Friday, December 28, 2007


It just about broke my heart to listen to him, and I silently prayed for the ability to tell him, in words he could digest, the truth I so desperately longed for him to grasp.
This was the week when I finished up the monthly newsletter, and so I decided on a themed page of sample New Year's resolutions. To do so, I conducted an informal survey of the residents, and then compiled a list of anonymous quotes. Though he is not a typical resident, this young man lives with his grandfather, and so seeing him around while off from school, I asked if he had a New Year's Resolution he's like to share. Initially confused at the question, I explained what I meant. After thinking a moment about what his "resolution" might be, he responded that yes, he did have one, actually. I could see him carefully composing his thoughts, and then he told me he resolved, "to work better, and harder--for my life to be worth something."
This is when I tried desperately to affirm his thoughtful resolution--wise beyond his 12 years--while telling him that he should never feel that he had to work harder in order for his life to be worth something; I explained that he was perfectly, wonderfully important as he is, and that working hard is a good thing, but is not necessary to make his precious life any more valuable than it already is . . .
Today, as I distributed the completed newsletters, he and his grandfather came back from an afternoon outing. Seeing me, he asked if it was what he thought it was, and I smiled as I told him that it was indeed--"hot off the press." He asked if he could have one and, after teasing him a moment about whether or not he was allowed to see it, I gave one to both he and his grandfather. Then I happily observed his proud explanation of how he had contributed a "quote" for the newsletter, which he showed to his grandpa. Seeing that he was willing to share his own words, I then asked him if he also remembered what I had told him yesterday. And I was deeply moved at his eager reply, as he gave an accurate account of my admonition. My only prayer is that it can find a resting place deep in his psyche, coming back to the forefront of his memory as the journey to adulthood assaults him with trials that wage war against his sense of self, and of significance.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

a pink pink rose

It seems I have somewhat of a secret admirer. Taped to my office door today was this rose, accompanied by a note:
to a lone Dove . . . from the Spirit World . . . you remind me of a pink rose
Considering the nature of my workplace, this is not necessarily something to be flattered over. But my inner romantic finds it rather touching all the same :-)

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

musings, past and present

My little brother agreed to accompany me to work this afternoon, where we managed to deliver the final 8 leftover Salvation Army meals, completing the deliver of their 81 donated dinners. It was a fine way to spend a Christmas Day, for sure--nicely rounding out a few days of family gatherings, gift exchanges, carol singings, and devotional readings. As I am still behind in a sewing project, and have not devoted time to writing over this holiday season, I decided to re-post a piece I wrote several years ago . . . "the magnificat," i called it:

Holy. Holy. Holy is the Lord. The familiar catch of breath. The sting in the eyes. And the tears begin to flow with the falling rain. Or do the tears fall with the flowing rain. What is it in these words that I whisper that wrenches at my heart so? Why does Mary’s prayer touch the core of my being, so many centuries after it was spoken?
I think it must be because I know that she was just a girl, just a human being, with a woman’s heart like my own. And so, when I hear her wondering words, I can feel with her the emotion she must have felt. To bear the son of God—what wondrous mystery, what glorious honour! And she was, like me, just a young woman—much younger, in fact, than I am now. And so, no matter how often I hear the story and read her words, it still has the power to bring abrupt and unsought tears.
What a gracious God, to work wonders with such frail and faulty creatures as us!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

tonight's gift

translation: Carsyn 5 [i.e. 5 years old]. I like to come to anna's house to read a book. from carsyn to anna.
As he handed this note to me, Carsyn sternly instructed me that I must keep it. I don't think I will have difficulty doing as I'm told . . .

Sunday, December 16, 2007

feeling festive

I am currently obsessed with this creche . . . and I am absolutely thrilled with the fact that I am now its proud owner. My grandmother was lamenting the fact that she had acquired a large new decoration and, intrigued at her description when I carted the box out of the car for her, I pulled it out to see for myself. Oddly enough, considering my general dislike of extra "stuff," my laziness when it comes to decorations, and my spare inclinations in aesthetic decor, I instantly fell in love with it. M grandma generously offered to part with it, and I now am trying to decide upon the perfect spot. Mom is visiting me at the moment [I cried when I saw her, missing hr so much: no simple tears either: I was a blubbering mess of boo hoos!]; but she has not helped much with the placement inspiration--she claims that I am the one who knows about such things, not she. So I am still trying to place it: any ideas from those of you familiar with my place? ;-)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

for auld lang syne

A request from my Aunt for some of my Zambia photos has left me sentimental from looking through my photo files . . . so in honor of said sentimentality, here's one of the shots that didn't make it to my blog.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

intruders, of the less serious variety

I belong to a privileged minority of folks who enjoy what they do. I love my job [most of the time, that is ☺]. More importantly, however, my job is good for me. Hopefully I am good for it as well . . .
But what I find myself enjoying lately about it is the way in which it forces me out of my routine. I have a tendency to create structured routines no matter what my phase of life my be: this routine can change drastically from one phase to the next [i.e. American librarian to teacher in the Zambian bush], but upon transitioning, I rapidly develop a new routine. This is a good thing, and I do it because I need to . . . but it can become a bit neurotic at times.
So I love the fact that my job involves “surprise” encounters. It certainly holds its fair share of regular, scheduled tasks [writing/producing the newsletter, getting new residents settled, updating files, etc]. But the most interesting/challenging tasks—and definitely the most amusing ones—often come from the unexpected events . . .
As I often do, I made a house call instead of simply making a phone call, to see if Ms. Emily wanted to sign up for the next holiday event. When I knocked she opened the door more promptly than I am accustomed to, making me step back a bit, pausing as I tried to remember how I had planned to address her [I generally compose questions before actually asking them].
Before I had a chance to say anything, however, she ushered me in the door with a comment as to how “relieved she was to see me.” My emergency-radar jumped in here, as she was one of the residents I had not yet met—I assumed, then, that she must have some urgent need for assistance.
Once the door was closed behind me, and I was safely insider her apartment, Ms. Emily lowered her voice and leaned towards me, wide-eyed, as she explained that she had been just about to come to the office. She paused, lowered her voice slightly more, and hushedly exclaimed, “Gophers!”
“What,” I queried, thinking I must have heard her wrong.
But I had not. It turns out that Ms. Emily was terrified of the “gophers” she had seen in her apartment. Translated, thanks to some further questioning and investigation, this means that Ms. Emily had seen a rat. Ahhh, of course, I thought, once I had solved the mystery and duly reported the infestation . . . and I smiled to myself at my private joke. Considering the way I have been replaying the image in my mind of her “Gophers!” revelation, I think this will be just one of the many mental files this job offers that serve as reminders that sometimes real life is just too darn funny to take too seriously. A good reminder for all of us who are prone towards the stressing/worrying tendencies!

Sunday, December 02, 2007

a lifetime dream

Thanks to a kind friend, who made the journey when I could not, I have just now seen, for the very first time, a photo of my father's grave . . .

