"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)

8.31.2007

weekend sporting fun

greatest fulfillment

Well, thank God that Al Mohler knows what God has called me to do with my life.

Sigh. You know, this has been a really good first week back to school. I'm confident about my dissertation again, and my classes are going well. I left today's lecture feeling that the students understood and are (mostly) engaged with the material. I had a great conversation with a younger colleague who's trying to figure out what direction his work should take. A friend and I caught up over lunch and marvelled at how we finally feel like our work is headed in the right direction. For the first time, I'm hearing the words with which I'll write my dissertation in the same way in which I hear words when I write an essay about poverty or injustice or laughter in the Congo.

I love teaching college students. I am certain that I'm making a difference in the world when I can help a friend think through his calling. I know that I'm a pretty good writer, and that on rare occasions, something inside me strings the words together in such a way that they move people to think, and, hopefully, to act. These are the things that make me feel the most alive, like I'm doing exactly what I'm meant to do.

What I've just described is usually known as "a calling." A calling is that sense that you are supposed to do something. It's the name we put on this idea that our talents, skills, background, and experiences have uniquely equipped us to do a task. Because I am a Christian, I believe that callings come from God. It is, as Frederick Buechner says, the task we are given to do at the place where our own "deep gladness" and "the world's deep need" intersect. For me, the fact that I feel so much joy when I am doing these things, serving others in these ways, is a sign that this is my calling.

Apparently Dr. Mohler believes that I am mistaken:

"Mohler said he believes the Bible is 'absolutely clear … that the first priority--where a woman is likely to find her greatest fulfillment in God's plan--is going to be in the home being a wife and a mom.'" - as quoted by Ethics Daily.

Let me be absolutely clear on this: I believe that being a stay-at-home wife and mother is an honorable calling. I'm not the sort of person who thinks that women who so choose (and who are so lucky as to be able to stay home) are betraying the feminist movement, blah, blah, blah. My sister and I were lucky that our mother was able to stay home with us when we were young, and I have no doubt that the fact that my mother read to me all the time has a lot to do with how I turned out. I hope that my career path will enable me to take time off to be with my children when they are small, and I hope that I'll be able to continue doing that which God has gifted and called me to do. If staying home with her children is what a woman wants to do, what she believes is best for her family, and what she believes God is calling her to do, then that is absolutely what she should do. I'm not against such choices.

What I am against, however, is the arrogance inherent in a stranger's assumption that he knows better than I that which constitutes my gifts, talents, and calling by God. What I am against is the selective reading of the inerrant Word of God that ignores Biblical examples of women who took leadership roles outside of the home in their societies. What I am against is someone who would argue that God has given me gifts that I am apparently not supposed to use, and who would tell me that I should be someone other than who I am created to be. What I am against is the fundamentalist hermeneutic that insists on limiting the power and capacity of Almighty God to do as He chooses.

For we are not just called to do, we are also called to be. To be a people who preach Christ crucified and risen again. To act justly and love mercy and walk in humility with the Lord our God. To be good neighbors to people we find distasteful. To be that which we are called to be.

Thank goodness obedience to God isn't dependent on the opinions of others.

8.30.2007

september's coming soon


"Gentlemen, it is better to have died as a small boy than to fumble this football."
-John Heisman
Hard to believe, but it's already time for the Texas in Africa pre-season football preview. Yes, we recognize that several games are already in progress, but this is close enough. After a long, painful, nine-month wait, we've watched an embarassing number of ESPN's 25 hours of College Football Live, we're very amused that #2 LSU couldn't score a touchdown in the first quarter (sorry, Blog Stalker), and we are pumped for the new season. (We are also incredibly pleased that the new ad for Pontiac Game-changing Performances features Boise State's Statue of Liberty play against OU in last year's Fiesta Bowl.) Without further ado, let the games begin!
  • Let's start with #4 Texas. Perpetual talk of another conference/national championship is in the air yet again. We here at Texas in Africa are not inclined to buy the hype. Yes, our boy Colt McCoy gained ten pounds and is better than ever, but we lost too many key players from our defense (especially the secondary) to be serious national title contenders. There's still some depth there, and it should be enough to beat OU's freshman QB (did they pick one yet?), but let's not kid ourselves. Then again, the Texas schedule isn't that difficult (TCU is not a trap game, no matter what the pundits say), McCoy will be out for blood in College Station, and a BCS game is well within reach.
  • Baylor. Baylor, Baylor, Baylor. Baylor, Baylor, Baylor, Baylor, Baylor. After throwing away last year's oh-so-close chance to make it to a bowl game, I just don't know what to say. Sepulveda graduated, so even the punting game is in question. And that, my friends, is maybe the most pitiful thing you can say about a football team.
  • Yale. Right. As if anyone who reads my blog cares.
  • Teams I Dislike. Well, clearly LSU doesn't deserve to be #2. I'm sorry, but they should be up 35-0 with the mistakes Mississippi State made in the first half (it's halftime now). We here at Texas in Africa reserve our most virulent hatred for two teams, one of which is #8 OU and the other of which is ranked #1. Unfortunately, since USC is still playing in that joke of a conference that is the Pac-10 (Please. They're playing a different game from the rest of us), they're probably going to remain #1 for most of the season.
  • Everybody else. Overrated: #5 Michigan (hello? Did we see them in the Rose Bowl last year?), #12 California (The Pac-10 does not play real football.), #23 Hawaii (ditto), #14 UCLA (are they kidding?) & #20 Nebraska (sorry, Jess). Underrated: #15 Tennessee (and you know I don't like Tennessee. This is as honest an assessment as I can make.), #25 Texas A&M (much as I hate to admit it), and #18 Auburn (this one really hurts).
Time will tell whether I'm right or wrong, but at any rate, Texas football will be well underway in 45 1/2 hours. Despite the fact that Texas in Africa still doesn't have our season tickets in hand due to the incompetence of a certain administrator who couldn't get the tuition waivers processed in time to keep this from becoming an issue, Belmont Hall assures us that everything will be okay. Here's hoping we won't have to stand in a line like this tomorrow, although we are prepared to do so if necessary. And despite the fact that the Longhorn Foundation has expropriated our favorite tailgating spot, the gang will be out in force at a new undisclosed location well before game time on Saturday. I cannot WAIT!!!

more thorough coverage

By the way, for those of you looking for really snarky, weekly Longhorns commentary, I get a kick out of 54b Blog, which publishes every Thursday during the season. Here's a sample from his pre-season analysis:

"As always, this commentary assumes that you already know the names, playing weights, wind-aided 40 times and favorite plea bargain tactic for all 22 starters, the specialists and the water boy."

That should give you the idea.

hell freezes over

Rick Perry commutes a death sentence.

Texas in Africa is speechless.

congo watch

Nkunda's forces attacked the FARDC (the Congolese army) before dawn this morning at Katale, a town just south of Masisi, 60 kilometers to the northwest of Goma. Reports say that somewhere between 1,000 - 2,500 men were involved in the offensive, with the goal of taking the headquarters of FARDC's Charly brigade, where 1,000 FARDC troops are posted. The fighting lasted 5-6 hours, and Charly brigade managed to hold onto Katale. No doubt they had plenty of assistance from MONUC.

We've been expecting this for months, and tensions have been so high in the last week or so that it's not really surprising. I believe that the government wanted Nkunda to attack before being attacked such that MONUC would be forced to help FARDC defend their positions. FARDC isn't capable of singlehandedly taking out Nkunda's forces. So, in a great example of the sometimes bizarre logic of central Africa, being attacked this morning may have been exactly what Kabila wanted. As the FARDC's army operations coordinator for North Kivu told Reuters, "We are taking steps this time to finish with this situation, which is beginning to make us look ridiculous."

Reports say that FARDC claims that reinforcements are on the way. There are also reports that virtually all of Masisi's residents fled. Xinhua and at least one Congolese news outlet report that Rubaya is under Nkunda's control.

