Home for Good…for now

April 7, 2008 at 10:51 pm | Posted in 1 | Leave a comment

Hello Loved Ones,

Yes, this blog update marks my last entry made in Ghana before ending my employment at OPE and departing for the U.S. on the 3rd of April. The entry has been happily posted in San Francisco, CA where I landed Friday afternoon and where I will stay with a good friend for about a week and a half before heading back to central Pennsylvania to look for work and ministry opportunities and a place to settle for the time being. It’s so beautiful here! And cold! My ideal temperature is a little farther south but with the beauty, bounty and coastline I’m suddenly overwhelmed by, I’m not complaining. It feels so nice to be back in California, the state of my youth. There’s a church not three blocks away which means I can walk to it and enjoy grace-filled daily masses. Twice an hour I hear the bus make a stop outside the window and I’m filled with a combination of keen awareness and wonder at the sheer regularity and efficiency with which it operates; this small, insignificant aspect of Western living. To me now it seems more like a shared limo that the city invested in to make my life better; a clean atmosphere and seats, no one cheating me on the price of transport. What a concept. What a wealthy-country concept

The past month has been a blur of activity as I have undertaken everything necessary to wrap up my life here and prepare to move back to the West, From shopping around for shipping prices and options, to exchanging all my foreign currencies, to buying materials and having some suits and clothes made, to saying my goodbyes, I was hopping all around Accra like an over-caffeinated energizer bunny. I was hoping to either remain in Accra for several weeks working with the street children I met while living here, volunteering at a L’Arche community in France (group homes for disabled persons) or going to Kenya to stay with a small Catholic community there. Ghana girl was morphing into something else…but the more I prayed and listened, the clearer it became to me that it’s time to come home and prepare to return to school. The signs weren’t hard to interpret: Nairobi surprisingly erupted into violence, the EU is still working out residency requirements for foreign volunteers/workers, and our landlord in Accra would not renew our lease past last Friday.

MY LAST RIDE

So much has happened since my last update and I couldn’t possibly describe it all. My last ride to Central African Republic was a very satisfying way to wrap up this whole experience of living and working in West Africa. CAR was the farthest northeast that I’ve ever been in Africa. The topography was interestingly different from West Africa, The hills, higher elevation and coolness in the evenings reminded me of Zambia, whose beauty I missed. Our processing site was in a big house up on a hill that overlooked the Oubangui River which serves as the border between CAR and DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo). A nice location!

We were supposed to be a team of six with two caseworker/interviewers and one team leader, but as we were crossing one of the land borders, my colleague suddenly had her passport and all her trip money stolen from her. That left us with me, the one caseworker, and our team leader, to do all of the primary interviewing. We steeled ourselves for a busy, tiring ride, but in God’s hands it all turned quite lovely. Some of the stories were the most awful I’d heard to date, which made the whole experience even more meaningful. I found myself reaching to depths within myself I hadn’t yet had to, in order to get as full a story as I could from each applicant to help them have a greater chance of resettlement in the U.S. Even when it meant causing them to remember all the things that they tried so hard to forget. The cases were mainly from Chad, the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo – formerly Zaire) and Rwanda, and so were an interesting change of pace. I was honored to be able to hear firsthand these stories, borne from conflicts that I had read about and studied in school.

Having to leave your home due to persecution or war inevitably entails encountering one misery after another. They just pile on top of each other such that the desperation that these people and especially women were living in, was quite unbelievable. When there is no money and no job, there are only so many options available to such a one with which to try and survive. A woman’s body without fail ends up being her last and constant resource and she’s never allowed to forget it. I found myself trying to figure out how I could eat less each day in order to share something with those who came having had nothing to eat or drink for days. Do you know how hard it is to remember details of trauma that you’ve experienced when you haven’t eaten for a day or two and you’re malnourished anyway? Oh, I forgot, and you’re fighting the HIV/AIDS virus you acquired violently through no fault of your own. It’s hard.

It became sad but exhilarating to keep passing out what little I had, even if it wasn’t much (and to do it cautiously and quietly for professional reasons). I truly felt God’s power flowing through me as we worked together to produce the best cases we could. I will miss using my French skills here in this work. It was so much fun to be able increase my fluency, to use it to serve God and my fellow man, and to feel like I had valuable skills for once in this competitive, increasingly recession-prone economy!

EASTER

For almost five days over the Easter season I hosted a funny, outgoing and long-suffering Ghanian Catholic sister from the Northern region of Ghana who I met several months ago at church. She unfortunately has had some hard experiences with her congregation and so I was honored to host her. It seems we have been leading similar lives of sorts, and found ourselves consoling and strengthening one another amidst life’s hardships. Though our visit wasn’t free from the usual cultural misunderstandings, she was a gift from God during this holy season. We attended the daily (and sometimes twice-daily!) masses and services that filled the Easter weekend. The days went by in a blur as we cooked together and she shared the history of the Catholic missionaries in Ghana with me.

On Easter Sunday we went to the annual church picnic and had a wonderful time. I got some great snaps (pictures) of both of us dancing and a nice video of the atmosphere and celebrants. It sure made our American church picnics look boring! It’s definitely different to hear the same music played at a church picnic as is played in dance clubs, but that’s Ghana. Celebrating is celebrating and it seems that people just want to have some fun without analyzing all of the lyrics of every song that’s played. You can’t attend any sort of pubic celebration or funeral here without the obligatory sound system blaring all the top hits of the moment.

Even now as I sit here writing this section in my room, someone has giant speakers across the street and has been blaring music all day. It’s annoying but you find that there’s not much you can do, and you hear the songs so often that you begin to know and enjoy them. As I have sat here I’ve gotten lost in memories evoked by one song after another and yes, will be bringing as many home as I can to preserve the memories!

For those of you who have followed me on my journey and kept me in your prayers during this long, hard year I am and will be eternally grateful…literally. The spiritual isolation and darkness that I encountered in Ghana were insurmountable without your prayers and God’s grace. The cup of suffering from which he allowed me to partake, is itself an answer to prayer and is a great honor. My work has been for us, his body, and for his glory, and I find myself amazed at what has been accomplished in terms of spiritual gains. The seeds have already begun to bear visible fruit amongst my colleagues before I even left! I have been leaven in their presence and they in turn have grown in tolerance and understanding toward me. There are no words sufficient to describe God’s great generosity and mercy towards us all.

What a great work we have done together! Medaasi pah (Thank you very much).

There are two more blogs I’d like to post and/or photos and videos I’d like to share with you in time, of the Africa Cup, the slave castles and the church picnic. That should wrap up this year and then you won’t have to bother yourselves with reading yet another travel entry in someone’s blog anymore!

MUSIC

As you know, one of the things I’d been wanting to do with my blog, was upload music and photos that gave you a better idea of what this year was like from my vantage point. To that end, I thought carefully about what songs could best communicate the intense spiritual reality I was living. Few if any of these songs (more than what were uploaded here) were written from a Christian perspective. This makes me love them even more. Every human being has divorced him or herself from God’s love and spends his or her life trying to fill that void with a love of some kind or another. The human cry for love is universal and that makes every cry for love a cry for God, whether we know it or not. That means nearly every love is song a song of praise, or a song befitting love for God even more than love for a fellow human being. Ever thought about it all that way while listening to music? It’s like having your eyes opened. It’s pure grace when an artist is an instrument of God without even knowing it. It’s also a good reminder to pray for them.

Since I won’t be “publishing” much more, I want to share three with you at this time.

They are: Don’t Matter by Akon http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/akon/dontmatter.htm

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I heard this song constantly during my first six months in Ghana. It sounds like a typical lovers song of angst a la Romeo and Juliet, where someone or something is conspiring against the love that two people intensely want to share. No, there was no Romeo for me. Well, not of the human sort. The more I grew to understand that my faith was making me a social leper where I worked, the greater meaning this song held for me. Nobody it seemed wanted to see me together with Christ, the love of my life. But it wasn’t going to matter, because we would fight for each other. This song came to symbolize my year there, and everytime I heard it it was like God was playing our song! I would smile with courage wherever I happened to be and steel myself for the fight.

Thank You by Sinead O’Connor http://www.goldlyrics.com/song_lyrics/sinead_o_connor/universal_mother/thank_you_for_hearing_me

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I have loved this song for years, without understanding the seeming contradiction at the end. Now it makes perfect sense. Especially as a song of praise. I think it will to you too. Sinead knows how to sing with passion!

Songbird by Eva Cassidy http://www.lyrics007.com/Eva%20Cassidy%20Lyrics/Songbird%20Lyrics.html

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I think this one means the most of all. I grew to love it during my breaking point in Ivory Coast when everything was at its worst. The chorus represented my faithfulness to God by loving him through my obedience. Being reborn, stronger and smarter was the blessing of obedience that came later. Sometimes we’re the most aware of how much we love someone when we’re drowning in pain and the cost of loving is at its highest. He tells us pointedly, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” John 14:15

Do yourselves a favor and don’t read the lyrics until after you’ve listened to the songs. Just let the music carry you away and if you really can’t understand something, look after listening. Enjoy these gems!  And don’t forget to check out the “What Ghana has taught me to appreciate” page.

your sister soldier (taking a much-needed break),

Grace

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Long legs, missing pizza and country music

January 20, 2008 at 4:23 pm | Posted in 1 | 1 Comment

Hello Loved Ones,

It’s been about two months since my last entry. I arrived on January 7th to “Kotoka”, my home airport, well-known to me by now after all the work traveling I’ve done. On my way in I took a glance back at the payphone I’d had to wait by for hours when I first arrived, and mused about how much things have changed for me in 10 months. I traveled safely here thanks to all of your good and constant prayers. I had an absolutely wonderful Christmas vacation with you my friends and family! To be honest, I was in a difficult state when I flew out of Ghana. On top of the normal spiritual challenges I have been confronting at work and in my housing situation, I received an unfair review right before I came home. Long story… perhaps for another time. Needless to say I needed a great deal at that time to be around friendly, spriritually healthy people. My thanks go out first to Pat who picked me up at the airport and let me graciously stay with her and use her car for several days. In PA I drank deeply of the familiar and coveted American, Catholic culture that I’ve been missing so much. Like a person who’d been wandering aimlessly in the desert, I was overjoyed to find this much-anticipated oasis. Pat was incredibly supportive and had me feeling stronger in no time. Then my lovely St. Theresa family did the rest. How I have missed the spirit-filled, loving banter of breakfast conversation after morning mass and the joy that must make everyone around us in the restaurant wonder what exactly is in our coffee! The joy of the Lord, that’s what! Pancakes, bacon, dippy eggs, sunny-side up or whatever the heck you call ’em, depending upon which coast you’re on – cinnamon rolls, donuts etc. etc. They all made a happy mad rush for my stomach and I was delighted to accommodate them. But the spiritual consolation was the best thing I consumed the entire time. So thank you again to Fr. Hahn, Sr. Thelma, Juliet, and my PA church “peeps” for your encouragement and support. It really was invaluable.

