July 31, 2007
There was no place I would have rather been than singing and dancing around a vacant church building this afternoon with a small crowd of African children and grown-ups. It was an odd transition to make from the morning job interview; but it was with gusto that I shed my professional attire, gathered my Swahili books and tapes, and headed to the church to bid my friends “Jambo!”
This made the 4th day I have spent as an informal English teacher for one family group out of the Burundi refugees recently placed in this city. The “lessons” are quite impromptu, considering the language barrier, but I’m happy to see that Swahili comes more easily to me than I expected–and, no doubt due to their extreme immersion, the family is learning quickly. So far I’m relying on picture books and cassettes I found at the library, so our days are consisting of attempts at conversation, repeated phrases, words, & numbers, and, of course, singing and dancing.
It was perhaps presumptuous of me to find out where they were staying, show up, and simply start spending each day with them . . . but I could not help myself ☺ The discovery that African refugees had just arrived when I was returning brought to the surface all my emotions and culture shock from the return; it made me realize that even though I was ready to return, and am glad to be home, I did leave a piece of my heart in Africa. And that has left me with a heart for the African people.
I would like to think I have something great to offer, some grand way to help. The truth is, however, that I have been in a rather needy place in life lately, left with no choice but to rely on my dear friends and family for practical support.
But I want to trust that God can use the little I have in the way of time, and a heart, to make some sort of a difference in the lives of those with whom my own life circle intersects.
July 26, 2007
I had what I deemed to be a highly ironic return to the country. For those of you who have followed my blog at all over the past little while, you will know that I spent the last 6 months getting used to cold showers. So in the back of my mind, as I flew, bussed, and drove back to the U.S., was the happy thought that I was returning to the ease of warm showers . . .
Well, arriving late at night, I did a bit of perfunctory unpacking and then promptly went to bed, sleeping soundly. The next morning I awoke to discover that my water heater had burst, flooding the attic [yes, unfortunately, the water heater is unwisely located in the attic], and causing the ceiling to collapse under the weight of the soggy floods.
Needless to say, I did not have a hot shower that morning. Or the next. Or the next.
But now, after a week of calls to roof repairmen, electricians, plumbers, and insurance adjusters—and of course, my ever-available superman and superwoman grandparents—all is well.
I have purchased a fine new water heater that sits proudly in its new home in the basement, the ceiling is looking more lovely than it has in 20 years, and we all are enjoying wonderfully hot showers!
July 21, 2007
July 18, 2007
I never knew I was capable of such great emotion in a simple goodbye. In the past, goodbyes have been rather cold affairs, dreaded because of what I thought I should feel instead of what I actually did. But this time the dam broke. What I expected to be a routine round of kusse [dutch for "kisses"] and hugs became an unstoppable flow of tears springing up from some hidden geyser of grief. Every time I looked into Annie’s eyes and tried to tell her how lovely, how precious she was, I ended up instead blubbering incoherently through my mess of tears and sniffles.
Annie was my dear friend, my lifeline of a caring friend, for the past six months. She and I spent our days caring for the children together, then I ritually walked her back to the compound each afternoon, recapping the day and laughing about the girls’ antics or bemoaning their naughtinesses.. On weekends I clung to her, following her around like a homeless puppy dog on the days when she was on duty and I was off. And on the rare days when we both had free time, we sat in her little hut chatting, walked through the compound visiting, and sometimes took the bus to nearby towns for a change of scenery and the chance for her to buy maize, kapente, and other staples. Annie was my dear friend.
And what hurts so intensely is the knowledge that she most likely will never have the chance to pursue her dreams, to explore the world. as she so longs to do. She has never been given the privilege of enough schooling to learn how to read. She has never been able to travel outside the borders of her home country.
I cannot help but ask that almost cliché question of why some in the world have opportunities that others never do. Yet I suspect that this question cannot be answered—not this side of heaven, at least. What I do know is that Annie is every bit as talented, as capable, as charming, as the most accomplished of modern young women. And what I must trust is that she is where she is, with the opportunities she has and does not have for a greater purpose than what we mortals can see in the here and now.
