life in africa (part 1).

When I started making plans to come to Africa, I called Verizon to find out if my cell phone would work here. A representative told me that they had no cell towers in Africa. He said, "Think about it - who would want to build a cell tower with a lion chasing you?"

I think (and hope) that he was joking, but it is true that there are a lot of assumptions and misconceptions about life in Africa. Before coming last year, I expected everything to look like the scenery in the Lion King. But Africa is a big continent, full of cities and villages, jungles and deserts, humid and dry places. I thought I would take a few posts to write about the reality of life here in Libreville, and also to answer a few of the more common questions I've heard.

The House

I currently live in the Envision mission house in Owendo, a suburb (-ish) of Libreville. It's a big house, meant to house quite a few people (one night this summer, we had 42 people sleeping here, but that is an extreme example). Upstairs there is a big living/dining room, kitchen, office, laundry room, three bedrooms, and two bathrooms. I either have a room to myself or share it with one other person, depending on who is living here at any given time. Leanne and Hannah use the other two bedrooms.

Downstairs has pretty much the same set-up, with a (very long) dining room that we use when there are teams here, and a bunkhouse and extra bathroom for the guys (girls stay in the bedrooms that mirror the three bedrooms we have upstairs).

There is no air-conditioning, so we use fans to stay cool. It's not too much of an issue now, since this is the dry season (more about that another day). And over time, your body really does become more accustomed to the temperature, I think. I hope.

Our house is surrounded by a wall and we have a guard here most of the day and night. This isn't really so much because it's unsafe, but because we're considered wealthy (and really, we are) so this is expected. Thought I have to be honest - I find it a relief, especially when I'm here on my own. Paul (the day/weekend guard) and Sam (the night guard) also take care of the cats, the puppy we're currently babysitting, and all of the gardening (we have bananas, plantains, mangoes, pineapple, sugar cane, and avocado).


There are plenty of places in Africa without running water, and many more without any access to clean water. Thankfully, Libreville isn't one of them!

We do have city water for most of the day - it comes on around 6am and (usually) shuts off around 6pm. We have a water pump and two reservoirs that we turn on when/if the water shuts off (sometimes it doesn't). When there are teams here, we ask everyone to only shower before dinner to avoid using all of reserved water, and then around midnight the guard will turn off the pump for the night.

We do have both a washer and a dryer (two of each, actually) but because gas is really expensive, we line-dry our clothes, either outside or on a drying rack. If we dry them outside, we bring them inside and run in them dryer for 20 minutes, to get rid of any mango worms. It's a bit more work, but there is something about hanging my clothes outside to dry that I actually like.

The water isn't really safe to drink (though we do use it for brushing our teeth), so we have a filter and fill bottles of water from there for drinking. Bottled water is also readily available (if not very cheap).

I've got another post planned about climate and bugs, but are there other things you'd like to know? Anything I'm missing?


One of the most exciting things going on with the Gabonese national church is a project called PK27. This is a 25-hectare (approximately 60 acres) campus located just outside of Libreville that will eventually be the center for all of the social ministries of the church: Hope House, OSPAC (the medical clinic), RBI (the eye clinic), and many, many others. This is the master plan:

Right now, though, it's a jungle:

One day last week, I walked around the property with Pastor Israel and some of the kids at Hope House (Steve Straw and his two interns walked with us part of the way, then stopped to clear out some of the jungle with machetes).

I can't describe how thrilling it was to walk around this space and dream about what it will eventually become. The leaders of the church really believe that God will use them to change their country, and they're not afraid to attempt big things in pursuit of that. It's humbling and inspiring.

for me.

Most Africans I've met love to sing and dance, and the kids at Hope House are no exception. Every day when I arrive, after greeting me, someone inevitably asks if I've brought my MP3 player (la musique, they say, while pointing to their ears to indicate the headphones). They pass it around and sometimes share it, with each one using one ear piece.

Thursday, during what was a more emotional day for me, I was listening to the music with one ear while Naomi (age 8) used the other ear piece. This song came on:

You're beautiful
You're beautiful
You are made for so much more than all of this
You're beautiful
You're beautiful
You are treasured, you are sacred, you are his
You're beautiful

I looked at her and wondered, does she know this is true? That she is beautiful and treasured in his sight? I even thought this would be a wonderful song to use in a video, with photos of the kids that I have come to love.

Then God tapped me on the shoulder. This isn't just a message for her, he said, it's a message for you. You are beautiful. You're my daughter and I love you. I have redeemed you, I have called you by name, and you are mine.

Sometimes I get so caught up in the ministry that I neglect the relationship. I'm so grateful that he is faithful to remind me.

hope house beach day.

For the last few weeks, several of the kids at Hope House have been asking me when I was going to take them to the beach. Even though Libreville is right on the Atlantic Ocean and there are several beaches that are readily accessible, this was not an easy question to answer.

For one thing, there are currently 24 kids living at Hope House (there are several more who are visiting their families during the break from school).

Some of these kids are younger (the youngest is 4 years old), and of course, if you're going to take them to the beach, it's very important to make sure that they don't drown.

Many are teenage boys, and though they all told me that they could swim, I didn't necessarily believe them - because teenage boys are known for overestimating their athletic abilities, no matter what continent they live on.

But several of the people living here at the Envision center were willing to help, so we decided to try.

Then it was on to the next problem - how to actually transport them to the beach.

So we hired a taxi bus.

