27 May 2013

Look what came in the mail last week

Thanks so much Jenny.  I can't wait to use them.  As hoped, they are made on handmade paper which is always so nice to write on and the detail in the designs is wonderful.  Head on over to Jenny's blog for details if you would like to buy some as well and support a micro-enterprise venture in Kenya.

25 May 2013

Books about hard places # 2

The other book I read regarding life in a hard place recently was Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick.   Now, if we don't know much about what life is really like in Pakistan and Afghanistan, then I think it is safe to say that we know even less about life for the ordinary person in North Korea.

This book has been sitting on my bedside table for about six months.  It came warmly recommended.  But I just couldn't pick it up.  Maybe it was the grey cover that stopped me from opening it.  It looks pretty bleak.  And yet, when I finally got started I couldn't put it down.

On opening to the first page, what piqued my interest immediately was a photo similar to this one right at the beginning of chapter one.  Click on the picture to get a better view.

Photo from here

It is an aerial view by night of North and South Korea and surrounding countries.  Notice all the light patches - cities and towns lit up with night life illuminated by the electric light bulb. 

Then, in the middle of it all, an expanse of blackness nearly as large as England.  It is baffling how a nation of 23 million people can appear as vacant as the oceans.  North Korea is simply blank. 

North Korea faded to black in the early 1990's.  With the collapse of the Soviet Union, which had propped up its old Communist ally with cheap fuel oil, North Korea's creakily inefficient economy collapsed.  Power stations rusted into ruin.  The lights went out.  Hungry people scaled utility poles to pilfer bits of copper wire to swap for food...

North Korea is not an underdeveloped country; it is a country that has fallen out of the developed world.

(From chapter one of Nothing to Envy.)

What happened that a developed country fell into darkness, famine (20% of its population died of starvation during the 1990's) and utter disarray in the space of a few decades? 

Nothing to Envy is an oral history.  It follows the life of six North Koreans.  Some of the six remember life before the current regime took power and know just to keep their mouths shut.  The rest have grown up under the regime with heads so full of propaganda (North Korea is not connected to the Internet and no-one, at least legally, owns a mobile phone) that they believe that they truly have nothing to envy about the outside world, that the North Korean government is looking after them and that all is in hand. 

The book covers fifteen years taking in the death of Kim Il-sung and the rule of his son Kim Jong-il.  Eventually, for these six people, doubt creeps in.  Doubt in time leads to courageous defection and that is how Barbara Demick, an award winning journalist from the Los Angeles Times, comes to meet with them, interview them over many months and corroborate their stories with others in order to weave together a picture of life in this closed country.

It is grim reading.  Not the least because what has happened in North Korea has happened, and is happening, in our lifetime.  But be not put off by that comment or by the bleak cover.  Once I opened this book I could not put it down.  Because for all its bleakness, I was also inspired.  This is courage and tenacity at its absolute best.  Written down beautifully, insightfully and cleanly.  The word that springs to mind is "compelling."

Also, it is good to know about this.  And good to pray.

23 May 2013

Books about hard places # 1

I've just finished reading a couple of great books about life in hard places - Pakistan, Afghanistan and North Korea. 

The first one was Shoot Me First by Grant Lock.  Grant and his wife Janna spent 24 years working with a mission organisation close to my heart in Pakistan and Afghanistan.  They came to the task as successful cattle breeders in South Australia but spent their years overseas supporting micro-hydroelectric schemes, teaching English as a second language, overseeing a massive eye-care programme and caring for all who crossed their paths. 

Shoot Me First is masterfully written.  In spots it's laugh out loud funny.  Right in the opening pages Lock describes trying to register his family with the Pakistani government on their arrival.  The man he is dealing with doesn't seem to think Lock is a sufficiently suitable surname.  Too short.  Too pedestrian.

His intense gaze is making me uncomfortable.  I thought I'd articulated it clearly, but I'll try again.  "Lock," I repeat slowly.
He still looks disdainfully puzzled.  Suddenly a light of descriptive genius flashes in my brain.  I rotate my hand as though I'm turning a key.  "Lock!  You know!  Lock, as in door."
His face changes.  He gives a satisfied sigh, as though his lips have just sampled the rich blend of spices in a superior mutton karahi.  "Ah yes, that is a good name, Sahib.  That is to be a very good name."  Under Matthew's watchful gaze he completes the entry with meticulous care.  Then he looks up and addresses me warmly. "Welcome to Pakistan, Mr Lokazindore."

(From chapter two of Shoot Me First.)

But if some parts had me laughing, other parts were read through tears.  These are truly hard places in which to live.  The Locks lived and worked amongst the ordinary people of Pakistan and Afghanistan and it was tough.  Grant and Janna Lock showed amazing, AMAZING compassion, care and love for those in their contact.

