Tuesday, June 19, 2012
We celebrated Father's Day with the African and American world on Sunday. This one fell at the same time, so we enjoyed sharing our special day with our friends and neighbors. Unfortunately, Father's Day gets slighted a bit here. The men aren't so excited about planning a big event with dancing and singing and silliness. Too bad, I was armed and ready with my little camera. Why oh why is it always me in the middle of the most embarrassing moments?!!
Our Caleb is still off in the wild blue yonder. I think he's having a good time with friends despite a power mishap leaving him with a dead phone charger and possibly dead phone. We'll know when we can get it a new charger. He also had a mishap with a wallet and we are down a couple hundred dollars. Boohoo! Hopefully he is having such a good week at camp, he'll forget all of that.
In the last post I invited you to laugh with me (or at me, as the case may be), but I am writing today with a more sober heart. I'm not depressed or anything, but I wanted to share my tears with you as well as my joys. Last Friday, my friend Christine passed away. Those that have followed for a while, know this is at the end of a very long and difficult illness. I wanted to share with you Christine's story.
Christine was much like many women I work with in the poorer neighborhoods. She's had a hard life. She immigrated to the Ivory Coast long ago, I'd guess more than 30 years ago, but she is and always has been Burkinabe, because her country of origin is Burkina Faso. Her children that have been born and raised here are also considered Burkinabe. Her husband died many years ago, maybe close to 10 years now. She has been receiving $20 a month from the government for his social security. She worked in the market selling boullion cubes, garlic, matches and soap along with a few other items to try to keep food on the table. She still had 3 kids at home to put through school and school here is not free. Christine has been faithful to her Catholic church probably since her youth. Best I could understand, she was trusting in good works, lots of prayer to Mary and the saints as well as Jesus death in our place for her salvation. She figured it would be too much to ask to go directly to Jesus to ask something, better yet to ask His mom to ask Him. She slept with a small plastic Mary on her night stand along with her rosary beads. Her house contained very little else besides the essentials. There was one room for the gang to sleep in and one room to receive visitors and pass the time. They did have a small TV, but it didn't work well. One broken down wooden chair was in the "living room" and that was Christine's favorite spot for the past few months. She spent $30 a month for rent, so you can imagine what her house was like. There was a common outhouse for the courtyard to use, no indoor plumbing. Christine didn't complain if there was money to pay rent and enough money for each of the kids to have 1 school uniform, pay their tuition and books and a couple of dollars a day to eat. Often she had reason to complain, but even then she didn't always do it.
My path crossed with Christine's a little over 4 years ago. I greeted her in my limited French as I strolled through the market looking for interested and patient people to start practicing my skills as a storyteller. She passed the initial test by asking me to sit down. To hear her tell it, she was the instigator, but I don't really recall. She was talking about the first time she met me and said that she asked me why I never stop to say hello. I don't actually remember, but I do know I could barely speak French when I started passing time at her little market stand. Right away she was interested in the stories. I got her a Bible of her own, which was also on her night stand, and she was always excited to hear a new story. For a while she helped translate for a market lady neighbor, but in the end, not much changed for either of them. After a while I spent less time telling stories to them and a little more time with responsive neighbors, but I always stopped by to say hi and hear how things were. We developed a friendship even if we made a very strange pair.
Due to her high stress, low quality diet lifestyle, Christine was sick often. Just after we returned to the field in July, she started complaining more of sickness. Being the bread winner for the family, she didn't want to take time to be sick. For a couple of months, she fought through it. When she finally went for help in September or October, she was diagnosed with Typhoid Fever. That's fairly serious, but usually treatable. After a few months spent in a special hospital, directed by a lady from Europe that offers no to low cost health care for those in tough spots like Christine, she was no better. Finally just before Christmas, it was discovered an old case of tuberculosis had flared up. She was immediately sent home to convalesce as the charity hospital also houses quite a few AIDs orphans. AIDs and TB don't mix too well. Christine was glad to go home as she was quite tired of the hospital scene at that point. For a while she hovered in that same place, very sick, but not worse. Over the course of time, she'd lost down until she was little more than a skeleton frame. If you'll remember, back in the spring, she became convinced that someone had put a curse on her. We prayed hard at that time and she gradually got better. She never seemed to pick up much if any weight, but she regained some strength and started to get out of the house a little. She also regained a little spunk, and I was hopeful that she'd eventually get back to her old self again.
