Gortoh Laioru (One Month)

Scholarship...

Attention teachers and all people who believe good education is fundamental for positive change in society. With the recent passing away of a long time missionary to the Gambia there are a number of scholarships which are coming to close leaving a large gap with-in the local community.



Under the mentorship of a long time missionary, I’m in the works of setting up a scholarship program to sponsor children from the community. I’m in the process of working out the logistics but the goal would be to have enough to sponsor 10-12 children balanced on needs and performance.

There is possibility to connect children to classes and other such thing but I’m not making any promises at this time. However, I’m in wondering who would be interested in being involved in sponsoring or recruiting sponsors.

If all goes well I will personally be interviewing the children and/or parents before I leave and making some selections. If you are interested in being involved please let me know by email.


Eyes on the Clock…

In one month from now I will be on a plane en route home. I feel a bit like the student’s crisis as he sits in the exam room periodically glancing up at the clock, both panicked to finish all the questions yet longing to hear the freedom of “time’s up”.



As a result my intensity and intentionality has increased over the past couple of weeks. Unfortunately there are a number of problems this can cause in this culture. After a couple of encounters some which resulted in more serious meetings, I had to remind myself people over lists but sometimes people means lists.

People is the list of a pilot’s pre-flight check. People is cutting enough firewood and storing enough food for the winter. People is gaining knowledge so you can understand how and why. However, coming to understand the culture I’m living in the pilot’s list has little value when no one cares to fly and food is only good if people will trust you enough to eat it.

So at the end of it all I’m left in my room eyes on the clock. My prayer is to know which questions to answer, bluff or just draw a smiley face and hope for the best.

Bitten…

So I was bitten by a snake the other day. It is possible I set the world record for high jump. Fortunately I remembered everything television documentaries had taught me about snake and I was able to relax my heart rate and calmly call over some locals to check it out.

I wasn’t sure at first if it was a snake as I was in some grass and only heard it but the double puncture confirmed my suspicion. The sake wasn’t too big the marks were around 5mm apart. There were no signs of poison but we bought a razor to the cut open the wound just in case.



I am now far more cautious about walking thought the grass.



A day in the Life…


It has been a popular question – Mike what does an average day look like for you? The word average makes it hard to answer but do the popular demand I had decide to create choose your own adventure African missionary day.

*note* I take no responsibility if you pick a bad day.



1. The first part of any day is waking up
a) wake up call to prayer go to 2
b) wake up to alarm clock go to 3
c) sleep through alarm go to 4
d) Wake up in a panic go to 5

2. The Arabic chant of “Pray is better than sleeping” reminds you just how lazy Christians can be and that you drank too much tea before bed last night but since you are now up you might as well …
a) Pray for a bit before falling back to sleep go to 1 don’t pick a
b) get up and go the squat pray you aren’t bitten by a snake go to 6
c) Roll over in a sweaty mess and listen to the cat fight outside your window go to 7

3. It is a beautiful day outside but you were up too late trying to figure out why you are missing 625 Dalasi. You decide to…
a) Hit snooze – 10 more minutes go to 9
b) Wake up anyways because you really have to pee and you slept thought the call to prayer. (not an option if you have been to 2)



4. It is Sunday morning your alarm didn’t go off because you forgot to set it as only the weekday alarm is automatic. Fortunately the church starts at 9:45 and you have 15mins before its time…
a) I should shower Go to 10
b) I should eat Go to 10

5. shouldn’t have had the Keh-keh (fresh milk from the market) you got 30 seconds to find you toilet paper and dash to the far side of the compound. After many trips experience you are an old pro and gracefully glide across the compound greeting the locals in stride. In a few fluid moments it is all over. A swig from the pink bottle and you ready to face the day. Jump to 8

6. You made it safely to the toilet. Relieved yourself and had a good couple hours sleep before the alarm rang out. You wake up put on some clothes and get ready for the day. Go to 8

7. You regret your decision – you really need to pee. Go to 6

8. After breakfast (Tapa-lapa peanut butter and banana) with a cup of unsweetened tea. The sun is out and there is work to be done. …
a) go to En Gessa Go to 11
b) work on a special project Go to 12



9. You have now hit snooze five times and the kids have now taken notice and began calling your name from outside. Fortunately no one else seem to be up to anything much. You can spend some time enjoying a bit of music, check your email and pray before heading out to check of the projects.
a) go to En Gessa Go to 11
b) work on a special project Go to 12

