Friday, February 26, 2010

It Would Behoove a Photographer to...

#1 Buy a Truck.

First of all, it would be extremely helpful in hauling around all of our "stuff." There's more than what meets the eye to photography. In addition to what's in the bag (camera, lenses, memory cards), you must also pack along a reflector and a step stool. Depending on location, sometimes we bring chairs or props, which take up even more space. Unfortunately, both Kristi and I drive small cars so we try to stuff whatever we can into the little vehicles that we have. We have borrowed our parents' larger vehicles many-a-time when we have purchased furniture at thrift stores, auctions, and antique malls.

Not only would a truck be ideal for carrying anything and everything under the sun, but it can always be used as it's own "step stool" as Kristi is doing in the above photo. You would never know that she is scared of heights!

#2. Be in the Way.

Often, the best shots are snapped at the most inopportune times, in the most inopportune locations. However, as a photographer, if there is a moment to be captured, you must capture it, no matter where that puts you. If you are going to hide out in the corner all night long, you won't get much. With that being said, I always say that I wish I was an invisible photographer. I believe the truest, more genuine moments are captured in the candidness of life, and if I was invisible, not only could I stay "out of the way" but no one would even know I was there. Clearly, the guy in the above picture knew I was there, and he was ready to leave. =)

3. Know Where Your Camera is... At All Times.

Or else it can end up in the hands of someone who doesn't stop taking pictures... of the photographers. As Kristi always says... "there's a reason I'm on the other side of the lens."

#4. Know Your Angle.


A great picture can be made even better by putting a creative twist on it, and this can be done by switching up your angle. Shooting "down" on people is usually the most flattering, as long as they tilt their faces up and don't look distorted. Shooting "up" can have it's creative payoffs, but can sometimes lead to unflattering results. My personal favorite is laying flat on the ground and getting the ground on up, which is an interesting angle and includes grass, sky, and people all in one shot.

#5. Participate.

Depending on your subjects, you can be in for a really interesting shoot! Sometimes, you have to be willing to get into the action and show people what you want. Kristi is usually better at "showing" what she wants rather than telling, as you see in the above picture. Although, I'm not sure the groom is paying attention?

#6. Have a Clone.

That way, your duplicate could show your subject what you want while you could frame up the shot and be ready to snap it the very next second. Of course, that's the beauty of having a photographer team mate system (such as what Kristi and I have), but, you know. A clone would be nice, too.

#7. Know Your Equipment.

Kristi and I call this the "sun beam." Formerly known as "the circle thing," we use this for a variety of purposes, including blocking the sunlight, and sometimes add light in on certain situations. It's helpful to know what's available to you to make your shot even better.

#8. Take Risks.

Even if that means standing (or sitting... or laying) in the middle of the road to get the picture. Also, this can apply to the shots that you take. If you never take risks, you'll end up with the same batch of pictures every time. Some of my most favorite pictures have resulted from trying something new. Sometimes it fails... but often, it pays off.

#9. Own a Golf Cart.

Since our very first shoot, Kristi and I noted that owning a golf cart would most likely solve all of our problems. Although, I will say, our photo shoots are where we get all of our exercise. We usually do a lot of walking, and we have a decently heavy camera bag, a step stool, and the sunbeam to carry. If we had a golf cart, we could load the thing up with supplies and people and be on our way.

#10. Get Close.


If you have the right lens, you can stand several feet away from someone and still get an extreme close up. But my favorite shots are the ones that are taken with either a wide angle lens, or a prime lens (like a 50mm) in which you are super close in proximity to your subject. I was not always comfortable doing this, but have definitely warmed up to the art of getting up close and personal.

Love you all!

T

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Unhidden Love

I went to a funeral on Monday morning.

On Thursday, February 18, the loving husband of the beautiful lady who passed away wrote, "Jan's condition has taken a turn the last 12-24 hours....this could be the best day of Jan's life... Pray it is."

His prayer was heard and answered. At 1:15 pm that afternoon, she went home.

This couple has attended our church for years and has raised a beautiful family of 3 children. They have an older son, Jeff, who is handicapped and lives at Timber Ridge (our church "home for the handicapped") here in Morton. They also have a daughter, who happens to be my oldest sister's best friend. She is married with children. And they have another son, who is also married with children.

