Monday, December 25, 2006

Three more “West African” moments...

Myspace Mood: Happy

Feliz Natal! I hope everyone's Christmas is going or was good depending on when you read this. It has been a little difficult to get into the Christmas spirit this year for us, for several reasons, but we've been doing our best! It has seemed less like the holidays for several reasons: the fact that we're away from our families, the warm weather, lack of smothering monotone gray cloud cover (Michigan), and finally the fact that Africans generally don't worry about anything more than a day ahead meaning that Christmas wasn't really a topic of conversation until, say, yesterday.

Last blog I gave a couple of recent things that have made me notice where I am, I have three more today that are funny and also very African. The first one was humorous but doesn't have much of a story. Emily and I were driving around downtown on the TVS (checking the mail and picking up a few groceries) and a monkey ran across the road in front of us. It was spindly, but standing up its arms would reach higher than mine. I might have expected such a thing a little further out of civilization, but not downtown! So, there's another first for Jason – I have never before almost run over a monkey with a small motor scooter. :)

The second story gives you a little window into banking in Guinea-Bissau. There are only three banks in the whole country who offer personal accounts, and all three are in Bissau. One of the center employees, Fernando, needed to open an account to help with the visa he's trying to get to study English in the U.S. for a year. I took him into town on the TVS, dropped him off, and went to do the other errands downtown that the center needed. I came back half an hour later and asked him how it was going. The bank had been open for an hour and a half and his number was 110. They were helping #50 at the time. Yes, that's right folks – there was a three hour delay... even to deposit or withdraw! (While we were waiting I had plenty of time to tell Fernando how miraculous ATM's are, haha.) Apparently lines like this aren't at all uncommon and if the bank closes before they get to your number, you get to come back tomorrow, get a new number, and continue hoping.

The third story gives a good insight into West African society, but I'll give you the cultural interpretation after so I don't spoil the story. We were doing our Saturday morning shopping last weekend downtown, so we were driving from the store that has canned beans to the store that gets good soup mixes (appreciate Wal-Mart, friends), and the road the second store (Mavegro) is on is bad – so sometimes we drive on the sidewalk (which is good) for the last half block.

You might be thinking to yourself at this point, "Jason, you lawbreaker – you have a scooter and now you think you own the road and the sidewalk too!" In my defense I should more clearly define what I mean when I say the road is bad. It has potholes that are four feet wide and up to 18" deep. Not just a few of them either, it looks like the craters of the moon. So we drive on the sidewalk for that half block in an effort to avoid getting lost in one of those potholes and never being heard from again. Sure you wouldn't do it in America... but this is Africa.

Last Saturday we drove the bike up over the curb and onto the sidewalk, past a woman selling bread, past a house, and then as we passed a man washing a car on the street I noticed that he was growing slightly taller. In fact what was happening was that our bike was sinking into the wet cement that we were driving on. You'd be surprised how similar cement with carwash water on it looks to wet (uncured) cement. Or I was at least.

Fortunately only about four feet of the cement was being repaired, so the TVS hummed on through, hardly slowing down. As we drove the last 20 feet to the store, Em looked back to see a disgusted looking man with a trowel in his hand emerge from the house and glare at us. We ran into the store quickly hoping he would not follow. We picked up what we needed, headed back out to the bike (relieved that he wasn't there waiting for us), and took off – not before noticing the cement had been smoothed back out and now had several big rocks on either side to warn anyone else who might want to drive through it that the cement was in fact wet.

Now we come to the cultural learning portion of the program. If I asked an American what was the cause of the problem in this situation, I think most of us would identify two things: First, I was driving on the sidewalk. I'll give you that one, but take my word – it's totally acceptable here. In fact, I would venture to say that a majority of Africans would have thought it a little odd for me to be driving on the road rather than the sidewalk, given its condition. The second cause an American might identify in this situation is that the mason working on the cement didn't put up any markers to alert people that the cement was wet. And here is where American and African mindsets separate. Despite the fact that Saturday is the busiest shopping day of the week, I am convinced that if I had stopped to ask why he didn't put up any warning signs he would have told me in all honesty that he saw no need.

A second example of this lackadaisical approach to warning signs is illustrated by a giant hole in the sidewalk. This hole appeared one day in the middle of one of the busiest paths for foot traffic on our side of the city. It appeared with no apparent explanation or markings and was 6-7' deep and the whole width of the sidewalk when it was dug. I assumed that they might be working on underground pipes or something. A few days later (possibly because someone fell in, lol) there were four corn stalks marking the four corners of the hole with a little plastic stretched across them. The corn stalks disappeared a few days later and now (whatever its original purpose) the hole is filling up with trash as kind of a spot-landfill.

