Monday, December 10, 2007

Triste Dimas ("Too sad")

Myspace Mood: Sad

We've been here in Guinea-Bissau for long enough now that I don't expect to be surprised by too much anymore. The weather is normal, the garbage everwhere is just part of being here, we hardly notice the smells now, etc. Every once in a while though, you find examples that still make you say "you're kidding, right?"

Recently I was talking to the main computer guy here at the center, his name is Francisco. His grandma is sick and hasn't been getting better for a few months. I don't know what she has, but it's treatable. The hospital here in Bissau is fairly limited in what it can do, but they can fix a lot of problems that are common here. She hasn't been to the hospital though. Why, you ask? It's not because it's a long trip, she lives right here in Bissau. Here ethnic group? Nope, the hospital will treat anyone. Her kids are animist and are saving the money from taking her to the hospital to use for her upcoming funeral. Francisco's mom is a Christian and isn't happy about what they're doing, but the sons are the ones who make decisions, so the poor grandma keeps getting sicker.

If this were just a disfunctional family, it wouldn't be shocking or worth writing about. The reason that it's interesting is that most of the animists (half of the country) would agree that they're doing the right thing. The funeral celebration lasts for several days or a week and is pretty expensive, despite friends helping by bringing animals to eat. They beleive the spirit of the deceased relative stays at the house until this funeral celebration, which is a big (usually drunken) party thrown for the spirit so that it can leave on a good note. So in their mind, it's not that they're killing her by not taking her to the hospital - she's old enough to die, afterall - it's that they're taking care of the most important thing. Dieing, no big deal - but not having a party to release your spirit, that's a problem!

Of course I don't agree with their thinking, but I do understand from their perspective why (theoretically) this is a good idea. However, when the idea meets reality, it doesn't seem as lofty - there's something wrong with someone dancing drunk in the dirt street to a blown-out speaker blaring "Move b*tch, get out da way" as a way to honor their dead grandmother. (A scene I actually witnessed in our neighborhood at a different funeral a few weeks ago.)


Myspace Mood: Frustrated

One of the goals of this term in Guinea-Bissau has been to get an internet connection established at the youth center. The connection is really important because the network we have here is sometimes difficult to maintain, and an internet connection will allow me to connect from the U.S. and help fix problems as if I were here. Secondarily it will save us a lot of time running to the internet cafe every few days to send emails, download virus updates for the center, and look up solutions to problems.

The project has been a long time coming, and it's still not completely done, but we are closing in on the end (more details on the rest of the project in the future). The very last peice of equipment that we need in order to finish the project is a tiny little antenna cable adapter that isn't available here in Bissau. I ordered one from the States and my dad sent it over in a package. So, we've anxiously been waiting for the package to get here (along with about six or seven other packages that have been sent by various people that we haven't received yet, many with equipment I need for the youth center computers, others with Christmas goodies!) It's seemed like we haven't had any mail for the last three weeks even though we know so many packages should be getting here soon. We started to get suspicious... (and a little worried, because packages do sometimes "dissappear" permanently.)

On Friday, I found out what's been going on. The post office was on strike for three days this past week (this much we knew) but the strike ended on Friday. Of course they weren't actually doing any work on Friday (where do you think we are?), but the workers were at least there. So I chatted up someone we know who works there and found out what the deal was. Apparently, for the two or three weeks leading up to the strike, no incoming mail was being processed! I had noticed last time I was there that there were twenty or so giant burlap bags with the names of different countries on them in the room where we normally go to pick up our packages. I was suspicious, because I didn't think there was that much outgoing mail - and my suspicions were vindicated on Friday. Those giant bags have been coming in for the last three weeks (while I've been checking the mail every other day desperately waiting for the boxes) and just sitting - so close, but so far away. :)

So, the worker told me to come back on Monday. I don't expect them to get all of that mail sorted in one day (if you had seen them work for a few hours you'd know what I mean), but hopefully we'll at least get a *few* of the packages. The strike was because they haven't been paid by the government for a while, so I'm kind of wondering if a $4 bill might get me into that room to look through all of the bags marked "USA" and just find all of our packages myself! We'll see what happens, haha...

