Sunday, December 7, 2008

Just Another Day in Malawi

I realized today that there are many things that no longer seem odd to me. Like for instance that our gardener trims the lawn with a machete…not so weird. Or that instead of seeing chipmunks or squirrels scampering about here I see big lizards with blue heads. I no longer think it odd that I share the walls of my home with geckos, and I even find it cute to see their little gecko bodies scurry across the wall inside our home. They have a fun little wiggle as they move, ask me when I come home for Christmas and I’ll show you!!! It’s not so uncommon to see a family of chickens pecking through my yard, or to have a mama hen hop onto my windowsill and stare at me while I’m sitting at my desk putting on my makeup…okay, that’s actually not true, that one was still a little weird. But it's no longer abnormal that I do my makeup in front of a window instead of a mirror! It’s no longer peculiar to see a woman carrying 10 feet of long bamboo-like sticks on her head with a baby on her back and the only thing holding the baby on is a piece of fabric. Or to see men and women dressed in business attire walking in the dirt alongside the road in the heat of the day. To see a random fire burning rather close to houses and with NO ONE in sight to watch it is no longer strange. It took me forever to get a straight answer out of anyone but finally I found out that they burn fields to scare the mice out in order to catch them, boil and dry them, and then skewer them to sell on the side of the road. Which they sell along with bananas, mangos, slingshots, movies, dried fish, and live chicken hung upside-down and bundled together by their feet. Yup, no longer weird…I’m finally starting to get used to this place!


The rainy season is finally here and really fun things happen when it rains in Africa. Besides the crazy thunder and lightning storms that roll in within minutes, drench the land with torrential downpour, and then pick up to move elsewhere…there are little flying BUGS everywhere!!! These termites that crawl out of the ground and take flight with thier long skinny wings are called White Ants, or Rain Ants, or as my dear friend Amy calls them Goombies(gew-m-bees)!!! I’m completely sure that’s not their name and must tell you that she has her own language for many things here in Africa, for which I have suffered greatly for. But anyway, these “whatever you might call ems” invade the air just before and during the first part of a rain. Like a gnat they enjoy the light and so they tend to swarm and gather right outside the door just waiting to greet you. They apparently are edible and I’ve heard if cooked properly taste like bacon. If cooked improperly, they just taste like bugs...ya think? This I might just have to try…maybe…I’m scared...maybe not.
The last couple of Wednesday nights I’ve been playing sand volleyball in a league with some of the staff here. Last Wednesday it started to rain just as we began to play and these bugs were everywhere. At one point I looked down at the thigh of my pants and noticed a small bump moving around, it was an ant! My teammates laughed at me, I had ants in my pants!!! Like I said, fun things happen when it rains in Africa!

Christmas in Africa

As we enter the Christmas Season I am feeling a tad out of place and disoriented here on the other side of the world. Normally the weather is cold, I am happy wearing my scarves, and there’s an excitement in the air. Yet here in Malawi I’m experiencing Christmas like never before. There are flowers still in bloom, the Mangos are ripe, there are big poufy clouds in the sky, every now and then you hear thunder, sometimes it rains but mostly it’s just HOT and a little sticky! Something’s just not right. This last Saturday we had a huge swimming gala for the entire school. One hundred races, kids running everywhere, swimming attire, a blazing hot sun, music, food, lots of cheering….are you sure it’s Christmastime?
There are people on campus decorating for Christmas even though everyone is still running around in shorts and short sleeve shirts. One house in particular is decked out with millions of twinkle lights and big wooden candy canes lined up along the path between their house and the neighbors. This last weekend I spent my Sunday morning helping my friend Amy decorate her fake Christmas tree while wearing a knee-length skirt and a tank top. Later in the day we went up to the pool and I came back a little sun burned...for the first time ever, I’m tan in December!
As I taught today it seemed I was living out an oxymoron when I read my kids a story entitled, “What Snowmen do at Night”, all while sweating and being nowhere near cold or snow. The only cold I’m experiencing is the one making my nose stuffy, and that I could do without.
Although it’s a totally different feel and experience of the Christmas season in Africa there is one thing that remains the same. People here, just like at home, are stopping to focus, remember, and celebrate the birth of our Savior! As we celebrate this year I pray that we remember to take moments amidst the hustle and bustle to refocus and give praise for the blessing we have of being loved by a Heavenly Father and for the promise and gift of His son Jesus Christ!!

