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Africa News, Week #6

It was another “normal” week, with not too much out of the ordinary, but we kept busy. Here’s at least some of the news that’s fit to print.

Soon after we finished writing last week’s letter on Saturday, early afternoon, Mark showed up and asked if we’d like to go camping. This was the first weekend that none of us (Mark, Loren, David and me) had anything special scheduled, and it was a beautiful sunny but not muggy day. So we agreed readily and soon were on the road, about 20 minutes up the river to Shankara, a nice lodge grounds. Mark and Loren have become acquainted with the manager there, and he allows them to pitch a tent on the grounds for a very reasonable fee. David said he wasn’t interested in sleeping on the hard ground, so we rented a bungalow right on the river. It is fairly new, with a thatched roof, screens instead of windows, bamboo matted walls, lots of oiled wood, big open beams—very appealing. And it has hot water for the shower! The grounds have lots of lawns, dotted with trees and flower beds. Two huge, sweet Great Dane dogs, a small daschund and one colorful rooster roam the grounds (apparently the rooster has been trained not to crow too early). It’s a beautiful setting in which to sit and watch the river roll by, read a book, listen to the birds. We had good sausages and sweet corn for dinner. Sunday morning we slept as late as we were able, had a leisurely breakfast, then David and I swam for a while in the real swimming pool. It’s filled with river water that is filtered and chlorinated—fairly clear and well-tended. But we didn’t stay too long in the African sunshine—it really seems hotter than US sun. After lunch, we had planned to relax until about 4:30, but the rain started, so we packed up and returned home to the Mission by about 4pm. We’re hoping to return again soon.

On Tuesday, David and Loren put on another workshop session with Loren’s Youth group—he and Loren were a bit perturbed that they preferred to cut the workshop short—only two sessions, but were very interested in what kind of certificate they would get for attending it. One guy asked if they could get Cal Poly university credit for the workshop; David laughed (to myself) and explained that Cal Poly courses devote 10 weeks to each of the topics they barely touched on. David and Loren made their weekly run to Rundu on Thursday, for groceries and a few office supplies, but this week the payload was concrete. Loren is overseeing the building of a shed to house the priests’ bicycles—to protect against the weather and thievery. They had to leave a couple 6-meter long pieces of 2x2” (5cmx5c?) steel tubing that will be used for rafters for another trip—they were too long and unstable on top of the pickup canopy and need Fr. Charles’s pickup‘s strong rack.

Meanwhile, I was kept busy with the late addition of a new student. She’s eager and seems to be doing all right with the material, so hopefully she’ll be up to par with the class in another week. I also worked on a little job for Fr. Charles—designing an invitation to the Mass that will be held here in May to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the founding of Nyangana Mission. I think he liked the looks of it, since he then asked if it would be possible to set up his letterhead so that he wouldn’t have to import the graphic of the Mission that he uses on every letter. So I’m also creating a template for that. He could do either of these jobs for himself, but whenever he sits down to his computer, his time is peppered with calls, visitors, etc. My work on the class files continues—sometimes it seems I’ll never get through all of them, but we’ll see. I think I’ll manage enough to make it an easier job for Ginger to fill in where I leave off, around her teaching.

Around all these activities, we have enjoyed daily rains—sometimes only a few minutes, but some days we have had good storms morning, afternoon, evening, and night. The corn is looking good, and the farmers can hope for a good start for their crops, if they got them in as the rains first started. The air has cooled enough that David actually got up in the middle of the night to close a window, and I’ve been able to wear my long-sleeved tops.  The cool weather has been most welcomed after our first four weeks of very hot and dry weather.

Friday afternoon we had Nyangana Maria (the young lady who assists in the computer lab and with Paula’s Office Skills class) take us out to one of the villagers to look for baskets to take home. Basketry is the major craft remaining here in this part of the Kavango. The little whispy grandmother she introduced us to (turned out she is Nyangana’s grandfather’s sister) had a couple of small baskets with very nice designs so we bought them and commissioned her to make a larger one that will hopefully be finished when we leave in four weeks. The rest of this story is about 6:30 yesterday evening she showed up at our doorstep with Paula’s umbrella that she forgot. Since it is 2-3 km. to her house I borrowed the Brothers’ pickup to take her home. But on the way we had to make a stop at the local mini-mart to buy raw brown sugar, 25 kg. of it, since she had me to take her and the sugar home. The sugar is one of the major ingredients in making home brew. Hopefully she is making the beer to sell and to parlay her basket income into greater funds. If it is all for home consumption I fear for the care and accuracy of the design work on our next basket!

During our popcorn hour (TGIF), during which David drove our basket lady home, our explanation of how she is related to Nyangana triggered a discussion of blood ties within families. It seems that in some African cultures (at least around here and in Malawi, from which Fr. Charles hails), the mother’s brother is considered to have a very close relationship to her children, even closer than the father’s. Blood-wise, the father is the “stranger” in his home—this is a matrilineal/matriarchal society to the core!

Last night we had seven at dinner—not only was Berthold back from Rundu (still no learner’s permit, but he now has an appointment to sit for it on Monday and the new book to study from), but Fr. Michael, who had been stationed here for three years, from before his ordination as deacon until about a year after his ordination as priest, was back for a visit. Everyone enjoyed the vegetarian bean/tomato stew David made. One person suggested we should return next Lent—they seem to like the alternatives to fish we’ve come up with. And having David do the cooking really beats what they come up with out of the freezer on the cook’s day off!

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