Jan found out that she had lung cancer at the beginning of December. It had already progressed to stage 3B at that point, and from that point on, only continued to get worse.

At the end of December, she was still feeling and looking pretty good. Her daughter-in-law called our Imagine Artists office and asked if we would be willing to take a family picture before she started to go into vigorous treatments. Kristi and I were honored to do this, and we scheduled to take the pictures inside my sister's house the next week.

One goal that Kristi and I have for our business is to be a blessing to others through what we love to do. If we can be there for someone in need, we will. I personally feel like pictures are an important part of remembering times, remembering life, and remembering the ones we love. It's a snapshot in time that is locked away forever; a visual of something or someone that you can now never forget.

I went through the visitation line before the funeral on Monday morning. My mom was honored to be able to help make a beautiful scarf that wrapped around her head. The day before, she had chosen a few different fabrics and let the family decide on which one to use. It looked wonderful on her. I saw the tears in the eyes of everyone who loved this woman and felt it in their hugs.

Her daughter, Jody, told me that the pictures ended up coming in perfect timing. Shortly after they were taken, she started to decline. She placed the order for the pictures a week before she passed away. They came in very quickly; the next day, she framed the pictures and set them out in her mom's room to enjoy, and the next day, she went to Heaven.

It's amazing to see how perfectly God times everything.

Jan's brother-in-law had the funeral service. It was extremely touching. He spoke to each and every family member, including Jan's grandchildren, by name. He looked at Jeff, and said, "Jeff, you may not know this, but you have touched more people than you realize." He continued to talk about how he has been an amazing ministry with his life. Later, another minister, who works at Timber Ridge, stood up and talked.

"I'd like to share a story about what happened last Thursday evening," he began. He talked about how every Thursday night, he is part of a bible study at Timber Ridge. But this bible study is special in that everyone who attends is in a wheelchair. He told us that the man who leads this study can hardly talk in a way in which you can understand him, but he ALWAYS rolls in with a plan. On this particular evening, he came in a bit sad. News of Jan's death had spread and everyone had found out. He said, "I am really going to miss her."

The minister agreed, and they both sat and recounted how on Friday afternoons, Jan would come into Timber Ridge, bright-eyed and smiling, excited and ready to pick up her son to include in whatever activities were planned for the afternoon. Their relationship was so special.

"We don't know what you're thinking, Jeff," is something the first minister had shared, "But one thing we do know, is the love you had for your mom. That wasn't hidden."

I can remember going to church every Sunday and seeing them sit together, with Jeff rubbing her shoulders and looking lovingly at her. He was right. This love was something you don't find just anywhere, and it definitely wasn't hidden. A thought I had just now is this: Do we have this kind of love for Christ, and is it "unhidden" to others?

The story continued about the bible study. The minister shared that in that very evening, he read a verse from Revelation about the joy of Heaven. Then, when it was time to pray, he said that he himself would have the prayer.

"He'll often ask me to pray," he said, "But tonight, he did it. And do you know what? He prayed for the family of Jan, and John, he prayed for you by name," he shared. "This man who could hardly speak in an understandable tone prayer for YOU by name on Thursday night, and you didn't even know it."

John is Jan's husband.

Another thought that was shared is that when this first happened, the minister (brother-in-law) saw John go from shock, to determination (we're going to fix this problem), to acceptance and surrender. No one wanted this to happen or understood why it did, but in hindsight, God had a bigger plan, and part of that plan was the amazing ministry that came from it all through the journal that was shared, the family that was brought together, and the love & care that God grew in everyone who took care of Jan.

I'll close with words that her obituary shared about her...

"Jan adored spending time with her husband and family. Her primary ministry which she did so well during this life was loving and caring for Jeff, their handicapped son. Jan ran the race of life so well by God’s grace, and even though she lost the battle to cancer, she’s won and received the ultimate prize."

You can visit our blog and see pictures in the tribute post here.

Love you all! Keep praying & lifting other up.

T

Monday, February 22, 2010

High & Low

The weather section of the newspaper always reports a "high" and a "low" for the day. Presumably, the high is the warmest time of the day when the sun peaks, and the low is the coldest, darkest part of the day.