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Day I Wore Pigtails

Other than the fact that it was a Friday, the best day of the week, I thought it was just an ordinary day. I woke up, ate breakfast, and got ready for school. Since we were going to be taking a train ride in class this Fun Friday, and I was going to be the conductor, I decided to wear my hair in pigtails. I thought it would look cute, the kids would enjoy it, and I was going to be wearing a hat later in the day so it would be perfect.
On my arrival to school a few of my kids looked at me and just smiled with one of those grins that said so much more than, “Hey it’s good to see you.” My little Johanna was the best as she looked at me and just said, “Miss Halemeier….your hair???” And that was it. What am I supposed to think of that? What does that mean?
Well I carried on with greeting the kids as they walked in, and helped them get situated in their morning centers. During the morning hustle I heard a noise coming from the back table. When I stopped to listen I noticed that my dear German girl, Johanna, was singing. She often does and I enjoy it with all my heart. As she sang, “Jesus Loves the Little Children” she paused, looked at me, recalculated, and then proceeded to change the words to… “Jesus loves the Miss Halemeier’s. All the Miss Halemeier’s of the world.…” As she sang you could clearly see she was quite impressed with herself. I thought it was very cute as well and thankfully told her so.
At this point there were only a few kids in the classroom and things were plugging along like normal. Then Adam and his nanny entered the room. Adam was crying and holding on to his nanny for dear life while throwing a fit about not wanting to be at school. Adam is my crier. The first two weeks he cried almost every day. He’s done so well lately and has started to open up and come out of his comfort zone and I thought his crying days were over….apparently I was wrong. I peeled Adam off of his nanny and sat him on my lap while telling him this was not okay and that he was alright and knew better. He slowed his crying down and stopped trying to escape my arms after realizing I wasn’t going to let go, and that he would have to calm down.
Now if you’ve ever experienced the joy of teaching four year olds you realize that it doesn’t take much to draw a crowd of concern and wonder in these kid’s minds. Actually…that applies to a lot of ages. Before I knew it there was a small gathering of concerned children saying, “sorry” to Adam and trying to love on him as best they knew how. Sorry is what people say here to our, “Are you okay?” Hopefully I racked my brain trying to figure out how to make Adam stop crying. As I looked up Johanna was standing right at my toes. She often does this as well, sometimes even on them! “Johanna maybe you should sing your song for Adam.” I exclaimed. I hoped it would cheer him up, catch him off guard, or at least sidetrack him. But it didn’t. I think it actually made it worse as he started to squirm again and try for a squiggly release out the door.
At this time I heard a different set of tears accompanied by hard cries as Megan, one of the most agreeable, polite, and joyful students I have came into the room being carried by her mother. She was clenched so tight to her mom and had her head buried in her chest as she sobbed and cried to go home….
…Okay, right about now I was starting to question my effectiveness as a teacher and wondered where I had gone wrong. What was I doing to these kids?....
…While still holding Adam on one knee, who was still crying, Megan’s mom and I tried to work on Megan and what her problem was. At first, we thought she was being picked on by an older kid. Her mom had explained that she didn’t know where the tears were coming from but that when she walked onto the school playground Megan just looked at one of the other girls and started bawling while insisting to go home! It seemed odd, and I had never heard Megan complain about anyone before. Finally, Megan also started to calm down and sat next to me on the bench opposite Adam and I just put my arm around her and tried to ask what was wrong, who was hurting her, all while reassuring her that I would come out and play with her at recess today.
By now the crowd around this fiasco was growing and dear, compassionate Johanna was still singing her song now to both Adam AND Megan. She has such a pure heart, I love it! So now, amidst the tears, singing, and questioning from other student as to what was wrong I thought, “Good grief this is going to be a long day.” But the Lord is faithful and Adam’s tears finally slowed to a sob, and Megan’s mom pulled her aside to talk privately. As she returned Megan’s mom apologized saying that Megan was upset because she had simply forgotten to wear the t-shirt that the kids are only allowed to wear on Friday. I laughed a little and started to feel better, maybe there was still hope for the day.
Needless to say, everything ended up working out and the day turned out fine. Adam continued to cry a little as the other boys in our class tried to cheer him up by helping him put together a puzzle on the carpet. Well actually, the boys worked to put the puzzle together as Adam sat and sobbed, but only for a short time. As for little Megan I had Mr. Owen grab a P.E. t-shirt from the closet so that the two of us would match. I had worn my P.E. shirt that day and we were the only ones in red that day!!
So in conclusion, I’ve learned my lesson. Wearing pigtails is definitely not the best strategy for teaching. That is unless you want to be challenged with the most intense and stressful fifteen minutes you’ve ever faced. I most likely will not ever wear pigtails to school again…even though I did think they looked cute and went awfully well with my train conductor hat!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Epiphany Number One!!!

