Wednesday, November 30, 2011

yesterday & tomorrow

Yesterday the girls and I were in a village shaking trees to get a bounty of sweet tangerines and sitting on mats chatting with friends. It has been a busy week. Like I am exhausted kinda week. Lots of hospital visits (for friends not us), visiting, finishing up courses, meeting with teachers, saying goodbye to dear friends, and having guests.

But that was all yesterday....
Tomorrow (technically as we get in somewhere around 1am) we will be in South Africa!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

where are we going this family of ours?

A few months back I was feeling a bit restless. My frustration drove me to start asking tough questions about where are we going as a family. Some of these were rolling around my brain.... How do each of us have a special unique place in this family and still in our calling as a whole family unit? How do we steer in the direction we want to go and not allow the days to slip away? How do we navigate the seemingly endless sea of "great stuff to do" to find the best thing for us? How do we make the most of the time we have at this moment right now? How can we foster an environment of acceptance and love and yet also challenge each other to follow God's call no matter where that takes each one of us? How do we follow where ever He leads and help raise children who are fearless of the world but fear God?

It hit me that Anni was a baby like... yesterday and I do not want to wake up one morning with teenagers and wonder where the time went or wished we would have taken more time to be together as family. We want to foster an openness with our kids so that even when they think we are nerds (or worse) they know for sure we love and value them. That they are special , unique creations that are prized by their Creator and by us. It won't happen by accident or because we really, really hope for it. We need God's grace. And we want to be better at seeking Him as a family. Together.

So, out of all this asking came some well spent time reflecting, praying, and in the end a family mission statement. When J and I got married way back in the caveman days we wrote a mission statement for our marriage. It still hangs on our fridge, albeit food splattered and worn having traveled across continents. We decided to create a new statement based on us right now and what we want for our family in the future. I was inspired by my old college roomie and friend from high school in a post she wrote a while back. I found these suggestions and these too very helpful in asking questions and guiding our discussion and jump starting us in writing our own.

J and I discussed, prayed, and talked about where we are going as a family and where we want to be going and how we do not think we will get there without vision and action. What values we want to permeate our home and lives. How each moment is to be savored in the now and each moment in the future is to be anticipated with joy. And how we need to reflect, learn, struggle, celebrate, and give thanks as a family.

So in the hopes of maybe inspiring someone out there to find their own family's mission here is ours (made all fancy by a FB friend in cyberspace- thanks Amy!). Not perfect, probably too wordy, but ours.......

Each week we are also doing a family meeting that begins with some enthusiastic bell ringing by Annikah and ends with us eating ice cream together. But it is the time in between that has been life giving (even if we have to break up the occasional sister slap down).
We read our vision statement and scripture and then everyone answers these questions (ok, to be fair Evy mostly grunts and throws things).....
1. What was the best part of your week?
2. What was the hardest part of your week?
3. Can anyone here help you in anything going on?
4. Do I need forgiveness from anyone here?
5. What is going on in God's world right now? (We talk about a country or people or world news and then pray)
6. What is God teaching me right now?
7. What will I do this week to love God and love people more?
Then we read any scripture pertaining to what we discuss. We also have a special family meeting board hanging in our dining room where anyone can write something they want to ask or dicuss at family meeting. Anni always comes up with some great questions.....
pedicure with anni, guests, anni's question 019.jpgedit
We are recording family meeting minutes that already serve as a sweet reminder of just how good God is in our lives. We just take time as a family to breathe in life and try to help each other discern and understand and process. Our first family meeting Jason and I shared that for us the hardest thing right now was the sadness we feel about not being able to adopt from here. We were shocked when Annikah started crying and said she she wants the baby to come now too and feels so sad too. It was so amazing to process some of our grief about as a family and we honestly never would have known she was holding on to some sadness about it if we had not taken the time to just ask and listen.
So much of being a family is consumed by the daily "musts" and chaos but these are the moments we really get to see how incredibly blessed we are to walk this road together, as a family.

Monday, November 28, 2011

my little star

Anni's class so pumped & waiting for everything to begin....
eden graduation anni's first play 013.jpgedit
All the kids and teachers at Anni's school have been tirelessly preparing for the big graduation/plays/song end of the year performance for 2 weeks. And it was awesome!!

