I have written this blog post in my head so many times, each time better then the first. Sadly, ever time I sat down to actually put words to paper, it slips from my grasp like sand in a sieve. I have wanted to give a glowing and detailed report of our six months here in Africa. I wanted to let everyone know about how we have grown, what goals we are meeting and making, how we have started to build relationships and are settling into our life in Tanzania. All those things are happening, and I will tell you about them, but first I will admit that we have been through some difficult days, particularly in May and June. I think we are starting to climb out of our deep hole, but for a while, daily life was tough.
I believe the difficulty came from a combination of culture shock, home sickness and being overwhelmed with the job we have undertaken. Some days I would struggle, some days Matt would struggle. The girls have always been amazing and rarely seemed phased by anything. The manifestation of culture shock displays itself in strange ways, different for each person. My ‘symptoms’ have been a lovely cocktail of anger, depression and with-drawl. I have hesitated to write about our struggle, hence the start and stop writing, with no actual posting. Part of me is worried that people will think we are not suited for the job, that our faith is lacking, or that we made a bad decision. Sometimes I felt we were not suited for the job, that our faith is lacking, and that we made a bad decision. I also felt that way when we had kids. Those feelings were not true then, and they are not true now.
I do not think we are done with culture shock, but I think we are in a lull right now, and for that I am grateful. So now, several days past our month 7 anniversary, I am going to do our six month recap, or something like that.
Neema House is amazing and stressful and full of so much life. I mean life in the literal sense. Like there are so many people there at any given point. We have found that, as the directors, we are not just responsible for the babies, but also the staff and the staff’s family. It is a community, in much the same way as a church. One thing that has amazed me about Tanzanian culture is the community mentality. This is definitely one of the things that us Americans need to learn. The staff of Neema takes care of each other, however, they have been a little awed when we join in. It has been my honor to help several of our staff members to start to manage some chronic medical conditions that have been plaguing them and are quite serious, including severely high blood pressure and seizures. It has been interesting to see, that as I have made an effort to help these staff members, the appreciation has rippled through the Neema community, which has helped to build trust.
Trust is definitely a vital element in our building of relationships. I am not yet able to put into words all the intricacies of trying to build and have relationships with the staff at Neema. I am thankful for the start, but it is so complicated. It is based on generations of relationships that the people of Africa have had with Americans, and vise-verse. It is affected by a very different understanding of gender, education, culture, race, religion, class, age, language and so many other things that come into play. It is complicated by the fact that we also are operating on a boss/employee status. It has been an exercise in learning how to relate on new and challenging levels. We continue to pray that we will be able to navigate the intricacies of cross-cultural relationships and build solid and meaningful partnerships with the fantastic women and men at Neema.
We are incredibly blessed to be building relationships with new friends. I have been amazed at how quickly we have made connections. We are blessed to have met a family, also new to Arusha by way of Ethiopia, who home-school and have daughters the exact age as Camille and Tabitha. We try to get our kids together on a weekly basis to play. We have been able to celebrate both the girls birthdays with this family, which has made the first birthdays overseas a joyful experience for the girls. The girls are now four and six years old. They are thriving in school and adapting to the culture. I get asked so often how the girls are doing, and the answer is, they are fantastic. I could not be more proud and in awe of their ability to seamlessly blend with their environment. They continue to love to play with each other and spend most of their non-school hours playing outside. They enjoy going to Neema house, eating out with the volunteers, talking with the guards on our street, playing with our dog and most of all, playing with each other. I could go on and on about them, about how amazing they have been and how blessed I am to be their mother. It has been a huge transition for us all to go from me working full-time and them staying with Grandma, to us being together most of the time. It has been one of the greatest blessings of my life to be able to share in this experience with the most fabulous blondies in Africa.
We are going to the local Vineyard Church, which the girls love, because they get to see their friends. I will say that one of the hardest things about the move has been trying to plug into a new church, all the while deeply missing our church family in Texas. We have loved seeing a few people from The Vine come to volunteer at Neema House. We are hoping that more people from Texas will make their way to our side of the globe in the coming years. We would love to show you around this amazing country and let you hold a baby or twelve.
The easiest part of our ‘job’ is spending time with the babies. Matt has done a fantastic job of winning over the toddlers. They love him to chase them down the hallway. Matt mostly stays away from the tiny babies, which are my favorite. I am constantly amazed at holding babies who weigh four or five pounds. I am learning about their particular needs and development. My OT skills have come in handy. However, child raising in Tanzania is significantly different than America, and the nannies have not been too keen on incorporating tummy time. Like everything else, they are learning to trust that sometimes I know what I am talking about. I also am learning to trust that they too are experts with the children and their way could be better. It is constant blending, give and take, humbling and learning, and in the end, it is the kids who benefit.
I can definitely see how Yahweh has used our past experience to make directing Neema House a feasible work. Matt is an excellent books keeper and money manager and is blessed with excellent discretion and wisdom in making daily decisions, which are legion. He has been working on streamlining our budget and getting our documentation of expenses in order so that we can do an internal audit in a few months. This will help us to be able to apply for grants and do more large scale fund-raising. I am constantly glad that he is so adept in handling the financial side of things. He has also been very busy in making sure that the physical needs of the house are all in working order, which is no small task! He gets over to Neema early every morning while I do school with the girls. By the time I get there, around lunch, he has already solved multiple problems and fixed who knows what. It has been easy for Matt to build trust with the staff, because they know, if there is a problem, Matt will figure out the answer.
We are very excited to announce that all the money for the land has been raised. Thank you, thank you, thank you! We are hoping, and our told by our attorney, that the deal should be closed in the next couple of weeks. We continue to pray about the next steps, which are building and expanding. We still aren’t certain about the funds needed for this, but I will let you know! By the time the building is finished, I feel we will be ready for the expanding part. I cannot wait to tell you more about our ideas for a mothering center and school for the kids. We are also super excited about incorporating sustainable practices in our home, such as solar power, gardening and rain water collection.
I think our dreams are a good place to stop and a great place to start on the next installment. Matt always says I could do more blogs if I did not make each one so long. I cannot wait to tell you of our goals for the future, both personal and with Neema House. Right now the culture shock is receding, the pit is a memory and I am super glad to have my feet on African soil. Please pray for our continued adaption, health and work as we pilot Neema House on her course.