Sunday, 26 May 2013

Is That 'Nor' for Northampton or Norway ?

This weekend, has been somewhat of a landmark time for me. For the first time in about 18 years I have not travelled to the Annual Camp of 1st Hinckley Boys' Brigade. This year celebrating their 50th year of camping. I am not up to my armpits in cooking utensils, starting a week long marathon of providing three meals a day for about 60 hungry mouths. 99% of which are male.
Instead, I have been sitting relaxing in the sun, in Central Africa. I started to feel a little unsettled about missing 'Camp'. For all it's hard work, it was always one of my favourite times of the year. I spent a week surrounded by people I cared about, doing something tangibly useful. Part of me was quite unhappy about not being there. I began to feel I was missing out.
So, I started along the, 'right-where-would -you-rather-be' line of thought. I love living in Burundi, I love teaching in Burundi.......... Then, as I wandered round the garden contemplating things. It occurred to me, it's not really a case of setting the two things against each other. It's a case of accepting, that I am in Burundi now. My life has changed, my experiences have changed, my relationships have changed. That's what life does, it changes. Life is full of variety and difference. I suddenly became aware of all the different leaves in the garden. How dull would it be, if they were all the same? It's not a case of, 'I'd rather be here,' it's a case of, this is where I am. This is what I am doing now. To come to the conclusion that I'd rather be doing this, seems to devalue what I have done in the past. That doesn't feel like a good way to deal with the now. If I could, I would do both! But I can't. I have to value what I have now and treasure what I have had in the past.

Late Saturday morning, I went of to the beach with a number of others. We were happily sitting on the beach, having partaken of an 'old chestnut' of a conversation entitled, 'Is it right for us rich Westerners to enjoy ourselves, flaunting our wealth and relaxing in the sunshine, when the majority of the population of Burundi cannot afford to do so?' We had reached the uneasy conclusion, that rest and relaxation were important factors of our lives. We had perhaps a slight discomfort with the knowledge that there were possibly other ways of relaxing, that did not  require patronising a posh hotel where Fantas are 3000fbu instead of the usual 1500fbu.
In the ,water near us a group of children were swimming/washing in the lake. They were not patrons of the hotel. They were clearly poor children sent to the lake to wash themselves and their clothes (and have some fun at the same time).
Suddenly, I was aware of a bit of a commotion at the water's edge. The children were coming out of the water. A passing mzungu (white man) stopped walking and rushed back to the children. As I stood up to see what was happening, I realised to my horror that they were dragging the body of a small child out of the water. The body of a little boy, who had moments before made us all chuckle, because he had brazenly removed most of his clothes and bared his bottom to us, before joining his playmates in the water.
Fortunately, one of our group was a medical doctor. Immediately, action was taken to resuscitate. I was shocked to realise that there was no ambulance to call. His only chance of life was the fact that there were rich westerners on the beach near where he had drowned. He was rushed off to the nearest hospital and did in fact start breathing on the way. He regained consciousness eventually and was basically ok and reunited with his family.
He was a very tiny, little 8 year old Congolese refugee. His home is a 'camp' not far from the lake. He had come to the lake in the care of an 8 year old friend. Whose job it was to make sure he didn't go in the water, because he is epileptic. His friend had been having so much fun in the water, he forgot to watch out.
Because he survived I can share this one amusing aspect to the story, which will be lost on anyone who hasn't ever watched SouthPark. His name was Kenny!
(The picture, is a group of street boys swimming/washing in the lake, taken on a previous visit to the beach)
 Following the trip to the beach, I had the privilege of being able to watch Leicester Tigers win the 2013 Aviva Premiership. My viewing companions being Anya (aged 3) and Molly (puppy 9 weeks). Neither of whom seemed to quite appreciate the significance of the events unfolding upon the TV. There is nothing quite like a three year old, man-handling a small puppy, to distract you from an exciting rugby match!
Half way through, I was joined by Anya's 6 year old brother, Daniel. He was a far more appreciative companion. Asking sensible questions like, 'who do we want to win the greens or the whites?' He was a little disappointed to discover that Nor stood for Northampton not Norway. But he was ecstatic when I told him that the greens were in fact winning. And he just watched and cheered without worrying about who was doing what or why?

 So, here I am Blogging on a Sunday night. Missing Camp, but in a positive way. Enjoying and appreciating the new depth and experiences my life holds.
Thanking God that Kenny is alive and Tigers are the Champions!!

