Monday, January 28, 2008


I don't know what you guys have heard about the problem right now in Kenya, but it's not looking good. The real problem goes back about 500 years when Europe starting colonizing Africa. They divided it up into regions without understanding the impact of their decisions. For thousands of years Africa had been divided into many kingdoms, each primarily composed of and ruled by one tribe. When the Europeans came they chopped up the land in to large areas putting many different tribes together into new "countries". When the African countries starting gaining independence from their colonial powers the tribal loyalties did not disappear. In Kenya alone there are over 40 different tribes.

Usually when a man from one tribe is elected president almost all of the other officials he appoints are from his tribe too. Elections are very emotionally charged events and they are full of corruption because each tribe wants to claim power. In Kenya they had a presidential election on December 27, 2007. Basically it was looking like a new guy was going to win the election and then the results were kept from people for a day or so and then the current president announced that he had won. There are tons of irregularities, local announcements not matching up with national announcements, more votes for the presidential election then for the parliamentary elections on the same ballot, more votes than registered voters in some areas (like a 115% turnout in one region). In a lot of regions the kerosene in the lamps of the vote counters went out, so they went home to sleep and continue counting the next day, but when they returned there were more ballots then they thought they had left. There was also a lack of ballots in a lot of voting places, causing long lines, and in some places whole groups of people were left off of the voter registries: like everyone with a last name starting in "O". Because people in the same tribe often have the same or similar last names, many people think this was done on purpose. Outside officials believe that both sides were involved in the vote rigging.

The government of Kenya is consistently ranked in the top 10 most corrupt governments in the world and the people have had enough. The current conflict started when the tribes of the two men who were running for president, the Kikuyu tribe and the Luo tribe, started killing each other in protest, but it soon became much more. Many places in Africa people don't really think that land can be sold. You have to have a blood claim to the land you live on or farm (passed on from one person to the next in a family). So a lot of people are using this conflict to attack people who live on the land that they feel their family has a blood claim to. Right now over 700 people have been killed and more than a quarter of a million are homeless.

I write this blog because I don't know how much people know about what is going on over here now and because I just want to say that this problem is not intirely of the Kenyan's making. Tribal tensions are one of the biggest issues in Africa and I don't see how they are going to go away anytime soon. It almost makes me want to scrap all of these countries imposed by colonial rule and start over drawing different borders.

Please be praying for Kenya: that the leaders would realize what their selfish grabs for power are doing to the people, that the people would realize that terrorizing their neighbors will not lead to anything good, and that the spirits of hatred and anger there would leave.

If you want to see some pictures of the conflict:

*I got this information from the BBC, transparency international, my studies of African culture, the history of Kenya, and personal observations.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Good for a smile

So I showed you the picture of my class when they graduated, but I didn't tell you some of the funny things that happened along the way. In my class I taught 10 different American idioms every week, but sometimes the meaning didn't quite come across right. For example, here are a few gems from the homework: "I really like Jesus Christ, I think I'm falling in love with him." also "I am really tired because I've been looking like a dog all day." (supposed to be working like a dog). Just last week someone wrote: "Sometimes it's hard to break the ice cream." (a little different than break the ice)

Sometimes however, I think they understand the idioms very well. For example: "If you have two girlfriends you will always be in the dog house."

I also taught them the difference between active and passive sentences – "Emily ate the cake." and "The cake was eaten by Emily." So, I laughed really hard when I read: "Many Guineans were baked in ovens for people to eat at Christmas." At least I think that was a mistake...

I still really like teaching a lot. The other English teachers are doing a great job too. This semester we started a new night school program and we are doing some new things with conversation classes. I also started up the Sunday evening English service again and I am organizing that too. Most of the time I'm going to be the one preaching in the service, so that will be a new thing for me. It has all been a lot of work but I think it's going well.

The third week in February we are going to have a break so Jason and I will be doing a little traveling. We are going to go to Gabu to see the schools that Youth with a Mission has started there and then we are going to stay with some friends of ours, Basilio and Gisa, in Gabu for a few days. They are missionaries from Brazil. Basilio is a pastor so we are going to see what the church is doing out there.

After that we are headed to Sinchã Botchi for a few days. I am going to take beads and have some jewelry making classes for women as a way to talk to them about God and teach them a new skill. Then it's back to the salt mines.

As most of you know we have internet at the Youth Center now. It's not fast, but I get your emails right when you send them (during the hours that we have power) and sometimes I am sitting at my computer and can even email you right back. Skype works but only if no one else is doing anything online. So anyway, feel free to email me or even post a comment because I will get it way sooner than before .

