Little by little grow the bananas. (Congolese proverb)

 

S%7Vc5SBQBmullHF4LIoDw_thumb_6541

Stalks of bananas are sold everywhere along the road in Burundi

Five years ago when we were looking for a house to rent in Bujumbura, one of the things I had truly hoped for was a yard with at least one or two fruit trees.  Fortunately for us, the rental house we liked best had two mango trees, an avocado tree and an orange tree.  These fruits all grow in abundance here.  But the main fruit crop for Burundi is bananas.  Our yard was lacking a banana tree.  So one day I asked our knowledgeable house-worker, Gilbert, if we (he) could plant a banana tree in our yard.  The answer was of course, “Yes!”  (Maybe he was thinking what took you so long to ask.)

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_5ff0

Our neighbors banana trees

While I looked online to find out about how to grow a banana tree, Gilbert had already asked the neighbor, who had several trees for a baby banana “sucker”.  Before I could finish reading about how bananas grow and what they need, he had already dug a large, deep hole and put the baby banana plant into it.

 

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_5ff2

 Gilbert knew about planting banana trees.

Then he proceeded to dump our daily compost around it and water it.  Clearly he didn’t need my help or the internet’s

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_6021

I was surprised at how quickly it began to form new leaves.  Within no time it was becoming a substantial tree with large dancing leaves.  In just a little over a year it grew its first banana stalk with a banana flower.  As the flower opens you see the little green banana fingers beginning to form, ending in the flower at the end of the stalk.  Gilbert found a strong wooden pole to prop up the branch with the stalk on it as the bananas would need to grow for another few months.  I counted 9 “hands” of bananas at that time.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_61d5

In about five months it’s looking very healthy.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_64a8

Beginning of the first stalk of bananas.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_64a9

Stalk continuing to grow and a new baby tree is growing up next to it.

As we left for the U.S. in December I was wondering if we would completely miss the harvest of this first stalk of bananas.  It was almost ready.  Just before we returned some of the friends who stayed at our house while we were gone said they had eaten some of our new, ripe bananas.  We arrived back to find our refrigerator full of multiple, large hands of bananas and there were still some on the tree.  We had not missed out completely on the harvest!  We ate many, shared many with others and made lots of banana pulp for the freezer.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_65fe

The last of the bananas on the stalk, Gilbert left for us to see and eat.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_65ff

The bananas were good, but the thing that I enjoyed most was watching the process of the tree growing and producing fruit.  It has become an object lesson to me of progressive, ongoing, steady growth that is so often unperceivable day by day but its cumulative effect becomes visible as it produces the fruit it was made to bear.  I walked past this tree every day but only every so often saw a demonstration of its growth in a new leaf, another inch in height and eventually in the stalk of bananas.  And all that happened without much help from humans (once it was planted).  So on days of unperceivable growth in some arena of my life (relationships, faith, character, understanding, work, activities) I’m encouraged to think about this banana tree, which is already growing several other new trees to make more stalks, and affirmed that there is grace at work in me growing the fruit I was made to bear.

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Behold The Graduates!

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_6607

Behold the graduates! Entering by department.

Yesterday was another HAU graduation.  Four hundred and sixty-five graduates with B.A.’s, Master’s, medical degrees or licensure of one sort and another.  A day of pomp and circumstance, formality and ediquette, crowds and colors all flowing over into deep joy and celebration.  For individuals who have worked hard to obtain their degree it represents an in credible achievement.  For families who have sacrificed, supported and gone into debt to promote their child’s education, it represents a unified pride and future hope for a better life. For those of us who have participated in some way through teaching, administrating, supporting financially, it is the evidence of our endeavors on behalf of others.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_6606

Faculty entering, Jason Fader among them.

It is easy in the day to day-ness of these endeavors to loose sight of this moment of celebration and accomplishment.  It is easy in the struggles of teaching and administrating in underserved, under-developed systems and places to feel overwhelmed by the stresses and problems to diminish these moments of progress and completion.  It is easy to not pay attention to this day of celebration because of all the other days of irritation and frustration.  That, however, would not only be a shame and a missed opportunity for thankfulness but a negation of God’s grace and the slow turning of justice in a place that has long-suffered for it.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_6609

In Burundi tradition the Tambours announce and open the ceremony.

