Thursday, November 3, 2016

Don't Mess With...

It has become a ritual, of sorts, at St Anthony friary to watch "Don't Mess With Kansiime" (pronounced kan see may') on DSTV between the end of supper and the beginning of Night Prayer.  Kansiime Anne is a comic who does these 5 minutes skits where she freely gives her mind to anyone who crosses her path.  She is very funny even if I don't get all that she says.  You can catch her on Youtube.  Just search for the title of the show or by her name.  Here is a link if you want to see her in action.

The reason why I bring her up is because on October 31st she aired a skit about Halloween.  She always has another person as her foil in the skit and usually her feelings are dumped on this person. This night her partner was an English man who comes into the scene dressed as a Masi warrior with his face painted to look like a zombie.  He encourages her to 'dress scarry' and join in the Halloween fun.  She tells him in ten different ways how stupid it all is.  At one point she says, "You never saw an African ghost, have you? If had you would really be scared." She goes on to say that there are very many scary things in Africa and you don't have to dress up for them.  They are real. Her partner continues to try to get her into the spirit of Halloween but Kansiime will have nothing to do with it.  She at one point agrees with him and says, "You want to see scary?", and of course he agrees. She ducks down behind a wall and comes back up with two machetes (although they are called Pangas, here). They look very sharp and it frightens the man and he runs off.

The truth is that there is more here than just the humor that comes from the juxtaposition of cultures. The message for me is that you don't really see your own culture until it is reflected in the light of another culture.  Life and death are serious things here.  Many people, Catholics included, believe that Spirts roam the earth.  Misfortune, illness or even success can sometimes be attributed to witchcraft and evil spirits. These are serious matters and are taken seriously. Dressing as a spirit in a village anywhere in Kenya or Uganda (I mentioned these places because I have lived there.) could result in being chased out of the village and being properly beaten or even killed.

I did't mind hot having Halloween this year.  I haven't observed it in many years.  I did miss the Candy Corn, which I would eat one color at a time.  I also missed the cool weather and the promise of winter in the air.  When I was a kid I would love it when a neighbor would put an apple in my Trick or Treat bag, especially if it was a juicy Macintosh.  So take it from Kansiime Anne, don't mess with mixing cultures.  You may get a scary surprise. You may get a gift you don't want.
Kansiime Anne

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Imagine, ladling up a portion of soup and seeing the above greet you.  Not just one, but many! That was my experience two weeks ago when I was visiting the Postulants in Mwanza, Tanzania. Mwanza is a city of about 700,000 people on the shores of Lake Victoria. So these fish are plentiful. They are called Doga (accent on the final syllable).  The taste is fish, plainly put, and they are a bit chewy. They are a  main source of protein for the men in formation there so they are eaten three times a week.  They are small in size and the eyes are a brilliant silver when cooked.  When the postulants asked me how I liked the fish I said, "The taste is good but  I am not use to having my food look back at me." Luckily they understood me and laughed. Here is what they look like when they are dried.
 You might wonder if these have been gutted. I didn't ask and I don't want to know.  Its all a gift.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Keep Going

“If you hear the dogs, keep going. If you see the torches in the woods, keep going. If there's shouting after you, keep going. Don't ever stop. Keep going. If you want a taste of freedom, keep going.” attributed to Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman was an escaped slave from a plantation in Maryland. She left her family to flee north to freedom.  Despite a bounty on her head she returned to lead her family to freedom and 50o other black men and women. through a system of travel called the Underground Railroad.  She made an astounding 19 trips into the south and walked people thousands of miles to the border of Canada. This remarkable woman also served her country as a scout, spy and nurse during the Civil War.

In July I was asked to speak to newly professed friars at their profession ceremony.  I lived with these eleven men  for my first five months in Africa in the village of Kakoba, Uganda just outside Mbarara. I taught them and prayed with them and they helped me acclimate myself to this new and beautiful continent.  I chose this quotation as a way of encouraging them to persevere in their vocation in the months and years ahead.  When I thought to write about this in this blog, I was not aware that Hillary Clinton used this quotation in her speech at the Democratic National Convention.  Regardless, the message of these words are universal and so I re-visit them again.  

What I told the newly professed friars was that there will be hard times ahead.  I said this knowing full well that many of these men came from conflict-torn parts of Africa and some lost parents to war. I knew they knew hard times.  I said that there will be times in the future when they will want to quit and I told them to 'keep going'. They may spend the night reading and re-reading the same page of Philosophy but to 'keep going'. They may be lonely in a friary full of friars, but 'keep going'.  When all things seem to be working against them to 'keep going'.  If they want to taste the freedom of God, 'keep going'.
I offer this thought for anyone who is struggling.  Keep going, the gift is ahead.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

EEEEEK! They drive on the left here.

