30 November 2011

Now I know the Luo word for "MINE!"

Innocent, our seven-year-old nephew has come to stay with us for a few weeks.  It's been a very even mix of delightful and mundane, with a sprinkling of unaccountable tears (and not just on the little boy's part, if you know what I'm saying).  I’m going to brag on the boy a little bit, and explain one or two things I’ve been learning from the experience.

I really enjoy the energy and interests of boys.  (I very carefully crafted that sentence...I don't want any weird traffic on my blog from pedophiles!)  Ever since the age of twelve, when I first started doing child care in my church's 2-year-olds room, I've always had success connecting with boys.  My younger brother and I used to spend hours and hours tromping around in the woods around our house playing "Army," a game mostly composed of dressing up in fatigues and occasionally diving behind logs or pretending to shoot at “enemies.”  As a youth pastor, I had a posse of teenage boys regularly haunting my house and car.  The clutch in my car was never quite the same after teaching several of them how to drive.  From age three through college, my best friend was always a boy.  Somehow God wired me to “get” boys, and I really hope that God gives me sons so that I can put that to work raising little men.

In some ways, Innocent reminds me of myself as a child, in that he is extremely sensitive and wears his emotions on his sleeve.  Heaven forbid that he should receive the smallest injury or frustration while he’s tired, because a meltdown is coming.  He’s getting used to sharing his uncle with me, but I’ve definitely received some scowls when he thinks Uncle is paying too much attention to Auntie.  He becomes devastated if he has misbehaved or even just thinks he misbehaved.  A few days ago he sent himself to bed because Uncle corrected him for doing something he knew he wasn’t supposed to.  He wasn’t punishing himself; he was just too upset to stay in the room with us.  The photo above was taken when he was upset with me for some reason I can't remember and fell asleep on the doorstep watching for Fred to come home from work.  The times of tears are very few compared to his laughter and smiles, though.  Innocent has a great smile, with two missing teeth in front, and laughs quickly.  I’m learning to pay attention to his energy, his diet and meal times to help him maintain a positive attitude.  I’m also very aware that my own attitude coming into the day makes a difference, since he is so sensitive to the emotional tenor of the people around him.  It’s a new level of responsibility for my impact on the atmosphere of our home, not always easy with pregnancy hormones raging.  I am learning that I have to take care of my own sleep and food patterns so that I have the resources to maintain a stable, peaceful atmosphere for Innocent.

Innocent is really smart and very quick to learn, which is so helpful since our communication is limited to the little English he has learned or picks up from Fred and I.  He’s going off to a boarding school in January that requires English, so part of the strategy for bringing him to stay with us now was for him to get used to hearing and speaking English.  My mom had sent a kindergarten activity book that teaches numbers, letters, colors, shapes, etc, and Innocent spends about an hour each day writing and coloring in the book.  Last night he wrote his own simple addition problems and solved them while we watched the news.  He’s almost learned to tie his own shoes.  Although it’s a challenge to continue to find ways of engaging his intellect, he is good at entertaining himself, playing with his Lego creations and animals or singing himself songs or just talking, talking, talking to himself.

Football (soccer) is a major connection point, and some of our most delightful times have been outside kicking the football around.  Fred likes Arsenal (an English Premier League team), so Innocent has learned the names of the major players on the Arsenal squad, especially when he’s scoring goals.  Here they are watching a match together while I work at the dining room table.  Watching Fred play with and take care of Innocent has given me a whole new reason to love my husband, and as we work together to meet the boy’s needs, it is connecting us in a new way.  In spite of difficult moments and distractions from work, I am really valuing the time with Innocent and learning a lot about preparing myself for full-time motherhood!