8.29.2007

"an issue of worship"

This is the best thing I've read on the so-called worship wars in a long time. Mark Labberton, the pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Berkeley, CA reflects on worship and justice in this piece that you should definitely read. A snippet:

"On a trip to India, I talked to a pastor about reading. He said, "If I save for four months, I am able to buy one Christian book through a discount I am offered. I have never traveled outside India, but I have heard that sometimes people in America buy books and don't read them." He asked with dismay, "Is that really true?" I mumbled something to cover my embarrassment, as I thought of just such books on my shelves.

"For us, it's not a matter of if we have bought books we don't read, but how many. It's not whether we get our children inoculations, but whether we can keep track of the paperwork to prove it to the schools. It's not whether we eat, but how much we eat beyond what we need or even want. It's not whether we have a bed, but what color and theme the bed coverings will be. It's not whether we have a chance to hear about the love of God in Jesus Christ, but which ministry or church or medium we like best. Some people in our own country don't have these choices (a scandal in itself). But most people in America do. Meanwhile, millions in the Southern Hemisphere and in Asia have never lived a single day with choices like these.

"This disparity between economics and justice is an issue of worship. According to Scripture, the very heart of how we show and distinguish true worship from false worship is apparent in how we respond to the poor, the oppressed, the neglected and the forgotten. As of now, I do not see this theme troubling the waters of worship in the American church. But justice and mercy are not add-ons to worship, nor are they the consequences of worship. Justice and mercy are intrinsic to God and therefore intrinsic to the worship of God.

"Our worship should lead us to greater mercy, to costly acts of justice, for those who are the least seen, the least remembered, the least desired.

"Vigorous biblical worship should stop, or at least redirect, our endless consumerism, as our free and faithful choice to spend less in order to give away more. Our community reputation, as Scripture suggests, should be that the church comprises those who pursue justice for the oppressed because that is what it means to be Christ's body in the world. We should not fool ourselves into thinking that it's enough to feel drawn to the heart of God without our lives showing the heart of God."

This essay is an excerpt from his book entitled The Dangerous Act of Worship. I'm looking forward to reading it soon.

congo watch

I am really worried about North Kivu. Reports like those on this blog are becoming more and more common, incidents of low-level violence, though normal, are more frequent, the Rwandans are pushing for military action against the FDLR (and the Ugandans are echoing their calls), and desertions from the army (always a sure sign that something is about to happen) are on the rise. There have been a couple of incidents in the last week on the Sake-Masisi road, which is one of the places serious trouble could start if it starts at all.

rock star

Professor Deutsch made the BBC. Oh, yeah, she did!

no child left behind, part iii

In an ongoing effort to get my students interested in politics, I try to touch on a current event or two in each class session, and to relate it to what we're talking about if possible. Since today was the first day, I just asked an open question, with the caveat that it couldn't have anything to do with Michael Vick, and with the assumption that surely someone would know something about the Gonzales resignation. Here's what happened:

Me: "What political news stories have you heard about this week?"
Guy in the 2nd row from the back: "There's that Senator who had sex in the bathroom."

There's nothing like getting to explain a tawdry Washington scandal on the first day of class. Sigh.

you ask me what i like about texas

Ah, the first day of school. Some things never change. This is my (gulp!) sixth year at UT, so certain aspects of the first day back have become routine. There will always be clueless freshmen clogging the buses and wandering the halls of the wrong building while searching for their classes. The Gideons will greet you at the edges of campus and hand you a little green New Testament, without fail. Quick reunions with friends and colleagues who were spread to the edges of the earth will take place in stairwells and the computer lab as you rush to print class rosters before the bell rings. Students will look confused when you tell them that if they text message during class, you'll make them leave.

I really do love it here, but as all our old friends graduated this summer, my officemate(!) A and I are definitely feeling that it's time to move on. There are children in our graduate program who were in middle school when I graduated from college. A is on the job market; I'm not as of yet. We're both ready to get on with our lives.

But neither of us are finished, and neither of us can do anything about it except keep going along and doing what we need to do. For now, it's so great to be back in Austin, another place where some things never change. I walked into my neighborhood HEB last night to get some milk and the greeter was playing "Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground" on his guitar. He was doing "House of the Rising Sun" when I left. I love this place.

two for tea

Today is a momentous occasion. Not only is it the two-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, as well as Texas in Africa's 25th consecutive First Day of School, today also marks two years since I started writing at Texas in Africa. It's hard to believe that so much time has passed since I thought up the name on a bus ride between Congo and Kigali. The original goal of the blog was rooted in the knowledge that I would be spending a lot of time in the region over the next few years. I didn't want to keep flooding my friends' and family's inboxes with emails, so I thought that starting a blog would be a great way to keep in touch during my extended stays in central Africa. So when I got back from that first trip in 2005, I decided to get into the habit of blogging by writing about football, live music, politics, and the scandal at Baylor.

Texas in Africa has been what I expected and so much more. It's been a great way to let everyone know I was alive while in the Congo, but it's also served as an important outlet for me to process what I've experienced in central Africa. The situation there is beyond description in many ways, and I don't think my mental health would be in a normal state had I not been able to think and write about these tragedies in a public forum.

It's also so much fun to be in conversation with friends both old and new. I never dreamed that perfect strangers would start reading the blog, nor that I would be fortunate enough to be linked to by lots of cool people whose writing I really admire. Having posts picked up by Ethics Daily.com was also a huge and welcome surprise. I have especially enjoyed our conversations about Baptist life, poverty and inequality, and, of course, college football!

That's all to say, thanks so much for reading, commenting, and emailing, and for sticking with me on this journey! Texas in Africa would be a much more boring blog without you!

Now that we're two years old, I expect that we'll begin frequently saying "no," stomping our feet, and throwing temper tantrums whenever something upsets us. :) Here's looking forward to another great year!

8.28.2007

hot enough for ya?

This morning I tried to blister Hatch chiles for the first time. I don't really know what it means to "blister" chiles, except that it has something to do with separating the skin from the meat of the chile and that it requires use of a broiler. According to the directions from New Mexico State University's Agricultural Extension office that Central Market was handing out, however, it's easier to peel them after freezing the chiles. So, basically, this means that I won't know for six months or so whether I did it right. They turned brown. My house smells like green chiles. I'm sure it's close enough.

last weekend in live music and fluging

Well, it's Tuesday, so I thought I'd finally get around to posting about my excellent first weekend back in Austin. It was so nice to finally have time to just hang out, clean the mess that is my apartment after returning from the Congo, and unpack. (Yes, I still had unpacking to do. Who are you to judge?)

Anyway, Saturday night, a bunch of us went to Town Lake to watch the Red Bull Flugtag. Because there were too many rules if you wanted to sit on the Auditorium Shores (eg, no picnics or chairs), we packed dinner and chairs and set up opposite Auditorium Shores. It was a great place to watch the action, although we couldn't see much of the skits. That didn't really matter.For those of you not familiar with the concept, Flugtag is an event at which teams construct, and then launch into a body of water from a 30-foot platform, an unusual craft that is neither sea nor flight worthy. It's very entertaining, so much so that 85,000 Austinites showed up. And that's just where they were officially counting. With the bridge and where we were sitting, it was probably close to 100,000 people. Only in Austin would 100,000 people show up to watch a giant vaccum cleaner called Carl Sucks be pushed off a platform for no apparent reason. Despite the fact that there was very little actual flugging, it was awesome.
Sunday after church (okay, fine, it was during), most of our Sunday School class went to see a couple of the teenagers from church's band play at the Hot Sauce Festival. (Turns out that if the lead singer in your band's daddy publishes the Chronicle, you get to open the Hot Sauce Festival. And they say Austin isn't a company town.) Despite being hotter than is reasonable for an outdoor festival, they go ahead and have it in August because this is when the Hatch chiles arrive. And the sauces were really good, although we barely lasted an hour in the heat before packing up to head to Santa Rita for lunch.
But I digress. The Hydmen, as their band is called, is comprised of two fifteen-year-olds and two thirteen-year-olds, and they're really good. Their love of Explosions in the Sky is clear, but they managed to mix it up a little with a reggae number and some songs with lyrics. All in all, it was a great set. We must give credit where credit is due and note that The Librarian used to teach these boys piano, so any musical success that comes to the band is due largely to her influence. :)
Sunday night I had dinner with the Bad Historian to the sounds of a very enthusiastic mariachi band at Polvo's. All in all, it was a great weekend of music, free entertainment, and catching up with friends.

