My Heart in Africa
Well friends, I feel like I own an apology to you for my absence. Perhaps you may not have noticed I seemed to have dropped off the face of technology world for the last few weeks, but I have. It dawned on me yesterday that Christmas is literally just around the weekend’s corner, and I have, for the most part, no idea what you are doing for the holidays.
School let out in Canada yesterday and I had absolutely no awareness that the world could have ended either! December 21st was a “doom day”? No idea! I have lived in a Malawian bubble for the last two weeks. Frantically making Christmas presents for nearly 400children; adjusting to new housemates; and all the while, trying my best to remain kind, calm and compassionate in the face of some annoying relationship developments.
Contrary to any Christmas party I’ve had in the schools back home, the staff are responsible for cooking as well as the program for the day and the clean up afterwards. Brilliant plan on the head teachers part to a) put the moms to work in helping cook; b) to not hand out presents until the clean up had been completed, thus ensuring the mom’s got involved in that too!
Here is a picture of me getting in on the action:
All of our documentation is hand written on paper.
There is no electronic database (until now) to access information about the clientele.
Also, age is not important enough to actually calculate accurately.
I have children who, depending on which list I look at, range in age from 2-7. Sometimes its because their parent has listed their age by the year they were born and that over time has not been converted properly; or because the math skills are not strong enough to do the calculation accurately either. Never mind that the size of the child has nothing to do with the age of the child. I have eleven year olds who are smaller than the six year olds, but mentally as young as a three years old. The task of making these bags and ensuring that everything was properly suited was daunting.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved it. I especially loved Tuesday when 54 of MY children came. For the months of October and November I was part of two outreach clinics on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Their Christmas party was held together on the same day, so I was able to make up the presents for the children I was familiar with. Though this was one of our busiest days, it was also my favorite. Each bag was packed with love. Each item of clothing chosen with intention and a silent prayer of blessing prayed over. It’s not as if I was less caring toward all the other children who came on different days; but I had relationship with these ones, and it meant so much more to me to make sure their bags were perfect!
We had, by late in the previous week, completely run out of boys clothing. Despite all the donations that came pouring in the last few weeks of programming, the majority were girls outfits. I cleaned out the second hand store of anything suitable for a boy and was down to mere nothings by the time the last bag was finished.
The last two parties were for our older students: boarding school children and our spec ed teenagers who are not able to be integrated in regular school programs. This gave me a sense of relief as I thought maybe we would have enough clothing for them. But when I checked the store room on Friday, I realized that our mens clothing was as scarce as our boys. We had hundreds (literally) of donated XL tshirts, but nothing that would fit an adolescent boy or young man.
And this, my friends, is where my emotional breakdown hit its lowest point. After striving and struggling through the weekend; shopping first thing Monday morning and then packing bags all day Monday and Tuesday to make sure I did the best that I could to give each child a gift of some kind, I was greeted by mothers and their children, demanding more. Shocked at what I thought I must be misunderstanding, I called for one of my coworkers to come translate. She seemed incredibly embarrassed to have to tell me that the children had been sent to me to tell me they hadn’t received what they expected and wanted me to find them something else!
I was nearly in tears.
First, how could I give them what I did not have? We had no more clothing that would fit them; or be suitable to what they were wanting!
Second, how could they be that demanding? Did I need to show them the store room so they would know how bare it was? Did they really want three XL tshirts instead of the two I had already offered to them? What more were they looking for? And where were these demands founded?
Have we created such a dependency that they are not appreciative of getting what we are able to give. What have we enabled within them by always giving things for free? Do they not realize that our ministry is completely dependent upon donations also?
I was upset! I know that there are some families who are absolutely beyond grateful for COBT. I know that there are moms who can not say thank you enough. And I had to remind myself that it was for these people I have come; for those ones that I have chosen to quit my job, leave my family, my friends and my life and come build relationship with.
I completely recognize that we in N. America DO have more. And I fully believe we have a responsibility to share and give and be generous; and even sometimes at our own expense.
But I am also a proponent of helping those who help themselves. And freebies in the face of insolence drive me to the point of frustration and hurt! And I’ll admit, ANGER also!
And this is where I finally just gave up trying to be nice. There is a cultural gap and a language barrier that has disabled me from being able to properly say what I want to say, or have him understand why I am not inclined to be his wife. The only way I have managed (and barely managed at that) to ward him off for the last three days is to blatantly ignore his calls and send one text per day reminding him I’m not interested, for every ten he sends me confessing his love and reminding me he is waiting.
I am annoyed at being objectified. And his pursuit of me based on the color of my skin has evoked feelings of loneliness in me that I have tried for the last three years to move past! (where is that towel gone?)
Please friend, I don’t want you to think I'm cruel. I just would like to share with you what I'm facing and the exhaustion I feel in the midst of it. Don’t get me wrong, I am not concerned for my physical safety at this time. My guard is incredibly protective of me and I have shared with him the concern over the taxi driver. I'm covering my bases.
But what I have come to realize is that no matter how long I am here, and no matter how comfortable I feel in this culture, I will always remain the Mzungu – the white woman. And I will continue to be an anomaly. And therefore the thought I once had - that with enough time I would blend into Malawian culture - has bowed to a need for higher discretion.
As a result, I will from now on, require the use of a car on the weekends.
I had resisted this endeavor from the beginning, more so for budget concerns than anything else, but also because I was happy taking the mini bus and being a part of the public transportation sector of society. Riding the mini bus has some downfalls, but for the most part, it has been a fantastic way to integrate into Lilongwe life!
However, on the weekends, when I need to do errands, it is very hard to do without a car. First, the mini buses do not always take me in proximity to where I need to go; second, if they do go where I need to shop, I often have to take several to get to the various places; and third, it is not feasible to be on a mini bus with more than one or two bags in hand (trust me, I’ve tried); nor is it really that harmless either. The more parcels a white person carries in public, the more rich they appear and the more of a target they become.
Most of these people are my coworkers, and yesterday we had a staff Christmas party at the Lake.
I’ll include a few pictures of our day together so that you can see my new friends and trust me when I say that all is good. All is well.
If God be for us, who can be against us?
Originally posted to My Heart in Africa