Forgetting How To Speak English

(from Eric)

Two days ago, in class, we were discussing a certain verb construction.  I was wrestling with it in my mind, trying to find an approximate English equivalent that I might be able to hang my hat on.

Epiphany!  "Could" in the sense of "it could be, but it's probably not..."  So I changed my multi-color pen and scrawled above it the English word "COULD".

Then  I leaned back and stared hard.

Did I spell that right?  It looks so weird.  I said it over and over in my mind.  Wow, now it sounds weird.  Is that even the right word?  I try writing it in lowercase.  Hmm, that looks better, but still a bit off.  Am I having a stroke?


This is our world right about now.

I was told beforehand, that silent E's and double letters will be the first to go, because they are often the only change between an English word and a French word.  We had a classic moment in class a while ago, where our teacher was exhorting us to note well that the French word appartement is spelled differently than in English.  "How many P's are there in English?"  One student confidently pronounced "Two!"  Then, the teacher wrote the correct English spelling on the board, and the student's eyes got wide.  "No, there's only one!"  And this student works as an English teacher.  

But so it is with all of us.  Adresse.  Utilise. I'm having to type these words into Google Translate as I type this to ensure that I'm putting the right spelling on this post.  I've never been so reliant on spell-checkers in my life.  It's not going to get any better with medical vocabulary.

I remember a friend in medical school talking about a particularly brain-frying session of Gross Anatomy where she turned to her friend and said:  "I know we have two kidneys, but do we have one liver or two?  One?  No, two!  No, just one....yeah, definitely one."

This phenomenon (phénomène) is about 80% a funny thing to laugh at along the road of language learning.  The other 20% is something that takes a stab at my identity and substantially changes some important things. As an American,  part of my identity as an educated professional is being able to articulate with the right words and spell correctly.  The deeper we go in French, even more so as we learn Kirundi and live in the great linguistic mixture of French-Kirundi-English-Swahili that is Burundi, we are going to get more things wrong.  There is certainly an overall net gain in knowledge, but there may be something about my ability to function in English that will have to suffer a bit.

Interestingly, Kenyans never had quite the same qualms.  Certainly, "proper" English functioning improves with education, but even very educated Kenyans never had many as many qualms with making spelling errors, even in a professional presentation.  It was a constant suggestion of mine that they could improve the overall professional appearance of their work by watching their spelling more closely.  They each spoke at least 3 languages, of course.  Often more.

I think often about those guys, and how I have so much more empathy for their situation.  Ethnocentrism strikes again! 

So, prie for us as we learn to adress these issues et continuer a utilise our French.


10 Milestones

We have just finished a round of exams here.  Somehow these trimester exams show us just how much French we have learned, while they simultaneously show us how MUCH we have yet to learn.  The exams are comprised of 8 separate tests for each student:  exams which test listening comprehension, speaking ability, written work, pronunciation, vocabulary, reading comprehension, and grammar.  There was a little bit of rejoicing when the whole series of exams was finished.  And there was a bit more rejoicing this morning when we received our scores.  We all passed - hooray!  That's 9 passing scores.  9 milestones of French progress.


The best milestone this week actually was celebrated as we welcomed Sarah back after she had been away for a week... at the World Harvest Mission offices in Philadelphia... for her official acceptance interviews and orientation.  (The rest of the team had those meetings in the fall of 2011, before even meeting Sarah, so now last week was Sarah's turn.)  Of course, the mission affirmed that her gifts and mission are a great match with the rest of the team, which we already knew.  So World Harvest welcomed her in with open arms, and then she flew back to France... where her exams were awaiting her... and where her team was eager to welcome her back home with a celebration.  Hooray!
Surprise Party did surprise Sarah
"We love you Sarah" chocolate pie
An attempted group picture to commemorate the event


Tenwek Tragedy

(from Eric - you can read a bit more at Jennifer's blog here)

What to say?  A story that cuts, but for us, it guts us and knocks us flat.  It's unbelievable.  Because I can almost imagine being in their shoes, I can't possibly imagine being in their shoes.

The Kelley family arrived five weeks ago to serve at Tenwek Hospital, Kenya, for two years with the Post-Residency program with Samaritan's Purse, just as we did in late 2009.  Aaron is an ER doctor and Stephanie stays at home with their three little boys and their 14-month old girl.  We met them a few times in the past year, and last July, Rachel and I had a good time answering their questions about shopping in Nairobi and Kenyan vacation spots.  Their blog told us that they are living in the Cropsey's apartment, next to ours, and that they are benefiting from the bananas and basil that we planted in the backyard garden.  They were hoping to see baboons on the way to Tenwek, but alas no.

We can picture every aspect of it.  

Then, the unthinkable.  Hannah, their 14-month old daughter has persistent vomiting.  They are taking care of her, talking with our friends at the hospital about possible causes.  Then a couple nights ago, she stops breathing.  Her heart stops.  Aaron has to perform CPR in their apartment.  They make the trek up the hill to the ER, the same walk we took when Rachel was in labor.  Hours of resuscitation in the ER.  There was a picture of all of our former colleagues surrounding her bed.  The CT scanner that they inaugurated the day we left in 2011 showed a malignant brain tumor.

