Here’s another ‘sneak preview’ for those who have not yet got hold of a copy of my book. This was when I worked with the Bassar – or Ncam – people in Western Togo (Chapter 5 in the book):
“Whilst they are busy working on their songs – and as they ‘know the ropes’ by now – I take a few minutes to climb up the hill which continues behind the hotel. It’s a pretty steep one and there’s no time to make it to the very top today. However, I get far enough to admire a truly impressive view of Bassar, way down below, and the plain beyond it: lush, green and flat, extending to the horizon, many miles away. Parts of the distant horizon are marked by the undulations of tiny mountains, which I know are actually huge. Bassar itself is a mass of rectangular buildings with rusty brown roofs and small windows, punctuated by mango trees, teak trees, even a good number of coconut palms. The streets are long, straight and pale brown, and white smoke is rising from various locations across the town. Ladies are walking to or from the small market with bowls on their heads; muscular men, pouring with sweat, are chopping wood; children are playing with old motorbike tyres and old men are sitting in the shade watching the world go by. Weary, world-worn donkeys are pulling carts through the muddy streets as motorcycles whizz by, and small clusters of wandering sheep – like tiny balls of cotton – roam aimlessly through the town. Makeshift poles made from branches – not one of them straight – carry electricity to most homes, a mass of twisted cables dangling haphazardly between each. In one place, a lorry is unloading large sacks of charcoal and in an open grassy area, young people are playing football with great energy. This strangely idyllic view is somewhat spoilt by two large antennae, one at each end of the town, both painted the usual red and white. It is only then that I notice how many homes are equipped with television aerials; one or two even have satellite dishes!”
If you have read it, please write a brief review if you can. Thanks!
Working with the Bogo People of SW Togo was a rewarding and culturally-rich experience for me (and for them). Read an extract from my book Adventures in Music and Culture below and be inspired!
“I find a sheltered mango grove a short walk away and we agree to reconvene there after lunch to record the songs. By the time I get there, the whole area is teeming with people; maybe as many as a hundred. Amazingly, the village folk have agreed that my workshop people can use the traditional barrel drums, and say it is no problem for them. This is quite rare; it can sometimes take years before local non-Christian musicians agree to such a step – or even the Christian ones! This will really enhance the music and also make it something the people of Sassanou will be pleased to hear.
A group of ladies is dancing enthusiastically and singing one of the new songs, as the drums beat out their syncopated accompaniment. It is great to see the joy on everybody’s faces – these people have never worshipped God in their mother tongue until now, and it shows! One lady shouts out: “Jésus nous prend tout!” meaning: ‘Jesus takes everything which is ours’. In other words, even their local music can be used for His glory.
This is the point at which I realize: I’m living through new and exciting events here – this is ground-breaking stuff! I must share these experiences with the world – it’s a story too great not to be told! And so from that very moment I resolved to make my ethnomusicological adventures into a book, so that others could share in my unforgettable experiences.”
Here’s part of a page from the March/April edition of Idea Magazine, where my book is reviewed. (See it at the bottom of the page there?)
See the review here (on page 31)
Meanwhile, here’s what it says:
“This is an intriguing little gem of a book. It is part travel journal, part adventure story, part musical treatise. Baker is a ethnomusicologist and the book charts his travels and experiences in Africa. We hear about various journeys and the way local Christian expressions are using local music. Baker’s insight is that we need to use the music that means something to people. Then we can add extra meaning to the cultural patterns and resonances of the existing stuff. Too often missionaries land and try to get local folk to sing American soft-rock Christian anthems – but these lack depth in a local context. Baker’s book is really good on painting pictures and showing how music and culture are intertwined. He shows how Christianity thrives when culture is involved and this is a wake-up call to evangelicals who get all sniffy about culture. What strikes you most is just how likeable and engaging Baker is. His lovely little book makes a great travel companion. This book is like sinking into a comfy armchair. It is Billy Graham meets Michael Palin. A rare treat.”
Thanks Steve Morris for the cool review!
Or contact me and I can send you a signed copy for the RRP (+£1.40 p&p in the UK).
Thanks for reading!
“Adventures in Music and Culture” was released on 15th December 2012 and I’m pleased to say that folk are really enjoying reading it! Below are extracts from feedback I have received so far.
“Excellent travelogue. Well written with infectious energy. An absorbing read with just the right level of detail…as well as some laugh out loud moments. It also has some thought provoking points on culture. Recommended!”
