Hyena Eyes: A Story of North Africa


We have some friends who are missionaries in northern Africa, I cannot say where. It amazes me what they go through on a daily basis (with their two small children… one, a baby) in their efforts to serve the Lord and the Muslim population. They have a new post on their blog that came in today and I felt like I needed to share it with my readers. It certainly puts things into perspective. The following is a slightly edited version of a normal daily entry from North Africa.

On Facebook I have seen lots of people refer to “#firstworld problems”; these issues are usually about various technological devices or modern conveniences. I also have some friends who have made jokes of “#thirdworld problems” which usually involve latrines or various animals in unexpected places. But this week I have decided we need a third category, something along the lines of “First-world-people-in-the-third-world problems.” Those problems that only those few first-world people have, but we only have them when we are in the third-world. I have had several lately. They include:

When you read at night, big moths keep turning the pages of your kindle touch.

Or, you can’t fit all the stuff you brought on the chartered airplane in your mud hut.

Or, you don’t have any clean clothes because the ladies who hand wash your clothes all ran off on “Tribal Warfare Day.” (A long story for another time…)

Or, you can only send emails on your laptop because the internet access in the aforementioned mud hut is really crappy.

Because of that last particular problem I have been blogging by sending my mom emails (when we can get them to go out) that she then posts on blogger for me.

It’s been a good week! It still isn’t raining yet but several blustery storms have rumbled through bringing with them the sweet tang of rain that smells dark and leafy green, like the salad I have been craving. Whether our bodies are just adjusting to the heat or it has actually cooled off some, I’m not sure but I have been enjoying those moments that I am not sweating profusely.

With the hovering imminence of moisture though, all the critters in the vicinity seem to be quivering with excitement too. We’ve had a couple scorpions inside and a rat in the kitchen (all of which my husband heroically disposed of). One night we also had a hunting spider in our room, an eight-legged horror the size of a lobster with the speed of Usain Bolt. I think they are completely harmless (though I’m not really sure why) but this particular one ran over my foot three separate times as I got ready to crawl in bed, vulnerably undressed and with only a headlamp for protection, all of which made me act like the room was full of cobras. My husband kept telling me to step on it, which to my credit I did, but it just feels weird stepping on a bug that is going to squish like a mouse, which it also did. Anyway, as welcome as the cooler weather is, I think our near future holds many more late-night escapades with vermin.

A guy came by a couple days ago to change money and lingered around afterwards to chat. He is both a butcher and a local pastor and as he prepared to go he asked my husband, almost as an afterthought, “Oh by the way, do you want some hyena eyes?” We thought we had either misunderstood or were hearing an unfamiliar euphemism, but upon clarification we realized that the man was in fact asking if we wanted to buy the eyeballs of a hyena. When my husband asked what in the world he would use it for the guy said they are great for being able to see better or for coming up with great ideas. He denied that it was any kind of witchcraft, apparently just that odd thing between science and luck and common knowledge (I mean everyone knows hyena eyeballs are good for your eyesight, right?). My husband said we would pass this time but the guy said he would at least bring a pair by sometime to show us. Oh my. Just when this place starts feeling normal something like that happens and I realize just how far from Kansas we really are.

We went to visit our friends in the camp on Friday. We sat in a grass house and drank strong sweet coffee out of little porcelain cups while we talked. Our toddler drank about three cups herself and yet miraculously slept the whole walk home. Every time I walk into that place something catches in my throat. Wind was kicking up phantoms of dust all around us as throngs of children trotted around us singing and laughing (not many white babies come by their houses). The kids, despite being snot-nosed and fairly naked, seemed healthy and incredibly happy. Older kids were walking to school or hauling clean water. Younger ones were playing or toting around siblings. And yet I was so aware of the weighty presence of a thousand stories – how those kids got here, what they saw along the way, who they lost, what they remember – hovering all around us. Every time I go to the camp I feel like I’m walking through an unexpectedly pleasing room that is haunted. There is nothing overtly unpleasant in sight but you can sense a presence in the room that only occasionally slips by in your peripheral vision. Maybe I do need a pair of Hyena eyes after all.

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