Friday, December 31, 2010

The Quest for a Tanzanian Christmas

Oh the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful…

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose….

Just hear those sleigh bells jingling, ring ting tingling too…Come on its lovely weather for a sleigh ride together with you!

Snowmen. Fires. Pine trees. Candles. Wreaths. The North Pole.

Do you sense a pattern here?

Let me put it this way. We can go on and on with our children about how “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” but if the Church suddenly wanted to change Christmas to July 25th, there would be a revolt. Right? Am I right?

Everyone would say, “But it doesn’t feel like Christmas in July!” Somehow, along the way in our western traditions, Christmas became associated with, intertwined with, unable to be separated from….winter. It can still be Christmas without Santa Claus. It can still be Christmas even without presents. But can it be Christmas in the summer? Never.

I’m not saying there’s a problem with this. I love the sweaters and the snowmen and the candles just as much as the next person. And of course, I do believe that the Incarnation of Jesus Christ in all its wonder and mystery and hope is worthy of a gigantic celebration every year. But even though none of us Christians want to admit it, we would be pretty disappointed to take out the pine tree, sweaters, and fire places at Christmas time.

So this is the dilemma I face as a Southern Hemisphere dweller. It’s summer here. I live in a city that never feels like winter, but December is the hottest, stickiest time of the year. We dutifully put up our ridiculously fake Christmas tree, display the candles that we will never light because the overhead fans will immediately extinguish them (unless the power goes out, in which case we are sweating too much to enjoy them), and laugh every year we put the “Let It Snow” plaque on our door. Gil and I have always struggled with it not “feeling” like Christmas, even being from California! But it wasn’t such a big deal. We went ahead and pretended anyway.

But this year I noticed something subtle. My daughter. The Tanzanian one, born and raised here, adopted into an American family, duel citizenship. Comments she would make. Just little ones, as we went about our Christmas activities. “Why doesn’t it snow here?” “Why are we making paper snowmen?” And then the worst of all: “Christmas in America is better.”

Ugh. Not what I want to hear. Of course, I want her to miss her relatives. But that’s the only thing I want her to miss about Christmas in America. I want her to love Tanzania; I want her to love being Tanzanian. I don’t want her to think Christmas in America is better just because they have the cold and the fires and the fir trees.

So it struck me this year. For the sake of my kids, I don’t want to keep pretending it is winter here at Christmas time. I want them to love the fun and the feeling of Christmas, but yet not feel like they are missing out on something because we are going to the beach instead of the snow.

But I’m really not sure how to do that. This goes beyond the bounds of my limited creativity. Couldn’t we just adopt Tanzanian traditions, you ask? Well, there really aren’t any. Christmas is a national holiday, but only those with a Christian background celebrate it, which is about 30% of the population. But the full extent of their celebrating is to go to church and then have a big feast at home. Kids often get new church clothes.  That’s it. And what about Kwanza, you ask? Um, yeah. Even though it’s got a lot of Swahili words, no African I know has ever heard of it.

So basically we have to create our Christmas culture from scratch. I’ve been asking my Australian and South African friends (who are of European decent) about what they do. I’ve been paying attention to what my more creative friends in Tanzania do. Some of them don’t decorate a very fake pine tree. Some use a palm tree. A couple families use a sisal stalk, which turns out beautiful, by the way. Hmmm. I need ideas. Let me know if you have any.

My hope is that one day, years from now, when we spend Christmas in America, that Grace will tell me, “But Mommy, it doesn’t feel like Christmas here!”

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Meet Maggie

Maggie is a senior at HOPAC.  She joined last year, but her parents live three hours away.  Since HOPAC is not a boarding school, she found a girls' hostel to live in.  We found out this year through the grapevine that this was a really negative situation for her.

So we prayed and thought and decided to convert our garage into a bedroom, and invite her to live with us.  She moved in, about a month ago.  She is awesome.  She is kind and helpful and loves our kids.  She is very, very smart--scoring perfect SAT scores in math and physics, and wants to attend MIT to study aerospace engineering.  Yeah, I help her with her homework all the time.  Ha.

Grace says, "Mommy, I REALLY want my little sister to come home [Yeah, me too, Sweetie!] but I also wanted a big sister and now I have one!"  Blessings all around for all of us.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

I Just Like to Smile. Smiling's My Favorite.

This was Christmas 1998.

It's a long story.  Don't ask.


Our Youth Group decided on an "Elf" Christmas party this year.  As in, the movie.  So you could come dressed up as anything from the movie, such as The World's Best Cup of Coffee or the Arctic Puffin.  But considering the history of elves in my family, I decided that we had to go as elves.  

Let's just say I love tailors in Tanzania.  But I do wonder exactly what went through his mind when I asked him to make these costumes. 

(And I do understand that I owe my husband big for making him dress up as an elf.)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Representing Us

For the past ten years, this quilt has been on our bed.  Our wonderful friend Suzanne made it for us as a wedding present, and if you read our story, you know that Suzanne had a pretty big part.  I love that quilt.  It reprsented us.  She had let me pick out the fabric, and it combined our two favorite colors. 