8.27.2007

i love this song more every time i hear it...

no child left behind, part deux

Just watch Mario Lopez trying not to laugh:

wiley can't catch a break

"There needs to be a distinction between one's personal enemies and the enemies of God, said Sister Thomas Bernard MacConnell, founder of the Spirituality Center on the campus of Mount St. Mary's College and a veteran teacher of spiritual direction. 'It is very possible that my enemies are not God's enemies,' she said. Referring to Drake's targets, she added, 'Who is to say that those people are God's enemies?"

"The Rev. Kurt Fredrickson, who directs doctoral programs for 700 working pastors from around the world at Fuller Theological Seminary, says imprecatory prayers are atypical.

"'They are more of a window into the sinfulness of human beings,' said Fredrickson, an assistant professor of pastoral ministry at the Pasadena school. 'Normally when we think about praying, we're thinking about prayers of adoration, prayers of confession, prayers for someone we're concerned about who is sick or going through a hard time, or those sort of prayers for ourselves -- not the sort of vindictive, revengeful statements. These prayers are contrary to the way of Jesus.'

"...This would be quite shocking to all Southern Baptists," he said.

"'In the New Testament, Jesus Christ comes and says, 'Forgive your enemies, pray for your enemies, love your enemies,' ' Yagi said. 'This idea of enemies has really changed in the New Testament. We cannot do those things, because Jesus Christ taught us to forgive our enemies, love our enemies, pray for our enemies and he died for his enemies.'"

- various scholars and pastors discussing Wiley Drake's call for imprecatory prayer against Americans United for the Separation of Church & State in the L.A. Times

At least we all know what "imprecatory" means now.

the world's deep needs

Here's a loaded Google search that led someone to Texas in Africa: "how do you know if God calls you to Africa".

Yikes. I'll have to think about that one.

a bad case of the mondays

This'll cure what ails you:

about time

Alberto Gonzales has resigned. About 9 months too late. And on a Monday morning, which is the worst possible time in the news cycle to do something like this. Anyway, I'm glad that Gonzales finally did the right thing. Some of his actions as Attorney General and White House Counsel were absolutely appalling in their violations of the basic principles upon which the United States of America was founded. It's going to take years to undo the mess this administration created when it decided to use torture, and to alienate most of our allies in the world. Gonzales' resignation is a small, but very necessary first step.

8.25.2007

do your part

Here we have it: the ten worst polluters in Austin.

I find it unbelievably depressing that, tucked in among the power plants and 3M, the #7 worst polluter in Austin is in fact the Austin Community Recycling and Disposal Facility. We're apparently doing a great job with our trash in our fair city.

You can search for the worst polluters in your city, state, or county here.

HT to Sam for the link.

swimming in the sacred waters

Yesterday was the day that has become an annual tradition, and which I try to limit to one per year: the day I deal with UT's mind-boggling bureaucracy. This is the day when I psych myself up to stand in lines, pay bills, sign forms, and be as pleasant as possible while trying to distract myself from the 99% humidity outside. And also to dodge all the freshmen and their parents, who are wandering around confused, carrying armloads of books and t-shirts from the University Co-op.

Now, look, I recognize that it's incredibly difficult to keep up with all the personal details of nearly 50,000 students and however many tens of thousands of employees. A certain degree of bureaucracy is necessary. And UT has done a pretty good job of moving many of these things online in the last few years, such that now it's possible to submit my dissertation online, for example.

But sometimes I wonder. Take, for example, the dilemma of the keys. This is my sixth year at the University, and today I will be moving my books and files and maps and other accoutrements into my sixth office at UT. That's six. Not that I'm complaining. As I have advanced in rank this year, I get to move out of the Cubicle of Darkness and Despair and into a really nice, grown-up office, with my own bookshelf, and that I get to share with Ayesha. I couldn't be happier about this.

But getting to move into my new office isn't as simple as it sounds. First, you need one of our department's administrators to officially request a key request form from another of our departmental administrators. This takes forever, because administrator A has 70 things on her back-to-school to-do list. But I finally went in and asked on Thursday, the request was sent on Friday morning, and by the time I got around to the Day of Bureaucracy, administrator B was in a pleasant mood and filled out the key request form on the spot.

Then, after stopping by the Tower to go to the cashier's office, I had to go to what I consider one of the most surreal places on the planet (the other one is this place): the UT Key Office. That's right: we have an office completely dedicated to cataloging, filing, issuing, collecting, and copying keys. With a very large staff. It is totally bizarre - it's a room full of keys, for goodness sakes! - and I always feel as though I've stepped into another dimension when I have to go there.

Waits at the key office can be long, as it takes time to find and copy all the keys a person needs for his or her job. This was at least my 5th trip to the key office and I hope it's my final, because I lucked out and only had to wait about five minutes. The 7 people who walked in after me did not appear to be so lucky.

At any rate, after that, I'd more-or-less finished my Day of Bureaucracy, so I walked back out into the heat to my car. It is hot in Austin in August, there's just no other way to describe it, and when it's this hot in Austin, there's only one thing to do: jump into Barton Springs. Our city's 68-degree, spring-fed, public pool is one of the best parts of life here, and it was the perfect way to cool off after this year's day of bureaucratic wrangling. Here's hoping the rest of the year is just as smooth.

8.24.2007

congo watch

Here comes the fight. Troop desertions are always a clear sign.

the hackers always win

So a 17-year-old figured out how to unlock the iphone this morning. Instructions are here (get your soldering iron ready!). He's not planning to start a business unlocking phones, because he leaves for his freshman year of college in two days. The current confirmed eBay bid for the phone is $25,000. Is this a great country or what?!?

8 days!

It's about time.

One more week! This afternoon I was in line between a 320-pound tackle and a member of the receiving crew at the cashier's office (they were (ahem!) picking up their checks.). They assured me that they're ready for the season. Woo-hoo!

dying laughing

Hahahahahahaha!!!!

Thanks to BDW for the link.

Labels:

jesus and music

Two things for the moment, oddly related:
  • From the Mommy of Two comes this gem, who asked to be her friend on myspace. I'm speechless.
  • From Melissa the Missionary comes this news about an, um, innovative program to encourage church attendance. I will be issuing a motion to this effect at our church's next business meeting. :)
I FINALLY have internet hooked up at home, so Texas in Africa will be returning to our regular posting schedule from here on out. Thanks for your patience these last few months with the whole Congo internet speeds/vacation/no access things.

8.23.2007

what a difference two weeks makes

A quote from my parents' pastor, after my daddy so graciously informed him of all my adventures at Victoria Falls: "Sweetie, we can't outpray stupid."

lost in translation

I've been thinking about translation lately, and it's not just because I went to see my sister in Waco yesterday (although that was wonderful). It's not just because Betsy gave me a beautiful copy of a letter about Ann that included a John Donne quote on translation (although I'll definitely be sharing that quote later). And it's not even because I spent the whole summer jumping between languages, trying to find the right way to express what I meant (although that certainly has something to do with it.).

Translation is hard. It's difficult to convey meanings across cultures and contexts, especially when it really matters that you get it right. One of my good friends is a legal translator by profession. I can't imagine how difficult and stress-filled his job is - one tiny mistake could make all the difference in a multi-million dollar business deal, or in a criminal trial. If he errs up, the consequences are grave.

My sister is preparing for a career doing something even more challenging: translating the word of God. For the next few decades, she'll be in the middle of nowhere, learning a language spoken only by a few people, figuring out how to write it down, and then translating the New Testament into that language. Talk about pressure! What happens if you mess that up?

