What I learned about waiting from Africans

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Contentedness / Cross Cultural / Tanzania / Time / Traveling
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Waiting is a skill that you learn through practice.   Perhaps there are some people who are naturally good at it, naturally patient, but most aren’t. There is probably no group of people on the planet less likely to be good at waiting than Americans.  We are programmed early on to fill every possible moment with stimulation, and reduce to a bare minimum anything we can term “waste of time.” Produce, create, entertain, achieve, at the very least blather on about nothing to someone.  Pure unadulterated waiting is to be avoided at all costs; we hate it.

Not Africans. Waiting is a way of life.  They do not resist.  They do not flail and shout, tap their foot, check their phone or watch. (Yes, many Africans have phones, mostly unsmart ones.) They do not turn to another person to complain about this waste of their precious time. They just sit or stand, impassive, resigned, accepting. You see it in the smallest of children, who require no entertainment. On any given day you see hundreds of adults standing, waiting on a bus, waiting in a line, waiting for something, or frequently waiting for nothing.

African children may wait with such impassivity because they are ill or malnourished, or because they are hopeless. Many adults are unaccustomed to a schedule of activity and productivity, they also may be weary and not well fed themselves.

All this I see and understand.  But there is a peaceful acceptance of the inevitability of waiting that I envy.  There is a lack of insistence that my priorities be accommodated immediately. When people find out something has to be postponed, or the electricity has gone out and there’s nothing to do right now, it seems perfectly okay.  I’ll just wait.

I want to learn to wait upon the Lord. This is a waiting that is peaceful, expectant, hopeful, without striving and without continuing to try to solve the Rubik’s cube in my brain. It is patient, without checking the clock to say, “Oh Lord, how long??” And it is inevitable because I am really not in control though my lists and calendar may try to convince me to the contrary.

“Wait with hope for the LORD. Be strong, and let your heart be courageous. Yes, wait with hope for the LORD.”Psalm 27:14

Good Morning Tanzania

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Cross cultural ministry

image This is our morning view over Lake Tanganyika from the tiny guest cottage that is our home for two weeks. At all times of the day we can hear a myriad of insects and birds, and when the dog barks in the evening, it means that there are zebras feeding close by beyond the homemade brick walls.

Life is much simpler here for us, especially today since a thunderstorm knocked out the electricity, and the wifi modem got fried by a storm last week. We can sometimes get wifi at the Kneppers’ house, so have had a bit of communication with the outside world, but not much. We basically have no idea what’s happening out there. Hopefully, if there were important news, it would find a way here. They say ignorance is bliss. If not bliss, there is certainly more focus and peace, at least for us in our limited role.

  I have been welcomed into the Hope of the Nations Primary School to do health exams on 135 children, many of whom are orphans and have never seen a doctor, and are a bit terrified of me. They speak so softly that to do vision screening I have to hug them to my side to hear them read the letters on the chart. Sadly, in this region of over 2 million, there is no optician, so I have no glasses to offer those who need them, only a seat closer to the blackboard.

Two afternoons I’ve met with groups of women in the nearby ancient village of Ujiji (where Stanley found Livingston). My friend Happiness and I took a bajaji (open taxi on a motorcycle) about five miles on a paved road and then off into a maze of rutted dirt roads. After alighting we walked down a trail that ran into the trees, dotted with tiny homes. Soon 20 unwed teen moms with their babies gathered, along with whoever else was walking by and stopped to see what a mzungu (foreigner) was doing in their village. We sat out under a tree, a tarp covering the hard red earth, next to the mud brick house of our hostess. Happiness encouraged them from the Bible, then I answered questions about mothering, birth, and breastfeeding. One mom wanted to know if she should still breastfeed her one year old if she is pregnant with another baby and she eats only 1 meal a day. Their situation is quite heartbreaking. The fact that I will go back tonight and write about this on the internet is almost too much to take in.

Today I got together with Phoebe and Livita, one pregnant with her fifth baby and the other wi2-month-oldh old.  Over passion fruit juice and homemade doughnuts, we talked as mamas do, about baby care, pregnancy fears, breastfeeding and diapering. Meanwhile baby Daniel cooed and wiggled in my lap. 

