The Question.

This morning as I plopped the weight of my body onto my overflowing suitcase, using one hand to stuff and one hand to pull the zipper, the question again went running through my mind. I shoved it aside. I lugged the big purple bag onto the scale and then off again with a sigh- it was still a pound too heavy. I opened it to examine the contents, but I continued to close my mind to the question. I stared at the clothes rolled in tight little bundles wedged snuggly from one end of the suitcase to the other. The question appeared again, and so I tucked it away. I didn’t want to have to decide what to take and what to leave; I didn’t know how to decide, and so I didn’t. I laughed at myself again looking at the 12 pair of dress pants I had packed: three of each color (black, brown and grey) and three of each size (the biggest ones I blame on the 5 weeks I’ve spent in transition and the smallest I’m clinging to as my tangible tokens of hope).

In my fat pants and thin pants the question looms; it lingers on my one-way plane ticket and it weaves its way into every thought, action and conversation. Continue reading

The Chore List

Earlier this week I was chatting with my good friend Tabitha, and I alluded to a blog I had written about a chore list. When she told me she didn’t remember reading it, I explained that sometimes I write blogs and just never post them. For me, there’s something about sitting down with a pen and paper and wrestling to find the right words and phrases that accurately capture the seemingly random thoughts that go scurrying through my head. I find it oddly relaxing and comforting, as if when I’m finished putting all the words on paper, the story that has been crafted and the lessons learned from it, can now never escape. I tuck it away safely on my hard drive as well as in my mind, feeling free from the worry of losing it and content to know that, in my own way, I have created a piece of art.

“Did you ever think that maybe we, your blog readers, would enjoy these stories of yours; that you could share them instead of keeping them all to yourself?” Tabitha questioned.

I had always just assumed my blog readers only wanted to hear about my mission adventures. That is, of course, the title of my blog. She reminded me that if people only want to hear about stuff on the mission field, they don’t have to read it. But as a result of Tabitha’s encouragement, I’m putting this one out there for you to read, or not read, or only half read, whichever.

I wrote this blog sometime last summer. It seems appropriate as I am preparing to sit down to write my list of all that needs to be done before I leave on August 5… Continue reading

Come, Let Me Show You

I stood just outside of the garden and looked towards the city, tears running down my cheeks. Now, anyone who knows me isn’t surprised to read that I was crying; they all know that any encounter with strong emotion, either my own or someone else’s, no matter where I am or how silly the situation, will cause my eyes to immediately and uncontrollably well up with tears. But these weren’t those kinds of tears; these weren’t the ones that I could open my eyes wide and push on the end of my nose to make go away. These were the big, fat heavy kind that flowed all the way down my face, dripped off my chin and landed on my shirt. These were the kind accompanied with sobs that had to be muffled, a heart heavy enough to fall into my stomach, and the question “Why?” on my lips. I stood there alone and surrounded by people, waiting for his response. Continue reading

In the Lap

I stood up from the pew in the small village and the spot where I had been sitting was immediately filled with little Haitian bodies. The two little boys who had been sitting on my right and my left had spread their legs wide, taking up as much room as possible on the bench that was packed full of kids. I made eye contact with Ornery Boy (who didn’t have enough patience to teach me how to say his name) and he gave me a reassuring head nod telling me with his eyes “Go ahead and don’t worry, I’ll save your seat.” I chuckled. A few moments later I caught him defending my seat, digging his elbow into the invader’s side. I gave him my best ‘Cut it out’ glare to no avail. After he gave another big shove, I motioned for him to come to me. His smile widened with pride, he popped out of his seat and bounded over to me. Without a second thought I spoke to him in English. “I know you’re saving my seat, but you’re not being very nice. You know how you are supposed to act, right? I don’t want to tell you again. You’re a good boy so be sure to act like it.” I’m sure he didn’t understand a word I spoke, but he said “Oui” in all the right places and even mumbled what I’m sure was an “I’m sorry” as he trudged back to his seat. He plopped down, gave the child beside him a warning look, then shimmied over leaving just enough room for me.

