Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The little coconut that could...

I've been home alone for a little over a week now. Steve and Sam are in Cameroon with Joe and Meg. They are there to help with some issues that have arisen of late. I had a plan. I was going to repaint the entire annex part of the guest house on Monday through Wednesday. This included transforming Steve's tiny office into a tiny over-flow guest room. We are a small guest house but we are a busy one. Many times four bedrooms is just not sufficient. By the weekend we were going to be full and need that over-flow guest room.

I peeled off old wallpaper and painted for hours over three days with the help of our guardian Gustave. We finished painting and moved furniture around and hung African art on the walls and by Wednesday late afternoon we were finished. I was tired but content with the work. Then I awoke on Thursday morning to the sound of water sloshing around outside my window. I discovered our Gabonese teammate Maman Celine outside trying to clear away standing water on the front porch. As I went into the living/dining room to let her into the house I found myself sloshing about in water INSIDE my house as well. She came in and commenced to help me with the flood waters. I walked out towards the small laundry room to get a broom and slipped and fell. I fell hard and slammed the side of my head into the door frame as I went down onto a cement and tile floor. I lay there a bit dazed but in one piece. Soon I felt my right temple swelling with each pound of my pulse. Did I mention that the power was out?

I had lit some candles to help us see in the dim morning light. As I reclined on the sofa amidst the waters, holding an icepack to my pounding head, Tozer, our dog, came running through the room from the backyard yelping and sliding crazily about. Before we could usher him out the front door the overpowering odor of gasoline filled the room. Our guardian,in an attempt to help Tozer with the plague-like proportion of ticks all over him, doused the poor dog in gasoline. Apparently this is a village technique to kill ticks. I was certain that the room would explode from the toxic combination of gas fumes and half a dozen lit candles. Fortunately it didn't blow.

After getting all the water out of the house,I had to turn my attention to poor Tozer. We discovered ticks everywhere, all over him and climbing the walls of the guest house. It was so disturbing. I had to take immediate action on Tozer's behalf. I got into our car, which had recently been repaired twice for a battery problem caused by the brake lights staying on while the car is turned off which in turn drained the battery. I believed it to be fixed. Foreshadowing... I went to the pharmacy with Celine and found the best tick meds I could find as well as some spray to kill the ticks infesting the guest house. It was very expensive but unavoidable as the problem had multiplied to biblical proportions.

As I approached the car in the parking lot of Mbolo I noticed with sinking despair my break lights shining in the brilliance of a hot sunny day. Sure enough when I attempted to start the car it coughed piteously once or twice and then there was silence. I called Papy the car tech, who had already "fixed" this problem twice and I explained my predicament. He assured me he would be there toute de suite! (right away) So we sat there in the sweltering heat and I tried to hold off the discouragement that attempted to wrap itself about me like a heavy woolen cloak. I wanted to shake my fist heavenward and yell, "Is this all you've got!!" I refrained. Papy showed up and I paid his taxi fare, then paid another taxi to jump start the battery. Papy was all smiles and assurances. I let him know that I was not happy. I told him I had no confidence in his work as he had supposedly repaired this problem twice. We rode home in silence. I got out of the car and left Papy to his work and Maman Celine and I continued with ours. Gustave treated Tozer with the medication and began to treat the rest of the house with the expensive spray to kill the ticks that were raging war against us.

To my surprise the power was back on. I spent the rest of the day getting ready for the three visitors that were coming from Bongolo. In the midst of all of that four Gabonese friends paid a visit and we attempted to skype call someone in the states, I was to be the interpretor. The call didn't go through and we visited for a bit in my living room sharing a bowl of popcorn amidst the recently flooded space which was still very much in disarray. They left and I made dinner. It was on the table by 6:30 that evening. We (the visitors from Bongolo and I) had a lovely visit and ate chicken in red curry sauce mixed with coconut milk. Oh the irony.