Using that analogy, here was the "high" and "low" of my weekend...

High
I walked into a Jamba Juice and ordered a delightful treat that I must share. I don't even remember what it was called, but I did memorize the ingredients because after reading it from the board, I concluded that I could make my own at home.

It includes vanilla yogurt, soy milk (I used skim), frozen strawberries, granola, and peanut butter. You top it with granola and sliced bananas.

Basically, anything with peanut butter in it and/or is a smoothie, I love. So this was bound to be a wonderful treat. And it was. Packed with protein and good-for-you items, I would recommend it for breakfast or an afternoon pick-me-up snack. In fact, Jamba Juice listed it as a "Meal."

On Sunday morning, I made one for myself for breakfast. It was so tasty, and so very easy to make! If you have the ingredients at home (or a variation thereof), go ahead and try it... if you've used a blender before, just guesstimate on the amounts according to the consistency you like, and you're golden!

Low
It seems to be a pattern in my life that I injure myself without realizing how badly I have actually injured myself. Thus was the story on Saturday afternoon. I was using my day productively by cleaning out my closet and getting rid of some of my winter clothes. As I was doing so, I was trying to neatly stack the unused hangers against the wall, but eventually they all ended up as a jumbled mess on the floor. I ignored this and kept hopping in and out of my closet, going to and from as needed. At one point, I was walking out of my closet to get something and my toe caught onto one of the hangers that was on the floor. The skin of my toe got caught on the sharp part of the hanger and it felt like it cut it a bit, but I just kept moving. When I'm on a mission, nothing stops me, not even a little cut.

I felt a little pain, but nothing major. Until I looked down about 30 seconds later (after making a few more trips back and forth) and noticing that there was blood dripping out of a giant gash in my toe and it was starting to seep down the edges and collect at the bottom. I ran to the bathroom and sat down, grabbing for a paper towel. In the mean time, blood continued to gush forth onto the floor. You would have thought someone cut my toe off.

I cleaned up the mess and headed downstairs in search of a band-aid and Neosporin. My mom happened to be on the phone in the kitchen, and so I plopped down there to conduct business, but as I took pressure away, my toe continued to bleed all over.

"I need a little help here," must have been my nonverbal expression (ok, so I actually probably voiced those words), and my mom came over with the phone on one shoulder and her former nurse knowledge coming out in her hands, applying pressure to my wound and then eventually wrapping the whole thing up in a bandage.

Seriously.

It's not like I take a lot of risks in my life (physically), so most of my injuries are due to my klutzy and rush-like nature. If I did take risks and live on the edge, I would probably visit the hospital a lot more often. So far, photography has been a pretty safe career, although I do notice that sometimes I run into people when I'm backing up while still taking a picture, or I often find myself lying in the middle of the road to get the perfect shot.

Fortunately, my wound is healing quite nicely, to which I am thankful.

I will be back soon to share about my morning yesterday. Love you all!

T

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Discoveries.

I am happy to announce that it was in the 40's today. I love the mild weather, and I hope it feels free to stick around.

All week, I have been making discoveries.

My first discovery is regarding 2 foods that I used to despise. One is tomatoes. I never liked them. I think they taste like dirt, literally. Or a garden. I feel like I'm taking a juicy bite out of a square of garden when I eat one. That might not make much sense, but think of it this way: Do you know those foods that just taste like they smell? It's kind of like that. 

So anyway, I had an amazing Valentine's Dinner (fixed for a tableful of girls by 4 great guys!), and among one of the dishes was this wonderful chicken with rice and diced tomatoes. They were marvelous. I loved them. Then, that same week, I ate a tomato on my hamburger. And then, the very next night, I ordered a salad with tomatoes in it. What??

I know. So add tomatoes to the list of foods that I have acquired a liking for, right along with coffee, onions, and peppers. 

Two foods that I doubt will ever make the list are olives and mushrooms.

I also discovered that I like Butterfinger. This was actually something I came to in Africa. My sister-in-law bought me some boxes of candy to take along, and one of those was Butterfinger. I put them in a little bag and took them with me, and basically fell in love with the candy. I mean, why wouldn't I like it? I love peanut butter cups, and I LOVE chocolate-peanut butter desserts. What was I thinking all those years, turning my nose up at butterfingers?

