Travelling Between Two Worlds

Just riding the train between Heildburg and Paris. I am taking the time to visit a few European based friends on the way home. I felt like it would be good to write and share a few thoughts on transisitioning between two (or three or more) cultures.

Let's start with some basics :)

The train is quite different to Gambian transport, clean, quiet, comfortable, reliable and apologetic (thy just apologized for a 7 min delay). 

However, perhaps the most glaring difference was the price. (Over 100 euros - yikes, I was not expecting that!) it was a mistake not making my booking so far enough in advance. Left with no practical choice and bartering (my initial instinct) was out of the question so I simply handed over credit card and pay. (The train was leaving in 10mins) 

The fact that everything is 10 to 100 times expensive is just a small piece of the puzzle. 

Another key difference here is the amount of choice. Food, clothes, services, kitchen supplies, building materials, pretty much everything you can name there is so much choice it can be overwhelming. When you get a coffee their are 10-20 different kinds and 3 sizes. This can be overwhelming after coming from a place with only two breads (see earlier post) and one brand of instant coffee. 

Complexity would be the next difference - buying my train ticket was an technological marvel. Very different from getting in a car at Barra or Serekunda to ride up country. The systems that support getting people to places on time and keep these people 'in-line' are complex - no one person understands all there is to know. 

In Gambia there is typically one top person who is setting the conditions and price. If you have friends, family or if you are kind enough pretty much anything can go. 

In the west, the rules and prices are systems that are compiled across huge networks; researched, scrutinized based of cost analysts and user data - information is made available and shared through the web and interactive machines that can translate displays in 3-12 languages. In addition maps, symbols and graphics help further guide the user even then help is often required to understand all that is going on. (As my case today) 

It is also important to note the rules more often than not don't bend. (I just saw an elderly man get a severe fine for not processing his ticket which he purchased  ) 

Distance between people is another striking reality - people are apart and love separation. Neighbours often don't know each other - and it doesn't bother them it is normal or perhaps even polite.  

In many cases people put as much distance between themselves as possible. People are always engaged in something focused on being productive working (much like I am doing right now)., sleeping (a productive act) or entertaining themselves with an activity.  I have not greeted or talked to anyone aside for the person who stamped my ticket - the man beside me reads a book, the women in front is writing emails, the men in front are fast asleep and the woman and child are playing video games. (Interestingly enough the women and child are from a different culture and have the volume up - people are visibly annoyed including myself as I can hear it above my headphones and there is only so much repetitive steel drum calypso I can take - apparently my is somewhere around 40mins) 

However, the adjustment I find that has the most significant impact on me is advertising and marketing. The subtle yet powerful appeal to fulfill your inner most desires through products, services or other means. Momentary or lasting comfort, happiness, sexual gratification and belonging (and perhaps other) are promises (often true but empty) are fluanted. 

I know this also exists in the Gambia (I can see its effects on the people there - fancy headdresses, skin bleaches, flashy cheaply made electronics, miracle 'weight gain' pills (yes you read that right, weight gain) and the migrant criss - (smugglers sell an incredibly desirable service ) but in Gambian the limited level of sophistication and cultural target dilute its effects on me. 

Here the prevalence, intelligence and relevant targeting make it a powerful predator of your thoughts and emotions, particularly after being away from it for a few months.

It is not just billboards, radios and TVs. Everything is made to look appealing store displays, buildings, musical, wrappers, clothes, social media and community landscapes. Someone has thought and acted on just about everything. Town centres and malls are a spectacle of desire. Not that all of these are evils but hooks and snares abound and it is hard to know friend and foe (sometimes they are one and the same)

Deep inside my emotions oscillate wildly anywhere between a welcome full embrace (nice to be back in the land of efficient service, functional design and predictable quality/experience) to falling into the trap of lustful self seeking desires to an outright violent rejection (disgust, sorrow and shame) often resulting in a physical knot in my stomach or pain in my chest. 

All said, getting between the two worlds is  an intensive boot camp mentally, emotionally and physically. With out doubt all cultural worlds are places of both beautiful God given humanity and devilish inhumane brokenness - each display these realities in unique patterns.

Where all this thinking brings me too in the acknowledgment that I often wrestle to find the presence of the gospel in the experience of transisitioning between two culture. 