My family did the rest in filling me up the best they could with 10 months worth of “missing” love over Christmas and New Year’s. They did well. 😉 I’d like to say that when I got back, “our taps were running” and everything was in order but…this is Ghana. And this is my life in Ghana. And of course that’s not what I arrived to. We still had (and have) no running water for the past month and a half since the government turned it off. Apparently the water has been redirected to particular areas because of the Africa Cup (soccer) that Ghana is hosting. We’ve heard that they want to ensure that the tourists and visitors have what they need. Or want. Some neighborhoods have not had interrupted water flow, such as the neighborhood of Karen an acquaintance of mine. She lives near the newest, nicest hotel, which is also near the President’s house. While utilities are generally pretty abundant in North America or in the First World, there are other ways in which resources in these places are directed more toward wealthier areas rather than poorer ones. One common example is with trash collecting and street cleaning. Often you can see that lower-income areas get less priority than wealthier ones. It’s easy to see disparities on a global level when they’re more glaring, but if we look in our own backyards we’ll find that we have more in common with people halfway around the world than we think. In fact, it appears that we’re “the lucky ones” amongst my colleagues. Most other people have had running water while we haven’t. Guess that’s the price you pay for living in a poorer neighborhood.

We’ve done a number of things to find water during this time, from paying our favorite cab driver to fill up big yellow containers and bring them to us, to walking nearby to a water distributor where one can pay a small fee to fill up the yellow containers, which one then pays a cab driver to take to your home since they’re too heavy to carry. With four people living in our place however and even conserving water, five of those don’t last long. When you run out, the whole thing repeats. You can’t go in the morning like my housemate did or you wait for an hour in the hot sun in a line of people. In the evening it’s similar so she has been able to go in the early afternoon.

Last Saturday we heard news that either every or every other Saturday, the taps would flow for about eight hours. Boy were we happy! I woke up Saturday morning to the news and promptly spent hours filling the big plastic barrels that we keep at home for this purpose right out of a tap in our kitchen. Today, a week later, the water didn’t flow so it was back to the water distributor.

There’s no toilet flushing if there’s no running water so we’ve gotten creative with conserving and recycling our water. I reuse the water that I shampoo my hair with three times. Once to wet my hair and the second time to rinse it out. Then we (my housemates and I) contort into funny positions while bucket bathing to rinse the soap and conditioner from our bodies and hair all the while trying to aim it into a broad plastic wash bucket. We then pour all of that nicely fragranced water (from the lovely scents in our shampoos, soaps, etc.) into the toilet, leaving it smelling a whole lot better than it did some minutes before.

Upon arriving to my house from the airport on the 5th (on very little sleep, the reasons for which you’ll read below), the other news I received was that we would be evicted from our home by our choleric landlord. He had been upset for quite awhile that one of my housemates had subleted her room supposedly without his knowledge, though she had informed him (oh Ghana…. ) Then she told me that she and our other housemate had already put money down on a place/moved out and asked if I could “okay” two people she had met as their replacements. Initially I was happy to help however I could. However when I found out that they were two new hires at my worksite who had already been told they could move in, I had to tell her that it wouldn’t work out. In my line of work many people choose not to live together, as you can end up spending an unhealthy amount of time with colleagues by the time traveling and working hours all combine. Well, that didn’t win me any points with her and she moved out in anger, leaving me feeling sad that that’s all our relationship had counted for these past months. I prayed and prayed that we’d end up finding some replacements quickly and that tempers would cool. Long story short again, is that we all had dinner last night (a week and a half later) and all went surprisingly very well with her apologizing for being so reactionary. I blurted out happily to my housemate Jane, not a spiritual person of any stripe, that I’d been praying concertedly and avidly for this! Those faith-sharing moments are pricelessly rare…

Now, I really wouldn’t have minded a bit less to deal with in my first days back, and could have had this blog out to you sooner, had things been a bit more calm. But true to form, Ghana never fails to keep me endlessly occupied with day-to-day living.

I leave early Monday morning the 21st on a circuit ride to Benin, another francophone (French-speaking) country for one week. I’m looking forward to the caseload on this one. It will be my first ride dealing with cases that are exclusively UNHCR referrals, which means that they all will likely have suffered genuine persecution first-hand (no lying or stretching the truth). Stories are thus more intense with the accompanying satisfaction amidst the rushed workpace, that you’re truly helping someone who has suffered to have a second chance at finding a safe and peaceful life.

Please pray for my and my team’s safety as we travel by road (6-8 hours through Togo to Benin) and enjoy the fun facts below!

Funny, Fun and Not So Fun Facts

Today the Africa Cup of Nations begins with Ghana playing Guinea. Osu, the popular neighborhood where people often gather, was full of excitement and there was a street demonstration on “Africa’s need to unite” with lots of Rastas dancing around and shouting. I took some “snaps” (photos) of all the flags on people’s cars and of Ghanian flag-themed trinkets, shirts and souvenirs. They were on sale everywhere and enlivened the whole place with wonderful color. The Lebanese men in the “Koala” grocery store also had on soccer uniforms with their favorite players names on the backs. Everyone seemed to be in good spirits which was wonderful to see! I had hoped I would have time to post some of the pictures on this site but I just don’t with traveling tomorrow. Every time we’ve had a holiday I’ve been out in the field working! I’ll try to get them up soon I promise.

A couple nights after I arrived, I yelled at a pizza deliver guy for calling me five times to get directions to my place, after he kept failing to find it. Before that he tried to get me to pay for his calls to me by “flashing” me (calling and hanging up) so that I’d call him back (which I of course didn’t, not wanting to pay his business expenses). I finally called him to find out what the problem was and ended up canceling the pizza two hours later. Then he called me 13 times after I canceled the order to continue trying to deliver it even though he was still lost! The restaurant wanted me to wait and pay for what was by now a cold, soggy pizza that I’d ordered two hours earlier. Oh Ghana…. Thank goodness I had some frozen food in the freezer.

I’ll be honest. It’s all fun and games until you stay in a country for longer than 3 months time. That’s when the harder part begins and the real withdrawl symptoms from everything and everyone familiar set in and don’t go away (you just learn to ignore them and adjust). So, it was without much enthusiasm that I got to my gate at JFK for the last leg of my flight home. I surveyed the gate and felt less than holy feelings, taking in a roomful of Ghanians, some of whom I knew from experience would try to jump in line ahead of me or sit in my seat on the plane. When it was my turn, I boarded the plane and took my seat (which was nicely empty) and yes folks, was fortunate enough to have the tallest man on the plane with the longest legs sitting directly behind me. He proceeded to bump the back of my seat constantly…for hours. Early on I politely asked him to stop so that I could get some sleep during the flight. He informed me it wouldn’t be possible due to the length of his legs. I told him he needed to try. Facing an 8+ hour flight going back to a place with fewer friends (most have moved back home) and little consolation of any sort, I was less than happy. He and the man next to me proceeded to laugh about my challenging situation for the next five minutes because that’s what Ghanians do. I got small reprieves when he fell asleep but by that time the man next to me had decided to walk around the plane for 2 hours so that I never knew when he was coming back to sit down. The next piece of entertainment after boarding was watching a Ghanian woman with about 3 too many carry-ons proceed to spend ten minutes trying to push a suitcase that was too large into an overhead compartment. She was finally asked to check it (thank goodness)! Then after dinner the real fun started. I was so tired from traveling across the country, plus the time difference, that I just wanted to sleep. But the stewardesses had a different plan. It was duty-free time and apparently most of the Ghanians on the plane lived on the East Coast because they were pretty lively with not a yawn in sight. It was like a disco party on DL flight 5090! Only I wasn’t drinking and didn’t want to be at a dance club at that moment. Sighing impotently I glanced up toward First Class to see it completely dark and as quiet as a nursery. I simply began to repeat the mantra “Peace” repeatedly to myself, turning it into a prayer. And believe it or not, it worked. By the time we landed, I couldn’t believe what state the plane was in as I had forgotten how differently our cultures handle refuse. The plane was littered with garbage. When I entered the washroom there were paper towels all over the floor, clogging up the sink, and trash strewn about. It was just sad to see and fills one with frustration that people are taught to be so careless.

I found a banku and tilapia lady near where I live which is a happy find indeed. It’s the most palatable food for me here, as mentioned in an earlier blog. For a little over $2.00 you can get a small blob of the fermented, sticky corn paste called “banku” and a fire-roasted tilapia fish (roasted in an overturned oil drum cut in half), with spicy “pepe” sauce. Affordable, healthy and close. I think I’ll actually miss this stuff when I’m gone…

Sometimes taxi drivers here listen to the most surprising music. About five months ago I was riding with one and he asked me if I liked country music! My jaw dropped and I started laughing, just tickled at the idea of a young, African man going on and on about how much he loves country music.  And he went on and on! I mean he was playing the really cheesy, stuff too with all kinds of American cultural references that just did not translate here. It reminded me of a delightful experience I had had before that which I shall now relate.  About three to four months after I arrived, I was riding home from church and “On Top of the World” came on by the Carpenters. Yes, this is another super cheesy song but you know what? I can’t help it. I love it. For me, it expresses the joy and love that God puts in my heart that sometimes really makes me feel on top of the world. The fact that it’s so campy just makes it more perfect. So picture this from the front of the car looking in. There we were, my Ghanian taxi driver in the front seat and me in the back. This song came on and immediately we both just started spontaneously singing it on our own in a very nonchalant, contented way, oblivious of the other’s singing, nodding our heads in time with Karen Carpenter’s low, smooth voice, transmitting out to Ghanians everywhere. It was pretty cute. When cultures collide the sweetest most unexpected things can happen. 🙂 I went straight home and bought that baby off of iTunes and now I’ve got a great memory to go along with a delightfully cheesy tune. Why not recreate the moment for yourselves now. Take a listen to a good oldie..Top of the World

your sister soldier,
Grace

Coming home

November 5, 2007 at 6:31 pm | Posted in 1 | Leave a comment

Dear Loved Ones,

It is with happy anticipation that I announce the dates of my upcoming Christmas vacation! I hope to have the opportunity to see as many of you as possible. Be sure to leave some time in your busy schedules for me and let me know, especially you who live in Pennsylvania whether you’ve got any conflicts the week of my visit so that we can schedule around them.

