Thursday, December 06, 2007

striking season

It has been an interesting past three weeks here in Nantes. It is striking season. Disgruntled students and workers are reacting to reforms made by the sarkozy government in the most traditional means possible: strike. Living in Nantes I was hardly touched by the transportation strikes. I don't have a large need to move about, so i didn't need to take the SNCF and the local tram system is run by the city. I can't imagine living through these same strikes in paris when there was no metro system working. SNCF Worker were on strike because their current retirement benefits were under attack. Some of the reforms were rather sound as there are some rather aggregious benefits. SNCF employees were, for example, able to retire at the age of 50. That strike ended just as gabe arrived for thanksgiving.
For the past four weeks, however, University students have been on strike. This strike is concerning a law passed last summer regarding university autonomy and opportunities to invite private entities to contribute to the cost of education. Cynical (rightfully so?) students think this will lead to a situation in which the letters will have no support and prices will raise enormously. Current education costs float around E300 a semester. The strike would have seemed to have ended this week as students voted to end the "bloqus" after a promise was given by the minister of education to increase support for universities by 5 million euros, but disgruntled students have continued to take all the chairs from classrooms. The law was passed as an effort to improve the quality of french higher education through an improvement of facilities and an increase in the pay of professors.

Last week my highschool students also went on strike. Concerned about the potential increase in school fees, they have also taken to the streets. The high school "bloqus" can probably attribute its success to a typical highschool student's desire to be on perpetual vacation. There is a silent few, however, who, having already lost all confidence in a democratic governement where elected represetnivies listen to the voices of the people, pushed for a student strike. Ahhh strikes. I have constantly joked with my french colleuges that you really know you are in france if their is a strike going on. I find the notion of skipping class to push for a better education to be rather interesting. This would seem like an unfair characterization of the highschool student movement, had it not been their first, and to date, only response to the law. This poorly played political monoluge expresses discontent without offering alternative options. 200 years ago the french mob cut off the kings head, today, the french student mob would seem to be cutting of their own.
.....

after a week and a half, the strike has ended. back to work for me

Monday, November 12, 2007

Life in Nantes

A month and a half has passed since I have arrived in Nantes and I think it is about time that I update my reading republic just what is going on. I have been living here in Nantes as an English Assistant. That is to say, I am a walking, talking English expert with no expectation of teaching skill. At times I do feel like a glorified dictionary. For the most part, however, I have had great successes with my students. I am one of 200 or so American assistants chosen to work in the academy of nantes, a region stretching from the distant village of Luçon all the way to St. Nazaire. My highschool, Lycee Al Camus, is located in Nantes itself, next to the Bellvue neighborhood, an area described by the French as being mixed, which is to say, containing many immigrants. It was most famous in Nantes for the riots that occurred here two years ago in which several of our petit French gars were turned over and burned. I am working in les banlieus, the suburbs. Many of my students are coming from poorer junior high schools, so their English level is sometimes lacking. As one of my students in terminal told me the other day, “I am completely lacking in a base, what am I to do?” This is a story altogether far to typical at my school. All the same, my fellow English professors give their best effort as we try to awake some of our students from their slumber and to learn English.
I am working about half the time with BTS students. BTS is a post bac formation program. My three sections consist of Accounting, Management and sales, and future real estate agents. I had a very fun Halloween activity with my real estate agents, where we thought of the worst possible attributes for a house ever, we selected three of them and they then had to sell it. I was trying to teach them to lie through their teeth in English. Reflecting on my former studies, I realize that Kant may not exactly approve of that, but what the heck, that just may be a skill they need for the rest of their carreer.

Life in Nantes has had its twists and turns. I came here in part with the notion of continuing to work on my research from Africa. It has been hard finding a rythmn for that, but I remain committed. Spiritual reflection is also hard to come by. If anyone out there ever figures out the magic answer, let me know, in the meantime, I will continue to trudge along with my (too few and far between) 20 minute silent sessions.

I have developed quite a few good American friends here and I have avidly snatched up the opportunity to connect with relatives. Lillian and Matt, two friends I met here from the pacific northwest share a strong desire to integrate ourselves into Nantes life. They are thus quite willing to join me on some crazy adventure as we decide to attend a tango soirée or go to a perhaps overly new age spiritual documentary(more on that later)…. Okay, clearly the adventures are somewhat limited to the banal, but you work with what you got. All the same, they have also joined me in the venture of trying to learn haute French cuisine. Carl, a mate from new Zealand always provides late night thoughtful reflection, while friends like Dem and Seb continue to show me that the US and England are two countries divided by a common language. There are a host of other Anglophones who pop in and out of my week… I seem to remain a gadabout like always, despite my best efforts to press forward with the hermitage.

I have also enjoyed spending quite a bit of time with my cousins Armel and Jonathan. They have integrated to some degree with my Anglophone friends. Armel is always down for a night on the town. Jonathan, who is more constricted by a long commute for his studies, remains to be one of my closest confiders here in france. He will be coming to the US with me in a months time to attend my sisters wedding and to visit the most beautiful state in the USA.
Well, there is a start to my life here in France.

Success stories, culture shock and other musings

Culture shock: it is amazing to note the difference between how guys and girls respond here vs at home. I have always heard that it was difficult to meet French people, but I had no idea until I tried asking girls to hang out outside of a group meeting we might already have. My working theory is that French women were ruined by French men. Thus, while in the US, a phone number, and even hanging out for a drink, might be handed out somewhat indiscriminately, particularly if you have already know the person through some group or another, here, getting a phone number is much more difficult. It is as if a first date in france is like having already been on a third in the US. This all, however, is just a working theory. I look forward to it being disproved.

Success: At the train station waiting for friends the other day I heard two Americans speaking behind me, standing in front of the map. I asked if they needed any help, as I know the city rather well. We got to talking and I eventually asked them what they were doing there. The woman, Katie, asked if I had ever heard of the film “What the bleep do we know?” I vaugley recalled hearing about it. “It’s his film”, she said. William Arntz, the man standing next to her had created this documentary. He was there in france for its opening. The film, which connects certain ideas in science to ideas in religion, is a mix of interviews and a small drama. We got to talking and I later invited 7 friends to go attend the opening with me. We even had a chance to meet with William again after the Q and A period just to give our own personal comments.

Success: I can now bake a great Gratin Dauphinoise

Failure: Mousse au Chocolate

Success: managed to find 3 additional jobs adding an additional 85 euros to my salary every week. Just enough to pay off those student loans!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Some thoughts on my year in africa

