Sunday, February 7, 2016

When I Feel Helpless

The morning after Christmas we all slept in, exhausted. Not wanting to welcome in Christmas visitors while we were still half-asleep, I kept our door and gate closed and locked. Mid-morning, though, I heard someone calling and peeked out a window to see a woman at the gate that I didn't recognize. That's not unusual, though. I've met a ton of people since arriving here and they all remember me because I am one of two young Caucasian women in this entire state, and no one forgets me even if they barely met me. I, on the other hand, can't remember anyone because everyone and everything is new and tons of people stop us to chat in public. My tactic has been to happily greet people as if I know exactly who they are and then hope that they will remind me if I am supposed to know them.

I unlocked our door and stuck my head out and yelled for her to wait a moment, and then scurried in and threw on actual clothes rather than pajamas. I went to the gate, shook the woman's hand, and unlocked it while saying good morning and hoping she would reveal who she is and what she wanted. I was also hoping she was not there for a formal Christmas visit, since the house was a mess and Isaac wasn't even out of bed yet.

Well, she only halfway helped. She apologetically recognized that we must be tired, but asked if Isaac was around. By this I deduced that she was not there for a Christmas visit, but I still didn't know who she was.

I dragged Isaac out of bed and we met her on the front porch awkwardly, still not knowing if we were supposed to know who this woman was. She began to tell us that she lived nearby and that she'd been to see a pastor friend of ours, who told her she should come see us. And then she dissolved into tears and told us a story of an abusive husband, being beaten and threatened on Christmas night, and taking her children and hiding at a friend's house because everyone (her church included) was afraid to confront her policeman husband. Her story was not totally unbelievable. The request for funds to get on tomorrow's boat to Java and the idea that our friend would send her to us to ask for money was, on the other hand, very unlikely.

Isaac walked off to call our friend and I sat there as she retold the story, eyes streaming. I just felt so helpless. Here I hope to be a counselor and I have no idea what to say. We are here to serve and yet.... it felt like there was no way to serve.

Last week, before Christmas, we heard someone had died. Three people related to our school community died this semester, and each time the community gathered and we were invited to multiple ceremonies. This day, though, I kept seeing village people walking back and forth in front of our house to the the married student housing in the back of campus, but that was it. No other word. And then, the next morning, I looked up as I was making breakfast to see a handful of people carrying a small coffin past our house, towards the burial grounds.

A child. Now we know. It's a family I've sat and talked to about their tribe, the Sougb. The family is sweet. The wife was pregnant when we got here. The child that died was four years old. He died just before Christmas. A few family members came from the village. Otherwise, life is going on for them.

I see them now when they walk past our house and I'm working in the kitchen. I ache and pray for them, and wonder about the child and his sickness. A four year old child, just down the trail from us. Did he see a doctor? Was he treated? If sick students came to us, could we can help advocate for them? But … what do we know? We don't even know the doctors here, or the hospitals, and we know so little about medicine I would hardly even know when to think they were being mistreated or neglected. Our organization is trying to find a nurse for our school from the West, and I long for that, for someone to send students to who can even just say, oh, this is serious, we must take this kid to a doctor.

Sometimes 4 year olds die. But I suspect this death most likely was preventable, and I ache because of it.

The woman crying on our porch was scamming us, and that soon became clear. When it became clear that we could see that, and when given a way to politely bow out, she skedaddled and we haven't heard from her again. Still, though, my feelings of helplessness remain. If someone came to me with that actual problem, would I know what to do, what to say? Do I know the local resources that she could be pointed to, do I know how to local church can help?

Part of my goals the next few months are to deepen our relationship with our local church so that I can take people there, to their leadership, so that they can help and we can serve in partnership, rather than putting on the image of the expatriate here to save the day and rescue all the people. For now, though, and so often in this work and in this stage of being new, I know just enough to feel helpless

It's a good thing that God is the one who does all things, and He merely uses me as needed. I – we- are dispensable. But so long as we are here, oh God, show us what to do, and how.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Loneliness and Life Overseas

Before we left the US, people asked me what was the scariest part of moving back to Papua. I said two things. First, health issues and the possibility of extreme sickness like cerebral malaria. Secondly, loneliness.

Sickness is hard. And one day we'll probably tackle something severe. In daily life, though, loneliness is harder. And we're in the middle of it.

