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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Heat, rest, and flexibility

I have always been a very task oriented person.  This is a continuous struggle as it can lead to a life of imbalance.  This weekend I didn't have much planned, other than being productive.  I had grand plans of working on report cards, going into my classroom to prep for the next science unit, and working on lesson plans.  However; when I awoke yesterday I realized that not only was the power out, but the temperature outside was 85 degrees and it wasn't even 8 AM.  As the temperature began to rise, I became more miserable and decided to go to the pool.  This wasn't in my original plans, but because I'm working on being more flexible, I thought this would be a great way to cool down.  I swam a few laps and basked in the fact that I didn't feel hot.  As I was finishing, one of my students showed up with his family.  I sat on the edge of the kiddie pool and talked with his mom as he swam.  It was so nice to catch up with her and as I left an hour later, I realized I had just had a conversation that wouldn't have happened had I stuck through the heat and the no power and tried to check off my to-do list.  I came back and turned on my fan, since the power had returned, and just read my book.  I caught up on some emails and relaxed.  I didn't feel like working on report cards and so after dinner and some more reading, I went to bed, deciding Sunday would be a much more productive day.

You may have guessed it, I awoke to the same heat and the same story.  After church, I came home and threw myself on my bed, feeling hot and tired.  I started working on report cards and finished one before the power went out.  I continued to work since my computer battery was charged, but soon started to feel tired.  I took a nap and then went back to the pool because the heat was just too much.  When I walked through the gate leading to the pool, I was amazed to see how many people were there, enjoying the water.  Seeing that I wasn't the only one that needed to cool off, I started to rethink my plan for the weekend.  I had completely failed as far as being productive and doing work.  However; I had rested and relaxed.  I believe the heat and other extraneous circumstances played a big part in my decisions, but I was thankful for them because they forced me to change my plans and allow my body to rest. I am taking away an important lesson from this weekend.  One is that I am going to have to toughen up and get used to this heat, but more importantly, rest is crucial for all of us.  It also helped me to realize that I must be more flexible and have grace for myself when my plans do not work out.  I have no doubt that I'll still get everything finished in time and I can now begin the week well rested and not quite as hot, at least until tomorrow morning that is!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Swimming in 1st grade

I still haven't quite gotten over the fact that my first graders swim for P.E. class once a week.  Now that the weather has heated up (today was 91 degrees F), it is the weekly P.E. activity for our class.  Ms. Baker is our P.E. teacher and she's absolutely fantastic with the little ones.  The past few weeks have been spent in the kiddie pool, blowing bubbles and kicking.  Today we started with this and then moved over to the big pool where each student was able to jump into the water.  It was fun to see their personalities come out in their approach.  Some jumped in with absolutely no fear and huge smiles on their faces, while others were timid or even a bit scared to jump in the water and needed reassurance and a hand to hold as they jumped.  I know my students look forward to swimming each week and today they looked forward to it even more as today was the first day I actually got in the pool with them.  This is such a foreign concept for me, as I've never imagined swimming with my students in the middle of the school day.  However, it is one that I'm starting to enjoy as the days are becoming increasingly hotter and as I love to see the joy on my students' faces as they get in the water.  Here's a few pictures from today. 

This is in the kiddie pool.  I love the goggles and the toothless grin!  The swim caps are also a nice touch!
Some of the boys in the kiddie pool.  They sure do love swimming!  

I love the swim caps once they are on. I hate trying to help put them on as it's so difficult to get them over their hair!  The one in the middle has pony tails that I had to try and get around.  Needless to say, it took a while.  

Here they are, all lined up and receiving instructions from our P.E. teacher before jumping in.  

This one has absolutely no fear!  

This absolutely cracked me up.  After swimming, they all lay out on the stones to "warm" up.  Sometimes I forget that my body is not accustomed to this heat as I would rather stay in the water to cool off.  It also reminds me of the turtles that climb up on logs to sun themselves.  

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Crisis Nursery

I have had the wonderful opportunity to visit the crisis nursery on a consistent basis since arriving in Lilongwe.  This is through the Ministry of Hope and is a community-based orphan care.  There are about 30 toddlers and infants that are cared for during their crisis period while arrangements are made to place them with relatives or adoptive families.  The college here on campus has an outreach ministry on Thursdays.  There are different groups that go to local prisons and villages, among other forms of outreach.  I have started taking 4-5 college girls to the crisis nursery.  During our hour and a half with the little ones, we help feed the infants formula and the toddlers porridge.  We also sing songs with the women who run the nursery and pray with them before leaving.  This is all done in Chichewa, the local language.  Not only do I love getting to know these little ones, but I love seeing the women singing while the kids all sit on the floor, clapping and swaying to the music.  It doesn't matter that I do not know the words, just to hear them sing and to see them loving these beautiful children, has moved me to tears multiple times.  I look forward to my Thursdays with the college girls and the wonderful opportunity to serve alongside of them.  It puts things in perspective when you walk in and see those beautiful smiling faces!  I've included a few pictures so you can see just what I mean when I say beautiful!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Much needed break

