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.     


  1. Thank you for sharing these lessons, Theresa! And your picture of six smiling children is heart-warming :-)

  2. Truly inspiring, as always! You are one special sister of mine :)

  3. Great examples of what the people in our missions give to us, rather than the other way 'round. But you ARE giving them a great, great deal, starting with your love. Thanks. God bless you.

  4. 6. You got the head-balance?!?! Gracie, Dan, and I all tried very hard and never got it the whole 14 months! MABRUUUK!
    5. Winking and the fish face -you are a girl after my own heart. I really hope Grace reads this and is finally convinced that winking is the best way to anyone's heart.
    4. Excellent realization.
    3. God blessed you with the skills of much-needed nurse and the heart of an angel. Your work will never be done, and yet your work is 100% complete with every single child you touch.
    2. Your insight about personal relationships coming first is inspiring. I wish things in the US ran on Africa time, both for the focus on people instead of schedules, and because I'm still late everywhere I go (and people here have the nerve to get mad at me. Go figure).
    1. More than anything, FOCUS ON THIS. Remember this. Cherish every moment. Even in the day-to-day of prepping for classes or even sometimes teaching a class, remember this. If you do your very very best to put everything aside except who is in front of you at that very moment, if you drain everything you can out of every day, I promise you that you will have no regrets at the end of this marvelous journey.

    I love you, I'm proud of you, and I can't believe you're halfway through! God bless you and Ariel. Let's skype soon!

  5. Who doesn't love a good wink?! :)
    Beautiful post. xo

  6. Hi Theresa, I enjoyed reading your six lessons learned. I especially can relate to one about
    "presence" it so important as nurses to be present. I think it is the greatest gift we can give to our patients.

    You have so much fun with the children. Having very little materially, makes one appreciate life's simple pleasures such as just being silly and laughing. You are learning many spiritual life lessons at a young age. Take care and God bless. Jean Fields