One of the problems my sister has been thinking about for years is how to translate words for which there are no words in another language, or words for which there is no meaning in another culture. What, for example, do you put for "snow" if you're translating for a desert culture, in which people wouldn't have a concept of what that is or what it signifies? Does "Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow?" make sense to a desert nomad who's never even seen a lake or other large body of water, much less ice? If you change the words, are you changing the meaning of the message? If you don't change the words, will you be speaking right past the people for whom the translation is intended?

I'm not qualified to answer those questions, but talking past one another is something I see Baptists doing all too often. By now you have probably read that some prominent Southern Baptist leaders have retracted their support for SBC Outpost, a popular blog whose discussions, these leaders feel, have become lacking in Christian love and discernment. Debates over every minute aspect of Baptistness you can imagine continue on the BaptistLife.com forums. Others argue over whether the BGCT is too liberal, American Baptists keep on discussing their reorganization, some Baptist churches are dealing with congregational insurgencies, and on and on and on. Some of these discussions are respectful and open, but far too many degenrate into name-calling, or, worse, into two-sided discussions in which both are so busy grandstanding for their agendas that neither is actually responding to the other. We have so many agendas to set in stone and nits to pick that we might as well be speaking different languages.

So many times I feel that we need a translator in Baptist life. I felt the same way watching the 2003 United Nations debate over going to war in Iraq. I was taking an international relations course at the time, and the stark contrast of the approaches to foreign policy we were studying were clear in that debate. Colin Powell made the Bush administration's case, the Europeans and others argued their positions, no one listened to anyone else, and off we marched to war. The message got lost in the trappings of diplomatic language and private agendas. They needed a translator.

What was needed even more, though, is someone who was willing to listen. You can't translate if you don't listen. It's so obvious, and yet so often forgotten when we are debating those whose points-of-view are radically different from our own. If you can't hear what the other side is saying, you can't translate it into something you can understand.

(No doubt there are some Baptists who don't want to translate, who don't want for us to understand one another, who see dialogue itself as compromise. I find those people sad, but if they're not willing to listen, there's not much to be done.)

For the rest of us, though, there is an opportunity. I've already written that the Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant offers us a chance to reconcile. But it also gives us an opportunity to listen, and to maybe begin to understand the different languages in which we have been speaking to one another for far too long. What a testimony it would be if, just for a couple of days, we could manage to put aside our agendas, our cultural differences, and all the barriers that divide us. What amazing things we could do if we were united by the call to practice love for the oppressed and hope for the downtrodden. What songs we could sing if we didn't need a translator, but were instead united by the common language of our Lord.

I don't know about you, but I'll be there to try.

8.22.2007

congo watch

Gre-eat.

8.21.2007

in black and white

The contrasts could not be more stark.

(And I'm not talking about my Chaco tan, although that's pretty spectacular as well.)


I spent 8 of the last 15 days traveling through 9 airports and 10 airplanes in 6 countries. In the course of two weeks, I've gone from one of the poorest places on earth to one of the most affluent counties in the United States. I saw more water than you can imagine pouring over Victoria Falls, and I saw what Tennessee looks like in the middle of a serious drought. I went from the pleasant weather of the central African highlands to the humidity of an Austin August.

But the dramatic differences in landscape and temperature aren't nearly as jarring as are the contrasts of daily life that this journey brings into sharp relief. It's the simple, day-to-day things that get to you.

Wednesday I went to Whole Foods to get some yogurt and granola, so at least there would be breakfast in my home whenever jet lag allowed me to wake up. (The Whole Foods in Austin is the flagship store, and it's ridiculous in every respect - think European food hall meets organic-obsessed yuppies and you'll have the idea.) I walked in, smelled the Hatch chiles, was handed a rose by a florist in comfortable shoes, and tried to focus on the task at hand.


I miss my friend Mama Helene. Her tiny shop in Goma is packed to the gills with what, for Goma, are luxury goods - hand lotions and cookies and other imports. I wonder if she could even imagine Whole Foods, what she'd think if I showed her a picture.


Thursday I had coffee with my friend Kat, who just returned from a summer in Rwanda. It was her first trip to the continent, her first time to process extreme poverty, her first experience with the bloated, wasteful humanitarian aid industry. We had a great time catching up and hearing about one anothers' experiences in a cute little fair-trade coffee shop that is Austin through-and-through. Thinking about it later, I just laughed at the fact that, despite the fact that we'd been in town a collective 72 hours, both of us had already had our hair and nails done.
My haircut cost more than the monthly income of most Goma households. Together, we almost certainly spent an amount equivalent to an average Congolese household's annual income. On personal grooming. And coffee.

Saturday night we celebrated my mother's birthday at one of Nashville's nicest restaurants. I ordered a beef filet that was so tender and delicious you could cut it with a fork. While enjoying every bite, though, I couldn't stop thinking about Olivier, how he watched me cleaning up in the kitchen on my last night in Goma. I tossed the scraps of my gristly, fatty pork-or-some-other-unidentifiable-meat chop that I had done my best to eat into the trash, and he almost tried to stop me.

"It's bad," I explained, and he let it go. But I saw the grief at my waste in his eyes.

Sunday morning at my parents' megachurch the contrasts were clear. It's not just the forty-piece orchestra accompanying the huge choir, or the well-air-conditioned auditorium-like sanctuary, or the HDTV's, or the very necessary army of parking attendants outside that's different, although no one at the tiny, packed church I attend in Goma would believe it if they saw it. No, what struck me the most was the prayer time. My parents' church has a time in which the deacons and anyone else who wants to goes down to the altar to pray. Everyone else sits quietly in their pews, and except for the background music, it's quiet as midnight.

Contrast that with prayers in church in Goma, where they take the admonition to cry out to the Lord quite literally. I can't hear my own thoughts - much less the preacher - during the prayer time there.



This morning I signed a contract for my second job, at the small Christian university at which I teach one class. The contract brought the great news that I've gotten a raise. It's not much, but every penny counts when you're a starving grad student, and the raise will pay for my plane ticket to a friend's wedding in October.


Here's what else it would pay for: full sponsorship of three street children in C & E's program for a year, tuition at Goma's private Baptist university for six students for a year, and three years' worth of Olivier's school fees and uniforms.


I have been making this journey from Africa back to America for nine years now. In some respects, it gets simpler every time. I know what to expect, what to do first, what not to do until I've had a chance to settle in. I know that it's important to spend time with family and friends, but that it's also important to really rest. And to pay attention, because it won't be long before normal starts to seem normal again.


I've learned, too, that it isn't ever easy, and that the contrast between home and Africa is as much a part of me as my brown eyes or my Baptistness. And I've learned that there is value in living in the contradictions. For there is light and goodness, as well as greed and darkness, on each side of the wide ocean that separates us.


This is a hard time, but it is a good time. The ease of travel between these two worlds makes their differences stand out in black and white, but if I'm not careful, I'll forget to live as if my choices have consequences for those on the other side of the world. I'll forget to notice the affluence that is so much a part of my daily life. I'll forget to let the contrasts break my heart.

which way?!?

I'm giving my students the citizenship test today. Here's hoping they're all this well informed:

sorry for the lack of content...

I had a great post this morning, but blogger won't let me publish it. I'll try again after class.

8.20.2007

moyers '08

"Karl Rove figured out a long time ago that the way to take an intellectually incurious draft-averse naughty playboy in a flight jacket with chewing tobacco in his back pocket and make him governor of Texas, was to sell him as God's anointed in a state where preachers and televangelists outnumber even oil derricks and jack rabbits. Using church pews as precincts Rove turned religion into a weapon of political combat -- a battering ram, aimed at the devil's minions, especially at gay people." - Bill Moyers

8.19.2007

13 days to Christmas

Here's a handy guide to this year's NCAA rules changes. Thank goodness they got rid of the stupid clock nonsense from last year.

We here at Texas in Africa should have our annual season preview up soon. The boys are already planning the tailgate for September 1. It should be another great year! Can't wait!!!

8.17.2007

we interrupt this vacation...

I'm not blogging this week. Really.

