Tuesday, July 30, 2019

You Were Right, Dad

I picked up our Round Table pizza last night, and I thought about Frank.

The summer I was sixteen, my dad declared that I would be getting a summer job. He helped me write a resume, and one Saturday morning, drove me around to local businesses, stopped the car, and forced me to get out and introduce myself to managers. I was not an outgoing person, but my dad believed in throwing me in the deep end.

One of those places was Copy Plus, a small store owned by Frank, which was just a few blocks away from my home in California. I got the job that same week. (It was either that or the candy store at the mall. Given these options, I figured a copy store was going to be better than any mall job. I was right.)

Frank was my first boss. He was from Philly, and he often told me the story of the gunshot wound on his elbow. One of my first lessons from him was that if anyone ever came into the store with a gun, I should open the cash register and back away. My wide-eyed little sixteen-year-old suburban self wondered what I had gotten myself into. After all, this was my neighborhood shopping center, not the ghetto.

Frank had a big laugh and an even bigger heart. He looked after me like a daughter, and he shared his business and his life with me. Every morning, he would tell me how much money we made the day before. We weren't Kinko's, he would tell me, but Copy Plus always went the extra mile.

It was just making copies, I thought--but with Frank, it wasn't just making copies. Frank taught me how to run and service his giant, high speed copy machines, and I learned the thrill of getting them all working at the same time. The rhythmic chanting of those machines were the background noise as he taught me how to make our customers happy. I learned how to smile at strangers, how to solve people's problems, how to meet deadlines. I experienced the exhilaration of handing a satisfied customer a nice, neat box of a job well done.

Frank showed me what good business looks like. What a good boss looks like.

Now that I think about it, I learned a lot about life at Copy Plus. Parts of Frank are indelibly a part of who I am.

Over the next several years, I quit that job four times--to go back to high school, to go to college, to be a camp counselor, to be a student teacher. Whenever I visited home, I would visit Frank, and every time, he asked me if I wanted my job back. He hired me back--four times. Copy Plus became a part of my history.

Round Table Pizza was just two doors down from Copy Plus. Round Table is still there, but there's a UPS store where Copy Plus used to be. My parents have lived in the same house since I was two years old (minus the years in Africa), so when we visit, we order our pizza from the same Round Table. Last night, picking up the pizza, I lingered in front of that UPS store, and I remembered Frank. And I remembered that day my dad forced me out of that car with my resume. He told me that one day when I was older, I would thank him for it. He was right.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

She is a TCK.

Johnny, at the park: MONGOOSE!
Me: Nope, that's a squirrel. Wrong country, Buddy.

Josiah, staring with interest at the stove: What kind of stove is that?
Me: It's electric. It runs on electricity.
Josiah: Oh, so if the power goes out, it stops working?
Me: Yep.
Josiah: That doesn't sound very good. You could be in the middle of cooking and then have to stop.
Me: Yeah, but the power doesn't go off in America.
Josiah: Not EVER?
Me: Well, sometimes in big storms, but yeah, not really ever.
Josiah (very impressed): Whoa.

Amusing quotes aside, the truth is that my kids are somewhat of an enigma. They don't fit into any particular category. They are Tanzanian by blood, but their parents are American. They are similar to other internationally adopted kids, except that they aren't being raised in their adoptive parents' home country, but their own birth country.

A Tanzanian friend once asked me if my kids identified more with being American or Tanzanian. I told him that I'm not really sure (and I don't think they are really sure), but that I would guess that they feel more American when they are in Tanzania, and more Tanzanian when they are America. Because they don't fit in perfectly in either place.

They can greet their elders with Shikamoo without an accent, but they would never yell Wazungu! when they see a white person walking on the road, like other Tanzanian kids their age. They love chips mayai and macaroni and cheese and wali na maharage and Pizza Hut. They have been taught to eat with a knife and fork but know not to use their left hand if there aren't any utensils available.

