Friday, September 12, 2014

Pressing On

But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ.  ...Indeed I count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord...that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death...  Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.  ...One thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. - from Philippians 3

Pressing on.

To what?

Was Paul pressing on to get another church planted?  To get more Timothys trained?  To preach the gospel in more cities?

Or was he pressing simply know Christ?

I was reflecting on that this week, as it relates to me.  What am I supposed to be pressing on towards?  Finishing French?  Learning the culture?  Seeing a church planted?  Some other sort of ministry?

Or is there just one thing I need to pursue, one thing I need to be consumed with in this life?

In the grand scheme of things, French is not my goal.

Neither is understanding this culture.

Nor being involved in the work of planting churches.

The goal God has given us is simply to know Christ.  May we always remember that and keep everything else secondary.  May we be faithful in the things He has given us to do today, remembering that they are not the ultimate objective.  May we never give up the amazing privilege of knowing Him better because we're busy in ministry.

Press on.  He alone is a goal worthwhile.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Dear _____,

Apple cider candle from Mom...  After burning you for a couple hours (by necessity - the power was out), it smelled like I just walked into Joann's or Michael's when they have all their Fall stuff out.  Oh, Fall and home, I miss you so much.

Flickering lights outside...  Okay.  I didn't notice you at first, 'cause the candle was flickering inside.  But then I was like, "Wait, what's going on outside?"  Ooo, lightning!  My favorite!  (I didn't guess that's what it was, because there wasn't any thunder or rain at that point.)

Bats...  Whenever I'm out at dusk (which granted isn't normally very often) and see you, I can't help but think of a certain friend.  And I laugh inside.  And then laugh some more.

Gecko that looks like Pinky's twin [it's not the same gecko; I've seen them both at the same time]...  You're a rebellious teenager, aren't you?  I saw you right by the door one night, like you were trying to sneak out.  "Excuse me there, little whippersnapper, but it's way past curfew.  Where do you think you're going?"  You responded by turning and running away from me.  Rebel, you.

Guy on the bus...  It was a really bad idea to step on that metal frame [towards the front of the bus; it's like a low rack for luggage].  It wasn't anchored to the floor, so your weight tipped it up, hitting me right in the knee cap.  I have a really ugly bruise now.  Next more careful, please?

Lady I ran into one day...  So, I had met you once at a baby shower.  I remembered you were a teacher.  "You're a...math teacher?"  "English," you corrected.  And just like that, my feeling went from eek-can-I-run-and-hide-under-the-biggest-rock-around to a relieved yeah-we-could-totally-be-best-friends.  Okay.  Not quite.  But you get my drift.

Tuna can...  In absence of a hammer, you made an acceptable substitute when I needed to re-hang a picture.

Neighbors burning mosquito coils in the stairway...  Cough, cough...I understand that you don't want the mosquitoes...cough, cough...but that stuff is really...cough, cough...awful...cough, cough.

Inner bookworm...  I thought sixteen (yes, sixteen!) books in six days would be enough to keep you satisfied for a while, but I can tell you're trying to wiggle your way out of your enforced hibernation.  Sorry about that.  Can you just wait until Christmas break?

Bus drivers...  I don't know why you like to fly down the street like it's a runway.  You're driving a bus, not flying a plane.  There was that one day when I was riding in the very front (standing with my forehead literally inches away from the windshield) and we were barreling down the street.  A dog started to cross the street.  I visibly winced because I knew there was no earthly way you could brake in time.  Thankfully, the dog ran back to the curb.  Whew.

Heat rash...  There's a very a good reason you're also called "prickly heat".  Ugh!

Taxi driver...  Ya know, it's not my fault that you ended up lost (I told you the Shell gas station, not the Total gas station).  I'm not going to pay double our agreed-on price for you to drive me to the other side of the quartier where you should have gone in the first place!

Feet covered with blisters...  Sorry, you had to pay the price for the dispute with the afore-mentioned taxi driver.  (I got out and walked, since he refused to go any further unless I paid him more.)

Girls that showed up at the language center trying to sell stuff...  No, we're not giving away free lunches today.  No, you didn't see my picture in the paper telling about it.  No, that was not a funny joke.  No, I don't need shampoo or perfume or hand sanitizer.  No, you can't have my necklace.  No, I have no intention whatsoever of going to Paris and taking a picture next to the Eiffel Tower and sending it to you.  Good.bye!!

Neighbors throwing a party on the roof...  Shoot. me. please.  Your music would have been tolerable if it wasn't so loud.  But this...this was beyond annoying.  It was downright painful.

Russian-to-French dictionaries in the market...  I don't know why you struck me as so funny.  I mean, do people here actually learn Russian?  (Maybe they do offer classes, but it just seems so unlikely...)

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Everyday Life: The Big Shopping Trips

