Sunday, August 31, 2014

So, What Do We Do Over Here?

I feel like we're always telling folks how busy we are.  It seems like, since our move to Accra, I am always thinking that we are nearing the end of the craziness and that the slow season is just around the corner.  But, one month rolls into another and the slow season doesn't come.  The bottom line is, we're in a busy season of life.  I think anyone, parenting 5 children ages 6-16 would be hopping, right?

But yet, our busy probably doesn't look like your busy.  We don't have church youth group calendars or little league schedules to navigate.  We aren't squeezing weekend trips to the grandparent's house in between school carnivals.  And, my heavens, we have a house helper, so what could possibly be filling our days?  What does our "busy" look like?  Here's a little glimpse into it a typical day in our life, here in urban West Africa.

The day begins about 5:45 AM, when the sun has been up for some time and it is so bright that I can't deny it's time.  Not to mention, the roosters in the neighbor's yard aren't going to shush, so I may as well get up and going.  I head to the kitchen for my morning glass of water, only to realize no one refilled the water filter last night.  I spend the next 5 minutes getting water from the tap and filling the Katydyn.  Finally, glass in tow, I head to the couch to spend a few minutes of quiet time before the children start invading my morning.  No sooner do I sit down than I hear the guard's daily "Good morning Madame" through the back window, where he has stepped up to turn off the security lights.

All too quickly, the living room starts being invaded with young ones, clamoring for the breakfast menu.  I put my Bible back on the shelf and begin the morning routine.  After putting on clothes and yanking the hair up off of my neck because the heat is already rising,  I head out to the water tank to knock on it and figure out if laundry is going to be a possibility today.  Pleasantly surprised to hear that it is full, I head inside to make sure the pressure pump is on, before I head back through the house to gather laundry.  I sort it into baskets by loads, because even though Naomi is great at switching them around and operating the machines now, I know that her load sizes and my machines don't get along.  Not to mention, that while I have relaxed my standards significantly, I still don't want our dish towels washed with our underwear.  I notice that there is ironing from the day before lying beside the laundry door and I remember that the electric was off yesterday afternoon before Naomi left.  I make a mental note to add that to Naomi's list for the day.

At 7:00, I hear a banging on the gate.  Sixty seconds later the guard comes to the front window saying, "Madame, the plumber is here."  I remember that Ryan called the plumber yesterday for a sink leak and start off to find him.  I go out to greet Joseph, thanking him for coming and wondering what time the man gets up, since he always reports for service calls by 7:15AM.

Then, I make my rounds through the house, reminding kids to make their beds, put laundry in their hampers, and the like.  I wonder once again if they're going to be slobs because we've let them grow up with a house helper around.  Then I wonder if the alternative of me loosing my mind without one would be a better option.  Deciding that I'll err on the side of raising slobs, I do one last inspection and head to the kitchen to make breakfast.

We're running late and I consider quick breakfast options.  Hmmm, toast and eggs?  No, we don't have enough eggs.  Should I make one of the kids put on a pair of shoes and run around to the egg lady?  Wait!  I remember that I asked Naomi to mix up waffle batter yesterday.  Score one for me, all I have to do is cook them.  I think through my options, should I add chocolate chips or should I make syrup to go with them.  If I add chocolate chips, I won't have to take time to make syrup, the kids will eat them happily without.  But, do I want to dip into the chocolate chip supply?  A quick peek into the chocolate chip drawer confirms that I can throw some into the batter and still have enough for granola bars and a batch of cookies before a friend brings me some next month.  Chocolate chips it is.

With breakfast behind us, I sit down to make Naomi's list for the day.  Let's see, if I have her make tortillas today, then we can have tacos for dinner tonight, which is one of our easiest food options.  Since I need to go to the office today, fast would be good.  "Tortillas" goes on the list.  I remember that the lettuce and tomatoes I bought yesterday still haven't been soaked, so I add "Soak vegetables" to the list.  Let's see, baked potatoes would be a good option for lunch, but I'd better set them out for her to wrap.  I still don't understand why she doesn't choose the big ones out of the bag, if I don't.  Who wants a baked potato that is 1.5 inches in diameter?  And, why does she still put ketchup and mustard on the table every time we have baked potatoes?  Then, I remember that I'm in a hurry and add "Baked Potatoes @ 12:45" to the list.