The word “behold” means to “see with attention”, “lay eyes on”.  It’s an English word we don’t use in day-to-day language but is relegated to the stage and Christmas time.  But it seems an appropriate word for this event and these graduates.  So:

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_6608

Randy, Eric and Alliance leading the 38 medicine graduates.

Behold the graduates in their accomplishments!!!  Behold their families full of pride!  Behold the professors, administrators, all who work at the University to combine to make this education possible!  Behold the supporters and benefactors, financial and otherwise, who provide the unseen but necessary links to accomplish this task.  Behold the justice of God coming down through the lives of people moving forward with hope!

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_660d

Graduates throwing hats in air as they are congratulated by Rector.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_6612

Some of medical graduates and faculty

 

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_660f

Families celebrating their pride in their graduates.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_6615

A model of HAU made by engineering students.

Thankful we can be a part of this great movement of grace, both in the daily work and this moment of culminating celebration!

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Snipets

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_5b2d

Beautiful Burundi in the rainy season

Realizing I haven’t posted anything on this blog for nearly two months causes me to want to share some of the highlights of the past while. We are so thankful to have the privilege of living in this beautiful country, working along side others of like mind who desire to promote the education, leadership and well-being of its people.  So here’s some snipets of what we’ve been up to.

IMG_20180829_184342190

Advanced English class debating an issue.

Teaching. Again I taught an evening, graduate course of Advanced English for an intensive 2½ weeks.  Also, I taught an English 2 course for academic writing with nearly 50 students (medical and theology).  I was able to have most of the medical students for two semesters, which was really nice for continuity.  Randy has also been teaching many classes this semester as well as his daily morning seminar.

IMG_20181121_140126024_HDR

Students taking their final exam.

IMG_20181125_124940252

Driving through Bugarama where everyone wants to sell you something through the window of your car.

Trips to the interior.  We make frequent trips to Kibuye, which is a 3-hour drive on a windy, two-lane road with many trucks, potholes, people and other risks for accidents so we are always thankful for safety and no mishaps.  In the last two months I’ve gone up three times—to observe and encourage at the mission school, for the opening of the pizza oven the team built and just recently for the annual Saturday Thanksgiving (complete with it’s own 5K turkey trot for those of us who braved the rain!)

IMG_20170915_110818542

Students at Kibuye Hope Academy.

IMG_20180929_164710754

inauguration of the pizza oven.

IMG_20181124_084554159

5K Turkey Trotters braving the rain!

IMG-20181125-WA0004

Our sister team at Kibuye with a few visitors and Burundian docs

New adventures. Some friends from Bujumbura are working with another school about an hour out of the city.  They invited me to visit their school where they have started a new kindergarten program and have just opened a library for the students. I’ve been able to join them three times thus far and hope to continue, as the students are so enthusiastic and desirous to learn.

IMG_20181004_103756525

Students at Muramvya enjoying the library.

Refreshment. Two avenues of refreshment for us in the past few months have been our church home group and a week away at a very quiet, nothing to do place in Rwanda.  Our home group is made up of other ex-pats who are native English speakers but from a variety of countries, backgrounds and work within the country. We meet once a week for a simple dinner of soup/bread and a time of thanksgiving and prayer.  As we are a team of just two, this group has become a really encouragement to us.  Secondly, we were able to carve out a week to go away “on retreat” which was really helpful for de-stressing and nurturing our spiritual health.

IMG_20181018_103711475_HDR

View outside our retreat site.

For the precariousness of life, we all need support, encouragement and affirmation. ( This is our house worker who recently replaced all the old window screens of our rental house.  Pretty sure this would not fall under worker safety standards!)  We are thankful for the many ways we are cared for.

IMG_20181122_172507984_HDR

Replacing window screens.

Sometimes we need someone to step in and save us.  (This rabbit was a gift to Randy from a parent of a patient most likely to be eaten, instead he passed it on to one of the Kibuye kids to join her other three rabbits.)  We are daily saved in the protection of our heavenly Father.