10. The line for the bucket shower was 3 girls deep and the shop is closed. You hope to guy beside you will understand put on your best and head off to church. Held in a round building, prayer mats on the floor and chair in a circle the service is like no other I’ve heard of. With 30-40 people the service includes some form of translation and often there is singing in 4 different languages. The speaker is different every week and typically engaging. The service finishes with a liturgical prayer similar to what one might see in a Mosque. After church you get really hungry and lunch isn’t until ~3pm so you will typically sneak some quick snacks before you sit under the mango tree. The beach is a favourite retreat you grab a couple of locals and head off on the motorbike. The water is warm and the air temperature is perfect. You thank God for Upon return you shower and
Prepare to go play at the Sheraton (see next topic) before making a list preparing for the week ahead. Go to End.

11. At en gessa there is always lots of work to do, grasshoppers to kill, weeds to pull, living fences to plant, stumps to dig out, fruit trees to plant. The challenge is knowing how much to do yourself and what should be left for the locals. Communication is often a problem although I’m sure it is selective hearing. All said it has been a productive morning and today everyone was there and you enjoyed the day’s work. You are called to lunch you sit down and eat around the bowl with your hands because there are no spoons. You return on the motor bike to the compound and prepare for the second lunch. Go to 13

12. You start working on that project and you suddenly called to go to a naming ceremony. The work will be there tomorrow. Quickly you go inside try to find some clothes that look ironed and clean. The rest of the day is spent socializing eating and drinking tea. Baby decides to pee when you are holding him - no worries just keep smiling it is all about the complete experience. Go to 14




13. This afternoon is along with spending time drinking Ataiya it is
a) Monday – There is lots of work to do at En Gessa at 4 you prepare to head back.
b) Tuesday – Today you meet with Omar to discuss recording techniques and learn about African Music. No cars on the road. Get delay getting pulled into the police station for a drug search. Play guitar for the officers while they search your bag.
c) Wednesday – Today you drive through Serekunda, get a shave visit your friend’s restaurant and the pick up some trees to bring back and plant in the field. They are working on the market road loose balance on motorcycle had to put foot down in a mud puddle, left leg now covered in red mud.
d) Thursday – Take some time to write some emails or work on studying your Fula - none of that actually happens. You are interrupted by an emergency meeting.
e) Friday – If the other two members of the Sukuta Trio appear (they are often off playing for the president) spend the afternoon jamming. Otherwise time to follow up on those projects you've been neglecting. Remember to take time an just sit with the locals.
f) Saturday – "Free time" – visit a village? Work? Visit friends? OR maybe head in to the market to find some limes or baobab so you can get one of the girls to make fresh juice for you.
Go to 14



14. The night has come. Monday finances and Fula lessons, Tuesday computer lessons. Wednesday, Fula and music, Thursday is bible study, Friday there is typically a special event. Each night you will typically eat at 10pm at one to of the two shops. Beans, eggs and potato is usually the best option. If you are having a really good night there may even be some salad available at a toubab price.

Through out he evening there will be 4-5 visitors with various request such as wanting to say hi, borrow (take) sugar, discuss an issue, or use the internet.






End. You have successfully completed your African day.
n = n – 1
do while (n > 1)


Sunday Nights at the Sheraton…


Every second Sunday night I sneak off the compound and head over the Gambia’s five star hotel. I don’t go as a guest but as a musician. I had been offered a chance to join my friend’s band a few months ago and haven’t looked back ever since. The music is a mix of Senegambian and afro-cuban traditionals; the chords are generally easy but the rhythms aren’t.



Fortunately being the off season the hotels is fairly empty (if not completely) regardless we have a good time end it is a great way to wind of a week of work.


The Importance of Civil Engineers and City Planning…


With the building of the new road into Sukuta there has been a lot of development over the past couple years. Granted this culture is not prone to planning everyone tends to fend for themselves and then sells the lowest piece of land to a toubab who doesn’t know any better. So I don’t need to write much more the photos really tell the story.

This is after a typical rain fall, the water from the new road runs down the street to the place in front of our compound.


The water eventually drains down a small passage way.


Water ends up here...


Then enters this compound...

href="http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_W7BtL49TtNU/TFgWv6J0ASI/AAAAAAAAAHo/-Kap009_rFI/s1600/flood+5.JPG">
And floods the compound they sold to the unsuspecting Toubab... but it is ok he only comes during the dry season.