A few months ago, I decided to try doing the bulk of my shopping for a month at one time.  I take a weekend and make my rounds of the stores, the produce stands, and the market (sometimes).  Then I get the bulk of the food ready to use in meals (washed, chopped, frozen - whatever).  It's been working quite well.  I was a bit worried that during hot season (when we normally have more power outages), having a month's worth of food in the fridge or freezer would be too big of a risk, but so far everything's been fine. 
This month I tried some new things -
I did a little research and discovered that orange blossom water (diluted) can be used as a natural astringent.  In the absence of anything like SeaBreeze, I decided to try this as an alternative.
If nothing else, it smells exactly like my backyard back home, when our orange tree is in full bloom.
Hey Mom, remember how some of the curry recipes we have would call for "nigella seeds" (black onion seeds)?  Well, I think this is the same thing - green tea with "nigella", ginger, and lemon.  It's actually a lot better than it sounds. :)
Crab-flavored ramen noodles - neither incredibly delicious nor incredibly disgusting.  Just acceptable.
- - -
After I get back from the store(s), the fun begins.
I have a stack of receipts to enter into my budget spreadsheet (which I do me crazy if you want).
I unload everything and soak my produce in bleach water.
Then I start prepping things (to freeze or otherwise).
This month's shopping trip resulted in...
- chopped and frozen peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, and mango
- several bottles of homemade juice (bissap and bouye)
- shredded cheese (Yay for the store having real cheddar!)
- banana and mango yogurt frozen in small portions (The bananas were tiny, as you can see!)
- shredded carrots, zucchini, apple, and pineapple frozen in small portions (A tasty addition to oatmeal.)
- whole wheat bread frozen in roll-sized portions
- plantain chips (I tried baked and fried - the baked ones didn't turn out right at all, but the fried ones were good.  Quite good, actually!  Just not at all healthy. :))
- dried apples
...and a happily full freezer!
- - -
Here's a close-up of making bouye (also known as monkey-bread juice).
The seeds are soaked in cold water to dissolve the whitish powder that covers them.
The powdery liquid (the juice) is strained off and the process is repeated until no powder remains on the seeds, and they look like...
At this point, you can add sugar, milk (powder), and other flavorings.  I decided to try using apple juice to sweeten it instead of sugar.  Result: definitely acceptable.
I tried the same thing with bissap.  Result: not-quite-up-to-par.  I think the ratio of bissap (which is puckeringly sour by itself) to apple juice was too high.  I'll have to do a little tweaking on it next time.
So there you have it. :)

Monday, September 8, 2014

Vacation, Village Edition

Originally the plan was to leave Sunday afternoon or Monday morning.
Saturday evening, I got back from some friends', called another friend, and while I was talking to her, Angèle called to say, "We're leaving at 10:00 tomorrow morning.  Come to the house at 9:00."  This was around 10:00pm.
Well...guess that means I'm packing before I go to bed, not Sunday morning.
- - -

I knew I didn't have an exact idea what I was getting into.  Angèle had told me Julien's family lived in the village.  I assumed this meant we'd be staying somewhere in the city they'd mentioned, and going into the village to see them.

Well, actually, we were staying with them in the village.
I'm positive if my sister Sarah had known about the bats and the pet monkeys and the warthog meat, she would have absolutely forbidden me from going.  (Not that she could have stopped me.)  But hey, I made it back safe, sound, and healthy, so there's no cause for alarm.
Here's to another African first -
The house wasn't huge, but it was sufficient for all fifteen (or was there more?) of us to move around without tumbling over each other. :)
They had four dogs, a cute little cat named Kiki, two monkeys, and an assortment of chickens, ducks, and pigeons.  Unfortunately these two dogs were the only animals I got pictures of.
The garden was amazing.  There were all sort of different fruit trees: papaya (above), orange, lime, grapefruit, corossol, a brownish fruit about the size of a kiwi (I forget the name), something they called cerise (cherry) but the only thing it had in common with a cherry was the size and the pit.
There were also flowers, mini palm trees, potatoes, greens, peppers, carrots.
"See?  The village is better," Julien told me.  "If you want something, you go out and pick it, you don't have to buy it." :)
Here's where they washed the dishes.  The kitchen was indoors, but after the meal, the girls would carry a huge basin with all the dirty dishes piled inside and wash them here.

The bathroom was indoors.  With a real shower (which made me happy)!  And a real-although-not-automatically-flushing toilet.

Not as rustic as you might picture when you hear "African village", eh?
- - -

My favorite time of the day was the afternoon.  After lunch, our stomachs full of some rice dish, we'd drag foam mattresses outside under a big shade tree.  We'd chat and drink tiny cups of tea so sweet it was sticky.  We'd greet passers-by.  We'd nap.  We'd stay out there until dusk begin to fall and the bats started their squeaky evening serenade.

Then we'd take the mattresses back inside, pile them up against a wall, and Maman Assou and the girls would start making dinner.

I brought my camera out there one day, and Germain was like, "Rachel, photo?  Photo?  Photo?"
So I gave in, knowing that I'd end up with pictures like this...

But we still got some decent ones. :)
I have no idea what I was looking at, but it obviously wasn't the camera...
I think they were arguing about something here.

He was killing me with that backwards cap and cheesy grin.
- - -
The last day, Julien, Angèle, their boys, Julien's dad, Robert (the boy with the cap), and I piled into the old Jeep and drove into the city to do a little sight-seeing.
Along the way, we made a stop to see one of Julien's sisters.  We also picked up a few of his friends.  I think at one point we had nine people in the vehicle.
I'm pretty sure the unofficial motto of African transportation is There's always room for more. :)
I was so happy to see all that green.
Everyone else seemed less excited about that.
Germain fell asleep on me.  I think he'd been playing too hard with his cousins. :)
The architecture was a lot different than here.  The buildings were more artistic, more European-looking.  And most were no more than two stories (as opposed to here, where there are five- and six- story buildings everywhere). 
We parked and Julien and his dad when to go find some yarn.  The boys amused themselves by taking pictures of the vendors who were pestering us.

"Say hi to Tata Rachel, baby."

Oh, my heart is in a puddle...
- - -
Hut spotting!  (Contrary to popular stereotype, Africa is not completely covered with huts.  I think this was the first one I've seen since I've been here. :))
- - -
The last night, Mborika asked if I wanted her to braid my hair.  "Sure, if you want to."
So I sat there for an hour or so.  She combed and twisted and pulled while I took pictures of the little kids playing.

The finished product.  This was actually the next morning (after I'd slept on it).

All in all, the trip was a really good experience.  I must admit, I was rather disappointed to leave the green, the quiet, the laid-back pace, and return to city life.

But I was happy to be in my own little apartment again. :)