Sunday, November 23, 2014

The story of a friendship

As I write this, I'm sitting in the Johannesburg airport waiting to fly home for my dear friend Louisa's wedding. Well, to be fair, I'm flying home for my furlough, but the first thing on the agenda is getting Lou married! 

I've never told you about Lou on here, or maybe even fully about my journey that landed me living in Zambia. But it kind of all begins with Lou and a friendship that completely changed my life. 

Lou and I met the summer after my freshman year of college. I went to OC and she went to Harding, but we both ended up on an internship in Jinja, Uganda that summer. We were both a little stand offish at first, not quite sure about the other. But over time and by the sweetness of God, we became friends. She would quickly tell you I'm not her best friend and she's not mine (this always makes people laugh because it sounds so weird), but we are each other's kindred spirits. In that first summer together, we bonded over A.W. Tozer's Pursuit of God, over sickness and an inability to swallow pills at an embarrassing age, and hearts that were starting to feel called far away from home. Before that internship in Africa, I'd never thought about the things Lou and I would talk about and question. I'd never had any desire to do anything but get married and raise my kids exactly like I was raised, to be honest. So many questions started troubling me as I left Uganda that summer, and Lou remained that person who "got it" in my life. 

After a couple more trips back to parts of Africa, we decided to move to Namwianga together. The decision and process to get there is a story for another day, but the point is that Lou and I embarked on a journey together that would change our lives forever. 

We were oh so naive. I'm laughing right now just remembering so many of the hilarious memories and mistakes we made early on. We just had no idea what all was in store for us. I always tell people if someone had told me before I left all that would happen to me while I was in Zambia, I probably would not had been strong enough to still choose to go. 

But go we did. Together. It was Louisa who taught me to drive a stick shift. It was Louisa who went wild in the rain with me the first time we experienced real African rain. It was Lou who was with me the night Harper died and I was all alone and away from my family in America. It was Lou who taught me how to be more sympathetic. It was Lou who made me laugh until I peed my pants so times. It was Lou who weathered culture shock with me and I with her. It was Lou who walked with me through so much death and so many questions and helped me learn to see light again. It was Lou who continued to support me even after she moved back to America and I remained in Zambia. There will always be a part of me that only Lou will totally know and understand, and I'm so grateful for that connection and gift. 

Someone wise once said something to the effect of "Each friend represents a world in us, a world not possibly born until their arrival" (I'm in the airport, okay? It's tough to look these things up!). But Louisa opened up so many new worlds to me. She made me braver and stronger and wiser and happier and healthier. She affirmed me and challenged me and asked questions with me. I've never known someone whose opinions and ideas of the world and mission and poverty and love mirror my own so closely. 

And now she's getting married and I get to be there to stand beside her and I couldn't be happier. 

And then I get to hug all my family, and my church family, and my friends. My heart feels pretty full. (I'm just not thinking about all the little ones my heart's already missing!)

** Now I'm sitting on a plane to Oklahoma City to see my family, but just now posting this I wrote before I landed for Lou's wedding! The wedding was yesterday, and now it's off to new fun adventures! And this is my 20th blog! :)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Chitenges

Before you even start reading this post, know that I just laughed out loud when I was reading it over because it reads like a middle school essay on Chitenges or something. I'm sorry about that. It's just that people always ask me about them, so I thought I'd provide some facts! Sorry if you're bored to tears after reading my term paper. :)

One of my favorite parts of Zambian culture is the use of chitenges. Most every African nation has a form of a chitenge. It's a 2 meter strip of fabric, sometimes nylon, polyester, or cotton, that serves so many purposes.

It would be impossible to find a Zambian woman who doesn't own at least one, but most women usually have more in the neighborhood of 4 to 8.       .  

The primary use for a chitenge is as clothing. It covers the under layer of clothing and protects those from becoming dirty or wet. If you are a thin woman, it can be wrapped and tied around your waist. If you aren't that thin, it is tucked, but not tied. Some women even have strings sewn in so it's able to tie more easily. 
Chitenges are both casual and fancy (but not at the same time!). They are sometimes filthy and ratty from years of wear and tear. But they are also made into suits and worn to the most special of occasions, like weddings or graduations. 