Generally, West Africans much prefer to deal with problems when they occur rather than preparing for/preventing them beforehand. As nearly as I can tell, the rationale is that preparing for or preventing a problem is work that might end up being pointless (if the problem doesn't end up happening). I'm not sure if the thinking is that clearly defined or just happens based on the fact that so many people are living hand to mouth that they don't have time to worry about problems that aren't problems yet – but either way the effect is the same. I think another factor that plays into this is that predictability is not prized here as it is in the States. We plan partially to make sure we know what's coming – so many bad things happen here that trying to have a predictable future is seen as a futile exercise in frustration. (Of course it's a self-fulfilling prophecy because the lack of planning leads to even more bad things happening, reinforcing the idea that there's no point in thinking ahead.)

Our teammate has done a good job of convincing some of the center employees of the virtues of planning ahead by putting away some money, but even after they understand the importance of it, there is a curious thing about African society which prevents them from saving. If a neighbor or family member comes and asks for money (which happens often), if you have any, you have to give it to them. This causes all sorts of funny idiosyncrasies (such as causing everyone to spend as much of their monthly pay as quickly as possible to avoid being obligated to give it away) but also has the side effect of making saving impossible. Our teammate has set up an envelope system in the center's safe to allow the employees to save without anyone knowing, but even then they almost have to lie when someone asks them for money by saying they don't have any available. Interesting, huh?

Monday, December 18, 2006

You know you're in West Africa when...

I think that when you live somewhere else for long enough, you start to adapt to it - no matter how different it is from what you're used to - and begin to stop noticing some of the differences. We've been in Africa for four months, and many days I am used to everything that happens. There are still some things that happen every once in a while that make you realize "hey, I'm in Africa" again. A few of those things have happened recently so I thought I'd share them with you.

First, I woke up at midnight a few nights ago to the sound of tribal drums and chanting. This may happen in your neighborhood too, but it wasn't something I was used to in Michigan. It was a funeral and they were still going at 1:30 when I fell back asleep. Pockets of people from different tribes live in different areas of Bissau, so tribal ceremonies aren't all that uncommon, but this one was loud enough to wake me up (even though I'm sure it was blocks away).

The second thing that happened recently was that our neighbors (in the other side of our duplex) got a goat. This also is not uncommon, our "street" is like a petting zoo - various neighbors own chickens, pigs, ducks, dogs, and other assorted things that are all loose and go wherever they want. This seems quite normal, actually. I'm not sure if any of you have ever been around a goat for very long, but they are loud. It could be that goats are naturally whiny, or that this one isn't being fed, but it bleats before we wake up and is bleating most nights when we fall asleep. (Too bad goats can't seem to get soar throats.) The house is surrounded by a tall wall and the two sides of the duplex are divided by a shorter wall, and since the goat lives inside the wall, the bleating echoes off of the wall and gets louder before coming in our house, lol. To make matters worse, one of their kids (human) the other day was teasing the kid (goat) by mimicking the bleating which only made the goat bleat louder, lol. Anyway, it's not the most annoying thing we've run into (their rooster is much worse), but we were glad this week when the time came for us to move out of the duplex into the apartment above our teammates' house which was vacated when Thomas went back to the States on Wednesday. (Pictures of the new diggs next time, for now here's the goat.)

The third thing is satisfyingly related to the second, which is that we ate goat (unfortunately not the same one) for the first time early this week. We were invited over to dinner at the house of one of Emily's english students (who is somewhat famous for great dinner parties), so we were excited. The first thing we ate were grilled shrimp with spicy lemon sauce (a great combination!) that still had the heads on them. Em almost lost it, hehe... The lights were dim (using candles since the city light wasn't on) so I don't think she realized what was on the end of the shrimp until Thomas said something when she jump/twitched so much she dropped it on the ground and could barely pick it back up, lol. Anyway, they were really good. Next we had squid salad, which was also tasty. The only squid I've had in the States is fried calamari, which doens't resemble squid much after it's been fried so long - fresh squid is a different deal. The different parts of the squid are different textures, so you'd get one bite from the body that was chewy, and then in the next forkfull you'd eat a tentacle which was a little crunchier. :) For dinner we had something like goat pot roast over rice (everything here is over rice - actually it's more like rice with a little of something else on top). The goat was really good! I've been craving pot roast recently anyway, so that may have something to do with my evaluation of the goat, but it was like tastier beef. Very tender too. I'm a fan!

Ok, I have some wilder stories to tell when we get back, but for now this is all I have time to tell! I hope everyone is having a good Christmas season!

