Monday, November 17, 2014

Prepare to Be Impressed...

What does a good wife do when the electricity comes on, right at bedtime when one's husband has to leave for the airport at 5AM and he has need of  clean clothes?  One stays up to rotate laundry and while writing, they might re-write the lyrics of an old favorite song.  And, it might go something like this:

I Can't Fight This Laundry Anymore
(sung to the tune of I Can't Fight This Feeling by REO Speedwagon)

I can't fight this laundry any longer,
And yet I'm still afraid to let it go,
Because we always stay so hot and stinky,
It simply cannot be re-worn, you know.

And even as I launder,
The end is not in sight,
It seems when we have water,
Then they "off the lights."
I'm not getting closer,
Though sometimes I think I might!

Cause I can't fight this laundry anymore,
I'll never get this pile off the floor,
I really want to simply shut the door,
Just buy new clothes at the store,
Baby, I can't fight this laundry anymore.

Monday, November 10, 2014

On The Move

I mentioned in one of my earlier posts that we have accepted a transfer for next term.  This decision really started with our trip to Kenya.  During our time there, we were able to step back and look at the health of our family.  We were challenged to be willing to make whatever changes necessary to get our family in a healthier place.  As part of this time, we realized that if we were going to have longevity in Africa, we had to make a few changes.  The biggest one was that Ryan's frequent travel into Nigeria would have to stop.  Our children, and especially our boys, struggle a lot when he is there.  When we approached our leadership and asked them to consider letting us adjust our jobs to eliminate Ryan's travel, we fully expected that we would remain in our current location. 

However, we were asked to consider a transfer to another country where Ryan would do the same job that he is currently doing, but his work would all be done in the same country, eliminating the need for so much travel.  There was a significant need in this place and it sounded like a good fit for our family.  We prayed about it, made a trip up there to meet the units we would work with and see the area, and decided that it was where we needed to go next term.   We are all really excited about the move for a variety of reasons.  Here are just a few...
  • There is a huge need.  The place where we are going is one of the poorest nations in the world with less than 2% of the population estimated to be Christian.
  • The children will have a good school option.  We have loved homeschooling and if we were in the States, we would probably see it through to graduation.  But here in Africa, it can be really, really isolating- for them and for me.  The kids had actually asked us in June if we would consider finding a school option for them.  At that point, boarding school was the most likely option and I was not keen on that.  So, when an accredited MK school in the city that we were asked to move to became an option, we knew we needed to consider it.  It is likely that Abe and I will still school together for a year or more, but the older ones are chomping at the bit to try out "real school."  Ryan and I got to visit the school in August and we were really encouraged by what we saw.
  • The mission community.  There is an extensive mission community in the city where we'll live, consisting of folks from a variety of agencies who do a variety of ministries.  When you have teenagers, that's pretty important.  Our current city has offered us very limited community and the folks that we have gotten to know and enjoy live in other parts of the city, where frequent fellowship is not feasible because of the Accra traffic.
  • Existing teams.  Ryan and I do support work.  That means that the bulk of our time is spent investing in the ministries of folks who do strategic work.  While we know that helping folks get visas, auto paperwork, and the like is important and necessary, we also embrace opportunities to do ministry with nationals ourselves.  I have struggled a bit with this because of all of the life responsibilities that I face.  I am excited that there are several women there who are doing some neat work and whom I have the potential to team with to be more involved with nationals.  I can't wait to see how the Lord will allow me to invest my time there.
Here are some ways we ask you to pray:
  • Language- once again, we are faced with language learning.  The Hausa we learned in Nigeria will come in very handy, but we also need to be able to operate in French, and learn at least some of  another local language called Zarma.  I have a background in classroom French, but I am not conversational.  Ryan has been taking some lessons for about 10 weeks, but we both have a long way to go.
  • School- transitioning to school will be a big deal for all of us.  While the kids are thrilled and excited, it is a big change for all of us.
  • Rest- we really, really need some refreshment.  We are truly weary and need for our time in the States to be a time of restoration.  We have tried to calendar things in a way that this will be able to happen, but time will tell how that goes.
  • Relationships- we are praying even now that God would provide deep and precious relationships with both Africans and other ex-pat folks.  We have had a lonely season here in Accra and we all are praying for friendships and community in our new home.
Okay, now that I've given you some details, do you have any guesses about where we're going?  Here's a picture we took while we were there, does that help?  It's a picture of the house we'll live in in...
Niamey, Niger, Lord willing!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

