Category Archives: Summer project

Fragments of My Imagination

Our "living on a prayer" picture in Milan. Note the floating hand.

There are just twenty-four days left in Dakar. My frazzled nerves and scattered mind have made it impossible to tell you just one cohesive story.

Brace yourselves.

It started with the laundry. I did laundry in the bathtub yesterday, and the murky, rather sinister charcoal color of the swirling water left me with the distinct impression that I owed every member of my team a personal apology. I feel like Pig Pen on Charlie Brown. And speaking of laundry, I am quite forward to wearing clothes that don’t look something that Grandma Moses would wear.

Which I can do in just twenty-four days. Has it hit you yet? I’m still wallowing in disbelief.

Yesterday, a group of Talibe boys were begging for spare change near a local bakery. I bought as many pain au chocolates as would fit in a bag, and promptly began to place them in the grubby, excited hands desperately vying for my attention. Without warning, I suddenly found myself mobbed by a group of approximately 15 hungry boys-each of whom wanted to make sure that he didn’t miss out on a chocolate roll. All 5’2 of me tried to look larger than life as I held the bag over my head and used my best stern “Senegalese Mom” voice and each of the seven words of Wolof I could remember at the time. [It’s baffling how little “Crazy no in the name of Allah!” did to deter them.] Indifferent to the petite brunette babbling incoherently, little boys scaled me like a jungle gym while older ones successfully ripped rolls out of the bag over my head. Michelle played the knight in shining armor to my damsel in distress, and I left covered in over-eager, sticky chocolate finger prints.

Last Sunday, Michelle, Christy, Karen and I braved the relentless African sun and crammed our sweaty bodies into a rickety, rather suspect looking yellow taxi. In a stroke of cultural brilliance, we decided to ask our Wolof-speaking taxi driver to stop on the side of the bustling, dusty road so Michelle could hop out and buy a carton of eggs on the way back to our apartment. These, mind you, are open cartons containing thirty filthy eggs that are covered in a thick layer of gray feathers and chicken poo-poo that can only be removed by enriched plutonium. Michelle successfully managed to procure just such a carton, and cheerfully rejoined the rest of us waiting in the oven masquerading as our ride home. I was sandwiched in the backseat between Karen and Michelle, absentmindedly observing the bustling, dusty African ghetto we were slowly sputtering through, when Michelle’s scream pierced the relative calm. Startled, I turned to find her holding the oversized egg carton towards me as a giant roach crawled out from between the eggs. Horrified, I began to holler at the top of my lungs as I lunged on top of Karen and begged Michelle to simply toss the whole mess out of the window-indifferent to her panicked pleas for help. [I would give that dear girl one of my $160,000 kidneys if she needed it, but she’s on her own with the roaches.] Meanwhile, our taxi driver was busily attempting to ascertain what in the name of Allah was causing the hullaballoo in his back seat. As the crescendo of our shrill, white-girl screams stopped passerby’s in their tracks, my Wolof Prince Charmant pulled stopped the car in the middle of the dirt road, wrenched the carton from Michelle with an indifferent eye roll, and promptly squished the offending roach with his fingers. He then proceeded to hold it up for us, as if to say “Hey, pansy white girl-it’s just a bug”. [And let me tell you, that little gem translates across languages and cultures all over the world.] Undaunted, we enthusiastically applauded him and sung his praises the rest of the way home.

No, really. I actually sung.

I have run literal holes in my tennis shoes. Help me, Rhonda.

We’re hosting a STINT recruitment night for our summer project on Thursday. I’ll tell them about Mohammad

Sophie Bop.

the fruit stand man, team chocolate chip pancake nights, roach eggs and mangos.

I’ll also tell them about Sophie Bop. She came over for lunch this week, and quietly told me “everything I have learned about Jesus, I have learned from you.”  No one had ever told her about Jesus before Christy and I moved to Africa two years ago.

Which is inexcusable, and heartbreaking. Those are the moments in which I wonder how on earth I’ll actually leave this place.

Sophie’s story will come later this week. But for now, my frazzled nerves need a break. And my feet need a pedicure.