But this just nearly caused me to have a heart attack. And also to recommit to never eating breakfast in front of the computer again.

8.15.2007

one last thing

The iPhone is unlockable. Good for them.

like a scene from all those movies

New York. From $20 cab rides in Nairobi with friendly old men driving to a Manhattan cab driver with an attitude problem and little knowledge of Brooklyn. From pleasantly chilly 65-degree days to August in America.

Our flight from London arrived close to on-time last night. I'd been awake for 23 hours. By the time I got my bags, got through customs, and rode with the above-mentioned very unpleasant cab driver, it was more like 25. AAA and his wife who needs a nickname were so sweet to ask if I wanted something to eat. I wasn't sure, so we went to a great neighborhood Italian restaurant and caught up. It was lots of fun.

A very short night later, another cab drive with an infinitely more pleasant person who just charged me the Manhattan-JFK cab fare (it's cheaper that way), a long wait at Jet Blue, and I'm headed back to Austin. "What's the first thing you're going to do when you get back?" asked AAA's wife (they are displaced Austinites who were just back last weekend.) "Tex-Mex," I said, but honestly, I don't know. It's going to take the better part of the afternoon to haul my luggage up to my apartment, to clear the dust, and to try to stay awake until after dinner with the Librarian. My main goal for the day is to last until a reasonable bedtime. I've had about 5 hours of sleep in the last two days, and my system is definitely jet-lagged, but the second night back is crucial for getting back on schedule. Which I have to do - I teach tomorrow and fly out to Franklin tomorrow night.

Since I'll be spending time catching up with family and friends and sleep, and since the semester starts tomorrow, I'm taking a break from blogging for the rest of this week. I'll be back next week with a report from Nashvegas and some thoughts on returning home again.

8.14.2007

london calling

London is gray and chilly, because it’s August, and because it’s London. I’m only here for two hours because my flight from Nairobi arrived 45 minutes late. But it’s just enough time for what is becoming a re-entry routine: a stop at the drugstore to buy all the things you can’t buy in the states (Sudafed with no ID scan! The world’s best after-sun lotion – on sale at buy one get one free!), and then over to the Starbucks. Nevermind that I never but never go to Starbucks at home. Here they have paninis and fruit blends, and it’s the only decent food in Terminal Four. Starbucks Heathrow also has the distinct advantage of being directly across from the only public power outlet in Terminal Four. Miraculously, no one else was using it today, so I’ve got time to recharge my laptop. Ah, Western civilization.

The flight from Nairobi was long, as flights from Africa always are. I was at the airport at ten to six, my water was wrongfully confiscated (the gate agent said that yes, you’re allowed to bring in sealed water bottles, but by then it was too late). The flight left late. I watched 300 (oh, my gosh, Worst Movie Ever. It was So. Bad.), finished my syllabus and my lecture for Thursday, listened to the excellent new White Stripes album, and played Tetris over and over and over again.

The flight to New York will be long too, but as my system will believe we are arriving at JFK at 4am, I should be able to sleep for the bulk of it. Tonight I will be in America. Tomorrow night I will sleep in my own bed. Woo-hoo!

8.13.2007

north toward home

It's another last night in Africa. Here at the Methodist Guest House, there's a constant stream of short-term mission-trippers, a pastors' conference, and other assorted people who are in and out. I spend most of my time in my third-floor room, watching the sky, seeing what's on television (Big Brother Africa is back. It's that, John Hagee, competitive whitewater rafting, or some really bad movies.), and repacking my bags for the last time. Today I did some shopping and went to see an afternoon showing of The Simpsons movie. And ate at Java House for both breakfast (huevos rancheros) and dinner (chicken quesadillas).

It's been good to be in Nairobi, and good to be in Livingstone. I needed to talk to old friends. I needed a reminder that Africa is not all a mess, that there are places where things work, that life is not miserable and horrible for everyone on this continent. There are poor people here and in Zambia, to be sure, but you don't see nearly as much of the desparation and misery. I needed, and am grateful for, this buffer between Congo and home.

It's time to go home and I'm ready. I leave for the airport at 5:30, arrive in London by mid-afternoon, and will be in New York this time tomorrow night. Mr. and Mrs. AAA are kindly providing me a place to crash in Brooklyn, then it's on towards home on Wednesday. Thursday I have to teach, then I'll be off again to visit my parents before the school year really gets underway. It's going to be a long week of traveling, but I'm ready. See you there.

the prince of darkness can't just quit!

Karl! Say it ain't so! Who else will we mock? Who else will nearly run over us at the Willard? Who else will be on our flights and in our offices? Who else's face will be on the clocks I send to Melissa the Missionary as housewarming gifts? Who else's cottage in Ingram will we accidentally rent out for the weekend? Who else's bed will we mockingly jump on?* What are we going to do?!?

Actually, we'll probably be seeing a lot more of him around Austin. As a matter of fact, I hereby issue an open invitation to come speak to my class. Soyez le bienvenue, M. Rove.

(*Yes, that's really us, and yes, that's really a bed at Karl Rove's house. It's a long story. I've cut off our faces for reasons that should be obvious.)

music monday

I am shopping and packing in Nairobi today and have nothing inspiring for you. So, in the absence of thoughtfulness, here's a super-popular Swahili hip-hop song that's all the rage in eastern and central Africa. It's called "Regina" and is by a Tanzanian artist named Akil the Brain (featuring Steave 2k!).

It's catchy. The main gist of the lyrics is "I love you, Regina," plus lots of times when Steave 2k starts saying "Sita, sita, sita, sita" ("Six, six, six, six") over and over again. I'm not sure what that's about. The video should give you an idea of the Swahili coast culture of Kenya and Tanzania - it's a fusion of Africa and India, based around the beach, and apparently involves lots of inappropriately dressed women. Enjoy:

8.12.2007

ouch!

I can't decide if #2 or #3 is my favorite.

beautiful vic falls

View of the gorge from the Zambia side.

The Eastern Cataract, on the Zambian side.
Just above the Eastern Cataract, with the bridge in the distance.
This is the bridge that Cecil Rhodes had built to carry minerals from Zambia's copper belt down to South Africa. On the left is Zambia; on the right is Zimbabwe. A lot of history has happened here since the bridge was completed in 1905, including negotiations with a South African minister that led to the eventual release of political prisoners in Southern Rhodesia (then a white-minority regime, now Zimbabwe). This is also the bridge from which you bunjee jump, right there in the middle. The put-in for rafting is just below and back from the bridge - behind the plants in the lower lefthand corner of this photo. It's the most incredible put-in I've ever seen - you jump into rafts in a huge whirlpool just down from the Falls:

These are pictures of the Saturday rafting group. Those are rocks they're climbing down to the rafts, which are inflated on-site because it's basically impossible to carry them down to the put-in.
Our (morning) rafting group. We lost the Italians (see the front of the boat) and the Brit after lunch. I think this is right after we managed to not flip on the hardest rapid on the river.Rainbow Falls, the ones closest to the center. That bunch of trees on the upper left is Livingstone Island and the rock in the foreground is Zimbabwe. This is a picture from when I was fooling around with my camera's light filters. I think this is "vivid," but it could also be "blue." The put-in for rafting is just down from between that rock in Zimbabwe and where I am standing. Unreal. Looking back at Rainbow Falls from Livingstone Island. Please note that we are standing IN THE MIDDLE of Victoria Falls.
It's like they're expecting The Attorney or something...

This is the gorge swing. Obviously I couldn't take a picture of myself, but the look of terror on young William's face should give you the idea. It's a total free-fall until the rope catches and swings you out across the gorge. It was so quiet once you were swinging - just you, the wind, and the birds. And the rushing water, which is not directly under you despite the way this picture makes it look.
Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!!!!
(My apologies to those readers who are not my sister.)
Sunset on Livingstone Island.

nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah!

I went to Malawi! Our plane stopped there on the way back from Lusaka. I stuck my head outside the window and breathed in the air just for my sister's sake. Hee-hee!

some vic falls pictures

yep
the microlight flight - SO amazing
more to come...