How does it apply in worlds - each seem to have their own priorities? 
Can it be completely compatible and continuous in both worlds? 
Are there different truths and gospel messages for different people? 
Which type of civilization does it ultimately draw us too? 

It does not take long to interpret the Bible in a way that marginalizes and dehumanizes cultures. (Or to justify the same type of acts). In each place we teach and understand the gospel through the lense of the culture. Is God and his character or way so fickle? 

With these lenses stumble down the path of life. Is there a way to remove the lenses? 

I don't feel like I have good answers to this experience of colliding worlds even after so many journeys. I am equipped only with a few nuggets of wisdom, a gift of faith and a handful of coping strategies that fills in the holes. 

In the end I choose to believe the recorded events and life of Jesus Christ or Nazareth (and the supporting cannon). What I have read and come to understand is the only thing that I believe can possibly bridge the gaps between all worlds and cultures. I don't fully understand how and often I wrestle and fight to hold to this believe but what else can I turn to? It is the only place I see hope that can sustain myself and has room for everyone else - in is a hope for all people in all situations. 

Lord have mercy teach and lead me in your way - my heart, mind and soul need your rest. Fill me with faith hope and love for the journies ahead. 

Aside for posting the link to my best of photo collection, this will most likely be my last post for a while. Thanks for reading along. I hope you found it interesting, amusing and encouraging. If you want to chat about any of the posts or anything else related to the trip (or life in general) drop me a line I would glad to hear from you and discuss further. 
Peace and joy. 

Weddings and Culture

Marriage is (or should be) an important event for a couple, their families and community. When things are important people develop many expectations. So wedding are a celebration full of expectations. This makes weddings an wonderful window into the mindset and inner workings of a culture. 

Last weekend I attended an urban wedding which was hosted at my compound. I've put together a few observations to help understand some differences. 

Let's begin with planning... 

In western society weddings are typically planned over 6 months to 2 years. 6 months being rushed needing flexibility for venue, photographers and typically void of elaborate extras two years for the dream wedding with handcrafted designer everything. Last week's wedding the date of the wedding was announced a month before and the planning atarted the week of. 

Wedding invitations:
Typical Western:
A strategic list is compiled - balancing numbers scrutinizing relationships of friends and family. In many cases invites are sent to unlikely attendees first then after their regrets are received new people are added to the list.

Last week's:
Public announcement was made two week's ahead - phone calls made to all friends and family. Even if you don't know the bride or groom you are welcome. 

The dress:
Typical Western -with bridal magazines in hand brides brides maids and moms parade the wedding district searching for he perfect dress (the right price is part of the perfection). The dress is then fitted and refitted to check. 

Last week:
The dress was still being made 30mins before the wedding was due to start. 

Typical Western:
Bride and groom taste the menu selection month ahead. Buffet or plated meals. Cost $40 and up per head. 

Last week's:
The women or the community get together and cook serve 3-4 meals for the day. Total cost ~ $2 a head.

Typical western: 
1 to 2 hired venues plus picture sites. Reserved a year or so in advance. 

Last week:
In your front yard. 

Marriage ceremony sermon or advise
Typical Western:
5-20 minute personalized encouragement to the bride and groom and the community.

Last week's:
1 hour plus discertation on marriage. 

Processional Music:
Typical western: 
Hired professionals, competent friends and family (sometimes family is allowed to be incompetent)  or a cousin with an iPod will play music pre-selected music for the bride. 

Last week's:
A group of musicians wondering around town saw there was a wedding about to start and showed up and started to play as the bride "walked down the aisle" (no aisle so she just circled the chairs)

Finally, the reception:
Western typical:
A programmed affair with speaches, coordinated food and assigned seating. Only invited people can typically attend. 

Last week's 
People sitting around and eating for the rest of the day. Many people come even after missing the ceremony. 

All in summary, both cultures have ridiculous expectations and practices. (That what is many way make them special occasions as we aim to make them important throught cultural significance) 

The western wedding typically strives to achieve this through organization and thoughtfulness. Meanwhile The Gambian wedding achieves this with the priority on inclusiveness. 

Work To Get Her

Africa is culture build on sharing and relationship. Even if you just met someone 5 minutes ago you share bowls, spoons, cups, bikes, chairs, shovels, phones, buckets, brooms, flashlights, hammers, pens, scissors, toilets, beds, water sources, shoes, money,.... I think you are getting the picture. 