“The book captures very well indeed the general experiences of Western expatriates working in not just the two countries covered but the whole west African region. Laced throughout with good humour. The book lies well alongside those written by well known travellers in the region such as Gerald Durrell.”
“It was a really interesting and enjoyable read!”
“It’s a good read.”
“A brilliant book about [Rob's] experiences in Benin & Togo. If you have an interest in music, travel, mission or African culture then I’d suggest you add this to your reading list. It’s a really fun and interesting read.”
“I’m really enjoying the book. It’s bringing back a few interesting memories of Africa.”
“Very easy to read and I’d highly recommend it, especially if you have an interest in Africa, travel, music in different cultures and/or how God uses music to help people’s faith to grow.”
For other countries, try ordering from the above links, or contact me directly and I can post you a copy. Meanwhile, please share this blog post with friends who might be interested in reading the book. Thanks!
…and sorry for the long delay. This was partly due to a bug in WordPress, which wasn’t allowing me to upload the audio correctly. I’m glad to say this is now rectified and I have at least three more songs to share with you before the end of 2012!
So, here’s “We fix our eyes on invisible things”, which sounds like a contradiction in terms, but that’s what faith is all about. I just love the harmonies in the chorus!
We shall walk by faith
He works in all things
We live every day
…so make sure you ask Santa for a copy!
Yes, I’m thrilled and excited to be able to share my African travels with you all, and to open people’s hearts and minds to the fascinating world of ethnomusicology. It will be available on the Ambassador International website soon, in paper and electronic form. Meanwhile, here’s an extract from the introduction to whet your appetites:
At last – I have an interesting job! One to which people respond: “Oh, how fascinating,” or: “Tell me more about what you do!” Although there’s not much money in it, it’s a job which is exciting, enriching, pioneering and intriguing. At times it can be frustrating, exhausting – even dangerous, but is never boring, tedious or repetitive, like some jobs I’ve had.
I used to have a job which I enjoyed, but which nobody else found particularly exciting. I would almost dread the inevitable party question: “What do you do for a living?”
So, this is why I’m delighted to have a job which is not only interesting to me, but for which other people show a genuine interest. It’s a job they can scarcely pronounce, let alone define or describe: I am an ethnomusicologist. “What does one of those do?” you’re asking yourself. See, you’re doing it too already!
Without going into too much boring detail, there are two main types of ethnomusicologist. The first is the secular type, who studies world music for the same reason Sir Edmond Hilary climbed Everest: because it’s there. Of course, this kind provides much vital information about music in culture and many useful anthropological insights along the way. The second type is the missionary ethnomusicologist or ethnodoxologist, who does the same kind of research as the first, but then applies this to Christian mission. “So, I’ve found this fact out about their music, how can I use it to help encourage local Christians and their churches?” The results – as I hope you’ll see – are often stunning, as people begin using their music, rather than something pertaining to a foreign culture.
Recently I posted this article, listing dos and don’ts for churches welcoming missionaries back from the field. I’m now going to do the opposite: a set of tips for the returning missionaries themselves. Having been through the transition back to the home culture several times, much of what I write below is based upon personal experience.
(NB Most of these are applicable to any returning ex-patriate).
Here we go…
1. Expect to feel like an alien for the first few weeks back home. Feeling disorientated, lethargic, confused, detached exhausted and frustrated is quite the norm at this time. The only completely effective cure is time: the longer you are back, the easier it will get, but expecting the negative feelings – and preparing for them as best you can – will help ease the way.
2. You are likely to be shocked by the ignorance of many folk regarding the country you’ve been working in, the work you’ve been doing or even how mission organizations work. Expect this (you’ll be pleasantly surprised if it doesn’t happen) and try to be patient and realize that everyone has busy lives here and that most have not been absorbed by your comings and goings as much as you might like to think. In fact, most people will probably stop asking you about where you’ve been after a week or so. I’m really not sure why this is the case – maybe it’s a desire to see you ‘fit back in’ and become like everyone else again. This is not what you want, and you know it will never completely happen!
3. Driving, even if it is technically easier, will be harder to start with as you relearn a whole new set of road rules. Also, if you drive on the opposite side of the road, don’t expect to readapt instantly. For the first week home, I like to always have a passenger on board, who says “LEFT!” at every junction (and particularly at roundabouts). Once, I actually drove 50 yards on the right before realizing! You will probably also get into the wrong side of the car, maybe for months after returning!
