A Surprise Package

At the start of the day, you never know what it will bring. It could just be “another” day, or it could be something completely different.

Today started as any other day, until one of my staff brought me a package with my name on it. Intrigued, but busy, I didn’t get a chance to open it until later and what I pulled out surprised me.

A gift

A thick, wool-like sweater. Not that I had any expectations, but this was definitely not what I was imagining. I had no idea why I was getting this package, or what inspired this particular article of clothing.

It was only after some thought that I put the pieces together: A couple days ago he had been wearing a similar sweater and I had commented how sophisticated he looked in his sweater (he’s usually on the field wearing work clothes, so it had seemed quite odd to see him dressed so differently). Apparently he appreciated the comment and went ahead and bought me a sweater as well!

That’s something I love about team, just how generous and caring they are. No matter how much they have, or if it’s an inconvenience for them, they will go out of their way to do stuff for you. It’s an amazing mentality that I think more of should have. I mean, I can’t say that I’ve ever bought a sweater for someone just for giving me a compliment. I think it just shows the size of their hearts.

Now, the question is….will I ever be able to wear something this warm in Africa?

Another Travel Blog

IMG_7646

You’ve probably read enough travel blogs by now that you’re about to be sick just reading the title. In a pathetic attempt to entertain I wrote out a whole blog about ranking trips on the number/quality of toilets used (this trip was a score of 19 in case you were wondering). However, after revisiting it, the pictures and text just didn’t line up enough to make a convincing post.

sunset

Instead, I decided to keep the pictures and change the text. After seven months straight in Congo I was able to take a week vacation. I decided to visit some friends in the Netherlands (talk about complete opposite setting than Congo).

Holland in the fall is absolutely stunning. This wasn’t necessary the most adventurous of trips, but I did get to appreciate that beauty and I hope you can experience that as well through a few pictures.

IMG_7536

We walked and biked in so many parks and woods throughout the central Holland area that it all started to blend together. But it never got tiring because it was so calm – a break from the hectic life of work, cars, technology, etc…

Lunchen met HellAngels 009

We did make a day trip with motorcycles while there. You feel pretty cool driving in a gang of four motorcycles, whipping through traffic and flying down the highways. Everyone looks at you.

IMG_7575

 

Dutch culture is one of my favorites. Not necessary because of the history and traditional Dutch things (wooden shoes and windmills), but because of how they live. They bike everywhere. They take for coffee and tea. The value nature.

IMG_7565

The have quaint streets, cars, canals, and then contrast it with massive cathedrals, trains that go everywhere, and huge cities.

IMG_7653

All in all, it was an amazing trip. It’s good to have a mental break from everyday activities to see new things, meet new people, and explore new places.

But now back to the adventure of life in Congo – hopefully more posts to follow in the future (also I hope to invest more time in them as this one was rather quickly written so may not be the most interesting: I apologize).

Rutha Androsi

 

Rutha Androsi
Rutha Androsi

Rutha Androsi was forced to flee her home last August when rebel troops attacked her village. The rebels began to group the villagers into small groups of 5 to 10 people. As they were getting grouped they heard more gunshots in the distance. The rebels, thinking it was military troops arriving, ran into the forest to find cover. As the rebels ran one way, Rutha and her family took advantage of the moment and ran the other. They spent the rest of the day walking through the hilly and forestry terrain before sleeping outside a small village about 15 km from their own. The next day they continued on another 20 km to reach Gety where they have been living ever since.

The first few nights at Gety were spent sleeping outside on the ground because there was no where else to stay. Realizing they wouldn’t be able to return to their home quickly, they started looking for ways to survive. They set up temporary houses made of reeds and volunteered to work in other people’s gardens in exchange for food. This is how she has been living for almost 11 months now.

Her husband is too frail to work because of breathing issues, so most of the responsibility falls onto her. Besides her own two kids that she looks after, she has taken in another 5 orphans meaning she has nine mouths to feed on any given day.

Recently she and her family were selected to be participants in an agricultural project run by Samaritan’s Purse. The project is targeted at long-term displaced people, like Rutha, who want to return home, but haven’t been able to for a long period of time. The project will provide her and her family with agricultural tools like hoes, machetes, rakes, watering cans, files, etc… She will also receive help finding land. Once the fields have been prepared, SP will also give seeds. This upcoming season will be beans, corn, and peanuts.

