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Africa News, Week #4

 

It’s been a good week for us—hope you are all well and as busy as you want to be. We’ve had pretty good luck with the Internet lately and appreciate your messages.

 

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This week began with yet another cultural/liturgical experience: Fr. Charles invited us to accompany him to one of his closer satellite mission churches where he was saying Mass this week and performing baptisms. The drive was only about 15-20 minutes, along pretty good roads. The only iffy part was when he left the road to drive into the church yard—he had to really gun it to keep plowing through the deep sand and not get mired down. (On the way out, he said he tries to wait until all the church goers have left so he can back out quickly and not be in danger of running one of them over.)

 

The Church building is about 15 years old, large, airy, and pleasantly cool inside. If needed, it could seat more than our parish in Arroyo Grande, but for now almost 1/3 of the nave is left open as a wide center aisle. Typically, the women and children sit on the left, the men on the right—behind the choir. It has zigzag side walls, with brick lattice providing floor to ceiling ventilation on the “zig” which is not visible as you enter; you just see the brick “zags.” Father Charles’s big issue with this church community is their expectation that he will pay for the painting it badly needs. This area had been a mission of a rich German diocese for almost a hundred years and they built all the churches. Now the locals have come to expect someone else to come up with all the funding whenever the church needs serious maintenance. Another of his churches has a thatched roof which is starting to leak—thatch lasts about 5 years. The locals could easily thatch it themselves, as they do on their own homes, and the material can be gathered from along the river; the problem is getting them to see that it is their responsibility. In the meantime, the walls will start to erode as the rain flows down the inside. Could you imagine a priest in the US having to deal with 6-7 different parish councils, each with their own quirks and particular agendas? The finances and maintenance are only one aspect of his administrative duties!

 

The Mass itself was conducted with the same spirit—singing, dancing in processions, occasional ululation (I need to find someplace private to practice that—I’d love to see St. Patrick’s sit up and take notice when I threw in an ululation or two during the Gloria some Sunday!). Most of the collection consists of 5- or 10-cent Namibian coins. David’s $20Nam bill (equal to about $3 US) probably doubled the take for that week. And this week was special—only once in six weeks do they have a priest saying Mass, rather than a deacon giving a communion service. Before Mass started, Fr. Charles heard confessions for all who lined up; so Mass was delayed over half an hour, with everyone patiently waiting outside under the trees. It was interesting studying the Sunday finery—men in suits and ties, women in dresses fit for bridesmaids, flower girls, or the cocktail hour. They like to dress beautifully, and coming to Mass is one of the highlights of their social calendar. The children were very quiet and well-behaved, some occupying themselves by spinning the coins they were given to put in the collection. No strollers—the babies are carried in cloth slings and nursed as often as necessary to keep them content and quiet. After David & Loren left for Windhoek and the coast (he’ll tell about that) on Monday morning, my week proceeded quite normally: progress on organizing the Office Skills class files; teaching two classes (my students find it challenging to supply the letters between, say E and J, in the alphabet, but they’re getting better at telephone answering skills—at least when they have a script). The highlight was actually having all five students make it to class on Thursday.

 

Also on Thursday, Mark and I took advantage of a cooler, dry afternoon to walk a bit. He showed me Fr. Charles’s pig operation, the work being done on a large hall at the grades 1-10 girls’ hostel, and then he noticed goats in the garden. So we shooed them out and took a look at the swimming pool that Fr. Charles hopes to get repainted and filled with river water for the school girls to enjoy. (The pool is part of the legacy of a rich German priest who built a house to retire to here but died in the airport as he set out for Nyangana after his retirement.) Mark was upset that the goats had spent the day in the pool enclosure, eating all vegetation within their reach and pooping everywhere, even in the pool. He says the goat owners just let them roam freely and then get angry if dogs kill one of them. From there, we walked past the hospital and school and back around.

 

Since Wednesday was Ash Wednesday, everyone brought sticks to Mass that afternoon. We carried them up when we came forward to receive our ashes, and they were piled in a corner of the church for use on the bonfire burned at the Vigil Mass on the eve of Easter.

 

We still had no rain here all week—someone needs to get going on that rain dance!

 

DAVID: So my  week began Monday morning with the drive to Windhoek with Loren. From Rundu south 259 km to Grootfontain we encountered rain showers. There is quite a bit of farming around Grootfontain, and for about 200 km south,  there are large cattle ranches and corn growing. John Deere and New Holland dealerships in one town. To add a little excitement to our trip we had a blowout about 50 km south of Grootfontain-but I squeezed under the pickup to get the jack under the axle and the tire change went well.  This necessitated a stop in Otiva, the next town down the line, to purchase a tire, have a late lunch, and continue the journey.