The Lazy Farmer


The Lazy farmer works harder for less. I’m sure it is a adage in some African language but I may not have made it into the local circles. After a week’s break from En Gessa I decided to take a visit. It was obvious something has not happened there for sometime and that was weeding. The grass had completely overcome the peanut field.



There were not a lot of questions asked and not a lot was said say but the lazy farmers soon were awoken from their slumber and went to work.

There is obviously a level of disappointment and the early negligence will no doubt impact the end harvest. However, it was encouraging to see the response and see the community take the initiative seriously instead of giving up hope (which is not far from a typical local response)



Now things are much better.


Father Abraham…


Pastor came in the room late last night.
“I’d you to drive the boys to Brikama tomorrow.”
Harmless, right? Nope.

In the Hebrew scripture God is very clear in a covenant that Abraham will be a great nation and all people would be blessed through him. Part of this was a covenantal seal – and let me assure you the seal is not the blessing itself.

This morning four young unsuspecting boys were taken to visit a man with few strange tools and make shift operating room. I’ll be honest it was not easy to be with-in earshot never mind in the room itself not to mention I myself I’m not “under the law” (Thanks Galatians 5:6 among many other references) it crossed my mind it may have been a trap for me as well. But I quickly counted the four small robes and number of sterile blades and I was safe.



After the threat of emesis had subsided, I spend the rest of the morning fanning poor traumatized boys while singing father Abraham - chalk up another 4. But on a serious note, it did give a new perspective to Genesis 17:23 and begged the question if it was required would I volunteer?




Like any good African circumcision the Kankuran soon showed up – now I know why most of the boy run when he is out and about. Naturally, I myself prefer Santa Clause, the tooth ferry, Punxsutawney Phil or Mr. Floaty compared to the hairy rice bag wielding two machetes,
but when in Rome…


Bookends…


We are used to endings – clean, complete tidy endings. Particularly in the West we will organize and plan out our lives over nice clean concise arks. We dissect and isolate focusing on an issue in hopes of putting it to rest. I can see why no one likes to have things hanging over their head. Unfinished business often implies lack of peace unable to put things to rest.

This fear of unfinished work often this keeps us from being involved with messy issues and complex problems. They are untouched or patched with superficial solutions. I am aware that this trip will finish with many loose ends. I’m knee deep in too many things for it all to end well and when there is nothing solid to stand on you often have to learn to swim. There is a constant tension living at peace with the unresolved. The wheat will grow with the weeds – there is no way to separate them.



My hope is the miracle that one day all things will be sorted made right and somehow my decision to be a part of it all makes a difference that I can only imagine.

God Speed.
Mike

World Cup of Farming

June 25th, 2010
The Rain

Well the rain showed up in force this morning the street out front looks more like a river. To be honest I’m quite thrilled about it. The first and simple joy is not having to water the 200+ trees now planted at “Ne Gessa” – when you pump it all by hand each day it can take a toll on you.

Secondly being a Vancouver boy it is hard to go 3 months with out a good rainy day. When it is sunny it can be hard to justify spending the day inside typing emails or researching things even organizing your receipts and folding clothes.



All said welcome “tabot” (Rain)

Update on the trees

It has been a busy couple of working weeks. We have planted over +200 tree of 20 different varieties in a space of 3 acres. All in all, I’m pretty stoked despite the mostly indifferent reception from the majority of the community (but that is often the case – with any major project). It is typically the elders and leaders who understand best what is going on and they have been supportive.



Each individual tree is protected from ducks goats and cows by a 1 meter high fence. The grasshoppers have continued to be the largest threat our work. We have had some success of repelling them using a pound mix of neem tree and garlic. We have also resorted to some chemical defense however, as sprays are particularly expensive in country and there is always a concern with impact on other animals and families living close by. Still to date the most effective protection has been hands, feet and big sticks –I have personally killed well into the thousands – I should get some kind of a medal.




For those who love stats here is the breakdown of the tree thus far…*
Navel orange – 20 , Valencia orange – 20 , Jaffa orange - 20, Tangelo - 6, mandarin - 24, Lemon – 7, Avacodo – 32, Lime Tahiti – 12, lime local - 18, grapefruit – 8, Papaya – 14, Coconut 5, Bananas ~32, pomegranate – 12, guava – 8, starfruit -8, jack fruit – 8, goose berry – 8, Sour sop – 5, sweet sop – 4, cashew -12 and mangos - 6 (various varieties)





Lists…

Surveying the piles of scrap paper I've recently cleaned up there is no doubt I like to write list. I usually have a lot on my mind. For a time in my life writing out my thoughts in a list was the only way I could get to sleep. If I recall correctly this isn’t even the first time I’ve blog’d about lists.