Saturday, November 4, 2006

We have found the Oasis!

Myspace Mood: Happy

Well folks, I have to tell you... today was a great day. Today we found a place to escape the challenges of life here in Africa. In extolling the virtue of this glorious oasis, I don't mean to complain about our living situation here. We have a great house, running water, electricity most of the times we care about having it, and in general have a much handier set up than almost all of our nieghbors. However, there are some specific things about life here in Bissau which can begin to wear on a person after dealing with them everyday for two and a half months. Recently, some of these things have been making the daily grind a little grindier than when we first arrived.

I think the most difficult things for me since we got here have been: really bad internet, difficult contact with friends and family because of the aforementioned really bad internet, and the fact that I really miss good, meaty, American food. There isn't much to be done about the first two, and Emily and I have worked hard (mostly her) to find tasty ways to make what we have available here in the food department, but there's only so much you can do in a country where people eat rice to survive, not as a form of entertainment. :)

We found out yesterday that there is a national holiday today for the Day of the Dead (just like Mexico, Spain, and Portugal). Finding out the day before the holiday that everyone has it off is pretty much standard procedure here, so it always comes as a nice surprise when we have a day off! This week has been extremely stressful since the first batch of computer classes were tested and we began the next section of classes with all of the scheduling problems and such that this entails. So the day off came at just the right time. So, we decided that the missionary staff here would go spend a few hours together at a hotel pool, have lunch together, and then come back home so we could use our newfound free day to catch up on lesson planning, student materials, etc. Our teammate mentioned on the way out the door that I should grab my laptop because he heard someone say there could be internet at the hotel.

The hotel is an eight minute drive away, right on the edge of Bissau. It was built to house a big conference a few months ago when the heads of Portuguese speaking countries all got together here. We've driven by it, but Emily and I hadn't seen it yet. It is beautiful (even by western standards), well laid out, has a great staff, and is generally quite different than most everything else in Bissau. The others hopped in the pool and I sat on a lounge chair to test out the internet connection, hoping that it would be good enough that I might be able to download one message (podcast) from our home church in Jackson. To my utter glee, the internet is blazing! I had given up on downloading the messages from Westwinds after the only one I'd gotten here so far took two hours to download while I was working on ordering computers for the center. In the few hours we were there I got eight of them and did a lot of other browsing to boot! (I did swim as well, lest you define me completely as a nerd.)

(In order to fully appreciate why this was so exciting to me, I must help you understand just what I mean when I say that the internet is bad here. You pay by the minute to go to an internet "cafe". When I say cafe, I mean fourty people packed into a room that smells like some of the worst B.O. you've ever experienced. While you are there, you have lots of time to notice the smell, because you're not doing much interneting. The connection is so sporadic, you make less progress than the worst dial up available in the States five years ago. I have been forced to look several things up relating to the new computer projects we're installing at the center, and it has been frustrating beyond words.)

So, instead of that "cafe" internet experience, today I got to sit under a big umbrella on a lounge chair and use the hotel's fast wifi in the sun with no smells except chlorine! There are several things on the internet that I needed for the installation process of the new computers and networking gear the center is getting, which I have put off for the dread of the hours and hours I would have to wait in order to find all of the things I needed. I got them all done today in less than an hour. In the sun. With a breeze. And no B.O.

After this glorious experience, we met the owner who drove into the hotel in one of only two Hummer's in the country. He is really nice and said to make the hotel home - it sounds like we might even be able to swing a deal to teach his staff English on Saturdays for a few hours in exchange for all the pool and internet time we want! Glorious.

The next treat came at lunch when we sat down to an amazing surprise - good beef! Emily and I split a $15 steak (the second most expensive meal we're aware of anywhere in Bissau), and it tasted amazing. The hotel is glad to have us come to swim and use the internet for free as long as we eat some food every once in a while, and considering how good it was, I'm all for it! (The normal dishes they have are closer to $8-10, and everything is big enough to split between us, so even if we went every Saturday it isn't too steep.)

So, in one fell swoop we have found a place to relax and escape, get good internet, and great food. We got one final blessing for the day when I remembered that since the hotel's internet is so good (it turns out to be satelite via Europe) we might even be able to use the internet to make phone calls home! We didn't have a proper microphone with us, but I downloaded the software (estimated time to download at the cafe: four hours), tried it out, and sure enough: calls to the U.S. using Skype for 2 cents a minute!!! There is a little delay, but no worse than the delay you experience using two regular phones over the Atlantic! The only alternative we had before to call home was $.90 a minute. By the time we got this tested we only have five minutes of laptop battery left, but the possibility looks promising, so we'll have to give it a try again in the future.

