It takes a certain amount of faith to ask God to calm a raging storm in one’s life. It takes greater faith to jump into the wild sea while the storm continues, trusting God with the results.
Sometimes I ask God for the Impossible, believing wholeheartedly that He will work miracles. Time after time I have seen the Impossible become reality, thanks to His amazing power and grace.
But other times, despite God’s prompting, I am too afraid to get out of the boat, to jump off the cliff, to take the first step down unknown paths that could change me forever. I am terrified to lose sight of the land, even if that is the only way to find the stars God intends for me to reach, the only way to shine in the darkness, so that Jesus Christ might be clearly seen.
In the words of one of my favorite Rend Collective songs, did God make us and redeem us for “so much more than this”?
What impossible things would Jesus do in and through me and through you, if we would obey Him in every area of life, whether or not His will makes sense?
If we were to follow Him with courage, hope, and love, how might God reflect His glory and the beauty of the Gospel to the world?
Wrestling with these questions over the past several days, I have been deeply disturbed and unsettled by their implications and by my oh-so-little faith. In His faithful mercy, the Lord brought this prayer and blog post to mind, challenging me once again with His truth and His dreams and His worthiness.
While organizing old documents on my laptop, I came across a prayer, written by Francis Drake, apparently, although I do not remember who he was. It was on a document called “Whole Milk Yogurt”, oddly enough, which contained a yogurt recipe, two paragraphs of a journal entry from 2013, and this prayer. The only more random document I opened this week was named Staff Meeting, in a folder entitled Head Start (my former workplace). The “Staff Meeting” document contained only a recipe for Salmon Cakes, with absolutely nothing related to work or staff. I am quite sure that Head Start never held a meeting teaching us how to make Salmon Cakes.
Hopefully this little anecdote about my poor organizational skills will make you laugh and feel better about your life, because I can’t imagine that any of you have documents more randomly…
Becoming…The Journey to Lose Myself in an Amazon Village
In the ACL Learning Cycle this is actually the “P” that is the hardest to implement, due to several factors.
My lack of organizational skills.
The spontaneity of the people.
Unpredictable cultural routines and rhythms.
It did make me feel better than on her fifth day in the village, my new coworker asked, “So when the ACL Manual talks about “planning a daily routine”, what are we supposed to do? That doesn’t really work here, does it?” Denise’s first impression is correct; there is very little of what North American or Brasilian culture would view as routine or planning.
A premeditated daily schedule of which hours will be spent in planning, participating, processing and practicing might look feasible on paper. However, attempting to apply such a schedule in the midst of village life here would be a nervous breakdown in the making. Just the thought of trying to plan ACL so rigidly makes my neck tighten and my stomach twinge with unneeded stress.
Becoming part of Brasilian culture has helped me grow in such areas as being more flexible, going with the flow, valuing relationships over accomplishments, and making the most of every moment, planned or unplanned. All these lessons were great preparation for someone God knew would be heading into tribal church planting ministry less than a decade later.
In essence, I told Denise that planning for participation in culture activities is a challenge, and that my routine is that I don’t exactly have one. I also told her that this as one of the incredible advantages of singleness on the mission field. We are each in charge of our own house, meals, routine, ACL, and everything.
If I’m cooking lunch and someone walks past the house on their way to an interesting activity, I have perfect freedom to leave lunch on the stove (turned off, of course), go to the garden or down to the river, and eat whenever, without a hungry husband or children depending on having meals at a a certain time.
When there just don’t seem to be enough hours in the day to accomplish everything, and I choose to put ACL ahead of housework, the resulting messiness doesn’t bother anyone, as long as it doesn’t bother me, the one who will end up cleaning it eventually.
Or, as happened yesterday, if a language helper comes over right before I was going to wash dishes, and stays until dusk, no way am I going to tell her that I don’t have time to study. All I need to do is discourage the arrival of rats and cockroaches during the night by covering the basin of dirty dishes, and wash them in the morning instead. (There are no lightbulbs near my outdoor “sink”, so I don’t wash dishes at night). That way I can prioritize practicing the language, grateful for the unplanned study session.
Despite the challenges of Planning, here are a few strategies I do use:
STRATEGY OF THE MINUTEMAN (can I go with you?)
If I see someone going somewhere, or hear that someone is planning something, I drop everything and ask if I can go.