July 16, 2007
July 14, 2007
It seemed to me that I should somehow commemorate the moment when I had the strange realization that it did not faze me to be showering with a warthog. This morning as I walked to the bathhouse, Herco warned me that Poomba was in there and showed no signs of leaving. I replied that I was used to it and proceeded to turn on the shower. At the moment, Poomba had actually followed Herco out, so I latched the door as I entered [a door that was actually raised to prevent the warthogs from coming in] and explained to Herco that I was going to pretend that she actually was prevented by the latch on the door. A few minutes later, I heard the familiar sounds of her grunts as she shoved against the door and then backed up to jump over it. She then shoved her nose through my shower curtain to presumably reassure herself that I was within sight. Seeing that I was, she proceeded to gnaw on the loo door, promptly chewing a hole in yet another door. Destroying on, she proceeded to the second. By this point I was finished with my shower so, as I toweled off, she peered once more into the stall and then, as I walked out of the bathhouse, she followed me. Her shower company gone, she went off to find another companion for the remainder of the morning.
What I mused over after finishing my morning routine was that the fact that it included the company of a warthog has become so commonplace that it does not even delay me anymore. No doubt I will miss her company once I am once more left with lone showers.
July 2, 2007
July 1, 2007
Who would have thought that a “Congratulations—you have won!” email, flagged as questionable, would actually have a valid reason to be in my inbox? I most certainly did not. It was only out of amusement that I decided to read this one as I went through my daily deletions of inbox clean-up. Amusement turned to incredulous curiosity when I realized that I was oddly familiar with the contest this email was referring to. And so it happened that two months later I was bound for Prague, straight out of the African Bush.
For someone accustomed to mosquito nets and Tsetse flies, candlelight and cold showers, giant centipedes in my schoolhouse and warthogs in my bathhouse . . . I was in for a bit of culture shock, to say the least. It was with wide eyes and a gaping mouth that I settled into our Five-Star hotel—one of “The Leading Small Hotels of the World”—with its bed piled high with feather pillows and its table laden with fresh fruits and chocolates.
Once I had made a valiant effort at scrubbing the dirt from my body and smoothing the wrinkles out of my chitenge [Zambian dress], we headed to the set. Oddly enough, here on the set of the film, I felt strangely at home. You see, the brilliantly created magical world of Narnia was sort of like just another beautiful dream world for my safari-accustomed eyes. It is an amazing thing to enter this set and be instantly whisked away into a land of talking trees and centaurs—but I guess you’ll just have to take my word for it, won’t you? ☺
So began my four-day adventure in Prague: a whirlwind of soaking in the sights of this stunning city, hobnobbing with hobbits, prattling with Princes, and returning each evening to be catered to, and spoiled rotten, in the lap of luxury.
It was, like I said, a whirlwind of experiences packed into too short of a time frame. Consequently, there was no way I could have gotten any sort of full sense of the place. I did, however, feel like my experience was complete, thanks to my last day of sightseeing.
On this day, I had a moment of absolute awe, in which I said to myself, Now I feel like I can leave this place in peace. In a sense, my traveler’s sensibilities were soaked to saturation point thanks to my visit to the cathedral of the Prague castle.
This visit came at the end of a day in which I had seen enough sights to start to be tired of sight-seeing; granted, I should admit that I have a rather low tolerance for tourist attractions, so my sense of “enough” is decidedly lower than most people’s, I believe. At any rate, it was in this state of mind that I entered the cathedral. And then I stopped, stunned, gazing up and around me with an instant teary-eyed reaction to the beauty. I can no more describe it to you than I suspect an angel could describe Heaven to a mortal. Suffice it to say, it is a magnificently glorious construction.
The next day I departed from Prague, saddened to leave and not quite ready to return to “real life.” But I was satisfied, filled up by the experience, and inwardly richer thanks to the time.