But it has been 10 years.  So it's been falling apart.  And after mending it a half dozen times, I finally decided we needed a new bed cover.  So when we were in the States, I looked.  And looked.  And looked.  And I found nothing good enough...nothing special enough. 

I'm glad I waited.  

When we were in Zanzibar for our anniversary, we came upon this amazing shop.  We had seen it before on previous trips, and I have always, always loved the work of these talented women.  But it was Gil who suggested this time, "I wonder if they make bed covers?"

And they said Yes, we could special order it.  And they could bring it to us in Dar es Salaam.  I immediately knew that this would be The One.

All the quilting is 100% hand stitched.  Incredible?  Oh yeah.  (And $140.  Yep.  Had to add that in there.)

I mended Suzanne's quilt one last time and put it away for sleepovers and special occasions.  And now we have a new quilt for the second decade of our marriage. 

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Continuing in Hope: Stella's Story

Remember how I told you that Stella went to Massana hospital two weeks ago? 

Well, she's still there.  And it looks like she won't leave until that baby is born.

At first, the doctor wanted her to stay a few days to recover after the suturing surgery.  Then, apparently she came down with malaria so she stayed a few more days after that. 

A couple days ago I talked to William about this.  "What is the doctor saying?"  He told me that the doctor says that she could go home, or that she could stay.  It was up to her, as long as they could afford it.

I told him that the money wasn't a problem.  It costs about $10 a day to keep Stella at the hospital.  But I was still wondering if that's really what they wanted to do.  It seems like torture to me.  No friends.  No television.  Nothing to do but lay in bed, all day long.  Of course, she would be on bedrest at home, but at least she would have people to talk to, and a husband to come home to her (who has been biking to see her every day).

Yes, he told me.  She wants to stay in the hospital.  She is afraid to go home.


Of course she is afraid.  Wouldn't you be?  The woman has had one miscarriage and three consecutive viable births at 7 or 8 months that have resulted in a dead baby. 

I have had a hard time imagining how such a young woman has dealt with such unspeakable pain.  In many ways, she seems incredibly strong for all of her 23 years.  And her faith is unshakable. 

But she is afraid.  It just takes them too long to get to the hospital from their house, William told me.  And if something goes wrong in the middle of the night, they might not even find a taxi to take her. 

She's in her fifth month.  So that means she will be in the hospital for about 4 months.  That's a long time.  But worth it, if she finally gets to hold her baby in her arms.

Dr. Carolyn told me the other day that she recently assisted in a birth at that hospital, and she was marveling at the wonder of it.  She said the nurses told her, "Next time you can help Stella deliver!"  As she told me this, we both got tears in our eyes.

Let's pray that day comes. 

And until then, I'm going to try to find Stella some yarn and a crochet hook.  :-)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Mama Dar

Last night, I was at this event:

A book launch.  For a book called "Mama Dar:  Tales of Family Life in Tanzania."  A Collection of 34 essays, short stories, and poems by 27 authors from around the world.

I got the privilege of being one of those 27 authors.  I got published!  It's just a short story about Josiah's adoption, adapted from this blog, actually.  My good friend Dyan recommended me to the editors a couple months ago, and my story got in right before publication.  Pretty exciting!

It's a very professionally done book, and all the proceeds are going to a battered women's shelter in Tanzania.  If you would like a copy, send me an email or a comment and I can try to get one to you.  The cost is $20 which will also include shipping on my end.  I'm guessing that mostly this will appeal to those of my readers who have previously been mothers in Dar es Salaam!  But it will strike a cord with anyone who has raised children overseas, or is interested in Africa or Third Culture kids.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Fear, Worry, and the God of Rest

I am an expert on fear.

Worrying is a particular specialty of mine. I could give you some great tips. Like, it’s important to feel in control of every possible horrible situation that could ever happen to you by using your imagination to go through each and every detail of each possible scenario.

I remember once trying to convince Gil that we needed a full-time gardener so that someone could open the gate for us instead of doing it ourselves. “But what if,” I argued, “I was trying to open the gate myself, and in doing so I left the kids in the car, and a car jacker came up and demanded the keys from me, and he drove off with the kids in the car?” I could totally picture myself running down the road and screaming. If I thought about it hard enough, I could even start crying.

Gil just looked at me in disbelief. “Have you ever heard of that happening here?” he asked.

Well, no. But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen.

And just when I think I have worried about every-possible-bad-thing-that-could-ever-happen, then God surprises me by allowing my washing machine to catch fire in the middle of the night. Never had thought through that one.

But anyway.

I have been more than just a worrier. When I say I am an expert on fear, that’s not just because of my over-active imagination. It’s because I struggled for a number of years with what some would call Panic Disorder.

It started 10 days after arriving in Dar es Salaam for the first time in 2001. I had a massive panic attack, which led to a nervous breakdown for the following few weeks. “Barely coping” would be an understatement. “Breathing for the next minute” would be more descriptive. Darkness, fear, the world falling apart around me…that’s what it felt like. I thought I was going insane; I had crazy obsessive fears; I couldn’t use a knife in the kitchen because I was paranoid I was going to stab someone with it.

