Archive for August, 2009

Africa as a child

My earliest memories are of Africa, of the Bongondza station, in what was then the Belgian Congo.  When I returned to Africa as an adult I found that the scent of guava, frangipani, and a particular spidery white lily all had the effect of making me feel five years old again.  It’s mostly snapshot memories- joyously playing in the rain on my parents’ front porch which leaked like a sieve, and watching my father set up large plastic sheets between the clotheslines to catch rainwater for his intravenous drips.  He said he never had an infection.  I remember the pet rabbits, whose cage was set up with the legs set in tins of kerosene to keep out insect invaders.  It didn’t work.  One morning we awoke to find them two black balls of driver ants.  I remember wild honey, set in a bowl on the table in the back porch.  There was a hole in the screen and the bees stole most of it back. And I remember the feeding frenzy of the chickens when Dad brought in a section of termite mound and cut it open for them.  I had kittens and a collection of pet snails that made a habit of escaping -leaving silvery trails around my bedroom. I also had a dollhouse, and a life-size doll with real hair that had come from a church bazaar.

It all ended rather abruptly with the coming of Independence in 1960.  The Belgians had not made themselves popular and the ill-feeling extended to them spilled over to all with white skin.  One memorable evening my parents were told that they would be evacuating the next morning with the rest of the westerners on the station.  I remember that it was very hard to get a kerosene lantern for my room that evening.  I  freed the snails, including the huge one my father had found on his way back from the hospital that evening.   My father remembered mostly that he had performed several surgeries that day and that he spent the night writing post-op orders for the nurses to follow.  We were allowed a small suitcase each.  A few clothes, one or two toys, my father’s surgical instruments that he said he wouldn’t leave to rust in the forest, and local paintings cut out of their frames and rolled up that still hang in our home today.

Other than having to give the kittens away, what I remember most was that after having breakfast we just walked out, leaving everything on the table, everything as was, in the house.  I learned early that things are things, you can walk away from them.

I don’t remember much of the trip.  Dad slipped my brother and me sedatives so that we wouldn’t irritate any soldiers at road-blocks on the drive out.  In Stanleyville, we left on the last American troop plane out of Congo- a big cavernous monster with webbed seating.

We never did go back.  My father went on to work in a hospital just opened in the Trucial States.  The doctor, who replaced him, and his young family,were one day  hacked apart with machetes and thrown into a river by rebel troops.

My parents though, always spoke of the Congolese they had known with affection, remembering their kindness and ability to endure difficult situations. They remembered their propensity for laughter.  If you don’t laugh sometimes, you will always be crying.


Leave a Comment

Not in Africa


I’ve seen occasional jury-rigging in my life to get electricity where it was needed.  I know now that it was all done by rank amateurs.
I have to thank The Happy Moron for introducing me to an entire site of incredible jury rigging of all kinds.

Leave a Comment

Start small- Video back up!

Mother Theresa’s much quoted philosophy was, “If you can’t feed a hundred, feed one.”   I should stop  clutching my  five loaves and two fishes- they aren’t much of a hedge against the perils of my life, and trust in God’s power of multiplication.  I looked at this BBC news item because the Crossroads Church in Red Deer sponsors folks with not such a different focus, and thought.  Yes, God can grow compassion expressed in a small way to something bigger.

It was not by their sword, that they won the land,
nor did their arm bring them victory;
it was your right hand, your arm,
and the light of your face, for you loved them.
.–.Psalm 44:3\

August 28    Now the video’s back- but this time it’s fronted by an ad.  There must have been a demand, or Madonna’s comments made the site trendy- sigh.

p.s.  August 27 p.m.  Looks like the BBC doesn’t have the video of the Roma living on the Romanian dump, and the small Dutch nursery school that was feeding, teaching, and washing clothes for a dozen children or so, up on it’s site at present.  I wonder why it came down so fast.  Perhaps they’ll put it back up again and the link posted on this blog will be worth something.  It was a well done piece of video.

Leave a Comment


Monday I went out to pick raspberries in the garden, garnered only a handful and realized their season was coming to an end.  I phoned a friend in education and she had started back to work.  I went down to Superstore for coffee filters and found myself wandering past a display of ceramic jack-o-lanterns.

That’s when it occurred to me that if we wanted chokecherry syrup for pancakes this year the time was fast passing to pick.  So Tuesday, when my mind started going boing-boing at the computer I went out.  The sun was actually warm on my shoulders. The chokecherries were black and heavy on the bushes. And it was one of those wonderful days in late August when the air is full of richness and harvest with just a hint of fall to come.

Hope you have had a good summer.  All you want to know about chokecherries here

Leave a Comment

Why we don’t do the translation ourselves

I looked at these photos. The English messages in them are all clear.  However it’s also obvious that the writers do not have English as their mother tongue.  It would be unfortunate if people picked up an Nkonya New Testament, understood the meaning, but decided that God was a foreigner, and challenged in his ability to speak Nkonya.

Comments (1)

A Hard-hearted Guide to “Pets in Africa”

So you are going overseas, you plan to raise your kids abroad and visions of “Born Free” and  Gerald Durrell books dance in your head?  Don’t even think of it.  With a few exceptions stand firm and say, “No.”


Don’t get me wrong. I like pets- a cat particularly.  A cat is the equivalent of an emotional heat sink for me. We usually had one in Ghana. Cats in Ghana rarely live more than a few years. Having one  taught my children that animals die, and that one kitten can replace another in your affections.  I’ve also found out, now that we commute to and fro across the Atlantic, and have no house cat, that mice quickly take over your residence when no mousers live in.

However, living outside of North America much of my life, including the varied pet experiences of my youth,  has coloured my attitude to them. Unless you have gobs of free time and can remain  emotionally unattached to cute wild animals don’t even think about raising them ( sometimes it’s illegal as well).

I only weakened twice in Ghana that I can think of.

Once I tried to rescue a wild dove squab, and it was doing quite well on those two hourly feedings until it was stolen. I’m sure it was promptly turned into a tasty snack. My emotions were mixed of course, but it was a relief to give up the feedings.

And once we accepted a small squirrel- utterly adorable.  Except that night the watchman came into the living room for something, saw a small creature scampering across the floor, and reflexively stamped on it, with the children all watching.  It was not a happy moment.

After that, when we moved to Nkonya I admired all the small wild creatures hunters brought to my door, and accepted none.  Have I already indicated that  wild baby animals and birds require  intensive time-consuming feeding schedules?  They usually die, even with hours of effort.  Monkeys have a way of surviving but they do not toilet train, turn nasty when their teen hormones kick in, and can transmit diseases to humans.

I don’t generally recommend a dog either.  I’ve seen very few dogs, kept by North Americans abroad, that were not problematic.  Once in the Trucial States my parents acquired a puppy for us, because my father felt that our childhoods were incomplete without one.   In retrospect it seems unwise  to me for North Americans to raise a dog in a society that considers them unclean.  We can’t own one without petting and making much of it.

However that  was not the cause of Rinty’s demise.  He started chasing goats.  This was not friend-making so he was chained up. Chained dogs develop attitudes that also do not make friends.  He was taken out to the desert and met an unhappy end.  In Ghana, I observed the same problems with dogs generally, and especially with neurotic guard dogs.

If you need animals in your life a good rule of thumb would be to raise what people around you raise.  Then eat them-  with the exception of cats.  I draw the line at eating felines.

Comments (1)

Beauty in Nkonya

Upper town

Life is difficult and the way is often stony, but there is beauty to savour even in the most ordinary of places.

Upper Town 2

Comments (2)

Older Posts »