8.10.2007

the new yorker does congo

Ah, the bonobo: Congo's favorite primate. (N.B.: not for the easily offended, but the description of a Burning Man afficianado in the Congolese rain forest is priceless.) Here's the rebuttal, which is seriously not for the easily offended. Thanks to Fred for both links.

resilience

Here's a great reflection from Lyn on "A Good Day in Goma."

that's a wrap

Today was a laid-back day in Livingstone. I was really worn out (and sore!) from rafting and all the other crazy things I've been doing this week, so I slept in a bit, then went over to the Royal Livingstone for a massage in their open-air white canvas tents which face the Zambezi. You get a massage while watching the mist rise from the Falls. Incredible and very relaxing.


I had lunch at the very cool guesthouse/coffee shop where I'm staying, then was picked up for what will definitely go down as one of the coolest things I've ever done: microlighting over Victoria Falls. Having seen the Falls from every other possible angle (at eye level in the park, from the banks of the river, from the middle on Livingstone Island, and from below while rafting), there was only one other option left: from above.


They call it the "Flight of Angels," after a comment David Livingstone made when he first saw the Falls. I wasn't going to do it, because it's not cheap, and I've already spent too much money on adventures here. But I changed my mind the other day, and I'm so glad I booked this, because it was incredible. You just can't imagine how lovely the Falls are in all their glory, what the gorges we rafted yesterday look like from above (one big zigzag, where the water has worked its way back through the millenia), what it's like to see a rainbow in the mist from above. Hopefully I'll be able to post pictures from Lusaka, because you've got to see it.

My pilot was super-nice, and he pointed out elephants on one of the islands - apparently, they can swim! - and got more and more shocked as I told him I'd bungi jumped and rafted the river. "You're very brave," he said. "I've been in Congo," I replied, "I'm just not scared anymore."

That really sums it up, and makes me glad that my vacation ended high in the sky with the wind in my hair. This summer has been a wild adventure, full of ups and downs and twists in the air. I began in June dreading the trip, not wanting to again be so far away from home for so long. Then I walked up to the border and saw a familiar face, and from there on out, everything went like clockwork, all the way to a flight over one of the world's wonders, and this evening under the Southern Cross and so many unfamiliar stars.

Tomorrow begins the long journey home. I'll get up early and walk along the Falls one last time, then hop a flight to Lusaka. Sunday it's back to Nairobi, where I'll regroup and pack for the long trip to London and New York and home. Thanks for coming with me on this journey. Thanks for your prayers and encouragement and friendship and love. I could not have made it here without you. For it may be true that I'm brave, but the reason I'm not scared anymore is that I know what it means to be loved, to be prayed for, and to be protected in the face of danger. I hope that this blog has given you some sense of what it's like to see misery and despair, hope and love, to fly over Africa, to know women and men and children who refuse to give up. I hope you'll continue to pray for them, and to let their stories change the way you live and change you.

8.09.2007

cosmopolitan kenya

Here's a great post reminding us that Africa is not all starving-children-in-the-streets / expensive safaris and adventure travel.

on poverty

Interesting poll from the ONE Campaign out today. Here's the part I find most fascinating/compelling:

"Both Democrats (81%) and Republicans alike (70%) agree that reducing poverty, treating preventable diseases and improving education in poor countries around the world will help make the world safer and the United States more secure.

"Democrats and Republicans agree that America has a moral obligation as a compassionate nation to help the world's poorest people through foreign assistance. More than nine in ten Democrats (93%) and 84% of Republicans agree that when millions of children around the world are dying from preventable diseases and hunger, we have a moral obligation to do what we can to help. Similarly, Democrats (90%) and Republicans (85%) agree that it is in keeping with the country's values and our history of compassion to lead an effort to solve some of the most serious problems facing the world’s poorest people.

"...Additionally, eight in ten Democrats (81%) and Republicans (80%) agree that the next president should keep the commitments made by President Bush to prevent and fight the spread of AIDS in Africa."

Helping the poor is not a partisan issue. We may differ in our views of how best to help the poor, but almost no one is arguing that we shouldn't help. Agreeing on that part is the first and most important step. Let's hope we can find as much agreement on sustainable solutions to the problem of HIV/AIDS, poor water quality, lack of access to education, and extreme hunger. Soon.

i'm alive!

Rafting the Zambezi has been on my To-Do List for a long, long time. It did not disappoint - class V rapids, a put-in under Victoria Falls, and the most spectacular scenery you can imagine. I went with Safari Par Excellence, which I would recommend with reservations. The group of 53 was entirely too large, and they were a bit disorganized (and the whole breakfast thing meant that we stood around for well over an hour waiting to go), but we got through safely, which at the end of the day is the only thing that really matters.

It was an interesting mix of people - young and old, those just rafting a half-day and those of us rafting for the full day. I met a British guy who's taking a gap year to do Cape-to-Cairo, and a Canadian woman who's doing Cairo-to-Cape. We all hit it off pretty well, and as we were the only independent travelers there, we ended up in the same boat. After the STEEP climb to the most incredible put-in I've ever seen (think rocks, lots of rocks, and a spinning pool called the Boiling Pot just below Victoria Falls), we got in our boat and started practicing. I was the only one who'd rafted before, along with the Canadian, who had canoed in rapids.

Our guide was great, but the quality of those paddling in your boat is what really saves you. We had three Italian guys who were nice as could be but who 1) didn't understand much English and 2) had been on a booze cruise last night and thus were very hung over. Their pauses in following commands and inability to understand the commands in the first place, and the inability of the two guys at the front to paddle together gave us some problems. (I yelled everything I could think of in Italian and French (mom, piano finally came in handy :) that they might understand, and Sarah (the Canadian) resorted to smacking the guy in front of her on the back to encourage him to move more quickly. It was all he understood.) Luckily, miraculously, our boat didn't flip, and we said good-bye to them (and the British guy, all half-dayers) without sadness.

Sarah the Canadian, and I, meanwhile, got to be friends. There's something about being a woman alone in Africa that is a completely unique experience, and we had lots of common experiences to talk about. It's always nice to make a friend on the road. We ended up splitting the cost of the photo cd (pics to come, someday) at the end of the day.

The rapids themselves were pretty good, although it definitely wasn't as scary as the Nile. This could be due to the fact that my guides on this trip were 1) mature and 2) not obsessed with flipping the boat on every single rapid, unlike a certain Kiwi guide who was working the Nile last year. I really enjoyed rapid #5, Stairway to Heaven (aka, Highway to Hell), and 12/13, the Three Sisters and the Mother.

We couldn't run rapid #9, a class-VI known as Commercial Suicide, because, as the guides put it, "it's bad for business." It was fun while walking around to watch our guide, as well as a whitewater kayaker who's about to sell his soul to an investment bank, go ahead and run it. Totally amazing.

Since 2/3 of our boat left the trip at lunch, we were put into another boat with a guide we weren't too sure about, and with four women from the large group from Belfast Habitat for Humanity. (Really. They're 10 Catholics and 10 Protestants who've built 2 houses in rural Zambia in the last two weeks. How cool is that?) They were lots of fun, but had had a bad morning with three flips on the river. Our guide seemed to understand that we needed to avoid flipping at all costs; the only casualty of the afternoon was me, when we hit a funny spot on rapid #16b, The Terminator II. The water knocked some of those on the right side of the raft into the boat, and flipped me right out in a somersault. It was hilarious - I managed to hold on to what the guides refer to as the "O.S. Line" (you can probably guess what that stands for - first word is "oh"!) and my paddle, and was back in the boat in no time.

We made it to the end of Rapid 23 and took out at SafPar's stretch of rocky shore. SafPar is widely regarded as having the best take-out on the river because they have a lift to the top of the gorge. What they don't tell you about at the beginning is the fact that the "150-meter climb" to that is partly up a terrifying, rickety tree-branch ladder. Thankfully, there's a funicular at the end of that to take you the other 400 meters up the steep gorge wall. We could see the rest of the rickety ladder from the pre-lift days. (All I have to say about that is thank-you, Lord.) Then it was a quick change, onto the overland truck for the bumpy 45-minute ride back to the base, a bbq dinner, watching the film of the trip, and heading back to our various hotels and hostels. What a great day!