She was rushed to Kijabe Hospital several hours away where she had surgery.  She died the next day.


No.  This didn't happen.

Our world, so full of beauty, is plunged into darkness.  How did this happen?  I recommend to you Aaron's blog posts and the testimony that they bear.  That which stood out the most to me was a single sentence.  He was recounting the cardiac arrest of his daughter, her brain cancer, and their trip through the Rift Valley to Kijabe.   After noting how remarkable it is that a world renowned pediatric neurosurgeon was at Kijabe just a couple hours away (which is quite correct), he says "Tell me God is not good!"  Those words nearly broke me.  It's an almost unthinkable thing to say in his situation.  A cynic would call it denial.  But it's more of an anchor for the soul.  But it's mostly a defiant shout into the darkness.

And he's right.  

I can't even bear the weight of it, but he's right.  

What's lost is nothing to what's found.  And all the death that ever was, set next to life, would scarcely fill a cup.

And I feel it in my reaction to this story.  I pick Maggie and Ben up from school and hold them so tightly.  They smile at me, and the deep durable goodness of the moment is unmasked, and it is full of glory.  It is full of glory.  And though the darkness and brokenness of our world are achingly real, the greater reality of the goodness of a single cup of water would stand up to any tragedy.  This is no survivor's guilt.  This is darkness showing in relief just how precious is the life we have been given.  It's been there all the time.

Please pray for the Kelleys.  Pray for the Tenwek community.


Burundi Happenings

As we have passed the halfway mark in France, we are excited to think more about about our future in Burundi.  There have been a few exciting things happening there (that make our lives seem more real), and our team is starting to kick into "Burundi prep" mode.  At least, as much as we can with French exams coming up this week!

First of all, Heather mentioned an EMI team in Burundi.  A group of engineers headed to Kibuye for a week in February to assess the current infrastructure and help come up with a plan for what else we need--other buildings, where to put them, running water, electricity, etc.  This was basically an information gathering trip, and more engineers will return in May to finish the comprehensive plan (Jason plans to accompany them).  We are grateful for all the help they are providing.  We don't have much information from their trip yet, but we will post "official" findings as we receive them, hopefully in the next week or two.  Early information seems very positive about a well recently dug on the property as well as the structural stability of existing buildings.
The EMI team of engineers, above

The next big piece of information that we received is that one of our containers has arrived (perhaps you didn't know there was more than one!).  The McCropder team has a personal container, aka The Big Red Box, waiting on a farm outside of Ann Arbor.  It will be shipped to Burundi this summer, hopefully, and spend two months in transit to meet us in Burundi early fall.  But there was also a goodly amount of donated medical equipment and supplies we had, as well as a few personal items we couldn't squeeze into the BRB, so Jason and John trucked it down to Indiana and loaded it onto a different container bound for Hope Africa University.  THAT container arrived at HAU this week.  Apparently the truck that brought it was the oldest truck still in existence.  But whatever works.  The container has had to be unloaded per the customs official, and many crates have been set up outside the student center.  While we are glad the container has arrived safely, there are still several concerns:  safe storage of both medical and personal possessions until we can arrive, and also the question of taxes/customs.  In the past, HAU has enjoyed a tax free status, but customs officials are cracking down and now requesting 30-40% value of the items for tax.  Pray this inspection process goes smoothly and fairly!
medical equipment sitting on the HAU student center porch

Finally, a small piece of information that gets all of us very excited (in a way you might not understand)...Nakumatt is coming to Burundi!  Nakumatt is a large grocery store chain where we all shopped in Nairobi, and they are planning expansion stores into Burundi and South Sudan.  The "expected opening date" is March 2015, which we are not holding our breath for, but knowing that a Nakumatt is on its way, sometime in the not too distant future, is quite elating.  This means a better availability of a variety of food, produce, and WalMart-type goods, and a much easier/smoother shopping process for us all.

Please pray for the following requests as we accelerate towards Burundi:
1.  LOGISTICS!  There is so much to think about now, and timing is becoming crucial.  When to book our flights, which days to arrive (early August), immunizations, and visas are some of the more time sensitive issues.
2.  Language Study.  We are in the process of finding a place and method to study the local language, Kirundi, for three months (Aug-Oct 2013).  We have found some promising possibilities, but nothing is even close to set in stone yet.  
3.  Vehicles.  We know we need at least one or maybe two to start with, and will probably import at least one new vehicle.  Pray this process goes smoothly, efficiently, and the right vehicles are provided at the right cost for our team.


Living in a Post-War World

Most of the people in Burundi grew up in a war.  Civil war ravaged the country for years and years, shutting down development, education, everything.  Peace came about 8 years ago, and we are thankful for it's stability up to the present.