They moved it up a week so we could be there and we were so grateful! Plus, it meant I was an eager volunteer to help with anything and everything. The staff and I worked together on a play called "the Caterpillar's Voice" and I was able to simplify the English so they kids could memorize it. The teachers and I planned together, we practiced everyday, we shopped for fabric in town (with lots of detours to try on bracelets and headscarves). I love working with the teachers there as they are some pretty amazing ladies who love the kids.

On Saturday the whole school performed various skits, songs, and dances in front of all the parents. Anni's class did their stellar production complete with costumes and face paint (that I did in less than 10 minutes for 16 kids because they it would have melted off if we did it earlier and they wanted the surprise factor). The performance started over an hour late because of transport problems (big shock) but the kids could have cared less since they were so excited waiting for everything to begin. Annikah woke up early on Saturday and told us she was scared and so nervous but could not wait. We told her it is good to be nervous as it means you care about what you are doing but that she would do great! While she was on stage singing their songs I was kneeling taking pictures and overheard two women talking about how shocked they were that the little white kid knew all the Kiswahili songs. That is my girl!! Her class was so cute and despite one rather bizarre song about "AIDS killing many people" which although true was a bit odd for a bunch of 5 and 6 year olds to sing I thought the teachers did an awesome job. Each class performed songs, dances, skits educating people about health issues, and then Anni's classroom's drama. The audience loved the costumes and they turned out pretty adorable if I might say so myself (and I admit towards the end I hot glued a bunch spots of the frogs cuz I was that tired). Her teacher's mother did a great job sewing all the outfits in just 3 days. The evening finally ended way past dark when the power cut and the kids all gathered their homework for the one month break and their little gifts of juice and cheese puff-ish snacks. Once we collected a shoe less Evy running through the crowds of people were we were on our way (with a packed car of people needing rides of course). Anni told us it was her best day ever and I just want to remember the way she said it with her little smudged with paint face forever. We told her she rocked it and we were so proud of our little star rabbit! I was so amazed at how our daughter has fit in at this school where she is the only Mzungu or foreigner. Although especially at the beginning it was difficult and sometimes still is we are also seeing how many friendships she has built and how much fun she has with her classmates. We appreciate these experiences even more because they are rare here and we know God provides them. It really is a special time and we are so grateful for these moments for her!
eden graduation anni's first play 022.jpgedit
all the parents gathered and ready
eden graduation anni's first play 041.jpgedit
her class songs
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after costume change...I love the nervous faces ready to go on....
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last scene with all the animals
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and applause please......taking their bows
eden graduation anni's first play 128.jpgedit
African dancing
eden graduation anni's first play 126.jpgedit
eden graduation anni's first play 114.jpgedit
a skit about going to the doctor
eden graduation anni's first play 092.jpgedit
my favorite animals

Sunday, November 27, 2011

the cutest rabbits I've ever seen.....

eden graduation anni's first play 099.jpgedit

Anni was a total rock star in her school's graduation and end of the year celebration on Saturday night. More soon but this Mama still can't stop smiling!

English celebration & send off party!

rich and paula's party, English class last day, Sadaa's wedding 034.jpgedit
Friday was my last day of our Basic English course and everyone received their certificates at a party celebrating all they accomplished. As much as some days I feel stretched thin and overwhelmed by teaching English on top of everyday life here I can say for sure I love my students! We become like family. They were so pumped to celebrate and they should be because they worked hard and we had fun in our little English for beginners class! It is a privilege to see how excited people are to be a part of something that helps them reach their goals.

We also had a send-off party for Rich and Paula with everyone from Pamoja; staff, students, and special guests and of course a party would not be a party here without pilau and soda! There were thoughtfully prepared speeches by our students and a honored guest from the nearby college (who said something about Chinese food that I am still trying to figure out) and everyone had a chance to thank them and wish them well and many blessings as they embark on a new adventure in their lives. We will miss you guys!
rich and paula's party, English class last day, Sadaa's wedding 077.jpgedit
the honored guests and some cute Wazungu kids who managed to nab a seat at the "important people" table
rich and paula's party, English class last day, Sadaa's wedding 127.jpgedit
eating and drinking until we were stuffed!
rich and paula's party, English class last day, Sadaa's wedding 150.jpgedit
automotive students with their certificates and Rich and Hans; 2 of their fearless leaders
rich and paula.jpgedit
Rich & Paula & baby girl Anna: you will be dearly missed at Pamoja and on this little island...Karibuni Tena!!!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