At this point, time is really getting away from me, so I hop into the van and head to the guest house to pick up our new volunteer, Bailey.  The mile drive over and back would only have taken about 7 minutes, if I'd left 10 minutes earlier, but because of my tardiness it's going to take at least 15.   I decide to relax and just wait in line at the round-about without huffing and puffing.  I make a mental note not to leave so late tomorrow morning.

When I return, I see that Mustapha, our occasional gardener, is here.  I go to greet him in Hausa, and attempt to track with him when he continues talking in Hausa.  I realize again how quickly my language gets rusty when not in use.   After a moment of my blank stare, we decide to switch to English, so that we can go beyond the most basic questions.  I inquire of his new baby and his wife.  I rejoice with him for her continued recovery.  When she was told during childbirth a few weeks ago that she would have to have a c-section, she told him her goodbyes, assuming that she would die.  Thankfully, her care was good and the Lord saw fit to spare her life.  We are all so thankful.

The school day starts as soon as I finish my conversation with Mustapha.  Bailey heads into one room of the old "boy's quarters" with Abe while the older kids and I head into the other.  Thus begins a frenzied morning of rotating children.  I do Abe's reading lesson while Bailey does spelling with the middles, I read history to the middles while Bailey does workboxes with Abe.  Whoever can field Math questions at any given moment goes for it.  On and on it goes for the next 4 hours until Naomi comes to remind me that it's time for lunch.

Ryan comes up from his office to join us and I ask him how his morning went.  He tells me that he had planned to work on payroll for the national staff in Nigeria that morning, but instead a deaf pastor and Sunday school teacher stopped by and he helped them work on crafting a story.  He would like to finish the payroll after lunch, but he doesn't know if he can get it done.  He has to run to Vodaphone to pay the internet bill for the office, because the data ran out this morning while he was in the middle of sending e-mails.  While he's out he might as well take the gas cylinders to be filled, since one of them ran out last week and we don't want to be caught without cooking gas again.  Not to mention, he has to stop by an embassy to see if a visa he is trying to get for one of our personnel is ready.

The children bicker about whose turn it is to go to the guest house with mom.  We review who went the last few times and realize that it is Lizzie's turn.  She grabs her I-pad, a gift from her grandparents, which is the primary motivator for her desire to accompany me.  She knows that unlimited internet and the Disney Channel await her there.  Lizzie, Bailey, and I hop in the van and head to the office.

From the minute I walk through the door of the guest house, I am hopping.  Charity, my assistant, and I meet to log income, discuss reservations, and assess this week's repair needs.  We agree to call the electrician to have him look at the light fixture in Apt. B.  I tell her not to call the plumber for the drip in room D yet, but that if any other repairs come up in the next few days, we'll have him look at both.  I know full well that a week without a plumber is almost a myth around here.  I think for the 100th time that I never knew that you could have such a friendly relationship with so many different repairmen.  

I note that all 12 rooms are booked for both nights this weekend.  I look through e-mails and see that one of the doctors leading one of our incoming teams is asking me to hold off on buying their domestic flight tickets up to the hospital.  Apparently, some of his team are starting to get cold feet about the whole ebola thing.  I can't say that I'm surprised, we've done lots of rearranging with our medical volunteers, thanks to Mr. Ebola.

My best laugh of the day comes when Charity hands me the list that our driver gave her.  It's a list of items that we need for the guest house truck.  At the top of the list are the words jerk and jerk bar.  I ponder.  I think.  I give up and finally ask what a jerk and jerk bar are.  Charity says the words to me 2-3 times, at a louder volume each time.  I finally tell her that I know full well what a jerk is, but it has nothing to do with an Isuzu pick-up truck.  She smiles and laughs in frustration at the silly obroni madame she's forced to work for, having no idea what I am talking about.  Then she explains that it is one of those things that you use to lift your car up when you get a flat tire.  Now it's my turn to laugh as I explain that this is called a jack.  She tells me that's what she just said...a jerk.  I proceed to spell it for her.  We agree to disagree.