  Karibu is the word I hear most often in Tanzania, it means “Welcome” and also “Feel at home”. What a privilege it is to feel right at home here.

Contentedness and the Cat

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Cats / Contentedness

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My cat is completely contented about 98% of the time.  My cat does nothing.  Zelda (blame my son for the name) literally sits and stares, grooms her nether regions, sleeps, eats, and starts all over again.  She has no concern about productivity, what anyone thinks of her, or what will happen tomorrow.  Zelda does not brood with resentment over our leaving her last week for 6 days or the time I accidentally stepped on her.  She lives totally in the present and is totally at peace.  Except when that naughty orange cat from next door shows up in Zelda’s own backyard; that warrants wrathful hissing for a minute or two, then return to serenity.

Zelda loves my company.  She sits on my desk or the table beside me, follows me around the yard when I am planting or weeding, and loves most of all to curl up on my lap in the evening preferably with a roaring fire.  She is unperturbed when I dump her off my lap to get up, and merely returns a few minutes later, all forgiven.

Zelda has no expectations.

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So, do I want to be like my cat?  Yes and no. I do want to be peaceful with doing nothing, just contemplating the world and all that God has made.  I do wish I didn’t worry about yesterday, today or tomorrow. That sounds nice. I do want to forgive freely because why not? What is the possible use of not forgiving?  We find forgiveness difficult because we expected we would be treated better.  My sweet cat is not burdened with entitlement. I think I could learn a thing or two.

Most of all I want her contentedness.  She’s perfectly okay with being a cat.  It never occurred to her to be anything else.  That sounds about right too.

But, God did not make me a cat, he made me myself.  So, I get to do a lot more than a cat does.  I get to have greater adventures, challenges, relationships, love, and also pain, disappointment, and sorrow.  So contentment is a bit more challenging for me as a human.

Good thing I have Zelda around to remind me.

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Easter Thoughts

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Easter / If Gathering

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Ever since the If Gathering last month, I’ve enjoyed following along with If Equip, a short daily Bible reading with about a 2-minute video commentary.  Last week the series on Easter began, and it’s been thought provoking.

I have been a Christian for many years and would have said I know the Easter story well, but there have been some points I am seeing for the first time, or in new ways.

I was moved reading Mark 14:43-52, the scene in the Garden of Gethsemane where Judas kisses Jesus to identify him to the Roman soldiers.  I thought of the depth to which Christ entered into being human in that he was a victim of betrayal.  The act of betrayal can only happen in a relationship of trust and intimacy.  It is one of the elements of our humanity that is uniquely painful and awful.  If someone you know only slightly or not at all cruelly reveals you, then you think that person is a jerk, but you probably do not feel stabbed in the back.  We wound most deeply only those with whom we are in a loving relationship.  And only humans have this capacity to hurt one another to this extent. Jesus chose the walk of obedience to the Father through the path of betrayal. The crucifixion could not have happened without betrayal.  This helps me to understand more deeply the cross, and what it cost. It also gives me insight into the relatively slight betrayals I have experienced.

In the next section, Mark 14:53-65, Jesus is being questioned by the High Priest and others.  They are trying to get evidence against him so they can put him to death, but all the witnesses are contradicting each other. Unable to make a case against him, the High Priest turns to Jesus and challenges him to defend himself.  Jesus is silent.  Then, the priest asks,  “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” and Jesus says, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”

In the face of a failing case against him, Jesus himself provides the damning evidence. He does this since his mission is not to save himself, but to save us.

My prayer is, Lord, let these true things sink into my soul so I never forget, and make my heart ring with love and joy.

Hallelujah, Happy Easter.

Missionary Nurse in Africa for a Day

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Cameroon

Today I am sharing an account of a few days in a two week trip to Cameroon, W Africa a few years ago.  This part was the fulfillment of a childhood dream to be a missionary nurse in Africa, if only for a couple of days!

