It feels good to be stretched

Tuesday, August 23 10:00 pm

Today’s lesson plan (9 am – 11 am)

  1. Greetings: Comment ça va? Quoi de neuf? (around the circle)
  2. InterPlay: Warm-up and Walk-Stop-Run
  3. Journal (10 minutes): Raconte un moment d’apprentissage où tu te sentais très bien, que ce soit à l’école, à la maison, ou aux champs. Donne beaucoup de détails.
    1. Qui était là?
    2. étais-tu?
    3. Qui était là?
    4. Comment est-ce que c’était?
  4. With a partner: Tell each other your story (tell, don’t read it)
  5. Groupes de 4: Each partnership joins another partnership
    1. One partnership is A, one is B
    2. In each partnership, one person is #1, the other is #2 
    3. Determine what your letter/number is (A1, A2, B1, B2)
      1. B2’s: tell the others the story of your partner (partner corrects if there is a mistake) 
      2. Continue with A1, A2, and B1
      3. Teachers circulate during discussion
  6. Whole-group discussion (popcorn if possible): Quelles étaient les émotions dans ces moments d’apprentissage? … d’autres détails sur les situations — qui était là, etc.?
    1. Write down notes on white board
  7. Pense maintenant à un moment où tu as le CONTRAIRE de cette expérience — un moment  d’échec. (Prends des notes dans ton journal si tu veux.) You won’t have to share the actual experience, just the emotions.
  8. Whole-group discussion: Quelles étaient les émotions dans ces moments d’échec?
    1. Write notes on white board and contrast with the other—positive—experiences.
    2. What’s different?
  9. Introduction to LEARNING SOUP
    1. Quick explanation of the purpose and the fact that the soup is for EVERYONE. (Who? Everyone!!… Is it for you? for you? for you?)
    2. Read first construct to yourself and when finished, put hand on head
      1. Write down notes on white board
    3. Read second construct, then put finger on your nose
      1. notes on board
    4. Read third construct, then put your right hand on your left ear when finished
      1. notes on board
  10. Take a moment to write down in your journal who might be someone in your life who represents strength in each of these three constructs (can be yourself)
  11. Stand up and repeat after me: Je suis intelligente! Je suis capable! Je peux réussir!
    1. Then give yourself a hug to say thank you. Change which arm is on top—thank you again. Then thank you around the circle.
  12. At door: Shake my hand and tell me something that you either liked today, or which you found interesting.

Photos of the day

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Diving in!

Monday, August 22 8:50 pm

Today was the teachers’ back-to-school day at Barrie School (the school where I taught French for the past seven years and was World Language department chair for the past six). A year ago, I would never have imagined that on this back-to-school day I would be leading InterPlay for a group of sixteen Cameroonian girls in Bankondji rather than attending and leading meetings in Silver Spring, Maryland. As much as I had already sensed that 2015-2016 would be my last year at Barrie, I would never, in my wildest dreams, have imagined that this is what I’d be doing today. Which shows that our imagination is no match for the reality of what can be created with faith and trust and a willingness to act.

There really aren’t words that can convey what we are experiencing here: the collaboration, the inspiration, the joy, the simplicity, the grandeur, the rightness.

The girls today were just wonderful. At the beginning of our time together, they sat quietly and formally on chairs, sitting up straight, and not saying a word.

IMG_5158
Before we started…

 

 At the end, when I asked them each to shake my hand at the door and to tell me something that they had liked in what we did together today, they almost all said: “At the beginning, I was shy, but by the end I felt so much better” or “When I got here, I was so tired, but now I feel full of energy.” As I regularly say when I use the heart-centered and highly effective methodologies I have come to trust — whether InterPlay or TPRS— “this shit works!” And with the team we have, this tutoring program is going to work. Each of the teachers expressed optimism, enthusiasm, gratitude, and very specific noticings regarding the different students in the group. I was struck by the deep care each of them has for the students, and I too feel a deep sense of optimism about the success of this program this year.

I loved being with the girls today. Once we got started, I could see all the same personalities I always see in a middle school or early high school group: some were very out there, others very reserved; some were careful to support others, others didn’t want to be paired up with anyone who wasn’t in their friend group; some spoke so softly you could hardly hear them, others laughed so loudly you had to ask them to stop. I could have been at Barrie. And, once we starting moving and “babbling” and doing hand dances and telling stories, we were all in it together.