The rest of the afternoon passes in a whirlwind.  Between fielding guest questions, answering volunteer e-mails, and preparing pay envelopes for the staff, my limited time there is exceedingly full.  But, I love every minute of it.

Finally, about 5:30, Lizzie and I hop back into the van and begin the process of inching home.  The same ride that took us 4 minutes at 1:30 takes us 20 minutes now.   Lizzie calls Ryan to ask him to start the taco meat.  I would call myself, but the police stationed every 30 feet this time of day would surely give this white woman a fine if I even dared to hold the phone, even though we're sitting perfectly still in a long line of traffic.

Dinner is fast and easy.  I hear the stories of everyone's afternoons.  Ryan managed to accomplish 3 of his 4 tasks, which is better than usual around these parts.  Abby needs help with some Biology questions, so I've got that to look forward to after dinner.  Isaac tells me how frustrated he is with the guard, who called the dog "stupid" again.  Lizzie tells us all about the funny Disney episode she watched while we were at the guest house.  Lily and Abe argue over who is going to have the leftover waffle from breakfast for desert.  Ahh, the sounds of home sweet home.

At 7:00, the table is cleared and I think about all of the possibilities that await for the rest of my evening.  What should I do with my "free" time.  Wait.  Biology questions first.  Then Lily comes, explaining that she is having trouble with her reading and wants to know if I can help.  By the time those two are squared away, it's 8:00.  Maybe something productive could be done, still?  But then, maybe I'll just check FB first?  Read a couple of blogs?  Answer a few e-mails?  Then, I'll get up and do something productive.

Next thing I know, it's 9:45 and my productivity window is firmly closed for the day.  I remember that I need a shower.  Darn, I forgot to turn our hot water heater on again.  I dash back to the bathroom and flip the switch, then decide that I don't want to wait the 20 minutes it will take to get hot water.  And besides, it's hot enough that I can do without.

While I'm in the shower, I think through tomorrow's schedule.  I need to get groceries at some point.  Where should I go?  I really would like some chicken breast, and I know that Maxmart will have the best chance of having that.  Oh, and I can get cheddar there too.  Plus, maybe they'll have sour cream again.  Oh, and maybe they've gotten Crisco in.  I'm nearly out and it's been weeks since I've seen it anywhere.  But, I also want butter, milk powder, and vegetable oil and I cannot justify paying their price for those.  I guess I'll go to Maxmart and Marina.  Maybe between the two, they'll have all I want for the week?  Oh, and I need cell phone credit too, but that shouldn't be a problem.  I can always purchase it from my car window at the intersection before Marina.  I just need to remember to wave the guy over.

Shower finished, I head to the kitchen for a glass of water before bed.  I realize the filter is nearly empty.  Should I fill it?  Nah, I'm too tired, I'll just do it in the morning.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Grief- A Year In

Today marks a year since my mother passed away.  To be honest, I've been tempted to throw a big pity party all day.  My husband is in another country and called this morning to tell me he is extending his trip.  I totally understand and I know it is the best choice, but it doesn't change the reality that I am now on an extended tour of single parent duty, which I am not great at.   I don't think either one of us thought through the timing of this trip very well.  I feel confident we were both regretting it when he called a few hours ago and I could barely speak for the idiot tears that have been plaguing me all darn day.

As if that wasn't enough, my older girls had auditions today for a play they're hoping to participate in this fall, which means I needed to:

  1.  Get out of my pajamas
  2.  Drive in an area of the city that I don't normally brave to get them there, with all of them in the car. 
  3.  Be encouraging and patient with their "What should I wear?  What if I forget my lines?  What if my voice cracks while I'm singing?" drama when all I really wanted to do is stay in bed, eat my imaginary Doritos, and watch Steel Magnolias.
I guess I could have called a friend to go out for ice cream or something, but since I didn't have a husband here to babysit, the babysitters I birthed were pre-occupied, and most all of the women in this country that I would feel comfortable baring my heart to are not even within a 4 hour radius of me today, that wasn't a good option either.  

