Life here has becoming increasingly wearing lately. I’d be lying to you if I told you I fit in here, that my heart has settled here as to not miss my old life back home. In fact, just this morning I wrote in my journal, “Maybe I can’t do this. Maybe I just want my old life back.” Thoughts of longing for people, comfort, or things back home are a daily occurrence, but I’ve been able to bring America here in little ways. For example, Rachel, Kiley, and I have decided to take over cooking on Thursday nights so that we can introduce some “American” food or just different food than rice and beans or pap and tuna (I hate tuna!) once a week. So far we have covered peanut stew (introduced to us by our missionary friend Elysa Mac), chili (the girls’ FAVORITE), and Sloppy Joes (we got raving reviews on that one, too!). Of course, we had to introduce some simple desserts too, such as regular chocolate chip cookies, peanut butter cookies, and fruit pizza. While these have been great joys, sometimes it makes me miss home even more, and cooking specifically makes me miss my sister/roomie and my grandma. I’ve found myself increasingly thinking in If Onlys…
“If only we had real ketchup here…” “If only we had lunch meat…or better yet Subway!” “If only the girls would wash the dishes instead of just rinse them…” “If only the kitchen were cleaner…” “If only the kids wouldn’t keep losing silverware…” “If only the tiles on our floor wouldn’t break…” “If only I could have hot water for every shower…” “If only chickens wouldn’t get into our house through our open front door…”(I had to stop typing this and go kick a chicken out) “If only I had my own room…” “If only we had a playground to take the kids to…” “If only we had a park…” “If only we had mini golf…” (Yes, I just thought that yesterday!) “If only we can start another home…” “If only we had an office here…” “If only we had better internet…” “If only I had a husband so these girls can have a father…” Okay, you get the picture about my lengthy if onlys. We all have our if onlys, no matter where we are in the world or who we are with. God has been really challenging me lately by bringing all these “if only”s to light. I’m learning how selfish I still am and how after all these years growing in my faith I still don’t put my full trust in God for my fulfillment. God must be thinking, “If only? How about if only YOU would stop saying if only.” It may be only two words, but the negative impact is lasting. If onlys are our inability to appreciate the sun when it’s hiding behind a cloud. If onlys prevent us from being in the moment, and being in the moment is the best place we can be (and somehow the place so few of us actually are) because that’s where God wants to meet us.
So that brings us back to gratitude. If we are grateful, there is no need for if onlys. In the book Dynamic Catholic, Mathew Kelly talks about the happiest and most joyful people are not ones who have the huge houses, gorgeous yards, high class lifestyles, solid families, and an abundance of money; rather they are the people who live out gratitude and embrace a lifestyle of generosity; they are thankful for especially the small things which creates even more joy for bigger things. My longing for people, comfort, or things back home aren’t going to disappear, but rather than try to bring “America” to my home here, I want to appreciate what America isn’t and the experiences I wouldn’t have if I were back in the States. Maybe America can learn something, too:
I’m thankful for…
Kombis. I never thought I’d say that I am grateful for a run-down extended van with squeaky, weak seats, jam packed with 15 strangers. But it’s a unique experience to wave down these “public transport” vans and jump in, pay 5 rand, and get a lift to town. It’s really quite brilliant. Imagine if we all had the spirit of cooperation when it came to transport and car pooled in these public transport vans instead of taking our own personal cars. The next time you are held up at a stoplight, watch all the cars go by you and count how many have only one person in it. I’ve done this before (of course I was the one person in my car, too) and was so surprised at what a waste of space, gas, etc. to have this many cars or even larger vehicles holding just one person, the driver. I’m thankful for the kombis and even the big trucks that transport lots of people sitting in the back (because it’s legal here).
Worship that rocks the house. I’ve had numerous amazing worship experiences back home, but there’s something captivating about unplanned, acapella voices that ring out in harmony and praise to God. How many mothers can say they walk in on all 14 of their children gathered in one room singing acapella and dancing before the Lord? On another occasion, I brought out my guitar and we sang our favorite worship song that has no title but at the end we sing, “I’m in love with God, and God’s in love with me. This is who I am, and this is who I’ll be.” I had my eyes closed as I was playing and singing but as we kept repeating those words, the girls’ voices got louder and louder, and my smile got wider and wider; it was like we brought down a magnetic presence as I felt power just wash over us as we sang and nearly shouted these words as if telling the world who exactly we are. When I opened my eyes, I was laughing and so was everyone in the room—filled to the brim with the spirit of Joy!
Movies. The first time the girls asked to watch a movie, I thought sarcastically, “Oh, this will be a lot of fun,” because we were going to try to watch a movie with a room full of girls on the little screen of my laptop. But after weekends worth of doing this, I’ve realized how suitable it actually is and how excited we are when we can watch a movie! Our latest movies were Mama Mia (we sang it all week) and Stomp the Yard (Nonhlanhla and Sindi’s personal favorites as they tried imitating stomp moves all day).