Thursday, November 29, 2007

on this day

I remember, this day--November 30--in 1988. On this day, I awoke excited--no, more than that--I was ecstatic. I was running through lines of the Christmas program in my head, eagerly rehearsing for the program that night. You see, tonight we were performing for our families, for my family. They were on their way by this time, I knew, beginning the drive early that morning that would bring them along many lonely dirt roads, winding through villages and across open plains, to arrive here.
It had been 3 months now since I last saw them, when I boarded the little Cessna on the grass strip of our village, clutching my stuffed bear in one arm and holding my sister's hand with the other. We stood there waving goodbye one last time on the boarding stairs, and then waved again out the window as we sped along the airstrip and lifted off into the air. I loved that moment of lifting off in the airplane--and have ever since--the exciting rush of becoming airborne and soaring faster and faster through the air.
That day, however, my excitement of the beginning was tinged with the sadness of knowing I would be away from my family for many nights now. The days were always full of learning, fun adventures in the bush with friends and with various creatures to be discovered and trees to be climbed. The nights were the hard part, though, when I fought the tears that often came in spite of my fierce will, silently dampening my pillow while I stifled the shortened breaths that may give away my tears to the classmates sleeping near me in rows of bunk beds.
The 3 months since that last flight had passed quickly--3 months of good books read, math problems solved, geography discovered, play weddings acted out in free time, and all manner of grade 4 activities. I had also turned 9 the previous month, and knew my family would now celebrate my birthday and my brother's 4th birthday 3 days earlier, as soon as we made it back home. While on a shopping trip in South Africa, my Dad had acquired our first car, so the decided to make the road trip instead of Helen and I flying home as we had always done before. So, I knew they were loaded up in the Isuzu, along with 2 village friends--a teenage student of my Dad's and the Zambian pastor he worked with in our Church.
So that afternoon, after various activities designed to keep all us boarding students preoccupied so we wouldn't be bouncing off the walls with the excitement of our families' arrivals, we all filed out the drive-up area to await the first arrivals. I had in my mind the perfect picture of what to expect, so as each vehicle arrived, I craned my neck to see my mom's long arm waving out the window and Alex's goofy grin peering out from her lap. But the cars came, parents claimed their clamoring kids, and my picture-perfect arrival still had not appeared. Finally, a lady I recognized as the mom of some friends who lived fairly near us went over to our Dorm Mother and said something to her, gesturing in our direction. She then came and told us to go ahead and get ready for the program--not to keep waiting for our parents there.
I was disappointed, but assumed they would arrive at any moment, so just kept waiting as we practiced our songs. My mental image just altered itself to adjust to a late clamor of hugs and kisses rushed in before the program started . . . but the program came, began, and ended, and they had not arrived. The next morning we were taken to the Cessna, and told we were going to go back to the village by flight after all. This time I imagined the whole family standing there on the airstrip, coming into focus as the plane landed, with eager smiles and waves--still, no. The parents of a classmate took us in their car instead--so of course I changed my expectation once more, this time thinking they were taking us to our house where the family would be, picture-perfect, waiting in front of our little home.
Instead we arrived at their house. Auntie Elaine (according to British habit, all family friends were "Auntie" and "Uncle" to us kids) finished up dinner preparations while we helped set the table. And then, instead of sitting down to dinner, she asked Helen and I to come and sit with her on the couch--"Anna, Helen--I have some really sad news . . . your Daddy went to heaven . . . " Before the sentence was finished, I had burst into loud sobs, Helen looked at me and started crying, and Auntie Elaine and her daughter were both crying and hugging us.
I don't remember any mention of the rest of the family at that point--nor did I wonder, as far as I can remember. The rest of the day, of the week, of the month, passed in a sort of a fog, in which my memories are clear but displaced, as if each memory was plucked from its proper place in the continuum of time and placed instead in some never never land of homeless moments.
I remember falling asleep with fitful dreams, waking up convinced I had dreamed reality, and that Daddy would walk in and comfort me any moment. I remember being reunited with my brothers, staring at Alex's discolored and misshapen head, and carting Ian around carefully in his body cast, propping him up against walls . . . supporting him and holding his modesty blanket over his midsection as he pinned the tail on the donkey at his belated birthday party. I remember visiting Mom there in the Zambian hospital, horrified at the sight of my strong, active, beautiful mother lying there on the stretcher bed unable to move herself. At one point during a visit, the nurse had to turn her over so that she wouldn't get a bed sore. As she did so, she let go of the sheet and mom was briefly exposed to us all in the room. I didn't know whether to blush, sob, or scream--I wanted to just run away, to disappear forever into the endless, dreadfully beautiful African wilderness. I hated seeing mom like that, and dreaded the visits . . . and I hated myself for feeling that way, thinking there must be something wrong with me if I didn't want to see my mother . . .
Somehow, time passed. My Daddy's funeral passed in a blur of friends, strangers, languages I didn't know, and wails I knew only too well. As soon as mom was strong enough to be transported, we were shipped to the U.S., where hospitalization and then physical rehab came for her. I hid in my books--in beautiful worlds of fantasy--to the extent that my grandmother still teases me for always having my "nose stuck in a book" as a child.
And eventually Mom was well enough to take over the care of the 4 of us again. I still don't know for the life of me how she did it--a paraplegic supporting and caring for a home of her own and 4 not-always-angelic children. She did it well . . . she loved us well.
On this day, when we were children, Mom beautifully commemorated the anniversary. She would buy what looked to me like hundreds of helium-filled balloons, bringing them home so that the house was bursting with balloons. Then she tied note cards to the string of each one, and told us to write notes on them--as many as we wanted, and whatever we wanted to say to a stranger. I remember writing things like "Jesus loves me this I know . . ." and "My Daddy died on this day, and he is now in heaven with God, because he loved God. I do too." I wrote silly notes, but meaningful ones, longing, in all my childhood intensity, to somehow tell the world that I had a great Daddy, and that some day I would see him again.
I still catch myself, when I am still enough to listen to the deeper desires of my heart, craving moments of remembrance of my Daddy, and eagerly clasping to memory any tidbits about him that people from his past may be able to share with me. And thankfully, my own mind clamped down firmly on all the memories I had of my times with him, out of a personal need for them and, I suspect, out of a nagging suspicion that someday, somehow, there would be a greater use for, outlet for, it all.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

why not dance?

Break dancing for Thanksgiving? I don’t see why not: I mean, we all must be thankful for the ability to dance, are we not?
It was not the first time I have attempted this variety of dance. It was, however, the first time I have done so in front of many people . . . I think it may have also been the first time I have unabashedly done it in front of adults [rather than just children, since the last time I remember busting a move was with my students, as a home schooling teacher].
And I know for a fact that it was the first time that it has been a part of my Thanksgiving celebration.
This morning, before my family gathering, a friend and I attended the community meal—this year a rather chilly affair, at the outdoor pavilion. There turned out to be a wonderful abundance of volunteer help, so all were well-fed and [hopefully] well entertained. I add that small clarification as I must admit to being a part of the entertainment:
My planned participation was simply vocal, chiming in with a few Thanksgiving-appropriate tribal songs I picked up in Zambia. But as I do when I sing, I had to dance a bit as I clapped; and I explained that one of the songs was much better when it included a chorus line of dancing vocalists.
So it seemed fitting that the next performing group was a quartet of break dancers. And I was simply one of several who, when given a good beat, simply cannot help but dance—especially when watching skilled folks who are already doing so . . .
And so we danced.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Sunday drive

The time I get to spend with the Burundi refugees is all too short lately. But I am grateful for the time I had, pre-job, for daily visits that built a foundation allowing for easier relationship building even when so limited in quantity. So as time passes, and we grow more comfortable with each other, it seems that this comfort lends itself towards more frequent moments of spontaneious laughter. This afternoon I drove them home from Church, now that they have been placed in local subsidized housing units. My poor little Pearl didn’t know what to think with four extra bodies piled into her . . . I don’t think I imagined the extra creaks and groans mixed in with her usual gear shifts and clutch adjustments. But she carried us safely—and happily—to their home. It being my first time there, I relied upon Petronie's unique brand of direction-giving: a mixture of wildly waving gestures and blurted orders of “Stop!” “Go!,” “Here!” and “No!” Considering it all, we managed the journey surprisingly smoothly.
Once parked in front of their apartment, as the rest of the crew bounded towards the door, the elderly Evode stopped and looked back at me in the car. He said something and then walked back to me. I expected him to give another goodbye handshake, as I have grown fondly accustomed to his hearty and repetitive greetings and goodbyes. But I realized he was saying something else, trying to tell me something specific. I was afraid something was wrong: were they locked out? But no: I saw that Faransine was already traipsing in the door, dancing as she sang the refrain from one of the day’s songs.
And besides, Evode was smiling awfully broadly as he gestured . . . I rolled my window down and listened as he beamingly gestured towards their apartment door. “Numba!” he said, pointing to the sign. “Numba!,” he repeated. Then it hit me. He was proud of his progress in the language, and was simply showing me his newest word: “Number.” I laughed and shook his hand “Goodbye” again.
The drive home was a happy one; I was energized by the vibrant love these friends so freely offer me. And I was honored that Evode—a man whom I suspect to be a deep well of experience and wisdom—was so set on sharing his small victory of learning with me before I left them for the day.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

facing a fear

It was odd to discover that I still cannot bring myself to look at a dead body. For as long as I can remember, I have had this fear—rather inexplicably considering my usually abnormal lack of fear in normal fear-provoking circumstances.
Losing out first resident—in my tenure on the job—I found myself deliberately avoiding a direct look at the frail body lying on the bed. Mr. C had died rather suddenly, having been vibrant up to this point. He was known as “the screamer” thanks to his habit of shouting at the top of his lungs [literally] even if you were standing within a foot of him. His deafness coming late in life, he had never quite grasped the reality of what his own hard of hearing meant: so he did what came naturally and spoke at an all-out shout: it’s actually a wonder he could maintain the roaring decibel level he seemed to consistently manage. So I had grown accustomed to bracing myself each time I approached him, prepared to be blasted by a bellow of a request to call his brother, or to get him a cup of coffee. But Mr. C’s apparent liveliness hid from many of us the truth that he was in the latter stages of prostate cancer; so his abrupt death was no surprise to his family.
When I entered the bedroom to discuss logistics with his case worker, it caught me off guard to feel my heart beat more rapidly and my breathing become shallow. I was instantly afraid: a sudden and illogical fear of looking at his dead body.
It’s not as if I have some scarring memory of seeing death in my past; I never saw my father’s body. And when my Opa died, his expression was utterly peaceful. He wore such a normal expression that Oma had even kissed him before realizing that he was gone.
But for all the funerals I can remember, I have tried desperately to avoid the viewing parade. Granted, I also find it a rather disturbing practice in general; but I can understand how some bereaved people find it comforting. I simply am afraid of seeing death face-to-face like that, so on the occasions when I could not slip unnoticed out of the viewing line, I simply averted my eyes discreetly so that I made every semblance of going along with the flow without actually looking . . .
I suppose it should come as no great surprise to realize that it is a strange thing to be faced with our fears in life.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Thursday, November 08, 2007

"drive" safely

1. Drive at a slow speed. Faster speeds are for outdoors only.
2. Always yield the right of way to pedestrians. Remember, neither of you know what the other is going to do.
3. Make eye contact with pedestrians and speak your intentions such as, “Passing on your left” or “Passing on your right.”
4. Keep a space cushion of at least three feet around you at all times.
5. Slow and stop sooner than you think necessary.
6. Back up only when absolutely necessary and always look behind you first.
7. Keep your hands, arms, and feet inside the chair when in motion.
8. Never try to crowd inside an elevator with others. Politely ask them to step out to allow you to enter safely, or wait for the next empty elevator.
9. Always wear your seat belt on ramps and outdoors.
10. Travel up and down on slopes, not sideways.
11. Avoid holes and drop-offs.
12. Never attempt to drive over any obstacles over 2 inches high.