Yesterday [written in mid-May], for instance, I was sitting in a friend’s kitchen, about to ask if she had time for a study session, when she mentioned that her children went with their grandma to gather fruit in the jungle. I asked if they had already left. Mariana said yes and asked if I would have wanted to go along, saying maybe it wasn’t too late to catch them. Saying good-bye quickly, I called to the children, “Wait! I’m going with you!”, and hurried down the trail, for a culture event that turned out to be a 3-hour adventure in the most pristine, eerily untouched part of the jungle I have yet seen.
STRATEGY OF THE OPTIMIST (They might have a plan ahead of time.)
Asking people in the afternoon or evening, “What are you doing tomorrow?” Sometimes this results in a plan for the following day, although the most common responses, however, are “just living” or “I don’t know yet.”
STRATEGY OF THE OPPORTUNIST (I really want an invitation!)
Saying to a friend, “When you _______ (insert culture event such as plant sugar cane), please come tell me.”
STRATEGY OF THE OFF-THE-RECORD CONTEST (Who’s doing what?)
Going from house to house at 7 or 7:30, to say “Did you wake up?” to everyone (because saying “good morning” would just be silly) and asking what people’s plans are for the day. Then, after deciding who seems to have the most interesting plan, I ask if I can go along, or participate with them.
Do you think my friends realize that they are constantly pitted against each other “Most Interesting Culture Event of the Day” contest? The award, of course, is the company of their resident missionary/ACL student.
Depending on the activity, that participation may be seen as a benefit or a hindrance. Sometimes I am actually helpful and often my speaking and participation attempts provide great entertainment. On the other hand, sometimes I surely slow them down, or make the task take longer because they take the time to teach me along the way.
Planning for study sessions is also part of planning. That happens at my messy desk, pictured at the beginning of this post, and is much more predictable. In an upcoming post about Practicing, you will hear more about study sessions with language helpers.
How would you deal with the challenges of planning if you were in my shoes? Would it drive you crazy or do you love a last-minute, spur-of-the-moment, do-whatever-comes-along kind of routine?
Do you have any planning strategy suggestions for me? Tracking bugs and hidden listening devices are not options.
Becoming…The Journey to Lose Myself in an Amazon Village.
The ACL* method developed by New Tribes Mission (now known as Ethnos360), has a tried-and-true Learning Cycle, a pattern for missionaries to follow in daily culture and language learning. Based on “Culture Events”, which are events, activities and situations occurring in the community, cyclic learning enables one to get the most out of these daily experiences, moving toward the goal of becoming part of the people, understanding their life from an insider’s perspective and communicating fluently in their language.
Instead of constantly referencing the “ACL Learning Cycle”, I like to call it by its less formal title – “The Four Ps”.
Plan – What culture event can I participate in? What do I hope to learn from this event? Who will be my teacher? Do I need to bring anything along?
Participate – The second P is my opportunity to experience an event or situation in the life of the community. This can be a quick activity such as giving a baby a bath or feeding the chickens. It can be an all-day expedition harvesting Brasil nuts. Or it can be a three-day trip to another village for a celebration, consisting of dancing, Bible teaching, and people from all over our reservation.
Process – All the data (new vocabulary, photos, audio recordings, cultural observations, questions I want to ask about the event) gathered during the Participate step needs to be organized, which is the purpose of this 3rd P.
Practice – This fourth P is when I “re-experience” the culture event, sometimes literally, and sometimes through reviewing the photos and other data. That way hopefully what my friends taught me sticks in my brain, as much as possible.
In my next four posts, I will write about each of The Four Ps individually, to give you a better idea of what each P looks like on a real day (no such thing as a typical day!) in village ministry. While you wait for that, here is a pop quiz for you. No pressure at all; this is simply for fun and to get you thinking about how the Ps might look in daily life. Please participate by commenting with your answers, based on the above brief descriptions and other posts you have read here in the past. If you don’t know, just guess!
A Pop Quiz on the Four Ps:
Which P is the most fun and exciting?
Which P is supposed to take up most of a person’s ACL time?
Which P can involve little toy people?
Which P do I sometimes do first thing in the morning, while still half-asleep?
Which P did my sister do right along with me many times?
Which P is the hardest to implement?
Which P do I get behind on when we don’t have electricity for awhile?
Which P would be easier for someone doing ACL in the United States?
