Grade One is Done

Today was Caleb and Micah’s last day of grade one. There are a few more weeks to go in the school year, but we decided to leave a little early to have a longer visit in Canada. The boys were blessed with four amazing teachers this year. Ms. Monde was their main teacher and they also had three assistants along the way. They kept getting promoted to a full teacher position which was great for them, but a loss each time for their class.

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It’s been amazing to watch the boys grow this year, not only physically, but in all they have learned. In some ways the context for learning here is so different… lots of seat work, copying off the board and virtually no worksheets. But they thrived with great teachers who have been kind and guided them along the way. One of my favourite things is to watch them read and immerse themselves in the world of books. It’s such a fun stage of learning.

But now we’re all ready for a break and to have time to just be together and with those we have missed. Tomorrow is our last full day in Macha, then we drive to Livingstone on Sunday, fly on Monday and arrive in Canada on Tuesday. The boys love to travel and are excited for unlimited movies  on the plane and the kids play area in Heathrow. I’m looking forward to a chocolate croissant and a smoothie. We will arrive exhausted but with anticipation for a wonderful few months ahead. Today was full of goodbyes, but soon there will be many hellos and we can’t wait. Your prayers are appreciated as we travel and transition back into Canadian life for awhile. And we hope Canada has saved a little bit of Fall for us!

 

 

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Canada Bound in One Month

For both Joel and I, Thanksgiving is our favourite holiday of the year. We love the Fall weather, the turkey dinner, and the time around the table with our families. While it’s a hard weekend to be away, we are excited that a taste of home is getting closer.

Exactly one month from today, we will be landing in Canada for a two-month stay. The purpose of our trip is to rest, spend time with family and friends, and share about what we’ve been up to in Macha. As we are entering the peak of hot season we are also looking forward to some cooler weather, a Canadian Christmas and lots of time with the people we miss dearly.

We have planned some visits  to share at churches and will also be having some dessert nights where you can learn more about what we’ve been up to and what we hope for in the coming year. Stay tuned for more details. We’d also love to meet with you over coffee or a shared meal and catch up on life together.

While we were are home, we will be needing a vehicle to help us move around. Do you know anyone who is able to help with this? Perhaps, a snowbird who is heading south for the winter and leaving one behind. Or maybe you’re going on vacation and will have one that won’t be in use for a week or two? Even a short period of time would be useful for us. If you or someone you know can help in any way, please contact us at juliannepercy@gmail.com

It’ll be a busy month before we go as we have stepped into new roles and have much to learn. I’m also excited that my good friend Jenn is visiting for the month and will be helping me with teaching and ideas for moving forward. This momma is also excited for a few nights away without kids for the first time in close to two years. We appreciate your prayers over the next month as we prepare to go from home to home. And we look forward to catching up with many of you, very soon!

 

Lessons I’m Learning

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.

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A princess party!

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!

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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.

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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.

Surprise!

Last Thursday Nathaniel and I boarded a plane in Livingstone and 32 hours later, landed in Toronto and showed up at my parents’ front door. My parents were celebrating their 45th anniversary and my mom is about to have a significant birthday. After going back and forth for awhile, and with the help of a few generous people, I decided to put my fears of travelling alone with a baby aside, and book a ticket to celebrate with my family. While a few of them were in the loop, it’s been fun to surprise many people with our visit.

I’ll be in Canada for a total of two weeks before going back to start term three. It’s already been a fantastic time catching up with family and good friends and re-introducing Nathaniel to people he last saw when he was 7 weeks old. Joel, Caleb and Micah are holding down the fort back in Macha. We miss them dearly but they are keeping busy with their own version of the Olympics, lots of soccer games and many Lego creations. After a season of really missing my Canadian home and especially my family, I’m very thankful for the chance to be here with them.

Term Two in Review

Another term has flown by and it was a great one at MICS. We’ve now completed 5 out of the 9 terms we’ve committed to. Here are some of the highlights from the past three months…

Inservice
We started off the term with another teacher inservice day. Our theme was “around the world”. I taught some games related to learning countries and using a map. Each class received a world map for their room and a new country was introduced each week in library.

Field Trip
During the first week of school, we walked the five minutes to the airstrip to watch not one, but three planes land. This was a first for many of the students and fun to watch their excitement. It’s moments like those that the differences between here and Canada are highlighted for me. There were no permission forms, no money to collect, no school buses or parents volunteers. All that separated the kids from the planes a few dozen feet away were their teachers.

Circus Day
Once or twice a term we have a special theme day where we set academics aside and have some fun. Some visitors from Canada ran a special circus day. It included everything from face painting, learning how to juggle, making animal masks, crafts and relay races.

The Meeting House Team
We were very excited to welcome a leadership team from our church The Meeting House. This was the first African experience for several of them, including our lead pastor Bruxy. Although we only had a few days with them in Macha we enjoyed taking them to church, showing them around MICS and catching up over several meals together. With the help of Daddy, Caleb made Bruxy a Lego replica of The Meeting House.

