I am thankful for the United States of America. I am thankful for laws and the officials that help enforce these laws. I’m thankful for a justice system that, while imperfect, works. I’m thankful that corruption once exposed is not tolerated. I’m thankful for the right to vote and that this process is peaceful. I’m thankful to have a voice in my government. I’m thankful that our military protects its citizens. I’m thankful that, while there have been attacks, the last major war fought on American soil was over 100 years ago. I’m thankful that I grew up living in peace, that I could go to school, that I could worship in church and that my childhood was relatively carefree.
Kenya is considered one of the most stable countries in East Africa. I’m thankful to live here. Yet, independence from Great Britain was only achieved in 1963, a mere 51 years ago, after a bloody conflict. Just 7 years ago during the presidential elections, tribalism and politics caused violent clashes all throughout Kenya. Citizens do not generally trust the judicial system or law enforcement officials and mob justice still occurs frequently. In 2003 the government abolished school fees for primary schools but the best schools and secondary school still cost a good deal of money. Kenya has come a long way in a short amount of time but it still has a long way to go.
South Sudan is the newest country in the world. They gained independence in 2011. After a long, brutal, civil war with Sudan hopes were high that South Sudan would have a bright future. However, just 3 years later, politics and tribalism caused countrymen to turn against each other. Now the country is 9 months into another civil war. Thousands of people died, many more are on the brink of starvation. Tensions are high, schools are disrupted, people’s livelihoods are destroyed and many are refugees in surrounding countries living off the generosity of others.
I am thankful for the United States of America. I’m not deluded into thinking we are perfect but we’ve passed through war, economic instability, terrorist attacks and many other hardships and are strong. I pray that these other two countries I love can come through their growing pains stronger and more resilient than ever before.
We are thankful we can read.
Little Bear has already been exposed to numerous books in his short life. We read Bible stories to him each night. He owns quite a few baby board books and even a book that reads to him as he turns the pages. While he can’t read yet he will because we can. According to CIA Factbook an astounding 99% of people can read in the United States of America. What a privilege!
Unfortunately this is not a percentage shared by war ravaged South Sudan. After years of fighting with the North and now an ongoing conflict within, South Sudan is struggling to educate her children. In South Sudan only 27% of the population aged 15 years and above is literate. The literacy rate for males is 40% compared to 16% for females. (World Bank 2014) This is one of the highest illiteracy rates in the world.
Check out literacy rates around the world. Are you among the privileged few? Click on the map to go to an interactive website documenting literacy rates.
We are thankful for water.
Every day we pump water from the apartment complex’s borehole up to a tank on our roof. To make the water drinkable, we run every “golden” drop through a ceramic and charcoal water filter so that it comes out clean, clear and safe. We use chlorine mixed in the water to wash all fruits and vegetables that we eat raw. However, most of the time we have access to water straight from our tap.
Yet, our friends in Kenya’s Hurri Hills struggle to get water. The Hills, located near the Kenya-Ethiopian border, rise about 1500 meters on the Northern fringes of the hot, sweltering Chalbi Desert. What used to be a thick, lush forest now stands almost barren of trees. The altitude of the Hills makes digging a borehole impossible. Their only source of water is rain but this year they wondered if their catchment tanks would run dry. It didn’t rain for 7 months; from April until the end of October!
In South Sudan obtaining water is also a hardship. “Thirty-eight percent of the population has to walk more than 30 minutes one way to collect drinking water.” (World Bank October, 2014) It’s hard to imagine.
We are thankful for water to drink, to bathe in, to cook with, to wash clothes and to grow plants.
For us… most of the time anyway, Facebook is a beautiful way to keep up with far away friends.
But. Not. Today.
Today Facebook showed me the house I don’t have. The house I long for every time we discuss moving apartments or going on home assignment or changing countries.
My friend innocently posted pictures of her stunning new house complete with the quaint, white shutters she picked out herself. The kitchen is big and spacious. The fridge dwarfs mine several times over. All the appliances are shiny and new. I’m sure her kitchen sink turns on easily without a constant drip, drip, drip.
There is a fireplace! And a gorgeous mirror hung on what I am sure is a non-concrete wall that she is allowed to put holes in without contacting the landlady who lives in Nigeria because guess what? She OWNS the house.
(Friend, if you’re reading this, because you will no doubt know it is you that I am speaking of, you did absolutely nothing wrong and I can’t wait to visit you in your new home.)
