Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Seussical Thinking

Part of our orientation with the organization we are working with (Hands at Work) is the chance to sit with George Snyman, the man who founded the organization, and hear how Hands came to be and where he gets his guidance for the work that Hands is doing throughout Africa. Having met George on several occasions and been around him for some amount of time, I am always excited/nervous to sit near him and hear him talk. The first time Jason and I had coffee with him, we were thinking in terms of a youth group trip, George told me casually as we parted ways, “See you in Africa!” and I said, “Well, you’ll see Jason in Africa.” He looked me in the eye and said, “I’ll see you in Africa.” It was then I was convinced that this guy was nuts. He obviously read me all wrong. I never had any desire to go to Africa, or really on any type of overseas mission that didn’t involve flush toilets and a bug free atmosphere. Seriously, after the aforementioned Shasta trip, I wasn’t really even excited about camping anymore!
Fast forward four years, and here I am, my third trip to Africa and my family in tow. As the great philosopher, Justin Bieber, would say, “Never say never!”. So this week, I find myself and Jason and Aidan, along with the three other girls who are in our orientation group, sitting around a table with George. Just an aside, all three of the girls are Canadian prairie girls. How lucky are we? Carly and Carleigh (I kid you not) are from Winnipeg, while Melissa is from good old Saskatoon. Crazy. We’d never met until we arrived here and now these three girls and our little family are a pretty great team. The Carlies2 and Melissa are great to be around and thankfully, they put up with our family’s antics quite well. The Carlies2 were junior high leaders so sufficiently acquainted with junior high aged boys and the younger to dish out as much as the boys can. Melissa has a sarcastic wit that waited until day three to show itself and she’s proven herself able to shut down any whining or bickering that may erupt between the boys in a flash.
George begins to just speak earnestly about what he believes is the calling of those of us who claim to be Christians in regards to justice and righteousness. As I often do when I’m listening to George, I find myself agreeing with him wholeheartedly and simultaneously feeling like bashing my own face with a hammer for all my shortcomings in this regard. He speaks about compassion as a hallmark of life as one who follows Christ. He’s not pointing fingers but I feel the cold grip of conviction as he speaks of compassion as always taking you to an action. It’s not compassion if it flees when you change the channel or avert your eyes. It’s not even compassion if it leads to tears and heartache unless that leads to action. I’m not here to argue the definitions but to me, it hits me hard how often what I’ve thought of as compassion has actually been emotion or empathy at best. It’s been years since I’ve watched it and I may butcher the context but I remember a line in the movie “Hotel Rwanda” in which those leading the peacekeepers plead with journalists to show the world what is happening, thinking it will compel them to act. The response is that “they (the world) will watch it over their tv dinners and then promptly forget it.” The gist of it being that even though the world is shown what is going on, to those of us on “the outside”, it’s a matter of “those people” and “over there”. I admit, even sitting across the valley from Masoyi, there’s still the same concept. We’re here, they are there. How does it change us to think in terms of “part of us is here, part of us is there”. Don’t get caught up in my limited view of it’s not just about vocabulary. How do we get to where we are really “we”?
I don’t know. I really don’t. What I do know is I need to change my thinking. In the midst of being here, I still feel separated from what goes on across the highway and valley. And yet, the same rains that fall on me, fall on those who live over there. And to those of you back in North America, we are over “here” which means what’s happening “over there” is happening “right here”. I think I’m starting to sound like Dr. Seuss and not in a brightly coloured, illustrated way. I’ll leave you with this, from the Lorax, according to the good Dr. (Seuss, that is...) “unless someone cares, awfully alot, it’s not going to change, not ever, it’s not.”

I Bless the Rains...

