Saturday, March 22, 2014

Blindly Running

As part of our Lenten sacrifice, Ariel and I have been getting up early to do physical and spiritual exercises each morning.  Our routine has actually turned us into 95 year old grandmothers--bed at 9:30pm and waking up at 5:00am.  Our days are so jammed packed with the clinic, school, and after school activities that we don't have any time to fit in exercise during "normal" waking hours.  So we have created a schedule that allows us to do various exercises-running, yoga, strengthening-and morning prayer during our only free time before mass begins at 6:45am.  Although I dread the sound of my alarm most (more like every) mornings, I couldn't think of a better way to begin the day.  It is a peaceful time, a quiet time, the only time in the day when I don't have a hundred kids screaming at me all at the same time.  It gives me a chance to really take in the peace and quiet, clear my mind, and get ready for the day.

40 minutes into my run--the first sign of daylight 
Easily my favorite activity that we have been doing is running.  I like running and have enjoyed getting back into it, but running in Maridi, South Sudan is such an interesting experience for a few different reasons.  #1-People just don't do it.  They work all day, every day in the field and don't need extra activities to get their exercise.  So when they see me do it, they find it strange.  #2-I already stick out enough as a foreigner, but a white person running really makes them laugh.  Even though it is pitch black when we run, somehow they still know I am white.  I hear people on the road conversing in Zande, but I pick out the words "white" and "Ah, MAMA!" which is an expression that so many people here use when they are surprised.  And #3- Potholes, goats, and mangoes.  Let me explain this last point that makes running a completely different experience.  There are so many obstacles, and when you are running in complete darkness, it makes for an interesting run.  If I run on the main "road," I risk falling into human-sized pot holes.  And If I run around the compound, I risk tripping over goats and getting hit by falling mangoes.  And yes, all of these things have happened to me.  Even though I carry a torch with me while I run and stare at the ground to try to perfectly place each step, I still fall into these huge potholes and eat dirt at least two times each morning I run.  And yes, I actually did trip over a black goat one morning that I obviously didn't see, and it didn't move out of the way in time.  And one windy morning I was running under a mango tree, and a mango fell and hit me straight on the head.  So needless to say, my morning runs are definitely filled with excitement, sometimes too much excitement.   
Our small victory of the day- finding the Ice Cream Man!

But this morning as I was running, I started thinking.  This is exactly what this journey is about.  I am running in the darkness, I am blind in a sense.  I am trying my best to see the big picture of this adventure and really figure out my purpose here, but only God knows.  He alone is in charge.  He obviously called me here and had a reason for that, and now it is my job to just blindly follow Him and trust in his plan.  On days where I struggle and think to myself "what the heck am I even doing here?", on days when I can't stand to look at or smell another wound, on days where my classes are extra loud and rambunctious, I just try to remember that kind of blind obedience.  God is leading me, and the only thing I can do is run to follow Him.  I might not know where He is leading me or with what purpose, but no matter what crazy or tough things happen, there are always so many small, funny, sweet moments in each day that keep me running and following His path. 

Sunrise as I finished my run this morning
Each morning as I stumble down the road trying to avoid the obstacles, I am so boldly reminded of God's constant presence throughout this mission.  When I get the courage to take my eyes off the road in front of me, I look up and see the most magnificent sunrises.  It is such an amazing experience to see the dawn break.  To see that first glimpse of daylight.  I know that the obstacles of yesterday-the potholes, the goats, the mangoes- are behind me, and it is a new day, a new chance to blindly run by faith.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Six Lessons Learned

As of two days ago, Ariel and I have been in South Sudan for 6 months now.  Officially over the half way point.  It is absolutely crazy to think we have already been in Africa for half of a year.  Some days it feels like I've been here for a week, and other days it seems like I have lived here my entire life.  These past six months have been a period of growth.  I have grown spiritually and emotionally.  And I have learned so much more about myself and so many life lessons.  I want to share with you six of the important lessons I've learned during my six months in South Sudan.

6.  Carrying water on your head is so much harder than you think.  From day one, I've watched villagers carry water, pots, buckets, logs, and pretty much everything else imaginable on their heads.  I made it a personal goal to learn to balance a jug of water on my head.  After dropping many jugs of water on myself and getting soaked, six months later I finally mastered the 5 liter jug full of water.  Turns out, it is all about a slight head tilt to balance out the weight of the water.  Next on the list--the 20 liter jug.

5.  Making faces is the best language to speak.  I am still struggling to learn Zande (the tribal language) and Arabic to use in the clinic.  Unfortunately, the extent of my speaking is still limited to basic greetings and a few medical terms to get by at the hospital.  So with the little ones, I have resorted to making faces as my means of communication.  The kids love to imitate the faces I make.  I love winking at them and seeing them try to do it back.  Another one of my favorites is the fish face.  They laugh so hard when they see me do it, and it makes me laugh even harder to see them try to attempt it.  It's truly amazing how much love and laughter can be exchanged by making goofy faces at each other.

4.  No matter how hard I try, I will never know how to properly hand wash my clothes.  Every Saturday I scrub my clothes and am so proud of my work.  But sometimes the kids see me and they get a kick out of watching me because they say I do it all wrong.  And I've just come to realize that I live in Africa--I have dirty kids climbing over me all day and I am constantly sweating.  It's a fact that I just need to accept.  I will never know how to wash my clothes like they do, and it doesn't really matter because two minutes after I put my "clean" clothes on, they are already covered in dirt and other various unknown substances.

3.  Love and a bandage can fix any wound.  Each day during short break at the school, I have a line of kids waiting to have their wounds cleaned and wrapped.  Day after day the same kids come, along with a few new ones each day.  It really is amazing to see the physical healing process, to see the wounds get smaller and smaller.  But I've come to realize that this time I've been blessed with to bandage wounds is a call to love these kids and bandage more than just their physical wounds.  Some days I feel like I can't stand to see another dirty leg with a huge wound, but when I think that I've given everything physically possible to help clean and heal the wounds, there is always more love to give.

2.  African time is definitely a thing.  If you are supposed to be in a meeting at noon, it actually won't start until at least 2pm.  If somebody tells you they are "just near," it actually means they will be there in an hour.  When the morning Church bells go off, I know I have 15 more minutes to sleep because Mass never starts on time.  It's the way of life here, and I've come to accept and embrace it.  People are more concerned about personal relationships with one another than a time table.  This one has been an adjustment for me and sometimes challenges my flexibility, but it has forced me to focus more on the people around me and my friendships with them than constantly looking at my watch.

1.  Be present.  Recently, I've been more and more aware of this point.  I've been researching graduate schools and thinking of what will happen come August.  Although these are important things to know, I feel like they have been making me focus too much on the future instead of living in the present.  The Gospel today reinforced this more than ever.  I felt like God was talking directly to me when the Gospel said, "Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself."  I'm trying to do my best to live each day fully, to love these kids in every present moment, and to leave the future and my anxieties and worries about it to God.

These are only a few of the many, many things I have learned about myself and about life here over the past six months.  The kids are constantly teaching me new things and making me view the world through different eyes.  Hopefully these lessons that I've learned and the new learning experiences to come will help make the next six months even more fruitful.