My itinerary: I arrive to PA on the 7th and stay there until the 18th, on which day I’ll fly to Seattle, where I will remain (shivering and wrapped in blankets) until I return to Accra on the 6th of January (where I will melt in a pool of sweat during the return of the warmest season of the year).

It’s hard to believe that I’m in my 7th month here and that I’m going home soon. Life has been busy as usual lately and I find that I don’t have that much that I need to communicate to you right now. Rather I look forward to sharing in person the lessons that we are learning on this journey together.

I’d like to thank you heartily for your prayers on the fellowship front. In my ever-pesistent search to keep my growing spiritual hunger pangs at bay, I have come across the fabulous world of Catholic podcasting. Oh, what a wonderful world it is! Check it out, and check out other podcasts that may be in a vein more personally suited to you.

In the middle of days and weeks of sometimes repetitive and tedious technical file reviews, I’m suddenly whisked away to a veritable buffet table of lofty, spiritual concepts, loving voices of faith and knowledge and issues that I care and pray about, all wrapped up in a palatable, familiar and humorous Western style and mode of communication. I give thanks to God for the wonderful and committed talent that’s out there and it gives my spirit the lift that it so needs to continue my daily spiritual and vocational responsibilities. Thanks for your prayers on this! I’m also moving ahead at finding and establishing a mature, stable faith community here. I’ve been trying to start a bible study for some months. Retention and commitment can be hard qualities to find here in Ghana including honest intentions on the part of some men, so I stay realistic but it’s looking more and more as if that may happen.

I would also like to share an update with you on Kwame. Trying to make contact with street children is a funny thing. You can’t ring a doorbell or call a phone number when you want to get in touch. Because of their migratory patterns in daily search of food or work, they may not be in the place you first met them at the time you met them before. It takes a couple tries sometimes until you can make contact.

I headed back in search of Kwame a couple weeks ago after losing touch and met up with some of his friends. Thank you for your prayers friends. They told me that Kwame’s mother or family had come back to retrieve him and that he was now with them. One down, many more to go…. I asked these boys whether they were going to school and where, how they were living, etc. They said that there was a nice, German woman that was teaching them and, figuring that would be a helpful contact to make spiritually and maybe vocationally, and wanting to be involved somehow in their lives, I asked if they could take me to their school. We all jumped into a cab and along the way the driver asked me who I was. In what will be one of my my more favorite memories one of the boys said, “She is our mother.” And not missing a beat I joyfully piped up, “Yes I am!” feeling quite maternal and fond of them, thankful for their immediate and generous love for me.

The German woman named Silke wasn’t there but I was told when I could come back to meet her. When I came back she again wasn’t there but I was able to leave my phone number. I don’t know how it works on other continents aside from this one and the one from which I come, but here, you will never get anything done if you expect it to work perfectly the first time. Trust and persistence are needed in spades and I look forward with anticipation to the fruit that I will bear in the coming years of my life, as a result having learned to embrace these qualities in a constant effort to follow the One who leads me on.

Whenever I come into contact with brothers, sisters, ministers, missionaries, priests, pastors – anyone who has given their life over to others in selfllessness, like Silke and Br. Jos, renouncing riches and comfort for poverty and service. I feel that I’m in the presence of something I could never compete with, facing another’s daunting achievement that I will never achieve. I have not taken formal vows of poverty and obedience and I wonder whether I would ever have the courage to. Where am I going with this? Simply put, I’m so thankful for the support that all of you offer me.

Sharing my experiences with the poor here is not done to elevate myself. I look at the lives of brave men and women who have given up so much more than me and I marvel at their persistence and strength; at their vast stores of spiritual wealth. On a macro-spiritual level, what I have done is precious little compared with those who are acquainted with true sacrifice. I think about the eternal wedding banquet often these days and believe that it is these people and the ones they serve who will have the seats of honor at the head of the table. It is I who will be seated somewhere near the end. However, (and I think this next thought holds the key to maintaining a joyful, hopeful attitude in the midst of overwhelming poverty or injustice ): On a micro-spiritual level, that is, measured on the scale of my own life, what I have done and do to seek out the neglected materially poor, or the apathetically spiritually poor it is not precious little! Every effort is a resounding hymn of praise, a fragrant offering to God and helps me to become more fully the saint that Love intends me to be.

Spontaneous reflection of wonder: If God is love, why don’t we call Him that?

My favorite recent definition of a saint heard in the homily on All Saint’s Day: “A saint is someone who is simply learning to fall more and more in love with God every day”.

Thank you again for your faithfulness and company on my journey. I leave on November 18th for three weeks of refugee processing again in Ivory Coast so please pray for me and for the refugees that they may be safely permitted to travel to Abidjan to interview and for adequate rest for us as as we work long and full days interviewing them, determining case composition (who may stay on the case) and preparing their files.

I added a few new quotes to my quote page. They’re gems I extracted from a book I recently read titled, “The Letters and Diaries of Etty Hillesum”, lent to me by a friend here who’s now going back to Canada. In short, Etty is a young Jewish woman who died in Auschwitz at the age of 28. An aspiring writer, she wrote faithfully in journals about her life as a Jew in the Netherlands in the early 1940’s. What is remarkable about her is that, though she was not raised to practice any particular faith, she quickly came in touch with Love as the guiding force of our universe and turned to the Bible for guidance. She was a mystic who lived the values of love, peace and forgiveness toward all, in an courageous, tireless and unapologetic way. She refused to give into hatred toward the occupying German force that imposed increasingly impossible and strangling restrictions on Jewish life and movement – even when everyone around her did. Instead she fancied having conversations with German soldiers wherein she would recognize their humanity in gentle love and force them to recognize hers. She purposefully stayed in touch with all that makes life beautiful and this was a familiar refrain for her, “Despite everything, life is still beautiful”. The more her life and health became impaired, the more time she spent serving her fellow Jews. Right at the time when reality was crumbling around her and all was cruel madness. Rather than leave or go into hiding, something perfectly reasonable and sane to do under the circumstances, she stayed and served her people, assisting on Jewish committees that tried not to but nevertheless were forced at times to assist the occupying forces with their anti-Jewish campaign.

She was no saint in the stereotypical way that we can imagine holy people to be. She struggled with all the same things we do and sometimes she didn’t even struggle that much, but no matter. For me she was the Mary of the Prison Camps, and how she honored her holy ancestor. She continued to be at the service of her people even after finally being interned herself. She never saw herself as a victim and that is how she rose above the madness and chaos, glorifying God as a beautiful and strong young woman, full of unwavering hope and faith in God and humanity; even in its darkest hour.

Can we really not do the same in far more safe and comfortable surroundings?

No fun facts to share at this time. I was hoping to have a great, cheesy song uploaded for you to listen to but my blogsite doesn’t like the file type so I’ll have to save that for a future post and entertain you instead in person with a funny story or two.

Your sister soldier,
Grace

Giving thanks, getting involved and traveling

September 29, 2007 at 1:09 pm | Posted in 1 | 3 Comments

Hello loved ones,

You have been so compassionate and mindful of the first-world luxuries that I have had to go without, that I’m aware I need to keep you updated on how my patience here is paying off! A couple weeks ago the Ghanian government increased the amount of electricity we are allowed to use. Hallelujah! That means we only have power outages every four days for about 4-6 hours one day and one night. It’s been amazing having all this power again. You can actually buy food and leave it in your refrigerator and it doesn’t spoil so you can plan meals and go shopping less. I also have running water at Mommy’s for months so no more using buckets and hauling them up and down stairs! I have been persistently trying to find a house to share with other people and it looks like one may come through for me in a nice neighborhood to boot! So, don’t give me too much empathy. We all have our different daily struggles and problems to deal with and God is good to grant us the things that help us make it through.

Speaking of electricity, here’s a timely article on Guinea now that you’re slightly familiar with it from a couple of my past blogs. I can’t make governance commentaries based on my current work…but the BBC can! Be sure to read it (cut and paste it into your browser if you can’t click on it).

http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/em/fr/-/2/hi/africa/6990034.stm

Before I relate some fun travel stories I want to ask for your prayers for someone. His name is Kwame and he is a street-boy that I met last night outside of a popular take-away (take-out) food restaurant I frequent in Accra. I bought a big pizza to share with him (and who knows who else) and spent some time talking to him to learn his story. I had almost gone to a concert instead at Alliance Francaise but felt too tired and hungry. I just prayed for my night to go as God wanted it to and went to get some food instead. Kwame grimaced at my pizza and said it would hurt his stomach if he ate it so we went to “a spot” by the road and he ate some chicken and rice. He really made me laugh and smile at his silliness as we ate together. He taught me some “Twi” (one of the local languages) and I found myself wondering if this is what it felt like to be a mother. As directed by my Spiritual Advisor I just enjoyed the blessing and didn’t try to analyze it too much. I talked to him about an organization for street children that I visited a couple weeks ago in an attempt to find more spiritually motivated people in the area. I eventually met his other friends who felt like they could stomach the pizza and planned to meet Kwame the next morning in the same place. I got ahold of the Dutch brother today that I met at CAS (Catholic Action for Street Children) who told me Kwame would be welcome but that there is no place for street children to stay during their first 6 months to a year of training and education. I don’t know the details but I’m sure it has to do with a combination of funding, facilities and planning, whereby you filter out the children who aren’t serious and interested in an education from the ones who are. Of course, if no one teaches a child that education is really important and valuable then they learn the opposite and are condemned to live hand to mouth. I bow to Br. Jos’s (pronounced “Yos”) 20 something years of experience in his field but personally am struggling with the reality that there’s nothing I can do to help Kwame to have some kind of housing and permanent care. In the first world this is an option. Here it is not. I didn’t see him the next morning or any of the other boys as I anticipated might happen. They said they go to a nearby beach in the mornings to do some work for food. He’s really on my mind and in my heart. I can’t solve the world’s problems but I can help “small” as they say here or “kakakakra” in Twi. My current goal is that he know how much God loves him and values him. He said he already goes to school nearby so I’d like to try and be involved with making sure he attends and help support him in some small way if continues to do so.

