22.10.14

One Hen and other African Children's Stories

(from Heather)

For anyone who is interested in children’s picture books highlighting African children and African cultures, here are three of our favorites which might be available at a local library.  Our elementary school-aged kids particularly like these books, all of which are based on true stories, and all of which have fantastic illustrations.


One Hen: How One Small Loan Made a Big Difference - by Katie Smith Milway – a fun look at micro loan enterprises through the story of a young boy in Ghana who gets a chicken and an idea.





I Lost my Tooth in Africa Рby Penda Diakité - the experiences of a girl visiting Mali, West Africa, with themes of losing a tooth, raising a chicken, experiencing a different culture, and traveling to and from Africa.




The Boy who Harnessed the Wind – by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer - a true story of a boy from Malawi whose ambitious ingenuity helps him overcome obstacles.


19.10.14

Landscaping 101

by Rachel

Now that two houses are completed (the Cropseys were able to move in to their place several weeks ago, hooray!) and two more are well on their way (Alyssa's house is getting cabinets and closets, almost done, and the Faders' house has a roof), we are turning our attention more to the surrounding landscape.

Ogden house garden
One of the original houses at Kibuye, the so-called "Ogden house,"  has a grassy yard and many nice flowering plants and trees.  One of the older missionary wives told us that in its heyday, the yard looked like something out of Better Homes and Gardens and it's fallen far since then.  But we still think it's quite nice (and wonder what it USED to look like!).  It gives us an idea of what would some day be possible at the new homes.
poinsettia trees
Ogden house arbor


flowers picked from Kibuye campus
Basically, we built our homes in an undeveloped area, slight hill, mostly scrubby trees.  The McLaughlin house is at the "top" of the property, and there is a gradual slope down to the Cropsey's house, at the "bottom" of the property.  Not being a civil engineer (I think this is who would be the expert) I really have no idea about water systems and retaining walls, but an awful lot of cement and concrete and stone was used to put up walls and gutters and septic tanks and the like.  It seemed like overkill, but then we had three days of torrential downpours at the beginning of October.  It was quite a kickoff to the rainy season, and potentially damaging, as the rains caused stripping of topsoils, floods, and leaks.  It's the kind of rain that can damage crops and cause erosion.  And in our own homes, we were able to see the power of the rain on a muddy hillside.  Over the course of an hour, the Cropsey yard turned into one giant swimming pool, almost flooding their downstairs basement.  There was standing water and mud everywhere.
The original lot before home construction

So the guys got back to work and started relandscaping our yards.  First, they dug holes and installed drainage systems under our wall.  Then they dug trenches across the yards, filling them with stones to serve as drainage fields.  

Landscapers hard at work

Grass clumps after planting
They planted grass…and when I say planted grass, I mean they literally took little clumps of grass and stuck the clumps in hundred of little holes all across the yard (no sod or grass seed here, I guess).  They fixed gutters and roofs.  And after all that, the rains stopped. :)  But probably not for long, as the rains usually continue more or less through April.
McLaughlin side yard, "finished product"
We are also excited about the possibility of having flowers and fruit trees in our yards.  The more greenery we can have, the less damaging the rains will be.  Plus, after cutting down so many trees to build our homes we're feeling a bit like the Onceler from the Lorax, or maybe Sauruman from Lord of the Rings.  We love trees, and hope to replant everything that was lost.  Carlan has started a little nursery of trees/plants, and the hospital has also hired an "agriculturist" to help with the hospital property and our homes as well.  Much has already been planted and we look forward to seeing how things grow and develop in the next 10 years.

Carlan's tree nursery
Carlan supervises the younger generation



17.10.14

COTW: Loss and Redemption

by Rachel

One of the downsides to being a physician in our setting is lack of follow-up.  We don’t have “continuity” patients the way docs in the US do.  I remember one of my attending docs at St. Joe’s, where I did my residency, telling me once that he had just delivered the baby of a woman that he also delivered 20+ years earlier (he had delivered her and now, 20 yrs later, he was delivering her baby, if that makes sense).  Delivering two generations in one career, wow.  Here at Kibuye, I see women for a day or two and then they disappear.  Sometimes there are sad stories, sometimes happy, but I don’t know if I’ll ever know the rest of the story or experience the rest of their lives.

