Living in a Ghost Town

Have you ever visited a ghost town? The abandoned buildings and discarded pieces of a life in the past. The strange quiet in a place that used to be bustling and filled with life. There are moments nowadays where I feel like I’m living in a ghost town; except I’m not visiting an unknown place of fascination. I’m living in a place swarming with memories as I walk the empty halls of uninhabited houses, picking up the abandoned pieces of a life lived before. 

The laughter and love that used to fill these homes and ring down the hallways echo only in my mind now. The cobwebs that gather in the corners, the overgrown and unattended gardens, the curtains blowing in the windows that fool your mind that someone is still there. Even driving by the homes of those who will one day come back to live there pulls at your heart; some sooner rather than later but for now the houses sit as empty reminders.


A reminder of what was, what you had and what you lost when they left. The security, wisdom, guidance, love, examples, friendship, support, accountability, laughter, routine and family. I can no longer ask parenting advice from a calm and steady woman who I admired so much and looked up to like an older sister. I wont get to look out my window and just know its 5 o’clock because another family just walked by to go for their nightly walk or they are around for guideance. I can no longer enjoy the calming  and reassuring presence of another friend who is one of my heroes. I no longer get to daily discuss life with and listen to another amazing woman who refreshed my soul and honored me with transparency. I don’t get to just sit across from a couple who I trust with the life of my son and know that its going to be alright as they  examine him and share their struggles of life here with me. 

The life that was lost to those who left was not just lost to them, it was lost to those who remain as well. Those of us who remain dont have the joy of seeing family and friends, moving on to a new chapter in a life that is so different to temper the grief and the loss we feel. We are simply left over and over again as each family waves goodbye and looks ahead to their destination. There are tears all around, promises to write and even some promises to return but there is a significant difference between the pain of leaving and the pain of being left. I have experienced both and the goodbye while remaining hurts the most.


The goodbyes in a missionary’s life are different. Saying goodbye to your family and friends when you move a continent away while knowing you wont see them again for a couple of years, if ever again, is in a completely different realm than the “goodbye, I’ll see you tomorrow and call me if you need me to come over.” I can’t just get in my car or hop an hour flight over to see them again. If there is an emergency I wont be there to help and support. If a life event like a funeral or wedding is happening there’s a good chance I might not be able to make it. I don’t get to grieve and rejoice over these things like I would if I were there. It is a reality. Goodbyes are a huge part of a missionary’s life; and I would also say they are the hardest part.

Is this a pity party? No. It’s an insight into probably the hardest part of missions – a part that isn’t openly talked about enough. The part that changes you and makes you question each time “Are the sacrifices worth it? Did we make the right choice? How can God call me to this? How do I get through this again? What will life be like now?” Sometimes there are answers, sometimes there are not. It’s the part of this life that you either walk through and process while grieving or it’s the part that makes you shut off your emotions, close your heart to survive because you can’t deal with it anymore. It’s the part of missions that isn’t talked about with the recruits because they just might change their mind if they knew . . .

We have entered a new season in our lives here; a lonely and difficult one. A painful one. Every journey has its ups and downs and this is a season of “down.” Living in a ghost town will hopefully be a short season. New families will fill the empty houses and with them hopefully some new friendships will form. Our friends from before cannot be replaced and life will never be the same but we will find a new normal here now. Even if that new normal for the moment means living in a ghost town. An empty, too quiet ghost town.

Homestead Happenings: Reconstruction and Firsts

How do you put your world back in order after completely ripping it apart? What about your broken down emotional state where you cry at everything? Trying to get back into the swing of things life-wise is hard when you’re empty. Here, I’m having to look to the little things to fill me up.

In my last post I shared what we have been dealing with in our home the past few weeks (ticks) and about the struggles I faced during Dave’s absence. What I didn’t mention was that we are also in a season of change right now on our team and the extra emotional burden that creates. Our MAF team right now is in the middle of a transitional time with many families leaving, some returning, and some staying. Currently one family is already gone (reassignment), another family returned from furlough to take back over leadership, one family leaves tomorrow for a short furlough but will return, another family leaves in about two weeks (minimum two years with possible return), we will hear news on another family’s return, another family leaves in July (our dear friends and neighbors), the family on the short furlough returns and then another family leaves for a short furlough in August. The team is fluid right now; ever-changing and never able to settle and wont until the fall it seems. It’s a tough season.

With so much going on with our team right now home really needs to be sanctuary for us but at the moment it just isn’t. There is still powder everywhere to kill insects, minimal clothes in the closet, disorder, clutter in places, etc. Slowly I’m trying to ease back into daily life here and get back on track, hopefully in time to receive some very special visitors we have coming – Dave’s parents, Dan and Kathy, are coming for a two-week visit mid-June and we are so excited about it. This will be the first time we have had any visitors and family in our home here with us.