The American dream right? My dream. The dream of knowing I will still be living in the same place, the same house next year because we have a mortgage of all things.
I’d pay to have the stab-you-in-the-tush toilet seat replaced because it’s MY toilet seat. I would nag politely ask my husband to fix the leaky faucet and the doors that stick. I would take out that ridiculous bidet because who actually uses those anyway?! I wouldn’t try to hang pictures with Velcro and heavy duty Command Brand hooks. I’d do all those things because we would OWN the house (at least sort of own it, you know, through the generosity of the bank and all).
Plus I’d actually have a piece of grass that doesn’t belong to the retreat center next door that I can only longingly look at through our kitchen window while wedding guests dance to obnoxiously loud music and wake up my sleeping baby.
I realize most of you probably don’t dream about having a mortgage and those of you with more sense might even try to tell me the evils of having one. But for now I’m lost in wishful thinking that one day after I spend all the time to decorate and make our house our home, I won’t have to give it up in a year. It’s just something I have to work through, knowing that our lease ends in March of next year and since I tend to round up, this year is basically over, which means March is really only 3 months away.
If, as the Zambian proverb claims, “Home is where your blanket is,” then it’s a good thing my blankets don’t weigh very much and can travel from the US to Kenya to South Sudan and back again.
Check out “Home is where your blanket is part two.”
I sit here re-sewing red curtains from my old house to fit the windows in my new house all the while wondering when we will move to the next house. It’s hard to live in the moment when the moment is full of constant change. It’s tiring, this nomadic life, we live.
Just before leaving Kenya to get married I found the exact red material to match my new-to-me bedspread, a second-hand Toi Market find. Excitedly I had my new red curtains made; knowing they would be waiting for us when we returned to what would be OUR home together. Then we decided to move to South Sudan…
Instead of settling down, returning to Kenya was a whirlwind of selling household items and furniture as well as packing away things we might use later, like my red curtains. Thankfully those curtains never made it to South Sudan. If they had, they too would be lost like so many of our things we left behind in Malakal.
However, my red curtains are too short for our new windows. They need to be altered, cut, pieced together, pinned and sewn. Sometimes that’s how I feel; altered time and again. Learn this new language. Adjust to another strange culture. Find your way around this new city. Pushed. Pulled. Stretched. Sometimes scarred. Moved from place to place.
For now, though, my red curtains look fabulous complete with a shiny, brown ribbon to cover the seam. One would never know they didn’t originally belong in the window where they now hang. I hope that I can display the same adaptability (and look just as good!) as we continue to follow where God leads us.
They just kept coming. I couldn’t shut them off.
We rang in New Year’s with some dear friends and then headed “home,” the place we had just moved to the day before. I dropped into bed, boing, boing. I sank so low into the old, spring mattress that I could barely maneuver my now larger than life self around. That’s when they started. That uncomfortable, worn out mattress was the last straw and the tears began to flow.
There were no pillows. We couldn’t find sheets to fit the bed. Everything was unfamiliar.
The only “home” I’ve known since getting married is in Malakal, a war zone. My lovely queen size bed is in Malakal, my sheets too. My husband’s zip off trousers are in Malakal. My pottery tea set and 6 or so other trunks are in Malakal.
These are just things. But they are things I find myself grieving for. They represent home. They represent friends gained and friends lost.
Now, those things, represent a life of uncertainty.
My grief continued to spill down my face the entire first day of the New Year. I grieved for my friends facing horrific circumstances. I grieved for the town I had grown to love and my adopted country. I grieved the stability I had known was lost and yes, I grieved for my things.
I grieved that God would call us to such a volatile country. I grieved that we still feel our place is in South Sudan, even with all the serious issues it faces. I grieved that my yet to be born child might have to face all these things and more.
In fact I think that uncomfortable, worthless, old bed released tears I’d been holding in the entire year. Tears of leaving behind family…again. Tears for constantly saying goodbye to friends, new and old. Tears for missing major milestones. Tears of frustration over the difficulty of learning Arabic, of fitting into a new culture, of learning how to cook over charcoal, of taking buckets baths and not feeling clean. Tears of helplessness as bugs invaded my home and being confined to my mosquito net after dark.
Yes, there have been many good, even great, moments over the last year. But these moments were interspersed with less joyful moments. I tried to stand strong for too long, “outlawing my grief” and I finally crumbled.
My things are still in Malakal. South Sudan is still at war. My future is still uncertain. And no I am not ok with any of it. But that, in and of itself, is ok.