This phenomenon is primarly driven by scarcity - you share a large bowl when you eat because you cannot afford for everyone to have their own plate. You share chairs because few can (or choose to) afford to have more than a couple chairs of their own. 

In the west we are capable of having our own and are even frowned upon when we don't - millions of garages and closets across the west are filled with tools, toys, clothes and sports equipment that are barely used once a year (or once). You wouldn't dare share the same cup with all your co-workers or all the people in line at Starbucks - of course not!  This is what cups, cans and bottles you use once and throw away are for. 
Finally, if you decided to gather enough courage to knock on your neighbour's door (at random) to talk to them, you definitely wouldn't ask them to borrow you a bucket everytime you need to flush your toilet because you do want to pay to fix its flushing mechanism. 

However, there is one thing I have noted in my African experience that is not easily shared. It is work

Realizing it has surprised me as I only was able to make the connection recently. This is probably because the thing most often shared in the west is work. I have grown up in home not unlike many others where work was shared. People cooperated to see the benefit of the whole entity. Leadership pulls people together to get people to share in a vision and work towards it. (You may disagree but I see the progress of our culture has been entirely dependent on it) 

It is possible that it is related back to the lack of affluence. However, I would have thought it would drive people to group together to help overcome. Instead, there seems to be more of a mistrust or worry about who will get the best of who. Perhaps the stakes always seem high even with small value - you can live a week off of $3 here. In addition there are very few controls and reports in a cash society. For these reasons I can see it hard to trust people. 

In many cases you can ask the question if the affluence is cause or the symptom of not being able to work together.

A few examples:

The power bill... People would prefer paying for a $60 meter so they can differentiate who is consuming exactly what and avoid paying a flat rate (a the full power bill for the average family is $3 or less - the differences would be a dime or two) 

Farmers here do not have a co-op to help sell their crops at a fair price. Each farmer would rather each negotiate their own price. (I guess for either believing they can do better, lack of trust or or not having to pay a communal due or membership fee) They later complain when the get a bad deal from the savy businessmen who waits until they are starving before offering to buy it at an under valued price. .

Husbands and wives often refuse to share in each other's responsibilities (this is particularly true of men) - even if there are coinciding responsibilities, a sickness or a birth. If something isn't right or working (dinner is late, daily market money not being enough). When such an event occurs there is little collaboration on how things should be resolved or improved upon. 

Women and men will seldom collaborate on business ideas or ventures. This is true even when it could make the difference between starving and eating or there is no or little downside the offer. 

Each person wants their own business and to be accountable to themselves alone. I have seen this in cases where someone (me or others) have even offered an amazing deal. Like offering paying all startup cost or buying communal tools to be shared) 

What triggered today's thought is I am currently trying to get a group to collaborate in synergistic businesses to provide pull through revenue opportunities. ie. Sew a young women a custom made dress - why not sell them the custom made bracelet, necklace and earing that go with it? It just seems like a slam dunk but everyone is more worried about being compensated for their exact work and costs. Argh! 

All said, if I see progress in working together before coming home I will be quite pleased. :)

Breads of The Gambia a Consumer Review

In the west there has been an increasing trend to offer consumers more choice when it comes to the breads they eat. Gone are the days of a simple white or whole wheat selection. The market is flooded with breads containing complex mixtures of sesame, flax, pumpkin, rye, quinoa and potato. There are whole grains, ancient grains, up to 12 grains (I can't even name 12 grains). They even sell bread without the main bread ingredient, glutten. 

Much like the west The Gambia now offers its resdidents a wide selection of bread at local stores across the nation. Namely two kinds, Tapalapa and Sensfuru - long gone are the days of the tapalapa's monopoly in the rural areas. Consumers now have a choice to make.

I went to my local store bought and then ate both breads this morning order to provide you the reader a comprehensive review. 

Malwbe's store sells both breads 7days a week day and night conviently right across the street from my compound. Both breads are priced at 7D ($0.20) so the choice is left to the consumer's preference in taste, texture and social associations.

Sensfuru, the Incumbent, pictured towards the top and the long reigning tapalapa pictured on the bottom. 

