21 July 2012

Kick in the pants

It’s a bit of a strange scenario, to be aware of your own need for a kick in the pants.  If I know I’m in need of motivation, then why can’t I motivate myself?  I’m not sure why the scenario occurs but it does.  More often than I’d like to admit. 
Anyways, I’ve been in need of a kick in the pants in language learning. I think I’ve said this before, but it’s hard.  For me, it’s really hard.  The language itself, not so hard.  Juba Arabic is a pigin form of the classical Arabic spoken up north (a bit like Creole is to French as far as I understand) so it’s simplified, and the crazy swirly script is not a part of the equation either, which is definitely in my favor - the use of the roman alphabet alone is a huge bonus in the learning process.  The grammar is pretty simple.  The pronunciation is pretty simple...none of this tonal nonsense like Moru (the local tribal language which is even more daunting to me).  But the learning process?  Way hard.
Give me a concrete task and I’m good to go.  No problem.  Give me a defined role and I’m golden.  As a nurse, I approach a sick person and my role is clearly defined - we’re both aware that the sick person is sick and that I’m supposed to help them.  I can approach just about anybody in that context and say almost anything without hesitation.   But put me in a party setting where I’m just supposed to talk to people?  Forget it.  Maybe they’ll like me, maybe they won’t.  Maybe they’ll think I’m dumb, maybe they won’t.  Maybe I won’t have anything to say, maybe they won’t either.  Language learning is kinda like the party scenario...you’re just supposed to go and talk to people.  You’re just supposed to try out your new vocabulary.  So, not only are you just supposed to talk to people but you’re just supposed to talk about things like colors and numbers and parts of the body and sewing and riding a bike.  It’s murderous.  I feel totally inept.  Somebody laughs a bit (which is totally legit - I probably sound like a two year old trying to string words together) and I melt into a worthless mess.

So, maybe you're getting a better sense for the need of a good kick in the pants.  What do you do if you're me and you need a kick in the language learning pants? You move to town where you're surrounded by language more often for larger portions of the day without having to try so hard to create the scenarios - they just happen as you go about your day.  So, Tuesday, I did just that. I moved to town.  That involves moving off our team compound which is a bit outside of town, and onto the Episcopal Church of Sudan guesthouse compound in the center of Mundri town - the same compound where Scott and Andrew live - both of whom are speaking/learning Arabic.

It all came about pretty quickly, moving from a crack pot idea to reality in a week.  That's the thing about Africa.  Some things take twice as long as in the western world, and some things happen way faster than you'd ever imagine.  I packed up my trunk and my bike and got a ride down to town and moved into my home away from home away from home :)

So far, it's been a great week.  There's much more arabic around, I'm slowly by slowly becoming more and more bold in using the little bit that I have, and everyday learn a few more new words.  Scott is Mr. Hospitality and Andrew is Mr. I-want-to-learn-everything, so there are visitors in and out on/off throughout the day and evening and there's a lot of Arabic being spoken and a lot being learned.  And they've been very kind to let a girl enter their mostly boy world - looking out for me when there are drunken men around and suffering for Jesus by eating the food I cook and bake ;)  )They're quite the cooks/bakers as well, I must say.)

SO, put me in the midst of language instead of me having to seek it out, force me into the position of having to use it more often whether I'm confident or not, and there you have it - a kick in the pants.  So far so good.  And a huge thanks to Scott and Andrew who have been really kind and conscious of encouraging me to learn more, hear more, speak more...friends as teachers work pretty well :) So, with 4 days under my belt, and an initial commitment of a week long trial run, things are looking good.

So, if you're of the praying variety, please do pray that God would use this time for His glory.  Pray that I would be faithful to learn and to practice and that I wouldn't be too much of an inconvenience :)

A few shots of the new digs:

inside my tukul #1

inside my tukul #2 (note: when bed not cluttered with my junk = a place for a visitor - read teammate from the team compound - to come and stay for a night or two :)

my tukul

L-R (Scott's room - which has a small kitchen/living area, along with an outdoor shower area that we all share next to it which you cannot see,  Andrew's tukul, my tukul.  There are two other tukuls which you cannot see, to the right of mine, occupied by the guesthouse manager and a Kenyan woman, along with a piyot or mud/thatch gazebo like structure for greeting/meetings, etc )

07 July 2012

"things that make you go hmmmmm...."

there are usually moments in life here that shock you back into remembering exactly where you are, moments that make you chuckle, some that make you cry, some that make you go hmmmm....remember that C&C Music Factory song?  ok, well, maybe you weren't listening to rap/hip-hop in the early 90's but I was and just thinking of the title line transports me back to my late elementary school/early middle school years in Pittsburgh in a instant...

anyways, back to South Sudan....and things that make one go hmmmmm....

for instance:

  • the moment in church on sunday when one of the lay leaders dressed in her white dress and head scarf and sitting up front on the dais during the service leans her head back and reaches up to grab a piece of the thatch from the roof above her head and breaks it off and begins to use it to clean out her ear....hmmmmm...... :)
  • the moment yesterday when in listening to a few young South Sudanese men who have been in school in the US describe their first encounter with snow....and their comparison of the looks of it falling from the sky to that of what? termites...would not have been my first thought, but they're right, snow falling from the sky looks very similar to swarms of termites flying around after a good rain....hmmmmm..... :)
  • the moment yesterday as we left a funeral, which had experienced a big downpour of rain just as lunch was served, in which we were asked to pull a matatu (large minibus taxi) behind our vehicle so that they could jump start their engine....we tried but the second attempt broke the ratchet straps being used to tie one vehicle to the next.....hmmmmm.... :)