23 November 2011

Sewing Projects

Hand-sewing projects I've been working on lately
As I mentioned on Facebook, I've been in "nesting" mode lately, including the two sewing projects above.  First I made a Christmas stocking for our nephew Innocent.  It took a little trial-and-error, since I didn't have a pattern, but I'm pleased with the final result.  I'm even more pleased with the towel.  I saw a template online for changing a regular towel into a hooded baby towel.  The first "hood" was the yellow one, which then seemed a little small, so I made another, larger "hood" in the opposite corner.  I did it all by hand, including making my own binding.  Although Fred was mildly amused by the "cloth sock" until I explained the Christmas tradition to him, our housegirl, Stella, was fascinated watching me sew.  It's one of those domestic things that most Africans (including my husband) assume are beyond us pampered Americans.  I owe thanks to my mom for teaching me to sew and letting me raid her sewing room for a number of hare-brained projects over the years. 

Today I realized that there's a sewing shop in our little village (really?  no restaurants, but a sewing shop?) and that sewing shop sells binding.  If this nesting stage continues, I'm sure I'll be making friends with that lady.  As soon as our crib is finished, I'll be making rubber sheets, crib sheets, crib bumpers and possibly a quilt also.  I've even considered making cloth diapers, diaper covers and onesies, although all that sounds rather daunting with only my ten little fingers to sew with.  Perhaps now that I've shown my sewing prowess with a few little projects, I can justify buying a manual sewing machine soon! 

Between this and the cows (see last week's post), I'm starting to feel kind of "Little House on the Prarie"!

17 November 2011

Dodoma and the Grass Cutters

I was in Dodoma last week for a series of meetings with Grace and Healing Ministry and Lahash personnel.  Getting to Dodoma is two days of buses.  For those of you with a map following along at home, there's a two-hour car ride from Shirati to Tarime on a rutted dirt road.  From the bus stage in Tarime, one catches a bus from Tarime to Mwanza, which takes about four hours.  After an overnight stay in Mwanza, it's an eight or nine hour bus ride from Mwanza to Dodoma.  In theory one could do it all in one day, if you started early enough, but I've never wanted to do that.   Fred accompanied me to Mwanza, then I went on from there alone.
The trip to Dodoma was...adventurous.  Fred rented our own private taxi (for $12) to take us to Tarime in lieu of squeezing in with six to twelve other people (for $5).  In the Tarime bus stage, always a crazy place, a young man followed me to and from the toilets yelling "mzungu na mimba!" (white person with pregnancy) over and over again, while making wide gestures exaggerating my size.  It makes for a funny story, but I did not have much of a sense of humor about it at the time.  He wasn't the only man to give me some unwanted attention.  In our hotel, two men ogled me in the lobby, then two others watched me for a whole flight of stairs, and while waiting for my bus in Mwanza, a guy almost walked into a cart on the street because of staring at me.  Just when I thought I was used to being stared at for my skin color, there's a whole new reason to stare bulging out the front of my dress.  I had a panicked moment on the very bumpy ride to Mwanza when I suddenly felt something wet between my legs.  Several not-good possibilities ran through my head before I realized that it was water spraying up from the road through cracks in the floor.  Alarms went off again when we reached Mwanza and I went to the bathroom to discover dry red smears on my legs.  I quickly realized it was clay from the road water, but that was a scary moment.
I reached Dodoma safely, had a small adventure wandering around my friend Tiffanee's neighborhood on foot after dark trying to find her house, then a great week of food and meetings.  Note that food was mentioned first, because I ate so much great stuff.  Pizza, tuna fish sandwiches, homemade juice, samosas from Rose's Cafe, a chocolate bar and a Mounds bar, ice cream, and earning the "most craving inducing" award goes to the food at right: Zanzibari Mix from Rose's.  They make only for Saturday breakfast, and it was one of Tiffanee, Leah and my favorite things in all of Dodoma.  It will sound awful, probably, but it's a coconut broth with boiled potatoes, roasted chickpeas, homemade tortilla chips, broken up bits of baghia (a kind of maize dumpling), and coconut chutney on top.  It's slightly spicy and slightly sweet and plenty salty.  It's like a kind of "refrigerator casserole" but soup.  Oh my word, it's delicious and I want it every day for the rest of my life...even more than pizza or chocolate or ice cream. 

