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. :)