Monday, April 26, 2010

Somewhere in Between the Cape and Cairo....Love is in the Air

Beloved, I will try to offer you a recap of the last two months in Burundi with all its twists and turns. At best this blog is a random collection of anecdotes and themes that accurately describes the varied nature of my life as I attempt to lay the foundation for my organization. Enjoy!
Elections in East Africa
East/Central Africa is one of the most interesting places in the world right now. In a years time every country will have, at least, a presidential election. Sudan is having their first election in 23 years as I write this; Burundi is having its first popular election in 17 years (starting in April and going into September for all levels of the government); Rwanda in August; Uganda in early 2011; and I’ve heard that Tanzania , the DR Congo, and Kenya will each their own elections soon enough. Can anyone feel the love in the air?
I will refrain from making any scandalous remarks about governments in the area, but if history is any indicator of the future please pray and fast for peace! For real.
I was idling down the road in traffic next to a parade of people shouting slogans for a certain political party when one of the members spotted me and shouted “Mzungu!” (white man). Immediately, he inserted “Obama” in the chant they were shouting where previously the name of the desired leader had been. It took about 3 seconds for others to pick up on it. We all found it amusing and I had to restrain myself from pumping my fist out the window and shouting with them (just to rile them up more). They sure do love politics here.
It is my observation since being in Africa that the communal nature of society here makes being a part of a large group very attractive for the individual. Community means power and power means survival. The bigger the group you belong to the better. But at the same time this tendency creates the concept of “the other guy”, creating a de facto schism in most every aspect of society. This can be harmless or it can be terrifying, as the fractious history of Africa tells us.
But what do I know?
I am witness to a powerful hope and courage among the Burundian people right now. I see people who choose not to be weighed down by the past years of war and who push forward in faith believing that Burundi will turn a corner with these elections. True, there are many who are leaving the country, but streams of hope, radiating out like rivers of light, are visible among youthful spirits who believe that faith as small as a mustard seed can toss mountains into the sea. Join them! Join them in prayer and fasting. Proclaim that Burundi will be a blessing to the nations. I promise you you don’t want to miss out on this opportunity.
India and Dubai
Before I landed in Burundi I spent two and a half weeks in Dubai and India, mostly India. Dubai, how can I describe it? It’s brilliant in the fact that the Emirates turned a massive construction site into one of the hottest tourist destinations in the world.
I heard a saying about Monaco once: it’s a sunny place for shady people. That’s Dubai. It’s kind of like the Wisconsin Dells (a Midwest tourist trap) for Russian billionaires. Indeed there is a lot of money there despite the financial woes of the world economy and Dubai World. In the tourist areas people parade their Ferraris and Lamborghinis and Bentleys. One of my favorite memories of Dubai happened when I saw a guy in a million dollar Lamborghini who couldn’t parallel park into this huge space. I thought it was quite the picture of the whole place. Lots of money and no idea what to do.
But my dad treated me well, as always. I think I gained 10 lbs on the fabulous restaurants and leisurely life style in the three days we stayed. We saw lots of firsts: world’s tallest building, most expensive hotel, most expensive cocktail, etc. The most expensive shot was a particular single malt Scotch served on ice cubes made from water from Scotland. It was a billion dollars or something.
One aspect about Dubai my dad picked up on was that we rarely ever met anyone from Dubai. Most people were guest workers from Jordan, Kenya, or the Philippines. Maybe we needed to tool around in a Ferrari and make fifty point turns to parallel park to fit in.
And then we were off to India!
India is a bit different than Dubai to put it mildly. The main difference being the tremendous amount of people and the tremendous gap in wealth between the average citizen of the either country. The poverty and the density of people isn’t all that different from Burundi. If anything India is much more developed than Burundi but that doesn’t take away from the plight of the average Indian.
Our hotel had one of the most highly rated Indian restaurants in the world and let me tell you I still think about it to this day. Most of the cuisine was grilled meat, highly spiced served with an equally spicy brown stew that blew my mind. Lord have mercy!
We stayed in Delhi, saw such extravagantly historic sights as the Red Fort and the Taj Mahal (actually in Agra). The Taj Mahal itself was simply the most stunning man made structure I’ve ever seen in my life. The mathematical and structural detail that went into it cannot be overstated. The outer layer of marble is a special brew that absorbs whatever light is projected on it: at sunset and sunrise its pink, under a full moon its whitish blue. Precious stones from all over the world inlay the stonework and actually refract the sun and moon light, making it appear to light up like Christmas lights. Lord have Mercy!