Please keep him in your prayers along with his friend Solomon and all the Kwami’s of the world and pray that I can be faithful to God’s plans for us should he decide to opt for the streets. Please also pray for CAS and all similar efforts. As my interest in prison ministry grows every day and from the vantage point of my own life, I’m often mindful of what small acts of love can do for people who have not known it, and how it can change someone’s heart from stone to blazing love, if there are only people to show that person how worthy they are in God’s eyes. What are we doing to prevent the loveless from an inevitable path of self-destruction? We cannot act on knowledge we do not have and many people do not know how beautiful they are and how deeply-loved they are by God. Thank you for your participation in this important task!

August was a fun-filled, travel-filled great month. Of course, if greatness is measured in terms of sanctification, perhaps July (i.e. the trial of working at break-neck speed for four weeks in Ivory Coast) should be considered greater. Such is the dynamism that fills my life right now; it is full of extremes and is intensely spiritual Nevertheless, it’s pretty great to have six comp days off of work in which to travel, and then a month full of three day weekend trips to beaches, rainforests and waterfalls. What a contrast, going from hearing about people’s lives being torn apart and loved ones being tortured and killed, to being served meals three times a day every day, surrounded by mountains and ocean. I found myself filled with wonder and awe while giggling like a child at the unspoiled beauty that surrounds me here (at least outside of Accra). Accra is an unsightly, polluted and busy city. So, after four months of labor, I finally made my escape and let me tell you, I was healed. I came back from the last weekend postively glowing. Even my coworker and supervisor noticed it. Okay yes, I was really tan, but the glow came from within, trust me. I just really needed to leave the city and unwind.

Though I haven’t had much time to write or be on-line, it’s still hard to set aside time for it when I do. The demands of life here for me means that it’s important to be with people when I can, celebrating (life) and reveling in the gift of it, so as to counteract the stresses and challenges that exist in third world living. The best antidote to many of life’s difficulties is simple friendship and laughter, and I appreciate those even even more deeply than before.

One of my most fun memories is my recent weekend at the Green Turtle Lodge, an eco-friendly resort on the beach about four hours east of Accra. We got there in record time traveling in our Ford “tro-tro” (the oversized, 3rd world vehicles that pack as many people as possible into them, so that you can’t move an inch and your knees and legs are immobile. Ford tro-tro’s are faster and less jam-packed for a little more money). Record time was about four hours as opposed to the plight of another poor girl I talked to who had left Accra at 12:00 noon and got to the resort at 8:00 p.m. that night; small blessings… Saturday, the next day I had a wonderful and tiring 3 hour beach walk on the Gulf of Guinea (West Africa’s ocean) to a private beach that I never got to, with a nice French-Canadian girl I’ve met here. I was especially excited that she asked me at one point on the walk about my faith, since that’s not a priority for most people I know here, painfully so. In time we made a friend with a young boy who guided us to stay away from a particularly thorny and bushy part of the terrain that we thought might produce a short-cut. On our way to “the secret beach”, there was a load of big rocks that you had to climb over to get to the other side. We didn’t get to the other side but we attempted it. I discovered in Zambia near Victoria Falls, that it’s great fun to climb over rocks; that is, like a jungle woman (or at least that’s my idea of what “a jungle woman” would do). There’s something satisfyingly primal in skipping quickly and adeptly over big, sharp rocks like a hoofed animal navigating similar terrain. Catherine my friend was still trying to manage on her feet but I quickly shifted into jungle woman mode and began using all fours to climb around the rocky seascape. So there I was in my neon green bikini and sunburned face, happy as a clam quickly and constantly looking for the next sturdy spot to wrap my feet around. I didn’t slip once! 🙂 I truly smiled with delight as I clambered over the rocks that morning remembering one of my favorite verses, “He makes my feet like the feet of gazelles, and makes me walk on my high places”. Indeed.

The next day was even better! The waves in the African ocean are serious to contend with. I took a short video with my camera of the waves at one of the beaches I went to a couple months ago. Will try to upload it sometime this century. The tide gets even stronger during the colder months (right now) and when it comes in, you better get out of the way if you don’t want to get wet because it comes in fast. The waves are full of sand because of their ferocity. You don’t even want to know how many pounds of sand came out of my swimsuit when it was shower time. I didn’t know I could get sand in that many places! If you try to kneel down in the water when the wave is going back out you get sucked off your feet. The tide is strong. Nevertheless 😉 the ocean had been calling to me and, though my swimming isn’t the strongest, I feel for some reason a need to be at home in the sea. When I first ventured in, the big, 8ish foot, sand-swirled waves crashing into shore were a bit scary, and I learned from “the video weekend” and watching others that you really can’t swim in waves like that or float in them. You have to dive under them which I can’t do yet, or you have to do what I finally ended up doing, ride them. I somehow spontaneously realized that if you throw yourself into the wave (with your nose plugged) and relax, that the wave will bring you right into shore. The first couple times I got scraped up a little because these waves show no mercy and I was still fighting them, learning how to let go and just be carried along. Before long I was having the time of my life!! I didn’t need a boogie-board. The waves did all the work! I ventured in farther and farther and when a big wave came I became filled with excitement and just jumped right into it, getting shot back toward land. I cannot express how liberating it was to ride around in the waves. What a rush! I spent a couple of hours in the ocean that day because I was so addicted I just couldn’t get out! I found my inner child in that ocean and I was laughing and smiling the entire time, completely alive and rejuvenated, sucking up every bit of joy and fun that was generously being offered to me in that salty, sandy brine. Then I discovered that if you jump into the wave on your stomach, that you can twist around and around as you’re shooting into shore (good back and ab strengthening, and even more fun than riding on your back). When the others I was traveling with came in, I told them what I was doing and soon everybody was jumping into the waves and having a great time. Occasionally, if we weren’t paying attention the waves would send us canonballing into someone standing unawares, and we’d knock them right over just like a bowling pin. Aaagghhh! Good times!! For days afterward I had small sand flakes falling from my scalp that had gotten pounded into my head. Nice small reminders of a fantastic time.

Funny, Fun (and not so fun) Facts:

Ants
I’m sick of ants. I’m sick of having to dump out my cereal onto a plate bit by bit, and then play “Let’s find the ants and squash them under our pointer finger because this is the only breakfast food we have and we paid $4.00-$8.00 dollars for it). You can seal your cereal with a twisty-tie, wrap it tightly in a grocery sac, stick it in a cupboard and still wake up to find that somehow, the teeny ants have found their way in. I’m sick of finding ants in my purse because at some point a tiny bit of candy or gum soaked out somewhere. I’m sick of finding ants in my bathroom, near the kitchen sink, on a random wall, crawling near my bed, crawling on the door – any door – meandering around the floor…Aaye-yi-yi! After removing every food particle possible from my bag and purse, I spent a recent morning on my cab ride to work playing the ant squashing game with about twenty or thirty ants that came crawling out of them.

Maids
Yes, most people have maids here and or washing people to do their laundry. It was strange initially for me to get used to, but the reason is that laundromats and washing machines are practically nonexistent unless you work for the government and have a nice set-up. Whenever I came back home I’d find that my valuable earplugs had been tossed out in the remaking of the bed and that I couldn’t find things as they’d been moved around. Most of the time you end up living in a house, building or compound where cleaning people are already employed to take care of the dwellings. I’ve only heard of one laundromat here whose location no one can explain to me and whose price apparently is ridiculously high, like over $20.00 a load. It can be nice to have someone washing and ironing your clothes, but they aren’t always the brightest when it comes to doing those things well. I’ve had some clothing ruined because bleach was put into a colored wash or clothes were hung such that they became discolored or misshapen. That can be a big deal when you don’t have many career clothes and can’t just go out and buy more.

Stolen Shoes
I have big feet so it’s always been hard for me to find shoes. Africa is no exception. However, while traveling in the Volta I found a nice pair of black sandals that actually fit! When I came home from work on Monday they were gone. I’d been keeping close tabs on my underwear since some of the other girls have had their more attractive pairs go missing in the laundry. Yeah, kind of gross. I searched around and then walked around back to ask our cleaner “Baby” if she knew where they were. I looked down and saw one of the sandals outside her door. I politely mentioned to her that they were missing and indicated the similarity of the sandal near her door to those recently gone missing. My question was met with silence. I asked again quite patiently and repeatedly, while she stood there refusing to say anything. Finally she went inside her home and brought the other sandal out walking them to my flat. Once inside she said that maybe her sister had taken them but still refused to apologize or look at me. The hard part about it all was that I don’t like anyone to ever feel inferior to me and had been thinking about buying the cleaners some nice sort of thank you gift to spread some love around. Right at that moment the power went out for “lights off” leaving us standing in my room in silence and blackness. I had just asked her how I could trust that it wouldn’t happen again and 20 seconds went by, 40 seconds, 1 minute….of silence. There we stood, me asking questions and her saying nothing. Both of us staring into the darkness. It was all quite silly and probably would have been hilarious to an observer. She wouldn’t talk and she wouldn’t leave! Shoes are one thing but losing things of greater value are another, and I couldn’t take a chance on that. I told her that I wasn’t comfortable not telling Mommy her boss (my landlady) what happened, and then poured out a torrent of apologies and “I beg you, I beg you’s”, which actually are phrases used quite frequently here as terms of bargaining, and are said simply to sound convincing or to get more money. I insisted on getting a reason for not going to tell Mommy and she couldn’t give me one. I managed to finally get something out like, “OK, I’ll think about it. It’s okay for now” to get her to leave, but all she heard was, “It’s okay” and suddenly seemed as if nothing had happened and promptly left. I hope parts of this have made you laugh, but it really is true that it takes great patience sometimes to try to get through to uneducated people. It is a big challenge in third world countries to try to get along with people who sometimes don’t think in a logical, intelligent fashion. Don’t even get me started on food service. You Americans would never have the patience I tell you…

The Office
I borrowed a copy of Seasons One and Two of “The Office”, the television series from a friend here who’s going back to England and it has been a real, cultural saving grace. The first couple of times the into music started playing and they showed pictures of Scranton, PA I almost started crying! It just looked so powerfully familiar. I was quite surprised at my reaction. Steve Carell is hilarious and the humor is so fantastically silly and American that I just eat it up like candy. I even have to ration it out so I don’t watch all the episodes at once. It’s laughter therapy for me and makes me feel a little closer to home sometimes.

As I have more time to learn about my blogsite and the fun options it offers I look forward to making it more enjoyable for you.

Keeping you all in my thoughts and prayers, thankful for your companionship and support on my journey,

your sister soldier,
Grace

Pain, hope and joy

September 12, 2007 at 8:10 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Loved Ones,
I have learned within the past month that hope and joy are a choice and I’m choosing for them daily. If I believe in the power of God to give me every good thing of which I have need, in spite of the adversity around me, then this realization should infuse me with hope and optimism. So when a coworker makes an unkind remark or any undesired thing happens, I’m choosing to see it as an opportunity for growth in holiness and wholeness, and another chance to display through my loving faithfulness to him or her, that there is a better way to live. All of us have an abundance of blessings in our lives that should fill us with hope and joy in the work that God is accomplishing in us each day.

