Thursday, October 22, 2009


Sometimes in the process of learning another language you get an interesting peek into the culture of the people who speak the language. For example, in Creole there is a verb, “neni”, meaning “to run, greet someone, and hug them”. The fact that we don't have a word like that shows something about the way we greet each other compared to the way Guineans greet each other.

We recently ran across an interesting word. I have always known that the following mindset existed in Guinea-Bissau, but never found a word for it. We see things cobbled together all the time. Half of the taxis in Bissau are push started each morning by neighborhood kids because their starters don't work, it's routine to see auto repairs done with zip ties, I saw someone last week using cardboard as a replacement turbo gasket on an engine, etc. Doing things in an excellent way is not valued by this culture as it is in ours. This characteristic of Guinean culture comes largely from how hard it is to survive, I'm convinced. People spend so much energy on daily life (cooking, eating, getting water, caring for their health, etc) that there isn't enough energy to be worried about doing things better than they need to be done. If a zip tie makes your car work again, then it's a sufficient repair. Why spend the time and money finding someone to weld and repaint the broken area if the zip tie make the car work just as well?

So when Emily was glancing through the dictionary and found the word “njita”, we had an “Ah hah!” moment. Here is the dictionary entry:

Njita (v): To fix something temporarily

And some visual definitions I've been collecting over the last couple of months as examples of the way we're not going to do things:

I think this is a flagpole. Not that bad, but since they didn't bother to paint it, in 10 years that truck bed will have a giant hole rusted into it.

Our bike seat, worked on by a local mechanic while we were gone. Check out that craftsmanship.

The welder at the local building supply store.

I have been dreaming about the machine shop: how to set it up, lay it out, and how to impart a mindset of excellence; both in what we produce and in how we operate. Tools here are shared among many people because there aren't many of them, which is good as it promotes a culture of sharing, but also has the unfortunate side effect of meaning there are no complete sets of anything anymore because of tools that have been borrowed and either broken or never returned. Then, since someone only has part of the set, they use the wrong tool to do the next job and end up ruining the tools that are left over because they weren't designed for what they're now being used for. So, setting the shop up in a way that fits into the culture but also protects our equipment is a little difficult; we want to be good neighbors but don't want to lose 20% of our tools each year!

I am anticipating that a good dose of patience and perseverance will be necessary to change the mindset of the people that will eventually run the shop that it is worth the extra energy to build things stronger than necessary, spend the time to rustproof them well, and organize the shop in a way that it stays well supplied and won't allow tools to walk off. But, if it were as simple as just building a building instead of changing mindsets, we wouldn't need to be over here! :)

Monday, June 22, 2009

My Sweet Shirt

It's always funny when stuff from the States pops up over here and reminds us of home. There's a section of the market here that sells used clothes, most of them donated, from all over the place. Last week our teammates were in the "fooka" and bought a shirt for me.

It's pretty awesome, because everyone over here assumes I had the shirt made in the States and brought it over. When they find out it came from the market here, they all laugh. The story got funnier, however, when I looked for the website. The website isn't there anymore, but a google search lead to this "sweet" campaign video for Emily Hutchins for student body president from 2008. Awesome. :)

Saturday, June 20, 2009

YFC Mansoa

One of the fun things we got to be involved in these past couple of weeks was checking out some new land that our teammates are buying to establish a new YFC center in another city in Guinea-Bissau. Wade and Katie McHargue & Family have purchased land in Mansoa, which is about 30 miles east of Bissau. The vision for the land is to be developed into a base which will host a discipleship program (Wade) and an agricultural training program to help farmers improve methods and help improve overall health with more availability of nutricious foods (Katie).

I got a chance to use a new nerdish piece of gear for the first time. So, courtesy of the sweet little bluetooth gps module that talks to my smartphone, here are some GPS tracks to show the trip (overlayed on satellite photos thanks to Google Earth).

(Click on the pictures to see the bigger, more detailed versions.)

Here's the location of the two cities, Bissau is the lower left tack and Mansoa the upper right one. The red line connecting them is the road we take to get between them (about a 50 minute drive).

