Sunday, January 29, 2012

You just haven't lived until...

* you've bought sausage for your favorite driver....who is Muslim. Sorry about that, buddy.

* you've been able to keep up with how many points your country's team is scoring in a soccer game by how many times you hear the city around you erupt in unanimous cheering.

* you have a schedule for deworming. not the dog... you.

* your bill at the grocery store was over a million (Guinea Francs).

* you've bought the tastiest bread of your life...which the baker used his feet to roll out.

* you've spent thirty minutes talking to someone who doesn't know all.

* you've made (and iced) a delicious cake as a gift for a neighbor....who it turns out, is diabetic.

* you've been laughed at by the egg guy for shaking all the eggs before you buy them. (I tried to tell him it's the white girl way of telling a good egg but I think it was lost in translation.)

* someone has asked you for a Bible. (you mean people here don't have 3 on their bookshelf at home?)

I am convinced that there is a direct correlation between how much adventure a life offers and the number of vaccinations required for living said life.

And it took a lot of shots to get here.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Good, The Bad and the Beautiful.

The Good
To the delight of our family, we have discovered a wonderful little restaurant. The other day I took my kids there while my Wild Man was busy with work. While we waited for our food, we checked out the view from the balcony. We watched 2 little boys playing football (soccer). They only had one pair of sneakers between them. So, they took turns wearing them to play. One would wear them for a while, then they'd stop the game, and the other boy would put them on.
It made me think about how I share. Sharing isn't hard when you have a lot. It really doesn't cost me anything to give away one when I have 10 more. But what about giving away one when all you have is one? Like these boys? I didn't see any adult around making them do it. They were alone. They just knew the game would be more fun this way.

The Bad
I am trying to raise baby chicks. What I am actually doing is slowly killing off the chicken population. A week ago I took home 10 fluffy little chickens. Now, its like Chicken Survivor: Africa. We're down to the final 4. And those hearty little guys have a will to live.
The other day, WildHeart held one while it lay dying. She knew she couldn't make it well....we tried. So, at least we didn't want it to be alone. I know it's just a chicken, but there was something precious about watching my little girl comfort a helpless little animal. When it finally died, we buried it in our chicken cemetery. One area of our yard has become the Animal Arlington with several homemade crosses marking all the small graves.
We can try to ease it, but there's just no changing the reality that death is ugly.

The Beautiful
Little girls are little girls no matter where you go.
From my balcony I can see a street lined by a wall where a little water spicket protrudes. When water is available, this area becomes congested with people who are lined up with large yellow containers to fill. One morning I watched a woman waiting in line with her children. While she was preoccupied talking to other women, her little girl was behind her, twirling and watching her sundress catch the air and flow in rhythm. To everyone else it may have looked like she was just a normal Guinean girl gathering water with her family in a dusty street ....but I saw something else: I was the adoring fan of a beautiful ballerina clothed in a flowing pink dress twirling her way across a bright, clean stage.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Sports Fans

Guineans love football. They are great at supporting their team....and not so great at conflict resolution.

The problem: It's game night and the electricity has not been turned on yet.

So, what's a frustrated populace of sports fans to do? Why, riot of course! Because, as you know, throwing rocks, mobbing the streets, and setting fire to things makes the power come on more quickly.

At least I hope it does.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

African Sunday Part 3

Today, I went to church. I mean, I went to church!
It was a steep rocky climb to reach the small cement building. We entered a small room, packed with people. We were led through the crowd to the opposite wall where there were a few empty chairs next to a window. People had already begun to worship and as we joined in, I noticed a little face peeking through the window into the church.

I smiled. He left and came back with another boy. I smiled. They both left and returned with 6 more children. They didn't want anything. They didn't speak, they just kept smiling at us.
After several minutes, someone went to the window and tried to make them go away.
I was angry.
I said so.
They stayed.

