Monday, February 17, 2020

I Wish I Could Put "Fridays at Lunch" on My Resume

On Fridays around noon, you'll find me eating lunch with my students. Our "cafeteria" is actually a second-story, open-air thatch-covered veranda filled with picnic tables. One can get an amazing view of the Indian Ocean from up there, and the breeze blows away the humidity (but not the crows, unfortunately).

Friday is chicken and chips day--standard Tanzanian fare, and the most popular menu item of the week with our students. I usually arrive around the time of kindergarten lunch, which means as soon as I sit down, I am surrounded by small children like bees to a flower. They politely push to get the seats next to me, and the ones that don't make the cut lean over the table with big eyes, shoving fries into their mouths while all talking to me at the same time, and whatever they need to tell me is very important.

I put on my interested face and try very hard to follow twelve conversations at once, all while intermittently exclaiming, Well, isn't that funny! and Wow, that's amazing! and You can go as soon as you've eaten two more bites of chicken and Please don't hug me until you've washed your hands.  

It's a highlight of my week.

I've been staring at my computer screen a lot this weekend, trying to work on a resume. Gil has already sent out about 50 resumes, so I guess it's about time that I start too. The internet says that my resume should only be one page long, which means that this principal job gets one paragraph. And I stare at the screen and think, How can I possibly describe this job in one paragraph when it takes me three paragraphs just to write about lunch on Fridays?

This job is the hardest and the best thing I've ever done, with the exception of raising my own children. The load of this job sits on my head and my stomach like a boulder, every single day, a physical weight. It has stolen many, many hours of sleep, and each of those hours has a name and a face of a struggling child, a hurting teacher, an angry parent. "Responsibility" is my strength but therefore also my burden, because I just can't let any fall through the cracks. I do anyway, of course, because being responsible for so many is impossible, and each problem I can't solve, and each child I can't help tears just a little more at my sore muscles that strain under the weight.

It's been almost exactly three years since I was offered this job. Gil asked me recently after one particularly difficult day, full of exhaustion and stress and tears, "Would you have said yes to this job if you had known how hard it would be?" Ah, ignorance is bliss, isn't it? How many of us would choose to step into the right, but hard choice if we knew in advance how incredibly difficult it would be? Marriage, raising children, adoption, missions--all are much rosier before we actually start living them out. God is merciful when he keeps us from knowing how hard things will be. We gravitate towards comfort, so think of how many amazing things we would miss if we chose only what is easy!

Yes, of course I would have said yes. It was obvious it was the right time and place and I was the person who needed to say yes. The strain builds muscle as well, of course. I was always one who ran away from confrontation, hating the hard conversations. I still don't like them, but now I've had so many that I'm not afraid of them anymore. I was just an ordinary teacher, and an ordinary stay-at-home mom for so many years. I look at myself now with a sort of wonder. Who would have thought I would be filling out performance reviews? Who knew that I would become adept at conducting interviews and offering job contracts? That I would get experience in writing MOUs or coordinating a Christmas production or analyzing curriculum? 

Honestly, I don't think I realized I had it in me. Which, in itself, has been a lesson for me. Because just as I now look back with gratitude for those who believed in me, I too have the privilege of doing the same for those I work with. I've experienced the joy of giving a job and saying, I believe you can do this! And then being a cheerleader when they succeed.

True, many days I look forward to that day in June when I finally am able to release this burden. I will be choosing not to continue in school leadership for this next season of my life. But the stretching of my abilities, the relationships, the invaluable life experiences--I would never trade them for an easier three years. And I'm confident that as soon as this burden is gone, it will leave a hollow hole I will feel for a very long time.

This job is sacred to me. So it almost feels sacrilegious to condense it down on a resume to "Responsible for hiring, training, and performance feedback of staff, curriculum development, admissions, student discipline, and professional development." I'd like to add, "Engaged in twelve simultaneous kindergarten conversations on Fridays at lunch." Because that's just as important.

Our lunch time view

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Why Am I So Surprised When Crisis Strikes?