When I first sat down before the blank screen, it was with the prompt of “change” that I sat, pondered, tapped a word or two, and walked away. I have been quite hung up on this. How have you changed is a common question posed to me. The best answer I could give is that I am figuring it out. Slowly words began to come to me as I reflected over this year. In pulling it all together, however, I realized that I have experienced a revolution this year in my way of thinking and living. This may not be so evident in conversations with me, for in many respects, I am the same old Mike. Yet, to my great surprise, something quite momentous happened this year. The dots began to connect.
I set off in search of a phenomenon. I wanted to witness, observe, explore and participate in the living theology in “African” Christianity. Grasping at the literature available, I assembled my categories from the surface level aspects of liturgy to the seemingly burgeoning African Christology, which promises a more fundamental shift in Christianity. What began to happen over the year, however, is that the parts became a whole. Piece by piece, I began to understand the limits of my own categories, as inculturation, the subject of my research led me to medicine, education, justice, dialogue and prayer. These were not simply pieces of the puzzle, to be “Africanized”; they were intermeshed interdependent aspects of an experience that is betwixt and between identities. Moreover, as the year progressed, I found this same seamless fabric working in my life, often more in my failures than my successes, as the gap of objectivity that I placed between myself and my work instigated my own brokenness; a sign I took to be of a failure to integrate the parts into whole in my own life.
What has been left with me, however, has been an anatomical movement of my own theology. I came to know theology in my gut. That is not to say that suddenly my theology has become overruled by the passions, linking searches for the truth to inspirations of the intestine, but I began to perceive theology as dialoguing with a relevant meaningful reality from a place that struck deeper than a mere intellectual affirmation. I claim no revelations, nor visions, but only the beginning of understanding a theology that is deeply rooted in the reality of my life.
This has not been a process spent alone. There have been many individuals who were milestones to my research year. Their questions and reflections enlarged my own thinking, engaged my imagination, attuned my perception and in turned another revolution in this process of change. What I have been left with is only the beginnings of a blueprint.
In construction it is necessary at times to demolish a standing building so as to rebuild securely with a solid foundation. Uganda was the place where the deconstruction of my own conceptions began. Uganda was my first thorough encounter with the sub-Saharan African experience. I was gifted in Uganda with two crucial insights. Through conversations with a particular theologian named Fr. Waliggo, I began to develop the language to approach inculturation. Then, through further experiences with theologians across the country, I came to realize that my construct of religion was too small to address both the needs and the actuality of the experiences I was encountering.
My work this year is highly indebted to Fr. John Waliggo. One of the foremost theologians of inculturation in Uganda, he began by introducing me to the theological conversation that has been going on in Africa since just before Vatican II regarding this question of culture. More importantly, however, he introduced me to the concept of inculturation as liberation. Inculturation theology, a form of theology which previously defined a culture as the departure point for theology, and liberation theology, which identified a person’s socio-political context as the locus theology, seemed to be two distinct competing theological systems in the African context. Both proved inadequate. Inculturation theology was deemed naïve, while the black political theology of South Africa seemed to narrow in scope to identify the complexities in post-colonial Africa.
Fr. Waliggo confirmed and gave voice to a nebulous feeling within my own gut that the issue of inculturation is a justice issue. Through imbedding inculturation into liberation, the validity of either became dependent o the other. Inculturation theology must lead to liberation. Otherwise it proves to be a theology of the sacristy, irrelevant to life outside of church walls. It was only with this revelation that my true journey began. I had gained a new impetus for my research and so my intention changed. Inculturation theology no longer proved to be a religious curiosity, but a theological necessity.
Inculturation theology has as its base the theological principle of incarnation. God, according to the Christian tradition, became man in the person of Jesus. As the Christian scriptures read, God fully became human, thoroughly imbedded in a human culture, living human sufferings. While Jesus was fully formed by the Jewish tradition, his life also served as a challenge to the culture at the times. The notion is that the Christian church is called to do same, penetrating within every culture and engaging in mutual challenge. While I well understood this theological basis, only beginning to see the theological term through the lens of identity and culture in experiencing the fracturing of identity in post-colonial Africa did I begin to understand its true import.
The reconciling necessity of inculturation became painfully clear as I encountered in Uganda the historical fact of colonialism. By historical fact I do not mean an entry in an encyclopedia, but rather more importantly, and inerasable experience still embedded in the African context. Certainly colonialism is an event of the past, but anyone who would claim that is done and should be forgotten is either naïve or malicious. This total historical oppression has led to an inherited, institutionalized anthropological poverty across the African context. Simply put, the notion has become deeply embedded that somehow western culture has more value than African cultures. This is further exasperated through venues like the media, unilateral development work and an overall failure to engage the multiplicity of African cultures into dialogue with the west. It would not be out of place, thus, to find champions of modernity within the African context, lauding a westernization of Africa as an answer to the problems of Africa. After all, all the rhetoric would seem to indicate that this is what one needs in order to succeed in the world.
My experience in Uganda did far more than just confront me with the injustices leftover from colonialism. In committing to engage religion here in Africa, I soon found myself needing to confront my very own conceptions of what religion is. Simply put, my own idea of religion was just too small. How could it, a product of post-enlightenment compartmentalism, offer any comprehensive and effective response to the problems people were facing in their lives? My system of religion suited for my world, wasn’t able to handle the direct issues of illness, justice systems, and education that faced people in within the “traditional” African context found either in rural areas or urban centers. I met theologians who were doing just this work though. Traditional religion being a submerged religion, it touches on every aspect of life. I had to make sense of a religious framework within the Catholic Church that would do the same. I met theologians like Benedict Ssetuma taking seriously peoples conceptions of illness as an important starting point for his theological reflections. This even extended on to notions of education, as Fr. Peter Kayandaga, brought the African context into the classroom, using the experience of students of their own cultures as a starting point for their own notions of development.
The several figures I met doing this work, however, seemed to be exceptions to the rule, as the same post-colonial mentality that devalues the worth of the African context infects even theological thought. European history and theology remains the central focus of seminaries. The token efforts made in transforming the liturgy seem to fail to make it coherent even with an urban African context. I found myself wondering how it could be that there was such a greater initiative within my own American catholic context than there was here. With the many theologians I interviewed, I wondered how this theological idea of inculturation could ever become a movement.
As I moved to through Ethiopia and on to Western Africa, these same questions regarding inculturation began to touch me on a deeper level. Even as I intellectual was aware of this earlier, Contemplation and conversion became central touchstones for trying to understand this process of inculturation. In studying theology, it is easy to fall prey to the notion that is merely an activity of the intellect, synthesizing beliefs of reason, rationality, man’s capacities and god in this world. Yet the theology that I set out in pursuit of defied that notion, saying that our context, our very lives can serve as a departure point. Even still, however, I seemed to be practicing an intellectual task. In interviewing Emmanuel, a French missionary in Ethiopia, I was grounded as I became aware that his own effort to draw the Catholic Church into its Ethiopian orthodox context was founded on a spiritual sensitivity. I eventually came to hold the conviction that the act of inculturation inevitably must found itself on the principles of contemplation and conversion. While from an anthropological vantage, one may concern oneself with the appropriation of Christianity by Christians in sub-Saharan African, I was set forth on a different path. I came to know in my gut, perhaps that very place where Pascal states that the heart has reasons that even reason (the mind) does not know, this was about a dialogue not merely between “the west” and “Africa”, but between humanity and God. Even as I could set forth philosophical orations about incarnation as this principal, I touched something that seemed real as I engaged this question of contemplation.
This is certainly the point where many people might find my train of thought difficult to follow. No longer did my work section itself off by which country I was in or theologian was I speaking with, but instead it became an ongoing discussion that persisted, even as the interlocutors necessarily shifted. In this quest to uncover/discover inculturation, I suddenly found myself very personally tied to it. I do not mean solely on a professional level, as one takes an investment in any work that one does, but more meaning that this same conversation going on externally was reflecting an inner conversation going on. Part of the difficulty in sitting down to write this reflection is that it is a process that is still going on, and not necessarily one that I am doing well. As I confronted my own difficult situations: my encounter with consumer zed Pentecostal Christianity in Ghana or traditional religion in Burkina Faso, my experiences of two related extremes only further confirmed that my journey wasn’t about finding an African theology, per se, but true religion in Africa, which would inevitably engage culture and context into critical dialogue. I can recall a moment where, sitting in a religious guest house in Bobo-Doulassa, following my experience with the traditional sacrifice of the Bobo, I sat before a translation of the gospel of mark, made by a insightful priest I visited, and I was seemingly, unexplainably brought to tears. My own well had run dry, and in all my efforts to discover an African theology, I realized that I needed contemplation of my own to manage my way through this experience, to invite incarnation into my life.
The invitiation to this process grew as I ventured further into west Africa. It is perhaps fitting that I ended my year in Senegal. In this multi-religious context, I found the stepping-stone to engaging this type of theology outside of Africa. How is it that we can use our own pluralistic context as a source of theology? Is perhaps dialogue at the center of who we are? This own question of dialogue with god was well nurtured as I joined the monks of Keur Meussa in prayer and contemplation. The stillness I found there brought a certain peace that I have longed for recently in my life.
African theology is not without hope. I am certainly not without hope. While left somewhat broken from my African experience, I can only claim it as a true beginning, trudging forward as I grapple with only the beginnings of a blueprint. Even as I tore down my intellectual walls, I have felt a sense of system, currently incoherent, but beckoning me to discover it. Surely academia has more ahead for me, but what I feel called to, in this brokenness, is only further contemplation.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

starting afresh

4 days into my life in Nantes, I have had the pleasure and difficulty of starting up a somewhat more longterm life than I have previously engaged it. So used to living month to month, country to country, even during my short stay home, going to the large shopping center and purchasing my food for what will seem to last 2 months seemed quite a shock to me. I have been busy “installing” myself, as the French say, into this very livable city of Nantes. At a meeting with all of the language assistants, I began to learn about the hurdles that lie before us in the juggernot that is French buerocracy. I began my social life rather quickly, first hanging out with other assistants in the medieval quarter of the town, bouffey, and then settling right back in at the catholic chaplaincy last night. Nantes is a fairly large city that resembles Portland in many ways. It has a very good public transit system and it has 3 major universities within it. Nantes made its fame in the 1600’s on during the slave trading days. One can still see 18th century houses that were paid for by such ventures. There are clearly marked out by some of the masques they bear on the exterior of their walls that portray European conceptions of Africans. My lycee is located not far from the center of nantes. On a central tram line, it is rather easy to get to. I am living at my great uncles apartement here. He spends much of his time in his home in the beachside town of piriac, so I am largely playing house by myself. Given that he and his wife helene don’t live here the majority of the year, the cupboards were rather bare when I arrived. My first dinner in the apt proved to be rather interesting. I had thought to make a spaghetti, but spurned the ready made sauces at the store. Instead I purchased my tomato paste, assorted vegetables and pasta, and made for home. Upon arriving, I realized that I had very little experience as to how to make any sort of sauce to begin with. That didn’t scare me however. I soon realized though, that I confused the zuchinnis with the cucumbers and so all I really had to add for substance to my sauce was canned spinach and carrots. I sought out spices, and came to find that all I had was Thyme, salt, pepper and cinnamon. I have always been rather adventurous, so I tasted and added each of these. I can’t promise you that the meal was particularly good. The next day I went on bought some prefabbed bolognaise and mixed it all in. The cinnamon suprisngly goes great in the dish! So life continues at a slow pace, and I can tell, it feels good to stay in one place

Well, I will leave off here.
My new phone number is: 0659248335

My address is :
Michael Le Chevallier
Residence Michelet
5 Ave St. Felix
44000, Nantes
France

Saturday, August 11, 2007

inadequate musings

It is strange. Everyone keeps asking me if I have adjusted to being back. I once again, manage to slink myself into another society, culture, without needing to come up for air. What can I say… I am good at adapting. I had my first jump into the supermarket the other day, my first walk through the outdoor mall, and my first trip to an American mass. I would say that the first two were far less shocking than the latter. Sure, I was struck with the abundance of things that I have not had, but I have gotten along just fine without them, that their presence doesn’t distract me.
Going to church, however, was quite another story. I suddenly found myself surrounded by the music that I was raised singing. I found a worship service whose liturgical rhythm I could beat to, worship to, pray to. I found time for prayer and silence, and found time to belt out. I found a mass I could be at home in. I don’t think I have even begun to realize just how difficult it was attending in masses that were in foreign languages, with foreign music (much of it being 18th century british music). More importantly, it was wonderful to be at a worship service where I didn’t come with a pen, paper and voice recorder. It has been so strange leaving behind my voice recorder, as it was an extension of my own body this past year. I guess I am free to finally fully participate without having one eye open as I pray.