A Different Kind of Supply

When I agreed to oversee the guest house that our organization operates in our city, the ideal was that we would have a long term volunteer who would do most of the oversight and I would simply provide the support for them.  That was the plan.  But, sometimes plans don't work out.  The person we had lined up for a one year commitment had multiple postponements and in the end, never made it.  I was able to get a couple of short termers, but since March, we've been volunteer-less at the guest house. 
 
I prayed very fervently that God would provide someone.  I knew there was no way I could spin all of the plates without a volunteer.  I work with a really, really great national staff who work hard, but there are some things that they are not responsible for.   God didn't answer my prayer like I had in mind, but He brought me a different kind of help.
 
When I was approaching panic mode about how we were going to keep the guesthouse going with no volunteer host, a co-worker from a neighboring country asked me if I could use a young volunteer.  She had a request from a pastor friend who was looking for a place for a young woman who wanted to do a gap year overseas.  She had been lined up to go to the Ukraine and with the current climate there, she needed a different location.  I told my friend that I didn't think she'd be a good fit for the guest house, but if she'd be willing to help homeschool, I'd take her.  I honestly didn't think she's consider it, but she did.  And, to my surprise, she came. 
 
I'm so glad she did.  She's been a big blessing for us.  She works a good bit with Abe, helps nearly all of the others with math and whatever else they get hung up on, and is a good friend to the girls.  While I am still heavily involved with school, she helps to streamline our days in a way that enables me to keep the plates spinning.  Not to mention, having her here has helped us keep traction on the days when I would be tempted to throw school out the window because there are too many other things to do. 
 
 

It doesn't always look like we imagine, but I have found time and again that God meets our needs over here in West Africa. 
 
"And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus."  Phillipians 4:19

Saturday, November 8, 2014

[hip-uh-krit]

Hypocrite.  That's what I s'pose I am.  I stood in a workshop I was asked to lead on blogging a month ago and talked about how blogs were so much more effective if you post regularly.  And since then, I've said nothing, not one thing, on this here blog, for about 6 weeks.  But let me tell you, it has not been laziness.  It's not been a lack of inspiration.  Its just that I have been plain old tired.

Here's a bit of what has been happening in our world since my last post:

Traveling:  I made a trip to South Africa for a women's conference, which was a really great and refreshing time.  It was an encouragement and also challenged me in lots of ways, some of which I hope to share in a later post.  I had the blessing of getting to room with two women I already knew and call friend, and they didn't know each other.  It was really neat how the Lord worked it out, as they were assigned to be roomates and their other assigned roommate got sick and couldn't attend. They had a last minute empty bed and invited me to move over to their place.  It was a great time of catching up and sweet fellowship.  I'm going to be honest and say that the last 18 months of my life have been the loneliest I've ever lived and that week was a real gift to my spirit in many, many ways.

Not only was my conference great, but I was able to spend a couple of extra nights in Johannesburg.  Wow, I was amazed by what I saw of South Africa.  I had heard that it was very developed, but I could not fathom how true that was.  The shopping centers, stores, and restaurants were unbelievable.  I ate at McDonalds, drank my first fountain soda on the continent of Africa, and shopped at an enormous grocery store where I was able to buy all sorts of things like bacon, affordable cheese, and abundant peanut butter.  I brought back two VERY full suitcases and a much heavier backpack than I left here with. 

Ryan has also been traveling.  He's made two trip to Nigeria in the last several weeks.  It's always crazy when he is away.   But thankfully, the trips have been productive and he is tying up loose ends that need to be completed before we leave for the States.