Here's a closer view of Mansoa. It has a village feel, but has about 8000 residents. The yellow area to the east of all of the houses is the land, and the tack is the first well which is being dug right now.

As they make more progress on the construction I'm sure they'll be keeping their blog updated with pictures. To check in on their progress, check out their blog. The first step is digging a pair of wells, and then when the block making machine gets here in the container in a few months, we'll start their house.

Mansoa is a decent sized city by G-B standards. It's the 9th largest city in the country, but is 1/3rd the size of the 2nd biggest (after Bissau, the rest of the top 10 are within the 7,000-22,000 range). It's at a major cross-road between several other major cities in G-B, so it's a great spot for a new YFC base!

We're really excited for them as they're able to start developing the land!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The story of the trip...

(This is a long one, if you just want the more interesting stuff, skip to right after the second graphic.)

Our trips from the U.S. to Bissau have often been interesting. Fortunately, we got a good story out of this one as well! The part of the trip that we thought might be difficult went great, the dog was a trooper – we never heard a peep from her on either flight except when we stood up to get off of the trans-Atlantic flight! Not bad, Sydney!

The African section of the trip however, was... a trip. :) We landed in Dakar at 5am the morning of Thursday the 4th. (We left Detroit at 10:30am on Weds.) After going through customs (where the dog was yelping, unfortunately), we got our luggage collected (it was all there – nice!). We have never had good experiences in Dakar. Whenever we're there we're by ourselves, and since we don't know the city or the language(s), it would be stressful even if everything went right, which it never does. :) We had been dreading this part a little bit because we needed to get a taxi from the airport to the SIL guesthouse we were staying at, and we only had English directions (which the driver would never understand). Then the next day we needed to repeat the procedure from the guesthouse to the ferry port. Fortunately, God was looking out for us and a missionary friend of ours was at the airport that morning to pick up the luggage of a guest who had come in the day before without his bag! So, Mario (who does speak French) took us to his hotel to relax and stretch out, called his taxi driver, and told him where to take us and how to get there. Awesome.

We had a nice night at the SIL guesthouse, got to do a little Skyping to let people know we were safe, and got caught up on sleep (neither of us slept much on the overnight flight because of several crying babies). We woke up Friday morning feeling good (fortunately in Dakar they have power all night, so the guesthouse fans let us sleep.) The SIL workers told us the French words to tell the taxi to get us to the port, where we would take a boat from Dakar to Ziguinchor (bypassing two border crossings). Thanks to Pastor Mario and the SIL guesthouse, this trip in Dakar was a great success! So, the part of the trip we were worried about was no big deal... but then the fun started.

We got to the port and waited in line to get checked in for several hours (despite already having tickets, but on this boat they check your luggage like and airline flight). The whole time we were waiting we were worried they were going to see the dog and tell us we couldn't get on the boat (since the webpage about the boat is silent on the subject). Fortunately, no one said anything and we got in the line to board the boat. As we were getting on the boat, they did notice her, but by then we had already been put on the manifest, so even if they'd wanted to, I don't think they could've kicked us off. They did make her ride on the lower deck with the cargo, but other than getting mad at us for making her go all night without food or grass to go to the bathroom on, she was fine. We found a good secure spot for her crate under a big anchor that wasn't going to be moved, and headed upstairs.

The boat is very un-West African. It's beautiful, well run, and clean. We had tickets for two of the beds in a four-bed room (there are also two-bed rooms for $4 each more, which would have been totally worth it, but you can only buy tickets in person at the port, so by the time Mario got them the week before, those rooms were all full.) However, if he had gotten one of the two-bed rooms, we would have missed out on what came next.

We got on the boat at 6pm or so, the boat left port at 8:30pm, and we went to the onboard restaurant to have dinner. The food was really good! In many other cultures where equipment and floor space are more important than your personal space, it's normal for several parties to share a table, so all of the chairs are being used. We sat down with a nice couple (he was German, she was Senegalese) with a pair of 18 month old twin girls. They were trying their best to wrangle the kids and eat at the same time so we played with the kids a little and got to know them. We found out that they hadn't been able to get tickets for a room at all, the coach tickets are for seats in a big room. The seats are nice, but they're still seats. So we offered to give my bed to the mom and the two kids (kids don't count for tickets on the boat, so she could have bought that ticket the same as I did and been within her rights to have the two girls there with her). The family gratefully accepted and I headed to the coach seats with the dad.

