Wednesday, 31 August 2011

We wish to inform you that...

While on the topic of Rwanda, I thought I'd draw your attention to this book. We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families is an account by Philip Gourevitch of the genocide in Rwanda. I read it a few years ago now so can't say much but you can read reviews here, here and here.

If you want to know more about what happened in Rwanda, and a little of the circumstances and history leading to the events, this is an informative read. It is shocking, sobering, tragic, gut-wrenching. It is slow, heavy going and not the sort of book you ought to read all at once.

There is an interview with the author here, but I couldn't view it... blocked by our friendly network administrator (Glen)! Someone might like to tell me if it is any good.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Baking Cakes

Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Parkin is a bittersweet novel set in Rwanda's capital as it seeks to rebuild, forgive and forget. Angel Tungaraza is a Tanzanian ex-patriot living in a block of units with a bunch of other ex-patriots of all different colours and creeds.

Angel is an expert baker and decorator of cakes. She makes cakes for children's birthdays, weddings, baptisms and other more unusual celebrations. Each client knocks on her door; she gives them a cup of tea and asks them their story. We hear of a Rwanda limping under the memory of past battles and groaning under the ever-present silent battle with HIV. And, as we hear each of their stories, so also is Angel's story unravelled.

She reminds me of Alexander McCall Smith's Mma Ramotswe. They help where others have hindered; heal where others have hurt; and exert their considerable influence for good in their communities.

I especially enjoyed the interaction between people of different cultures. The local Rwandan community welcome their African cousins but are suspicious of ex-patriots with lighter shades; the volunteer workers are treated differently to those on largish incomes; there is difficulty at times communicating across cultures and understanding one another. All these aspects of the book reflected my own experiences here.

Finally, I wish to propose that Angel spends some time in Vanuatu. There is a great desire for cake here. She can even use my oven!

Be careful about reading reviews... they give too much away. But here and here are two good ones; save them for after you've read the book.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

cultural lenses

I've been reading a selection of books recently on being a "minister's wife". There's a not-surprisingly similar theme... that is, that a minister's wife need not conform to the elastic-backed pants and cardigan-wearing stereotype... she may be herself (and go bare-foot, hurdle hedges, wear cute shoes etc) and still be the minister's wife even if she can't play the piano. Romans 12 is quoted and explained like this: God has given us different gifts and we are to use the gifts he has given us to serve Him. This will be different for every minister's wife. We serve Him according to the gifts he has given us, not according to the congregation's expectations or what the last minister's wife did.

The funny thing about all this is that it reads the passages on gifts through a western lens.

Romans 12:4-6 says,
For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them...
Well I'm different to everybody else (especially I'm different from the superwoman minister's wife around the corner) and I'll use my gifts in ways that I find fulfilling thank-you very much.

Now let me explain gifts to you through a pacific lens.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
You might have gifts that are different from someone else's, but they are from the same spirit, it is the same Lord we serve, your gifts are for the good of the church, for the good of the community. They are not for you at all, but for your brother and sister. In fact, you have very little say in how they are used, but are to do exactly what you are told.

Now I've exaggerated both sides (and pray I'll be forgiven!) but it makes my point.

We read scripture through cultural lenses!

Be warned.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

from all over the world

At the moment we're doing a unit about the world. It's sort of world history and it's sort of people and customs from around the world. As part of it we're making a collection of things from all over the world. Here are some things we found around our house that have come from other parts of the globe:


  • an ulu from Alaska, U.S.A
  • a china tea-cup from China
  • a carved wooden elephant from China
  • a woven mat from Turkey
  • a painted ceramic tile also from Turkey
  • fans from Vietnam and Japan
  • a painting of the Masai from Tanzania
  • soap-stone coasters also from Tanzania
  • postcards from Australia and Vanuatu
  • a bamboo flute from Ambrym, Vanuatu
  • a feather head-dress from Tanna, Vanuatu
We'd love to improve on our collection over the next few months. Perhaps you'd be happy to contribute some small unwanted trinket from overseas (or from your part of the world) that will teach us something about that part of the world. We'd be really grateful! But be warned: postage can be expensive. Make it something small, e.g. small trinkets, postcards, stamps, flags (the sort given away free in the paper on national days), small change, etc. Send them to me at PO Box 532, Luganville, Vanuatu.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

two girls wearing saris

Today we learnt a little about dress in different parts of the world.

They tried wearing saris.

It wasn't easy.

But it was lots of fun.

finding books for your children

Finding age-appropriate books at the right reading level for your children is not easy.

Now that we are doing home-school this has become an even bigger issue for us.

Here is a website that has made a huge difference:

This site has a huge catalogue of books. You can enter the lexile range, age appropriateness and many other search options. It then gives you all the books that fit those search criteria. Absolutely brilliant! If you work out roughly what the reading age of your child is then this page will give you all the appropriate books.

It has many other features, such as...
  • If you go to a book that won an award and click on that award, you can see all other winners. e.g. Newberry (USA), Carnegie (UK) etc. We've found lots of great books this way.
  • If you register (free) you can enter text and get a lexile ranking for that text.
  • It predicts expected comprehension of a particular book based on your lexile ability.

To obtain a "lexile rank" for your child, you can do an "oral reading fluency" test here and then download conversion tables here to get a lexile rank. It's only set up for years 1, 2 & 3. A bit fiddly but worth it.

For a rough guide, here are lexile ranks for some books you may know:

The Bike Lesson (Stan and Jan Berenstain) "60"
Amelia Bedelia (Peggy Parish) "140"
Frog and Toad are Friends (Arnold Lobel) "400"
George's Marvellous Medicine (Roald Dahl) "640"
James and the Giant Peach (Roald Dahl) "870"
I am David (Anne Holm) "910"

With this resource, together with the growing number of online cheap booksellers (e.g. Book Depository and Better World Books) we have been able to keep up the supply of suitable, readable and absorbing books to our girls.