However, if you are to the missions field there are some lists you cannot keep. Not because it is impossible to keep them but because we are called to live beyond them. Let me try to expand…

I believe when you sign up to help people there is a part of you that anticipates seeing cooperation, acceptance, respect and maybe even appreciation. This experience tends to be the exception and often the experience is really the opposite.



I could make large lists of the number of times I’ve been (or think I've been) misunderstood, unappreciated, lied to, cheated and stolen from. It would be depressing, it is even discouraging to even think about. How do you come to terms, it is not that I can ignore such experiences. They are real and they have real implications on each day's life. I don't believe this is too different from my life experiences at home.

I’m reminded of a story “A home for bastards” that is found in a book by Philip Yancy. The coined the phrase “We're all bastards but God loves us anyway.” I posted an abridged version at the end of this post.

At the end of the day, my faith* that brings me here is the belief that while I was/am a complete bastard and God did and is doing everything to put things right (without imposing on my free will) so I like the prodigal son and his self righteous older brother (who is just as lost) may understand the fullness of life and the love we are called to live in.

The Gospel is justice and mercy – you can’t have one without the other. The are spawned from the unchanging love of a heavenly father/mother who longs for children to come home. I really believe this is the only hope for the world… we have no where else to go narcissism wins.

I could go on explaining what it is that brings me here in detail but as it has taken me a lifetime to arrive to this point and I’m still on a journey. I’ve left it as an exercise for the interested reader again at the end of the post – all you need is a bible or a google search engine.

Bottom line… if I believe no lists against me how can I hold lists against others. It just won’t work (and I've got a list of my own doing). So I'm throwing out "those" list but it leads to a good question 'Really, how does that work?' and that will be left to another post.


Bugs

There are a lot of strange bugs. I’m not sure what they do or why they were created for but I feels like each night my room turns into an entomology lab and I've never really liked that subject.






Avoidance…


It is important to know ones tendencies. We all have things to avoid things; paying taxes, eating veggies, the neighbour who keeps asking for favours, the polarity poverty, waking up to pee in the middle of a cold night, environmental consequences*, trips to the dentist ect… To some degree I believe this is healthy – we are too frail to deal with everything at once.

The last couple of days there is no doubt I have been avoiding some things and sometimes I just conveniently forget. I know when I’m doing it and I do it best by being busy. It is easy to give yourself to work or a project, you can always justify it even though you know you really should be engaging something else.

Maybe I’ll get around to it after I’m done blogging.



Thoughts on Changing Culture

I thought I’d update on the reprimands the other week. Correction and discipline coming from the outside can create animosity for years because you are often correcting a cultural blemish. For this reason you can burn bridges very quickly.

At the best of times even in our own culture the ideas of stewardship, decision and responsibility are often problematic in nature. A situation we might see occur in the West African context may play out as follows.

I loan money for you to build a fence - your mother gets sick you now use the money to travel to see your sick mother; there is no problem here. Further yet sometimes there is an assumption that I will just give you more money to buy the fence. Seems outlandish however, it is a reality here. I saw an example of this while in Guinea - the result stalemate between local church and missionaries.

Although, easy to throw stones I just think of the number of "western" cultural assumptions and have an revelation of just how patient and merciful God must be even when we think we are doing good.


World Cup…


There is no doubt it is a big deal here. The unanimous local favourite is Ghana. Many merchants and taxi drivers will shutdown to watch the games. As for me I continue to develop an appreciation for the sport itself despite the ridiculous officiating policies and refusal of appropriate technologies such as video replay. (Everyone with a TV set knows it was the wrong call why shouldn’t there be a way for the ref to get things right if challenged)

Anyways, at the time of writing this I’m about to go watch Netherlands take on Brazil. Go Netherlands!


Post Note :: Not a pretty game – more bad acting then Paco – (see previous posts) .



But to the lost of the African contient bring on Uruguay (due to the best Red card ever taken)




Min, Ko Mi Remoowo! (Me, I’m a farmer)




With the arrival of the rains comes the field cropping season. Over the past two weeks there has been a lot of action at En Gessa. The 3 acres are gradually being transformed into a field. Granted if you are a Canadian farmer you probably finish 3 acres of farming before you can finish your first cup of coffee.