I would like to thank a good friend of mine Beverly Wilson for her invaluable contribution to this blog. She recently sent me an email with a link to a website that has caused an important shift in my perspective on why I am here in Ghana and why I am undergoing the challenges and difficulties that I am. Some of you have taken notice of those challenges and I think may be dismayed or surprised that this be the case. It’s hard to discern God’s will through the events of our lives when we know that pain and difficulty are an inherent part of them. No one likes pain. I certainly do not. And sometimes one can look over the years of their life and feel that they have suffered quite enough of multiple types of pain, be it emotional, spiritual, psychological or physical. But it is precisely when we feel most alone or “on the cross”, that Jesus is closest to us. Some of the pain I have experienced since arriving here as been more intensely social than I’ve had the displeasure of experiencing to date. But I can also see now, that that pain is a teacher that is teaching me how to let go of childish desires such as wishing that everyone like me, or give me their stamp of approval. Or curing me of the vestiges of pseudo “Christian female values” like staying silent in lieu of correcting someone when they’re wrong, or not voicing an opinion because it may be unpopular.

My spiritual isolation as a practicing Western Christian amidst of a sea of apathetic Western agnostics hostile or indifferent to God, has produced in me a joyful, intense and lively claim on God’s love and goodness, and an unaplogetic faithfulness and more courageous witness, which my faith was heretofore lacking. Knowing that Jesus is a prized posession that everyone should have (what kind of God after all even allows Himself to dwell in a sinful human being?!), propels me forward to being a faithful witness in the face of rejection or social exclusion. Who will hear and believe if there is no one to proclaim? One cannot show in advance that they want to hear something of which they do not know exists, can they?

Yes, I am also learning the valuable difference between love and kindness and am praying for the courage and grace to practice true love with all I come into contact with, instead of the false love called kindness that often masquerades as real love, but instead is a tool that we use to obtain things according to our own selfish desires, or is a facade that we hide behind when we want to avoid showing real love for someone and do the consequent work that that love commitment entails. We as Christians are always to try to be kind to others, but more importantly, we are to love them. The latter of course entails a deeper commitment to one another and is more messy and can feel therefore at times less “good” i.e. less kind. Nevertheless, that is the task set before us and it is the grand way in which God wants us to live. Thus God will allow pain and suffering into our lives until we learn this lesson and then He will continue to allow more pain to purify us of our negative self-interested ways and our blindness. I have experienced numerous dark nights of the soul since my arrival in Ghana five months ago, but at the rate at which I’ve grown spiritually, I’d be a fool to wish them away.

As I read in my Magnificat prayer book: Life is never without its crosses, but there is a difference between taking up the cross and just being weighed down by it. If we take up the crosses in our life in union with Jesus Christ, he helps along the way. If we refuse his help, we are simply crushed under their weight. Or this by Saint Bernadette: “How much our Lord must love you, to afflict you so…” I have been saying for a couple months now that God must have great trust in me to believe that I can accomplish as much as He thinks I can. And I think about the lives of people who have experienced much greater suffering and isolation, and whose faith has made them radiant. And I marvel in yes, disbelief, because my limited mind can only conceive of so much… We did not gain such a treasure for the Church as Saint Augustine save through the faithful, fervent prayers and mighty faith grown over decades of adversity, of St. Monica. She did not look around in despair and give up hope at the rejection she experienced by her husband and son. No, rather she responded in determination, love and hope, and grew her faith into a weapon sharper than any two edged-sword.

Renewing the spirit of our mind entails learning lessons that change the way we think and perceive the troubles or problems that surround us. That can only happen in situations of everyday life where the rubber meets the road. If we see that God is reaching out His hand to us through our problems, then we can trust that He will carry us through them. Remember, that we are speaking of a God who gave His very life for you that you might live abundantly.

I recently attended two wonderful days of Eucharistic Adoration at my church here and I share here three points that were made in a homily that explain what I’ve been experiencing:

1) Have the vision to believe that anything can happen. Miracles are a reality. This means you must change the way you think. Either you believe in the power of God or you don’t.
2) Take action to pursue what God is calling you to do.
3) Watch him make things happen for you in ways you never thought possible. Why? Because His ways are not your ways. You’ve got to get out of your head and into His, and that is where active faith and trust come in. It is key, for faith is meant to be used. Otherwise it is is useless.

As soon as I can get my hands on a copy of “The Problem of Pain” by C.S. Lewis I will be able to deepen my understanding of the role of pain as it relates to true love. In the meantime I share an excerpt from the link below (I had it properly indented rather than in quotes as it’s a several paragraphs, but don’t have time right now for such details). It is by Jacek Bacz and is an essay on Lewis’ thesis. Lewis is pretty readable so try to continue on if you get stuck cause this is good.

http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/apologetics/ap0032.html

“Lewis is ready for his main argument. He starts with God Almighty. What is the meaning of God’s Omnipotence? Can he do whatever he pleases? Yes, except the intrinsically impossible. You may attribute miracles to him but not nonsense: “Nonsense remains nonsense even if we talk it about God.” Probing further into Divine Omnipotence, Lewis builds up a universe of his own: a universe in which free souls, or perhaps, as we might say today, persons, can communicate. In the process, he discovers that “not even Omnipotence could create a society of free souls without at the same time creating a relatively independent and ‘inexorable’ Nature”; that a fixed nature of matter implies a possibility, though not a necessity, of evil and suffering, for “not all states of matter will be equally agreeable to the wishes of a given soul”; that souls, if they are free, may take advantage of the fixed laws of nature to hurt one another; that a “corrective” intervention by God in the laws of nature, which would remove the possibility — or the effect — of such abuse, while clearly imaginable, would eventually lead to a wholly meaningless universe, in which nothing important depended on man’s choices. “Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free-wills involve, and you will find that you have excluded life itself”. Thus, the universe as we know it might as well be a product of a wise and omnipotent Creator; it remains to be shown “how, perceiving a suffering world, and being assured, on quite different grounds, that God is good, we are to conceive that goodness and that suffering without a contradiction”. An exploration of God’s goodness might provide an answer.
God’s idea of goodness is almost certainly unlike ours; yet, God’s moral judgment must differ from ours “not as white from black but as a perfect circle from a child’s first attempt to draw a wheel” — or we could mean nothing by calling him good. Thus, where God means Love, we only mean Kindness, “the desire to see others than self happy; not happy in this way or in that, but just happy”. We want “not so much a Father but a grandfather in heaven”, a God “who said of anything we happened to like doing, ‘What does it matter so long as they are contented?'” (Let us note in passing how much this confusion between Love and Kindness is akin to our modern thinking: it sheds light on many present controversies, from assisted suicide to abortion to contraception.) But Love is not mere Kindness. “Kindness cares not whether its object becomes good or bad, provided only that it escapes suffering”, while Love “would rather see [the loved ones] suffer much than be happy in contemptible and estranging modes”.
The goodness of God means that we are true objects of his love, not of his disinterested concern for our welfare. This aspect of God’s love for man is greatly illuminated by the use of parallels from the Scripture. The reader is overwhelmed with the seducing beauty and grandeur of Lewis’s imagery, as he develops the four scriptural analogies to explain the relation between the Creator and his creature: love of an artist for his artifact, love of a man for a beast, a father’s love for a son, and a man’s love for a woman. Every time an analogy is explored we stand in awe before the love so intense and deep; and we wonder “why any creatures, not to say creatures such as we, should have a value so prodigious in their Creator’s eyes”; and we wish God loved us less. “You asked for a loving God: you have one. […] The consuming fire that made the worlds, persistent as the artist’s love for his work and despotic as a man’s love for a dog, provident and venerable as a father’s love for a child, jealous, inexorable, exacting as love between the sexes”. We may wish for less love; but then we would dream an impossible dream. God is our only good. He gives “what he has, not what he has not; the happiness that there is, not the happiness that is not. If we will not learn to eat the only food that the universe grows — the only food that any possible universe ever can grow — then we must starve eternally.”
The awareness of a distinction between Love and Kindness and the recognition of what it means to be the object of God’s love make it easier to comprehend why Love is not incompatible with suffering. Because God loves us he will not rest until he sees us wholly lovable. From that perspective, the suffering of a creature in need of alteration is a mere corollary to God’s goodness. Yet, the problem is that the perception of man’s sinful condition, and hence of a real need for alteration — a thing obvious even to ancient pagans — has largely disappeared from the modern horizon, rendering the Christian call to repentance and conversion unintelligible. To talk to the modern man, Lewis insists, “Christianity now has to preach the diagnosis — in itself a very bad news — before it can win the hearing for the cure.” He considers two modern developments that contributed to the rise of a belief in the original innocence: the reduction of all virtues to kindness (“nothing except kindness is really good”), and the effect of psychoanalysis on the public mind (“shame is dangerous and must be done away with”). “Kindness, he says, is a quality fatally easy to attribute to ourselves on quite inadequate grounds”, for we can feel comfortably benevolent towards fellow men, as long as their good does not conflict with ours. He then considers in some detail the symptoms of man’s wretchedness and brings us, step by step, to an inescapable conclusion: “We are, at present, creatures whose character must be, in some respects, a horror to God, as it is, when we really see it, a horror to ourselves.” And at once we perceive a contradiction.
When feeling disguises itself as thought, all nonsense is possible. Nowhere is it truer than in the problem of pain. Yet, from the Christian perspective, anything that can reasonably be said about suffering is only a preamble [italics added] to the Mystery of the Cross. Lewis’s solution to “the problem of pain” prepares the intellect for a dive into the Mystery.”

I have some fun and adventurous trip reports to share with you soon from my travels but needed to share first the wonderful ways that God is working in my life. I have updated my Spiritual Writings page with the fruits of my labors over the past months and have also added a Quotes page, whereby I may share some of my favorite quotes with you!