One thing has become painfully clear to me. For as much as I have longed for a decent internet connection over the past year, I suddenly feel like there is absolutely nothing on there worth spending my time on. It is worse than cable television.

Reading through the news again, in particular the bbc Africa news, I begin to realize just what Africa people are seeing. It is the Africa of HIV/AIDS, Civil War, Political instability, and the occasional happy story. On a good note, Mauritania has finally outlawed slavery.
All the same, my African experience was quite different.

I visited my doctor yesterday. It was a fun exercise explaining my medical history to him over this past year and seeing his eyes widen larger and larger with each added illness. Somehow I am saying this proudly. What kind of macabre self love do I have?

These jumble of thoughts are an complete inadequate reflection of my now two weeks back in the US. That is the terribly thing about writing, it really only ever reflects the current state when you are writing…. Course those are probably silly words coming from the man who writes almost everything that comes to his head.

Monday, July 30, 2007

I'm home!

Monday, July 23, 2007

london

Two hot showers, chocolate, washer and dryer, chilled white whine, toast on whole wheat bread and water I can drink directly out of the tap! I have arrived back in the occidental world. Taking a hot shower last was so refreshing. This morning, surrounded with all the conveniences of life from a television, comfortable mattresses and a refrigerator, I became almost emotional. I didn’t think that I would be so affected by the sudden change in environment. I am a man who adapts quite easily. The sudden onslaught of conveniences that I have desired and longed for over the past 12 months. I kept finding myself saying… oh my god, I haven’t had ….. in the past 6, 10, 12 months. These certainly weren’t conveniences, luxuries and tastes that I couldn’t live without. The comforts found here in London, however, were a small taste of home. It has been raining quite a bit in London, and it is quite chilly here… more feelings I haven’t had for the past 6,10,12 months.
I am staying at marisa’s flat, a friend who I met in Zanzibar who has a shared love for African music (she is a music producer for rough guide music.) She lives in the oldest part of London. We are down the street from the jail where Charles dickens father was held. We are also blocks away from the oldest church in London.





I have just come back from spending the day walking about. Well, most of the walking about was indoors as I was visiting two different Anglican churches. Even when on a slight vacation, I can’t seem to avoid religion. It is really interesting coming from a land where Christianity has only been present in many areas for about 100 years, to visit churches where there ahs been continuous Christian worship for the past 1700 years. Today I visited the cathedral of southwark and St Paul’s cathedral. St Paul’s church was designed and constructed by Christopher Wren after the great fire destroyed London. It has the 2nd largest dome in the world behind the Vatican. The architecture was simply stunning. I attended the evensong prayer service there. It is remarkable how close even the office of prayer is to that of the catholic churches. I have already experienced this within the Episcopal church of course as I worked at St. Lukes. I really have stepped into another world though. I am now getting to explore british pub culture afterall.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

village life

Entering into village life can be quite the shocking experience. In a very dramatic way, you are forced to conform to your environment. It is odd to think that there is very much a culture of travel. This culture exists side by side with that of a residents. Being a traveler affords a certain independence and privacy. You do, after all, always have the option of leaving, an option not afforded to too many citizens in the countries I have been living in. Having largely lived in transitive households, whether it be a hostel, a guest house, a mission house or an expat family, I have largely been departing from this point as I interact with local culture around me. Moving in with Jenna in the village certainly challenged this position. Jenna’s room is directly attached to the families single room house in the village. The shade structure provided is shared for the whole family. The only real privacy she has is her bedroom and her toilet. This past year, I have always had the option of leaving. Being completely independent, even attaching myself to a community or a work was never a true and solid commitment. In the village, I certainly got to have a taste for what a different type of life being posted to a place is. The challenges are far different, for you have to live with these people. I can simply get along until I move along. A two year commitment, like the one spent with the peace corps, just does not

I certainly had some romantic notions about my visit to this largely muslim community in the north. Excited for the opportunity to engage Muslims in conversation, I found myself thrust right away into such conversations. Did I have grand ideals about being a toubab (white) marabou? Perhaps… All the same, I found it exciting, though exhausting to be able to have inter-religious intercultural discussions in French.

Anyways, why don’t I put a little order to this experience. On second thought…. I am gonna go find some chocolate (a vice I haven’t indulged in months) and go for a walk….

Friday, July 20, 2007

back from the village

19-07-06


I seemed to have set down pen and paper, so to speak, and left both blog and journal by the wayside. I can’t claim that it is for a lack of time, as I have been spending the past week in the village. No, being the 21st century American that I am, it was for far more practical reasons. In the village there is too much dust, too little privacy, and no electricity to speak of. While you might begin to wonder how I have been getting by all year, I can promise that life in Africa has been quite comfortable with regards to issues of electricity. The few times where I have had to go without have been my tourist adventures into the bush, and my brief excursion with the Tanzanian semi-nomadic people, the wataturu. I have been visiting Jenna Dillon, a close friend from Willamette working in the peace corps in northern Senegal. It has been an interesting opportunity to view from the ground life in Senegal. This is not necessarily an opportunity afforded often by my own research direction, as it typically takes me to the homes of those educated far beyond the national standard, and certainly living above the poverty line, though still living in poverty in the religious sense (a paradox that many religious have to confront). As the chief of the village repeatedly told me, this village is (in my own words) a microcosm for the rest of Senegal. In this small village in northern Senegal, every language is represented, most of the ethnic groups are represented, and there is both a catholic church and a mosque, the two main religions of the country. This is certainly not typical of most Senegalese villages, and, on account for its diversity, this village is quite the anomaly. History intercedes, and you realize once more that you can’t merely apply ideas of your typical African village across the board, ignoring the action and influence of individual volition throughout its own history. The village of kassak sud was founded in 1966 as a place for Senegalese war veterans. Senegal from the late 1800s up until the mid 1960’s was a colony of france. As such, it was subject to the draft and other military obligations up until its independence. As abu sow, a rice cultivator, described to me, the colonial govt would come and if you had two sons they would take one, if you had three, they would take two. Most of these soldiers, he retorted, didn’t come home.
In 1966 this village was created by Leopold Senghor, first president of Senegal and great literary figure. He offered land to all the Senegalese veterans from the French. From all over the country the former “volunteers” came, representing the diverse religions and the diverse ethnic groups. Being a created village, there is not a unifying history or tradition for this village, though many of them do hail from a peul speaking heritage, the dominant ethnic group in the northern futa region. The village is a village of cultivators. From the small local river, they pump water to irrigation ditches leading to the rice fields. Men are paid 1000 cfa (about 2 dollars) a day to stand out at the fields and scare away the birds. Not my ideal line of work. More to come when I can find a chance to sit down and type.
July-8th


Promises have a way being quite slowly delayed.

I have left Mali and Burkina and now find myself in Senegal. On my arrival in Senegal, I followed a housing lead given to me by a traveling French girl and headed for the mission catholic. At the first mission catholic, I was soundly turned away. It was a community of sisters who shared everything together and thus had no private facilities. Thus, being a man, it could get complicated for me to stay there. They sent me on to the procure down town with the warning that the responsible was out of town. Luck is typically on my side, so I hopped on a taxi and headed south. On arrival, I found myself waiting through the French African sacred hour (lunchtime: 12-3). I finally met some priests who found the next man down the rung for me. As the responsible was out, however, it wasn’t possible for me to stay there. They sent me on a car back north but angled thirty degrees to the left along the shore side. I was effectively dumped and the road side and told, first door on the right. The buck had been passed. I entered inside and found to my little surprise that all the rooms were full. I had thought that the priest, whose phone was attached to his ear that sent me hear had in fact called them to be sure there was space before sending me on this wild goose chase, but that was just expecting too much. I found myself in friendly hands, however, as I soon discovered that this was the house of the congregation of the holy spirit (also known as spiritans or holy ghost fathers). Indeed, I lived with the spiritans for about a month and a half when I was in Ethiopia. While their house was full, they gave me a full plate of food, which after having been up since 5 am, and dealing with all the hassels of unsuccessfully smuggling extra weight onto planes with me, with the added burden of traversing the traffic filled city of Dakar twice, was all that I could want in the world. I was comfortably resigned to seeking out cheap housing in some reputable brothel downtown, when one of the employees, Alain, with whom I had already shared some decent conversation, invited me to his house. I had never actually lived with an African family before, as my constant moving typically made this difficult. I was intrigued and immediately accepted. Alain took me and my heavy bags further north and set me up in his room. He had two beds put together, as it would not be uncommon for his cousin to crash there. Alain lives in a three story cement building. His parents live on the ground floor, while they rent out the next level and alain, his sister and some cousins live in rooms built on the roof. This is too simple of a scheme for describing the living situation here, for I think I could probably count at least 40 people living there. Unfortunaly things used in common, without a common pooling of funds can make living a little difficult. The water had been cut from the complex due to a lack of timely payments. With one meter and 40 opinions, I can certainly understand how such a problem would arise. Effectively beaten, I took to the bed and spent a good three hours recuperating my strength.
Over the next few days I began to fall into rythym with urban African life. It is certainly not what I expected. Rising with the sun, I found myself effectively alone on the roof for near 2 hours. Not a soul stirred in the compound. Soon a few of the lodgers and the other family would begin to rise, wash their face, and head off on the day. Alains dad, a retired doctor would clean the courtyard, and I would greet alain’s mom from three storeys high. Without Alain or his sister being awake, I didn’t know how to get my bucket of water to wash and wake up. I found myself somewhat incapacitated as I waited for others to arise. Alain would pop out of bed just a few minutes before eight and would head off to work. Jerome, Alain’s brother, ran a very successful mini bar out of the exterior part of the ground floor. I should probably note that this is a predominantly muslim neighborhood, though Alain’s family and some others in the quarter are catholics from the formely animist ethnicities of the south eastern part of Senegal. Jerome could easily find himself up till 6 am working, selling his wares to his muslim-in-everything-but-stomach friends and neighbors. Around 9 am one would see him awake and the family would have a small breakfast of bread, butter and your choice of coffee or powdered milk with a hint of coffee.
My second day in Senegal, Jerome helped me cross the city with some of the research books I have collected and sent them off by post. I got by narrowly with a minor fine at the last airport and I did not relish the idea of trying to make it through 3 more with the added 20 kilos before making it finally home. I returned and waited for what I thought would be a quick lunch before heading out again. Lunch, however, didn’t arrive until 3 pm. I began to realize just how much of an independent streak I have picked up this year. The moment it felt culturally ok to leave the lunch table, I hastily grabbed my day sack and hit the road. For as much patience and ease with slowness I have developed in Africa, I felt a strong urge to leave the house and do something. I made my way to a early 19th century lighthouse that I had marked out in my guidebook before arriving that promised some of the best views over the peninsula. After a good hour of twisting through narrow walkways, I finally traversed a giant construction site next to a landfill and begin to ascend to little volcanic mound. Halfway up the sea breeze struck me, and I was filled with awe as I gazed over the stretching ocean blue.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