(The answers are based on my experience and this context – other ACL students might answer the questions differently, except for number 2, which is from the ACL manual). I will post a comment with the answers in 8 or 9 days.
*The actual English acronym is CLA – Culture and Language Acquisition. However, since the Portuguese acronym is ACL, and I was taught the method at the Brasilian training center, CLA sounds incorrect to my brain. Also, the phrase Acquisition of Culture and Language is not ungrammatical English, so I will continue referring to it as ACL. Just figured it would be good to set the record straight.
Becoming: The Journey to Lose Myself in an Amazon Village
Since I started this series and then took a long break from writing it, although I did not take a break from the ACL/Becoming experience, here are links to the first three parts.
You may want to skim them in order to refresh your memory. Please re-read at least part 1 if you would. On Friday morning I will jump back into regular weekly posting with Part 4 – Becoming – Pass the Ps, Please.
Something else even more exciting than a new post in this blog series is also happening Friday morning. Dad, Mom and three of my brothers will be arriving for a visit! Except for Josiah, who visited me in São Paulo in 2012, this will be their very first time in Brasil! They began their trip a few hours ago, so please be praying for safe travels for them, ability to sleep some on the way, and a wonderful reunion here.
We plan to proceed to the village on Saturday. My friends there are very eager to meet more of my family and share some special experiences with us. It will be an unforgettable week in the jungle, for sure!
What a blessing that God is once again bringing my very different worlds and realities together. Reflecting on the way our loving Heavenly Father makes dream after dream come true takes my breath away and brings a tear or two of joy. It is always so special to have my beloved family meet the precious families in other cultures that God has placed me in.
And he [Jesus] said unto them, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God’s sake, Who shall not receive manifold more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting. Luke 18:29, 30
There is a lot more that could be said about our plans for the next 10 days, God’s lovingkindness, and the incredible ways He blesses those who leave home to serve Him. Someone else will have to say it though, because this missionary needs to get off the computer to do some more shopping and baking and cleaning and planning. The Cross crew’s a-comin’!
Becoming: The Journey to Lose Myself in an Amazon Village
So who’s ready for an exciting expedition? This is a quest I have already embarked on, actually. Many of you have traveled the path with me, in a figurative yet very real and meaningful sense, through your prayers, friendship, and following the adventures related on this blog and through semi-regular email updates.
However, I realized awhile ago that while the ACL journey, Neno edition, has been referred to often on this blog, I have neglected to clearly communicate the heart of ACL – the philosophy and principles behind it, along with the bigger picture as it relates to church planting. Then there are the methods, the daily routine, learning cycles, hourly logs, charts and endless to-do lists. Spending time with people is key, as you know, but maybe you have wondered if I just hang out with my Neno friends for 8 hours a day, or are there “time together” strategies to be implemented?
At the end of September, back in the city, I saw that a blogger I follow was part of a 31-Day writing challenge, where bloggers pick one topic and write a post on that topic every day in October. Well, I obviously couldn’t participate in something like that, since I wasn’t going to have internet access for most of October. But the idea seemed like a good one, and motivated me to start my own personal writing challenge, exploring and explaining ACL in a deeper way, with five important incentives.
For you, my friends and family, to understand better what the heart and reason for “ACL ministry” is, as well as the ins-and-outs of what it looks like on a daily basis here in the village.
For readers who may be heading into the adventure of cross-cultural missions (or at least considering the possibility), to hopefully answer some of your questions and show that ACL, while impossible for a person attempting it on their own, is something that God can enable anyone to do.
For myself, heading into a second year of ACL, having recently passed the mark of 12 months actually in the village, to remind myself why God has called me to do this and how I can do it, to the best of my ability, by His strength and for His glory. Articulating the content of these posts will hopefully assist in refining and sharpening the goals Jesus and I are working towards, exponentially increasing my motivation and passion to continue running this ACL marathon, and finish well.
To record more of a miraculous journey, leaving blog posts as memorial stones, to forever remind me of God’s mighty acts.
To be challenged as a writer, thus growing in the ability to use the written word to express what is on my heart and mind, and more importantly – what God is doing in my life and among this people in this little corner of His great harvest field.
Now, since my priority still needs to be ACL, there is a very good chance I will not write this series in 31 days. It may not even be 31 posts. As with many journeys in life, only time will tell how this idea will turn out.