These days, I’m tired of being in crisis mode. Seriously, enough already.
My husband and I have spent the last two years fretting about visas. We’ve watched our team evaporate, one by one, due to visa issues. A couple of times, my husband got very close to needing to leave the country. For months and months we kept thinking, This is all going to work out, right? Doesn’t it always? And we were surprised to discover that actually, it doesn’t always work out.
On top of that, the last few months have been some of the most stressful of my life. 2020 came in with a bang, with almost constant crises hitting me from all sides. Thankfully, my family is fine (crisis is different from tragedy), but I’m an administrator at a school where it feels like the next wave of problems comes rolling in before I can finish with the previous ones. Many days I am just gasping for breath. Taking the next step. Focusing on the dozens of tiny fires so that I don’t have to face the inferno that could be looming in the future.
Anyone else out there feeling like that these days? With the recent trend of countries closing in on themselves and locking out outsiders, travel bans, tensions rising between nations, and well, that little virus that’s affecting an entire continent of billions of people….I’m guessing that many of my fellow overseas workers might be in crisis mode too.
And I sit here and I just want it to go away. Kind of irritated, actually, that God doesn’t just let up. Maybe because I’ve bought into the American dream or maybe because I’m just plain selfish, but I have this ingrained expectation that I deserve a little peace and quiet every once in a while. Like, I’ve met my quota for stress, God; you owe me an easy ride from here on out.
Why are we so often surprised by what’s happening in the world? Nations rising up against nations? Economies collapsing? Epidemics circling the globe? Plagues of fire and floods?
What has been will be againwhat has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.
Yet, we’re astonished when the crisis hits us. No wonder every generation believes they are living in the End Times. All of us think, Certainly no generation has ever faced what we have! Which means we probably just need to study more history. Or maybe live overseas for a while longer, observing the lives of our non-western brothers and sisters.
Peter wrote, Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.
We read this, yet still we are surprised. When pressed against the wall, in crisis mode for week after month after year, we think something strange is happening to us. No, God, my life is not supposed to be like this. Not for this long, anyway. Why aren’t you fixing it?
We are surprised because we are forgetful, aren’t we? We forget that Paul was in prison when he told his readers to Rejoice in the Lord always. We forget that Jesus told his disciples that the peace He gives is not dependent on life’s circumstances. We forget that this life is just a blip on the screen of eternity. Yes, one day all things will be made new, but until then, we forget that we aren’t supposed to find Heaven here on earth.
The chaplain at my school, Sheshi Kaniki, recently exhorted our staff as we are passing through these times of crisis. He told us, “Nothing you experience will ever be worse than what you have already been saved from."
Amen. Maranatha.  
Passages cited: Ecc. 1:9, I Peter 4:12, Phil. 4:4
This article was originally posted at A Life Overseas.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

These Four

We live in a city of five million people, but it's amazing how often we run into our former students from Haven of Peace Academy. I'll be looking for a new showerhead, and she's the owner of the hardware store. We'll be eating dinner at a nice restaurant, and discover he's the owner (Yes! Dessert on the house!). I'll run into her in a meeting--the lawyer in the professional suit. Often we don't recognize them--they've grown beards or are holding children--but when I hear "Mrs. Medina!" I know it's one of them.

The first graduating class was in 2008, so there have been many since then who have gone away to college and finished college and have come back to Tanzania to make their world a better place. And it is such a joy--always, always, such a joy, to see them again.

A few weeks ago, though, we had a particularly extraordinary joy because we just happened to discover that these four girls were all in the country at the same time--which is a thrill that hasn't happened in....maybe 10 years?

These four have always been exceptionally important--they were my students in fifth grade, then sixth grade, then they were Gil's students all through high school. They were a part of every youth group and youth camp and Gil coached them football for four years. They babysat our kids and came to Grace's and then Josiah's first birthday parties. We visited them when they were in college in Minnesota. Over the years, we've seen one or two of them here or there, even had them visit us every now in then, but to have them all together again for an evening....that was a beautiful gift indeed.

They are all grown up now and very smart and very educated and they've had so many life experiences that make them absolutely fascinating to talk to. And when you consider that Gil and I had the privilege of being a part of their growing-up years, which makes our conversations with them filled with memory and laughter, was a very special night. Especially considering our time in Tanzania is coming to a close.

