14 December 2012


32 years ago today, my mom produced.  She was 26 years old.  It was before malpractice insurance was sky high for obstetricians, before childbirth and parenthood and access to information were what they are now.  But my mom had been around the block.  Not only had she produced (the african version of "given birth to") me 20 months before, but she was working as a Labor and Delivery nurse at the time...so when the nurses told her that the baby she was in labor with had turned since her last appt. the week before (which "they" say never happens) and was presenting in breech position, she knew a few lives were at risk, both hers and the baby's. 

She was less than two miles from home (a 7 min. car drive away according to Google maps - about right from experience) in a teaching hospital, not only with experienced doctors, but a host of doctors in training (residents) and medical students and, of course, nurses.  One of the residents came into the room, intending to deliver my mom's baby, but my mom knew better.  My mom, who is never rude to people she doesn't know and bends over backwards not to appear to be so, said to the "youngster" - "Don't take this personally, but I'm waiting for the attending."  And she did.  Although I'm not sure how long.  I'm also not sure how to spell the Dr.'s name, but from the stories it's pronounced "Toddy."  She knew Dr. Toddy had been around the block too, and she knew that the difference between experience and lack thereof in this situation could be the difference between life and death.

Dr. Toddy came.  The first of the baby to come were the feet.  They were blue.  My dad started to cry.  It wasn't until Dr. Toddy skillfully delivered the rest of the baby boy's body and he began to cry that the tears turned to tears of joy.  They named the 9 lb. 13oz.  bruiser, Jeffrey Kurt. In Lutjens fashion the boy's middle name was that of his father.  It was December 14, 1980 - St. Louis, Missouri.

The rest of the story goes that when my dad went home to look after me and brought me back to the hospital, I looked a hot mess waddling down the hall dressed in red corduroys with a pink sweater and spaghetti sauce all over my face...but I digress...the story's not actually about me for once...

Fast forward 32 years.  It's 7pm on November 28th, 2012 - Mbari, South Sudan.  Citi is 23 years old.  She has just begun laboring with her firstborn.  Her husband is around and is active in the community as a Community Based Distributor (CBD) for first tier basic community medicine interventions. Citi's mom, the grandmother of the baby, is a TBA (Traditional Birth Attendant) and is present to deliver her grandchild.  Citi labors at home, in a mud tukul with a thatched roof.  It comes to 10pm and the baby starts to come - the bottom is first...eventually the feet come...but everyone knows there is a problem.  The rest of the baby won't come...hours go by.  The phone network is poor, often calls are dropped or the reception is close to un-intelligible.  Mbari is what you call "the bush." Attempted calls are made all night to reach anyone who could send a vehicle to get Citi and the baby to help.  No one can find anyone with a vehicle to come.  Someone gets a hold of James.  

James is Citi's paternal great uncle.  His late brother was Citi's father, so now James is the one "responsible for" Citi and her well being.  James is a primary school head teacher and a pastor in the Episcopal Church of Sudan.  James lives near Mundri, where the phone network is a bit better, and knows Bishop so he manages to get through to him on the phone to request use of Bishop's vehicle to rescue his "granddaughter." It's now 7am.  Citi has been in the process of delivering her firstborn for 12 hours now.  Bishop is on his way to the bus park, headed to Juba.  Our teammates drove him to the bus park and he passed along the request for vehicle assistance to the teammates who gave him a ride.  Bethany knew James and John was willing to drive, so they set off, not know what they would find when they arrived at Citi's house.  They knew she was in trouble, that the baby was breech, but that was it.  Both Bethany and James are brilliant individuals, but neither has a lick of medical training, and with both the mother and baby's lives in jeopardy, they were wisely feeling outside of their comfort zones.

When "Brown Sugar" our beloved passenger Land Cruiser reached Mbari, Bethany went inside the tukul and there were 25 people standing around Citi, who was laying with a gray baby laying between her exposed legs, head still inside her body.  A dead, not yet fully delivered baby.  Not something a nurse sees everyday, let alone a teacher/counselor and a water engineer.  Bethany and John's instinctually accurate fear told them they needed to get moving, if the mother's life was to be saved.
Citi and her not yet delivered baby, still on the mattress she was laying on, were carried outside and laid into the back of Brown Sugar.  Her mom climbed in next to her along with another female relative.  Citi's husband, James, Bethany, John and another male relative, climbed into the front 2 rows of seats and took off towards help.  John was at the wheel.  Bethany was manning the phones - hers and John's,  trying whichever would get the best signal at any given time, on whichever network happened to be available at that given time.  She managed to get a couple calls through to Scott, the PA, but the reception was terrible and he couldn't understand much of what was needed other than the question of whether the Mundri Health Center would be able to help Citi or if they needed to drive further on past Mundri to Lui Hospital where there is a doctor.  Scott decided he was pretty sure Mundri would be of no help, that unfortunately Lui was the closest place Citi could find the help she needed and that was about 45 min. past Mundri.  He also decided the 2 of us could be of help once they came through Mundri, and after asking if I was willing to go, which I of course was, he gave me instructions as to what supplies would be good to have on hand in the vehicle...IV start supplies, and IV fluid supplies and where I might be able to find them in the house.  He went to confirm at the Mundri Health Center that Citi needed to go to Lui, and I hurriedly gathered supplies...thinking of a basin at the last minute in case there was a lot of blood and the baby was going to be delivered in the vehicle so that we could try to limit blood spread and have something to put the dead baby in.  Thing is, I had just set my laundry to soak in my basin, intending to wash it sometime that day (obviously that plan was slightly waylaid at this point), so I ran by Andrew's tukul asking for his, so he dumped his dirty laundry out and off I went with a basin full of IV fluids and needles and syringes and tape and such.  Scott went of to find more fluids and we met at the roundabout where I'd told Bethany in a very crackly phone call that we'd be waiting when I confirmed with her we would need to go on to Lui.

Brown Sugar rumbled down the road towards the roundabout with dust flying behind.  Scott has one of the women in the back re-locate to the front to make room for us next to Citi.  I climb in first to be closer to her arms, and Scott climbs in after me, positioned to examine the baby and the rest of Citi to see how dire the situation was.  We were told Citi was in and out of consciousness along the road, which worried us, but other than that, we knew nothing.  As we were arranging in the back, John got out to return to his work, and Bethany took over at the wheel.

I started opening cannula packing and putting gloves on to put a couple IV's into Citi veins for fluid replacement since we knew that in 12 hours she had to have lost a LOT of blood.  Scott lifted up Citi's skirt, and we both got a look at the gray baby girl basically hanging out of Citi's body.  There wasn't any bleeding currently, thank God.  Deep breath, and I went back to my task of IV insertion, knowing I was just wasting precious time by looking/pausing.