UPDATE: We got to the post office and had three packages ready for us! There are still bags and bags of mail to sort, so I was a little worried that this package with the antenna adapter that we needed wouldn't get opened until next week when they finally finish up the last bag. However, their disorganization paid off, and apparently since the recent bags were on the top of the pile, those were the ones they opened first! So, we got our treasured box with the last peice of the internet puzzle on the very same day that the radio tower was put up. Sweet, huh? We also got a pair from Grandma & Grandpa Atkins with some very tasty snacks! So, it looks like the post office is going to come through afterall. We' heading back on Weds to check and see if anymore of our stuff has been unburied. :) Here's Em proudly displaying the haul.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Feeling good

Myspace Mood: Happy

Hi all!

I just wanted to drop a quick update to let everyone know that I'm feeling fine. By Friday I was a little tired but already feeling ok. We have amazing bodies and we're very blessed to have access to good doctors when we need them over here, I'm conscious of the fact that most of our neighbors aren't in the same situation. I saw the director of the school of nursing here in Bissau and he got me patched up. A big public thanks to our director, Ze Augusto, for knowing the right people and spending all of last Monday morning driving me around to clinics and such! Thanks to all of you for the prayers and notes... I've said before and will keep saying that there's nowhere safer than where God wants you.

I hope you're having a great day!

Monday, November 12, 2007

African flu

Myspace Mood: less like death than yesterday

So guess what fun experience I had this weekend? You got it, my first time to catch malaria! On Friday afternoon was feeling really tired (which happens on Friday around here sometimes..) so I came home early at 5:30 and lay down for a little bit. I got back up this morning (Monday). At first I thought it was just a flu, so I was trying to let it run its course (since your body need the fever to kill the virus). I didn't sleep much Friday or Saturday night and didn't eat anything, though I was drinking as much water as I could. We realized Sunday morning that it wasn't just a flu when my temp hit 104.5° and my back felt like an elephant had been dancing on it. Since I think the temperature your brain starts cooking is 106°, it was a little too close for comfort and I started taking Tylenol to keep the fever manageable along with the vitamins/OJ I was already taking. This morning we went to the doctor (actually to the head of the only hospital here in Bissau, fortunately our director here at the center had a connection), went and got some blood tests done to confirm the diagnosis, got some medicines, and came home. I feel better today but am still sore and exhausted. It sounds it will be about a week until I'm back on my feet. It might be a long week if I don't start feeling better soon. I was able to sleep last night though, so that helped a lot.

It's funny the different reactions we've gotten here, because malaria is no big deal to the Africans here. They've all had it, probably like once a year. It's like our flu to them. I think most of them got it for the first time when they were young enough not to remember it though – they say the first time is way worse than the rest, and I can put my vote in for that. I had heard that when you have it you feel like you'd rather die. So it is definitely unpleasant, but also not the "yep, you're definitely gonna die now" idea we have in our head when we hear about malaria in the States.

Oh yeah, one other fun side benefit... exhaustion. I've been sitting up for ten minutes now and I feel like I've been awake for a week, lol. I'm going back to bed now. Just wanted all of you guys at home to know that it's not as scary as it sounds and even though I feel crappy I'll be fine in a bit. It wouldn't hurt if you prayed for me though. :)

PS. Sorry if parts of this don't make sense, my brain isn't working quite right yet. You would laugh if I hadn't going back and reread this though, it didn't even make much sense to me! Saturday night I had a half-awake dream that I was building a six inch wide road along an 80 mile stretch of the interior here. After two hours of the "dream" I had only laid ten feet of the road so I was thinking to myself "this night is never going to end!"

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

A less educational vlog...

Myspace Mood: Happy

Last night we were making cinnamon rolls and we didn't have any powdered sugar for the glaze. We made up a batch by blending regular sugar and discovered a lovely side benefit!

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Language Videos

Myspace Mood: Interested

Come learn a little bit of the first African language in our mini-series!

EDIT: This post contained the first video in our little group of clips about different West African languages. To make them easier to find, we've moved them together on the videos section of our website. Check them out there!

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Journey

Myspace Mood: Happy

We have posted our first video blog (about the trip over) to YouTube, and conveniently put it here for your viewing pleasure!

Saturday, September 15, 2007


This blog is mostly for my brother Sam... the pastor who moved into our teammate's old house, who will be responsible for the center now, is named José Augusto (shortened to Ze Gusto, phonetically). He has a pair of parrots that live in the front lawn most of the day. They reminded me a lot of Adie's bird, but it might just be because I haven't seen her bird for a while. Anyway, they're about Benny's size. I haven't heard any words from them yet, so we'll see...

We are here and settled in and we really like our new place. There will be more details (and media) to follow on that subject, but for now I'll just give you a picture of the "greeter" that was waiting to welcome us to our room.

