30 Days and Counting – Shots

Over the past several months, our team members have been handling all of the travel details for our trip — just 30 days to go! One of those lingering details has to do with the shots that are recommended and required. The only mandatory vaccination is for yellow fever. And, yellow fever, like a lot of illnesses, comes from an infected insect — the mosquito.

The purpose of the shot or inoculation is to introduce enough of a foreign and potentially harmful substance into our bodies to trigger our natural immunity system to produce defenses. Generally, the shots contain a much-weakened version of the illness. In fact, most of the vaccines are formed from dead cells. Medical researchers have learned that just a little bit is enough to bring about the desired effect.

For most of us in the western world, shots are marker events — usually at moments of new beginning. We get them as newborns, then as we start school, several more plus some boosters when we head off to college. As we get older, shots for pneumonia and shingles.

Our team is just like millions of others. We are getting our shots at a time of new beginning so that we can take on a much grander experience.

Earlier this week, posts on our private FaceBook group page centered on questions about shared experience with the yellow fever vaccine. Reports of various symptoms followed. And, thankfully, reports of eventual wellness surfaced. We’ve become pretty interested in how our fellow team members are handling the bits and pieces of going to Africa. On that note, to that one person who at last report hadn’t gotten her shots — how’s that coming along?

All for the fear of a mosquito. Because mosquitos aren’t merely a nuisance in Africa. An infected mosquito may bring yellow fever or malaria or West Nile virus. Something as small as a mosquito is causing unbelievable carnage, not just among travelers to far away places, but to children and adults who are native to the region.

I did some reading on yellow fever today. It seems that only a small percentage of people who contract the disease have a severe case. No effective treatment is known for those that do beyond treating the fever and keeping the patient hydrated. But the Center for Disease Control highly recommends keeping yellow fever patients in environments free of mosquitos. Not because of additional risk to the patient, but in order to stop the infection cycle. It seems that more mosquitos contract yellow fever from humans than humans from mosquitos.

I think that every one of our team members is going to catch something while we’re in Africa. No, not some illness borne by tiny winged insects. We are going to be infected in a major way by new ideas and new passions. And the last thing we are going to do when we return is go into isolation.

Countdown days 35 through 30 were written on the right days — but posted late because of a major web server outage. My apologies for the delay in posting and for posting several a day to catch up.

32 Days and Counting – Anxiety

The questions are starting to surface. As each member of our team shares the coming adventure with friends (32 days to Africa!), we’re beginning to get the knowing looks and the furrowed brows. And we’re beginning to sense the anxiety in others.

Image Credit: JoanaCroft on FreeImages.com

“You know, Africa can be a very dangerous place.”

Yes. It can. But so can Dallas or Abilene. Or Ferguson, Missouri. Danger is always a consideration and is often just inches a way.

The challenges are different in Africa, perhaps. Plus, distance adds to the complexity. And frankly, our team still has a lot of questions. But we’ve had a lot of our questions answered. Thus, our anxiety is pretty subdued.

You might be interested in some of the questions we asked. In our first gathering as a team, for example, the meeting ground to a halt when one member queried, “Will we be able to flush toilet paper?”

I have to admit that it wasn’t a question I would have ever thought about. Until I heard the accompanying restroom stories of other team members who had experience in many far-flung places of the globe.

If you’re really interested, flushing toilet paper is permissible in Rwanda and Kenya.

We had a number of questions about health issues. As in travel to many countries, the basic rule is “Don’t drink the water.” We even learned that, should we have the opportunity to swim while we’re there, we should pass it up. I was thinking in terms of crocodiles. Apparently, the primary danger is from organisms and creatures that are much smaller.

From the recent news, many friends have asked us about the risk posed by Ebola. At this moment, we don’t foresee much trouble. Our destination is East Africa and the concentration of Ebola cases is in West Africa.

How about political unrest and terrorism? We obviously need to be aware of our surroundings and sensitive to what we observe. However, we are blessed in that we will be surrounded by representatives of our partner organizations who live and work in Rwanda and Kenya. The last thing they want to do is to put us in danger.

Again, our team knows that a certain risk accompanies us on our trip. I can’t speak for everyone, but my primary anxiety is on behalf of those who love and worry about us. I’d love to say, “Please don’t fret. I’ll be fine.” Truthfully, it’s nice that people care.

So, if you have some concerns about our trip and about us . . . Thank you! We can use your prayers, your encouragement, and your support.

We know that many of

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the things about this trip that raise the level of anxiety are the very elements that make this trip important. Carrying the message of peace and reconciliation to places where conflict, violence, poverty, disease, and discrimination abound is big.

But where in the world could we go where those things are not present?

Countdown days 35 through 30 were written on the right days — but posted late because of a major web server outage. My apologies for the delay in posting and for posting several a day to catch up.

33 Days and Counting – Excitement

Just 33 days before Dan, Allison, Aaron, Robyn, Malcolm, Betty and I make our way to Africa. We don’t get to see each other every day. In fact, it’s been almost 3 weeks since we were all in the same room. Yet, through emails, some scattered phone calls, and even on our own private FaceBook group page, you can see the excitement building.