Now, if any of my nurse friends are still reading, they will gasp or laugh at the fact that I was the best choice available for the person to put in 2 emergency IV's in a severely dehydrated woman while bumping along a TERRIBLE dirt road in the back of a vehicle!  Venous sticks are NOT my strongsuit.  Never have been.  But today was a day for prayer.  I learned from Michelle K. back at SLCH the short prayer of "Sweet Jesus, please!" when a patient really needed an IV and veins were few and far between.  Citi's were TINY.  The "Sweet Jesus"prayers began as I wrapped the glove around her forearm as a tourniquet.  (Scott told me later he was praying like crazy too!)

The few IV skills I do have work best when I can see the veins really well, so I asked Bethany to stop the car for a minute and in I went into her left hand with a #20.  I didn't think I'd be able to get the #18 in the tiny vein.  The first vein was shifty, but eventually by God's mercy (and it really was His mercy alone), I got a blood return and threaded the cannula in successfully.  Bethany started driving again and Scott had hooked up the fluids line while I was putting the IV in and so the water started dripping.  I held the bottle while he listened to Citi's heart.  She was tachycardic, which was good, so I went back to attempt the insertion of IV #2.  Bethany had to stop again for me to be able to get #2 in without poking Citi's eye out with all the bumps.

Bethany was a great driver.  It was a tricky ride, she knew Citi needed to get to the hospital ASAP - so she needed to drive fast.  She also knew that we didn't want the baby to come out while we were in the vehicle so she couldn't go too fast in fear of jolting the baby out and the mom bleeding to death in front of our eyes.  Bethany balanced all the factors with expertise, weaving all over the road to find the best path.  We decided on this trip to coin a new term.  Instead of "the grass is always greener" on the other side the South Sudanese equivalent should be "the road is always better" on the other side...it's a tricky business this driving in Africa, and Bethany totally rocked it!

An #18 IV went into Citi's right hand with relative ease and then all we could do was wait.  Scott held the 2 bottles of fluids dripping "wide open" into Citi's veins trying to giver her the water and sugar she needed to stay alive until we reached the hospital.  I had gotten motion sick as I focused on Citi's hands in the back of the jumping/bouncing vehicle, so I finished taping the IV and promptly stuck my head out the window and vomited several times.  I felt like a wimp, vomiting from motion sickness when this woman was lying here, no doubt in excrutiating pain, without making a peep. Scott asked Bethany to stop so I could shift to the front and in minutes I was nausea-free.  

Citi was alert and appropriately responsive throughout the whole trip from Mundri to Lui...about a 45 min. drive.  Can you imagine?  Riding in the back of a vehicle, with your firstborn child dead between your legs, who not more than 12 hours ago was kicking in your stomach, trying to let you know it was time for her to come out, with 2 strange white people hovering over you poking you with needles and looking between your legs with downcast faces...I can't.

As we were driving, as I was trying to look for the best vein, I heard a couple phrases of a song playing from Bethany's iPod up front:

"You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us" - (Gungor)

It was a song I'd heard for the first time just a few days before, when our teammates John and Andrew had done a harmonized duet of it at our retreat.  The first time, I'd been more ready to believe it's truth, this time, in the back of a vehicle with a laboring first time mom and a dead baby, I wasn't quite sure but was holding on with a white knuckle death grip that it could be.  That if there were to be something beautiful to come of this: God would have to be the one.  Please Lord, I silently prayed as the song played on, please make something beautiful out of this.

We reached the hospital - a 2 hour journey for Citi and her family, a very kind midwife met us as we backed the vehicle up to the delivery room porch.  Several people lifted Citi & Baby with their mattress onto a stretcher which they then pushed into the delivery room.  Scott and Citi's mother went in with her and the midwife, then the doors were closed.

Bethany and I waiting outside with the rest of the family.  At one point, the family said "the baby must be out, Citi made a noise and now she is silent."  A white doctor went in and out of the room a couple times...Dear Father, spare Citi's precious life, I prayed.  Bethany and I talked about loss and death in this place, the reality of women here and the reality of childbirth here...the distance from health care, the lack of vehicles, the public exposure of your body in such a situation as Citi's and in such grief, how Citi and her baby girl put "faces" to the numbers of "infant mortality" statistics, and the risk factors for pregnant mothers in this country...

We waited until the baby was delivered and brought out in a small cardboard box to be taken home for immediate burial.  We waited until we knew Citi was a bit stable and with her mother and the rest of us left and returned to Mundri by the same road.  We sat and mourned with wailing women who greeted us when we arrived with the box carrying the nameless baby girl.  We sang, we prayed as the small hole was dug.  We were served tea and we said our goodbyes.  Bethany and I took a couple people back 4 days later for the final prayers, an ECS burial tradition.  Everyone was so thankful to us for the help we provided, and we tried to re-direct the thanks to God - afterall it's His vehicle, His supplies, His  gifts in the skill sets we have.  I've heard Citi was to return home from the hospital this week, hopefully physically stable enough to have the freedom to do whatever remaining grieving she needed to do.

God made my wonderful brother out of the dust of fear my parents had 32 years ago, a beautiful thing indeed.  

14 Dec. 1981 - 31 years ago - Jeff's 1st birthday (as I look on)

Now my prayer is that he would make something beautiful out of the dust of the loss of Citi's baby girl...the dust of the disparity of resources in our world, the dust of death.

12 December 2012

"I want HOME!"

A blind pianist named Ken Medema wrote a song that echoes this thought over and over again.  It's a simple song, one I've been listening to since I was in elementary school probably...one of those songs I never knew would fill out it's meaning in exactly this way decades later.  Between the echoes of this longing the songwriter names all of the things he hopes for in a place he would call home...

  • a place to hang my hat
  • a place to learn to run
  • a place to be alone
  • a place where someone cares or maybe no one cares at all
  • a place out of the sun
  • a place to scream and shout
etc. What would make your list of things you long for in a home?

Mine was called to question this last week.  Is a place where you have to question the male:female ratio's present at any given moment, wondering at certain times of day who is where and what people might think, altering your activity based on who is where when, a place I want to call home, or ask anyone else to call home?  

It came to our attention that the cultural perception of a man and a woman sitting inside a room at night without anyone else present, even if said room is the kitchen and the door is wide open and the lights on for all to see, is that the man and woman are sleeping together.  So, when Scott goes to someone's house for dinner, leaving Andrew and I at home in kitchen eating dinner together and chatting about the day's goings on, the South Sudanese assumption is that Andrew and I are sleeping together - which we ARE NOT.  Evidently people ask our friends *frequently* if I am Andrew's wife or Scott's wife, to which they reply no, but the inquiries continue.