I fell asleep pretty quickly, thanks to how tired I was and the sweet travel pillows that my brother Sam got for Em and I for our birthdays. I woke up to Em standing in front of me shaking me. I was awake pretty quickly, wondering what had gone wrong (there were many possibilities, as my wife was sleeping in a small room with one strange man and two other women, with all of our stuff and a big load of currency as well.) Apparently the guy who was in the 3rd bed had come back to the room a little drunk (we found out later), heard one of the twins fussing a little (there are shades over the beds, so he couldn't see them), started yelling about a baby being in the room, found out that it wasn't Emily's, that I had given away my bed, gotten really mad, and started yelling. This of course made the baby cry more, which led to more yelling. He seemed genuinely offended not necessarily that I had given up my bed, but that I had given it to a woman! (Because obviously women should be in coach and men should have the good spots.) Oh, how cultures value mothers differently!

So, the mom started crying. The guy called three cabin stewards over, alternatively yelling at them, the mom, and Em. The mom and the twin she was holding were taken to the room the boat uses as the clinic, leaving Em and the second (still sleeping) twin in the room. Em sneaked away to come wake me up, and we headed back to the room, ready to give the yelling guy a piece of my mind for yelling at my wife. Fortunately, by the time we got back to the room, the stewards had calmed the guy down enough that he kept his trap shut the rest of the night. We took the second twin down to the clinic, where they let the family sleep, headed back upstairs to our room, and fell asleep.

We woke up the next morning (Saturday) on the boat, went to find the family to make sure there weren't any permanent emotional scars left the night before, and walked around the decks a little. We arrived in Ziguinchor at about 9am, and Pastor Mario (who had already had plans to drive from Dakar to Ziguinchor) met us at the port and took us to a hotel restaurant where he was having some meetings. Our travel plans for the 80ish mile trip were to ride with one of Mario's project leaders, who was driving up from Bissau for a meeting with him in Ziguinchor that day, and then driving back down. The timing worked out great, we were able to just bum a ride with them.

We waited for Mario's guys (Andre and Benjamin) to arrive, but got word that they were moving slow because the truck they were driving up in was making a strange noise. They got to Ziguinchor near noon, took the truck to the mechanic who said it was fine, and then had their meeting. We left Ziguinchor at 3pm. We knew we needed to make good time because there is a ferry several hours into the trip that stops running around dusk.

We drove two cars down to Bissau: the truck they brought up, and Mario's Jeep, which was going to be stored in Bissau. An hour into the trip, the truck died, and we started towing it with the Jeep. The towing implement was a thick Nylon rope with hooks. The rope broke three times as it presumably slid under a tire when the lead car slowed down, melting it in two. Each time we tied the two halves together and started going again. We got to the ferry at about 6:30pm, and saw the ferry on our side of the shore! That's good news, because if it's just leaving when you get there, it's another hour and a half for it to get to the other side, unload, reload, and come back. Unfortunately, it was on our side and full, so it loaded, left, and we watched it come back around 7:30. The ferry started to load, and when we got to be the 2nd vehicle in line, it was full again. We watched the ferry leave, get to the other side, and unload... and then it got dark. Everyone on our side assumed the ferry was coming back, but by 9pm, it became clear that it wasn't coming back. A canoe came from the other side to take some of the people over, but since we had cars, that option wasn't available to us. The canoe driver said the ferry people had said something about an engine problem. Hmm... now what? We decided to make one last desperate attempt.

Here I am waiting for the ferry's 2nd trip back to our side.

Wait you say, there's a bridge in the background! Correct. This bridge was finished a couple of months ago and it waiting to be “inaugurated” before the wire rope barring entrance to it is removed and people can use it. So, we decided to walk to the other side of the bridge and see if the soldiers there could be “convinced” to let the fence down and let us pass. No dice, apparently the person in charge of the project had forseen the guards' susceptibility to bribery and not given them a key. So after setting foot on the side of the river we were trying to get to, at 10:30pm we walked back over the bridge to the cars, and decided to sleep and wait for the first ferry the next morning.

