I am so excited to be posting a blog within one month of my last one! That is a definite improvement in my record. The month of April was very busy and included a wonderful and much-needed visit from my parents. I had not seen my dad in 15 months and I was missing him intensely. Not to mention the fact that the girls had done 15 months worth of growing and changing and needed to re-connect with their “Pa”. Our visit was blessed beyond measure. We were able to celebrate Passover together. Our family has been celebrating the feasts of Torah for the past four years and this is the first time that my parents have been able to join us in this holy night. It was a beautiful experience for all. The girls were able to dress up and share with Grandma and Pa about our families traditions.
My dad also got to go out and see all the progress on the land. He had traveled to Tanzania in 2014 and was here right after the purchase of the land went through. He saw the blank canvas of rolling hills and acacia trees at that time. It was fantastic for him to be able to come and see the almost finished product of the baby home, widows house and Montana House. The project is truly awe inspiring. Even the pictures on social media cannot do it justice. I cannot wait for my parents to be able to come back when we have moved into the new facility. They have been so supportive of us and our ministry here. It is wonderful for them to share in our joy.
We then took off to Zanzibar for a week. Our family has lived in Tanzania for 2 and a half years and this was our first trip to Zanzibar. I have wanted to visit the island since we first set our eyes towards Tanzania, so this was a dream come true for me. The travel was pretty intense starting with a car ride, then plane, then taxi, then ferry and finally car to the lodge. I was nervous about how my dad would handle the travel. He likes his RV and complete control of travel plans. I was so proud of him because he held up like a champ. Although I did hear him say several times how overwhelmed he was by the sheer amount of people he encountered on the trip.
Even though it was rainy season, our week in Zanzibar was fabulous. We were able to ride a trimaran crafted out of a single mango tree to snorkel in the coral reef, swim in the Indian Ocean (in the rain), look for dolphins (we did not find any, but we did get to go on a boat ride in giant swells), go on a spice tour (in the rain), play on the beach and explore Stonetown (in the pouring down rain). I will definitely avoid the rainy season on my next visit! We ate too much, played games and introduced the girls to Star Wars. It was just so good to be in each others company. The girls love to explore new places and were a complete joy even during the difficult travel. My dad remarked with some awe that they will be able to travel the world when they are older without any fear because of what they are learning now.
My parents left amid tears from all, and hopes that we will see each other sooner than 15 months this time. Having them here was so much more than just fun and travel. We needed family time. I needed my dad and the girls needed their Pa. If you read my last blog, there were these sentences, “We are still here, that was the title, and I planned to tell you what is going on in our family and personal life, but this is our life. We raise our kids, love each other, and work at Neema House.” What is missing from this summation of our life and something we so desperately need is Community. I realize we are aching for group of people to ‘share life with’. All of us are longing for this in our own way. We have made an attempt here or a reach there, but not much that has come to fruition. So we plug away in isolation and I think it is starting to affect us in unexpected ways. Do not get me wrong, we go to church and we stand around and try to connect, but it is such a strange environment.
Everyone here can be divided into three main groups the locals, the visitors or short-timers and the long-timers. Each group presents unique challenges into forming community. With local people, you struggle with such deep cultural differences that true friendship, although possible, is a constant struggle of trying to understand each other. (Please do not misjudge me here. I want to be friends with Tanzanians and I am willing to do the work. But it is very hard to form true community when you speak a different language in more ways than just words. This topic could be a long blog in itself. ) The people who are only here for a short time are a blessing and a curse. The time with them is the blessing and has provided sweet memories. Saying a quick goodbye after just getting to know each other is the the curse. My girls have shed many tears over painful goodbyes from people who are here for a few months and then go back to their home country. It is hard for them to understand why some people stay and other people ‘get’ to go back. Then there are those people like us who are committed to staying here indefinitely. The vast majority of this group are involved in ministry of some sort. You will not find a more over-worked, under slept, over-stressed, bucket-already-full group of people on the planet. When we do manage to get together the talk always drifts to just how overwhelmed we all are.
Community takes time and energy and commitment. When all of those things are already taken up by raising your kids, loving each other (your spouse) and working at your ministry (see above quote) how do you find the resources to forge a close group of people to ‘do life with’? Whenever our family moved from California to Temple, Texas I thought my days of having friends and community were over. I had left my sister-friend and her family and moved back to a town filled with personal ghosts and social barriers. I had been there several months, crying daily over the friends I had left, when God gave me a very clear mental picture about forming connections. In my head I saw myself standing beside a giant piece of granite with a chisel in my hand. In the distance behind me was a beautifully formed statute, carved from my own hard work and commitment. That statue represented the relationships of the past. Before me set a freshly hewn stone that was ready and waiting for my chisel. With this vision I understood my situation so clearly. With every social interaction…chip, chip…Every text, every dinner get together, every time I ignored my natural desire to stay home and isolate myself…chip, chip, chip….Every time I made myself vulnerable (shudder)…..BIG CHIP! I set about my ‘work’ with this knowledge and picture of the task before me. When I left Texas headed for Tanzania, I looked behind me and I had another beautiful statue. It was different from the first but no less dear.
I have been two and half years in this place and I am STILL looking at a rough piece of granite. My arms are weak, my opportunities are more limited, my granite is harder, but the process is still the same. Also, the stakes are higher. We came here with no one, no family, no friends, no easy place. And now we are emaciated from need of a community of sustenance. I know they are there, those relationships that we so need. I can catch a glimpse here or a whisper there. It is the work and time and commitment on our part that has been missing. I will say this is especially true for Matt, who has thrown himself so fully into the running and building of Neema House that he comes back almost every single day emotionally spent and socially tapped out from dealing with the days complications. So we pick up our chisel again. I am determined to create a new piece of art. I am often asked what prayer request we have, please put this one at the top of your list. What do you suggest? Do you have any community building tricks?