Book of the Month: Burundi country guide

(From Alyssa)

Being a small impoverished country of 10 million people without an ocean coastline or safari animals, Burundi is generally included in tour books of East or Central Africa with just a few pages of acknowledgement. So I was shocked to discover this 384 page country guide of Burundi at a bookstore here in France. And bonus for language learning: it's in French! I've enjoyed reading this recently published (November 2012) book on Burundi and have learned a lot about our future home. The first third of the book gives a lengthy account of the history, culture, language, arts, etc. of the country as a whole and I share with you now some of the highlights:

  • In the introduction and throughout the book, the emphasis is on the Burundian people. The authors explain that the best reason to visit Burundi is to encounter the people - to experience their friendly welcome and to learn of their culture and community and history. They emphasize the need to take time to experience Burundian hospitality and friendship - as opposed to trying to see and do many things on a Westerner's schedule. (One interesting side note on the differences of Western vs. Burundian time is that the words for "tomorrow" and "yesterday" are the same in Kirundi!) We've really enjoyed the opportunities we've had thus far to begin friendships with Burundians and we look forward to developing these relationships as a priority during our years ahead in Burundi. We appreciate your prayers for patience and wisdom with that long process and with the different concepts of time, too!
  • Nature: Burundi is a beautiful country with rolling green hills, tropical vegetation, and even beaches on the shores of Lake Tanganyika. While lions and giraffes no longer live there, one can still find hippos and crocodiles and many species of tropical birds. I'm so thankful we get to live in a pretty place.
  • Language: Official languages are French and Kirundi. Swahili is also spoken frequently, especially in the cities. And, as has been confirmed by John and Jason in their recent visits, in daily conversation, the three languages are often mixed together. To make things more complicated, Burundians often speak indirectly and even use parables to express themselves. Through oral traditions, they've shared history and culture with subsequent generations, and as only 58% of the population is literate, radio is still the primary means of media communication utilized. Though we've all come a long way in French this year, our journey towards effective (Fraswarundi?) communication is only beginning!
  • History: While Burundi has a turbulent past through colonization (by Belgium) and independence (1962) followed by civil war in the 1990s, Burundians have been seeking peace in recent years. This is evident tangibly in a common greeting in Kirundi: "Amahoro", which means "Peace". The publishing of a guidebook for tourists is another evidence of improved peace and stability in the region. One interesting history fact is that David Livingstone and Henry Morton Stanley traveled through Burundi together in 1871 after their famous encounter, "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?". There is a large stone outside Bujumbura erected to commemorate their meeting.
  • Religion: The guidebook estimates that 60% of the population is Catholic, 15-20% Protestant, and 10-15% Muslim. But it also emphasizes the widespread following of traditional beliefs, including "sorcellerie" (witchcraft - animism). Please pray for wisdom for us as we seek to share the power of Jesus triumphing over the fear of evil spirits. 
  • Random facts: Burundian drummers are quite skilled - originally utilized during the time of the monarchy for official ceremonies, now primarily for tourism. Food staples are cassava, bananas, potatoes, and beans. Primary exports are coffee and tea. Football (soccer) is well loved in the country, especially by President Nkurunziza who used to be a football coach and professor of physical education. Running is also commonly practiced - of note, a Burundian won an Olympic gold medal in the 5000m race in Atlanta in 1996.
We look forward to experiencing firsthand the people, culture, and places of this interesting country. And here's our first picture of all 17 of the McCropders (since we added baby Toby) who will be arriving in Burundi in 80 days!


La Fête de Pentecôte: Looking at Pentecost as a Language Learner

(from Eric)
Today is the Feast of Pentecost.  The coming of the Holy Spirit.  Coming as I do from a very broad range of church backgrounds when it comes to charismatic/Pentecostal issues, this annual day always raises questions about the role of the gift of tongues (and others) in the church.  Different interpretations of this day can even lead to divisions.  But let's put that all aside for a moment.

If it is nothing else, Pentecost is the day where the followers of Jesus begin to carry out the work Jesus had given them.  After his resurrection, Jesus had told his followers to wait in Jerusalem for just such an event, and then they will go out and be his witnesses to the world.

