When in a majority world country, the water rule is obvious: drink yours, not theirs. Anyone who camps can tell you what to pack. I offer things no one will tell you (or, at least, things no one told me). Things money cannot buy!
Wait, what? No, no, no. Money is still an option. For food and beverages, I’ll tell things I could not write!
Herein beloved reader, you shall find gross oddities normally seen only at carnivals or bowling alleys. Quality information. Entertaining details to maintain the interest of boys.
Mouthwash, gum, and mints in small packages will save your smell sense from offense. Bring some for you and a lot to give away. I went through all four packs of gum the first week, and I don’t typically chew gum.
People may want to talk to you like they talk to me: REAL CLOSE (perhaps they wonder, “Is this man’s hair really that color?”). Sometimes, , their breath will make your tummy lurch like a truck with a bad clutch. Offer them a wonderful treat, “Gum?”
Just like home, food, coffee, and general reality of bacteria mixed with time and mouth-open rest make one’s own breath noxious. You will want to brush. Bad breath takes no holiday. I met a fine young woman, a Texas State Bobcat, who brought mini toothbrushes that were infused with toothpaste. Ingenious, though pricey; how I wish I had a dozen.
Bring mouthwash too. If you can disguise it in, say, a Bulleit or Macallan 12 bottle, all the better.
Have you ever looked inside a garbage truck as it crept by your house? Well, I have. Being a boy and fascinated with gunk, I have peeked for years and held special interest when the compactor pushes all the stuff toward the cab. I admit to being spellbound by the stuff that’s left along the sides where the compactor blade does not quite touch the container housing. The trailings. The debris. Roach pat’e.
It reminds me of my toothbrush after a week in Rwanda. Rinsing off one’s toothbrush proves more daunting than cleaning inside that garbage container. One slowly pours bottled water over the foaming suspension of paste, saliva, and whatever you just scratched off your teeth. The slow, cold water leaves trailings, debris, roach pat’e.
I would like to toss that gunky thing away and use a new one (I know, wimp!). If you’re here for more than four days, bring more than one toothbrush.
All the switches here are toggles installed upside down. Do not bring electrical tools to remedy the problem. I can state with FACTUAL KNOWLEDGE that Rwandans do not think it’s cool if you turn their light switches right side up.
No one will wash yours. Bring enough, and be prepared to hand wash your own, or wear the same pair for several days. Which will lead to you needing more…
If you find something that covers the smell of curry mixed with perspiration, bring enough to sell. They will name buildings after you.
While it would be nice to do, regular shaving uses too much water. If you bring your wife, be pleased with her in her natural state. If you are a single woman, we both know there’s only one reason for you to shave your legs, and let’s both hope that does not happen on a mission trip.
You realize that there exists no reliable record of Eve shaving while in Eden? God intended hairy. Deal with it. It is, however, likely after Eve introduced sin that she started shaving and using makeup as Adam was also a sinner and thus not so easily satisfied. Having once inadvertently seen the receipt for a bag of makeup my daughter purchased, I am certain a snake sold it to her. Men, there are somethings we are not meant to see. Back in ‘Murica, shave again.
Besides hairy, God also intended stinky, but since the Middle Ages, we have evolved senses that cannot tolerate stinky. Hairy is – oh, good night, you’re an adult, figure it out.
If, on the other hand, you have a specific need, you may shave. (Me, for instance, I am teaching classes and need to look reasonably professional and not seventy). There’s not enough hot water for shaving, and often, there’s not enough water, period. Even bathing habits must adjust.
Bathing amounts to what my grandmother called a “spit bath.” When I was about five, I was highly allergic to the flammable-to-boys mixture of soap and water. Being a genius and, I’m sure of it, underground medical doctor, my grandmother was certain that this condition could be remedied by . . . soap and water.
She was determined to build up my immune system to the point of tolerating Comet on steel wool (well, that’s what Ivory Soap on a wash cloth felt like to me). As I protested, she gave me an option of a bath or a bath with a red-hot butt. She was, however, a grandmother, and therefore prone to moments of complete and illogical grace not unlike that of a true Saint.
Mema offered the spit bath, which was a little water and soap on a chamois. Working top down, we hit face, neck, pits – “Honey, you get your privates” – and feet. Done. Five minutes. “And now we watch Gunsmoke.” A finer childhood memory does not exist.
Another option is the military bath, of which I had plenty at Boy Scout Camp. Turn the water on, get wet, turn the water off, soap up, turn the water back on, rinse. Get out. Also five minutes – that’s it. Anything more and you are stealing water from the next guy.
IMO, men on the team should draw cards to go last. Then whomever takes the longest shower sits on the bus next to the guy who smells like a curry-eating baboon because HE HAD NO WATER LEFT WITH WHICH TO SHOWER! She or he will not overuse again. Really, it’s a point of Christian consideration to use very little water while in places with very little water. Manners my friend, manners.
Eau du toilette is rare here, and most of us ga when near someone who showered themselves like a sad old church lady who lost her sense of smell. Avoid perfumes unless you’ve eaten a lot of curry, in which case, splash away.
Men (boys, really), Axe Body Spray is best left to street walking gigolos and cruisers – a more absurd product has rarely been pushed on the public and will likely get you eaten by a raging monkey in Africa, or it should. I was on a bus with an Axe Body Spray infused college boy once, and I nearly hurled. He smelled like a character from Midnight Cowboy.
They’re probably a waste of space, but bring some. These people feed you like you’re just home from college. Heaven help us if they discover how to make cream gravy.
That is, unless it’s Sunday when they take off from right after breakfast until right before dinner. They do not do shifts; they all do rest. Some of the restaurant offerings might not be your cup of motuki, and sometimes, things just do not work out as one hoped. I found myself without lunch every Sunday, despite elaborate plans otherwise. One may a) use it as an opportunity to practice the spiritual discipline of fasting, or b) smile because they stashed a couple Larabars.
You will not need more than two pair. Flip flops for milling around the streets and inside the house. Casual shoes for everything else, but not running shoes or All Stars, and “Please, Jesus, do not let them bring Keds.”
I watched an LSU sorority girl (who had never done so much as make a bed in her life) step her just-out-the-box white, canvas, Barbie doll Keds smack into a pile of human doo doo along a slum trail. It kinda ruined her day. Note: If you are ever in this situation, do not shout, “Alpha Phi, Alpha Phi, We’re the Best from A-to-Z!”
