The Interim

I have been struggling through the aftermath of this year’s Swazi experience. It was much different for me than previous trips; living arrangements were different, the people were different, my expectations were different. With very limited access to the internet and longer work days, I was unable to write much of anything worth writing. I have pieced together a collection of anecdotes detailing some of the individual experiences, to be posted in a few days. I’m still mulling everything over, trying to glean as much information as I can from this trip before I am too far removed.

One note of concern I had early on in the trip was my lack of emotional response (aside from a handful of small experiences to be shared later). The shock factor of the various care points has worn off; I didn’t feel the same stretch and pull or the nudging of the Holy Spirit that instills growth and reveals the lessons that God has prepared for me. I’ve been patient. I patiently waited out the 355 days in between trips. I patiently waited in line for airport security. I sat patiently through the 16 hour flight and the 6 hour drive to Mbabane. I waited patiently through the first morning at Njojane, playing with the preschoolers, helping dish the meals, singing songs…all while waiting patiently for my babies to get back from school. Finally, I saw Tengetile coming over the hill, dragging a piece of firewood behind her–kids eat for free as long as they bring a stick to keep the cooking fire burning, that’s the deal–as she approached the stick pile, we made eye contact. She dropped her stick and ran full speed at me. I picked her up and hugged her…but there was no spark. Even when Khetokuhle got to the care pointe and sought me out, it didn’t feel like anything out of the ordinary.

I wrestled with this for the first few days. It took some thinking and praying and talking to my team leader, a 4-trip veteran, to realize why I wasn’t experiencing an emotional response:

I am home.

Home is a place where you are welcomed and comfortable. It’s warm and there is lots of hugs and laughter. Home is where you’re feet feel happy upon the familiar ground, there are games to be played and stories told. Its a place where no one is afraid to be himself or herself, where bellies can be filled and spirits lifted. Home is where the language of love is spoken, through smiles and hands held. It’s a resting place, where you are comfortable in your own skin. I don’t get emotional when I come home at the end of a semester, because it’s home. Its a special place, but comfy. Familiar. It’s not exciting, but it is a place I belong.

I keep coming back to the word comfortable, which is funny to me. If you ask anyone that has ever been to Africa on a mission trip, they will tell you there is nothing comfortable about Africa. We are forced to grow in faith and in spirit, in strength and in courage because of the people we meet and the things that we see. There are too many heart wrenching sights to grow comfortable in a place like Swaziland, but nonetheless, I feel comfortable. There is nothing comfortable about carrying around two toddlers while others pull at your arms and legs. There is nothing comfortable about bouncing around in the backseat of a khombi on dirt roads, hitting potholes the size of a small sedan. There is nothing comfortable about sending children home loaded down with a backpack full of the bare necessities, hoping an older child or adult won’t rob her of your gift on the walk home. There is nothing comfortable about watching your sponsor children sob at the sight of the khombi pulling out of the care pointe for the last time. These things are excruciatingly painful, both physically and emotionally, but these are the things I am dedicating my life to so that some day, no one else will need to.

text message

This is the very greatest compliment I could receive. I got this text message yesterday from one of my very first babies–the young ladies in the small group I had the blessing to lead while I was in high school. She is now finishing up her freshman year of high school, and is making me so proud in everything she does. She is currently leading a group of third and fourth graders at summer camp, and this is what she shared with me. I can’t think of a single third or fourth grader I know, but somehow, he knows me and my heart well enough to identify the Guatemalan equivalent of me. My cup and my heart are so overflowing.

5 days, 14 hours until Ethiopia.

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Little Infinities

So fun fact: John Green lives within a half hour drive of my house. If, like me, you are a proud member of the Nerdfighter fandom, you will know that The Fault in Our Stars movie comes out in just 28 days, which is super awesome because it means that I get to see it before I leave for Swaziland, and cry my eyes out two days before returning to Swaziland.

I was in a job interview today, and the interviewer asked what I’ms studying in school and what I want to do with my life. After I told him, he asked me a question I don’t get very often: why?

Why do I want to I want to spend ten days in Africa over the summer, instead of going on vacation or hanging out with friends? Why do I want to spend every day of the rest of my life dealing with teenagers, instead of making lots of money elsewhere? Why would I voluntarily give up the conveniences and luxuries of life in the United States for the primitive lifestyle Africa endures?

If you have read the tFiOS book, you’ll remember this little excerpt:

“There are infinite numbers between 0 and 1. There’s .1 and .12 and .112 and an infinite collection of others. Of course, there is a bigger infinite set of numbers between 0 and 2, or between 0 and a million. Some infinities are bigger than other infinities.”

I like this because I’m kind of a nerd and I like thinking about things my brain can’t actually comprehend, but also because of how true it is. Some infinities are far greater than other infinities. In the United States, we (myself included) get far too wrapped up in our lives to pay any attention to living. We don’t live in the moment, because our ideology says that if we want to be successful, we have to be constantly thinking, planning, looking ahead. We look to the best interests of ourselves, and we will fight for it. It’s in our nature; we create these lives for ourselves that are great while we’re alive, and do very little once we’re gone (but who cares? we’re not here to enjoy it!). We have the little infinities that are our lives.

But the Swazis….they know how limited their time is here on earth. They are categorically terrible timekeepers, never rushing from one place to another because they are too busy living in the moment to pay attention to the time. They don’t plan for the future; the future is usually too uncertain to plan for, not to mention the lack of resources with which to plan. They are all about living in the moment in every aspect of their lives. Each moment to be lived in becomes an infinity of its own–one to replay over and over and over in your mind and it is because of this Swazi infinities are so much greater than American infinities. Each life is made up of an abundance of infinities.

Some of my favorite Swazi infinities:

  • The time between the moment Benele, our translator, told sweet Kheto that I was her sponsor and the moment it clicked in her mind that 1. she had a sponsor, and 2. I was sitting right in front of her. It was a little infinity, but a beautiful one. We started sponsoring Kheto only a few days before we met, and a lapse in communication meant I was lucky enough to experience her emotional response.
  • The first time Kheto said, “Thank you for loving me.” My heart is trembles to think about it.
  • The time one of my babies spent her morning washing my hands.
  • The time I played catch with a group of schoolgirls and tried to learn their names…and they thought my petty attempts at speaking Siswati were worth laughing at (secretly, they loved the attention).
  • The time I could bless one of the bomake (boh-mah-gay, the women who cook and take care of kids at the care pointes) my holding her three-month-old daughter while she prepared lunch. Her sweet baby fell fast asleep on my chest while I sang.

My words do not do justice to the fullness of my heart in each of these moments. It is the little things that made me fall in love with the Swazi people. These little things are my little infinity, and my biggest why.

 

(Nerdfighters: Don’t Forget to Be Awesome)