Friday, October 31, 2008

Open Letter To Mom - Part I

"You know, sometime when you’ve got time, I’d love to hear about some of your just personal stuff, like...where are you living and what’s it like? How are your jobs going? Are you building relationships with the African staff? Who are the ex-pats you’ve been hanging out with? Your blog gives us great stories, but the mom in me wants to know the mundane stuff too,’s the food? Have you gotten sick at all? How do you get around – primarily by bus, walking, moto? Silly stuff, I guess. Anyway...just curious!" - Email from my mom

Mama –

There’s just so much to say about the details of life here. I’ll do my best to give an adequate description! We’re living right now at Seth and Trina Chase’s house, which is in a more upscale neighborhood, or cartier, of Bujumbura called Kinindo. It’s the World Relief guest house, and it’s really beautiful. The yard is huge, full of trees and plants you’d never see in the States. There’s a volleyball net in the backyard, which the youth group enjoys every Tuesday. The grounds are kept up by Jean Marie, our day guard and gardener. He doesn’t speak English or French, but is extremely friendly and works very hard. Our security system, however, is canine in nature. Jack-Jack, a yellow lab named for (who else) Jack Bauer, and Sam, a golden retriever (makes me miss Alex!) named for Samwise Gamgee, patrol the yard and alert us whenever someone is at the gate. Burundians generally are pretty afraid of dogs, and even though these two guys are more in the “lick-you-to-death” category, many of our guests find them pretty terrifying.

The inside of the house is terrific, with five bedrooms and three bathrooms. There’s a great front porch, where we hold the Bible Studies for the kids and share meals on cooler evenings. There’s lots of room to be private, but we’ve been relishing the chance to live communally with our roommates. We’re living with two girls named Wendy and Jillian. Wendy works at Turame with Karri and Jillian works at World Relief with me. Isaac, another World Relief intern, lived with us for a while. We have had a great time sharing our lives, our food, and a lot of good laughs with these, our new friends, and we’re really seeing how great it can be to open ourselves up to this lifestyle. In the States, it’s easy, almost encouraged, to be isolated and see your house as your “castle.” While I totally get that, I think we may have lost some of the joy of community by retreating too far into that mentality. Just the practice of sharing your meal with someone else, even strangers, is really working on my heart and connecting me with these people on a level that I haven’t experienced in a while.

Our meals are prepared by Enock, our cook and housekeeper. He’s renowned throughout the expat community for his culinary prowess. Some of his specialties are a tremendous salsa, peanut soup (one of Karri’s favorites), fajitas with homemade tortillas, the best scratch bread in the country, and the “Enock Special,” a concoction of sausage and stewed veggies over rice. Enock has really great English, and serves as our Kirundi liaison between us and the two guards, Jean Marie and Andre. It’s really bizarre going from an apartment in West Philly to living in a situation where your meals are prepared, your laundry is done, your bed is changed and made, your bathrooms are cleaned, and anything else you need done is seen to. It feels kinda wrong at first, but it’s expected for expats to employ Burundians in this way. If you don’t, you’re looked down on for keeping your wealth to yourself. Enock is a great guy, and through his job here, he’s been able to begin building a house for his family, begin saving for his wedding, and have the financial freedom to focus on his other job as the pastor of a local Burundian congregation.

- To Be Continued! -

Monday, October 27, 2008

Ode To A Mukeke

I found myself a wee bit hungry
Had a grumble in my tummy
Had only Monopoly money
To find a meal that satisfies

We ambled to a small café
Requested “Le carte, sil vous plait,”
When mine eyes espied the Mukeke
Served grilled along with Frenchie Fries

“Pardon, monsieur!” I called in French
“But what is this specific dish?
I’m interested, but do not wish
A dish gastrointestinally unwise.”

“It’s fish, my friend!” the waiter spake,
“A fish we take straight from the lake!
I’m certain that this meal will make
A most enjoyable surprise.”

“I’ll have it, sir! How about you, honey?”
“I find you not the least bit funny.
I’ll not eat fish, nor cow, nor bunny,
No food that runs or swims or flies.”