Well I did it! I have driven a car in Kenya and survived to tell the tale.  I must confess, I do not have my Kenya license yet but necessity required to drive.  The Guardian at St Anthony friary fell wrong and broke his knee. So I have had to drive him to and from his doctor visits. I have been paying attention in the past few months and I was able to adjust quiet well. My only problem is using the turn signal. Here the turn signal is on the right of the steering column. So for the first few times I drove I kept turning on the windshield wipers.  The other problem, which I must pay close attention to is the speed bumps.  Instead of stop signs or other signals speed bumps are used before and after every major intersection.  Which is okay, really because sometimes you are warned about the bumps with a sign, a black and white pole or the bumps themselves are painted black and white (what they call a zebra crossing).  Sometimes  however the bumps are not marked at all. So I am very cautious. Getting my Kenya license is next on my program just before learning Swahili.
This is the remains of one of our cars. Two young Deacons Peter and George were driving and failed to negotiate a turn and this is the result.  It was about supper time when we got the call that there had been an accident. One of the friars involved and was in shock and since he could not see the other friar assumed he was dead.  Thanks to our good and loving God the night of this accident was a  night of miracles.  The two friars in this car were not seriously hurt. The driver spent two nights in the hospital with chest pains and some minor internal bleeding. The other went home that night.  There was something more than air bags and seat belts that saved these two young friars.  The driver of the other car spent one night in the hospital for observation and was sent home.  Another miracle involved passing taxi driver who took charge of both friars, drove them to the hospital and stayed with them until we arrived.  He even let a fare go in order to do this.  A good man by the name of Wicliffe.  The miracles continue with awareness and thankfulness and all the positive fraternal response of the friars. The American in me believes that if they were driving on the right as is right and proper this might not have happened but the rest of me believes that  All is Gift.  tim

Monday, September 5, 2016

Pushing a Pig

A lot of work resulting in nothing

I have been reading a really good book on Conflict by Jonan Fernandez who was instrumental in bring the conflict in the Basque region of Spain to an constructive conclusion.  The book is called, "Being, Human in Conflicts" (The comma there is important.)  The above picture is on the cover of the book. Briefly, the books puts forth some sound and constructive ways to look at conflict whether it be a relational, familiar, local, national or international conflict.  

Why I present this picture here is after 6+ years in formation work for the friars I find sometimes the picture depicts a perfect metaphor for formation.  Forming young friars is sometimes like pushing a pig.  Futile at times but I must say always rewarding.  I have learned that if I am facing the wrong end of the pig I need to re-evaluate my approach.  I guess many times the problem is not with the pig. It is with me.  I recently began working as the Master of Students in the House of Theology for the province of St Francis in Africa, Madagascar and Mauritius (phew! that is always a long title to type).  I am making a lot of changes to the program.  I adopted this strategy.  Ask for a lot, say it is a suggestion, dialogue and then settle for less than I asked for, which is what I wanted in the first place.  It worked. I am implementing what I feel are program enhancements while the young friars believe they had a hand in the decision.  I could have pushed the pig and gotten no where instead I addressed the beast as the intelligent animal it is. (Did you know that animal behaviorist say that pigs are smarter than dogs?)   

Some may take exception to me referring to the young friars as pigs.  I know. But really when I am pushing the pig I acknowledge that I am the pig in actuality, pig headed that is.  It is all projection really. Me projecting the negative side of myself on to those with whom I have difficulty. Awareness like this is a real gift.  If others are not the problem then it is me? More than likely it is.

Today is September 5, 2016, Labor Day in the US. I miss the cookouts, the Brats, burgers and burnt chicken.  Labor Day in Kenya in May 1. I wonder how it is celebrated? Stay tuned and find out.  ODE   tim

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The OF/FOR Controversy

The OF / FOR Controversy
The picture above was taken in the friary library here at St. Anthony.  The third line says, (in case it does not read well) "Long Essays For Former Students".  In fact the long essays are written by former students and therefore the sign should read "Long Essays of Former Students". Now I have to admit when I first saw this sign the teacher in me wanted to correct the grammar. I resisted that temptation. I was reminded of a time a few months ago when I ran across another misuse of the word OF. This occurred when I was still in Uganda living at the Novitiate.  

The Novitiate is on the top of a hill and I was making my way somewhere and I encounter two novices walking up the hill. We met half way down the hill.  I noticed one of the Novices had in his hand a black plastic bag, so obviously they had been shopping at the markets at the bottom of the hill.  We stopped and I inquired what had they purchased.  The novice opened the bag and said proudly, "Legs of dogs."  At the same time I peered into the bag and saw what looked like furry legs. My face must of had an expression of horror on it because the Novice quickly added, "Legs for dogs."  They had purchased legs of slaughtered goats that would be cooked to feed the three dogs that we had.  I told him that was very different and we parted and I was relieved that nothing horrible had happened to our dogs and thought that prepositions can save a life. 

Now, I know that one of the many things that makes English hard to learn is the subtle use of prepositions.  One little word can mean many different things depending on context.  For example the word "of" is defined in seven different ways. "OF" is used to indicate direction, origin and identity to name three.  "FOR" of the other hand has 32 different meanings.  That's a lot!  All this is according to a web site I found (  

Correct or not to correct?  Do I begin a crusade to eradicate improper syntax wherever it is found? How far should I go to ensure proper English usage?  Will I run the risk of being a grammar goon? I think not. English needs to grow and it grows through use. My judgments aside, is it my business to correct others intent?  Meaning is conveyed regardless and that is the whole point of language; communicating intent.  Take the above photo. Anyone who is a former student would not be in this library looking for reading material (trust me on that fact). That person has moved on to bigger and better things. So if the Long Essays are not for former students then they must be of them instead.   

Language is intimately linked with culture and in some ways language at the same time reflects the culture. I live in a culture in which English is second (or sometimes third or forth) language a person may know. It is the colonizing language of the victors of a long ago struggle that is still being played out as Kenya and all of Africa strive to overcome colonialism through sustained development.  Maybe its time for English to evolve into a much friendlier language with simpler rules. Maybe the above is a truly a sign of such an evolution. Let's hope for God. Remember it's all gift.