I can't really explain how big a relief it was to escape Africa for a few hours today, and the fact that we have an open invitation to relaxation, good food, useful internet, and even (almost free) phone calls home is a big relief for the future.

So here's my reflection for the day (which I need to preface by saying that I don't feel like a "real" full time missionary since we're here for only a few months, so I am talking to myself as well): Support your missionaries and don't begrudge them what escapes and comforts they can find. Until you've done it, you can't believe how difficult and frustrating it is at times to live in a culture that's completely different from your own. You don't understand everything being said around you, you're contantly trying not to do things that will accidentally offend the nationals, always second guessing why someone did what they did because it made no sense to your Western mind, and then having everyone yell "whitey" at/to you wherever you go. Sometimes I feel like we have an image of missionaries that makes us think that since they chose to be missionaries, they should be poor and not need to relax. Our missionaries need more and better vacations than we do, not less. So send the real missionaries you know fourty bucks and tell them to go spend a night somewhere they can get a hot shower and relax. :)

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

10 year church anniversary - West Africa style!

Myspace Mood: Productive

In case any of you are curious how a church in West Africa puts on its 10th anniversary shin dig, I have given you all of the details for your reading pleasure!

The celebration was the morning service followed by a big afternoon-long feed. The service had a bunch of invited guests, people who had a hand in the church at some point along the way, several area pastors, and several missionaries from the interior of the country we all invited to be at the celebration. So after service ended, the several women who had been outside cooking over fires the whole service brought in a bunch of huge serving plates. They served the pastors and missionaries first, so I went up and was handed a plate. (Sidenote: It's odd to be served first... we are given seats whenever we walk in and others asked to move, which seems odd to me. This shuffling process happens every Sunday morning as people come in though, more able-bodied people are swapped out of the seats in preference to elderly, women, and other guests. At first we were givens seats because we were guests at the church, but we've been there a month now, so I'm not sure now if it's that we're missionaries or that we're white, lol. At any rate, it feels very strange but it's rude to refuse, so...)

So anyway, I was handed a plate by one of the women. Before I tell you what it was on the plate, I must tell you that we don't eat meat very often here, so when I saw a bowl of curried chicken come in, I was really excited. Big beautiful pieces of meat (unlike the wings we've bought before)! So I was handed a plate of... pig spine. Mmmm... I smiled and took it and went to sit down feeling guilty for not being greatful for what I was given as an honored guest at the celebration. I flipped it over, eyed it up good, and couldn't find any meat on it except a think layer of fat on the back. Hmmm... Anyway, I ate the rice and sauce that came with it, which were quite good! I had a few pieces of the sweet bread that was being passed around, listened to the music, and was starting to forget how much of a bad missionary I felt like for not wanting to eat this nasty meat, lol. Then a friend of mine, who sings at the church and works at the youth center, came over with the food he'd just gotten and sat by me. He's a skinny guy so we always joke with him about needing to eat more than his share of meat out of the community lunch bowl at the youth center. Anyway, I looked at his plate and noticed he didn't get any meat at all, so I said "Fernando, I'm getting full, why don't you eat this?" It may sound like I was passing off the meat I didn't want (which I was), but they eat a lot of meat that you wouldn't think of touching in the States, so usually anything you offer is received as if it were prime rib. So, as I sat there feeling like a bad missionary for not being able to eat this meat I had been given, offering it to Fernando, wrinkled up his nose and said: "Umm.. thanks, but I can't eat that... too hard on my stomach." HAH!!! Vindication! Even the local wouldn't eat this nasty piece of pig-back fat! Lol... I felt much better about things, haha... The celebration went on into the afternoon, they had fried potato snacks, later had a whole pig roasted in pieces on a spit, cut it up and everyone had a couple of pieces (really tasty), and a good time was had by all.

So, if you ever wondered how a church in a really poor country puts on it's 10th anniversary celebration, there it is. Now, as Paul Harvey would say, for the rest of the story. There is a whole cultural thing about celebrations (weddings, naming ceremonies, etc) which is kind of sad, and a big part of what keeps this country so poor. For big events, it is absolutely expected that the person putting on the event will spend much more than they can afford in order to put on a big celebration. (I start to notice a bit of a parallel to many weddings in the States here...) Weddings here would typically cost around $1000 for the ceremony and party. Just to give some scale to that, rice is $.25 a pound, a loaf of bread $.20, etc. The people who work at the center are paid well and make about $120 a month. So the ceremony is basically a year's decent income. I'm not sure if it's that they feel like they deserve a good ceremony because things are otherwise so bad financially, or if it's that they are culturally shamed if their celebration isn't as impressive as the last person who got married, though I suspect much more of the latter. So anyway, a new groom will beg or borrow whatever he has to in order to put on a big ceremony (and pay the bride's parents the bride-price for the loss of her labor). So they start out being married with a debt they won't be able to pay back, basically forever. In the best case scenario if they're lucky and relatives gave them money for the ceremony, then they have used up in one day a huge sum of money which would have kept them financially secure for a long time if it had been used more (to my Western way of thinking) "wisely".