So, what to do.  If Andrew's sleeping up at the team compound and none of our South Sudanese friends are around and I'm cross stitching in the kitchen, then Scott spends the evening in his room so as not to create suspicion...if Wycliff stops by to chat then Scott can come out of his room and the three of us catch up, but as soon as he leaves, Scott goes back to his room?  This is no way to ask him to live his life, no way to go about life in one's own home, always having to assess whether the situation is culturally appropriate or not...

After hearing on Saturday night a report from other friends confirming that in fact this is the cultural perception, although some may realize that we have a different culture, I went to bed with a heavy heart.  What do we do now?  Does this mean I need to move?  Laying in the dark of my tukul with a blue door, the tears began and I opened the precious bag of mint M&M's for comfort :)  The longer I lay there, the more I was convinced that the best solution to the problem of the perception of us, who "preach" the ABC's (Abstinance, Be Faithful, and use a Condom) of sexual health then sleeping with each other while not married - is for me to vacate the situation.  

Before I moved to town in July, I had asked Rena, Bishop's wife, about the cultural implications of me moving onto the ECS compound and sharing the kitchen space with Scott and Andrew.  Her only concern was that we not go into each other's bedrooms, but that sharing the kitchen space would be fine.  I asked her again, was she sure?  She was.  So, I moved without wondering further.  But evidently in the minds of young men and women, the cultural assumptions are different.  I didn't want to have to live every evening, worrying about how many people were going to be around the kitchen that evening, wondering if me or one of the guys was going to need to go into our room to keep everything above board...I didn't want to ask them to have to live like that either.  A home, in my mind, should not be place of worry, but rather of rest and relaxation, of being able to be where you want to be when you want to be there.  My 4 months or so spent living on the ECS guesthouse compound was not a place of worry, but our conversation Saturday night changed that.

So back to The Shire I would go.


I woke up on Sunday morning sure that I needed to move, but not very happy about it.  "Sucks to be a girl" I thought.  "Sucks to have to go back to a life of a trek every time I want to be with South Sudanese people."  "Sucks to have to move because people think I'm doing something that I'm not."  "Sucks to have to readjust to another place, another group of people to live with, another pattern of life, another ebb and flow of activities and expectations."  "Sucks to not be able to keep up with Kaya's fishing expeditions and Aniwa's baking endeavors, and Tata's newfound excitement in reading, and the saga of the bride price Wycliff's been asked to pay and cannot afford by a long shot, on a daily basis."  "Sucks to move to my 9th bed of the month."  "Sucks not to have a home."

But on my iPod I put on the next sermon in a series on Theophanies in the Bible from Redeemer in NYC that I'd started several months ago, and God met me.  He met me with Jacob and the ladder to heaven (Genesis 28).  Jacob was on the run from his family, from his home, and spends the night in the middle of no where, laying his tired head on a rock.  God meets him, standing at the top of this ladder (sounds totally spooky to me), and essentially tells him, "I am the God of your people.  I see you alone in the wilderness.  I am going to make this wilderness your home; I am going to give you a home, AND a people.  In fact, through your people I am going to bless the whole earth.  AND on top of all of that, I am going to be with you not just here, but WHEREVER you go."  Hm.  That wasn't JUST what I needed to hear or anything...wow. really?  Then I mosied on to church and was met again in 2 stories of God's miraculous provision, when people were worried about what was going to happen, worried about lacking something, and God provided extravagantly (2 Kings 4, Matthew 14) in ways they would have never been able to predict.

And then there was Wilma, the blind woman who faithfully comes to church every week and sings in the section of ladies that leads the singing and the percussion shaker-shaking.  Wilma gave me a gift she'd made for me - she sent someone over to give it to me during the service so I could put it to use...it was a shaker of my very own: a hollowed out gourd with seeds inside and used chewing gum stopping the hole up.  To this girl who *loves* giving gifts AND the hearts of people with disabilities, what better a reminder that home looks like many different things than a homemade gift from a blind woman.  best. gift. ever.

So, after church I packed up my tukul, back into the ever - present plastic Contico trunks, and Monday after work I moved to my next home, back up at the team compound in Miri Moto - the place God has for me in this moment.  I dusted off the shelves, sweeping away 5 months of cobwebs and spider egg sacks, resettled my sunscreen and skirts and tv series', and sighed a sigh of thanks, thanks for this home, for this moment.

05 December 2012

his NOT mine

"You live in South Sudan?!" or actually usually it's the more generic "You live in Africa?! Wow.  There are probably lots of bugs and snakes there, huh?  I could never do that.  You're a saint."  These are the kinds of things people say.  To me.  Yes, these exact words.

"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  ~ Matt. 11:28-30
Turns out I'm more fond of my own yoke, or burden, than HIS.  Because I'm constantly told that my choice to live in "Africa" must be a burden, somehow subconsciously I've let it fall into that category.  When in fact, while there are surely challenges involved in life here, it is actually more often the opposite - quite a joy.  But it's a joy I've chosen, or by other people's definition (that it seems has seeped into mine) it's a "burden" or a "yoke" that I ("ana yaau de" - I am the one)  have chosen.  No one had to forcibly push me onto the British Airways flight that brought me here.  No one had to force my pen to the paper when I "signed on" with World Harvest to move to South Sudan.  I made the choice.

Seems I like to keep things that way.  The way that means that I get to choose how things go...where I will go and when, when things will be hard and how.  I like to choose my own yoke.  My own burden - how heavy, how I will carry it and to where.  When someone else chooses those hard things for me, those circumstances I like to have a say in,  I essentially throw a fit.  At 33, thankfully these don't include screaming or stomping my feet and waving my arms around (although, now that I think about it, that sounds quite cathartic), but they are fits nonetheless.

My mom is really sick.  Sick with something that I can't control.  Something she can't control.  Something the doctors can't control (gasp!).  Unless God chooses to do something drastic, I will lose her long before I ever thought I would, long before I want to, long before I would ever-in-a-million-years choose to.  But no matter how many mornings I wake up hoping it's a bad dream...it's not.  It seems this is HIS yoke.  His yoke for her, His yoke for me.  His yoke for us.  It seems this is the burden we are joined to HIM under.

Thing is, somehow HE says, HIS yoke is light.  "Easy" in fact.  But I'm tellin' you what.  This yoke that I'm sharing, carrying - it ain't anywhere near close to "light" or "easy."  Maybe that's because I haven't rested under it.  Maybe that's because I'm still throwing a fit and trying desperately to get back to mine.

But He says HIS offers me rest.  Sign me up.  I'm tired of pitching fits.  My soul needs rest.  Maybe I'll find rest when I stop trying to carry it by myself.  Maybe I'll find rest when I take up the yoke that is shared WITH HIM.  The yoke He says is HIS.

