Wednesday, February 29, 2012

My Sabbatical Office

My office chair:  

The view from my office chair:  

Committee meeting in my new office:

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

House Pet

We were sitting on the couch reading a story when the curtain wiggled just a little.  I glanced over and saw the pointed head slithering through the folds.  

Stifling a little scream, I calmly told the girls to get up slowly and move to the other side of the room.  

Just last night, Koekoes told me that they’ve never had a snake in the house in the 10 years that they’ve lived here!  Really?! We show up just in time for the first one??!
I needed a picture to prove it to her . . . and how long was this thing, anyway?  
Just the narrow pointed head peeked out, the rest of it was hidden up in the fabric.
We were scared and curious... not so scared that we left the room--
after all, if we leave and it slithers down, we’ll never know where in the house he went.  

So we watched--and when we got impatient, we poked at the curtain with a broom stick.  
He turned his beady eyes toward us, but didn’t move.  

We poked the curtain again.  He came forward just a little... YIKES!...wait, he actually rotated his head, that’s weird!  
Uh oh, he’s lifting his head.  
Mia looked a little closer... 
“Look, Mom, he’s got little legs.”

We pulled back the curtain fold to see the rest of him.
Koekoes is still right:  No snakes in the house.  
Just the beady-eyed lizard who lives in the curtain!

What's for dinner?

One of the worries of taking two kids around the world was wondering about what they would eat.  Ana and Mia aren’t the most adventurous eaters and they both have certain peculiar eating habits: Neither of them like vegetables, Mia does not enjoy bread and dislikes butter--so much for sandwiches.  Ana doesn’t like to eat meat that is attached to a bone or has any fat on it--so much for the braais (meat grilled on the BBQ). 
Despite their food hangups, neither of them have complained at all about food.  We ate a lot of different things in China and they just made their way through the meals and made their way around the food they didn’t want to try.  Somehow, we have found something for them to eat without them making a fuss about it.  Thanks, girls!!

Now in Botswana, with choices limited, it helps that each of them has found one of their favorites from home:
Check out the popcorn (made from scratch) for Mia and
of course...

KETCHUP for Ana!!!
She has learned to ask for Tomato (say "tom-AH-toe") sauce.

The girls are also learning a few new favorites.  They love the mangoes off of EJ and Koekoes’s tree, Ana found out that she likes guavas and custard and Mia asked if we could please have lamb chops again.

And the other night we had burgers--not quite hamburgers--but they both ate a whole burger before discovering that it was actually meat from a kudu (see picture.)  When I told them, they just shrugged--sure it tasted different, but it was still good.

Looks like we’re going to do just fine with no Golden Arches in the entire country of Botswana!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

We leave the village at 7:00am on Sunday mornings to drive to the city of Gaborone for church that starts at 8:00. The first service is all in Afrikaans so we sit next to people who can translate and we listen for familiar words like Jesus and hallelujah. EJ preaches most mornings and today I got to play piano. It's a little harder to sight read when I also can't follow the words and I'm not sure of the tempos, but we managed.

After church we find a cafe that has Internet so we can check for messages. The girls love getting emails from friends. We are nine hours ahead of Denver so during our mornings, most of the rest of you are sleeping.

Here are Ana and Mia at Equatorial Coffee checking their email.

The rest of the day will be spent staying out of the heat--taking a nap and then going to someone's pool. Hope you also have a day of rest.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Uninvited Guests

Most nights, I've slept in relative comfort as I am in the only room of the house with an air conditioning unit.  The girls have a fan and open the windows for the slightest breezes.  EJ and Koekoes have been the most hospitable hosts--they moved into their camper to make room for us in their home and no amount of arguing would change their minds.
For the last few nights, I've decided to sleep "al fresco"--open all the windows and crawl under the mosquito net instead of turning on the "air con."  Last night, the open windows with no screen were just too tempting for a few of the creatures that fly and creep and hop.

  • The tiny sand flies were small enough to squeeze between the netting and joined me on my light and my book and my pillow.  I swatted at them all night.
  • The mosquitoes sang a whiny tune as they circled the netting, trying, but not succeeding to join us inside.
  • A grasshopper jumped over the nightstand and I found him in the closet this morning.
  • The flat spider (or one of his relatives) who lives in my room was climbing the walls near the ceiling looking for a late night snack of bugs.  (The flat spiders are the good ones, the puffy ones are not, I'm told.  Hope I'll be able to tell the difference!)