Just twenty-four days. Half way there, and living on a prayer.

…a prayer, and mangos. So many mangos.

3 Comments

Filed under Cross cultural hilarity, Ministry moments, My ghetto-fab life, Summer project, The daily grind

Once Upon a Summer Project.

The SP kids at a party with some of our Muslim students last night.

I took a head count this morning as my team and I meandered out the front door with all of the astute lucidity of six drunken sailors on leave-and at aproximately 0900, all six were still breathing, of relatively sound mind, and accounted for.

Which would suggest that we’ve made it through the first four days of this year’s summer project! In Dakar that’s a win, kids.

The mayhem commenced at 4:00 AM on Tuesday morning, when my alarm rudely pierced the black of night and cajoled my unwilling body out of bed. Exhausted, I slowly reached for the light switch-only to discover that much to my dismay, the electricity was off.

Of course the electricity was off. And really, who needs coffee at 4:00 AM?
  
Danger, Will Robinson.
 
After spending aproximately eleven and a half minutes moaning in the fetal position, I emerged from my apartment looking like something out of Greek mythology. Five thirty AM found me curled up in a blue sweatshirt on the filthy cement outside of the much dilapidated, gray Senegalese airport-oblivious to persistant vendors that were mistakenly convinced that the louder they prattled on in Wolof, the more likely I was to buy one of their little orange phone cards.
 
Eventually, sixteen Americans began pouring out of baggage claim and into the dusty street-and just like that, project had begun.
 
Thus far, they’re adapting splendidly! They’ve toured campus, filtered water, swatted mosquitos, eaten heaps of oily rice,  spent two days studying everything from Wolof to Islamic theology, met students, and spent a full day on campus today. Friday is the Muslim holy day-and so this is what they saw near the campus mosque at around 2:00 this afternoon:
 
Additionally, each one of them is now covered in a thick layer of dirt that can only be removed by enriched plutonium-which means they’re well on their way to becoming locals.
 
As for me? Well, the electricity eventually flickered back to life-bringing with it the familiar scent of hazelnut coffee that keeps me from licking my front door and rummaging through boxes of recyclables in times like these. And in the midst sleepless times like these, it helps to remember-
 
…there have always been times like these.
 
41 days.

7 Comments

Filed under Summer project

Of The UPS Man, African Snow White, and One Too Many Pickles.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, we return to our regular programming.

In light of recent distractions, regular programming this week in Dakar just happens to include hopelessly daunting piles of work that need to be finished before Tuesday morning at 5:20 AM [oh, we’ll get there in a moment], and an apartment that’s completely gone to pot. I feel like I’m on Survivor. It’s embarrassing. If UPS had even the foggiest hope of being able to find me in this country, I would probably not even crack the door for the awkward brown-shorted delivery man-but simply implore him to leave his box sitting on the front mat and then slowly back away. The Leaning Tower of Dishes is teetering menacingly in the sink, and I’ve been surviving on granola, pickles, and chicken salad for approximately the last eight meals. [Which is what happens when you make a veritable vat of any one particular food. Lesson learned.] In a rather startling turn of events, sweeping yesterday garnered enough hair to make a small voodoo doll-and frankly, I’m having an impossible time ascertaining whether I am more disturbed by the level of filth on my floor, or the fact that there is the distinct possibility that I am going bald.

That, coupled with the minor detail that on Tuesday morning at 5:20 AM, sixteen Americans are landing in Dakar to spend six weeks doing my job with me, has kept life busy as of late.

Yes, it’s that time of year again-time for our summer project. With them comes a lot of early mornings and late nights-and a mound of paperwork as we get ready to teach them everything from Islamic theology to how not to die whilst crossing the street. [Never fear-I have no hand in that particular seminar.]In a dark city where hope wanes and poverty crushes, it’s exhilarating to think about sixteen extra people coming to proclaim a thrill of hope to a weary city that has none. And there is hope-yes, and amen!