PS

i might not have told the world yet. i am teaching and living in france next year from sept until may.
i am in dakar right now. more to come.
mike

Saturday, June 30, 2007

happy birthday mom!

06-30-07 – Happy Birthday Mom!!
It has been quit the long while since I have posted on this blog. It is not to say, however, that I have been lazily mulling around Africa without much to say. I have simply been living on and off busses for the past three weeks. Nearly three weeks ago I quit Ouaga to make my slow crawl across Burkina and mali to reach my final destination of Timbuktu (Tomboktou in French).

My first destination after leaving Ouaga was a small town called reo. Enroute my nike hiking sandals, which have served me so faithfully for these past four years, finally wore through the sole of the shoe, popping the air sacs inside. I found it necessary to seek out some new sandals and once more I stubbornly selected a pair of sandals that to me represent the best of Africa: tire sandals. These are sandals that have their own origins in those worn tires that traverse Africa. They are a hallmark of African ingenuity and resourcefulness. Indeed, it is examples like this that put our own recycling efforts to shame. While we would be more inclined to expending the effort to reduce an object back to its basic materials, so as to be reformed into a similar object, the African (and I do speak in a general sense as I have found this to be true across the 6 countries in the 3 corners of Africa that I have visited) will use and reuse every aspect of an object to make things completely new and unintentioned by the original fashioner of an object. Take the case of tires. Tires are cut apart, stripped and used to make harnesses, water pouches, any number of cords, and, of course, sandals. I often get told that these are the shoes that last. In the US, when buying any shoe, it is always good to take some time to break them in. Unfortunately with tire sandals, they tend to break you in before you break them in. I have been hobbling around for the past two weeks, and even had blisters on top of blisters at one point. I hope at some point my feet will forgive me for my follies.
In this small town of Reo, I had a chance to meet abbe Nicholas, who is an older retired priest who once taught moral theology at the catholic university of west Africa in Abdijan. He reminded me of the essential place that a prophetic voice with regards to injustice has within inculturation.

My interview with him was preceded by quite a long conversation with three high school teachers around issues of religion and the catholic church. It became a little more volatile than I would have cared for, and I later realized that one of the conversation contributors was the local catechist, but it was refreshing to have such conversations over a few beers. One of the teachers is the brother of a priest friend of mine in Ouaga. He offered to drive me around on his moto to get between the bus stop and this small village, and by and large, this voyage was only really possible because of him. If there is one thing that can be said about this region is that it is dusty. I would take a tissue paper and wipe down my face and it would come away red from the dust.
Moving on from Reo to Bobo, I entered a lush countryside that simply oozed with fertility. One could buy 5 mangos for the equivalent of 10 cents! Mango is quite an amazing fruit. If you cook with an unripe mango, you could make a great apple pie. If you use a ripe mango, you can get a great peach cobbler.
Arriving in Bobo, I made my first destination to be the cathedral. From the outside, this church looks like an oversized airplane hangar. Entering later in the week, however, I realized that this was perhaps one of the most beautiful churches I have visited all year. The stained glass windows and carved pews are stunning.
Marching past the market, I collected the attention that one typical gets as a backpacker, namely I became hounded by guides. One in particular started falling me, named ya-ya, and indeed we became friends over our trip, despite the persistent feeling that he would try and squeeze as much money out of me as he could. I guess that is the African market place. I have been here long enough to learn to encourage with words rather than with funds.
I had quite the strange experience as I was invited by one of the guards at the catholic mission to visit the sacred fish pools. It is indeed here where the sacrifices are made to the sacred protector of the land.



Sick again
If there is one obvious lesson that can be learned from reading the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, it would be that we really shouldn’t use our own bodies as science experiments.
Sitting around with the seminarians, I asked them if the water was filtered. The cook had already said no, but they retorted saying that of course it was filtered and claimed that the cook didn’t know what he was talking about. I should have known better, and trusted him who was closest to the source, but I decided to test it myself. 2 hrs later as I sat in church the stomach cramps began. I fasted the whole day following as I bussed to Bamako just to be ensure a safe and more comfortable, if hungry, ride.

I checked my weight last week and I was hanging around 76 K. I just came from checking my weight at another place and it claimed I was at 66 K. I hope that it was wrong for the sake of my health. Perhaps it is once more time to visit a doctor.
I tested once more…. 70 K…. still disconcerting.

I arrived in Bamako around 1:30 in the morning. It was far to late to lodge at the sisters, so I engaged in what I deemed to be a prime African experience at the time, and I slept at the bus station. Not a terribly comfortable experience, but I slept in solidarity, if uncomfortably, with my other travelers. All to save a buck or two. Although, arriving in a new city, it is not in ones safest interest to just hop into town after the midnight hour.

Bamako is a city where one can easily see the old touches of colonialism. Old decaying, yet still beautiful buildings mark the city. Walking around with some Italians that I met, we discussed the irony of these buildings. So many of them are owned by the government, and they will not sell them off to someone who might be interested in restoring them. Instead, they stand symbolically, falling into ruin. Is this a symbol, however, of the passing one ancient evil, or is it merely a symbol of the weaknesses of the current one.

Going to the national museum, I walked, for perhaps the first time in 11 months, through well groomed green grass, which is there for the explicit purpose of looking nice. It may have seemed to a be a slight luxury seeing the sprinkler system shoot water across this small park, but it did cause me to pine for home.

Leaving Bamako, I caught a night bus on to Djenne. Well, that was the original plan. I accidentally slept through the djenne stop and only woke an hour after we had passed it. Arriving at 5 am, I checked into the nearest hotel and crashed. The town of mopti itself is quite pleasant. With another traveler, I arranged a trip into Dogon for the following day, and I spent the rest of the afternoon trying to take care of my shoe situation.

Dogon country is listed as being one of the top ten places you have to visit before you die. While I found the area interesting enough, I think that would be a bit of an exaggeration. Perhaps if I had been able to visit there during a festival of one sort or another, but otherwise, you just are hiking through village life. It doesn’t help that heat, illness and dehydration pretty much sapped my energy. Our guide for the trekking was name hamedou. Humuorous guy, but the experience was lacking in the depth that I desired

Sunday was our last day in Dogon country. By this point I had formed and broken through and least 6 blisters. I was able to repair my tire sandals the first day on the hike, thus allowing me to set aside the Chinese imitation pumas that had a sole about as thick and supportive as a piece of paper. My feet looked a total wreck, as I wrapped them in Kleenex and electrical tape to keep up the pressure, and down the pain. The worst experiences were likely when I got sand in the open blister wounds.

My feet hated me.

On Sunday, we arrived at our final village on the plateau. That same morning there had been baptisms (one finds with the most recent animist groups, far more converts to Christianity than in any other area of the country.) The drums started pounding and within seconds, I saw three old women, run into the center of the circle and start dancing.
This was a cause for celebration, and we spent the next two hours witnessing superb local dancing. I even put my own right foot in and shook it all about, as I participated in the energetic dancing.

My feet hated me all the more

Leaving dogon country on Monday morning, we caught a bush taxi directly to Djenne, an ancient city that has still managed to maintain a continuous tradition of bangko (mud) architecture. We were heading there for market day. I can’t even begin to describe the hodgepodge group of travelers who were in the back of the pick up heading there. We had everything from the 10 day traveler, to the 3 month volunteer, to the five month roughin it travel and the 5 year seeker. But those stories will have to come another time. I better go put on some pounds, so, as promised, to be continued….

early afternoon sacrifice

6-16
Today….

Waking up this morning, and heading off to mass, I don’t think I ever had the intention of later seeing a chickens throat slit and dripped all on my behalf towards the protector of this land. Benjamin, one of the guards at the catholic guest house, had offered to show me some interesting things today if I wanted to, as he had the day off. He seemed like a pleasant guy and while I figured I would have to give him money, he didn’t need to share with me some byline of friendship lasting while money leaves, as a segue for cheating me out of some money later on. The two that have been running across peoples lips lately have been “l’argent parte, mais l’amitie dure” and the other is “il mange pour aujourdhui, mais il ne mange pas pour demain.” Everyone needs to make a buck, and I certainly have been meeting quite a few people who are trying to make it off of me. If it is a mutually beneficial relationship, not a problem. If it is like this very nice guide who asked me for upwards thirty dollars for two hours, it doesn’t work.