“I’m sorry, dear, it slipped my mind,
Fish makes you turn the shade of lime.
What would you like, beloved of mine?”
“I think I’ll just have Frenchie Fries.”

He bustled off to fetch our meal
And there we sat, both quite gentile,
Anticipating a great deal
The aromas that began to rise.

Then in a flash, the food came in
I grabbed my fork to dig right in
When, on descent, to my chagrin,
I nearly speared the fishy’s eyes.

Yes, eyes, I said, for right before me
The mukeke, in all its glory,
Lay head to tail, presented wholly
Tucked in its bed of Frenchie Fries.

“Oh, dear,” my lovely wife said quick
“I think I’m going to be sick.
I thought that fish came like a brick,
Not straight from lake to grill to fries!”

“Nor I,” I murmured, not quite right,
For I had taken my first bite
And found myself in great delight
At what had passed by my canines.

The fish was tender, spiced so well
I ceased my fretting ‘bout the tail
And pulled my second bite pell-mell
Away from fishy’s ribs and spine.

My wife tried to ignore my feast
Not enjoying in the least
The odor from the noble beast
That fell before my forkéd tines.

I finished what was facing out
Then grabbed the fish by tail and snout
And flipped over the noble trout
For one more side it had to prize

And when the sequel of my meal
Came to a close, there lay the tail
With spine and ribs connected well
To fishy’s head and beady eyes.

“Me oui, monsieur,” the waiter said.
“Surely you will eat the head
A local wouldn’t be caught dead
Leaving a morsel like that behind.”

And there upon my eyes won out
Because I could not help but doubt
My willingness to morsel out
The beady, bulging mukeke’s eyes.

“I’ll pass, my friend, and please forgive
My sad unwillingness to live
As locals who gleefully shiv
The head and munch with joy inside.”

My wife made an attempt to grin
Alas, she’s vegetarian
And never will take for a spin
A meal that still retains its eyes.

We paid our bill and walked away
And e’er will I recall the day
When I first dined on Mukeke
Served grilled with Frenchie Fries.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Nonviolence and People Smarter Than Me

These days, I've been reading the book of Isaiah. And I can't seem to shake the impression that God isn't too keen on war... or violence at all, for that matter. Now, I know that this is a hot issue, and a lot of you all may have some fairly strong opinions, but I thought I would write a posting about what I've been learning about the long history of nonviolence and the people of Christ. Thing is, if I go shooting my mouth off, I'm liable to say something foolish... probably already have. So instead of ranting like the goofball I can be, I thought I'd share the thoughts of some of the people I've been reading.

“Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and full of violence” (Gen. 6:11) - from the Flood

“This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots… When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.” (I Sam 8:11,18)

A couple stories of military might being minimized, perhaps showing that God’s desire is for power, vengeance, and tolerance for violence to be God’s and God’s alone

Egypt’s army being swallowed by the sea (Exodus 14)
The walls of Jericho being toppled by trumpets (Joshua 6)
Gideon’s army being whittled from 32,000 to 300 (Judges 7)
A shepherd boy saying “No” to the king’s armor and defeating an entire army with a slingshot (1 Sam 17)

“He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” (Isa. 2:4)

“Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given…” (Isa. 9:5-6a)

“Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the warhorses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nation. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.” (Zechariah 9:9-10)

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matt. 5:10)

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth. But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek, also.” (Matt 5:38) – encouraging neither violence nor passivity

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Matt. 5:43-45)

“The Kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, the weeds also appeared.
The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where did the weeds come from?’
‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the what and bring it into my barn.’” (Matt. 13:24-30)

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for you to gain the whole word, yet forfeit your soul?” (Mark 8:34-36)

“With that, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. ‘Put your sword back in its place,’ Jesus said to him, ‘for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” (Matt. 26:51-52)

“Jesus said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” (John 18:36)

And of course, we have the Messiah, Jesus, led like a lamb to slaughter and hung from a cross, subjecting himself to the sword and abstaining from bringing the sword himself.

“Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know.” (Rom. 3:15-17, Paul quoting Isaiah)

“We wrestle not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore, put on the full armor of God…” (Eph. 6:12) - sounds like the only breastplate we need is righteousness…

And now let’s hear from the saints of the early church.

