Monday, March 26, 2012

Shameless Bragging

A couple days ago someone referred to my husband as a rock star. I found it fitting since I have always thought of the kids and I as his groupies. We think he is totally cool.

A lot of words describe my Man: loyal, trustworthy, fearless, confident and untameable. But,no word is more fitting of him than this: wise.

Today as I was on my way home, I was wrestling with an issue in my head. I knew that in just a few hours I could just tell my Man about it and he would know exactly what to do. A wave of gratitude came over me. I get to be married to the wisest person I know and I feel completely safe in his decisions. What an honor. What a blessing.
You see, my man has a way of cutting right through all the complexities of a situation and bringing out the simple truth.
I realize how rare that is. I find that most people, including me, operate from an agenda. Sometimes it is a good agenda, but its still an agenda. When my man gives his opinion or advice I know there's nothing more going on than exactly what he is saying.

That's why I married him, you know. I live for the stage. What I present to others isn't always the reality of who I's usually a presentation of who I want to be. Not my Man. He is the same all the time. When we're home behind closed doors he is the same man that he is when he's at work...or church. That used to make me really nervous. Now, it makes me safe.

I spent part of our marriage thinking that my Man just wasn't very spiritual. I thought I was so godly and he was so rough and worldly. But, as time passed and I got to know MY JESUS more and more, I noticed that HE started to look a little HE reminded me of someone I know. I would learn something new about MY CHRIST and realize I'd already seen that truth somewhere.'s my Man. All along, it was my Man who was like JESUS. He was more like HIM than anyone else I knew. I was religious. He was CHRIST like.

We married as teenagers and grew up together. We have war stories and love stories---but all together, it makes our story.

I know that when I'm 100, I'll still be chasing my Man around the globe and letting him talk me into doing things that scare me. That's life with a wild Man.

I can't wait!

Thursday, March 15, 2012


You will never get over Africa.

That's what my precious friend, a missionary, told me when she found out we were moving to Guinea.
She is right. But even if I did get over Africa, I will never get over Mahawa.

Our balcony looks over our wall into our neighbor's courtyard. Two little girls, who appear to be about 3 and 8, live there. Many days we will wave to get their attention and beckon them to go to the gate where my girls will deliver candy and cookies or other treats. Our only connection to them has been smiling and waving from a distance and the brief moments when their hands exchange the goodies.

Yesterday when my girls left to deliver candy canes, they came back with a message. The girls want to know if they can come over to play.
I couldn't say yes fast enough! We ran outside to bring them in. The little beauty was enamored with WildHeart's baby doll and immediately tried to put the baby on her back to carry around. CurlyGirl helped tie the baby on.

I asked our friend and guard to help us translate. He was able to speak to the smaller girl, but had trouble with the older. Her name is Mahawa, he told me and she doesn't speak French. She only speaks a tribal language. She was sent in from a village to live with and work for this family.

I could hardly believe it. I knew she didn't go to school and found that strange since this family is somewhat wealthy by Guinean standards. Now it made sense. The reason I never saw her held or dressed pretty or given the attention like the younger girl was because she is not their litttle girl---she is their servant. The little girl is always dressed up with braided hair and pretty dresses. Mahawa's hair is always shaved off and she is never dressed up.

I tried to ask her how old she was. She seemed confused. Finally, she said she was six.
Now, I was confused.
She looked older than that...closer to CurlyGirl's age.
My guard said, "she's not six. She probably has no idea how old she is."

I was sick.

If she doesn't know how old she is, then how do they celebrate her birthday?

I thought of CurlyGirl. Two houses right next to each other--two little girls, probably the same age, but the contrast of their lives couldn't be greater.
CurlyGirl doesn't make it a day without an abundance of hugs and kisses and "I love you's".
Her birthday is a huge ordeal and anyone who has seen her hair knows that it is a major project every day!
My Man and I always pray for her and over her.
We tell her she has been called out by GOD.
No one even fixes Mahawa's hair.

I realize how sad this sounds. You would think that is strange if you met her because sad isn't a word you think of when you are with her. She is extremely happy. She behaves with a grace beyond her years.
She is lovely.

I don't know what to do with this one. All I can think right now is that I am thankful to live by her. She may not have known spoiling and hugs and birthdays before...

but the Smiths are in town and things are about to change....

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Fish Market

There is absolutely no moral to this story.
That should be a welcome treat for those of you who frequent this blog. Today I just want to take you along on a trip into Conakry.

