An update!

In this Update….
- Welcome Tyler
- Where are the updates?
- The African Shopping Experience
- Please stop eating my crayons
- Musa, Buyam and 3 meter high casava sticks
- Banana Irrigation
What is to come…

March 3, 2009
From the House of Wisdom Office

--- Welcome Tyler ---

When your cell phone rings at 5:30am it is seldom a good thing. When it is the person who you are expecting to pick up at the airport later that day the odds get even worse.

Thomas Cook airlines has a policy. You must have written confirmation of your place of accommodation in the Gambia before you may board the flight (a measure, I can only guess, to protect tourists for being turned away by immigration on arrival). As no one I know has traveled via Thomas Cook Airlines this came as a surprise.

I soon began to negotiate with the airport attendant. His requests were simple. Written proof (on paper – with a letterhead) of his address of accommodation. Surely he must understand a church in Africa does not have its own letterhead, that there are no street addresses in most of the Gambia and that the majority of places do not have electricity never mind a fax machine.

However, after 15min of dialog Mr. Thomas Cook would not yield from the policy and with no shift supervisor of manager for appeal this pawn has the final word. So at T-minus 30 minutes before take off we were required to comply even if our place of residence had no address.

As email was not a valid option (they didn’t have a printer Tyler could use) I was given a fax number. To complicate the matter I was in Buyam – not in Situka. (aka 100km from the closest paved road) So finding a fax machine at 6am was going to be a challenge. Calling Wolfgang a WEC staff in the city and he graciously sprang into action. Unfortunately the fax machine in the Pipeline office was broken but fortunately I serve a God who is bigger than fax machines and airline policies. Left to pray. Time passed and later heard back from Wolfgang who called the airline as was informed that they had allowed him to board. Praise God!

Upon his arrival I discovered Tyler had managed to get a hold of his mom who typed a letter stating Tyler would be staying at house of wisdom in Sikuta for 6 six and signed it under her name and faxed it in during the final boarding call. For some reason this was acceptable and Tyler passed through.

So with great joy I welcomed Tyler look forward to sharing a bed with him for the next 6 weeks!

--- Updates?

I understand many of you may be wondering why there have been no written updates during the month of February. Well aside from it being a shortened month it had a full month’s worth of activity.

- Before Michael’s departure we had some ambitious goals to add some new wooden benches (now known as Solomon’s Porch Bantaba) and clean-up a major portion of the compound’s sprawling garbage pills (which is now just one massive pile).
- I caught a nasty bug that put me flat out for a few days. (not to mention I got stung by some caterpillar-porcupine hybrid when I put on my sandals).
- The arrival of a CVM team to the house in Senegambia brought in some Theologians from Wycliff College to offer a few lectures.
- Meetings with the US Peace Corps, Gambia is Good’s, WEC conference and a visit to the Bakau Woman’s garden.
- Moving towards just facilitating the work activities in the garden as I begin to hand the direction and responsibility of the garden over to its workers.
- Continuing to play music with the Wuli band.
- Acting as an unofficial tour guide to other Toubab vistors to the House of Widsom compound.
- Planning out goals and objectives for my remaining time in the Gambia.

March 9, 2009
4:15pm :: resting on my bed.

--- Shopping Gambian Style

One of my favorite activities in the Gambia is shopping for supplies for projects. It is a love hate relationship as the task at hand usually requires an entire day and it takes a half day to recover from the intensity of the experience.

A 20 min ride down Situka Hyw brings you to Serekunda’s London Corner. (Hi-way may be deceiving as it more resembles a motor cross track) Armed with a sketch book, backpack and a hidden stash of Dalais the course is set. The maze of narrow streets vendors seems endless and the constant flow of human, animal and vehicle traffic require a heads up attention. If you are fortunate enough to find what you are looking most of the work is done otherwise you are soon forced to re-design your project on the fly.

With a visible cultural disadvantage price negotiation can be the next obstacle. Purchases are an intricate mind game to find the going rate and then unlocking the best deal from the savvy shopkeepers and your local friends may not always know the correct price. I have gathered quite the reputation around the compound often beating the prices of the locals have been paying.

Once the goods are acquired you are face with returning the goods home. With no shopping carts, SUV or superstore green bags when the third item on your list of 7 items is two 200L oil barrels you have a problem. Often this is negotiated with the price and items are to be left at the store and picked-up by a hired wheelbarrow and paraded through the streets to the transportation depot once everything for the day has been purchased.