“Celsus exhorts us to help the Emperor and be his fellow soldiers. To this we reply, “You cannot demand military service of Christians any more than you can of priests.” We do not go forth as soldiers with the Emperor even if he demands this.” (Origen)

“The professions and trades of those who are going to be accepted into the community must be examined. The nature and type of each must be established … brothel, sculptors of idols, charioteer, athlete, gladiator … give it up or be rejected. A military constable must be forbidden to kill, neither may he swear; if he is not willing to follow these instructions, he must be rejected. A proconsul or magistrate who wears the purple and governs by the sword shall give it up or be rejected. Anyone taking or already baptized who wants to become a soldier shall be sent away, for he has despised God.” (Hippolytus, 218 AD)

“I do not wish to be a ruler. I do not strive for wealth. I refuse offices connected with military command. I despise death.” (Tatian)

“We ourselves were well conversant with war, murder and everything evil, but all of us throughout the whole wide earth have traded in our weapons of war. We have exchanged our swords for plowshares, our spears for farm tools… now we cultivate the fear of God, justice, kindness, faith, and the expectation of the future given us through the crucified one… the more we are persecuted and martyred, the more do others in ever increasing numbers become believers.” (Justin, martyred in 165 AD)

“We who formerly formerly hated and murdered one another now live together and share the same table. We pray for our enemies and try to win those who hate us.” (Justin)

“Emperors could only believe in Christ if they were not emperors – as if Christians could ever be emperors.” (Tertullian) whoops… sorry Constantine.

“The divine banner and the human banner do not go together, nor the standard of Christ and the standard of the Devil. Only without the sword can the Christian wage war: the Lord has abolished the sword.” (Tertullian)

“Christ, in disarming Peter, disarmed every soldier.” (Tertullian)

“Seneca spoke of venting one’s fury: ‘We check manslaughter and isolated murders, but what of war and the much-vaunted crime of slaughtering whole peoples?’” (Pliny)

“Murder, considered a crime when people commit it singly, is transformed into a virtue when they do it en masse.” (St. Cyprian, 200-258)

“I serve Jesus Christ the eternal King. I will no longer serve your emperors… It is not right for a Christian to serve the armies of this world.” (Marcellus the Centurion, a saint who left the army of Emperor Diocletian in 298, and was executed while praying for his persecutors.)

“I am a soldier of Christ and it is not permissible for me to fight.” (St. Martin of Tours, 315-397)

And a few words from Dr. King.

“A nation what continues to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” (Martin Luther King Jr.)

“To our most bitter opponents we say: ‘Throw us in jail and we will still love you. Bomb our houses and threaten our children and we will still love you. Beat us and leave us half dead, and we will still love you. But be assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.’” (Martin Luther King Jr.)

... and we will still love you.
... and we will still love you.
... and we will still love you.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

“BLENDING IN” in Burundi

For all of you who plan to travel to this beautiful country, I thought I would offer a few pointers in case you would like to blend into the local population…

1) Stop, gather around and watch any activity that is going on. If they are paving the road, line the streets and watch. If they are putting up or repairing an electric pole in your neighborhood, gather around the pole and watch…. for as long as it takes. If someone is painting a new sign on his business, support him by hovering below him, watching his every move. Try not to get too distracted by a muzungu (white skinned individual) that passes by you. If this occurs, you will be forced to make a choice. Stare at the street paving or stare at the muzungu. Tough call.

2) If you live anywhere outside of Bujumbura, and see a “muzungu” passing in a car or by foot, be sure to stop whatever you are doing, turn, and stare blankly until they have disappeared into the distance. Yes, this means stopping mid sentence in the conversation you are in. And make sure you have only a blank expression on your face. Try not to blink. (Jim and I decided the kind of looks we get from everyone – young and old alike – when we pass by in the rural countryside is comparable to a man strolling stark naked past your house playing one of those ping-pong paddles with the rubber ball attached. Yeah, that kind of a stare.) And get as close as you can get, continuing your blank stare. The object is to make them feel as uncomfortable as possible…

3) Hold hands with your friends in public, especially if you are a man. From primary school age all the way to the eldest of the elders, if you have a good friendship with another man or woman, hold hands while walking and don’t be afraid to put your arms around one another. (I find this delightful!) Also when shaking hands hold on for as long as it takes the two of you to finish a good long greeting. ATTENTION: Once you are married DO NOT touch one another in public – ever. No holding hands, and especially no patting the back or rubbing a shoulder. Come one – get a room!