5k Race
Nina and Maya Cavey stayed with us for another week after the rest of the team left. The boys loved having a “big sister” around. Our friends at Push The Rock held a 5k race for the community that Nina, Sarah (our boarding manager) and I walked together. 


Disc Golf
Macha was recently the recipient of the first disc golf course in Zambia (learn more here). This has been a great addition to our life in the bush. Several times a week we are either out on the course or practicing at MICS (we also got 3 baskets). Micah loves to play as well, Caleb keeps score on his clipboard when he’s not playing and Nathaniel happily watches from the stroller. It’s also a great way to catch up with friends over a round or two. It’s been fun to see the game catching on in the community.

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Celebrations
Over 3 months we celebrated Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, my birthday, Caleb and Micah’s 6th birthday and Nathaniel’s first birthday. The twins had a birthday lunch after school with a few of their friends. They enjoyed some treats, “pin the monkey on the palm tree” and a balloon game which lasted all of 10 seconds. Turns out balloons and dry Macha ground don’t mix well. To celebrate Nathaniel we invited the boarding kids over to sing happy birthday and enjoy a cupcake. He had no interest in the cupcake but was fun for him to be surrounded by his big brothers and sisters.

 

My Class
I’ve been continuing to work with my small groups of students on phonics and reading. I’ve also been working with Ms. Mungo, our grade two teacher and helping her learn some new strategies. She will be taking over some of my groups next term so I can work one-on-one with a few students who need the extra attention. I’ve been grateful for her help and  I’ve also been really encouraged that ten of my students have made enough progress that they will no longer be needing my support next term. While I love my job, working myself out of one is always the goal!

Chapel
I’m continuing to help with chapel a few times a week. This term we did a “MICS Hero” program where students were nominated from each class every week. The students had to show the character trait we had been focusing on, they received a certificate and two lucky students got to wear our special hero hats for the day.

Alpha
In June, Joel and I started leading and hosting the Alpha course with our good friends Corie and Eric Thuma. Each week thirteen of us gather to watch a video, share a meal and have a discussion about some aspect of the Christian faith. We’ve been so encouraged by the participation, the questions being asked and the friendships that are forming. The course will continue until the end of September.

 

Now we’re on a four week term break for the month of August. The campus is very quiet but we are enjoying the slower pace of life and lots of time together as a family. While it’s a nice break, we look forward to the school coming alive again in a few weeks.

But Africa isn’t cold!

It’s easy to forget that it’s summer back home. Cold season is upon us in full force on this side of the world. People laugh when I say that. They don’t believe it can be that cold, but trust me, it is!

Joel and I learned our lesson when we lived in Zimbabwe almost a decade ago. Concrete floors and no insulation mean even a drop in temperature by 10 degrees can feel quite dramatic. I remember going to bed with a hot water bottle at my feet, multiple sweatshirts and blankets, a toque on my head and still struggling to get comfortable. We had a water spout outside our house that leaked and some mornings we would find an icicle hanging from it.

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Cozy bedtime stories

This time around I was a little more prepared, especially knowing I’d have kids to keep warm. The boys all go to bed in fleece PJs and we splurged on heaters that we use when necessary. They venture off to school in trousers (we have to say “trousers” because “pants” means underwear here), sweatshirts (knows as jerseys) and toques. I brought some wool shirts, big sweaters and fuzzy slippers. Yesterday was our coldest day yet. July can be quite cloudy and windy and it was rare that we saw the sun peak out. I wear flip flops virtually every day here but yesterday was the first where my socks stayed on all day. After hours on the clothesline, my laundry still wasn’t dry.

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Ready for the day

Although it can be hard to warm up, we don’t actually mind. In just a few months we will be in the peak of hot season back to constant sweating. When it’s cold we can always wrap ourselves in one more blanket, but there’s only so much relief from the heat especially when power cuts prevent our fans from working. Just as those of you back home welcome the warm weather after enduring a long winter, we are enjoying the treat of jeans and sweatshirts, warm soup and hot chocolate. When I catch myself complaining I quickly remember what is to come and how short these few months are in our otherwise hot climate. Happy summer!

Missing Home

Sometimes it’s hard to know what to blog about, what to share and what will be interesting. And sometimes to be honest we just simply don’t have the energy (Exhibit A: our last post being almost 2 months ago. Oops!). Awhile ago I was feeling a little bit lonely and forgotten…yes it happens sometimes…and when I shared it with a friend back home she said that people likely just see all the adventures and good times we’re having and don’t think about the hard stuff. So while I feel like I have lots of great things to share about our life here over the past few months, I thought I’d start with some of the hard stuff.

So it turns out, it can be really, really hard to live on the other side of the world. I don’t consider myself to be someone who gets very homesick, but over the past few months I’ve had an ache that I haven’t really experienced before. The hardest part by far is missing family. And in recent months we have missed birthdays, a baptism, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, family weekend at the farm and the birth of our nephew. We are close with our families and missing out on these experiences, especially when we know everyone else is together, sometimes just plain sucks. Good friends are a close second to family. While technology is wonderful, I miss being able to share a meal with some of our friends, watching our kids play together or having a good chat with a kindred spirit over a mint chocolate chip waffle.