We recently hired a chef...and I do mean "chef". He is amazing! He also has serious connections in the food community. So, we were thrilled when he led us behind the curtain to the inner realm of the food trade. He managed to bring us across the lines of "white people shopping" (and prices) and opened a new world to us. I thought I had gotten a little grasp on shopping in Conakry--I had nooo idea.

One of the places Henry* took me was to the wharf. To find this particular wharf, you really have to know someone local. WildHeart went with us since, as you know, she's always game for a wild new adventure. We drove down narrow streets and back roads until we finally reached a driveway leading into a wide gate. A little further we came upon this wide open air fish market:

My cook's fisherman friend saw us when we pulled in and ran up to greet his friend and sell us a supply of seafood. He wasn't the only one with that idea. It wasn't long before the "rich" American was spotted and we began to be swarmed by several fisherman.

From the moment I emerged from the vehicle, I was engulfed by a smell so powerful it seemed to be its own entity. I didn't have much time to think about it though, because from every direction bodies crowded around us and voices were calling out "lobster!" "squid!" "baracuda!" "swordfish!" and hands thrusted dead fish in our faces for us to inspect.

Once they realized I was only a spectator and all the purchasing decisions were up to Henry, I was able to walk around a little bit. These three little gems were waiting for our attention outside the crowd of salesman.

They smiled and giggled and ran away when I would pretend I was going to grab them. ( Ok, I wasn't pretending...but come on, how many children does Guinea really need? Let's not be greedy.) WildHeart was watching but soon wanted to join the fun. She pretended to grab them--only they were too intelligent for that. They weren't running from that beauty. When she opened her arms they stopped in their tracks and waited for the embrace. She looked at me, confused at why the game took a new direction with her. Get used to it, honey.

Not much later we loaded up and began the long, heavily trafficked journey home with our treasures.
Have a look at these shrimp-

I'm amazed as I look at that picture. I find it such an irony that a place with such desperate poverty, disease and need can produce such treasure.

The shrimp are pretty nice too.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Next time I think I'll stay home...

I have been reading a book about etiquette. I had just read about the protocol at social gatherings. So, when were invited to a party of "important people" I thought I was all ready.
Truthfully, I am as crazy about wealthy, well-educated people as I am my banana lady. I just tend to fit in better with the latter. I thought maybe learning what I can would prove beneficial for those times I engage in that end of the spectrum.

When we pulled up to the house, I was floored by its grandeur. It boasted huge, wide marble porches off each of the floors. Not too many people in Guinea live in houses like these.
I reminded my children that they were to be little ladies and gentleman. It was a privilege to be invited to a grownup party and we wanted to be a blessing, I instructed them.

They did great!
They spent most of their time in the kitchen talking to and helping the African ladies who served pass out desserts and drinks. By the time one of the guests pulled me aside to tell me how well behaved my children were, I was oozing with pride.
You can see this coming, can't you?

The guests mingled in the large open living area with high ceilings and tall, wide windows all around. I'd just finished an incredibly interesting conversation with a Harvard alumnus about teaching logic to children. I moved on to a chair facing a large window overlooking the back yard and sat down to chat with two world travelers.They sat opposite me with their backs to the window. As we spoke, I commented that I hadn't seen my son for several minutes. "He's probably just cleaning up the game he was playing," I said. (Cue the angelic music.)
The words had hardly left my mouth when a small figure passed the window behind my seated companions.
Little Aggie, in his adorable A&M jersey....and only his A&M jersey, was passing by naked from the waist down. He carried poop-covered shorts and underwear and his legs were covered in excrement.

The realization of what I was seeing, coincided with Little Aggie's realization of being seen.
"Mom!!!!!" He yelled and approached the window. "Mom!! I pooped!!"

I jumped up and hurried around the back of the house desperately trying to get him out of the line of sight. I did my best to clean him up and seeing there was no hope, sent Curly Girl to quietly whisper to my Man that it was time to go.

I've read enough of my book to feel quite certain I violated some rule of etiquette by leaving so abruptly...but then again, maybe its permissible.
I don't know...I haven't made it to the section yet labeled "Pomp and Poop."

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Something to Say

Africa is accomplishing something that North America, Asia, and 35 years could not. I am learning to be quiet. My man has the glorious characteristic of only speaking when he has something worthwhile and well thought out to contribute. Whereas my thoughts bypass the reasoning portion of my brain and head straight to my tongue for their immediate release. You can see how this is problematic.
I write blog posts a lot more often than I publish them to you. After the first few lines I can tell whether I really have something to say. If I don't, it disappears into the vast abyss where bad, useless posts are consigned to.