School:  We have been hitting school hard since July.  We have never had this much school done by Christmas, much less the beginning of November.  The younger four are more than 1/2 way through their science, history, and language arts curriculums for the year and math is coming along nicely too.  Abby is also making good progress, and is a diligent student, though it's trickier to finish early with high school credits, so she'll still have a good bit of work to do while we're in the States.  We're thankful that the Lord sent a volunteer to help us along with that this fall, but I'll share more about that in another post.

 Abe did a pumpkin unit study this fall.  We found a pumpkin that was almost orange at a nearby produce stand.  He guessed there would be about 50 seeds.  There were actually 367,  Of course, after we counted them, we roasted and ate them.
 
Here's Lily, dressed as Cleopatra at a history day we had with some other homeschoolers. We've just moved out of the ancients and into the middle ages!  Hooray for me, because the ancients are my least favorite.
 

Celebrating:  Abe celebrated his 7th birthday with all thing camo.  Ryan's parents had even sent us a camouflage cake mix with bright orange icing, so we enjoyed that at lunch time.  We also attempted a birthday bonfire, but the wet wood we have 'round these parts refused to cooperate.  We basically ended up roasting marshmallows using the flames we managed to coax out of assorted paper and boxes.  We used marshmallows and chocolate bars that we've been saving since our friends visited in July and made some yummy s'mores. 
 
Here's Abe with the 'mote control car we gave him for his birthday.



We also hosted a 50s style murder mystery for our volunteer's 18th birthday.  We had a good time, but it was complicated by the fact that the electricity took part of the night off.  Limited lighting definitely adds to the ambiance, I suppose.

Most of our 50's party crew

Packing:  We head to the States in 5 weeks and so most Saturdays, we've been trying to tackle a room.  When we moved from Nigeria, there was no organization or purging involved.  It all happened so fast that any willing hands were accepted and we literally ended up with all sorts of things that we wouldn't have packed if we'd have had time to sort and organize.  Combine that with the fact that things have been crazy busy since I took on the guest house responsibilities, and well, let's just say our closets were downright scary!  To compound it all, we've decided to accept a transfer for next term, (that's also another post waiting to happen), and so our house will be packed up completely, prepped for moving when we return to West Africa next spring.    Packing it all up is motivation to purge, that's for sure. 

Surviving: The last 6 weeks or so, we've had lots of opposition from the basic aspects of life.  You know...water, electricity, and the like.  Ghana has had an electricity shortage which has resulted in more outages than normal.  Our water pump is currently "on vacation" and the repairmen who were supposed to be here today to fix it have been no-shows again.  It's been 8 days since it functioned properly, which means that we have to boil water if we want any warmth for bucket bathing and laundry is a no-go.  I let it steal more energy than I should, but man it gets old.  I think that I will never ever take a warm, good pressured shower for granted again.  And the option to do laundry anytime I want without checking water supply or electricity first will never again be lost on me.

Stateside Preparations:  We are excited to be coming to the States soon, but we have had tons of preparations to make.  Medical paperwork, scheduling appointments and speaking engagements, working through calendar details (AKA scheduling time to rest), getting Ryan scheduled for the seminary classes he needs to take while we're there, and then thinking through the details of cell phones and those sorts of things, all take time and energy.  We feel like we're nearing the end of that "to-do" list for now.  It reminds me of wedding planning, there is a certain amount that you do ahead and then there's a bunch of hurry up and wait until it comes down to the final crunch.  We're thankful for a brief respite from the planning before we hit the final crunch.

Panto Season:  The three oldest are participating in a drama production this year with the same drama group they worked with last year.  They put on a British style pantomime every Christmas season and the girls really wanted to participate again.  Isaac was allowed to join them this year, so they are practicing every weekend and sometimes as much as 3 evenings a week.  That makes for a whole lot of taxiing and schedule shaping.  But, they're having a good time and they will be putting on their last performance of ,"There's No Place Like Rome" the day before we head to 'Merica.  That's one way to get them to sleep on the airplane, a whole week of dress rehearsals and nightly performances should wear them out!