Shoot Me First reads like extracts from the journals of their years away.  But it is so much more than a collection of stories from their time overseas.  Through their tales Lock seeks to educate.  What is it really like in these countries that are so torn, stretched and oppressed by political, social and religious tensions, especially for the poor and the outcast?  Grant Lock explains, illustrates, teaches and cuts through all sorts of myths - and as it turns out, we in the west don't always come out as right. It is hard to garner an accurate picture of "normal" life in these countries.  But I am confident to accept Lock's testimony given they spent a of quarter of a century living in amongst and serving the ordinary people of Pakistan and Afghanistan - and I am glad to have a clearer and even handed view of these nations which now enables me to pray better for those I know who currently work there.

A Christian biography?  Well, yes.  But in a very understated way.  There is no doubt that Grant and Janna are people of deep and abiding faith and trust in God.  But throughout the book their faith is mostly implied rather than stated.  I assume they have taken a low key approach for security reasons, given that some of their programmes are still up and running.  But it works for us too, making this a great book to share with friends and neighbours, showing faith in action without going overboard.

This is a wonderful book.  Really wonderful.  So worth a read to learn about life in these hard places and to be inspired and moved by this compassionate and faithful couple.

And here is the Shoot Me First website.

05 May 2013

Rules to live by

When I taught year sevens I had three classroom rules.  All three were introduced on the first day of the school year.  

Rule # 1 was issued right at the beginning of the day.  Day one, minute one, every year (apart from my first year of teaching) would go something like this...

"Good morning everyone.  My name is Mrs (insert my surname here) and in this classroom, if you ever think you are going to vomit, there is no need to raise your hand and ask if you can leave the classroom.  You can just run right out the door.  Try to get to the toilet.  Or at least get to somewhere where I won't need to clean the vomit up.  Because if you vomit near me there is every chance I will vomit near you."

It was always a light way to start the school year.  These were the big kids I was talking to and the boys especially seemed to like it.  But I wasn't trying to be all that funny.  It was a classroom rule that was borne out of a Very. Bad. Experience in my first year of teaching involving a sick child and his desk drawer.  Ghastly.

I would introduce rule # 2 a bit later on in the day.  It was more for the boys than the girls and it went like this.

"You will find during this year that you probably need to start wearing deodorant.  And starting from tomorrow you must wear new socks and new undies EVERY day."

Some would look at me aghast.  Why was the need to wear clean underwear such a shock to them?  That's just wrong.  But good for public health purposes to make it right.

Rule # 3 would be introduced at the end of the first day. 

"Be nice to your teacher and be nice to your mummy and all will go well for you."

They would snort and roll their eyes at me for calling their mums "mummy" but eventually they would get used to it.  And they liked it.  It gave them one more year to be small children in a safe place.  And I restated that rule at the end of nearly every school day - hopefully it meant for a good re-entry into family life after a day in the classroom.
Turns out these classroom rules transfer into real life.

If you think you are going to vomit, try to be thoughtful of those around you and do it in a courteous manner.
Wear deodorant and clean underwear every day.
Be nice to your teacher (or your boss/those in authority over you/even those with whom you just spend most of the day) and your mummy (or those with whom you share your house) and all will go well for you.

Great rules to live by.  Who would have guessed? 

02 May 2013

Status Report: May

Thinking: that April went by far too quickly. 

Reading: some books about missionaries in hard places - Pakistan, Afghanistan and North Korea.  And after that I am thinking it might be time to take a church history book off the shelf.  It has been a few years.  Time to brush up and be amazed at God's kindness and abiding faithfulness with His people all over again.

Drinking: tea.  Real tea.  Went back to it in mid-April.  The decaf version is bland and has become tiresome and boring.

Considering: for the fourth year in a row whether I should buy a slow cooker.

Thankful: for Deb's short but straight to the point post about all how easily we forget all those hours of children being reasonably good and productive members of the family and how readily we LEAP upon the ten minutes of children being "supremely annoying and painful."  Wise (as always, Deb) and perspective altering.

Doing: something pretty amazing as you read this...but I will have to tell you about it another time.  And therefore...

Confessing: that I wrote this slightly ahead of time.  So when I say drinking tea, I mean it in a general sense rather than a specific, as-I-write sense.

Deciding: that despite what I said here about having turned into an extrovert, I think I am still my good old ISFJ self.  I'm a much more confident, outgoing version of my old self but there have been moments in recent months when I have found myself longing to own one of these, even during the long, hot summer.

I first saw this photo on Ali's gorgeous blog last year.  Only the brain of an introvert would lock in that image.

Speaking of: such things, turns out this year is the 70th anniversary of the Myers-Briggs thingo and you can go here to join in the party.  This is me...

From here