So while I try to get the inside of our house back in order and calm the chaos, I’m also continuing to work on all of the other projects and pieces of daily life. I’m looking after Daniel, teaching our kitchen help how to cook (in French), working in our garden, meal prep and cooking, looking after our animals, incubating eggs, animal ministry and more along with all the other smaller pieces of life here that add up. And the endless projects we have on our list, those never end – seriously.

IMG_4768Our garden is doing well and is starting to put out produce again at last. I’ve harvested salad, beets, summer squash, celery and even a couple tomatoes. Many things are still growing and haven’t begun producing yet and some things I have even yet to plant. Can you believe with such a huge garden I have run out of space? It’s true! There are so many things I want to plant but don’t have the room right now. Some of the new things that I have going are Napa cabbage, desi summer squash, local pumpkins, black-purple carrots, purple cabbage and plenty of eggplant and bell pepper seedlings I purchased from the nursery in Bunia. We are also waiting to plant some russet potato starts that Dave was able to bring back with him.

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One of our purple cabbages. I’m looking for a variety that does well here to hopefully pass on to the locals for improved nutrition.

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My favorite place in the garden at the moment.

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One half of the garden with a few beds awaiting corn and russet potato seedlings

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Eggplant starts

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A piece of the russet potato Dave brought back

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Lettuce leaf basil – basil as big as lettuce that’s great for salads, wrapping things and even pesto.

IMG_4793An exciting first for us is our long-awaited pineapple! We started planting pineapple tops right when we moved in almost two years ago and the very first one is finally growing a pineapple. It has been fun to watch the beautiful flowering part of the pineapple form and now turn into a fruit; it will be even more fun to eat the pineapple off of our own bush once it is ripe.

The chickens are doing well and we have lots of babies at the moment. One of our biggest challenges with chicks, now that we have a closed flock and don’t have to deal with other diseases, is Coccidiosis. It kills babies in pens quickly if not treated and we are still tweaking a schedule to prevent this from happening. I found two dead today, only three days from their next treatment, so the schedule needs to be moved up a week or so. I’m treating them now but it’s a shame to loose any since this batch is our first second-generation hatching and is intended for the animal micro-loan program’s first families. Hopefully within a month or so we will be ready to start the program at last with 5 chosen families.

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The first batch of second-generation chicks intended for the animal micro-loan program.

 

IMG_4808Another first that we have now is our first second-generation duckling from our khaki Campbells! We were waiting for our ducks to be of a good age to hatch their eggs and then dry season hit and we struggled for months and months to get good eggs. They were heat stressed and would lay eggs with no shells or weak paper-thin ones that were  impossible to hatch from. Then we magically got 4 with normal shells and two developed and one hatched.  They have been laying well this last week but suddenly stopped again; why is a mystery. Today I made up some more nests for a couple of broody hens to sit on some more of our ducks eggs so hopefully in a month’s time we will have some more ducklings to add to our collection!

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The few precious normal duck eggs collected over the last week that will be placed under some broody hens today.

 

IMG_4800 We also have our first australorp chicks to start improving our chicken lines with! The hatch numbers were disappointing to be sure because of problems with our power system; the power would go out for hours at a time during the night and morning and it caused many deaths in the egg unfortunately. I’m grateful to have any and right now we have 5. I’m praying we don’t loose any but here the odds are just not very great for all 5 of them to make it. I’ll do my very best to raise them special and get them to adulthood if I can. I’m praying for a rooster and a few hens and the odds are more in my favor, obviously, if they all make it.

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IMG_4787For the first time we now have two pigs at once. Our larger pig is the pig we bought earlier this year with the goal of raising it all of the way until this coming Christmas for ham and bacon. The second, smaller new pig was a gift from a Congolese friend. They have worked it out and are living peacefully together which is a relief.

IMG_4767One other new project that I’m excited about is my worm bin. I know, I know – I’m excited about worms. It’s truly the most efficient and rewarding way of composting, something we do a lot of here, and it will make the best fertilizer for our garden. We were able to get a small start of red wiggler worms back here along with the bin and have already got it started up and running. I’ll have a learning curve I know but once I get the basics down and our population goes up we will be cranking out amazing fertilizer every few months.

So that’s where we are at as we try to reconstruct our house from the inside chaos and infestation we dealt with and get back on track with normal life. We are eagerly awaiting our special guests as we deal with the difficult transitional times on our team. The precious precious family time together will be a much needed relief and break from the tough season we still find ourselves in. Until then I will continue to find peace and rest for my soul in my garden.