This would be true of any missionary kid who had lived in Tanzania, but my kids are different from even them. They know all about hair salon culture, but, of course, they go there with their white mom so they always get odd looks. They can go to the market and not stand out--that is, until someone assumes their Swahili is better than it actually is.

Haven of Peace Academy is a perfect place for my children, and so they've stayed insulated from a great deal of this struggle. Josiah has one friend who is ethnically Indian but has a passport and culture from Australia. Another friend is half Tanzanian and half Zimbabwean, but was born in South Africa. Another is half African-American and half Kiwi, but born in America. All are being raised in Tanzania. Josiah, with his complex identity, fits right in.

HOPAC is a middle life, a life in between worlds. Yet the life that HOPAC gives them is not sustainable.

It's like an airplane: Passengers from all over the world, all walks of life, a hundred different backgrounds--all crammed into a tiny tube hovering over the earth. Not belonging to any one place; suspended, for a short period of time, above all the world's nations. My kids live there, in that plane, at HOPAC. Yet at some point, that airplane has to land. And the older my kids get, the more I wonder and worry about how that landing will go for them.

I grew up in Liberia, so to some degree, I understand what it's like to grow up between worlds. But I was not adopted, I was not Liberian, and my parents always had a house in California for us to come back to. Yes, losing Liberia was traumatic for me. But it also was not my country. How do I help my children to navigate an identity that I can never fully understand?

My eldest daughter is a sketcher, and as we have been traveling in California these last three weeks (six cities so far), I've caught her sketching in fancy lettering--on Best Western Hotel notepads, in the sketchbook she bought in Istanbul, on any scrap of paper--I am a TCK. I am a Third Culture Kid. She is processing that identity--that life hovering above the nations, that life in between worlds.

I see this, and my eyes mist over. I am so proud to be her mom. It takes courage to be her. There is much she will teach me.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Four Continents in a Week

When your flight plan takes you through Istanbul, Turkey, why not go ahead and just hang out for a few days?

And while you're at it, why not just head over to Greece too? I mean, as long as you're in the neighborhood. 

Why not? Well, visiting Greece involved missing the last few days of school, so just Grace and her Daddy got to be the lucky ones to do that part. Pretty awesome experience for my 13-year-old Percy Jackson fan. The rest of us left the day after HOPAC finished (Which, yes, this did mean that I departed Dar es Salaam by myself at 3 a.m. with my three remaining children. But no worries--only two of them threw up on the plane. That was totally fun.) Ahem. But hey--Greece for my daughter and husband: Worth it.

We met up in Istanbul, which we explored as a family for four days. We visited the famous Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia--the church turned mosque turned museum, and the massive underground Basilica Cisterns. We visited museums full of ancient statues, thousands of years old, and other pieces pillaged from Egypt and the middle east during the reign of Constantinople. We traveled by ferry and tram and bus and suspended trolley.

But our kids' favorite part was probably the food, especially since they had been inculcated by Mark Weins' food videos for a few weeks before the trip (who happens to be the son of a friend of ours). America sells nachos and hotdogs in their park stands, but Istanbul sells corn-on-the-cob and chestnuts. We never got tired of the thinly sliced meat and the piles and piles of Turkish delight. And of course, the ice cream sellers who always tease their customers with lavish performances before finally handing them a cone.

Since Istanbul has the distinction of being part of two continents, we were all pretty impressed that we went through four continents in a week: Africa, Europe, Asia, and North America. 

She's a runner, and now she's run in the original Olympic stadium. How cool is that?

Back together again in Istanbul

He went through four continents in a week, and I think his favorite part was this kitten. 

Sunday, July 7, 2019

All I Knew Was That I Didn't Want to be Michael Scott

I'm so used to processing my thinking in this space. These past two years, It has been odd for me to do a job for 45+ hours a week and yet write so little about it. And now that I'm in America (did you know that? I'm in America for the summer--surprise!), people ask me, "So how is it being principal?" And I open my mouth and I smile and nothing comes out. How do I even start? How do I begin to describe an experience that I haven't really processed yet? 