We continued to worship and as it came to a close, the leader called on the people to clap for JESUS. Displeased with the response he said, "I did not say to clap for man. I said to clap for JESUS. When we clap for man, our heads are down. But when we clap for the LORD JESUS, we get up and we look up to HIM who is at the right hand of the FATHER!" Everyone stood, looked up and clapped in a way that certainly resounded to heaven.
My heart welled up when soon after they began to sing "LORD you are more precious than silver. LORD, you are more costly than gold. LORD, you are more beautiful than diamonds." I've always loved that song, but as I sang it with these precious Africans, it held new meaning. Many in the population here originally came as refugees from Sierra Leone, where diamonds hold great significance.
When it was time for the offering, the bowl was placed in front and the people, row by row, danced by and laid their gift in the bowl. I was so overwhelmed by the beauty of GOD's people, I wished that I could put in every cent we own and still, I felt it is just not enough. I wanted to put my life in that bowl and the lives of my children. The BEAUTIFUL GOD of these beautiful people, my GOD, HE is worthy!
After the service, we met the Pastor, Elijah. He held our hands and blessed us. Then he asked if we had listened to the sermon and would do what the Word had instructed:to work with joy.
He continued, "GOD wants to encourage you. Discouragement is bad. It's like a seed in your heart that will take over. You must have courage. When Moses died and Joshua stood before the Jordan, GOD spoke to him 'Be strong and courageous'. GOD had promised to give him the land. It was sure, but Joshua had to have courage and go take what GOD was giving"
Unbelievable. (If you aren't amazed right now...go back and read my first post!)
With these words and much more, Elijah spoke to us with great earnest. He spoke to us as though we were the only two people in the room: Be strong and courageous.

As we went to leave, a little girl of about 10 took my hand, leaned close and whispered her best English in my ear, "I want to be your friend".

Oh, how I want that too.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Yesterday as I was studying French, an explosion took the lives of two people. It happened about 300 meters from where I sat.
Then, it was quiet.
I didn't hear an barrage of sirens. I didn't see a single flashing light emanating from the spot where two families' lives were devastated.
Surely, there was some sort of response...but I didn't see any evidence of it.
Conakry really needs infrastructure.

We ran out of water again today. It happens often. I am grateful that we have a small tank to tide us over since water only comes to this area 3 days a week...hopefully... for several hours at a time. But our tank runs out on the off days and we're left without water like all of our neighbors.
Conakry really needs clean, reliable water.

Whenever I make a meal my kids run a plate down to the guard. Today, as I sat outside visiting with a couple of our helpers, I mentioned wondering if they ever thought what we sent down was too gross to eat and just threw it away without telling! I thought it was funny, but they were both taken aback. "We would never throw away food!," they both responded. Of course they wouldn't...I knew that. I wish I hadn't spoken so foolishly.
Conakry really needs affordable, healthy food.

Every day I see kids walk to school in simple brown uniforms. They walk past twice as many kids their age who can only watch. They're too poor to go to school. I spoke to a local man who makes about 150 US dollars a month working 48 hours a week. He spends 20 percent of that on school for his kids. He has hope for them.
I wish every child in Conakry could go to school.

The condition for animals here is indescribable. I love life: human and animal. What I see every day in Conakry sickens me. The strays are wounded and diseased and suffering and abundant. I hate it. I miss seeing normal, healthy dogs. Dogs with a collar and an owner. Dogs who can walk on all 4 of their legs. Dogs without gaping wounds. Dogs without mange. I miss that.
Conakry really

The needs here are so great.
Yet, out of all the things that Conakry needs ,in my opinion, the thing they need most greatly is justice. A lot of people have, wrongly, I think, thought that all Africa needs is more money, more resources. I thought that too---until I came here. I recently heard that the amount of money that has been sent to Africa is in the trillions. But little has changed.

I spoke with an insightful older man yesterday. He was talking about an article he read that made this very point: Until a place had justice, little else could be accomplished.
I've seen this. The people here are frightened of their military, distrusting of their police, lack confidence in their government, and suspicious of one another.