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Africa……..the dark continent, so they say. I had little idea what to expect as the plane neared our destination. The sight of the seemingly endless Sahara Desert from the air, the sand beautifully patterned from the wind, was truly awesome in its expanse. Our Swissair flight took us from a memorable 2-day rest in Paris, via Zurich and Malabo, Equatorial Guinea to the large coastal city of Douala in Cameroon, W Africa. Our purpose was to spend two weeks encouraging and counseling the amazing people who were serving as missionaries there. Flying in at night we began to see differences already as the country was almost completely dark until we got near the airport.

Arrival by plane into a third world country is always an experience in flexibility. Hot and tired from the 10-hour flight, we meandered down long open-air ramps leading to the luggage area, feeling very white, and showing our papers about a dozen times. If we hadn’t had proof of yellow fever immunization, there were people prepared to shoot us up on the spot for a price. The luggage area was a veritable sea of humanity, with porters in numbered shirts climbing all over the carousels to rescue their patrons’ bags.  It looked chaotic, but seemed to function pretty well!

Finally in the van, luggage all safely arrived by a very prayed for miracle, we sat in the parking lot for an hour while the traffic jam loosened up, then overnighted at a local guest house since travel at night is apparently an invitation to bandits. (BANDITS???? Nobody said anything about bandits……. sounds like the wild west!)  Douala is a city of 2 1/2 million with virtually no traffic lights. Every intersection is a free-for-all. Most vehicles are taxis, which appear even from the outside to be crammed full of people. Apparently, the joke goes,” How many people fit into a Cameroonian taxi?” The answer: “One more!”

The next day was our first of many long car trips to various parts of Anglophone (English-speaking) Cameroon. We were 6 hours en route to Bamenda, stopping for memorable “fast food” about half way, in Kekum.

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We ate some sort of very spicy meat,( I didn’t ask what) on a stick and plantains roasted over coals in a tin can, and local grapefruit flavored soda pop. No restroom being offered, I wandered down a pathway into the brush to make myself more comfortable. As we drove, I really was struck by how Cameroon is very much like you’d expect Africa to look: crowded with people in the villages, (all the women really do carry things on their heads, so ingenious), everything overgrown with vegetation between villages, dusty, smoky, with a very cheerful vibe.

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After a few days in Bamenda, we traveled to Banso Baptist Hospital in Kumba, a mere 3 hours up the road. It’s probably not that far, but by now we were deep inside Cameroon, with roads mostly unpaved and deeply rutted from recent rains, so bumpy is an understatement. The many taxis and vans on the road were not only chock full of people, but had all sorts of things tied on the back and top, including quite a few goats, and even a large, resigned-looking pig.

For myself, I developed a technique for being a car passenger in Cameroon: you hang on to the strap above the door with one hand, brace both feet and the other hand, and try to relax everything in between. It’s better to just let your body go with the motion of the car. I decided to view it as a sort of chiropractic adjustment.  The windows are always open to be sure to let in plenty of bright red dust and dirt, and I finally learned to tie my hair up with a scarf to avoid having it caked in red dust. There are no seat belts, so faith is regularly exercised. We were frequently stopped in the villages by various folks with ropes held across the road, who exchanged vehement words with our driver. We were not informed what was going on, probably all for the best. However, it was a great opportunity for the villagers to thrust through the open windows all sorts of things they wanted us to buy. The bags of fruit I didn’t mind, but the dead monkey and python were a bit much.

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At Kumbo we stayed with Pokey and Laurel Cleek, a surgeon and RN working to train Cameroonians in surgery. In their spare time, the Cleeks love to go out to remote villages and show the Jesus film in the local language, Lamso.  Soon after we arrived at their place, we were invited to join them on one of these adventures. Nine of us piled into their Land Rover, including a Cameroonian pastor who preached after the film. The village was high and deep in the mountains, and as the movie and preaching went on for several hours, it got truly freezing cold. This lady missionary in a cotton skirt and light jacket had chattering teeth; sure didn’t think that would happen in Africa! Fortunately, they had brought out chairs for the pathetically weak white folks, while around 200 villagers stood and watched the film projected on an outside wall. Even with the cold, I had a hard time not falling asleep since it’s tough to pay attention in Lamso! I was praying silently, but that seemed to worsen the soporific effect. Afterward, when I got my teeth under control I had the privilege to pray with several people who knew a little English.