 

Our curriculum this whole week mirrors what we did last week in the teacher training: today was “Le cercle de communauté;” tomorrow and Wednesday will be “Le cercle d’apprentissage,” where we’ll use the All Kinds of Minds constructs as conveyed in the Learning Soup document (an easier-to-understand version of the learning framework) to guide the students to analyze their own learning strengths and weaknesses; and Thursday and Friday we will do the “Cercles de tutorat,” where we’ll introduce literature circles (both French and English) and then math circles. Each day, starting tomorrow, just as we did in the training last week, the students will journal for ten minutes—we gave them the notebooks today. They’ll be allowed to journal in images or in words—it will be their choice. A new element that we will introduce this week is free voluntary reading with the books I brought with me—in French and English.

Tonight we went out to find a copy machine so that we could photocopy the Learning Soup. It took some doing! The first cyber-spot we went to had no ink left. Finally, we managed to print out a new copy of the Learning Soup on A4 paper and then make the copies. Luckily, we were able to put the document onto a flash drive; several people came in to the second place we went to print things out from the internet and were told that the internet was down in the whole town, and had been down for five hours already. Hearing that, we were grateful, too, to have our plug-in USB internet sticks, which work as long as the cell phone network is working.

*****

As far as my own life is concerned, I have a clear understanding that I have been called to this work, and even that what I’m doing now may be the Call of my life, the work I have been given to do. Everything I have experienced up until now has led me to this point. The seven years at Barrie were training for this…and this is the very beginning of what is going to now be my life. I have long wanted to find a way to bring together my love of teaching with my interest in living abroad in a French-speaking country. I’ve thought of applying to be a teacher in one of the international schools once both of our children have finished high school, but I’ve always had the concern that I’d be living in a wealthy bubble, separated from the people. Aumazo (my spell check keeps trying to change “Aumazo” to “Amaze”…) offers a true integration, an opportunity to offer the best of what I have to offer professionally, and also to offer the best of what I have to offer personally. 

Yesterday, when we were at the school site, I had the clear sense that we were in the hand of God. The air there is extraordinary, the beauty exceptional. It’s a thin place. Today I specifically noticed—when we returned to the site with our whole team after our morning’s work—that as we came to the crest of the hill, there was a different energy, an opening, a peace, a joy. The breeze picks up as you arrive there—because it’s the crest of the hill (or really, the mountain). Seeing our team walk around the school site today, it was clear to me that we are the founding members of this very real institution which is being founded in deep love —and community— and compassion —and creativity —and integration. Thanks be to God. 

A magical day in Bankondji

The photo above shows the view from the Aumazo school site. Such incredible beauty!

Sunday, August 21 9:44 pm

I woke up today not feeling very good—I was at that tired and cranky point in a trip where you just want to go home and want everything to feel normal again. I’m grateful to have traveled enough in my life to know that the homesickness always strikes, and that I usually struggle right before the halfway point. I shed my first real tears this morning about the fact that my Beatrice will be gone when I get home—and also that I’m going to miss the family orientation at her college. I found a quiet space and cried and centered myself in centering prayer, and then I walked the hill to my room and did about 45 minutes of yoga. After that, I was ready for the day, and it was a truly magical one.

We drove to Bankondji and parked the car at Jacqueline’s brother’s house so that we could walk  from there to the Aumazo school site. The weather was gorgeous today until the very end of our time in Bankondji, allowing us to spend several hours hiking—which is just what I’ve been wanting, and I had had no idea how incredibly gorgeous the area around Bankondji is. It is truly magical—mountains all around, an incredible variety of vegetation, from banana, avocado, orange, and guava trees to macabo, bean, and cassava plants (and of course much, much more), an absolutely stunning waterfall (you can see a picture of it on the Aumazo Facebook page), and a sense of deep, sweet peace.

I was really excited to come to the sign marking the beginning of the road which was completed last January thanks in great part to the money my AP students and I raised at our 2015 gala fundraiser at Barrie.

The road is just wonderful. You step from the almost pure clay road that leads to it, and suddenly you’re on a wide road that’s not at all slippery, with beautiful stone drainage ditches along the sides. It’s a pleasure to walk on. And by taking that road, we found our way to the Aumazo school site. I had goose bumps as we approached the actual site of the school—this place that I have been thinking about for the past three year—because I suddenly could see what it will be like with the majestic, healing natural beauty all around. A modern school in the midst of the stunning beauty of this area—a beautiful integration of the best of both worlds. I could hear in the wind the voices that will be calling to each other before and after school, and the voices were young, joyful, confident, and right at home. It was a true spiritual experience. 

