I was a stranger, and you took me in.

Back in Africa for perhaps the 15th time in the last three years, work continues to be extraordinarily difficult both technically and politically.  Friends, on the other hand, are always a joy.  At Sebastiana's house, they welcome me and a fellow I picked up along the way (he's from the Treasury Department).  Without a moment's hesitation, they invite the two of us to lunch the following weekend.

Photo left: "Levante me, levante me!" she says, which means 'pick me up', I think.  I have almost identical photos from two earlier trips.  She's affectionate, but this is just to be in another picture, I'm pretty sure.

Lunch the following weekend includes fish and rice, breadfruit (which tastes like a foam rubber pillow) and salad.  I made the salad, much to the delight of the ladies who I don't think had ever had a guy in the kitchen before.  They stood around and watched me slice cucumber and tomatoes like maybe they weren't sure I could do it without hurting myself.  

Sebastiana, the family matriarch and our hostess, is shown here with her oldest son Walter.  He's a sweet spirited fellow and an enjoyable lunch companion.   He along with his wife and daughter are here from Cape Verde for the last few months.

Some of Sebastiana's children and grandchildren (left).  There are a lot more of them.  The kids took over the cameras and took several dozen photos.   The dinner table shown here seated all the adults; there were a mob of kids, too.

Having come to Africa so many times without really understanding my place in their world, this time I'm finally beginning to get it.  I was a stranger, and they took me in.  Funny, early on I figured I was the one who had something to give.

The granddaughters (right) hold the youngest member of the family, Vandelay.  He doesn't suffer for attention; the family is large and close knit with plenty of arms to go around.  He's my favorite, of course.

The men here cut their hair super-short, so I'm a bit of an anomaly.  The little girls try to braid my hair like theirs, and the boys want to touch it because it's so different from their own.  I'm a minority!  An oddity, anyway.  Not a lot of old white guys around.

The Cabo Verde dance

The kids took the crazy video (left) with my camera along with dozens of pictures.  After lunch, Maria sang and the kids danced, sort of.  This is the dance from Cape Verde, they explain.  Many Sao Tomeans emigrated to Cape Verde when independence came 30 years ago.

At the end of the visit, (photo, right) exhausted from playing with kids and from the labor of conversation in a language neither of us understand or speak well, we make our way back up the hill in the rain.  The trail is muddy and slick.  Friends at the window and door watch to bid us goodbye once again.   

Like most folks here in Sao Tome, my friends must struggle  just to survive economically, to give their children a chance at a better life, to make it from one day to the next.  In all of that though, this particular family is wonderfully gracious and hospitable.  They've changed things I thought I understood about culture, nations, and God's grace.  

Afternoon tea...

At the end of my time in country for this trip, half-way through the very last day, I get a call from a teenager I know  insisting I come to their house.  It turns out that the phone call was mom and dad's idea; they wanted me to come over for the African equivalent of afternoon tea before I flew out the following day. 

So, across the city at the home of friends, the family receives me warmly.  Here (left), the kids play and pose for pictures perhaps in hope of another day when I'll come back with prints for them.   On the table in the background, photos from October's visit.   In the center of this picture, one of our scholarship kids.  She's doing well in school, we're told.  Her mom and dad have graciously let us participate in her education.  As is the case across Africa, from tradition and sometimes from economic necessity, girls are often left out when it comes to school.  That will change, we hope, but the process takes decades.  

Here, public education carries them through the 6th grade.  Schools are crowded; all have double schedules with half their students in the morning and half in the afternoon.  Children are busy with household labor during the time they're not in school.  Chores often include gathering food from the jungle or helping with firewood collection.  Cooking is done over a small metal box with a charcoal fire inside, or (more often) outside in the yard.  School beyond the 6th grade is available but seats are limited and expensive.  Many are left behind.

 The women prepared and served jacque fruit and safou while the men sat around and talked.  Jacque fruit is pretty good; safou, not so much, although it's an important staple in this part of the world.  The men sat and talked comfortably about the economy, relations between African nations and the West, and the important elements of fatherhood.  Always looking for business opportunity, they're surprised that I'm not rich enough to buy them a car, a taxi they can operate as a business.  I'd love to, of course.  Inquiring about how much it costs for me to travel, they discover that my plane ticket costs as much as their house; they catch on to how things work when I explain that the government pays for my travel.  

I hope to return in a few months.

So what are we going to do with what we know?

Tell the rich folks to quit being so full of themselves and so impressed with their own possessions, which are here today and gone tomorrow.  It's not their merit that made them wealthy and others less so. Tell them to go after God who is generous to us all - and tell them to do good, to be rich in helping others, to be extravagantly generous. If they do that, they'll build a treasure that will last, gaining life that is truly life.

          1 Timothy 6:17-19 Africa, children, school, classroom, hope, Sao Tome, Principe, Guarda Costeria, RMAC, education, African schools, Nigeria, Nigerian