In other news, exactly seven weeks from today I’ll be leaving Dakar for the very last time. Good golly Miss Molly-where has the time slipped away to? Last I checked it was November. As Michelle phrased it-we’re on the downward rush of the rollercoaster-and before we know it, we’ll be coming to a grinding halt and dizzily exiting the ride. As my stomach lurches and life starts to blur around me, I am both excited-and so very far from being ready. Faced with the bittersweet reality that change is inevitable, I am struck by the fact that when change comes our way, God is not simply watchful. I think He’s giving a standing ovation-savoring His grace and hard work in our lives. He’s celebrating the gangrenous, calcified pieces of our hearts that He has surgically removed in the [sometimes painful] process of making us more like Him. He is more committed to our character than our comfort-and in the midst of all my unknowns, that’s something I can hold on to. That, and the sweet truth that though my rollercoaster world may spin wildly out of control-my Jesus never changes. This, Africa has taught me.

Alas, the dishes are calling. I’m going to attempt to channel my African Snow White and get the roaches to do them for me-…but there is the distinct possibility that I’ll have to pick up a sponge.

I’ll keep you posted.

3 Comments

Filed under God's faithfulness, Hope, Musings, Senegal, Summer project

Of Things Unseen. [He Writes Better Stories.]

“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:18

 

A year ago today, I was trapped in the throes of one of the most excruciatingly miserable weeks of my life. [Let’s just say that in my humble opinion (and not that I normally have one), the world would be an infinitely better place if we just built a concrete wall around Cote d’Ivoire and tossed some lighter fluid and a match inside. And that’s my final word on the matter.] New Years Eve found Christy and I vehemently swearing up and down that we were going to leave Senegal, shake the dust off of our [dirty] heels, and never look back. I believe there was even a lengthy discussion entailing a Walmart rubber dingy and detailed speculation as to whether or not we could feasibly row one across the Pacific. [And let me tell you, had we been able to find a Walmart on this continent, there is a 99.79% chance we would have tried it.]

…to my retrospective embarrassment, we were also belting “God Bless America” at the top of our exhausted, enthusiastic little lungs with more pent-up patriotic passion than the 4th of July, and making lists of resolutions comprised of things like “stay stable” and “don’t eat chocolate chip pancakes and rice for every meal.”. But that story may be best left locked up in the vault.

My grand plans, if any, entailed muddling through the rest of my time in Senegal, SPRINTING back to the land of the free, kissing the tarmac in beautiful Raleigh and then spending the remainder of my days curled up in a gloriously overstuffed chair at Starbucks conducting research on just how much caffeine the human body can tolerate. 

From my point of view, there just wasn’t much to see standing on the brink of 2010. The brink, in fact, looked rather dire and bleak. And then, Lord help us all, Jesus asked me to commit another  year of my life to Dakar! [The nerve.] Believe you me, if you’d offered me a million dollars and an espresso machine I still wouldn’t have been able to hazard a guess as to His reasoning. I suppose that’s why He’s God and I’m not.  Last year, Jesus very tangibly asked me to “fix my eyes on what is [was] unseen”, and in faith, follow Him and trust that He knew what on earth He was doing. Faith is, after all, a belief in what you can’t see.

Can I tell you something that’s absolutely thrilling to me? Now, a year later, I can “see” some of what He had up His sleeve. And it makes me want to hand Him this next year, too!

I am inexpressibly grateful that Jesus had grander plans for me than my aforementioned Starbucks sit-in, and that I listened. It’s been difficult-make no mistake. I try to be really honest about that here-if you’ve been reading for any length of time, you know full well that following Jesus back to Africa has entailed tears and homesickness and more than a few temper tantrums. But now, standing on the brink of 2011, I am extraordinarily excited to follow Him through this next year. Goodness, if this last year is any indication, there’s no question that I’ll miss out if I don’t! I started thinking yesterday about what wouldn’t have transpired had I ignored Him in 2010 and hopped in that rubber dinghy.

Aside from becoming shark bait, I wouldn’t have met Miriam. Or Bineta. Or Aya. Or Fatou Ba. Or 1,000 other girls that have names and faces and stories too-stories that have drastically altered every shade and subtle nuance of my life.