Emily and I tried to sleep in the Jeep, and Andre and Benjamin took the truck. The problem was, Bissau is really humid this time of year, 15 degrees hotter than Dakar, which had already seemed hot to our unadjusted bodies, and since we were by a river, the air was full of mosquitoes. (The malaria carrying kind which I now work hard to avoid.) So we tried to sleep in the car with the windows rolled up. Sweating profusely, sleep wasn't very possible, so we decided to roll the windows down just an inch to see if the breeze would let us get cool enough to sleep. Still not doing it. We rolled them down several inches, started swatting mosquitoes, and trying to sleep. The pools of sweat still made it difficult.

Finally at about 2am I had the brilliant realization that the car had A/C. So, despite not being sure of exactly how much gas it would take to get to Bissau, we decided we had to chance it. We ran the car five minutes every hour, and it cooled the car enough for us to sleep with the windows up. We got up at 6am and waited for the ferry.

At 9am we crossed over, started the drive, and soon after broke the nylon rope again. By this time it was too short to keep tyeing, so we looked around for other options. In the Jeep there was a rope, about 1/4” thick. The kind of rope you might use for a laundry line. They said, this will work, no problem. They just laughed at my response: “N ka fia chiu” (I don't believe it much). They doubled the rope over and tied it on. The Jeep started moving slowly, and the truck did follow. Since we hadn't planned on such a long excursion, no one had brought extra water, so by the time we hit a major city at 11am, we were glad for the ability to buy more water.

We had about two hours of driving to do (at normal speeds) to reach Bissau from the ferry. The rope broke every time we went over a big bump, and we kept tyeing it back together. Eventually we did reach Bissau, making a four hour drive of a two hour trip.

We were veeeery glad to get to the youth center and relax. What's the fun if there's no adventure in the trip? :)

Update 6/18: Apparently early this week the bridge was officially opened, which will be awesome for trips up to Ziguinchor in the future (in combination with the motorcycle getting here, of course!)

Friday, May 29, 2009

Sydney the Australian Cattle Dog

Well, we thought we were busy enough the few days we have left before we fly out, but when opportunity knocks you have to answer! A few months ago Emily and I thought about the possibility of bringing a dog to Africa with us. I was really interested in a breed called an Australian Cattle Dog because they are great natural herders - so in addition to being a dog, which is already awesome, these can "earn their keep" a little by helping out when we start our farming project and have animals to watch.

We contacted a rescue society for this kind of dog, but then we gave up on the idea when we saw how expensive it is to check a dog on an international flight! Driving to the dentist yesterday, Emily spotted a sign saying that a family near us had Aus. Cattle Dog pups for sale! We talked about it, and in the intervening time I had learned that a couple of dogs per flight can be brought as carry-on luggage for a lot less money. So, we called Delta to find out if either of the two spaces was still available on our flight, and there was one left!

So we headed to Walmart to get a pet carrier and some basics, then to the family's house, and picked out our new pup, Sydney!

Here she is looking at her adopted mom for the week, our family's golden retreiver Anna. (Click here for the bigger version)

The flight over is going to be a rough 10 hours I'm sure, but I think we can manage it as long as we can get her to stop crying in the night, but she seems to be assimilating well, so I think we'll be able to manage it. Then, we'll get her to Africa where she can romp around and chase animals to her heart's content!

Very exciting!

She does seem to be a little confused about the fact that not every dog is available to nurse, but she does drink regular milk and eat food once she's given up on Anna, so at least that's good. :)

Friday, May 8, 2009

Dun da da dun dun da dun!!!

Finished late last night, it's putting out good voltage and spinning well in a gentle breeze! Today, it will get taken back apart and put in the crate to make it's African debut in mid July. Exciting! So gorgeous... :)

Thursday, May 7, 2009

All dressed up and no place to go...

Well, the windmill body is put together and painted (with a paint gun from Gram and Gramp Atkins to take to Africa, thank you very much!)... the powerful magnet plates also got a couple of coats of some hard enamel paint... and if everything is dry this morning, the windmill will be put together by noon, and in the crate to leave by the end of the day! Oh yeah, and I also need to call 100 churches today to see if we can speak some more places. Stand by for more pictures!

