Monday, June 29, 2009

Missed It By That Much

Neuchatel Train Yesterday we had our first (and hopefully last) experience missing the train.  Thankfully, we were on our way home from town, so we weren’t late arriving to anything/anywhere.  We were dawdling around in the grocery store at the train station and weren’t watching the clock (something we’re still not accustomed to.)  When we looked at the clock, we saw the train was scheduled leave in just a couple of minutes.  We paid for our groceries and made a mad dash for the platform.  We were literally steps away from reaching the door when the train pulled away right on-time.  The train runs every hour so we simply sat in the station and waited for the next one.

Friday, June 26, 2009

15 Hour Days

The days are very long in Switzerland this time of year.  The sun rises around 5:30am and doesn’t set until after 10:00pm.  It makes daylight savings days in the States seem very short and early in comparison.  It’s wonderful to have such long days, however it’s going to be a process to adjust to watching the clock rather than the sun.  There have been several times already that we haven’t eaten dinner until 8:00 or 9:00pm because it didn’t feel that late in the day.  Perhaps it’s a good thing that our schedule is not being driven by our stomachs.

Leigh and Cole - Lake Neuchatel We had a surprise visit from our friend Leigh who served in Mali with us last year.  She seems to be following us around.  She visited us when we were in Paris in May, and now took a chance to catch up with us in Switzerland.  She was on a school research trip this week in Geneva, which is just a little over an hour away by train.  It was wonderful to spend the afternoon with her.  It’s always a special treat for Cole to see his “big sister”.  We had a picnic on the shore of Lake Neuchâtel then took a tour of the Neuchâtel castle which still serves as the government seat for Neuchâtel - one of the States in the Swiss Confederation.  We had such a wonderful time sharing the afternoon with a very special friend.

Today we ended our first week of French classes.  It has been a very challenging week filled with language triumphs and discouragements. There have been some real breakthroughs along with some defeats.  Our classes are intensive and run from 9:00am to 1:00pm.  We then have the afternoon to do homework and practice what we’ve been learning.  We started the 2nd level course at the half-way point, so we have found a lot of holes that need filling in.  Some students finished their studies today and others came back from vacation this week, so starting next week, our class will be backtracking closer to the beginning of the course and hopefully do a lot of catch-up.  We’ll then make a final decision on what class to pursue for the remainder of our time here.

We’ve made a decision for our family to only speak French from 6:00am to 6:00pm, even amongst ourselves.  But with the many challenges this week, we’ve found it difficult to maintain this policy.  Hopefully we’ll do better in the coming week.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Somebody Left The Water Running

Fountian - Neuchatel There are fountains all around Neuchâtel.  They are not self re-circulating fountains that pump the same water over and over again.  Instead, they are fresh water fountains dating back 200-300 years.  There is always fresh Alpine water flowing from the fountain that is wonderful to drink.  What many of you are paying to import in drinking bottles is free flowing on many street corners.  We simply refill our water bottles each day with sparkling, clean water straight from the Alps.  After spending most of our lives in drought prone Southern California and now living on the edge of the Sahara Desert, we’re not used to seeing drinking water flowing freely.

Yesterday we started our studies at a language school called Inlingua.  We scored lower on our placement tests than we were expecting…especially John who they wanted to place in the beginner class.  This has been very discouraging to him considering we’ve been living in a French environment for so many years.  Actually, the school is recommending we all go to the beginner class.  There isn’t a beginner class right now and the next one doesn’t start for a couple of weeks.  So we’re going to be attending the 2nd level course for the next couple of weeks and see how it goes.  Based on the first day, we feel we might be able to stay in the 2nd level class.  But only time will tell.  The school has been gracious enough to let us borrow textbooks until we know what class we’ll be taking so there’s no need to commit to anything right away.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Split Second Timing

Monmollin House We arrived safely and without incident in Switzerland on Friday.  We were able to find the train, purchase our tickets, and reach Neuchâtel with no problems.  Someone was waiting for us in the station and gave us a quick orientation around town then took us to the house in Montmollin where we will be living.  We are staying with a wonderful family in our own apartment on the ground floor of their home.  It is a charming house that’s over 200 years old and has a lot of character.  Our apartment has 2 rooms, a kitchen, and a private bath.  It is quite large and comfortable.  Our front window has a beautiful view of Lake Neuchâtel.  Our home is also within steps of a small forest.  To be quite honest, the beauty of Switzerland and hospitality of the people is astounding.