We often run into mud (etc.), so canvas shoes are impractical unless you like to wash and wear wet shoes. Whatever you wash, be prepared for it to take three days to dry. Microfiber underwear takes two days to dry. Leave the door open for air movement or drape stuff on the bushes outside like a local. I am talking about the bathroom door where you hung your wet clothes, and not the barn door, behind which your wet underwear hide. Cotton items will dry by Christmas.
Begin now stashing away the last half rolls of toilet paper. Carry those mini rolls of personal happiness at all times or be prepared to wash your panties that night.
Majority world potties are holes in the ground with a couple bricks to stand on and squat. They take some getting used to, and evidently, neither Americans nor Canadians aim well. Personally, it is very good that God did not make me a bombardier in World War II or we’d all be sprechen zie Deutsch. I cannot hit the side of a factory from above.
Finding toilet paper inside the stall is about as likely as Lady Gaga shopping at Target. Bring your own supplies. And, dear friend, if you forgot yours, well, you will not forget again. Srsly, you might bring enough to share and thus, make a bff.
Mandatory. Bring enough to share. Sanitized hands can save someone’s trip. Bathrooms may have water, but rarely have soap or towels (half roll tp at all times, my friend).
Children will want to touch you, hold your hand, and rub the hair on your arms and legs once it’s gotten long enough. Their daddies do not have hairy arms and to little Rwandans, arm hair is in the same category as the holy trinity of fun (balloons, stickers, bubbles).
These beautiful children need your affection and attention like Lindsey Lohan needs Jesus. They also need a Kleenex (half roll TP at all times). Give them love and a tissue, all the while knowing that their hands have been deep in all the places you’d rather they not have put them. Hand sanitizer is your ally.
Internet access is as reliable as a street-bought Rolex. Be prepared for frustration when your Viber partner finally says something interesting, and all you hear is beat box phrases that render the conversation nothing more than you repeating, “Say again,” “Sorry,” “What?” “You’re breaking up” “GAHHHH!”
Memorize Jack’s Holy Trinity of Fun. Say it with me, “balloons, stickers, bubbles; balloons, stickers, bubbles; balloons, stickers, bubbles. Huzzah!”
I took crayons and coloring books to Kageyo because I thought I did not have sufficient luggage space. Toquote the French, “Eeeediot.” I am still mad at myself. In a pinch, however, when children need to be settled, (like when the rice is taking hours to cook because they’re cooking a MOUNTAIN of it) coloring books are like Benadryl (if you’re from Oklahoma, that’d be vodka in a Cherry Coke ). Do not take candy.
CANDY IS SIN
Please do not give these kids candy. You’ll kill them.
On the other hand, if you want them to have some memorable, sugary fun, feed them a soda and hand them a balloon, and stickers while blowing bubbles in the air. Like our Southern neighbor, the Coca-Cola Company of Rwanda includes cane sugar in their products for that extra cracky good high.
Fanta is a cult-like favorite here. The children actually have a song about drinking a Fanta with Jesus when they get to heaven.
Food for kids
A more sensitive rule: bring them food they can eat. A large bag of M&M’s, while good for me, hurts children. A large bag of maize flower is perfect – it felt like 35-40 lbs., and cost less than $13 US. That’s three trips to Starbucks. Big bags of maize flour, sugar, rice, beans, peanuts, salt, a big jug of cooking oil, and some soap – well, that’ll cost you about 20 trips to Starbucks.
The poverty level for a single person in the USA is around $11,000 per year. Here it’s $400. Per. Year. These kids’ parents are trying to make it on a buck a day. Their economy has not developed to the point that they have opportunities to make more.
Flying on airplanes
Starting four days before your 26-hour journey to Africa, change your diet. You’ll thank me a couple days after you land when your body returns to normal functioning. There’s no reason for me to go into specifics.
As well, eating differently will drastically reduce jet-lag. Read this, written by Steve Hendricks for Harper’s Magazine, meaning written well.
During the flight, eat nothing and do not trust the airline food. A brilliant study found that fasting significantly reduced jet lag. You do not want jet lag. Follow the Harvard University researchers’ adjusted Argonne Anti-Jet-Lag Diet.
Do not trust airline water unless you see that it’s brand name canned or bottled water (and no ice). Airlines are notorious for serving sleepy, unwary passengers tap water drawn from a bathhouse in Istanbul. You may not know this until the second day in country when you find yourself counting all the tiles in the bathroom. All night. I’ve read several stories of people falsely blaming their host country for bad water that actually came from the bowels of a jumbo jet that filled up from a garden hose in Mumbai or Entebbe.
Bottled water is your buddy. Altitude and sitting dry you out. Get up. Move around. Drink water until that which streams out of you is clear and copious. Really. Most of the discomforting effects of jet lag result from dehydration (headache; swollen legs, ankles and feet; constipation; extreme lethargy).
On the plane, no alcohol; it’s candy from strangers. The airline offering you free booze is run by the same people who invented the $150 change fee. The same people who arbitrarily upped your fare $300 when you waited from Monday to Wednesday to book it. The same people who charge you nothing for a 49 pound bag and $85 for a 51 pounder, and funny that their scale is off from yours by two pounds. They shack up with the people who bundle your cable television channels and those other bums who wrote your mobile phone plan.
Don’t fall for their tricks! Airline food is poison, and booze dries you out. The airline knows this and they give it to you free. They know that you will arrive happier if tipsy. They know the dehydration will not debilitate you for another six-to-twelve hours. They know you will blame someone else. Do not fall for this scam they learned from 1960s heroine dealers. Maybe a little cranberry to flush the kidneys. Nothing more.
I’ve seen otherwise reasonably intelligent people ruin the first five days of their trip. They swig vodka and wine, eat fatty, sugary airline food, sleep at all the wrong times or, worse, avoid sleep because they simply must watch six, free, in-flight movies back-to-back.
They try to make it through a tour by drinking a half pot of coffee and they still can’t poop. For all that, they earn a migraine. The next day, they cannot wake up, so they drag around, skip breakfast for an extra 20 minutes of sleep, and whine all day while the smart travelers are adventuring and wishing the babies had stayed home with a sitter.