So there we have it. My 2 food discoveries.

Another discovery was to find out that Dairy Queen in Morton opened yesterday. Hooray! This means 1 of 2 things:

1. Spring is on it's way, and 
2. Even if it doesn't warm up for awhile, I can comfort myself with the fact that the best soft serve in the US will be served up across the street from my office AND 3 blocks away from my home. 

Then when it does get warm, I'll spend most of my time outside, taking walks and riding my bike to burn off all the ice cream I ate. Haha. 

But really, it's an exciting thing in this town. How exciting? This exciting: Last night, as I was driving along Main St. at 9:30 pm, I looked over to the lit-up DQ. Understand that this is not an indoor joint. You stand OUTSIDE the window to get your treat. So anyway, as I am driving in the dark of the night, freezing rain is drizzling down and spiking my wind shield, and the streets are a little icy. Yet out in front of DQ is standing a LINE of customers, waiting for their blizzards & ice cream cones, in the freezing rain. 

That's Morton for you.

I just wish it had been me. But, I had just returned from all day in Chicago, and I was off to my night-time job. Not to worry, I told myself. I'll just get one today.

Well, I ate at Steak n Shake for lunch. And who goes there and doesn't order a cookies n' cream shake? And 2 ice creams in one day sounds nice, but doesn't feel nice. So, better luck tomorrow.

Another discovery: I love laundromats. I spent all morning in one today working on a service project. Let me confess something. There is one in Morton, and I have always stared at it when I drive by. There is also one in Peoria right next to my favorite restaurant. I also stare at it every time I walk by. There is something so intriguing about a laundromat to me. There was this Golden Years book about a little boy going to a laundromat with his mom that I used to read when I was a little girl, and I loved it.

I have always secretly wanted to take pictures inside of a laundromat. I don't know why, but I think it would be so interesting to capture the different people who come in and do their laundry. Catch their story in a snapshot of one segment of their life. Maybe that sounds crazy to you, but someday I will probably do it. I am currently still living at home, but I decided that when I move out and if I can for a few months, it would be cool to do my laundry at a laundromat for awhile. Maybe then I can fulfill my dream to photograph inside of one. One thing I did note is that it's best to bring something else to work on while you wait. Such as a word jumble, the newspaper, a book, your laptop, or a bible study. Also, I love the idea of going to one place with a purpose. Doing laundry at home introduces a host of other distractions. I might have good intentions of doing the wash, but as soon as I walk out of the laundry room, there is a whole other playground of possibilities waiting for me. Before I know it, it's time for bed and my laundry still isn't done.

But a laundromat traps you. It says, "You aren't leaving here until your task is done." I often need that kind of structure in my life in order to be the most efficient. Call it ADD, call it easily distracted, call it whatever you want... but that's me. =)

Enough on discoveries. I'm signing off to go have dinner with friends. Love you all, and I'll be back soon. T

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Stress-Free?

I went into work last Saturday evening, and my 2nd shift coworker ended up staying for an extra hour and talking with me. She grew up in Malawi, Africa, so I always love talking to her, and even more now that I have experienced that continent, as well.

There is a certain inspirational element to Africans that I have yet to figure out. They have this perspective and view on life that is so... in so many ways... right. 

I will share what I learned from her. After hearing all of this, I almost booked a flight to Africa the very next day.

She was sitting on this exercise bike when I arrived and clocked in. She started using it, and then 30 seconds later, told me, "I feel sorry for myself."

I looked at her. "Why is that?"

"Because," she said, "After less than 1 minute on this, and I am out of breath!"

She continued to express to me how frustrated she was because she had not been exercising, and how hard it is in the winter. I asked her if many people in Africa exercise. She told me that most don't. They are either too lazy and do not realize it is something healthy to do, or they work really hard and walk everywhere, anyway. If anyone exercises in Africa, it is for leisure.