It is already 7:15 in the morning, though, so I really need to leave this desk and find some ACL adventures to participate in. Expect to hear more about that soon!
Explanatory note: My nephews and nieces call me “Tia Paulette” instead of “Aunt Paulette.” Tia is the word for aunt in Portuguese and is pronounced “chia” by the way. Two years ago, when I first asked them if they would start calling me “tia”, it took my oldest nephew awhile to get used to the switch. For a couple weeks, he referred to me as “Tia Aunt Paulette.” It was so cute, I was almost disappointed when he finally got it right.
Almost two years ago, I spent a few months doing what our missions agency calls partnership development. This is a time of networking and sharing in churches and other venues about the Neno people, and how God had prepared the way and was leading me to go live among them, to learn their language and culture with the goal of someday communicating His Word clearly.
One autumn Sunday, I shared at the church that my brother and his family attend. That was a really special opportunity, since the pastor and his wife are good friends, as are many of the other church members.
After the service, while I chatted with people and answered questions, my youngest nephew was engrossed by the display table I had set up in the back of the meeting area. His little brain was probably working overtime as he thought through all that his tia had said during church, and tried to understand why and when she would be leaving. Photos of the Neno, sent by the missionary family already on the field, were arranged neatly, in an attempt to depict the culture and personalities of people I had yet to meet. After some moments of silent pondering, Gideon looked up from the photos, wide-eyed and serious, and asked my mom, “Is Tia Paulette going to those brothers and sisters?”
When she told me about his question, my eyes filled with tears. He was only three years old at the time, but he got it. He really understands. He probably still doesn’t know exactly how far away Brasil is, or what it means to learn a tonal language, but he understood the most important aspect of God’s calling on his tia’s life, and simplified my mission in that one question.
The thing is, there is another place, where there are people who love Jesus and want to know Him more. They are not just some distant ethnic group with whom we have no relationship or common bond – they are our family! Some of them are already real brothers and sisters in Christ, having understood the simple truth of the Gospel and believed. Others have not heard or understood clearly who Jesus Christ is yet, or have turned away from His words, but we can claim some of these as our future brothers and sisters also, by faith in what God will do in years to come.
Oh, nephew-of-mine, dear child always close to my heart though often far away from my hugs, thank you for showing how much you really did understand by putting it into words that day. If only you could know how much this has encouraged my heart, on countless occasions since coming to the village.
You see, one of the very hardest things about being here is that I am far away from my dear family, especially from you and your brother and sisters who are growing up so fast. It hurts to think about all the birthdays, laughter, developmental milestones, funny quotes, and daily routines of your lives that I miss. It hurts to know that you and Jeremiah and Abbi and Jubilee miss me too, wish I could still go to your house every week, and have very little concept of what life here is like, or how long we will have to wait between visits. My heart aches to know that my choice to follow Jesus hurts you, makes your little hearts sad, and even causes occasional emotional meltdowns.
But when we are sad and miss each other, if we remember that I am here with thesebrothers and sisters, I think we can keep it all in perspective. Jesus, the One we love most of all, because He loved us first, wants to grow His family, which is also our family, so much bigger than we can even imagine. Because, as our sadness at being separated geographically demonstrates, families are meant to be together. Tias aren’t supposed to be thousands of miles away from the cutest nephews and nieces on the planet; it isn’t natural or good. Yet there is a far greater tragedy, a far greater wrong that must be rectified, which also happens to be the reason that we can accept the hardship of living so far away from each other.
The one true God, who created humanity, longs for a personal relationship with each man, woman and child on this earth, whatever their nationality. And as things now stand, most of the people in this world are far, far away from God, relationally speaking. He sent Jesus to bridge the gap, dying and rising again to pay for our sin and reconcile us to God. All that is left is for each individual to hear this good news, clearly communicated, and make the choice of whether he will trust Jesus alone for salvation, thus becoming a child of God, part of His family.
For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men. Titus 2:11
But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. John 1:12, 13
But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. Ephesians 2:13
Do you know who Jesus commissioned to to proclaim His name among the nations, telling them that God is calling all people to Himself as sons and daughters? That’s right – Jesus’ disciples, which means all of us who are already part of His family, through faith in Him. And as we obey Jesus, wherever we are, to spread His Word, we are workers with Him in this incredible mission. That’s the reason for your tia coming to the jungle and also the reason for your letting me go and praying for us. By God’s grace, He will use our obedience and sacrifice so that more and more Neno brothers and sisters can know Jesus like we do.
