August is always one of my favorite times of the year. As soon as that calendar page is turned, planning begins (or at least becomes more hasty) for the upcoming nine months. Teachers everywhere set new goals, plan new routines, and anticipate possible challenges that lie ahead (and also those that will come walking into the classroom!) As the first weeks of August came and went this year, it was strange not to attend the staff retreat and to pull out my lesson plan book (I know, Jeanne, but I REALLY do try to stick to it), but the excitement of a new year of teaching and learning was just the same.
Stepping off of that plane on Saturday felt much like walking into a brand new classroom- only this time I am not the one making the rules and doing the teaching (AHHH!) Rather, I’m watching, listening and observing to understand and follow the many unwritten rules of this very new culture. My friend Noel’s good advice is continually running through my head “be a sponge and learn everything I possibly can.”
I am extremely grateful for the help of Angie and my dad in getting my suitcases unpacked and helping my little cottage to begin to feel like a comfy home. Full tanks for running water and working electricity have also helped in that area! In between deciding where to keep my t-shirts and finding a good spot for the crock pot, the three of us have also helped lead seven much needed trainings.
My dad headed out on the “thirty minute drive”, which was really more like ninety minutes, to Mugwo to begin teaching the local fish farmers how to prepare fish to sell in the market. Just nine months ago a fish pond was dug and filled with tilapia fingerlings. UMCOR has partnered with area men and women who were interested in taking care of and selling these nutritious fish. They arrived at the church and were told that the fish were currently being harvested and all would be ready for the training in just a few minutes. After waiting more than thirty minutes, they decided to head into the bush towards the pond and see what was taking so long. What a sight they came upon! Picture this: twelve people standing around a small shallow pond watching three women wade around the pond frantically trying to scoop fish up in baskets. A woman would take five or six steps and then bend over, plunge the basket into the pond, and scoop as much water as possible. She would lift the basket out of the water and wait for it to drain, hoping and anticipating a great catch. Time after time the women would look into their baskets and then burst into laughter when they found nothing there! The people around the banks were also laughing while each giving their own opinion of how to catch the fish or pointing to where they think the fish might be. My dad was shocked at the sight. The American culture within filled him with frustration and anxiety regarding this debacle- his plans were ruined; there would be no way to teach fish filleting if there wasn’t a single fish harvested. Thankfully, he allowed himself to learn a lesson from these Africans. They themselves were not frustrated at their very poor “fishing” skills, rather they faced this struggle head on with laughter, just as they do many of the hardships they face. Now that is an invaluable lesson. After a few minutes of allowing himself to laugh with the others standing on the bank, my dad headed off with some of the UMCOR staff to find alternative tools for catching fish. The fillet training was rescheduled for the following day- “No problem,” as they often say here. I can’t help but think about how differently this situation would have been handled in the US and am glad to have the opportunity to learn from these wonderful people. I’m happy to say that they eventually learned how to fish. They gathered some old mosquito nets and were able to catch 20 fish the following day and the training went off without another hitch!
As I think back over the first seven days we have spent in South Sudan, I cannot believe how much I have already learned. Two weeks ago I never would have been able to tell you that malarial mosquitoes’ back legs stick up in the air when they land (as opposed to a “friendly” mosquito who has all of its legs on you as it sucks your blood). I had no idea that it was “no problem” for a landrover to drive through water up to the windows because the air intake is on the roof (I CAN tell you that this knowledge does NOT make it any less scary!). I never would have dreamed how wonderful it is to wash my feet before climbing into bed at the end of the day!
I’m certainly missing my friends and family at home and do feel quite strange introducing myself as a missionary rather than a math teacher, but all the laughter and warm greetings make my heart feel more at home than it has in a long time!