(Yeah, that's a regular sized door hinge below it.)

Fortunately, my new Chaco's had their first chance to prove their worth in Africa.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

New Goals

Myspace Mood: Too Many

Dakar, Senegal

Well, first of all I must apologize for not blogging for so long! I saw a lot of you over the summer, which is the way I'd rather stay in contact, but I notice that my last post was several months before we even left Africa last time! One of the things that I am hoping to improve this time is keeping my blog updated more thoroughly. I am getting ahead of myself though...

For anyone who did not know (those of you I may not have seen this summer), Emily and I decided before leaving Bissau in April that we would return after the summer (aka right now) for some more time to continue developing the computer program that started last trip and for Emily to teach English again. She really enjoyed it last time and I am hoping that this trip will be no different.

We had originally decided to stay for three months this time, so that we could be home for Christmas (we have yet to see my side of the family on Christmas eve or day since we got married). However, as we began to quantify exactly what it was that we wanted to accomplish with the computer training program, we came to the conclusion that we could get it done in the three months we had planned but that it would come at the cost of not having any free time and not seeing each other much – similar to the way we allowed January-April of last trip to unfold. After weighing pros and cons we decided it was worth the extra time to not be in a hurry all the time. So we talked about padding the time by two months which would put us back in the States around late February. This would have made Emily less useful since the English semester at the school runs from January to April and there will be no Americans at the center to take over her class in February when we had thought to leave. Finally, after thinking of a few more computer training things that I would like to get done, we decided to stay for both semesters, making our itinerary almost identical to last time. Almost the same, but with a very fun twist. We will leave Africa in mid-April when the semester ends, and as it happened, the cheapest flight home connected through Germany. I've been interested in exploring Western Europe for a long time but never had the combination of time, money, and initiative to get it done. So I plugged a few changes into Expedia and figured out that we could have a multi-day layover in Germany with no increase in the cost of the plane tickets! The end result is a 19-day layover where we're hoping to explore some of Germany, Prague, Austria, and possibly Milan. We'll have to see how much our savings allow us to do, but no matter what we end up doing I'm looking forward to it!

Now that we have a plan firmly in hand, here we are back in the Dakar, Senegal airport (with all of our bags so far, a divine act in itself!) waiting out a 12 hour layover on the way to Bissau. (The plan is firmly in hand as far as I am concerned, though some of us have different definitions of a good plan than others. Here's a picture of Emily in the Detroit airport yesterday reading through guidebooks to try to plan the days of our eight-months-distant European exploring trip, haha...). We will (if all goes as planned) arrive in Bissau tonight about 7pm local time (3pm EST). Emily will begin teaching next week and we (I'm sure) will have plenty (other than nursing our jet lag) to attend to before then.

After thinking about the last trip (term, time, whatever you call it) and considering what we are hoping to accomplish with this trip, I have come up with a few goals. I'm not a big "goaler" – I hate New Years resolutions, statements like "I always..." and "I never...", five year plans, and the general tendency of American society to over think everything and plan to do what they think everyone expects them to do, missing out on what they should do. I understand the intentions of those things, but I think the temptation to live for the plan instead of living for the purposes of the plan is just too strong! However, in this case there are a few things in my mind that I want to change this time around. So in specific cases I guess I'm ok with a targeted list of goals. So here are a small list of goals/purposes for this time in Bissau:

  1. Roll out three new intermediate level computer classes – I'm looking forward to these because they'll be more challenging for the students than what we did last time.
  2. Get the teaching portions of the computer classes video'ed and put into Powerpoints to make sure the quality of the lessons doesn't fall off when I and this directly trained group of teachers move on. This is going to be a TON of work, but it will be worth it.
  3. Continue training the computer teachers about network maintenance and most importantly how they can teach themselves new programs in the future.
  4. Network improvements – A lot of the 233 lbs of checked luggage we have is new computer equipment. We are expanding the network capacity, speed, and most importantly redundancy to make sure things will keep running smoothly for a long time.
  5. Time at home – Em felt a bit abandoned for the last part of the last trip because the computer work occupied so much of my time. Spreading the trip out will make it so I don't have to pick between slacking at work or slacking at home this time. (No, slacking at both isn't what I'm saying, lol... I am working on 3 hours of sleep in the last 48, so cut me a little slack!)
  6. Get out! We saw less of Guinea Bissau in eight months last year than most 10 day vacationers would because we didn't allow ourselves enough time for anything but working at the center. There is a lot more to see and we're going to make a point to take trips to some different places in the interior and back to the islands again. We're also hoping to spend a few weekends exploring the neighboring countries – we'll see how that part works out.
  7. Pictures! Last time I didn't bring much camera gear because I didn't know how safe it would be. As a result (combined with the no free time thing) we didn't end up with much to show you guys. This time I have a good arsenal of equipment, including a tough pocket sized point and shoot we're going to take just about everywhere, and also a video camera, so we are hoping to have a lot more to show you! Stay tuned!
So there you have it, the seven habits of highly effective Guinean missionaries, haha... This summer it was nice to catch up with friends and family, to enjoy good food and hot showers, and to have a fun graphics design job (at Cayman Chemical) – but also in other ways the roughest three months of my life. I am excited to get to work but I don't feel like I have anything left to offer. I am clinging to the promise that God can do the most with us when we are the least. I wouldn't have chosen to have a wounded heart, but I am glad for a God who is willing to use us and a wife who loves me.