So far, so good.  No problems with any of these creatures.  After all--Africa's not for sissies!
But just as I was going to turn out the light, a large shiny cockroach hopped down from the window sill and landed on the bed (outside the mosquito net!)  He was enormous!  3-4 inches long with antennae reaching for the sky!  And he was not welcome!  I wanted him out of my bed--immediately.  But first I wanted a picture because I knew you wouldn't believe me.  But as I reached for the camera he hopped to the other side of the bed.  And when I followed him there, he hopped to the nightstand.  Realizing I wasn't going to get the picture, I whacked at him with my book--and missed.  He went under the bed.  Where I couldn't reach him . . .where he stayed all night!  Last night was the first night I didn't sleep so well.  And no picture to prove it!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

And Miles to go before we settle . . .

We’ve been in the air and on the road for 19 days and now we will settle into Mochudi to   rest. 
Thanks for your prayers for our safety on all these flights and on the roads of China and Botswana: 
2.5 hours flying from Denver to Seattle
11 hours flying from Seattle to Beijing
Lots of driving all over this very busy city with many vehicles
3 hours flying from Beijing to Chengdu.
More driving around a big city
2.5 hours flying from Chengdu to Guangzhou
3 hour van ride from Guangzhou to Hong Kong
13 hour flight from Hong Kong to Johannesburg
35 minutes flying from Joburg to Gaborone
About 3,000km of driving from Gabarone to Chobe National Park, into Zimbabwe and now safely back to Mochudi.
Bob climbed aboard a plane yesterday afternoon to head back to Denver.  
Thanks again for your prayers for our family.  

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Right of Way

Who has the right of way on the roads in Zimbabwe?
Ask this bull elephant if he would please move over so we can pass.  He was not in a mood to share the road and approached us, flapping ears and swinging that trunk of we backed up slowly until another car got his attention and he went off into the bush.  He looks far enough away in this picture, but he got a lot closer--I was too scared to keep taking pictures!

What a wonder!

Victoria Falls in Livingstone, Zimbabwe is one of the natural wonders of the world.  It is higher and longer than Niagara Falls and pours an amazing amount of water.  We walked for two hours along the path that gave us 16 vantage points to see the falls . . . each point got us wetter and wetter from the spray until we were standing in a full rain.  What a great way for Bob to spend his birthday! 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Look Who’s Coming to Lunch

Sitting on the deck overlooking the Chobe river is a lovely place for a yummy steak or hamburger.  (Did you read about the good looking cattle we’ve been seeing all over the country?)
We’re not the only ones who thought this was a great spot!  The geckos were running up and down the poles near our table and then the monkeys showed up.  They started in the rafters and then got more bold, jumping into the branches above us and by the end of lunch, they were approaching our table, getting close enough to touch Ana’s chair.
After lunch, the girls went swimming, leaving their clothes on the deck chairs, and one of the monkeys attempted to try on Ana’s shirt.  
The hippos and crocs were just below the deck, but they were incognito--we hope to see them tomorrow when we head out onto the river.

On the Road . . .

We left Mochudi on Monday morning, driving north on the A-1 toward Chobe.  Along the way, here’s what we saw:
  • The sign marking the tropic of Capricorn
  • cattle on the road--lots of good looking cattle!  I think we’ll have lots of hamburgers while we are here.
  • goats running away from the road
  • donkeys on the road--some of them harnessed to carts.  They are called donkey cars.
  • elephants trying to get onto the road (notice how close!--had to apply much brake pressure to stay clear of this bull.)
  • vultures scavenging a carcass on the road
  • zebras gathered just off the road
  • a small water tortoise crossing the road--we avoided hitting it because EJ says they really stink if you smash them
  • construction, potholes, detours--but mostly a smooth strong road
Arrived safely in Chobe after 700km on the road.

The Red Couch

When children are adopted from the southern parts of China, they leave with their new families through the city of Guangzhou--just east of Hong Kong.  For many years, these families stayed several nights in the White Swan Hotel while completing the final paperwork for immigration.  
And a tradition developed.  In the ornately decorated lobby--check out the jade carvings!--there was a red couch.  Knowing just enough about Chinese culture to recognize the connection of the “happy” and “lucky” color red and their own emotions, families began to take pictures of their babies on the red couch.  For many, it is the last connection point in China before beginning a new life somewhere else in the world.
In February of 2003, we put our tiny bundle on the red couch next to the other children from our adoption group and snapped the picture.
In February of 2012 we were back again.  