Continue reading

The Jump

I love a good story.  The only thing I enjoy more than listening to a good story is telling one.  I love having people’s eyes focused on me and watching them as they wait for me to craft the perfect description of my experience.  I work to put words together that will make them laugh, make them anxious, and make them want to guess what happened next.  I love telling stories because it draws me close to people; for the time, it draws them into my world, into my thoughts, and into my emotions.  I love telling stories so much that I often find myself embarking on adventures simply because I anticipate the amazing tales that will come out of it.

My freshman year of college I signed up to go skydiving for just this reason. I couldn’t convince any of my friends to go with me, so I went by myself.  I didn’t tell my mom I was going and I certainly didn’t tell my dad, for fear that one of them would talk me out of it (plus, I get a crazy sense of satisfaction when someone asks “You did WHAT??!!”).  So, on a chilly Saturday morning in October I walked to the parking lot in front of Dodd’s hall to catch a ride to the airport with several other brand new members of the skydiving club. Continue reading

Pulled to my Knees

I woke up this morning to a heavy realization: I haven’t left the mission field. And even weightier than that was the understanding that I never will.  I might be able to wake up in my comfortable bed to the sound and feel of the heat kicking on.  I may have the opportunity to drive my own car on paved roads that are safe, and I’m thankful for that.  What I don’t have, though, is the luxury of simply sitting back and enjoying it.

Over these last weeks, my mind has been bombarded with the names and faces of my friends in South Sudan. I find myself wondering where they are, if they are safe, if their ears are filled with the sound of gunshots.  I think about the UNMISS compounds flooded with people scared for their lives.  I imagine the adults switching back to the familiar mindset of fleeing to save their families. I find myself thankful that I’m not there. Continue reading

Finding Strength

Owning and maintaining a house is a lot of work. This past week I was cleaning up the dishes before heading into work, and as I flipped on the disposal I heard a terrible gushing sound coming from under the sink.  My heart sank when I looked and saw that everything underneath was soaked.  In too much of a rush to investigate further, I made a mental note to ask around and figure out how to get it fixed.  I came home from the church that evening ready to tackle the job on my own, with a few suggestions from coworkers.   I turned on the water, climbed under the sink, and quickly discovered that this job would be much too big for me.  I would have to call in the big guns (my dad) and ask for some help. Continue reading

Team, I’d like you to meet South Sudan…

You know that feeling you get just before you take the person you’re dating home to meet your family for the first time?  The apprehension about what they’ll think of your home;  the fear that something will go horribly wrong;  the excitement of sharing a piece of your life close to your heart with someone new? That’s how I’m feeling tonight. Continue reading

So Smooth!

Is there anything better than a Saturday when you have nothing planned? For me it’s a wonderful day to slowly enjoy my coffee and then do those things I’ve been putting off all week: washing dishes, hanging clothes, and shaving my legs. Although I think many believe otherwise, Missionaries DO in fact shave their legs (at least on occasion). This past Saturday I was enjoying one of those days. I had finished my coffee, washed up the dishes I had stacked and re-stacked all week (sidebar: sometimes I think stacking dirty dishes should be an extreme sport: how many times can you rinse them and stack them so that they don’t look so intimidating without actually washing them? I really think I am a champion at this!), and hung up most of my clothes. I put some water on to boil and went in search of my shaving cream. Because I don’t have an actual shower or bathtub, my washroom isn’t an ideal place to shave my legs. So after pumping my water from the borehole and adding my freshly boiled water, I set up shop in a sunny spot on my front lawn. The lighting was wonderful and I was happy to finally be in shorts and have my legs exposed to some sun! I plopped down in my plastic lawn chair, wetted my legs, and lathered using the last bits of the shaving cream I had brought from the US.
About halfway through the first leg, I looked up and realized that my neighbor had stopped scrubbing her laundry and was watching me quizzically. I smiled at her and waved, knowing that she knows very little English, and got back to the task at hand. Just as I was finishing the first leg, the other neighbor girl emerged from the room. From the corner of my eye I watched them speaking to each other, both stealing glances my way. In a few short minutes, the shorter and better English speaker of the two was standing in front of me looking both curious and courageous. “What is this?” she asked, looking down at my leg, razor, and basin.
I laughed, not really knowing how to start to explain what I was doing. “I’m shaving my legs,” I told her. From the look on her face I could tell that my words did nothing to quench her curiosity. I went on to explain that I had hair on my legs and wanted to get rid of it. She looked closely at mine and then looked down at her own legs, seemingly trying to work out why I wanted it to be gone. She timidly reached out and felt first the leg that I had finished, then the leg that I had not, and, finally, her own leg. She turned her head slightly and shouted in her native tongue for her friend to come over. The tall girl joined her in front of my little make-shift workshop and she gave her own explanation of what I was doing. She grabbed the taller girls hand and made her feel both of my legs. The tall girl giggled. When they were finished feeling they looked at me expectantly, urging me to continue with their eyes. I laughed and wetted and then lathered up my second leg.
As I took the first stroke up my leg, they stared in amazement. The smaller girl grabbed my hand with the razor and looked closely at the blade. “Ohhhh,” she said as she examined it. She released my hand to allow me to rinse and continue on. After two more strokes, she reached down and ran her hand up my leg. “Very smart!” she exclaimed. The taller girl also felt my leg, giggled, and gave me a thumbs up. They watched for only a few seconds longer before growing bored with the whole ordeal and heading back to finish their laundry. I also laughed to myself as I finished the last of my Saturday chores: Just another episode in the life of a strange foreigner.