Just a few weeks ago, a small illness sent her on a downward spiral again. Again, she began to ask me if I thought she'd live through the illness. For a few days I stopped by often and called when I couldn't stop by. I was very afraid that one day the answer would be that she hadn't made it. Again as when she'd fallen so ill before, we talked about Jesus as the only answer and I reminded her that whether this was to be her time or not, one day we'll all stand before God and give account. As always, she assured me she was ready. For a while she was basically an invalid, but then she started to show signs of improvement. Through this time, I tried to really let Jesus shine through me in all that I did. They marked a difference in me, but always attribute that to me being "white". They've seen Africans at their best and worst, but usually just see Americans at their best. They assume that all white people have good hearts. No matter how much I've tried to explain that we all have sinful hearts and the good in us comes from a changed life in and through Jesus Christ. They began to refer to Christine as my mother, as they said that I took care of her as a daughter. In reality I did very little. I surely did no more than what is required by scripture.
Last week for the first time in a while, I was going to skip one of my twice weekly visits to Christine's house since she'd been doing so well last I saw her. On my way to my truck, I ran into her oldest daughter. Her long face told me there was trouble. In her classic African way she told me her mom was OK, but I read between the lines and saw things weren't OK. I followed my instincts and went to the house. On the way, the daughter told me that her mom "wouldn't" eat. Upon arrival, I saw immediately that it wasn't a matter of "wouldn't" but couldn't. It looked to me as if Christine had a stroke, or something like that. She couldn't move really except to blink her eyes. She seemed to recognize my voice and attempted to speak, but achieved nothing more than her head trembling. I knew that without a quick miraculous healing, she wouldn't make it. She had been reticent to go to the hospital since her long stint in the fall. She said she was tired and just didn't want to go back. Now, she was totally incapable of making any choice herself. Her daughter chose to respect what she felt were her mother's wishes and after nearly 4 days with no food or water, Christine passed away on Friday evening.
I was summoned immediately to the house where the most difficult for me clash of cultures began. The daughters had started to really lose control by the time I arrived. I could hear the wailing from outside the courtyard. That actually gave me some hope, as I was feeling like doing a little wailing of my own. Just after I arrived, some "level headed" ladies arrived to tell the girls to knock it off. It is thought here that to cry impedes your loved ones travel to paradise even among "Christian" groups. I then made it my personal responsibility to guard the girls and offer silent comfort as best I knew how. I understand their culture, but on this one I just don't agree. I don't actually think that wailing helps much, but healthy expressed grief seems appropriate to me. I kept myself together that night, but the two upcoming events would test every bit of my restraint.
Last night, I attended what would be like a viewing, only without the body. We all showed up and offered our support and honored Christine's memory in a church service. It is very hard for me to sit and listen to them chant their prayers to Mary, but otherwise, it wasn't too bad. At the end when it was time to greet the family, my control slipped. A few tears spilled, but I was able to hide it for the most part. Then today was the funeral and burial. I knew I was in trouble when I couldn't get all the way ready without some tears. I do OK in the service except when the coffin came and went. I made absolutely no sound, but lost some tears. Another market "friend" saw and I was quickly reprimanded. I managed to escape at that point as the funeral was over only to find 20 people in the back of my truck. Another 20 had already asked to ride with me on the way out, so this was not going well. Since I was at the end of my already short rope, I stood there beside the truck and said, "I am not moving until everyone gets out of my truck!" They kept looking at me, so we sat there in a stand off for 5 minutes as they waited to see if I would make good on my threat. I am a PATIENT woman and would have stood there until sunset if that is what it took! They also would have continued the burial without us, so they decided it was best to go find some other ride. I am not heartless. I did take the full load of people that would fit inside the truck.
The rest of the day went more smoothly, but it was interesting to see how they handle themselves in this spot. Many seemed to be there out of a desire for an audience. They fought and argued at the gravesite. They pushed and shoved trying to get 200 people around a tiny grave. They stomped all over graves and tombs all around. Finally the coffin was lowered, covered in a pretty fabric piece with Christine's rosary beads draped on top.
All in all, I am glad Christine's earthly suffering is over. I really do hope that she was right about how well things would go when she stood before our loving, merciful and just Father. As usual, I hope that the next funeral is a long ways off.