However, unlike the “modern farmer” we here are working with machetes, hoes and donkeys. You know the old fashioned third world way – slash and burn! It is good hard work but we keep a good African work pace with plenty of breaks and chit chat.




...Good old slash and burn



It has been an interesting experience being involved with the process. I know from everything I read since social studies 8 these techniques are not the best practice for farming but now there is an appreciation as to the why such practices are used. This understanding may allow me to help influence change in the future.



Canada Day in the Gambia, eh?

This was my first ever Canada day abroad and not having an embassy or knowing of any other Canadians in the country I knew I would need to create my own patriotism. I started small sharpe’ing a maple leaf on every willing kid and hesitant adult. But I knew this was not enough I had to reach out to the greater Sukuta community.

I thought to myself what a better way to celebrate my Canadian heritage then to ride through town on the back of a donkey wearing my Canada shirt. So I did…



Happy Canada day missed being there with you all – we will make up for it next year.




*Environmental consequences:
This goes well beyond global warming and modern catch phrases as many do and can dispute these some with validity. As I believe the way we currently live compromises our current life and the life of people in the world.

** A short list of reading for the interested reader.
Luke 15:11-32 - prodigal son(s)
Matthew 5:42-48
Matthew 18:20-35
John 3:16-17
John 13:1-17
John 13:34-35
Romans 5:7-8
1 Corinthians 1:18-31
1 Corinthians 13

The context for all this lies in the understanding of the biblical context. I recommend reading from the bible with help from N.T. Wright’s “Surprised by Hope” and “Simply Christian” or C.S. Lewis’ Classic Mere Christianity.

**
The excerpt is found on page 8 -12 of this PDF
http://www.troyhope.org/biblestudy/2008/Cell%20Lesson5.pdf
is pulled from:
What's So Amazing About Grace? Participant's Guide it is an consedence version of the story found in Philip Yancy’s “What is so amazing about grace?” I highly recommend the book it is a great read.

Télimélé and Back

Out on a Porch
10:42pm Gaawol, Guinea

It has been an eventful couple of weeks here in West Africa thanks for your prayers and encouragements. Hear again are a few brief thoughts and adventure note to keep you in the loop. Enjoy.

Naming Ceremonies

One of the families I have been working with recently added a little baby boy. In West Africa it is in practice not to name your baby until the 7th day after birth at an official ceremony*. The tradition has many cultural, particle and religious reasons You can expect a naming ceremony to last from morning to well into the evening. Many people are socially obliged to take the day off and do. With so many kids born it is a miracle any work is done.

The ceremonies have become quite routine. I arrived a dressed in my fine blue haftan greeted and took my seat. On many occasions the name will leak out but I hadn’t heard anything. Thus I nearly fell off my chair when the name Michael “Dodo” was announced. As the only Michael in all Sukuta, it was very apparent the family had named the child after me.



Obviously quite an honour, the downside it can be a bit confusing now that there are two of us around.

* A welcome change to the North American practice of naming kids 7 days after being conceived


Trees

I just bought 163 of them hope they don’t die.



Bee Hives

I just bought two of them. Hope I don’t die.




Kaniline Music Frestival

The President Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr. Yahya Jammeh an enthusiastic supporter of local culture and “roots” has been busy putting on what must be one of the most extravagant (relative to means) cultural festivals I’ve witnessed. The 3 week long Kanilai International Festival is featured on the national television each night and has artists of all sorts from all over West Africa. It is like Woodstock only the president is fitting the bill.



The festival’s headliner was Michael Jackson’s brother Jermaine. It is not everyday the pinnacle of the B-side Casino grade western entertainment comes to the Gambia. Naturally, I thought it was worth checking out. So I splurged $2.50 to buy a field ticket.

Granted for me the real draw for me was a chance to see of my local music friends performing on the big stage before the headliner. Holy Family Band, Jalix, and Jeli-Keba band ** were present to entertain the crowd stadium. I was graciously welcomed into the backstage and spent most of the night sharing joy and taking in their performances.




**
Holy Family Band long time friends (since 2005) great to see them “make it” after lots of hard work. Check them out in their old school format. www.reverbnation.com/gambiaproject

Jalix is Gambia’s hottest artist – although I had previously not known this my friend Omar recorded and produced his album. Additionally he provides live back-up when he is performing.