Today I learned that driving a POV is a lot harder than you’d think—it also, coincidentally, is a whole lot of fun. I was quite bad at it, veering wildly in my efforts to steer. And I was worthless in the Obstacle Course, demolishing the walls of the pretend elevator, and knocking down all the cones. But all in all, it was definitely a successful afternoon of Motorized Driver Safety class. I think my personal lack of skill provided some amusement to the residents ☺
And in case you needed to know for future reference, I thought I’d provide the cardinal laws of driver safety—that is the list posted above. A couple other topics that came up were “keep your batteries charged” and “don’t drink and drive.” In fact, we were all seriously warned, a “motorist” was recently issued a DUI for wheelchair-operating under the influence!

Saturday, November 03, 2007

speaking of names

Due to the nature of my past work and life experiences, I am accustomed to being given nicknames. Some come as a result of memory lapses, some come from teasing, and some from sweet, and greatly appreciated, affection [this I can attribute to the loving side of children's inherent openness].
My most recent work has offered several new ones, some of which I know the root of and some I do not. All I enjoy . . . so far!
Here are a few of them, along with the best elaboration I can offer:

"Little Miss Africa" -- The first newsletter I distributed included I section in which I introduced myself as the "new face" around the facility. I also gave a shortlist of the places I had lived before now. In a low-income residential facility, deep in the Heartland, the mention of Zambia, Africa rather understandably stuck out to some of the residents . . . to those who are literate, mind you!
"Miss Bonjour" -- For a reason unbeknownst to me, one lady mistook my name for "Bonjour" when she was using the telephone in my office and needed to give the name of her social worker to the Department of Human Services. She asked me, a moment later, if that was how I said my name. I corrected her, but the actual pronounciation did not stick in her memory. Since then, each time she needs to say my name, she calls me "Miss Bonjour." This has become so natural to her that she simply does not think to question any more if it is indeed my name. What I find ironic about it all is that she has no way of knowing that French is one of the languages I know: the one I know best. So I figure it is a nickname I was destined to have :-)
"Tulip Toes" -- I haven't the slightest idea where this came from, but yesterday I arrived at work to find Jo waiting for me to arrive. And as I approached the office she smiled and waved from down the hall: "Well there she is--hey, Miss Tulip Toes!" I waved back, shrugged, and laughed to myself, figuring I would just leave that one be :-)

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

just another work day

As I vented about the day over dinner this evening, it occurred to me while speaking that my workplace sometimes feels surreal even to me. It is my real, every day life, and yet the daily reality of it is certainly beyond any daily-ness I have ever experienced before . . .
Since my last post a certain resident [about whom I have written, if you are a regular reader] has had a warrant put out for his arrest. So when I saw him the next day, I did my citizenly duty and called the police [mind you, the words I just used to describe the action do little to convey agitated, nerve-wracked state of mind I was in at the time].
The next day I arrived at the office and was relieved to discover that he was incarcerated. This news encouraged me greatly, as I assumed this would be the end of it, for a little while at least.
But today he was back, roaming the halls as usual; I was told that his mother had bailed him out.
Oh, and I got another call from the DA's office, requesting contact information for one of our residents. When I realized it was the individual's mother he was asking about, I assumed it pertained to our resident sex offender. But the officer knew nothing about that turns out he was calling about her: she is now being investigated for using a fraudulent check to post bail . . .

Thursday, October 25, 2007

all in a name

It is a delight to watch a five year old burst into peals of loud laughter at the image conjured up by the words of a fairy tale; it can also be an amusing surprise to see the source of that laughter. Carson's laughter last night over the rhymes of Dr. Seuss was easy to understand, but tonight it caught me a bit off guard. We had settled on the story of "Lazy Jack" from my Child's Book of fairy Tales, in which little Jack has a series of amusingly confused efforts to heed his mother's advice. Carson was understandably tickled at the idea of Jack carrying a donkey upside down on his shoulders. But he also literally rolled on the floor when I told how Jack had carried meat home from the butcher by dragging it behind him with a rope--now what Carson laughed so hard about, though, was not the image itself but the word used . . . for some reason, he found the word "mutton" to be the most hilarious thing he had apparently heard in quite some time!

Monday, October 22, 2007

job description, schmob description

Today I cut Miss Mary's hair. My intent in going up to her apartment was to have her fill out an application, as she was one of the residents with some mobility issues whom I knew would struggle to come down to sign up for the annual "commodities." When I got up there, however, she mentioned that she was bothered by the way her hair always fluttered into her eyes. She wanted to get it cut but wondered at the cost of having someone make a house call to do that: or at least that's what she replied when I asked if she wanted it cut.
So I said that I could actually do it for her, if she wanted, having spent my college years as a bit of a word-of-mouth hairdresser for all my housemates and friends. I started to feel guilty about offering to do something that I am technically not supposed to do [it falls under to social worker-speak term of "direct service" that I am meant to provide help acquiring but not do myself]. But then I thought more about it and realized I did not in fact feel it was wrong for me to do in this case. As it was, Mary had an immediate need that I could provide quite readily, in very little time. She is planning to move out soon, and as she is one of my favorite residents I am anxious to make the most of what time there is left. And frankly--more selfishly, as far as reasons go--there was nothing I would rather have done with a portion of this day.
It was one of those sweet moments in life when time slows to a blessed stand still. Combing the wisps of baby-fine hair as I knelt beside Mary, I marveled at her beauty, and told her as much. As I am always a bit nervous when I cut someone's hair, I was relieved to see that the result was quite lovely. And I was thrilled at her ready smile when I held up the hand mirror to show her the end result . . .
No, I definitely have no qualms about the non-working time I spent while at work today :-)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

lest i forget

I was growing increasingly frustrated today as I spoke with Miss Charlotte’s sister today. It began as what I assumed would be a straightforward conversation. After visiting Charlotte for a check-up last week, I had nearly keeled over as I walked in. Her apartment was filthy with a build-up of human waste and insects, and the odor completely overpowering. And she had no idea. She was even soiled herself, yet she spoke with me in a relatively coherent conversation, chattering on in a blissful oblivion to her surroundings.
As we have volunteer student nurses who come periodically, I made sure she had a visit the next day and I spoke with the nurses afterwards. They told me what I suspected they would: that she could not take care of herself any longer. Up to now, Miss Charlotte has been headstrong in her independence, so I was relieved to hear the report that she had also admitted to them that she knew she needed to move out of her own place . . . “It’s definitely time for her to go to a nursing home,” they concluded as the nurses left my office.
The first step in this move is to contact the family, so I made a few phone calls to her relatives and was referred to her main caretaker—her sister. Each day I had left a message for her, since that day, explaining the situation, telling her it was up to her now to make the decision, and asking for her to call me back. But I still had not heard from her today; I was thrilled, then, to hear her answer the phone this time.
My excitement promptly turned into frustration. She almost brushed me off immediately, saying she was tired today and would call me later. Not trusting a return call, and anxious to get something moving, I quickly explained to her my reason for calling [she had told me she did not check her messages so had not gotten any of my prior ones]. My assumption was that she would immediately realize the urgency of the situation and respond accordingly. Instead, she told me that nursing homes “didn’t take care of anyone,” and their food was awful. She said she’d just try to find someone who would come and help Charlotte in her apartment.
I tried to explain to her that the waiting list for in-home care was a year and a half long at this point, and that Charlotte was really needing more than that anyway. She repeated her feeling about nursing homes, citing her bad experience with one in particular, and rushed off the phone. Before she hung up, I convinced her to promise to call me back as soon as she heard back about the in-home care; she clearly was not going to consider a nursing home.

What was so distressing to me was that she was not truly concerned about the needs of her sister; all she cared about was her own idea about nursing homes. Had she had the financial resources to afford top-notch in-home care, that would be one thing. But this was a lady who occasionally came to visit her sister, and who had refused to help financially [when I called to tell her that her sister did not have a mattress—hers being soiled beyond use—she had told me she couldn’t afford one, and couldn’t do anything about it at the time. I had been left to scramble with a hunt at all the donation locations to try to locate a mattress by the time she was ready for bed that evening].
In short, I was left with the unmistakable impression that Miss Charlotte’s sister simply did not care enough to do what needed to be done.
The normal procedure in this case is to let the family make the decision, which means taking the individual to the hospital. The hospital then refers them to a nursing home, so that Medicare has the “official” word to cover the costs.
In this case, I need to decide how long to wait for Charlotte’s sister to respond. If she does not, I’m afraid I will need to have Adult Protective Services intervene, in lieu of Charlotte’s family. It is distressing to think of having the state do what the family should be doing for her. But the alternative is worse: the idea that no one cares enough to make sure that she is not left alone in her increasing senility and infirmity.
I left work today saddened at the lack of care that is so prevalent in this world. And then I reminded myself that I probably need to be faced with such blatant selfishness in order to take care to guard against my own such tendencies. I pray that I can spend a lifetime cultivating a heart that is willing to break over all that is heartbreaking in life as we know it.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

p diddy's got nothing on ms. b

Thank you, Hon--You just saved my butt . . . and you know it's a big butt!
She said it as if it were the most natural thing in the world to tell someone, and I guess I deserved it, having just followed her instructions to help her precarious position in her wheelchair: I braced myself behind her, grasped the elastic waistband of her pants, and hoisted her up to shift her into a better position. My coworker later berated me for attempting such a thing, as the last time she had done it, she had enlisted the aid of a male nurse. Ah well--it seemed to work alright this time!