You know what I never noticed before?  This rest, this light and easy yoke, when you look at the verses that come before it, it's rest from the wearying and heavy things that are hard to understand, hard to bear...those things whose meanings/reasons are hidden from the wise/learned and revealed to who? To little children.  Kids are pretty good at sharing hard things...things they aren't excited about.  Maybe things like moms who have terminal illnesses?  Maybe I should take note.

10 November 2012

nurse mode

deciphering key pieces of information, communicating them clearly, clarifying known/unknown information, picking up on small changes in symptoms, trying to present hard information in a loving way, asking the obvious or the really hard question, thinking creatively about solutions to problems,  holding a hand, calming quiet presence, bridging gaps of communication, willingness to say "that's a good question, let me get back to you on that,"presenting information clearly, knowing where to look for what information, knowing when to say "we don't know,"  being willing to cause pain in order to encourage/create opportunity for healing, a listening ear, gentle when helpful, firm when appropriate, providing dignity in times/places where there is little to none to be seen...

this is the stuff of nursing...behind the obvious stethescopes, the IV pumps or poles, shots, medicine cups, and bandages, this is where the essence of the job is, the stuff you don't necessarily notice, but that each nurse builds up an instinct for over the course of a career.  These aren't things you necessarily learn in school, they're the things you piece together from lessons learned from other nurses, from patients, from failures and successes, from physicians you respect and who respect you...they become part of how you approach the world.  Instinct.

Turns out after 11 years as a nurse, my instincts are pretty strong.  I don't even think about them.  I don't  think about which situations to apply them too and when not too, when is it appropriate or not, it has just become part of who I am and how I approach life and everyone in it.  Turns out, this includes my own family.  I've found myself in "nurse mode" with my mom and family with mom's new diagnosis.  Not by choice, but because it's an instinct evidently.

My dad does it as a pastor - goes into "pastor mode."  I've never been a big fan of him using that mode with us in his family, it feels a bit distancing on the receiving end, but now I understand it's not a choice he's making - it's an instinct.  It comes from years of doing something that, in time, becomes part of you.

My prayer is that my "nurse mode" instinct with my interactions with my mom in this new stage of illness doesn't feel distancing on the receiving end, that I can still be primarily her daughter first and foremost.

I've been in the US for the last 5 weeks or so.  When you come back from a place with very little access to current printed word resources, you pick them up and read them everywhere you go (at least in my experience).  In my most recent Pennsylvania Gazette (UPenn alumni magazine), I found a fascinating article with the following quote:

"Neonatologists were vigilant.  The nurses were even better, as much psychologists as highly skilled technicians.  They exuded optimism.  They never showed fear.  They became friends you could laugh with and cry with.  They offered eternal hope whether they believed in it or not..."  
- Buzz Bissinger (author of Friday Night Lights and writer for Vanity Fair and The Daily Beast from his book Father's Day)
I don't exude optimism, and I hope that I don't offer eternal hope that I don't believe exists, but I do believe there's a part of nursing, learned and honed over the course of a career, that parallels the "skilled technician" skills learned in school...the interaction with people part...one of the reasons I love what I do.

For some reason this trip home, I've had a lot of "nursing" interactions...opportunity to encourage a friend through the rough and tumble parts of nursing school, opportunity to hear from a friend on her first job as a new nurse and how she both loves it and is simultaneously terrified...I told them both that the fear is healthy :) I read the above article I found here at my parents' house and I've watched the first few episodes of the BBC show called "Call the Midwife."  Some really interesting writing, by the way.  One of my favorite quotes thus far:

"You made her feel safe. That’s the mark of a good nurse. A midwife, too. Everything else is just mechanics." - Dr. Turner to Chummy, the rookie nurse midwife who seems at first to get everything wrong
Spot on. That's it.

30 September 2012

by and by

Farther Along (Josh Garrels)

Farther along we’ll know all about it
Farther along we’ll understand why
Cheer up my brothers, live in the sunshine
We’ll understand this, all by and by

Tempted and tried, I wondered why
The good man died, the bad man thrives
And Jesus cries because he loves em’ both
We’re all cast-aways in need of ropes
Hangin’ on by the last threads of our hope
In a house of mirrors full of smoke
Confusing illusions I’ve seen

Where did I go wrong, I sang along
To every chorus of the song
That the devil wrote like a piper at the gates
Leading mice and men down to their fates
But some will courageously escape
The seductive voice with a heart of faith
While walkin’ that line back home

So much more to life than we’ve been told
It’s full of beauty that will unfold
And shine like you struck gold my wayward son
That deadweight burden weighs a ton
Go down into the river and let it run
And wash away all the things you’ve done
Forgiveness alright


Still I get hard pressed on every side
Between the rock and a compromise
Like the truth and pack of lies fightin’ for my soul
And I’ve got no place left go
Cause I got changed by what I’ve been shown
More glory than the world has known
Keeps me ramblin’ on

Skipping like a calf loosed from its stall
I’m free to love once and for all
And even when I fall I’ll get back up
For the joy that overflows my cup
Heaven filled me with more than enough
Broke down my levee and my bluff
Let the flood wash me

And one day when the sky rolls back on us
Some rejoice and the others fuss
Cause every knee must bow and tongue confess
That the son of god is forever blessed
His is the kingdom, we’re the guests
So put your voice up to the test
Sing Lord, come soon