I guess a lot of different things could have happened to fulfill this promise of Jesus.  But we got a specific something:  The followers were visited by a great wind, as well as some flame-like/tongue-like things, and they started to speak in such a way where people from many different countries could understand them in their mother tongue, i.e. their "heart language".

And what did these people say about that?  "We hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God." (Acts 2:11)  And thus the mission of the church began.

This year is unique is our lives, as we are neck deep (or perhaps even forehead-deep) in learning a language.  And we are about to start learning another.  So, I can't help but connect with the story on this level.  Jesus is about to send his people out to all the world to declare the mighty works of God in Jesus, and he kicks it off like this.  And lo and behold, the people understand what's happening.  The Gospel for all nations is proclaimed to numerous peoples all at once, to each own in the own tongue.  It's like a tiny preview of what will continue to unfold for thousands of years.

The relationship of the mission and the miraculous sign of God seems way too close to be coincidental.

Interestingly, all these people were Jews.  So, I would guess (though I surely don't know) that most could speak to one another in a common tongue, maybe Greek, maybe Aramaic or Latin.  So, strictly speaking, this sign may not have been necessary to communicate facts.  But the importance of the heart language is maintained, and people are amazed to hear such things addressed to them, since it is their tongue.

It goes without saying that each of us would give our nose in order to have the Holy Spirit come like a wind and enable us to be immediately understood perfectly by those who communicate in French and Kirundi.  Hélas, I don't anticipate that happening.  

And yet, I think the story of Pentecost still captures the mission of our time in language study, namely to be able to declare the goodness of God, the mighty works of God, to the nations of the earth in their own tongues.  That they would know that it is for them.

And it appears that God is interested in gifting himself to us to see that that happens.

And that is encouraging.


Learn by Drawing

by Carlan

Those of you who are educators no doubt recognize the subtle homage to John Dewey's quintessential quote "Learn by doing" in the title of this post. While I cannot endorse the consequences of his secular humanist & reductionist/mechanist philosophy of instruction, I can affirm the accuracy of his observation. Some paths only become apparent as you walk them, some lessons can only be learned by trial & revision.

Following on the tails of Jason's post about the EMI trip, I'd like to share a brief example of incredible blessing I have received during the process of designing an Emergency Department with Jason, the EMI folks, and some special guest consultants from Grace Community Church and LAC+USC Medical Center. It started with thinking...and dreaming. "What would an ideal ER look like? What are the critical pieces and how would we arrange them? How much space do I need? How much space do I have?"

If you enjoy design as much as I do, you know the intoxicating allure of opportunity. I was asked in July for a list of my top 20 favorite things. I listed a new notebook/journal as one of them -- so many blank pages of opportunity. But even before I began drafting blueprints, I realized I did not know the answers to many questions about how to design an ER. Cue the first round of learning by drawing - pre-sketch learning. The very process of dreaming about a real ER for real patients occupied by real students, nurses, and doctors changes the level of precision and detail needed. "How many ER beds are required to serve a 300-bed hospital? How many patient visits do we expect through the ER? etc., etc."

Draft #3.2 of the ER at Kibuye Hope Hospital (18 Mar 2013)

And then you draw something...only to realize halfway through the assignment of space that you needed an area where private conversations and evaluations could take place. Scratch draft #1; on to draft #2. Each time you draw it out, you refine your design and deepen your understanding of the space. "How big exactly is a patient bed? Are they fixed or mobile? Will we be able to wheel the X-ray machine in here?" One thus enters the second round of learning by drawing - inter-sketch learning. Certain relationships simply do not become apparent until all the elements are on the page. Then the glaring absence of bathrooms becomes obvious.

But you're not done yet. Once you've researched all your answers, revised all your sketches (I switched to little paper cutouts of patient rooms, trauma bays, bathrooms, nursing stations, etc so that I could just rearrange them on the floor without redrawing everything all the time), and reassembled all your various elements, you draw a "final" draft. Satisfied that you have considered everything to be considered, you run it by your friends and team. They like it. Yes! So you ship it off to your architect friends for some sort of rendering process whereby it becomes AutoCAD files. Wham! Round three of learning by drawing - post-sketch learning.

