Just a few thoughts today...not nearly sufficient to encompass the experiences of the last week, but they are all I have at the moment.
I am afraid I will end up disappointing some of you regarding my lack of pictures. I'm struggling with the reality that I am here--on the M/V Africa Mercy, docked in Cotonou, Benin--and you are not. I can take picture after picture and write detailed lists of the people I am meeting and what I am seeing, eating, smelling, etc., but it will not be enough to bring you here with me to walk the dusty roads of downtown Cotonou together. I will try to share Cotonou with you to the extent that I can, but please bear with me when I get frustrated by the inability of words and pictures to convey even a fraction of what I am experiencing here.
I mentioned something fundamentally important in the previous paragraph--did you catch it? Read again, and this time notice where I am living--on the M/V Africa Mercy, which just so happens to be docked in Cotonou, Benin at the moment. You need to understand that I am living on a ship with 300 some other people from all over the world, but I am not living in Africa. I happen to be taking day trips into Africa, but that is not the same thing. At the end of the day I come back to the ship: back to AC, a library, computers, a warm (albeit quick) shower, Starbucks coffee, regular meals, and the latest rugby match on the TV. I leave behind the oppressive heat, the open sewers, the acrid smoke of the zemidjans, the dust and trash, and the sense of my 'otherness' that shadows me when I am off the ship. It is a little strange to be experiencing not one but two new environments at once: ship life, and Beninoise life.
In a semi-related vein, I was thinking today about the process of transitioning from "new" to "normal." Life here has generally transitioned from being exhilaratingly new to being (relatively) familiar and normal. I sat in church today--the same church I attended two weeks ago-- and realized I wasn't feeling the same thrill of newness as before. I then realized how easy it is to chase after the new things in life, always needing "new" people, experiences, and places to be happy. Potentially dangerous, too, to continually be running after the feelings of novelty and excitement that accompany new experiences. If I once start to feel that I have seen all there is to see here at this moment in Benin, that is also the moment I start wanting to go somewhere else so I can feel the pulse-pounding newness again. Instead, I want to be characterized by consistency, and by contentment with the old and the familiar. I'm reminded of Paul, who spoke about being content whatever the circumstances. I'm also reminded of God, who as I AM is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
The challenge is to be faithful in this place, at this moment in time.