Back in Kumbo, we talked with the Cleeks till nearly 1 am, then got up early for me to go to the hospital with Pokey. He’s helping me get my refresher course requirements for re- licensure as an RN, so I finally get to live out my dream of being a missionary nurse in Africa, even if only for two days!! I went on rounds in the wards with Pokey, and then to a C-section delivery where Steve joined us and Pokey insisted we sing “Happy Birthday” to the new baby.  I was hoping the mother was drugged enough not to realize what we were up to!

After lunch I walked down the stairs lined in lovely tall poinsettias and crossed the street to visit the newly delivered mom. The baby was just waking, and I got to help the mom to breastfeed for the first time. It was gratifying to use some of the skills I’ve recently learned in my lactation course.  I worked in the hospital the next day too, observing a couple more surgeries, and even administering the anesthesia in one. These days were truly a highlight of the trip for me. I loved getting to know the people, and seeing how inventively everything was done. Being in scrubs and a lab coat with a white face, I pretty much had carte blanche and quickly got comfortable cruising around the hospital by myself. The family members of the patients were spread out everywhere on lawns and benches around the hospital and were welcoming and friendly to me. I soon learned to greet them with something like a two-handed wave. The staff at the hospital were delightful, and very helpful to me.

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Death comes often in a place like Cameroon, in spite of the wonderful care at the hospital. Several times during the days I was at the hospital, the cries and wailing of grief-stricken families would pierce the compound through the open windows. Their sorrow was unashamed and unselfconscious, so different from how we grieve in the West. It was always sudden, and really so painful to hear that I found myself tempted to turn my ears and mind away to escape from it. Instead, I tried to just listen and share for a minute the burden of their loss and to think of the moment of death expressed through a heartbroken voice.

Pokey and the other doctors and nurses filled out my required forms and got some fancy government stamps on them. After returning to the States, I sent everything off in the mail with a heartfelt prayer. To my joy, my short but rigorous refresher course in Africa was approved, and I was able to be licensed again! The memories of those few days of revisiting my calling as a medical professional in a setting so different from home will always be with me.

 

 

 

Who is my audience?

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Writing

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For the past several months, I have been taking an online writing course called “Find Your Writing Voice”. I take one night a week off from everything else to work on it, and it’s been enlightening.
One of the first assignments was to write a poem exploring the influences of one’s childhood. Mine is published here.

The present task is to find out a few things from the people who read my writing. If that is you, I wonder if you would mind helping me?

Here are the questions, you can answer any or all, in as great or little depth as you please.

1) How does my message impact you?

2) What questions do you have?

3) Where do you feel most connected to what I say?

For those of you who respond, thank you in advance. I don’t know who reads this blog unless there is a comment or “like”, so am not sure who I’m writing to. But that’s the idea, to find out.

I look forward to your candid comments!

Flaneuring in Northern California

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Woodbridge

Picture of grape vines

Today I am blogging as part of a series on one of my favorite sites: Djbouti Jones.

http://www.djiboutijones.com/2015/02/lets-go-flaneuring-in-northern-california/

Flaneuring is French and means the art of strolling about observing life.   There are essays from all over the world, and I am thrilled to have mine included!  Thanks, Rachel!

Why I write

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Time / Writing

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                                                                                                                            Sunset at Land’s End, San Francisco

Because now I know that I’ve been writing in my head all my life.  I have always had a deep inner push to observe, describe, and experience the details of events and relationships.  When I was about 10 I decided to memorize certain moments so they would not be lost forever.  What a weird kid.  The moments I chose to remember were mostly ordinary, like sitting at my desk waiting to get in line to go home in 4th grade.  I was thinking about the nature of time, and how it passes so quickly. I decided I would never forget that particular moment, so I didn’t.  I guess I was trying hard to hang on to bits of my life.

For many years as a child, I quietly sang Happy Birthday every day I could remember to because I thought then there would at least be one person wishing some lonely person a happy birthday.

Photography and painting are like writing to me, capturing the moment, describing it in detail, remembering, savoring.