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Past Month

Before I tell you about Christmas, I just wanted to let everyone know that Erica is back in the US safe and sound. (If you don't remember Erica is the other American girl in most of my pictures this time) She left for America and she is missed! Here are some pictures at her surprise going away party.

This is the group getting food. We had cakes, guavas and even jello with dream whip.

Erica doesn't really like to make speeches, but she did a good job.

Yes, we have matching dresses. We both got them made at the same tailor. Jason took this picture after the talent show.

The end of a semester is always happy and sad. Since I teach third level (our last level in the English school) I don't get to see the students much after they graduate.

This is my group of graduates with their certificates. The woman in the front right is Isaac's mom, she was not actually in my class.

Well, even though I made a color-coded map, this Christmas definitely went differently than I planned. Sometimes good, sometimes bad, but always interesting... I did many new things that I didn't really expect. I ate monkey (and liked it), made peanut butter (from local peanuts), swam in a river (with fish), and even learned to understand a little Portuguese.

We did not get a chance to go to Quinhámel, Bula, or the island of Bubaque, but we did have fun in Ziguinchor, Gabu, Sinchã Botchi and Bissau. I don't really like it when plans change, so there was some tension inside me each time (sometimes worse than others), but I survived .

After classes finished up here Jason and I went to Ziguinchor for three days. We stayed at a little hotel that had free wireless internet so most nights we were up until around 3 in the morning talking on Skype. We didn't get to call everyone that we wanted to, be we still had a good time. We ate lots of cheese and we loved the fact that we never heard the word "Branku". We took some videos along the way so I am going to try my hand at "vlogging" and make a little movie for you guys soon.

Here is Jason enjoying Skype in our hotel room.

This is the kind of car we took to Ziguinchor. Jason and I are always amazed at the amount of things that can be packed onto the back of a bike or the top of a car here. These are onions. When they finished loading it the whole inside was filled with onions as well.

The market in Ziguinchor was the same as Bissau. Lots of people, crowded, everyone yelling to get you to buy their stuff, lots of bargaining, etc. This is on the street out side of the market there.

The hotel restaurant was awesome and we ate there everyday at the same table. One of the waitresses spoke Creole, so we chatted with her every time.

Like I said, the food was amazing! Like a little slice of home .

Lots of crazy things happened to us on the trip (mostly at customs), including a group of soldiers who gave Jason back his passport but kept mine saying that I needed to stay with them (they gave it back eventually) and one customs agent who told me that if I ever wanted to kill Jason I could come and be his wife… But, the funniest thing (for me) was when the goat on the top of our car started peeing and it came in Jason's open window onto his arm and backpack… It wasn't a lot of pee, but let's just say Jason was not impressed. Even now I am laughing just thinking about his face. I should have taken a picture of that for you…

After that we came back to Bissau expecting to go to Bula with the Youth Center staff for camp; but our guy in charge of planning the camp did not talk to the right person at the Catholic mission where we were going to stay, so they figured out 2 days before we were supposed to leave that we were not going to be able to stay there. They decided to have the camp here at the Youth Center. Everybody slept, ate, and did all of the activities here. It was not as good for mainly two reasons. First of all, since we were at the Center, Jase and I were working a lot and secondly, because it was organized by Guineans nothing happened even remotely close to the time they said it was going to happen, so we missed a lot of things that we should have been at. As you can imagine it was not really all that relaxing.

Whenever Guinean women/girls get together someone gets their hair redone.

Lots of people played cards in the free time after lunch.

Jason taught people how to play Risk and they loved it. I would have played but there was a little one month old who wanted me to cuddle with him ?

Here is the group one day at lunch.

The food was pretty good.

The day after camp was over (the 24th) we went to Sinchã Botchi and we spent the next two weeks in Sinchã Botchi, Sinchã Sambal, Bissau, Gabú and Cussilinta with our Brazilian friends, Gilson and Rosania. We spent Christmas Eve and Christmas day in Sinchã Botchi. Both days big groups of Brazilian missionaries came to cook, eat, and hang out. Then the next day we went to Tony's house in Sinchã Sambal for some Brazilian cuscus. Tony is a missionary from Brazil who is working on translating the Bible into different Africa tribal languages.

At the party on Christmas Eve we learned a new dance. It was pretty funny to see it in person.