Jeli-Keba – my close friend is the lead guitar player and I have a seat of the band tour bus whenever I want. I first saw the band play in 2009. Their hit songs “Bye-Bye” and “Kono” (Money) are legit good sounding songs.


Baptism #2: come prepared

It is always good to come prepared even when you .Excited to attend another baptism I hop on the motorbike and met everyone at the beach. I soon thereafter discovered I would be one of the leaders performing the baptism. I not sure when the decision was made and I was very honoured however, I had not come prepared for such a task. Considering the options I did think about doing the ceremony in my underwear thinking John the Baptist couldn’t have had too much on either but opted for the more above reproach “all on”.



Ode to African Babies

When I signed up for a trip to Guinea I didn’t know I would be traveling with two babies. It seem proper wisdom not to bring your 3 week old baby on a 15 hour (driving time) 800km journey of rough road in 40oC weather, however that was overlooked and here I found myself preparing for the worst.

The vehicle departed at 6am, one hour, two hours, four hours passed, the road got rough, we’ve drove through lunch, diaper changes as the temperature climbed. I kept bracing for the explosion of screaming babies but nothing not a sound. Every once in a while I would turn around to find if there were still alive. There they were sleeping, latched on for a meal or happy bouncing along. In fact in a total of over one hundred combined baby hours I can count on one hand the number of time either of the babies made a fuss.



I don’t believe this to be an isolated case. In my experience African babies are well tempered their day is spent with the mother

Guinea

Guinea is a beautiful country, lush forests and winding rivers, accent cliff bands which give way to small mountain ranges. Guinea is famous for its bountiful resources and incredulous corruption the blessing has been a curse. With an election on the horizon there is some level of hope for the currently military controlled country.



The purpose of the 10 day trip was primarily to attend a conference for the persecuted church in West Africa and visit a sister community in central Guinea to evaluate potential projects. The potential is huge but it would all hinge on the wiliness of the local population to carry the burden.

I traveled in good company and met a number of inspiring people. I was pleased to see a theme with-in the conference for the local church to rise-up and take leadership to develop its own communities.

Resolve

In Guinea I’ve been stay in the company of a man who was the target of an assassination plot. This same man who has had is dogs slaughtered on his front porch in the night, his children threatened and countless court and false charges brought against him. The man was the first recorded Fulani to follow the teachings Christ a decisions he came to from his own independent studies and convictions; there was no outside influence.



As I sat in amazement of the stories I was humbled wondering if such resolve could come from with-in my own life. Africans seem to find the resolve quick readily and you see it various aspects of life. But like all traits it is not always a positive experience.

The Drive

From the heart of Guinea to the Coast of Banjul 800km, 2 meal breaks, 2 boarders, 18 hours one day, one driver. Yes, this is verging on insanity but where there is “resolve” it is possible. Everyone is hurting, hungry and car sick from the roads and hot weather but no one says a thing we endure together – really it is the of the highest virtue in the African context.



Guinea is beautiful but it is good to be back in Gambia. The real miracle is a full round trip with 10+ people in a vehicle without a single bribe, baggage search or customs fee.

Last of the Toubabs

Each year at this time in Gambia the temperature and humidity begins to climb, this change in climate brings about a few changes. One is most of the Toubabs leave for home. With Josh’s recent departure to I am now the last and will be the only short term toubab for the remaining months. Although I do enjoy the company of my local peers it was always nice have a breathe of the West when things become trying.



All said, I’m not too worried and kind of look forward to the challenge. I’ve always got the internet. (If it is working)
Cow and the Stick

Disciplining is a skill does not come naturally to me. I’d much rather be a generous friend and expect the best from people but a time come when a destructive habit and pattern must be broken. That won’t happen with out consistent tough love. It doesn’t make things easier that these cases often involve children and other social complications yet I can’t throwing out the line for other’s foolish decisions.

In Guinea the Fula's tie big sticks around the necks of problem animals. This prevents them from breaking through into people's garden. One garden grazing offense is tolerated but the second comes at a cost to the cattle's owner.



I’d ask for a lot of prayer for wisdom and patience over the remaining months. I do believe there are a number of positives changes that are occurring and have seen their fruit but they often seemed to be overshadowed by the difficult cases.

Looking for big long sticks,
Mike

A month in review...