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My quiet retreat

Infested

IMG_4760Have you ever utterly wept over a small insect you held in your fingers? Have you ever stood over a huge pot of boiling water on an open fire that is filled with your unmentionables? Have you ever done laundry like a pioneer woman stirring, dipping and hanging items with a huge stick while your throat and sinuses ached from inhaling poison? I have. I have done all of these things and more until only the word ‘weary’ seems to describe my existance.

My husband, Dave, left for MAF’s Leadership Conference on Monday April 17th and was to be gone for exactly two weeks before arriving back here in Nyankunde. It always seems that when he leaves, regardless for the amount of time, that bad things happen; discouraging things happen. Usually it has involved our animals, specifically our chickens, and I now expect many deaths when he leaves. Usually for no specific reason; they go unexplained or are so random you can hardly fathom how it happened or why.

This time was no exception but there was more, our home was infested. I didnt know to what extent that first Monday but that first night I spent in my kitchen with the fly swatter (hardly used for flys here) and a can of bug spray attempting to erradicate an infestation of large cockroaches. They had invaded the non-food prepping side of my kitchen in all of the cupboards. They had gotten out of control as I dont open those cabinets in the evening hardly at all, which is their active time. I stopped counting at 50 medium to large cockroaches about the size of my thumb from knuckle down and just kept killing. The kitchen was washed and poison put down the next day after that night, and I figured things were under control.

For the rest of that week Daniel and I experienced Spiritual Warfare in an intense, very real way; first on our own for a few nights and then alongside other friends who came to stay with us because of what was going on. This too, is a pattern for when Dave leaves our home for periods of time. Now before you just write me off, know that I used to be one of those Christians that would shake my head at these types of things and Spiritual Warfare was just something that was “out there” and didnt affect daily life. I’ve experienced it more and in such a real way these past few weeks that it is no longer “not real” to me. It was real, it was physical and spiritual and it was heavy. It had me sleep-deprived and weary. Perhaps a different post on this later.

IMG_4746The following Monday Dave had been gone for exactly one week. That day I discovered we were infested with ticks in our home. I had placed a laundry basket full of cloth diapers in my son’s room that had been sitting in our room for almost a month, with the intention of putting them away at last. That basket, along with many others, had been sitting in our room for so long because of an almost month-long span of malaria we had dealt with just previous to this (yeah – it’s not been the best season in our time here so far). Dave and I got malaria on the same day the first week, then we had a week of staycation while recovering, then Dave had a relapse the next week and the week after that I had a terrible relapse with a dangerously high parasite count that required in-home nursing care and an IV. So yeah, I was behind on things. It had sat in his room a few days when I finally got to putting the diapers away and discovered a tick infestation all over them. Hundreds and hundreds crawling all over them, Adults and so many small baby ones.

By the time I had realized there was a problem I had put some diapers away with the clean ones infecting them all. The basket had sat in his room for days, allowing time for wanderers. It had come from our room. When checking our room I discovered thousands of ticks all over our bedroom. All over the floor, under the bed, in the laundry baskets, on the walls, on our bedspread, on the window seals and in the cracks of the woodwork. Are you itching yet? They were burrowed into the dog bed, squeezed in cracks in the cement or even just boldly crawling on the floor. The dog had brought them in and because of sickness and general life I had not been diligent in picking her clean every night like I used to. Topical treatments, like Frontline, dont work on the ticks here – they are different species and the formula is for North American ticks. They are also very small and the babies are almost impossible to see if you are not looking close with a flashlight; easy to miss and live everyday life without even seeing them.

IMG_4661I talked with a friend from here who has had to deal with this a few times and who has researched ticks here like a professor. I was going to have to boil everything fabric, wash the entire house with permethrin and bleach before spreading a toxic poison that had to sit a minimum of 3 days before being swept up and the house re-cleaned. We had to move out; our son could not touch or be around the powder and even us adults working with it should have worn a mask the whole time. Just breathing the poison when putting it down gave you a terrible sinus ache and sore throat. They were worn for the clean up.

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IMG_4689So we moved in with another MAF family here on the base. They would watch Daniel for me during the day so I could come back to our house and work. Clothes, diapers, linens, towels, sheets, rugs, curtains, shoes, pillows, couch cushions – everything cloth or mostly cloth had to be boiled to kill the ticks; just washing things wouldnt work because water doesnt kill them. Massive pot after pot of boiling water was made and things put in and boiled to kill anything on them. I would stir the pots with a huge stick and take the laundry out of the pots with the stick before it sat in baskets to then be washed, hung up to dry on our laundry line and others’ lines, folded and then stored in another empty MAF house. We also used the machine and line of this empty house to help speed things up.