Lake Neuchatel Montmollin is a small village without a store or other amenities…just a group of charming Swiss houses and farms.  It’s like we’re living in a storybook.  It’s a far cry from the brown and dusty desert environment we’re used too.  It is very easy to reach Neuchâtel (where we expect to spend most of our time) by train.  The station is just a short 10 minute walk from the house and a small train departs every hour.  We have witnessed the well earned reputation of Swiss fascination with time and precision.  While waiting for our baggage to come off the plane in the Geneva airport, a sign above the baggage conveyer counted down how long we could expect to wait for it to arrive…and the countdown clock was dead on.  We’ve seen it especially on the train.  Every train station has several clocks complete with a second hand.  Today we took a train that was scheduled to leave at 37 minutes after the hour.  We had a view of a station clock from our seat and believe it or not, at 12:37 as soon as the second hand landed on the 12, the train started up and left the station.  This is going to be a very big change from the loosey goosey approach to time we’re used to in Africa.  Hopefully we won’t miss a lot of trains in the process.

Today we attended church at an Evangelical Free Church (EV Free…only here it’s called EEL – Eglise Evangélique Libre) right next door to our school.  We met a lot of wonderful people and felt very welcomed.  They are a very missions minded church and are accustomed to a lot of visiting missionaries; especially with the language school right next door.  We’ve chosen to make this our church home while in Neuchâtel.

Forest in Monmollin Since arriving in Switzerland, we’ve been limiting our conversations with people to French only.  We have been very happy with how much we’ve been able to understand and communicate.  There are still a lot of holes to fill, but for the most part we seem to be holding our own.  Tomorrow we’re eager to begin our language training.  The three of us will start by taking a test to determine which class each of us should be placed in.  We’re curious to find out officially what our individual language levels are.

We are blessed to have internet access in our home.  We have also purchased a Swiss cell phone.  If you’d like to call us or send an SMS text message, we can be reached at 011 41 76739-30-25.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

À Bientôt

Wow the past week really zoomed by fast.  It’s hard to believe we’re off to Switzerland already.  Most of the time, even the simplest tasks are complicated in Mali.  But thankfully we get a little break when traveling.  Here in Bamako, we are able to pre-check our baggage the day of our departure at the Air France office.  And with on-line check-in, all we have to do tonight when we reach the airport is pass through immigration and security.  Everything else has already been taken care of.

We’re very excited about an opportunity to expand our French skills while exploring a new corner of the world as a family.  We’ll check back in after we’ve gotten settled.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Alpine Village

We have found a house in Switzerland.  Someone from a local church has provided a home in a small village called Montmollin.  There are less than 500 people living in Montmollin.  The whole village is smaller than the condo complex where we used to live in California.  That really puts things in perspective!  Our home is located just a 15 minute train ride from the school in the city of Neuchâtel.  Best of all, the house is being provided free of charge!!  All we are responsible for is electricity.  It’s hard to believe we’re just a few days from leaving.  There were threats that all Air France A330 pilots will go on strike due to the plane crash last week unless all A330 airplanes have their speed indicators replaced.  Thankfully, Air France has agreed and is busily updating their airplanes.  We will be flying on Airbus A330, but we are not concerned in the least.

Friday, June 12, 2009

A Friend In Need Is A Friend Indeed

Bex, our YWAM colleague from New Zealand has been staying with us the past couple of weeks.  She has been working in Douentza up in northern Mali.  Douentza is a very difficult place to live and work.  She too is struggling with French along with a couple of other issues.  Her leaders have encouraged her to leave Douentza and focus on language study for the next several months.  This has been a difficult decision for her.  She has been staying in our house as she sorts out what the next steps in her journey will be.  Despite the difficult circumstances that have brought her here, we have enjoyed extending our hospitality to her and helping her find some rest as things become clearer. 

Bamako is really changing.  It is now considered the fastest growing city in Africa.  A few months ago, a new Radisson Hotel opened.  We invited Bex to join us for dinner at the hotel restaurant.  It was to die for!  The food was simply amazing and the presentation was nothing short of what you’d find in a high end restaurant in the States.  For a couple of hours, we had the opportunity to “leave Africa” with Bex and enjoy a taste of the West.