They also play a part in funerals. It would be uncommon for a woman to not wear a chitenge to a funeral here. 

The second main use, and my primary use, for a chitenge is for carrying babies on your back. From the time a baby's cord falls off until they are 3 or 3 1/2 years old, babies are worn on their mamas' backs. Occasionally you'll see a desperate father wearing his baby, but it's a rare sight! Even babies chitenge babies, little girls only 4 years of age. 
It's interesting to me that although every child in Zambia grows up being worn in a chitenge, Zambians place little, if any, sentimental value into particular chitenges. In America, we keep baby blankets and stuffed animals and things that remind us of certain times in our lives, but here once it's worn out, it's used for rags until it can't be used anymore.

We use chitenges for so much more than just wearing, though. They're made into quilts, curtains, nappy liners, bags, table cloths, decorations, picnic blankets, and more.
Aaron and his auntie
Aunties all wearing short chitenges so they could still play volleyball!
Milika snuggled up under a chitenge quilt
Chitenge curtains

Chitenge pillows in the background

I hope you all are having a great day! 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Birthdays lately

We've had so many birthdays around here lately! Thankfully, the Harding group that is here has been more than willing to help me bake all the birthday treats, making my life so much easier! Our babies are growing up fast and doing so well. 

Biggie turned 3!
Seth helping carry in some birthday cake
Chabilo and Chabonwa turned 1 and 3! 
Chabilo enjoying her brownie birthday cake.
Esther turned 1!
And so did Ezekiel!
Katie turned 2!
Twins Owen and Oscar turned 1!

It's an honor to be able to celebrate these milestones with these little ones we love so much. We're grateful for their lives that we get to share in for this season.

Friday, November 7, 2014

It's formula time again!

It takes a lot of formula to feed our hungry little mouths and also the mouths of the 50+ children in our milk program. Our milk program provides formula for children who have lost their mothers but still have someone in their family who is able to care for them with the assistance of milk. It's a wonderful ministry made possible by people like you who help us buy the formula. We love it when families can stay together if at all possible, and this is one great way to support that happening!

Because formula costs so much in Zambia, it saves us considerable amounts of money to purchase it in the States. The East Side Church of Christ in Colorado Springs lovingly organizes a container each year, which ships over a year's supply of formula and other supplies that are hard to get in country.

We still need to raise about $35,000 to accomplish our goal before the container ships out in January!
If you are interested in making a donation to  help us meet this goal, you can send a check to:

Eastside Church of Christ,
Formula Fund
5905 Flintridge Drive,
Colorado Springs, CO 80920

If you need any help or have questions, please contact Benita Thomas at

 719-338-1341    benitathomas3@gmail.com .

As always, we are so blessed to have people around the world who love us so well! We appreciate you!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Window Wednesday- 9th Grade Bible Study

I thought tonight I'd offer you a glimpse into my normal Wednesday night routine. Since moving back here in 2012, I've been teaching one of the high school bible studies every Wednesday night. Wednesday night church does not exist in Zambia, but because Namwianga has the secondary school, they have grade level bible studies on that night. I started with the grade 8 girls last year, and now I have them again in grade 9. The plan is that I'll have them all the way until they complete grade 12, and I can already tell what a difference it makes having the same group of girls carry over each year. They are definitely growing, maturing, and gaining more depth each year. 

They come over to my house each week, and most weeks I make some kind of special treat for the end of our night. Our first year we studied Jesus, what he said and what he did. This year we've been studying a book called "Follow Me" by David Platt which deals with what it means to actually follow this Jesus we spent the last year learning all about. 

When the Harding groups are here, many of the girls participate in our bible study. I pair each college student up with one of my grade 9 girls. They sit together each week and try to spend a little bit of time at the end talking about the lesson and praying with each other. 