The way the whole thing played out in the church celebration's case was that the Sunday before each member of the church drew a piece of paper with the thing they were supposed to provide. My buddy Fernando, for example, was supposed to bring two chickens. (Funny note, I took him out on the scooter to find them, and we couldn't find any that day, but I would have been excited to be able to say I had driven a scooter with a rider holding two live chickens, hahah..) Fernando makes $60 a month teaching half time at the youth center, and half of that goes straight to his tuition at university. Another $10 goes to pay for his share of the lunch that the employees at the center share (the center buys the rice and their money pays for the meat). So Fernando gets around, buys school supplies, clothes, and everything else on $20 a month. The two chickens he was asked to bring cost $6 - more than his money for the week. With an 80% unemployment rate in the country (which I don't think is any different in the church we go to) his situation was easier than many of the other church members. I talked to him about the whole thing while we were out on the scooter that day, and he understood that it seems silly to me, but basically said it's just how things are here.

Saturday, October 7, 2006

The shorts man, the shorts!

Myspace Mood: Toasty

So last time I promised a blog on African dress... I have been trying to get good pictures to show, but pictures aren't welcomed most places and since I didn't bring any long lenses I can't grab them discretely. So, sorry about that!

There are two distinct kinds of dress here in West Africa. The traditional dress is big, flowy, brightly colored, loose fitting dresses (you wouldn't be blamed for drawing a parallel between what I'm describing and a moo moo, haha). The guys have printed fabric that is embroidered around the neck and then pants made out of the same fabric. (Some guys wear long robes, but most of them are Muslim - I don't think it's a traditional African garment).

The second kind of dress here is... well, what you wore five years ago. No... I don't mean the style, I mean the same clothes. Goodwill sends container after container over of clothes they can't sell second-hand in the States. Florida seems to be a popular place to get containers from, I assume since the clothes are thin. The clothes are cheap, three bucks for a pair of pants, compared to buying new clothes here ($7 for a traditional shirt, $5 for a dress, or $30 for a new pair of jeans). So, most West Africans, most of the time, are wearing stuff from your closet, lol. I even saw a T-shirt from the NCCAA Tennis Tournament that Spring Arbor played in, though from two years before we were in it.

I'm not sure how much of it has to do with it being American vs. being cheap, but these clothes are worn much more than traditional African ones. I have mixed feelings on the subject, because while it's really nice that our old clothes can be put to good use, and also that a county who is already poor can save some money vs. making new clothes by buying our used (saving some money which can be used for rice), it's also a little sad that our left overs are kind of taking away a little authentic African culture. For social events and celebrations though, traditional is still the name of the game, so I guess at least where it counts they're still holding on to their stuff.

The other odd thing (which I find extremely annoying) is that the Western sense that all respectable people wear pants has found its way here. So, in a climate with 90% humidity on 95 degree days, I am wearing pants to teach class, go to the market, etc. Arg! There is no where in the whole world that should be more sold on the idea of a good pair of khaki shorts than here! What can you do... :)

That's it for this edition. For those who were keeping track, I cut my hair this week. :)

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Become a missionary for the cool toys!

Myspace Mood: Chipper

Well, Emily and I have been getting around Bissau now for five weeks by walking, taking taxis, and bumming rides from our teammates when we're headed to the same places. We can walk to church (20 minutes), the vegetable market (15 minutes, though Ade gets our veggies since she gets a better price because of her skin color, lol), the internet cafe (25 minutes) and the center is next door. The taxis here are cheap by American standards ($.60 each way to the internet cafe), but are still expensive when you consider that it costs $1.20 to check our email. Walking is always an option, but now that teaching has started we frankly don't have the time. The other problem we've found with taxis is that we'd like to explore some more of the city, but you can't really get in a taxi and say "take me somewhere". :) So, we have found an elegant solution to all of these problems: the TVS!