4) If you are riding a bicycle up a large mountain, you can grab onto the back of large semi-trucks and let them pull you up the mountain for free. As many as 5 of you can fit along the back. (Participate at your own peril.)

5) If you plan to start a business, catchy names I would suggest include “Nice Stuff” and “Good Price.” A good slogan for a new school may include “We struggle for excellence.” (Of course, I’m not making fun. These names just make me giggle. This is coming from the girl who currently only speaks ONE language.)

“Karri Bathes with Beautifully Bare Burundian Babies and Women in Natural Hot Spring”

*pictures coming soon*

How’s that for an attention grabber? So, here is my premiere entry into OUR blog. I get to tell you all about our amazing weekend in RUTANA, a southern province of Burundi.

We packed seven people into one large vehicle (Jim, myself, a Belgian, a Brit, an Italian, and two French expats) and headed out Saturday morning. Ten minutes into the trip the winding uphill curves compounded by the side facing seats got the best of me and nausea set in. Luckily, our new friends were very gracious and gave me the front seat for more than half the trip.

The passing scenery was beautiful – lush green mountainsides geometrically configured with plots of tea plants, banana trees, coffee plants, and other unidentifiable veggies. After about 2 ½ hours we found our sign – “The source of the Nile” – and headed down a dirt road into rural unblemished Burundi hillside. (More about the Nile later…) We reached a makeshift roadblock to the “natural reserve” guarded by two gentlemen, one which agreed to serve as our guide. A guide is an essential element in not only leading you but also keeping the swarms of Burundi children from overtaking you. While the beautiful curious faces aren’t daunting, the constant demands for cash are quite exhausting. He hoped in the car and directed us where to park – facing a breathtaking view of two 90 degree angled cliffs leaving enough of a gap to overlook the lower elevations and mountain ranges of Burundi all the way to Tanzania. After relieving myself near a tree (which is tricky when Burundian youth hover transfixed on you from a distance) we ate our picnic and then trailed off after our guide.

He first took us down the mountainside a ways (I must admit, I was a little nervous he intended to take us all the way down what looked like the Grand Canyon with no trails) and then stopped to let us marvel at the beauty, swaying over the edge of the cliff, taking a few camera shots that could never tell the full story of the glory we were surrounded by. We then agreed to his offer for a 30 minute walk to another site.

This led us a down a dirt road and through villages – homes built of unfired bricks or mud or cement, surrounded by intricately woven fences. Jim and I discussed what we perceived as the difference between poverty and rural living. While we are only outsiders looking in and cannot yet understand what life really looks like for Burundians in various areas, here we felt a peace and tranquility. It seemed the people knew and delighted in the beauty they were surrounded by, at peace with a lifestyle of subsistence farming and slow days. Perhaps it is still poverty and much development is needed in terms of education and infrastructure, but it is not the choking poverty of an urban shanty town. And then we were there.

Suddenly before us, as we stood on top of this mountain, we faced a 270 degree view of Burundi and Tanzania, low flat lands and mountain ranges melting into the horizon, our toes on the edge of a small canyon. When we called out to one another our echoes reached us multiple times, reflected by both the surrounding cliff walls and the pack of children perched on a nearby cliff chanting our shouts back to us. I breathed deeply, feeling every detail of life melt away. I am continually amazed when I encounter new wonders of the world, to think about God creating Burundi, a place I had never seen in full until this weekend. I somehow forget God’s creation extends far beyond what I have seen, what I have known. Its like believing you are a true connoisseur and lover of Picasso’s work and then discovering he his “blue period” and being blown away all over again.