 I would not have become betrothed to sweater vest man very much against my will, and consequently would not be cheating on him with the Mohammad the fruit stand man.

 Come to think of it, if I’d gone with my plan, Ben and Dayton wouldn’t be in my life. And a year and a half after meeting

With some of my girls. Miriam is to my immediate left, Aya is to the right.

 those boys, it is entirely impossible to imagine life without them. They’re part of my family, now.  

If I’d opted for my plan, I wouldn’t have gotten to traipse through Europe with some of the most fantastic people I’ve ever had the privilege of meeting.

I wouldn’t have gotten to watch twenty six people fall in love with Senegal and what God’s doing here on the crazy ride that was our summer project.

And if I’d gone with my plan, there’s a boy I wouldn’t have met. Granted, we then would have avoided the whole “I’m sorry I crunched your laptop screen to smithereens” conversation,  [another story I’m locking up for now] but crunched screen and all- I’m glad that he came into the picture.

That’s just for starters.

My point here is that Jesus is good. Really, really good. And He’s worth following. There is so much hope and promise that comes with this new year-not because I have great plans, but precisely because I don’t!  Jesus does. Which sounds trite until you realize that’s it’s actually true. And then…well, that changes everything, doesn’t it?

So here’s to relinquishing our colorless dreams, dwarfed goals, and timid, elementary plans-because we were created for so much more.  Here’s to allowing Jesus to author our stories this next year- when it’s excruciating and uncomfortable, and when it’s effortless and exciting-because at the end of the day, it is always, always worth it. His stories are infinitely better than ours, anyhow.

To things unseen.

Cheers!

2 Comments

Filed under God's faithfulness, Holidays other than Christmas, Joy, My favorite people, Senegal, Summer project, Team

Of Water Guns and Top Ten Lists.

Matt after getting doused by the SP.

Yesterday, Matt Schneider turned 23! Clearly that was the only excuse all of us on staff needed to steal away and celebrate for a

The birthday kid and I right before heading downtown for his birthday dinner yesterday.

couple of hours. We took Matt to the nicest [read: only] Italian restaurant in Dakar-a cute little place called Café de Rome. I think the SP staff were mildly ecstatic at the chance to eat something that did not entail fish or rice! After dinner, all of us headed back to the hotel where the SP had [unbeknownst to Matt] decorated the lobby, managed to track down a French vanilla concoction masquerading as birthday cake, and filled up about a million water guns. Matt innocently sauntered into the lobby and was immediately doused-happy birthday, kid!

In other news, I fly home in four weeks and six days! Christy and I move into our new, not-quite-so-ghetto apartment this coming Monday, and apparently the SP men are going to come lug all of our stuff to our new apartment for us! That elevates them to hero-status in my mind-those sweet guys are turning what would have been an all-day affair into about a half-hour process.  About two and a half weeks after Christy and I move, my team and I are heading off  with the SP to do some work in Senegalese villages. What all of that boils down to is that time is going to quickly fly and I’ll be hopping on a plane before I know it! It’s starting to hit me that it’s almost time to go home-yesterday morning on skype, Danielle and I started figuring out some sort of “I’m home!” dinner so that I can see all of my NC friends at once. It’s absolutely unbelievable to me that it’s about time to start planning something! [So North Carolina friends—get ready. I want to see all of you!]

 Confession: I sometimes slip into daydreams about the things that I miss from home during particularly dull meetings or exhaustingly endless, hot afternoons. A perfect storm of the two of those things several days ago gave me a brilliant excuse to pen a top ten list of non people related things that I am silly excited about…

Top 10 List

1.Running to Breugger’s Bagels and Seattle’s Best Coffee in the NY airport for a toasted onion bagel with plain cream cheese and a large skinny caramel latte with whip. Mmmm.

 2. A steaming hot, apple scented bubble bath. Actually, I should expand this to simply being clean. I can’t wait for a hot shower [though, come to think of it, I get one in less than a week when Christy and I move!], and a washing machine to wash every scrap of clothing I own in. I may wash everything twice for good measure!