Sunday, October 07, 2007

why not eat salsa with a fork?

Once church was over and my laundry finished today, I decided to squeeze in a late afternoon trip to the museum: I hadn't yet seen the temporary Moser exhibit and am always eager for the chance to take flash my membership card :-)
So while walking downtown I passed a man sitting outside, talking. He sounded just like any weekend leisurer until I realized he was not holding a cell phone [is that a sign of the times, that his lack of a cell phone rather than the fact that he was alone is what struck me as odd?]. I soon recognized him as one of our local not-quite-sane city dwellers, so it wasn't a terribly surprising sight as far as daily encounters go.
It was, however, an uplifting one. At the time I was rather weary of dealing with landlady issues, as my household is currently in transition. And I was extremely weary of the work issues, Friday being another day of experiencing the vibes of pure hatred I can do nothing about. I cannot tell the residents the truth of the situation, so for all they know, I am a meddling newbie who came in and started a wild rumor about that nice man who stays with his mother. He has now been told he has to leave the building and, if he has any questions, should direct them towards his parole officer . . .
But what I was going to say [when truth broke in with all her matter-of-fact about the ice storm] was that seeing this eccentric man today lifted my spirits unexpectedly. He sat there contentedly talking to his "friend," while sipping a corona and eating forkfuls of salsa from the jar.
So as I continued on my way I grinned at the refreshing thought that we all have a bit of a "crazy" in us. And, sometimes, I think it is the craziness that keeps us sane.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Feliz Dia, ANNA

HAppy birthday! I hope you had a great one- would love to see pics of the party...if you take some!! SO you;re working at a nursing home? How´s your readjustment been to life in the States?
Love susan

Monday, October 01, 2007

if you've ever wondered . . .

. . . what folks who spend their days working with the elderly do when they are gathered together for a nationwide conference: in this particular case, I can vouch for one group who holds serious health care, mental support, and caregiving sessions during the day. But by night, you can find us singing "everybody dance now," dancing with our heads while our bodies morph into digitally mastered dancing genii. Or at least that's what three of us did just now--and I have [safely held hostage] a video to prove it :-)

Thursday, September 27, 2007

in all seriousness

I am beginning to realize that sometimes, when life is full of too much harsh reality, the only way to stay sane is to keep a sense of humor. Oddly, it is now, in the midst of extreme stresses at work, that I am making time to laugh at the antics of the crazy dog I am caring for. Being of a rather serious nature, I initially thought that the combination of evils I'm confronted with each work day should make it somehow wrong to be able to laugh; but this is not the case. Life is full of all manner of experiences, and an overload of one does not preclude the presence of another. So today, emerging from a heart-racing day of confronting evil and discovering what it feels like to be someone's enemy, I come home and laugh heartily at this slobbery mutt as he eats, poops, and snores . . . more or less in that routine order.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

about those parts . . .

Arriving home from Church this afternoon I couldn't help but notice the way Dozer was gently, gingerly, lowering himself each time he sat down. So a few trains of thought later I was selecting my tools from the medicine cabinet.
I found what I was looking for: one infection ointment and one pain/itch cream. Dabbing a good-sized dollop of each onto two fingers I walked over to the seated bulldog as he watched me. Since he is not a particularly young, or agile, creature, I hoisted him up rather than wait to coax him. Then, thankful for his perplexed lack of reactive-ness, I smeared first the infection cream, then the pain cream, directly onto his afflicted rear.
It was, I can sincerely avow, the first time I have wiped a doggie's bottom.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

all 2000 of them . . .

I had to laugh. Tonight I came home to a mid-bathing extravaganza. I am house-sitting for a family whose secretary enjoys taking the bulldog on photographed adventures whenever they go out of town. So she had checked with me about doing one of her events again, and planned to start tomorrow. First, however, she asked how he smelled. I looked at Dozer as I talked to her and said, “Well, he reeks. So much so that I have taken to washing the furniture slipcovers neurotically, in a vain effort to rid the house of his odor.”
She replied that she suspected as much, and that she had noticed the last time she was here that he was in desperate need of a bath. So she asked if she could come tonight to bathe him before she does his “photo shoot” tomorrow. “Well, by all means!” I assured her, and added that we would all be happier for it.
So tonight she gave him a bath. And then realizing he still smelled, she gave him a double bath. Being somewhat of an expert in canine matters, she informed me afterwards that he had a bit of a sore on his backside that may be contributing to his odor. We looked around the house for some suitable ointment and, finding none, she said she would bring her own dogs’ cream when she came yesterday.
Butt cream, I thought.
Then I laughed out loud and asked if I could tell her why it was highly ironic that we were having this conversation:
One of the day’s crises involved a phone call from Ms. Melinda. As soon as I picked up the phone she began to tell me about the nurses who had just been up to see her [today was the day the volunteer nursing students come, so we had sent a couple of them up to take care of Melinda’s hygiene needs]. She began by telling me about this cream she had that was stolen. “The nurses stole your cream?” I interjected, perplexed for a moment. “Oh no, honey!” she exclaimed. But she said that she did in fact have some cream stolen from her a while back . . . she did not tell anyone about that, though—not until now, as she was telling me. But that’s not why she was calling me; she was calling to tell me how pleased she was with the nurses who had come today. See, they knew just what she needed, and they gave her some. And what was it that she was needing? What other than butt cream, as she proudly, and loudly, proclaimed.
I guess there is no shortage of needy body parts in the world . . .

Monday, September 17, 2007

no, this isn't spam mail

Having not had my usual internet access lately, my computer time has been too limited for me to do justice to the most recent work tales [though I have had no shortage of snippets to be mentally filed away in my to-write-about storage space].
But this is a tale about a tail that was passed along my another children's literature fan--and I do hope you agree with me that it is well worth the re-telling . . .
The father was on duty for the morning, taking his 4-year-old to preschool. He noticed the boy's attire and decided to make some clothing-related smalltalk. "You know, son, I like that Tigger t-shirt you have on today. Do you think you can jump as high as Tigger can?"
The boy looked at his dad and, after a moment of thoughtful quiet said "No, daddy--I don't think my penis is long enough."

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

qualified nuttiness

Just another day in the land of nutty old folks and nutty not-so-old ones. To illustrate, let me give you one snippet from the day:

Two gentlemen came this afternoon to tell me about the coming opening of a new Counseling Center for geriatric patients--it's the only area center of licensed counselors and therapists that will accept Medicaid and offer the type of services they provide, so they're trying to make folks like me aware of it, so we can refer our residents to them. At one point, one of them asked me how many people I could think of right off the bat who would qualify for psychiatric services, if assessed by a professional. A quick train of thought went something like this: Hmmm . . . we have about 158 residents at the moment. There are about 6 of us here who work directly with the residents . . . Then I responded out loud, “Well, I can think of about 164 off the top of my head who would most likely qualify for psychiatric services at the moment.”

Thursday, September 06, 2007

armed, and dangerous?

I didn't have to ask who she was when she interrupted my routinely official phone greeting with an insistent, "Honey, can you come up here for a minute." Wondering what the crisis of the day was, I grabbed my keys and headed up to the 11th floor. The door was cracked and she hollered for me to come on in when I knocked.
Miss B, do you know you left a note up on the door, saying you're changing and to come back in 30 minutes? "Oh yes, I know," she replied. "Soon as you leave, I will--so I wanted that note up now."
Oh, of course . . . so how are you today?
"I dropped Hospice," she began, as I sat down across from her at the dinette. "They just weren't any good. So I got me a real doctor. Her name's over there on the fridge. She has a nurse too but, shit, I can't remember that nurse's name . . ."
I started to get up to write down the Doctor's name but sat back down when she leaned over conspiratorily and said, "But that's not what I wanted to tell you today." She dropped her voice to a whisper. "Now I don't want you to tell anybody about this, but you need to know what's going on . . ."
I sat back in my chair and listened as she told me the "real story." It turns out Miss B has had a scare. She had someone break in her door last night. Well, not quite: they almost broke in . . . just loudly enough to wake her up. So she decided to take action. Next time, she'll be ready for the potential intruder . . .
She stopped her story and began rifling through her purse. "I got this a while back; when I got it he told me it was good forever. And not just in this state--it's good anywhere . . . there it is!"
And she handed me a certifiably official Georgia Firearm Licence, stamped with her name and thumbprint.
"Next time my Social Security check comes, I'm going to get me a gun. Not a big one--just a little one. So when he comes back, I'll be ready. It won't be loaded, mind you, but I'll keep the shells by my bed. So if he comes back, by the time he gets from the door to my bed, I'll be ready for him. Now I don't want to kill anybody--'Thou shalt not kill' . . . but I can make sure he crawls out of here if he tries to hurt me. I'll shoot him in the foot!"
As she said this she gestured to my feet, and I widened my eyes as I nodded with her.
She lowered her voice again and came closer to me. "I want you to know this, but I don't want you to tell anyone. You know how word gets around here. But if I die, I want you to destroy all my papers--and destroy my gun! I'm going to keep it in my pillowcase, so you'll know to look for it there."
Her day's task apparently completed, Miss B then wheeled away from the table and thanked me for being "so helpful" all the time.
"Alright honey--you have a good day. And just make sure you latch that door behind you as you go!"
Miss B's secret is safe with me--at least now that I have checked the building policies. The manager assured me that they were not allowed to look for contraband materials inside resident apartments, even if "heresay" suggested the existence of the same . . .

