Thursday, September 26, 2013

My rain forest house

I've lived in many places: lots of American places, an English place, a French Alps place, a Gabon sea-side place and now a rain forest place.  We live in a large house with 7 bedrooms, a study room and craft room, 6 bathrooms, several screened terraces, a large living/dining room with golden wooded ceilings and a kitchen, bright with light and views to the house next door and forest beyond.  This house is shared by 14 souls (that's pilot talk for people).  14 people from far flung places converging for this year in this place.  Some of us were little more than strangers when we moved in just over 8 weeks ago.
UBAC Hostel

God has nestled us here in a rainforest filled with wild night sounds.  A chorus of singing crickets and deep-throated croaking toads and hyraxes screaming like banshees slip in through open windows.  Hyraxes are often mistaken for rodents but are actually more closely related to elephants.  It's like something out of a Dr. Seuss book.  They scream all through the night with an eerie cry that sounds sometimes like a child and sometimes like a woman.  Recently I heard a distant drumming rhythmically sounding out a dramatic scene somewhere hidden within the dense trees.  My favorite soundtrack to fall asleep to is African rain falling heavy and loud on the tin roof.  
Looks like an elephant right?!

There is also our beloved African Grey Parrot named Kojak.  He has a home on our front porch where he can greet all with either exuberance or indifference.  He is known to say all sorts of things.  He refuses to repeat any of my offerings but sticks to calling various students names and can often be heard saying, "My name is Barack Obama... haa haa haa"  He also calls out a hopeful "co-co-co" which translates to "knock knock knock"  One of these days we should welcome him in just to see what he will do!  He plucks out his feathers neurotically and often will swivel his head around and bite the unsuspecting soul petting his head!
This rain forest place has quickly become home.  I am amazed at the way God has drawn us all together.  Each year is different as life as a missionary/international worker is transient.  Our days begin early with breakfast prep at about 5:45 and unfolds from there.  Our kids must be at school by 7:30 and they go till 3:20 with sports and small groups and various clubs often going until 5:30 or 6:00 many evenings.  I set the table for 14 to have dinner around 6:30 and have house devotions and dish team clean-up before they can even begin their homework.  We have a wonderful cook, Conelia, who prepares wonderful food for us!  Our middle schoolers have a study hour on the back terrace 5 or 6 times a week.  Our weekends quickly fill up with sports and other activities.

Yesterday I stood on a soggy green soccer field holding an umbrella bending with the wind and weight of driving rain.  I braved the weather to watch Sam, Eric, Tim and Lyle play soccer.  Before long my little umbrella was sheltering 8 giggling cheering girls.  They leaned in and huddled up.  I felt very protective and motherly sharing my flimsy shelter with them.  When the thunder boomed and the lightning split a white jagged line across the sky I took shelter. However unlikely I was concerned and wondered aloud if the games should be cancelled as those kiddos were exposed on the green, vulnerable to great big fiery bolts of death shooting out of the sky.  No one else seemed concerned and since clear skies were moving in I kept my hysterical rant internal.

Steve and I have begun walk/jogging most mornings after the kids head to school.  We do a 3 kilometer circuitous route around the campus of RFIS.  It's great to simply walk next door and exercise.  In LBV we lived in a crowded quartier in the sweltering humidity of our sea-side city.  Here we live at a higher elevation and the temps have been much cooler thus far.  Steve is so kind to match my pace.  He could run circles around me!  I made a reference to him about my cramping his style and he quoted an African proverb to me, "I can go faster alone but we can go farther together."  My goal is to jog the whole 3ks by Christmas.

One morning we were walking around the soccer field while a PE class was playing softball.  Just as we hit the straightaway someone yelled out to us.  We turned and saw that our dog Tozer was trotting towards us in a happy loping gait with a silly grin on his canine face as if to say, "Hey guys I made it to the other side of the fence, aren't you proud?!"  We called to him and took a couple of steps when Doria the dog that lives on the RFIS campus came out of nowhere and charged Tozer with great menacing growls.  Suddenly our goofy dog who runs away from dogs half his size, even cats for goodness sake, became a raging fighting machine before our very eyes.  