I don't know what I would have done had the circumstances been different.  It's not like there is some prescription for surviving the first anniversary of one of the hardest days of your life.  I think that the way the day came together has just really echoed the essence of my grief over these last 12 months.   I have struggled so much with feeling alone since my mom passed away, which is something that is new to me.  I have, for as long as I remember, felt like I was part of a rich community.  At different times, that has looked different and been made up of different individuals, but it's always been there.  Since our move to Accra, and the death of my mom soon afterwards, I have felt so, so lonely.  I have a wonderful husband and some really great kids, but I have simply had this deep sense of loneliness that comes and goes.  

I have honestly missed my mom and the wonderful lady that she was.  I have missed her quirks and her funny habits and man, have I missed the way she loved my kids.  But, just as much, I have also really missed having a mom.  That may not make sense to anyone else, but that is the only way I know to say it.

You see, because I'm a mom, and because of my personality, and because of the type of vocation that I have chosen, I do an awful lot of taking care of other people.  I spend the lion's share of my waking hours making sure other people's needs are met.  I'm not insinuating that I'm a goodie two-shoes,  in fact, I'd say that's true for the vast majority of moms in the world.  Most of the time, I don't mind.  Most of the time, I get great satisfaction out of meeting other's needs.  But sometimes, I get weary.  Sometimes, I need to be taken care of too.  And honestly, I'm not very good at advocating for myself when that happens.  But my mom always had this knack for seeing that need, even when we were hours and miles and continents apart.  She would always go above and beyond to let me know that she saw me, the person who had needs and not simply the need-meeter.  

I remember when Abby was a few weeks old and I desperately needed sleep.  Ryan was working at a hospital at the time and had crazy early morning hours.  I refused to wake him in the night during the work weeks, because I knew he needed sleep too.  I knew that he wouldn't be able to nap during the day like I might.  One night, I called my mom who lived two hours away, in the middle of the night.  I'm pretty sure it was about 2:45am.  I was crying so hard that I couldn't speak.    Once my mom had calmed me enough to figure out that I wasn't hurt, the baby wasn't hurt, and that Ryan was okay too, I managed to tell her that I was just so, so tired.  She calmed me down and I eventually got to sleep.  The next morning, not long after the sun came up, she was ringing my doorbell.  As soon as her night shift at work had ended, she got in her car, drove to my house, took that baby from my arms, and put me to bed.  I knew she didn't have the vacation days to do it and I asked her what she was going to do.  She told me that they could fire her if they wanted to, but she was going to make sure I got some sleep.  That's what a mom does, isn't it?  

Every single time she came to visit us, she found time to go through our unmated sock pile and mate them.  Let me tell you, the pile didn't get any smaller as the number of children got larger.  Even when she got to Africa, she laughed and said something like, "Oh my word, you even have them here?"  

She carried my favorite brand of hot dogs in a cooler from Cincinnati to NC too many times to count.  She bought me new undergarments in the days when our bank account was super slim and she knew my children's needs were trumping mine.  She carried 5 suitcases to Nigeria and made all of her stuff for a month fit into one rolling carry-on.  

Who does that?  Your mom.  

For many years, when I heard that someone's mother had passed away, I had such a shallow understanding of what that meant.  After all, it is the natural order of things, is it not?  Parents usually die before their children.  Everyone can expect that one day their mother and father will die and it is likely that they will be around to see it, right?  I had girlfriends who had lost their mom's in their 20s and 30s and I didn't really understand why it impacted them so significantly.