Tonight, we had a game night with everyone. We drew names and each pair played another pair in some crazy fun games like Trouble, Memory, Jenga, and Toss up! I love how games transcend cultures, and how everyone enjoys a little friendly competition. :) 

Here are a few pictures from tonight's match ups. 











I don't love these pictures because everyone's eyes look crazy and the flash was weird, but I sure do love all the girls in these pictures and the love they pour into each other.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Things you might find yourself saying if you've lived in Zambia awhile

The longer I've lived here, the more often I find myself saying things that I've picked up from my Zambian friends. With a little help from my friends and coworkers who have lived here with me, we've come up with this list of things you might find yourself saying if you've lived in Zambia awhile!

1. Bad manners. I say this one probably 20 times a day, minimum. It's like we'd say, "That's not very nice" to our kids in America when they've done something naughty.

2. Early bells. This phrase describes just how early of a start you'll have in the morning. If someone says we're going "early bells", they mean at the crack of dawn!

3. Nicely. This is easily the most used adverb around these parts. Play nicely. Sit nicely. Eat nicely. People always walk away from Zambia using this modifier!

4. Now now. In a world where timeliness holds little value, it's often hard to get a clear answer on just when you're going to be leaving, meeting someone, doing something, etc. If someone tells you, "We're leaving just now," that could mean anytime in the next hour or so. But if they say "now now", you know you're leaving momentarily.

5, Travel well. This is a common expression in Tonga (mweende kabotu), but it's used so often in English, too. Anytime someone starts off from a place, they are told to travel well.

6. How was the night? You'll hear this most mornings. It's just a common greeting to ask how people slept, and I think it's fun.

7. Filling station. Because we use the word fuel instead of gas here, we don't have "gas stations" but "filling stations".

8. I have tonsils. If you're sick because you're throat hurts, you would say, "I have tonsils." If one of the babies has an ear infection, an auntie would tell me, "She has ears."

9. I'm coming as you're walking out the door somewhere. As you leave a place, you say, "I'm coming." It's the same way in Tonga, and it doesn't make much sense to me. We're doing the opposite of coming, but the implication is that you'll come back again at some point.

10. Finished. I think in America we tend to say something is "gone" when it runs out, but here everything is "finished". The sugar is finished. The washing powder is finished. The charcoal is finished.

11. Body hotness. This is the expression used for fever. Totally literal!

12. It is paining. Nothing hurts here, but everything pains.

13. Looking smart. I think this one is actually British, but it just means you're looking sharp and put together.

14. Tropicals. Flip-flops.

15. Odi. This is the Tonga word for "knock", as in on a door, but it's also used if someone's not paying attention and you want to get their attention back again!

16. Two Hands. There isn't a word in Tonga for please, so the polite way to ask for something is to offer both your hands cupped. It's rude and offensive here to grab something with just one of your hands, so we teach the babies to receive everything with "two hands". 

17. Beautif. For some reason, there are a lot of words here that are just cut off mid-word. One of those is beautiful. If you call someone beautiful in English here, it would be shortened to "beautif".

18. Jers. In Zambia, a jacket or sweater is known as a jersey. Many words that have an "ee" sound at the end of them drop that sound for some reason, leaving words like "jers". So a common thing you'd hear around the Haven would be, "He needs to put on a jers before he goes outside."

19. Where do you stay? instead of where do you live? This question, oft received from Zambians if you are a guest here, always seems to throw people off at first.

20. Crisps are potato chips here.

21. Chips are french fries here. 

22. Queue is what is used here for a line formed for anything.

23. Mama/Daddy Many Zambians use these English words to call a child. Because most Tonga children would not call their mother and father those words in English but use the Tonga words instead, the words don't carry the same meaning to them. So we call all little girls mama and little boys daddy. It's quite endearing I think, but it sure confuses kids back home when I call them mama!

Ba Halale and I had such a good time talking about these things in Tonga class. You don't even realize how differently we use English words sometimes. This list is by no means exhaustive, but it's enough to explain to those of you back in America why some of these phrases are stuck like glue in my vocabulary now!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Whew.