The PE class froze as did I while Steve ran for the dogs shouting their names.  He got close and began using his feet to try and separate the snarling, biting, wrestling, growling dogs.  I was completely shocked and made no movement to help Steve as he alone tried to pull the dogs apart.  He finally got Tozer down and yelled for someone to get Doria away.  I kind of snapped out of my stunned stupor and moved forward to help.  By then the guardian from our house had come up and grabbed Tozer.  

It turns out that Tozer was running away from another much smaller dog in our yard just as one of the workers from RFIS was going through the gate separating our property from the school's.  Tozer barreled past the worker, through the door, and headed our way.  He got out of our gate 4 times total that day.  We are working with everyone using the gate between our house and the school to make sure Tozer is kept away.  He hasn't gotten out recently.  It was quite alarming to see our very docile dog go postal!    

Tozer the wonder dog!

We are having all kinds of adventures this year being dorm parents, or hostel parents as they say here.  No, not hostile parents! Not usually!  I don't have many photos of our entire hostel family but I did snap a shot of most of us during our excursion to buy street food called soya ("chop-chop" in Gabon) about a month ago.  The woman, Margaret, starting this venture is well known to our team here and wanted to branch out to a street-side bbq business.  Our next door neighbor hostel CMF helped get the business started.  We were happy to support this delicious new soya place. 

We are just 2 weeks away from our fall break.  It will be great to relax a bit before diving back into the routine of our very full house!

Friday, May 10, 2013

"Cha cha cha cha changes, turn and face the strain..."

11 days from today I will board a plane and leave this place.  Gabon has been our home for nearly 5 years.  When we came fresh from language school in the French Alps we were abruptly thrust into a new way of living.  The learning curve was high and we often felt completely overwhelmed and out-muscled.  My new life went ninja-like on me and my leg was more than swept! (mixed metaphors I know)  However, little by little, this new place became the new normal.  We home schooled our kids with a couple of embassy and missionary families, we learned to drive Kamikaze-style, we reset our expectations of what one could do in a certain amount of time, we sweat buckets in the sweltering humid heat, we stumbled our way through speaking french with twisted tongues and hazy understanding.  We placed our kiddos in boarding school a country away.  We started a mission aviation program for the Bongolo Hospital, from scratch, with no previous experience to guide us.  We were stretched.  And when I say stretched I mean being torturously stretched out and knotted again and again by some kind of mental ancient medieval menace.  It was like becoming a huge and hopelessly tangled chain of humanity.  To say it was stressful would be a rip-roaring hilarious understatement.

Yet we made this place our home. This place has sheltered us from many storms.  The kind of storms that bluster and blow, drumming down torrential rain, flashing lightning with blinding brilliance and booming out thunder that reverberate a wall of sound straight through the human skeletal system.  This place has seen celebrations of first and last meetings, laughter has bounced off the walls and tears have been wept.  Friendships have blossomed with glorious vibrance and, sadly, some have withered away.  We are not the same people we were when we first first walked through the front door.

So now we leave for a time.  Soon we will be in Cameroon to watch our oldest son graduate from high school.  Then we will fly across the Atlantic to prepare our son for university.  He and our daughter need drivers licenses and other necessities.  Then we will leave our oldest behind and fly back across the Atlantic to Cameroon to become dorm parents and for Steve to enter into a management internship with missionary aviation group, SIL.  A new adventure, not for the faint of heart!  We will spend next year living and learning a whole new curve of life.

So as I pack up in Gabon I am remembering God's faithfulness every single step, tear, stumble, fall, failure and success.  In the beginning I didn't think I'd survive.  In my puny weakness I called out to God and in the quiet places within and beyond the quake of struggle, He answered and strengthened.  He delighted to make me new, to make me beautiful.