Let there be LIGHT!

The story for my search for light in Yei began back in October.  One evening, just a few weeks before I left for Israel, I flipped the switch to the light in my bedroom and nothing happened.  I didn’t think much of the fact that the bulb had burned out, and I quickly searched my memory as to whether I had seen any spare bulbs around.  Since I couldn’t recall having seen any, I decided I would put bulbs on my shopping list and for the time being I would switch out the bulb for the one in the washroom.  I laughed at myself a little when I tried to remove the bulb because it took me several minutes to figure out how to get it out of the socket.  (I even tried to come up with a spin on the joke “How many blondes does it take to change a light bulb?”)  It wasn’t a screw-in bulb like the ones we have in the US; instead it had two tabs on the side that snapped into place when turned a quarter of a turn.  After trying a few times I also discovered that the working bulb was labeled with a + and – and therefore needed to be fitted precisely.

It was several days before I made it to the supermarket to buy a bulb.  When I finally made it there, I decided on one with more wattage than my previous ones, thinking that I could really use some more light in my kitchen.  Unfortunately, when I returned home I realized that I had purchased a screw socket bulb rather than a tabbed one.  I set it on the shelf, hoping that the next time I went to town they would allow me to return it.  In the meantime, I had been getting really tired of the constant changing of the bulbs, so I decided I could do without a light on the porch and made the switch.  I figured that was a fine solution for the time being, and that I would make another trip to the supermarket when I returned from the Holy Land.

When I got back I discovered that a dark porch hadn’t been such a good idea after all. During the time that I was gone, someone had taken the dark house as a sign that they could get away with taking the solar panel from my roof- and they did!  Thankfully, I wasn’t dependent on the solar panel for power; my home is also hooked to the city electric.  I thought that maybe I would have a problem after midnight when the electricity was turned off, but found that the lights still worked. Thank goodness!  Even though I was only here for four days, two more bulbs went out.  I guessed that they must have been purchased at the same time and therefore their lives were expiring together.  Again, I played the switch-a-roo game, knowing that buying bulbs was one of the first things I must do when I returned in January. 

The day after I returned, I made the 20 minute trek into town determined to solve my problem and stop the madness of carrying a bulb with me each time I entered a different room.  I didn’t realized until I arrived at the store that I had forgotten to bring the screw bulb for return. I found the tabbed bulbs just like the ones I had at home and purchased five of them, feeling proud that I would be ready when the rest of them burned out!  I plopped one in the socket when I got home and saw that it didn’t work.  I tried the second one with the same result.  Back to the store I went, this time taking a bulb with me so that I would be sure to buy the right one. (Unfortunately, this bulb later got smashed in my purse, leaving it full of shards of glass, ugg)  I explained to the cashier that the bulbs weren’t working and he informed me that I needed DC bulbs rather than AC since they were run off the battery.  He then took several DC bulbs off of the shelf and checked each one in the store socket to make sure they worked.  He gave me the new bulbs and asked me to bring back the others when I could, explaining that I would then pay the difference in price.  I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of spending more than $4 for each light bulb, but I was immensely happy that my problem would finally be solved.