Today I got to experience two stories.  A story of loss, one that I hope will one day experience redemption but that time is not yet.  And a story of redemption that had a history of great loss, great pain, but now joy.  The first woman had been on our service for several days.  She has a healthy 9 year old, but 6 years ago her second baby died just after a C-section for unknown reasons (common here).  Then she had a miscarriage.  Now she was coming in a week after her due date.  We did a few small things to try and get her labor going naturally, but this morning she had a low-grade temperature and had made no progress so we decided to repeat the C-section.  There had been no evidence whatsoever of fetal distress.  My student and I did the C-section and pulled out a very limp, misshapen baby.  There was a heartbeat, but the baby did not breathe.  Minute after minute my colleagues worked on the baby.  She took a few shuddering breaths, but that was all.  I was stunned.  How could we explain this to the mother?  After such a tragedy six year ago, she had waited and waited for this child, only to experience tragic loss again.   What is there to do?  What is there to say?

As we were finishing up in the OR, a second woman came in to the hospital.  Fourteen years ago, she was a teenager in labor.  Long labor.  The baby didn’t come and didn’t come and eventually when she was able to push the baby out, it had already died.  Worse yet, due to the length of the labor, she developed a fistula.  Many of you reading already know what that is (many famous talk show hosts and activists have raised awareness of this terrible problem).  Basically, a woman with prolonged labor who doesn’t have safe access to a C-section can develop a hole in between the bladder and vagina.  It happens because the long labor puts enough pressure on healthy tissue to cause the death of that tissue.  After the fistula forms, she leaks urine constantly, causing her to smell, to develop infections, to be ostracized by her family and community, and sometimes to be divorced by her husband.  

This lady suffered for 10 years.  And then, hope arrived.  The organization Doctors Without Borders set up a training site for fistula surgery in Gitega, 30 minutes away.  She received surgery, and it was successful.  Now, four years later, she arrived at Kibuye, pregnant with her second child, coming for a C-section that is available to her now.  I delivered the baby, a boy.  He was beautifully healthy, with screaming lungs and pink tinged skin.  This woman has waited for fourteen years, and this afternoon she held a baby in her arms.  


That’s the story of redemption.  I didn’t see the beginning of her story, but I’m privileged to be a part of the next beginning, the new beginning.  It was, for me, a day of loss and redemption, so common here in our setting.  Highs and lows, joys and triumphs, successes and failures.  We don’t always get to see the redemption story that we long for, at least not here on earth.  May the second be a story that carries me through the days of loss like the first.  Days that have come, that will come.  May these two women be stories that remind me that someday, all of our losses will be gathered up, all our our tears will be dried, and we’ll see a beautiful picture of love and grace woven together to make up our lives. 

11.10.14

Dogs: A Cross-Cultural Window

(from Eric)

There are no dogs here at Kibuye.  I mean, none.  It's getting a bit weird, because now if we (or especially the kids) see a dog, it's more of a mix of fascination and trepidation than it should be.  Why don't they have dogs?  Doesn't everywhere have dogs?  You can form your own hypotheses as well as we can.

A couple days ago, one of the hospital staff was sharing in morning devotions from Revelation 22, where it says "Outside are the dogs…", referring here (presumably) to a shameful or evil person.  Calling someone a "dog" seems to have the same meaning for Americans as it did for the 1st century church as it does for Burundians.

But that was not the speaker's assumption, and for somewhat compelling reasons.  "Before I go on," he said, "I think I must explain what this means, because I have heard that for Westerners, dogs are good things.  People even consider dogs like their children.  Even better than their children.  So, maybe, when Americans refer to a person as a 'dog', it is a compliment.  We know this is true, because they even let dogs go in their car!  But, for us, you must know, that it is not a good thing to call someone a dog."

Their is a wealth of cross-cultural observation there.  First, Westerners and their dogs.  They are, in fact, a member of the family.  They are well fed and groomed.  They are up-to-date on their vaccination schedules, and if sick, sometimes get very advanced medical treatment.  So, in some ways, the speaker was right:  Often, we do treat dogs as our children.  They do ride in our cars.  In favor of that, God has made these creatures, and we care well for them.  Perhaps the odd thing is why calling someone a "dog" is still derogatory in American English.