IMG_20181123_125853700

A life saved!

Sometimes we need to celebrate the beauty around us. (A small attempt to capture the beauty of this country.)  We continue to see the beauty and wonder of God’s hand at work in and around us.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_6531

d3UgOo7+QmWMQPbWTzbvRA_thumb_6530

Wall hanging made from Burundian fabric.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Rejoicing and Giving Thanks

“Give thanks to the Lord for He is good,

His love endures forever,

to him who alone does great wonders,

His love endures forever.”

(Ps 136:1,3)

IMG_20180917_090136050_HDR

For the Trinity team of nine who came for a week,

            We are rejoicing and giving thanks!

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_64bc

For their care for us and others in many tangible ways,

            We are rejoicing and giving thanks!

IMG_20180919_132239615

For giving their expertise and sharing their skills,

            We are rejoicing and giving thanks!

IMG_20180918_085256162_HDR

For encouraging others through a smile, a shared moment,

            We are rejoicing and giving thanks!

IMG_20180919_113624311

For their encouragement, flexibility and eagerness to participate,

            We are rejoicing and giving thanks!

IMG_20180917_145708305

For making new friends and finding common ground,

            We are rejoicing and giving thanks!

IMG_20180919_122249885_HDR

For opening their lives and invigorating hope,

            We are rejoicing and giving thanks!

IMG_20180919_142712436

For witnessing the works of the Lord to tell others about,

            We are rejoicing and giving thanks!

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_64ec

For sharing the beauty of another piece of God’s great earth,

            We are rejoicing and giving thanks!

C5cLtpT6RzWJvW5wtWbl3A_thumb_36d7

For the answered prayers for safety, wellness, patience and grace,

            We are rejoicing and giving thanks!

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_64b8

For the unspoken blessings given to each one of us by His fatherly love,

            We are rejoicing and giving thanks!

IMG_20180919_142727414

For the body of Christ made visible in the unique, complementary gifts of each,

            We are rejoicing and giving thanks!

IMG_20180921_192905227

For experiencing in ever deeper ways the presence of the Lord,

            We are rejoicing and giving thanks!

“Give thanks to the Lord for he is good,

            His love endures forever.”

To God be the glory!!!

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Learning To Eat My Words

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_63dd

“Happy Birthday” cupcakes

Sometimes eating our words can be a pleasant experience.  But that’s not the kind of “eating” I’m thinking of here.  Perhaps a more fitting title would be:  “Things I thought I could never do but I was proved wrong and pleasantly surprised”.  So often in my life I’ve said “I could never do that” or “I know that’s a good thing to do but I don’t have what it takes to do it”.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_5ee8

Our 1st apartment in the inner city.

The first time was just after we got married when we moved to the inner, inner city of St. Louis amid sidewalks of broken glass, vacant buildings and racial hostilities to be part of a new mission church.  I wanted to but didn’t think I would be able to.  I felt I lacked the courage, boldness, faith and willingness to risk.  But on one weekend in August, just six weeks after our wedding, we moved into that neighborhood, along with about 30 others to form a new church and learn to live in community within that neighborhood.  Thus began the amazing adventure of being stretched beyond what I thought possible and learning about trusting, risking, loving in relationships in so many wonderful and surprising ways.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_63df

Advanced English students 

This became such a recurring pattern in our life such that I stopped say “I could never . . . “ because every time I said that it was like a challenge for God to prove me wrong and show me that I could do what I deemed impossible with Him.  So I stopped saying that and tried instead to be more adventurous, courageous, willing to trust and take steps of faith into unknown areas (I don’t have space to list them all).  I guess that’s why I’m now living in Burundi.  And you’d think I’d really learned this lesson, but even so I get caught thinking or believing—“I could never. . . “ or “I wouldn’t be able to . . . “.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_63da