Thanks for reading my ramblings. I don't know that this story is helpful for you to understand our life and work here. This one was just one of those stories I needed to tell because I grieve like an American and for now, I think that is OK.
Tuesday, June 5, 2012
So I know that this is going to break your ethnocentric bubble, I know it did mine, but the whole world does not celebrate Mother's day when we do. In our neck of the woods, they celebrate it in June. Of course we know that they celebrate it on the wrong day, but at least they are trying, right?! ;) Hee hee! Anyway, we had a volunteer team, which we loved, here on the American celebration day. Getting up at 6:00 to cook them breakfast sort of put a damper on my day, except that I was really glad they were here. All I ever really want for mother's day is to do nothing all day. Apparently that is not how they celebrate here. They usually have a special service here on that day, and by special, I mean LONG! It is cute though, because all of the different groups usually do something special for their moms, either sing or say a poem or do a skit.
This year, since we've started to make a bit more of an impression on people, we were in high demand. Several different churches asked us to be there for their celebration. I told the first one that asked that we'd be there. They were so sweet to me sent someone to our house with the special fabric they'd chosen for the event. Everyone is supposed to buy the same fabric and take it to have their outfit made however they would like. A boring put important background fact is that I decided to try a new tailor. I've had trouble finding someone that I like, that won't rip me off and that does good work. I went to the women's meeting to get ready for the event. Seems that I happened into a group of women that love to dance. I tried to plead impairment due to my white skin. I tried to show them my lack of ability and hoped they'd let me out of it. Nothing worked.
So when the big day arrived, I was supposed to show up at church at 6:30AM. Mike left for Ghana at 5:30 AM, so it had already started out to be a bad day. I think any day that starts before 7 is doomed! So I was already up to fix breakfast and pack a lunch for the guys. Just after they left Ben threw up and had diarrhea, thus confirming my pre 7AM theory. I was pretty stuck, because they'd bought me this fabric and I'd given my word that I would be there. What to do, what to do? It was also raining and the first order of service was to march to church. I figured I'd give it a little time. I thought the march would be off and I'd just get there a little early for service. We finally went on and got there about 7:30 because Ben seemed better. I went armed with extra clothes and figured I'd just leave if we had trouble. The taxi driver nearly killed us numerous times en route, and all I could think about was who would take care of the kids until Mike got back if I died and they didn't! When we finally got to church and breathed a sigh of relief they said, "They've already left, you better hurry to catch up with them. The rain really had stopped, so I figured the march must still be on. Ben, Karis, myself and my new outfit hit the streets to find the ladies. More background info here, I'd stopped to get my outfit Friday night only to find out the tailor "misunderstood" the date I needed it. He completed the whole outfit sometime between 6 PM Friday and 5PM Saturday. I tied Ben on my back and we found the ladies about a mile down the road headed towards the church with some drums and a trumpet. They had their own little mini parade and marching band. It all totally cracked me up, but when they saw us running in, they all cheered and quickly threw us into the front of the parade, not where I would want to be. I also immediately realized we weren't marching to church, but dancing to church, also not my choice. We join in, although Karis was none too thrilled about the whole thing and mostly just walked. Ben had fallen asleep on my back and on we went and danced all the way to church and passed it! AAAGGH! We danced on another mile and finally turned around and danced back. We'd nearly made it and one of the ladies signaled to me that my skirt had come untied. I knew it wasn't tied, but zipped and I could tell the zipper was zipped. Ben had been walking the last little bit and so I thought my garments had gotten pulled out of whack when he got down. Everything has to be just right on your body or you get fussed at here. So I turned, while dancing and holding Ben's hand and got the lady behind me to help. She quickly gasped and said, "The seam has come loose!" I grabbed the extra yard, which I'd used to tie Ben on, and wrapped it around my waist. I guess, in his hurry, my tailor failed to reinforce those seams! You need to realize that 100s of people are lined along the road watching us all and me and the kids in particular. One man had recently been taking a photo of me on his phone as we passed. I can only imagine now what part of me was showing in that photo!!!
Yes, things could have been worse. I was wearing tract shorts underneath my skirt, but I would never wear those in public!! I was nearly too tired to get really upset as my whole body was aching at that point. Once I covered myself with the extra fabric, it was really OK. Women often wear that extra yard wrapped around their waist, so it wasn't super weird. The worst part was that I knew I still had to make it through the service and I was whipped emotionally and physically at that point.
