Tea with Elephants

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July 29, 2011
Jessica Buhler |

From my perch in the cement gazebo in Nazinga, the early morning sun shines on
my face. I crunch my granola and sip my Lipton tea happily, waiting patiently for the
arrival of the elephants. There are traces of these giant creatures throughout the
campground, footprints in the mud, dung and broken tree limbs. Other campers gather
around with their cameras, ready to snap a shot, chatting in languages foreign to me.
After some time, a local man shouts “elephant”! I scan the treed skyline, and spot a small
elephant eating at a bush. A herd of baboons race by, directly in front of me, babies
bouncing on their backs. Slowly three larger elephants lumber through the trees and
down to the water to drink and bathe.

Nazinga Reserve is a tourist destination, for those adventurers who would be
willing to travel for hours in search of something that may never appear. For some who
enter Nazinga, the likelihood of driving alongside a racing elephant is common, while
others will not see a single one. The question of whether or not to go is never an issue
though, as the possibilities are endless.

While I was traveling in Burkina Faso, a small country in West Africa, I stayed
with friends of mine in the capital city of Ouagadougou. Along with their three small
children, Jeff and Tany were Witness workers and had been in the county for five years.
Five years previous, they had decided to uproot their small family and start a life in a
strange country, with strange customs and a strange language. I was amazed how easily
they had come to call this place home, speak fluent French and acquire the cultural
customs and dress. Walking around an open air market, with the youngest family member
Kenai in the lead, was always entertaining. At nearly two years old, he was chatting
with the stall owners, shaking hands with elderly men and allowing the women to treat
him with small gifts. At one stall, Kenai sat down to try a drum and said in French “this
doesn’t work” and added a little local flourish by saying “ah!”

I am continually awe stuck at the dedication and compassion that overseas
workers have shown throughout the world. To give up all that is habitual. To learn a new
language, learn to boil your water before you drink, and accept differences in culture that
otherwise you might not.

One weekend, Tany and I took a trip through southern Burkina to visit some
friends and churches. The journey began with a bus ticket, wandering through a bus
station, children with trays of small bags of peanuts or mangoes to sell and glances from
friendly faces. We wrapped colourful patterned scarves around our heads on Sunday for
church. We had tea while watching traditional drumming and dancing. We carry water on
our heads, and eat with women around the fire in a darkened hut. Two white women with
backpacks walking the dusty roads, skirts wrapped around our hips, bags of fresh fruit in
our arms.

Burkina Faso is a country relatively untouched by westernization, and it is
common to find traditional village life in the rural areas. One such village, called Tin,

is home to MC Canada Witness Workers Norm and Lillian, and their young daughter
Nadine. Lillian has dedicated ten years of her life to creating a written form of the
Siamou language, one that was previously strictly oral. Together, the family takes part in
traditional ceremonies and village life. Nadine has grown up in a village setting, carefree and barefoot.

Those who answer the call to cross cultural boundaries are engaging in a long
process of integration into a new society. Just as I sat and waited for an exotic animal
to emerge from the bush, a mission worker must take all unfamiliar things as they come,
with patience. These workers spend endless hours on flights and in airports to reach their
final destination, a completely foreign land. The people there may be skeptical or they
might embrace you. You may regret going or you might wish you had stayed longer. All
questions are unanswered, but the anticipation is always strong.

In the past five years, I have traveled to five different countries and I will say
with all honesty…I intend to continue my pattern. Every step I take, I learn something
new and exciting, like waiting for elephants.

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