America isn't perfect and I know we have our own issues, but we have justice. Just let a camera catch a policeman beating a person--guilty, or innocent. No one will stand for it! You'll have an angry mob on your hands. For that matter, just try to handle any problem in America with violence. You can go to jail!
Not here. It is just the way it works. I rarely leave my house that I don't witness someone being beaten.
When money comes into our country, Americans want to know where every cent is going. Is there corruption? Of course. But, in America corrupt acts are hidden or else we get all riled up, and the media blaze in to get their story. Not here. The corrupt are not afraid of the people. They find safety in keeping the people poor. I don't mean necessarily financially, but poor in their minds.

I have no witty solution in this post. No cute conclusion. The problem is just too great.
But even where there is no justice, there is hope:

Ezekiel 34:16 I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.
Jeremiah 9:22 ...I AM the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.

Monday, January 16, 2012

African Sunday Part 2

This day did not go according to plan. A ringing phone sliced through the sedating darkness. Within moments my man was up and out of the house to rescue the world.
When morning came, the children and I made pancakes for the first time since moving here. It was an exciting time! We kept hoping Daddy would make it back home in time to share them with us. He didn't.
We took a few pancakes and smothered them with butter and syrup. Wild Heart carried them down to her favorite guard. Later in the day, he returned the empty plate and asked us in broken English what we called the name of that food. "Pancakes!" we replied. He repeated it slowly and then a huge smile crept across his face. I knew his life would never be the same. Maple syrup changes people.
We spent the rest of the morning baking a cake for a lovely African neighbor we had met the previous day. She had, rather heroically, rescued some French words we were mercilessly torturing on our walk. Some would call what we were doing "practicing" French, but I think any French speaker with a hint of dignity would have been right to intervene as she did.
After our brief visit on the road, she had invited us to come to her home on Sunday and we had eagerly agreed.
So, we made her the best cake we knew how to make. (Thanks Betty) By late morning we were at her front gate with our offering. She was delighted and beckoned us to come sit in her yard. She led us to the shade of a mango tree where her aged mother sat cloaked in vibrant color. She was breathtaking. She spoke no English, but welcomed us with a warmth that supersedes language.

Our new friend Mary* quickly gathered chairs for the children and me and positioned them around her mother. We spent the next twenty minutes laughing and attempting to communicate through hand signals and small English or French phrases. I was grateful for the language barrier, though. If speech had been our primary communication, I would probably have talked continuously and missed out on the beauty of just sitting and enjoying their presence. If I had been able to tell them all about myself, I may not have even noticed all the things about them. My abundance of words would have taken my attention from the cool African breeze I noticed as we sat together. It was a wonderful visit. We didn't accomplish much. I didn't leave knowing much more about them than when I arrived, but it was rich and easy. When we left, I thanked her for her kindness and invited her to call on us soon.

We returned home for an afternoon of lizard chasing and gourmet mud-pie creations. By evening, everyone was decontaminated and we left to attend a gathering of missionaries we'd been invited to...repeatedly.
When I arrived in Africa, I was resistant to the missionary community. I have seen plenty of white faces, I thought. I just want to be with Africans. However, everywhere I went, I seemed to run into a different missionary and they would always invite me to their informal church gathering on Sunday evenings. So, after the last invitation, I finally surrendered.
I walked in a few moments late and sat at an empty seat in the back. As I scanned each head in the crowd, I felt honored to be sitting among these. It feels like I have had to sacrifice very little coming to Africa---but these beautiful JESUS lovers came here with no promise of a generator, or air conditioning, or running water, or a reliable paycheck. They came because they loved. There I was, sitting in a room with people who have given African tribes their first written language and their first Bible.
They give up everything to bring good news to Conakry, Guinea. I mean, really! How many people in the outside world actually care about Conakry, Guinea? Apparently, 40. (I counted.)