8.08.2007

congo watch

The essence of Laurent Nkunda, warlord extraordinaire. Read that last bit about the Rwandans' view. It's coming.

victoria falls

Victoria Falls is beautiful beyond anything you can believe. If you ever have the chance, you must come here. It's just indescribably lovely. I went to the park on the Zambian side yesterday to have a look. There's fall after fall after fall, and you're seeing less than half of it from this bank. It makes Niagara Falls look like something small and insignificant.

You get soaked by the spray from the little bridge across from the Falls. I went up by the edge of the falls as well, which was really cool. Unfortunately the connections here are really bad; I'll post pictures when I get to Lusaka or Nairobi. Or home.

Tuesday afternoon I went on a ridiculously quaint trip to Livingstone Island. Quite honestly, this was an afterthought, an impulse purchase at the booking office, if you will. But, wow, was it worth every penny. The tour left from upper Zambezi at the Royal Livingstone hotel (which is the fanciest ($550/night) joint in town and is a place for those who like their colonialism up-to-the-minute) in a flat-bottom boat that raced through the rapids and came alarmingly close to the edge of the Falls.


When they said, "It's the island closest to the top of the Falls," I didn't realize they meant, "Livingstone Island is actually in the middle of the Falls." As in, on the edge. In the middle. It was one of the coolest things I've ever done, even with the creepily friendly guides who insisted on taking way more pictures of us than we wanted taken. They're required to hold your hand while you're scrambling down the wet rocks to the edge (losing a customer would be bad for business), but my guy wanted to hold my hand for just a bit too long. After admiring the various views, we sat down under a tent for a ridiculous high tea, complete with Pims punch and all the finger sandwiches you could want.


As previously mentioned, Vic Falls is also the adventure capital of southern Africa. This is great as I'm getting a vacation that's both relaxing and active. I've been in the Victoria Falls area for about 48 hours now. So far I have done two stupid things that could get me killed.



First, I bungi jumped off the 102-year-old Victoria Falls bridge, which at 111 meters was until recently the world's highest commercial jump (that's longer than a football field, people). I really thought it would be like skydiving where I'd want to go, but they'd have to push me because my body would refuse to go, but they counted down from 5 and when they yelled, "Bungi!" I just jumped. The freefall was exhilirating and terrifying, the bouncing was a strange sensation, and hanging upside down over the roaring Zambezi rapids is not for the faint of heart. What a rush! I was still shaking when they pulled me back up to Cecil Rhodes' bridge. and I will never do it again, but I would not have missed the experience for the world.


Today, I went abseiling, "flying," and gorge swinging in the 5th Batoka Gorge. So the deal with Victoria Falls is that the Zambezi has been carving out gorges for millions of years. There are 8 gorges, each of which once was a powerful waterfall like the one we see now, and the river is in the process of carving out another one. The gorges run roughly perpindicular to the river's course, and in the 5th gorge, a company has set up some super cool ways to jump off of the edge.


I decided that half a day would be enough and found myself in a group with four British kids and their father, who was only there to take pictures. (They were nice as could be and all terrified of each activity until they tried it, after which time they couldn't stop talking about how much they loved it. The only bad thing was when Lucy's hair got caught in the ropes on abseiling. Which had to have been quite unpleasant.) Anyway, first we did the Flying Fox, which is like being on a zip line, only you're attacked to the wire on your back, so you're "flying."


It was so cool. You get a running start and launch out into the gorge, where it's unbelievably peaceful and quiet. You can see the river rushing in the distance, and it's just amazing. The kids weren't sure they wanted to try it, but when the younger brother, James, came back announcing that "The only thing you have to fear is the wedgie," they all decided to brave their fears. (James, by the way, was right.)


After that, we abseiled. Abseiling is basically the opposite of rock climbing. You're belayed and all that, but instead of working your way up the sheer rock face, you go down, lowering yourself backwards . As James put it (he came second, after the kids decided I should go first), once you figure out that you have to let go of the rope, it's easy. And fun. You just kindof bounce off the rocks with your legs, working your way down the face until you get to the end. As Lucy learned, it's not so pleasant when your hair gets stuck, but she was okay. We tackled the brutal hike out of the gorge together after that, before getting ready for the gorge swing.


The gorge swing is like nothing else. It's a bit like bungi jumping, in that you basically step off a cliff into a free fall, but you're not upside down, so it's slightly less terrifying. Or at least, it was for me. All four kids refused flat out to try it, until their father talked them into giving it a try. I went last; it was really cool. They'd warned me to keep the rope close to my chest, as losing it could cause whiplash. I stepped off the cliff and somewhere during the free fall, the rope jerked away. It didn't matter; I easily regained control and swung through the gorge in silence and wonder.


Tomorrow is the big day: rafting! I've been looking forward to rafting the Zambezi for a long time. I cannot wait!

8.07.2007

livingstone

I'm still alive, but my internet access has obviously been very limited. I'll be back to normal blogging tomorrow. For now, know that I made it here safely, I'm having a great time, and, yes, Professor Deutsch, I did it. Amazing. More to come...

7

I finished Harry Potter late Sunday night before leaving Nairobi. So now we're free to discuss it here on Texas in Africa. :)

Overall, I was pleased. The ending was cheesy, but at least we know what happened to everyone, and how it all fit together (Unlike certain Daniel Handler books I could name.). Thoughts?

8.05.2007

numbers

323. I laughed when I saw the key to my room, because it's the same as the address at the house at which I mostly grew up. After a painfully early morning (the sun wasn't up when I entered the airport) and a pleasant flight, the shock of Nairobi hit like it always does. Skyscrapers, an efficient airport, paved roads, real shopping malls - this is still Africa, still the same latitude, even, but it's another world from the chaos of Congo and the sleepiness of Kigali. Even on Sunday, there's traffic and people are out and about.

I hung out in my room for the morning, sorting my stuff into "take to Lusaka" and "leave in Nairobi" piles, trying to stay warm (August is the dead of winter here), and reading Harry Potter, then took the guesthouse's taxi (which is a tiny white van, a la Mma Ramotswe!) over to the closest branch of Nairobi's hipster coffee shop, Java House. Of all the things that have happened to Nairobi in the last ten years, the advent of a western-style coffee shop that not only makes excellent capuccinos, but that also has quesadillas, is perhaps my favorite. It was So. So. Good.

After that I headed out to Wayaki Way to catch a matatu down to the mall, where there's a grocery store with bottled water and a fast internet cafe. When I studied in Nairobi, in 1998, I had to cross Wayaki Way (which is a four-lane highway into town) every day to get to my internship. It was terrifying then and it's terrifying now, although the fact that the road has been repaved helps considerably. I made it to the other side, to the bus stop in my direction, and waited for a matatu, Nairobi's famous minibuses that are most people's main means of transport.

The 105 raced by, without giving me a second look. I just laughed. The 105 was my matatu back in the day, that or the 30, which stopped to pick up someone else a minute later. Every day after work, I'd catch one of the two down to Nairobi's train station, where I'd change to a matatu that would take me home. The train station is across the street from the old U.S. embassy, which in 1998 had just been blown to smithereens by al Qaeda, killing 12 Americans and hundreds of Kenyans, most of whom were just passing through that busy intersection. The matatu stage is in front of the train station, but that year, all the buses had been pushed to the side to make room for the rubble from the blast site. The matatu touts at the train yard used to fight to get me to ride on their bus - very few wazungu were riding the buses then (or now for that matter), and I guess my presence made the ride marginally more interesting.

A matatu finally stopped today, and my fellow passengers and I scrambled into our seats. The matatu was only carrying 13 passengers, because now there's a law (an enforced law, no less!) that says the matatus can only carry as many people as they have seatbelts. It's a far cry from 1998, when I often found myself packed into a minivan with 30 other people, holding someone else's child or luggage, or riding on the outside of a matatu (don't ask). What hasn't changed is the matatu's love of blasting music (usually either hip-hop or gospel) at top volume. It's Sunday, our matatu was listening to gospel.