Don’t be fooled, airlines could not care less about your fabulous trip for which you scrimped and saved and begged friends for money. TheBusintheSky has engineered itself to frustrate and alienate customers. Rant over. Let’s talk about other forms of transport.
In-country transportation: feet, bicycles, motos, buses, taxis
Readers may wonder, Jack, “Why you so much write about Kigali driving?”
“It is the most exciting part of my day. My morning and evening adrenaline rush.”
“Listen, if driving through Kigali is the most excitement I find myself enduring, that’s probably OK.”
Once in country, you will see five modes of getting from here to there. Like rattlesnake handling and lion taming, all carry danger, even with practice and especially while learning.
You can walk. Rwandans walk everywhere, for miles, along busy roads with narrow paths and no curbs, bare inches from weaving vehicles. You can.
You may ride the back of a bicycle. This is crazy.
I’ve watched drivers laboring to get someone up a small hill. Remember, as a kid what you did to get up a hill? You stood on the pedals and pumped. And the front wheel shook and wobbled. Imagine that in a city where cars, motorcycles, buses, vans, and very large delivery trucks whizz within inches of that wobbling front wheel. People die.
You may hang by your nails from the back of a mototaxi, which is a poorly maintained dirt bike driving on the shoulder or in the opposing lane of traffic, weaving in and out between congested cars, trucks, and pedestrians. I saw one sideswipe an elderly woman in the street, Sunday. It nearly knocked granny off her feet. NOT COOL, DUDE!
If they had sidewalks, mototaxis would use them. If they had guy-wires strung across the roads and between building, mototaxis would use them. I expect to see James Bond chasing a warlord with a machete on the back of a mototaxi any moment.
When I arrived, I suggested to my hosts that I take a mototaxi from the guest house to the Dream Center. They were very quiet for several awkward seconds.
“This would be inadvisable, Dr. Allen.”
Another said, “They are death traps.” One missionary who has lived here for two years claims to have seen two deaths from mototaxi wrecks. Last Thursday night, a crumpled mototaxi sat at the turn from the paved road to the guest house road. I counted six cops standing around talking about something that could not have been good.
Mototaxi tires wobble. Drivers wobble. One touches a bumper, lays down the bike, and the people fall under the wheels of the car/van/bus/truck that the moto driver swerved in front of a half second earlier. So, that’s probably out.
When a Rwandan says “bus,” he means what I call “VanBus.” A Toyota minivan designed to hold nine people, but packed with 17-20. You do not want to be in the back. You do not want to be within forty feet on a hot day. Phew!
My Australian friend, Paytah, says he saw one in Kampala with people hanging out the doors, driving driving the highway at 50 mph. He followed, wanting a photo. When it stopped, he counted 39 people aboard. Fish story? Perhaps. I counted 20 on one last week. Lotta lap-sitting in that vehicle.
When my Oregonian trip advisor told me that it would cost about $1 to take a taxi from the guest house to the Dream Center, she assumed that the price she received from her local connection was for a taxi (see below). Nope. A buck buys a ride on a VanBus. She did not know the difference at the time. Communication: a lost art in the age of Twitter.
When I told my Rwandan hosts how much cash I brought and what I expected to pay to get around, I heard that awkward silence again. I saw drawn faces. I heard unintelligible muttering. I wondered, “Why so sad, brah?” (Yes, I actually used those words.)
“You will need to learn the Kinyerwandan words to tell the driver where you want to go.”
“It will have three stops along the way, and you will need to transfer at least once.”
“Plan on one or more hours each way.”
Ahhhh, Big problem. “Dr. Jack” is Greek for “Hurry up.”
“You will not want to take this mode of transportation in the night. You will be robbed.”
Robbed? Well, shoot, I was ready until that came out. I draw the line at robbery. No thanks.
It gets a little easier when you say, “taxi” and mean taxi. ”Little,” does not mean, “same as home.” A Kigali taxi is a 1990 Toyota Carina (see my post on ultimate sophistication). You will find three to five working seat belts, but, hey, let’s not quibble. I saw one with eight people, all very close. Some too close.
Taxis are the way to go!
Their operators make Nascar drivers look like a high-schooler with a learner’s permit ooching onto the freeway. Kigali taximen have never learned hesitation. Yield is not in their vocabulary.
My best bud driver’s name is Innocent, after Pope Innocent who, if I recall correctly, was not very nice or innocent, though my driver seems to be a nice guy. Google Innocent III if carnage-in-the-name-of-religion interests you.
My friend Innocent turns to the dark side when he comes to a roundabout. Then he is Ruthless. As we leaned into the roundabout in front of the US Embassy, I asked him for a helmet. Innocent got this weird grin and shouted, “Wooo! We go!” I think he may drink Red Bull. I think he may be a two-fisted Red Bull man.
He gets me from here to there fast for about $7. Yes, it’s 7x more than anticipated, so I am getting “it” after all, but no bruises! To be honest, that cab ride in the US is about $15-20 plus a tip.
Gerald (principle of ACT) learned about the taxi arrangement, and did not approve. So he drove me around most of last week, then other ANL staff drivers handle the driving this week. NOTE TO ACCOUNTANTS: trying to get answers on what costs how much in Rwanda is like asking for a unicorn. “Excel spread sheet tracking all expenses, please” was met with “Sorry?” Read this.
Personally, I think I could have rented a car for the month, but they fear I’d take the wrong road and end up in Sudan. Or piled up on the edge of a roundabout.
“American’s do not drive well, here,” they claim. Ha! I’m not from ‘Murica; I’m from TEXAS! Unless it’s more convenient to be from America.
Fascinating food info
Anyway, since my classes are at night, I do not eat weeknight dinners at the guest house. Since I meet with students during the day, I eat weekday lunches of African food at the Dream Center (see my food blog), and that mayyyy have been a factor in that little tummy ache I had last week. Thank you for praying, and thank God for healing me.
Don’t Forget God
Over the years, many of the people I talked to said they think people forget God when they leave home. This implies that they remember him when at home, which does not conform to my experience. I think people are more open to God’s guidance when they’re out of their comfort zones. Whatever the case, when you find yourself in Rwanda (or any majority world nation), be prepared to meet your maker.