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The animals had to all be either moved or put outside. We moved our two kitties with their litter box and food down to the empty house we were using for clean storage and laundry facilities. The parrot was moved outside and the dog was also moved outside permenately. She is now an outside dog and is not allowed back in. I feel bad but I cannot do this again, so outside she will remain. It was a hard adjustment for them all. It was also a very confusing and difficult time for our son. He loves our MAF friends that we stayed with and it is only becuase of this that he didnt completely fall apart but his behavior was much worse than normal, he was more sensitive, had trouble sleeping and after a couple days of me slipping away to work,would freak out if I stepped out of his sight. It was hard on us all.

I had help with all of this and would not have been able to get things even to where they are today if I had been working alone. The other family we stayed with watched Daniel, hosted us even to preparring all our meals, and even hung clean laundry on their line so it could dry. Other families offered meals.

I also had our house workers there to help. They worked tirelessly alongside me to strip the house, wash things, hang laundry, spread powder, move and wash furniture, and boil things. Their help was needed but unfortunately their help caused some damage too; some of our clothes were ruined after being boiled together. It was after that that I explained how you have to boil like colors with like colors and I supervised the boiling more closely. Most of my shoes were also ruined in the boiling process from coming unglued and the rubber melting, including a nice pair of expensive teva sandals we bought and a wonderful pair of nike tennis shoes that I had been gifted years ago by some friends. Flip flops only here folks. Dave’s shoes may also have shrunk too much for him to use, that remains to be seen fully.

IMG_4720Each night after our workers and I were done working and we needed to leave, we would have to take all of the clean or boiled items down to the other house in baskets. It couldnt sit in the infested house for fear of it getting compromised and reinfested but it also couldn’t sit out on the back porch in case the dog decided to curl up on it. Then the next morning we would have to bring it back up here to continue the process. You were never idle; always stirring, wrining, starting a load of laundry in the machine or filling the machine using a bucket, cleaning, spreading powder, running to the empty house to check on the laundry there, etc.

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Fast forward a week and we were finally “moved” back into the house for sleeping and living. By “moved-in” I mean there were sheets on the beds and the bedroom curtains were up – that was it. I hadnt cooked for a week and I barely had the privacy of curtains up in our living room but it was good to be back in our home. We had “moved” back in the night before we expected Dave back home. He was supposed to be back the next day, a Monday, but there was a delay with the airlines causing a missed flight and a 24 hour lay-over. He didnt get back to Nyankunde until Wednesday afternoon. He showed up to a weary and easily-irritable wife from my very very long two-week stretch without him while dealing with this. Poor man.

That same day, I discovered that our chicken house was infested with red mites and my poor chickens were covered with them. When it rains, it pours. Along with trying to put the house back together piece by piece, we now had another infestation to deal with. Take everything out, spray and wash it all with permethrin, dust with powders to kill, apply oil to all the wood to suffocate the bugs, treat the chickens, redo the dust bathing box to help them self-erradicate them and then do it again. This problem has only just begun and will take months of follow-up and continual preventative care.

IMG_4749Fast forward a few more days and it is now Saturday, today in fact. Today I woke up with the reassurance that the ticks were dead and our house was on it’s way to being put back together. I got up, put my contacts in and started to get dressed. I bent over to pick up some diaper liners that had fallen on the floor from a laundry basket of now fully clean clothes when I saw it. A tick, sitting on the diaper. I looked closer and it wasnt moving. Perhaps it was a dead one left over? I touched it. It moved. And then I melted down emotionally.

There I stood in our bedroom, somewhat dressed, holding a squirming tick between my fingers bawling like the broken woman I felt like. All my efforts had been for nothing, all that work had to be redone, and now where would we live? These thoughts began running through my head as the sobs escaped my mouth and the tears fell. I threw it in the toilet and began to look around our room. I found another, then a third and my sobbing turned to histerically weeping. I had failed. All of my work, the times holding it together and pushing through had gotten me no-where. We still have an infestation on our hands.

IMG_4723My husband was finally able to bring me around after a few inconsolable hours (yes, literally hours) that my efforts were not pointless and that these were probably just in our room and that we just need to keep at it. They were along the one wall under the window seal and seemed to be coming from there. We applied more bug spray and I sprayed the wall and all cracks with Diamataceous Earth, a natural bug killer. The poison didn’t erradicate them last time so now I’m turning to this. Using this takes about the same amount of time to kill them but we dont have to move out, worry about Daniel touching it and it works on all kinds of bugs. People use it in their homes to get rid of fleas, ticks, mites and even bed bugs. It works and it’s safe. I’ll be using it from now on as a preventative as well. It will even help with the cockroaches in the kitchen.

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So today was probably the lowest moment I have had since moving here to Congo. I have one other moment that comes to mind after I had had to wipe out all of my chickens after the third time of restarting because of disease that came close to this one. I had been so undone at that moment and it had been right in the middle of a time when Dave was away also. At least Dave was here for this moment and was able to be there with me and be my rock.