As splendid as the Taj was our journey to and from Agra was anything but. We rose to catch a 6am train, scheduled for an hour and a half ride. But apparently there is a problem with the fog during the winter in India and when our train finally rolled in around 9:30am it took another 6 hours on the train to get to Agra. Arriving so late we rushed to meet our guide and get into the area around the Taj before it closed at sunset. Our ride back was even more harrowing. Since the train schedule was now 9 hours off track we had to hire a car and drive back into Delhi. We grabbed a quick dinner, got served beer in a coffee pot (T.I. India?) and then spent 5 hours driving back through pea soup fog (a trip that normally takes 1.5 hours in good weather). Nill visibility coupled with fast moving cars took a toll on my dad’s nerves. I quickly decided that I would leave the matter in God’s hands, said a prayer for safety and tried to get some sleep. Needless to say after 14 hours in transit on Indian infrastructure we laid low the next few days in the hotel, not wanting to over indulge on such experiences all at once.
After a week in Delhi we flew south to Goa. Formerly a Portuguese colony, Goa has a flavor all its own. During the 60s and 70s it attracted a Bohemian, wandering, hippy crowd and still maintains the reputation. The palm trees and water seem to extract any tension from your system and you slide into the laid back beach culture without a second thought. We drank G&Ts and planned ways to avoid the midday heat. Goa offers an array of old church sites and plantations as well as picturesque beaches. All in all a great place to stay for a few days.
After Goa we flew back to Dubai and my dad and I parted ways. So thanks Dad for a brilliant trip!
The Water Cooler
Bits of February and March went by slowly. It was a processing time on how to establish Overland Missions as a legal entity in Burundi. The one thing I love about Africa is that anything is possible. The one thing that frustrates work in Africa is that anything is possible.
I’ve realized one of the hardest things in life is getting momentum. It’s like I have to put three or four times the effort into any given task because I have to figure it out from scratch each time. In French.
Really its all about meeting the right people, trust worthy people, who can navigate you through the labyrinth of social networks (remember the only way to move bureaucracy is from the top down) in a foreign place, language, and culture. I thank God for opening doors to the right partners. Now that a basic network has been established the questions are: what is the best move for the organization? That is, how can OM best achieve its goals as to maximize benefit for the people of Burundi? And as any good business plan, its flexible, changing- it’s a boat being built at sea.
One goal I have here is to have all projects OM undertakes funded by in-country enterprises. In a word: sustainable. Of course the greatest limiting factor here is the lack of finances. The de facto posture is to receive, and rely, on western donors. Okay, I see that this is necessary to get people on their feet but long term does it make sense to rely on others? No- evidenced by the recent financial crisis and the collapse of so many projects here. I think there is a difference between development and relief. I am not an expert on development but it just seems logical that for long term development a people have to support themselves. Is this too western? Too naive? We’ll see.
So with that in mind I am researching various business ventures. Because I also think this: what if its done right? What if business and politics and everything else was done right here in Burundi and East/Central Africa? History tells me that it hasn’t up till this point. Someone once said that if you don’t know history you’re doomed to repeat it. No one is perfect, no one country or region has it completely right but if you don’t see flaws in any system you’re not looking hard enough. And if you don’t want to improve on those flaws you won’t be much use to anyone.
What is “right” then? I think if there was an easy answer we would have found it, but my version (conveniently plagiarized from the Bible) goes something like this: love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Trust that God is really the one that will provide for you and care for you because He has such great love for you. Then you won’t have to strive and manipulate and worry to survive. Memorize Luke 12:22-34.
So, my work in short has been arduous but its sharpening me.
And in April I helped act as a guide with teams from the UK and from the US with some local partners here. They were a great encouragement and it was amazing to see them used by God in such powerful ways.
World Cup??
I think I have a ticket to the World Cup!!!!!!!! The US England game on June 12! I will travel down to Zambia in early June to help out with AMT and other efforts on OMs base in Livingstone, Zambia and then fly to South Africa for two days to see the game. This will be such a fantastic break. I can’t wait.
Life Lessons
I felt like I’ve already sermonized enough but I’ll leave you with some quick life lessons that have been impressed on me: 1) Perseverance. When life is hard, when its not ideal and you feel alone, keep going. You can rationalize a million good reasons to quit but keep going. Successful people in life are the ones that keep faith even when it’s not convenient. 2) The only thing that truly changes people is the Grace of God expressed through the person of Jesus Christ over time. Relentless grace, that is grace and love over time, will change even the hardest of people. That seems to be what the Bible is about. Argumentation, no matter how polished or rational, doesn’t change hearts.
That is all.

As always thanks for reading if you made it this far. Please send updates if you can. They are always an encouragement