Not the conventional wisecrack, I mean meet God in a good way. He is here. You have fewer distractions, and so you hear him more clearly. You understand why science is wonderful and helpful but cannot answer the deeper realities we all long to understand. Realities like, “Why am I here?” and “What is my purpose?”
“What or who started all this; could all this have really been just a lucky accident?”
And a real big one: “What can I do to help?”
This world is dirty and hard. For some reason, it’s a lot easier to see God when you stand with dirty and hard.
I tell my students that I am ashamed of myself for ever being in a bad mood. They agree – they wake up on the wrong side of the bed sometimes, too.
The way I see it, if I was killed last night and woke up today with a chalk line around my body, I’d be in heaven about the time I realized what was happening. That would be awesome not in the, “That was an awesome concert,” awesome, but in the sense that I would come fully awake in the presence of The Awesome One. The only awesome person to whom I belong.
On the other hand, if I woke up today and was not in heaven, but found myself in dirty and hard, then God has something important for me to do. It’s important if God gave it to me to do – that’s a legitimate definition of important for you. I have business, y’all.
If I woke up sick, God wants me to rest. If I am bad sick, God wants me to rest more, pray fervently, stay at peace, and remind my doctor that I appreciate his work. But I still have something to do, and that is to ask doctors and nurses if they’d like to go someplace like Rwanda to ply their trade among really dirty and really hard.
Either way, today is a good day. I am a consumer of God’s grace, a hungry one.
While here, watch for examples of God’s grace. They’re everywhere. Most mototaxis do not crash. Many children get an education and a hand up out of poverty. Christians from all over the world come here to help repair the damage evil did. Even a few atheists poke around trying to help, it’s really quite refreshing. Birds sing, flowers bloom, marriages reconcile, people treat their children, spouses, and old folks with dignity, food gets distributed. Warlords get arrested. Sickness gets healed, broken bones get mended. The sun comes up. Grace is everywhere around here.
Hey, all that stuff is happening at home, too. Hang on, I have a Facebook message. Look, my friend’s kitty is chasing her tail. What was I saying?
Ah, I miss y’all. See you soon. Write if you get work.
Yesterday and today I rode in the most magnificent taxi in Kigali. It belongs to Gerard, who works in transportation for Africa New Life and is the world’s best mechanic judging by this one, incredible fact.
Gerard’s car odometer reads 460,000 kilometers, about 286,000 miles. Gerard owns a 1990 Toyota Carina. Watch this ad and be jealous. Your car does NOT have a white ghost panther running alongside. Gerard’s does. This magnificent vehicle’s odometer, Gerard admitted to me, is FALSE. The odo actually stopped working several years ago. This car has driven around the world more than a dozen times, maybe 14 or 15 times. It’s driven to the moon and is on its way home.
But that is not all. This car has everything you need and swag to spare. How about a decal on the front windshield telling oncoming traffic that, “Jesus is King.” How about that?! King of the ROAD, baby.
And on the back, where you will see it because Gerard’s Titanic Toyota just passed you? Another, bosser, “JESUS is KING” with a lion in between words. A LION.
Plus – - bling-bling – - caution tape with “Jesus” superimposed in traffic cone orange over yellow and black. Like a wasp, gonna sting ya. To quote my students, “Wow!”
Yes, my friends, there IS more. The front seats rock. Literally, rock. The stereo rocks too, though Gerard had it tuned to a pretty sedate station. But I mean the seats rock forward and back like little rocking chairs. When he hits the gas, you rock back. When he brakes, you rock forward. It. Is. Amazing.
This fantastic car is so fantastic I can barely call it a car. It’s a machine. It’s a rocket ship. It’s what happens when a guy squeezes every ounce of utility out of something in an effort to live more simply and put three daughters and one son through school. This after having to relocate from another country. This after having to learn another language. This after having to find another job. This after just trusting God that somehow all this will work out. This after having to quit his previous excellent job as the top auto-mechanic (they called him the technician) because he had an allergic reaction to oil and grease and his doctor said, “Quit or die.”
There’s a spiritual discipline one rarely sees. It means less house, fewer clothes, and keeping your car running. You do it because it prevents the world system from getting its tentacles into your life. One disciplines his life to be simpler because complex is distracting. Complex distracts us from God. Simple aligns us with God. Jesus kept it simple. We are smart to do the things he did.
Gerard has big faith. Big simple faith. Simplicity must be one’s free choice, it cannot be forced. Gerard chose to do the right thing, and his car is the happiest example.
Stay simple, Gerard. Stay you, buddy. The world needs more examples like you.
My third Sunday here, second to teach in a church, found me in Bugesera. Africa New Life carries on tremendous ministry in their Bugesera community. It’s needed.
When the genocide broke out, Bugesera was targeted. On the way up from Kigali, one finds three memorials along the highway. The most chilling, in my opinion, is the mass graveyard next to a church. Overgrown by weeds, drive-by observers see countless grave markers peering above the weeds as if they’re hiding. Hiding from the atrocity of evil loosed. From the Ntarama Memorial website:
The association of Bugesera with genocidal development is a long one. For decades, there have been forced population movements and frequent massacres.
About an hour’s drive southwards from Rwanda’s capital city, Kigali, the red-brick church at Ntarama is peacefully situated, shadowed by acacia trees. Ntarama Church, however, is the site where some of the most brutal killings of the 1994 Rwandan genocide took place. The church at Ntarama was seen as a safe place by almost 5000 people, many of whom were women and children and who went there for sanctuary. But Ntarama was not a safe place. The victims of the genocide remain there, their bones still strewn with lifeless chaos where they fell nearly ten years ago [now 19 years]. Their belongings cover the floor; clothes, suitcases, a child’s white sock – the last remnants of a desperate flight for life.
The site does not soon leave you. It hangs around your shoulders, begging you to look again. Few things fight harder to wrap one’s mind around that which no one can wrap his mind around. People naively sign the guestbook, “Never Again,” but murder and mayhem is the condition of the human race. We are a violent bunch, given to unthinkable rage.
Lest you believe yourself above it all, remember, so did they. This happened in a church. To the superstitious faithful, “No one will attack people in a church.”
“The devil cannot come in here.”
“No one will do this to mamas and babies.”
Sure they will.
The difference between you, me and them? Opportunity.
