Friday, June 30, 2006

Books are Rare

When my father first went to Africa, he taught in a secondary school. Once some students were writing sentences with vocabulary words, and one, assigned to illustrate the word "rare," wrote, "Books are rare." My dad thought the student didn't understand the meaning of the word, but it turned out that in that place at that time, books were rare. It was unusual to own even one.

There are many places in the world today where books are rare. And while perhaps this lack isn't in the same category with malnutrition and disease, it still makes me sad that people don't have books. In my life, books are essential.

Yesterday, we visited the International Book Project. For forty years, this wonderful organization has been giving books to countries where books are rare. In Tecwil, the percentage of the population who can use English books is small, but the students at our school will benefit from IBP's generosity. I was able to get lots of novels for my classroom library and I'm looking forward to sharing them with my kids.

My students aren't the most book-deprived you could find, but many of them don't have the richness of choice that I had as a child. I hope that they will be among those who will work to make books available in the other languages spoken in Tecwil, and that they will work against illiteracy in Tecwil or other places. Sure, there are other needs in this world, but knowledge flows through books. And people who are illiterate can't read a medicine bottle, or a lease, or God's word.

Books are rare! Please donate to the International Book Project - you can send them the books you're finished with or you can give them money. Follow the links on their website to find out how.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

It's a Different World

On the surface, life is much easier here than it is where I live. Things work.

On Monday we had some government-type business to do - simple things like renewing my driver's license. My husband recently got his license renewed in Tecwil, and it took three weeks and cost about $100 US. And the reason it was so quick and easy (!) is that we had someone helping us out who knows people. When I renewed my license here, it took about ten minutes and cost $21. The service was friendly, nobody asked me for a bribe, and - big bonus here - my new photo makes me look much less like a convicted felon.

Last week our car broke down, and in the hour or so we waited for our friend to come help us, two policemen stopped to see if we were OK. When we called for help, the cellphone worked immediately. The tow truck came right away. The mechanic did the work when he said he would and charged a reasonable price. Probably none of these things would have happened in Tecwil. People would have stopped to see if we were OK, yes, and a crowd would have gathered to stare. If the police stop where I live, you're more scared than anything else. Ordinary folks are very kind and helpful, but the infrastructure doesn't really lend itself to problems being solved quickly. Just wait, relax, stop being so American. As the guy at the electric company told me one of the many, many times I had to call and ask them to fix our connection, "Just be patient, Madame."

Once, the first summer we were in the States after moving to Tecwil, we hit a cow. We were driving a borrowed tank-like American car from the 1970s, and our car wasn't even dented. After being struck, the cow fell over, then rose, only to be hit by the small Japanese car behind us. That car was totaled. This time the cow remained on the road.

We were picturing the farmer appearing, shaking his fist at us and asking for payment for his precious cow. We continued to the nearest house and asked the person there to call the police. Then we turned and went back to the dead cow.

Within ten minutes, the police were there. Within fifteen, we were on our way. The farmer came out and apologized to US. His cow shouldn't have been in the road. The police had the guy behind us fill out an accident report, since his car was badly damaged, but we didn't have to do anything. We drove on, in a state of (culture) shock.

I spent today in the hospital - my dad had a knee replacement - and I could go on and on about the differences in health care between this country and the place where I live. Yes, health care is expensive here, but where I live people just die if they don't have the money to go to the doctor. And even if they do have the money, the available technology here is probably fifty years ahead of what you'd find in the best hospital in Tecwil.

I know very well that we are in the honeymoon phase of adapting to a culture, when we're still seeing everything that's good. If we had moved back here, we'd soon see/remember things we don't like so well. For example, yesterday on the news I saw a report that Americans have fewer friends than they used to. Here's a link to the story. I can't imagine anyone in Tecwil reporting having only two friends. Sure, the expectations of friends are different in that culture from what they are here. That would be a post - or a series of them - in itself.

Monday, June 26, 2006


I love to do laundry in the United States. Here's why:

1. At home we have to wait for the power to come on. Here it's on all the time!

2. When we start up the machine here, water just gushes in! You don't have to help it along with a bucket!

3. When the clothes are clean, you throw them in the dryer! At home, we hang them on the line. I always scoff at those detergent ads that promise clothes with that line-fresh smell. Bleck. Give me the dryer smell and feel any day. Our clothes come inside stiff, with ants on them, smelling of charcoal smoke.

4. If anything needs to be ironed (which is less likely than at home, since everything has been in the dryer here), you can do it whenever you want! The power is still on!

