Thursday, November 19, 2009

Gambia update

        Well we are in our last full week of training which means that we will be flying out in two weeks from yesterday. We are very excited to be finishing up here and finally heading out to do the work that God has been impressing upon our hearts for the last year or so. We have grown quite a bit here as individuals and a couple. Our leadership skills have been tested and strengthened, our faith has been stretched in wonderful and amazing ways and our marriage has been challenged while making us stronger and more self-aware.
        All of these things have prepared us for where we are now and what we will be doing in the Gambia. We originally thought that we would be living in the bush in a compound with no electricity or running water. I, Jessica, thought that I would be working with a coop called My Sister's Company teaching women practical skills so that they can be self employed. Elias thought he might be working with a local carpenter and relationship building. We had begun to learn Mandinka as we thought that would be the primary language that we would be speaking. Then last week happened and everything has been turned on it's head.
         We have now learned that we will be living in the city of Brikama in a methodist mission with Nigerians, Europeans and Gambians. We will still live in the bush for the first month connecting with Gary, Denise and Lori, learning public transportation and the ways of life in the Gambia, but then we will move to our own house. The house we will be living in is a duplex that we will be sharing with Nigerian Christians and it will have electricity, running water, a bathroom, a kitchen with a sink, ceiling fans, a propane oven and a dorm fridge. This is about 20 minutes away from Gary, Denise and Lori, but is a more central location for the work we will be doing. Our focus will now be working with the youth of the largest local Mennonite church (a congregation of about 30). The church has only been established for about 7 years, the congregation is very young and their faith is very shallow. We will be working through the basic Sunday school stories such as the creation story, David and Goliath, etc.
        At first we weren't sure how we felt about this change, but we are now getting excited, still with some nerves, but with a feeling that this is where God wants us. It was almost as if the Lord roped us in with an assignment that was initially appealing, then when he got us to a place where he wanted us  he revealed to us how he really wanted to use us there. We may still be learning some basic Mandinka, but our focus will be on Portuguese-Kriol, which has a lot of similarities to Spanish and is typically thought of to be fairly easy.
        As details are falling into place we are getting very excited and we just ask that you continue to keep us in your prayers as our time is limited to get done all we need to do before we leave and as we prepare emotionally and spiritually for this next year.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A taste of Africa

       This past week here at HDC (Harrisburg Discipleship Center) we had world awareness week. It is a week where the participants at HDC have the opportunity to experience a little of what life is like in other parts of the world. A few of us had just returned from backpacking on Sunday and then world awareness week began Monday which may have made the week slightly more difficult to tolerate, but either way it was a good learning experience. The week consisted of no electricity, no hot water beginning Wednesday since the man who needed to turn it off was sick until then, and then no running water beginning Thursday until Saturday. We also "experienced" the culture of different areas of the world throughout the week with dress, food, no snacks and "unclean" drinking water (it was really clean, but we had to boil it to make it hot and since most of the world's water isn't clean).
      The week began with us experience Southeast Asia for the day. For breakfast we had rice and milk and lunch was a delicious Indian meal that unfortunately didn't settle very well with Elias' stomach. For dinner we had rice and eggplant, which we have determined should not be an edible vegetable. That day the guys could wear pretty much whatever, but the ladies had to wear long skirts, long sleeves and keep our heads covered. We then visited a mosque later that night and observed the prayer time along with some friendly dialogue of those that attend the mosque.
       Tuesday we observed Chinese culture with a breakfast of spaghetti noodles, a little bit of bouillon and soy sauce, and half a hot dog. Lunch was a day of fasting for EMM and then dinner  then consisted of a cast system of beggers, cous-cous, rice and beans, hamburgers and then t-bone steak. Everyone had to pick a category and then eat the food of their category, we had date night so we ate very well in comparison to most. That day we could wear anything as long as we didn't look frumpy.
      Wednesday was Africa, so the day began with leftover rice and beans and eggplant. And as in most cultures, we ate with our hands on the floor. Lunch was a Kenyan meal of a dry, play-doughy type cornmeal and greens, with dinner being a traditional Gambian meal of fish and rice with some cabbage. We ate out of a community pot with our hands with men and women separated. I have to admit, I didn't enjoy it very much, but Elias liked it. That day men could wear whatever and women had to wear long skirts, long sleeves and heads wrapped tightly in observance of North Africa.
     Thursday was Europe day so we had an amazing breakfast of bread, jellies and nutella.  Then we had a snack of cheese, bread and our only coffee of the week. Lunch was a Spanish meal prepared by our participant, Irene, from Spain. Then dinner was rice and beans. This day was "dress to impress" since Europeans tend to dress very well.
     Friday was latin America, which meant we had rice and beans for all three meals. However, we had a treat at dinner with pineapple! That day ladies had to wear skirts and guys had to wear nice pants and a button down shirt.
    Saturday was cereal for breakfast! This was the day that we got electricity, running water and snacks back. We had an amazing Thai meal for lunch and then a Chinese meal for dinner. The week was officially over, but the hot water didn't come back until Monday.
    The week was challenging, but as I came up to my room in the dark I realized that for the next year when it gets dark it will be dark in our house as well. I also was humbled in realizing how blessed we truly are when it comes to the food we have and the clothes that I can wear. We read about other cultures and the oppression that women face is astounding. I felt as though I was getting a small taste of what it might be like in Africa, and while there will be things that are very different, there will be things that are just as they were this past week. We had this past week easy compared to many around the world, we are truly  blessed to live the way that we do.