So here are "my girls," and if you go back in the archives of this blog, you'll find some of their history there. (Though they might prefer you don't do that, actually!) But they gave me permission to share a few pictures of our memories, so rejoice with me in the fun and blessing of students who have become friends.











Sunday, January 19, 2020

If you were Mary and I was Martha, I would totally be ticked off at you.

I am all about getting the job done. Meet the deadline. Before the deadline, preferably. Do your duty. Follow the rules. Don't procrastinate. Fix the problem. A job isn't worth doing unless it's done well.

Some people seek thrills by jumping out of planes or riding roller coasters. I get dopamine hits from crossing things off of lists.

This makes me an excellent employee. A pretty good principal. A mom whose is not very fun, but whose kids' teeth are brushed and bellies are fully of vegetables. A Christian who reads her Bible just about every day.....but will often choose the task that needs her instead of the person who needs her.

I hate sitting back and waiting when there's something productive that can be done. Which means that I am right smack dab in the middle of a point in life that is driving me crazy. Oh, don't get me wrong--I am plenty busy. The problem is that just about every aspect of my future is an unknown right now. Five months from now, I will be jobless and homeless. Five stinkin' months, People. This is not okay with me.

I can't visualize where I will be and what I will be doing and what will be happening with my children because I don't know. And I can't know. Though Gil and I are dutifully researching and making inquiries and sending resumes, there's not a lot of places--especially schools--that hire people eight months out.

Which means I have to wait. I hate waiting. I'd rather seize control of my life and get the job done. Make a plan. Get all the things crossed off my list. Come on, let's get moving here!

As Jesus as and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!"

"Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed--or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."

In my case, instead of complaining about my sister, I'm complaining about my God. Come on, God, get it together! We're working hard here, trying to figure out our life. We're ready for an answer, a plan. Our lives are dedicated to you, after all. We're all about serving you. So why aren't you helping us?

Sheesh. It sounds bad when I put it that way.

Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. 

Distracted. All of my planning and hard work and productivity are just distractions? Seriously? I'm not feeling very affirmed here, God.

But yes. I am distracted. The One Thing most important to me is Having a Plan. The One Thing most important to Jesus is that I sit at his feet and listen to him. Sitting? Listening? When there's so much to do? Argh. I don't like this.

Recently, in the midst of my impatience with the lack of control I have over my future, a hymn came to me from my childhood. I most certainly was bored with this one as a kid, with its thys and thines and slow plodding cadence. But it lodged in my brain and now? I bring it to mind almost every day.

Have Thine own way, Lord
Have Thine own way
Thou art the potter, I am the clay
Mold me and make me after Thy will
While I am waiting yielded and still

You know what I found out? The writer of that hymn, Adelaide Pollard, wrote those words while frustrated by her attempts to raise support to be a missionary in Africa. How do you like that?

Yielded and still. Were you a Martha, Adelaide? Because waiting while "yielded and still" sounds like a pretty good goal for me right now. I'll add it to my list.

Hume Lake, CA, July 2019 (Gil Medina)

Sunday, January 12, 2020

What Your Grandmother's Piano Had to Do With Slavery in Zanzibar

In Victorian America, having a piano in your home was a sign of being cultured, sophisticated, and educated. Ironically, the story behind those pianos was one of slavery, oppression, and death.

"By 1900 more than half of the world's pianos were made in the United States. In 1910, piano production in the United States was growing at a rate six times faster than the population." (1) Yet before the advent of plastic, what was essential for piano production? Ivory. Ivory from East African elephants.

Just over 100 years ago, there existed a unique connection between Victorian New England and Zanzibar, which is a large inhabited island just off the coast of what is now known as Tanzania. America wanted ivory. Africa had elephants. And the port where thousands of tusks funneled through was on the island of Zanzibar.

Most of that ivory ended up in Connecticut, at a manufacturing village appropriately called "Ivoryton," which milled an estimated 100,000 elephant tusks before 1929. At the industry's height, over 350,000 pianos were sold each year. (2)

I've lived in Tanzania for sixteen years, and visited Zanzibar many times, and I never knew this until I recently explored the new museum attached to David Livingstone's church. I knew that Zanzibar was home to a massive slave industry in the 19th century; I knew that missionary David Livingstone was instrumental in ending that slave trade. Many times, I have visited the church he had built on the site of the slave market, with the altar placed strategically on the spot where slaves had been tied up and whipped.