Being a disciple entails more than just following. It requires obedience and trust. So let us follow Jesus as we said we would with a courageous love and joy, picking up our cross, and without turning back whenever the road gets too steep or the ride too bumpy. Remember the addage that God does not call the equipped but equips the called. Day by day I am living proof of that…

your sister soldier

I have decided to follow Jesus
I have decided to follow Jesus
I have decided to follow Jesus
No turning back, No turning back

The world behind me, the cross before me
The world behind me, the cross before me
The world behind me, the cross before me
No turning back, No turning back

Though some forsake me still I will follow
Though some forsake me still I will follow
Though some forsake me still I will follow
No turning back, No turning back

Ivory Coast, Cape Coast and other things

August 10, 2007 at 9:57 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Hello friends,

It’s been six weeks or so since I was able to write my last blog update and I’ve experienced so much that it’s hard to know where to start. I feel caught between wanting to write about everything I’ve experienced and writing nothing at all. It’s hard to put into words the range of emotions one can experience when life is lived and worked intensely and busily in another’s culture.

I can start by saying that I’m in my third dwelling place in four months of life here in Accra. I’m now living at “Mommy’s Place” in Osu, a more touristy but still quite typically African neighborhood. My last place (above the bar whose loud Thursday nights I couldn’t sleep through, but now dance through) was also in Osu. “Mommy’s” hosts students, volunteers and less well-off expats that live in small bedroom or one bedroom places. All of Mommy’s children have moved to either Canada or the U.S and so she prides herself on taking care of all the surrogate Western children that land at her doorstep. She thus earns her name through the kind and devoted attention she shows them, as she runs a self-described “Christian home”, yet allows her residents to live as they freely choose to. Hugs are always obligatory and everyone seems to leave her place smiling.

There are also unwelcome guests there sharing my shared one-bedroom (kitchen and bathroom are shared) in the form of big red cockroaches, palm-sized (palms of a BIG hand that is) white rats. spiders (ugh) and ants, but unlike my old abode, my new one offers constant running water, even if it is cold, which is rather the norm here, and the ants aren’t quite as bad here as the last place. Now that the weather has cooled a bit and it’s winter (60’s to 80’s) I find myself doing bucket baths with water heated from a coil. When it’s “lights out” I have to brave the cold running water which actually feels quite cold when you’ve gotten acclimated to the temperatures, as I seem to have in these four months.

The ride in Ivory Coast, the last thing I spoke of in my blog was a challenging one for me. We worked six day weeks and mostly 11-13 hour days for a little over three weeks . I pretty much cracked a couple times in my hotel room, as the pace we had to keep was quite intense. It’s hard to shut down one’s brain after working at that pace so it became hard to get enough rest as the weeks went by. Not all rides are like this but sometimes there’s just a lot of work to do and it’s hard to know in terms of planning, how many refugees are going to show up. Obviously a work load is lighter if there are less people to process but the whole point is for everyone to show up so that they have their fair chance at processing. Many people were not able to make it down to Abidjan due to the police/gendarme checkpoints all over the country. Some Liberians were turned back to their camps or had to pay a lot of money to cross through each checkpoint just to get to us. They’re required to pay more than their Ivorian counterparts even though it’s difficult if not impossible for them get decent work in the country.

It was great to be in a francophone country again. One great blessing is that the nearest church, Saint Cecile was literally a three minute walk from my residence! I spent some very valuable prayer time there restoring my soul and mind. By the time the third mass came around I found that I was understanding every word the priest spoke; another wonderful blessing that lifted my spirits and tickled me, sending me into reveries about ideas on work in France as a next step for me. The adversity there produced some fruitful prayer and more reflections that I will post when I have a chance.

While I’m still, as time permits, looking for a place that is more “bug-less”, has a more decent kitchen and is more of a home, I can say that I’m enjoying being able to meet people outside of work that I can socialize and travel with. Currently I’m hanging out with a bunch of Dutch from the Netherlands, some Canadians and a Mexican who traded places with an English woman. And last week after four months of intense work and living in Accra I finally made it out of that congested city and traveled to Cape Coast for a four day trip! Oh, it was wonderful. Absolutely what I needed. After two days of R&R I found that my mood was stabilizing and that I was smiling and laughing again. Light bulb moment: Working hard means playing hard, and I think getting away to travel from time to time will be critical to my maintaining a healthy outlook and balance in my life and work here.

I was finally able to see the slave castles that Cape Coast is well-known for, where for hundreds of years human cargo wasted away, perished and was exported to South America, Europe and the New World as it was known, or America, as we know it now. Unfortunately I don’t have a good signal from the tower where I’m living so I haven’t been able to be online much and have to travel back to the internet cafe to be on-line. I took some great pictures that I’d like to share with you through this site, but will have to save that for when I have some more time and ease of connection.

With all the extra hours I worked I’ve been able to take another six days off of work and will travel with my international friends eastward to Ho, up to Hohoe and then up through the Volta river (a lush beautiful area), preferably on a yam boat or ferry if it’s running, otherwise we’ll have to improvise. Apparently you have to bribe the captain and fight the other passengers to get the one cabin aboard. It’s either that or sleep on the yams. Should be “live”.

I have to end things here for now. Please pray for our safety as we travel, for God to be glorified in all we say and do, for my light not to dim and for the refugees who struggle so each day.

pressing on,
your sister soldier

Off to Ivory Coast

July 3, 2007 at 10:20 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Dear Ones,

I’m dashing this off in the 20 minutes I have before catching my flight to Ivory Coast for my next circuit ride. Between the scheduled power outages, bouts of sickness I occasionally have, and working a lot it’s hard to find time sometimes to be online, but I wanted to let you know where I’m off to that you might remember me in your prayers. I will return the favor.

Ivory Coast has been relatively more safe than Guinea lately as far as we’re told. However, on Friday as I was lying comatose in bed from whatever little bugs were wreaking havoc in me, and enjoying a rare moment to watch a pirated version of Shrek on my laptop, my coworker called me in a tizzy saying that VOA (Voice of America) was announcing that the Prime Minister’s helicopter or plane had just been hit by a missile and four people with him were killed. So, here we go again, I thought, just as we’re off to try to help some of our refugees to leave their situation this kind of thing happens. It was the same with Guinea, nothing for awhile and then the riots on our last day. While the event was interesting and dramatic, it just didn’t concern me too much. I encouraged my colleague to turn off the radio for awhile.

While there, we will be on a self-imposed curfew and I’m sure we’ll be fine. Our supervisors are smart enough to know where we should go and when. Still, if you haven’t prayed for peace lately would you please pray for peace in Africa and the whole world? Our God is an amazing God full of love. He wants us to come and to ask him for what we need in our lives. Are you making use of this tremendous resource?!

I hope to have interesting things to share with you upon my return amidst of course, lots of joyful moments.

Counting on your prayers,
your sister soldier,
Grace

Guinea Part 2

June 24, 2007 at 1:54 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Loved Ones,

I have just returned from my second circuit ride to Guinea. Though I was looking forward again to the french television, I wasn’t looking quite as forward to the hotel we are obliged to stay at and the difficult local surroundings in which we work there.

Still, I smile as I remember joyful moments God gave me to lift my spirits: 1) The faith-filled conversation I had with a Muslim french imam (holy man/preacher/priest) on the flight next to me after he saw me praying with my prayer book. He told me I must come to Senegal at my first opportunity and of course had to include the obligatory african question of my marital status, which I’ve grown artful at dodging. 2) The prayers bursting from my heart as we rolled into town for the Guineans and for their poor, suffering, Muslim country; that they would be freed from their yolk of spiritual blindness and crushing poverty. As R-E-S-P-E-C-T by Aretha Franklin streamed from my ipod to my ears rocking my world, I gave this country to Mary and our Lord, that the Guineans might no longer be orphans, living each day without a father and mother.

Thanks to your prayers, my prayers and some hard work, this circuit ride was easier than the last. Most of the days are long and intense but my interview process is getting more streamlined and polished which I hope makes my superiors’ and Immigration Officers’ lives easier.

Here are some highlights I’d like to share:

1) Probably the most meaningful thing that happened during the first couple days is that I had a wonderful conversation with one of the translators we use. He shared with me that, though he is Muslim he carries a New Testament in his back pocket that he reads. He said he wanted to be Christian and I about flipped my lid. I was so overjoyed that I spent the rest of my time between interviews when I could spare a couple minutes – which I really couldn’t – encouraging him in his newfound faith. We had small patches of joy and fellowship here and there and I’ve been praying for him ever since. His name is Chernor Barrie. He was raised Catholic, then felt compelled to become Muslim by his family who paid for him to attend a Muslim school. The love and joy of the Christian faith are what draw him to it. He lives with Muslims and does not have many Christians to fellowship with. Knowing how that feels myself as of late I ask of you, would you please pray for him to be strengthened and protected in his faith?

2) Though our stays at the Hotel Camayenne are never something we look forward to, this one took the cake for me. As usual the “ascenseur” (elevator) was “en panne” (did not work) which – knowing Guinea we anticipated – so we enjoyed our climbs up 3-6 flights of stairs in humid weather, several times a day with our laptops and necessities packed on us like camels. I was told I could switch rooms and move to a lower floor to avoid the arduous stair climb each day so I accepted. Big mistake. They said I needed to wait another day so I did. When it came time to move to my new room, the room wasn’t ready. I needed to cook my dinner in my room so I waited and waited and finally told them I would just stay where I was already. The man at the desk absolutely insisted for five minutes that I take a room on a lower floor, so I finally relented and some time later got my new room eating at 9:30 that night.

Before moving to the next room, I was “greeted” by a man who looked very tired and was definitely pissed off that he had to help me move my suitcase down a couple flights. Though I was pissed off that he was pissed off I gave him a nice tip knowing he probably works his hiney off and has little to show for it. He subsequently became my best friend and his attitude turned a 180 so that each time I came around, he offered to help me carry my water or whatever else I had with me, practically taking it from me. Lesson learned. But being that I’m not an embassy worker or in highly paid management, I carried everything else up the stairs myself.

When I found out that the safe in my room did not work I had to request yet another room. In a third world country you do not leave your things unattended without being locked up. You can’t. The temptation is too great and things often walk away. Well, that was a big mistake too. They found me another room but the TV did not work so I requested yet another room. Yup, big mistake. When we got to the next room the fridge was caved into its wooden holder and of course did not work. There was mold all around the bathtub and sink and the toilet was filled with rust. I had to sit and wait until they could find another room and the thought of banging my head on the wall seemed mighty tempting just then. At the end of a long day without lunch I was not having fun. Effort number five: they then sent me to another room and did not leave the key with me so that I couldn’t get in. Back down the stairs to the front desk and back up the stairs to the fifth room. About that time I was glad I’d given the bellhop what I did, since he now had to take my suitcase back up the two flights of stairs on his head.