Prelude…
Dear Friends and Family, (and blog stockers)
Sorry it has been so long since my last update. I’m still alive and I do think and pray for you. Thanks for the many whom have sent birthday wishes. This is now my forth Gambian birthday and like all it will be memorable but I will leave that to the latter part of the post. First I must catch you up on what has been consuming my time in the Gambia

Below is a progression of brief thoughts surrounding the past 3-4 weeks.

Peace,
Mike


Bees to the Honey

On my recent journey to a rural village on Gambia’s north bank I was invited to go on a wild honey hunt. Although the thought of sweet wild honey was tempting the potential of numerous stings one must endure on such a hunt I declined the offer and opted for the tamer 8km horse cart journey through the bush to pick-up a radio, so the locals could listen to Youssou N’Dour.



The Joy of Bananas

I got this morning and went for a run not for fitness and not for but the joy of bananas. We have now completed the installation of 36 bananas and a low cost gravity fed irrigation system at a place now affectionately called En Gessa* or in English “The Field”. It the hope that this simple field of Bananas will provide sufficient income to feed provide school fees for a family of 8 who currently live on the property.




Locusts and Bananas


I have been preaching a lot about the importance of development instead of aid. Unfortunately the two are often confused additionally development often turns into aid. To see healthy development it is a long road which requires much patience and a sustained intentional and regulated involvement. As it only through this involvement that one can begin to answer the question, what is development?

Is it education and freedom? Better roads and global commerce? Mobile phones and television? health and nutrition? Leisure and convenience? Who decides what the priorities are? How much does one get their hands involved in shaping the dreams of Africa? How does one care enough to follow through? I don’t believe there are any easy answers.

A recent challenge I have witness is the environment of Africa itself. Development is a dilemma in a culture that is prone to feed off others success like mosquitoes that get inside in your bug net. The means are always there to solve needs and situation however, solutions attract great problems. Swarms of the needy and greedy descend eat their fill resulting in barren waste for those who put in an honest effort. The result vast majority of the country/continent is propt-up on artificial grants make work projects. I know I’ve been involved in too many myself.

All said I do have great hope at least at the small scale level. I don’t think all the answers come at once but today the answer may lie in a visit to the Gambia’s emergency locusts protection office because there are locusts in our bananas.



Google Sketch-up

I recently spent a couple hours at an internet café downloading google Sketch a free basic 3D CAD program. It is not that I needed it but in a land of donkey carts, machetes and VCD players it is nice to play with some “real” technology. Now late nights in my room are spent orbiting around a 3D satellite google earth models of “En Gessa”* as I virtually plant trees, fence animals and build water distribution systems.



From time to time locals pop their heads in the door and try to figure out what I’m up to. Some begin to understand others ask me if I have any games on my computer that they can play although most have learnt by now that I am little fun and few things to say when deciding where to plant my Pomegranate trees.

It is Not the Money

Gentlemen, we have run out of money. It is time to start thinking
- Sir Ernest Rutherford



I’m becoming a firm believer there are few problems in Africa and human life that can actually be fixed with money. I’m not suggesting money is not needed but most often money is not the limiting factor to progress; furthermore in many cases I believe it availability is it a strong hindrance simply enabling destructive behaviours and idolization of Western pop culture.

Transformation of the Africa will come from a transformation of heart and soul. It will take a sober examination of itself and its culture leading to a sincere repentance. I believe such a transformation can only be inspired by a call and encounter from the creator of all things.

God Speed your kingdom come.

The Two Stroke Wonder

I got the motorbike back from the mechanic a week or so ago. The speedo is still shot, the blue smoke remains and the headlights only are effective at high RPMs (got to go fast if you want to see) but I think most of the work they said was done has been done. I do have good cause to be suspicious as the total cost of the engine and drive train rebuild came in under $150 including labour and parts but everything seems to work.

Although It may shutdown and leave me sweating on the side of the highway for a few mins while I un-cease overheated piston or need me to re-route the housing of the front brake cables so it doesn’t rub on the front tire, the “Two Stroke Wonder” and I have come to terms of mutual agreement. I feed it oil and gas she gets me, my friends and cargo home.



Music Day

Since I was a young boy I have always had a strong addiction to music. This has carried into my world in missions work. So as part of my weekly routine I spend Friday’s playing music.