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Squatting Skills!

It all started with a simple conversation that went roughly along these lines..
' I'm going to Rwanda next week, to do a Children's Mission.'
'That sounds good.'
' I told the Pastor I would bring a friend. But I don't know who that friend will be.'
' Can it be me?'
' Yes, certainly.'

So, I found myself as a 'friend' on a trip to Rwanda. Mary (Kenyan housemate from previous Blogs and previous house) my ' friend' was not sure exactly where we were going or where we would be staying. She had met this Rwandan pastor on a bus a few months back. They had got chatting. He invited her to go to his church in Rwanda to do a 'Mission' with children. Sorted!

We started with a moto ride to the bus station. I arrived without aching fingers! Steady progress on the moto riding front. We were then packed into the Volcano bus, travelling from Bujumbura to Kigali. No exits were kept clear! Luggage was not securely fixed! No seat belts were worn! Gangways were filled with fold down seats! Mrs Health-and-Safety was having apoplectic fits inside my head. But she said nothing!!

The route from Bujumbura to the border is somewhat windy (as in curly), requiring careful monitoring on my part as to whom to keep out of my eye line. Random occurrences of travel sickness were high on the list of activities of the other passengers. We arrived at the Border with the contents of our stomachs secure. Which could not be said of many of the other passengers!
That's our bus in the distance.

I'm not an experienced Border crosser, so have nothing with which to compare this event. It required us leaving the bus and walking first to the Burundian office, to show our passports. My details were all written down by hand in a 'book'. Not something that seemed to happen to most of the others in the queue. We then walked the 500 yards across the bridge into Rwanda, where we presented more paperwork and were allowed into the country.

Back on the bus and on to Kigali. It is at this point that Mary confesses that she is not entirely sure where we are going. I endure my first of what is going to be many conversations that directly affect me, but I understand not a word of! Strangely, I feel quite relaxed about it all. It's an adventure! It turns out we are getting off at Muhanga Town (formerly known as Gitarama) .

We tumble out of the bus and into crowds of people, to be met by a grinning Rwandan man in a trilby. Mary has another confession, she is relieved to find that she recognises the man as the pastor she met on the bus. She had been concerned that she might not remember what he looked like.  Another  'conversation'. I have settled on the 'just-stand-here-and-smile' approach.  Seconds later we are on the Rwandan version of the moto and zipping off to who knows where.

Where? Was Pastor Michael's house. Turns out that was Pastor Emmanuel we met. Turns out, that over the next 3 days I am going to meet a whole host of Pastors, of all shapes and sizes and varying degrees of importance.

We are now given the answer to the question of where we are going to stay. In the guest accommodation of Pastor Michael's house. There is one bed in a small room. Deep breath. That's Ok. Pastor Michael is a little thrown by the fact that Mary's friend is a mzungu.  He asks if the accommodation is ok? Maybe we would rather stay in a hotel. At this point I make an internal decision, 'it's an adventure, accept whatever comes.' The pictures can maybe tell the story more adequately than my words.

Fortunately, Mary decided she didn't want to share a bed with me. So this is the extra bed put in the other room. I couldn't get a proper picture of my room, as it was too small to get into the camera focus. My bed had a mosquito net, big advantage. And it was a proper bed, not a mattress on the floor, even bigger advantage.
The Toilet! Round the corner from our rooms. Used by the whole household. Sporting a very fetching mosquito netting door. The picture was taken with the flash, as it wasn't quite light enough inside to see anything without it. Took a few deep breaths when I saw it. Then wished I hadn't!
The bathroom. Again flash photography. No electricity in the toilet or bathroom.
 Indoor kitchen.
 Outdoor kitchen. All purpose area if it's too wet to reach the toilet or bathroom!! (Not for me, I hasten to add. I reached the toilet regardless of how hard it was raining!)
The front of the house.

The hardest cross cultural boundary I've had to negotiate so far in my travels has to be that of the, 'Sqatting toilet'. My toilet skills are well and truly English. I have in all my years never had cause to develop any ability to adequately and successfully squat to achieve relief. Of course there has been the odd, 'Long journey' or 'Motorway traffic' emergency squat. But they were never entirely successful or skillful. I discovered some very important issues, like, is it best to squat with feet flat on the floor or up on the toes? What if, as I discovered, I can't squat flat footed? How does one keep ones balance and ensure the target is hit?  Without going into too much more inappropriate detail, all I can say is, that my skills only amounted to the level that would achieve grade 1 of the 2 required for successful relief of my bodily systems. Needless to say, but I will, I was literally extremely relieved when I got back home to Burundi and my very English toilet!

