November 30, 2008
I remember, this day–November 30–in 1988. On this day, I awoke excited–no, more than that–I was ecstatic. I was running through lines of the Christmas program in my head, eagerly rehearsing for the program that night. You see, tonight we were performing for our families, for my family. They were on their way by this time, I knew, beginning the drive early that morning that would bring them along many lonely dirt roads, winding through villages and across open plains, to arrive here.
It had been 3 months now since I last saw them, when I boarded the little Cessna on the grass strip of our village, clutching my stuffed bear in one arm and holding my sister’s hand with the other. We stood there waving goodbye one last time on the boarding stairs, and then waved again out the window as we sped along the airstrip and lifted off into the air. I loved that moment of lifting off in the airplane–and have ever since–the exciting rush of becoming airborne and soaring faster and faster through the air.
That day, however, my excitement of the beginning was tinged with the sadness of knowing I would be away from my family for many nights now. The days were always full of learning, fun adventures in the bush with friends and with various creatures to be discovered and trees to be climbed. The nights were the hard part, though, when I fought the tears that often came in spite of my fierce will, silently dampening my pillow while I stifled the shortened breaths that may give away my tears to the classmates sleeping near me in rows of bunk beds.
The 3 months since that last flight had passed quickly–3 months of good books read, math problems solved, geography discovered, play weddings acted out in free time, and all manner of grade 4 activities. I had also turned 9 the previous month, and knew my family would now celebrate my birthday and my brother’s 4th birthday 3 days earlier, as soon as we made it back home. While on a shopping trip in South Africa, my Dad had acquired our first car, so the decided to make the road trip instead of Helen and I flying home as we had always done before. So, I knew they were loaded up in the Isuzu, along with 2 village friends–a teenage student of my Dad’s and the Zambian pastor he worked with in our Church.
So that afternoon, after various activities designed to keep all us boarding students preoccupied so we wouldn’t be bouncing off the walls with the excitement of our families’ arrivals, we all filed out the drive-up area to await the first arrivals. I had in my mind the perfect picture of what to expect, so as each vehicle arrived, I craned my neck to see my mom’s long arm waving out the window and Alex’s goofy grin peering out from her lap. But the cars came, parents claimed their clamoring kids, and my picture-perfect arrival still had not appeared. Finally, a lady I recognized as the mom of some friends who lived fairly near us went over to our Dorm Mother and said something to her, gesturing in our direction. She then came and told us to go ahead and get ready for the program–not to keep waiting for our parents there.
I was disappointed, but assumed they would arrive at any moment, so just kept waiting as we practiced our songs. My mental image just altered itself to adjust to a late clamor of hugs and kisses rushed in before the program started . . . but the program came, began, and ended, and they had not arrived. The next morning we were taken to the Cessna, and told we were going to go back to the village by flight after all. This time I imagined the whole family standing there on the airstrip, coming into focus as the plane landed, with eager smiles and waves–still, no. The parents of a classmate took us in their car instead–so of course I changed my expectation once more, this time thinking they were taking us to our house where the family would be, picture-perfect, waiting in front of our little home.
Instead we arrived at their house. Auntie Elaine (according to British habit, all family friends were “Auntie” and “Uncle” to us kids) finished up dinner preparations while we helped set the table. And then, instead of sitting down to dinner, she asked Helen and I to come and sit with her on the couch–”Anna, Helen–I have some really sad news . . . your Daddy went to heaven . . . ” Before the sentence was finished, I had burst into loud sobs, Helen looked at me and started crying, and Auntie Elaine and her daughter were both crying and hugging us.
I don’t remember any mention of the rest of the family at that point–nor did I wonder, as far as I can remember. The rest of the day, of the week, of the month, passed in a sort of a fog, in which my memories are clear but displaced, as if each memory was plucked from its proper place in the continuum of time and placed instead in some never never land of homeless moments.
I remember falling asleep with fitful dreams, waking up convinced I had dreamed reality, and that Daddy would walk in and comfort me any moment. I remember being reunited with my brothers, staring at Alex’s discolored and misshapen head, and carting Ian around carefully in his body cast, propping him up against walls . . . supporting him and holding his modesty blanket over his midsection as he pinned the tail on the donkey at his belated birthday party. I remember visiting Mom there in the Zambian hospital, horrified at the sight of my strong, active, beautiful mother lying there on the stretcher bed unable to move herself. At one point during a visit, the nurse had to turn her over so that she wouldn’t get a bed sore. As she did so, she let go of the sheet and mom was briefly exposed to us all in the room. I didn’t know whether to blush, sob, or scream–I wanted to just run away, to disappear forever into the endless, dreadfully beautiful African wilderness. I hated seeing mom like that, and dreaded the visits . . . and I hated myself for feeling that way, thinking there must be something wrong with me if I didn’t want to see my mother . . .
Somehow, time passed. My Daddy’s funeral passed in a blur of friends, strangers, languages I didn’t know, and wails I knew only too well. As soon as mom was strong enough to be transported, we were shipped to the U.S., where hospitalization and then physical rehab came for her. I hid in my books–in beautiful worlds of fantasy–to the extent that my grandmother still teases me for always having my “nose stuck in a book” as a child.
And eventually Mom was well enough to take over the care of the 4 of us again. I still don’t know for the life of me how she did it–a paraplegic supporting and caring for a home of her own and 4 not-always-angelic children. She did it well . . . she loved us well.
On this day, as a child, Mom beautifully commemorated the anniversary. She would buy what looked to me like hundreds of helium-filled balloons, bringing them home so that the house was bursting with balloons. Then she tied note cards to the string of each one, and told us to write notes on them–as many as we wanted, and whatever we wanted to say to a stranger. I remember writing things like “Jesus loves me this I know . . .” and “My Daddy died on this day, and he is now in heaven with God, because he loved God. I do too.” I wrote silly notes, but meaningful ones, longing, in all my childhood intensity, to somehow tell the world that I had a great Daddy, and that some day I would see him again.