This frequent blogging thing was tougher than I thought. But I will press on. I will prevail. I will be the recipient of some new thunder wear. 

It's not that I don't have things to say even. It's that I have so many things to say, and not easy things always. They take thought and fleshing out and contemplation. 

In fact, here's a list of half written, half thought through blog titles sitting as drafts right now, just to prove I'm trying. 

1. Orphan Sunday
2. Chitenges
3. Be you
4. Love chapter
5. Window Wednesday- Matilda
6. Interns 2014
7. Bailey

Since I can't just end there but I don't have it in me tonight to flesh out a whole though, and since orphan Sunday was yesterday and the latest draft, let me just cut it down to some bullet points:

-It was yesterday.
-I  had no idea until I saw it on someone's Facebook.
-I laughed to myself because that seems like something I should know. 
-Over here every Sunday feels a bit like Orphan Sunday. 
-I'm grateful for people that care and advocate and bring issues like orphan care to the forefront of conversations. 
-I'm especially grateful to you all who help give our babies life and healing through your prayers and donations. 
-I'm proud of the way so many of you are loving the motherless and fatherless right where you find yourself, in whatever school or city or country. 
-It's beautiful to know so many of you who parent the children God's given you so well. And that your kids don't have to know what it would be like to be an orphan because they have you. 
-I'm humbled by the way my Zambian friends love the orphan so well. 
-I have a lot to learn. 

Just picture that written cohesively and eloquently, and let's call it a day, shall we? More to come when I get my act together. 

And here's a pic, just because I love y'all. It's a happy, smiley, growing Memory! God has done a lot of healing in her since she got back from the hospital, and we're so grateful!  

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The dad everyone deserves

I have the dad that every child deserves to have but very few actually get.

The one who thinks you can do no wrong, while at the same time making sure you're properly disciplined. 

The one who puts himself second so his kids can have what they need. 

The one who tells you every time he sees you that you're more beautiful than the last time. 

The one who does the little things for you. Like filling your car with fuel, washing your car, vacuuming your car out. 

The one who is proud of who you are, even if you're not the best at everything you try. 

The one who invests in your friends and knows and loves them because they're important to you. 

The one who you know is so proud to call you his. 

The one who lets you know that you couldn't ever, ever do anything that would make him stop loving you. 

I've long stopped asking God why He's blessed me the way He has in so many ways and learned to just be grateful for the huge, immeasurable gifts I've received. I know I'm able to know God better because of who my dad is to me, and that's the greatest thing I can say about my dad on his birthday. 

I'm so glad I got the dad that every kid deserves to have. 

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Prayers for Memory (and an attitude adjustment for me!)

I posted yesterday asking for prayers for our preemie Memory. But when I got on today, it had never published! She started having diarrhea and fever last night, so she started a drip and some iv antibiotics, but the fever still wasn't going down. I ended up taking her to Zimba hospital today and we admitted her. The doctor just wants to observe her and see what the fever does. Hopefully, we'll be able to bring her back home tomorrow. She's there with auntie Georgina, and her fever has been down tonight so far. Please keep praying for complete healing for her, for maturation in her little lungs, and for no more diarrhea. 


After getting her all settled in at the hospital, I found a group of people waiting at my car. They all were asking for transport back to Kalomo, which is about a 30 minute ride. One of them was a man I recognizes from around Kalomo. He had three of his kids with him and his mother (their grandmother) had been admitted there and had just died. The other ladies were all with another woman who had just had a baby last night. 

Before I'd even heard their stories or seen who they were, I was annoyed. First of all, I was exhausted from a night of little sleep. Second of all, I was just worried leaving her there and feeling anxious. So I just had in my mind a nice, peaceful drive home listening to my music, praying, and thinking (and being alone!). So seeing them all standing there wanting to cram in my car just made me mad. It ruined my plan of a peaceful drive home. They all asked so politely if I could possibly give them a lift. I agreed, but I'm sure my tone and body language suggested how annoyed I was at having to bear this inconvenience (a pull off on the side of the road when we got into town. Bringing them all home literally took an extra 30 seconds of my time). 