a day for weddings

This past Friday was C-R-A-Z-Y!! I had my last English where everyone shows up an hour late because they are busy getting dolled up for the occasion of receiving their well deserved certificates (photos to follow soon). Then there was a going away party for our dear friends Rich & Paula who are leaving in just a couple weeks after three years of living and working and loving here (yep, photos soon). I actually managed not to cry that day (but don't worry I made up for it today by blubbering like an idiot through my little send off speech at our team BBQ in their honor). We had to leave that celebration at Pamoja early to head out to a wedding of Jason's dear friend's little sister. As we drove to the wedding we saw at least 8 other wedding parties! Cars packed full with kanzu clad men with drums and beautifully brightly adorned women making their way to celebrate marriages on the auspicious Friday before the Islamic New Year. The streets were jammed packed and I have never seen so many weddings on one day!! We were asked to take pictures (I of the women and Jason of the men- he was even invited inside the mosque to take pictures of the charge to the groom..pretty amazing!). Here is a glimpse at the celebration because I love me some wedding photos of the beautiful people here....
rich and paula's party, English class last day, Sadaa's wedding 154.jpgedit
one of many wedding parties we saw on the road
rich and paula's party, English class last day, Sadaa's wedding 196.jpgedit
the women chanting & praying
rich and paula's party, English class last day, Sadaa's wedding 209.jpgedit
the men in the mosque
rich and paula's party, English class last day, Sadaa's wedding 168.jpgedit
amependeza...she has made herself beautiful
rich and paula's party, English class last day, Sadaa's wedding 227.jpgedit
making it official
rich and paula's party, English class last day, Sadaa's wedding 249.jpgedit
obligatory sitting on the bed looking sad picture
rich and paula's party, English class last day, Sadaa's wedding 285.jpgedit
the girls and I hanging out after the wedding waiting to catch a glimpse of the bride leaving for her new home

Friday, November 25, 2011


to become accustomed.

I realized last week I have been quite accustomed to this place. Things that would have seemed unbearable, strange, or different have some how creeped into my understanding of how the world works (at least in this corner of it).

I got to thinking about this transformation after a visit to a village the other day. We bounced along the ...let's call it a road.... while I dodged kids with no shoes darting across our path and steered clear of the rogue chickens, goats, and cows wandering about. We also stopped along the way to give four other women a "lifti" (lift- did I mention I love Kiswahili!?) as they were going the same way we were and even if they weren't I think just interested in what the Mzungu driving the clown car full of locals was up to and thus welcomed the detour. They were invited in by the 12 women and children in our already stuffed car. Evy started fussing for me and some women comforted her and gave her sweets (the instance fix for any crying children here). After stopping at the first house; catching up, greeting everyone in the neighborhood, and helping sort and pound rice for the bread to be baked later I asked to pray for the little girl and we said our goodbyes until inshallah (God wills) we see each other again. We all piled in minus the extra ladies who had joined us but now made their way to their original destinations and headed out again. Another ten minutes along narrow "roads" (yeah, we will just go with road) and we saw at least a hundred women dressed in brightly colored glittery clothes and we did what any respectable Zanzibari would do: We slammed the car to a stop, spilled out, and chased the wedding procession to get a glimpse of everyone while loudly yelling and hollering! It was hilarious and Evy and Anni were loving every minute of the dancing and attention.
After 20 minutes of ogling we laoded in and continued on until some guys from the wedding party in the dala dala in front of us jumped out and pounded on the window for us to stop. They quickly informed us we had a flat tire. Like no air kabisa. Which I could not really feel because the "roads" are that bad. About 8 guys from the wedding party quickly jumped out, asked their friends to subiri kidogo (wait a bit- one of the most often used phrases here) and got to work fixing the tire, running in and out of dukas, calling folks to help, and searching through our car for tools. Some neighbors came out to see what was going on brought my friends and I old car tires to sit on while we waited. Anni, Evy, and the 6 other kids with us played in the dirt, threw rocks at a fence, and chased the chickens.