I can honestly say I’m almost too weary for reflection at this moment, lacking any revelations or amazing thoughts to end this post with. All I have are the bare-bone admissions of a worn down and weary woman. The confesions of the “other side of missions” from a broken missionary. The truth of how hard these past few weeks have been for me and how at so many different times I had the desire to ‘light a match and walk away from it all.’ How I feel trapped staying in this house right now; a place that is normally my sanctuary feels like an infested cage. How I’m behind on everything from the house, to the garden to the animals to cooking. How the chaos around me of my house in shambles and the disorganization adds to my stress every moment but I’m almost too tired to take care of fixing it. The truth that I’m not parenting well right now because of how empty I am; I have no patience to deal with even the little things. How I’m not being the best wife to my husband. How things have fallen apart or fallen to the side and on days it seems like my son and my animals are lucky to get fed. The truth that I’m deeply soul-weary at this moment and cry at everything, even a bug in my home or the thought of my husband going back to work.

This is that other side of missions, the ugly side that not everyone sees. It isnt all fun and games here. It doesnt all go great with happy smiling missionaries all the time. We can be broken, we can be weary. It doesnt mean we are leaving. It doesnt mean we are giving up or have somehow lost faith in God. It does mean that we are human. This is that other side that people dont see, that missionaries are afraid to lay bare for fear that supporters will fade away or some other reason.

IMG_4761We are still infested, on multiple fronts and are attempting to deal with it. The house is not back together and likely wont be for some time until we are sure all the ticks are gone. I have to try to purchase preventative measures like some special tick collars I just was told about that actually work here and more DE to spray all over our house. The attic is still infested with rats that keep us up at night but now we have traps to deal with them (Dave brought them back). Daniel is still having nightmares and waking from all the upset. I’m still weary.

 

 

 

Worshiping while watering

Today I watered my garden and felt guilty about it. Guilty for several reasons; water here is very precious right now and water here is work normally. It hasnt rained here in a very long time, probably close to two months. I mean really rained – the kind of rain that quenches the thirst of the deepest tree roots, heals the huge cracks in the ground and turns the world back to green. Everywhere you look you you see the evidence of this on-going dry season; the brown grass crunches under your feet as you walk and the produce that is still available to purchase gets smaller and smaller. But most of all you see it in the people, the Congolese, around you. The concern worn on faces, poorer produce to sell carried on womens’ heads, talk of entire fields being lost due to drought and cattle dying. Hunger.

When I felt guilty I wasnt watering my lawn. I wasnt watering flowers or decorative plants. I was watering my vegetable garden, our food, and I still felt guilty. It isnt a waste of water in my opinion; we need to eat but the guilt was there none-the-less. I have water enough to drink and bathe and to water my garden. If we run low in our cistern all we have to do is pay a small amount to use a large pump and pipe system to fill it back up again. Watering my garden was made even more easy by the recent installation of an underground irrigation system in our yard. I no longer have to hand-carry watering-can after watering-can from our water tower to the garden to give our plants and seeds a drink; I get to flip a switch in the pumphouse and use a hose. Using a hose while pumping water from our refillable cistern gave me feelings of guilt, privledge and then a sense of blessing. I honestly feel blessed by God to stand in my garden and use a hose to water. 


I guess I never realized what a blessing rain and water are until I moved to Congo. Here women and children have to walk, sometimes long distances, to a water source and then they have to carry the water back to their home to use. Water to cook, water to drink, water to wash their clothes, water to wash their dishes, water to bathe with. Everyday they carry the water they need to their home on their backs and their heads. Watering their fields here is out of the question; just carrying enough for their other parts of life is overwhelming. Rain here is God watering their gardens for them; blessing. Rain here refreshes the ground, revives the grass and refills the rivers; the cattle can live another day. So much of life here is tied up in the rain; it literally is life or death for some of the Congolese. You need rain to feed your family through crops and animals.

So in this time of drought, grey storm clouds carry with them prayers and hope. Hope that rainy season will be here soon. Prayers that God will water their fields. I am praying and hoping along with them but especially for them. I pray while I work in my garden; I’m praying for rain while praising God for having the amazing blessing of a watering system and cistern. I praise God for His blessing on us, through being able to water and grow things for my family, which leads me to a place of worship for His goodness and provision. Im worshipping while I water my garden.