We sat and wandered, enchanted, until the light was slipping and we knew he had to return to find a hotel (you don’t want to be driving long distances in the dark – security and road safety) in the nearby town. We arrived in a small town with a power outage but nice, simple accommodations. (Bed net and all!) After settling our stuff we scavenged for a ‘restaurant’ for dinner. We found a guest house that technically served dinners, but after a rousing conversation in French, bits of Kirundi, and Swahili it was clear customer service was not high on their list of priorities, so we moved on. After ordering six chicken dishes (which came with a complimentary chicken heart) from a different place, we ventured to the town’s center to have a drink and wait. While we were there the power returned to the town amidst applause.

The dinner was good – hot and filling. Jim and I enjoyed sitting around a table listening to our French speaking friends converse, slipping from French to English with ease. Alas, we pray that will be us very soon. We spent the remaining hours of the evening reclining in a circle at our guest house, listening to Jim and Adam strum away on the guitar while Italian - French speaking Martina crooned away to classic French and English tunes.

We awoke to a light rain and very cool weather. It was incredible to snuggle under 2 blankets while sleeping! There is no sleeping under the covers in the Buj as it stays fairly warm even into the night. (Jim really enjoyed not sweating this weekend!) After a good omelet and Nescafe (not so good) we packed up and trekked out to a new adventure - to find the “Southern most source of the Nile” – a claim to fame in Burundi. We arrived, were met by a “guide” (I’ve realized ‘guide’ simply means any man arriving on the scene from the area who will show you what you ask and be paid a small fee in return.) and ventured 20 feet down a hillside and… there it was. A small vertical cement slab with a plastic pipe jutting from its face leaking a trickle of water. Hmmm. That’s right – not only do they claim this little stream of water is the source of the Nile (actually just a stream that may source Lake Victoria in Uganda, which is the actual source of the Nile) but they found it necessary to cement it up and filter it through a crude looking pipe. (We decided it would be more impressive if they at least created a statue of a Sphinx whose mouth could trickle out the water.) After ‘marveling’ at this natural wonder (wink) we hiked up a short peak ontop of which was a miniature monument of a pyramid in “honor” of the source of the Nile and its “significance” to Egypt. The view was beautiful, as were the children who scrambled up the pyramid in their bare feet, laughing at the Americans who attempted to climb its “summit.” A young child with a herd of little goats wandered by. Ahhh. I took another deep breath.

Finally, we took off to our final destination – a natural hot spring. After “triangulating” the directions we received from various Burundians to ensure the info’s validity, we arrived at the hot spring. There were two pools set down off the road, the larger of which was designated for men and the smaller one (less than 1/3 the size of the men’s) was allotted for women and their many children. They were used by the community for bathing. The two other girls and I ventured down a rocky path and stepped up to the edge of the pool. There 3 women (of three generations) in the pool, along with a baby, all bathing themselves and one another. We stripped down to our bathings suits, which I’m sure they found equally as humorous as three “muzungos” arriving on the scene, and stepped into deliciously warm water. We made quick friends with the women, smiling a lot and communicating with hand gestures and broken Kirundi, while playing with the baby who was transfixed by Martina’s white fingers. We soon learned that the middle-aged woman was the mother of both the younger girl and the baby (her mother was also in the pool with us) and had a total of 10 children. At that moment they all suddenly appeared, stripped, and got into our little hot spring. Again, lots of smiling and giggling. It was an incredible moment of female bonding mixed with intrigue and curiosity. I must say, I never dreamed I’d bathe with bare-naked Burundian women IN a natural hot spring in my first month here.

After the relaxing dip, we all pilled back into the truck, which was, by now, swarmed by onlooking Burundians, and pulled away. Ah, it was an amazing weekend.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Let's Get A Slow Clap Going

Okay, please notice the title of this blog. Now please notice who has been posting on this blog. My wife is brilliant, beautiful, eloquent and insightful, and I cannot get her to post on this blog to save my life. So I'm appealing to you, the listening public, to convince her. We're gonna get a slow clap started through the comment function of this posting. If you want to hear from Karri Kathryn DeSelm on this blog, just post a comment that says "CLAP." We'll see if we can get her out here. I'll kick it off.

