traveling mercies

April 12, 2011

As we neared the airport, my taxi driver asked me to pray for him.  “I would like to grow more spiritually like you,” he explained.  A bit surprised by this, considering my current state of not-feeling-very-spiritual nerves, I asked him what made him ask me that.  Maluleke shrugged and simply replied that he could see I lived by faith.  I said so long to him, saying perhaps I would see him next time I passed through, and gave him the last Rand I had to my name.  Ok God, here I am, living by faith.  I breathed out my prayer and headed back for day 2 of an attempt to get a standby flight.  Last night there was no seat for me.  So, as I knew I may need to do, I had booked a room at a guesthouse, to return the same time the next night and try again.  But what I had not known was that my credit cards would be denied at the South African ATM machines; I had been accustomed to having them work just fine for me in Zambia.  More my own fault was the fact that I was low on back-up cash for currency exchange.  So the day I spent at the guesthouse was in part spent trying to figure out how to pay both the guesthouse and the taxi.  Thanks to the kind flexibility of the guesthouse managers, I was able to get the payments done.  But it was so close that I had not even enough remaining to make a phone call at the airport.  I simply had to make it on this flight.

While the boarding commenced I tried not to pay too much attention to the discouraging looks on the attendants’ faces.  But finally, one looked directly at me and shook her head. “I’m sorry,” she said, “we are not taking anyone else tonight.” I stood there, stunned, for a bit, and I lingered, half expecting her to change her mind.  Then I slowly made my way over to the counter.  God, what are you doing? I prayed.  I don’t understand . . . I don’t know what to do now . . .

As I re-listed for the next day, I could no longer keep my composure, and I started to cry.  An older lady questioned me, concerned, and I just cried harder in my humiliation instead of answering her properly.  I did manage to blubber out a few comments about needing to find a place to stay.

Then a middle-aged gentleman walked over to me and said, “Excuse me, Ma’am?  I know you don’t know me from Adam but, well, I’ve been trying to listen to the Lord’s leading . . . I’m waiting standby as well, and am about to go spend the night with a missionary couple here in Johannesburg—you are welcome to come join me if you like.”

I stared at him, taken aback by his easy kindness, in such an unkind-to-strangers sort of city.  And then, still crying, I said that I was beyond the point of doing anything but just accept.

Later, as we waited for our hosts to arrive, I learned that this man was a short-term missionary, trying to get back home now.  When he mentioned that the couple coming for us had been in Zambia before coming here, I became more inquisitive. Then he said the name of the same mission board my own family was with . . .

A few minutes later I was introduced, and greeted with a hug rather than a handshake: “Oh, I knew your father—yes, I knew him well!  And your mother: is she well?”

We had an evening, the four of us, of reminiscing, and of “You remember so-and-so?” sorts of comments.

This morning I thought of how we were a bit of a motley crew there at the breakfast table: one couple spending their first night in a temporary home, hosting two stranded passengers.  But a happy motley crew J

Tonight we try again to get on that flight.  Praying to get the flight . . . but trusting that, if not, all shall be well all the same.



so it goes

April 9, 2011

Goodbyes are strange affairs. Strange to me in part because I feel so ungainly and awkward about them, either rushing through them in a stiltedly stoic fashion or blubbering through a weepy mess of sobs and sniffles. I’m just no good at them—incapable of going about it in an appropriately sad, yet graceful, manner.
Today I leave my workplace, my home . . . my life of eight months. And I am once more forced to confront this handicap.
There was a rush of busying about the library, hurrying to finish up the tidyings and projects that I had started, and that I had to complete in order to leave with peace of mind. There were classes to teach, even right as we finished that final day of term [it has, for me, always felt rather forced to try to carry on with normal lessons when dorm rooms are packed up and parent cars are waiting outside for pick-ups . . .]
There was a closing assembly: an Easter-themed service which included a farewell presentation.
And there was a going away party last night, after I had reasonably well taken care of packing business.
Today I am in the road, one last Zambian bus adventure before beginning the flights tomorrow. And I have spent a portion of the ride reading the book the students put together for me, with each class contributing a page of individual comments or signatures. Some made me sad. Many made me laugh, as a surprisingly large number of students felt obliged to mention singing or dancing in their memories of meI think my favorite came from one of the boys who remembered when I had taken over as football coach for the day, back in January. Muso wrote, “I will remember you doing football and making us run round the track.”
Enough said, I suppose ☺
This photo shows a couple of those completed library projects, as I show off my finished, “published” manual, along with the mock check-out of a catalogued book . . .


March 31, 2011

It was a sobering moment.  A time when a simple act of daily decision-making was so much more than what was apparent.

What was apparent was an active child–one who has the normal tumbles, scrapes, and bumps.

What was apparent was a group of swimmers, ready to hop in for lessons.

What was apparent was the need for a sorry but firm decision that he would not be able to join the lesson today . . .

One of my swimmers came to the lesson this morning shortly after taking a tumble on the playground, bumping his head.  I had been told to watch and make sure he felt ok, so I did.  Then, before having them enter the water, I noticed a small, bleeding scratch.  I wished I could just react as if it were any active youngster; but instead I could not help but feel a wave of decision-making worries.  So today he had to sit out.  And when he was told he cried.

He cried the innocent tears of a child who just wants to join in with his classmates.  The simple tears of disappointment over not getting to swim on a hot, sunny day.

And he has no idea how deep the well of weeping could be for his young life. Would that this well could stay untapped, could never have to be drawn . . .


tis the season?