15 September 2012

"images" of life as a city mouse

  • my zip up/pop-up-tent-looking mosquito net on my bed
  • the dirt floor of my tukul - which is quite nice in rainy season - no need to worry about taking your muddy shoes off outside or having a mat to wipe them off...
  • showering under the stars of the african sky in our corrugated tin and blue tarp enclosed shower area
  • hearing Kaya (aka. John Kaya Commando Giyafa Beautiful) shout from the shower “Eidi! Eidi!” when the water pump automatically kicks on and begins to pump new water up from the aquifer far below to supply his shower water - “new” water as in “has not been warmed in the black plastic tank by the daytime equatorial sun and is therefore freezing” water - his way of reminding me he’s there and would I please turn the pump off (switch is below the sink in the kitchen which is right next to the shower) so he can enjoy a warm-ish shower :)  Makes me chuckle every time - especially when he gets antsy when it takes me longer than he thinks is necessary to flip the switch (which may or may not be intentional on my part :)
  • after a long silent pause in late evening conversation, the goings on of the day type conversation topics exhausted, or so we thought, Boya says from his sprawl on the couch- “So, for me, I don’t understand, what is it - they call it “post office”...well okay then...how about we discuss the function of what is known in most parts of the world as the postal system but people in this part of South Sudan have never had opportunity to experience or use and therefore do not understand the role and function of such a service...after our brief introduction/explanation to said service his primary concern, and that of the rest of the people who had heard such a places discussed on the radio...was what would happen, how would the people working in the post office would handle the following event: sender of letter dies before recipient receives said letter.  Would not have never ever been anywhere near my radar to consider such a question, but in this place - people die, A LOT, and it effects all parts of peoples lives, clearly also potentially one’s interface with the postal system.  Who woulda thunk it.
  • my affinity for all things pus related.  Yes pus, P-U-S.  (my dad had to spell it over the phone to clarify what exactly I was talking about and had he heard me right...yes, in fact he had.)  The human body’s ability to fight infection and produce such a gross substance as a by-product of said warfare, and the procedures required to rid the body of said by-product - SO FASCINATING.  Anyways, I’ve had the honor of spending a few days per week for the last several weeks with Roda and Zebara (yes, as in - zebra) who are a cleaner (“housekeeper” of sorts) and a nurse respectively who both work in the Mundri Primary Health Care Center “minor theatre” - a very fancy name for the room with a sheet-less bed where they do dressing changes and small procedures like I&D’s (Incision and drainage to rid an infected site of pus), lipoma removals (lipectomy?) and tooth extraction and such...They are both Mother’s Union members of local parishes of the Episcopal Church of Sudan, and sassy grandma type older ladies who think I’m the best thing since sliced bread since I have a Moru name and come to hang out with and learn from them.  Roda speaks zero english, so we hobble along in arabic together - which is GREAT practice for me and so encouraging - until Zebara (who has been nursing for 48 yrs!) arrives an hour or two later for her 11am-1pm work day :)  With nothing but what seems like an endless supply of lidocaine, they render everyone from grown men to babies helpless and in tears...and I’m not quite sure how Zebara manages not to sever more large blood vessels than she does wielding a scalpel...I actually have only heard the story of one of those instances in the last month or so, thank the Lord.
  • a disarming of the police by the army - think one group of powerful men with weapons trying to take away the weapons of another group of powerful men....hmmmm....could be a disaster...leaving us to get home and turn our lights off and head to bed after curfew hours - 9pm - with our S. Sudanese friends fearful of what might happen if we did anything to stand out even a bit...text messages sent between tukuls on our compound whenever I heard anything “funny”...and all because of cows...a LONG history of hostility between the agrarian Moru tribe and the Dinka/Mandari herdsman due to cattle moving into the area to graze on the grass/bush found in plenty around here during rainy season...it’s a really long story for another day but the long and the short of the story is the immense impact that tribe/tribalism has on the role of law in so many facets of life here...such that the army has to disarm the police...it’s no joke.
  • sitting in church last sunday as the lone kawaaja...struggling to understand ANY of the unbelievably fast arabic translation of the announcements and sermon - it really feels like trying to drink from a firehose - complete with the experience of feeling “drenched” at the end of the service - like I’ve been bowled over by words.  John asked me later in the day if they’d made an announcement about digging at the borehole... “well, I can tell you they made an announcement that included the words for borehole and saturday, but beyond that, I haven’t got a clue what they said”...so goes language learning :)
  • you know they’re hard up when, with Bethany AND Larissa not around, people ask ME to translate for them at the team compound if I happen to be around when talking with houseworkers and such...watch out world...these are desperate times!
  • Melissa comes into town on Saturday, we wander across the street to the market, buy a rolex (chapati with fried egg wrapped inside) and a cold soda treat to eat for lunch, wander around looking for treasures like a new pair of flip flops, honey and kitenge fabric, stopping to buy groceries along the way then when we get hungry and the groceries get heavy we walk back across the street to eat our street-food lunch and unload the heavy things.  We still have some time until she needs to head back home for a skype appt., and we hadn’t made it yet to peruse the used clothes piles so we walked back over and spent an hour or so laughing periodically as we found randomly funny t shirts or trucker hats...never know what you’re going to find in the market in the middle of South Sudan...perhaps a fluorescent pink polyester trucker hat that reads “ugly kid”...or a oversized XXL men’s tshirt that reads “if you tap it, they will come” below a picture of a beer keg...you just never know.
  • discussions with Kaya and Boya and others about whether they would ever marry a Dinka woman (the answer was a very confident no because they would never be allowed by the Dinka men due to the number of cattle they would require as bride price), or answering their questions about how women know who is going to marry them and why it is wrong to lie to a woman when you tell her you’re going to marry her when really you just want to sleep with her and if you told her the truth - that you have no intentions of marrying her - clearly she would refuse you and clearly that would not be okay.
  • praying with Boya the night before he left on Scott’s motorcycle to drive several hours into the bush where there is no cell phone reception at all, to pick his new wife from her family’s home, where it is culturally expected that he will not eat any food her family offers him.  He has paid a few thousand South Sudanese Pounds of the grand total her family asked for in bride price, and has been given permission to pick her and bring her to live in the new homes he has recently built here in Mundri...we still haven’t heard from him since he left on Monday...and the butterflies I found myself feeling in my stomach from excitement/nervousness for Boya as he left...it’s a big deal...or at least I think so.  I prayed for Bushena, his wife, who is pregnant with her first child and leaving her family’s home to go live with this new husband of hers...may peace and delight be hers.
  • “it’s not normal to climb up and stand on top of your toilet when you need to use it” - Scott Will on his recent realization re. the use of our latrine (an awkwardly large concrete cube with a hole in it which was intended to be attractive to white users who “like to sit when they go” but in fact we are all grossed out by the idea of sitting on it, so we all climb up and stand on top of it and squat over the hole...TIA
  • Kaya’s sincere/humorous concern for Scott and Andrew and I, that we each need to become “very serious” about finding a wife/husband.  After probing a bit in vain to find out what exactly being “very serious” in search of a spouse would look like, he did explain a bit more of his reasoning on the subject - “For me, I have no problem, but for you, ah!, your years are going!”  Thank you John Kaya for that treasured reminder :)
  • the chance to go a-visiting with Melissa on tuesdays and thursday afternoons (now that this school year she only has to teach in the mornings) in search of friendly people to sit and hang out and talk with in the language of our choice...arabic for me and moru for her...we’re a good team, between the two languages we can usually hold a complete-ish basic conversation with a Moru woman or negotiate any situation we might find ourselves in a mostly satisfactory manner...whether it’s hearing the heartbreaking story of the abrupt loss of Vaida’s husband almost 20 years ago, or making arrangements to take a friend to the closest hospital with a doctor, which happens to be in Lui, about an hour’s drive away in rainy season...there may or may not be quite a few body motions involved in said conversations, but you do wha ‘cha gotta do in order to get the point across, right?