Friday, August 31, 2007

hoists . . . and heists?

You never know what a day will bring.
This particular day brought the occasion for me to display my brute strength--or at least my brute stupidity . . .
One of our more vocal residents wheeled herself into the office shouting that somebody needed to get Mr. Williams off the ground. Now it is common knowledge around the facility that Mr. Williams is not the most sober of gentlemen, so I immediately suspected the cause for his prone position, My suspician proved correct. In this case, he could have actually harmed himself badly, as he was outside on a concrete patio at the time. But when I peered over him, he returned my gaze in an encouragingly coherent manner, glassy eyes and tell-tale breath notwithstanding. Mr Williams?, I began, Are you ok? "Well . . . I guess so," was his reply. So, while a crowd of elderly men and women gathered around to comment on the daily state of Mr. Williams, I hoisted him back up onto the bench. A few more questions left me reasonably assured that he was unhurt, so I brought him some water and then returned inside. I had to laugh a bit later when the initial announcer of the situation came back to ask how Mr. Williams had gotten back up. I got him up, Miss June--he's fine now. "What?!?," she incredulously replied. "What about all the men out there?" They watched me, I told her, grinning.
Several hours later I was finishing up my distribution of the newsletter, walking down the hallway after exiting the stairwell. As I neared the office, I watched the almost comical scene of Mr. Williams' slow roll from the wooden bench onto the floor. I was almost next to him by that point, so I could see that he was conscious as he fell. And I'm afraid I must admit that I was not too concerned as I watched: my intitial reaction was a bemused thought of Oh, so that's how he did it the last time!.
Admittedly, this is NOT the way one should respond when watching an elderly gentleman fall--please do not take my admission as any sort of justification for my wrong response! But in this case, it turned out to be fine. He was still coherent--in an inebriated sort of way--and he let me hoist him back up again. While I did so, he apologized, saying he didn't know what was wrong with him today. A coworker had come over by that point, and she rolled her eyes as he said this. I have had significantly fewer dealings with Mr. Williams than she has had; consequently, I still have a significantly greater level of patience remaining. We'll see how long that lasts :-)

Saturday, August 25, 2007

taken for a ride

My job is getting to me . . . I think I’m falling in love with it ☺ Today I was laughing at myself, realizing that I was drawn to putting myself in a work-like role on my off day. Walking towards the downtown library, I heard a shouted, “Can’t nobody get no help around here?!?” As I came closer, I realized she was talking to me, though she peered in all directions around as she talked. I stopped and listened to her for a while, finally interrupting to figure out exactly what it was she was asking for. It turned out to be $4, “for gas,” as she had run out on her way to her grandmother’s house, from Ohio. She only had an account at a northern bank, so couldn’t get money here, and “nobody would help” her . . .
I offered her my phone, then continued to dial the number she had called after she hung up, saying her uncle wasn’t answering. After some inner debate, I decided to offer to take her somewhere if she needed a ride to her uncle’s house. I told her I was going into the library and if she still needed a ride when I came back out in 30 minutes, I’d take her where she needed to go.
Now I should clarify that I had, by this point, already called my grandfather and been assured that this was a typical con story. My decision turned out to be a decently wise one, as she disappeared without taking me up on the ride. But it had me thinking as I continued from there on to the museum.
You see, Monday I will continue a project I began Friday afternoon at work. This particular project involves coaching a woman through her parole requirements to help her fulfill her requirements. I am being very careful to only help in her the ways I am authorized, abiding by the rules of her parole officer. But I do find myself very drawn into the whole situation: externally I am professional in my dealings with her, while internally I am convinced that she is sincere in her desire to do right from now on. As a result, I am adamant about doing everything in my power to help her as much as I can.
Is it possible that I am wrong in my assessment of her intentions? Certainly. I can only pray that I have the strength to do my job—every day—with cases like this. The strength to do what I can without being heartbroken when, as will inevitably happen, I am disappointed by the outcome or mistaken in my judgment concerning another’s heart . . .

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

at the end of the day

I spent the entire hour of running errands and driving home this evening trying to force myself to “let go” of work. My heart was racing still from the stress of trying to deal with this particular situation and my mind was racing with possible scenarios that I worried he might encounter on his own for the rest of the evening.
This elderly gentleman came to me today asking for his caregiver. He needed help but could not remember anything that would help me find out what he needed. His repeated apology was, “I’m just so confused . . . today I’m very confused . . .” Not having names or numbers, it was truly a wild goose chase to try to figure out what his medical situation was, who could help care for him, and what medications he needed at that time.
At the end of the day, my quest was successful: his caregiver was located, immediate needs met, and I finally ushered him back to his room, promising to return tomorrow. He apologized once more for his confusion, and replied that he was fine as I asked again if he was going to be ok.
I thought I had successfully let go for the evening until I was telling my mother about it on the phone just now. As I explained the situation, my emotions flared up again and I found myself suddenly on the verge of tears . . . I suppose it is a good sign when I am anxious to get to work tomorrow ☺

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

what i'm reading

As is my tendency, I am in the middle of a string of books by my current author-of-choice: Sue Monk Kidd. Beginning with The Secret Life of Bees, I moved next to The Mermaid Chair, and am now nearing the end of The Dance of the Dissident Daughter. Another of her nonfiction works is next on my list, as I placed a hold on it and am awaiting its arrival for me at the public library. I find her writing style to be understatedly captivating, so zip effortlessly through each of her works. What is gripping me the most about her works, both the novels and the nonfiction, though, is her brutal honesty about the walk [and sometimes, more accurately, the grueling climb] of faith. She is unflinching in her portrayal of what it means to be a "normal" American woman who is in the midst of a not-so-normal inner battle over what it means to be true to your faith, to yourself, to your family, and to your God.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

a matter of perspective

This snippet ought to illustrate rather well the nature of my beloved new workplace. It may also demonstrate my reasons for being so smitten with the people and stories I am getting to encounter 5 days a week . . .

One of our residents [a former resident, I should add, for reasons that will soon be self-evident] found a young man who was willing to, er . . . run some errands for her. She provided him with the funds to make the purchases, instructed him as to where to go, and waited for his return. Once she had waited longer than she deemed fit, she wandered the neighborhood to ask if anyone had seen this gentleman and had insight as to why he had not returned. Sure enough, she found someone who recognized her description and who informed her that he seemed to have been delinquent in the work he had been hired to do.
Indignant, she promptly returned to her apartment and called the police to report the transgression. Though there was nothing they were able to do about the man in question, the police dutifully came . . . to arrest the woman who had made the call. You see, she had called to report to them that this young thief had run off with her money, leaving her without the drugs she had sent for. As she was arrested, she reiterated her disgust at the state of youngsters these days: you just can't count on youth to be reliable these days

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

smoking elders

The majority of my afternoon was spent with a chain-smoking elderly women who had me held happily hostage to her Medicare tales of woe. As a result, I am left chuckling at this quote, though I know nothing about its background. Please feel free to enlighten me if I have any readers out there who know more than I do about his reasoning for writing such an intriguing little smippet:

"Everybody welcome-especially elders who smoke."
Jacob de Jager (1923 - )

Sunday, August 12, 2007

so i'm told

"Anna: Your Photo, 'Dropped One,' Will Be Published. Congratulations for your publication"

hmmm . . . don't know if I believe it, but I must say I'm flattered by the idea. Perhaps it does some good to post photos on a photography website after all.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

the clan

A conversation with my little brother just now has made me photo-hungry for family. So just for fun I am posting this one: Mom and I were playing around with my Mac while out running errands. Returning home, I showed our photo booth shots to the boy, at which point Alex teased us for looking like a "girl band." The boys and I then decided to play off on that theme and make our best "boy/girl band" faces. This is the end result of the combination of the the two . . . the J**jan Clan Band? :-)

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

the daily grind

It is a strange pleasure, an exquisite ordinary-ness, to have a “normal” day job. The simple routine of going into the office each day, of earning a small but consistent paycheck, of having an office . . . it is all so much more than just a simple joy. I am finding the greatest of pleasures in the most unexpected places, in activities I used to regard as utterly, undesirably humdrum: organizing my rolodex, filing paperwork in its proper alphabetical order, signing and dating paperwork.
But the greatest pleasure is that of listening to the residents. I get to have the “job” of letting them tell me their stories. “How did you get the first name “Lloyd?” I asked Miss Marguerite. Once I had shouted loudly enough into her ear for my voice to be audible [to her 92-year-old ears that don't work quite so well anymore], her face lit up with a wide grin, Well, my Daddy named me. See his first sweetheart was named Marguerite Lloyd. So when my Mama had me, he decided to name me after her—I guess he figured if he switched the name around my Mama wouldn’t get a bee in her bonnet about it. So here I am now: Lloyd Marguerite!