When the men got the spare on enough to get us home I made the executive decision that we would ditch the car and walk the rest of the way to the second home since the roads were not getting any better. When we returned we would just drive the car home and worry about the tire in the morning. My friend said it was no problem to walk as it was not very far. Well, I should know by now that "not very far" for locals and "not very far" for Wazungu does not translate well. It was over a mile walk. Carrying Evy and baskets of food and it was hot. The crazy part was although I was exhausted and tired I never once thought we should just go back. Over the last three years I have been more accustomed to these days where nothing goes as planned but yet He is there. I am learning more and more that to seek only comfort means missing out of vast richness that comes from being stretched. A lot of life experiences are in your attitude towards them. Anni and her friends sang songs as we walked and chased each other and greeted everyone. Her friends took turns carrying her on their backs becuase the trek was hardcore through the village and they are used to the wussy Wazungu kids. I kept adjusting Evy from my hip, to my back, to handing her off to some kids with us and then a guy at a duka my friend knew said he would carry her the rest of the way for us. And this was not weird at all to me. I am consistently amazed at how helpful people are to one another. How they see everyone here as part of their community. They are so relational and they have all the time in the world. People are always more important then time. He carried Evy who shrieked in glee and moo'ed at the cows and chickens roaming everywhere.

We arrived at the home of a new mother. We went because we were asked to come to see the baby and tell her we were sorry for her traumatic birth. We arrived to lots of greetings and a mat being pulled out for us to sit down and talk. She really had a terrible birth experience which from everything I understood involved passing out, being cut open twice and losing so much blood she had to stay in the hospital for a week. She is 17 and her husband is almost 60. I know, and although this is not as common here as it was a generation ago it still happens. But I have a choice in those moments; I can see everything through my lens of Western superiority or I can chose to love and listen. Of course I believe there is a better way but my judgement brings no restoration or healing; only the glory of Jesus does that. I just have no comprehension of what her life is like but I have learned that still admist the differences I can go and bless and pray and share and be blessed. And that is important. The baby boy Abdalla was beautiful; a precious little miracle and I prayed over him with the family's permission. Then we sat together a long while and ate peanuts and talked about life. The kids were running around outside and after a bit Anni was thirsty from the long walk and asked for some water. When she realized the bottle we always bring was empty and she could not drink the water from the plastic bucket in their home that had been drawn from the well that morning she started crying. I felt terrible and decided we would make our way to a store and get her some water. They would hear none of it and sent a family member out to buy her bottled water and would not take money to buy it. Anni was very grateful and after some more chatting, watoto mud sliding down the hill outside, and cleaning them out of peanuts we said our goodbyes. They wrapped up some food for us to take home since we could not stay for dinner as it was getting dark and I was only half kidding when I mentioned that this Mzungu might not be able to find our car in the dark. I am always reminded here that hospitality does not require fancy linens and well planned side dishes it just requires thoughtfulness, kindness, and a willingness to share what you have. We survived the long walk back to the car as the sun was setting to find our car ready to make it home and some guys guarding it to make sure nothing happened while we were visiting. We made one stop off for some well deserved cookies for all watoto on board and then we made our way home.

This was just a day in our lives but as a reflect on days like today I am amazed that God has taken this spoiled Mzungu from Chicago and placed me here in this place so different from my known yet now so close to my heart. This place where although I am always "different" and will never truly understand what my friend's lives are like I am welcomed and loved and included in them. I have been blessed so much more than I have brought blessing to this place. I never imagined this growing accustomed would change me so much but I am exceeding grateful for the richness of my experiences here on this little island a world away. Yes, nimeshazoea.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

a few random things...

1. It is Thanksgiving or so I was reminded when looking at FB posts about the wonderful foods everyone is cooking. It is... alas... just a normal day here-well, if anything about our lives is normal.... lots of work but we are eating our favorite curry for lunch! And we are exceedingly thankful which is what it is really about. Happy Thanksgiving all you 'Merican types!!

