Tuesday, June 19, 2012

My Africa Story - Part 1

For awhile now I’ve wanted to have my Africa story in writing and thought I might as well share it with my blogging family. So you don’t have to read a giant novel, I’ll break it up for you.  If you’ve known me long enough you will know that Africa is one of the things that I care about a lot. I haven’t talked about it a ton in recent years. I’m always a bit wary of sounding like that “girl who’s been to Africa” and thinks she knows everything. I’m also afraid of making sweeping statements that paints all of Africa with the same brush...the pictures we see on TV of starving children with flies in their eyes. That is a reality and one we should care about but it’s only a tiny piece of the pie. Africa is so diverse and each country is truly different. I love this book, Africa Is Not a Country, and plan to use it to help teach my boys and remind myself about the fact that Africa is made up of many unique places. This thought was brought home to me when we were travelling in Zambia with a friend from Zimbabwe who had never been before. To us, the countries are pretty much the same but it was amazing to see it through his eyes and watching experience a bit of culture shock. I will never forget him saying they build their huts funny! 

I have been interested in Africa since I was a little girl. My dad has worked in Ghana and my parents moved to Nigeria for a few years after they were married. We had various little Nigerian artefacts around the house and I loved looking at their photos (in the form of a good old-fashioned slide show...remember those?). I can’t remember when exactly it happened but I knew at a fairly young age that I wanted to go to Africa someday and more specifically with my husband. I believe God planted those desires in me.

Fast forward to ‘99. I was in my second year of university out west having a conversation with a good friend about my desire to go to Africa (I don’t know if you remember this Cheryl but I re-read it in my journal recently!). She basically suggested I go the following year and so began a long search of finding a place to go. After emailing several organizations nothing was working out. I had already told my school I’d be taking a year off and yet still had nothing planned. Finally a school in Zambia called Sakeji, agreed to let me come. It’s a small school in the northwest corner of the country, very remote. The students are made up of about half Zambian children and half children of missionary families. One of my friends went there when he was young while he dad was a doctor nearby, which is how I found out about it.

My parents lived in Belgium at the time, so after a fun backpacking trip with my good friend Robin (recently read through that journal too!) I was on a plane by myself for my first adventure in Africa. My jobs at Sakeji were numerous. I would start each day at 6am making ice cream. Yes, you read that right. Every Sunday the students had ice cream so it had to be made daily for there to be enough. A pretty appropriate job for me, I’d say, minus the early wake-up. Then in the morning I would help out in the primary classrooms, focusing on reading with the Zambian kids whose first language wasn’t English. After a glorious post-lunch rest time, I would either lead games for the boys or teach swimming. One of my jobs was to go down to the river before swimming classes and check the pool for snakes, since it was filled by the river. Thankfully I never found any. By far my biggest fear of going to Africa was the snakes and to this day I’ve never seen a live one but that doesn’t mean they haven’t been nearby. When I first arrived at the school walking from the airstrip to the campus someone saw one go into the bush and I thought, “Great. Here we go.” Apparently our housekeeper found one outside my bedroom door and one in the bathroom but I never saw them. I definitely checked under my bed every night.

After dinner my job was to help do bathtime in the boys dorm, then I would tuck the kids in and have a few hours off. A group of us played Rook almost every night until the power went out and we were in bed pretty early.  On Mondays I spent the mornings at nearby children’s home helping to teach the toddlers and giving them lots of hugs. I was affectionately known as “Mamma Julianne”. They were long, hot days but I loved every minute of them. Going to a boarding school can be pretty tough on a young kid so I basically felt like a parent and tried to dish out as much love as I could. There were definitely some challenges among the staff and things about the school I didn’t love, but I tried to focus on the kids. One of the most valuable parts of my time there was meeting a family who lived nearby who would often invite me to their home. I always admired their marriage and the way they used their family as a way to serve other people. When they moved back to the States I enjoyed a few days with them at their family cottage and my roommates and I drove down to California to stay with them on our reading break in our last year of university.

At the end of the trip my mom flew down to see the school and then we did the typical safari and trip to Victoria Falls together. Although my Zambia experience was almost twelve years ago I still remember it very clearly. It is where I truly fell in love with Africa (particularly the southern part) and I knew I’d be back. After all, I still had to bring my husband. Who he was at that point was still yet to be discovered.

**That ended up being pretty long and it’s only part one. So much more to write. To be continued....** (Photos from Zimbabwe. No digital camera back then!)


cheryl said...

fun to read this huli - totally don't remember that conversation, but honoured to have played a role in your journey! looking forward to reading more...

the smiths said...

Thanks for sharing!!!!! So behind in my blog reading (and writing)....