On my way there I asked the man at the desk who accompanied me, “Que-est que ce passe avec cet hotel!?” “What’s going on with this hotel!?” He told me that the owner and the government had had problems so the owner left and now it’s owned by the government. “Ahhh” I said. Bits of theories from econ courses that I’d taken wafted in and out of my head regarding the effects of state-controlled economies versus free-market systems and the fall-out that occurs when when things are centrally-managed, i.e. badly. He said that it was very hard for the staff to deal with all the problems that were increasing. I replied that it’s difficult for the guests as well – not having any sympathy left to spare at that tired moment.

I was finally given a nice, big room that had been reserved for someone else, with my own A/C control, working TV, working fridge and working safe. Hallelujah. Glory Be. I could now make my dinner and go to sleep. But I didn’t forget about the man behind the desk who helped me and whose life is made more difficult there along with everyone else’s because they have to live in a country in which they are not free, corruption is rampant and those in power make it it impossible for conditions to be such that businesses can run autonomously, make a profit and reinvest it in the country. Pray for him and for his government; for all the governments that keep their people from living in simple freedom and peace.

3) To save money and keep life simple, my coworkers and I walk up the road from our hotel amidst the poor surroundings and buy bread (baguettes) from the bread baker there. After praying that morning, I went out to get some bread and finally struck up a conversation with him as no one was around and I wasn’t in a hurry. He told me that he was a refugee from Sierra Leone and had started this bread business several months ago. I told him that I work with refugees and that I was happy and surprised that he had found work. It’s very hard to be a refugee in Guinea, and really anywhere. Almost none of the refugees I interview are able to work because of local prejudice and lack of jobs. They are the poorest of the poor. Though he hadn’t studied French he spoke more fluently than me and I found myself telling him how much I admired his success at making a new life work in such a difficult country. I told him that he was beautiful in God’s eyes and that I would pray for him, my heart filling with love and admiration. I forget his name but I can see his face in my mind. Please pray for the bread baker from Sierra Leone.

4) Sunday morning I was treated to a wonderful french mass (Guinea is francophone and Muslim) at the biggest Catholic church there in Conakry (which is not that big). The music was traditional and beautiful as opposed to the peppy, hand-clapping, local stuff that I hear here in Accra, and it made me feel like I was back in the U.S. and France for a couple hours! I didn’t expect to have liked it that much. Guess I’m showing my culture. It was such a spiritually moving mass and it was a wonderful reminder of the Euro/American worship style. Before mass I walked around the downtown area as it was a nice, sunny morning, and happened to stop outside an Anglican church. It was impossible not to. All the windows were open and the power of God was pouring out of the church as I listened to them shouting with joy their praise to God, full of the love of Christ. Their Christian praises rang out into the Muslim streets of Conakry and it was all I could do to tear myself away. What a beautiful witness they are of the love and salvation of Jesus to their neighbors.

A fun fact about life survival on circuit rides:

1) Guinea is expensive and I’m no dummy so I learned during the previous trip from my colleagues what to do. I bargained in the market for a rice cooker for about ten dollars and toted tins of tomato sauce, some onions (PS green peppers don’t travel well) and whatever else I wanted to cook along with a bag of rice and voila! I had meals in my hotel room all made in my rice cooker. Even Mac n’ Cheese! It was humbling to switch places with international travelers from the third world that try to sneak their hot plates into American hotel rooms to save money in their food budget.

I was even able to make dinner for another refugee from Sierra Leone which was very gratifying. His name is Levi and he has become a friend of mine through being a friend of my coworker Darcy. They’re both fun Rastas and their friendships are an increasing blessing to me and bring me joy. He took us all around the busy, swirling and smelly African market to help us buy cloth to take to seamstresses and have sewn into dresses, skirts and shirts. He has taught himself French and we argue about who speaks better. Frankly he wins that one I say, if he taught himself the darn language! He’s bright and ambitious and is stuck in a place that is not his home and without money to pay for an education. His brother is in a refugee camp and they’re trying to find a sponsor in the U.S. to help them get out of their ongoing, difficult situation. His name is Levi and I ask for your prayers for him and his brother. He also inspires me with an optimism and kind, hopeful attitude. The likes of which, in his situation, I don’t think I could sustain. It’s hard to see his potential and abilities stagnate due to lack of money and opportunity.

Answer to prayer #1
As I’ve been relating in my blog, it’s been challenging to find people that I can share my faith with and who can support me in my life journey. Thanks to your prayers I can relate a couple of bright moments! As I stated earlier, I’ve been growing closer to a colleague of mine named Darcy who is a Rastafarian sistah from Brooklyn. I haven’t exactly felt like I fit in with my new coworkers and she apparently had the same problem when she started. We’re really hitting it off and it makes such a difference to have someone else who is spiritually inclined to talk with. She makes me belly-laugh often and is a welcome travel buddy and friend.

Answer to prayer #2
In the airport in Cote D’Ivoire, I spotted some grey robes waiting to pas through passport control and was immediately riveted. They looked like the Franciscan brothers I enjoyed so much in the Bronx! I couldn’t believe my luck! I could hardly keep my seat until they came to sit down. I went over to talk to them and told them of my current spiritual plight and that I have been drawn to the idea lately of ministry in France. Guess where they were both from? Yes, France. They gave me some good information on Christian movements there and I rushed to get it down as my flight was being called. It was so hard to leave their presence and their holy and loving joy. Then, I bumped into some Sisters of Charity (Ma Theresa’s order) on the bus to the plane! I couldn’t believe it. I was high as a kite. These brothers and sisters were oases in my desert of Christian life. They gave me the address of their house in Tema (an hour away) where they work with the poor and the sick and a couple of medals to wear. If joy was a garment they too were wrapped in it from head to toe. The funny thing about all this in addition, is that a rumor was going around at work that I used to be a sister. Not quite sure how that started but it certainly made me laugh at the irony.

I’m telling you these things to thank you for your prayers. They are being answered and it’s such a relief. God’s really making me work for much but work I am. For those of you sharing your needs and challenges with me, rest assured that I am praying for you as well as all my friends and family and readers of this blog. Please keep praying!

your sister soldier,
Grace

African Unity Day

June 2, 2007 at 7:19 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Hello loved ones,

It is with great delight that I tell you that I am writing this blog from home! I finally forked over the extra cash (the holding of which makes me a privileged visitor in this country) to get broadband connection at home. It’s a trip to have that inside my dwelling with poverty dwelling right outside; the new world of globalization.

Last week I added a page of my writings to the blog site. I invite you to read them as you have the inclination and time. I won’t repeat the short blurb at the top describing why I wrote them and posted them. I hope they will inspire you somehow and get your spiritual juices flowing.

One of the perks of my job is that we get Ghanian and American holidays, so over Memorial Day weekend I also had Friday off for African Unity Day. I seemed to remember the cathedral that I attend having Pepetual Adoration (the adoration of the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist) on Fridays so I planned on praying for some hours there. It’s something I really miss and inspired some of my writings that I posted. I and many others have had rich, spiritual experiences in prayer at Perpetual Adoration so I was excited.

I turned on my housemate’s shortwave radio over breakfast to catch some BBC news (since I’ve been in a news-hole) and heard instead the dire story of a Congolese woman. Needing a break from the stories of persecution and torture I hear now at work, they proceeded to tell me how this woman had been kidapped from her village by Rwandan rebels, had seen each of her children killed, was forced to kill her youngest baby, was raped by a number of men and then had to dig her own grave. She was the only one to survive from a village of a couple hundred people. Why am I telling you this?

Time was moving forward so I made my way to church. Seeing no monstrance with Jesus inside I asked a fellow near me what was happening. He said mass was just starting. I had made it in time for mass! Now, when you’re subject to the whims of African city traffic, traffic lights out due to power outages and few masses in a day, it’s really hard to “just accidentally make it in time” for mass. I was tickled. As the mass began and the priest began talking about Africa Unity Day I suddenly realized why I was there. I was there for the Congolese woman. I was there to pray personally for her and to intercede for her suffering. I was there for the Africans who are yet to see unity in their country. Who live generation after generation suffering from conflict and division.

While others were absorbed in their daily routine, I was given a chance to pray for this woman and all those like her who just want to live a life of liberty and prosperity like the rest of us. And despite the hardships of life here and the intense adjustment I’ve had to go through, I felt instantly so proud to be here. Here in this poor, dirty place that many people wouldn’t dream of coming to. Here without constant running water, electricity and the other comforts of home. I was putting my life on the line for them. In the continent that goes so often ignored and forgotten I was wide awake and present, demanding to be counted. I was right where I was supposed to be. How often are you convinced of the same thing? Filled with a validating power that makes you slightly inebriated at the realization that you’re participating in something so holy and important.

I stayed there for a couple hours praying for her, for you and so many other things and people. I saw the simple and deep humility of my African brothers and sisters kneeling prostrate on the floor in front of the tabernacle in love of Jesus and filled with love, removed my shoes also to lay on this holy ground with my face to the floor in adoration.

The last thing I want to share before moving on to the fun facts section is something delightful that happened yesterday at work. One of the hardest things for me to deal with here is being in the spiritual minority. I may work for a Christian non-profit but that doesn’t really translate to much on the ground. Faith isn’t a criteria for being hired which can be good and bad. Letting it be known in even quiet, overly-respectful ways that I am a person of active faith has distinguished me from my coworkers and makes itself felt in the lack of inclusion I sometimes experience socially and at work with them. We’re on different wavelengths, baby. So I’ve prayed a lot about it knowing it’s happening for a reason but is frankly hard to deal with. Well! I waltzed in to work with my medals and crucifix around my neck for the first time and suddenly my Ghanian coworkers’ faces lit up and they asked if I was Christian. I said, “Yes! Of course.” And added my usual musical quip, “I’m a happy, Catholic convert”. They were so receptive and affirming of this. I cannot overemphasize with what love and enthusiasm they received this news. I was rather floored because it’s the exact opposite of my American colleagues’ opinions. This was the solidarity and communion I had been craving for so long and I found myself once again in awe of the spiritual maturity and intelligence of those from the third world, and the lack of it in those from the first. We spent our lunches sharing our conversion/faith stories and had perfect Christian communion disregarding our less important denominational differences.

This is an answer to prayer and it boosted my spirit so much! Thank you for your prayers! They are really working. This was a sweet experience and I’ll savor it for awhile to come. What a delightfully secret sort of knowledge it is to share this kind of love with others. The seeds of love that are planted in Christians’ hearts are like little fireflies in their souls. When you meet another of the same identity, this little light is activated and starts to blink off and on in some kind of mystical morse code, communicating messages of love between each others’ spirits, which starts a little avalanche of love that spills all around for others to vicariously experience.