Make that 41.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


America is beautiful.
I am not talking about its scenery, although it is breathtakingly glorious from mountain to coast. I have come to see, now that I am here where beauty is scarce, that America maintains a lot of its beauty by hiding what is ugly. Those with deformity and disease are tucked away in hospitals or homes or worse. We have a methods, inventions, programs, even surgeries to transform many forms of ugliness into something more beautiful. We say it's for the benefit of the person, so that they won't have to be gawked at or ashamed or embarrassed. I'm sure that's true, but, I think it may be more for our comfort than theirs. It's hard to see other people suffer. Drinking a five dollar latte isn't quite as enjoyable when its in a setting of naked and diseased children. It's better to save those images for telethons when we can see them from the safety of our living room sofa. That way there's no smell to make it too real.
I stood outside a school today watching wealthy, healthy people pick up their darlin' little children from school. I was one of them.
In the midst of the school parent crowd, someone else also shows up every day: A little girl, probably the age of Curly Girl. She doesn't come there to go to school. Every day she walks along silently, leading a very elderly man by the hand. His eyes are empty sockets, darkness and deformity where eyes once were. He politely and quietly asks for money. He isn't pushy. In fact, he doesn't even know if you're paying attention to him. So, if he doesn't hear an answer, the little girl will lead him along to someone else. She is timid and shy and very pretty...I wonder if she knows that.
I also wonder if our children inside the protective walls of their school are learning qualities like gentleness, like the kind I see her show the old man.
I can't look too long. It disturbs me. I don't want to see her or look into his mutilated face. I want a latte and an ocean view and sweet smelling living rooms to sit in with my friends. I want to go back to when poverty and suffering were a concept in my mind, not this girl and this man...But I can't go back and I feel like I'll never be able to.
I am not criticizing the rich--I am rich. I am not indicting those who buy a latte or send their kids to a good school. I do all those things...or I used to anyway. There's nothing wrong with those things. But, it's like the Matrix. Do I want beauty or do I want reality?
As I rode along the other day, my stomach in knots from continually seeing both people and animals cruelly mistreated, a verse came to my mind and I welled up with emotion.
Matthew 9:36 When JESUS saw the crowds HE had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd.
I am only looking at these things with America as a comparison of how life can be--but JESUS saw all these sufferings and more with Heaven as the comparison. If my own heart could barely handle the grief, how much more HIS pure, perfectly loving heart?

I know that one day I will live in a KINGdom where pain, sorrow and suffering are the old order of things. But that's not for me now, not now. Life in Conakry is raw and violent and ugly. And somehow its the most beautiful life I can imagine living.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

African Sunday Part 1

I have waited for this day for a long time.

Morning worship is my favorite part of the day in the Smith house. Some mornings instead of our usual worship music, the kids and I decide which country we want to worship "with" and then we scour youtube for videos from that country. We love seeing how different people enjoy the LORD. When we were in the States, African worship was one of our favorite. We'd crowd around a computer screen and listen to African churches sing out praise. Sometimes we'd sing along.
Today, for the first time, I sat in an African church and worshiped beside my Guinean brothers and sisters. I was so close I could touch them...and I did. It was almost too much for me to bear.
I had arrived about ten minutes before the African friend who'd invited me. While I waited outside for her, I noticed a little Sunday school class let out. They sat on wooden benches with sheets for walls. I almost felt sorry for them but then caught myself. That's what church is like here. It's different.
I continued watching as people buzzed around, talking to their friends and chasing their kids. That's what church is like here. It's the same.
My friend arrived and escorted me into the sanctuary, seating me in the front-- a place of honor, I found out later. For over two hours I sat in the place of honor and that is exactly what it was. That I was allowed into their lives and their meeting, was an honor.
Colorful material and ribbons hung on the walls, a stark contrast to the desperate condition of the building. There was no air conditioning, cushioned seats, or decorative crosses. Across the front of the sanctuary, they had painted the name JESUS in large letters.
I do not think there is a cathedral in all the world that could rival this church in beauty.

When the service began, the very first Scripture they read was from Psalm 133. It begins this way, "How good and how pleasant it is when brothers dwell together in unity".