And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. Mark 16:15, 16
For we are labourers together with God. 1 Corinthians 3:9
And lest we feel too sorry for ourselves, in the midst of sacrifice, let’s look at the silver lining which every cloud is said to have, just from an immediate perspective. Since I can’t be the aunt who lives around the corner and is physically present on a regular basis, I am just going to embrace my role as the missionary tia who lives in the jungle far-far-away, eats alligator meat, holds baby monkeys, and has a dirt floor in her kitchen, but who still loves her nieces and nephews bunches and bunches. And those bunches of love are even bigger than the bunches of delicious jungle bananas I wish I could send you to eat. I will continue looking forward to each trip to the city, mainly for the chance of skyping with all of you, and answering your burning questions like, “What did you eat that you didn’t tell us?” and “Do you have any more animal stories from the village?” “What are your Neno friends’ names?” and “Can you hunt an alligator for us?”
Hopefully, as you grow up, in addition to bringing back an occasional special gift from the jungle (although I’m afraid alligator meat will not be included, Abbi), I will be able able to bring back stories – stories of how is God is at work in the lives of our Neno brothers and sisters. And I will thank you and your parents, as well as the rest of my family and friends, for your sacrifice and obedience to Jesus, right along with me. And since our times together will be few and far between, we will treasure them up like the jewels they are, squeezing in as many memories as possible, and living each moment to the full. And the joy and togetherness and fun and blessing of those moments will stir our hearts to anticipate even more that perfect, endless day when we will be together in Heaven, with Jesus, each other, our Neno brothers and sisters, and the rest of God’s family.
This week, now that fruits, vegetables and eggs from the city have either been eaten or spoiled, my diet has consisted primarily of granola, rice, peanuts/peanut butter, and popcorn. Good thing I truly love all these foods. To spice it up however, I was given meat three time by Neno friends – fish, paca, and get this – alligator meat!
Woohoo! Major score for someone who loves adding unusual foods to her menu. Did I like it? Silly question. Obviously! I make up my mind to like things before they ever enter my mouth, (which is the exact opposite of certain three-year-olds I have known) which makes a big difference. Besides, how can you go wrong with deep-fried meat? Delicious! Actually, to be perfectly honest, that day I was so congested with a severe cold that I couldn’t taste the alligator meat much at all. It was probably the crunchy texture which was most enjoyable. The meat itself was white, looked exactly like the meat of some of the fish in our river, whose names I cannot remember in any language, because there are so many it is easy to mix them up. It wasn’t tender and flaky like many fish are, but firm, bodied, yet without being tough or hard to chew.
Due to the cold, I cannot offer a proper Food-Network style commentary. I did notice the smell in my pot afterwards seemed pretty strong, so perhaps the taste would be as well. It seemed like a fairly fatty meat also.
P.S. (written July 15, 2017) A few weeks after the above experience, I was given alligator meat again. Having long since recovered from the cold, I was able to truly enjoy this exotic cuisine. This time, the meat still had the hide attached, which made prep a bit intimidating, but the hide was surprisingly easy to remove with the proper technique. I deep-fried it again, and shared it with three other people (city Brasilians, not Neno). They all raved about it and asked how I cooked it so perfectly. So apparently, somehow, I am a natural at cooking alligator meat. Who would have thought? That should look good on a resumé someday.
In reality, it’s hard to go wrong with anything deep-fried…not much talent necessary to cut something into chunks, season it with salt, and leave it in hot oil until it develops a crispy crust. And no, alligator meat, does not taste like chicken, if you were wondering. It could easily pass for fish, however, with the added bonus of not having pinbones.
Winter has come to the Amazon, my friends! Okay, no snowstorms or ice skating, but my coconut oil has actually solidified. And the other morning, I could see my breath. What temperature does that happen at? Waking up cold between 2 and 4 in the morning has become standard practice. I tried putting on more warm clothes before going to bed, but then ended up waking up sweaty first, taking off the extra clothes, and still waking up later cold, to put them back on. The cold at night has lasted about 3 weeks already. I have a blanket, but it is too bad I forgot my sleeping bag in the city. Won’t forget next “winter,” that’s for sure.