Working in small groups for discussion

This is what I said about teaching evening classes for HAU.  But once again I’ve had to eat my words!  I just finished teaching an “Advance English” class to over 50 adult, graduate students.  Something I never in my wildest dreams would have thought I would or could do.  Not only that, but to my surprise and delight, it was really fun!  I really enjoyed the time with the “students” and felt they received something from it too.   It turned out to be one of my more pleasant Burundian experiences meeting, conversing and engaging with this diverse group of adult students, even though it meant driving across town in crazy traffic and returning home after dark.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_63db

Small groups for discussion

I am grateful to the students, who made our time so enjoyable and interesting by their engaging participation even as most of them were coming from their own workday. I’m thankful too for another opportunity in which “eating my words” has not just been stretching in ways that are good for me but in ways that were sweet to experience.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Wrapping Up Another Semester

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_61c6

Catching up, making up, wrapping up—these are some of the words I think of as I think over the past semester for me here at HAU.  This is my fifth year of teaching English here and my fifth time to teach the English I course to the new, incoming university students.  It should be getting easier, right?  While some parts are easier (thankfully), there are always the unknown variables that make each semester challenging and unique in their own way.  This semester there were two situations in particular that were new challenges.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_61c7

The first was a very interrupted semester due to my leaving for a month in the middle of it. This meant having to do lots of make-up classes before and after the month I was absent.  Generally a class is formed with students from one department. They take all their courses together which is supposed to make scheduling easier.  I taught three groups this semester: one for Department of Medicine, one for Department of Engineering and a third one a combination of two departments– Ophthalmology and Public Health.  Trying to schedule make-up classes is difficult enough but when one group is made up of two different departments with different schedules it’s nearly impossible.  Somehow we got most of the make-up classes in which meant some weeks I had six classes to teach instead of three.  It made for a very fluid and irregular semester and not the most optimal for learning a foreign language.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_631c

The second situation was the size of one of the groups.  Most HAU class sizes are 40-50 students.  If there are only 20 students they will combine two departments to get around 40 students for the general courses.  This is an economic reality in regards to paying professors, which I understand but since I don’t get a salary or any monetary reward for my teaching I try to draw the line and request groups not more than 40.  To my delight I was asked to teach the new medical students, a group of only about 25.  But then I was also asked to take two other groups—the combined departments of 40+ students and a third of the engineering students.  Little did I know that the engineering department had admitted over 250 students so my “group C” was about 85 students!

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_63c6

This is where the motto of the university, “facing African realities” takes on a whole new meaning.  It becomes a day-to-day choice to do the best you can with what you’re given and what you’ve got at your disposal.   Something most Burundians accept with grace and little complaint.  But for me it’s been some thing of a trial and error process to figure out how to teach and connect with more students than there was space or chairs for.  I’m not sure I ever found it but we made some kind of rapport with each other.  I did hear students speaking more English in class, engaging in the exercises given and telling their classmates to be quiet while I was talking (often one student was translating for others so there was often lots of talk going on).  I felt like a celebrity at the end as they all wanted to take a picture with me (wondering where all those pictures will end up).

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_63c5

While I’m glad for the opportunity to teach, I have to admit I’m glad to see the end of this semester with it’s irregular challenges, which I hope not to repeat. I again applaud the students for making the best of their situations.  I realize that what was a frustrating semester for me has been a way of life for them, which they accept with humility and handle with grace.  Again, I find I am still a student of life and my students have much to teach me.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

A Hike Up Mt. Heha

yJ5fDjKmSYigfq4HUUoXfw_thumb_633f

Most Saturdays are quiet “at home” days for us, to catch up on undone work of the week or plan for the next week’s classes. Recently, a friend of ours organized a Saturday hike to the highest mountain in Burundi, Mt. Heha (elevation 8,759 ft). I was ready to join like a bee to honey, especially because this friend, Dan, was born in Burundi and speaks Kirundi (very handy when your going into the interior). My “other half” preferred the usual Saturday “stay at home”. (couch-potatoe!) As it turned out just three of us were able to get away for that day, but it was such a great adventure that we decided to try to make it a monthly outing