Anyways, I went to the museum in the morning and told the other guards to let ben know where I was located. When ben arrived, we had to make our way back to the hotel, because I was wearing a red shirt. This is forbidden in the vicinity. The worker cleaning the room next door asked if I was going to have a sacrifice made so I could become president of the USA. I told him, I would far prefer a less stressful job like being ambassador. It did plant the seed in my mind of seeing this interesting cultural act. Just one minute away from the house, I asked ben to turn around so I could grab my camcorder. We set off then for his house, where we picked up so local beer. I also met his sister, who greeted me by calling me her husband, as her brother promised to bring home a white for her to marry. She was cute and I didn’t object to that, but told her, I couldn’t marry a woman who was already married (she was carrying a child on her back). We picked up the local beer, and headed off. The road was rough going on our little moto, but it was nice getting out of the city and into the landscape. As we arrived closer, we were stopped by a farmer. He was wearing a tattered shirt and pants that were rolled up to his shins. He also had flip flops on. Salif looked like he could have been 32 yrs old. We sat discussing for a long time what would happen next. He said that he had a chicken which could be sacrificed for us for 750 cfa. It was the filming that would be the issue. I had wanted to film in the first place because I thought I could film the sacrifice. What better way to remember Africa, eh? I made the mistake of offering quite a paltry contribution of 500 cfa to begin with, which put me out of the runnings for even making a discussion. I would have been better off to have had said something more reasonable like 3000 cfa. He finally settled on 10000 cfa, a considerable sum out here.

We set off, with him holding a young chicken in his hand. The landscape was beautiful. We had arrived at the top of a hill and were making our way down. There were stone chimneys dotting the land from former volcanic activity, and we passed numerous people returning from their own sacrifices. It was a problem at first that I was only coming with a chicken, for typically the first visit necessitates the sacrifice of a sheep. That would have been a little too much for me anyways, and I would have simply enjoyed seeing the fish. After about 20 minutes of walking, we finally started descending into a gully. The vegetation grew up around us and it became much darker. We entered a flat spread out area, that was bordered at the far end with a stream. There were men sitting across the far end in a line, and there was chicken feathers plucked and strewn about the ground and a small fire was in the middle for cooking the sacrifice.
This was a place of death.
Looking to my left, I could see that two trees that were covered with the skins of sheep who had been sacrificed here.
I was told to take of my shoes, and we waited there while salif found a calabash and began sharing the homebrew beer with a few in the crowd. I was then invited to come out for the sacrifice. We greeted each of the older men along the way, and I tried to be as amiable as possible, so as to be sure that should any toes be stepped on, I would at least look like an ignorant tourist and not an disrespectful one.
We approached near the water and were led over to the far canyon wall. All the sudden flies filled the air, as we approached the altar of sacrifice. The altar was set on the wall and by all means, but for the flies, the feathers and the dried bood, it could have just been a normal outcropping of the rock. There were bending tree trunks growing out of the ground, and I stepped on these to get to the place of sacrifice so as to avoid touching anything wet. It could afterall, be blood, and with open blisters on my feet, I wasn not interested in exposing them to the blood of dead animals. The altar itself was covered in feathers, and flies surrounded the whole thing. Not one flew towards me. They were feasting.
As we approached the altar, salif explained that it is here where I speak. Benjamin said that it is at this point that I ask for anything that I want, whether it be work or money or a wife. It would seem this sacrifice really was there for the most individual of needs. I asked whether I should say it in English or French, and they said it didn’t matter. Following my own little rant, which was more like a prayer than anything else (as you can understand I was a little weirded out by the whole thing and my involvement in it), Salif turned towards the wall, prayed in the local language with another man standing there who also poured milk over the altar, and salif took the knife and cut the throat of the chicken, dripping its blood across the altar. It was squawking still until he cut what seemed to be its voicebox. He plucked a handful of feathers off of it and strewed it also across the altar. He then tossed the chicken down to the ground and we looked at it. It fell and then throbbed onto its back. Salif told Ben, who translated for me, that this is a good sign that means that all that I asked for will happen, and I will live for a long time.
At this point, I am wondering what the heck I was thinking coming out here…
We then took the chicken and crossed back across the group of older men and down into the gulch were there is the sacred pools. These sacred pools are filled with giant cat fish. It was only at this point that I was allowed to bring out my camera and record. These fish were quite large, as one might understand since they are fed meat and milk almost every day. Salif further cleaned the chicken, yanking out its entrails and inner organs. He took the entrails and dangled them before the fish, who rose out of the water to eat them.

Overall, I must admit that I was shocked into inaction by the whole event. My own superstitious and catholic guilt ridden mind played tricks on me later through the day as I rested back in the room. Was what I just did a sin? Was it simply improper. These thoughts did not plague me so, but as I began to feel sick once more later that day, I did begin to wonder.

It is amazing to think of how mechanically the whole act was done. I shouldn’t be surprised, however, for killing a chicken is an everyday affair here. It is no more bizarre than peeling potatoes or boiling water at home. The prayers of the sacrifice, said in local tongue were beyond my comprehension, and ben was reluctant to explain in full as we went along. I guess one thing I can take away from the experience is a continued sense of confoundment of this whole African religious affair. I can see why a church could take the easier path of condemnation rather than exploration.

guides on the street

6-15

I spent a good amount of yesterday just sitting around. I made the cd for Ya-Ya that I offered gratuitously. After having spent a good two hours at the market collecting ancient colonial coins, I made my way to the interent café with the intention of calling yaya from there. I spotted his friend who repaired my shoes\ I purchased some air time to try and call yaya, but to no avail. I was quite knackered myself, so I pressed to find some espresso. Yaya’s friend, who had made a preventative adjustment to my sandal at no cost the day before, asked if I would return the favor with a cadeaux today. I offered him an espresso and we sought on for a hotel that would offer one. Cady (prounced Cah-dee), a friend of Ya-ya’s who had already made some blunt overtures, strung along and here I found myself footing the bills. The espresso wasn’t bad, but I had to make the mistake of asking if people wanted a second round. What I got in tow was a heavy bill as he ordered a flag beer and she ordered a soda. The beer set me back by about two dollars, which is no large sum, but frustrating when it was not intentioned. I let it slide however. We then set out to find yaya so I could get him this cd. All the activity ensuite, however unplanned, was quite interesting. Yaya lives in the old quarter, which is next to the ancient mosque. As we walked to there, I was able to get some photos of the mosque, and while they were hoping for me to take a tour, I diverted them, with honest intentions, to another day. I was on a mission to find yaya. I had, afterall, spent the last 2 hours entertaining his friends in an effort to give him this cd.

We entered the old quarter, without having purchased a ticket, as we were on a mission and not set for tourism. This tourist quarter was quite similar to the slums that I had seen in Uganda. The difference here is that the houses were traditionally built. Yaya proved not to be at his house, so I left the cd with his brother. We set off to the cabare to find him. As we were walking along I came across a traditional music group practicing away. I pulled out my recorder to capture the moment with their permission.
Having left our well dreaded musicians, we came across a courtyard where they made traditional beer. Omar repaid my previous beer with this much cheaper, local one. It was quite enjoyable. I offered my first tast to the mama who made the beer, and she crossed herself before sipping. I showed her my cross, which she quite enjoyed.
Finally yaya arrived on the scene, acting like we were best friends. Having been searching for him all afternoon, I did feel to some degree that this sentiment was mutual. We did have a slight falling out later that night as he told me that his price for guiding through the mosque and the old town was 15,000. No thank you. We hit the music scene later that night, enjoying both traditional djembe music, as well as funky blues and jazz.
Heading back finally from the club around 12:30, I joined the guards outside the hostel, who offered me some of the bat that they were cooking. I took some nibblings, but couldn’t bring myself to dive head on into it.
6-14

bus- koudougo to Bobo
at the end of yesterdays journal, my ride arrived, and within 2 hrs I was on a bus once more. I had scored a fancy seat next to the second door in the back. If we were to go off road, this would mean a more bump ride, but the creative opportunities for leg space just could not be passed up.
I have just had a morning filled with an informal conversation regarding inculturation. I don’t want to commercialize my experience, but I do wish I could just record this at times. One of the great lines I heard was, pour former, on doit deformer. This was in reference to education, but it came up many times. It reminded me of what gaetano and I were talking about. He was saying that all forms of education is a form of alienation. While I can agree with that, the degree to which one becomes alienated is diffretn and should perhaps be laden with value judgments.
I have had some more near misses with fans. They are metal here as well, and it would hurt.

Now that I am here in bobo, I plan on trying to arrange my visit with the archbishop. As I am so close to vacation and in a new city, I am also allowing myself to take some tiem to relax, visit some of the historical cultural sites

An interesting question that will be running through my mind as I go to mali, would be what would it mean to have Christianity in this context. It goes back to a question that came in one of the One magazines: Could one be a follow of Christ while also still being a muslim? it asked it in a far more eloquent manner. Islam is embedded and intertwined with Arabic culture. Were one to become a Christian, would it mean an alienation from this? In the Egyptian context it is quite interesting, because there has been an arabization of the Christians without an islamization.
blog 6-13 – on

It would seem that I have taken some serious time away from blogging. It was probably the inspiration of bob, the 6 year traveling Australian which inspired me to take up again. Besides, I have long had the desire, but not had the energy or the privacy.