21 July 2012

Kick in the pants

It’s a bit of a strange scenario, to be aware of your own need for a kick in the pants.  If I know I’m in need of motivation, then why can’t I motivate myself?  I’m not sure why the scenario occurs but it does.  More often than I’d like to admit. 
Anyways, I’ve been in need of a kick in the pants in language learning. I think I’ve said this before, but it’s hard.  For me, it’s really hard.  The language itself, not so hard.  Juba Arabic is a pigin form of the classical Arabic spoken up north (a bit like Creole is to French as far as I understand) so it’s simplified, and the crazy swirly script is not a part of the equation either, which is definitely in my favor - the use of the roman alphabet alone is a huge bonus in the learning process.  The grammar is pretty simple.  The pronunciation is pretty simple...none of this tonal nonsense like Moru (the local tribal language which is even more daunting to me).  But the learning process?  Way hard.
Give me a concrete task and I’m good to go.  No problem.  Give me a defined role and I’m golden.  As a nurse, I approach a sick person and my role is clearly defined - we’re both aware that the sick person is sick and that I’m supposed to help them.  I can approach just about anybody in that context and say almost anything without hesitation.   But put me in a party setting where I’m just supposed to talk to people?  Forget it.  Maybe they’ll like me, maybe they won’t.  Maybe they’ll think I’m dumb, maybe they won’t.  Maybe I won’t have anything to say, maybe they won’t either.  Language learning is kinda like the party scenario...you’re just supposed to go and talk to people.  You’re just supposed to try out your new vocabulary.  So, not only are you just supposed to talk to people but you’re just supposed to talk about things like colors and numbers and parts of the body and sewing and riding a bike.  It’s murderous.  I feel totally inept.  Somebody laughs a bit (which is totally legit - I probably sound like a two year old trying to string words together) and I melt into a worthless mess.

So, maybe you're getting a better sense for the need of a good kick in the pants.  What do you do if you're me and you need a kick in the language learning pants? You move to town where you're surrounded by language more often for larger portions of the day without having to try so hard to create the scenarios - they just happen as you go about your day.  So, Tuesday, I did just that. I moved to town.  That involves moving off our team compound which is a bit outside of town, and onto the Episcopal Church of Sudan guesthouse compound in the center of Mundri town - the same compound where Scott and Andrew live - both of whom are speaking/learning Arabic.

It all came about pretty quickly, moving from a crack pot idea to reality in a week.  That's the thing about Africa.  Some things take twice as long as in the western world, and some things happen way faster than you'd ever imagine.  I packed up my trunk and my bike and got a ride down to town and moved into my home away from home away from home :)

So far, it's been a great week.  There's much more arabic around, I'm slowly by slowly becoming more and more bold in using the little bit that I have, and everyday learn a few more new words.  Scott is Mr. Hospitality and Andrew is Mr. I-want-to-learn-everything, so there are visitors in and out on/off throughout the day and evening and there's a lot of Arabic being spoken and a lot being learned.  And they've been very kind to let a girl enter their mostly boy world - looking out for me when there are drunken men around and suffering for Jesus by eating the food I cook and bake ;)  )They're quite the cooks/bakers as well, I must say.)

SO, put me in the midst of language instead of me having to seek it out, force me into the position of having to use it more often whether I'm confident or not, and there you have it - a kick in the pants.  So far so good.  And a huge thanks to Scott and Andrew who have been really kind and conscious of encouraging me to learn more, hear more, speak more...friends as teachers work pretty well :) So, with 4 days under my belt, and an initial commitment of a week long trial run, things are looking good.

So, if you're of the praying variety, please do pray that God would use this time for His glory.  Pray that I would be faithful to learn and to practice and that I wouldn't be too much of an inconvenience :)

A few shots of the new digs:

inside my tukul #1

inside my tukul #2 (note: when bed not cluttered with my junk = a place for a visitor - read teammate from the team compound - to come and stay for a night or two :)

my tukul

L-R (Scott's room - which has a small kitchen/living area, along with an outdoor shower area that we all share next to it which you cannot see,  Andrew's tukul, my tukul.  There are two other tukuls which you cannot see, to the right of mine, occupied by the guesthouse manager and a Kenyan woman, along with a piyot or mud/thatch gazebo like structure for greeting/meetings, etc )

07 July 2012

"things that make you go hmmmmm...."

there are usually moments in life here that shock you back into remembering exactly where you are, moments that make you chuckle, some that make you cry, some that make you go hmmmm....remember that C&C Music Factory song?  ok, well, maybe you weren't listening to rap/hip-hop in the early 90's but I was and just thinking of the title line transports me back to my late elementary school/early middle school years in Pittsburgh in a instant...

anyways, back to South Sudan....and things that make one go hmmmmm....

for instance:

  • the moment in church on sunday when one of the lay leaders dressed in her white dress and head scarf and sitting up front on the dais during the service leans her head back and reaches up to grab a piece of the thatch from the roof above her head and breaks it off and begins to use it to clean out her ear....hmmmmm...... :)
  • the moment yesterday when in listening to a few young South Sudanese men who have been in school in the US describe their first encounter with snow....and their comparison of the looks of it falling from the sky to that of what? termites...would not have been my first thought, but they're right, snow falling from the sky looks very similar to swarms of termites flying around after a good rain....hmmmmm..... :)
  • the moment yesterday as we left a funeral, which had experienced a big downpour of rain just as lunch was served, in which we were asked to pull a matatu (large minibus taxi) behind our vehicle so that they could jump start their engine....we tried but the second attempt broke the ratchet straps being used to tie one vehicle to the next.....hmmmmm.... :)

  • the moment in which you're exercising (in shorts, might I add!) at 6:45am in the privacy of one of the buildings on your compound and a young man and boy who've come to borrow a bag to wrap the dead animal in that they're carrying with them and decide that what you're doing in your   piyot is far more interesting than their dead animal and decide to press their noses against the screen of the piyot and stare at you and the exercise video on the computer screen on the table...and continue to do peer and smirk after you ask them to go and tell them that you're not able to help them at the current moment...it's not until your voice gets more firm and you sound more annoyed they finally realize that you actually really do mean what you say and that they should in fact move along, that they do actually move along....hmmmmm...... :(
  • the moment in which your friend in trying to describe to you the story of Noah, describes to you the "motoro boat" that he had....the moment in which you try to discern whether she is referring to the boat Noah built for the rains God sent ("motoro" means "rain" in Juba Arabic), or  if she actually really imagines Noah's ark as a motor boat....and then she goes on to describe what actually sounds like a motor boat, immitating the hum of the engine and everything....... hmmmmm..... :)
  • the moment in which you're smacked in the face with the reality of abuse that women are on the receiving end of so often in war torn cultures like this one....the reality that there is no option of counseling, or talking about it openly and honestly with friends/family...no antidepressants or anti-anxiety meds to help you cope with the emotional outcroppings of such abuse....no rest from back breaking work and caring for several children that you are struggling to care and provide for on those days that are really hard....hmmmmm..... sigh..... :(
  • the moment when you see a Moru woman squatting in the church's garden as she weeds around the tiny g-nut plants with little yellow flowers that are sprounting in neat and tidy little rows in the heat of the day...and looking at the rows and rows more that she has yet to do....and you're humbled by the smile on her face as you go by....hmmmmm.... :)
just of few of the moments from this week....so that you can "hmmmmmmm" along with me.