Yesterday morning, my hands were freezing cold (thanks Dad and Grandma Cross, for the “cold hands and feet syndrome” inherited from both of you 🙂 ). Therefore, one of my goals in figuring out where to spend time after breakfast was finding a place with a fire. Not much of a challenge, as all my Neno friends feel the cold much more than I do. Although I did keep my hoodie on until 9:15, which might be this winter’s record. Unfortunately, despite the frigid nights, noonday temperatures are still on the hot side. Not nearly as bad as September and October will be, but hotter than a Lewis County girl prefers.
I wish I had a thermometer to find out what the temperature range from coldest to hottest in a 24-hour period is, but I can tell it is pretty drastic. Can’t be good for the immune system.
Too bad we can’t average out the temperatures so it would be neither too cold nor too hot in a day, without daily “temperature shocks” to our system. Although I must say that I, for one, am still very thankful for the reprieve from the scorching summer days, when it is already way too hot by 8 AM.
I am still in the village, by the way, and had the chance to come to “The Farm” a few miles away (across the river) with a Neno family, so thought even a quick weather report might make up somewhat for the lack of Friday posts for the month of July.
In other news, last weekend, I finally got the chance to travel with a Neno family to another Neno village, about 1 1/2 hours away, for a celebration being held there. This was a really great chance to meet more people, build friendships, listen to and practice the language, and experience lots of culture. And my friends seemed really excited about the chance to take their “resident gringa” and language/culture learner along. They have already asked me to go with them to another celebration scheduled for mid-September in a different village. I hope to participate in as many of these opportunities as possible, especially during dry season when the roads are better.
Sometimes I learn vocabulary based on what is happening in the moment. Other times, useful things just come to mind that need to be learned. There were no moms feeding their children nearby the day I realized I didn’t know how to say, “She is feeding her child____.” (Fill in the blank with whatever type of food you can get in a jungle village). So, I quickly sketched this:
Can you tell what it is? If you said, “It’s a mom feeding manioc root to her child,” you are correct! Well, instead of leaving these simplistic stick figures nameless, I identified them as a specific mom and 2-year-old in our village. For some reason, the children love this drawing, and frequently ask to see it. On one such occasion, we ended up sitting on my long kitchen bench, four children and I, looking through various sketches. On the page with a man, woman, baby, snake, fish, chicken, and dog, the 7-year-old girl started quizzing me. She had been there for my first class using those particular sketches, when her mom helped me practice body parts, and taught a few I hadn’t yet learned, such as beak, fin, and wing.
As my little teacher asked questions such as “Where is the man’s knee?” “Where is the baby’s eye?” “Where is the fish’s tail?”, I would point to the body part on the corresponding sketch. At one point, she repeated a question she had asked a couple minutes before, which was fine with me, because practice makes perfect. But, in typical older-brother fashion, hers reprimanded her, saying something probably to the effect of, “You already said that one, silly.” To which she replied haughtily, glaring at him, “I’m teaching her,” and kept right on going with the quiz.
A bit later, while I was making the Brasilian counterpart of “kool-aid” for the children, the 7-year-old boy told his cousins (the brother and sister mentioned above), “Last week, when our parents were gone for the day, we came over and taught Paulette.” His smug facial expression and the self-satisfied, important air with which he spoke were just too cute for words.
It really must be quite a thrill for children their age to teach adults, though. Seriously, what 5, 6, 7, or 8-year-old wouldn’t love feeling like an authority on any subject, having an adult ask, “Did I say it right?” “Will you help me study?” or “What do you call this again?” and totally believing their responses, however incorrect they might be, haha. If they ever wanted to, the children could trick me into learning things that are completely off base, or even inappropriate. Please don’t give them any ideas, though, because until now, they have been great little teachers, as far as I can tell. With a couple of them, I have to be careful, because they still have lisps which cause them to misarticulate certain sounds, so it’s best not to depend on them for new vocabulary, but work on reviewing words and phrases previously taught by someone else.
We have extra fun with the dynamic classes and learning exercises I plan. Late one morning, I had just returned to the house after a couple hours out in the community. Although it would have been good to study, a headache was threatening to turn into a migraine (this was back in February when I was getting those frequently – what a blessing that they are rare now), so I decided to take a break and lie down for a bit, to see if that would keep it from getting worse. I had just settled onto the nice cool tile floor in the bedroom, when a little voice called my name, “Are you there?” (Typical Neno greeting, even when you are visible, and it is clearly evident that you ARE there).