Red is still the color of happiness for this family!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Hope your Valentine’s Day was filled with gastronomic delights.  That’s what the White Swan Hotel was promising.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Into Africa!

For the record--roosters cannot tell time!  That old tale of rooster knowing just when dawn is about to break--and crowing like clockwork every morning is a bunch of hooey!  The neighbor’s rooster began practising at 3:24 this morning.  He woke up the rest of the local strutters and they crowed in chorus.  Their morning song hit the airwaves and, now that they are finally tired out (at 6:21am) I can hear the distant echoes of cu-cu-cu-cu-cu from birds in the next village.  
It’s great to be back in Africa!!!
We arrived safely on Sunday morning and were met by our good friends, EJ and Koekoes Van As who are the leaders of Youth for Christ in this country and in southern Africa.  They have graciously opened their home to us for the next five weeks.  Last night they served us a traditional “Braai”  (you’ve got to roll the “r.”)  It is an outdoor grill made from half of a drum filled with firey red briquettes and topped with lamb chops, beef kabobs and local sausage served with grilled cheese and tomato (say “tom-ah-to”) and their own version of baked beans.  YUM!
We are living in a small village outside the town of Mochudi along the A-1 highway north of Gabarone.   You can actually find us on Google maps!  But don’t try to text or email.  We won’t have internet connections unless we go into town to their office--a few times a week, maybe.
Later this morning, when the roosters have gone to bed and the rest of the family has rolled out from under their mosquito nets, we are driving 700km north to see the wildlife: elephants, crocs, giraffe, buffalo and more.  We are also going into Zimbabwe to see the famous Victoria Falls.
Look for pictures in about a week. 

Friday, February 10, 2012

Pandas! by Ana and Mia

So much we could tell you about Pandas:--they are endangered--only about 1600 left in the world and 80% of them live in Sichuan Province in China.  In Chinese, the name for Great Panda has three words:  Big Bear Cat.  They eat 15-20 kgs of food per day.  That’s about 40 pounds.  Basically, they do three things all day . . . eat, sleep and play.  Their intestinal tract is significantly shorter than a human so the food goes right through them... that’s why they just keep eating.

But the most important things we learned about Pandas is not what we learned from the guide or the museum.  This is what we learned by sitting next to them:
They are soooooo soft!  And gentle! and fluffy! and they like apples!

And We LOVE Pandas!!!

February 4: “Let’s Take the Stairs!”

On Saturday, we drove north of Beijing toward the mountains to see one of the world’s great wonders: The Great Wall of China.

Mia did some research before we left for China and here is some of what she learned about the wall:

The Great Wall stretches across 5,500 miles of northern China. It has guard towers and protection for soldiers who needed to shoot down on the enemies. The wall was built over thousands of years by different emperors who wanted to protect the borders by keeping out various nomadic peoples from the north. Soldiers, farmers and criminals all worked on the wall and sometimes young boys were forced to work too. Many people died --maybe up to one million!--while working on the wall and their bodies were just put right into the construction.

The wall is a source of national pride in China. Some people say that you can see the wall from the moon, but that’s not true. Other people are more careful to say that you can see it from space, but even that is hard to do since the wall is only several meters wide and the color of the wall is often the same as the color of the ground around it. According to NASA there are many more things that are more easily identifiable from space, but when our guide told us that the Great Wall was the only man-made structure visible from space, we smiled and nodded out of respect.

Whether or not the wall is visible from space, it is still a magnificent work that has stood for centuries. Many of the steps were worn smooth and dipped in the center from millions of footsteps.

Our advice to the architects: work on making even step rises! The steps varied from 2 to 30 inches without any pattern or reason. We had to watch our footing going up and down. Our guide reminded us that the builders weren’t thinking ahead to the picky tourists of the 21st century!

Monday: Lantern Festival

The sound of gunfire, the smell of sulfur, the windows rattling in their frames all night long--wait...where are we?!?

Ahh, it’s Lantern Festival in Beijing--the final day of the Chinese New Year--several weeks of vacation and celebration, and it’s the last day that it is legal to set off your personal fireworks within the city limits. Everyone, it seems, has been stashing some of the biggest, loudest, fieriest toys just for tonight.

As I was walking back to the hotel from a local grocery store, an eager grandpa laid out an 8ft x 6in strip of red netting . . . I hurried out of the way when he lit the match, shooed his grandson back a safe distance and touched the flame to the strip. Sparks and sizzles and pops flew 10ft in the air for a solid minute, making my ears ring.

