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.

IMG_2925

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.

Tip of the Day

If it is rainy season, and the road just outside your house has turned into a muddy, soupy mess, and drivers are routinely getting stuck there and then coming by to ask for help, and Jamie who usually tows them out with the 4×4 is in Lusaka and has the vehicle with him, and you go out one night to try to help someone who is stuck, don’t stand within the line of sight of the front tires.

 

photo 1 (1)

In Need of Love

Lovable

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.

 

Music at MICS

Music is an important part of my life. It can give me goose bumps and touch the deepest part of my soul. I grew up playing the piano and could lose myself for hours in it. But it’s a part of me that has been dormant for awhile. You often hear as a mom you need to take care of yourself so you can take care of those around you. I’m trying to reawaken some areas in my life that are good for my soul. Music is one of them.

It’s also an area I’ve wanted to get more involved in at MICS. So many kids here have such natural talent, especially when it comes to singing. The last few weeks in chapel we have been learning about faith. When the boys were at VBS this summer they got a CD of the music they had learned that week which included a song about faith that I knew I wanted to introduce to the kids. In my dream world MICS would have a big, vibrant choir, but I have no experience teaching music. I decided to get my feet wet though and teach the song to a small group of girls in boarding. And teaching turned out to mean playing the song over and over and before long they had it memorized and everyone’s parts just fell into place naturally. They didn’t really need me at all.

photo (14)

The girls singing at church

The girls performed the song at boarding night, a Valentine’s party, morning chapel and at church on Sunday. I felt like a proud momma watching my girls up there singing in front of a few hundred of people. I’m not sure if we can declare the MICS choir to be up and running yet but my little group is already asking me to learn another song. And yes, they gave me goose bumps!

Employee of the Month

I get to wear a lot of hats at MICS. In Canada, I am used to a world of specialization. But here, you get to do everything — whether you are qualified for it or not. One hat that I have been wearing a lot lately is my HR Manager hat. This is one of the areas I was asked to help with when we arrived, so I have been diving in and trying to make sure MICS is a great place to work for our teachers and support staff.

Sometimes this is tedious work — writing employment contracts that comply with Zambian labour law is nobody’s idea of a good time. Sometimes it is difficult and even heartbreaking, as it was in December when we had to notify some staff their contracts would not be renewed. But other times, I admit, it is just plain fun.

One of the fun times came last Friday. We have been looking for ways to boost morale and to engage the teachers in striving to improve in their roles. We also wanted to take some steps towards narrowing the pay gap between our teachers and the government teachers. (MICS is a private school, and currently it is not possible for us to match the government salaries.) So at the start of this year we launched a good, old-fashioned “Employee of the Month” program. Every month, we select someone who has gone above and beyond in their role. They get a fancy laminated certificate, a cash prize, and some well-deserved recognition in front of their peers. (We are also working on some other perks, including a premium reserved bicycle parking spot.)

I have definitely been in some contexts in Canada where such a program might be met with eye-rolling and crossed arms. But here, the response so far has been more like wild enthusiasm. On Friday after school we gathered the staff to give out the award for January. The winner was Ms. Stembile Uli, who was recognized for creating top-notch lesson plans that are creative, thorough, and engaging for the kids. I expected her to be happy. What I did not expect was the reaction from the other staff. When her name was announced, they let out a great cheer. After the meeting she was mobbed, with every single staff member lining up to give her a big hug. Watching the scene, you could be forgiven for thinking this was the receiving line at her wedding. Or maybe that she had just won the Super Bowl.

So our new program is off to a great start, and no doubt people are already waiting to see who the deserving winner will be in February. In the meantime, I have a hunch people are paying a little extra attention to their lesson plans.

Congratulations Ms. Uli on the big win…you deserve it!

EOM - Jan 2016 - Stembile Uli_01

 

Reflections on Year One

A year ago we got on a plane (and then another, and another) and moved across the world. It was a hectic day. I woke up with back pain so I booked a last minute appointment with my chiropractor. Then I drove to the doctor’s office to get medical records that we had just found out  were required to get international medical insurance. There was some final packing to do. Joel was on the phone trying to arrange house insurance because we had just been informed there was an issue with our policy. Then despite getting to the airport in good time, we had issues checking in our many, many bags and had to run to the gate to get there on time. My dream of a calm last day enjoying time with family went out the window the moment we woke up. Sitting on my seat in the plane, the hundreds of details finally taken care of it, brought much relief despite the sadness of saying goodbye to family and friends.

As I was remembering the chaos of a year ago this past Friday, I felt thankful for how normal life felt one year later. We got up, the boys went to school, Joel and I both worked and took care of Nathaniel, we had a team meeting, enjoyed our weekly Friday pizza night with the Sanfilippos, and after the boys were in bed caught up on some TV on iTunes, our favourite way to end the week. It was full, but it didn’t feel chaotic. It felt normal. Like home.

Moving to rural Africa wasn’t new for Joel and me. We were used to language barriers, far-away grocery stores and power outages. But doing it all with two young children and another on the way was a whole different story. Our big question was how the boys would cope when life as they had known it in Canada was about to dramatically change. I am incredibly grateful for how well they’ve adapted, especially with the disjointed year it’s been for our family. Three flights turned into nine flights as we unexpectedly spent three months back in Canada for the birth of Nathaniel. The ease with which they’ve adapted many times — living in a guest house for a month, moving to our home, a new school and new friends, back to Canada living with relatives, a new baby in the house and then returning to Zambia — has amazed me.