This week is different. I have something to say.

This one my dad taught me:

"Keep it simple. Ask simply. You can always come back with all the fervor and the justifications and reasons. Don't go blaring in with your question or your statement with all your big guns right away. Be patient. Give people a chance. "

This advice has benefited me more than once. This week, I didn't follow it and I turned out to be a big jerk.

I sat outside one afternoon sifting through stacks of applications of local people who desperately want a job...any job. After a while, I had to stop and cry. It was just too much. I read their handwritten requests for work and I was humbled by their description of their skills. The form asked for a photograph if one was available. Many had none, some had what looked like a drivers license picture and some had a photograph where they may not have even been the main subject, but they were in it.
I finally selected one name and made my initial call. Is there an adjective that supersedes "eager"? If I knew one, I would use it now. This gentleman was eager. I asked if he was already employed and he answered, "I work for you!"
Yes, you do.

I called his references and with what little we communicated across the language barrier they vouched for their friend.
I called him next and arranged for him to come to my home for an interview. I made several calls back and forth throughout the day as we worked out where we would meet and how he would find my home. My friend Neena was here helping me and would occasionally take the call so that she could direct him more effectively. At one point she seemed confused and asked if I was sure I knew who I was talking to. Of course, I did.

Finally, the call came that he was at the meeting place. I gave our beautiful domestique his description, a water bottle to refresh him and sent her to meet him and bring him back.
Several minutes later she entered our front gate, not with the young bald man I expected, but with a small older gentleman with long dreadlocks and a beard. (In another circumstance I would have immediately demanded that someone so cool looking be my new best friend.)

I was caught off guard and looked down my front steps at the man and asked, "Are you Henry*?"
"No" he replied.
Arrogant and irritated, I responded, "Then what are you doing here? Why did you tell me you were Henry?"
He patiently answered, "This is my phone number you called".
I had it all figured out by then--he had been pretending to be Henry all day long so that he could get into our house and maybe talk me into a job or something else when he got here. I was too smart to be tricked!
"You need to leave now!" I demanded and then called for my guard to throw the man out.
The man didn't argue or defend himself. He simply turned around and set the water bottle I had given him down on the porch and walked out gracefully.

I went inside and grabbed my phone to check the phone number I had called and to see if I could locate the real Henry. I realized I had called a different number, but when I phoned the correct number, Henry answered and said "Madame, I am coming I am coming the traffic was very bad". Now, I was really confused.

I was trying my best to sort out the situation when my domestique remarked "That man was a teacher".
A teacher?
Why would a teacher want to pretend to be someone else? After a little more sorting I realized that my dreadlocked friend was no stranger at all. He was listed as the reference on Henry's application. Somehow in all my calls to arrange the meeting, I had inadvertently called him back. He thought I intended for him to come by and so he was there to help his friend Henry get a job.
I was humiliated. I don't mean that in the sense that I had damaged my reputation. I cared nothing for that. I was humiliated that I would be so thoughtless, careless and unkind to the very people I adore.
If I'd followed my dad's advice I would have investigated, not interrogated. I would have listened and not accused. I would have given the man a chance to explain who he was and why he thought he was there.
But I was too smart for all that. I was too busy being scared of getting tricked, to see him for who he really was. I was sorry...No, I was sick with sorry.

I wasn't sure if he would answer his phone for the wicked witch of Africa, but I had to try to apologize. So, I dialed his number once again.
When he answered, he immediately began speaking "Madame, I know Henry and I will tell him that you want to speak with him. He will call you. I will tell him".
Even after how abrupt I had been with him, he was still showing me kindness, still trying to help out his friend.
I did my best to explain my confusion and pleaded for his forgiveness. "It is ok!" he assured me.
When the real Henry made his debut several minutes later I told him I had met his friend. "Oh, yes he is a very nice man, a very very nice man" he told me.
I already knew that.
He is also very intelligent, I learned- a professor of physics and math.
Of course he is.

I have to say, I was a tiny bit...and just a tiny bit... relieved that I had insulted someone important instead of someone of low estate. I know my GOD well enough to know that you don't mess with the ones the world sees as weak and helpless. They have a great DEFENDER. Regardless, I was grieved that that he had been mistreated.

So, let my heartbreak be your lesson. Learn this one in the classroom, not on the field trip.
Give people a chance. Don't assume the worst. You can always go there if you have to, but start off simple. You know, like my dad says.

One last lesson--

Forgive fast. (Guess who taught me that?)