Right now, someone is lighting some pretty explosives in the alley behind our hotel and they are shooting over our roof --that’s over 10 stories high! We have ring-side seats from our hotel room window for the shows all over the local neighborhoods.

There’s no doubt that the Chinese invented fireworks!

Tomorrow it will be calm. Tonight we will enjoy the unique experience of being in Beijing on the night of the Lantern Festival. After all, the purpose of this festival is to celebrate and cultivate good relationships--especially among your family. We’re all for that!

Picture: notice the red lanterns hung outside the doorways.

Sunday: The Church in China

I was going to write a bit about the confusion over the differences between the registered church and the underground church in China. But I don’t know nearly enough to stick my big toe into that conversation. Well, actually, I know a ton about the confusion, I just don’t know how to sort through it. Bob asked our hosts and we learned a lot by talking with some young Chinese Christians, but we’ll save that conversation for another time.

Suffice it to say that Westerners are not famous for contributing toward better relations and understanding in this matter. Rather, we have a reputation for adding to division and fear especially if we try to “take sides”--looking only the positive aspects of one type of church and only criticizing the other form of church. So, I’ll try to stay out of the mess and let more experienced voices teach us. I hope it is fair to tell about our experience of one Sunday service, knowing that it was just that--a single service and our hopeful, expectant experience.

We went to a registered church. The multi-story building had a huge red sign in English and Chinese that could be seen for miles around: Haidian Christian Church. The taxi ride from our hotel took 40 minutes out to the suburbs of the city--way out to the area of Peking University. We made it in time to join the line forming down the steps and around the building--all worshipers waiting for the next service--in full view of neighbors, taxi drivers and anyone else who cared to notice their presence. There are 5 services on Sundays--just one in English. The church has an attendance of between 6-7,000 each week.

Many of the songs were familiar choruses led by a talented and friendly group of young musicians. It was contemporary, but not a polished show. Most in the congregation were young--college and early professionals. This is common especially for the English service, where some of those attending are simply curious about the language. We also heard that Christianity is spreading most rapidly among the young in China. The sermon was enthusiastic, true and engaging--and it was from the OT-- about the snake in the desert!

If anecdotal evidence is allowed to weigh into the discussion about faith practices in China, we would say that we experienced authentic Christian worship this Sunday morning. This church preached and worshiped the true triune God and the name and work of Jesus was proclaimed. After the worship service, we went out to a busy public food court for lunch with a group from the church. We openly prayed over our meal and no one in the group was shy about talking about their own conversation and faith- growing stories. One young teacher told us that his students have asked him about his faith here in China--but in the six years he studied in Europe, no one ever cared about his faith.

Whatever your view on the subject, be aware that--unless you are one of the few people reading this blog who works in/with/for/alongside of Chinese ministries--you (and I)
probably need to learn a lot more before making a judgement. But don’t stop praying for the moving of the Spirit in China. God is working here!

Here’s a picture of me with the pastor of the English service, Pastor Jessica.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Friday, February 3: The Heart of Beijing

A the center of the very organized city of Beijing is a huge open square with room enough to hold a million people. Once, not too long ago, it held hundreds of thousands of protesting students and, if you say “Tianamen Square” to most people over 35 in the US, they will likely still add the word “massacre” in their minds to complete the image.

But today, the square is filled with tourists from all over China and the world. Some have been in line for hours to see the still preserved body of Chairman Mao who died in 1976. Others are waiting to see the officials file out of the capital building to the West. One man is trying to get his picture taken with a famous American athlete--wait, that’s Bob in his Rockies jacket and cool shades! They think he’s famous! Nice job, Bob, playing the part.

Across the busy street that marks the N-S axis--a street that goes on for over 100 km--is the ancient Forbidden City--the home of the Emperors, their wives, concubines, children, officials and servants. There are so many rooms in this area that if a child were born in the Forbidden City and slept each night of his/her life in a different room, they would be 27 years old before they had covered all the rooms!

Ah! Chinese lunch. Various reactions from our diverse family: “Yum! . . .”
“That’s different . . .”
“It does NOT taste like chicken! . . .”
“Please pass the ketchup. . .”

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Sabbatical = rest!

 I know you all wondered if I could really do it...slow down and rest.  Here's proof!  A most unflattering picture of me sleeping all the way from Denver to Seattle.