I believe the reason we have this deep desire to hold on to the moment in some way is that we are not made for time. We are uncomfortable with time, and if you think about it, we fight the passage of time constantly.  We are made for eternity, so the constraints of time are at the least an annoyance, and sometimes a knife to our soul.  The writer of Ecclesiastes said it well, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart, yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”

I have been told that to write you must read a great deal, and this I love to do. Beautiful apt words thrill my soul. Reading a description that is perfect resonates in my heart and makes me stop to breathe and think. Words are like food to me, I taste them like a wonderful meal filling up my spirit with quiet wholeness.

The right words are also an affirmation that someone else sees the world as I do, feels the same emotions at the same experience. And this is incredibly important to the human heart. It is the kernel of our need for connectedness, this gentle agreement from the written page that we are not alone.

Putting it all away

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Christmas / decoration / January / organization / Singapore / Time

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Crowding my coveted kitchen counter space are two seasonal candles, a headless nutcracker that needs mending, a doll’s dish full of random game pieces and dice, two cans of snow that we are afraid to reconstitute since a protective covering is mentioned in the instructions, a large stack of unopened mail and two small stocking gifts which did  not find their way upstairs to be packed by my 10-year-old granddaughter.

The kids’ play area is covered in pillows, Jenga pieces, ten nutcrackers in various states of repose, a basket of nativity figures, and a manger scene turned over on its side.  The baby Jesus is out in the snow in the miniature village scene, trading places with Minnie and Mickey who are now part of the Nativity. Our droopy Christmas tree looks like the Grinch left it here.

The revolving wheel for my microwave tray is MIA.  Even though it looks a lot like a flying saucer, no small children are ‘fessing up to absconding with it.

In the last two weeks, 7 children under 10 ( 3 of them 2-year-olds) and 8 extra adults have been at my house most of the time,  and for most of the meals!  It has taken a bit of a toll on the house, the refrigerator, and on any sense of order. But boy has it been fun!

Tomorrow the last of the families leave, and normality will eventually return.  Years ago when I was confronted with the chaotic mountains of toys, books, clothing and assorted paraphernalia when our crates were unpacked all over the house on arrival in Singapore, my Malay helper Aminah wisely told me, “Slowly, slowly.”  Simple and very memorable words which have come in amazingly handy so often in my life.

Sometimes January turns out to be my favorite month, which probably betrays my introvert tendencies.  I love to get everything in the house clear and clean, wiped free of distractions.  I like to think, not plan, see what is there, not envision what I must do.  I love that the weather usually forces indoor time.  Here it is often foggy, and I like to wrap the day around me like a warm sweater, enough in its quiet beauty.

So, slowly, slowly, all the mess, decorations, and clutter will disappear into the attic/garage/trashcan.  And amazingly next year the Friday after Thanksgiving, I will open my boxes of Christmas things with joy and anticipation.  What wondrous powers of transformation are available to us humans!

After Christmas

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Christmas

After Christmas

It’s always kind of a letdown.  No matter how “well” everything went, we humans are not meant for this sustained level of intensity and special-ness.  Every meal, dish used (I am in the kitchen a lot), activity, and outfit, all must be different, special, festive, to commemorate the awesomeness of our Savior’s birth.  And it is true that his coming is a wonderful and amazing thing.

But the season never quite lives up emotionally, or even physically.  The wonderful meal gets served a bit late and cold or is burnt, or otherwise didn’t turn out.  The children surely don’t love the variety of dishes and must be coaxed to try just one bite.  People are sometimes grouchy, tired, disappointed, anxious, and so am I.  People talk too much or too little, children didn’t get their naps and are fractious, and it is often not “the most wonderful time of the year”. We want so much to be “up ” all the time at Christmas, but that is not reality.  And let’s face it, that is not Christmas either. We have invented a scenario that is doomed before it begins, and that has nothing at all to do with Christmas.

So today, I want to stop trying to create memories and enjoy what happens.  I want to thank God for his Son this day and every day. I want to eat and serve simply and with love. I want to listen, laugh, bathe small children, read stories, play, and hug my grown children in thankfulness. But I want the forced special-ness to be passed. It was fun, but it’s enough.