I still catch myself, when I am still enough to listen to the deeper desires of my heart, craving moments of remembrance of my Daddy, and eagerly clasping to memory any tidbits about him that people from his past may be able to share with me. And thankfully my own mind clamped down firmly on all the memories I had of my times with him, out of a personal need for them and, I suspect, out of a nagging suspicion that someday, somehow, there would be a greater use for, outlet for, it all.
November 27, 2008
In honor of this oh-so-momentous occasion, here is an appropriately themed story written by one of my students. The assignment was to invent an interesting birthday party account, and this was Ntshenisi’s tale:
. . . During the party an interesting thing happened. I saw a hot dog and daddy’s guitar dancing together. I looked closely to see, but I saw the same thing. I went to call Miss J. She saw a banana and an apple dancing together. She tried to see who was dancing closely but she failed.
She said her magic words. This is how they sound. Akabo bo zorbopo Aka bra kaka wizojo yo lagobrak. These words were hard to say.
She went to get Miss A.. Miss A saw an elephant dancing with an ant! She looked closely too, then she started to act like a monkey. I told her to stop and she did.
I forgot that it was my birthday. My brother also guessed who was dancing. Since he liked cars and dinors, he said a hot wheeler which is a car was dancing with a dinors. I gave him a slap. Miss J, Miss A, my brother, and I went to call the professor. He said it was just mom and daddy dancing.
I saw closely and it was!
November 26, 2008
This morning we held the end-of-term piano recitals, and I was terribly impressed–not simply by how well the students did, but also by how each one so properly introduced themselves and the piece they were playing . . . along with the nice touch of a slight bow. Beautiful Womba had a special touch, as she included a second piece that she had composed: a truly lovely piece, entitled “Long Night,” that she was playing as I took this photo.
November 24, 2008
It has been a rather delightful weekend all around. And since it was my off weekend, when I was not officially on supervision duty, I was able to spend a portion of my Sunday visiting a nearby orphanage. One highlight from this visit was the tortoise “tour”: the orphans have been given a number of tortoises recently [once the villagers realized they enjoyed them, each new finding has been happily passed along to add to the brood], so the children have been enjoying learning how to care for them. After Chimwemwe had been holding this one for a moment, she turned him upside down and then peered with confusion at the large pink “tail” that he was displaying . . . which, incidentally, was quite a surprising sight to the orphanage Mum and to me as well :-)
November 21, 2008
As I plopped on the grass next to Jill, she lifted her head and we chatted a bit about the day’s classes and our evening plans. When she asked if I’d gotten any good photos of the kids’ football match, I smiled and told her that I had gotten a lovely one: it so happened that as I walked up to the game I had spotted a picture-perfect teacher, beautiful as she wound down from the day, sprawled out on her chitenge . . . :-)
November 18, 2008
It may not be the most perfect of flowers: rain-battered and rather on the small side . . . but I dare say, it is about the loveliest of blooms to me. For it is the first orchid I have ever had growing in my own garden. And so I have been stealing glances and gazes, since discovering it yesterday, amazed at the wildness of this most intricate and stunning of horticultural delights.
November 16, 2008
A portion of our lunch table conversation included a query as to what our Saturday night movie was going to be. Happy to display his knowledgeability in the topic, Yowano informed us all that is was to be “Fiddler on the Roof.” Up to this point absorbed in pre-forming her nshima into perfectly bite-size portions, 5-year old Naomi now looked up from her plate to inquire as to who exactly was playing football on the roof?
November 10, 2008
Part of today’s half-term celebration included a “football” match against a local team. Never having been a great fan of the game, I wasn’t terribly engrossed in the match itself. I did, however, quite enjoy capturing a few of the bystanders, such as this young woman, with her piercingly lovely gaze.
November 9, 2008
In my Grade 4 Literature class, my students have been working on different genres of story writing. This week they turned in the last story I had assigned—this one a short fiction project: it was to be a continuation of the beginning few sentences that I had provided for them [shown here in italics]. As I have been terribly proud of their work, I thought I would share with you one of their stories. Here is Tali’s fine compostion:Once last month, when I was camping with my family, my dad decided we should go for a hike. So we all left. Suddenly, behind a tree…
I saw a wolf! It was huge! I froze. I stared at the wolf and the wolf stared at me. Then I realized that I was alone! Suddenly the wolf came towards me! It came and licked my hands! I stepped back. It also stepped back. I stuck out my tongue. It too stuck out it’s tongue. So I walked home, my dad would shoot it. So I stayed in the woods that night. The next day I tied the wolf to a tree and left for home. When I got home I asked Dad if he would shoot a wolf, (a very tame wolf) if I brought it home. So he said he would go and see the village council and ask them if we were to shoot wolves. I f they said “Yes, you may shoot wolves,” then yes, he would shoot it. If they said “No,” well, no he wouldn’t shoot it. So off he went to the village council. In the end they said no. So my wolf was safe. When he came back he found my wolf on the porch! What a surprise!
Then I remembered that when I was 4, I had a pet wolf puppy! And, it had ran away! So I realized this huge wolf was now my pet. But loads of people would try to shoot him. So it was my duty to protect him.
November 6, 2008
The rains have come. And in a place where we are so close to, and dependent upon, the elements, it is interesting to watch the ways that life adapts as the weather changes.
As I headed to class yesterday, encumbered by my own shields: the umbrella, raincoat, and warm jacket, I was stopped by a sight that made me smile. Instead of continuing on my way, I went back for my camera . . . and so captured young James as he, accompanying his father to work, focused on his own tasks at hand :-)