Bex has made the decision to move to our YWAM base in Koutiala as she studies French with a private tutor.  Today a family of missionaries is traveling to Koutiala for the weekend and offered Bex a ride in their car.  We are going to miss her, but we know there will be more opportunities to host her whenever she comes through Bamako.  The communication in Koutiala is much better than Douentza so it will be easier to stay in contact with her too.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Made in China

John went to pick up our car today from the mechanic.  In the past couple of months, we’ve had two other co-workers in YWAM Mali do serious damage to their cars when they had water problems too.  We are thankful that our engine repairs were much simpler than theirs and much less expensive.  Our motor did require extensive work and ended up costing around $450.  Ouch!!  But it was less than we were expecting.  A trip to our auto mechanic is always an interesting experience.  He is a Chinese man who doesn’t speak French.  He does speak some Bambara.  Between a mix of our languages, we’re always able to point out our problems and he provides excellent repair service.  It’s challenging and entertaining, but it works.

ScorpionIt is good to have our car back, however we can’t drive it faster than 40 MPH for the next 300 miles and then no faster than 50 MPH for the next 300 miles after that as we break in the motor.  We’re still be able to use it, but we’ll have to be careful about our driving habits.  It also means we won’t be able to lend it out while we’re gone in Switzerland this summer.

We found our first scorpion in our house this week.  It was very small, but still disconcerting.  It looks like a baby.  Hopefully there isn’t a whole nest of them and this will be the last one we find.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Class of 2009

BCA Class of 2009 Bamako Christian Academy (BCA) passed a very big milestone this year.  Friday night we held graduation and award ceremonies for the kindergarten and 8th grade classes.  In addition, we celebrated our first high school graduate!  Guess who the valedictorian was?  Yes…it was a small high school graduation ceremony with just one student, but it is an amazing accomplishment for a school that’s only been open four years and just two years ago made the decision to offer a high school track.

Rejoice and her family are African missionaries from the country of Benin.  She has aspirations of continuing her education by attending college in the United States.  She hopes to become a doctor and use her medical skills helping people in West Africa.  As part of the graduation, one of her former BCA teachers flew in from the U.S. and presented her with a partial scholarship to pursue her education at the university of her choice in the States.

BCA is not owned or operated by any mission agency or organization.  It is a school completely organized, funded, and operated by the parents.  This is a huge task for the small group of parents that make up BCA and already have full schedules and ministries.  But the Lord continues to provide the people and resources necessary.  Please be praying for us as we continue to seek teachers for next year.  We have a lot of classes that are still in need of teachers.  If you have a teaching background, or know someone else who does, we challenge you to prayerfully consider an exciting change by teaching in Mali.  It doesn’t need to be a long-term or a lifetime commitment, nor does it require any special skills outside of daily teaching.  It’s an English environment with a full U.S. curriculum.  It’s just like teaching in the States - just much smaller classes.  We know it seems like it’s probably way out of your league and there’s no way you could make a change like this.  But if we were able to pull it off, anyone can.  Again, just consider a  one year or half year commitment.  You’ll be amazed at what can happen.  Be sure to challenge others you know too.  

Friday, June 05, 2009

Car No Go

Car No Go On a quick trip into town, our car ran out of water without John noticing.  Coming back on the bridge over the Niger River, the car started stalling and acting up.  John was able to limp it to our mechanic who quickly spotted the problem – the car was out of water.  John had filled the radiator the day before, so running out of water didn’t cross his mind.  It turns out there was a major leak in one of the hoses.  Unfortunately, John didn’t notice the temperature gauge which was well above the red zone.  The mechanic has taken apart the motor and we’re waiting for an estimate on the damages.  Ughhh!

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Swiss Family Clark

We have been making plans to attend language school this summer to get a better grasp on French.  Although we’ve been busy planning this for the last several weeks, we realize we’ve forgotten to communicate our plans.

We will be attending an intensive language course at a school called Inlingua in Neuchâtel, Switzerland.  All three of us will be attending the class.  We feel it is just as important for everyone, including Cole to be fluent in French.  We will be leaving Mali on June 18th, a week after school gets out.  We’ll be in Switzerland until August 11th and return the week before school starts up again.

We will be attending classes for 7 weeks of structured French.  Classes are in the morning with afternoons free for practicing our newly acquired skills.  Seven weeks sounds very short, but at least we have a base to build upon and won’t be starting from square one.  We have heard very good things about Inlingua from friends who have attended.  We still don’t know what our housing and living arrangements will be, but we are confident it will all come together in time.  We already have our plane tickets and are eagerly looking forward to our departure in just a little over 2 weeks.