"Final Draft" of the ER at Kibuye Hope Hospital (27 Mar 2013)

"What building materials are you using? How wide are the walls? What building codes/standards are you using?" One finds that he has indeed not considered all the salient features of this construction when designing the ER, and a tug-of-war commences in his heart. "How much of the 'final' design can be saved while correcting for these highly relevant issues?" In my case, this dilemma didn't last long as Jason and the EMI team quickly identified the footprint available as too small for the "final" draft. But what happened next was a beautiful gift straight from the Lord.

John Hixson, one of two architects who volunteered to help me in this process, responded thus when I reluctantly told him to scratch whatever work he had already done on the project as we'd be going back to the drawing board:

"P.s. I love the work God has called me to! I have redesigned things 6 times and loved every moment of it! This is truly a pleasure!!!"

And I find that there is even a fourth round of learning by drawing - supra-sketch learning. To embrace being subject to process, to discovering en route what needs to be known to move forward, to trust in One with grander plans than a big building in a small village in a tiny little country without enough doctors. It reminds me of one of my favorite scenes in all of cinema - where Jesus checks his lines while working as a carpenter. Couldn't He have cut that table leg perfect on the first pass? Nope, He made Himself subject to process too. It was part of being with us. And getting to be with Him and His people every step of the way through this process has been a genuine joy.


Masterplanning at Kibuye

By Jason

I have recently returned to France after an exciting 10 days in Burundi with an EMI engineering/architecture team, putting together a 20-year plan for Kibuye Hope Hospital.  As the work began, we were not sure whether the university and hospital leadership would be available for collaboration, since our primary contact, Bishop Elie, had just passed away 3 weeks before, but the leaders who are filling the sizable gap that he left are doing a phenomenal job.  We couldn't have asked for more engagement and interest from the leaders of the university, hospital, and church as we set out to create a master plan.  What a great time it was to get to know many future colleagues.  The picture below shows the EMI team and those involved from the leadership of the university, church and hospital.

During the 10 days we worked together in country, the team of extremely competent engineers and architects from multiple specialties and countries worked hard to identify current and projected needs for electricity, water, sewage, buildings, roads, patient volume, hospital flow, natural light, ventilation, and so much more.  As we worked together in the same room you could hear comments such as "What if we use a roof monitor to get light into this corridor?" "Which instruments need an isolated ground?" "What if we move the entrance over here?" and "I think we have to move from seepage pits to lagoons."

By the end of our time there, we had developed a draft master plan for the 62-acre site.  We will all spend the next many weeks refining that plan which is pictured below.  (The existing buildings are hashed and the non-hashed buildings would be new construction).  It is a massive plan no doubt, which calls to mind a quote from William Carey: "Expect great things from God.  Attempt great things for God."

For the hospital itself, I have posted below a rendering of what currently exists(top), and then what we are proposing for long-term expansion (bottom).  The green buildings happen to be the old vs. new Operating Rooms and surgery ward space.

Finally, I didn't take many pictures myself, thinking that I would just copy the pictures from the others at the end of the trip.  In retrospect I should have known that when you travel with a team of engineers, their pictures tend to look something like this:

Many, many thanks to all the EMI team members and their families who sacrificed to be a part of this trip.  Your efforts are very much appreciated.


Awkward French Children's Books

by Eric
I have read a lot of French children's books this year.  Early on, we paid a few euros to get a library card downtown, which is about a 20 minute walk away from the school, and we go there every couple weeks.  It's a good outing for the kids, they love to read, and it's good language practice for me.

The language is pretty simple, and I've got pictures to help me!  (Though interestingly, French has a unique verb tense reserved for written narratives, so the verbs are always a bit different from what we learn in class.)  

Every society has a culture to its children's literature (if it produces any), and it's one thing to recognize that, but it's another to not feel weirded-out when you experience the kid's books of another culture.  I mean, I was weaned on the stories of my culture, and so those values are pretty deeply ingrained.