Throughout the project she will also receive monthly training from qualified agriculturalists in order that when she does return home she is not just returning with physical tools but also with knowledge that she can use both now and later on.

She told us that she hopes to use the harvest to first feed her family and then secondly to pay for her kids schooling. The school fees for primary kids is 1500 CDF, or about $1.5/month and for secondary school it is 4500 CDF, or $5/month. Despite these low fees, they remain too expensive for her right now.

Village Life: Another Day in the Office

It’s been awhile since I’ve written any posts and I apologize for any that were desperately waiting for one (Grandma…), so I figured I’d try to start up again – we’ll see how it goes. In my defense, I have actually been making a list of topics that I’ve been meaning to write about but just haven’t gotten around to doing it. A lot of that is because of how busy I’ve been with my project activities (that’s one of those topics I want to write about), but also probably a good solid portion of laziness.

field assistants

With so much to talk about it was difficult choosing a topic to re-open my blog with. In the end, I decided to write about where I currently find myself. Not in the abstract sense of “where I find myself in life,” but in the very literal sense of where I am sitting, which is most accurately put as the back of a motorcycle. Granted it’s not moving and I’m facing the wrong way, using the passenger foot pegs as foot rests and the baggage rack as a table. However strange this might sound, it’s really just another day in the office.

office

The project I’m working on is based out of village in northeastern Congo called Gety. One of the first things we had to do was set up a sub-base (another one of those topics). Two months later that is where I am, working from the back of a motorcycle. On my right several field-assistants work on reports from seed distributions that have been happening the past few days. The sound of hammer on nails rings through the base occasionally as a man works on constructing a hangar for the motorcycles. Voices from the small office in the house fill in the quiet gaps between each hammer ring. Behind the house are more voices talking as the cleaner does the day’s laundry by hand in a basin and the cook works on the meal for noon using charcoal grills. Most likely the meal will be beans and rice, a staple here in Congo. Nearby our cat takes a nap in the tropical sun.

Raj

Village life is hard to explain, and even this blog post won’t do it proper justice. For many visitors they only spend a few days out here with us and they find it usually one of two extremes, either mind-numbingly boring, or incredibly stressful/busy. However, neither of these extremes captures the true essence of what village life is. It moves at a different pace than the rest of the world. Time isn’t dictated by a clock on a wall but more by the movement of the sun. We might say a meeting will start at 10, but if it rains it’s understood that it’ll start later. No one is surprised when someone shows up an hour late. Work never really stops, but because of that it also never really starts. You have the opportunity to take in the moment.

laundry

For example, our seed distributions would often take 12 hours of day. We would begin conditioning kits and loading trucks at 6am and wouldn’t get back to the base till 6 at night. Long days to say the least. Today there were no distributions so for the past few hours we have been working on reports, but at the same time telling stories and laughing. Like I said, it’s hard to explain, I think you have to live out there for a while to really appreciate the pace of life, to not get frustrated at how inefficient it is at times (very western mentality) and learn how to see the value of relationships, the value of talking, and the value of listening instead of being caught up in the rush of life.

cook joy

I’ll leave it at that for now. Sorry if this isn’t the most interesting or informative post. Perhaps it is more just me reflecting on how amazing it is to get to travel, work, live in Africa with such amazing people. Maybe the take-away is simply to look from the computer, the phone, and see the people around you. See them and interact with them. Try to live some days as though you’re in the village. I don’t think you’ll regret it.

rice and beansOn a completely separate note, if there were ever a time I would have to request a last meal before dying, it would be the one pictured above: beans, rice, and an avocado on top. I would die a very content man.

 

Tournaments and things

The Team before game 1
The Team before game 1

“It seems that soccer tournaments create those relationships: people gathered together in pubs and living rooms, a whole country suddenly caring about the same event. A World Cup is the sort of common project that otherwise barely exists in modern societies.” 
― Simon Kuper

I don’ t know if you’ve heard or not, but there’s tournament going on right now (it’s called something like the “World Cup,” or some epic name like that), but apparently it’s somewhat of a big deal (note sarcasm – always harder to convey in writing).