6NkVvMM+TH+Q%VqhP5e%cQ_thumb_6342Burundi is a country full of “mountains”, although they seem more like hills because Lake Tanganyika is already at 3,000 feet. We were assured it would not be a strenuous hike because it had just a 300 ft. elevation from where we would park the car. Most of the climbing was in the car on the 1½ hour drive there. Heading east from the capital Bujumbura we twisted and turned up the paved road for about 45 minutes, through a few small villages, then headed out one of the dirt road for another 45 minutes. I was really thankful Dan knew where he was headed and had a GPS to verify he was going in the right direction

FZFnfuvAT2eiVOzUsUkcaA_thumb_635cParking the car at a bend in the road with a wide, flat place, we found it was a station on some sort where the local men were loading different products in to the back of cars or trucks to take to Bujumbura to sell. Dan was able to verify with them that we were in the right place. We started up, past several plots with the traditional round huts mixed with the more modern square brick homes being careful to step on the goat trails rather than through their gardens.

 

 

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_6335

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_6337

K4MRQreeR8CKtcfiQunLdQ_thumb_632b

We quickly found ourselves in some of the strangest flora and fauna I’ve seen in Burundi. Nearly the whole hike was covered with small pine trees—a more recent import that was initiated as an alternative to the eucalyptus trees brought in earlier. There were large carpets of bright green mosses growing under the pine trees along with ferns and wild orchids. Since we didn’t know what to expect we really didn’t have any preconceived ideas, this made the discoveries along the way all the more interesting and softened the blow that on reaching the “top” we couldn’t see a view due to the growth of pines in all directions. In fact, all we found at the top were two large holes dug into the ground perhaps for mining something. As we headed back to the car it occurred to me that the process of getting to the top was so much more interesting than the actual “top of the mountain”—how profoundly like life that is.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_6324

Mf+nJU0UQxCSOjyIRxp2Ow_thumb_6328

LFzdNGuZTuycHNptnVJYOw_thumb_6329

At the top of Mt. Heha 

Since it was only noon, and not raining, Dan suggested we take the “back road” to his coffee washing station and return to Bujumbura by a different route. After asking a few people on the road if it was passable (sure, on two feet!) he was game to try especially since he had 4-wheel drive. We were in! The road was mostly passable but there were more than a few sketchy places. One patch in particular called for Dan to get out of the car to figure out just how to maneuver it, not only did it have huge ruts from a large truck but it was on a 90 degree curve with a log bridge at the bottom just after the curve. Pictures don’t do it justice. But Dan placed the tires on top of the dirt between the ruts and slide down it, catching the turn and fishtailing it across the log bride as if he drove it every day. The drive was an adventure, to be sure! Dan was an excellent driver and tour guide. It’s hard to describe or even show in pictures just how steep the hills are here and yet they are farmed from bottom to top. Having this opportunity to travel literally across country caused me again to appreciate just how beautiful Burundi is.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_6341

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_6321

After about an hour of excitement on the dirt road we reached the coffee washing station. It’s coffee harvesting time so the washing station is just beginning to get underway. Dan walked us all around it, explaining the process of washing the beans, the different washing tanks, the separation of the different sizes of beans and the different processes of drying them (it’s way more complicated than I imagined!). He and his local Burundian partner have created jobs for the people in this area and want to help the farmers expand coffee production. Eventually they hope to build an eco-lodge on the location and expand into essential oil production as well. They have picked a beautiful location with 360 views of the beautiful Burundi hills.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_634b

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_6353

HhdwCK%tSBmyH5Ycxo0cww_thumb_635a

HDZ0fvD8R6mtflcyDQ%kzw_thumb_634c

K8kQRYPtTCepq8ghdE+KQw_thumb_635f

Last stop on our way back to Bujumbura was the Livingstone Stone, a large rock with Livingstone’s name chiseled into it. Some come here to take a picture, others to ask for what they can get from the picture takers. It was a quick stop, not nearly as interesting as everything else we’d see that day.

I returned home renewed in appreciation for the beauty of Burundi and inspired by our friend’s entrepreneurship and commitment to Burundi. It was one of the better Saturdays I’ve had and I’ve glad I didn’t stay home.

 

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_6322

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment