February 3, 2008
You all are in my thoughts and prayers frequently and I am delighted whenever I hear from you. Sorry my responses have been few lately. I am lamentably behind in my correspondence due to a variety of factors, including limited electricity for charging the computer to write, the necessary trek to the computer center to send the e-mails and my tons-to-do, hurry-up-and-wait life in Congo. I hope this update fills you in on my last month or so, and you can be patient as you wait for e-mail responses.
I am now immersed in a life quite different than the one I led at the convent. I am blessed to have Fausto and Luca as fellow volunteers. Fausto plans to stay for two years and Luca for one year. Another Italian volunteer, Simone, arrived January 22. He is working to set up the solar panels and electrical systems for the volunteer house and cyber café. His to-do list is about a year long, but his departure date is February 28, so he's been very busy.
Luca is busy baking and selling bread. He has quickly gotten the hang of using the big wood oven and now it seems that he will be able to use the new electric oven that came in the container since a new generator, sufficiently powerful to provide electricity for it, is due to arrive from Kampala any day now. (It was supposed to arrive in Arua Friday, then Saturday and now today. We'll believe it when we see it.) Anyway, the people have been buying all the bread that Luca makes. We have to beg to eat some at home. It's delicious!
Fausto is called upon constantly as driver and general handyman. After helping Luca get the bakery going, he's been doing soldering for farm equipment and working with Simone on electrical systems. Eventually, he'll probably spend more time at the farm where the cows (along with two new calves) and the unplowed fields are awaiting him.
I have spent quite a bit of time cooking and working in the house. Since processed foods aren't much available and Luca, Fausto and Simone really like to eat, cooking is rather a major project. Also washing clothes is time-consuming since we don't have a washing machine yet. When Luca and Fausto's clothes were visibly dirty and we didn't have time and energy left for cooking twice a day, the sisters suggested getting some help. About ten days ago, with the help of Papa Joseph, the cook at the convent, we hired Maman Maria to help us cook and clean. We thank God for her hard work, sweet spirit and good cooking.
At the high school we are now in the midst of semester exams, when the regular class schedule is suspended and exams are taken full-time. The grades for the exams are worth half of the semester grade. I've been writing exams, proctoring exams and correcting exams. I continue to learn more about the educational culture and educational system in Congo. I still find it bewildering at times. I pray that I can really teach practical English and share in the students' lives at the same time that I prepare the students for their state exam.
Life at the pre-school is filled with singing, smiles, bright eyes and craziness. We're now learning the names of the colors in English and the alphabet song. One of the kid's favorite songs is "If You're Happy and You Know It". This Thursday we're supposed to take a field trip to the farm. That should be exciting!
I see the group of eleven aspirants once a week. We sing songs in English and have started learning a bit of guitar, but this will be difficult until we get a few more guitars. Now we only have three or four.
The library project has been put on hold until we can get the other projects better established. For now the books (and new magazines that arrived by post!) are housed in a little room by the chapel. I've entered more of the titles in my computer to start a library catalog, and will be searching for sources for buying more books in the coming months.
Community life is delightful and exhausting. We eat three meals and day together, pray together (somewhat sporadically, unfortunately), often work together and spend the evenings together. At least once per week we have dinner with the Sisters and we are invited to special celebrations. Constant community is a big adjustment for me after having lived alone, but mostly I like it. I am learning many things I may never have otherwise, like how to bake bread, drive a tractor, cook, wire a house for electricity and speak Italian. I am grateful God brought us together somehow.
The volunteer house is nearing completion. (Maybe it will be done by Easter?) I am happy to be settled in my new bedroom with my own bathroom now, after spending a couple of weeks between the convent and the new house in temporary, bathroomless quarters. My room was the first finished in the new house. A couple of days ago Simone moved into the second bedroom. We have power in the evenings from the main generator of the Sisters, and this week Simone says the solar panels will be up and running for 24-hour power. This is very good news. I have a feeling that our little refrigerator will be much more effective with more than three hours of electricity per day, and coordinating the charging of computer, phone and other batteries will be more manageable.
I am beginning to feel at home here in Aru, little by little. It takes a lot of time and energy to adjust. I'm thankful God brought me here and for his constant Presence, for the support of the Canossian Sisters, the kindness and companionship of my fellow volunteers and for all of your love and support in the past from which I still draw strength, and for your prayers and efforts to stay in touch now. You give me courage and comfort. Thank you!