But all this time, I didn't know there was a connection between East African slavery and America, because most American slaves came from West Africa. (East African slaves were usually sent to Arab countries and colonial British plantations.) Yet the Connecticut ivory industry fueled a large part of East African slavery. Each of those 100 pound tusks had to be carried, by hand, for hundreds of miles from the African interior. The journey was so grueling, and the slave drivers so cruel, that David Livingstone once estimated that 5 slaves died for every tusk.

We all know about slaves coming out of Africa. What I have also recently learned, both through reading about the rubber trade in Congo and now the ivory trade in Tanzania, was that hundreds of thousands of Africans were enslaved in their own homeland. Though it is certainly fair to say that most of these people were captured, owned, and sold by their fellow Africans, it was the the insatiable desire for Africa's resources by Europeans and Americans that fueled the demand for doing business in human souls.

I imagine early 20th century Americans, gathering around their new pianos in their prim and proper Victorian parlors, gaily singing Christmas carols while the snow silently falls outside. It's the quintessential American picture, is it not?

Yet what was the cost of that picture-perfect scene? I haven't mentioned the mass destruction and near extinction of African elephants--which is a tragedy in and of itself. But even more tragic was that those pianos were built on the backs of suffering and death of countless African men, women, and children.

Did average Americans know this at the time? Probably not. But thinking about this tragedy made me contemplate what this generation of Americans does know. We've all heard the reports, right? Our cocoa and coffee harvested by children in developing countries, the profit from the tantalum in our cell phones used to fuel civil wars in Africa, designer clothes created by near-slave-like conditions in Bangladesh or India. So many of the comforts around us were built on the backs of someone else's suffering. 

What do we do about it? I hear you asking. And honestly, I don't know. The problem is incredibly complicated. I don't have answers.

Yet, knowing these things is still good for our souls. This knowledge should humble us, convict us, make us wiser. It should help us to be more careful in what we buy. More aware. More generous. More grateful.

The Anglican church in Zanzibar which was inspired by David Livingstone's fight to end slavery on the island. The church is built on the site of the main slave market.

Under the church, two holding chambers have been preserved. Each of these chambers would hold up to 50 slaves at a time, waiting for sale.

"This crucifix [is] made from the wood of the tree under which Dr. Livingstone died at Chitambo village, Ilala, Zambia in 1873, and under which his heart [is] buried."

My sources for this article came from the museum at Livingstone's church, as well as these two sites:

All pictures by Gil Medina.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

This Time Next Year We Won't Have Our Feet in the Sand

On December 31st, I sat with my eldest daughter on a perfect tropical beach on the magical island of Zanzibar. We watched her dad and siblings heaving sand balls at each other made with famous white Zanzibari sand, so powder-fine that it has the silkiness of clay.

"You know, this time next year, we could be in the snow," I told her. She looked at me in shock. "Sure," I said, "Hopefully we won't be living in it, but we might be close enough to visit it."

We sat together with our feet in the warm sand and listened to the breeze rustling the palm fronds and let that sink in. A year from now, everything will be different.

In the next six months, we will sell or give away all of our earthly possessions except which fits into several suitcases. Every piece of furniture, our dishes, our car, our dogs. We will say goodbye to people we have known for almost 20 years and roads and beaches and restaurants that have become familiar and routine and ordinary. We will land in a new city where we've never lived before and start new jobs and schools. We will find a new church and new grocery stores and clothes that keep us warm instead of cool. We will buy a house and cars and an entire household of furniture.

Everything--everything will be different. I won't fall asleep to those eerily chanting night-birds; I won't wake up to roosters. The Call to Prayer won't be a part of my background noise. All of the electricity coming into my house will be normal and I won't need to buy an extra long extension cord, just so that I can find the one outlet in the house that happens to be getting enough electricity to power the fridge today. I won't smell burning trash; I won't associate piles of roadside pineapples with Christmas; I won't need to strain yogurt to make cottage cheese. I won't ride in three-wheeled Bajaj rickshaws; I won't hang clothes out to dry; I won't speak Swahili. I won't visit a tropical island on Christmas vacation.