 

In an earlier letter we talked about Windhoek—at 5500 ft elevation the nights are cooler and by earlier morning I was pulling the comforter up. We went to Windhoek to have a canopy put on the pickup--that took all day Tuesday, for the pickup has an auxiliary gas tank in the back and they had to do some welding on the tank (sans gasoline of course) to put in an adapter gas fill access that comes out the side of the canopy. It all turned out pretty slick. We also had various items on our buy list--laser printer cartridge, power adapter for CD player, etc. With those tasks accomplished, I did some turisto shopping and found some items there and the next day in Swakopmund to remind us of our stay here.

 

Wednesday morning we headed for the coast, some 350 km. The country side around Windhoek and east for about half the trip would be similar to areas of eastern Oklahoma, rolling hills, brush, small trees, green grass. It then becomes more and more arid--like Arizona along I-40, and finally for the last 100km, Mojave desert country. Swakopmund is a vacation, tourist resort á la Pismo Beach/Monterey. Cool this time of year—lots of restaurants—had a couple of good dinners:  fish (hake) one night and a more hearty German meal the next.  Some good South African house wines @ US $3-4 equivalence and dinners @ US $10-12. Lots of condos and apartments anywhere from U.S $200,000-400,000. We stayed at facilities that the church in Swakopmund runs: a place for the elderly and also a skilled nursing facility. I had a room equipped with a button to call an attendant, if needed. Fortunately I didn’t need the call button during this short stay! The price was right, about U.S. $5.00 a night. Thursday we drove down to Walvis Bay, Namibia’s major port. For 30 km we had large sand dunes on the left (Namibia has the largest sand dunes in the world) and on the right was the Atlantic. About 15 km down is the community of Long Beach with more condos and apartments and about 5km of developed lots with ocean views.  We didn’t take the time to check on lot prices, but like everywhere, the worldwide recession has hit the go-go areas here. Walvis Bay is a working city—port, logistics, warehouses, and other activities such as repairing and renovating off-shore oil platforms that are towed from the Angolan oil fields down here. While Loren visited the Seaman’s Ministry operation, I played tourist and went out on a boat with 10 other folks, Germans and a couple from Toronto, to tour the bay. There are large colonies of seals out on the sand spit that forms the bay--30-50 thousand (But about 150 km north of here there is an area with hundreds of thousands of seals. Bill Weitkamp pointed out the picture to me in an issue of “Smithsonian “ magazine from early 2009, I think).  They were pretty amazing! I got some good pictures of them, as well as flamingoes, pelicans in flight along our boat, etc. They also have a couple of trained seals that will follow the boat in our wake, keeping up with us, and then jump aboard. Our skipper told us about “Sally,” our visitor. It was a three hour trip accompanied by a brunch of raw oysters (which they grow in the bay), other finger food, and champagne. And you might well ask what did I do to deserve this while Paula was back in sweltering dry Nyangana working? The answer is, “Absolutely nothing.” I did feel a bit guilty at times.

 

Loren then picked me up and we went out to the fabled “Dune 7” about 10 km out of town. It is a monster and I climbed to the top and got some great pictures. A German from Frankfurt was up at the top with his family; I got a kick out of him and them--complaining of the heat (isn’t that why they left Germany in the middle of winter to come to Namibia?).  And with skin white as a piece of parchment paper ,they were turning beet red. The sand dunes we saw are a small part of the Namibian dunes as they extend for hundreds of kilometers north and south, some with cliffs that drop directly into the Atlantic.  In July they get a version of our Santa Ana’s with winds coming from the inland and resulting in massive dust storms along the coast. Yesterday morning we were on the road by 6:30 and drove the 1000 km to Nyangana arriving here at about 6:30 after a stop in Rundu for our weekly provisions. For dinner we helped make tuna in white sauce— eating in a household with a priest, deacon, and two brothers, we get serious about no-meat Fridays during Lent!

 

Paula, again: Saturday morning (today), with David back on the job, he and Mark finally got the chalkboard hung in the room I use for the Office Skills class. Mark and I had been stymied in our efforts to hang it on Monday, due to lack of the proper cement drill bit and too short screws. Mark says every project is that way—wrong equipment or poorly made (usually in China), so everything takes 2-3 times longer than you think it will. Maybe that is a hallmark of being on a mission—you get to learn patience.

 

We finally had a bit of rain this afternoon, enough to create little rivers which soaked into the sandy soil as soon as the rain stopped. But some is better than none! Will close for now, so you can wake up and put our stories aside until next week!

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