Friday, August 03, 2007

sikisa hapa

I was struck today by the difficulties of working with the Burundi refugees . . . the newness is wearing off a bit—the “honeymoon” period, if you will. So now I am getting more concerned about the hugeness of the task of teaching them—and the hugeness of the problems they will face in general as they try to acclimate to life here. There is so much that needs to be done before they can live independently and I worry about the logistics of it all. How will the children get registered in school in a couple of weeks now? Who will help them with all the practical matters entailed in moving into their temporary government housing? How will the children get used to school life here when they don’t even understand English yet? . . .
My head starts to spin just trying to figure out what needs to be done, never mind figuring out how to do it! But of course it is not up to me. And Lord knows we would be in a sorry state if it were! Thankfully there are people much more suited to figuring out logistics and, well, just “taking care of business,” than I will ever be!
Anyhow, telling of the past few days of lessons are the phrases that have become my most useful Swahili words of late: Wacha hio, Sikisa hapa, and Hapana. Loosely translated, that would be “Don’t touch that,” [for when they get overly zealous about starting the tape player again that we use for ngoma, or “drum and dance”], “Listen to me!” [this one needs no explanation, I expect], and “No” [i.e. no, don’t climb in my car and lay on the horn today—that was a rather noisy ordeal yesterday!].
So we stumble along each day. We figure things out as we go, making plenty of mistakes, laughing at mistaken translations, getting frustrated when we can’t understand each other . . . and, by grace, perhaps we make some learning progress along the way.

Monday, July 30, 2007

jambo sana

There was no place I would have rather been than singing and dancing around a vacant church building this afternoon with a small crowd of African children and grown-ups. It was an odd transition to make from the morning job interview; but it was with gusto that I shed my professional attire, gathered my Swahili books and tapes, and headed to the church to bid my friends “Jambo!”
This made the 4th day I have spent as an informal English teacher for one family group out of the Burundi refugees recently placed in this city. The "lessons" are quite impromptu, considering the language barrier, but I'm happy to see that Swahili comes more easily to me than I expected--and, no doubt due to their extreme immersion, the family is learning quickly. So far I'm relying on picture books and cassettes I found at the library, so our days are consisting of attempts at conversation, repeated phrases, words, & numbers, and, of course, singing and dancing.
It was perhaps presumptuous of me to find out where they were staying, show up, and simply start spending each day with them . . . but I could not help myself ☺ The discovery that African refugees had just arrived when I was returning brought to the surface all my emotions and culture shock from the return; it made me realize that even though I was ready to return, and am glad to be home, I did leave a piece of my heart in Africa. And that has left me with a heart for the African people.
I would like to think I have something great to offer, some grand way to help. The truth is, however, that I have been in a rather needy place in life lately, left with no choice but to rely on my dear friends and family for practical support.
But I want to trust that God can use the little I have in the way of time, and a heart, to make some sort of a difference in the lives of those with whom my own life circle intersects.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

chicken little

I had what I deemed to be a highly ironic return to the country. For those of you who have followed my blog at all over the past little while, you will know that I spent the last 6 months getting used to cold showers. So in the back of my mind, as I flew, bussed, and drove back to the U.S., was the happy thought that I was returning to the ease of warm showers . . .
Well, arriving late at night, I did a bit of perfunctory unpacking and then promptly went to bed, sleeping soundly. The next morning I awoke to discover that my water heater had burst, flooding the attic [yes, unfortunately, the water heater is unwisely located in the attic], and causing the ceiling to collapse under the weight of the soggy floods.
Needless to say, I did not have a hot shower that morning. Or the next. Or the next.
But now, after a week of calls to roof repairmen, electricians, plumbers, and insurance adjusters—and of course, my ever-available superman and superwoman grandparents—all is well.
I have purchased a fine new water heater that sits proudly in its new home in the basement, the ceiling is looking more lovely than it has in 20 years, and we all are enjoying wonderfully hot showers!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

god be with you

I never knew I was capable of such great emotion in a simple goodbye. In the past, goodbyes have been rather cold affairs, dreaded because of what I thought I should feel instead of what I actually did. But this time the dam broke. What I expected to be a routine round of kusse [dutch for "kisses"] and hugs became an unstoppable flow of tears springing up from some hidden geyser of grief. Every time I looked into Annie’s eyes and tried to tell her how lovely, how precious she was, I ended up instead blubbering incoherently through my mess of tears and sniffles.
Annie was my dear friend, my lifeline of a caring friend, for the past six months. She and I spent our days caring for the children together, then I ritually walked her back to the compound each afternoon, recapping the day and laughing about the girls' antics or bemoaning their naughtinesses.. On weekends I clung to her, following her around like a homeless puppy dog on the days when she was on duty and I was off. And on the rare days when we both had free time, we sat in her little hut chatting, walked through the compound visiting, and sometimes took the bus to nearby towns for a change of scenery and the chance for her to buy maize, kapente, and other staples. Annie was my dear friend.
And what hurts so intensely is the knowledge that she most likely will never have the chance to pursue her dreams, to explore the world. as she so longs to do. She has never been given the privilege of enough schooling to learn how to read. She has never been able to travel outside the borders of her home country.
I cannot help but ask that almost cliché question of why some in the world have opportunities that others never do. Yet I suspect that this question cannot be answered—not this side of heaven, at least. What I do know is that Annie is every bit as talented, as capable, as charming, as the most accomplished of modern young women. And what I must trust is that she is where she is, with the opportunities she has and does not have for a greater purpose than what we mortals can see in the here and now.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Saturday, July 14, 2007

fred's finicky dining

Fred paid one of his regular visits to the lodge, and I spent about 30 minutes mesmerized by his munchings. It is amazing to watch the way elephants know to pick the grass and then sweep the bunch back and forth against the ground to clean off the dirt before he enjoys his meal.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

It seemed to me that I should somehow commemorate the moment when I had the strange realization that it did not faze me to be showering with a warthog. This morning as I walked to the bathhouse, Herco warned me that Poomba was in there and showed no signs of leaving. I replied that I was used to it and proceeded to turn on the shower. At the moment, Poomba had actually followed Herco out, so I latched the door as I entered [a door that was actually raised to prevent the warthogs from coming in] and explained to Herco that I was going to pretend that she actually was prevented by the latch on the door. A few minutes later, I heard the familiar sounds of her grunts as she shoved against the door and then backed up to jump over it. She then shoved her nose through my shower curtain to presumably reassure herself that I was within sight. Seeing that I was, she proceeded to gnaw on the loo door, promptly chewing a hole in yet another door. Destroying on, she proceeded to the second. By this point I was finished with my shower so, as I toweled off, she peered once more into the stall and then, as I walked out of the bathhouse, she followed me. Her shower company gone, she went off to find another companion for the remainder of the morning.
What I mused over after finishing my morning routine was that the fact that it included the company of a warthog has become so commonplace that it does not even delay me anymore. No doubt I will miss her company once I am once more left with lone showers.

Monday, July 02, 2007

setting the baobab

Walking home late from the schoolhouse one night last week, I was stunned by the beauty of the sun setting behind my favorite Baobab. But alas, I was camera-less. So this weekend I snagged the time to chase the sunset to the same spot, this time armed with my camera.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

pampered in prague

Who would have thought that a “Congratulations—you have won!” email, flagged as questionable, would actually have a valid reason to be in my inbox? I most certainly did not. It was only out of amusement that I decided to read this one as I went through my daily deletions of inbox clean-up. Amusement turned to incredulous curiosity when I realized that I was oddly familiar with the contest this email was referring to. And so it happened that two months later I was bound for Prague, straight out of the African Bush.
For someone accustomed to mosquito nets and Tsetse flies, candlelight and cold showers, giant centipedes in my schoolhouse and warthogs in my bathhouse . . . I was in for a bit of culture shock, to say the least. It was with wide eyes and a gaping mouth that I settled into our Five-Star hotel—one of “The Leading Small Hotels of the World”—with its bed piled high with feather pillows and its table laden with fresh fruits and chocolates.
Once I had made a valiant effort at scrubbing the dirt from my body and smoothing the wrinkles out of my chitenge [Zambian dress], we headed to the set. Oddly enough, here on the set of the film, I felt strangely at home. You see, the brilliantly created magical world of Narnia was sort of like just another beautiful dream world for my safari-accustomed eyes. It is an amazing thing to enter this set and be instantly whisked away into a land of talking trees and centaurs—but I guess you’ll just have to take my word for it, won’t you? ☺
So began my four-day adventure in Prague: a whirlwind of soaking in the sights of this stunning city, hobnobbing with hobbits, prattling with Princes, and returning each evening to be catered to, and spoiled rotten, in the lap of luxury.
It was, like I said, a whirlwind of experiences packed into too short of a time frame. Consequently, there was no way I could have gotten any sort of full sense of the place. I did, however, feel like my experience was complete, thanks to my last day of sightseeing.
On this day, I had a moment of absolute awe, in which I said to myself, Now I feel like I can leave this place in peace. In a sense, my traveler’s sensibilities were soaked to saturation point thanks to my visit to the cathedral of the Prague castle.
This visit came at the end of a day in which I had seen enough sights to start to be tired of sight-seeing; granted, I should admit that I have a rather low tolerance for tourist attractions, so my sense of “enough” is decidedly lower than most people’s, I believe. At any rate, it was in this state of mind that I entered the cathedral. And then I stopped, stunned, gazing up and around me with an instant teary-eyed reaction to the beauty. I can no more describe it to you than I suspect an angel could describe Heaven to a mortal. Suffice it to say, it is a magnificently glorious construction.
The next day I departed from Prague, saddened to leave and not quite ready to return to “real life.” But I was satisfied, filled up by the experience, and inwardly richer thanks to the time.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Kimba's romantic side