It's more than just moving to a new place. It's like leaving life on one planet and boarding a spaceship for another.

For a while I've had the thought, "I wonder where I'll be this time next year." But now it is next year. 2020 has come, and this is happening. I have no idea where we'll be seven months from now. I just know it won't be Tanzania, and everything will be different.

We spent last week on Zanzibar. It was our Christmas present from grandparents. We walked through a mangrove forest and held sea turtles and rode quads through little villages and snorkeled with schools of angel fish and chased dolphins. Many times, I would turn to one of the kids and whisper, "Capture this moment in your mind." Because that's what I was doing.

Yes, that is a real, live sea turtle.

And she's feeding one.

Shopping on the streets of Stonetown

And those are 50+ year-old tortoises.

Pointing out to the kids how the original buildings in Stonetown are made from coral

with our dolphin-chasing boat

Friday, December 27, 2019

Read These Books

by Angie Thomas
Whoa! This was an excellent book and I highly recommend it--for Americans especially. It is extremely well written and has a page-turning story line with engaging characters. Deals sensitively, intelligently, and with nuance on issues of racism and police brutality in America. This is an important book! Technically it is young adult fiction, but unfortunately I wouldn't give it to my young teens. Not necessarily because of the profanity (which is on pretty much every page), but because a couple of scenes are more sexually explicit than I want my teenager exposed to. But adults? Please read this book.

Misunderstood: The Impact of Growing Up Overseas in the 21st Century
by Tanya Crossman
This book is the result of hundreds of conversations with third-culture kids. It's eye-opening and enlightening for any of us who are raising them, teaching them, or loving them.

Stronger Than Death: How Annalena Tonelli Defied Terror and Tuberculosis in the Horn of Africa
by Rachel Pieh Jones
This is a well-researched, well-written biography of Annalena Tonelli, an Italian Catholic who gave up everything to help the poor and sick in the Horn of Africa. It's a thought-provoking, disturbing but compelling book, especially for anyone who is involved in cross-cultural humanitarian work. Read it with a friend, because it provokes a lot of important questions without necessarily providing answers.

Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder
by Caroline Fraser
I spent a good portion of my childhood pretending I was Laura Ingalls, so I had to read this book. It is a fascinating account of what pioneer life really was like--and therefore shattered my life-long fantasy of wishing I was born in the 19th century. Despite it's dream-smashing quality, it was a worthwhile read. And after I finished it, I went back and read (most of) Laura's books again--and still enjoyed them!

Love Me, Feed Me: The Adoptive Parent's Guide to Ending the Worry About Weight, Picky Eating, Power Struggles and More
by Katja Rowell
A must-read on food issues for anyone raising adopted children.

Suffering is Never for Nothing
by Elisabeth Elliot
A new book by Elisabeth Elliot?!? I'm there! This is a transcription of a series of talks that Elisabeth gave on suffering. As always, it is full of grace, wisdom, and humor, reinforcing my opinion that I chose a worthy hero.

The Masterpiece
by Francine Rivers
I can't stomach most Christian romance, but this was a good "airplane read" on the way back to Tanzania in August. I appreciated the thoughtful theme of the effects of childhood trauma, and it was a satisfying, redemptive story without too much preachiness.

All You Can Ever Know
by Nicole Chung
This is a memoir written by a Korean-American adoptee who was raised in a white family. I highly recommend this book for adoptive parents, and I will certainly encourage Grace to read it in the next year or two. Though parts of it were so painful to read as an adoptive mom, it ultimately was a story of beauty from ashes.

King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terrorism and Heroism in Colonial Africa
by Adam Hochschild
It's hard to recommend a book that is full of so much of the depravity of man, but it's also necessary--especially for anyone who has any interest in Africa. This book is the account of the history of what is now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo, and how King Leopold of Belgium decided that he had the right to own it and rape its resources for his own personal profit (though he never even stepped foot on the continent). I read history like this and am not surprised when some Africans are intent on purging Americans and Europeans from their countries.