When a mob gets riled, weird things happen. When spiritual discipline is low, people look the other way. Then it’s too late. We’ve ignored God, sowed the wind. Now we’re caught up in the whirlwind (Hosea 8:7, see also Proverbs 1:26-28).
Spiritual discipline may not prevent physical atrocity. Bad things happen. We do not have sufficient perspective or resources to know all the causes, but we know this. People who follow Jesus do not hurt others. One must stop following Jesus to burn cars in celebration of a sports championship, or to kill Jews, Arabs, New Yorkers, mamas, or babies.
It is true that some of the leaders of some of the churches in Rwanda assisted the genocidaires. Why does this surprise us? The Bible clearly tells us that we will find weeds in the wheat field, false prophets among the faithful, demon-tormented fakes leading spiritually blind sheep into the depths of depravity. Not an idle mind, but the church is the devil’s playground. He plays because so few believers study the Bible. We are ill-prepared to spot a fake and call him on the carpet, much less to put a wolf out of the sheep pen. We’re too busy buying shoes, watching TV, and avoiding conflict. Then a genocide happens and we are all clucking hens wondering what’s wrong with those people.
When we arrived at Bugesera, the tent was already filled with over 100 adults. Capacity crowd, not a chair to be found. Children crowded on a mat and a few blankets on the floor, beautiful toddlers with smiles like headlights. The people were singing and sweating like they’d been at it for awhile. A tent of meeting is hot.
I was introduced, and told, “get ready.” There were two or three more songs and the Pastor gave an introduction that may have been simply, “Listen up,” but took eight minutes.
I taught from Luke 5.
Jesus stood by the lake watching people. He watches everything, and he teaches. I may be wrong but I think he delivers lessons off what he’s watching.
He tells Peter to push out from shore as he’s getting in Peter’s boat. He seems to want a better vantage point from which to teach.
About the time he appears to finish, the real lesson begins; the one recorded for us. Jesus tells Peter to put down the nets for a catch. The original language uses a literary device to make sure we know Jesus said to put down all the nets. Not just a dinky net – God says put everything out there. Have faith. Take a risk.
Peter, like me, starts making excuses. He whines about being too tired from fishing all night and not catching anything. “We work hard, Lord. We’re too tired to help a neighbor, pray, or read a Bible much less study it; too tired by Sunday to go to church even though we know we need it. Too tired to give to the poor, (those are some of mine; you can probably fill a blank line or two also). Then Peter gives what I imagine to be a half-hearted sigh, “But if you say so, I’ll do it.”
They catch so many fish the nets are breaking. They have to call for help. You ever notice that everyone gets tired fishing, but no one gets tired catching fish?
Dan Peabody and I were on a boat a few weeks ago, fishing. Not catching. I threw a line on top of an oyster bed and caught shells, which ticked off our guide. He said something like, “You’re doing it all wrong.” I was glad he told me that because I had no idea that our purpose was to catch something other than seashells and sunshine.
I think Jesus was trying to tell Peter, and us, that we are doing life wrong. If we try on our own, we catch nothing much. If we fish where he tells us, we catch more than we need. He says the same thing to John later (John 15:5).
The people in the New Life Bible churches in Kigali, Bugesera, Keyonza, and Kageyo like to raise their hands and sing very loud. It’s beautiful, free worship, and I love it.
Raising hands carries a couple meanings in the Hebrew tradition. One is to show God I have no weapons. “Look God, I am not fighting you. You have me. I surrender. I am yours.”
The other is to show God I’m not holding anything back, “I let go. I gave it all to you, Lord.” When we raise our hands (even if we do it figuratively in more reserved worship settings), do we hold back? Spiritually, and by that I do not mean with physical hands but in the condition of our souls that God sees, do we lift closed hands? Do we hold onto something? Our children, our jobs, our lusts for risqué pleasure, our money?
A closed hand is a clenched fist from God’s lofty perspective. When God watches us worship, does he see open hearts or clenched fists? A closed fist means a closed heart, a closed soul – a heart/soul bent toward rebellion. An inner disposition at war with God? Don’t hold back. Don’t stay at war with God.
Two people came forward at that point saying they did not want to hold back anymore. They wanted Jesus to forgive them for their rebellion. One was a teenage boy. He looked like a nice kid. You’d never peg him as much of a rebel. The other was a young mom with a fat, happy, 10-month old boy. You’d never have guessed she was at war with God.
I hear that many people in Bugesera are at war with God. God says forgive the people, and families of the people, who committed the murders nineteen years ago. They cannot forgive. They’re not alone. Many Koreans cannot forgive the Japanese. Some African-Americans cannot forgive Anglos; the South cannot forgive the North; the Aggies cannot forgive the Longhorn Network like the Democrats cannot forgive the Republicans or is it the other way around? I forget.
Stupid stuff, most of it, but I have a hard time forgiving people who stole from me or mistreated me, don’t you. I’m not sure I have it in me to forgive genocide, except for two things. First, I know that if I do not forgive people who sinned against me, my Father will not forgive me (Matthew 6:15). Second, I know that the Holy Spirit gives us what we do not have. We just have to open our hands, hearts, souls and receive it.
Genocide victims and hard hearts. Not a good combination for any town. I feel for those people. Still, two came forward. There’s hope.
After the first two, the Pastor asked could we pray for the sick. At least 30 people came forward. A migration of malady. One-third of the attenders.
Later, after I learned about the forgiveness blockage, I could not help but wonder about some connection between an unforgiving attitude and physical ailment. Spiritual sickness often leads to physical sickness (James 5:16). Then again, sometimes people just get sick. We cannot judge accurately, but I can judge the ache I felt seeing so many sick people. It was not the easy part of the day.
Side bar: My stomach has been jumpy today. Judith for whom many of you prayed, and who is now back to 100% from Typhoid Fever just brought me a tonic to settle it. Just tonic. Just T, no G. Oh, the sacrifices I make.
What followed praying for the sick was easy and fun! The Pastor called his worship leader to the front and announced to the crowd that he was looking for his bride to become engaged. Right there. Engagement ceremony. Ha!
It is a Rwandan custom that the guy goes through the crowd “hunting” his girl. Of course, he would stop next to tween girls who squealed with delight, and then by the old grandmas who would laugh and give him a swat. Awesome.