Friends, this is not just a school. It’s a retreat center, a place of meditation and inspiration. Walking into the building that Jacqueline has built, I was struck by its simple beauty. When we get back to the States, Jacqueline has a meeting with representatives of an architecture firm who are interested in donating their services to design and build the school, and they would also raise the money needed for the construction. Jacqueline has invited me to attend the meeting, and I will go so that I can help convey the beauty of the spot, and also so that, as an educator, I can have a voice in how the spaces are designed.

After we visited the school site, we continued our hike, and found our way to Jacqueline’s father’s house, where she was born, and the smaller house of her mother, just up a small hill, where Jacqueline and her mother lived. After spending some time there and hearing stories about the spaces we were visiting, we made our way back to her brother’s house, very tired and hungry. As we prepared to eat, neighbors came to join us, and we ended up encircled in the warmth and good humor of community, eating, drinking, and laughing together.

Our last act of the day in Bankondji, as the rain finally began to fall, was to drop off supplies for the week ahead: the white board/ easel I’ve been using, a box filled with notebooks for the students’ class journals, a suitcase filled with books that I brought from the US. We left them in the rectory, and then walked through the rain to take a look at the school building where we will be working this week. There are three or four classrooms in the building, one of which is the one Lydie teaches in throughout the year.

Tomorrow is the big day when we begin work with the students. Day one will be a day for community building, just as it was for our first day of the teacher training, so we will be doing InterPlay. I am eager to experience who these young women are. In just one week Patric, Durand, Thierry, and Lydie have become for me dear people whom I can’t imagine not knowing. Soon, the same will be true with this group of girls. Finally, Aumazo is becoming truly real.

Zoma: a blockyard with a purpose

[I just changed the title per Jacqueline’s request. Since the bricks are actually interlocking blocks, and this is what sets Zoma apart from other brickyards, she asked me to change the word “brickyard” to “blockyard.”]

Sunday August 21 7:45 am

I tried to post this last night, but at midnight my internet cuts off, and it seems that I can’t get back on for about twenty minutes. At least that’s the way it was the night before. Last night, I was tired and I gave up ten minutes in and went to sleep. The way many people get internet here–and this is the case for me– is that you have a USB stick that provides you internet through the cell phone network. You get a certain amount of data per day, and it resets at midnight. I think I should be able to get back on at 12:01 am, but that doesn’t seem to be the case in actuality. 

The picture of me above was taken in front of the little mini house that Olivier put up to advertise the Zoma blockyard on the main road. As you’ll read below, we walked over to the blockyard yesterday.

August 20 10:43 pm

Happy Saturday to all!

Today I woke up… and I didn’t have a class to go teach! What a joy! As much as I have loved giving the trainings each morning, I loved having the freedom to lie in bed for a while and know that I didn’t have to have a clear plan for the day.

I wasn’t sure what the day would bring. Of course, this has been true every day I’ve been here, but without a class to teach in the morning, it was even more so. After I did my morning yoga, Jacqueline and I talked and agreed that we would walk to the Zoma brickyard after breakfast, since it looked like we were going to have a dry morning.

I want to tell you about this brickyard, in case you don’t already know about it. Zoma is a truly brilliant element to the Aumazo project, and one thing that differentiates Aumazo from any other project of its case—particularly a project that has, as yet, received no grants at all. (Can you believe the incredible work that’s happening on a project begun by one woman in her kitchen eleven years ago, and which has received no actual funding yet?) Jacqueline realized as she was starting to build the school that 1) the best building materials she could use for her school would be bricks built out of the clay that’s everywhere around; 2) there is a brick-making machine made in South Africa that makes interlocking blocks (that don’t need mortar) out of the clay; and 3) if she could get a construction business going based on a blockyard, she would have a way to pay the teachers and make sure the school was self-sustaining well after any grant moneys were to run out.

For the past three years, Olivier has run the blockyard and the construction company with the help of a few capable people here. The houses they build are just beautiful. The bricks are gorgeous. You can see in the pictures below the contrast between what Zoma is building and the other structures around.

You can visit zomabuild.com to learn more about what they’re doing. I’ve known about Zoma since I first heard Jacqueline speak, and I was bowled over to be able to actually be there today. 