So it is important, I guess, to bring myself up to date.

I moved to Burkina faso 2 weeks ago. I took it very very easy at first. I think it was the seduction of family, and the desire to chill out after traveling so much. I spent a good amount of time just chatting with gaetano, and enjoying, for the first time in a long time, some one on one mentoring. After a week of that, with some scattered research stabs, I was antsy to put the pen down and set off on interviews once again.

The week that gaetano went off to benin, afforded me the opportunity to get out of the house, go to late night events, see the town, and overall be free. Now that didn’t necessarily lead to me meeting many people. One day walking along, however, I noticed this white guy wandering along. I was making my way in that direction, towards the taxi stand, having just come from swimming with Leone, a French girl I had met when watching the emperors weekly fake departure ritual. He turned the corner. When I reached the other end, he was coming back again, however, and I greeted him with a bonjour. He responded, however ,with a “hello, how are you.” I swiveled around right away. An Anglophone! I am not language prejudiced, but in the same way that skin color or nationality create these little forums for connection, so does language. This is mostly true, however, in a situation where you are the minority. I told him I would be at the concert downtown later that night, and he agreed to meet me there.

I arrived around 8:10. Later than my intention, but I have perhaps become a little too accustomed to African time.
He had met another local who spoke English and invited him in with us. Now, I, unfortunately, do get very suspicious of locals who you meet just on the street, because it can be a signal that they are looking for something more. I have this particular prejudice for those people who you meet in a context that would not necessarily be considered typical in the US, i.e. someone just approaches you in the street. While for the young traveler, it is exciting to have a chance to talk to a “local”, the strings typically attached to these hungry friends can become a little too much. All the same, his friend, while eating on our ticket, didn’t ask for anything else. Perhaps that was already too much, however. Maybe I should just do it the African way, order my own food, and then say to the person there, you’re invited. This typically leads to them graciously declining, but with such gentlemen, it would probably backfire however.
It was great to have a chance meeting that led to great conversation touching everything from religion to traveling etc. Bob has been traveling for the past 6 yrs. I later found out that this was sparked by a brain aneurysm which left him in the hospital for 8 months. He is a budget traveler, and uses the money earned from renting his apt out in Sydney to pay for his travels. Incredible. Both the simplicity and vivacity with which he travels is inspirational. We were out till 1 am or so, the latest, in fact, I had been out since I arrived in Burkina.
I was feeling the lack of sleep the next day, when I rose at 5:30 to head off to mass. Bob said that he might meet me there. I gave him the wrong info, so he showed up halfway through the service, but it was probably better that way, as I imagine he might not have wanted to sit through the whole 3 hrs. the mass was followed by a procession with the eucharist around the block, stopping twice to pray. I decided to have no shame, and moved about the event recording. Following the mass and the procession, bob and I sought out food. Having found ourselves omlettes and yogurt, I offered to show him around, and help buy him some pants. When we left later that afternoon, we said that we should try to get together again the next day, but I grabbed his email address all the same, just in case it didn’t work out. Little did I know that later that day I would be moving in next door to him.
Indeed, in the taxi on the way back, I got a call from gaetano saying they had gotten back. With one more guest already in the house, and one more on the way, it was time to move on. One has to be wary when one gets too comfortable in a living situation when on the road.

baked beans

08/06/07
As I sit here, eating cold baked beans directly from a can, I come to realize how culinarly inept I am, or rather, allow myself to become. Even with my own earlier efforts at creativity, as I added Ginger and even cinnamon bark to my rice, the latter to no effect, I have somehow allowed dormant baking skills, present from the days of my first adding cinnamon to chocolate cookies or mint to my brownies to remain status quo: dormant. These past few days as I have been contemplating my choice between living in Oregon as a youth minister, or teaching English in france, I had decided on france for its opportunity to improve my language skills and reconnect with the French family. I even contemplated that with a little discipline, I could explore the vast world of francophone theology. Perhaps there is an even more pressing need, which will require perhaps even more discipline: learning how to actually cook. It is only fitting that I do this in france, as it remains, iconically, the center of the occidental culinary world.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Rainy days are here again

There is something strange that happens here, when it rains. The winds somce sweeping in, and the dry dust, whose presence is so often only evidenced by the subtle change of the color of your clothes, becomes swept up into the air. Should the gale prove strong enough, and the rain arrive late enough, day turns to night. Suddenly one feels thrust into an apocolypse, and a feeling far more primal takes over as the sun disappears, swallowed by the earth beneath our feet.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Long time no blog,
I have certainly been slacking of late with regards to this blog. I can’t say that I have any good reason for my absence. I’ve simply been busy. I moved to Ouagadougo, Burkina Faso a week and a half ago, and I have moved in with my French professor and his family, Gaetano Deleonibus, who have been here for the past month. It is the first time I have been in a “family situation” since I came to Africa. It can be a rewarding and consuming experience. Gaetano and Gina have twin girls nearing the age of 10 named sophie and Elena. They are quite the handful, particularly when you add in the Goat and the two chicks who have joined the family here in Burkina Faso. (I have wanted a goat since I came here, but with the constant bleating and pooping all over the place, I think my future backyard could do without it.) Living in a family again and sharing stimulating conversations with Gaetano and Gina has been a real blessing, and I have used this past week as an opportunity to take a breather as I finished up 2 months of irregular, but constant travel. Now, coffee table covered in Burkinabe French theology texts and each day set aside for interviews, I am back in action. Ouagadougo certainly isn’t the type of city that you fall in love with at first sight, but the people here continue to impress me with their openness and friendliness. Course, often if you encouter these sentiments in the street, then it typically has some sort of price tag attached. I think my favorite cry from the merchants is “C’est gratuit à voir”, which translates to, It’s free to look! I also enjoy the hawkers who try and stop me with niceties and small talk to look at their hand carried wares. I typically invite them to walk with me and ask them how their family, wife, kid, house and goat are. After a few blocks, they typically get the idea that I’m not in the market. I tell them right away, but it typically takes some time for them to get the picture.

I had a very humorous “cross cultural” experience the other day. Jumping from country to country, culture to culture, even being sensitive to local customs, one can make a wrong move. I had gone to mass at a church where a waiter I had met a few days earlier was a member of the choir. After the service, we went to his house, where I of course met his mother, grand niece, sister, brother’s wife, and his wife. We were sitting down and his wife came to me with a gourd bowl with water in it. I just stuck out my right hand and set it in the water to start washing it. This is a typical move in Ghana for when one eats. I noticed right away an odd look on their faces, and it was then that I realized that they were offering me water to drink, not to wash my hands with! Here, I can’t stop apologizing through

Friday, May 25, 2007

In Burkina

after a slow crawl north, which involved archbishops, anthropologists, italians and hernia surgeries (not my own), I have made it to burkina faso. My number here is +26678022119. My physical address is take the second six meters, after the pont, on charles de gaul, take the first right and the second house on the right. there are no street names or house numbers here, and this is the best i got. Any mail sent here probably would not reach me before i move again..

more to come

I have alot to catch up, but i have just arrived in Burkina, and this is the first time in a while my access has allowed me to update.... enjoy!
5/18
Yesterday, I once more packed my bags, said my goodbyes, caught a taxi, found myself a bus and left again. I have gotten fart too good at inadequately saying goodbye. I have perhaps taken too much to heart the advice that Ignatius once gave to his society and, quite the revers of the son of man, I leave like a thief in the night. I was only just beginning to get my feet on the ground there. It is quite funny, in fact. Just the day before I left, I got a call from one of the other fellows mother in laws, who is a Ghanaian. Her son even lives on campus, just around the corner from where I live. Time was too short for me, however, and this local connection remained unexplored and unenjoyed, as I departed Accra. It is only my experience at the Akrofi-Christaller Memorial Research Center (ACMC.org) that just might call me back, to even live here in fact. Their Masters to PHD program is attractive and their professors (particularly their director Dr. Kwame Bediako) are inspiring. Who would think that the country that seemingly left the least relational appeal for me, could become a 2-8 year home.
Anyways, the other aspect of leaving, which is not easy for me, is packing. I have done remarkably well in not collecting too many things as I travel. The exceptions being those times when I knew I had an opportunity to ship something home. I have once again, enlarged my already heavy traveling library and have added another 10 books to be placed on my bookshelf at home. I am an intellectual packrat and my collecting will put me into an early grave, or at least an early wheel chair. My back started hurting even before, I finished packing, just from the thought of carrying this around two more countries. Every time I pack, I encounter this strong desire to throw out half of everything I own. Maybe this hails to my Irish roots more than anything else: packing grows in me the desire to follow the spirit of the wandering ascetic monk. Unfortunately, foresight holds my hand, for I know that a simpler mike might regret it when he has worn the same shirt 4 days in a row a week later. Upon leaving Burkina, however, my last long term country, I will happily jet to the left and right items which have long been worn through or which will have no use for me in the comfortable life of Oregon.

It is funny how I can write two paragraphs on leaving without even mentioning where I am going. I began yesterday my overland journey north to Burkina Faso. I am currently in Kumasi where I am visiting The most Right Reverend Archbishop Peter Sarpong, who has been spearheading the issue of inculturation in Ghana. The bus ride to here, which was supposed to be 4 hours, ended up being closer to 7 after 2 breakdowns and a very slow engine (think of the steam engine that could going up the hills…. I think I can, I think I can). I am spending a few days here, visiting kumasi with the bishop, attending mass with him and then moving north once more towards tamale. From Tamale I head to Navrongo, where there is the largest mud cathedral in Ghana. Then on from there to Ouaga. It would seem I have a whirl wind of experiences ahead of me.