04 July 2012

rainy days


my first day at the health center.  ahhhhh :) sitting between Scott and the mother/sick kids and listening to his questions and their answers...asking a few of my own and recording the answers...and of course the pinching of cheeks and trying to make kids smile - with more success than I am used to from Bundibugyo...not as many shrieks and squirms of fear as I'm used to - instead of "white coat syndrome" it's more like "white skin syndrome" :)

a lot of the usual fever (which actually just translates "the body is hot"), diarrhea, vomiting, cold symptoms, etc.  and then 2 kids with marked swelling...malnutrition? kidney disease? other rheumatoid/auto-immune diseases?  what to do when the only labs you can do are a malaria test (positive or negative - no numeric parasite counts), a urine dip, and a stool culture...glad for now to be just listening :)  no solving of problems yet for me, only listening to the arabic being used and trying to use the little I have as much as I can while learning more.  It's nice, I can understand Scott's Arabic more than I can most Sudanese, so it helps me to then pick out some of the same words in their Arabic thereby improving my ability to understand their Arabic as well.  Quite a nice system if I do say so myself.

We'd said we'd leave at 1:30pm.  Around 2pm the thunder and dark clouds roll in and I grab the keys and high tail it back to Scott's hoping to pick up my bike and ride back home in time for my 2:30pm skype date with Carrie Jo...but I didn't high tail it quite fast enough and the rain caught me at Scott's.  What does one do when it starts to rain?  You sit and wait.  Wherever it is that you find yourself, you sit and wait.  I called Care and told her I was stuck in the rain and wasn't going to make it back to internet access in time.  We rescheduled.  I stole a few bites of Andrew's granola, a couple bites of Scott's cinnamon/butterscotch cake yumminess leftover from team worship/prayer the night before...plopped myself on the couch and waited.

Scott came back around 2:30pm and didn't skip a beat before jumping into "host" mode...what do you do when you're stuck in a bachelor's house during a rain storm?  You eat Ramen noodles :)  Beef was the flavor choice of the day.

What do you do when it's 3:15pm and it's still raining?  You have a cup of tea.  In this bachelor's house you're not at all stunned to find tea options like the Christmas Sugar Cookie Celestial Seasonings which happened to be my choice.  Never caught dead sitting in one place for more than a half hour at a time unless under duress, when you have Scott Will trapped in a room with little opportunity to flee, you also probe the depths of his rarely shared inner thought/emotional life and actually get some answers :)
In all seriousness though, just as the rain slows the already slow pace of African life, it also slows us Americans down and I'm really thankful for the significant conversations and pauses it gives us opportunity for.

5pm and I hear a pause in the pitter patter of the rain on the mubati roof, I decided to make the move and attempt to bike home before the next cloud moved in...and I made it.  Turned out that was the ONLY pause in the rain from 2pm until who knows when it stopped during the night...but what does 3 hours of rain mean for dirt roads?  Mud.  I was very well adorned by the time I reached home (see photo above).  And I never saw it but I could feel that my backside was pretty well mudded as well and the laughs that broke out from most every person I passed on my bike let me know I was not mistaken :)  Happy to provide everyone with a good rain pause laugh :)

02 July 2012

a study in delight

(me & Foto)

**photos by the lovely and shutter talented Melissa Garner**

27 June 2012

27,000 words

 They say a picture is worth a thousand words...and these are a lot of pictures...27 to be exact...you do the math.

Rainy season is upon us, and there have been big pushes to dig and plant in gardens ALL over the place.  Everybody's got a garden or several...every church has a garden or several...and so I went with Larissa to a Saturday digging party that our church had in their garden.  Of course there was food...

 and kabbittzing - complete with hooting and hollering and outbursts into song as motivation...here's some of the crew before we wrapped up for the day.

like gold, these seeds are, especially as food prices are sky rocketing ... kept from last year's harvests for this year's planting... 

now, before you think I've gone all farmer on you, which wouldn't be bad, it just would be shocking and a far cry from the truth, you need to remember that I've been struggling big time with language learning and I will jump at pretty much any reason to spend my time doing something else :)  So, when Larissa said she could use some help getting some of her veggies in the ground, I jumped at the chance.  So, there I am, without a clue what I'm doing, but I follow directions well so she put me to work.

under that dried grass there in front of Caleb and I is sweet corn...YUM! Pray for rain!

Tifo.  Cuteness.  Need I say more?!  We've been to greet Margaret and her family a few times, one of the families Larissa did a home stay with.  They've taken several of us in as part of the family :)  Tifo and her brothers Edward and Caleb (our Caleb's namesake) live with their mom, Nadi, and their grandmother on this compound.

Larissa and Awani - he may or may not be her favorite child on the face of the earth :) I'm kinda surprised his smile was caught on film (nice job Mel) - he usually plays the shy card

Melissa getting her baby fix...it's like therapy actually, just a lot cheaper and WAY more accessible here in Africa :)

So, after the road trip with Melissa and Bethany to Juba for the race that I wrote about before, Larissa and Caleb and I went on to Kampala - Caleb then flew back to the US, but only after seeing the big city with us for a day - here we are at the taxi park - organized chaos really...

After partying it up with Caleb a bit, and LOTS of errand running, we got our party on with a couple of the WHM Bundibugyo girls, Pamela (blue sombrero) and Chrissy (red sombrero on the right) at a new Mexican place someone recommended to us called The Little Donkey.  Good, but not quite our Lotus Mexicana.

Larissa and I flew back to Juba after our week in Kampala was up and from Juba we boarded the illustrious Mundri Express, pictured here.  Note that this photo was taken before we boarded in Juba, before the jarring road experience began, thus a smile still graces my face. 