We paused for a minute during our morning of cooking. Yvonne, Jheny, Belle, Gigi and me

You always have to make sure to get all of the rocks out of the rice here. Gilson and Rosania were looking out for our teeth.

Yes, we are eating watermelon on Christmas day. And it was good.

It's not hard to get a picture of Jason on the computer. Even out in the village. Check out the new African shirt that he got for Christmas.

This picture is just too cute for me not to share it with you. No, that shirt is not baggy. Gabriella is just one of the world's chubbiest 10 month olds. She is really scared of me because of my light eyes. Brazilians come in many different shades between European and African, but pretty much all of them have brown eyes and brown hair. I am lighter than anyone else and with my light eyes and light hair I am more scary than other white people. This baby's four year old sister asked her mom why I am so "branku fondant" which means completely white (like a piece of computer paper). Her mom laughed and said that some Americans are just like that. She told her mom later that I must eat a lot of lettuce because I am so beautiful (her mother is always telling her that she has to eat vegetables to be beautiful). That quickly became one of the jokes of the day…

When we left Tony's we spent another 2 days in Sinchã Botchi, then a day and a half in Bissau. Then we went to Gabú for a New Year's Eve party at the "Youth with a Mission" base there. We spent the night at the base and then headed to Cussilinta with a big group for the 1st. Cussilinta is a little beach on a beautiful river and Jason and I took a long walk and snapped lots of pictures (I'll put some of my favorites at the end of the blog). After that back to Sinchã Botchi for the rest of the week and then home on Saturday the 5th. Just in time to start school on Monday…

This is me at Cussilinta eating some of the left over monkey meat from the night before.

Over those two weeks I learned a few things about Brazilians (or at least the ones that are missionaries to West Africa). They love to eat, especially meat, and no dish is complete without a staggering amount of garlic. We brought a lot of food with us to the Christmas festivities. Knowing how much Brazilians enjoy garlic from previous experiences I bought a bag with 10 bulbs. Not 10 cloves – 10 entire bulbs. They used the whole bag in just the meat that we grilled on skewers for Christmas day. It was more than 20 pounds of meat (for 20 people), but still, in my book, that's impressive.

This is pastor Tony skewering the heavily garlic-ed meat on Christmas.

A Christmas cook out. I could get used to this!

Just like our families, they love to joke and they all talk at the same time. Many times I just sat wide-eyed observing everything and understanding almost nothing because it was all in Portuguese. If they thought we would think it was funny or if they wanted to talk to us they spoke in Creole and that was much more helpful. We did start to understand more and more of what was going on as the days went by, but it was really tiring.

All of the Brazilians were really friendly and patient with us (and our Creole), so that was good. A lot of times they thought we were pretty funny. They eat lunch at 1 or so, but then they don't eat dinner until 9 or 10 at night. They thought it was hilarious that Jason and I like to eat dinner at 6. They also think it's funny that we don't like mayonnaise on everything and that we don't put ketchup on our pizza.

Everyone was so funny about the things that I cooked. They all made a huge deal about food from America and everything I made disappeared rapidly. Lots of people wanted recipes for everything, which is more difficult than it sounds because they don't use cups or teaspoons or tablespoons; only liters and milliliters, grams and kilograms. And, they use Celsius instead of Fahrenheit. Sometimes the conversion kind of escapes me. We got some Frenches Onions in the mail, so I made green bean casserole for Christmas (in honor of my sister Amanda) and you would've thought it was gourmet. Everybody was raving about my breakfast potatoes the next morning, but the peanut butter cookies were the biggest hit of all.

I don't make peanut butter cookies very often because peanut butter is really expensive here (four bucks for about a cup) but, I decided to splurge for the New Year's party. People don't really make cookies here and everyone thought they were sensational. They were all talking about how great they would be to take on trips, etc. I told them that I don't make them often because peanut butter is expensive. They smiled and told me a beautiful thing: in the villages they roast peanuts and then pound them into a thick paste that you can buy, and it's pretty cheap. I bought a dollar's worth, mixed it with a dollar's worth of sweetened condensed milk, and some water and viola! It was delicious, the two dollar investment made about 4 cups of peanut butter, and it made great cookies!

Here are some kids in Sinchã Botchi who were following me around one day.

After we got home from all of our travels we did make some hot coco with a candy cane (sent from the US) to celebrate Christmas.

With some advice from Jase I think I took some good scenery pictures in Cussilinta.

Jason thought this would be silly but I really like it.

This tree was sweet!