2. Annikah is on the mend but we have been doing a lot of this....
Malaria Meds, costumes 005.jpgedit
....because the poor kid has malaria again. She was really brave at the hospital here which is so unlike her usually freaking out self and was rewarded richly by her choice of candy bars (which turned out to be really easy since the store had only one variety) and a Barbie movie of her choice. She also is feeling so much better after a day on the right medication. We are thankful for the access to medication and reminded we are privileged as so many people in the world do not have these meds. We are praying she will 100% back by Saturday for her big play! Today at practice the kids tried on their ears....
Yeah, pretty cute!!

3. We are so excited we might pee our pants because.......wait for it....... Bibi is coming to Z!!! J's Mom and his aunt are flying in for a few weeks in January and we could not be more excited!! WooHoo!!! We are already making big plans...

4. Jason and partners in crime convinced a student at Pamoja to climb a huge coconut tree to snap this arial view of the school! Pretty sweet huh? (Also, poor guy had to climb the tree twice since the first camera's battery died when he got to the worries it was Inshallah...and they still got the shot)
5. I do not know how we got so busy but this week is crazy...a wedding tomorrow, my last English class and certificate party, Jason's last computer class and review for their VETA test, Anni's school play, dinner with guests, meeting with teachers, visiting friends in the shamba, and saying goodbye to Rich and Paula. But we leave for South Africa (HOLLA!!) in less than a week and that my friends is exciting news!
5. I love this picture of dinner on a mat at the Eid festival a few weeks back.
6. And just to tie up the random-ness......Some Shule kids stopped by yesterday to show us the kunguru (big, nasty crows) they caught in a makeshift cage. Evy was obsessed with saying "hi" to them! The kids offered to sell them to us (they really think Wazungu are dumb but you cannot blame them for trying) but then remembered we hate these things (Jason has been known to shoot marbles at the ones who assault our freshly washed and innocently hanging laundry). So, no we didn't purchase one but I did make them promise to release them (far away from our house) and not to torture the poor things.
kunguru shule kids 010.jpgedit
Evy was sad to see them go...
kunguru shule kids 002.jpgedit
Oh, and these watoto are adorable, right?
Ladies party, wedding 090.jpgedit
Now, back to aforementioned crazy week....

Monday, November 21, 2011

just us ladies

mia's shower, girls weekend 030.jpgedit
Our dear team mates Paula & Rich are heading back to the U.K. in just a couple weeks (sniff) and so in honor of squeezing in some girl time us ladies left the watoto with the man folk and headed to the coast to enjoy some long chats, laying in the sun, swimming, walking on the beach, watching a girly flick, and not cooking. Yeah, awesomeness....
girls pic

the Pamoja peeps

This pic was taken a couple months back at a staff BBQ...I just thought I'd post the Pamoja staff and car mechanics since we are quite a crew these days.
pamoja staff pic

To be far the kids add 7 :) It really is amazing how this place has grown over the last 3 years.

Friday, November 18, 2011

na harusi yake

and her wedding day....

I love learning about photography and although I am far from an expert I am enjoying honing my skills in an amazing corner of His creation. The people, the colors, and culture here are a privilege to capture. I am lovin' being invited to take pictures at friend's wedding because in addition to blessing them with photos of their day I get to snap some amazing cultures shots. Here are my favorites of the wedding last week.....
Ladies party, wedding 153.jpgedit
amazing colors...everyone waiting for the groom to arrive
Ladies party, wedding 143.jpgedit
you can barely see Anni's dress in the middle of the crowd
Ladies party, wedding 121.jpgedit
chanting and "dancing"
Ladies party, wedding 131.jpgedit
it gets pretty intense y'all!
Ladies party, wedding 171.jpgedit
the men folk through ever present laundry and a really funky coconut tree
Ladies party, wedding 175.jpgedit
all that dancing in the heat was tiring for some
Ladies party, wedding 186.jpgedit
the men praying
Ladies party, wedding 202.jpgedit
the groom & best men through the incense smoke
Ladies party, wedding 224.jpgedit
on the way to make it official
Ladies party, wedding 249.jpgedit
prayers of blessing
Ladies party, wedding 110.jpgedit
my student and her niece in their finest
Ladies party, wedding 267.jpgedit
and one self take of the sweaty (hey, we did a lot of dancing!) photographer and one of my English students before we all headed home. Happy Harusi!