Friday, January 6, 2012

A new normal

It's Friday. If it were a normal Friday, I would be scrubbing down my bathroom, clearing counters and spraying Febreze. If it were a normal Friday, I would be listening for my front door to open and my favorite children would begin pouring in. Familiar faces would navigate their way through a sea of children, balancing hot food and head for the stove. If it were a normal Friday, the sun would go down tonight on a living room full of friends huddled together on chairs and couches and carpet, its last rays peeking through the windows to see these friends share their struggles, their victories....their secrets. If it were a normal Friday, these flawed, simple, beautiful people would be discussing and praying for their brothers and sisters in their town, and in every far corner of the earth across oceans and boundaries and prison bars. If it were a normal Friday....

But it's not normal anymore. It's new. And Fridays here will find their own place in this, my new world.

For now, I'll use this Friday to reflect on the treasure of experiences this past week.

* We spent one of our mornings taking a walk. One would think this should be fairly uneventful. But, this is Africa...and adventure is available 24 hours a day here. We made it up the street without much excitement---who am I kidding, we were excited! It was our first walk since Curly Girl has rejoined the land of the living. As we came down a nearby street I looked ahead to see a local boy herding about 10 bulls down the road....toward us. On this particular street, all the houses have walls around them, with each adjoined to the next. So, a more accurate description of our location at that moment would probably not be to call it a street, but rather an alley. Never one to panic (cough) I realized that if the four of us turned around and hustled back the way we had just come, there was another little road that angled off just a little ways up. We would be able to run off that way and avoid the stampede. It worked!!! I called for the kids to turn and run with me. I was so pleased at how I maintained such calm, delivered the orders, and implemented the escape plan. There I was, jogging up the road with my Curly Girl at one side, Wild Heart at the other and my Little Aggie....wait...where was my Little Aggie? I spun around and saw my 3 year old running...the opposite way. As bulls came charging toward him, I saw his superhero little boy body with arms extended toward them beckoning them. Change of plan. We ran back and I grabbed my boy. I noticed a small ditch, maybe 18 inches wide carved into the ground outside one of the residence's walls. Would it keep us from becoming really fashionable ornaments? I didn't know...but it was our only option. I pulled the kids across it and we all became one with the wall. The bulls passed, kicking up dirt, one even spinning in his attempts to gore the others. Adventure on foot #1- check.
I'm not really allowed to talk about what happened on the second half of the walk but trust me when I say this: Adventure on foot #2-check.

* I made a friend. And not just any friend....a missionary friend....and not just any missionary friend, but a missionary friend with a little girl...and not just any missionary friend with a little girl, but a missionary friend with a little girl who is also our neighbor!!
Friends back home have sent us food and medicine and all the things to make it feel like home here...but they couldn't send what I missed most: a friend. So, what did the SATISFIER of DESIRE do? HE sent me one! She is kind and welcoming and smiled sweetly while I talked for probably thirty minutes straight. She and her husband exude hospitality. She warned me they, like most people here, didn't have running water or electricity (usually) but I found her home to be filled with laughter and fun and life...the stuff of real comfort. I hope she liked me...
She mentioned that they make pizza on Friday and asked if I would like to join them. I want to go. I love that I am welcome to sit in her living room and listen to her adventures and her passion for this people and our GOD. It almost a normal Friday.