Sunday, 7:30 am – a few extra words

We had a full day yesterday beyond what we did at the brickyard which included a visit in the evening to Jacqueline’s friends Patrick and Eveline. Patrick is the Sous-Préfet of Banja, a neighboring village where the Père Sylvestre was formerly the parish priest. Patrick and Eveline are fabulous people who received us in their home with great warmth. They are both anglophone (though they both speak French as well), and we spent the evening speaking English with them and their children. Eveline is a chemistry teacher over at the Collège Saint-Paul and also an administrator at a government school. She is working toward becoming a principal, but she says she will never leave the classroom because teaching is so important to her. In fact, the reason she teaches over at Saint-Paul is because at her school, chemistry isn’t offered beyond the more basic levels, and it’s important to her to be able to teach higher levels in her field, and keep her knowledge fresh, than to have the time off she would otherwise have. We hope that she will be able to participate in our next round of training–maybe next summer.

This morning (Sunday) we plan to go to Bankondji to case the joint, get set up a bit for tomorrow morning, and also walk to the school site. We had been hoping to go yesterday after our brickyard visit, but it started to rain, and it never really cleared up. This is the rainy season after all, so we have big, torrential rainstorms almost every day, but then we also have periods in the day when it’s dry and lovely.

 

Last day of training – Students will be with us on Monday

IMG_4878Cows grazing in the courtyard of the Collège Bilingue Saint Paul on Thursday

August 19 11:14 pm

Today was a big day for me because today’s the day my 17-year-old daughter Beatrice left for college on the other side of the country. I wasn’t at home to see her off, and I have been thinking about her all day. There’s now an eight-hour time difference between us.

Today during our last day of training, I gave an open-ended journal prompt to start our time together: rather than asking everyone to write about something specific, I asked them to write about something they found interesting, whether it was from the training this week or from their own life. I wrote about Beatrice’s departure and what she is going to be doing this coming week for orientation.

After the ten minutes of journaling, we shared in small groups of two or three, and then after another ten minutes, we gathered as a group. Once we were in the full group I asked each person to report on what they had heard from someone else. Most of the participants had written about something they had really found enriching about the training. People were particularly struck by the wisdom of working in the literature circles, which we did yesterday, and what a difference it makes when each student has a specific role to play in a group, so that each students is able to contribute. One person also mentioned how different, and exciting, it is to have the students be in a situation where they are clearly not just empty vessels waiting to be filled with the teacher’s knowledge—that, instead, they are running the discussion and finding out that they have things to contribute.

One person had, like me, written about something in his life that had nothing to do with the training. His partner told us that he’d always loved soccer but had never been able to play it with anyone because he didn’t have a ball, and the other kids wouldn’t let him play with them. Finally, when he was about 13, he got a job and earned some money, and with that money he purchased a ball. Then he was able to play every day, and friends appeared to play with him (because when you have a ball, you have friends). Since that time, he has continued to play soccer, and if he hasn’t played soccer on Sunday morning his week isn’t complete. I loved getting to have this little window into his life as a child and into one of his passions as an adult.

When we got to my partner, Olivier, he reported that I had written about how my daughter was leaving for college today—and then he surprised me by reading between the lines of what I had written. He said that he sensed that I was really sad not to be present for this very important moment in my child’s life. And he talked about how it was important for everyone to recognize how much I am sacrificing to be here with them—not that I don’t want to be here, but rather, that I want so much to be here with them that I’m giving up something very important in my personal life. He said that this really represents how much the project means to me. I was deeply touched because I myself hadn’t even realized that I was feeling that sadness—I was “merely” writing about Beatrice because I knew that she was getting on a plane this morning, and I was thinking about her. But tears came to my eyes as he spoke, and I realized that he was absolutely right. It is a sacrifice. And it’s also something I’m at ease about doing, because being able to be here, doing this work, is such an honor and a privilege.

I am deeply fortunate to have the deep and enthusiastic support of my family, even though it means that I’m not with them right now. Beatrice surprised me with a beautiful gift the other day. She said she is reading every word that I write here in the blog, and that I’m doing “such incredible work and I am so happy you are doing it.”

What greater blessing could I be given?

******

For those who’d like to know how we spent our last training day, here are a few more details:

After this discussion, we did about 15 minutes of InterPlay – a full warm-up and a walk-stop-run, this time with music. These folks just love InterPlay, and we have such fun with each other. I’m eager to experience our two hours with the students on Monday when we will be doing InterPlay together—and these six people will form a core group that is already familiar with several of the basic forms.