“Yes, hold on,” while I slowly sat up, and the headache intensified.
Well, the 6-year-old hadn’t stopped by just to see what I was doing, or ask for crackers. She was on an educational mission. Since I didn’t understand her words immediately (headaches aren’t particularly helpful when trying to process new languages), she quickly showed me what she came to do by grabbing a basket, a plate, and a drinking gourd, and motioning to my one and only chair. These were some of the items her parents and I had used yesterday, to practice positional words and phrases, then commands.
“The basket is on the chair.”
“The plate is under the chair.”
“Put the egg in the basket.”
“Put the drinking gourd behind the chair.”
You get the idea. Well, my 6-year-old teacher had gotten the idea too. This was a super-fun game that she could come over and play with me. Her timing wasn’t the greatest that day, when I didn’t feel up to studying or practicing, but I certainly wasn’t going to turn away such an enthusiastic (and adorable) teacher. So we played and practiced, laughed and learned.
Our not-very-smart missionary woke up at 2:30 AM and for some reason, sleep eluded her for the rest of the night. This left plenty of time for her to ponder the deep questions of life, such as how to make a cake without sugar. When an idea suddenly hit her, she realized just how silly she could be. She had plenty of sugar! Didn’t one of the Neno ladies give her a short piece of sugar cane on her second day back to the village? And hadn’t the same lady given her a long stalk the previous day?
What if the sugar cane were chopped into tiny pieces (after being peeled, of course), then boiled it water? The reduction would certainly be very sweet and could be used to make milk to put in the cake (make milk = use dry milk powder). She was impressed and excited by the sheer brilliance of the plan. At least it seemed like brilliance at about 4 in the morning.
At 6 in the morning, however, in a state of exhaustion, while waiting for water to boil to make coffee, she still considered the idea a pretty smart one, so she set to work. Did I mention that our unnamed missionary has never actually peeled, cut and eaten sugar cane? She has only eaten it when it is handed to her, already prepared. Sugar cane is really not that exciting to her…just sweetness without flavor, and she tries to drastically limit her sugar intake while in the village, in an attempt to boost immunity. Sidenote on “eating” sugar cane, in case you have never had the opportunity: you put a chunk in your mouth and chew it and suck it to remove all the sweetness, then spit out the tough fiber that is left in your mouth.
The Neno people make sugar cane prep look super-easy. Although they boast what my brothers might call “mad knife skills”, our missionary thought she would at least be skilled enough to accomplish the task, although obviously not as gracefully. She also depended on the convenience of a cutting board, instead of hacking it into chunks in the air, just inches above her knee (Sometimes her Neno friends scare her just a little. Their idea of “knife safety” is not exactly what she was taught. But that is another story for another post). The missionary tackled the sugar cane optimistically, although tiredly. That cake would going to be in the oven in 45 minutes at most.
She quickly realized that processing sugar cane is much harder than she ever imagined. It is an especially bad idea for an inexperienced person to attempt such a task at 6 AM, pre-coffee, after about 4 hours of sleep.
And she doesn’t don’t have a heavy-duty large knife (machete) like the Neno people use. Good thing for her allergy-affected fingers, she gave up on the whole sugar cane idea quickly and decided that resourcefulness and ingenuity are overrated, right up there with cake. Cake isn’t even healthy, after all. The Neno people could just wait until her boxes arrive.
Nevertheless, deep down in her little heart, our missionary did feel a little sad that she couldn’t make cake for her dear friends who appeared to be craving it like crazy. Despite a busy culture immersion and study schedule, she really does love baking, especially when the results guarantee big smiles, delight, and a quickly emptied cake pan.
Lest anyone think these villagers are asking too much by hoping for cake after cake, you need to know that they themselves are most generous. They are always blessing the not-very-smart but very grateful missionary with food gifts, (all homegrown and organic, at that!) such as manioc root, oranges, the world’s tastiest bananas, or freshly-caught fish from the river. She appreciates their generous hearts, and the delicious, healthy additions to her diet.
And our missionary will have her turn to give back.
Come back next week, when you’ll hear our missionary say, “Wait just a minute! The sugar cane plan was a total flop, and I still only have this one measly cup of sugar, but here is another sweet pantry ingredient…a whole container of it! This idea will work for sure! Tomorrow is Cake Day!”