I encourage my kids to get as dirty as possible here so I can do laundry every day. I've been washing my brother's stuff from the hamper, too. I think I'll go ask the neighbors if they have anything dirty.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Power Cut

While I was waxing lyrical yesterday, the power company had already come to our house in the country where I live usually (remember, I'm not at home right now) and cut off our power supply. Why? We aren't sure. Our bill is paid - we even paid ahead since we were going to be away. One time when this happened, they were trying to cut off the neighbors for non-payment and got us instead. Who knows why?

Understand, we only get power a few hours a day anyway, and when the neighbors have it and we don't, that's a recipe for depression. So now we (well, the people staying in our house) have to start calling every day, pleading with the power company to reconnect us. They'll also go down to the office with the receipt to prove that we paid. But from our past experience we know that it is a lot easier to get cut off than it is to get reconnected.

Friday, June 23, 2006


We're in the US. This place is very different from the country where I live.

Scott, one of the people we visited on the road trip to where we are staying now, suggested that I should come up with some kind of acronym for "the country where I live." TCWIL, with an e added for pronunciation purposes? Hmm, I don't know.

Why don't I just say where I live, already? It's kind of silly, because practically everybody reading this is related to me and knows perfectly well where it is. Even if you aren't part of my family, chances are that you, gentle reader, also possess this arcane knowledge.

I read some expat/missionary bloggers that are explicit about where they are coming from, and others who aren't, and I thought about the choice a lot before I started my own blog. So far it has been fun being vague about my location, though sometimes I feel like being more specific. (After all, I always tell my students to be specific in their writing!)

I guess the main reason I like not telling is that I can gripe a bit and not draw attention to what's wrong with the country where I live. See, people are always saying bad things about it. Whenever the country's name is mentioned, it's followed by a phrase about how poor it is and often about the AIDS rate. When news articles about my home allow comments, there are usually several that say something like, "Why do you always focus on the worst things about our country? Why can't you write an article about something good?"

I've lived in Tecwil for ten years, so you can bet that there are plenty of good things I've discovered. It's a beautiful place with tough, courageous, beautiful people. Things aren't convenient, but every day is an adventure, completely unpredictable. And yes, that gets exhausting.

I have enjoyed blogging about things I like to complain about, such as the electricity, for example, or water, by giving examples from other countries. Because we have a lot in common with these other places. And guess what - most of the world's people live in conditions far worse than anything I ever have to deal with.

I love it in Tecwil, I really do, but sometimes it's nice to get a little break. I'm very much enjoying the roads here, the police force that I feel fairly confident about calling on should I need to, the constant electricity (it's really a bit excessive - don't you know you can run a refrigerator perfectly fine on six hours a day?), the hot and cold running water, and my son's favorite, the drinking fountains. The best thing is the public libraries, and I'm planning to visit one today!

But doesn't it get boring living all the time in a place like this? A friend who went to Canada for college commented, "Every day is the same there."

Well, for a few weeks, I'm hoping to enjoy predictability.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

World Refugee Day

It is World Refugee Day.

Here are some photos of Palestinian refugees and here are some Afghan refugees in Pakistan.

There are displaced people all over the planet - displaced by war, natural disasters, economic necessity.

Jesus was a refugee. His family fled to Egypt for his safety when he was still a small child.

Remember the refugees today.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Acts of Faith

Here's a book review I wrote nine months ago for the English library I belong to.

Acts of Faith, by Philip Caputo

While in the US last summer, I heard an interview with Philip Caputo on National Public Radio. The radio announcer asked the author to read aloud the first sentence of his new novel, Acts of Faith. I listened and was hooked. I had to read the book. The local public library didn’t have it on the shelf yet, so rather than fork out $26.95 myself, I emailed Tom and asked if he could order it for the library. He did.

Acts of Faith is set in Sudan and Kenya. I enjoy the descriptions of Karen, the suburb of Nairobi named for Karen Blixen of Out of Africa fame, partly because I used to live there – "a kind of game reserve for Caucasians" is surely an exaggeration! Similarly, it is fun to read about the Tamarind, a restaurant where I’ve eaten. Lokichokio, in Northern Kenya, seems familiar too, though I’ve visited it before only in the pages of Le Carré’s The Constant Gardener (Le Carré spells it differently). But Sudan is new territory for me, and Caputo makes it real and heartbreaking, a place of violence and fear where few die a natural death. "I’ve gotten so used to people being shot and blown up," says one character who has just returned from a relative’s deathbed in the US, "that I almost forgot someone could go out that way – one breath, and then gone." Ironically, when one old Sudanese man tries to crawl away and die in peace according to his tribal custom, he’s "rescued" by an American who misjudges the situation.

