Archive | November, 2012

Ernest Hemingway

Here I am striking my Hemingway pose while on safari – minus the rifle and flask of whiskey.

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No water in Acornhoek

Everyone is home safely and in (relatively) good health.

After 12 days in Africa – much of the time in the malaria zone – I should be grateful for that.  And I am – mostly – but I am also beside myself with disappointment.  We came up dry on the well.

After drilling three bore holes on the Calvary of Hope Christian Church property in Acornhoek, South Africa, the drilling company we hired found no water.  None.

Our friends in Acornhoek told us a couple of years ago that they needed a well.  They currently walk miles to get what we are able to have by going to the kitchen sink and turning the spigot.  Clean water, we found out, would also lower their rate of disease considerably.  We wanted to give them this gift.

And so, we came up with $10,000, hired a driller, and made our plans to visit and dedicate the well.  After all, we’re used to having things go our way.  We decide to make something happen, and by golly it happens.  Just like that.

Or, somebody gets sued.

One difference between our cultures – and there are many! – is that they are used to adversity.  And it’s a good thing too, because very little goes their way.  The drillers came up empty, and the people in Acornhoek shrugged their shoulders.  That’s Africa, they seemed to say.

I had a nice little sermon about water planned for Sunday morning.  I was planning to say how water in scripture is a sign of God’s overflowing, life-giving generosity.  I was planning to tell them how our big, wonderful church back in Fort Lauderdale had done this nice thing for them.

Except there was no water where we had expected to find water.

On Saturday night I had to re-tool my sermon.  With a great deal more humility than I expected to have, I stood in front of them on Sunday morning and said, “Maybe God’s plan for this church is bigger than fresh-water wells.”

What was interesting was that they didn’t need me to tell them that.  They already knew it.  Even before I tried to give meaning to the disappointment, they were making plans to catch rain water from the roof of the church into giant drums.

No water in those three holes?  No problem.

Living with adversity produces a different kind of spiritual outlook.  Disappointment and discouragement are luxuries they can’t afford.  While I struggled to make sense of what happened, they were already moving ahead.

Before I even preached my sermon they were singing and dancing and praising God.  I realized that I was the one who needed to learn a spiritual lesson from them.


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Ernest Hemingway and Me

“…me sitting, the butt of my rifle on my foot, the barrel in the crook of my left arm, a flask of whiskey between my knees, pouring the whiskey into a tin cup … drinking this, the first one of the day, the finest one there is, and looking at the thick bush we passed in the dark, feeling the cool wind of the night and smelling the good smell of Africa, I was altogether happy.”

That’s Ernest Hemingway (who else?) in Green Hills of Africa, a novel I’ve read several times just to appreciate (and then be jealous of) the richness of Hemingway’s prose.  But I think it was also the descriptions of Africa that kept me coming back to it.

Some people get ready for travel by reading travel books, the kind issued by Frommer’s, Fodor’s, Lonely Planet, and so on.  Other people I’ve known spend time learning the language of the place they plan to visit, which I’ve tried over the years without much success, though I think it’s a worthy thing to do.

For better or worse, I like to read fiction set in the place I hope one day to travel to.  The descriptions give me a better feel for the place than the most detailed travel books ever could.  (Does a Frommer’s travel book ever tell you to look forward to the smell of a place?) 

Some of the best novels I’ve read over the years have been set in Africa, where after all these years I’m headed at the end of the week.  I’m not sure why a continent like Africa should prompt writers to do their best work, but that’s often the way it seems.

Some of the best novels set in Africa aren’t great literature, but they’re still fun to read.  Alexander McCall Smith’s The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency is one of those.  It’s actually the first in a series of novels about Botswana’s first lady detective.  I’m not going to Botswana on this trip, but I feel as though I’ve been there. I can see it – and smell it – if I concentrate long enough.

The Nobel-prize winning novelist J.M. Coetzee has, interestingly enough, left his home in South Africa and moved to Australia, but his best work grew out of his experience in his native land.  His Life and Times of Michael K won the Booker prize, as did his novel Disgrace, both astonishingly well-written books.

I’m pretty sure the first novel I read that was set in Africa was Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton and first published in the U.S. in 1948.  I remember lively discussions in high school English class about apartheid, and I remember dreaming even then about eventually going and seeing South Africa for myself.  At long last, it’s going to happen.

Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible is about a missionary family who in 1958 moves from the U.S. to the village of Kilanga in the Belgian Congo. Even she writes about the smell of the place:

“Once every few years, even now, I catch the scent of Africa. It makes me want to ken, sing, clap up thunder, lie down at the foot of a tree and let the worms take whatever of me they can still use. I find it impossible to bear.” 

It’s a beautifully written book.

Some of the best moments of travel are these last few days before I leave, reading about and imagining the places I am about to visit. 

I can’t wait.

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