After our InterPlay interlude (InterLude?), we sat down to read about math circles. Yesterday after our training session I’d asked Durand, the math teacher, to take a look at the directions for math circles to see what they looked like, and to also bring a few math problems with him that we could use as a practical exercise. I realized that I was not the right person to really be in charge of math circles, especially as I noticed that I felt nervous and slightly confused as I thought about them… clear evidence of my affective filter going up! (Affective filter=emotional filter that makes it easier or harder to learn… high affective filter means your anxiety is in the way and can’t think as well… low affective filter means you’re fully comfortable and able to bring your full brain to the learning.) I was pleased and relieved when I checked in with him today and he said that the math circles really made sense to him, as a math teacher.

After everyone read the description of the math circles, which I’d gotten from Kate McCormick’s website (http://www.mathcircles.net/what-are-math-circles.html) and then translated, we talked about what had been striking to us as we read—and then we enumerated the different roles, which represent different steps in the mathematical solving process: Detective, Illustrator, Calculator, Editor, and finally Summarizer. I then passed the leadership on to Durand for the most part, and he gave us a problem to solve, and then we walked through the different steps using the roles. What was fascinating was how we completely threw ourselves into the task, and how passionate people became about how to do the math correctly! At one point, Jacqueline was very strongly telling Thierry that he wasn’t going about the problem correctly (Thierry was playing the role of Calculator), because he hadn’t first written the full operation before starting to solve it. When we realized that Jacqueline’s wanting to do things in a very particular order comes from her strength in temporal sequential ordering (in the All Kinds of Minds framework), we had to laugh, and Durand and I both guided the group to allow Thierry to follow through with his process.

It was highly enriching to, as a group, attempt to solve an actual math problem using the methodology. We were really surprised and pleased by how much we felt like actual students, and also by how much we learned about what the teacher needs to have in mind as s/he first trains students in these roles— for example, that each person needs to have the freedom to play out the role without being interrupted by someone else.

We actually stayed an extra half hour because the group wanted to have the full experience of solving the math problem before engaging in our final announcements and reflection. In our closing circle, I asked everyone to share a word or short phrase to say what was alive in them. Words shared included: “Enriching” – “More and more interesting” – and “Joyful.”

On Monday we start our work with students. We are all thrilled to do so. And, as I told the group, I couldn’t be more optimistic about our success knowing who the teachers are. What a team we have become. What a spectacular group of people.

In the flow

Today was a day of ease and grace. I awoke to the water running properly, and things continued to flow smoothly from there. I was dreading being back in the classroom at the school, but because the space was now familiar–and especially because we had created good energy in that space yesterday–it was comfortable and pleasant to be there, despite the physical issues that I had been so struck by yesterday. And since I managed not to have to use the bathroom during the entire morning, it was a true success!

Our training consisted today in reflecting on students through the All Kinds of Minds framework to begin with, and then moving on to Literature Circles as one of the tools we are going to use in the tutoring program. It was incredibly satisfying to see how smoothly we were able to transition from the more abstract to the more concrete, and how fun and engaging it was to practice working in literature circles ourselves, using books that Jacqueline and I brought with us to create a small library for the tutoring program. Today is the day that I could really begin to see what the actual program is going to look like–and I could see that it is going to be really successful. It’s a powerful experience to watch what you’ve planned take shape, and I am really impressed that I was able to plan this training week so very well. It wasn’t something I’d ever done before, yet each day has unfolded with just the right rhythm, and each step has been the natural next step to take.

I spent the afternoon and evening just hanging out here at the mission with Jacqueline and Olivier, writing emails and taking care of business on the computer. This evening I was able to download onto my computer all the pictures Jacqueline has taken since I’ve been here, and now I’m attempting to upload some of the most striking ones to this blog. C’est un travail d’amour –a work of love… and more painstaking than I think it should be. Between the holes I have in tech knowledge and the internet not being as fast as I would like on the one hand, and my bleary eyes from looking at the computer for too long on the other, I’m having quite a bit of trouble.

I’m going to leave the blog here for today and attempt to upload a few more pictures for your viewing pleasure. There are more to come.

Infrastructure – it does matter

August 17 10:30 pm

In my last post, I wrote about how, in a way, infrastructure doesn’t matter, because it doesn’t tell the truth of a situation—that when we see a photo of a rundown physical space, we make an automatic assumption that that’s the Truth, even though it actually isn’t. Today I have been given the opportunity to reflect on how infrastructure, while not the most important thing, is really important. As the Aumazo video says, we need to have Better School Infrastructure for Girls. Period. (see the link). And better infrastructure for everyone.