It all makes sense. I am new. Being new is lonely because in most situations, especially for a very-relational-but-reserved introvert, it's hard to make your way when you're new. It takes time. We've been in Manokwari 7 months and when we had been in Dallas that long I was also deeply lonely and felt entirely unconnected to my community. I feel the same way here. There are two differences. In Dallas I didn't want to be there and was unmotivated to make friends, here I want to be here and I am trying my best. The other difference is culture. Dallas was a cultural gap, this is an even bigger cultural gap.

I don't really know what to expect. In the US it's supposed to be my culture so I looked for friendships my own way and then struggled when American cultural friendships were different. Here I know friendships will be different, and that's okay.... but that doesn't mean I know what they will look like. This is not an individualist culture and the broader community is more important, groups are more important, having a network rather than individuals is more important. So will I, in time, come away with a few women who know my heart and that I know, who bear each others' secrets and come to each other to talk through life and walk in faith together? Or is that an entirely Western or TCK expectation of friendship? I don't know.

I want to value this place and the friendships and community within it. I don't want to place my own cultural expectations on it. So I am waiting to see what does happen, and in the meantime I am new, and.... lonely.

I am just beginning to know the people at the school, just beginning to know names and be able to move beyond chit-chat at church. I have no one within this culture here that is for sure “my friend” yet. I will. In fact, this past week after pouring out this loneliness before God, it felt like doors flew open and suddenly I was chatting with the ladies at multiple events (photo with new friends above!), and was added by 15 people on facebook in the course of a few days (SO SO helpful for figuring out names, having a way to contact people, and setting a foot into each others' lives).

I am lonely, but also hopeful. This is a loneliness to walk through, not avoid. It's a loneliness that will force me to look for relationships even through the difficulties of communicating cross-culturally. It is a loneliness through which you make a home. It is a loneliness that is assuaged with time and the building, step-by-step, of loving community. It will come. In a couple of years I will look back and see what God has done. So I wait in expectation, and I am thankful that when I am lonely, He is my comforter.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Chaotic Mundane

I would say that life here has this really strange sense of being chaotic and uneventful at once for me. It feels contradictory. I battle the feeling of the mundane that many stay at home mothers struggle with, with the added burden of feeling like I'm supposed to be doing something extra special because people are funding our work overseas.

But in any case, what do I do? I watch kids. I cook meals. I clean up. I shop. Repeat, again and again. My mom asks me what's new on skype and I shrug and don't know what to say because our regular daily life is.... pretty mundane.

But then life here is so weirdly chaotic sometimes. I think it has to do with being in a developing society. Because of that, in the last month we've had in terms of health, a case of food poisoning, a bad finger infection that caused half the nail to be lost and needed antibiotics, and dengue fever (can be very severe – we were lucky). Regular power outages gave way to a 14 hour outage last week, which means no water and no power all day. 

Then there was the night we were out grabbing dinner at a little restaurant before going shopping and suddenly people started running past the door and literally within five minutes they'd cleared the restaurant and told us all to leave now, immediately, without paying, as fast as we could, because it wasn't safe. We drove off with pedestrians and roadside sellers literally running away in panic... from what? We couldn't see, we didn't know, and there's no social media or evening news to clue us in. Days later we finally heard through the grapevine that one guy from one tribe beat up another guy from another tribe, causing a fight and enough tension that everyone fled the area and all the stores shut down immediately. So, it wasn't a big deal, but it was, because everyone knows that it just takes a small thing to ignite a riot that can burn down the area (has happened). The stores all knew to shut down on a moment's notice, the people fled without knowing what they were fleeing from. And so – we fled with the crowd, and that is just... so surreal.

And then on New Year's Eve the rains of rainy season got a little heavier and we watched the ditch system fill up and back up and cover our road and begin rising up our sidewalk, and we ran around the house unplugging things and lifting up electronics in case of a flood. It didn't flood, but a few days ago we had an even faster flash flood that made our house essentially an island in the midst of a rushing lake/river of muddy water in the middle of the day. The kids were delighted by the impromptu swimming pool but it was so surreal to have the water literally rushing around nearly every corner of our house and front porch, and knowing that all it would take was an extra two inches rise and it would flood through our front door. Now we're prepared and know it will likely happen next month.