She told me that Africa is stress-free. You just don't worry about anything there like you do here. When she worked there, she started thinking about the weekend on Wednesday. Most hold a 7a-5p job. Unless you are in the healthcare field (and even then, it's rare), there is no need for 2nd or 3rd shift. At 5pm, almost everyone packs up and heads home. She said if you were sick or unable to come to work, it's no problem at all. If you have a good track record, they readily excuse you and still pay you for the days you miss. She said that weekends are a time to go to the beach, buy fruit, and relax. No one works or stresses on the weekends. They are laid back.

Most who are middle class and above, regarding the area she is from, can afford a maid, cook, nanny, and gardener. She told me, "I did nothing when I lived in Africa. If I needed a cup of coffee, I would tell someone and they would bring it to my desk." She also said that if she went back to Africa and had a child right now, she would not have to do anything with the child. The nanny would completely care for the baby and attend to all the needs. You could get away with not seeing or playing with your child for a whole week.

She told me that until she came to the states, she had never heard about obesity, depression, or anxiety-related problems. It is just not an issue or concern in Africa. Most there do not worry or stress, so they don't have the physical ailments associated with it. Here in the states, so many are busy, stressed out, and have more on their plate than they can handle; and the physical diseases and sicknesses that result from it are evident.

When she came to America, she said that she cried the first time she had to wash her own dishes. This seems contrary to what we often stereotype of Africans, but she said in Africa, you become so used to having everything taken care of. She said that washing dishes or doing housework is considered to be "lower" work, and not something you do because most of the time, you can afford to have someone else do it for you. It was a rude awakening when she came to the states and saw how much work you do on your own. So in that way, she said that America teaches you to take ownership in what you have, responsibility, independence, education, and activity, while Africa teaches you to find joy despite not having those things. America's culture causes stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental and health problems. Africans are generally more lazy and slow-moving than Americans, but are usually healthier and happier. It's an interesting trade-off.

She told me that most travel to her side of the world to be a missionary, but she came to the US to be a missionary. I admire her heart and her love of Christ. She told me that for once in her life, she feels like she is serving and caring for others in a way that gives meaning to what she does. In Africa, her job did not allow her to do that. 

I was so blessed to have this conversation with her and learn more about where she grew up and her experience in Africa. It was obviously a lot different than what I experienced in the area I visited, but fascinating, nonetheless. She did note that most who have never been there view Africa is an entirely poor, orphaned area with exotic animals roaming around. While this is partly true, there are areas that are built up and very westernized, and those who do have jobs and make a living have a nice lifestyle. I always enjoy listening to her... her information is so interesting and her perspective so inspiring.

After she left, I thought about how big of a culture change it must have been for her to come to the states. Then, I thought about how interesting it would be if I moved to Africa and worked a job there. How it would totally change my view, perspective, and priorities. 

It is interesting to see how God worked on my heart by using Africa. So far, I can tell He has really opened me up. I know it's easy to say this post-mission trip, when everything is so fresh and exciting. Yet I will not allow that to diminish the work I think the Lord has done in me, which includes a spirit of joy, a heart that is so much more open to Him & His plan for my life, and a heightened, personal awareness of the oppressed and fatherless. I have concluded that even if the He just wants me to stay planted exactly where He has me for the time being, there is still so much work to do in the spot that I'm at.

Love you all! 

T

Monday, February 15, 2010

Ants in My Pants


I meant to write this weekend, but it flew right by me. I have some time this evening, so am excited to tell you all about Friday & Saturday of our trip.

Friday was the last day with the kids. On this morning, we received a ride to school, and sang with the kids, as usual. Then, John announced to the kids that the "visitors" were going to be preparing something for them while they ate breakfast. Upon this announcement, we went into the school and organized the t-shirts we brought for them in piles by size. After breakfast, lines of kids came into the school and we helped them each put on a brand new kelly green t-shirt.

Dru told us that they will consider this their school uniform. Most surrounding schools have uniforms, so she said they would be thrilled to have a matching t-shirt that they can all wear together.

After that, we had some time to hang out with the kids and say personal good-byes if we wanted. Karen and I got a picture by some flowers, and then I hung out with her for a few minutes, just her and I. I let her use my camera, and she loved taking pictures of me and telling me where to stand. =)

On this trip, my mom had given me 10 envelopes... 1 for each day. I was supposed to open one every day I was in Africa. Every card had a piece of candy with it =) and often included would be a little card of encouragement to hand to someone else. I still had one with a frog on it that said something like "You are special because God loves you." I gave this to Karen.