5/19/07

At the zoo we are always told not to feed the animals. What do you do when the animals try to feed you? I visited the kumasi zoo yesterday. The lack of variety of animals living there is made up for the proximity that you get to them. Indeed, I spent a good 10-15 minutes hanging out on the otherside of the bars of a chimpanzee. We had the most basic of hand gesture mimicking going on between us. I would put out my hand, he would put out his hand. I would point to the right, he would point to the right. Then at one point, he grabbed some papaya off the ground, lifted it and offered it to me. What do you do? Well, I did the best thing that I could think of, put out my hand and took his offer.
So what next? I had a piece of papaya, gifted to me from the zoo floor by a chimpanzee. I pretended to eat it and passed it back. He then sniffed it, and perhaps seeing that I didn’t eat any, passed it once again back to me. This activity went back and forth perhaps three times before I decided we had reached our language barrier and I walked on. It was nice to visit something normal.

While in Kumasi, I also attended the military museum. Typically I find such places to be generic and repetitive, but I was in for a real treat as the guide led me through and explained the entire history surrounding the 1900 Asante war, a conflict between the British and the Asante. The war began surrounding issues of the golden stool, the symbol of the Asante people. This stool is one of three artifacts that are sacred to the people, and it is said to hold the soul of the asante people. The british govenor at the time, having already deported the asante king to the Seychelles islands, demanded this stool, so as to “break the will” of the people. One woman stood in defiance, when the elders themselves were ready to fold, and began a war that lasted for 9 months.


5/22

A two weekends ago I went to the cape coast to visit the slave forts. Clean, sturdy and whitewashed, these buildings stand as a memento of the greatest tragedies to befall us in history, the mass transit of human beings sold as property. I had not done much research on the sites before going there, and found my own imagination to be inadequate to grasp the grave injustice that had been committed here. Attending a seminar for half of the week following on Christianity slave trade and anti-slave trade, I was able to better fill in the picture. Visiting the forts, the visitor unfortunately gets the idea that the story is black and white. The truth of the matter is that slavery and slave trading had long existed before the Europeans ever arrived to the continent. Arriving at the trading ports along the sea, they took advantage of this existing slave trade. Indigenous slave trade and slave holding has been maintained in Africa since time immemorial and exists today even still. People were regularly captured as prisoners of war and made into slaves to work in the ground or in the fields.
I am not trying to lessen the gravity of the tragedy of the slave trade. Within this mass forced migration, the gravest and most brutal offences against the human person were committed. Understanding slavery in its context, we can far better understand the long lasting ramifications of slavery. Indigenous slaves were kept here in Ghana, and many of them were attached to a family and became a part of it, with its own costs however. This person, attached to a family was devoid of privileges: they do not go to school; they do not inherit. This “stain” of slavery on a person still existed and is long remembered. It affects issues even today of chieftaincy and inheritance. I have even heard, though have not seen or experienced, that this form of indigenous slavery is going on today here in Ghana. Slavery was only outlawed here with british colonial rule.
The seminar that I attended did an excellent job in highlighting the impact that Africans in diaspora were having on the thought regarding the institution. For example, there was a free African brazilian catholic named Lorenzo in 1600’s who was quite influential within brazillian society and even spoke before the pope in italy regarding the plight of Africans. The pope responded by issuing a papal bull that forbade catholics from participating in any way in the slave trade. We followed more in-depth the movement towards the abolition of the slave trade in britian in 1807. I found it to be quite interesting that the initial stirrings of abolition as a movement came out of the Pennsylvania colony in the US.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Embassy: the Madhatter’s tea party

Embassy: the Madhatter’s tea party

I went to the Burkina Faso embassy the other day. I was happy to see that they only required me to fill one form and hand it in, rather than the typical process of multiple copies and the applicants expense. The process was moving along rather quickly and smoothly, a great contrast to my experience at the embassy of Ghana in Cairo. I was finally sent through to the representative of Burkina Faso to pay the final fees. He gave me a form regarding a reciprocity agreement between his country and mine. It seems that Burkinabe students can receive a five year multiple entry visa to the US. He then told me that he could not give me a 3 month multiple entry visa. Here I hit confusion.
“What do you mean?” I asked, “will I only get a single entry visa?”
“I have to give you the five year visa, otherwise it will be like breaking the agreement.”
Who am I to argue with diplomats. I now have a five year multiple entry visa into Burkina Faso. Maybe I should invest in some land there.

Letter home

Dear Friends and family.
It has been a long time since I have written a letter out to you. I have tried to keep my blog updated ( www.mikeintranslation.blogspot.com ), but with regular traveling, working and illnesses, even that has become difficult.. So here comes the big update. Below is regarding my current experience in Ghana, and following that is a longer email regarding my experience these past four months. Feel free to skip straight to the photos in my facebook albums at:
Egypt:
http://willamette.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2015858&l=29c09&id=27500551
Ethiopia:
http://willamette.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2015722&l=ae0fe&id=27500551
http://willamette.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2014602&l=a62df&id=27500551
http://willamette.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2014551&l=dbeb1&id=27500551
Tanzania
http://willamette.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2012271&l=849bf&id=27500551
http://willamette.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2012859&l=5a10a&id=27500551

Well, let’s all take a deep breath and dive on in!

Ghana:
I have now been in Ghana for nearly two weeks and the country is slowly beginning to grow on me. I had some initial set back with my research, finding that every number and email address I had for theologians here were wrong, and I got diagnosed with three tropical illness at one time: slight cases of typhoid and malaria, and a whole nest of intestinal flagellates. While I am sure the first two were false positives, I took the meds regardless, and felt that this was one case where the cure was certainly worse than the disease. By the end of my first week, however, things for the research started to look up, and the health situation was in hand.

I am living in a wonderful place that is owned by the hospitaler order of St. John. This order was initially started during the crusades to help house and protects pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem. I can assure you that they know nothing about the holy grail or the bloodline of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Seems that the interest of the knights templar as portrayed in the Da Vinci code was not transmitted to their peers.

My little room is located on the room of this guest house, so I get a regular breeze, which is essential in this hot and sticky environment, and I have my very large porch, where I can read, stretch, sun or enjoy beers by moonlight with some of the other guests. I am living with three girls from Holland doing research here, one catholic priest from Eritrea finishing up a masters at Legon, another catholic priest getting a degree in music from legon and two other Ghanaian students, as well as two people on staff. We are nice happy little transitory family, even though it is few and far between that we are often in the same room. Regardless, I have plenty of chances for good conversation whether it be regarding theology, cultural experiences, food, or just regular chatting about the day.

I have had a chance to sink my toes somewhat into the religious scene here. Ghana is submersed in religion. Everywhere you go you will find tro-tros (minibus taxis) labeled with religious sayings, or shops named with some sort of religious affiliation. The Pentecostal charismatic culture seems to be the prevailing religious culture here, as many mainline churches respond to it and even adopt its techniques and practices. While many of the styles of music and preaching seems a direct copycat of the Pentecostal churches in the US, they play off the local culture successful, addressing fears of witchcraft and curses, while also including the more urban desires into their prayers of deliverance. I attended one of the prayer camps that is held three times a week during the night in my neighborhood. What an interesting experience. There were probably five different church groups in the area. The first one, the folks were shouting and yelling while standing in a circle. There was a “possessed” woman in the center, who one member and the pastor seemed to be regularly trying to exorcise. At two points she got up, pointed at me and called me a demon. Not exactly a hospitable environment. I just stood there pitying this woman, who, in my mind, did need some serious help, but it seemed that her own illness was being reinforced by this business. The second group I attended welcomed me to join their circle. Seeing that I didn’t understand Twi, another man came to translate for me. Once even the pastor asked to pray over me. While the prosperity gospel is not my style of Christianity, being there was reminiscent of other nighttime prayer services I have done with youth groups in the US. I was happy to at least be welcomed.

My interviews have continued to aid me as I discover what the role of the theologian is in this whole business of making the church relevant to people. It certainly can be difficult for the theologian here, especially with the widespread prevalence of the prosperity gospel, but they are hanging in there.

Today at the catholic church there was a fascinating blend of English, twi and even some latin. I went out of step when the latin came in, but the people around me didn’t and that is the real important thing. It was a beautiful service with a real diversity of music in it. More important for me, the preaching was excellent. It was engaging, challenging and theologically sound.

Ethiopia and Egypt:

The last three months have really been a whole other story in what started off as completely unfamiliar grounds. Landing in Ethiopia, a place where Christianity has existed since the 3rd century, I discovered a whole different and fully developed world of liturgy, theology, spirituality and lived religious life. Indeed, this Christianity pervaded every aspect of life. I certainly almost felt overwhelmed with the complexity and foreignness of it all.