I don't know, is it chaotic, or is it just the the things that are happening are different than the things that happen in the US and so they feel chaotic because they would be chaotic in the US? Are they just a part of life here? We pretty much roll with the punches but then we look at each other with wide eyes and say... I can't believe this is our life and these things are actually happening.

And then I go back to making dinner and planning meals and putting kids to bed. So bizarre, this life.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

What I've Been Into

Mostly, before we get into anything else, life has been taken over by the fact that I am pregnant. Yes, indeed, we are expecting again, our third, and (if I have anything to do with it) final child. Yes, baby was planned. Isaac has always said he wants 3 or more children, and I have said 2-3. SO, here we are. :) Baby is temporarily being called Guppy because we just finished watching Bleak House and the name Guppy is just too perfect.

So, briefly, pregnancy #3 has been different than my first two pregnancies. Pregnancy #1 I was basically not sick at all, just tired. Pregnancy #2 I was weak and had low blood sugar/blood pressure symptoms that left me constantly shaky and hungry, but not really sick. Major round ligament pain in second and third trimester. Through both of those pregnancies I threw up a grand total of one time. This time around I knew I was pregnant because I lost my appetite, everything smelled awful, I couldn't drink coffee (because of the smell) and didn't want any of the homemade goodies I'd made just days before for a conference. In another week I got sick and spent a ton of time for the next month curled up in bed or on the couch with my kids playing around me (thank God, very seriously, that they play around me well while I do nothing at all). I threw up multiple times, mostly in the evenings, and I ate as little as I could. I was more miserable than either other first trimester.

Now I am well into the second trimester probably at my lowest weight at this stage, gaining a baby pooch, eating normally, and feeling pretty good. Just started doing a pregnancy workout DVD I got when we were on vacation in the big city, and that feels wonderful. We plan to deliver in the US when we are home for my sister's wedding this summer, we just don't know where we will deliver yet.


We watched through the first season of True Detective, which was SO interesting and creepy and well-made, but also the type of well made that, like House of Cards or several other recent shows, has enough adult content in it that you're just not comfortable and can't recommend it to others? Yeah. It's an excellent, fascinating mystery, but....

Mr. Selfridge is a Masterpiece Theater show about... well.... retail. A department store in Britain as department stores became a thing. It's a good show, but not great. Jeremy Pivens is.... sort of weird. But I would stream it if I was looking for something to watch in the US and it was on Netflix.

Our lukewarm feelings about Mr. Selfridge were in contrast to our next try, Broadchurch, Season 1. AMAZING. So good. A tense British mystery, great characters, not overly indulgent or graphic... just good. My favorite new show I've seen in ages. 

Broadchurch has been followed up by the last of our mailed-from-the-US-in-care-packages DVDs (sadly), Poldark, which is another British drama. A British soldier returns from Revolutionary war in the US to a home village struggling with mine closures and corruption and of course the usual class tension and social scandals. In contrast to Jeremy Piven, the dude that plays in Poldark is a good actor and the story has been compelling. We really like it. I believe it's streaming on Netflix as well. 

I am watching Call the Midwife's most recent season on Netflix, slowly but surely, when our internet is good and I have time. It's slow going. Netflix is a very limited option these days, so we mostly watch through things that come in care packages from the US.

We watched through the BBC's Bleak House, which is one of Dicken's darkest stories. I haven't read the book but Isaac did recently. He was at least satisfied with the adaptation and I could follow the very complex story and thought it was good. It's best, however, if you like Dickens and have read the book.


I read The Far Pavilions. I had to go back and check several times to see when it was written because the main character has such a modern perspective on politics, but it's actually an epic adventure novel written in 1978 and influenced by the author's growing up years in British India and Pakistan. Since my family worked in the area, I have visited some of the places talked about in the book, and so much of it (Afghanistan too) is now in the news again, it was SO INTERESTING to read about it in this time period. It is a sweeping epic, filled with adventure and battle and romance... and politics. I loved it. Except the way it portrayed women. It also was the earliest good example I have seen in literature of a TCK (though the concept didn't exist at the time), someone from one culture and raised in another and ultimately a different thing entirely and so constantly wrestling with their identity.

I read Madeline L'Engle's A Two Part Invention about her marriage and the death of her husband. It was beautiful, and simple, and profound. I love L'Engle. Totally becoming a heroine of mine.