Later after dinner and all the dishes were done and all had retired to their rooms, I finally sat down and breathed a sigh of relief as the day was over. Just then a huge tropical rain storm began raging outside. It occurred to me that we never discovered the reason why the flooding happened in the first place. What then was to stop it from happening again? I looked out the window and to my dismay, the waters were rising and rapidly approaching my front door. My house sits on the lowest point of the property. I ran outside and called for the night guardian Gary. He was no where to be found. The rain was deafening. I tried to sweep the waters away from the front door. I ran in and called my dear friend Karen who had just traveled up from Bongolo and was staying upstairs in the guest house. She came down and we attempted to figure out why the water wasn't draining. I took the end of the broom handle and shoved it frantically into the drain and felt resistance. There was blockage of some kind. Karen went out to find Gary. She found him across the street hanging out at a small store. He went into our storage unit and found a long steel pole and began shoving it into the drain as Karen swept at the rising waters. I will never forget her in her long skirt, soaked to the bone shouting at Gary to look out. He was focused on the drain and wasn't watching the other end of the pole which was narrowly missing Dr. Thompson's car parked near the drain.

It was harrowing as the rain poured and pounded and the lightning flashed and thunder rumbled. Gary was the only one wearing a rain coat. It was bright yellow and blowing in the wind and rain, I felt as if we should instead be on board a ship at sea in a raging storm. Gary was yelling that the power would cut out at any moment plunging us into darkness. Karen,in an act of futility, continued to sweep the water away from the door. It was more like she was stirring and paddling the water. Tozer was splashing about and throwing his floating toys into the air with a gleeful expression on his huge canine face. I imagined ticks flying off of him and swimming for dear life while I furiously built a wall of towels in the living room. The towels were getting saturated. There was nothing more we could do. I stood in the living room soaked with my hair plastered against my face and shouted to Gary and Karen to stop what they were doing. It wasn't working. All we could do was pray that the rains would stop. It was strangely freeing to know that it was up to God. I had done all that could be done.

Karen went back to her room and Gary went to where ever he goes and I shut the door and continued to lay towel after towel against the door. When that was done I changed into dry clothes and brushed through my wet, tangled hair. I prayed and tried to go to sleep. The sound of rain is usually so comforting but that night it was the sound of impending doom.

Amazingly in the morning I found a dry living room. I'd never rejoiced so over an ordinary day, standing in my dry living room. Gustave, our guardian extraordinaire, went about clearing out the drain. He put on his rubber boots and grabbed a shovel and pick axe and started to work. He worked all day. Incredibly he found a coconut that had caused the blockage that caused the flood. It was the little coconut that could! I was so happy to have found the cause and blissfully went about my life. That is until the next rain storm. I forced myself to sleep to the sound of the pounding rain over the next two nights. Sure enough early Sunday morning I received a call from Karen. She was packing to drive back to Bongolo and noticed my porch was flooded again. It hadn't flooded into the house. I don't really know why it didn't. The waters covered my porch. Tozer's water and food bowls were floating about and water was sloshing against the door but it didn't come in. By this time my eye had purpled into a lovely black eye. It is my first black eye I am pleased to report. It throbbed every time I bent over to lay out towels or pound away at a blocked drain.

It seemed we needed to drill another drain in the front of the house. Perhaps due to new construction of a large house next door the rain water has run a new path. Who knows exactly but once again Gustave came to the rescue. He has just completed our new drain. I love that new drain! It is wondrous and lovely to behold. I stand at the window and watch as the rushing waters run out and keep our porch dry. That love of my new drain is only tarnished by Dr. Thompson's observation today that now rats and feral cats may come into the compound. We may need to consider some kind of grill to attach to the open drain... Now I'm imagining feral cats fighting and rats running amuck and infesting our house with all manor of vile vermin... C'est la vie.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Tinder Fungus

Last night I walked into the living room (where Sam and Steve were watching Ultimate Survivor) just in time to see Bear Grylls' eyes light up as he cried out "tinder fungus!" He then crashed through the soggy forest floor, running towards a slender tree with a shelf-like mushroom growth jutting out of it. He pulled it off the tree and began to explain that Tinder Fungus is a type of fungus that holds a coal very well for a long period of time, and ignites easily. This was, Bear explained, an important discovery in early civilizations that enabled hunters to go farther from home without the fear of being without a fire. Wow, portable fire nestled within fungus. That Bear Grylls, always a fount of knowledge!

Tinder Fungus is a natural way to transport a spark of fire covered with moss long distances. Bear, in fact, lit a bit of tinder and pushed it deep into the fungus then covered it with moss and put it in his ever present backpack. He took it out from time to time to blow on it, to keep the spark alive. He later had the reward of being able to light a fire to boil eggs he had found in a pheasants nest with, I might add, some filthy, disgusting, muddy water. As a side note, never eat while watching Ultimate Survivor. The pheasant egg when cracked open by Bear contained a partially developed pheasant fetus... need I say more?