I had intended, on arriving in Ethiopia, to attach myself to an organization so as to add a little more order to my life. That intention quickly dissipated as opportunity dropped on my plate. In my first week, I attended a symposium on religious life in Ethiopia that unveiled to me the many different identity issues facing the Catholic Church as it has often neglected the Ethiopian context as it has lived and worked there. It was a shock for me, who has been using culture and the necessity of inculturation as my paradigm for the past year, to see how my church, for which it should be so easy to inculturate given the vast resources and traditions available, failed. It pushed me to understand much more fully the history of this continent and to understand the psyche of the missionary. The former is much easier than the latter. I will spare you the details of this complex situation, but to paint a general picture, it somewhat suffices to point out two issues. To begin, there are, in effect, two catholic churches in Ethiopia. The first is the Ethiopian Catholic Church, whose historical roots lie in the mission work of Justin de Jacobis, and whose liturgy is based on the tradition in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. This church falls under the congregation for oriental churches at the Vatican. The second church is a series of Vicariates throughout southern Ethiopia. Their historical mission precedent would be Bishop Massaja, and their liturgy is a translated roman rite. They fall under the wing of propaganda fidem at the Vatican. The situation is further complicated as the Vatican itself has said that the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is a sister church, and is thus off limits to the proselytizing efforts of missionaries. The struggle between these two Vatican institutions is reflected in the different ideologies on the ground. It leaves one asking many questions about the church and about the role, purpose and limits of mission. That is all put rather broadly, and the situation is much more refined than described above, but, trying to keep even the general situation in my mind as I maneuvered through to understand this from a missiological perspective was enough to give anyone a headache.

I became dislocated by opportunity once more, as I was invited at the end of this week long symposium to join one of the French missionaries with his parents on a voyage through the northern part of Ethiopia to visit the rock hewn churches of Tigray. Joining us, would be this missionaries confrere, another French priest, and expert in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Typical French scholar that he was, it seemed impossible to get any response to my questions, but another question. Sitting in that car, one began to understand why the Greeks put Socrates to death. Such a process goes far beyond unnerving. For two weeks we engaged in this religious tourism. Traveling with Fr. Emmanuel, however, we were able to get under the skin of these churches and better understand their meaning and purpose. Indeed, I had perhaps the most unorthodox but interesting exposure to these churches. Our trip ended with difficulty, as our car rolled off the road and we, all safe and unharmed, came a little closer to our maker that day. We were victims of the logic of local culture, as a man had crossed in front of our fast car three times as we were driving down the road. He escaped and killed those demons or shadows following him, thus ensuring his long life, and escaped from the long arm of the law for nearly killing us. Close as we became during our travels, my two priest friends invited me to live in their community.

With antsy feet, after a week in Addis, I took to the road again, this time traveling south to the borana people to visit with missionaries working down there. It was quite an interesting experience, for these missioners were first generation missionaries. They were the first Christian missionaries to leave the city and move into the bush. In a world that is increasingly becoming smaller and smaller, I went to see them and the Borana people, for whom the word globalization does not enter their vocabulary. The borana are a proud people, who have managed to maintain many of their strong cultural traditions. I felt like I had stepped out of the city and into the bible. Here I was amongst semi-nomadic pastoralists who have held onto their traditions because of distance and isolation as well as their strong pride for their history. I was able to discuss with Ide and to learn about what it was like when they first came out into the Bush, and how they initially approached the borana’s. It was wonderful encounter this situation of cultural rendezvous without it also containing the historical baggage of colonialism and cultural imperialism.

Returning to Addis, I was able, as I had wished, to lend a little more of my time away, aiding The Catholic Near East Welfare Association, a catholic development agency in the area, and adding some medical skills to my resume as I dressed wounds at Mother Theresa’s. The first certainly gave me another insight into the state of the Catholic Church in Ethiopia, as I learned how dependent this church was on foreign assistance. This unsustainable state becomes manifest in the congregation, as upon converting, they ask what the church will for them now. Thus the Catholic Church is viewed as an NGO. Indeed, there is much more to it, but for the sake of brevity, I will avoid the intricacies.

The work at Mother Theresa’s proved to be far more dramatic than I might have ever expected. In the US, an amateur as me would not be allowed near a patient. Learning on the job, I found myself irrigating flesh wounds my first day of volunteering. Soon, following the heels of my friend Paul, I was assisting him dress bed wounds, feed children with mental disabilities and visit those in the AIDS ward. It was a striking experience. The concerns here were not thinking of some creative way to introduce culture. It reminded me that if theology does not move from here, from people’s basic life issues, then it has no meaning. Compassion perhaps transcends these contextual boundaries.

I came closer at times to bloated and gangrene wounds that I ever thought my eyes or my nose could handle. I began to understand how a doctor could seem at times so dispassionate. For the simple sake of keeping my lunch down, I had to turn off, different parts of my brain, and approach a wound as a mechanic might. Scrub, scrub, clip, cut, clean and wrap, was my song, and finishing this final verse, I would send a patient on his or her way. Is this healthy? Perhaps not, but I was at least able to work efficiently that way, even if the sights and smells trailed back home with me in my mind.

Feeding the young girls with mental disabilities, I was perhaps able to reawake the compassion that was only living in my hands as I dressed wounds. Many of these girls were found abandoned on the street. At Mother Theresa’s clinic they had a home, food, and people around to care for them. Some were incapacitated, staring into the distance while wailing. A few other girls would run up to me, always silent, but grab my hand and keep me company. Feeding by hand one particularly rowdy girl, I found that singing to her slowly and softly the old song “Blue moon” she calmed down enough where I could place food into her mouth. It was an experience that calmed and rejuvenated me as well.

The Missionaries of charity, by the way, do no fundraising for their work. Yet across the world people are leaving work or school to volunteer ranging from a few weeks to a few years. Everything comes to them by donation. Even within the volunteer lounge, I found crackers, jams and cheeses that are donated from the airlines exclusively to the missionaries of charity.

I never expected my year to take me to a clinic as such. I certainly never thought that I myself would handle, treat and dress wounds. I have been in hospitals with ministry to the sick before, but it has always been in a sterile environment. Death, illness and suffering are “clean” processes in the US, and we who are visitor and observant, are distanced from the suffering of the person afflicted. In Ethiopia, physically closer to such illness, I seemed to find my own ways mentally to distance myself. Living as a temporary resident in a city, I also find myself fighting to find my own place in my surroundings. Throughout my whole year, I have felt at times that my life can be consumed by the small battles that are fought, won or lost, and forgotten the next day. Where will my next cheap meal come from, what is the fair price from here to there, how can I keep ants out of my cookies, are examples of a few of these little issues that rarely in themselves carry on to the next day. It’s funny, because thinking back; I could easily afford fiscally to leave these questions and basic issues behind me. I could eat at the ritz everyday, pay whatever is asked, no matter how outrageous it would sound to someone living there, or consume rather than preserve. I don’t know if I would have cherished my experience as much as I do, if I were to live differently. I have the chance, because of my own make up (frugal fellow that I am) and because of the circumstances that I set myself in, to really put my foot in step with my neighbors and try to live as if I were really living here, and not just a passing tourist. Course, that doesn’t take away the sore back from washing my clothes in a bucket.

My time in Ethiopia culminated and ended with Holy week. Lent had passed by almost without notice for me, having left behind all the religious cultural markers that I use to make sense of this time of the year, but one could not help but fall into the rhythm of the week of Pain (translation from the Ge’ez of the Ethiopian equivalent of holy week). Indeed, I spent over 24 hrs in the church that week, in prayer, performing 200 prostrations and finally ending with the joyous celebration of Easter, heralded in with cystrum, symbol and drum. The feeling of joy at that final Easter celebration was palatable. For the Ethiopians, they starkly mark out the season of lent through observances such as abstaining from all animal products, fasting before church finishes at 3 pm, and excluding any musical instrument from the church service. For the first time in 50 days, drums were heard in the church and the people responded.

I left Ethiopia happy to be on to new experiences. My close friends (Jesuit novices who I knew from Tanzania, then volunteering at Mother Theresa’s in Ethiopia), had left the country to return to their formation in Tanzania, my employer friends were off in New York, and my regular moving had not allowed me to follow up on the few chance acquaintances I had made along the way. Furthermore, as interesting as the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church were, I knew that a full dedication to the study of these would take years and not the few months I had left in my time. I traveled on to Egypt, for a little vacation time with my sister. She was flying over from Rome and it was the first time I would see anyone from home in 8 months.

Grace and I ran up and down the country, visiting ancient site upon ancient site, boating on the Nile, haggling at the market while diverting the more aggressive salesmen and finally finding ourselves too exhausted to see much of the night life. We were shocked at the age of these antiquated artifacts around us. The graffiti itself is older than most buildings one sees in the US! Seeing crosses inscribed in some of the different temples, it began to provoke in my mind questions about what sort of transition there was from the tradition pharonic religions to Christianity, and how did that prior religion influence latter.

My own plans to leave Cairo for Accra were delayed, as I got ejected from the airport. For once, my American passport wouldn’t get me a visa on demand at the airport in Accra. So I got stuck in Cairo for another week. Thus the bureaucratic struggles began. I found the embassy of Ghana to be courteous, but disinclined to being flexible with their spaced out consulate hours. With a week to spare, I did my best to further my research work and to pursue these questions provoked in the ancient temples turned churches. I visited Coptic churches, and after a brief inspiration, went to the cathedral to get permission to stay at a monastery. I was told this was a relatively painless process, but the three days I spent waiting for the bureaucracy to push through speak a different story. It further goes to prove that while the government has high claims to slow bureaucratic systems, religion invented it, and to this day is seeking to perfect it. I headed off for the monasteries, with an aftertaste of inhospitality in my mouth. I arrived and found a compassionate ear amongst one of the long-term guests at the monastery. He helped me find lodging in town. The following day, providence struck, and I was able to sleep in the monastery of Boromos. I did not have enough time to properly experience the monastic life, indeed that might take years, but my brief exposure to their desert experience left me curious and intrigued.

I am sure I have left you all a little exhausted if you have managed to read to this point. Please don’t be a stranger however, and send me news of your own lives. I certainly don’t expect the six page monster that you find here, but just a few words letting me know how life is getting on with you. I will be back in the US this August, and probably will be living in Oregon this coming year.

Sincerely yours,
Mike