3. Getting my hair cut. I know that’s girly-but that’s just it. You don’t get to be girly in Dakar. Which is fine, but the heels and dresses are making a comeback this summer!

4. Going to Southpoint [my favorite mall] for shopping and chocolate chip cookie dough cheesecake from the cheesecake factory.

Christy and Katie after going to town on each other with the water guns. Note Katie's expression.

5. Seeing a movie in a theatre. Here in Dakar, Christy and I spend anywhere from seven to forty eight hours downloading movie rentals off of itunes.

6. Driving on 751-a really beautiful, back country road that I take to get from my parent’s house in Cary to the Chapel Hill area, where some of my best friends still live. And with that, country radio! Something about summertime simply begs for winding, back country roads, bare feet, windows rolled all the way down and Tim McGraw cranked all the way up.

7. Cooking! I love to cook-it’s going to be really fun to have variety in the foods I eat, and a kitchen to cook in. Sautéed spinach, here I come!

8. Long afternoons in coffee shops curled up in an overstuffed armchair with a stack of excellent books.

 9. Smelling grass-really, just seeing all of the beautiful green in North Carolina! Senegal is so dirty and brown. Along the same lines, I can’t wait for weather that’s not simply sunny and hot. I have had the same day every day since moving to Dakar-I’m ready to mix it up with some rain and [be still my beating heart] the very beginning of some breathtaking, chilly fall weather right before I fly back to Dakar in October!

10. Walking around UNC’s campus. It really is one of the most gorgeous, incredible places in the whole world. [And it doesn’t hurt that you can get the best white pizza in the entire world at Franklin Street Pizza and Pasta…]

3 Comments

Filed under Home, My favorite people, Summer project, The daily grind

Let’s Give ‘Em Something To Talk About. [SP Training.]

Giving my seminar.

Yesterday, my team and I spent the day training our SP. We gave a total of four seminars [Cash and I combined ours], covering:

  1. 1. How to follow up with students. [Christy]
  2. 2. Catholics and Jesus. [Ben]
  3. 3. Islamic theology and how to see the “soul questions” in things that students like to talk about. [Cash and I]
  4.   The “Gospel Tool Kit” and what it means to be an Ambassador for Christ. [Dayton]

 The SP trekked through an ocean of very foreign information with a sort of admirable [albeit rather glazed over] formidability that can only be attributed to some very beautiful hearts for Jesus. Of course, it doesn’t hurt anything that they’re all still in college and used to absorbing fanatical amounts of information running on half an hour of sleep and half a dozen pots of coffee! […or was that just me in college?] 

Dancing with Ben before the second round of seminars started after lunch. Spontaneous dance parties happen rather frequently on my team...

 It was fun to break down the basics of Islamic theology for a group of people that were largely unfamiliar with it-and to help them see some of the haunting soul questions that Muslims are already asking. St. Augustine once said:

  “Our hearts are restless until they find rest in You.”

I have found this to be exceedingly true of my sweet Muslim friends in Senegal-there are longings and wonderings that shake them to their very core—desires that cannot be met by a god that cannot hear or save, questions with answers not contained anywhere in the lines of Arabic they cannot understand. [Once the Qur’an is translated out of the original Arabic, it is no longer considered to be under the divine protection of Allah. Thus, my students do not understand what they are saying when they recite their Arabic prayers, nor do they understand the lengthy selections from the Qur’an the mosque blares over loudspeakers throughout the week.] One of my favorite things to do

in Senegal is to spend time listening to girls talk about their lives-the things they love, the things they’re afraid of, the things they secretly hope-and as I listen, it’s so easy to find those deeper questions and longings. I wish you could see the look on a Muslim woman’s face when she understands for the very first time that the gospel beautifully, perfectly speaks to those “soul longings” and questions.  It is almost as if you are

watching her come up for oxygen after years and years of drowning-up until that point in her life, she has been intimately acquainted with the crushing weight of fear, inadequecy, and frustration-but never, never before grace. Jesus is the gentle answer to a thousand questions that her aching heart has been screaming for years. My job is easy in a way, because we were all created to know and walk

Some of the SP guys hanging out with our students at the party last night.

with Jesus-and when a Muslim finally comes to understand that Jesus longs to redeem her, the response is ardent, organic, reckless joy! It is a lengthy, patient process-but I defy you to find something more compelling or beautiful. There is no other way that I would rather spend these two years of my life.