But it didn't matter how little of an inconvenience it really was. It still messed with my plan and my privacy, and my selfishness reared its ugly head. As we were driving home, I was just so disappointed in myself. Why couldn't I just choose kindness at first? Why couldn't I have squealed with excitement for this family and their new baby and sat a few seconds longer and mourned with this man and his children? 

As we were driving home, I did turn the music on softly. I refrained from belting it the way I would have, but every song that came on just convicted me over and over again. How much patience and grace God has poured over me! How little it would take to pour it out on others! I know how refreshing it is when someone offers kindness and warmth to me. It can change my whole day. Every day we're afforded countless opportunities to do that for people. To be living examples of God's love and goodness to us. 

Today I failed. Big time. God changed my heart by the end of the drive and I was able to see how incredibly petty and juvenile my feelings were when I put them in the proper perspective. A long time ago I wrote down in my Bible, "Any goodness in me is borrowed from God." I remember hearing that for the first time and being so taken aback by it. When I'm kind and graceful and patient, it's not me but the spirit in me. Transforming me. Molding me. Making me more like him. On my own, I'm not all those things. When I try to rely on myself to be kind and graceful and patient in my own strength, I fail miserably. Today was just a strong reminder of how much I need God to make me who He wants me to be. 

When we reached Kalomo, I pulled over, dropped them off, and watched them walk away to the different places they were going. I'm grateful we crossed paths today and for the way God used them to keep refining this stubborn heart of mine. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Window Wednesday- Diet

A question about life here that I get pretty regularly is about my diet. What do I eat? Where do I cook it? Is it super cheap to buy food here? So today's look into life here is all about that (fascinating, I know!). 

I have a full kitchen in my house that has a stove, a refrigerator, and running water. If we had power right now, I'd take a picture and show you! 

So the majority of cooking I do is just like you do. Because of our frequent power outages, there are times I cook outside over a fire (made by Patrick, lest you think I'm so outdoorsy and capable). That's only if I'm desperately craving something good to eat or I was already in the middle of cooking something and don't want to ruin it. But otherwise, I would just eat something cold if the power were out. 

For breakfast, I eat cereal every day. Every single day. It's kind of my thing, and my family sends me my favorite kinds often enough to have special cereal pretty often. Here in Zambia, my cereal options are bran flakes, corn flakes, and frosted flakes. The last few years we've been able to find Special K red berries, so that's been a step up! They do cost about $10 a box and don't taste quite the same, but beggars can't be choosers! On the off chance I don't have any milk or some other world catastrophe, I'd make some oatmeal or eat a strawberry pop-tart that's kept under lock and key! :)

Lunch and supper probably look a lot like yours, too, except much of my food comes straight from my garden! Some days I eat nshima (Zambia's staple food) with Matilda and Dillon at lunch, or I'll eat with the aunties. I love nshima, and I especially love Matilda's. Some days I eat tuna and crackers. Or grilled cheese. Or rice and beans. Or an apple and peanut butter. Or an apple and cheese. At night is when I tend to make a bigger meal, like grilled chicken and vegetables. 

Although it is cheaper in general to live here, the exception to that rule is food-- at least the food we are used to eating! Yogurt, fruit, meat, cheese, pasta, and things like that are all a lot more expensive than they would be back home. There are very few things I can't make some variation of with things I find here. It's always maybe just a little different than I'm expecting it to taste, but after time that becomes the norm. 

So overall, the diet isn't strange at all. Besides the occasional bugs we eat when the season is right and the exotic foods you can try at touristy places, my diet hasn't changed dramatically living here. I would say I end up eating healthier here probably because of all the fresh fruits and vegetables and the lack of fast food. :(

Even though we can make most things we can make at home, it doesn't mean I don't crave things from home. I just still love something that tastes like home, not an almost-version of home! 