I am no longer as alone as before.

Fun Facts

1) The toilet paper we use at work is called “Angel Touch”. A better name would be “Devil Cardboard Scratch”. Still! After going without tp OFTEN in Zambia, I’m not complaining…

2) I find myself returning to childhood here in two ways: There are never any paper towels or napkins around and local food is often eaten without utensils so I’ve gotten pretty used to eating stew and such with my hands and then drying them on my pants or skirt after washing them.

3) I’m also getting accustomed to going without lights. I’ve caught myself not even turning them on when we do have power. You really get used to living in the dark. It’s kind of neat in a wierd way. It’s made me realize how artificially stimulating light is. It directly affects your psyche and can determine greatly the mood you’re in and what you decide to do with your time. If you need constant artificial entertainment and the lights go out, you’re left with yourself and what’s within you. If there’s nothing there, you’re in trouble.

4) We’re in the rainy season here and the weather has delightfully cooled off to being in the 70’s. The breezes that blow to cool you are so wonderful! I can’t describe what a delicious feeling it is to have breezes blow across your damp skin, giving you momentary relief from the constant heat. It feels just like God is reaching out and touching your temple in a loving and healing caress. Plus the thunderstorms are awesome! They crackle and rip across the sky leaving me with a huge, childlike grin on my face and an immediate sense of the closeness God’s great power. Oh, I love when that happens!

5) One of the annoying things about the culture here is that there is no queueing or “lining up”, for you Americans. People will step right in front of you in a grocery line at the store or anywhere else one would line up. In the mornings when I buy my breakfast of rice porridge or bread with processed cheese and jam on it – I’ll be the last one standing there out of a group of people after arriving first – if I don’t speak over others to ask for what I want. I’m often last. Sometimes North Americans get their dander up and say something. Sometimes they let it go.

6) Local food is purchased in amounts of currency. Until you learn what amount represents what sort of portion you look pretty uninformed. So you ask for “2000 or 3000 bread”, “4,000 rice and beans”, “3000 plantains” etc. The other day I went shopping at the Lebanese grocery store for expats and found Macaroni & Cheese for a dollar a box! I’m still excited about it and frankly must leave you now to eat some.

Please pray for Africa and for unity here. They need it and our world needs it. I’ve heard many people throw up their hands at this continent, insulting its people as war-mongering, ignorant and immoral. Yet the strength of faith, intelligence and abundance of kindness in those I work with easily competes with and trumps that of Americans and Europeans that I’ve met. They inspire me with their open faith that doesn’t back down in the face of social pressure.

In the good fight,
your sister soldier,
Grace

Guinea Debrief

May 15, 2007 at 7:46 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Dear Ones,

Guinea

Hello again. I’m glad to report that I made it through Guinea, my first circuit ride. Guinea left a lot to be desired as a country and as I write this I feel sad for its people. I felt sad for them when I left too, though it was good to leave. Africa in general is a giant and beautiful but dusty and dirty continent (they have yet to pave over giant land masses with concrete like their Northern neighbors). Nonetheless, it is something to consider when the locals that you work with call a place “dirty” and snub their noses at it. Alas yes, Guinea was dirty and yes, rather a hole. Of course, we weren’t there for sightseeing and believe me there were no sights in Conakry to see (the capital) nor time to see anything.

It’s a country that’s been having a lot of turmoil especially lately and well, really since independence 40-50 years ago . When it reached independence it severed all ties with France most seriously trade and finance, so it has suffered economically ever since, unlike it’s Francophone neighbors, one being Ivory Coast.

The hotel we stayed in was pretty nice though apparently it’s gone down hill. I especially enjoyed the elevators that never worked. The porters heaved our heavy suitcases up the stairs on their heads when we checked in. They often offered to help with other things but I couldn’t handle that many tips so I carried most things myself…up six flights of stairs. My room was on the fifth floor, but in good French tradition, the first floor is never counted as the first. It’s more just a lobby or ground floor I was kicking myself for not bringing gym shoes, though I don’t actually own a pair here so I’m not sure what good that did. Most of my colleagues planned on using the gym. Upon finding out that all the equipment was broken and that I’d be climbing the stairs up to four times a day in high humidity, I promptly stopped kicking myself. The climb made me feel downright elderly but I sure was glad I was up so high every time I opened my curtains to see the view.

Humidity

I thought Ghana was humid. Ghana was cool and moderate compared to the humidity of Guinea! We had no A/C in the building we worked in and my poor, dilapidated fan did it’s best to circulate the air around me. At first we were sharing fans because there weren’t enough. I’m thankful a coworker introduced me to the handkershiefs that are indispensible in humid climates. I was sopping myself up regularly.

Work

I was stressed out of my mind on this trip because you have to work like an animal to get all the refugees processed in an efficient manner. There were a couple days where I worked 13-14 hour days. Others 9-10 and boy it was a good day when you only had to work 7 or 8. Oh, there are no breaks or time for lunch really either.

There’s so much to remember and such pressure to get people in and out that I made myself sick and then enjoyed working with a fever and runny nose for 3 days. Oh, I was exhausted, but it was a fire that I had to go through to learn my job. Part of the work involves knowing regulations well enough to decide who stays on a case and who doesn’t. You’re only too nice once and then you learn to take control and be firm. It’s hard for people to understand that you’re just following the law and that you can’t change it for them.

Cost

Guinea is expensive! I think we were taken advantage of when we first arrived because we couldn’t get a good exchange rate from the local lenders. The dollar had decreased in value so they said but…I don’t think it decreased that much. The men work by the way out of their wooden kiosks selling tourist goods on the side of the road. You just go inside trade your money, count it out and voila. In Ghana we get $9,300 Cedi’s for $1.00. In Guinea it was 2,650 to 3,000 Guinea Francs for $1.00. And in countries which are struggling and unstable, any slight luxury (like tuna fish, spaghetti sauce (yes I just said luxury) or anthing in a grocery store) or restaurant food, is priced even higher than normal. On our second day there I decided to load up at the grocery store since prepared food was too expensive. I found myself looking at prices like $4.00 for a can of tuna, $7.00 for a small jar of mayonnaise and $6.00 for a can of chli. I didn’t even venture back to the deli cases full of cheese and meat. I kid you not that when I got up to the register to pay for my food, after a careful search of the cheapest food possible that I could prepare with my colleague’s rice cooker and a wad of Guinea Francs in my purse, that I did not have enough money to buy my food. I started to feel like a welfare mother for a split second until I remembered what kind of prices I was paying. I offered to put some items back but I think because of my white skin the Indian owners gave me a healthy discount and they let me go with all of my overpriced, white trash, hotel food.

Now on to the fun facts portion of the blog; everyone’s favorite (or so I think):

Fun (and not so fun) Facts of Guinea

1. A badly made small pizza costs minimum $10.00; a better one $16.00 and up.

2. No breakfast food was available for under $10.00 and there wouldn’t have been time anyway, so every morning for two weeks I ate a hastily made peanut butter and jelly sandwich on bread that I bought down the road from the hotel, in the Guinea projects, with peanut butter and jelly that I brought from Ghana. Man, freshly made peanut butter tastes good! You Americans don’t know what you’re missing. But I still got tired of it…

3. I learned that if you’re persistent and goal-oreinted enough you can bang on a can of mackerel with a butter knife and actually get a corner of it open. It takes awhile to shake out the food inside but hey, how much French TV do you really need to watch? This valuable lesson was learned after climbing the stairs ad nauseum and not knowing who had a can opener or who was even in their room. The phones didn’t work of course and the maid had thrown away my room list for the second time anyway. P.S. The value of a Swiss army knife increases exponentially in a third world country. P.P.S. The French TV was quite wonderful. Well, hearing the French was for keeping up my linguistic repertoire. The content…zut alors…

3. For five days I earned the mistrust of the man whose kiosk we all bought water and minerals (soda) from because I kept the coke I bought in my hotel fridge (still unopened). He became convinced that I wasn’t going to return the bottle so that he could get his deposit back.

4. Guinea has a lot of power outages and fluctuations so the power went out often. Luckily our hotel had a generator so it would only go off for 10 or 20 seconds and then come back on again. Of course you were usually making some food and had a blob of something on a knife in your right hand. So you froze in your spot hoping it wouldn’t fall onto the floor before the lights came back on.

5. We were right on the ocean and the hotel had been intelligently designed to have all its rooms overlook said ocean rather than the very, poor neighborhood right behind the hotel. Man that was a nice view (the ocean that is). Unfortunately you can’t swim in it due to the fact that it’s polluted. The hotel didn’t help matters as I heard they dumped their trash in there too. That seems to be the reason that there’s no beach; just a lot of mud. Still, I made sure at least one evening that I sat in prayer and contemplation as close to the water (and thus as far from the mud) as I could. It was a nice way to decompress from the whirlwind of work that was consuming me. 1 hour and 12 mosquito bites later I decided to head in before I became the source of sustenance for all the local mosquito families.

6. Guinea has been having trouble with riots due to inflation, low pay for its soldiers and government workers, and a host of other things. Just a couple months ago students were protesting and the military opened fire on them. We’ve been waiting for things to calm down to go in and help the refugees. The Friday that we were wrapping things up, we got a call from our Field Team Leader who was downtown. She was being yelled at to leave by our in-country partners, as the military had begun converging on the downtown area to protest their low pay. Her van was stopped a number of times and beaten on by the soldiers but she stuck it out in time to get our flight tickets, since no one was leaving the country without those. We were told to pack our things up immediately and get back to our hotel which we did. We were all pretty calm and knew things would be fine but after debriefing at work today we realized that things could have easily have taken a different turn.

Which leads me to my ending and this blog’s prayer request. Most of the refugees we met with had not only been beaten, raped, tortured, etc. in their home country but endure the same thing in their country of asylum (where they fled to). Imagine how hard life is simply being poor in your own country. Then imagine being a refugee in someone else’s. If you’re caught one day without your papers you go straight to jail and no one will know where you are. No one wants you. When they hear you speaking another language they ignore you, charge you double or triple the price, refuse to serve you, harass you, steal your money, your virginity , your chastity…the list goes on and on.

Please pray for them; the people that nobody want. They need your prayers desperately. And I do too to be able to help them effectively and to continue to be a light to my colleagues. I cannot thank you enough for your prayers. If there was ever a time in my life when I have realized how helpless I am and what an amazingly premminent role you all play in this great business of God’s healing work – simply by being a force of prayer – it is now. I just couldn’t do it without you. You must know that.

your sister soldier,
Grace

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