Saturday, March 10, 2007

Some thoughts

I wrote this three weeks ago, but I my internet went out, so I thought I'd send it now.

So there we were, 60 kids and a half dozen adults on the back of an open cattle lorry (large cattle truck) with all of our luggage and food and with enough space that only about half of us could sit down at any one time. Then it started to rain. Doing our best to shield ourselves from the rain, we huddled under our blankets until they became so thoroughly soaked that they made us wetter rather than dryer. Looking around I couldn't help but think that we looked so pitiful and bedraggled that we would fit perfectly in some television special hosted by Bono on aid to African nations. I can hardly think of a time in my life when I _should_ have been more miserable but, here's the funny thing, I wasn't miserable at all. I would have admitted that I was cold or tired, but not miserable. In fact, as I listened to the kids belting out hymns and huddling together like nests of baby rabbits, I really thought that there was no place in the world that I would rather be than right there on that cattle lorry. Why is that? Why can I be so incredibly happy when I'm soaking wet and cramped in the back of a cattle lorry knowing that dinner that night will be bread and margarine (although, as it turned out, goat liver was also on the menu.) The truth is, I don't know why that is. I just know that it's true.

I am often floored by the generosity of Namibians. After that harrowing lorry ride I went to the house of Miss Julianne's family. They went out just to buy bread for our meal and they emptied out one of the kids rooms for me to sleep in. And remember that to these people I was, for all practical purposes, a stranger who they had no idea was coming to stay. People often attribute bravery or kindheartedness to me,"because of what I do. On the contrary, most of the time I feel like I'm doing a job these people could do almost as well or better and the rest of the time I'm trying out crazy ideas that probably won't work. It is the Namibians who have shown themselves to be incredibly, unbelievably kindhearted towards me. In fact, it's almost always those who can least afford it who are the most generous. The grandmother who is supporting
her five grandkids on a pension of $30 a month plus the $2 a day she can earn by cutting firewood offers me a hearty meal, the most beat up car in the petrol station offers me a free lift, and I am welcomed with open arms by people living in shacks made of plastic bags and corrugated tin.

And I think I have it sort of figured out. Poor people aren't happy because they're poor or in spite of it or whatever. They're happy because they're sitting in that cattle lorry next to a friend who will treat them like a sister or brother. And somehow, in our isolated American houses, on our isolated American blocks we're insulated ourselves from the possibilities of hospitality and real, un-self-conscious joy. That's what I think.

Funny teaching stories: A kid in the library held out one of the copies of Lord of the Rings and told me matter of factly that it smelled like cooked porcupine. All of the other learners agreed, so apparently cooked porcupine smells a little like book glue and dust. One of the learners was looking at a book put out by Popular Science and could not believe that three babies in the picture were triplets and had been born at the same time. "Miss," she said, "Is the mother out to here?" and she held her hands as far in front of her stomach as she could.

As for the rains, they still haven't come. It was obvious as we drove from Kamanjab into Anker; the grass went from thick green lawns,full of yellow wildflowers, to thick brown-green grass, to brown, to the ghostly overgrazed velds where the trees stick up awkwardly out of bare ground. Even Kamanjab got a good rain while we were gone, but Anker got almost nothing.

For those keeping track: I've been mostly reading Anna Karinina (I'm about halfway through) but I did take a little break to read a kids book by Terry Brooks. It wasn't that great, but it wasn't that bad either. Greek is going along well. My classes are fine. Life is pretty much going OK. Hope you are all fine.

Just in case you want to read it, I'm including a prayer that I wrote about drought for my Book of Common Prayers. I liked it so I thought I'd share.

Link to photos taken recently.

Take care

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