Rainy days. Well, I should correct that to “day” because there really has only been one major rainy day so far. But it was a time to just be and rest. I finally was able to soak my feet and shave my legs! Now how often back home do I get excited about shaving my legs? I also broke out a pack of cards and taught Melissa, Sibussa, Sindi, and Nonhlanhla how to play Speed. For lunch, I added an orange to each girls’ plate and received excited, “Thank you Mama Kate!” Again, how often back home do children thank their parents for getting a piece of fruit!
Basketball and healthy competition. I forgot how much I love playing basketball until I joined my “Super Ladies” team again! Coaching for the past three years has been wonderful, but playing is completely different joy. At first I hesitated in getting too involved with the women’s team because I didn’t want to take away from ministry here but then I realized how much this magnifies my ministry. Not only is it a personal stress relief and joy, but it gives my girls here opportunities they haven’t had before. It exposes them to something bigger than themselves and the world they have come from. They have come to several games already and have been our greatest fans, cheering like crazy! They really look up to the women on my team who greet them and embrace them in hugs, making them feel like they belong, too. It’s so beautiful. I have quite a few battle wounds (major bruises) since this style of basketball is much more aggressive than back home. When I showed one of my bruises to my girls, they exclaimed, “Oh my gosh, Mama Kate! You need to get to hospital!” They apparently hadn’t seen a bruise on a white girl like that before. My “Super Ladies” teammates are more than just teammates; they are a different culture of Swazis than I’m used to working with, and it is so refreshing. After the games is when other fun happens too, such as one night I treated the girls to KFC because it was a late game and we hadn’t had dinner or another game after our team won in OT and we jammed like crazy to “Imma Shine” and “Turn Down for What” (two of five songs we have available in our van).
Bhuti. Luciano is 15 months and he is 100% a handful yet 100% the most adorable boy I know. Because Lucia calls him “bhuti,” meaning brother, that has become his name. He hardly ever answers to Luciano, just Bhuti or BhuBhu. His first word he learned to speak should tell you much about him: “No.” He said “no” for everything, as that was apparently the word we used most in talking to him. “No, you can’t stick your fingers in the outlet…No, you can’t tangle yourself up in the tv cord…No, you can’t eat the bug Lucia just killed…No, you can’t stick your hands in your dirty diaper… No, you can’t have that…No, you can’t touch that…” His second word was “Doe-doe,” the word he used trying to say “Gogo,” his main caretaker. His third word? One morning I woke up and opened the door to the living room to greet Gogo, who was sitting with Bhuti. Upon seeing me, he ran to me with his fat little feet and radiant toothy grin. He lifted his arms to me and said, “Tata, tata,” which literally means, “take me,” or hold me.
Lucia. I’ve said so much about her already, what more do I need to write, except this cute story: We were driving in town this morning jamming to our 5 song CD and “This Girl’s on Fire” came on. All of a a sudden, I hear Lucia’s sweet voice behind me sing, “girl fire! girl fire!” So cute!
Tenele-Belle. This girl never ceases to amaze me. No, she’s not perfect but neither am I. What I love most about her is her writing and how we communicate best through letters (after all, it’s a letter that started our connection six years ago)! Tenele recently turned 19, so we surprised her for her birthday. She was so appreciative and sweet. I had given her a journal to write in while she is away and lonely. She had filled pages and pages! Some entries she writes to me, others she copies down verses, and others she writes out to God. Tenele’s heartache never seems to end. She had a miscarriage, and one of her entries she wrote a letter to her unborn baby and said she’d never forget “her,” though she didn’t know the sex of the baby yet. She asked God why he gave and then took away. A couple pages later, she wrote an entry just for me. It was about my future husband. She wrote that I should have a husband that won’t play with my heart, one that I can trust completely and she encouraged me to keep praying for this man. Oh, how I love my sweet child, and desire so much for her to have a father, my husband, some day.
Gogo, Titi, Rachel, and Kiley. Gogo Martha is amazing. Not only has she really started to connect to the girls but she adores Luciano and he adores her. She also reminds me of my grandma who passed away. It’s literally like she is still with me, but just in different skin. The faces Gogo makes and the trickster that she is, especially when it comes to games, lights me up like I’m with my grandma. Titi has been a friend since 2008, and I love learning alongside of her. She is my source for learning SiSwati, learning wisdom, and learning patience. Rachel and Kiley, the year-long volunteers, are so much more than just volunteers; they are my closest friends here, and they are in many respects the reason I am surviving. There’s too much to say about them, but their impacts are beyond events or outcomes; just their presence has been my greatest blessing!
And so much more. But those are the main ones from the last two weeks (and really I’m getting way too long-winded, but aren’t you used to that yet?) Lastly, I am thankful for YOU. You, who took the time to read through my ramblings. You, who give me a reason and encouragement to keep going. You, who made these experiences possible! You, who keep my heart full back home.
Lord, I thank you for this sweet daily life.