I met Papis and Mohammed in 2009 while riding on public transit down the coastal road to Brikama. Seeing their their Kora*** and guitar, I struck up conversation and we exchanged numbers before stepping down. I soon confirmed my hopes that they were highly proficient musicians connected to the inner circle of Brikama music scene. (the epicenter of Mandinka music).

Ever since our meeting I have found great joy in working with two musicians from the. We are working to write and arrange music for an EP which to be recorded in early July. The album will combine western and traditional African styles. We’ve already started planning our promotional media tour. I’m looking forward to posting some of the recordings online as they ready…. but one step at a time.



Afri-Bahs

Sickness in Africa by some measure is hard to explain. You will often have days of unexplained fatigue and loss of appetite. The trots are always I viable side effect that can lead anyone weary of venturing too far from home.

The source could really be anything, kids with dirty hands in the bowl, bad water but today the Keke is suspect. (“KAI-KAI” is fresh milk straight from the udder of a cow).

Purchased on a whim from the market by Josh in the hot sun had begin to transform the milk into a substance more resembling runny chunked yogurt. It wouldn’t have had any had it not tasted so good with freshly squeezed mango juice from earlier that day (The Juice had also started to go bad and needed to be finished up)

Yet, regardless of source today Josh and I mope about with the Afri-blahs.


Family Meetings



I don’t know if I can fully describe a Fulani compound meeting in a way that would do the procedure justice or make sense to the western mind. Only to say to the unprepared participant best not involve themselves. No rock left unturned, no accusation left aside; a 2 hour volcano of verbal discipline is unleashed from the summit to the valley floor.

If such meeting were to be held in western society it would take months to clean up the mess. However, here once all voices have spoken their furry and you think there is no way to mend the relationships. All is forgiven, a short but poignant prayer is given and the community returns to their smiles.


Art on the Table


I recently came across this drawing of “Thinking man” on my friend’s table.

My friend is bright, athletic, obviously a talented artist and Father of an illegitimate child; a pregnancy test just reveled there is another one on the way. Abortion (illegal and very dangerous in Gambia) has been considered as an escape from the cultural grinding that will soon pursue him with-in the Islamic community.** Marriage is an option but yet a further disgrace as with no job feeding two young mouths and providing for the needs of a wife.

Advice can be hard to give, there are many complications and solutions that would work from my perspective may not always be valid in such a culture. But in a land of hyenas and vultures I can only believe it is better to have a friend. And it is this belief that God has used that to answer many of thinking man’s questions in my life.

Birthdays in the Gambia

Many may not know but I recently celebrated my fourth African birthday. Many have asked how do you spend a birthday in Africa.

There are many things to consider when deciding how to celebrate an African birthday. The first I am in a communal culture individuals are seldom celebrated. Secondly a high percentage of Africans don’t actually know their real date of birth, thus birthdays are trivial. Three, the family meeting occurred because of improper cultural formalities and execution surrounding a birthday celebration. Knowing these three factors, I intended my birthday to quietly celebrated admits my compound people.

The morning was spent picking up mandarin trees and visiting a friend who I commissioned to grow them. I subsequently remembered I had been living with an expired Gambian visa for the past week and took my baby tree to visit the main police and immigration station in the center of town. To pamper myself I stopped by Bobo’s barbershop and got a quick $0.50 birthday shave and trim to remove 3 weeks of afri-scruff.

After lunch and to my surprise a cake appeared. Knowing that we never get cake I had assumed rumour had circulated that it was my birthday an some money had been put together. Granted it was a little strange – no happy birthday, no candles or formal announcement. It later all made sense to discover this cake was leftover from a wedding last weekend and had been brought out to be eaten because it was going bad. You may think it sad but to me it was wonderful, God had provided me with cake on my birthday.

Of course to fulfill my favourite African birthday tradition I rode up with Josh to CVM house to go out for ice cream, made a call home to the parents and started working on responding the Birthday emails.
Thanks all

En Yesso (“In the future”)
Mike



Footnotes…

* En Gessa is approximately 3 acres of land 20mins walk from where I live. There is a family which lives on the land and we are currently working with a small agricultural grant to use the field for agriculture.
** A note regarding my person stance of abortion. From my faith I believe freedom of choice and with this knowledge I will always choose and support the choice of life for the baby and the family. I believe mother Teresa puts it poignantly "It is a poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish." This statement has challenged me to love and support so the choice of life is there for my friends.
*** a Kora is a traditional 21 stringed instrument used in traditional West African music.