This week is mid term break.  It's funny because up until this week, I didn't feel like I needed a week off.  Things are going so well in school and I love my students.  However a funny thing started to happen two days before break.  I started to feel homesick and tired.  Often times at home when I make it to a break from school, I get sick.  It's almost like my body knows it gets a chance to rest and so it gives in.  I think that is happening a bit with homesickness for me.  It's not the kind where I am sitting around sulking miserably, crippled with sadness.  It's more that I'm aware of the things at home that I miss.  The main one of course is my family and friends.  I have met so many incredible people here, but there is something so special about those in our lives that have known us through thick and thin.  The history and the foundation make for a relationship where you truly feel known.  Whenever I miss a person from home, it makes me smile.  I know this is an odd reaction, but it is such a tangible reminder of how blessed I am and how truly loved to have such wonderful people in my life.  Another thing I'm missing greatly is fall.  I feel somewhat stuck in summer as the days are becoming hotter and as I've finally given in and purchased a fan.  I miss the cool, crisp air, the beautiful autumn leaves, and the aromas that come with this delightful season (pumpkin spice lattes, cinnamon, wood stoves, candles, and apple pies to name a few).  Instead of cozying up with a fleece blanket and a good book while the leaves drift to the ground outside my window, I am heading to the pool to jump in the water and cool myself off.  Don't get me wrong, the sun does feel glorious and I am working to appreciate the warm weather, as I know all my northwest friends will soon be missing it tremendously.  It is just making me aware that I'm a huge fan of experiencing all four distinct seasons.

I am also missing the ease of which things are done in the states.  A quick trip to the grocery store to grab one item, the four minute wait at the coffee shop, and my new favorite, the at max ten minute wait to put fuel in your car.  There has been a shortage of fuel here in Malawi, which leads to ridiculously long cues in order to wait for petrol when it is available.  Up until last week, I had only driven past these cues and heard about them from others, but had never experienced one for myself.  On Friday that changed as I received word that there was petrol at one of the gas stations nearby.  I jumped in the car that I'm sharing with three other girls as part of the carpool on campus, and headed over.  I followed a friend who has done this many times and who was the one who had heard where to go in the first place. We pulled up on the side of the road behind the long line of cars that seemed to stretch on for at least half a mile.  Apparently the tanker had just unloaded the fuel and the line would start moving soon.  After about forty-five minutes, we started to inch our way up.  When I say inch, I mean inch.  One car would leave the line and the whole slew behind would move up one car length.  We would then get out and talk and feel the breeze before getting back in our car and repeating the process.  After four and a half hours, my hopes started to rise as we only had about fifteen cars left in front of us.  It was now dark and many had left with full tanks or jerry cans filled with fuel (that's a whole other story as people wait in line with jerry cans and then fill up two or three at a time).  I started to sense something was wrong when someone ran past us, away from the pump with an empty jerry can.  He was shouting something in Chichewa, and then the cars in line in front and behind us started to leave.  Turns out they had run out of petrol and after four and a half hours of waiting, we left with empty tanks.  I cannot complain because this is the first time I've ever had to wait.  However; it was frustrating to get so close.  The next day, my wonderful roommate took the car and waited for 6 hours at a different gas station.  She ended up leaving with a full tank and now we are cautious on where and how much we drive as we want to make our fuel last as long as possible!

These are just a few of the familiarities of home that I am missing.  However; it is part of the experience and I know I wouldn't feel myself changing to the extent that I am without all the differences.  I will continue to enjoy my week off and enjoy the people and characteristics that make this place so special.  This will be for another blog post as there's so much here for which I'm thankful.  As a take away, if you are reading this and have easy access to fuel, please do not take it for granted!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Creepy crawly critters

This week has been filled with bugs of all sorts.  They have been at my house and in my classroom.  The ones in my house aren’t quite as bad because I get a large book or a shoe and throw it at them before I can psych myself out.  The ones in my classroom are a little more challenging as with them come 19 screaming 1st graders.  For some reason, the screams throw me off and I become jittery.  I’ve also come to realize that I really despise cockroaches.  Wednesday was particularly bad as we had 4 large ones scurry across our classroom at various times during the day.  There’s nothing like 19 little ones completely engaged and focused on what you’re learning (ok, completely engaged in my mind) and having the moment shattered by a pest.  It would’ve been easier to push the roaches out of my thoughts and still count it as a successful day of learning if it hadn’t been for the incident in the last hour.  As we were completing a science experiment, one of my students yelled, “centipede!” I didn’t even look over because in my mind, a little centipede isn’t worth a glance.  I told them not to worry and we kept our scientist hats on, so to speak.  However, the centipede crawled its way between backpacks and out again and screams returned as it made its way toward us.  I then looked over to see the biggest centipede I’ve seen in my life.  I had no idea these things even existed!  It was longer than my hand and wider.  It had long black legs and pinchers up by its head.  It definitely warranted the screams it provoked and frankly, I wanted to chime in.  However; being the teacher, I had to remain calm and composed.  I moved my class to the opposite corner of the classroom and refusing to take on the large centipede, I called for someone to come help.  One of the gardeners came in with a broom and tried smashing it, but this thing just kept on crawling (I should say slithering as its movement resembled that of a snake).  He swept it out of the classroom (literally) and I tried to calm down my students.  I found out later that these are very hard to kill and that they are in fact poisonous, to the point that they can kill a child.  I was unsuccessful at calming down my students and had to count the last thirty minutes of school as a wash.  The following day was much less eventful in the area of critters and for that, I am thankful.   I’m hoping that is the only poisonous centipede I’ll encounter.  Malawi will indeed toughen me up in many ways, including the area of creepy crawlers!