4. Plan your ‘escape’ soon after your arrival. The initial days back home are both exciting and stressful at the same time. You’re pleased to see friends and family again, but the constant attention is likely to wear you out. You will also be asked the same questions by almost everyone – here are the usuals:
5. There will be some conversations you will struggle to follow, even though they are in your mother tongue. Again, this is due to cultural references and ways of speaking to which you are unaccustomed. With time, you will tune back into these.
6. If you are returning long term, there are likely to be hidden set-up costs. Our oven needed a costly repair, our dishwasher was no longer working and our garden fence needed replacing. We had no DVD player, no microwave and all the spices in our spice rack had gone off! Even the very act of filling your larder/freezer will cost you a lot. Prepare for this extra cost if you can.
7. People will openly express their shock at something you don’t know about the home culture, even though they know you’ve been away for years. This is another strange one – I can only assume it’s part of the culture! Things like: “Do you mean to say you don’t know what a tom-tom is?!” “What do you mean, you haven’t heard of Will.i.am?!” or “How can you not know what league Chelsea are in?!” All you can do is reiterate that you’ve been out of the country or (better still) make a joke of it “I know – I’m so out of touch, eh?”
8. Beware of weight gain: you are likely to put on several pounds in your first weeks back home, unless you are very careful. This is partly due to being fed by supporters and partly due to the vast range of processed and/or fattening foods available compared with the country you’ve been working in. Also (if you’re like me) some people eat more when under stress, and transitioning back into the home culture is very stressful indeed!
9. Some things you say – which seem perfectly normal to you – may shock or even offend others. This is purely due to the differing set of cultural norms you have been used to. Example: saying “You’re old” to an old person – this would be a respectful thing to point out in much of Africa; in the West it can be taken almost as an insult!
10. You’re likely to be shocked by: (i) materialistic attitudes and practices (“Come and look at my new kitchen – it cost £12,000”), (ii) moral standards and norms (ie how young women dress, advertisements, television programmes, bad language) and (iii) the cold response of non-Christians when you say you are a missionary. The cost of just about everything is likely to shock you, too.
11. If someone says “Isn’t it hot?” it’s best just to agree with their assessment of the weather, even if it’s ‘barely warm enough’ to you. This is certainly true in Britain where, culturally, you almost never disagree with these semi-rhetorical weather questions!
12. Be proactive in making church visits happen; merely putting a note in your prayer letter saying you’re available to take services is unlikely to jam your inbox overnight! Sending personal e-mails, making phone calls or (best of all) face-to-face contact are all more likely to yield results.
13. Try and do something to help you sleep well at night – insomnia or disturbed sleep are terribly common during those first weeks. Why not plan a half hour evening walk in the country, or listen to music which will relax you? You could even try herbal teas, or other natural products known to calm and aid sleep. Oh, and no computer work for a couple of hours before hitting the hay!
14. Some friends who have barely kept in touch whilst you were away will welcome you back warmly and you will pick up from where you left off, in spite of the lack of contact. Other people who you were good friends with before going overseas, you may no longer “click” with – you have changed, they have changed, your histories are now different and your values may overlap less. Don’t be surprised when this happens.
15. And finally, remember that you will generally feel more at ease with other people who have lived overseas, probably for the rest of your life.
The Harvest is Ready!”
For all Christians out there – do you truly believe that:
(i) There is a God
If so, how can we not want to share this with the world at every possible opportunity? What’s gone wrong? Our culture frowns upon “discussing religion and politics” but we mustn’t let that stop us. Surely even most non-Christians would understand that anyone believing the four statements above would urgently want to share this (even if they themselves do not believe it)!
So, what are we waiting for? Pray, then pray some more, then go out into the world and ooze Jesus in all you do!
Here’s the song:
In every situation
Coming back to the “home culture” is stressful for any missionary, and re-adaptation can take months – even years.
In her book Burn up of Splash Down, Marion Knell states that ‘more than sixty percent of former missionaries returning home find the experience negative – even devastating.’
So, to help put your missionaries into the other 40%, here are my top tips:
After eight weeks back home, one missionary was asked: “So, have you finished your epic tour of dinners with supporters yet?” Embarrassed, he replied that during this time he’d only been invited to two people’s houses!
There you go!
For more great (and even better!) tips, please take time to read – and act upon, the sound and thorough advice in this article: Welcoming Returning Missionaries.