The Tapalapa tradition runs deep into the stomachs of the of local people. The loaf carries more weight then Senfuru despite its smaller size. Tapalapa is the pride of the Qu'ranic school tradition. Made by hand the bread if first tapa'd (rolled) and then lapa'd (beaten), thus the name. It is then baked in wood fire ovens across the country. It is the symbol of the working man. No maisoner or welder dare show up at the job site with anything else.

As you pick up a Tapalapa you realize this was made with one purpose, to satisfy your hunger. It is a robust bread capable of holding shape after a 30 min ride on the back of a motorcycle - store owners will often demonstrate the bread's integrity as they smack them together to remove inwanted sand or dirt before they are sold. 

Notably Tapalapa is not the most refined product - ants, rocks and other foreign debris often find there way into the dough. However, they frequently go unnoticed do the the dense texture and satisfying nature of the bread (think of it as extra protein, minerals or fibre). 

Tapalapa is best enjoyed with simple spreads (butter, mayo, chocolate or with a greasy fried egg). For this morning's evaluation I used a local peanut butter and chocolate spread mix. Due to the density of the bread it took about 4 minutes to make it through the half a loaf.

Sensfuru is named after the famed "high tech" bakery that first produced it in the affluent part of town. It wasn't until more recent years that the bread was able to be transported reliably to more remote areas. 

Soft and supple to touch Sensfuru appeals to those with more refined taste. Ultra refined ingredients and modern electric oven make for a consistent bake that is typicall free of any ants, rocks or other debris. It is a particular favourite of women who are hoping to move up the social ladder. 

However, many will complain the Sensfuru's light airy text texture does not do enough to satisfy one's hungry and often comes squished or deformed from the store - Note my sample had a squished end left end. 

Sensfuru really excels at complex sandwiches with numerous toppings particularly ones that are voluminous as the soft inner bread compacts to the outer crust allowing ample room for lettuce, tomatoes, boiled eggs, potatos, Salads and the like. 

I enjoyed this morning's Sensfuru as a delightful egg salad sandwich. 

In conclusion, the arrival of this new bread will only further improve the quality of life for the locals. At the end of the day I still prefer the Tapalapa mostly for its hardy nature. However I am delighted to be have Sensfuru available for its ability to hold a proper egg salad sandwich. 

For the future of bread in rural Gambia. I see the continued rise of Sensfuru. The possible arrival of dense sweet bread, despite the view that a sweetness in bread is too radical and progressive, may once again bring more choice. However, at this time it remains only a speculation.

For now what is important the Gambians will for the forseable future continue to enjoy the luxury of choice with their breads. 

Adama and Dot Inc.

Normally my posts are not gender targeted and neither is this one despite initial appearances. (men, a friendly reminder that you may have an anniversary or know of a upcoming birthday). 

My neighbour Adama and her daughter Aligail make stylish jewelry - I am willing to provide her with your order - Just send me an email to let me know what you would like (colours etc) Michael(dot)J(dot)Friesen@gmail(dot)com

Custom requests welcome! Samples and prices below. 

Bracelets $3 each

  Necklaces $5 each

Necklace and Earing Sets for $7

Adama looks forward to taking your order! 

In the Shade of the Mangoes

The shade of the compound mangoes trees is a familiar place, particularly as the evening sun prepares to tuck itself behind the horizon. However, what was unfamiliar was the silent crowd of around 50 - 60 who had gathered in the shade with me.  The crowd representing 5-6 different tribes and two or more faiths were the likes of whom that would typically would not gather together. 

I am sure when exactly when or how it dawned on me, perhaps it was the unfamiliar cultural silence or the reality that we were now sending children to neighbouring compounds to find more chairs the the but I realized these people had come because of something I was doing and to hear what I was going to say. To complicated the matter I felt I had no idea what I was doing or what I was going to say. 

Abandonning any hope of being culturally appropriate to arriving guest, I thought it would be a good idea to start making a few notes. 

After a brief introduction and an spirited argument to select a common enough language for translation, I began telling the story which brought us all to were we are today. 

During my past trips to The Gambia, I came to understand the decision most families make in The Gambia; food in the bowl or their child in school. In 2010 I became to assist a few famillies which eventually grew into a program administered by local volunteers able to properly prioritize and oversea any funds. 
As of this current academic year over 75 students representing all academic levels who are actively receiving support to help with their school. This has occurred with minimal infighting and attempts of corruption. A reality I can only attribute to God's work in my life and those who have partnered in the vision both volunteers and participants. 