One taxi bus. Because the other one we planned to hire had some mechanical problems.

A taxi bus is about the same size as a 15-passenger van. In Gabon, these hold 19 people - 17 passengers, the driver, and the guy who opens the door. We crammed 28 people in there.

But we did it, and the kids had a blast!

how to define family.

"They're orphans," she told me. "Their mother and father are dead. Their mother's family doesn't want them, and their father's family doesn't, either. They have no one."

"They have you," I said.

we must go.

We must go
Live to feed the hungry
Stand beside the broken
We must go

Stepping forward
Keep us from just singing
Move us into action
We must go

medical care in Africa.

I've spent most of the last couple weeks focusing on the medical aspect of caring for thirty kids. That would be a daunting prospect even in the US, but throw in limited access to care, the need to transport kids to clinics and hospitals, a culture of kids that aren't really used to complaining about pain or discomfort, and limited funds - well, as you can imagine, it's a not a simple process. I thought I would document some of the specific things we've been working on, in order to give you a picture of what medical care is like here.

Sabrina is a 15-year-old girl with a heart murmur that was discovered a few months ago when a visiting U.S. medical team did physicals for all of the children. Her heart murmur might not require any extra care, but she needs an echocardiogram to be sure. We could get that done here in Libreville, but it would be very expensive. We could also get it done in at the hospital in Bongolo, where it is much less expensive, but then we need to arrange for transportation there, a place to stay, and supervision while traveling and at Bongolo. And all of this needs to be done by engaging local Gabonese volunteers, and by setting up a process that we can use as needed in the future.

Dorcas is an 11-year-old girl who came to live at Hope House in July, shortly before I came to Gabon. She wasn't here when the medical team did physicals, so I took her to the OSPAC medical clinic. One of the nurses, Paul, noted a crackling sound in her lungs, which indicates some kind of infection (bronchitis, pneumonia, etc.). Dorcas has never complained of feeling sick, so this is something we never would have discovered if it weren't for the physical. They gave her an antibiotic at the clinic, and then I took her to another clinic (SNI) for a blood test. The next day I picked up the results of that test (thankfully they were normal and her antibiotic is clearing up the infection), then I needed to take the results back to OSPAC to read them. For a Gabonese without their own car (and most don't have one), this would have been four separate taxi rides, in addition to the consultation fee (waived in this case because it was for a Hope House child) and the blood test fee.

Warel is 16 years old. A couple weeks ago, I noticed that he was keeping a little piece of bathroom tissue in his ear, and asked him about it. He explained that sometimes his ear leaked fluid, and that it had been doing that for some time. Like many of the others, he didn't actually complain about the problem, but I took him to the clinic anyway. When Paul looked in his ear, he saw a hole in his ear drum. We were able to get him medication for this, and give him some instructions for keeping water out of his ear. Without this, he could easily have lost all hearing in that ear.

Moussounda is 7 years old, and has been living at Hope House with his twin brother Boumba (along with several other siblings) for most of his life. Both twins were near death when they were found and brought to Hope House, but now they are smiling, active, and very typical boys. One day the other children told me that at some point during the school year (at least two months ago now), Moussounda stuck a blue crayon in his ear, and part of it was still in there. He didn't complain of pain or any trouble hearing, and Pastor Israel and Mama Nathalie didn't even know that he had done this. So much dirt had gathered in front of the piece of crayon, that it took quite some time to clean it all out, but luckily we were able to take care of it at the SNI clinic, rather than having to go to a hospital (again, very expensive).

Dental issues are also very common among the children at Hope House (and, I imagine, throughout the rest of the majority world as well). In June, a visiting dentist examined all of the kids' teeth and had to pull quite a few of them - in fact, he ran out of time and there are at least 6 children who still need to have that done. Like with Sabrina's echocardiogram, this work can be done here in Libreville or at Bongolo, but the cost is a huge factor. Luckily, all of the kids now have toothbrushes and are brushing three times a day (or at least as often as they are reminded to brush).

A lot has been accomplished, but there is also a lot still left to be done. Over the next few months, we're hoping to get the children that need it down to Bongolo, get full blood tests (including HIV) for all of the children, provide Hope House with plenty of first aid supplies to have on hand, and have a documented process for dealing with medical issues for both new and existing children.

one month in.

My mother tells me that I need to post more.

She's probably right - but sometimes, it's still difficult to find the words to capture what it is like to live and work here. It's been just over a month since I arrived - some days it feels like I've been here forever, and some days it feels like I just stepped off the plane yesterday.

Here are a few of the things I've discovered over the last several weeks:

  • Bean sandwiches can actually be good. My sister (who traveled to Gabon with me last year) doesn't believe me - but I think it's all about where you get them. Never get them with mayo, though - since it's been sitting outside all day.
  • I no longer feel the need to shower the second I sweat even a little. Because otherwise, I would be showering all the time.
  • I can understand far more French than I would have thought I could, and I can sometimes even speak enough French get my point across to others. This is probably due more to their patience than any ability on my part.
  • It is actually possible to be cold when living on the equator. Honest.
  • The lack of personal space doesn't (usually) bother me much anymore. So when I come back to the U.S., if I'm standing too close while we're talking, don't take it personally, ok?
  • I can manage to swallow (and sometimes choke down) lots of foods that I really don't like. I still can not choke down fish.
Help me out with ideas of more things to write about - what do you want to know?