Finally, this boy found a suitable partner who happened to be dressed in a black evening gown (I saw her earlier and wondered about that), and she’d obviously just had her hair done. Talk about being prepared! This girl had it happening.
One of the church leaders spread out a rug. The guy came and announced his intentions (well, some of his intentions), which caused the girl to blush. OK, not blush, in the literal sense, but the cultural equivalent. She looked down and grinned like girls are made to do. Very cute. The couple knelt on the rug and the leaders prayed over them. I was asked to pray too. Quite a surprise and honor.
What a great ceremony. I wish I’d known about that when I asked Janet to marry me. She’d been fun to hunt.
Next Sunday I am scheduled for New Life Bible Church in Kayonza. I hope you have a good Sunday too.
There’s no excuse for habitual lateness or lazy habits. Nor is there any excuse for overcommitting oneself to the point of exhaustion. God doesn’t like either because both of those life strategies are selfish.
God prefers that we consider the needs of others as well as our own (Phil 2:4). It’s more than manners, it’s a reflection of how Jesus lived among us, and by this simple way of behaving, communities function better.
When one does not care about the person who awaits his or her arrival, it leads to other not-niceties. The one waiting has other things to do than, for instance, hang out in the doctor’s waiting room or the line at the MVD, or wonder why the student has not shown up for the appointment to meet with the professor (or Chaplain), or why you did not handle it when you said that you would handle it.
My readers are not generally among the late and inconsiderate. At least not for long. These articles make selfish people angry and they click over to tmz.com. to find a slower group.
Rwanda is getting faster. They’re getting a taste of things getting done, and like most of us, they like it. Traffic moves here. There is no yielding. Paperwork for business start-ups moves. Bank loans move.
Austin is already a fast city at everything except traffic. Generally, in our town, things happen on time or you call someone else. There are no excuses for dragging one’s feet. New Mexico is The Land of Mañana. Everything gets done, tomorrow, meaning never. New Orleans is The City that Care Forgot. Everything gets done when we get to ya’ meaning never. Academia grinds at a medieval pace. So, in a way, I already had a dozen years of the African mindset.
Problem is, I like fast. I like done. I find myself often reminding myself to care for the needs of others not merely your own.
As Rwandans Westernize education and business practices, their lives speed up, and many find themselves left behind. Teachers push students to get to class early, study hard all day, and that due dates are not suggestions.
As a result, Rwanda’s economy is growing very fast and, like USAmerica, it’s getting tougher to consider the needs of others, not merely your own. God offers us many ethical conundrums like that one, and he expects us to gently work things out.
Class and Prayer
I start my classes with prayer, then go over the previous day’s work. Late students find themselves handicapped during a quiz.
My students love praying, and it’s a joy to hear them, but starting class that way provides no incentive to change centuries old cultural norms. Some go at prayer like they’re fighting lions. Others speak softly. They all understand the discipline. They all pray out loud! All at once as though praying did not require taking turns; as though they were praying to God and not to each other. Imagine it if you can,a cacophony of prayer rising like incense to heaven!
Praying like that is rare in our culture. I think most Americhristians worry more about others’ perceptions than they do God’s, and therefore, they miss out on a free conversation with our loving Father. We really could use a lesson in getting over ourselves.
Unfortunately, late to class means missing prayer time, which I do not like. I tried giving a quiz first, and that was a disaster. The main idea of my class is that they learn the discipline of using the Bible, not to penalize them into watching a clock. One must keep the main idea in focus.
As you may have guessed, the language barrier is tougher to beat than the time barrier. I have three students for whom English remains mysterious. Kinyerwandan is their native tongue, and it sounds very much like Pentacostals praying in tongues.
I mentioned this to my friend Gerald, “During the chapel service, the people behind us were praying in Kinyerwandan, and it sounded to me like someone praying in tongues.”
“Dr. Jack, those people were praying in tongues.”
Kinyerwandan sounds as unfathomable to me as my English must be to them. “Father, it will make our lives so much easier if you can see your way clear to impart the gift of tongues to us as you did to all the nationalities in Acts 2. In Jesus name, Amen.” Well, that got a simple, “No” from God. But I think he was smiling.
My sheep stare at me, and I think they’re not getting it, whatever it may be. Turns out that the stare denotes intense concentration as though they are studying a painting to the point of their face going numb. They focus on hearing English words, but have not yet developed the ability to speak the words. They hear but cannot respond.
Interestingly, all the students tell me that on the way home, things come together for them. I suppose that once out from under the intimidation of the classroom their minds sort out the details of the day. I guess nobody wants to look bad in front of others (see praying out loud, above).
Stillness (solitude) is exactly what God tells us to use to our advantage. Solitude is one spiritual discipline I teach, which is rarely employed in the West. I confess that I have, over many years and in many places, found it impossible to explain to supervisors and boards that God uses solitude to clarify direction and next steps. Strategy demands solitude (history tells us that the best generals always took quiet breaks to mull over their plans of attack).
In the busy, busy, economically developed world, solitude feels like slacking, It’s not. It’s work that clears away distractions like a broom clears cobwebs. Solitude lets God filter out the noise so that one may hear him. Moses, Elijah, and Jesus all demonstrated the discipline of solitude. We demonstrate the undiscipline of distraction and cramming more into a day than the day rightly holds.
The language thing is a problem not soon solved by solitude. It also requires that students study and practice English.
Lest my reader think I act paternalistically – a charge often leveled by well-meaning though profoundly ignorant Anglos – I should mention that it is the policy of the African leaders of Rwanda and the African leaders of the Africa College of Theology that one teaches his or her courses in English. Even the African teachers teach in English. Rwandan President Kagame and ACT share the same goal: to improve the English skills of students so that they may interact in the global economic and academic arenas.
I teach biblical theology, ethics, and world view even though the course title is Spiritual Disciplines, and I teach it in the marvelous English dialect Texan. The Rwandans who run the school want English-only; that’s one reason why they need people like me to teach here. All the students in the class should be able to communicate in English before the class begins, but some slip through because they want so badly to learn. I could not turn any of these guys away. They’re hungry.
They love learning the course content and about deer hunting, bull riding, off shore fishing, football rivalries (of which they know something – soccer fans are brutal), and wicked places called Lubbock, Oklahoma, and California. Longhorn cattle fascinate them since they have equally odd-horned cattle. We did not discuss guns. We did discuss aggie shenanigans.