The field
The field

In honor of this once-every-four-year event, I decided to tell you about a tournament I myself participated in recently. Several weeks ago it was proposed that all the international NGO’s in Bunia (the city in northeastern Congo where I’m currently living/working) should come together for a soccer/football tournament.

After much debate, several interesting training sessions, and an official “drawing” for who would play who, the day finally arrived. The rules were fairly simple: play soccer (in a respectable fashion), total time per game was 30 minutes, if it’s a tie you go to penalties, and if you lose: you’re out.

A total of 8 teams showed up to play. Our first match was against an NGO called Medair. Thirty minutes of playing in grueling heat brought the match to a close with a nil-nil score line. It therefore went directly into penalties (not ideal, but definitely creates a nail-biting situation). IMG_5022

We shot first. Bruce put it cleanly in.

Medair stepped to respond, but under the pressure the shooter cracks and places the ball directly down the center, right into our keeper’s hands.

Getting ready to shoot
Getting ready to shoot

Heritier, I and Jonas all shoot and score, but for each one we make, Medair responds with one of their own. Finally Serge steps up to close it out for us. He shakes himself to loosen up, waits for the whistle, takes his two-step stride and laces the ball to the upper right corner.

GOOOOOAAAAAALLLLLL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Serge gets lifted up
Serge gets lifted up

All the Samaritan’s Purse fans rush in yelling and celebrating. Before we even get a chance to blink Serge is picked up by the crowd and carried around with everyone dancing and cheering. Even our Country Director was picked up and carried in celebration!

Doug gets carried around in celebration
Doug gets carried around in celebration

After that we get a break while several other games happen. Then the next match is scheduled: SP vs. Save the Children.IMG_5014

By now it’s about 1pm in the afternoon. The tropical sun of central Africa is doing it’s job and everyone is exhausted even before the game begins. But nonetheless, we go out proudly to represent our organization.IMG_4846

The first half is a hard-fought battle as each team has several attempts on frame. It almost seems as though it might go into penalty kicks again until about five minutes from the end when Save the Children get a break away and slot one in.

We tried our hardest, but the game ends 0-1 and we were eliminated.

IMG_4994

It was an amazing day though, getting to hang out with the SP staff, getting to have highs (celebrating a win) and lows (losing) together. Even the people that didn’t play came and supported us – so I have to thank them for their support!

 

IMG_4966

IMG_5047

Hopefully in the near future I’ll try to catch y’all up on what I’ve been doing in life (like the actual “work” side of things). But that’s a story for another day.

IMG_5108

That’s all folks.

 

There was no turning back

First FallsThere’s nothing. . .absolutely nothing. . .half so much worth doing as simply messing around in boats. 
-Kenneth Cole, The Wind in the Willows

The waves rose high above us, like ever growing shadows, as we plunged down the valley towards its base. Beneath us the thundering river pulled us forward to an invariable doom. Above the sound of roaring water I could barely hear the sound of our guide’s voice yelling, “get down! get down!”

There was no turning back. No Turning Back

I grabbed the rope in my left hand, locking my paddle under my arm, while scrambling down as fast as I could into the bottom of the raft, slipping into the small space beside the other paddlers. Just as I was about to reach the floor, I felt the raft lurch under me and the nose rise up as the whole boat went vertical. Time itself seemed to stop, or at least slow down, as we were suspended in the air. But before the moment could be fully appreciated, another wave crashed against the now exposed bottom of our raft throwing us unmercifully into the foaming depths of the river’s mouth below. the wave hits

My hand was torn from the raft’s rope before I even hit the water, but I somehow managed to still be holding onto the paddle as my body hit the surface. It felt as though a heavy-weight boxer had punched my stomach and all the air I had in me was knocked out. As my body became fully submerged I felt the paddle be savagely pulled out of my hands by the angry current, twisting my shoulder before I had a chance to let go. The force of the river continued the wrenching of my left shoulder and I felt it slip out of its socket, becoming dislocated.going over again

All I wanted to do was scream as my body was thrown head over heels under the water, getting tossed around like a rag-doll. I tried to pull my body into a ball so as to reduce the chance of hitting the boulders beneath me, but the river was too strong and I couldn’t bring my left arm in as it was still out of place. I had lost all sense of direction and had no idea which was up or down and although I’d been under only for a few seconds I had already run out whatever air I had. The only thought going through my head now was “I wonder how much oxygen I could get out of gulping down a mouthful of water.”going over 1