I know the feeling of being in Canada and wondering how my friends in Africa are making out on their trip and so, I now have the perspective from the other side. Internet access is harder than I thought to attain and so I apologize for the length of time between postings at this point. It’s not as if there is a shortage of things to say or things we’re feeling...quite the contrary. When our friend, Kristal, spent a year away from us in Africa, I admittedly checked her blog daily (sometimes hourly) just wondering what she was up to and what was happening with the students she was working with. If you find yourself in this position, just a caution, you may be on your way to just don’t know it yet. I found at times I was so invested (a.k.a. obsessed) that I grilled her when she would get online. Again, symptomatic of one who is on their way over here. Just FYI.
The weather since we’ve arrived, as I may have mentioned once or a thousand times, has been hot – well into the 30’s...a few days into the 40’s. Even the mild -21 degree weather in the midst of a Canadian February does not prepare you for the heat nor the humidity. It’s lovely to be hot. I just keep telling myself that. A few days last week, we experienced the rains down in Africa. Cue Toto. While the humidity builds, thoughts turn to a storm to blow through and clear the air. Most days it just threatens. Today, we woke to a bright and sunny, clear sky until an hour ago as Africa made good on her promises. Lightning and thunder coincide and chase each other’s heels so closely, you can hardly differentiate which is first and what follows. The storm slides in over the mountains behind us and settles itself in the valley above us. Tin roofs become waterfalls and I try not to think of my shelter as the electrical conduit that it is. Trees wave madly in circles divesting themselves of excess foliage and any unfortunate inhabitants. Our door blows open though latched so we lock ourselves in and bolt the glass pane windows against the wind. The power is on and we allow ourselves the comfort of our only extravagant purchase so far – two fans we purchased after sweating ourselves to sleep the first few nights. My family is here, all together, ready to welcome the respite that the storm gives us. Books are pulled out, games are played. My thoughts go to the communities across the valley. I can’t see the community of Masoyi as I can on a clear day but across the wind and rain, I know that there are children living alone where roofs don’t provide dry shelter and wind can ravage their homes. The small rivers of water flowing clearly through our “village” are clean compared to the ones flowing through theirs. Sewage, garbage, and all sorts of flotsam run wherever they please. I remember my worst camping experience in Shasta, CA. An island, an unrelenting rain for hours leading into a long, dark night with 70+ kids in wet sleeping bags standing under a smoke filled tarp with nothing more than a cook shack for shelter. Even then, we knew at worst, it would be three wet days. At best, a middle of the night phone call to Jason’s then assistant, Misty, who pulled off the best middle of the night Survivor style rescue ever. Boats loaded, kids ferried to waiting vehicles and a small town church opening its doors to a bunch of rain soaked refugees while leaders piled as many wet sleeping bags and pillows into a Laundromat dryer as could possibly fit. The boys and I bailed with our friends, Bruce and Robin, and I was never so happy to be in a warm vehicle heading home. I remember the relief and I wonder what hope these communities have of drying out before nightfall? Of a waiting warm shelter or the relief of rescue – someone to take their wet things and say, “You’re welcome with us, stay here and wait out the storm.” I may be in Africa but today, I’m safely in a comfortable room, family around me, waiting for the storm to pass. It’s a luxury most don’t have.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

At last....

Hi friends,
Sorry for the delay in updates, we're still figuring out the intricacies of internet reliability and access. Basically, everytime we've had time to update, a large storm blows through and there goes the power and internet. I am not complaining though...a good rain clears the air and brings the heat to a manageable level. We're all doing well. I've figured out that my best bet to update regularly is to type it out and then cut and paste onto the blog as access allows. We'll definitely try to keep you guys a little better informed. We've had a great week here and we're coming to terms with the plethora of living things around us. The first few nights were a little nervewracking for some in our family who shall remain nameless (ahem, Aidan) whose fear of bugs had him surveying each crack and cranny in the room before turning out the light. I don't know where he gets that from. But, the past few nights...not at all. He's doing great, as is Easton. Aidan is participating in as much of our orientation as possible and Easton, well, he's found his niche trailing David Bentley around the mechanics shed. He's "helped" change oil filters on vehicles and balanced tires and found that that rolling things that you lay on under the car are pretty cushy. So, in his words, while other "suckers" are in school learning math, he's fixing cars. Nice.
We are heading into a community called Chere (sp?) near Bushbuckridge, SA on Friday for four nights in the community. We'll see how we all do, sleeping, eating, working with an African family of 4 kids, no parents. Hopefully we don't shame Canada with our discomfort. : )
Other than that, we're heading to Oshoek on the Swaziland border in the next week or so as well to do some work with the care centres there.
Most of what we're doing is in flux and is revealed as it comes about. The needs here are overwhelming, the stories are both inspiring and frustrating...we've so much to learn and we're learning more everyday than we thought possible. Our hearts and heads are full.
Love and miss our friends and family and our Charlie but it's really just an amazing opportunity stretching out in front of us. Thanks for hanging in with us!