As the title suggests, the story is full of acts of faith. Different people – pilots, aid workers, rebel troops, slaves, missionaries, Arab murahaleen, and a journalist – make choices guided by faith in Christ, or Allah, or humanitarianism, or love, or money, or adventure. At least one of these characters – Quinette Hardin – is truly unforgettable, and many are memorable.

Caputo looks at the motives of the expatriates for coming to Africa, and specifically to Sudan, a country deeply troubled even by Africa’s standards. Moral ambiguities abound. Should Americans redeem slaves or does their philanthropy just cause more captives to be taken? Is it right to fly supplies to rebel troops? What about if those supplies include weapons? Is it important to tell the truth, and if so, how does anyone determine what the truth is?

A blurb from Publisher’s Weekly on the jacket compares Acts of Faith to Graham Greene’s The Quiet American, and it’s a fairly apt comparison. Both books deal with unintended consequences, with ends that perhaps don’t, after all, justify the means, and with motives that may not be as pure as they originally seem. This is worth reading just for the hundreds of wonderful details – birdwatching, for example, and the Sudanese women carrying wheelbarrows on their heads, and the Christian romance novel Quinette is reading. Exciting and fast-paced, yet thoughtful too, and not shying away from complexity, Acts of Faith lives up to the promise of the first sentence I heard on the radio.

And here it is: "On a hot night in Lokichokio, as a generator thumps in the distance and katydids cling like thin winged leaves to the lightbulb overhead, he tells his visitor that there is no difference between God and the Devil in Africa."

The World's Cities

Try this quiz about the world's cities. I got a two out of ten! That, according to the scoring guide, makes me a "country bumpkin."

There are also some interesting interviews with people around the world who have moved from a rural area to an urban one. You can read those here.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Blogging the World Cup from an African Perspective

I had to share this link with you. Some things I particularly enjoyed:

"I had to do something about watching a few matches since my kaboss was not going to give me a whole month off just to watch the world cup. Therefore, I bring you live streaming of the World Cup. You have to download a zip file and then fuata instructions." - A Kenyan blogger who gives a great example of English/Swahili/Sheng/high tech language.

"The power situation in Abuja is at its all time worst. PHCN (Power Holding Company of Nigeria) is so... unpredictable, they seize the power almost every day for at least five hours." - A Nigerian blogger. (Where I live we talk about the company "giving" and "taking" the power - as in "They finally gave power! Oh wait, they took it already." This description, including the word "seize," made me smile in sympathy.)

You can find links to both of these blogs, and others, if you follow the BBC link at the beginning of this post.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Humpty Dumpty is a Western Imperialist Lackey

Down with Humpty Dumpty! He is too western and should be replaced by local folklore, according to an Indian state.

Happy Flag Day

Did you know that the study of flags is called vexillology? That information, and much more, here.

And if you still need to know more about Flag Day, try this.

The common thread in the Flag Day articles I looked at is that it is somehow a "forgotten holiday." That's interesting, since according to our President, respecting our flag is one of the things that binds Americans together. Maybe people just respect it all the time and don't need a special day to do so.

We already had our Flag Day, here. It's a different day. But then, it's a different flag!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Well, Maybe it Won't Cause World Peace

I was musing about how the answer to world peace might just be to have more international sporting events. Then I started thinking about how fans act, and realized it wasn't going to work.

Then I read this.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

And You Think Your Job is Tough...

Here's an article about the mayor of Mogadishu.

A while ago I read an article in the Economist about Somalia's Minister of Tourism, and I just found it online.

World Cup Mania

I'm not into sports, but The World Cup is something special. Here's an event that is truly international. All over the world, people are insane about football - and yes, that's what it's called. :-)

In France, Pizza Hut is doing a booming business, since everyone is in front of the TV (the link will take you to Pizza Hut's French World Cup advertising - it's pretty funny). Here's an evocative description of watching games in Burkina Faso. And take a look at the photos from yesterday of the hoopla surrounding the England - Paraguay game. I especially enjoyed the one of kids at a British school in Asuncion.

In the country where I live (which, sadly, does not have a team in the event this year), Brazil is the favorite, and there are Brazilian flags everywhere. Some people like Argentina, so you see some of those flags too.

Four years ago, when the games were played in Japan, people here got up at four in the morning and we could hear gunshots all through the neighborhood when goals were scored. The best part about the World Cup is that we get electricity much more than usual, because of course, even though there isn't enough current to go around most of the time, football must take priority. And apparently, in some countries (this article is from Paraguay), crime rates even go down during the World Cup.