Here they are, dressed for a Halloween practice.  Lizzy was Minnie, our volunteer, Bailey, was a scarecrow, Abby was a pineapple, and Isaac was a minecraft chicken.  Abe, not to be outdone, threw on a mask he had colored during school and photo bombed them.  Crazy kid!

That's a glimpse into the last six weeks round these parts.
 
 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

I Know, I Know, I Know...

I haven't exactly been so on target with my blogging goal for this month.  Does it help at all that I spent last weekend wiped out with a headcold?  Then, I had to play catch-up from being totally unproductive for 3 days.  I slept for about 34 hours from Friday night to Monday morning.  Not that being awake would have allowed for much blogging anyway...our electricity took a little sabbatical for most of the weekend.  That means I had limited internet access, since our router requires "lights" as my African friends call electricity. 

I'm not trying to complain about the electricity.  Really, I'm not.  Right now, in Ghana, we're supposed to be experiencing a "load shedding exercise."  That's the Ghana way of saying that the lights are going to go out.  Everyone is supposed to get 24 hours on and 12 hours off.  That seems fair enough, I suppose.  If there's not enough electricity to power the country, I guess that taking turns without makes sense.  Of course, part of my American brain wants to ponder why we can't maintain things in a way that would allow us to not need load shedding, but that's a pointless exercise.

So, Tuesday morning, we were all prepared for our 12 hours without electricity.  Computers were charged.  E-mails were answered.  Mentally I was ready for a day of sweat with no relief in sight.  We were there.  But the electricity never went off.  It's now Thursday night and we're still uninterrupted with our electric.  Which, don't get me wrong...I'm loving it.  But, it bothers me because my African friends are not having the same experience at their house. 

They told me it would be this way.  When the load shedding was announced, I was voicing my lack of enthusiasm and they told me not to worry, that where I live, I won't be experiencing it as severely as other folks.  You see, I live in an area with lots of embassies and ex-pats and other niceties. I logically explained to them that the authorities had announced that everyone was going to be part of it.  We would have to do without too.  They politely agreed, but I knew they weren't convinced.  And now, 96 hours into our "turn" I'm beginning to realize that once again...they were right and I was wrong. 

I don't think I'll ever understand the way things work here.  Why is it okay for the big man to always beat down the little man?  Why is it okay for such obvious discrimination to happen?  My "all mean are created with certain inalienable rights" mentality just doesn't get it.  And the thing is, my African friends totally accept it.  Or at least they seem to.  It's just the way it is and the way it will always be. 

Of course, it can go the other way too.  Today, when my office assistant came to work, she said, "Mom, we have a problem.  The trash people came and they said that the prices will be going up next month.  You will now be paying more.  Here is the letter they left." 

Here's the way it's going to work.  Beginning next week, if we are going to continue with trash collection, we will pay 250% more than we did this week.  Apparently, according to the letter, trash pick-up is divided into 6 categories.  In each of the categories, you pay a different amount per 240 liter can.  So, though you all use the same size can, the cost will vary.  I found out today that I live in "first-class residential."  I will pay 5 times as much for my can as the people living in 3rd class residential.  Of course, if I was an industry, I would pay 10 times as much, for the SAME size can.  And they wonder why they're having a hard time attracting industries to our city?!?

For just a minute, I ranted and raved and gave Charity my exact opinions on why this was absolutely absurd.  She smiled and nodded and gave words of support in all of the appropriate places (just like she did when I assured her that I would share her electricity woes.)  Then I realized that if she were to pay what I am now expected to pay for her trash pick-up, it would be 25% of her monthly salary.  Hmmm, that doesn't seem fair either, does it? 