PS. - I'm pretty sure your comment won't show unless you have a gmail account. It's free, and I really love reading your comments. So if you have posted a comment and it didn't show, that may be the problem. Sign up, and let's hear those claps!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

An Anecdote

I’ve been approaching most experiences during my time here in Burundi with a sort of “Let’s see where this goes” mentality. I find you’ll never have adventures unless you try things you might not fully understand. You never know what you’re going to hear, see, or learn. You never know what this person is going to say, do, … or try to sell you.

So two days ago, I was meeting Karri in front of the Turame office, where she works. We were going to take a Mutatu Bus (I’m not positive that’s how it is spelled, but you won’t be able to tell the difference, so that’s how it’s spelled!) back home at the end of a long day. Mutatu Buses are great, as long as you’re not claustrophobic. A one way trip costs around 28 cents, so to make the trip worth the cost, they pack the thing. Now, “bus” is a fairly fluid idea in this circumstance. Imagine a 15-passenger van, filled with 20 people or more, poorly maintained and driven through a city with practically no traffic laws, and you’ve got the idea of a Mutatu. You can meet all kinds of great people on them, though. And you kinda have to, because they may be sitting on your lap.

Karri and I were just leaving the office when a young man approached me. Not terribly unique. As a white person, you are generally approached several times a day by strangers, usually looking for money, but sometimes just looking to practice English. This young man shook my hand, I greeted him in French, and he started firing away in le Francais. Slightly abashed, I redirected the conversation to English. “If it pleases you, I would like to have a conversation with you.” A conversation, eh? We’ll see. “I’m sorry, but my wife and I are going home now.” “I understand. Can I make an appointment with you to have a conversation?” As he opened his leather bound appointment book, I was simultaneously considering politely excusing myself and seeing where this thing went. My curiosity won out. I made an “appointment” for him to come by the World Relief Office in two days at 3pm. I highly doubted he would show.

We started to head for the market and strange people sitting on our laps, when I noticed that he was walking beside us. I rationalized, “He may just be in the market for a little English. Let’s see where this goes.” I strike up a conversation, and he dives right in. His name was Gilbert (pronounced ZheelBEHHHR), he was from Congo, he was a student in the University, he was visiting family here in Bujumbura. A student! He must have just wanted to practice! He follows us all the way to the Mutatus, and we chat about his family, sports, and the weather. His English is good, and there is little for me to correct. I think his appetite is sated when I climb onto the bus. I shake his hand and he says, “Wednesday, 3 o’clock!”

Well, Wednesday night, I’m sitting at home. My beautiful wife arrives and tells me, “That guy stopped by today for your appointment. He went all over looking for you. I told him you probably forgot and made a new appointment for tomorrow morning at 10.” Now, to be fair, I honestly did forget. I mean, the appointment I made with a guy on the street for what I thought to be a language practice wasn’t high on the radar. So the next day, I receive my visitor promptly at 10am.

I offer him tea, and he accepts. I ask about his family, and he says they’re fine. Then he starts talking about his “mission,” which involves “raw materials” and “someone for to buy.” I start to decipher what he’s referring to, and as best I can tell, he has some raw materials that he’s trying to find a buyer for, and he’s hoping I know someone. “What are these raw materials?” I ask. He doesn’t know the word in English, says it in French and I don’t understand. I ask him to write it down.

He writes on my scratch piece of paper, “Iranium”

Uranium? This guy is wanting me to find someone to buy his Uranium? I tell him I work for an NGO that helps poor people. You want to talk to a scientist. He doesn’t understand the word scientist. I apologize and say, basically, “No, I don’t know anyone who would be interested in the Uranium you are selling.” He understands, and I start to walk him out. In one last ditch effort to sway me, he says that the “Iranium” has been “treated” and he has a “small paper” to show me. He pulls out a photocopied picture of what is clearly a schematic for a B-O-M-B. It has abbreviations for kilotons. It has fins at the end of a cylinder. This man was asking me if I knew anyone interested in buying weaponized uranium. “Nope. Sorry! Well, thanks for stopping by!”

I walk him to the door and say goodbye. I will never know if Gilbert (sorry, ZhilBEHHR) actually had access to those materials. It could have been a scam. He could have been a liar. Honestly, I don’t care to think about it. But remember the moral of this story, children!

Make new friends. You never know when you might need some “Iranium.”