Poultry Projects: improving a coop

Over Christmas break we had some time on our hands, in between doing other projects around the homestead, to get some improvements done on our chicken coop and run that have been waiting. I’ve been wanting a dust bathing box for our chickens for some time now and I just happened to see another project where some people created a “greens box” for their chickens to snack from. So here are the improvements we’ve been working on lately with more to come:

img_3718The dust bathing box was very simple to construct but after it was in place it had to be filled. I did this by mixing equal parts dirt, sand and wood ash. I do have a small amount of diatomaceous earth on hand here but with so much controversy as to whether it truly is good for your chickens or not I left it out of the mixture. I have seen them using it some but they still prefer to dust bathe in the spot under the water tower right now which is cooler and moist. I may need to move the location of the box for their preferences but we will see.

img_3716The “greens box” was also very simple to construct and will be a treasured addition to the run as soon as it is finished. Basically you build a box that you plant grass in (or in our case transplant) and then cover that grass with 1/2″ wire. This allows the chickens to eat the shoots of grass that poke up through the wire but protects the grass from being scratched apart and killed. A “living feeder” of sorts for our hens to enjoy greens from. I plan to supply our chickens and ducks with greens each day from our garden (or purchased) but this in-run supply of greens will ensure they get some every day. We only have the one in the chicken pen right now but I would like to put one in the duck pen if the one in the chicken pen takes off and works.

img_3721We have a rain water collection system on the coop which feeds the pipeline running through out the coop and runs on both sides. The pipeline is fitted with water nipples which the chickens peck at and get water from. This is more hygienic for them because it rids the problems with getting poop and other things in their water. It also simplifies things for me greatly because I’m not constantly having to check waterers, haul water to fill them and daily clean the waterers. This is our first dry season with the water tower so we will see how it goes. We have had this system in place for some time but over our Christmas break Dave added an additional nozzle inside the coop for me for doing fermented feed, cleaning dishes, mixing up medicated water and refilling the chicks’ water bottle. Eventually I would like to make an installed nipple watering system for the chicks too with a bucket that we refill on occasion.

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The water faucet inside the coop

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A real time saver . . .

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The water nipples outside at different heights for both chicks and adults

As well as “running water” in our coop Dave also took the time to run a power line to the coop from our house as a permanent source of power in the coop. We now have a power strip for plugging in things like our brooder heater for chicks and power tools if we need to use them inside the coop. Dave also installed a string of LED lights inside the coop with a switch on the door frame so we will have light in the evening when we need to go out into the coop. It gets dark here around 6pm EVERY NIGHT with a small variation of 30 minutes on either side because we are so close to the equator. So if we need to do any roost training, checking on the chickens (in case of driver ant attacks and such), and when we put our roosters to bed we now have a lighted coop.

img_3724Speaking of putting our roosters to bed, we now have a black-out box for our boys. Our chicken coop is very close to our house, specifically the bedrooms, unfortunately and because of this chicken noises can create a problem for us. This location also has some advantages for us – like we can hear when the chickens are being attacked by ants sometimes so it’s not all bad being close. The crowing is the biggest issue by far but there are other noise that can cause issues like an upset hen or a hen singing her egg song or if someone is getting picked on. Most of these noises happen during the day which can be a problem for naps but the early-morning crowing is the biggest issue we have to deal with. So to help deal with this we have constructed a black-out box that we place our roosters in at night. With them unable to see the light of day, there is less crowing and we can actually get some sleep. We have to nail a piece of plywood on top to completely seal it but for now, the two layers of cloth help them not to crow until about 6:00-6:30am. MUCH better than 4am – just sayin’.

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img_3722We also added curtains to our nest boxes the same day that we worked on the black-out box for the roosters. Hens need a quiet, private and dark place to lay their eggs and sometimes a plain nest box is not very inviting simply because they get too much light. So to help with this problem you can add curtains to the nest boxes to block out some of the light and give your girls some more privacy. I have been EAGERLY awaiting our first egg from the ducks (they were due to start laying first and should start anytime . . . ) when low and behold I was surprised to get our first egg from one of our 4 month old hens!! She has been laying for almost a week now but still has yet to figure out where to deposit her egg. I’ve found them in the run under the tree, in the dust bathing box, under the water tower and under the water nipples. I think I may need to move the nest boxes outside for a while to help her learn to lay in them.

img_3657A small change that came about because of Christmas but has made a HUGE difference in our lives was the addition of our new motorized grain mill. It isn’t a true mill because in truth it doesn’t grind the grain – the motor spins a couple of metal paddles inside the chamber that then hit the grain breaking it while a screen holds in the pieces that are too large so they can be hit again.You can control the size of the particles that you want by changing out screens or in some cases, like our adult chicken feed, not having a screen at all. It has changed my life as far as mixing feed goes – it used to take literal hours to mix and then grind our feed each week. Now, doing a double batch, the entire process takes about 20 minutes with the grinding being the quickest piece of that. Compared to 10 minutes mixing and 2+ hours of grinding the grain by hand, it’s a God-send.