Kimba got to go to Prague. He of course could not travel to such a romantic city alone, so he took his girlfriend . . . yes, Kimba has met someone while here in Zambia. Her name is Reginia and she is, as you can see, quite a lovely companion for Kimba. At any rate, in order to celebrate their arrival, the two decided to take a ride on the luggage carousel--perhaps not the most exciting of rides, but it turned out to be a fine way to inaugerate the trip.

Sunday, June 24, 2007


A week of traveling days has given me a humbling awareness of my reliance upon the people and things that fill my basic human needs. The first portion of my travels was a time of great luxury, excitement, and good companionship--more updates on that will come soon, I promise!
But at the moment it is the second portion of my travels that is prominent in my mind . . . A few days of loneliness, extreme cold, inadequate funds, and missing baggage have given me a renewed gratitude for simple comforts, even those here at the safari lodge that I never would have thought of as "comforts" till now.
I'm growing weary of life being so difficult--and I think I'm ready to come home. When traveling here in Zambia, I am just floored by how hard it is to get by, from transport to supplies to funds. And winter right now is brutal, especially in Lusaka--so lodging in a little cottage with my hot water bottle in my missing bag was quite brutal. It is so humbling to be alone, without means, and without even a way to simply get warm.
But I made it, and a trip to the airport this morning left me giddily relieved with a successful retrieval of my bag. So here I am, "home" again for now--and for perhaps the first time in months truly looking forward to being home.

Monday, June 11, 2007

if i had a hammer

Lately I have taken to loitering around the workshop in my free time, after discovering that one shop artist allows me to "help" occasionally. After watching him at work one day, I asked if I could staple one of the stool cushions together as well. He entrusted me with his tools, and a few minutes later I proudly displayed the finished product. Then I asked if I could mark it on the underside so that I could find "my" stool later on--he again obliged and, sure enough, the next day I went around peering underneath bar stools until I found my initials.
So for my most recent loitering, the project in progress was chairs instead of stools. This time my work involved hammer and nail more than the staple gun but, once again, I was able to proudly claim a finished product. Here is a shot of the underside of "my" chair, not yet out in public view. Note the faint "AGJ" in the bottom right corner.
I must say, I did enjoy surprising various workmen and safari guides as they came to look for Harrison and found me instead [he actually trusted me enough to leave me with the work!], happily hammering away . . .

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

sentry of the day

So this is no award-winning photo, admittedly--but I believe my choice of safety over photographic brilliance was probably a wise one. This fellow decided to camp out at my place for the afternoon, preventing me from getting back inside for some time, after my work day was done. I figured I was not about to try to battle or berate this guy, and opted instead to capture his rear end for, er, posterity? ;-)

Saturday, June 02, 2007

dreaming practically

Having been intrigued by dream psychology for some time now, I have read various dream books over the years. For the most part, they seem to agree on rather complicated explanations. Or, if not complicated, you can at any rate assume that what happens in a dream is not supposed to relate too closely to the real-life correlation.
I think, however, that my dream the other night pretty much means exactly what it seems: I dreamt that I was able to wash my hair, and in my dream I reveled in the extravagance of such a luxury. For several weeks now, I have grown increasingly aggravated by my itchy scalp. Not so aggravatted, mind you, that I was willing to extend my icy shower for the amount of time necessary for more than a quick hopping-in-and-out-while-distracting-myself-by-making-odd-noises. So my hair has persisted in its unwashed state. My dream convinced me, however. So this morning, upon the occasion of:
1. enough firewood for relatively hot water
2. a Saturday morning with extra time
. . . I washed my hair.
And it was glorious!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

traveling Kimba

Thanks to a family trip, Kimba got to go to South Africa. Unfortunately, however, the silly lion forgot his camera--so I shall have to rely on his travel souvenirs in order to show you that he had a lovely time in Johannesburg and in Durban!

Saturday, May 26, 2007

what one can do

I was vaguely aware of the voices from the TV in the background, engrossed in my book while friends plaited hair and commented periodically on the antics of the Lusaka network series’ characters. But then, after a few minutes of the next program, I suddenly realized what I was hearing and I was drawn to the set with a sort of disturbed fascination. It was simply an animated show for children, I thought—until the child on the screen sadly mused, “ . . . I used to have a mama and papa, and an auntie and uncle, and many relations here in the village. I heard the neighbors whispering about AIDS . . . I am lonely—and so hungry . . .”
When I asked my friends about the show, they said, with a sort of matter-of-fact indifference, that is was an educational program, teaching Zambians about the spread of HIV and about how they must not be afraid of, or discriminate against, those with the disease.
It strikes me that the problem with this approach may be that, while the disease is indeed everywhere, those who are ill either do not know it or will not admit it—to anyone. I think of a man whose employers found him immobile in his hut when they went to see why he had been missing from work. Taking him to be tested for HIV, they found their suspicions correct, and so they signed him up for the Antiretroviral Therapy, free thanks to internationally funded relief programs. He is now doing well, a year later, working and apparently healthy—but to this day he refuses to tell his own wife that he is infected. Talking with some missionary friends recently in Ndola, they confirmed that they too knew of many such instances.
Here in Zambia there is a strong cultural taboo against the disease—a taboo which is combined with a resigned acceptance of promiscuity that comes in the form of affairs, multiple wives, and the like—clearly, a deadly combination. And a hugely daunting problem, in the grand scheme of things.
So when I start to think about it, I worry, and I wonder what can be done. But frankly, I haven’t the slightest clue how to begin in this realm: this sort of relief and development work is way out of my teacher/librarian/writer league. Beyond that, I am increasingly aware, as the years go by, of my limitations [though I spent my early years fearlessly assuming I could do anything and everything]; I am simply not one to do great things, in terms of accomplishments.
What then, can I do? Perhaps all I am meant to do is build up those around me. In some small measure, if I can encourage and empower the people in my sphere of influence, I may be able to influence in some way, when it would be pointless [and perhaps detrimental] to try to change behaviors and cultures. This, I suspect, is why I was struck by the urge to make a small gift to a friend in the village. It was a photo of a stunning West African woman, staring frankly into the camera, with a caption that read “I am powerful.” I made a simple matting and a frame for the photo, and took it to her, explaining that it made me think of her when I saw the beauty and strength of this woman’s face. My friend cannot even read the words herself, but my hope is that in small way this reminder that now hangs by her bed can keep her mindful of the inherent, God-given worth that she must never compromise for the sake of empty words and human frailties.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

dancing direct objects

this post is slightly outdated now, as I've been traveling and without internet for the past week: lusaka, ndola, and lusaka again at the moment . . . but here is is, outdatedness and all :-)
At dinner the other night I asked Eva if she had told Mom and Dad about her goofy direct object lesson that day. When she said she hadn’t, I asked why not, to which this sensitive youngster replied that she didn’t want to make fun of her teacher. My encouragement did not seem to persuade her so I finally informed her that I would then make fun of her teacher . . .
You see, we happened upon a rather unusual, but quite effective, method for learning the difficult lesson of how to identify the direct object of a sentence. As we wrestled that day with how to distinguish between nouns and predicates, subject nouns and common nouns, and, of course, direct objects, I had a bit of a teacher’s “Aha!” moment.
As I began to explain how to decipher the direct object, I discovered a little trick: a simple way to locate it is to read the sentence once and then reread it, eliminating the end and replacing it with the question “what?” For instance, “My dog ate a large bone. My dog ate a large what? A bone!” And so you have discovered the direct object—“bone,” in this case.
I believe this is a relatively standard method for teaching direct objects. What I realized that day, however, is that when you start going through a series of sentences, a bit of a rhythm develops. So as I illustrated this method, I began to lapse into a rhythm, which morphed into a bit of a rap, which led to the obvious next step of dancing as I rapped. When I recovered from the losing-myself-in-the-moment syndrome and glanced at my pupil, I found her wide-eyed with delight. So I continued. She quickly caught on when I paused after the sentences to allow her to insert the “what” of the direct objects. And so we rapped through a page of her work.
Until one of her answers made me stop—I realized she had given an incorrect reply, so I stopped to correct her. And stopping the rhythm of course interrupted the routine. When Eva commented that I had stopped dancing, I replied that her goal was “to keep teacher dancing.” By this point, both girls were getting into the game, and we laughed our way through the entire lesson for Eva’s English that day. In the process, I believe we also managed to give Ellen a head start, as I suspect she will remember our little trick once she reaches the same point in her grammar lessons.
Sometimes it behooves a teacher to be willing to be a bit of a goofball.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

who's hanging out by your pool?

