Friday, September 28, 2007

Photo from Aru

Settling Into Aru

Greetings from Aru!

I hope you are enjoying changing colors and falling leaves. You are in my thoughts and prayers.

Good news! All six boxes of books have arrived! I am delighted and somewhat surprised that they all made it here. From the postal tags, I can see that they had been sitting in Kampala since the beginning of June. In any case, I am glad that they're here! I'm still expecting a couple of boxes of educational magazines to show up eventually. Thank you again to all who helped with this project!

Sr. Daniella and I have been discussing the idea of beginning a library/reading room to give people access to books and to keep the books safe at the same time. There is some space available in an existing building where we could house the books and start a pilot project. If the people's response shows us that such a library fills a need, we may work to build a new structure to serve as a library. The lack of availability of reading materials here is striking. It seems that most houses and classrooms contain no books, magazines or newspapers.

I am adjusting to life here day by day. Most of the time I live in the fog of partial understanding due to language and cultural issues, new jobs, etc. There are plenty of opportunities to learn.

A typical day begins for me at 5:30 when I get up about the same time as the sun, tie up the mosquito net, take a cold sponge bath and prepare for the day. Mass in Lingala begins at 6:30 at the big parish church next to the mission. At 7:00, the sisters and I eat bread buns with jam and drink tea with milk for breakfast. By 7:30 most of us are on our way to the apostolate/work. For me, that means teaching English at the high school, teaching music and English at the nursery school or working on the VOICA projects.

At 1:00 we have lunch prepared by Papa Joseph on the wood stove. We eat rice, potatoes, beans, cabbage, squash, eggplant, polenta, pasta, and sometimes meat or fish. The conversation is mostly French and Italian with some Lingala and English mixed in. We have passion fruit, bananas, avocados and mandarin oranges for dessert. Try mixing lemon juice with mashed avocado, banana and sugar. You'll find it a bit like ice cream☺

After lunch, some of us take a short break before starting our afternoon work. For me the afternoons usually consist of preparing lessons, developing curriculum or working on VOICA projects. At about 6:00 it gets dark and the sisters have prayer. Sometimes I join them. At 7:15 we have soup, plus food similar to what we had for lunch, for dinner. We do the dishes and enjoy the electricity produced by the big generator by using our computers, watching satellite TV in French or videos in Italian. Sometimes, I get some guitar or flute playing in instead. The electricity goes out about 9:30 and it's time to let down the mosquito net and crawl under the covers.

Apparently, I have some learning to do as far as avoiding mosquitos goes. A week ago, I tested positive for malaria and started the treatment for it. My symptoms have been very mild, a bit of fever and headache. I'm glad we caught it early and hope that the treatment does the trick.

Last Saturday, September 15, the Aru community celebrated fifty years of Canossian missions in Congo. It was quite a party despite the pouring rain. Mass began at 9:30 a.m. and ended at 12:00 noon, but we just stayed in the church and sang and danced until 1:00p.m. to avoid getting soaked. It seems that singing and dancing are some of the highlights of Congolese culture. Drums are used a lot and the people often break into three and four-part harmony even at daily Mass. The high school students sing the Congolese national anthem in harmony, too. It's delightful.

I've had a couple of adventure-filled treks across the African countryside lately. In many places, the scenery is marvelously picturesque with green fields of rice, sweet potatoes, peanuts, corn and manioc, palm and banana trees, thatched-roof huts, goats, chickens . The roads range from well-graded and drained dirt roads (on the way to the gold mine) to slippery, pot-holed, flooded roads (on the way to the mission in Ariwara) to single track and grass cover "roads" (on the way to where to cows graze). I really admire our chauffeur. Everyone consistently prays together at the beginning of each journey. I think this is reflective of both the condition of the roads and the people's faith in God.

The internet connection at the convent has been down for about three weeks. I have been able to connect at the internet center across town. I'll try to check my e-mail about once a week.I have tried sending some text messages without much luck. I'll keep trying.