I can point to a lot of reasons for the excitement:

  • International travel to a beautiful place.
  • The rewards of bringing what we know about peace building to people whose life experiences will extend our own.
  • New friendships.
  • Partnerships with those who want to help our work through donations and gifts.
  • Opportunities to join with incredible ministries like African Leadership and Reconciliation Ministries and Made In the Streets.
  • Just because nonchalantly saying “I’m going to Africa next month” has a degree of coolness that “I’m going to Tuscola” doesn’t quite reach. (I was talking to a phone sales representative about setting up an international calling plan for Africa and she just stopped right in the middle of the call and said, “I am so excited for you. And I’m a little jealous.” Then there’s that.)

But primarily, we are excited because this is what we have trained for and hoped for. We are excited because this is our chance to do something that matters. We are excited because we know how richly we have been blessed. We are excited. Because.

Countdown days 35 through 30 were written on the right days — but posted late because of a major web server outage. My apologies for the delay in posting and for posting several a day to catch up.

34 Days and Counting – Difficulties

As I prepared to write my previous post, I attempted to open my website. No response. Frustrating. In fact, very frustrating. Over the past several months, I had experienced multiple outages. Recently, my web host provider, assured me that our difficulties were over. But now, more than 30 hours after the website went down, I am writing this post off-line as I did yesterday. With just 34 days before we head to Africa, technical difficulties in delivering our story was the last thing I needed.

I went to the office about 7:15 this morning to work on several projects. I sat at my desk with my oversized mug and felt the steamy aroma of my extra-bold coffee wrap around my face. As I positioned my cursor, I had every confidence that the website server would be up and running. After all, the technical folks had been working on this for almost a full day and, since computers work fast, I just knew that joeycope.com was up and running again.

But it wasn’t. I took a sip of coffee and tried hard to work on something else. But every few minutes, I’d go back and enter my web address. No connection.

My annoyance with the situation grew. Irritated, I opened a book that our team is reading in preparation for our time in Rwanda and read for a while. Perspective is a sobering thing.

In just a few weeks, Robyn, Malcolm, Aaron, Dan, Allison, Betty and I will have a different worldview. As much as we’ve studied and talked about Rwanda and Kenya, we won’t be fully ready for what we will see and we’ll never be the same again. And that will be a good thing.

Difficulties are popping up. Some of them are the everyday variety. Others have much deeper significance.

A serendipity of facing difficulties is having loyal and trusted friends by our sides. And that’s the essence of our team — loyal and trusted friends.

Countdown days 35 through 30 were written on the right days — but posted late because of a

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major web server outage. My apologies for the delay in posting and for posting several a day to catch up.

42 Days and Counting – Tribes

“Education is inoculation,” we are frequently reminded by Dr. Betty Gilmore, our team leader and the director of the Dispute Resolution and Conflict Management program at Southern Methodist University. With that in mind, our team has been seeking and absorbing material about Africa and, specifically, Rwanda. As I’ve gone about my daily reading, I’ve been a little discouraged. Just 42 days and the unread stories of this small, beautiful country seem to stretch out to infinity. One of the surface features of the Rwandan story is that of tribes.

This region of Africa has been inhabited by three primary tribes: the Hutu, Tutsis, and the Twa. The Twa is a very small part of the Rwandan population — about 1%. A Pygmy people, the Twa are hunter-gatherers and skilled in the craft of pottery. The Hutus have always been the largest of the tribes with over 80% of the population. Even though a minority, the Tutsis gained power and ruled over the region for over a hundred years with relative peace. When the Belgians discovered the riches of Rwanda and began their colonization and control of the country, they immediately begin to show favor to the Tutsis, providing better education and financial incentives. The discrimination fostered by the Belgians served to increase the ethnic divide of the country. Finally, when the Tutsis began to tire of outside influence and begin to push back, the Belgians incited the Hutus against the Tutsis. Violence between the tribes was present long before the holocaust of 1994 and tens of thousands of Tutsis were slaughtered over several decades.

In 1994, a long-engineered killing spree was initiated against the Tutsis. Over the period of 100 days, close to a million people — men, women, and children — were slaughtered in the name of ethnic cleansing. The world community was slow to respond. To those on the ground in Rwanda, I’m certain that it felt like the world was simply choosing to look the other way.

This little bit of history doesn’t tell the full story. Nor does it inform us of all that has happened in the last 20 years. But it does give us a frame of reference for our mission come September.

While tribes have been an integral part of the fabric of this country and most of East Africa, we are going to share about the potential for reconciliation that springs from the hope of a larger view. What we hope to share is a simple truth.  Some concepts have far more potential than those associated with caste and ethnicity. We are going to reinforce what these wonderful people long to believe — by valuing every human being and through acts of forgiveness, true peace can come. And, we can’t help but touch on the even more gigantic truth. We are all God’s children. And that means more than tribe, the deepness of the pigment in our skins, the shape of our nose, the accent in our speech, or our earthly family tree.

We are His. And because of that, we must act differently from the world. We’re still part of a tribe. But the tribe is not set apart as Tutsi or Hutu or Twa — or African or Asian or European or American.  Our tribe is one.