I don't know what the answer is.  I do know that I just don't get it.  Don't know if I ever will.  And, I'm pretty sure that I'll be slipping my guard an extra 10 cedis a month next week so that he can burn the trash and we can send our 240 liter can to someone who will appreciate it more.  C'est la vie!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Magic Bag

I love birthdays.  I love finding fun ways to celebrate birthdays.  We start our birthday streak this month.  We have one a month for the next 5 months, in our household.  Normally, I would look forward to this.  I confess though, that with the demands of the past year, I haven't had as much energy or enthusiasm as I would like when it comes to those kinds of extras.  Not to mention, we're approaching the end of our term and the party supply box is getting low.  I mean, who wants purple  plates with Spiderman napkins and a Tinkerbell tablecloth?  But then again, a birthday celebration is about celebrating the person, not what kinda plate your cake is served on, right?

Lizzie turned 14 Friday.  When I asked her what she wanted to do to celebrate, she said that she just wanted to have a family movie night... like we do every Friday night.  I tried to talk her into dreaming a bit bigger, but she insisted that was all she needed.  So, we agreed that instead of having our normal pizza, I would make appetizers and red velvet cupcakes and, she would get to pick the movie.  That was it.  She didn't even have much of a wish list as far as a gift went.   This is not a typical Lizzie style birthday, but who am I to look a gift horse in the mouth?

I thought it would be fun to try and surprise her with a little something unexpected.  But, I honestly couldn't think of anything.  So, I decided this would just be a basic birthday with nothing special for the memory books.  Until, Ryan and I somehow ended up out shopping together and alone last Saturday.  We were at the place we lovingly refer to as Walmart.  I decided to head down the aisle that most closely resembles a party supply aisle and see if I could find a pack of plates to use.  As I was strolling, I found this little gem...
 A "Hallo" Barbie bag.
Can you see it?  The word "Hallo" written all over the bag.


Lizzie has loved Barbies far longer and far more passionately than your average 14 year old girl.  Though she doesn't spend much time with them these days, she will definitely be remembered as our Barbie lover.  So, even though she is far too old for me to be wrapping her gifts in a Barbie bag, I did it.  I spent the dollar and bought the ugly "Hallo" bag.

I didn't have any gifts that were really spectacular, just a lot of little things that I thought she might like.  We had bought her a basic cover for her Ipad, which is the one thing she had asked for.  Of course, when she saw the bag waiting for her at the breakfast table, she laughed and rolled her eyes at my choice of wrapping.  As if the ugly bag wasn't crazy enough, I decided to tell her it was a Magic "Hallo" Barbie bag.  She dutifully opened the gifts, which had each been wrapped in some lovely, shiny foil paper, the African wrap of choice.  She was very gracious after she finished, but I think she was a bit disappointed that her birthday gifts consisted of things like oreos, microwave popcorn, and hair ties.

We ran to pick up our volunteer teacher, and when we returned, Lizzie took her in to see the ugly Barbie bag, which she'd left on the table.  To her surprise, the bag had been refilled with more wrapped gifts.  I reminded her that, "Hallo!  The bag IS magic!"  I explained that the lady who sold it to me told me that the bag was magic, the items were only to be opened at mealtime, and that the magic ran out at sunset.  Of course, Liz didn't fall for one word of it, but she humored me and played along, especially since it meant more loot for her.  Every time the bag would get mentioned all day long, I would just shout out "Hallo!  It's magic!"  in my very best Made in China accent.  It probably doesn't even sound funny to you, but I cracked myself up and eventually, my kids decided to laugh with (or maybe it was AT) me.

As the day went on, the gifts got a bit better and I think that the two Dr. Peppers really sealed the deal.  Lizzie had a great day and certainly got the idea that we loved her, Nutella and all.  We had a fun time celebrating Lizzie, in spite of our ugly wrapping paper and flimsy plates.  And Hallo, how's she going to forget the "magic" that was her 14th birthday?


Here are Abe and Lizzie with the gifts he gave her.  He came up with a Chick-Fil-A cow watch, some sunflower spectacles, a jewelry box that was already hers, but he added a few random coins he has collected on our travels, and a handmade picture.  He is really into giving gifts and drawing picture to give away right now.  Which makes me very, very happy! 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Africa Light?