My message was simple - let's pray and work together so we can continue to sustain and further develop the program. The goal being not simply to provide education but furthermore use this education to develop good leaders who are willing to invest the knowledge and skills back into The Gambia for Faith, Hope and Love.

We talked through program logistics, some new rules preventing parents from taking advantage of the system and the importance of family and community involvement in students pursuits. In all the meeting lasted 3 hours - I was not always sure what was going on or how things would end up but, as we concluded there was a spirit of unity and sense that we we're on the right path and God is doing great things. 

Belief and Truth in the Dance-a-thon of Life

Belief and truth can at times be awkward dance partners in the dance-a-thon of life. 

Truth is experienced and wise. Her steps are firm, unyielding and certain. Yet she seems to find a way of being elusive changing shape as you move around the great big dance floor of life. When you are tripped up you are not sure if she has moved or it was just your imagination. Judges and critics sum her up her up with numbers, fans take pictures and while haters try to make her out to be a liar and a cheat. Yet she doesn't seem to pay much attention to critics, she remains true to form. 

Belief is young and free, trotting around the dance floor to his heart's desire. Until of course, truth gets in the way. Most of the time belief does its best to be in step with his partner but, often he gets distracted caught up in his own fancy footwork. At times he will take exception and will argue with Truth. If he persists long enough truth may just seem to move to accomadate the new rhythm and open to a new movement. However more often than not it is Belief that must learn to yield to the wise and experienced Truth and really should be respectful and diligent to do so.

But don't think truth can steal the show alone, Truth's is nothing without him - Belief sets the tone, can bring pain and suffering, bore her to death or put love and joy to her step.

New Money!

Gambia is soon getting new money with a familiar face!

Gone will be the days of soiled damp and taped together dalasis which scream 'Where is the hand sanitizer?' after every purchase. 

Note newish current bill vs a typical bill to help get an appreciation that it is time for some real change (cheesy literary device fully intended!)

The new series is similar to the recently minted Canadian bills and features tear and moisture (sweat) resistance allowing it to endure the heavy wear of a cash society enabling it to be able to stay in circulation seemingly forever. 

A D20 bill replaces the odd yet sought after D25 bill. As well a new D200 bill will be added to reduce the number of suitcases of money it takes to sell a D250,000 cashew crop or buy a big chunk of land from an Alkalo (village chief) who doesn't have a bank account. 

While the landscapes on the back remain unchanged the front removes the traditional African faces and replaces it with their current leader, demonstrating to all the country's development progress and stability of the democratic political situation which the Gambia enjoys. 

Please join me in congratulating the central bank on their new Dalasis! 

The Hot Topic?!?

Upon arrival I expected to find Ebola as a hot topic of conversation. It Certainly was a hot topic in Canada. In its peak the fears over the spread of the deadly virus in western nations was taken serous with public out cries over the lack of preparedness in our already over crowded hospitals. Being Ebola is actually in the region, figured people would want to talk about it.

When we are talking about the spread of this virus. One needs to understand where society is at in regards to health. I have put together a few concerning factoids to help put things in perspective. 
 - 90% of the west African population eat out of the same bowl as 4-6 people 2-3 times a day. 

- Maybe a third will wash with water only before eating.
- during my last visit to the national hospital there was no running water or soap to wash my hand in the room with 16 beds and 40 visitor 
- i did find a sink was plugged intentionally so you could rinse with the water that was sitting there. At the time I decided I liked the germs already on my hands. 

Even with all of this people don't seem to concerned about this topic. It doesn't seem to be a big deal. 

Over the past three days I have been sharing living space with a friend who travelled from the heart of the Ebola epicentre. The thought of Ebola hadn't crossed my mind until the yesterday. No one here in the compound seems to concerned about it either as we eat together around the bowl. 

For people here life goes on. 

I'm sure ignorance plays a role here and there would be benefit and I have no doubt some improved basic hygiene and germ theory would go a long way. 

Of course this is in constrast to the ignorance of some westerners who would chastise anyone for even travelling to the continent. This show a lack of knowledge of the kind of scale or the difficulty and limited travel with-in the Africa context. 

Perhaps the greater influence in the lack of ebola-phobia is the simple statement from the human condition which says "what else are we supposed to do". 

