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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
En Yesso (“In the future”)
* 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.