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Another smaller addition/improvement to our run was changing our feeding vessel from a platter on the ground to a rain gutter. Now why is this an improvement? With the platter there was less room for everyone to crowd around it and eat, especially for those low on the pecking order who would get picked on. It also was far too easy for them to stand in their food which causes contamination and leads to cocci outbreaks. With the rain gutter there is more room for everyone to eat and they are less likely to stand in the food, thought they still do at this point. This weekend we will hopefully add some wire to the top of the gutter to hinder them even further from standing in their food.

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The vines growing on the chicken side of the run have finally started looking healthy and growing fruit

There are a few other things we need to add and a few I would like to add to the coop in the future. The biggest thing we need to do is pour cement “baseboards” for the run. The boards we buried when we first built the run and coop have been eaten away by termites and although this provides the occasional termite snack for our flock, it is falling apart now. The other necessary repairs are around where the tree in the run broke through our chicken wire cover leaving some gaping holes and a less-secure pen. This happened during our furlough when I wasn’t here to keep up with the trimming of the tree. Some of the things I would like to add to our chicken set-up in the future are some roosts outside and a few more nails to hang things like cabbage from fore fun. There is a lot to do still on our set up along with the upkeep but for the moment this is where we are at with our chicken/duck set-up. I mean the coop has indoor plumbing and electricity so I’d say we’re doing pretty good, all things considered.

 

Homestead Happenings: A Christmas break and into 2017

2017 is here and Christmas is over. The decorations are gone, packed away in their boxes and I’ve *almost* finished cleaning out the fridge from Holiday leftovers – you know those sneaky ones that hang out at the back of your refrigerator for weeks, yeah – those guys might still be hanging around. My husband is back to flying and work and I’m trying to settle back into normal every-day life without the extra work of the Holidays; I’m even getting back into gardening with a lot of prep work and learning a new gardening method called ‘Korean Natural Farming’ but more on that in a later post – yeah for January in the tropics!

img_3699Over the Holiday vacation we had about 10 days to get caught up on some projects around the homestead, including one major project of our rabbit shed/pole barn, as well as some concentrated family time which was refreshing. It was nice to get some things crossed off of our list and it reminded us that we need to pick out some other times during this new year for some “stay-cations” where we can do the same thing.

img_3665We did a lot of projects, including several upgrades and improvements to the chicken coop and run (another post on this too is in the works), but the largest of them all was our rabbit shed/pole barn. Dave has been working on the barn for months including digging the holes, cementing in the posts, putting up the framework and finally nailing down all of the tin which covers it on the roof and sides.

We promptly cleaned off our back porch as soon as it was finished placing the extra chairs and grain barrels in the barn for storage. This also is the new parking place for the 4-wheeler. All of that gave us the room to draw out our idea for our long-planned outdoor kitchen which I think will be the next big project after the rabbit cages are built and hung. We took some sidewalk chalk and drew out our idea of where we want to place things and though it doesn’t look like much now, I assure you it will be awesome when it’s done. We plan on having an outdoor sink, counter space, a grate for grilling, two rocket stove burners and a pizza oven; outdoor parties here we come!! Now to screen in the porch . . .

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One final piece of tin to add

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nailed tin

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rebar waiting to be made into the frame for our wire rabbit cages

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plans for the outdoor sink

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a chalked up plan . . .

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the grill, two rocket stoves and counter space

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Where the pizza oven will go. I’ll have to move my rose

img_3692Dave also did a lot of work on our pig pen during the break around. We had that drainage issue during the last few rains and decided to try something different. This time we are doing a cement floor and trough to see how it goes. So far the drainage is good but for some reason the flies are more attracted to this little pig’s poop on the cement than previous pigs. The jury is still out as to whether this will work out or if we will need to add a thick layer of sand on top of the cement.

img_3697Other than the garden and chickens, since there are too many things to include here on those, the rest of our place is doing great. Our Cameroonian red papayas are fruiting but it will still be several months before the first one is ready. Our oldest pineapples are looking good and we hope they will start fruiting soon but it may still be several months before we see any signs. We also have two more bunches of bananas on the way from the trees in our yard.

The rest of our fruit trees around the yard are looking much better now that they have been trimmed. We have three lemon trees, one “Congo lime”, an avocado, three orange trees and we just planted more lime seeds from limes from Uganda. I’m especially excited about the limes from Uganda as they are true limes and it is a flavor I absolutely love! All that with chickens, a pig, ducks, a garden and soon rabbits isn’t so bad for about .4 of an acre! That even includes our front lawn and house but we do the best with what we have.

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One of our banana bunches

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An orange tree after trimming

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One of our oldest pineapple plants

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Our orchard row

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Some local bats hanging out in the tree next door

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So that’s where we are at now that Christmas is over, we’ve had our break and are into 2017. We are looking forward to the things that this new year will bring our way on our African homestead.