An estimated 1.3 million people die in car accidents every year - yet few hesitate to get in their car and drive to work everyday. Why? What else are you supposed to do? 

Risks are a reality of life it just so happens the odds are worst and stakes are higher.

Africans are so adapt at 'risk apathy' that many get voluntarily in migration to Europe. There is one word spoken frequently here. Its powerful enough to empty communities of its young men... Lampaduza, the Italian island. If you haven't read any report on the migrant criss do take time to read this one. 

The stories of men getting thrown overboard are chilling (particularly knowing Africans can't swim) - however the same man from Ebola land staying with me also attempted the trip to Europe "the back way" in 2006 and said he saw 7 men be thrown overboard for complaining. (He never made it - he spent time in a camp in Morroco

Now I know 8 or more young men from my small circles of contact who have left and another half dozen or so who have at least tried. These are people who are pursuing this treacherous journey as I write. One boy I personally sponsored to finish his grade 12. (Kind of disappointed)

This is hardly a new thing but now the rate of departure is incredible. Many of these people are not coming from woefully oppressive or poor situations. And it is important to understand it is not just the individuals, parents and families members are putting resources together and are selling land to send their boys. It is to the point that you can sense and see the difference just by walking the streets.

 It is to the point girls are complaining there are not enough boys to go around. 

Young men are equipped with funds (minimum cost to get to Libya have been reported around $1000 and then another similar amount to get on the boat), given information on contacts and instructions for the route and even taught how to out smart the systems in the western migrant camps. (Destroy your documents, Claim you are under age, lie about your originating country, inflict injuries upon yourself)

It is a madness fuled by the western entertainment/media industry and catalyzed by Lybia's organized crime networks.  Currently, I fear things will be worse before they get better.

I have much more to write about this 'hot topic'. I hope to cover more in an upcoming post. 

A brief message to the insects in my room

Mr spider you are welcome to stay providing you help deal with the mosquito and fly that are keeping me awake. 

Mosquito and fly consider yourselves warned. 

Learning from Village Life

I spent the past 4 days in in a small village on the On the northern side of The Gambia river. 

In addition to picking up what I suspect is my first parasite of the trip. I spent the days coping with the inland +40oC temperatures, chasing goats out of my hut and trying to be social with a vocabulary of 150 odd words and the grammar of a stereotypical cave man. I will not deny there are momments I wonder what benefit is found in it all - in theory there is a quite a bit. 

First, there is a massive significance of visiting and development of relationship in this culture. This time spent develops trust and respect which provide the foundations for any future partnerships. Secondly, understanding how people live and feeling their struggles provides insight to better help with resolving community needs and development. (This 2nd technique is commonly referred to as going to Gemba in efficiency improvements in lean manufacturing circles) 

All said, as with any theory, it is not until you see the results that one fully appreciates its value. 

I had one such momment sitting in my room hearing a young Fula man pour out his heart about his struggles support his aging parents, frustrations not being able to develop his language the way he wants to, his fatalism in the lack of opportunity to work or start a business and continual dependence for life's basic needs despite his best efforts. 

As I sat listening, my mind drifted back to my recent experience in the village struggling to live in a system I didn't know, unable to communicate, not understanding what is going on or why things are this way and seeing so many things that need to change and not really knowing what to do about any of it. 

Then I thought to myself, I may not be able to help with all of his problems but at least I have an idea about what he may be feeling. 


Weather Or Not You'll Sleep

Life in a Gambian suburb is mostly lived outside. Days inside doing computer work (like today) feel strange and out of place. My dad once described the experience of living hear like camping in concret tents. 

Living outside you develop a real connection to the weather. When it is hot, you are hot, when it is cold you are cold. This may seem obvious but it is not appreciated fully until you realize that with no sheets at 19oC you need to put on a hoodie so you can sleep or with no wind and an outside temp holding at 25oC your room at 30oC from the day. it will not cool down enough so for you to sleep any time soon. This leave a very narrow temperature window of comfort. It helps me understand how decoupled our lives are from the climate. 

Time to put on a hoodie and go to bed. 

Good Friday

In Gambia and currently with out a formal schedule it is easy to loose track of what day it is. For this reason (and the fact Gambia is 90%+ Islamic) I am not too ashamed of not realizing today was Good Friday - it went pretty much unnoticed until mid afternoon.  