The kitchen provided generous amounts of food at lunch and again between 8pm and 9pm. Each meal made up of chips, rice, bugali (playdoh), sombe (no 2 on hated greens list), meat in juice and  a. n. other component. My failure to reach Grade 2 in the relief skills department, meant the consumption of copious amounts of starch based food caused some considerable discomfort! Pastor Michael was adamant that I should consume 'African' portions at both meals and actively made sure I had huge dollops of rice and bugali! His generosity was well meant but uncomfortable to receive.

On a more serious note. After lunch on the first day we went to visit a family who were coming to the end of a week of mourning for the loss of their 35 year old son.
 The son Ananias, had been fit and healthy. But week ago, he called his father in during the night, saying he was feeling very ill. They took him to hospital, but he died before the morning came. He was the sole earner of the family. The oldest of 6 siblings. He was supporting his younger sister through university and hoping to help another sister start university next year.His father is crippled and cannot work. The family are already extremely poor.
As I sat in the house, it was overwhelming to think that this was a family home occupied by 7 people. It was dark and damp. It had no electricity. No ceilings. The floor was made of damp bricks and mud. The walls plastered with rough cement.  I could not understand how anyone could live in those conditions and still smile.

The picture of the parents (above) to me says it all. On the one hand the absolute grief on the father's face and on the other, the determined smile on the mother's face. When Pastor Michael asked me to share a word of encouragement to them, I felt at a total loss to know how I could even begin to speak into their lives.  I have to confess that a big part of my 'sharing' this story is that I hope there is someone out there reading this blog, who has the resources to help this family. It costs around $800 a year, for the girls to go to university. If they were able to complete their education, there is a strong possibility they might lift the whole family out of the poverty trap they are caught in. It so often takes money to generate money. If you multiply nothing you get nothing.
Over the next few days Pastor Michael presented me with more opportunities to help and minister in Rwanda. He would love to start a Christian school for the children of the area. The poverty in Rwanda is real. But my heart is in Burundi! So again I offer it up to you the readers. There are great opportunities for ministry in Rwanda. If you are interested in any way, please contact Pastor Michael : Rhema Life Ministries : mrhemalife@yahoo.Fr  Maybe you could just mention that it was Liz who alerted you. I have to admit to feeling a bit guilty that I could not commit to do more myself. But after reflection I realised that maybe 'blogging' was the best I had to offer just now.
Saturday, Mary led the children's mission. I sat on a plastic chair at the front, with Pastor Michael and tried to look suitably important. It was a little difficult as the whole session was in Swahili, translated into Kirwanda. I struggled even more in the afternoon, when we had a session for Sunday school teachers. There might have been just a little dozing going on and a lot less looking important. The day ended with an impromtu attendance of myself at the choir practice. I have attemtped to put a video clip onto You tube. The sound made by the choir of around a dozen young people was incredible. I felt a real sense of awe and wonder at being a witness to it. Pastor Michael in true African pastor style invited me to 'speak' at the end. What could I say? Two years ago I had decided that I had, had enough of life. Two years ago  around this time I'd attempted to 'stop' my life. But God had intervened. He'd not finished with me, even if I had finished with Him. And here I was sitting in the middle of Africa listening to the most beautiful sound. A living testimony to the fact that 'All things are possible with God'.
So to end, a brief compare and contrast activity. Burundi and Rwanda. Well, they both have poverty. They both have a tragic recent history to come to terms with. They both have lots and lots of laughing, cheeky faced children. They both have plenty of people with dreams and aspirations to improve their countries.

A very proud Pastor Michael with the children who came to the mission. Ebeneezer Church has been open four just 4 years. The building has walls and a roof !

What does Rwanda have that Burundi does not? Road markings, road signs, pavements, supermarkets, with trolleys, ribena, high rise buildings, traffic lights, an open acknowledgement of it's history, recognition in the wider world, membership of the Commonwealth, English as it's second language, lots of rain and lower temperatures!

What does Burundi have that Rwanda doesn't? Hippos, Lake Tanganyika, lots of sunshine, high temperatures,  and crocodiles. Given more time and experience I'm sure I will think of more things.

One thing I know for sure, it was great visiting Rwanda, but it was even greater to get back 'home'.