The Holidays and what that means here

Here on the African Homestead, Holidays are work. Everything about having a Holiday here is work, even getting into the mood of Christmas is at times hard work. Before Christmas season last year I never realized just how much of the mood of Christmas and the environment of it is set for you back in the States. To begin with you have winter there; nothing else gets me in the mood for Christmas so much as snow does. Yes you have all the yuck and hard work that comes with it but there is just something about having that white Christmas. 

Then you also have the stores and towns decorated for you so everywhere you walk you see Christmas. The radios play Christmas music for you, along with all of the places you are busy going to (seriously – even the bathroom of a restaurant or a bank plays Christmas music in December). You dont have to work for it like you do here. If you want Christmas music, you have to play it (is your playlist big enough because it will get very repetative after a while). You take all the effort that you can to decorate your house if you are lucky enough to have things here to decorate with but the instant you look out that open window or walk outside, no more Christmas – unending tropical heat awaits. 

Our curing hams

Bigger still – the food. What would a classic Holiday meal be without certain things? Have you ever thought about what food items really embody Christmas for you? Was it the turkey, sweet potatoes, pie, stuffing or cranberries? Can you imagine Christmas without them? All over the world missionaries have to go without these things but here on the homestead we are incredibly spoiled. We have friends in Kampala Uganda that do some shopping for us and what we cant buy we grow, raise and make ourselves. That means two weeks before prepping we dig up our sweet potatoes and start curing the hams for Christmas dinner (that involves growing the potatoes and raising and butchering a pig). Special groceries like apples for pies, whipping cream and cranberries are ordered from Uganda. Other goodies like fudge, cookies, summer sausage, caramels, etc. have to be made from scratch (and I mean scratch, scratch. Like making the marshmallow cream to make the fudge, skimming the cream from your milk to make the caramels And grinding the meat to cure for summer sausage). I am the grocery store peeps . . . .

Sweet potatoes curing on the back porch


And the biggest piece is family. I guess I just never realized how special and blessed I was to have so much of my family around me during Christmas before moving here. I never saw just how spoiled I was in the comfort of knowing everyone would be together and there would be laughter and joy and above all love. I miss them terribly during this time of the year – the Joyful time of the year is now a sad time of year. There is still joy to be found, dont get me wrong – Christ’s arrival is just as important in Africa as America- but there is something to be said for being surrounded by your family and traditions. There is also family to be found here in the form of close friends in the missionary community; women you love like sisters, aunts, cousins; men who are like brothers, cousins, uncles. You can find it here, but its still work.

Our decorated home

Since we are snowless here I made my own

Ignore the wrapping mess . . .look at the garland!

Garland close up, including pinecones from my parents’ place

Some of the fake icicles I hung around our windows


Now what about presents? Obviously from the pictures we have them. Presents are something that have to be thought about WAY ahead of time, sometimes even years ahead (yes Im serious). They can be brought back from furloughs (hence the years ahead), sent over in a package if you can get mail, bought in a nearby city or town if you have that, hand carried by someone who is visiting and hand-made. Im making many gifts this year for various people but cannot say what – they may read this! – have bought gifts, had some mailed, had some brought and even bought and brought back gifts on furlough as well. I’ve done them all. They all take plenty of forethought and time. Work.

Other things that the Holiday season means are excess food sitting around our house waiting to be divided up amoungst our workers (including dried fish stinking up my pantry), decorations, a neglected garden, hot dry season, minimal projects, and a wrapping station mess on our table. Every year MAF here gives a Christmas basket to each of their Congolese workers that is filled with food, matches, soap, etc. to ensure they eat well over Christmas. We as a family decided to do the same thing for our workers, hence the excess food, dried fish and cooking pots lying around. They will be assembled and given to our people next week. I’ve decided that each year for the months of November and December I am going to take a break from heavy gardening; there may still be things to harvest and eat but everything else like planting will waiuntil January. And when I say minimal projects thats what I mean – we always have some happening but they are smaller or not as stressed to get done.

One small project Im doing – sprouts for salads

The run-down neglected garden

Weeds and a few edible plants

Sugar snap peas going to seed and some edible kale

The cooking pots for our Christmas gift baskets for our workers

The dried fish that is stinking up my pantry waiting

Excess rice, sugar, tomato paste and more awaiting Christmas


So Christmas here is different. It’s not like I’d be back home playing with sidewalk chalk and planning a pool hang out but thats the reality of here. It’s hot. It’s Christmas in summer. It has both Joy and grief, companionship and loneliness. Christ still came to earth, not just on one continent so it is still Christmas. We still have people we love here and there. There are presents under our tree, food prepping to be eaten and more. Christmas is very different here. Christmas is good but it is still work here. May God Bless your Christmas wherever it ia and with whatever it involves. Merry Christmas everyone – Love the Petersens

Merry Christmas from the African Homestead!