Now I see things differently.  I have such a compassion for people when they lose their mother.  It is natural and it is to be expected, but it is still very painful and the hurt doesn't just go away.  I think that in many ways, it is even harder when you have young children.  At least for me, that seems to be what triggers my sorrow.  I have these moments where I realize so fully that my mom would love to know this bit of news or this little accomplishment and I want so badly to share it with her.  But, I can't.  

And, just like folks told me it would, the grief certainly comes in waves.  There are times when I go days or even a couple of weeks without a single tear or ache.  There are other times that the weight is so, so great.  For some reason, it has seemed more intense the last few weeks.  I can't decide if it is because we were headed to the one year mark, if it is because we are getting to the planning stages for our time in the States, or if it's just because, because?  

Little things trigger it.  We Skyped with my in-laws a couple of weeks ago and they were so excited about our trip to the States at the end of the year.  My mother-in-law was telling us how many days it was going to be until we arrived.  She shared all of her plans about the groceries she was going to buy and the cleaning she was going to do and it was all very kind and loving.  But somewhere, in the midst of the enthusiasm, it was like someone hit me in the stomach with a baseball bat.  I realized that my mom probably dreamed of that day, for many days after we left too.  If she was alive, she too would know the number of our days until arrival, she would be gathering winter coats and long pants, and making plans.  Then, I realized that when I get off the plane, my mom won't be waiting for me.  When I walk through the door of her house, she won't be there.  In many ways, the loss will be new, all over again.  It was a heavy realization and one that I'm sure will hit me again.

However, even in my grief, I do find so many things for which to be thankful.  I'm thankful for the compassion that I can have for others who are grieving and the understanding that I've gained that grief doesn't observe time limits and that it simply doesn't behave like we think it ought.  I am thankful that I have 5 healthy kids who are growing and maturing and of whom she would have many reasons to be proud. I'm thankful for the 3 healthy grandparents that my children still have in their lives.  I am thankful that I have in-laws that have compassion for my loss and want to make sure we have what we need.  I am thankful for my dad who has been a trooper with keeping his chin up, when I know he has to be some kind of sad and lonely too.  I am thankful for a husband who wishes he could take the hurt away and diligently tries to meet my needs.  I am thankful for the church that awaits us in NC and the people there who will make every effort to love us well and stand in the gap for my mom.  I am thankful for an ever-present Father who has reminded me, again and again that He is with me, even when I feel alone. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014


In July, we got to celebrate a baby that will join our mission family this fall.  When our families here in West Africa have babies, they typically travel to another country to give birth in a place where we have some medical staff who can help oversee their needs.  Where they go depends on where they live and what kind of risks they might face in childbirth.  Our friends headed out last week and we can't wait to meet their little guy once the passport and visa dust settles and they get to bring him home.  Before they headed out, we hosted a fun time of celebrating with our mission family.  With a bit of teamwork, we were able to provide lots of typical shower fun including...

 Yummy food
 Fun games like a bottle drinking/burping race (I'm pretty sure the Orange Fanta likely helped the burping part!)

 There was baby food eating
and speed diapering.
And of course, some gifts for the baby and his big sister.

We are so thankful for our mission family and the friendship they provide to us.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Our Relaxing Summer

This past school year was a booger.  With the responsibilities of the guest house plus the realities of homeschooling five children, plus Ryan's frequent travel, it was rough.  I kept telling myself we could do it, we could push through, I just needed to make it to summer and catch my breath.  Then, we made the decision to travel to East Africa for medical care and it happened so quickly, that we got launched into our "relaxing" summer a bit faster than I'd intended.  We wrapped up a few weeks of school in a few days, put some things on the "it can wait 'til next year list," and locked the school house door.  But, not before we dissected some owl pellets we hadn't gotten to yet.  What can I say, I'm not sure how long those things keep in this tropical climate.

 Two thumbs up for owl vomit!
 Don't let the face fool you, he loved finding mole and vole bones.