Giving a new perspective on fear of wearing a bathing suit in public . . .

Thursday, May 10, 2007

. . . a sight so lovely as a tree

Another favorite Baobab of mine, along the vein of my previous "sight so lovely" post.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

the post i almost didn't post, and may still decide to un-post . . .

This week has thrown my people-pleasing, affirmation-driven self for a loop. I pray that the worst of it is over, and can’t quite see how it could be any more difficult. But it has no doubt been a good growing experience.
I have been forced to realize that sometimes one just has to grow up and take the crud as it comes. In the middle of a barrage of unexpected, unwelcome stresses, sometimes you just have to step forward, one baby step at a time, and pray for the strength to get through it.
I think on some level I have been holding on to a notion that I can make my life work out at least somewhat the way I want it to. Perhaps that comes from being forced out of childhood too early, and so being a bit of a control freak ever since: an intense upheaval at a crucial age in childhood has maybe created a need to feel that things can’t get too out of hand, or too crazy, ever again.
But you can’t really count on that, huh? And I am realizing new levels of an inner ability to keep moving when all my senses tell me that I have no tangible support to grab onto any longer.
So here I am. Moving forward. I don’t necessarily know why, or towards what, but I push on. Realizing that sometimes you just have to be a big girl and remind yourself who you are, even if no one cares. Pressing ahead in doing what I know to be right, loving those I know my job it is to love, and patiently waiting out this dark time. Waiting for a light at the end of the tunnel. Believing beyond hope that God still works miracles. That He, if no one else seems to, really cares about me. That He really is making something worthwhile out of my life.

Monday, April 30, 2007

on the 30th . . .

. . . Alexander Thomas was born!!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

the perfect pod

These unique pods fall from great trees all over this area. And if we can snag them before the monkeys do, the colorful seeds are ready for all manner of artistic uses. This particular one was found by Eva, and she was kind enough to donate it to teacher :-)

Sunday, April 22, 2007

roses & a razor

I fear I may not be a very good ascetic. Ok—so I know I’m not a good ascetic. And I fear this may also seem rather unspiritual; but the fact of the matter is that God’s grace manifest itself to me in the form of roses & a razor, Indian food & ice cream.
I should probably explain why exactly it feels unspiritual for me to feel this way: the reason I was able to experience such luxuries is that I was passing through the bustling metropolis of Lusaka en route to a “Spiritual Life” missions conference. So my tears of gratitude came more intensely from the outing offered by a generous friend than from the speakers & studies of the conference itself.
That said, the conference was certainly not without enrichment—not in the slightest. But it was the old connections that I benefited most greatly from, since I am not an official member of this missions crew. I was invited to the conference thanks to old family ties. Or, as I was introduced when I arrived, I am a “former missionary kid.” At which point a voice piped in from the audience: “So at what time of life exactly does one cease to be a missionary kid?” The dissenter was answered with a sharp glance of un/-amusement, but a few chuckles were heard shortly thereafter when another member was introduced simply as a “missionary kid.” [Later I asked him how he had earned his lifelong membership in the club].
The conference was full of people eager to share memories they had of my parents & siblings; I, in turn, was eager to listen. It was also filled with sweet times of communion with people my bush-isolated self was unaware I was hungry for.
As for those roses . . . a friend took me to an unusual spot in Lusaka, a small corner to “home” for those of us accustomed to such aesthetic delights as gardens. In the midst of heat, dust, and a city focused on survival, this was a stunningly beautiful rose garden and park. I stood there for a while, stunned at the sight; then I proceeded to walk around, smelling all the roses. What I am guessing is that Zambia is a perfect rose-growing climate, and so when someone makes the effort to grow them, the results tend to be brilliant blooms in vibrant hues. For me, this discovery was intensely moving: a simple discovery that yielded a most immense delight.
And the razor? Well, for approximately 2 months now I have been using a half of a razor, the other half disappearing into the belly of a warthog. And this was the first time since then that I have been able to get to a store in which to purchase such extravagances.
Indian food and ice cream I will assume to be self-explanatory as far as pleasures go. And so concluded the happy week and a half of adventures of a bush resident in the big city :-)

Saturday, April 21, 2007


What--you don't know what this is? Why it is, of course, Peter's tail. Or that is what I decided when I discovered it, in the form of 2 bushes right outside my bedroom window. Perhaps more officially, this is known as a cotton plant--here pictured in the 3 phases I used it as: the seed pod, the opening of it, and the fully opened one. I saw Peter's Cottontail, as it was right before Easter weekend that I found them, and I was at the time brainstorming for children's activities. For the bustling family weekend here, I was manning the children's activity room, and these lovely pods proved to be perfect for turning an average drawing of a bunny into each child's exciting 3D masterpiece.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

where lions sleep

It is a sound unlike any I have ever heard before, and a sound impossible to describe with the written word. But once you have heard it, you can never forget it. So my sleep has been sweet, lulled into slumber each night to the soft and steady hum of the lions.
It has been the week of the lions. A small pride of females moved into the camp—no one knows why, as it is unusual for them to choose such a relatively inhabited spot, humanly speaking, for their hunting grounds. But they are most definitely here. And our daily life has been significantly disrupted.
I first realized how much so when a vehicle arrived early Monday to pick us up from school. The driver explained that the lions were right there behind the school, and so it was not safe for us to take our usual 5-minute walk back for lunch break.
For the remainder of that afternoon, we heard consistently intermittent reminders that one large cat was lounging right behind us. She was just hidden enough by the grasses for us to not be able to get a good look, but tauntingly close enough that each rustle in the grasses left us with almost-glimpses.
The next disruption occurred when the subject of my morning runs came up among staff. While I had asked about running before I came, it has ended up being debated off and on, as local folks notice my habitual roaming of the grounds.
It was with trepidation that I awaited the outcome of these deliberations—being an utter addict, if I were to be cut off from my run, I would be a lost soul indeed. Ultimately, to my great relief, it was decided that I could keep my routine, on one condition: I can no longer run with headphones.
So I am, for the first time in about 10 years now of running, getting used to what I call my “silent runs.” It’s been actually quite a nice realization to find that I can adapt to hearing only the sound of my own feet and breath. No doubt when I am once again living in an area where I can run with my iPod, I will welcome its return, but for now, I am happy without.
And so we have come through what I will remember as the week of the lions.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

after the rain

Before the rain began this afternoon, Eva announced that there would be a rainbow today . . . I was thrilled to see that she was right :-)

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Kimba's first prey

Inspired by the recent lion activity we have had around here, Kimba decides to try stalking his first prey. He is clearly still honing his skills, however--this Impala saw Kimba perched on the fencepost and promptly resumed his calm grazing, brazenly flashing his lovely striped behind as if to taunt poor Kimba . . .

Friday, March 30, 2007

the week's end

It has been a busy week. A good week, as far as the sum total goes . . . but an eventful week, for sure. The week of the lions. I hope to elaborate more on this when I snatch a few writing minutes this weekend. But for now, the occasion of seeing the sunset [recent days have prevented even this], more than merits its own post, I believe. You can be the judge, but I suspect that this shot will make up for my lack of posts this week . . .

Sunday, March 25, 2007

signing hands

It was a moment that froze itself in my memory—a still frame of sorts, marked in its exquisitely ordinary coming about.
The sun was blazing, but nearing its late afternoon waning point, as I walked to the neighboring compound. My intention was to meet up with Purity on the way, as I knew she was planning to attend my Women’s Study that evening.
Getting to the village itself, I instead began to search for her home, not knowing yet which was her house. I did know, however, that my three pupils had come to the village with her, for a Sunday afternoon visit; this knowledge made me suspect that it would not be terribly difficult to find them. My suspicion was correct.
Spotting a small congregation of brown heads, I shielded my eyes to get a better look; then I smiled to myself as I headed towards the telltale crowd of curious children. Sure enough, I soon also spotted three very blond heads in their midst.
But then I realized what was happening, and I was stopped short in pleasant amazement: There stood my nine-year-old young charge patiently teaching “Into My Heart,” in sign language, to all the village children. These youngsters, from two years of age on up to twelve, were all painstakingly copying her motions and repeating each word she dictated.
Catching sight of me then, Eva summoned me over to help [though I was thrilled to notice that she knew it perfectly, after only 2 days of us working on it during our school day lessons!]. She wanted me to sing it, being too shy herself to sing out loud for them all. So I sang and signed, to a chorus of heavily accented echoes, as the sun set over the river behind us.
From the mouths of babes . . .
Strange how the most memorable moments of learning, in my life, have often come about outside of [and perhaps in spite of] all my school day plannings and lesson preparations.