Oh, and the meetings were good too.

Lahash International just finished a strategic plan for the next five years, so we were presenting that to our partner, making plans for the conference next March and discussing various other things that would be neither interesting nor appropriate to share here.  Suffice it to say, the discussions were great, but it was a lot of loooong days, especially for the six-month-pregnant lady who couldn't sleep because of her giant belly and indigestion from all that good food mentioned above!

I went to this great medical clinic on my last day in Dodoma for a full pre-natal checkup.  As I mentioned on my Facebook status, I got a consultation with a doctor, a consultation with the midwife, had my blood pressure and weight measured, got blood tests for HIV, malaria, STIs and RH factor, an ultrasound, a prescription for an anti-malarial drug and filled the prescription all for 33,000 Tanzanian shillings, or approximately $20.  What?!  Everything went really well, and they were all delighted that I had married an African and kept calling me "Otieno."  Although we still don't know the gender of the baby, I got to see how the baby is developing, and the ultrasound tech mentioned how active the baby is.  (Believe me, I know.)

Fred met me in Mwanza on Sunday, and we reached Shirati on Monday evening, packed in the back seat of a super full taxi.  The next day, I had to laugh at my life.  The photos at right were taken at the same time from my front doorstep.  The irony is that one we pay and one we should be paid for!  We've asked time and time and time again for the owners of the various cows around to not tether them in our yard to graze because they leave huge piles of manure around and trample the trees Fred just planted.  The calves are free-range, though, so I don't even know who they belong to.  There are some "free-range" chickens and guinea hens who like to arrive at our house at about 6am and announce their presence under our bedroom window.  Everyone sing with me now: "Greeeeen Acres is the place to be!  Faaaarm livin' is the life for me!"...or perhaps not.

09 November 2011

Amazing what can happen in a year!

A timeline of a year ago:
31 October 2010 - I preached the Sunday morning service on the topic of Biblical Marriage (part one). At the last minute I was also asked to talk about voting, because it was election day. It was also the engagement dedication ceremony for a Tanzanian friend, followed by an engagement party. About forty people asked me why I'm not married yet. I just laughed.

1 - 6 November 2010 - People kept stopping me to tell me that they were praying for me to get a husband. One of the prayer ministry people in the church stopped me in the hall, told me to put my hands in the air and prophesied over me that my husband was coming soon. I just smiled, and she commanded "Say Amen!" "Amen!" I stammered. In Shirati, Fred was trying to talk his way out of being sent to Dodoma for the Central Diocese Strategic Planning seminar the following week. It didn't work.

7 November 2010 - I preached Part Two of my marriage sermon series at the church. After the second service, the senior pastor and one of the wazee (elders) laid hands on me and prayed that God would send my husband soon, and that he would be a man of Godly character. I laughed a lot (in my mind), because I was really not that pressed to get a husband. After the service I felt convicted about my response (like Sarah when she was told she'd have a child in her old age), and decided to take the advice of a good friend to have some standards. I started a list of the things that I really hoped God would give me in a husband. Fred traveled from Shirati to catch a bus to Dodoma, which he missed.

8 November 2010 - The Central Diocese Strategic Planning seminar began. I finished my list of husband characteristics under the edge of the table, and had another private laugh. I didn't know and had never met a man who came even close to the list in my journal. I figured that God would really have to be the one to bring my husband if I were every to marry. Fred arrived in Dodoma that evening after I'd gone home.

9 November 2010 - I entered the room for the second day of strategic planning meetings and noticed the tall, handsome African man sitting in the corner, but, having just given all my "guy stuff" over to God, I didn't pay close attention to him. Fred noticed me immediately (given that I was the only white woman in the room), and for him, something clicked. It had been years since he'd been interested in any woman, and he'd never been interested in marrying a "mzungu" but for some reason he was drawn to the white woman running the projector. After the meeting, I invited Fred to hang out with us for my host family's son's birthday party. He agreed readily, but then left early from the party. I wrote him off as anti-social.