Earlier this week, after thinking it over for a few weeks, we found a great deal on a scooter through a friend of a friend situation. We had figured that owning a scooter would be about the same price as the taxi rides we take to the internet cafe each week if we found a good deal on one and could sell when we leave for about 60% of what we paid for it. The import duties are high in Bissau, so the local ones were about $1000 each. We were planning a trip to a border town called Gabu where you can get them cheaper, about $700. The friend who had this scooter had brought it in for the Ministry of Finance, but once he got it here they decided they didn't have the money to pay for it (oh the irony - governments work a little different when they can't just print more currency, haha). So anyway, it had 600km on it, looked brand new, and had all of the papers already completed (a major advantage since the bribes required to take care of said paperwork are much more expensive if you're white), and he only wanted $680 for it! We found out about it on Monday and had it by Wednesday. Yesterday we got a helmet at the market, found some two stroke oil, bought a used 20L vegetable oil can for gas (the standard yellow/red ones like in the States aren't used here, since used veggie oil cans are $2, lol. The gas stations will dispense gas into ANYTHING, so it's not a problem.), and got 15L of gas ($6/gallon).

I've wanted a motorcycle for a long time, as many of you know. It's an insult to real motorcycles to call this one, but I took it out today for the first time and it's definately going to be fun to tool around on! It goes about 35mph, I think it can probably do 55 if I really wanted it to. It only has one gear, and is a lot like riding a bicycle that you don't have to pedal. :) But who knows, maybe it will be a nice step up to a motorcycle once we get home! So anyway, for about the same price as the taxis we can be a little more mobile and go explore the city a little bit.

Tune in next week for a quick update on things here and to find out about Guinean dress!

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Yay weekend!

Myspace Mood: Relaxed

This week has been a really long one! I am glad for the weekend being here. One of my responsibilities here is to keep a typing lab up and running which is made up of some really old computers (several Pentium I 90MHz's). Old computers already, which would have been junked out in the States long ago, but when you can't get ahold of new ones without shipping them over on a boat, they're precious material here! Anyway, most of the week was spent repairing these machines without any spare parts, software, or internet connection to work with!

This week was also when Em and I started making all of our own food. Last week when we got here our teammate had us over for lunch, which is the biggest meal of the day. Since they've been here so long they've had a few "accessories" shipped over such as BBQ sauce and peanut butter which make cooking much tastier! So, we ate good last week. This week though, we were still trying to figure out how to make good stuff from what's available here. I love food and eating is fun at home, but it is much harder to prepare stuff here and there's much less variety than at home. I would say that 80% of the population here just eats seasoned rice every day. Don't get me wrong, they're happy to have it, but my point is that there isn't too much emphasis placed on food as a form of entertainment. Anyway, we're getting it figured out, but I have a new appreciation both for Walmart's convenience and variety!

The family that founded the school, Thomas (a Cedarville grad from Niceville, FL), Em, and I went to a little streetside restaurant for something called Shwarma's last night. They are good, but I was up sick half of the night. It's the weirdest combination ever. It's like a fajita, kind of... a wrap with beef, onions, spice, a mayo-ish sauce, and french fries. No, the fries aren't on the side, they're in the wrap too, haha. Tomorrow after church we're going to a restaurant Em and I haven't been to yet but that our teammates said is the best (safely prepared) authentic Guinean restaurant in the city, so that should be tasty!

I'm off to help out with kid's basketball. Soccer is by far the most popular sport here, with no distant second, so the only thing anyone here knows of basketball is what our teammate told them. So, it's a humerous irony to me to be the white guy who's the authority on basketball, haha...

Thanks for all the thoughts and prayer from home - we miss everyone!

Friday, August 25, 2006

I'll show you a rat!

Myspace Mood: Amused

Warning: If you don't like dead animals and/or vermin, don't look at the picture at the bottom of this blog entry. Now that all the guys are back from looking at the picture, let me explain it, haha...

I am preparing to start teaching an introduction to computers course in a few days. It's been fairly difficult since in the States that course would look a lot different. An example of this is that here I need to explain and show people how to use a rat. Yes, there is no word in Creole for "mouse" so when they were giving me the Creole terms for various computer parts "un rato" stuck out.

I found out yesterday why there is no Creole word for "mouse". The animals that we call mice don't exist over here, and what we call a rat, Guineans would hardly consider a cause for alarm. There was some commotion from the guard dog Maggie in the corner of the youth center by the generator yesterday and a few minutes later I found out what a rat really is.

Jeremiah is a big guy, the picture honestly doesn't do the rat justice.

The guys were pretty excited when they speared it and were planning to cook it later. We weren't around for dinner that night so we didn't get to try it, sadly... :) I know people who have cooked squirrels in the States, which seemed a little silly, if you're going to grill a varmint - at least go for one with some serious meat on it!