So now that there is some sense of belonging and normalcy we will plunge head-long into another crucible of change.  When I tremble before the new and unknown I am reminded that we go not alone!

This song is like a virus I catch every time change is in the works, ever since junior high!  It drums out it's melody and hovers in the background of my psychie, thank you oh so much David Bowie...        
"Cha cha cha cha changes... turn and face the strain... cha cha changes... I watch the ripples change their size but never leave the stream of warm impermanence so the days float through my eyes but still the days seem the same..."          

Thursday, April 25, 2013

my ipod, Lazarus... from silence to sound

"In the aftermath of an exuberant craft time clean-up by a group of deaf kids being ministered to by some lovely visitors from France my ipod drowned on the kitchen counter, a victim of a mini flash-flood cascading down the kitchen cabinets from the guest house bathroom directly above. The soapy water tinged with "washable" green paint murdered my poor ipod. I'm left with an empty husk of technology, my music silenced and still."  This was my facebook status last night.  As mourned the loss of my music I was struck by the irony of my musical silence being inadvertently brought on by a group of deaf kids.  They have never heard music, any kind of music, and in thinking along those lines I felt overwhelmed by sadness, not at my loss, but by theirs.  The team from France is here to work with the one and only deaf school in all of Gabon.  The kids attending this school represent a mere fraction of the deaf population here in Gabon.  

Due to the rolling power cuts here in the capital city a group of kids bused to our little guest house to make a video.  They painted their hands with vibrant artistic designs and placed their brightly painted hands over a black backdrop laid out on a table and were filmed from above.  Their hands dancing across the backdrop forming fluid communication.  I imagine it is a beautiful film, a chorus of flashing vibrant signs, hands of differing sizes coming together and parting again signing stories and songs against the black.  

Words are like that, a flash of color splashed across a cavernous void.  Words link us.  They act as a binding agent when flung out in friendship.  They also can sever tender threads of connection when thrown out in anger and fear.  Words are some kind of beautiful magic.  I love how words like beating hearts circulate life with each pounding pulse.  Words fight to be born, whether through vocal cords or hands or symbols across stone or paper or screens.  

My words typed out to facebookland about the demise of my ipod garnered much sympathy and one bit of sage advice from my dear friend Mary, "Stick it in a bag of rice for a few days and it may come back to life."  So that is just what I did.  I had a tupperware container of sifted uncooked rice and I plunged my lifeless ipod deep within and left it on the counter.  This morning I pulled my ipod out and tried to turn it on.  I was very skeptical that such a fix would do the trick.  I pushed the power button and... nothing happened.  I was met with a dark and empty screen, not a blip or a flash of life.  I wasn't surprised but at the same time I felt the loss all over again.  Curses to false hope!  Then for some unknown reason I plugged it into my charger/player and I pushed the power button again.  As I started to turn away, out of the corner of my eye, I saw an apple icon slowly go from dim to bright.  I couldn't believe my eyes!  My ipod has been resurrected! The music cannot be silenced! The uncooked rice immersion was much like a baptism of a most Holy Order! Death to life, empty darkness to resplendent light!  Hallelujah!  

So as the music plays and I type out these words I am once again a believer!  I believe in miracles both big and small!  I love how words move across lips or hands to land deep within.  I love The Word.  The first and the last Word: Alpha and Omega.  Even when ears are closed and no sound can penetrate, words still filter their way deep inside the soul of each human heart.  Music winds it's way by sound or by movement.  Colors splash against the vast empty.  Death to life.  The miracle of The Word.  

My favorite story is eternal, The Word became flesh.  "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God... Through him all things were made... In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness..."  John 1:1-4  Just as words dance even in silence formed by flashing signs made from hands and fingers of flesh, may your day be resplendent with bright words of life and light and may you know The Word and be made complete in knowing. 

So this is my story of silence to sound.  Of deaf kids signing words with painted hands dancing across darkness and a flood (not of epic proportions) and my ipod now aptly named Lazarus.