Computer, palm logs, a 1L of honey, 30m of chicken wire, a pack of toilet paper, a 50kg bag of manure and two 200L barrels are soon loaded and driven down to Sikuta garage. Mission complete!

--- Arts and Craftyness ---

From recent census 50% of the population is under the age of 18. So wherever you are or whatever you are doing there are always plenty of unsupervised kids around and interested in what you are doing. At House of Wisdom this is no exception. Occasionally I feel the need to provide some structure (mostly to keep them from grabbing random objects in my room)

Recently this structure has come in the form of a colouring club. Which is a fancy name for me handing out paper and throwing out a few boxes of crayons on my front porch. Nevertheless, it is a treat to see the creations inspired from their minds as they push the limits of modern art. Often this involves becoming the art (eating the crayons) or changing medium (my door or chairs) – then I’m reminded of my brother early childhood attempts to product a lifesized masterpiece of the killer whales he saw at the Vancouver Aquarium which only bring further joy to my heart.

On the topic of arts and crafts - when Tyler arrived he came with lot of stickers (heart, smiley faces, animals, ect..). As we strive not to give things directly to the kids (to help avoid the thought pattern – Toubabs = free stuff), I recommended we donate them to the Sunday school program and to my surprise they have already been put to good use to decorate the teacher’s bike. He simply explained the kids would have nothing to stick them to so he thought it would be good the put into good use… oh well.

--- Buyam ---

Before Tyler arrived I took an opportunity to travel with Musa Fatty to Buyam to visit what many in the know profess to be the best garden in the Gambia (and this includes the president’s garden). Run by John Greinner, a Canadian and former drug addict now a WEC missionary for 12 years, he picked up Musa and I up in his beat-up Toyota Helix and talked most of the way up.

A very passionate man he also speaks flawless Mandinka, runs a youth center, discipleship school, translates and creates audio books while holding the highest respect of the community in which he lives. After sharing dinner, hearing about the history of the compound and searching his house for a snake the watchman saw the night before we deemed everything safe and went to bed.

The next day David from Sifoe (ex-British military officer, now a semi retired businessman living in the Gambia) came and helped install an inverter he just sold John and joined us of a tour of the garden. As David and John are both very vocal and opinionated Musa and I spent most of our time listening as the conversion ebbed and flowed through the keys of African development to planting methods.

From to time during the tour I would glance I could see Musa eyes light up as he saw 3 meter high cassava sticks (most stunt at 1.5m), lime tree fences, graphed grapefruit/lemon tree, 1000 mango trees nursing in a concrete lined food tank. Perhaps the biggest inspiration would be meeting Solluman John head gardener who had worked with John over the past 12 years. I think it opened his mind to a new set of possibilities.

I too was inspired on many levels and excited to try many of the ideas. However, the highlight of the trip was getting to spend quality time with Musa. Juggling, playing dice, talking about life and even cutting hair the African notion of “moving together” definitely applied. After Tyler’s early morning wake up call (see preveious post) I cooked some French toast with some real Maple Syrup as a thank you to John and his family.

As we lefted Musa asked John for a new bible as I nearly forgot my passport but was reminded by grace just before I loaded onto transport. As we walked to the airport Musa and I shared a mutual excited about how God has lead us together and are looking forward to the future plans of the Garden.

--- Go Bananas

Since my arrival watering the bananas has been a chore and despite my best attempts to persuade the older kids to take on the task the trees have slowly been dying. However, this is no longer a problem! Over the past 4 days Jo (from Kamloops with CVM), Tyler and I have designed and implemented a banana irrigation system. Based off a barrel and some electrical conduit with holes; it is pretty sweet. I hope to post some pictures soon.

--- From here to the end

Here are some rough plans and thing you can be praying about over the next month or so…

- Kids camps with CVM in Gidah (similar to what I’ve done in Soma in the past)
- traveling to Senegal this weekend to watch Musa run in the Dakar half marathon and visit Mohammed and Matar.
- establishing a House of Wisdom waste management program
- recording project with the Wuli Band
- setting up an internet café at House of Wisdom
- another visit to Samba Chargie
- handing over the management responsibilities of the garden

Peace and thanks for reading!