This is a picture taken by Danie who works at the ABC Clinic.  She found it in her house one morning.  

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Reading Day

Friday was the much-anticipated annual reading day at the academy.  This is a day where reading is celebrated through dressing up as a book character as well as other various activities. My students showed up with smiling faces and clever costumes.  Parents came with cameras for the all school parade that started off the day.  There was an all school assembly where we had poetry reading by a local poet, a rather hilarious skit by staff, and awards given out for most original costume, best dressed, and best homemade costume per class.  After snack and recess, we had four parents who came to read to our class.  They each brought a book of their choice.  I think something I enjoy most about teaching is watching a classroom of students completely enthralled by a book.  Students and staff had so much fun and did not want to see the day come to an end.  Here are a few pictures from the day:  

Our class in costumes.  Can you find Pinocchio, Wendy from Peter Pan, Harry Potter, and Max from Where the Wild Things Are?

Mr. Owen and I dressed up at Waldo and Wenda from Where's Waldo?  Owen is a reception teacher at the academy.  It was so much fun to have a partner in crime for reading day!
I awarded Regis with most original costume from my class.  Our very own Jesus made me smile all day long!  He told me toward the end of the day that he didn't have enough energy to listen to another story.  This confused me and I asked him why.  He said it was because he hadn't eaten his snack because his hair was in the way!  

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Hash House Harriers

There is a group of people here in Lilongwe that meet on Mondays to go on a run together.  At first I thought it would be just an ordinary run but one that I could do off campus since I would be with lots of other people (It’s not a good idea to run off campus alone).  I didn’t realize that this is an international running group of non-competitive runners.  The runners have no idea where they are going, other than by following markings along the way. The markings are set in advance by one person (the hare) and followed by the group (the hounds).   As the group runs, there are small H’s marked with white chalk along the way.  This indicates that you are going the right direction.  When you come to a big circle written on the road or in the dirt, this means you’re at a checkpoint.  A checkpoint is a place where there are multiple ways that you could potentially go.  The purpose of these false trails, short cuts, dead ends and splits is to keep the pack together regardless of fitness level or running speed, as front runners have to slow down to find the “true” trail, allowing the rest of the group to catch up.  At these, someone proceeds to run in each possible direction and when three consecutive “H’s” are spotted, they shout, “On! On!” and everyone runs in that direction.

I have greatly enjoyed these runs as they have taken me places I would never have expected.  We often run off the road along dirt paths that take you through parts of a village, straight through fields that have been burned or plowed, and always alongside Malawians, traveling home from work or going about life.  I am often in complete amazement as I see the beautiful sights of Lilongwe and it’s people.  There was one run where the sun was setting directly in front of us as we ran past a group of about 20 children playing outside of their huts.  They stopped and waved and laughed as we passed through on the well-beaten trail that I can imagine them walking along each day.  Then last week we ran past some older children (probably about 11 years old) and they were laughing and ran over to us at our checkpoint. We were close to the end of our run and when we figured out which direction to go, I looked at one of the boys and took off running.  We raced and when we stopped, we were both panting and smiling.  (I beat him in the short distance that we ran, but I am sure I would lose if we ran longer!)    

This group also takes part in a social event afterwards where if you are new, you have to stand in the middle and chug a beer.  Being that I work at a Christian academy, I would chug a coke instead and this just doesn’t sound appealing at the end of a long run.  So, I socialize along the run, but do not stay after. 

I look forward to this hour of running each week.  Yes, I can run on campus where I am safe to run alone and I can go up and down the main road as many times as I like, but running with the hash house harriers is so much more than running for me.  It is a glimpse into the beauty and the life that I could easily miss if I were going past in a car.  I wouldn’t see the beautiful landscape or the people in the light I get to see them when running. I also feel these runs somewhat mirror the way I feel about my time here in Malawi.  In both running and living, I have no idea what lies ahead.  I am dependent on others to share their culture with me and show me places and people I would never meet before.  I also feel like I am moving quickly, only seeing and participating in part of the life here. It’s just like running past a place, between one checkpoint and another.  I know I am only seeing and experiencing a part of the beauty and the place, but I will take each day and remain fully present, soaking it in and humbly doing whatever I am able, whether that be teaching students, interacting with parents, or whatever else may come my way.   

I am so grateful for the other missionaries and the Malawians that I get to live in community with.  Where it is so much more enjoyable to run with others, it is also so much more enjoyable to live life with others.  I feel so thankful for the community that is here and the way we live together, sharing experiences and joys.  I am also thankful for those at home who are supporting me financially, prayerfully, and lovingly.  I know there are so many here with me, in spirit and I wouldn’t be able to run this part of my life without you.