I thought about this tinder fungus as I was drifting off to sleep last night. It occurred to me that I am far from home facing a sometimes cold hearth in my heart. Yet, I have the Holy Spirit residing within me. My very own spark to light dark nights and give heat in cold moments of loneliness. And I also must tend to the spark lest it go out. I must daily, hourly, minute by minute, attend to the Spirit within me.

It's also a fun thing to say... Tinder Fungus... Go ahead, say it! It's even better with an English accent. The next bright idea I get I'm going to shout out "tinder fungus!" with perhaps the same wild-eyed expression that Bear had just before he charged through the forest.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Clinic

A small concrete block building, two main rooms with a few smaller spaces made out of flimsy plywood walls and curtained doorways. Unadorned smooth concrete floors meet mismatched plastic chairs lined up in an L-shape along the wall. A rough plywood desk divides the patient area from the pharmacy area. I've been sitting in that small pharmacy area counting out pills for patients and learning to take blood pressure with the automatic cuff every morning this week. I sit under the watchful eyes of Mama Jeanine and Mama Perine. Mama Jeanine is a Bongolo taught nurse that has been running the clinic for years. I've known Mama Jeanine since we first moved to Libreville a little over two years ago but have just begun to help out at the clinic. What can I say about Mama Jeanine... she is a force to be reckoned with, she loves laughter and playing practical jokes, she is a leader, she works hard but believes in having fun along the way. She said to me just the other day, "what will our story be for today?" She is an encouragement to my bruised soul.

The two main rooms at the clinic are two separate clinics, one for the body and one for the eyes. The clinic charges each patient $10.00 for a consultation with a nurse and medicine. It is all inclusive, no matter how much or how little meds each needs. Everything from mulit-vitamins and Tylenol to more complicated meds for high blood pressure or malaria are dispensed.

Mama Jeanine mentioned that with school starting soon, the clinic is a sparce due to money being spent on school supplies and not medicine for the sick. There was a tiny older mama that came into the clinic the third morning I was there, she walked in and held out her hands as if to encompass all that were there and declared in a loud voice, "Hello my children!" She went to everyone and clasped their hand in hers and greeted us individually. She then proceeded to tell Mama Jeanine that she didn't sleep well because there is a crab and a rooster walking inside her stomach. Then Mama Perine leaned in to tell me in an exaggerated whisper that this older woman was clearly a "yanglaie", a crazy person! Earlier Mama Jeanine and Mama Perine were telling me some stories and this term came up. They tell me it is a slang word here in Gabon for crazy people, Yanglaie for women and Yanglo for men. Apparently this women comes in often with her hypertension problems and always arrives as if she the beloved matriarch of a grand family. The grand family being whoever is in the clinic at the time!

This tiny clinic has become a place of healing for me, not in a physical sense but in a spirit sense. Right now I am going through a time of loss. It is, for Steve and me, one of the most difficult times in our married lives together. We have in the two short years here become the most senior members of our American missionary team in Libreville. That is due to many goodbyes as friends have moved on to other places. One most recent goodbye took us by surprise and has left us reeling in shock and heartache. We have also said goodbye to two of our children. Joe and Meg are living in another country to the north of us, Cameroon. They are attending an international school and living with friends of ours there. This move of theirs came after much prayer and discussion and with my heart in my throat I said goodbye to them on August 31st after spending a month with them in their new place. It was the hardest goodbye yet! Steve also recently shipped his broken airplane to the states in container, very discouraging as we have spend years to get the plane here and it was only in use for three months before an emergency landing grounded it, literally. It will be a year before the repairs will be completed. So with all these goodbyes, we find ourselves beginning again.

I had a dream the other night that this time is one of margin. We have time to grieve and time to begin again. We cannot run from this time nor can we rush through it. We must patiently walk through it. "God is, indeed, our Father, He gives only good gifts to His children - even when the wrapping is unattractive to our eyes." -Maxine Hancock

I am learning lots of new terms at the clinic as I pass out meds to the sick, phrases like, "au meme moment" and "dose unique" which translate to "at the same time" and "one sole dose", meaning to be taken all at once. It translates to more than just those I am giving meds to, it translates to my life now as I am going through all sorts of loss at the same time and all at once. I have a heavenly Father who has prescribed this time and given medicine to my soul as I work alongside these sisters of mine, Mama Jeanine and Mama Perine, in a small rough clinic in a messy and chaotic city in central Africa. And we begin each day with prayer.