I appreciate all of the support from you guys back home. Going forward, we really need your prayers for health, safety, and for God to continue to pull us closer. We are missing you all already! (Well, maybe not Em so much, as she has been asleep most of the trip, haha... That's not true, but it makes a really good story, and since I have pictures to back it up... what can she say, right?)

Alright, thanks for keeping up on us, we welcome emails so we can stay connected to you too!

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Quick Update

Myspace Mood: Accomplished

I have been a little lean on blogs lately Рbut I have a good excuse, so let me update you on what's been going on here recently. One of my projects here at the youth center is to upgrade the computing facilities. We got news in early October that American missionaries from another area of Guin̩-Bissau were going to be sending a shipping container over by boat and that there was a little extra space we could have. So, in the space of a few days I had ordered a slew of computers and equipment, including everything we needed to network all of the computers at the center to facilitate some things we needed to be able to do in order to teach our computer classes better.

We expected the container to arrive in Bissau in late November, which was perfect because installing of this new stuff was going to be a pretty substantial project (especially with inexperienced helpers), and we have a break from classes for three weeks in December. The container arrived in mid-December and was tied up in customs until Jan. 4th. So, the last two weeks have been spent feverishly trying to get everything installed so that we can get back to the already large job of curriculum development that was scheduled for January. The project has been made more difficult by the fact that the work has to be done without interrupting the typing students that are using the system from 9am to 10pm with a small window in the afternoon where we can work without having to worry about disturbing them. So my typical day since the container got here two weeks ago has been to go to the internet cafe at 7:45 before staff meeting to try to find answers to the problems we ran into the day before, working from 8:30 to 1, breaking for lunch, working from 2 to 8 or 8:30, going home exhausted, and waking up the next morning to do it all over again. It's been tiring and it feels like we've been doing this for a month instead of just over two weeks, but when I look back at all that we've accomplished I'm kind of amazed, especially by African standards – because things happen here s-l-o-w-l-y. (I know I've written about this aspect of life here before, but just by way of another example, it took me a whole morning to find and buy some plain old metal washers we needed for installing wiring conduit on the wall – and even then I had to pay twice the price because of the color of my skin!)

Fortunately, we are now closing in on the end of the installation/networking project, so now we can get back to the work we were actually supposed to be doing in January – preparing new classes for February! The next few weeks are going to be busy, but shouldn't be as crushing as the last. We're here to get work done anyway!

Thursday, January 18, 2007

African Tamaguchi

Myspace Mood: Irritated

Do you remember the Tamaguchi craze a while back? (The little digital things that had a "pet" on the screen?) I never had one, but I can see how people liked having a little thing to take care of and help grow. Well, in Africa now that it's the dry season, we have something just like that: Mango Worms! The mango trees are pollinating right now (the trees are everywhere), and apparently there are little worms that hang on them and sometimes fall to the ground. Em and I found out the hard way that sometimes they decide to burrow into your foot, and boom! – you have your own pet to feed and help grow! :)

We were getting these weird little swollen blisters on our feet that had a black spot in the middle of them. We soaked our feet in salt water, etc., but they wouldn't go away. So finally we asked our teammate about them and she told us about them and that it's really common this time of year. The black spot is actually the worm's head. As you might imagine, Em almost puked when she found out it was a worm, but she immediately convinced herself it was more of a worm bite than an actual worm. :) Anyway, they're pretty easy to dig out once you know how so I think we're both set now.

(Pictures were omitted on purpose for your benefit...)