November 30, 2011
So here we are again, on that day each year in which I commemorate the occasion with the post of the story of this event so pivotal in the lives of my family members. Last year this day found me there, at the place where all this occurred. This year finds me in a vastly different place: in a “land of extremes,” as the land reminds me with regularity. Once more I am in a different country, on a different continent, experiencing the newness of it all. So from here, with this current set of eyes my perspective has given me, I offer you once more “this day”:
On this day
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 25, 2011
I said it jokingly . . . and thought at the time even that I was joking. But the truth is that I was quite serious: going around the Thanksgiving table yesterday, we told of things we were thankful for. I said something along the lines of being grateful that my teammates allowed me to play in our morning flag football game even though I had a tendency to run in the wrong direction . . .
I am no real athlete, in the sense of being completive against others in any given game. So I always appreciate it when more accomplished folks are patient with my lightly-skilled self.
But after joking about it yesterday, I realized that, in fact, I was seriously grateful for the activity as well. Here where I live it is a rare privilege–a joy to savour–when women are allowed to compete like this; and in our case, against men, no less! So on this Thanksgiving day we [I believe I can truthfully enough speak for us all] enjoyed every minute of the dust and dirt, the bumps and bruises, the tags and tackles . . . and the time out to just forget all the seriousness of life as we know it and just have some football fun :-)
November 23, 2011
Lord of all, to Thee we raise, this our hymn of grateful praise . . .”
I am grateful. Grateful for the life of privilege I so easily forget that I have. Grateful for the privilege of freedom to choose. Freedom. How easily I forget that I have freedom, in this life of security concerns and restrictions. But truthfully, I am here because I choose to be. How privileged I am to be able to make such a choice!
That truth hit me hard today, as I taught my Grade 7 class. They were giving speeches today, introducing themselves. And once again, as I so often do, I was caught up with my daily stresses and my list of things to get done, of work yet to do. But as I listened to them talk, I was humbled, and I was cut short in my mental to-do list.
One of my “trouble makers” was speaking when it happened. He began light-heartedly enough. But as he spoke, we all got more quiet, more reflective—even the rowdiest amongst a notoriously rowdy group of adolescents. He spoke of his family’s evacuation from their home country, when the t@lib@n invaded, and rockets demolished their home. As people in the neighborhood died, and tried to escape, his family climbed into a bus that was passing. 10 days and 10 nights they spent on this bus, making their way through the country, sleeping in mountains and gardens as they went. As he described it, “We went through very bad days that time.” So it was that his family arrived here, where they make their home now. It was no easy transition. They had little food, so that one time, when he was two years old, he described eating 11 bananas at once because a relative had brought them over and he was so hungry that he ate them all at once . . .
I listened to this student today, and to others in my class, and I was reminded of all the freedom I enjoy, even when it does not feel like my daily life includes any semblance of such a thing. But I do have great freedom. So here now—in this place, and in this season—I watch the leaves change colour and the snow cover the mountaintops—and I give thanks.
November 18, 2011
So it’s a Sunday afternoon. Or maybe it’s a Friday. Ok, so maybe it’s both. It’s our Sunday which, for much of the rest of the world, is a Friday. Or maybe it’s our Friday, and everyone else’s Sunday?
I think I should stop now, while I’m behind . . .
All that to say, we here at the school are winding down from our not-quite-normal week in our not-quite-normal homeland, readying for another not-quite-normal week. And when I had wearied myself with my tasks at hand, I set out for a bit of a mental distraction walk, camera in hand. Passing the Grade One classroom, I greeted the teacher inside and was given a “Hey!” in return.
“Have you seen my classroom?” she asked?
Today, you mean? I queried.
No, then, I haven’t.
“Take a look!” she invited.
I stepped in, expecting to see some grand new display by her super-talented, super-teacher self. And I laughed. What I saw instead was a mad explosion of papers, files, worksheets, and knick knacks.
“My room exploded!” she told me.
Spontaneous explosion?, I wondered. Well, no. She admitted that she had, in fact, exploded her classroom. I guess this is what happens when teachers don’t leave school . . . quite literally, in our case :-)
All things considered, camera in hand, what could I possibly do but take a new foot photo?
November 15, 2011
I’ve never been one of those end-times sorts of people . . .
A few weeks ago in my ladies’ small group, I made a comment along those lines. Never say never. Last night in the same group I found myself musing on end-times and apocalyptic themes, realizing as I spoke the extent to which my mind has been heading in such directions lately. It must be some combination of a week away from my current home, in the warmth, of the current need to start making future decisions, and of my present situation in a home of constant political instability, with an immediate and looming threat. This combination has me musing on the fragility of the lives we hold so tightly to, yet often so flippantly. If this is it [and it is], and if we have this one day, this one moment, to do this thing we call a life [and we do], then what will we do with this one “it,” this one day, this one moment?
This morning, in the sunrise moments I snagged before the day began, I found myself wanting to capture the visuals, once more, around me. Perhaps it was a need to document the fact that I am here, back “home” and back to work. Perhaps it is the beauty [stark and undesirable though I may sometimes find it], that the changing seasons bring. And perhaps it is simply because I have been rather obsessed with photo-taking these days. Whatever it is, here it is :-) Sunrise once more, here in Central Asia.
November 10, 2011
One last night before returning to K-town. One more desert sunset. One more evening of freedom to walk. And as we did so, after watching the sky and wondering out loud about “what that sky is going to do,” I saw this. Out came my camera, and a single click of the shutter turned into this glimpse of glory. Am I ready to go back now? No. Not really. But I trust that the one able to invent such a sky is also able, and willing, to give the strength I lack.
November 9, 2011
November 5, 2011
After a couple days visiting this place, for holiday, I find my senses reeling with the shock of it: culture shock, I guess you would call it. “Extremes”-shock is the way I feel it. I live in one land of extremes; I am visiting another sort of extreme. This place reeks of wealth. Lexuses and Mercedes zip along on vehicle-only roads: perfectly paved, but no sidewalks to be found. Gesturing hands flash bling, in the form or Rolex watches and Tiffany rings. Shopping centers hop till early morning hours, top-name brand store signs gleaming, beckoning.
“Is there any poverty here?” I asked at one point. Pausing, my friend hesitantly replied, “Well, yeah, I think so . . .”
Coming from my “home”-land of extremes, I find this particular one surprisingly hard to digest. It’s just too much. Too much of everything. Of everything except one thing. Except one being. Not too much of Him. Not enough . . .