Now, the flip side.  When the speaker mentioned that dogs are allowed to ride in cars, everyone laughed, including all the Americans.  John turned to me and said, "Maybe they wouldn't have a dog in their car, but they would have goats and chickens."  And that is the amazing truth.  Americans couldn't imagine riding several hours with your family goat or a couple chickens, but for Burundians this seems pretty normal, and seemingly not at all unsanitary in the way a dog would be.  

Several years ago, Tracy Kidder wrote a book called "Mountains Beyond Mountains."  More than the content of the book, we frequently quote the title, as a way of say "I never dreamed there were this many layers of complexity and opportunities for confusion."  Dogs.  Never thought much about that one before.  I would have put there mostly in the category of "things our cultures have in common".  

Mountains beyond mountains.

30.9.14

What happened to September?


What has been happening at Kibuye these days?  September rushed by, full of adventures like these:

1.  Welcoming new friends.  We are so happy to have a teacher with us for a year (she is wonderful) as well as an anesthesiologist (r√©animationist) and his family (they are all wonderful).  They are settling in well here, and the McCropder kids are thrilled with their new playmates.  Here you see some of them introducing their friends to the local dirt, which substitutes for Playdoh after a good rain.

2.  Starting school for the kids.  They love their teachers, and thus far we're off to a great start with classes at Kibuye Hope Academy.  Here's the 2nd-4th grade science class in the schoolroom, and below is the kindergarten science class studying the wind with their paper weather vane.

3.  Recovering from the medi-vac adventure (scroll down to Jessica's blog post from 9/17 if you missed it).  Jessica is doing well now 2+ weeks after her back surgery in Nairobi, and we continue to thank God for her recovery.  Jessica's mom is here helping, which is great timing since the Cropseys aim to move into their almost-finished new house this week.

And the October adventures are soon to begin.  Carlan returns to Kibuye this week, bringing with him a friend from Ann Arbor who is coming to help out for 6 months.  We are eager to welcome them, and we're looking forward to an eventful October as well.

25.9.14

Great Patience and Wendell Berry

(from Eric)

Some days there is so much that is broken.

We ran out of another medicine.  There is no blood in the blood bank.  Some of our students need to be absent unexpectedly.  The Cropsey kitchen cabinets still aren't done, and so they still haven't moved into their house.  The oxygen concentrator broke (again), and the generator isn't built for the kind of stress we're putting on it.  I want to post this blog on Patience, but the electricity isn't on long enough!

These, of course, aren't the only problems.  There are bigger problems.  Public health.  National security.  Job opportunities for our graduates.  That list goes on and on.  But the first group of things are (in a phrase we have quite taken to) "low-hanging fruit".  We should be able to do those things.  The solutions are relatively straight-forward.  They should be controllable.

And yet they are often not.  Maybe there is a piece in the puzzle that is blocking progress, and we just can't find a way around it.  Or maybe a certain resistance suggests that this isn't going to happen anytime soon - for reasons that make no sense to us.

There is so much that already has happened, or that is currently in process.  But our bent is always to see the low-hanging fruit still just… hanging there.  Low.  To be picked.  And we can't seem to get it picked.  We remain impatient.  It doesn't feel like impatience to us, but impatience rarely does.  We're not impatient; progress is just too slow.

And all of this assumes that we have a good grasp of the necessary timing.  And we may admit that this is a big assumption, but that doesn't always change the fact that it looks right to us.

Last Sunday, I was yet again sitting under the trees reading Wendell Berry's Sabbath Poems, and I came across a poem where he is describing walking up the hill behind his house.  Not too far, but far enough to turn around and see everything:  his garden, the barn, the pasture.  Spring has come, filled in the branches, and replaced the starkness of March.  He finishes with these lines:

Birdsong had returned
to the branches:
the stream sang
in the fold of the hill.
In its time and great patience
beauty had come upon us,
greater than I had imagined.

I was struck by the combination of a timing that is not my own ("in its time") and great patience.  Here, he sees that it has surprised him with its beauty.  Maybe he had tried to make that beauty, but in the end, he found more than he had imagined.