We did the training today at the Collège Bilingue Saint Paul, where our three tutors Patric, Durand, and Thierry are all full-time teachers. During yesterday’s session here at the mission we’d had to deal with several interruptions, and so they had offered a classroom at the Collège instead as a space that would be more propitious for the training — to which we readily agreed. Patric, Durand, and Thierry had carefully thought through what would be the best place for us to meet and had chosen a classroom in a part of the school that wasn’t being used, so that we could have privacy and work uninterrupted. I was touched by their warm welcome and by how very much had shifted since our first day when they all arrived late—this time, they were the ones who were there well before the starting time and brought us into their carefully prepared space. The chairs we needed were there, in a semi-circle. My white board was there. They had even thought about what wall we could use if we wanted to project from the computer using the portable projector that Jacqueline has.

The teaching and learning went very well again today—we delved deeper into the All Kinds of Minds framework and, by the end of our time together, were using it to look at students rather than just ourselves. We did more InterPlay—for InterPlay folks, I’ll tell you that we did babbling, a modified warm-up, and a walk-stop-run. It was a wonderful time of continued community building, play, work, learning, and connection.

My heart just broke, though, as we first went into the building. It is extremely dilapidated, with old, very imposing signs on the walls in the stairway giving students various stern moral recommendations such as to accept discipline and punishment in order to become wise. There is no window that isn’t missing panes—not just in this one classroom, but all around the school. The room itself is dark. There is electricity, but when it’s on, the room is still far from bright. But really the hardest thing from a pedagogical point of view is the sound in the room: people’s voices reverberate in the big, concrete space and yet are at the same time muffled, such that it’s very hard to understand what someone is saying. A room full of voices would be deafening, and I can’t imagine how a kid in the back of the room would be able to understand the teacher without concentrating with great intensity. And the irritation factor for the teacher if a student speaks out of turn or raises his voice…?!

As I was teaching, I noticed that I was going to need to use the bathroom. I put it off as long as I could because I wasn’t sure if there would even be bathrooms or, if so, what they would be like. Finally, I had to ask, and I was taken to the bathrooms—latrines, actually—and terribly smelly. It became clear to me how much better it actually is to go outside, which had previously seemed to me a hardship, and somewhat embarrassing… especially for me as a woman, since I have to squat down. But the air is fresh, and what you are squatting on and peeing into is wholesome.

Friends, I don’t think you can really understand the bathroom question that Jacqueline has talked so much about in this project until you start to live it. People here are completely accustomed to not having bathrooms in many places they go, so much so that when we were here at the mission yesterday (where there are only bathrooms in the rooms people are staying in) and I asked what our guest teachers would do in case of need, I was told that people would do what they needed to do without blinking an eye, so that I didn’t need to worry. When I am here at the mission, I have access to my own bathroom in my room, which is a little far from the meeting space, but I know it is here and that I can use it. But when I am elsewhere, it’s a different story. I will spare you all the details, but yesterday, when we were out, I had to figure out the answer to this puzzle three different times. (My children and others who know me well won’t be surprised that this is a particular issue for me… I’m always looking for a bathroom!) Once I went outside; once I started to look for a place outside and was told I could have access to a bathroom… which was just a hole in the ground but was at least private; and once I was at a fancy spot and there was an actual brilliantly white toilet that flushed, a sink, and a hand dryer. That was total luxury.

Here at the mission, although I have a bathroom, we haven’t had running water for the whole time I’ve been here. This is unusual, apparently, but not so shocking that it’s yet been repaired. I don’t have to go fetch the water myself, though— it’s brought to me in buckets— so really, it’s still a pretty easy situation. I pour water into the toilet tank, and I can flush. I pour water from the bucket onto my body and hair, and I take a shower.

My big understanding today was that, although we as humans can do relatively well dealing with these inconveniences, it’s a burden to have to do so. And it’s an unnecessary burden. The people I’m meeting here are all so clean and smart and loving and intellectually engaged. But in order to get through a day—any day—these are the things they are dealing with, constantly. Just taking a bath can be difficult, as I mentioned above. And even when there is running water at the mission, there is only cold water. The streets of Bafang are mostly dirt roads, unpaved. When it rains, the mud is deep. Yesterday I slipped and fell in the mud here at the mission. I was fine, but it was a mess to clean up. This is the reality everywhere you go.

The material is not what’s most important. But it’s important in that it can and must support what is truly important, which is the life that’s being lived.

Shouldn’t it be a little easier? Shouldn’t students be able to be in classrooms that are clean, welcoming, and have good sound? Shouldn’t everyone be able to go to the bathroom in a clean and private environment?