The life-vest, clipped firmly around my body, began to tug in a direction which I concluded must be ‘up.’ With all the strength I could muster, I began to kick as hard as could in that direction, hoping to break the surface, with my left arm dangling behind. My head popped out and for a brief moment I could see the large waves dancing around me. I tried to gasp for as much as air as possible, but before I had the chance my head was forced under again as a large wave crashed down directly on top of me and I felt my body twist again as I was pressed further and further down.getting better

I was spinning again in circles, completely disoriented. The little air I had been able to gulp down helped, and my mind cleared enough to cringe and panic again as I thought about the rocks I was most likely to be presently hitting. I knew enough to know that I was going deeper and deeper which was not good. Once again I was running out of air when I sensed a new current flow pushing on my back. Suddenly my body got pushed violently upwards again by the current which at the same time rammed my shoulder back into place. The pain decreased significantly and I thrust out with as much effort as possible and began swimming upwards, following both the river’s pull and the life-vest’s tugging.and again

Finally, after what seemed an eternity, my head burst out through the water’s surface and I gasped for air, sucking in as much as I possibly could. The waves continued to beat against me, but with much less ferocity, as though I had gone through their trials and passed – even if just barely. Before I could even get a second or third breath, a safety kayak appeared next to me, offering me to grab on. I grasped the two handles on the front and swung my legs around the small kayak’s body, as though I was hanging from the limb of a tree. The kayaker began to paddle and within a few minutes we were once again in calm waters. He brought me next to the raft, which had been righted by the guide, and I swam over.

Getting up took about all the strength I had left in me. To do so I had to grab the rope, which is about two feet out of the water, and then basically do a gymnastic pull-up to get my body up over the edge of the raft – not an easy task with a sore shoulder. As I kicked to get momentum going up the guide reached over the edge and grabbed my life-vest and lifted me out of the water, dropping me into the raft like a sack of potatoes. I lay there, sprawled out, panting.it's still fun

We were only halfway done and this was just one of the nine rapids that we went over that were classed as either grade 4 or 5. In case you are unfamiliar with the classing of rapids, here they are:

-          Grade/Class 4: Very Difficult – steeper, longer drops, looming obstacles, technical turns, precision movements, occasional “swimmers”

-          Grade/Class 5: Borderline Rafting – transcended to the limits of control. Crews must be agile, aggressive, and follow commands instantly. Should be physically and mentally prepared for adventure and inherent risk. While not absolutely required, it is strongly suggested that everyone has happily experience class 4 rapids before tackling class 5. Make no mistakes…this is big, tough and difficult water

-          Grade/Class 6: (which we got out and walked around): Un-runnable, or, at the very least, survived only with a choir band of angles perched in your lap! Hiding under the bed is safer! (1)group pic

A group of us had decided to take a day trip out of Kampala (Uganda), where we had been attending a training seminar, to Jinja, about 80 km to the east. This is also the alleged location of the source of the Nile, flowing out of Lake Victoria. We decided we had to go on an adventure because rumor had it that Jinja was somewhat of the adventure capital in East Africa (it offers bungee jumping, off-roading, rafting, horse-back riding, etc…). And it’s just not ethical to skip an “adventure capital” when it’s that close.

So we went.

It was an adventure to say the least! My boat was labeled the “extreme” boat and as result this meant we had to tackle the larger portions of the rapids. This, by definition, also meant that we flipped much more often (I believe at least five times), and each time was somewhat of an experience. Granted, they were not all so dramatic as the one above. Some you got tossed around by waves, others you ran into other people (or got hit by their paddles), and others you barely made it through on the raft (often less exciting – but still heart stopping at moments).caught in the river

In the end it was well worth the experience. We definitely bonded as a team, both because of the intensity of the situations we faced, but also just the casual conversation as we lazily drifted down the river in between rapids.

And, at the very least, they fed us a huge meal at the end of the journey – so no complaints there.