  • the moment in which you're exercising (in shorts, might I add!) at 6:45am in the privacy of one of the buildings on your compound and a young man and boy who've come to borrow a bag to wrap the dead animal in that they're carrying with them and decide that what you're doing in your   piyot is far more interesting than their dead animal and decide to press their noses against the screen of the piyot and stare at you and the exercise video on the computer screen on the table...and continue to do peer and smirk after you ask them to go and tell them that you're not able to help them at the current moment...it's not until your voice gets more firm and you sound more annoyed they finally realize that you actually really do mean what you say and that they should in fact move along, that they do actually move along....hmmmmm...... :(
  • the moment in which your friend in trying to describe to you the story of Noah, describes to you the "motoro boat" that he had....the moment in which you try to discern whether she is referring to the boat Noah built for the rains God sent ("motoro" means "rain" in Juba Arabic), or  if she actually really imagines Noah's ark as a motor boat....and then she goes on to describe what actually sounds like a motor boat, immitating the hum of the engine and everything....... hmmmmm..... :)
  • the moment in which you're smacked in the face with the reality of abuse that women are on the receiving end of so often in war torn cultures like this one....the reality that there is no option of counseling, or talking about it openly and honestly with friends/family...no antidepressants or anti-anxiety meds to help you cope with the emotional outcroppings of such abuse....no rest from back breaking work and caring for several children that you are struggling to care and provide for on those days that are really hard....hmmmmm..... sigh..... :(
  • the moment when you see a Moru woman squatting in the church's garden as she weeds around the tiny g-nut plants with little yellow flowers that are sprounting in neat and tidy little rows in the heat of the day...and looking at the rows and rows more that she has yet to do....and you're humbled by the smile on her face as you go by....hmmmmm.... :)
just of few of the moments from this week....so that you can "hmmmmmmm" along with me.

04 July 2012

rainy days


my first day at the health center.  ahhhhh :) sitting between Scott and the mother/sick kids and listening to his questions and their answers...asking a few of my own and recording the answers...and of course the pinching of cheeks and trying to make kids smile - with more success than I am used to from Bundibugyo...not as many shrieks and squirms of fear as I'm used to - instead of "white coat syndrome" it's more like "white skin syndrome" :)

a lot of the usual fever (which actually just translates "the body is hot"), diarrhea, vomiting, cold symptoms, etc.  and then 2 kids with marked swelling...malnutrition? kidney disease? other rheumatoid/auto-immune diseases?  what to do when the only labs you can do are a malaria test (positive or negative - no numeric parasite counts), a urine dip, and a stool culture...glad for now to be just listening :)  no solving of problems yet for me, only listening to the arabic being used and trying to use the little I have as much as I can while learning more.  It's nice, I can understand Scott's Arabic more than I can most Sudanese, so it helps me to then pick out some of the same words in their Arabic thereby improving my ability to understand their Arabic as well.  Quite a nice system if I do say so myself.

We'd said we'd leave at 1:30pm.  Around 2pm the thunder and dark clouds roll in and I grab the keys and high tail it back to Scott's hoping to pick up my bike and ride back home in time for my 2:30pm skype date with Carrie Jo...but I didn't high tail it quite fast enough and the rain caught me at Scott's.  What does one do when it starts to rain?  You sit and wait.  Wherever it is that you find yourself, you sit and wait.  I called Care and told her I was stuck in the rain and wasn't going to make it back to internet access in time.  We rescheduled.  I stole a few bites of Andrew's granola, a couple bites of Scott's cinnamon/butterscotch cake yumminess leftover from team worship/prayer the night before...plopped myself on the couch and waited.

Scott came back around 2:30pm and didn't skip a beat before jumping into "host" mode...what do you do when you're stuck in a bachelor's house during a rain storm?  You eat Ramen noodles :)  Beef was the flavor choice of the day.

What do you do when it's 3:15pm and it's still raining?  You have a cup of tea.  In this bachelor's house you're not at all stunned to find tea options like the Christmas Sugar Cookie Celestial Seasonings which happened to be my choice.  Never caught dead sitting in one place for more than a half hour at a time unless under duress, when you have Scott Will trapped in a room with little opportunity to flee, you also probe the depths of his rarely shared inner thought/emotional life and actually get some answers :)
In all seriousness though, just as the rain slows the already slow pace of African life, it also slows us Americans down and I'm really thankful for the significant conversations and pauses it gives us opportunity for.

5pm and I hear a pause in the pitter patter of the rain on the mubati roof, I decided to make the move and attempt to bike home before the next cloud moved in...and I made it.  Turned out that was the ONLY pause in the rain from 2pm until who knows when it stopped during the night...but what does 3 hours of rain mean for dirt roads?  Mud.  I was very well adorned by the time I reached home (see photo above).  And I never saw it but I could feel that my backside was pretty well mudded as well and the laughs that broke out from most every person I passed on my bike let me know I was not mistaken :)  Happy to provide everyone with a good rain pause laugh :)

02 July 2012

a study in delight

(me & Foto)

**photos by the lovely and shutter talented Melissa Garner**