I was surprised to learn that the index-and-pinkie-fingers-up hand gesture we know as Hook ‘em Horns, means nothing to them. UT’s brand is here – I’ve seen many of our alumni sporting worn Texas shirts while selling various items in the market or waiting for the bus. The gesture, however, has not caught on, and in reality, it means nothing more than, “We plan to gore you.”
My beloved aggie siblings, however, have left their trousers unzipped, metaphorically speaking, when it comes to hand gestures in this part of the globe. Perhaps Johnie Footbawl (intentionally misspelled to avoid licensing hassles) could make a trip over and flash some cash in a gambling house – there’s one on every block from which he may choose.
Evidently, to many Rwandans, and a billion others, a thumb up does not mean, “All things are good,” as the British and Ugandans think, nor does it mean, “We plan to gig you,” as fighting farmers work so hard to spell out.
Rather, a thumb up in much of Africa and the Middle East is the cultural equivalent of a man displaying his attentive private part with the intention of conducting unwanted activity which is disturbingly pushy, offensive, and decadent! Aggies taking photographs in purple cause international furor and sniggering among our African allies! The man holding your camera is likely thinking, “Dear Lord, do you people have no decency?”
When he or she learns that aggies teach this offensive gang sign to their wives and demand it of their formerly innocent children, he is ready to call in troops.
(Voice of outrage; laughing.) ”Your behavior is beyond reproach! Stand down sir!” (Ahem). Be warned good citizens!
How, you may ask, do I come across such disconcerting news? I was trying to communicate with students. One made an excellent point and I flashed, “Hook ‘em!”
“Does this (Hook ‘em Horns) hand sign mean anything to you?”
“Sorry?” (Kinyerwandan for, “No,” “I do not understand,” or “How the heck would I know what you stupid Texans do? I’m Rwandan, for Pete’s sake.”)
So I explained and asked if they use hand signals at football games.
One guy laughed and said something to another guy who also laughed. They would not tell me what they laughed about, but somehow I knew they were telling each other about crude hand signs that fans sometimes use against opposition. That made me think of aggies.
I asked if they knew (aggie sign). I received a rather startled and much differently inflected, “Sorry?!?”
One said, “Doctor, that is not right.”
“What?” which is English for “Sorry?”
A Ugandan explained that thumbs up means nothing, but that to a large part of East Africa it means something like that which my sister has been trying to tell me for several years: Governor Perry really is trying to get behind the people.
After-hours research confirms this devastating and unfortunate reality. Author Dan Brown in Angels and Demons calls it an ancient [redacted] symbol, but many people say the same thing about the Washington Monument. The conclusive evidence comes from the collective knowledge of humanity: The Interwebs. Please click and scroll to the smoking gun (pun intended) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thumbs_signal.
Besides feigning offense (best acting job EVER) and teaching my students to call the National Police immediately if they observe anyone displaying the vile gesture, I’m solving the language barrier in other ways.
First, I have the English-ready students teach the others whatever point I last made in Kinyerwandan. The less fluent students learn English and course content at a pace they can handle and the more fluent students increase their retention by teaching others. Everyone gets a ribbon.
Second, I am half through writing a work book for this course. Perhaps, next year, one of the more advanced students – one fluent in both English and Kinyerwandan – will teach the course by using the workbook. I may then focus on a more advanced course like Spiritual Formation, which starts tonight.
Additionally, that will mean I need to be here two weeks instead of the full month. It’s not as cool to say I am teaching in Rwanda for two weeks as it is to say a month. Two weeks, people think vacation. A month and they think you’re a lunatic or a missionary, and I am not really much of the latter.
Well, traffic is getting heavy out there. That’s enough for today.
Pray for me if you get a minute. Comment on the blog if you get two. And if you get three, draw a smiley face on your thumb and show it to your spouse.
Filed under: Inspiring Spirituality
The days seem longer here because they are longer.
No television, sketchy WiFi, no wife to entertain. Really, there’s not much to do besides sleep, eat, and work. Sleep is iffy, my tummy is jumpy (since yesterday). So I work.
I’m studying Jeremiah. I refine class notes. I attempt to get what’s in my head into a workbook for students with entry-level English. I talk to students whose stories are both fascinating and detailed (long). I post to the blog, which always takes too long (perfection is the enemy of good). Thank you for reading.
Between Rwanda not adopting Daylight Saving Time and Nightjarlarmclockbirds, you will find me up early and busy before 7:00. My classes meet until 8:30pm, and students want to talk afterwards. I’m done around 9:30. So, it’s a long day, but not a bad day. Hard to explain, but I really do not mind the hours. Teaching requires energy but less it seems than advising.
Africans do things more slowly, more deliberately than Americans. They do fewer things than Americans – there exist fewer things to do here. Some of their customs beat ours. Casual, long meals. Stopping a conversation or work to greet someone. The academic library is more like a coffee shop.
Some of their habits bleed into areas where some discipline might improve life. I am told that few of the Pastors here use the Bible as an instructional tool, which actually qualifies them to lead many churches in the US, where everyone owns a Bible but no one reads it. Discipline to study would help citizens of both countries. Rwandan Pastors may hold a Bible and read a verse, but I am told that most often all that follows are vague expressions of generalized faith and encouragement. Meandering opinions not unlike Joel Osteen or Episcopal clerics offer. As a result, the flocks of these faux shepherds look to family rituals or animistic customs for help instead of God’s proven words. Again – American pop-religion!
We care more for our opinions than God’s. It’s like some of us think God is like us. We ignore Jeremiah’s warnings (read the first few chapters, and shudder). For that matter, try Psalm 50. Pretty clear, isn’t it?
Someone famous once told me that a person’s theology will govern their work. If they think God is easily manipulated or thinks things done part way are OK, they’ll cut corners at work. Many construction projects (home and abroad) appear more opinion-driven and take way too long to make a cogent point. Six months later, the sewer is just today connected in our building. If we can get some tp, soap, towels, and the water turned on, we’ll have a parade. As I walked back and forth across campus yesterday, I noticed a couple guys plastering the side of an elevated walkway. Two guys, eight hours, easy. Between gabbing, snacking, and calisthenics (really), they’ll finish by Mardi Gras.