March 27, 2011

The last time I made the trek to the lake was during the dry season.  So when I suggested it as the destination for this afternoon’s bike ride, I did not realize I was getting us into quite such an arduous journey: what with the shoulder-high grasses and the trenches of mud, and the flies that tend to swarm around eyes, nose, and mouth, we felt like we had completed a bit of an obstacle course by the time we returned.  But it was worth the trip to find the peaceful little oasis of a lake that I remembered.

Next time, however, I think I might not wear blue jeans; you can take my word for it that the experience of ants in your pants is one that you can live without . . . and these are no friendly ants, to be sure!  The ants that we live with are a fearsome lot, prone to mass, fire-biting attacks: beware the ants of Africa :-)


barely bow’d

March 26, 2011

I guess I deserved it.  This afternoon I lost a moment, committing a bit of a cardinal sin, photographically speaking.  Just coming home, I was watching the rainfall and looking for sunspots coming through–I knew it was prime rainbow weather.  So I stepped outside and, sure enough, saw a strangely shaped, lovely arc right in front of me.  I walked back in to fetch my camera, set a chair on the porch to get a better view, and stood on it.  Then I saw the little ones I had spent the weekend with playing across the field, and I called to them.  When they didn’t hear me I grabbed my umbrella and started to walk over, with the thought that I would get them in the photo as well.  But then I realized I had not snapped a “backup” photo to be sure to capture the rainbow before it dissipated; sure enough, in those short moments, it had faded away.  So here is the remnant–if you peer real close [that’s some good Southern vernacular for you!], you can see the low arch of it . . . I promise, it’s there :-)


survival shots

March 19, 2011

So I’ve spent a week “surviving,” as one of 3 chaperoning teachers for 30 grade 10, 11, and 12 students at a survival camp. It has actually been a truly wonderful time for me, and a time of pride as I’ve seen the ways these young men and women can rally together and support each other through challenges.

Incidentally, I have a fair number of photos taken over the course of the week. But since my last post here included a shot of a homemade slingshot, I ended up deciding upon this photo to represent the week . . . after enjoying the sight of young slingshot bearers, this time I got to try my hand at it. It came as no great surprise to me to find the students displaying a good deal more sharpshooting talents than I did :-)


I passed these two while on my usual Saturday afternoon stroll to the pool.  They looked to happily chummy that I couldn’t help risking the photo.  I should perhaps explain that there is a good reason for me to use the word “risk” here: this was actually my second attempt at a photo during this walk.  The first did not go so well.  I have grown so accustomed to eager photo-posers that it did not occur to me to encounter anything else.  So when I spotted a youngster wheeling around an ingenious homemade toy, I happily pulled out my camera.  If you can picture those wooden-wheeled creatures that toddlers pull around with a string then you have the general idea.  This one, however, was made from 2 plastic juice containers fitted together on top of reused wheels . . . very worth documenting.  But when this one saw me with my camera, he took off in a very impressive sprint.  I was quite perplexed, actually, and stood there for a few moments, camera in hand, watching him and wondering if I should take it personally.

Thankfully, these two fellows came along shortly to appease my camera-happy self.  And if you look closely in the left boy’s hand, you will see another hand-made sort of a toy–one I remember well from my own childhood: it is a slingshot, that he was putting to good use as he walked, periodically grabbing a few pebbles from the road to toss out at creatures on land and in the air . . .


As I approached the school dorm this afternoon, I saw one of the girls plopped on the patio, engrossed in her work.  Coming closer, I had instant happy childhood memories of all the time I spent doing the same sort of project: a simply mud mixture, with our red Zambian dirt, is perfect for instant clay.  An easy molding material that lends itself towards lovely creaturely creations, as is so finely modeled here :-)


clean dirt?

March 4, 2011

This afternoon we held a Mud Race after school ended: a combination fun event and fundraiser.  Some of us [unnamed] staff were cajoled into participating . . . some even displayed odd forms of spirit such as “I love mud” tattoes.  I dare say, our red Zambian dirt makes mighty fine mud.  A good time was had by all and, as one spectator parent announced afterwards, it was “good, dirty fun” :-)


a heaven box

February 26, 2011

The thought of it was such a stunningly lovely one, even in its simplicity, that I smiled as I listened to her.  And when she had finished the thought, I warned her, “Jill, my dear, I’m afraid I’m going to just have to steal your idea.”  She kindly granted me permission to do so.

While walking one of our old routes, from when I had seen her last, just over two years ago, we were talking of our current struggles.  What she had been saying was that any time a particular longing or hurt just felt like too much to bear, she would picture herself packaging up that pain and putting it into her “heaven box.”  Knowing that life can be made up of so many things beyond us—things out of our control—it came as an assurance to Jill to rest in the knowledge that even if there will be no “solution,” or fulfillment, to a particular wish in this life, it will be fulfilled some day, when all is righted in the world . . . in our lives.

And this struck a beautiful chord in my own heart.  For the loss of hope is something I cannot bear.  But anticipation is something I am quite capable of—waiting, in expectation, is enough to sustain me through even the longest stretches of burden: those times when you just carry on in doing the work set before you in a determined, one-step-at-a-time sort of fashion,

So this morning, as I stood on the airstrip and hugged her goodbye [before yet another Zambian voyage], knowing that I may not see her again in the foreseeable future, I set that sadness aside and placed it into my own little “heaven box.”

This photo is one I snapped while we were on that walk.  It seemed fitting.