November 30, 2010
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, during my childhood, 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 26, 2010
I was, I fear, a rather poor disciplinarian today. Is it because of the nature of a Friday afternoon? Or because I was aware of the decidedly not-in-session nature of my U.S.-located counterparts on this “black Friday?’ Maybe I’m grasping a bit for excuses . . .
At any rate, what happened today is linked to yesterday’s outing, so perhaps I should first tell if that:
After months of awaiting the necessary paperwork and legal processes, yesterday we were able to take some of our students to one of the country’s largest copper mines. It was a fascinating day of observing such awe-inspiring sights as the great open pits peppered with birds-eye views of giant, high-powered machinery. And the smelting plant, producing glowing streams of molten metal. As educators, we left the place well aware of what a privilege it was to get to share such an experience with our students.
Back to today . . .
This being near the end of term, I have asked the students to begin returning their library books. Today the two boys in my extra help group were sent back to the library, by their classroom teacher, for a “penance” search, after returning a book without its card. So I gave the two some work to do for me—simply, straightening tasks. One of them diligently went about the work. The other did not. Instead, he lay sprawled on the floor with a book, periodically obeying my request that he get back to work, but only long enough to stand up, find another book of interest, and return to his prone position. Finally I stood over him, hands on my hips, and sternly berated him [while inwardly pleased that he was apparently enjoying the books so much :-)]. He didn’t miss a beat, promptly bemoaning that, “Ah, but Miss, I’m tired—I worked hard in the mines yesterday!”
I had just enough restraint to excuse myself to the office, where I could safely laugh as I relayed the comment to coworkers there.
November 21, 2010
This being a Sunday afternoon, we have all been enjoying a bit of down time. My own morning was filled with a service combining iciBemba and kiKaonde music, greetings, and lessons [and of course the dancing that goes along with said music]. Once back, during a brief interlude between the rains, Christine and I went for a customary walk. Not quite so customary, however, was what we brought home with us from our walk: we intersected one of the dorm students, just back from a weekend away with her parents. They live in a neighboring country, in fact, and have just made it for their first visit in months. So Katendi and Illunga have just spend a long-awaited few days with their parents. Katendi was, as one might expect, both excited from the time spent with them and saddened by the goodbye. But I think her entrance into the dorm was a gratifying one: Christine and I announced her return loudly as we walked in, calling out, “Look what we have here folks!” As we did so, one of her dorm friends ran towards us, leaping into a gleeful, dancing hug that Christine and I watched with amusment :-)
Here we are on the road, Christine and Katendi, as we approached the dorm . . .
November 18, 2010
It has been a wild week, to say the least. WIth the added work responsibilities here at the school, I find myself battling the busy-ness in a desperate attempt to still focus on the significance of each small moment. In that spirit, I share this photo. One night each week, the upper school girls in the dorm have taken the initiative to lead a time of music and reflection. The music is an amazing display of talent, with glorious a cappella harmonies combined with the rhythm of local dialects and dances that carry us all along in lose-oneself timelessness. But I already knew I was amazed by their musical gifts.
What is new in my awe these past few weeks comes from observing the depth of insight that these young women have managed to cultivate in such relative youth. This week, for instance, they decided to invite the younger dorm students for a skit that they had invented–a call to resist follow-the-crown influences, and an encouragement to be true to the person each of them has been divinely created to be. But all was not pure seriousness: we all were in hysterics as the performers pranced into the lounge in costumes that included heels I would have been unable to stand up straight in, never mind dance in [yes, they did!]. So here for you now–a glimpse of one of the lovely ladies, in all her footwear finery :-)
November 12, 2010
Just before the dinner bell rang tonight, I saw two little blond-headed little ones traipse past the dorm. I knew who they were, as they tended to roam campus on weekend afternoons, while their staff-member parents played tennis. And I have often wanted to photograph their picture-perfect cuteness, especially when they are wandering around hand in hand. So I got my camera after seeing them pass, and followed their path. When I found them, I found that they had stumbled upon two of the dorm girls. The resulting photo op was, I thought, just as perfect :-)
November 4, 2010
For some time now [in my long & illustrious career as a swim instructor :-)], I have wanted my camera each time the primary beginners do what we call the “star float.” It just begs to be captured, in its aesthetic brilliance of childhood loveliness. But of course, in the day to day routine, carting along a camera [never mind taking it out at opportune times] just does not often happen. But this morning I was determined to make the photo op happen. So I lugged my camera bag onto the swim bus, annoying my fellow instructor I suspect, by slowing down the procession of children . . . Here it is, then, in all its watery glory: the Star Float :-)