The windmill body on it's "paint stand".

The magnet plate sitting on the cement column I used as a paint stand. Does this color say "danger, if you let your finger get between two of these, you won't have a finger anymore"?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Today is the day!

After months and months of researching and working, today looks like it is shaping up to be the day! The day of the first assembled windmill! We've had some windmill blades in testing, spinning away in the back yard for the last six months, but not generating any power. Today I'm hoping to finish and assemble the first prototype that will actually be generating power! Unfortunately, tomorrow it will be taken apart to send over to Africa - but even though I won't be able to play with it right away, having it go to Africa is exciting in its own way as well.

Wish me luck and check back for pictures tomorrow!!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Yay, snow!

Yikes, it's April, folks!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Ah, Texas...

Everything in Texas is Texan. :)

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

President Vieira Assassinated

We found out yesteday that the president and a top general (and the president's political rival) were both assassinated. A bomb killed the general and later that day, under the assumption that the president ordered the bombing, several soldiers assassinated the president and fled. More info is available from the BBC and other news sources.

The good news is that (whether it's true or not) the army is denouncing the assassination, claiming that there is no coup in process, and that the constitutional line of succession will be followed. It calls for the leader of parliament to take control for two months until new elections will be done.

We also heard from both of the missionary families in our team who are there right now, and they said that even though they heard RPG's and automatic weapons for a few hours during the night, they are safe - and that the population seems fairly calm. The danger is that if the assassinations are seen as ethnically motivated, there could be tribal warfare. However, from what we're hearing people are remaining calm and waiting for some details on the radio about what happened. When that announcement is made (the army is reportedly not allowing anyone on the radio for now), it will do a lot to either diffuse or escalate the situation.

The government in Guinea-Bissau is one that has had a lot of instability and we've always known things like this were a possibility, we just hope that it doesn't go past this into a full blown war. Hopefully the national memory of the horror of the revolution nine years ago will still be fresh enough to prevent that.

It's a little scary to think that something like this could spark an armed uprising that could reduce everything we've worked to do to rubble. We serve a big God though, and He has the ability to intervene if necessary.

Friday, February 27, 2009

It doesn't look like much yet, but...

So here it is, the 1993 Suzuki EX-500! The seller was nice enough to let me have it for $400 and even included the shop manual that I was getting ready to have to order for $25 - so I'm counting the bike as $375. :) That logic works, right?!?

It has been sitting in a garage taken apart for several years, so it's going to need a good cleaning, tune-up, and reassembly. I'm hoping none of that will to too far outside of my ability to "figure it out" and we'll end up with a good, reliable bike for pretty cheap.

Nothing like a good project! I'll make sure to post pictures of progress as things come along. I'm hoping not to let this consume too much of my time over the next couple of weeks!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Interesting possibility!

We found an interesting listing on Craig's list this week! I've been trying to figure out our transportation plan for when we're back in Bissau, trying to figure out what the best way is for us to get around. We still have our little 65cc scooter waiting for us, which is very handy (and cheap) for getting around inside the capital. However, as we've started to have reason to visit some villages and places outside of the city of Bissau, it would be really handy to have something that goes faster than 35mph! (For example, Sintcha Botchi where we have been visiting is about 140 road miles away.)

We have been using the existing transportation system which is a network of small Peugeot station wagons that run between the major cities. (The roads between the four biggest cities in Guinea-Bissau are pretty recent and pretty good, so they make decent time). They work fine, but with no set schedule and bad maintenance, their reliability isn't great and you (I) are sore for a couple of days after you arrive because of being folded in the back seat, lol. Not to mention the animals tied to the top of the car sometimes making "yellow rain" in your window which must remain open because of the lack of air conditioning (that's not merely a hypothetical concern, fyi.) :) Discomforts can be put up with, but the "seti-pluses" are also pretty expensive if you use them often, and only go to the cities they go to. So, when we go places other than the few main cities, you have to arrange for someone to meet you on the other end or take an even less reliable secondary transportation system called a candonga. (I'll make a note to snap a picture of these when we're back in Bissau, they're pretty funny.