As a quick side note, I like lots of things about living here but am definately missing some things from the States. So, I've decided to start a running list of the reasons I like the States and the things I'm going to do (not necessarily in order) when we get back.

Thing to do #1: Go to Applebee's and order the biggest burger they serve. Man I could use some beef!

Thing to do #2: Pay a visit to Mr. Starbuck! Today was the first cool morning we've had since

we've been here. It rained all morning and it was the perfect day for a good coffee. I know I've complained frequently about how expensive Starbucks is, but when the nearest one is a long plane ride away, the $3.50 doesn't look so bad anymore. :)

Here's a picture down our street this morning.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

In a different world...

Myspace Mood: Confused

We live in the capital city of Guinea Bissau, which is Bissau. At last count, I think there are 400,000 people living in the city. It is interesting though, because it doesn't feel like a city we would expect. There is a downtown that has a few multi-story buildings and lots of stores, and also several other markets spread out through town. The 400,000 though is mainly made up of what I think of as "African Suburbs". The town feels much more like a bunch of seperate little villages all shoved right beside each other surrounding the downtown than one unit. Our street zig-zags from the main road, and kind of forms our own little village in Zone 7 of the city. I feel like I belong much more to my neighborhood than the city as a whole.

We had an interesting experience at the end of last week downtown. Our teammate drove us downtown to a few different stores to stock our kitchen. At one of the stops she stopped the truck by the curb and immediately a police woman came over and angrily demanded her documents. Our teammate pulled them out of the glove compartment and handed them to her at which point the police woman stormed across the street. A friend of our teammate's was walking by and told her to pull forward into the next "parking spot" which had just been vacated. The story should be prefaced by saying that there are no parking signs, markings, or even generally accepted rules for parking downtown. I've seen cars parked two rows deep at the curb.

Anyway, the woman came back and yelled at our teammate for a few minutes before telling her that if she wanted her documents back she'd have to come across the street to discuss it. Our teammate sent us into the grocery store and went over. The police woman had a partner there and they proceded to take turns arguing with and yelling at our teammate for the next 30 minutes. They asked here where she took driving school, how anyone could be dumb enough to park that close to the corner, etc. In the middle of the arguing our teammate's friend from earlier came over and told her she should give the lady a few thousand cfa ($5 or so) to take care of things. So during the next round of arguing our teammate told the police woman "A friend of mine tells me I should give you some money to clear this up, but that's not right!" The woman was totally indignant and yelled for the next several minutes about hwo she would never do something like that. She told our teammate that the ticket was going to cost about $70 (obviously not possible, it would be equivalent to a $1500 parking ticket in terms of the U.S. economy.) When police take your documents they have to give you a temporary license form in case you get stopped before you pay your ticket and get your license back.

So, at this point Em and I come back from the store and try not to stand close enough to aggrivate the police woman anymore. The problem is, the police woman is obviously asking for a bribe by saying the ticket is so much and our teammate should pay her right there. On the other side, if she doesn't pay and goes through the proper procedure of going to the station to pay the ticket and get her license back, odds are good that her license is not going to have been turned in by the officer because that would expose her as trying to get a bribe from our teammate. So, we pay an unfair bribe or our teammate never gets her license back - nice, huh? Our teammate's solution was to demand that the police woman get in our truck right then and there to go to the station and pay the ticket together. After some deliberating with her partner the police woman was understandably unwilling to go to the station so her "compromise" was that she would give our teammate back her documents, but if she did that she would need to be compensated for the "temporary license" form she had already written out. She tried to tell our teammate that each police officer was personally responsible for photocopying blank forms and that our teammate would need to pay $4 (still a decent amount of money here) to pay for photocopying the half sheet piece of paper! The woman had yelled for five minutes about how she would never accept a bribe 15 minutes before and now asked for two different ones in the space of 10 minutes!! Finally our teammate just refused to leave without her documents or a trip to the station with the officer, and the officer eventually gave up on getting anything out of us, gave back our teammate's license, and let us go.

Thus began our downtown experience! Exciting!

Thing I like about the States #1: Honest (or at least well managed) police force!

Friday, August 18, 2006

A Funny Language...

Myspace Mood: Curious

Kuma ku bu sta? (How are you, in Portugues Creole)

We have spent a good deal of the last few days trying to get a handle on the language here, and we are making good progress, so I thought I'd let you know a little blurb about it!
Portuguese Creole as nearly as I can tell is the language that the natives learned from the Portuguese colonists... so it's like portuguese lite, lol. It uses a slightly different pronounceation than portuguese, which is a bit different than spanish. Words that end in "o" are pronounced "oo". "S"'s are usually (but not always) pronounced as "sh". But a ton of the vocab is very similar to spanish. For example, the most common response to "how are you?" is "sta bon" (long o - I'm not sure of much spelling since we're really learning to speak it... and even if I was sure I'd be wrong since the language isn't defined anywhere, so no one can really argue that you're spelling it right or wrong, hahaha). Anyway, sta bon is just esta bien. The main greating also came straight from portuguese, but like the rest of the language has been "creolified". So the greeting is "kuma ku bu sta" - kuma is como, the k in ku is que, bu is tu, and sta (though it's pronounced shta) is esta! Interesting, huh??