There were no professional counselors in Dar at the time. I didn’t know what was happening to me so I had a hard time even articulating it to my husband. Only the grace of God kept me in Tanzania. I honestly didn’t think there was much hope for me, so I didn’t think that going back to the States would make things any better. So I stayed.

The darkness lasted at least six months. We later traced its beginning to the malaria medicine I was taking at the time, but even after the drug was out of my system, my brain had a new way of thinking. The second year in Tanzania was better, but within two months of returning to the States, it all returned with a vengeance.

This time I fought. I fought hard. I read everything I could. I got some help. I trained Gil in what to say to me when I was struggling (Bless my patient husband for enduring this with me!). The turning point came when I took a class at my church in the Foundations of Biblical Counseling. I took the class because I wanted to help other people, but first I needed to apply the principles to my own life.

And it all clicked. Not all at once, of course. But I started to get it. The roots of my fear. God’s view of suffering. The importance of perseverance. Who I was and who God was. Acceptance of suffering; confession of sin; trusting Him above everything else; submission to His will. And I was set free.

That was 2004. Six years ago, and it has yet to come back. I have no guarantee that it won’t; but I don’t fear it anymore if it does. And that is probably my best weapon to fight it.

The whole point of why I am writing this post is to give you a book recommendation. But I had to give you all that background so that you would understand why I so highly recommend this book. I have read a multitude of books on the subjects of fear and worry, from all sides of the counseling spectrum. But this one takes the cake. This one gets the prize. He gets it. He says all the things I had to figure out on my own. If you are just an everyday worrier or an expert in fear like me, then you want this book.

Some nuggets:

“Any time you love or want something deeply, you will notice fear and anxieties because you might not get them. Any time you can’t control the fate of those things you want or love, you will notice fears and anxieties because you might lose them…..Control and certainly are myths.”

“Worriers are visionaries minus the optimism.”

“One message is obvious: If I imagine the worst, I will be more prepared for it. Worry is looking for control. It is still irrational because worry will not prepare us for anything, but at least it has its reasons.”

“If you are jaded because you feel as though God has been unreliable, look at it this way: there are no other choices….The greatest possibility for rest and comfort lies in the knowledge of the true God.”

“If I can trust the word of a friend, why do I question the word of the God of the universe? Go figure. Sin is truly bizarre.”

“Anxiety asks for more information so it can be prepared for the coming apocalypse. It also asks for more information so it can manage the world apart from God.”

“Can we say that we die to our children? Yes, in a sense, but it isn’t exactly our children. We die to our notions that God doesn’t care about them. We die to the fear that no one is in control. We die to our belief that God is not always good. We die to the grasping that says, ‘My children are mine and mine alone.’”

I could go on. But I’ll just let you read the book instead.  And I pray you find the rest and freedom that have been granted to me.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Fragile Hope

If you've read this blog for a while, then you know about William and Stella.  If you haven't and want to be up to speed, then first read here, and then here

About a month ago I ran into William and he told me that Stella is pregnant again.  I told him I would pray.  I told him I would tell others to pray.

And then I came home and decided I needed to do something in addition to that.  I decided that if money would help save Stella's baby, then I would get that money.  So I started exploring how that would happen.

A couple of weeks ago, I asked him how things were going.  She's now in her fourth month.  He told me that they were going to a government hospital in town, because that's what they could afford.  It takes an hour to get there, on a good traffic day.  He said that the weekend before they had had some sort of scare with her pregnancy, and that it had taken a $60 taxi ride (which is about half his monthly salary) and way too much time to get her there. 

I was horrified.  First of all, I gave him my phone number, and I said that next time he should call me, even if it's the middle of the night, and I would take Stella to the hospital.  Second, I said we needed to find a closer hospital, especially because William said the doctor suggested she live there during her third trimester.

This year we have a part-time biology teacher at HOPAC, Carolyn, who is a doctor from Scotland.  She works her other part-time at a hospital not too far from school.  It's more expensive than the other hospital...but that just means that a birth and delivery there costs $100 instead of $50.  You know, that kind of "expensive." 

I told Carolyn about William.  She agreed to help.  She got Stella an appointment with a good doctor at this hospital.  They went this morning.  And the doctor is suturing Stella as I write. 

So this is the team God is assembling for William and Stella.  A good doctor to monitor her, at a hospital not too far from school where William works.  Myself, who will let others know of the needs and collect the money.  And Carolyn, who will act as the "middleman."  And then, of course, there's the dozens of people who have already told me they will donate towards Stella's cause.  Carolyn says that the doctor will probably want Stella staying at the hospital from 32 weeks on.   There would be no way they could afford that on their own.  Truly, the Body of Christ in action.

Let's pray she gets to 32 weeks.  Okay?  That's why I'm writing.  So that you will be compelled to pray.  I have already written to friends of William and Stella and they have committed money to help them, and if I need more, I will probably ask you too.  But for now, that part is covered.  But will you join William and Stella's team in prayer? Pray...pray for this dear young woman, that God preserves her life, and that God gives her a baby to hold.  We will do everything we can humanly do, but we still need God to act. 

You can be sure I will keep you updated.