It is, of course, a call to trust.  To trust that, with great patience, God will do something more than we could do, more than we could imagine. That trust is not easy.  It is not automatic.  It takes faith.  Our hearts say: Maybe with lots of time, it will all just disintegrate.  But when we trust, we learn to surrender.  We learn to let God's timing direct, to not obsess when things don't go according to our timing, but rather to trust in the possibility that something better is happening, even though we can't see it.

There is both a light and a lightness that come from living in the trust that a timing greater than our own and a patience greater than are own are ultimately at work.  And that light is what we are called to now.

And later?  Fullness of redemption.  That is our promise.  Who knows what it will look like exactly?  Maybe not much like my expectations.  I don't know.  But I do think we can say with confidence that one day soon, we will look back down the hill to say:

In its time and great patience
beauty has come up on us
greater than we had imagined.

22.9.14

Free Alpine Music From Eric

(from Eric)

Once again, I've completed a compilation of songs from a certain period of our journey, with the hope that it will serve as a way to further articulate the lives in which we find ourselves.  These eight songs are mostly from our time in France (with a couple from our vagrancies in the US beforehand, but that was a hard time to write songs).  Thematically, they have a lot to do with the passing of time, and how that makes us who we are, as well as a good bit about leaving places and a few nods to the Sonship course.  Unsurprisingly, the imagery is often full of mountain cliffs and valley towns.  Once we finally got moved into our house here at Kibuye, I unpacked my instruments and recording gear, and went to work.

It is here for free download.  Unlike before, I've chosen to host this album on another site (Noisetrade), where perhaps interest might be piqued by some new people, previously unconnected with our story.  Please feel free to share this with anyone you think might be interested.  I would write these songs, even if they were never heard by anyone.  They just sort of feel like they need to be written.  However, it's my delight to share them with willing listeners.

17.9.14

My Medi-Vac Story

By Jess Cropsey

Last Friday was one of the craziest days of my life.  My back had completely gone out almost 2 weeks before and I was bed-ridden for a few days.  After some time, I was able to start walking again with the help of crutches and even for a day or two without any crutches at all.  By Tuesday, the nerve pain in my left leg was so severe that I was only able to lie face-down on my bed.  Any movement at all was excrutiatingly painful.  I know many people have stories of back pain like this, but I was feeling particularly sorry for myself — I was in the middle of nowhere in Africa with no access to medical care for this problem and the in-laws were leaving the next day.  How long was this going to last?  I was completely helpless and my husband and teammates were having to take on watching my kids, preparing meals, changing diapers, teaching, etc.  After several days of lying face-down in bed (with several pity parties in the mix) and exploring various options, we decided to pursue medical assistance in Nairobi.  We had met with a neurosurgeon there several months ago when I was having more moderate pain and he came highly recommended.  We consulted our neurosurgeon friend in the States and then decided to take the surgical plunge.  

We contacted the insurance company to make the necessary arrangements and they organized an air ambulance evacuation.  What?!  A whole airplane just for me?  I’m thinking this seems way over-the-top, but I also know that I would never have been able to sit on the commercial flight from Bujumbura to Nairobi unless I was under the influence of some serious medication.  So, Friday morning, John laid down the seats in the back of our Toyota ProBox, put in a mattress and I made the tortuous 30-meter journey from my bed to the back of the car and once again resumed my face-down posture.  After a 2-1/2 hour drive down the windy mountain road, we arrived at the Bujumbura airport and John worked his magic on how to get us back to the airplane.  After discussions with several security officials who incredulously peered into the back of the car at this crazy white lady, we were escorted onto the tarmac via the car and I hobbled into the airplane that had a stretcher where I could lay down.  John enjoyed the snacks and drinks provided by the healthcare professional while I tried to ignore his munching so that I could be ready for surgery that day.  

Upon arrival in Nairobi, we were transported in a brand-new, first-class (as far as I could tell) ambulance that whisked us away to Nairobi Hospital.  They even used the siren to get through the horrendous traffic.  We had already contacted the neurosurgeon to let him know we were on our way.  We settled into a nice bay in the ER, where we waited for almost 9 hours to sort out insurance approval.  We met with the neurosurgeon late that night and I wolfed down my first meal of the day after discovering that surgery wouldn’t be happening right away.  Around midnight, I was admitted and once again struggled to move from one bed to the next with the Kenyan nurses continually saying, “Sorry, sorry!”  