Thank you all for your prayers. I know that they have helped me be at peace as I begin my life here.

You remain in my prayers.


Saturday, September 8, 2007

More from Congo

Mbote Everyone!

You are in my thoughts and prayers.

One of the boxes of books I sent in May has arrived! We are hopeful that the others will show up soon. Many thanks to everyone who has helped with that project. Since the students don’t have text books or reference books for classes, it seems to be common practice for the teachers here to copy extracts of texts from tattered, often outdated books onto the board for the students to copy in their notebooks, thereby creating their own “textbooks”. Books are treasured here. Merci beaucoup!

I am beginning to settle in to my new surroundings, new relationships and new routines. The weather has been cool and wet. The scenery is hilly, lush and beautiful. Fruit trees and thatched-roof huts dot the landscape. When the night is clear, the stars are brilliant. The Sisters are taking good care of me, and I’ve started to meet some of the local people.

I started teaching on Wednesday. This school year I will be teaching fourth, fifth and sixth year English at the girls’ “lycee” for humanities and pedagogy. (This is the roughly the equivalent of Sophomore, Junior and Senior years of high school in the U.S.). I will probably have about forty students in fourth year and twenty each in fifth and sixth year. I am delighted at the “small” class sizes and by the students who are eager to learn. I will also probably spend some time doing music and a bit of English instruction at the preschool. Maybe I can send pictures of that. The three, four and five year olds there are precious!

We’ve decided to keep my teaching load light at the lycee, twelve class hours per week, so that I can assist in the development of some VOICA projects including the completion of construction and the furnishing of the volunteer house, establishing the bakery and coordinating plans for starting the “cyber cafĂ©”. Another VOICA project in progress is a “modern” farm for the production of milk and eggs. We also hope to be able to build a library in conjunction with the computer center. I don’t think that I’ll be bored during my time here.

I will do my best to keep in touch with you via our slow, but existent internet connection during the hours we have electrical current from the big generator (6:00-9:30 p.m.). For now, I can read your e-mail, but can’t respond because pop up are blocked on the convent’s computer, and the computer sees my e-mail response window as a pop up. Sorry! I will respond when I’m able. I do appreciate your e-mails.

I also have a cell phone. The number is supposed to be (from the States): 011-243-081-7477103. I don’t have a voice mailbox, so the phone needs to be on for me to receive messages. For this next week or so I will try to leave my phone on from 6:00 to 9:00 in the evening here, which is 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Colorado time. If you’d like to send a message, you could try then. We’ll see if it works. I think text messages are about 20 cents. I don’t know about calls from the States to Congo/Uganda. From me to you, it costs about 50 cents a minute. I will also give you the convent numbers, just in case you ever need them. Convent cell: 011-243-812006925 Convent fax: 011-871-762838949.

Some of you have asked for the mailing address. The Sisters mail goes to Arua, Uganda, and they pick it up there. Here’s the address:

Patricia Pipkin
c/o Canossian Sisters
P.O. Box 218
Arua, Uganda

They tell me the mail usually gets through eventually

Oh, another practical note: Since the internet connection is slow, please don’t send photo files for now. As much as I would like to see them, photos might take an eternity to download. I also would like to post some pictures here, but for now my words will have to suffice.

Thank you for all of your prayers and support!



Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Africa at Last

Bon Jour from Aru, Congo!

I hope that you are all well. I arrived in Aru on Saturday after a smooth, but very long trip from Rome via Nairobi and Kampala. I received a warm welcome including singing and drumming. The sisters have been very kind. Aru is very rural, immediately this side of the Congo-Uganda border. It is green and beautiful. The weather has been cool and wet.

On Sunday, I had the opportunity to go to the Ariwara for the fiftieth anniversary celebration of the Canossian Community their. They had a grand party after a Mass filled with singing and dancing.

I will start teaching English tomorrow at the girls high school. I will also be helping with the volunteer house and other projects. It is dinner time, so I must go. I try to send more information soon.

Thank you for your prayers.