When I finished my shopping and returned home I again started the process of changing the bulbs. I put the new ones in and, even though they worked, the light was very dim.  I tried them in several different sockets with the same outcome.  I still had a few of the original bulbs that were shining bright; obviously the difference between a Phillips bulb and one made by SOLAR TEX.  After playing with them a bit I discovered that if I jiggled the bulb just right it would get bright enough to actually notice the light.  I packed both the AC bulbs and all but one of the DC bulbs in a bag ready for my next trip to the market. In the meantime I used the trick of tapping and jiggling each bulb to bring light into the room after flipping the switch.  The Phillips bulbs were also on their last legs, so they needed tapping, too.

Several days later I went back to the market, returned the bulbs (the manager was very friendly and happily gave me my money back), and I headed to the electronics store where I had been told they carry very good light bulbs.  I spent more than 30 minutes talking to the gentleman about my lighting issues and he offered me a great solution: I could invest in LED lights (at more than $13 a pop!) and my rooms would all be very bright and my electric bill would be very low!  I wasn’t convinced.  We talked a bit longer and decided that maybe it was a problem with my battery system.  He sent one of his assistants home with me to make sure the battery and inverter were hooked up to the city electric correctly.  I showed this young man my problem with the light and he thought that maybe the issue was not with the bulbs, but with the distance the sockets were from the battery.  However, when I showed him that the Phillips bulbs worked just fine in the socket furthest from the battery, his hypothesis was shot.  He briefly looked at the battery and inverter and assured me that everything was set up correctly. He was in agreement that it must be the quality of the bulbs and told me that there was a store he knew in town that sold Phillips bulbs.  He said he would show me the store the next time I was in the market.

Several days later (after much more tapping and jiggling of bulbs) I again walked to the market, found him at the electronic store and asked him to help me find my bulbs.  We walked to THREE different shops in the 97 degree heat looking for Phillips bulbs to no avail.  When we finally returned to his store I spoke again with the manager.  He assured me that the brand of bulb he was selling would be plenty bright- and they were ONLY $6 each!  Even though I wasn’t convinced, I was so tired of messing with these stupid bulbs that I bought one to take home and try.  He told me that if I brought back the other bulbs he would somehow fix them to make them bright again.  After a rather lengthy chat about Islam, Christianity, his neighbor who now lives in Ohio, the man that ran his car into and overpass and lived, and his daughter, we finally agreed on a bit lower price for the bulb.  Off I went with another bulb that wasn’t a Phillips and I was sure was not going to work.

I immediately put it in the socket when I returned home and guess what? DIM. I knew it! By this point there was only one light still responding to the tapping routine, so when the sun set at seven, in search of my headlamp I would go.  The next morning I had to be up early to get ready for a training in the village.  I woke at 6, more than an hour before the sun, and was again in the dark.  I donned my headlamp, frustrated to have to feel like I was camping in my home.  I waited to bathe until there would be enough light in my washroom to see without the lamp and found myself looking enviously at my neighbors bright kitchen light.  When I returned from the training, I marched to my neighbor’s, with the new promised-to-be-very-bright bulb in hand and confessed to them that I was feeling “light-bulb envy.” I asked them to try the bulb in their socket to see once and for all if the problem was these generic bulbs or something else.  He positioned it properly, clicked it into place and flipped the switch.  Bright light came shining out from the bulb.  That solved it: the problem was not with the bulbs.  I didn’t know how to feel about this.  I had been irritated at the thought of spending $6 on a light, but now there was a chance I would need to replace the solar panel if I ever wanted to be able to see without the headlamp.  We talked for quite a while about what could possibly be wrong with my system: maybe the battery wasn’t holding a charge, maybe the inverter wasn’t working, maybe the connection to the battery was bad, or maybe it wasn’t possible to charge it by city electric.  We brainstormed for over an hour, none of us knowing much at all about how this system was supposed to work.  The sun went down while we were talking and I was thankful for a full moon with which to see on my short walk home; my headlamp wasn’t with me and cell phone was dead, leaving me without a flashlight. I stumbled around trying to get the key into the lock without the light of my porch and then knocked my knee on the table while going for the switch.  In my frustration, I tapped the bulb in the socket a bit too hard and it fell to the floor. There I stood in bare feet, my last working bulb in a million pieces on the floor, my headlamp in an undetermined location, trying to decide if I felt more like crying or laughing at the ridiculousness of the situation.  I chose laughter, figuring that all of this would at least make for a good story! I felt around for the headlamp, cleaned up the mess of the bulb, and went to bed.