10-11 November 2010 - No developments, except that each of us was becoming more and more impressed with the other for his/her participation in the meetings. The night of the 11th, Fred and some other guests came to the house of the bishop (where I was staying). I had the first intimation that Fred liked me when he crossed the room to talk to me about watermelons. Such a ladies' man! In spite of that, I took him with me to hang out with my friend, Martin. Along the way Fred broached the subject of marriage, and I immediately changed the subject.

12 November 2010 - After the final meeting, I took Fred to dinner with my two best friends in Dodoma, Martin and Paul. They had already decided that I should marry Fred, making that 3 out of 4 people at that dinner table who had decided views on my marital future.

13 November 2010 - Fred left Dodoma first thing in the morning, and I went back in for another day of meetings, during which we texted each other. Via SMS I agreed to be his girlfriend, about one hour before another friend asked me to be his girlfriend. (I turned him down.)

14 November 2010 and following - Electronic courtship over hundreds (while I was in Tanzania), then over thousands of miles (when I went back to the States) until February 2011, at which point I finally came around to what Fred, Martin and Paul had already seen: Fred was the man God wanted me to marry. We got married in April 2011, meaning that, by the time we celebrated the one year anniversary of the day we met, we'd been married for over half of the time we'd known each other (and I'd also been pregnant for roughly half the time as well!).

Really, I'm so grateful that God's hand was so evident in bringing Fred and I together. We freely give God all the credit and all the glory for the blessing that our marriage is. If I'd ever had any idea how much I would love being married to Fred, it would have been so much harder to wait. I'm so glad that God brought us together at the right time.

03 November 2011

Let you mind dwell on these things...(and photos!)

A few thoughts from the recent past:

First, if you missed one or both parts of my double blog post last week, check out Overcoming Fear (about some lessons I've been learning about fear) and Opportunities to Help (some great young people we know in need of very small financial assistance with schooling).

Second, our house has been painted...pink.  Of course I don't have a before picture, but it had been a number of years since the last paint job, which was white.  Now it's pink with grey trim and black foundation (they're only halfway done with the foundation).  They want to paint the roof red, but Fred put his foot down and said we'll buy our own roof paint.

Third, pregnancy update: I'm getting rounder, but not heavier.  I have to walk over to the hospital to use their scale to weigh myself, and I don't do it very often because the nursing students who work at the desk next to the scale always jump up to look at how much I weigh and make comments...usually along the lines of "wow, you weigh a lot".  I weighed myself the day I took the pregnancy test in July (176 lbs), one day in September (172 lbs) and last week (back to 176 lbs).  So in spite of the fact that I have 43 inches of belly, that hasn't translated into weight because I had at least 20+ lbs of American weight to lose.  I feel healthy, but I'm beginning to have trouble sleeping because of the hugeness of my stomach.  Next week I'm planning to get my first general checkup with an OB/GYN in Dodoma just to confirm that everything is going on well, and hopefully to find out the gender of the baby.

Fourth, the title of this blog: "Let your mind dwell on these things..."  I've been thinking about the verse Philippians 4:8: "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." (ESV)  I've also been thinking about the kinds of input I want my baby to have, and creating a home environment and thought patterns for children that will help to draw them close to God even from infancy.  I've begun to realize that some of the things I allow to influence my own environment and thought life are dark, unpleasant or even just frivolous.  If I allow my mind to dwell on these things, I realize that it has an effect on my mood, my attention, my energy, and most of all, my joy and peace.  In fact this verse about the things we should meditate on is sandwiched between two verses about having peace and the God of peace being with us.  That's the kind of home environment I want for my family, one of peace, so what influences will I allow in my home?  Are the things I allow in my mind and in my home those of truth, honor, justice, purity, beauty and excellence?  Is there any room for Spanish soap operas on that list?