If any of you read my email about having the energy for this I now know the answer is “Yes!”. Oh man, God has been showing me some wonderful things. Like that I need serious help when it comes to patience...and that’s just the beginning!!! You know when I look back into last year and my “blessing of a class” at Liberty I remember feeling so much more at ease and patient with my kids for the first time in my teaching career. Granted it was my third year but for the longest time I questioned why things were so much easier and wondered when it was all going to BLOW UP! Optimistic, I know! But it never did, and I now can see that if God hadn’t started to prepare me last year for what I am being asked to do this year, I wouldn’t be ready for these kids here at ABCCA or this task. God won’t give me more than I can handle and He leads me in baby steps to where He wants me to go. On that journey there are speed bumps and potholes, which I’m sure will continue, but He has allowed for me to arrive to a place where I honestly never thought I would be. Teaching in Africa was always a thought or idea but never on the pursuance of becoming a reality. Every now and then I stop and think, “I’m in Africa….How the heck did I get here?”. I’ve now come to the realization that I am here because this is where God wants me to be.
One of the greatest challenges since being here has been re-directing the glory. Last night I read Matthew 5:16, “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and PRAISE YOUR FATHER IN HEAVEN.” Everyone likes affirmation. I’m not going to lie, I have basked in and enjoyed every bit of praise and encouragement thrown my way. However, in all honesty, saying “yes” to Africa was the greatest of my accomplishments in this whole process and even that was spurred on by the Man Upstairs. Any light that might be shinning from me is not because of me, any good deed that has happened is not because of me. Therefore the praise needs to continue past me towards God in gratefulness and thanksgiving for the opportunity and blessings that have and will continue to come of this. When I look at it that way I then feel so blessed and honored to be chosen for the task. I’m free from the pressure I put on myself and I can step out in confidence knowing that God is behind me 100%.
Now, just because I’ve had this enlightening moment, please don’t think I’ve become the lady version of Apostle Paul and am wandering throughout Africa fearlessly preaching the Word of God. Baby steps remember?! Actually, I really need you to save these thoughts and email them back to me in a month or so. Because I’m human, and a forgetful one at that, I know this is something I will need reminding of and need accountability for! You can also pray that these thoughts would do more than just sit in my head but permeate in my heart forever. God is revealing Himself and my purpose for being here as I go along. Please continue to pray for me as I have the opportunity to build friendships with those around me, especially the students here on ABC’s campus! Also continue to pray for my students and the relationships I’m building with them!!!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

In Memory of Bright Blue

Today at approximately 3:00 in the afternoon Bright Blue Mosquito Net was laid to rest in the dustbin of Michelle Halemeier’s room on the ABC Campus in Lilongwe, Malawi. Bright Blue lived a noble life in service and dedication towards protecting the lives of others. Who knows how many others he blessed (I’d actually like to know) as he served each night to protect and guard off the Malaria Biting Mosquitoes of Lilongwe. Bright Blue was best known for his clumsiness as he would sometimes fall onto the heads of those he protected. However, Bright Blue never meant to harm anyone and with a smile and a soft chuckle he was always hung back up to do his job. Bright Blue passed away quietly this morning around 9:00am due to a tearing of a thread leading to the dislocation dislodging of the circular wire that holds his form. Bright Blue will soon (like tomorrow) be replaced…but never forgotten. Goodbye Blue, goodbye.

Friday, July 11, 2008

The 4 Stages of Acceptance

The past few months have been a bundle of emotions and new emotions only continue to surface as this process continues. From questioning and disbelief to a sense of assurance and surrender, I hold on tight to the knowledge that our God is mighty and freely gives a love deeper than what I can fathom. The process to go to Malawi seemed to come so quickly into play the moment my heart said "yes"! There were no "take backs" or "ha, I changed my mind". And as scary as that was, I also felt a deep sense of comfort and a soft whisper telling me to have faith and take a step. He would take care of me if I trusted Him on this one!

So as I prepare for a year teaching in Africa I've noticed some things. I notice myself becoming more in need of hugs and love as I realize that very soon I will be separated from everyone near and dear to my heart for a whole year. My apologies if you feel smothered at all!! I also want to spend every waking moment with friends and family. Even if that means taking a friend to the health center to help me get shots, or simply dragging friends around town in the heat to run errands. Thank you dear friends for that. I've also noticed how extremely anxious I've become about how to pack for a year. How does one pack for a whole year? Honestly?

However, as I think about the opportunity to go to Africa I think about many of you. When the opportunity to go teach in Malawi arose I prayed that God would reveal Himself to me and continue to reaffirm this life-changing decision…and He has through many of you! Through your excitement and enthusiasm I have been so encouraged. Your willingness to pray for me has been uplifting. I have been completely overwhelmed by the generosity of those who already have or have said they are willing to support me financially, and I love that so many have jumped on board and are diligently collecting cans for me. There are even a special few who are willing to stay after church to dumpster dive with me, or even help me cart a load of cans to be recycled. You people should be given a medal, I'll put in the order to heaven now!
All in all I just want to say “THANK YOU”!!!! Your love and support goes much further than you may realize and I am so grateful for all your love.