Nairobi has become cosmopolitain so quickly; democracy came in 2002, and prosperity followed. There's a real middle class here, buying homes and cars and shopping in shiny Nakumatt supermarkets. Many people hate Nairobi for its traffic and crime, but I have so many memories of this place that I can't. I love it here.

Tomorrow I'm off to Lusaka, then on to Livingstone, which borders Victoria Falls. More from Zambia!

8.04.2007

the perfect pastor

Ah, the church of individualism.

i was also at the airport at 5:48am

I am appalled.

some bukavu pictures...

Since I couldn't post them while I was there:


I wasn't kidding when I said I could swim to Rwanda. This is the view just down the street from my house.


Bukavu was once the capital of the old Kivu province (which was comprised of modern-day North Kivu, South Kivu, and Maniema provinces). Because of this, there are lots of big administrative buildings. To me it feels much more like a city than Goma. This is the old post office. It's now used as university classrooms and as who knows what else.



Sunset over Lake Kivu as viewed from my backyard.

This is a university teaching hospital on the west side of Bukavu. It was originally a health center for white colonists only, then fell into disrepair after all the Belgians left after independence. It was rehabilitated a couple of years ago and is now open to all.


This says, "South Kivu: we refuse war. We want peace." It's dated 1998-99, which is the time the second war was going on.



The house and The Dog.Kinko's a la Congo
This is Bukavu's Cathedral Notre Dame de la Paix (Our Lady of Peace). It's huge, it's on a hill on the central peninsula, and it's in the middle of town. You can't miss it.


Note the ten-foot tall, white, suspiciously Belgian-looking Jesus on the crucifix.
In a Texas in Africa dissertation interview first, this subject took my picture. So I took his. He's a provincial government minister for South Kivu.

One day the Chinese peacekeeping contingent decided to repair the potholes. And by "repair," I mean, "fill with gravel." They filmed themselves. It was quite a site.
Words are not adequate to express how glad I am that I wasn't on this boat. There appeared to be a preacher shouting his message from the bow. Bet that was a long ride.

The ride on the Ihusi vedette, however, was quite comfortable. Films on the flat-screen tv and a snack are included.

over and out

I woke up at 6 this morning, took a shower, got dressed, finished packing, and opened the curtains to see a group of soldiers playing leapfrog out by the lake. Apparently they're now having Saturday-morning karate lessons. By the time we left, they were practicing their chops and kicks. With gusto, as my mom would say.

This bizarre routine somehow seemed appropriate for my last morning in Congo. E and Olivier and I left for the bus station in the fog of trash fires. Goma has recently re-instituted a weekly tradition in which everyone in the city is supposed to work cooperatively to collect and burn all the trash in the streets. It's called the solonge, a Lingala word which implies working together for the common good. I'm not entirely clear on how polluting the already gas-filled air contributes to community development. At any rate, it made the city look surreal.
The bus was full when we got there. I hugged Olivier tightly and told him to remember that he is loved, said good-bye to E, and paid an extra half fare ($2) for my bag before squeezing into a seat at the back between Matt, another American who's been at Heal all summer, and an Italian nun headed to Salerno to find her replacement because she's been in Congo for 37 years and it's time to retire. We chatted some, about Goma and the villages south of Naples and the hissing sound that seemed to be coming from the back tire, then drifted off into silence and Rwanda's thousand hills.

We got to Kigali with plenty of time to make it to the stores before they close (at 1pm on Saturdays), so I changed to an earlier flight tomorrow, had pizza for lunch at my favorite Kigali restaurant, marvelled at Kigali's new mall, got some groceries, and found a copy of the American edition of Harry Potter #7. (We're not going to talk about how much that last one cost.) I head to Nairobi tomorrow at dawn. Somehow I'm guessing there won't be any leapfrogging soldiers there.

8.03.2007

self-portrait

Olivier has become quite the photographer since I've taught him how to use the camera and the zoom, and how to get good lighting. Right now, we're working on remembering that it's very important to ask permission before you take someone's picture. (The poor cook got a little frightened the other day. Oops.)

Several friends and I are thinking about ways we can help support Olivier financially. If you'd like to be part of this effort, email me, or leave a comment.

last day

My phone rang at 5:52 this morning.

Those of you who know me know that I am most definitely not a morning person. I work best in the afternoon and evening, and try to arrange my teaching schedule accordingly. This semester, for example, is going to be perfect, because my classes start at noon and later.

Congo doesn't work that way. People here wake up when the sun rises. Which happens quickly. There's very little twilight in the evening, and very little dawn in the morning. One moment it's dark, the next, it's light. And vice-versa.

So of course Anne Marie thought it would be no problem to call at 5:52am. I didn't answer. I still need to call her back. I guess this is what it is to have good friends in Congo.

Today is my last day here for awhile. For the first time in two years, I have no idea when I'll be back. It could be a year, it could be two, it could be five. Last night I had dinner chez Lusi. Jo told me not to come back without a PhD.

Anyway, like all last days everywhere, I'm busy running around, trying to do one last interview, buy the books and maps I'll need at home, and say good-bye to people. (True to form, my 9:30 interview asked to postpone to 3. This is after he postponed our meeting a month ago because he left town for 4 weeks. It'll be amazing if this one actually gets done. Ah, Congo.) By 10:30am, I'd been all over town twice. And I've only done half of what I need to do. Not to mention packing.

I leave on the first bus out tomorrow morning. And while I'm sad to say good-bye to so many friends here, I'm really, really ready to be gone. It's time.

8.02.2007

baptist news

Great news in the Baptist blogosphere this week - Tony Cartledge is now blogging for Baptists Today. The monthly Baptists Today is one of the best sources of news in Baptist life. I'm excited that we'll be getting great content from a trusted source on a more frequent basis.

your tax dollars at work


This is part of the USAID-funded (read: Bush Administration) HIV/AIDS public information program in Bukavu. It's built around the ABC pattern (Abstain, Be Faithful, Use a Condom), only there aren't any ads about condoms. This one says, "Brave the fear, take your screening test. Do like us, AIDS won't be transmitted by me."
I nearly got arrested for taking this picture. Luckily, you can pretty much just ignore the authorities here if you haven't done anything wrong. They have very little enforcement capacity. I just ignored the guy who was harassing me and got into a taxi.

congo watch

Oh, dear.

These riots are a long way from where I am. Northern Katanga is south of South Kivu, and I'm now in North Kivu. No need to worry.

Problem is, these riots have to do with the issue of ethnic Tutsis and refugee return. And those are the issues at the heart of all the tension here.

Goma is perfectly fine, although the troop presence here is heavy. I'm much more worried about this than I am about my own safety.

8.01.2007

one love

I think we can all agree that this is totally awesome.

Not, however, as amazing as this site.

open-source

My, my, we here at Texas in Africa certainly are getting hits from some interesting places. Apparently posting on troop presences in Goma gets all kinds of attention. (Hello, Department of Defense!)

It's not as though I'm posting anything that's a secret (anyone on the street here could see what I see), but in the interest of Being Safe, I'm taking a post or two down. Namely the ones that contain my picture. But here's an update: Goma is calm today. It was a holiday so most offices and businesses were closed. I had a great interview this afternoon at a local university. There are bunches of soldiers (in the various and sundry uniforms of the FARDC) in town. A rather high percentage of them do appear to be Tutsi.

The government claims that the army has routed the dissidents near Minembwe in South Kivu. I've been told that the plan was to finish those operations in South Kivu before starting against Nkunda's men in North Kivu. We'll see.

I used to get paid to analyze this kind of thing. Clearly, I'm in the wrong line of work.

P.S. Strategerizing and interviews aside, here's the reality of the situation in this part of the world. Rebels and soldiers and too many weapons create horrible conditions for normal people. Be sure to check out these pictures as well.