This year has not been without its difficulties. Navigating new relationships, figuring out our roles here, adjusting to life with a new baby and the daily challenges of life in the bush. The hardest time for me has been the first few months of being back here with Nathaniel. The feeling of wanting to go home is pretty normal when you live on the other side of the world, but never have I felt it more consistently than in the early days of being here with a baby. Beyond the challenges of the extreme heat (with no climate control!) and lack of sleep, I really began to question my purpose here. While I was deep into life with a young baby, I felt like a spectator to life around me at the school, literally watching it happen from my couch as I nursed my son. Being a mother will always come before any job and I don’t apologize for that. I wanted to be home with him, but what was the purpose of our family living at a school with dozens of people sacrificing for us to be here, when the teacher among us wasn’t even teaching?

We found out I was pregnant literally a few weeks after quitting our jobs and renting out our house. Not coming wasn’t an option and we both clearly felt like we should still make the move. But if we had found out a few weeks earlier, I honestly don’t know if we would be here right now. In my head it had always been one or the other….another baby or Africa. But God decided to give me both and I had to figure out how the two go together. Over the last few months, through many conversations and much prayer and reflection, we again feel confident this is where we should be and have a renewed commitment to being here to serve the children of Macha.

While on our trip to Zimbabwe last April, I wrote this in my journal…

A few days ago we were at Shumba Shaba in Matopos and it was as beautiful as ever. All three boys had gone to bed and I wanted to see the stars so I went out on our balcony. When Joel and I were there last time we lay up on the rocks and it was like our own planetarium with stars everywhere you look. I was feeling a bit sad that we couldn’t do that again but kids needing to sleep required us to stay in.

I am thrilled and excited for this baby but I do feel like it changes a lot, especially my engagement as a teacher. Life at MICS will not be what I envisioned when we first had this dream. As I was looking up on our balcony I could only see about a third of the sky but it was still immensely beautiful. Then over the next few minutes I saw three shooting stars. I felt like they were gifts from God and he was saying to me, “Even when you are missing out on part of the view, there is always beauty if you look for it.” This baby is a gift and although I will miss out on some things I want to look for beauty in the circumstances I’ve been given.

photo 1 (11)

Our balcony at Shumba Shaba

I had forgotten about that night until I re-read my journal recently and it was a reminder that although the view has indeed changed, God is faithful. Life here is different than we originally planned and I’m okay with that now. We have figured out a way forward that feels right and know that we still have a purpose in being here. And it indeed is beautiful in its own way.  

Thank you to so many of you who have helped us through this first year. From taking the time to keep in touch through emails and messages, to support when we were back in Canada, to giving so generously financially and faithful prayers. We would not be here without you. No doubt this next year will involve highs, lows and a whole lots of in betweens. We look forward to continuing to have you along for the ride for year two!

Earthquakes, Wind Storms and Grieving

Yesterday I woke in the early hours of the morning to our bed shaking. In my dazed state I thought it must have been really windy outside. Joel thought the security guard was banging on the window so got up to check. It turns out we had experienced a mild 4.6 magnitude earthquake. When I came to Zambia I knew I’d have to worry about things like snakes, but earthquakes were never on my list. Thankfully everyone was fine.

The afternoon before we had finally experienced some rains after a dry spell. By now rainy season should be in full force. People have planted their crops but the maize is starting to die. We were thankful to see rain falling from the sky but with it came very strong winds. After things had calmed I was out for a walk and ran into my friend Esther. She shared the sad news that our friend Choolwe’s mother had just died and they were rushing to the hospital. The roof of her house blew off in the wind storm and tragically she was struck and killed. Her father was in the hospital with serious injuries and and a few other relatives had been injured as well.

Choolwe is the boarding chaperone for the girls at MICS. Three days ago I was sitting with her in her home as she told me she couldn’t wait to be with the kids again. Today I hugged her as she cried and told me how special her mother was. Nathaniel and I attended the service at her village home. We sat under the shade of the tree while people sang, the sound of wailing not far off and many pots of nshima cooking outside the home. The women just sit together, sing and cry often for days on end. There are no trite statements like “everything happens for a reason” and “it was all part of God’s plan.” Just being together and grieving.

The damage to the house is extensive. The community centre across the dirt road lost much of its roof as well. It will take time to rebuild as the resources and funding will not be readily available. Clearly Choolwe and her family are still in shock and have a long road of grieving ahead of them. Her father, who will remain in the hospital for several weeks, will not be there to bury his wife tomorrow. Amidst the pain, it was a beautiful thing to see the community coming together to support the family. The power of simple presence in the face of grief. It was an honour to be part of it for a few short hours.

“Mommy, there’s a snake on the veranda!”

I’ve been wanting to write more posts that give a quick snapshot into our everyday lives. Here’s one for you: Today Micah walked into the kitchen, with tears in his eyes and the conversation went something like this…

Me: What’s wrong?
Micah: There’s a snake on the veranda!
Me: What? On the inside veranda or the outside veranda?
Micah: The inside.
Joel: There’s been a big gecko on the veranda. It’s probably that.
Micah: But I didn’t see any legs on it.

Joel goes to look. I close all possible doors between the veranda and the kitchen. I pick up Nathaniel and make sure Caleb is with us. Then I hear the sound of Joel whacking something. We don’t kill geckos. It was definitely a snake!

It wasn’t a big one but it’s hooded head indicated it was likely a cobra. We just assume all snakes are the “bad” kind because really, are there good kinds of snakes? There had been another snake found this morning in the grass not far from our house so thankfully Joel had just reminded the boys about what to do when they see one. Keep calm and go tell an adult. I was so proud of Micah and pretty sure I wouldn’t have been able to do the same. I’m thankful that only the snake was harmed.

I very, very strongly dislike snakes and felt sick to my stomach for a good while. The veranda has doors on it and is attached to our living room with the door between pretty much always open. The same living room where my baby lies on the floor on his play mat. Thankfully these incidents are pretty rare, but they are a good reminder of what’s around us. The only happy ending to the story is that there is one less snake to worry about.