I think I watched way too much of The Office before I became an administrator. Michael Scott gave me the impression that bosses just prowled around all day, looking over people's shoulders and distracting them from doing their jobs. I knew I didn't want to be him, but I wasn't exactly sure what a good boss did do. 

I had spent almost 20 years involved in education, so I had worked for principals before, of course, but I really hadn't the foggiest idea of what a day in the life of a principal actually looked like. How would I figure out what I was supposed to do all day? It's probably a good thing I didn't admit this two years ago. You might have wondered why on earth I was qualified for the job. I actually wondered that myself, honestly. I just blindly trusted the people around me who assured me that they knew I could do it.

It took me approximately five minutes to realize that I didn't need to worry about figuring out what I was supposed to do. It's like a game of Whack-a-Mole. The first mole popped up, and as soon as I whacked it, five more took it's place. And from that first day, I just kept whacking moles for the next two years. They just never stopped popping up. If this had been Chuck E. Cheese's, I definitely would have earned 20 bazillion prize tickets.

(Don't worry; no children are actually whacked.)

So. Other than being really busy, how is it being principal?

I love it. Yes, I love it. I say that with no hesitation. This is a school that Gil and I helped to build, how could I not love it? I get to be a part of the 100+ staff from all over the world that make up Haven of Peace Academy. I supervise about twenty of them and work alongside the rest. The level of love and trust we have for each other, despite occasional conflicts, is extraordinary. We are not just a work place, we are a community.

I love these kids. Oh my gosh, I love these kids. Some of them crack me up. They come up to talk to me and I start laughing before they even speak, because I know it will be hilarious. Lots of them make me cry. There's the ones who are struggling to read but then win every race on Sports Day. The ones who are struggling to speak English but create masterpieces in art class. And the ones who are very familiar with my office. I think those hold the deepest places in my heart.

I read and commented on 150 report cards during the last week of school. It made my head spin and drove my stress up to an unhealthy level but I felt like a proud parent. So much progress evidenced on those ordinary pieces of paper. Evidence of teachers who poured their very souls into children--countless hours of energy and love. Evidence of children who read and calculated and imagined for 180 days, who allowed their minds to be expanded and their responsibility to be stretched. I'm so proud of my school. 

That's the easy part to talk about. Yes, I love it. But this job, these past two years, have been so much more complex than that. I love it, and it is intense. That intensity is the part that I haven't really processed, nor can I really write about in detail. Teachers struggling through anxiety or depression. Kids with learning disabilities that we don't know how to handle, nor are there better options available in Tanzania. Kids coming to school with emotional needs that we can't meet but suck us dry. Countless parents desperate to get their kids into our school, and I have to break their hearts. And the recruiting: Not enough teachers. Never enough teachers. A teacher who says yes and then has to back out due to medical concerns. Will God provide? He always does. Somehow. But still I am anxious. It all is a weight I fight to cast off my shoulders and onto His.

And then there's me: Will I be enough? Can I be enough? Every time I think I'm ahead, another five moles pop up. I'm a task-driven person, and this is a job full of tasks, but I worry, constantly, that I'm choosing tasks over people. In working with teachers/parents/students, I straddle the line between grace and policy, forgiveness and law. Am I getting it right? I second guess myself often. Did I say the right thing in that email? Did I handle that discipline situation correctly? Well, no time to ponder that, because I'm off onto the next thing. Make me enough, I pray. But I won't ever be. It's only God who is enough. So let the stress go, Amy.

Two years down. Have I succeeded? Well, at least I know I'm not Michael Scott. At least there's that. And that's something, right?

My core Primary (Elementary) teachers this year. We've been through thick and thin, we seven. I am so grateful for them.

HOPAC Primary Team

My "other" team....the office staff: Principals, operations, procurement, finance, counseling and other admin

Our brand new beautiful Performing Arts Centre

This is why I love Primary: First grade teacher asked her students to copy down their favorite Bible verse....and this is what one of them gave her. Now I just made your day, didn't I? You're welcome.

My heart.