About the Author:
Emily Wilkens' great-grandma was both a snake charmer and the sword box lady in the circus, she smuggled a baby in from Mexico, raised chickens, worked as a beautician, and lived until she was 96. At 24, Emily looks up to her great-grandma and believes there's still time! She recently returned from a second trip to Chad where she worked with a malnutrition program and lived with Jolie and Samedi's family again. Emily loves sewing T-shirts, drinking tea, walking places, swimming in the lakes and playing in the mountains of North Idaho, writing poems, making music, and learning about new cultures and subcultures. In 2005, when Emily was 19, she lived in the CZ and taught ESL to post high-school students. "It's those expereinces--," Emily said, "where you're eating bugs and discovering new mountains with others, the times where you're learning new dances and new ways to survive and thrive on this earth--it's those times that expand our hearts and make room for others to live as they do--make room for us to love them."
Eugene Peterson writes, "Tighten your seat belt. This book will wake you up--to life, sheer, unadulterated life. Twenty-two year old Emily Wilkens enters an African village for six months as a volunteer nurse. In a world of sickness and poverty, delivering babies and tending to victims in a massacre, skinny-dipping in a dirty river, and living with a family of nineteen. She exuberantly embraces the village and its people with a zest that wakes the reader to the beauty of all life as a gift of God. The writing is fresh and unpretentious--without a trace of condescension. Getting ready to leave for home she writes, "I don't see poverty much anymore. I used to see it all the time." And the subtext? God "working to weave us together...He is the link and He is the flow between.""
Karl Haffner writes, "If you crave a cushy, antiseptic, me-centered world, don’t read this book. This is a messy, mite-infested, skinny-dipping, banana-stuck-in-the-nose, gritty and uncomfortable adventure that is for anyone who wants to live a risky life for God. If you want to squirm and sweat and hurt then I highly recommend African Rice Heart. I found myself longing to ride with Emily on her “bike with no brakes” journey and discard all caution for the Kingdom. This is no safe read. But it is a brilliant challenge to sell out to God and let Him use ordinary you to do extraordinary things. Emily bubbles with enthusiasm and masterfully reflects on a chapter in her life where God used her to shape a better world.
Throughout her book I found myself reciting my favorite quote from George Bernard Shaw: “This is true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.” (George Bernard Shaw) "
My first time to Chad, I arrived in Bere at night and was taken to my hut--one belonging to a family of 19 members who I would soon belong to. I would live with them, eat with them, and sleep with them for the next six months. That sentence right there is a lot to unpack: those basics--living, eating, and sleeping, would be all be flipped to tails in my world where they'd previously been heads--everything was absolutely foreign and done foreignly in this foreign country--even the basics. But as it turns out, those foreign things would be the basis for our relationships. Our differences would make us laugh, make us ask, and make us look hard for our similarities--our differences would drive our search to realize how similar we actually were.
The country of Chad speaks French--I spoke none, and then this particular village of Bere speaks a dialect called Nangjere--which only a 20 mile radius of people even would care to know. We have all these sayings in English about the worthlessness of words--about their inability to hurt us, or to paint any worthwhile pictures etc. But the truth is, when you're without language, your a little like a raven or canary--depending solely on your bird's eye to understand how the new world spins.
This second time back, the family has grown to be 23 members large. However, only 8 of the children were birthed by my mother Jolie herself--the rest are grandkid, children of friends, or adopted, much like me. Oh, and when I say the 8 were birthed by "herself", I literally mean she gave birth to them solo--her in her hut, pulling the child out of her body. She's so strong--but more on that later. Meal times and wild, and there's some fending and fighting for yourself that proves necessary. But at the same time, there's a really thick cohesiveness--one that causes everyone to want to be together most of the time. And in the evenings, everyone sleeps on big mats under stars--a mass of little and big people woven together. Arms, legs, sheets, bodies--all so woven together.
During my six months, I worked as a nurse at the hospital there. I'm not a nurse, so that was my biggest stress, my biggest difficulty, and my biggest heartbreak--yes, that hospital broke my heart. What kind of raw nerves have scarred over for the men and women who work there day in and day out--I was scared of it happening to me, and yet partially hoping for it--for a breaking heart is such a hard thing to run a body on.
This African father of mine, Samedi, is the surgeon at the local hospital. He went from being the maintenance man, to being the surgeon...all through observation--learned to do C-sections by watching them. His life screams, "I dare you! Rise above your circumstances!" His story of being a child thief--robbing foreigners. Being taken in by a monk--training to be one himself. Beatings from his military father. A eventual move out of the big city and into the village of Bere--saved him from that thieving past and shaped his future. His life is one that functions in that same tail-turned-to-heads sort of way--such a flip and difference. It blows my mind--makes it reel and wonder, if we maybe haven't actually given life our best yet. This man has done so much with his.
It was my African mother, however who guided me into the African life. And here is where I'd like to focus my musings: I would have been lost with out her. I was like a baby in so many ways. Didn't know where I should go to the bathroom, didn't know how to eat their food, didn't know their language or how to sweep a dirt floor--it was just all so foreign.
One evening during this most recent returning trip to Africa, as the night fell past eleven p.m., Jolie, Samedi and I reminisced about my first 6 months with them. With language now in place, I told the how I felt the first evening--how I had written in my journal,
"It’s my first real evening in my new home and I’m crying already. I’m not much of a crier usually. But tonight, I can’t plug my eyes. As dusk settled, they put me in my dark, mud hut to eat—alone. Supposedly, it’s a real honor to get to eat like this…to have your own bowl of food and not be ‘disturbed’ by that joyous noise of happy children. They definitely don’t know me yet."
That evening with Samedi and Jolie, I said to them, "I was CRYING in my hut that night! You put me in there alone!" Samedi so sweetly said, "Really?!" I said, "Yes!" Jolie grabbed my hand and said, "Oh no! You cried!?" Samedi laughed but continued thoughtfully, "Emily, we had never had a white person live with us before--we didn't know if you would eat with us or not. It was all new for us, too."
I laughed and said, "I didn't like eating alone." Samedi said, "Yes, we learned that you wanted to eat with us--together. And we stopped putting you in your hut alone."
That evening was the essence of all my time in Africa. Some people have wondered at what good a 22-year old could have really done at a hospital in the desert--and if we're talking saving lives, or saving the world, yeah, those people are right on--I for sure didn't save any worlds. But that deep learning--the kind that makes you do something differently for someone the next time because you understand who they ARE and how they THINK and how they DO. Its that kind of learning, the kind that's at all of our finger tips everyday, that is going to change us, and in doing so, change our world.