The next morning, I was taken for an MRI and scheduled for surgery later in the afternoon.  The MRI showed a ruptured disc in the L5-S1 portion of my spine and this was what caused the nerve pain and numbness in my leg.  The plan was to perform a micro-discectomy.  

I’m not much of a trooper when it comes to pain, so I was pretty eager to get this taken care of even though I am terrified of all things medical done to my person (I even despise IVs) and having surgery in Africa has always been one of my greatest fears.  When the time came to be wheeled away, it all started to sink in.  John kissed me good-bye after looking at the scans with the surgeon.  I started to cry as the nurse wheeled me down the ramp into a basement hallway area that smelled like a swimming pool.  Being in a foreign country, with foreign doctors, in a foreign hospital, and completely unable to move made me feel incredibly vulnerable.  At least they spoke English!  So I prayed fervently that God would help me be brave, that I would see my husband & kids again, and that I would be able to move my legs & toes when I woke up from surgery.  Once I was wheeled into the OR with a single table in the middle of the gigantic cave-like room (that did have some modern equipment in it, thank the Lord!), I was only awake for a few minutes before the anesthesia kicked in.  I have never been so thankful to go to sleep.  

I woke up in a total fog, observing from the clock that it was 4 hours later than when I left for surgery.  What did that mean?  Did things go poorly?  Check — yes, I could wiggle my toes.  Thank God!  The doctor asked how my pain was and I said my back hurt.  She must have given me more juice because I went back to sleep.  

I have had small improvements every day post-surgery.  Each of these gave me hope that some day I might actually feel normal again.  Words of encouragement from many friends & family members were a huge boost as were the many prayers that were lifted up on my behalf all over the world.  I am happy to report that I am able to walk and sit in moderation.  Please pray that the remaining numbness in my left leg & foot would completely resolve.  I was discharged from the hospital today (Wednesday), have a final follow-up visit with the doctor on Thursday, and then travel home to Burundi on Friday.  

I AM SO THANKFUL…For good health insurance and the access that we have to quality medical care, even if it isn’t immediate access.  My Burundian friends would never have been able to get the care that I received.  But as I sit here in this modern hospital, getting vital signs checked regularly, with access to MRIs, medications, and doctors with specialty training, I know that this is what we are praying for and working towards in Burundi for the future.  

I AM SO THANKFUL…For my awesome teammates in Burundi who have cared for our kids while we’ve been away.  For my mom who is coming back to Burundi to stay for several weeks while I recuperate.  For John who has patiently cared for me and been my medical advocate.  For my kids who have taken care of me and who have been so brave while Mommy & Daddy have been away.  For the team of doctors and nurses at Nairobi Hospital who have provided excellent care.  For a wonderful bed on the ward that has a big window with a nice view.  For the visitors (several missionary friends from our Kenya days) who have come with food and flowers.  For Java House strawberry milkshakes.  For a God who is faithful and loves me with an incomprehensible love and who I can have complete faith in whether or not I regain the same physical strength that I had before. 

I’ll leave you with a verse that a dear friend shared with me:

Psalm 94:17-19
If the Lord had not been my help, my soul would have soon lived in the land of silence.  When I thought, ‘My foot slips’, your steadfast love, O LORD, held me up.  When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul.

8.9.14

Imvunja

by Rachel

There is about one textbook in the whole world for learning Kirundi.  Maybe there's more, but only one I've ever seen.  It was written by Betty Ellen Cox, a missionary who actually used to live at Kibuye years ago (her house is still here).  I remember flipping through the manuscript and dismissing it as "irrelevant" (before I arrived at Kibuye).  The lessons featured vocabulary that I was not at all interested in learning, and, I was convinced, would never need to be able to say.  Why would I want to know the phrase for "the woman is hoeing" (Umugore ararima)?  Or the word for a jigger (imvunja)?  I mean, what is that, even?

