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,


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,

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