You won't get any information on the games themselves from me, but don't despair, because the BBC is blogging the World Cup, and the site has links to an unbelievable number of other World Cup blogs.

Friday, June 09, 2006

And the Last Day!

Today was the last day of school. Hooray! I'm exhausted.

Here's a link I found out about today. It's a new organization started to encourage reading for boys.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Last Week of School

Hooray, it's finally the last week!

Only today and tomorrow are full school days, and then we have such things as 8th grade promotion and other ending activities. Saturday is Graduation, and we have a staff work day on Monday, and then we're done.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

People at Work in Africa

Look at these photos of people doing a variety of jobs in Africa - from fishing to selling sculptures to barbering.

The saddest picture shows diamond miners in Sierra Leone, working hard in a mine that hasn't produced a single diamond for four years. Another link on the BBC page today mentions that one in four children in Sierra Leone doesn't live to the age of five.

For a Birthday

from The Book of Common Prayer

Watch over thy child, O Lord, as her days increase, bless and guide her wherever she may be. Strengthen her when she stands; comfort her when discouraged or sorrowful; raise her up if she fall; and in her heart may thy peace which passeth understanding abide all the days of her life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Friday, June 02, 2006

So Much for the Welcome Wagon

Isn't this charming? This sure isn't what the Statue of Liberty says!

Thursday, June 01, 2006

The Original Tree-Hugger

We had two trees that were under threat on our campus this week due to some renovations. My daughter was heartbroken and joined a group who made signs to try to save the trees. The whole incident made me think of this poem - did I read it in Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm? I just remembered the first four lines from some book I read many years ago. Of course, a quick internet search found the whole text.

Woodman, Spare That Tree

Woodman, spare that tree!
Touch not a single bough!
In youth it sheltered me,
And I'll protect it now.
'Twas my forefather's hand
That placed it near his cot;
There, woodman, let it stand,
Thy axe shall harm it not!

That old familiar tree,
Whose glory and renown
Are spread o'er land and sea,
And wouldst thou hew it down?
Woodman, forbear thy stroke!
Cut not its earth-bound ties;
O, spare that aged oak,
Now towering to the skies!

When but an idle boy
I sought its grateful shade;
In all their gushing joy
Here too my sisters played.
My mother kissed me here;
My father pressed my hand --
Forgive this foolish tear,
But let that old oak stand!

My heart-strings round thee cling,
Close as thy bark, old friend!
Here shall the wild-bird sing,
And still thy branches bend.
Old tree! the storm still brave!
And, woodman, leave the spot;
While I've a hand to save,
Thy axe shall hurt it not.

George Pope Morris (1802-1864)

Oh, the trees? For now they are reprieved. The Board is doing further study on the improvements.

Academic Values

Our accreditation team noted that we had a statement of core values, but they were all spiritual instead of academic. They suggested we come up with a list of our Academic Core Values.

Here's mine. What am I forgetting? What am I overemphasizing?

The plan is to have as many teachers as possible write theirs, and then we can start to discuss what we will adopt for the school's list. I enjoyed thinking through what really are my academic values and how they show themselves in my teaching.

My Academic Core Values

I value LITERACY. In my teaching, I will strive to encourage my students to read and write effectively and with pleasure.

I value NUMERACY. In my teaching, I will strive to help my students to understand numbers and statistics that they come across in my class.

I value CURIOSITY. In my teaching, I will strive to encourage questioning and a desire to learn. I will teach my students tools to satisfy their curiosity and demonstrate to them my own interest in the world.

I value RATIONAL THINKING. In my teaching, I will strive to guide students through the steps of understanding arguments logically and of formulating their own logical arguments.

I value CRITICAL THINKING. In my teaching, I will strive to show students how to question what they read and hear. I will teach them to evaluate sources and to demonstrate a healthy skepticism.

I value AESTHETIC SENSIBILITY. In my teaching, I will strive to help my students to appreciate beauty.

I value ARTICULATENESS. In my teaching, I will strive to give students opportunities to learn to express themselves orally in a clear and compelling way.

I value CONCERN FOR THE WORLD. In my teaching, I will strive to give my students tools to be world citizens. I will help them to know about and understand what is going on in the world and to be concerned for the problems they see. I will help them think about ways they can be involved in solving those problems, both as students now, and as adults in the future.

I value INDIVIDUALITY. In my teaching, I will strive to treat my students as individuals, to honor their strengths and help them improve their weaknesses and to provide choices whenever possible.

I value LIFELONG LEARNING. In my teaching, I will strive to inculcate habits in my students that will help them to continue learning for the rest of their lives. I will also demonstrate to them that I am a lifelong learner.