Ah, the folly of my pride and ignorance.  What I apparently didn't understand was that Betty WAS giving the most appropriate vocabulary for our daily lives at Kibuye.  Every last person around here hoes. And carries hoes on their heads.  And builds our houses with hoes.  Jiggers?  Well.  Let's just say they have been the secret scourge of the McCropder team here in the past 2-3 months.  I mean, we're not talking ebola or HIV or even African sleeping sickness or Lyme disease, but jiggers are pretty gross and painful.  They are little tiny black insects that burrow into your feet and lay little egg sacks inside.  I know, gross.  Don't keep reading if you're not interested.  A few people got them while we were in Banga, but since the start of the dry season around May, every last one of us has become "infested."

It goes something like this.  We examine our feet and find what looks like a blackhead zit or a small blister with a black center.  They usually show up next to the toenails but sometimes on the heels.  I'm not sure what would happen if we didn't ever remove them.  Don't want to find out.  If the jigger is discovered in a kid's foot, the next step involves wailing and gnashing of teeth, bribery and cajoling.  You can remove a jigger with tweezers or toenail clippers and a lot of squeezing, like popping a giant zit.  The next step (again for the kids) involved finding colorful bandaids, suckers, or other treats.  Then resolving to wear shoes and socks for the rest of your life.  Until the next one shows up…  In the end, I am super grateful that we don't have more dangerous wildlife around us.  No poisonous snakes (or even regular ones that we've seen), no scorpions or tarantulas or stray/rabid dogs.  Jiggers might be a bit irritating, but certainly not dangerous.  Even so, here's to hoping the rainy season brings a reprieve from our little black "friends."

5.9.14

COTW: Buying Time

(from Eric)

Claudette was first admitted to the hospital 6 weeks after having a baby, just after the cut-off of getting "free" care from the government.  She had swollen legs and a blood pressure through the roof.  Her eyes were blurry.  She is 23 years old.  Her baby (as would be normal here) stayed with her, but (as would not be normal here) she was otherwise quite alone.  I believe she has a husband, but I never saw him.  We started her on some medicines, hoping that this was a weird late manifestation of a pregnancy complication, and that she would get better soon.

She felt better a few days later, and we discharged her.  She hung around, waiting for her family to show up and pay her hospital bill.  They didn't.  About a week later, still waiting, she got sick again, not having bought her outpatient pills either.  Blood pressure still high, this time with fluid in her lungs, making her breathing very difficult.  We admitted her back into the hospital and started her back on treatment.  We checked her kidney function, and found that she didn't really have any (in American units, a Creatinine of about 22, but in our units >1500, which makes it sounds even worse).  At this point her prognosis is getting worse.  The baby is still her only companion.  We don't have a hospital cafeteria (yet) and the other patients' families were helping her to find some food.

Somewhat against expectations, we pull her out of her crisis, tried to control her blood pressure a bit better, to protect what little kidney function is left.  Finally, she is stable, and we discharge her again from the hospital.

She waits some more.  No one comes.

On the day that we admitted her to the hospital for the 3rd time (due to another downturn in absence of appropriate support), a family member shows up.  They want to go home.  I don't blame them, but now is not the moment.  I know her prognosis is poor.  I know we can't change that.  I want her and her baby home, too, but I think if we wait a day or two, we can get her a longer stay at home before she gets home.

We're buying time.  Often, that's exactly what we're doing.  It's the reality of medicine in a mortal world.  Even if you "save a life" of an otherwise young healthy person, you're really "buying time", just more of it.

In a sense, that's what we all want.  More time.

For Claudette, for her baby, there's not that much we could do to buy her much time.  She needed dialysis weeks ago.  She needed intensive monitoring of her blood pressure and her electrolytes.  And she didn't get that.  But hopefully she got some time.  

And maybe we would all do well (since we are all in the same scenario after all) to shift our focus from the amount of time to the type of time, the quality of the time.  Time for Claudette to be at home.  Time for her to share in family meals.  Time with her baby.  Time for her baby to get week-by-week a little older, in hopes of doing better when Claudette is no longer there.

After a couple more days and a couple more discussions with Claudette and her lone family member, we sent her home, paying for her hospital stay from the Needy Patient Fund.  The fact that I haven't seen her now in a few weeks is potentially a good sign, but not necessarily.  But my time spent with her is, at least, a good reminder.  The importance of the time we have.  The importance of how we spend this time.  May it be well-spent.