I read Mati Syahid di Tanah Papua, a book about the first two TEAM missionaries in Papua who were killed on a survey trip into a nearby area. It was fascinating because it was right here, it was the beginnings of all that we work on now. Also, it was researched and written by one of our Papuan co-workers here at the school, and the graves of the two men sit in the front of the campus. The man who brought their bones out of the interior is the man who started this school and built our house. It is the history we live in, and that was so, so interesting.

I  read Tim Keller's book Every Good Endeavor about work and vocation. Since it's something I am wrestling with. It was very good. I'll have to post a bit with quotes.

I finally got to The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls, which was popular ages ago and I feel like everyone has already read. It was a fantastic memoir and it felt like reading fiction. I wish I knew how much of it was true, and how much was dramatized for the book. There's so much about parenting and society, and considering that we are in a very much developing society, it made me think a lot. Part of it was also set in the coal-mining areas of poverty in West Virginia, and my husband has some family roots there that also made it interesting.

I read Kids, Parents, and Power Struggles by Mary Kurcinka, which I picked over a ton of other parenting books because I wanted something specifically addressing behavioral issues, particularly for the 2-5 year old age. This book was great for helping the parent think through the unique personality of their child, figure out triggers and tendencies, and then help the child work past them through understanding, empathy, and boundary setting.

I read Tales of a Female Nomad, which was on shelf of a guesthouse we stayed in when we got here. It is a travel memoir. What made it unique for me is that she spent a good amount of time in Indonesia. Her discussion of her time in Irian Jaya (at the time when I lived here as a child), was very interesting. She wants to be all "preserve their culture and bah humbug to missionaries" but then grieves and weeps over malnourished children, lack of education, dying babies, and the harsh presence of external government forces and immigration from elsewhere. One might point out that in her own story the doctor they take the dying baby to is a TEAM doctor who gave his life to medical work on the south coast, the people who started the school in the village she lived at were the missionary parents of my friends, the people who end up flying both her and others out of tough situations are missionary pilots, and the indigenous songs sung in the community she lives with are worship songs in the local language developed by a Christian tribe who welcome her and pray for her with great hospitality. So. Pretty much all the good she finds is influenced by the faith propagated by those she scorns. I don't know if she recognized the irony as she wrote it, but it was pretty thick for me. 

I went through the Serial podcasts, mostly while washing dishes, and that was super interesting. Loved it. True crime. It was my first podcast series. I hope to find another like it, because it helps make dish washing and cleaning up enjoyable!

Truth, my husband started listening to Christmas music in September. Boooo. I tried to retain my appreciation for it regardless.

I have been listening to a few new downloaded songs, but since I can't really stream here and the only English music sold around here is stuff from the 90's, I haven't found much new music in the last 8 months.

Since I'm in a stage where I am at home a lot with little kid schedules, I determined to use the time to try things I have said I will try one day. Cooking is the obvious one - I have to cook a lot now and from scratch, and so I am determined to come out of this a great cook. I am particularly working on breads (I now have my own pancake, tortilla, and pizza dough recipe and will be trying biscuits, rolls, and naan), roasting meat, and making my own cheese (since what we can buy is very limited). The trouble is that the milk we have available is either milk powder or UHT (shelf-stable), which can't be used for making cheese. There's plenty of info out there about cheese making but little about cheese making from milk powder (mostly because milk powder in the US is terrible). So, I am experimenting.

I also tried my hand at gardening, sort of unexpectedly. When we moved in and had a yard I just sort of - started. I put dirt in pots and seeds in dirt and started with no wisdom at all. I think the reason I poured so much into it is because first of all, it was something productive I could do when I was feeling so stuck at home instead of being able to get out like I wanted. It was a creative work, an outlet. It's also a bit of a metaphor for life here. I start, ignorant, just doing things. And sometimes nothing at all comes of it, sometimes things sprout and I'm excited and then they die, and sometimes things grow, and I learn in the process about how to do things well.

I learned a lot about soil and sun and water, sprouting and replanting. Unfortunately all attempts to grow vegetables failed, but I have a number of fruit trees and plants successfully growing. I have grown several herbs and spices, but cilantro and parsley are tough ones. It's been enough to make some great tomato and basil homemade pizzas!