Here's a shot from the inside...Not sure if you can tell from these shots, but this "bus" is in fact a truck, carrying a bus carriage - which you may be able to tell was pretty much hand welded together from old scrap metal I'm pretty sure, and then loaded with seats, which it turned out, were not actually attached to the frame of the "bus" very well...sometimes tied into place...often moving as we bumped and jumped for 7 hours along the road that took us 4 hours in our own vehicle...I should have also taken a photo of Larissa at the end - there was some sort of exhaust issue which meant the exhaust poured into the open windows (which she was sitting next to) and left her COVERED in black soot...she looked like she had rad goth eye make up for the next 3 days at least.  I had a splitting headache for a WEEK following our journey, that may or may not have been concussive, and which sent sharp pains down the front and back of my head into my neck with every step I took...it was quite the ride...but we arrived each in one piece (more or less) in the cold rain of course, but so glad to be home!

we had two days to settle in post travel and then thursday June 7th our team welcomed 4 visitors to Mundri each with varied durations of stay.  Justin came for a 5 day "vision trip" to attempt to decipher whether this is a place he would like to pursue coming long term, Grace is a PA and friend of Scott's who was here for about a month to work in the health center and experience life in Africa (she unfortunately left Mundri this morning already!), Kanesa is a Counseling student in the US and is here to do a counseling internship for 2 months working mostly with Bethany, and Andrew is a writer and handyman and a 6 month "Michael's Deputy" intern here until about Christmas time I suppose.  It's fascinating to see the variety of people God brings to this little place in the middle of South Sudan...and we're honored to be a part of it :)

sometime in their first week here, Bethany had a sick friend go to Lui Hospital (a 30 - 45 minute drive away or so) so several of us went along for the ride and to see what the Hospital is like.  Above we are gathered in the middle of the compound, the building closest to us houses the inpatient wards (male/female/pediatrics) and the while buildings behind us house things like the Ultrasound and Xray machines and Operating Theatres and so forth.  Scott and Grace and I got an unofficial tour of the place from a former co-worker of Scott's from Mundri.  I was quite impressed.

The X-Ray "suite"...aka metal shipping container housing the xray machine (left) and a bed.

 The Ultrasound machine, complete with squirty Ultrasound gel and everything.  Scott and Grace looking happy to see it :)

 Melissa and I also took Kanesa to visit Mary (left) who laughs at and with us, graciously serves us tea and kindly speaks elementary Moru and Arabic with us.  She was leading prayers the next day at church and got out her Bible so she could read the portions of scripture to us...so cute with her spiffy glasses and all (even though the lens proceeded to pop out a few minutes later - they get the job done I guess :)  Martin and Foto and Cecilia (? maybe?) were very curious to see what I had in my bag (otherwise known as my "suitcase" by teammates who will go unnamed...ahem Anna and Scott....) and when I pulled out my camera they obliged me with a few great smiles and grins.  Precious, eh?!

 With Grace in town, Scott and I decided to do a few health outreaches in the community...my first foray into healthcare here thus far, and I had no idea pulling out a stethescope and putting it to use could make me that happy!  Nurse through and through I suppose.  It meant getting my hands on some super cute kids and weighing and measuring them to check for growth issues and just in general smiling at them and letting them know they matter and doing a bit of teaching about growth and good nutrition with their parents while also checking their parents' weight and blood pressure and general health.  The first outreach was at my church and we saw about 175 patients in about 4 hours (we finally had to shut the doors in order to get away for something to eat at 2pm!)

The second outreach was a blood pressure screening in the Mundri market and again, putting the stethescope to use did my heart a world of good!  Again, about 175 patients, this time in about 2 hours or so and got to use my simple Arabic and look a lot of people in the eye, smile, and let them know they matter...it's the little things in life, you know?  I loved every minute.

Then there was mudding.  Homes here are mostly made of wood and mud.  Larissa had a couple of these huts built to house her Agriculture supplies and eventually a flock of ducks.  But the mudding was left to her.  We had extra hands available with these visitors around and all, so she decided to put us all to work and we were happy to help.  Now, my dad always taught me that with a wheelbarrow, it's best to make good use of the right tool by taking the barrow all the way to the site of your work..."right tool for the right job" he always said.  But, what do you do when the right tool doesn't fit inside the house where you need to drop the dirt?  You dump it out outside and shovel the dirt in :)  TIA, you know?

 Abao, the masterful mud mixer, was our instructor for the day.  The woman can WORK.

My daddy taught me a little somethin' somethin' about workin' too :)

Abao's beautiful grin :)

We don't give visitors much time before we put them to work :)

This whole blog formatting thing is gonna drive me to drink, so I best go ahead and just post this before I totally lose it.  Makes me remember why I struggle to post pictures...Enjoy :)

14 June 2012

"it is me, myself"

Larissa (my housemate) herself, and me myself
One of the S. Sudanese English idioms I have taken a liking to.  Even better when followed by, "I am the one!"  Significant for the following reasons.

I think maybe you're tired of me posting about my own self reflections and less about S. Sudan, but you'll need to stick with me through this, unfortunately.

I'm just gonna go right ahead and put it all out there on the table.

Missionaries have expectations.  Whether we like to admit it or not, they are there.  There is an ideal (which, I think, is usually also shared by the general missionary support community) of what a good missionary's life should look like, and it is as follows: Language proficiency or even fluency, widely known and well received by the community, loving mostly everything about your host culture....and the list goes on.  The more people that greet you in the market, at church, the higher you climb in the eyes of your teammates and visitors, the more easily you understand and are understood in language - still higher you climb. The more hours you spend with people of your host culture, the more home stays you do, the longer you do them for - all of these things prop you higher and higher on the totem pole of success in this missionary life.

And, the thing is, these are good things.  Really good things.  It shows the utmost respect for people that you are able to speak to them in their language, to spend time with them in their homes, to love and live their approach to life.  I hold these same things in extremely high regard.  I, too, share these expectations, these values.

The thing is, I realized on my bike on the way home from the market today, that I will never be that person.  I'm not that person in the US and never have been in any other context I've spent time in and I will never be that person here in South Sudan.

Hm.  So.  Does that mean I will never make a good missionary?  My first inclination is yes, that's exactly what that means.  However, my growing awareness of shame in my life makes me think twice about that inclination.  Maybe, in fact,  just like everything else in life, it takes all kinds.  What about those tasks that are necessary to our ability to stay here in a relatively remote, newly independent country that require some attention to detail and mindless paperwork and waiting in lines?  What about roles that involve working with your hands more than speaking?  What about those africans who don't fit the typical african mold - they need a friend and need to experience the love of Jesus just as much as the rest of the continent.  Just the same,  just because I don't fit the typical mold doesn't mean that there is no place for me...

So, if it in fact does not mean that, then, pray tell, what does it mean?

It means that my life will look different from the lives of my teammates.  Maybe really different.  It means that's ok.  It means that God made me the way He did, for a reason.  It means that reason has purpose and place and significance here in South Sudan.  It means it's okay to love being a nurse.   It means it's okay to be quiet, and shy.  It means it's okay to take my time, and work at my own speed. It means I may struggle more to remember the validity of my role here.  It means I am called to be a part of things that are not so easy for me, and they will be stretching and difficult for me, but that I don't have to spend all of everyday in that category.  It means diversity is, in fact, the spice of life and I wouldn't want it any other way.

So, Mundri, for better or worse, the one you will meet on the road, the one you who will weigh and stick needles in and smile at and cuddle and coo at your children in the health center, the one who will struggle to come up with the right words, or even words at all, the one who will sit and really enjoy being with you but maybe not know the culturally appropriate way to express it, it is me, myself.   I am the one.