Besides people, there are other things we miss.  I miss having a grocery store less than an hour away with unlimited choices. I miss fresh salads and berries and access to any kind of food I want with very little effort. I miss church that is less than three hours long. I miss the gym and swimming. I miss having places to go and paved roads to get there on. I miss going on dates with my husband. Apparently the boys miss their wooden train set which is always the first thing they mention when I ask them about Canada. The list could go on and on, but you get it. We miss home. And while Macha has very much become home and we have wonderful friendships here for which we are very grateful, sometimes we just long for what we have left behind. And never more so than in recent days.

So while we share about all the good stuff, know that those of you who sent us off on this adventure and continue to support us from afar, are never far from our minds. We look forward to sharing more about what we’ve been up to, in the near future.

Term One Come and Gone

As it always seems to do, time continues to fly and our first term of the 2016 school year is already behind us. We’ve been on term break for most of April and second term starts in less than a week.

I started to teach again in January. Nathaniel was only 6 months but because of our unique situation, I felt comfortable putting in a few hours each day between nursing sessions. I’ve been helping with chapel and then working with students until morning break while Joel works from home with the baby. Then he makes the one minute commute to the office while I put my mommy hat back on. It’s been great engaging back in school life again while still being able to be home for most of the day. Living on a school campus, so much of life is integrated here. I can bring Nathaniel to chapel (he’s even debuted his acting career playing both a monkey and baby Moses), he can play on the office floor during meetings and after school we can walk to the boarding hall and hang out with kids while they do homework or just play. The kids love him and he loves them. It works well!

We always start the term with a teacher inservice day. Since our theme this term was literature, I led a session on fiction and non-fiction texts. We did a game using Venn diagrams to compare and contrast text features. It’s always fun to see the teachers engaging in new activities that they will hopefully try with their students. It is easy to overwhelm them with new ideas so I try to find simple activities they can implement and add a new dimension to learning.

I am currently working with 26 students ranging from grade one to six. With the younger students we are focusing on identifying letters and sounds and forming words. With the older students we have been working on reading fluency, sight words and comprehension. Progress can feel slow at times, but every little step forward is encouraging and I love seeing their confidence growing. There are a few students I am hoping to work with one-on-one next term to give them an extra boost.

It feels like there are about a hundred more things I could be doing to help out here, but with three young kids this feels like the right balance for now. It’s been very quiet on campus for the last few weeks and we look forward to the place coming alive again in a few days as term two begins.

 

Seasons

One thing I miss about life in Canada is how different each of the seasons are. There is something that seems almost magical, when the transition happens from one season to the next. The beauty of the leaves turning colour and falling to the ground (my favourite!), the first snowfall blanketing the earth in white, the first hints of warm weather and new life after the chill of winter, the first time it’s actually hot enough to jump in a pool. Each season is so distinct and has its own beauty.

It’s evident from friends’ posts on Instagram and Facebook that spring has arrived back in Canada. Photos are popping up of sunshine and short-sleeves. There is talk of barbecues, and patio furniture and gardening. I admit I’m a bit jealous.

We are starting to change seasons here in Zambia too, but it is far less dramatic. Rainy season is coming to an end and the cooler season is approaching. Temperatures dropping to the low twenties (Celcius) mean sweatshirts and socks which are a welcome change after the extreme heat. It is becoming easier to do laundry as the dark skies no longer threaten in the late afternoon causing us to rush to the clothesline and hang things all over the house. The green that surrounds us will fade to brown, the earth will dry up and the dust will return.

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Dark clouds threatening to add an extra rinse cycle

While things warm up for most of you, they are cooling down for us and sometimes the difference is a reminder of just how far one home is from the other. But, I am thankful for seasons as they are a symbol of new beginnings, a fresh start, a chance to grow and change into something new. There is beauty and a sense of anticipation in the transformation and I welcome the change.

In Need of Love

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Today my son was having a huge meltdown. For no apparent reason. It was partly amusing and partly just astonishing that he was capable of such a display. But it made me want to retreat into my bedroom, close the door and curl up in my bed to avoid it all. Then this quote came to mind. Remember that people are the least lovable when they need love the most. He clearly needed something. What, I’m not exactly sure, but some love and focused attention never hurts. So instead of escaping…which I confess is my default far too often…I asked him to go for a bike ride. Just him and me. I let him lead and I followed along where he wanted to go. It ended up being the best part of my day and he loved our little adventure.

Sometimes people who are the hardest to love, need it the most. It’s true, not just in parenting but in any relationship. A spouse, a student we teach, a coworker, the cashier at the grocery store. We encounter people every day that just need a little more love in their lives.  Sometimes we are those people. And most of the time we have no idea what is going on in someone’s life, how they are hurting or what they are struggling with. This was a good reminder for me today to make the choice to love. A choice I need to make more often.