 After a full day of training, my team and I invited all of our students to come to the SP’s hotel [about a five minute walk from my apartment] so that the SP could begin interacting with Muslim students. It was fantastic to have other people doing my job! I can’t tell you what an incredible thing it is to have twenty-six people join my team and I in going to war on the statistic that 88% of the students on my campus have never even met someone that follows Jesus.

Christy and I with Matt-who offered me as a wife option to one of the students he met last night. Revenge will be ten-fold.

1 Comment

Filed under Islamic theology, Summer project, Team

And so it begins. [Summer Project.]

This afternoon I took some of the girls to Michelle's-my favorite hole-in-the-wall Senegalese resturaunt.

Well, here we go! Yesterday, NOT at 4:45 AM [as initially planned] my team and I picked up our twenty-six, NOT twenty-seven [as previously expected] person summer project!  Thus, everything is right on track by Senegalese standards. :) My team and I tracked the SP’s flight all night, and realized around 2:00 AM that they were going to be arriving aproximately four hours late. [Personally, I think God just wanted to start acclimating them to the slower-than-molasses Senegalese culture.] In a rather unfortunate turn of events, I woke up at 4:00 AM feeling absolutely wired and ready to go. So clearly  I did what any intelligent person does when you wake up in the middle of the night–…I started drinking french vanilla coffee. Which, beautifully enough, I can do to my deliriously happy heart’s content now that I have EIGHT new bags! [Thank you Mom and Katie Seamon!] My Mom and a couple of friends sent me some really fun things to hold me over until I get home in six short weeks-Christmas in May is one of my new favorite things. I think I could bathe in Crystal Light Raspberry lemonade right now-…if only I had a bathtub. ;)

 The SP has handled the jet lag and culture stress brilliantly-thus far, we’ve taken them around campus, prayer walked, started their training, taken them to eat Senegalese food…it’s been a whirlwind, but it’s fun to see Dakar through fresh eyes again. Their reactions to the food are varied and interesting-I’m in the midst of attempting to convince some of them that the US government’s recommendation that you have nine servings of fruits and vegetables a day is really just imperialist propoganda. [You simply don’t have that option in Senegal.] Tomorrow morning at 9:00 AM we’re starting a day of training-I’m going to be giving a seminar on Islamic theology. Those poor kids are going to feel like they’re drinking out of a fire hydrant-but it’s rather unavoidable given that they’re only here for just over five weeks. Pray for them-it’s an obscene amount of information that would be better absorbed over the course of months or years as opposed to hours. [And I’m just giving one of the seminars.] Tomorrow night we’re having a party at their “hotel” [a glorified air-conditioned hovel] with all of our students so the SP can meet some Senegalese students-I think at least four of my girls are coming with the sole purpose of landing a husband. [Read: green card. Sorry boys.] I plan to offer Ben as a consolation prize if it turns out that nobody on the SP wants to get married this summer. 

In other news, the summer project is good for more than evangelism, hysterical cultural blunders [thank goodness

The loot-EIGHT bags of coffee and my Starbucks bottled fraps made yesterday feel like Christmas. Thanks Matt, KL and Katie for lugging all of this across the ocean!

someone else is making them for a change!] and divine American food–I am ever-so-slowly getting caught up on the American pop-culture scene that I’ve been missing! This afternoon I finally figured out who on earth Justin Bieber is-and honestly, I can’t for the life of me figure out why all of you back home care so much. To each his own. :)

Anyhow, it’s time to fall into bed over here in Dakar. When did I get this old? Four of the five of us on my team went to sleep at nine thirty last night [better described as the end of one of the longest days of our lives]. In my defense, I’d been up since four!  I’m excited about the stories over the next couple of days and weeks-expect to see a lot of them.

Bon nuit!

3 Comments

Filed under Summer project, Team