This said today was quite a good Friday. (Some productive meetings around scholarships, speghitti for lunch, successful Market shopping using only Fula and some beach time) 

This got me thinking about Good Friday. What makes it good and how does my personal 'good Friday' relate (if it is at all related) to the Good Friday celebrated today. 

My thoughts gravitated to my definition of 'The Gospel' or 'good news' and how my understanding of it has developed over the past 15 years of my life. 

For those who choose to live from a faith perspective at some point we decide how and why does the somewhat routine grusom murder (and a soon there after resurrection) of a Jewish man who identified himself as the son of God (crazy talk?) constitute 'good news' for all the people of the world in all momments of time.

I will make an attempt at describing my progression without writing a theology textbook. 

The Gospel I used to understand and put my faith in had a narrow and yet blurred focus: 

Good News! 'all people have the opportunity to beleive in Jesus so they can get past God's judgement and go to heaven' 

In this type of Gospel my Good Friday time spent playing frisbee on a sandy beach with a few Wolof teens has little value, nor would meeting around children going to school or even enjoying a good cup of tea. It was the apparent devaluation of these things that prompted a re-evaluation of what I believed to be the Gospel. 

Over the years I have come to know the Gospel in a far wider sense now believing God is up to a far greater saving work. 

Good news!
"Jesus is king has come to show that evil and death can and will be one day completed defeated. Heaven is joining with the earth and will restore all that is has been broken through faith, hope and love. Come and be part of it!"

I believe that from this perspective of this gospel much that transpired this Friday was important and valuable - indeed making it a good Friday. 

Kontong, Kontong & Kontong

When you learn a language there are always quirks and inexplicables. For us who have grown-up speaking English we know to get in a car and on a bus rather than getting on a car and in a bus. Some one once explained this was most likely an artifact of the original open top cars. No longer a reality it is now a frustrating quirk for those who learn to speak the English language. Then of course there is live and live or there and their or two, too and to all of which I see little logic in. 

With the Mandinka language there is the word Kontong which can mean the action of greeting people, eating lunch or the noun referring to your last name. Beyond being very confusing, once you understand their culture perhaps there is something deeper going on. 

On my own logic your last name is your identity (more so than just your name). You are identified as having certain characteristics (similar to how we associate an Irish name or perhaps Dutch or german). 

From here it is easy to arrive at the meaning for greeting particularly as it is most often used as a "say hi to the people in your place". 

Now as for lunch, here you begin to understand the importance of eating together. In Gambian culture it is almost as if you have not visited someone until you have eaten from their bowl.

As I have returned and begin to visit my many friends from over the years I have become accustom to the need to eat meals in all those places - this cultural act shows I feel confortable and at home. Naturally it also ensures I am also well fed. 

Speaking of which a plate of nyan ka tan has just arrived. I should get to visiting. Here is a photo. 

A few thoughts 15hrs from my front door

A few thoughts 15hrs from my front door... March 25th, 1pm GMT

Travel in our current day and age is something to marvel - Cheaper, Safer , predictable-(er) and effective-(er) - (even in spite of the recent events)

Over the past half a day my baggage and I have been transported over 10 province an ocean and a couple of island nations while enjoying a climate controlled environment, atmospheric lighting, a warm meal, sufficiently comfortable seating, the protection of competent national and local security professionals, accurate departure/arrival times and quality on demand entertainment. All for less than a week's wages (even at a minimum wage).  

Add in the tools and available to support travel (phones/tablets with data) it is little wonder why our current generation travels for pleasure more than any other in history. (Unverified fact but quite sure it is true) - 

All this said I am very much excited at the thought of getting off the bus I've been riding for the past 2 hours and finding a more comfortable spot to nap. 

Ok, Next thought. 
I had originally planned to sleep on my flight but I also didn't expect to sit beside a national award winning Alaskan professor who happens to be half Fulani and raised in West Africa. (The tribe I live with when in Gambia) needless to say we hit things off quite  well and enjoyed discussing all levels of life in Africa. The arrangement made for an auspicious kick off for the months ahead - granted some sleep may have been nice. Perhaps I can catch up on sleep on my next flight. 

Thanks for you prayers! 

Ready, Set, Go - Gambia 2015

Quick update to let you all know I will be updating my blog over the next couple of months as I return to the Gambia. More to come soon...