Now we live in a little town of about 18,000 in an alpine valley of France.  It is well developed and education is readily available.  However, if you keep your eyes open, there are little reminders.  All three of these pictures were taken within a 8-minute walk of our school.
In honor of 3 citizens of Albertville, victims of the Nazi repression
In honor of a man tortured by the Nazis who died at the Dachau concentration camp
Monument for the victims of WWI and WWII, not from just our small town of Albertville, but  just the single parish of St. Sigismond, where we live.  (Sorry for being unable to rotate this picture.)
There is a distinct difference here between Europe and the US, where we grew up.  Both our countries fought in the world wars, but France was far more in the thick of it.  Their country was occupied by Nazi forces.  Their sons died far more frequently.  There is not a village, however small (and they get quite small around here), where there is not a monument for the men of that village who died in the world wars.

And so the post-war reminders in Albertville remind me of Burundi.  The two countries couldn't be less alike in a lot of ways, but the common thread is that it's hard to remember that you're in a post-war country.  Here, it's hard to imagine.  Our tranquil little town being occupied by foreign forces, being the site of a resistance whose members were sometimes killed for their dissent.

In Burundi, it is also hard to imagine.  There are few memorials and a shocking lack of rubble and bullet-marked buildings.
A recent picture around Kibuye Hospital, Burundi
That is about where the commonality ends.  In France, there are memorials, but the current generation has grown up in peace and relative prosperity.  In Burundi, the wounds are much fresher.  Every med student that we work with, and nearly every patient (unless they grew up outside the country), grew up in a war.  And yet, interestingly, the impoverished people of Burundi may be overall more optimistic about life than the French.

The fact that we will be working with individuals and a society that is so impacted by recent war is a fact for which we do not yet know the implications.  How will this affect us?  Will it be just under the surface all the time and pop out at unexpected moments?  Will it be talked about openly?  Will it be talked about at all?  We don't know yet.  However, for all their differences, I'm glad for the small reminders here in France of what will undoubtedly be an important issue later on in Burundi.


McCropder Retreat

by Jessica Cropsey

After a stressful last few months, everyone on the McCropder team was looking forward to the late February winter break.  Alyssa had the wonderful idea to take a mini-retreat together.  About 3 hours away from us, there is a terrific little place in Entrepierres called the Association Pierres Vivantes (Living Stones).  It's basically an old village that now serves as a retreat center for those in the ministry (pastors, missionaries, etc.).  Fortunately for us, La Grange (the barn) was available and had just enough space for our entire crew.

Entrepierres means "between stones"

The idea of the retreat was simply to rest and enjoy being together.  No agenda.  No plans.  No talks.  Simply lots of fun, games, and relaxation.

The plan was to depart Saturday morning after we picked up our rental cars.  After a nearly two-hour delay in picking up some of the vehicles, we were finally off, all packed into our 4 economy-sized cars.  Trust me, it is no small feat to pack three car seats into the back of a Volkswagen Polo, but John's mad packing skills were eventually victorious.

Unfortunately for us, it seemed that everyone else in France also decided to leave for vacation on Saturday morning and we spent a good portion of the late morning in very slow traffic.  The families decided to make a pit stop at the IKEA in Grenoble in order to break up the drive with our wee ones.  We enjoyed a tasty lunch, a little shopping, and some play time.  Much to our chagrin, we later learned that the horse meat fiasco which has spread like wildfire across Europe has also visited IKEA.  Ignorance is bliss.  (Note:  John holding the suspicious "meat"ball with his fork.)

During the second half of our trip, we encountered a snow storm which again significantly reduced our speed.  We crawled our way to our destination and finally arrived around 5:00pm.  The man who greeted us was quite astonished that none of us had snow chains on our vehicles.  Oops.  Our 3-hour trip turned into a day-long event, but we were thankful that everyone arrived safely.

The "barn" was absolutely gorgeous.  It had a large living room area and two large tables, one in the kitchen and one in the dining room.  All the adults had a bed with the kids on mattresses on the floor.  It was absolutely perfect for our group.  After choosing our rooms and getting settled in, 

 we had dinner followed by an early celebration of Rachel's birthday.

Over the next few days, we enjoyed lots of activities together....

an informal worship service on Sunday morning (including Father Abraham), ....

 reading at the little library just next to our building, ...
fascinating stories about Narnia from Miss Kathryn, re-enacted with some animal game pieces... 

playing Hangman on the I-Pad with Aunt Sarah, ....

(or playing the I-Pad by yourself can be just as fun), ....

male bonding, ...

discovering new French curiosities (the bidet - AKA "the sink for kids"), ...

sledding, ...

and of course no vacation is complete without a good puzzle! 

We had a wonderful 3 days together.  On our way out of town, we stopped at a nearby fort in Sisteron.  The inside was closed for the winter, but we still had fun exploring the perimeter.  

We are now entering our second week of vacation, but with exams on the horizon the week we get back to class, the remainder of our vacation will involve quite a bit of studying.  Please keep us in your prayers as we prepare.