc root prepared into a dough-like ball) and goat meat in a sauce, both of which we ate with our hands.  (Water and soap were provided so that we could wash our hands before and after eating.)  Once again I was welcomed with honor and respect. 

The second Sunday I went to the church which is closest to the guest house where I am staying and right behind the EEL-RCA’s clinic.  Sometime last year the wind blew off the roof.  They have plans to replace it, of course, but there is no insurance, so they must collect money first.  They continue to use the building that has ¼ of the roof.  Some people who sat in the sun section brought umbrellas to reflect the hot rays.  I again was asked to sit up front.  I was glad to be there because I sat beside Andre who could help me follow the liturgy and interpret some of the Sango.  This week I was able to understand more.  I have a copy of the liturgy book (in Sango) to follow and a Sango Bible.  During the week, Andre and I read part of each so that I can better understand.  I also read the lessons of the day in a French Bible so that I knew the story/passage and could then better follow the Sango.  Even with the words in front of me, though, I couldn’t read/recite at the speed that they do!  I can say that my comprehension went up to about 50%. 

As I took part in the liturgy, I couldn’t help but observe similarities and differences between this church and East Liberty Lutheran Church (ELLC) in Pittsburgh where I have been a member for years.  As the liturgy starts, pews/benches in neither church are very full.  During the first 15-20 minutes, people enter both places.  I have to say, though, that the church here got a much larger crowd! 

Both churches have announcement times – ELLC at the end and this church after about 20 minutes of singing, the reading of the psalm, and prayers.  During this service, the pastor reminded people that two weeks ago, they had been asked to each contribute 500 CFA (about $1, but probably the equivalent of $50 given how little people make here) for the restoration of the roof.  This week, the pastor said, the women didn’t need to listen to the announcement.  He went to the right side of the church (pews where the men sit – women are on the right and youth and children in the middle) and asked the men where their contributions were.  He said that the women had given theirs…  As he continued to talk, he said maybe they should repair only the part of the roof that covers where the women sit!  (I understood a little of that announcement, missed part, and Andre filled in a little).  Isn’t it the same everywhere?  We have trouble getting enough to complete essential repairs to the building of the church… I don’t know if the men contributed their money, but work has started in rebuilding the church.  Men have been making the wooden frame on which the tin roof will be attached. 

As in Pittsburgh, lay people assisted in the service reading passages from the Bible and contributing prayers.  Also the same, the pastor read the Gospel lesson and then preached the sermon.  I have to say that I understood the parts of the sermon that recounted the passage from Mark (no doubt because I had read it in French and Sango several times during the week).  Most of the rest of his message I missed.  Still, this is great progress and I am happy! 

There is a choir that sits together in both churches, but the one here is about 5 times as large as ELLC’s. They don’t have an organ here, but a young man played the drums.  They also set up two huge speakers, ran a generator, and had an amplifier with two electric guitars.  The problem was that there was a loud hum from the amplifier or speakers and each time they put it on, the singing was drowned out.  It got turned off again, so that even though the man who set it up tried several times, he was never really successful.

During the offering, the choir sings in both churches.  At ELLC, though, ushers pass plates for offerings.  Here, everyone makes a line and goes up front to deposit their offering in a box.  The box in this church has three openings – one each for men, women, and youth.  I like the idea of everyone going up (even though it takes longer).  It encourages everyone to give at least a little.  Mostly, I heard gifts clink (coins, worth up to a $1), but all (or almost all) gave – even if it was the widow’s mite. 

Churches here have communion once a month, usually, while ELLC has it weekly.  I miss that part, but because I was traveling so much in September, I actually had communion each week.  We did not have it during this service.

The liturgy here and in Pittsburgh is basically the same, although the order of service varies a little.  It is good to feel at home during this Sunday morning time, even if I can’t understand a lot of what is being said. 

Wecloming the Stranger in Our Midst - Bohong Style

What do we do when there is a stranger in our midst?   Most who read this in the US live in a city, so we are used to seeing many people we don’t know and many who are different than we are.  It is not the same here in Bohong.

Bohong is a large town, larger than Baboua, where I will be living later.  I am sure they see Central Africans that they don’t know, especially on Friday.  That day, many people come from small towns in the area for a huge local market – think Farmers’ Market with row upon row of sellers and many people jammed in the rows to look and buy… 

Still, I am currently the only “munju,” or white person, in town.  I have gone for a walk each afternoon since I have been here.  Soon after I get to the main road, I begin to hear “Munju! Munju!”  It’s the kids running out to see and greet me.  They will continue to call “munju” until I say “Bara-o” (hello) and sometimes even after that.  They seem full of joy to see me.  What a welcome!  It is also curiosity.  Sometimes, just coming to see me isn’t enough, so they follow me!  I have had a “parade” of up to 10 children follow me for a couple of blocks.  Adults are less open, but just as curious.  I tend to greet everyone I see since I know they are watching anyway.  After the first few days, some people speak to me – asking why I am here, or where I am going.  I like the opportunities to interact, in whatever limited way I can.  Several young men near the stand that sells meat have been greeting me regularly and together we have been attempting conversation.  It usually involves lots of laughter – when I don’t understand and, sometimes, when I respond in Sango. (I think it is because I can respond more than what I say or how I say it.)  I feel very welcome in this town (despite the many people from outside of town who stared as I went to the market Friday!) 

Also, several sisters who live near me have taken to coming to greet me sometimes afternoon.  I appreciate that, even though there are often long periods of silence.  I asked Andre about it about it because the girls would answer questions I asked (in Sango), but then sit in silence.  I felt like I was back in a classroom – I ask questions, they answer…  He said that African children are taught not to be talkative around adults unless they are addressed directly.  Well, OK, but…  We have had 20 minute visits with only about 10 sentences uttered.  It doesn’t help that my Sango is still limited!  The oldest showed me a game Friday – she had a block that we slid back and forth on the wall where we were sitting on.  In return, I got out the jacks I brought along with me.  I taught her and we played and laughed.  I have to say we spoke more French than Sango that first day, but I made an effort to count in Sango at least…  We had a good time.  She came back the next day and improved significantly.  We still don’t talk much, but we do laugh and enjoy the time together. 
This is still the rainy season, so it rains most days.  There are spectacular cloud formations such as the one in this picture.