We live in a big, busy city.  By West African standards, it is also a very developed city.  Nearly all of our roads are paved.  We have a couple of shopping malls and a movie theater.  We have grocery stores that look like American grocery stores (LOOK, not operate NOR stock.)  We even have a couple of chain restaurants, most of them are South or West African, but we do have KFC. 

Our colleagues that live in other parts of West Africa like to remind us that we live in "Africa Light."  Most of the time, we agree with them and we know that we have it easy, comparatively.  But, then there are these days when it doesn't seem so "light"  and I really just want to punch them in the nose and challenge them to come live a few weeks in "Africa Light."  Ummm, I mean, I wouldn't really ever want to punch one of my colleagues in the nose.  Never.  I love them all and we are united in our efforts in perfect harmony.  All of us.  Always.  So no worries there.

I remember when we had only been on the field for a few months, we were Skyping with friends who live in another developed West African city.  We were sitting in our bedroom, in the dark, because the electricity was out.  They had the nerve to explain to us that they thought that we had it easier, with only about 50 percent electricity than they had it, with 95 percent electricity.  According to them, it was more challenging for them because they didn't have back up sources for power like we did.  I thought that was the dumbest thing I'd ever heard.  Except that now, I am in a 95% city, and I agree with them.  Because, when we lived in a place where power outages were daily occurrences, we did have a generator and solar panels and an invertor system.  Here, we might only lose power a half dozen times a month, but we don't have any back-up systems.  We have candles.  It's simply not worth the financial investment to install any sort of back-up system.  Really, it's not a big deal, unless it's super hot and we need fans.  Or, when I just filled the crockpot for the day.  Or if the school laptop computers are on 15% charge and we have the whole school day ahead of us.  Or, if it's just been a rotten day and I am being a spoiled American who simply wants the lights to be on.

Another thing that I love about "Africa Light" is that the many of the businesses have the appearance of being "shiny" and having high standards.  But really, you'd be better off if you refuse to be deceived by the shine and remember that you're still shopping in West Africa.  Because, quite frankly, many things are just a souped up version of what you could get for half the price in the open air market, if you wanted to battle the traffic and invest 1/2 of your day in finding a parking spot and getting sunburned.  Yes, there is an entire cereal aisle, and it has 6 different kind of cornflakes.  Or one $20 box of stale Rice Krispies.  Take your pick.  There is also a meat counter.  Where you can get chicken.  Sometimes.  Or beef.  Sometimes.  Or goat meat.  All of the time.

It's also fun when you fall for the movie theater online schedule...the one where you look and find that the movie you want to see starts at 2:45.  So, you go on Tuesday afternoon to see a movie that came in last Friday.  Except, after you make the 3 mile/45 minute drive and get there to buy the tickets, they tell you that the movie didn't come in yet.  And when you inquire as to why the website says the movie will be playing at 2:45, they say, "Well, it was supposed to come in on Friday, but it hasn't come yet."  Then you make the mistake of asking why, between Friday and Tuesday, they didn't update the website to indicate that the movie wasn't there, and they look at you like you're an idiot and you decide that you need to just walk away, before you lose it.  Then, you pack your frustrated and/or crying children back into the van and drive the 3 mile/45 minute drive home.  But, you've learned your lesson and the next time, you call before you go.

This summer, we had some friends who worked with us in Nigeria and have now returned to the States, come for a visit.  They brought us lots of treats, including a big quantity of pepperoni.  We sort of had this running joke while they were here that if they had known how developed our city was, they wouldn't have brought us pepperoni...we weren't really suffering enough and we hadn't earned our pepperoni.  All joking aside, by the end of their week, they reassured us that, even if we live in "Africa Light", we still earn our pepperoni.

I know I might sound like a crybaby, and that's not my intent.  I'm thankful for the conveniences that do come with "Africa Light."  Living here has helped me to understand that the old saying, "The grass is always greener on the other side," is definitely true.  I pray that increasingly, I will be able to say, like the Apostle Paul, "I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances."  Lord, may it be so!