So far on my list of things I want to eat when I'm home are:
Barnrd's 
A hot dog 
A corn dog
A turkey sandwich
Chick-fil- a
Pei Wei
Chuys
Alfredo's
Dot Wo
Panera every day
Dunkin donuts
Daylight donuts
Mcdonalds
Mclarens

Okay, I'm stopping. I'm drooling. And the food here is really good, so who needs those places anyway...

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Happy Hearts

I cannot even begin to tell you how WONDERFUL today was. I am still feeling the glow of a perfect, perfect day. 

So many people in my world love these babies so much, and sometimes people just send money and say, "Do something special for the babies that you wouldn't get to do otherwise!" And today we did! 

We took our biggest 11 babies to Livingstone for a day at the crocodile farm and swimming in a REAL pool. Because the Harding group is here, I had so many friends willing to come and chaperone the babies one on one. 4 of them are even lifeguards, so that was ideal for the swimming. One sweet Harding, Abigail, even agreed to come along just to take pictures for us! 

When we pulled up in the bus at 8 to pick up the babies, they were racing out the gate! They have been looking forward to this like crazy since I told them. We started off at the reptile park (crocodile farm), where the babies were totally enthralled. 
Checking out the difference between a tortoise and a turtle.
There are so many crocodiles there you can't even count. The babes loved spotting them hidden among the bushes or in the water. 



It's pretty crazy to watch them jump in the air when they're mad. How he doesn't attack this man, I'll never know.


 This is a mother croc who is protecting her eggs. It's amazing how aggressive and deadly they are. 
The coolest thing is that they let you hold the baby crocs! I actually predicted that maybe two of the kids would hold them, and I was right!
This one is 1 year 8 months old, approximately. Jose was fearless.


He couldn't be sweeter. 
Despite Seth's being a weeny about the whole croc farm experience, he faced his fears and held this little guy. I was so proud of him! 
After holding the baby crocodiles, it was time to see all the deadly snakes that live in Zambia. We only got pictures of a few, but of all the ones they had there, there was only 1 I hadn't seen in real life. Frightening!
Spitting cobra

This black mamba, the deadliest snake in Africa, has enough venom to kill 20 people. 
Kenna and Sesa boy resting before lunch!
I loved every second of that experience. I just can't tell you how much joy it brings me to let the kids experience new things for the first time. I love watching them proudly tell the aunties and their friends what they saw that day.

We headed to Hungry Lion for lunch. Think Kentucky Fried Chicken. We had ordered their food ahead of time, so we sat down for a quick meal of fried chicken and chips. They were perfectly well behaved. 


Our last stop was swimming! I managed to find the only pool that would really work for our kids because it had a shallow end. I had already talked to the manager of the hotel, and they agreed to let our hooligans swim for the day (for a price of course!). We were greeted by some traditional dancers. The babes joined in for a bit.


And then it was time to swim! When I told them we were going swimming after we'd just seen the crocs, they were a little gun shy. They asked if there were crocodiles in the pool! They'd never seen a real pool before, and when we turned the corner, they gasped! So did the Hardings. This pool is beautiful and somewhere we would never really get to go unless we just paid to go swim there!
I so, so, so love this face. It kind of says how we all felt!
Joel, hard at work
The second they saw this they said, "Boat!!"
Teaching Helen how to swim a bit
Keeping busy!
Sunglasses with Vigi!
Vigi talking to a helicopter overhead :)
Biggie splashing Deaco
A definite crowd pleaser was preparing tea for people! 
Kaitlin and Sesa
Memo
Maureen and Mary Kate
We swam for 2 hours, and it could not have been more perfect. It was so hot out, the kids were adventurous and not scared of everything, and the Hardings could not have been better with the kids. They took them to the bathroom countless times, got out when they were cold and say with them, got back in minutes later when they changed their minds, and played any number of games that the kids thought of to play.  Our kids were so blessed today.
Ashley teaching Joel to blow bubbles in the water. 
Ella's full of joy. 
I'm so thankful that these girls took the time to go with us today. Because the aunties don't swim, we really would not have been able to do something like this without them. I know the babies will be talking about it for weeks to come, and I'll have to try to convince them that the baby pool is just as fun!