Then, we headed our separate ways, and Abe and I went to spend a couple of weeks in Kenya.  Those couple of weeks turned into the entire month of June and I got my chance to relax.  Living in a guest house with no closets to organize, no curriculums to flesh out, no staff to oversee, and no house to keep up with forces a person to relax.  So, for a month, I got to sleep a bit more and my Kindle and I got reacquainted.  There were definitely some stresses during that month, but they were the kind that stretch your heart and mind, not your clock and calendar.  It was a productive time.  

We came home the last day of July and launched into a month of busyness.  Ryan and I both had a pile of work waiting for us, so we spent the first week taking care of the most urgent things.  That only lasted a few days though because Friday brought the 4th of July, so we took the afternoon off and celebrated the Red, White, and Blue with some other American friends.

 We finished up our celebration and then headed to the airport to pick up friends who had come to spend a week with us.  We'd been planning that vacation time for many months, so we put work on hold for a few more days and enjoyed their company.
 They brought us insane amounts of loot, which we are trying to pace ourselves in using.  There were so many goodies, we weren't sure what to enjoy first.

We spent a few days here in our city and then headed down to the coast, where we've been wanting to go since we got to Ghana.

 We started out by visiting the Cape Coast Castle, which was owned by the Swedish, the Dutch, and then the British.  For part of that time, it was used for the holding and export of slaves who were sent to the Americas and Europe.  It was an amazing piece of history, which provided such a contrast of beauty and horror in one place.
 Here is the view from the castle
Here we are, midway through the tour 
 This is the door of no return, where slaves exited to the ships that would carry them away from Africa forever.

 Here's the current city of Cape Coast, which has a heavy fishing culture

 We enjoyed lunch at the restaurant next to the castle.  The food was okay but the view was spectacular.  To the left was the castle and straight ahead was the Gulf of Guinea.

 Then we headed to a great little hotel on the beach.  It was situated up on a cliff, with an amazing view of the beach and a pathway down to the shore.  The first morning we thought we'd walk on the shore and since some local kiddos were using the pool for their swim lessons, that was a good idea.  Though, we couldn't resist watching them for a few minutes on our way down.

Abe loves the ocean.  He asks often if we can go today.  If only it was that simple.

 The water was super rough so we saved our swimming for the pool, but the rocks and sand still provided lots of entertainment.
 Not to mention the 1/2 built boat on the shore, which made for some good exploration.

Abe has been begging for a kite, but we couldn't find one here that we were willing to pay the asking price for.  Our friends brought one and Abe loved it.  We've already worn it out and it took some serious convincing to persuade Abe it had no flight life left.  I think we'll throw a half dozen dollar store ones in our suitcases next time.

We spent one whole day at the hotel, enjoying the sun and the pool.  The next day, we saw the other coast "must-dos".  We walked the 7 rainforest rope bridges at Kakum.  

Here was the view, as we stepped off the platform onto the first bridge.  I wasn't so sure this was a good idea.

The narrow board didn't do much to reassure me.

But the view was pretty spectacular.

Though, when the bridges got clogged, I wasn't so thrilled to be just hanging above the rainforest.

But, we survived!

Then we stopped for lunch at Han's Botel, where you eat with the Nile crocodiles.  We opted against the photos of us petting them.

Finally, we headed to the Elmina Castle, which also served as a slave castle.   It is the oldest European structure in Sub Saharan Africa.  While it is older and larger than Cape Coast, I will say that we learned the importance of a good guide.  We had a fabulous guide at Cape Coast and, well, a not so fabulous guide at Elmina and it made a big difference in the experience. Either way, we found both of them amazing.

The door with the skull and crossbones entered into a death room that was used for captives who attempted escape or caused trouble.  The boy climbing the pole, well, he found the tour less interesting than the rest of us.

It was a great visit with our friends and we made some fun memories.  We saw them off in mid-July and then, my relaxing summer came to screeching halt.  I divided the next two weeks between school planning and guest house catch-up, at a frenzied pace.  We ate lots of spaghetti, tacos, pizza, and other easy foods that the kids could put together.  But, we got it done and school resumed this past Monday.  We've got a week in the books already! 

and that's what I did for my relaxing summer vacation.