I’ve been trying to get an Internet card loaded with minutes. The card was intended for me to use while here. I have not used it yet. It’s empty because a student took it home and used it to watch movies. People say it’s loaded, but do not check the work.
“It’s not loaded.” (I’d like to get loaded.)
HUGE SMILE: “Ooooooohhhhhhh, sorry, Pastor/Doctor/whatever irrelevant title, I thought it was done.”
“Why would you think it was loaded when you unloaded it? It’s not working. When I plug it in, it reads “Zero minutes available.’”
“Sorry?” (Cocked head indicating he does not understand my words.)
“This card does not connect to the Internet.”
“No, it has no minutes.”
“I am aware of that. That’s why I asked you to put minutes on it yesterday and the day before yesterday.”
“Thank you, doctor. It has no minutes. You will need to put minutes on it for it to work.” (And the guy is looking at me in a way that I just know he’s thinking, “Doctor, my eye. This stupid old, white man doesn’t know jack about how stuff works.”)
“Can you put the minutes on the card?”
“Seriously, dude. I. Need. You. To. Put. Minutes. On. This (remain calm. no adjectives in there, Jackie. be nice. don’t tell him what you think of this process. deep breath, help me Jesus.) Card. Minutes on the card. Can you get that done for me. Today?”
A missionary told me (via another one) that after a year or two of enduring cultural differences in the way we redeem time, she grew very frustrated. (No0000. Really?) Many of her colleagues quit the field – the differences were just too big a leap. Imagine hearing day after day that your sewer will be connected, but it’s not, so bathroom breaks include walking a block. It’s a constant drip of little things that wears people down.
God is in here somewhere
We forget or ignore God’s instruction to use our time wisely. Not to cram so much in it that we have no time to hear peoples’ needs or respond in loving ways. Nor to be so slack with our time such that we unnecessarily burden others’ lives.
Filed under: Ethical dilemma | Tags: bureaucratic nightmare, motor vehicle department, running with the bulls
You already know about the birds, my punctual allies appearing daily at 5:40. African life is otherwise what you might expect, ‘Murica. Slower and late. Yesterday, driving to work, we saw young men running to the football stadium with papers in hand. A crowd was gathered at the stadium. People were inside.
“Monday morning football?” (I was so hopeful.)
“Driver test,” said my driver.
“What? They drive around the football field?”
“No. Only a written test.”
“And those guys are late?”
This explains so much. Automobile travel is not terribly safe in Kigali, though it is much safer than Guatemala City, Kampala, Nairobi, Rome or anywhere in New Jersey. If you had a teenage daughter, you would not want her to learn driving in Kigali. This is because a significant majority of Kigali drivers are teenaged boys.
Driving in Kigali is like running with the bulls in Pamplona with a cord tied around your knees. There’s a lot of hesitation. There’s a lot of feeling something large will hit you soon, and you just sort of pray for the least possible damage.
In addition to the relatively young age of most drivers, this locked-knee feeling is – I now know – because the drivers have a written test on a football field to which they are all late. A little farther up the road, my driver shows me why they are late.
The worst bureaucratic nightmare in any city in the world. Like godliness, nobody gets “Motor Vehicle Department” right. It is the place where bad boys and girls go to work after they graduate from Apathy Academy. If you ever meet someone who says, “I went to the MVD today to get my ‘driver’s license’ or ‘car registered’ and it was awesome!” Run. They are delusional and probably psychotic. They are thinking of a place to stick a knife or hide a body. Nobody likes MVD.
In Kigali, MVD is a small office on the second floor of a four story building with two banks on the first floor. There are 8,000 people in the parking lot. There is no line. Just a crowd. Like Wal-Mart on a sales tax holiday.
Through the windows, one can see people crowded in every square inch of space up the stairs and through the halls. These people, almost all men, none of whom have been closer to a bar of soap than they have been to visit Jupiter, are waiting to pay 10,000 RFR (about $16.00) to get the magic paper that allows them to run like a bandit five blocks to sit in the stadium to take the test and drive a car around the football field. I seriously wanted to watch the Rwandan demolition derby, but the driver kept insisting “Written test only. No driving.”
Evidently, watching the driving part is a national secret not for outside eyes.
Filed under: Inspiring Spirituality
God loaded Africa with animals. Two in our neighborhood find themselves worthy. One is not the [bad word] dog barking last night. One flippin’ dog in Rwanda and he barks all night, and he found me. Death stare at dog.
I already told you about Nightjars – nature’s alarm clocks. And I just found a flying ant crawling on my laptop screen, and today I found tiny, eighth-inch-long bees in the flowers outside. Yes, they sting.
But now. Now I am introducing White Rabbit.
Here he is hiding out from the rain. Scary rain making a moat on Rabbit Island. When it’s dry, White Rabbit thinks he’s a dog. A friendly one. Or he has found someone’s stash of Ecstasy. Come to think of it, he did seem thirsty.
White Rabbit is, I believe, the distant grandson of the same bunny about which Grace Slick sang. (Here you go – be a hippie for three minutes.)
I was told that White Rabbit was here when we visited last year. This is not possible. He’d have found us. I mean, this rabbit hops right on through the front door and into the house. One of our crew would have spotted him and freaked.
White Rabbit lives in the yard. Alone. White Rabbit don’t care. He’s a bada$$. He is alone because the keepers of the house do not want more White Rabbits. He is certifiably off.
White Rabbit chases people. Once caught, he runs around their legs. Try to escape, and White Rabbit hunts you down, outmaneuvers you, jumps in front and cuts you off, “You are not leaving, Muzungu.” White Rabbit don’t care.
White Rabbit jumps on your leg! (Thankfully WR avoids the usual annoying little dog twerking). White Rabbit looks up at you. I do not think he talks.
I am not the only one who has seen White Rabbit. I promise.
White Rabbit wins.
This freaky moth is also a winner. Simon Ross, the noted photographer, took this photo. The same moth (maybe a cousin) flew into my classroom last week. I let him go out the window and the students laughed at me, “We crush them.”
I explained that the moth is just trying to make a living and won’t hurt anybody. Course, what the heck do I know. This is Africa. Could be a man-eater mother. Ivory wings cover a blood red body. Did I say blood red? Hmm.
God has a wonderful imagination.
Thanks for praying and commenting.