So, the desire to have some flexibility in travel outside of the capital city has been in tension with the fact that we don't want to spend much to remedy it because we really want to get back to Bissau quickly and money not spent on other things is money that gets us back to Bissau faster!

So anyway, I've been flipping through Craig's list ads just to see if anything would jump out at us. There is a shipping container headed for Bissau in a few months to carry a donated block-making machine (an awesome story for another day), so if we found something now it could be shipped over, avoiding the problem with buying something in Africa: the fact that it hasn't been maintained and is way overpriced.

So, this week I think I might have found it! There is a Kawasaki EX-500 for sale here in metro Detroit. And the best part is that since it is in pieces in the owner's garage, he's willing to sell it for $500 even though it's a '93 with less than 10,000 miles! It didn't have any major problems when he stopped working on it, just needs to be cleaned up and put back together, have a new battery and tires, and it will be ready to roll! I'm sure it's pretty ugly right now, but if I can get it to run reliably, for $500 I don't care! So, I'm headed down to Warren tomorrow to take a look at it and see what kind of shape it's really in. It's better engineering than the Indian-made models available in Bissau, and cheaper to boot! I'm pretty excited about the possibility!

I've never worked on motorcycles before other than simple stuff on our little scooter, but armed with a good shop manual I'm sure I can figure it out (hopefully!) So, I'm excited to go see it tomorrow and see what we think.

I'll update tomorrow with info on how things went, and if it's not too terrible looking, some pictures...

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Home, sweet home!

For the first time in 2009, we're back to our own space, stuff, and room in Imlay City! We drove the 1,303 miles Tuesday and yesterday and got here last night at 1am. The combination of changing two time zones and driving 23 hours over two days meant we're having a bit of a lazy day today, but it sure is nice to be back home.

I think we're having a little family feast tonight but I'm going to have to start paying attention to what I eat, as I officially hit the big 5-0 mark last week (I've gained 50 lbs from my skinny Africa-sized version since we left Bissau last April!). Hopefully fundraising will fall into line and we'll be able to get back soon.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

I'm reading an amazing book, called Democracy In America written in 1835 by a Frenchman visiting the U.S., Alexis de Tocqueville. The book is his reflection on what he sees as he tours America, as he compares his French and larger European culture to what he witnesses in the U.S.

I'm only through the first two chapters, but already have found some incredibly interesting thoughts that don't square with how America is now. Obviously, a democracy is made to be pliable in the hands of its residents and is allowed to change. But sometimes, I think it's changed by people saying it has always been the way it is now, rather than admitting that the way it is now is different than how it was. It's ok for a democracy to rewrite its rules, but it seems like we should at least be aware of the way an idea was when it started so we can evaluate whether or not we are happy with what it has become.

As I read the following excerpt I realized that not only does it not square with how we (or at least I) perceive freedom now, I think it is different than the way most of us assume the creators of a society based on liberty saw liberty.
Make no mistake about what we ought to understand by our independence. There is in fact a corrupt sort of liberty, the use of which is common to animals and men, and which consists in doing whatever they like. This liberty is the enemy of all authority; it is impatient of all rules. With it, we become inferior to ourselves. It is the enemy of truth and peace, and God believed it his duty to rise against it! But there is a civil and moral liberty that finds its strength in union, and which it is the mission of power itself to proect: this is the liberty to do what is just and good without fear. This sacred liberty we must defend in all circumstances and if necessary risk our life for it.

De Tocqueville is quoting John Winthrop, a then deputy-governor of Massachusetts. How does the concept that liberty is not the freedom to do whatever you like hit you?

If asked for a definition of freedom, I would have given something nearly that: freedom is the ability to do as you please within the confines of the law (aka as far as your freedom doesn't impinge on mine).

So do you see a difference between Winthrop's definition of liberty and your working definition? I sure do. If there is a difference, then it means that somewhere along the way there's been a change. Is that what we want? Today, should we be operating on Winthrop's definition or the one we're using?

(I'm not trying to be sarcastic, what do you think?)