But now, are you ready for the best part of the whole language??? NO CONJUGATION!!!! The verbs are never conjugated, and there is a simple prefix for past and future tense! So, the verb "to go" is bai. N is I. So, "n bai" is "I go". The prefix "na" makes it future and the suffix "ba" is past. So, to say I will go (or I am going, no difference), it's just "n na bai", and in that case you smash the "n" and "na" together and just pronounce it "na bai", holding the n longer - sweet, huh?? The language is very imprecise, it relies a ton on context. And, if you literally translated it word for word it would sound like a little kid talking, lol. But, all of this makes it easier to learn! We already know enough to greet people, take a taxi, and buy stuff!

Emily and I still have a ton to learn, but we're feeling more comfortable with it everyday. I get to teach my classes through a translator, and Em's classes are conducted totally in English, so we will be fine if we don't have the language perfected when class starts in a few weeks. We're interested to be able to talk to our neighbors though, so we're working on it!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Greetings from Guinea!

Myspace Mood: Excited

As my first official blog entry, I'd like to say hello from Guinea-Bissau! Apparently it's pronounced "be-sow", not "bih-saw" like I've been pronouncing it. We are settling in just fine - some things are as we expected and some things are going to take some getting used to.

Emily and I have been here for a little over 24 hours after a really long day of flying yesterday. We left Detroit Sunday morning and flew to New York for a 6 hour layover, then an 8 hour flight to Dakar, Senegal. We arrived in Africa at 5:55am local time (we're four hours ahead of Eastern here). It was still dark out, and it was already 81 and amazingly humid! We killed another six hours in the airport in Dakar (eating some very tasty rice cakes from our bags, haha) and then got on a smaller plane for the one hour flight to Bissau. We arrived after a bit of a bumpy flight and were glad to have no more flying for a while! The whole trip (despite being long) went extremely smoothly - no lost luggage, no hassle from customs (a few cassette tapes our teammate brought to the airport when they picked us up made things go smoothly, lol).

We got to our house after a short ride on roads similar to what you'd find in the Caribbean - lots of pedestrians and bicyclers darting in an out of traffic. The house is great, once we have a little more free time we'll get some pictures up. We ate dinner with our teammates and their kids.

We slept last night from 10 to 9 this morning, so I think we'll be through the jet lag by tomorrow. We had a few hours of Portuguese Creole lesson from our teammate this afternoon, after doing a little computer setup for me and English lesson planning for Em this morning. This afternoon we are taking our first trip to the market to change some money and pick up a few things. In a few days after we've had a little downtime we'll get a few pictures posted, they're always more fun than words, lol.

No good blog entry is complete without a funny story, so here's the one for today. Last night before we went to bed, I killed a cocroach in the bathroom by squishing it with a squegee (our bathroom has a shower that drops water into a hole in the bathroom floor, more on that next time, lol) and this morning, the cocroach was laying in the same spot, still squirming and trying to flip itself back over! Yucko! :)

Friday, January 20, 2006

Package Day!!

Myspace Mood: Excited

We have been excitedly waiting for about seven packages from various places ever since mid-December, faithfully checking the mailbox and finding only one or two so far. The stars finally aligned yesterday (or the postal workers got done being drunk from the Christmas/New Years parties) and we had a flood of boxes!! We were super excited! There were so many that I couldn't even carry them all back on the scooter. Several of them were Christmas packages, so our Christmas this year has been like three weeks long, haha!

So, without further a due, here is the role call for yesterday's packages:
  • Ryan & Katie and John & Kelly sent us pictures and a huge box of snacks and candy – yum!
  • Grama Atkins got three packages in, one of them sent on Oct 28! We're making rice crispy treats – yeah!
There were two more boxes that I couldn't carry, so we'll have more Christmas today!

Photo Marketing sent us a huge one and Grandma Huggins' Christmas package also arrived. What will be in them?? The mystery will be solved this afternoon!

Update: We got Grandma Huggins' and PMA's packages today and they both had great stuff in them as well! We are excited about all of the tasty food we have to munch on! Many thanks to everyone! We will be eating like royalty...