Some French kid's books are awesome, and some are down right beautiful (Le Petit Prince, for example).  However, some are rather strange, and I thought I'd share a few of the categories of "strange".

1.  Animal "Violence".  If there is an animal in a story, then someone is going to die.  American books are largely influenced by Disney and company, where such things are considered too "harsh" for kids, so the chicken in the pasta dish needs to be mentally separated from the chicken in "The Little Red Hen".  For the French, if the protagonist is a chicken, he may end the story by being a yummy dinner.  Even more frequently, the animals eat each other.  In Et pourquoi? Little Red Riding Hood tortures the wolf by repeatedly asking "Pourquoi?" ("why?") until he eats her whole, and then she continues her terrible interrogations from inside his belly.  The story ends by the wolf having had enough, and so he takes a knife and slices his belly open.  He dies, and Red Riding Hood walks out smug and unharmed.  This example is a bit mild, since I never checked out the more violent ones, so I can't remember the titles.

2.  Nudity.  It may in fact be true that, as an American, I'm a bit prudish.  Yet there you have it, so it's a bit weird for me to see kid's cartoons with full frontal nudity.  I quite like the Emile series of  books as seen below.  However, this one is a bit weird.  Emile decides that he has become invisible, and so he can't figure out how his mom can still see him.  Then, epiphany!  It's his clothes!  So, he takes them off, so he can be truly invisible.  The book ends with him walking into the living room to be surprised by a female friend that has come to pay a visit.  Naked Emile, feeling no need to cross his legs, sits down on the couch next to her, relieved that he's invisible, because otherwise this would have been a really awkward moment...

3.  Just Plain Bizarre.  It's difficult for me to know whether some American stories come off as equally strange to a French reader.  However, there are some weird ones out there.  Les Poissons Savent-ils Nager? (Do Fish Know How To Swim?) unfortunately became a favorite of our kids, even finding its way into a prior blog post.  The story, in brief, goes like this:  

One day, the fish will decide to walk out of the ocean and join society.  They will make their fortune hunting shrimp.  The will buy clothes, eat flowers, and otherwise integrate into human society.  The shrimp will get wise and head into the forest to get away.  While hunting for mushrooms, the fish rediscover the shrimp's hiding place.  Shrimp hide in the treetops.  While attending a fish/human wedding on tight-ropes in the forest (not kidding), the shrimp are rediscovered, and subsequently hunted by fish with rifles (see #1).  The fish grow wings, and the flying fish hunt them.  Finally, the shrimp escape underground.  In despair, the humans build a rocket to seek the shrimp in outer space, and the fish build a boat to look on other continents.  Boat sinks, and the fish discover they like living underground.  Meanwhile, the shrimp come out of hiding and take up fishing to feed themselves.  Shrimp and earthworms live in a utopia-like ever-after.

You can probably guess that the language-learner has a lot of "is this really saying what I think it's saying?" moments.

4. Docteur Dog.  This gets a category all its own.  I picked up this book, about a dog who cares for all the maladies of his hygenically-impaired family, thinking that it might be amusing, and I could pick up some medically-relevant vocabulary.  Well, it started off OK, with someone who has a cold and then indigestion.  It explains the popular origin of these diseases (not washing hands, for instance), and then Docteur Dog prescribes a treatment.  

Then, it goes south.  Well, first it goes north, to headlice (with some colorful illustrations), then south, to pinworms.  It proceeds to go from bad to worse, and the finale is grandpa, who has bad gas (from too much beer and beans), having such a forceful episode on the toilet, that he and his porcelain bust out through the ceiling of the house, and go flying through the neighborhood.

Well, Maggie was absolutely terrified, and we never finished it (which is just as well).  I took the book back early, at her request to never see it again.  It's several weeks later, and she still freaks out, with repetitive phrases like "I don't ever want to get worms!" and "I don't want bugs in my hair!"

Not sure how to categorize that, but it's an experience we are not soon to forget.

(Si un de nos amis français lisait cela, j'aimerais beaucoup savoir vos pensées...)