My blog might head back to becoming all nostalgic, sappy, and reflection-y for a bit, so be forewarned. After speaking with some friends on our island I just spent an entire Evy nap time (and that is precious time people) looking through pictures of our last weeks there and wishing I was back with everyone; to mourn, to laugh, to eat, to chat, just to be. We also went to see an African Children’s choir perform yesterday and while holding my groovin’ girl Evy on my lap and watching Annikah light up when the kids all “looked like my friends from school and they sing in Kiswahili” I had to stare at the wood beamed ceiling of the church to avoid sobbing. Because some moments in some days I so badly want to jump on a plane and head back it makes my heart ache. I question everything in those moments. These feelings are made more complicated since I spent an awesome day with family here today that I would be desperately missing if we were “there.” All this is messing with my head (don’t worry the sob fest/major issues are sure to surface in counselling) and I am struggling with being neither here nor there. Really.
I came across these pictures of our last day of Skuli ya Imani and started to think about our time with these kids and families. When we first came to Africa I thoroughly underestimated the shock to the core of your being language and culture would be. It rocked my world. We easily take for granted being understood and understanding and when that is taken away from you it is painful. But it is also an awesome opportunity to see the world is bigger than you ever could conceive of. The education system on our island was dominated by rote memorization and creative “nifundishe” (teach me) methods of helping each other that resemble plain ol’ cheatin’ if you ask me. Children and adults are; for the most part, never eager to answer a question unless they are certain they know the answer (and there in only one right answer). They feel shame in being wrong more than they value taking a risk and standing out. In a communal culture innovation and standing out from the crowd is not sought after. In the West we value leading the pack, doing it yourself, and figuring things out yourself. My students valued conformity, community, being in it together, and coming to consensus. There are no individual problems on our island. They are shared and it is the role of the community to respond and everyone’s identity is tied to the family, neighborhood, and community networks they are a part of. There are great things about here and there. And as time went one I gained new appreciation for their ways of doing life.
For us self sufficiency idol worshippers this whole community thing rocked us to our core. I learned my way is rarely the best way and even if I have something to bring to the table the process of listening and learning is what changes you. For the better. I watched as my students (motivated by a field rip) studied so hard for their tests and cared for each other. Even after they passed one by one they would return to my door to find out who had not passed yet and make their way to those kid’s homes and study with the until they knew all the info too. They really helped each other like it was their responsibility because I think it is, sometimes sitting on our porch until 9:30pm at night until every last student passed their tests. I think about how my life would have to change if I really wanted for others what i want for myself. What would our culture look like if we valued other’s success as much as we value our own. If we really took Jesus seriously when he said “love your neighbor as yourself.”
I thought about all the difficulties they faced together; death of friends and family members, debilitating sickness, high food prices making eating everyday not guaranteed, siblings not being able to continue their education. They were accustomed to hardship in ways I have never experienced. I had a front seat to see this community function and in small ways was invited into it even when it meant endless noise at our home, bandaging wounds at all hours, and praying and sharing and just being invited to be there. My students begged to “help” us at home; to do a quick errand, bring food to a neighbor, send a message, or play with our girls. They hung around constantly it was exhausting most days. And now I miss it so much I can’t finish this sentence without crying.
I thought about the ways I saw them grow, gain confidence, and try even when it meant risk. I thought about the smile that would break out across Nassir’s face when he realized he could answer 20 questions in English. I thought about the way Ali hugged my neck even though that is “not cool” for a 12 year old boy because he was so thankful for a second chance. I thought about Munzir finally learning to count to ten grasping worn bottle caps in his dirty little hand and placing them one by one in a plastic jar. And I thought about how Rashidi cheered him on and laughed whenever he got one wrong. I thought about Rukia retelling stories she learned and beaming when it earned her a “nipe tano” (high five). I thought about how Asya can write her name all by herself now and how when I helped her mother complete a form for a micro-loan I realized she would now be the first generation in her family to posses that skill. I thought about the helpers that loved learning new ways to teach and are now leaders in their community and school. Yeah, God did some amazing things and I feel so grateful He saw fit to find a small place to use my limited gifts for His glory. It was not monumental, huge in scope, or impressive by most standards but it was beyond humbling to have a front row seat for it all.
And although I suspect most of my students still think “Hello, How are you?” is one word they did learn a lot. Not because I had a great plan (or any plan really) but because they came, we tried and fumbled through together, and with God’s help we grew. Yes, they learned a little but I think I got the best deal of all. I learned things I could never have begun to discover without trusting God that when He calls you He will provide and equip beyond what you can ask or imagine. He showed Himself and His love to our little school and I am grateful and in awe and teary..
clapping for God and thanking Him for allowing us to learn together on our last day
sharing story books
the water balloon toss was a major hit!
all children smile in the same language.
the ever popular “parachuti”
they loved duck-duck-goose or in our case kuku-kuku-jugo (chicken, chicken, rooster)
and the German gals even brought balloons for balloon animals!
shiny, happy people
these watoto of Skuli ya Imani will always be wanafunzi wangu (my students) and have a special place in our family’s story of learning just how amazing the God of love we serve is!