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Amazing Race and the Many Reasons We're Not on Reality TV

It's been such a good week, amidst all the craziness of saying goodbyes and getting things sorted with the house, the dog, the housesitter, my job and all other matters and loose ends. We left Saskatoon yesterday and drove to MacGregor, MB to my sister-in-law's house and bunked over night. One last night with a big, brown lab as my only blanket and then a quick, not teary goodbye this morning at 0'dark'thirty as someone says...not sure who...just someone. My brother in law Lloyd shuttled us to the Winnipeg airport and we hit the tarmac and headed off to Toronto and then on to Washington, DC for what was supposed to be a quick connection. Upon arrival, we noticed about a 40 min delay posted for our flight and slowed to a reasonable pace and arrived at the gate in time to get boarding passes and figure out luggage in transit and grab a bite to eat. That was at 5:30. It's 10:30 pm now and after a few long and longer delays and a final cancellation on our flight, we sprung into Amazing Race mode complete with wrong turns and a few not so lovely words to a D.C. taxi driver that treated me like a moron for asking to go to the Landsdown Hotel vs. the Landsdown RESORT. For that, I should be truly sorry and yet right now, I still want to kick his tires and tell him he's the reason Americans get a bad rap.That is why I will never go on Amazing Race, I replay my own misdeeds often enough mentally without a video feed and twitter commentary on my bad behaviours! We did pull some good moves tonight though, if I may brag just a little. At 8:40, a third attempt at a departure time, we noticed some rustling and mumbling amongst the flight crew so Jason cleverly positioned himself front and centre with access to the desk at a moments notice of a cancellation announcement. As luck would have it, they announced that our rows would have to receive our hotel vouchers at Gate 41, not gate 63 where Jason was. Where were the boys and I cleverly hanging out and playing Scrabble Slam for the 50th time you ask? Oh, gate 41. Easton popped up just as a mob of 150 people came running down the concourse toward us and scored us the front of the line. Seriously, the kid has got some MOVES! I know we're supposed to be all sweetness and light, putting others first, but we grabbed our vouchers and hastily beelined for the arrivals level where a shuttle was due to pick us up. After 10 mins and an increasingly long line of grumpy safari type travellers in brand new vests and khakis, we decided to find out the cost of a taxi. Best $31 we ever spent. Adjoining rooms, cheerful front desk staff, free computer access, meals...and in the background now, I hear the dull roar of a long line of grumpy would be safari enthusiasts lamenting how "mickey mouse" the whole "operation" is and they should have booked through Tennessee. (Heaven KNOWS Tennessee doesn't have these city type problems!)
So, I'm signing off, going to sink into that luxury king size bed overlooking DC and brush my teeth with the hotel supplied mouthwash. Tomorrow, we'll slip back into our clothes for the second full day and hopefully be winging our way over the Atlantic towards Johannesburg. Sweet dreams friends!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Last Minute Shinny

So, this past week, amidst the pre-trip chaos, packing, showing the house, packing, working, packing, open houses, packing, vaccination appointments and all the packing, we decided to squeeze in a family photo shoot. Why not!?
Thankfully, some lovely friends of ours have started their own photography business (see and as Adrian has travelled and worked with Hands at Work, he generously offered to take our family's photos for free. How amazing is that? So, we decided on an outdoor shoot and picked a local rink and headed out for a game of shinny. The photos are gorgeous, we loved our time with Adrian and Sarah, who, by the way, should be in front of the cameras not behind them, they're so darn cute...but I digress. Anyway, here are the results of our little game of pick up hockey...probably our last for awhile. We're all back to packing and finishing homework and packing and putting together lists of things to do and...well, you get the idea. We head to Winnipeg on Sunday, drop the dog at the cousins' and we fly out Monday morning. We arrive in South Africa on Valentine's's that for celebrating love!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Every Tear a Waterfall

Oh, Coldplay has it right this week. I'm stuck in the gap between the two trapeze. We've gone too far to back out and we're flying through the air with the hope that we'll grab the trapeze swinging towards us high above the ground.

At work this weekend, one of my coworkers asked me what my days off were and I realized, I don't have any days off this week! Thursday is my last day and leads into days off upon days off from the store. In case I haven't mentioned four or five hundred times in the last while, I really have loved my job and particularly the people I work with. The women I work with. Let's be honest...who thought working with almost 30 women would be fun! (Boys need not reply!) It's been so great...what an amazing bunch of women and despite all our different backgrounds, ideas, lives and day to day's been such a great experience. I've learned so much from these ladies...from college girls to moms to grandmothers...these women seriously made the last few years of my life so rich. So, of course, when I left work yesterday and grabbed yet another batch of boxes to pack up with...the tears threatened in the car on the way home. Distraction works and I made it onto my street without a single tear until I round the corner and there is Natalie, our six year old neighbour, giving Aidan grief for throwing his body her direction in a game of street hockey. She's yelling and complaining about how it's rude to point your butt at someone when you're playing hockey. He's towering over her and trying to take her seriously and it's one of those great scenes that embeds itself into your mind as your gangly teenager treads lightly on the feelings of an indignant tyrant who comes up to his knees. I found myself cheering Natalie on and then pulled into the garage and the tears began. There's a lot to miss in leaving our lives here. I knew this time would come...when doubts and misgivings and just plain old comfort would gang up and make this all feel like a really poor decision. And yet, I can't help but cling to the words we hear over and over from parents with children older than ours - "I always wanted to do that!" and "I sure wish we'd done that with our kids!" It reminds me that it's okay to mourn the losses as long as I don't lose sight of the gains.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

What about Charlie?