Monday, January 2, 2012


Have you ever eaten meat that had no seasoning? It wasn't bad, was it...but it definitely lacked flavor. That would be my life without my wild-hearted little 5 year old. She loves many things that I hate and hates many things that I love. She is almost nothing like me...and I think that's fun! She thinks of things that would never occur to anyone else in the family. We've had to create new boundaries just to keep up with all the new territory she has taken us into. Not only that, our little fashionista has a GOD given ability to accessorize.
My favorite thing about her, though, is that she loves to work. If you need anything done around the house, Wild Heart is your girl. I remember when she was newly walking, she would toddle over to the open hatch of our vehicle and try to help us unload groceries. There she would be, carrying things almost her same size, to the front door. That's when we started calling her Hercules.
Well, over the past couple of weeks Wild Heart claimed the task of caring for our guards. Throughout the day, she checks on their bottle of water and makes sure its topped off. When we went to the market the other day, she slipped several treats in the cart "for the guard", she said. I've even walked in on her sitting opposite them in a chair slowly saying English words for them to repeat. It was precious to see their dark eyes fixed on her mouth, trying to mimic the words she formed.
This morning, as I worked in our outdoor laundry room, I peered around the corner to see where Wild Heart had skipped off to. What I saw instead was Jay*, our temporary gardener, being detained at our front gate. When he saw me, he called out jubilantly "Hello! I am here to start work!!"
I have tried, but I can't remember one time when I ever showed up to work with so much enthusiasm. Why is it I would always think of work as being a bad thing?
One of my first days here I was standing at the sink and the realization fell heavy on me: living in Africa is going to be a lot of work. And it is.
However, I remember something from the Garden of Eden: work came before the fall. It wasn't part of the curse. The adversity striving against the work was. Work is good. In fact, I think it is supposed to be enjoyable.
We spent this morning cleaning the covered roof of our home so that in the mornings we can sit in the shaded outdoors to do school. Jay* came up to help us and everyone, including the kids, were scrubbing floors and furniture. We were sweaty and tired but we felt kindred with one another as we labored on the task side by side.
I think Heaven is going to be like that. I think it will be the pure joy of working together in whatever GOD apportions to us. It will be crazy fun there to work alongside our family...kind of like today.
I don't know what work GOD has planned for us in our new land, but I am so excited. I hope it's hard and wonderful and that it affects the KINGdom, helps my man, and builds my family.
"Here I am, LORD, I am here to start work!!!!"

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Strange Times

Sometimes it feels like the days are speeding past...and at the same time, the hours of those days drag by. It seemed like my week just began, and yet the moments of it were full and lasted so long. I guess that's what happens when life stops being "normal", when all the regular, daily things aren't in the equation anymore and you are operating in the realm of the essential.
I saw a film once called, "We are Marshall". The town of Marshall had experienced a tragic plane crash that claimed the lives of many young football players. In one scene, the new coach is comforting a heartbroken former assistant coach and he tells him that he wants to get the town to where football is all that matters again. I get that.
It's funny how when things in life get serious, everything else seems so unimportant. I'm not sure, but I think this is what Peter may have meant when he wrote that he who suffers in the flesh is through with sin. When you suffer, you don't care for the waste and the foolishness. For some reason, suffering is purifying.
This week we spent every day, until yesterday, watching our normally active, laughing 7 year old incapacitated with fever. She would sleep almost the entire day, waking for just short periods, often crying from the pain.
It was purifying.
The nurse practioner, a doctor in a neighboring country, and a pediatrician in the States were all puzzled. Her symptoms fit everything and nothing. In the end, a suggestion from a local missionary, seemed to hold the key to her recovery. Today, Curly girl went swimming, played with her brother and sister, and stayed awake the entire day.
GOD spoke to me this week, not with words, but with understanding. I can't really explain it, but deep in me there was an understanding that GOD was not going to deliver us from this, HE was going to deliver us through this. UJ says GOD is never passive. This week I knew that....knew it so completely that it felt like it was part of me: GOD is active, HE is accomplishing something. Even though I couldn't see it, I knew that it was true. I'm not so brilliant to know and understand these things and it certainly wasn't my own strength coming through that dealt with it. The same GOD who gave me understanding, literally gave me strength to accept it.
HE has not yet revealed specifically what HE was doing, but there are some obvious consequences:
In a small way, I can identify with the ebony faced mothers all around me who are helpless as their children waste away in's a very small way, I know, for my girl received medicine.
Another blessing is the compassion and love I saw working out between our children. When our five year old pranced around the house playing, many times as she passed her sleeping sister, she would stop and kiss her forehead before dancing off to the next room.
Mostly, it just made me love GOD more. When things were at their worst, the SPIRIT in me was abounding with affection for the FATHER. That is beyond explanation.
Those are just the things I can see...and as HE said, HE was doing something. I am so excited to one day see what that CREATIVE, EXTRAORDINARY GOD was up to on HIS side of things.

So, we watched a football game this morning. It was our favorite team, the Aggies. We cheered and hollered because, today, it mattered who won.