Ben was glued to me all morning, which was OK. He gives me confidence to act like a fool, and that helped. I could pretend I was dancing with him and only him. The circle dance I'd worried so much about didn't go so badly. While we sing, we pair up and go into the middle of the circle to dance together by twos. It turned out that we were so crowded in there that it would have been hard for outsiders to really see me. That in itself is a neat thing to see. I don't know if you've ever seen the old Cosby episode where Cosby takes Rudy to dance lessons and he and an old man have a sort of dance off in the waiting room. It is something like that. The two women must match one another and yet still sort of outdo one another while dancing at the same time. My sweet partner had changed her dance to something simple we practiced together that I could do. Later my partner went back in with another girl my age or younger that didn't have a partner where they proceeded to do a dance that they hadn't practiced that included hopping and landing in rhythm and strutting sort of like a chicken. It was highly amazing and my partner was old enough to be my mom!
As we finally made it through a good portion of the service I began to relax and feel like we were in the home stretch when the worst thing possible happened. As I'd danced and stood up and sat down and squatted down, I'd begun to feel the seam rip. I could tell at this point it went down to nearly the back of my knees but I didn't know what to do about it and I was covered with the extra fabric wrapped around my waist. By the time offering time came, Ben was asleep again, not only had he gotten up at 5 he'd been awake during the night too, so he was tired. Offering requires us to all get up and march around the offering bag and drop in our money. I grabbed Ben up and went to drop my money in. EVERYONE gives offering EVERY Sunday, so this was not optional. As I came back to my seat and sat down a lady hurried over to my said. She leans in close and whispers, "Your skirt is ripped." "I know," I respond, "that's why I have this fabric wrapped around my waist," I say as I reach down to indicate the fabric attached... OH NO! IT IS NOT ATTACHED! Horror of all horrors. Yes, it is nearly as bad to be in church half naked as it is in your nightmares!!!!!!!!! I quickly wrap my fabric and exit the church. I run off to a room with open windows to change my dumb skirt and wrap and TIE my extra cloth around my waist like a wrap skirt. As I went back in to sit down, what else am I going to do since my children are in there, I assess the damage. I begin to feel a little better as I realize I was sitting on the Mom side, so most of the guys were one the far side of the room. Hopefully they didn't get a glimpse of my shame. Then I realize there are about 50 kids packed along the wall closest to me and they are all usually watching me. Oh well.
We had one final dance, as if I hadn't been humiliated enough!! My sweet friend hugs me at the end and tells me I was wonderful. Fat chance, but I'm glad she was pleased anyway!
We got home around 1:30. I was wasted. My garments were so wet with sweat you could ring them out. The humidity was horrible and the church doesn't have AC. It probably was only around 85 that day, but that is plenty hot in those conditions.
Since my dad always said I had to get right back on the horse when I fell off, I had to return to the scene of the crime the very next day to teach a group of young men, which I pray did NOT see my fanny at church!!!! Upon arrival, a few women were there and thanked me profusely for coming the day before. Can you believe it? They were so glad that I merely joined in with what they were doing. I guess that made up for my bruised ego!
Ahh the joys of Africa! Thanks, God, for keeping me humble. I'm hoping just the memory of this moment will keep my pride in check for years to come so a repeat performance is not necessary.
Come see us! We might even let you dance in church!
Sunday, June 3, 2012
Yesterday Karis had her end of year ballet recital. She was beautiful and did a great job. She always hates the pressure leading up to recital and says she won't dance again next year, but we'll see. Her teacher is nice most of the year, but gets a little up tight leading up to the big event. We've got some video for those family members that might like to see it, but you'll have to wait until Mike gets back from Ghana. I am too tech deficient to get it on. I thought about letting Ben give it a go, but there's no telling what else he'd do to my computer that I would never be able to undo! ;)
Caleb celebrated his birthday by going to a pool that has a dock on the lagoon. He'd hoped to fish and gotten permission, but after getting all his gear out and working about the time someone came and said he couldn't fish. He had a good time getting his line wet and playing in the pool. Today he left for his grand summer adventure. Pray for good travels and a fun summer.