We are now into our sixth school term of a nine term commitment, so we’ve passed our halfway point. I’ve been thinking about some of the lessons I’ve learned over the past year and a half. I feel like each of these could be a blog post in and of itself, but for now here is a window into some of my reflections…
This is an amazing place to grow up
I’m pretty sure I knew this before, but it has only been reinforced since we’ve moved here. My boys run out the door and can be gone for several hours and I don’t really worry about them. Whether it’s biking around, playing soccer, exploring in the bush (thankfully no snake encounters), helping our groundskeeper with his work or making their own fun, they live much of their lives outside. We have some toys, books and craft supplies to fill in the gaps, but I love the freedom they have here. I quickly overcame my dislike of dirt (especially on feet!) and now know a bucketful of brown water going down the drain at the end of the day, means that they played hard.
Serving in this context is a lot different when you have your own children
When we signed up for this, I knew teaching would be a big part of my role, but I also wanted to build close relationships with the kids, especially the boarders. While there are a few kids that I have stronger connections with, it’s not how I imagined. Perhaps I was a little naive, but being pregnant, then having a newborn and two other young children, I often feel like I have little energy to give beyond my family. I have never been shy about the fact that they are my priority, but it’s an adjustment. When I spent 3 months at a boarding school in rural Zambia during university, I was with the kids for almost 10 hours a day. I was close to them and was able to love them in many practical ways. But I was young and single and I had the time and energy. I’ve come to realize that that’s the kind of person best suited for those roles. And we have amazing interns who come and do just that. I can teach students during my work hours and help improve their language skills. We can share a meal together and show them an example of a family. I can give them the opportunity to be big brothers and sisters to my kids. I can read with them and help them with homework as time allows, but investing in my own kids is my priority and often times that’s all I have in me. I’ve come to accept it. I’m in a different season of life and I am so grateful for my children. But it’s different than I pictured and I have to be okay with that and let others with different life circumstances do what they do best.
I live a lot of my life out of fear
This could definitely be its own post as it’s been a big one for me. I’ve been realizing how much fear prevents me from doing things. And oddly enough it’s a lesson I learned from a bagel. After enjoying bagels at a friend’s house, she shared the recipe but it took me months to actually make them. I eventually realized that it was because I was afraid of failing (perhaps a little bit of laziness too). I’ve had some unsuccessful bread-making attempts in the past and if I can’t be good at something, I often don’t want to do it. Once I realized that, I saw how true it was in other, more important areas of life. For example, it took me far too many months to have the courage to go and meet my neighbours. To start, small talk is not my gift and add to that potential language and cultural barriers. But even more so I was afraid of what they really thought of me. Do they want me in their community? Are they happy I’m here or just annoyed that another white person has come to “help”? I’ve been trying to have more courage which has led not only to delicious bagels, but some great friendships!
I am more critical than I thought
I’m not sure if I would have described myself as a critical person before, but I’ve been pretty aware of it over the last year or so. And I don’t like it. Whether it’s criticizing a person or the way something is done, it can be easy to fall into the downward spiral of negativity. There is a difference between disagreeing with something or someone and providing constructive feedback versus just complaining. Life here, like anywhere, can be frustrating. Relationships are complicated and I need to talk about how I feel. But it was after reading this quote recently when I realized why I can get so negative: “What Susie says of Sally says more of Susie than of Sally.” What I say about other people is a window into my character. I often complain out of insecurity. Others are doing it and I want to belong. I also feel better about myself when I put others down, even if it’s just a temporary high. It’s a tough realization, but it’s true and something I need to work on…for the rest of my life!
We are not heroes
When you move your family to the other side of the world to work with kids in the bush, sometimes you get a little more admiration than feels comfortable. Yes, we have given some things up, but we have a pretty great life. And in some ways life is easier here. Although we aren’t always great at it, we value the simple and unhurried life. Here, our kids aren’t in any activities outside of school. There are no skating classes or gymnastics or music lessons to rush around to. And there are very few places to spend our money aside from our basic groceries. There are no restaurants, coffee shops or malls nearby. Things like how my house looks don’t seem to matter. We have mismatched, old furniture and I can go weeks without thinking about it. I’m not embarrassed about it like I would be back home and no one is judging me, at least that I know of. I have no thoughts of upgrading or remodelling. My tap is simply there to provide me with water and I don’t think about what it looks like or how it fits in my kitchen decor. I know all of this will be much more difficult and will take a lot more intentionality when we are home. How do we live life without falling into the ‘busy’ trap? How do I value people over things? How do we spend, or not spend our money so we can be more generous? It’s my friends back home who are working through these questions and making tough choices on a daily basis, that I admire the most. Yes, we have given up some of the comforts of life and being close to family and friends. Our kids don’t know how to skate and aren’t as comfortable in the water. There are days when we feel like we are a missing a lot, but overall it’s pretty great here. I know it’s not for everyone, but on most days it doesn’t feel like a sacrifice and we want to be here.
Knowing I will miss this life, helps me be more present
Having lived on this side of the world long enough, I know I will miss it when we move back to Canada. Consistently since I have stepped foot on this continent, it has drawn me back time and time again. After a few years back in Canada I start to feel antsy and uncomfortable and ready to come back. And God has opened doors to allow us to do that for which I am so grateful. But I feel like this will be the last time in awhile with the stage our family is at. I have no doubt I will be back to visit many times, but I’m not sure we will live on this side of the world for a long period of time again. I have learned not to say “never”. I never thought I’d be here with a baby, and here I am. But I am also not counting on it. This has helped me to appreciate the time we have here. To walk out the door and take in the beauty of rural Africa that surrounds me. To whisper to myself, “this is actually my home” and appreciate what a unique adventure this is. Some days can be really hard and I long for the comforts of home. But I know enough now that once I’m there, it won’t take long for me to want to be back. And so for now I’ll do my best to be present and make the most of the gift that is this season of life.
2 thoughts on “Lessons I’m Learning”
Enjoy your stay in Zambia. Lovemore & Sikhulile Nkala
Julianne…Thanks for your last update. I really enjoyed reading about your reflections & being so very open about your thoughts & feelings as you walk through life in Africa. It’s true that we need to enjoy each season of life….& take day by day. I’m sure your time away has impacted everyone in your family. Keeping you in my prayers…..Bless you Bless Joel & each of your 3 children.