“Sometimes, if you stand on the bottom rail of a bridge and lean over to watch the river slipping slowly away beneath you, you will suddenly know everything there is to be known.”
– A. A. Milne, Pooh’s Little Instruction Bookscared

p.s. for those of you who are interested, we went with Nile River Explorers (raftafrica.com). I highly recommend this outfit. They were well organized (even to transporting us to and from Kampala), had food (breakfast, snacks, and lunch), had well-trained and confident guides, had safety kayaks that picked you up immediately, and a photographer so you get to see all your expressions as you plunge down the rapids. The cost for all that was $125 – so a very reasonable price. If you go to Jinja – do it! Just know that: “There is a very high chance of falling out of the boat, but this is often the highlight of the day and our safety kayakers are always close by.”

p.p.s. for those of you worried about the wildlife on the river: “In 15 years of operation there have been no crocodile related incidents as they do not like populated areas so are rarely seen. There are no hippos on this stretch of the river.” (we didn’t see any of either on this voyage)

p.p.p.s on another note, for those of you with more motherly instincts, my shoulder is fine (it has slipped out before) and I survived even flipping several more times down the river

1 – http://gotrafting.com/ratings.html

2 – http://raftafrica.com/site/grade-5-rafting/grade-5-full-day-rafting/trip-details.html#main

Chef des Stagaires

I’m somewhat of a quote “fanatic” – quoantic? It seems to me that if you look hard and long enough you will find that someone, somewhere along the lines, has said something about whatever it is you are examining. In short, there is a quote to fit almost all situations or subjects.

That being said, a few weeks ago, I found myself doing a self-examination. That is to say, I was reflecting on where life had brought me so far and where it might be taking me in the future. This may appear as a profound, or philosophical, process, but in reality it was more of a passing thought.

However, what struck me, to the point of remembering it weeks later, is the quote, “God laughs at the plans of man¹.”

I’m getting ahead of myself though, so before explaining why that quote stuck with me, let me build some backstory.

When I first arrived in Bunia, I came as intern, which is at the bottom of the totem pole so to speak. African culture (at least the cultures I’m familiar with) love to have official titles and a clear structure of hierarchy, and so they use these same titles when they introduce themselves. Here, whenever new people are present, everyone goes around say the room saying their names and giving their title. The first one or two times I simply said “Andrew – Intern.” But this just seemed to lack the luster of an official title like everyone else. So one day, as we went around the room I introduced myself as “Andrew – Chef des Stagaires,” which literally means Chief of Interns.

Keep in mind that there were only three of us, and there is no hierarchy whatsoever between the three of us. Needless to say, this self-assumed title was completely made up.

But it stuck.

Soon everyone in the office just started calling me “Chef” (much to the irritation of the other interns…insubordinates) – even though I wasn’t a real “Chef” by any means.

Fast-forward two months and I now find myself in a new role, with a real title, the Chef de Projet (Chief of Project). I originally came to Congo to be an intern for five months under Samaritan’s Purse. However, halfway through that time a new project was approved and they needed a manager for it and approached me.

The project is an agricultural project to help displaced people. These people have become, in essence, refugees in their own country because of rebel groups. In fear for their lives they have fled their homes. Now, with little to no belongings or livelihoods, they are struggling to survive. The goal of the project is to help these people find safe land to farm while coming alongside them and offering better/improved agricultural training as well as tools and seeds for two planting seasons. It is putting into practice the phrase: “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.” Hopefully this will help the people survive in the long run and rebuild their lives. After a season or two they may be able to return home with their tools and seeds they themselves raised. Or, if it is still not safe enough to return, they can continue farming on the land and find stability.

Instead of five months, this will be a yearlong project with Samaritan’s Purse and I will now be here for 15 months overall. This, then, is the backstory to what I was thinking about before remembering the quote. I had been chuckling to myself about how much effort I had been putting into planning for the future and how often it seemed to change.

I then remembered:  “God laughs at the plans of man.”

Two months ago I was planning on being in Africa for 5-6 months and then go back to the States for a bit while I figured out the next stage of life. In the space of a week and a half that all changed. I suppose you never really know where God will take you in your life – but that’s half the adventure, isn’t it?

¹ – I have no idea where this quote is from. I looked as well as I could and found several renditions attributed to various people. For example:

  1. “If you want to make God laugh, show him your plans.” – Woody Allen
  2. “Man makes plans….and God laughs.” – Michael Chabon
  3. “Man plans. God laughs.” – Harlan Coben (also considered a Yiddish phrase)

The haphazard chronicles and musings of a global nomad.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 890 other followers