I went without lights for the next two evenings, cursing a little to myself about having to wear the sweat-inducing headlamp.  My days were too busy to think about what I would do next, so I added it to my list of things to do on Monday morning.

Still knowing NOTHING about solar panels, batteries, and inverters, I was bound and determined to figure out what in the world was going on with my lights.  After speaking with my neighbors, we had come to the conclusion that the battery must be dead.  It made sense to us that my battery had slowly been losing charge and that was why my lights were going dim.  We decided that the Phillips bulbs are more efficient and therefore produce light with less energy than the generic ones.  (I felt pretty darned smart for being able to come up with this explanation) But why wasn’t the battery charging? Maybe it needed to be replaced, maybe the inverter wasn’t hooked up properly, or maybe it wasn’t possible to charge the battery off of city electric and a new solar panel would need to be purchased. (My feelings of intelligence vanished when I realized I had no idea what to do about the battery without charge.)

On Sunday afternoon I sat and stared at the system.  The inverter was showing two red lights, but because they weren’t labeled, I had no idea what they meant.  The battery cables had come out of the control box for the solar panels, so none of those lights were working. I searched the internet in vain for this brand of inverter, in hopes that I could find a user manual.  As a last effort, I twisted a plastic screw-looking thing in the back of the inverter and out came a fuse.  After further examination, I found that the fuse was blown.  I tried to keep my excitement at bay and not allow myself to think that the solution could be this simple.  Nevertheless, I ran to the bedroom and pulled out a box that I thought I remembered seeing fuses in:  they were too big.  I headed to my neighbors hoping that they had one: they didn’t.  It was too late to go to the electronic store, but I made up my mind to visit first thing in the morning.

I received a warm greeting and a laugh from the manager when I arrived. “Where are the bulbs?” he asked.  I pulled out the fuse and explained as best I could in simple English what I thought the problem could be.  He gave the fuse to the young worker who proceeded to pull out a Tupperware that looked like my junk drawer in the US.  He sorted and sorted in search of a matching fuse.  In the meantime, the manager began telling me something about his passport and showed me page after page of visas. I smiled and nodded for more than twenty minutes, understanding less than half of what he was saying to me. Finally, the young man presented me with the proper fuse.  I took out my wallet to pay, but he refused, telling me to come back and buy it only if it works.  That wasn’t very encouraging.

I hoped with all that was in me that this fuse was going to be my answer.  After countless trips into town, numerous purchases of bulbs, multiple visits to different stores, several random conversations with the store manager, and a home visit, I could hardly convince myself that I would not spend this night in the dark.  I found my screwdriver, reconnected the battery cables to the control box, flipped the switch on the inverter (per the manager’s instructions), said a prayer, and finally screwed in the fuse…

Nothing happened.  The same two red lights flashed on the control box and the solid red lights stayed illuminated on the inverter.  I flipped the switch on the inverter, hoping I wouldn’t blow the fuse, and still nothing happened.  I unplugged it, plugged it back in and still nothing. I was feeling defeated and angry for having allowed myself to get excited.  I pulled out the fuse to confirm my suspicion that it had blown again and was surprised to see that the wire was still intact.  I screwed it back in and this time gave it a few more turns than I had the last.  The inverter beeped and the lights changed! I was elated to see a solid green light and a flashing one.  I still had no idea what they meant, but I was sure that green was better than red.  I was finally ready to give myself permission to hope that the battery was finally being charged.

An hour later I noticed that the control box no longer showed two red lights, but one of them was flashing yellow.  I hurried to the light switch, flipped it, and out from the bulb poured completely unexpected but deeply hoped for, wonderfully glorious, brightly shining, easy to see in the middle of the afternoon LIGHT! I am not ashamed to say that I danced.  I was (and still am) beaming with a smile and looking forward to spending my evening headlamp free! Praise God!