When I say that our family is going to Africa, there's the matter of an oversized lap dog that we've had to consider. Many of you have asked what is going to happen to Charlie and here it is...she is going to vacation with Jason's sister's family. Kim and Lloyd have promised to keep her in the manner in which she is accustomed and that involves being a wimpy, indoor dog that sloths around and takes over the bed of those foolish enough to allow her on. Our nephews, Mitch and Mac and niece, Kamerin, will fill in for our family in the companionship part of the deal, while I'm sure Kim will take over the rest of the lovely details of adding a mid-sized lab to the family. Mac has already claimed Charlie as room mate so hopefully he and Charlie can work out the details of whose side of the bed is whose.

List Making and Midnight Milk Bones

I've developed a new talent in the past few weeks, one for making lists in my sleep. They're not all productive lists but my mind is working overtime and taking on a life of its own. Lists of things to do and people to see before an overseas trip may seem appropriate for the weeks leading into this next adventure, but honestly, the lists my mind is forming are strung together like a revolving diagram of a DNA strand. Each strand is connected to the next in a manner that I am sure only my bizarre thought process could produce. For example, the middle of the night string of thinking that has me wondering about how to store a portable basketball hoop that leads me to tear up with thoughts of saying goodbye to our amazing neighbourhood friends to wondering what type of personal hygiene products are available in the far reaches of Africa to wondering what are the far reaches of Africa and how do you know when you've reached it?
Do you see why I'm awake at 3:30 am? Not that I'm the only creature stirring, I can't sneak downstairs without my faithful sidekick stretching her way off the bed and padding down after me. She's never too tired to be hopeful for a midnight milk bone for her loyalty. Truthfully, the things that swim around in my mind these days can only be suppressed by few distractions. The boys are playing their final hockey games this weekend, Aidan's team has made the provincials and so tomorrow night is a big game for all the boys. I'm not sure how Aidan's feeling about it but I get pretty choked up when I think about these guys and their parents and not seeing them for a while. Aidan's class at school went to Quebec this week on an exchange and because of timing, he couldn't go. I know that it will be worth it in just a few weeks but right now, I wonder about that too. Then my train of thought leaves the station and I find myself thinking about Aidan seeing the monkeys at the place where we'll be staying and I start to really get excited for all the new things that Africa will bring us. I imagine the boys' faces as they see a zebra for the first time outside of a zoo and a home made of mud and cardboard and brick. I imagine them in the midst of a village of children and the laughter and wonder of being the centre of the attention of a loud and curious group of kids and I wonder where this trip will take them. I think of all the things that they will see and hear and feel and I begin to really earnestly dream about how all this is shaping who they are and who they will be.
Last weekend, Aidan's team was invited to play in a hockey tournament in a tiny town called Conquest about an hour outside of the city. He had a great time and came home with the player of the tournament trophy for his role in denying the opposing team a single goal in an overtime shootout. His coaches are great guys and asked the boys to please write a thank you note to the organizers of the tournament. I love this because I think great coaches care about developing these boys into great men, not just great hockey players and I like that they challenge our boys on and off the ice. As I proofread Aidan's letter, I was really proud of how he articulated his appreciation. I mean, I think he's an amazing kid and all, but sometimes it still catches me off guard when I see proof of his character when he's unaware that I'm looking.
As I read it, I realized that the boys will have things to say about this trip that will give insight into not only who they are, but what they are learning and how it's developing them. In that, we are going to have the boys share some of their thoughts on the blog as well. Many of you have been coaching us without even knowing that we were watching...but those of you around us - near and far - are pouring into our character development and that of our boys and I hope that it comes through in our writing that this isn't just our journal or our way to keep up with each of you, I hope it becomes our thank you letter for the chance to do what we're doing. So for now, let me state the obvious and say that we're so thankful for each of you - the way you've encouraged us by your words, your donations, your interest in our well being...thanks for coming along with us this way. We couldn't do it without you. Nor would we want to.