The kids had prepared a special program for us, so we went to the soccer field to watch it. Some of the groups of kids sang, while a lot of the individual kids recited poetry, using dramatic hand motions that they picked up on from another poet who had visited the school. At the very end, they showed us some more traditional African dancing fully equipped with a drumming by Grace, and then we all stood up and joined them in the middle. It is during these times that I am so glad that my purpose is to "capture," because then 2 things happen:

1. I am not required or even expected to participate, and
2. I end up with a LOT of useful footage. =)

Anyway, it was a fun time. After the program, we presented a few gifts on behalf of other organizations or generous people from the States, including brand new soccer balls, a playground, and supplies. The kids were so thankful and excited.

Our final good-bye was after this. It was definitely bittersweet going around and hugging all the kids... so, so very sad to be leaving them, but not without a flicker of hope in our hearts for these orphans for a bright and promising future being able to learn about God's love.

We left the school and returned to the guest house to pack for our 2-hour drive to Nsobe Game Camp. We arrived there in good time, and even had some daylight left to enjoy the beautiful scenery. This place was set back quite a ways into a very wooded area. The scene reminded me a lot of somewhere back in the states, even Illinois. But shortly upon arrival, we spotted monkeys, and then I was reminded that I was, indeed, in Africa.

Most of the team paired up and stayed in tents overnight; the boys, and then 3 of us girls had the good fortune to sleep in a chalet. My 2 room mates were scared of getting eaten during the night by a wild animal, so they slept together on the lower level, and I slept upstairs in the loft by myself in a twin bed. 

We put our order in for dinner soon after we arrived. As we were on a search for monkeys, Dru came flying up to us and said, "I just got a phone call that giraffes have been spotted!"

I was beyond excited, and with camera in hand, I started walking VERY quickly down the dirt road that would supposedly lead me to these tall creatures. I even ran at some points. Eventually, off to the right, there was a big open, grassy area, and sure enough, there were giraffes out there walking around. I was able to get in pretty close with my 70-200mm lens, and it was SO cool being able to photograph these beautiful animals!

At one point, I was standing there taking pictures and I felt a pinching sensation on my leg. I slapped my leg, assuming that some sort of bug had just bit me. Before I could kill whatever insect had done so, I felt another bite. Soon, I felt like both of my legs were getting attacked by a stinging insect. I looked over to see that Holly was having the same problem. Fortunately, one of the missionaries who lived nearby knew exactly what had happened-- we had stepped in a line of ants, and they had crawled up our legs under our pants. Her house was nearby, so we both ran into it and took off our pants. She said the only way to completely get rid of them was to turn our pants inside out and make sure they were all gone. Between the two of us, I think we had about 8-12 ants that we had to terminate. It was not a pleasant experience, but I'm just glad we were able to resolve the situation without too much of a scene.

We enjoyed dinner at the restaurant. I ordered chutney apricot chicken, and it was terrific. I loved every bite of it. I also had butternut soup, and chocolate cake for dessert. After dinner, we enjoyed sitting around the campfire and talking for awhile. It was a beautiful evening!

Saturday morning, we were ready by 7am for the game drive. We all loaded into the back of this jeep-like vehicle and sat on benches. I scrambled to an edge, knowing that it would get me the best pictures possible. The ride was SO beautiful, and the morning was perfect weather. We stopped at this secluded area out in the woods where there was this "outdoor" house. Basically, imagine a living room equipped with furniture and everything, but instead of looking out a giant window, one whole wall of the house is just open to the outside. I sat down in one of the chairs and enjoyed the scene in front of me. There was a separate building with a bedroom in it and an outdoor bathroom. I thought it was pretty cool, and I'm not even an outdoorsy person.

Upon arriving back, we had an AMAZING breakfast with fruit, yogurt, cereal, eggs, and meat. We then packed up and had about an hour before we were going to take off for the airport. I sat in a lone chair out in the middle of the grassy area and read a book in the rays. In hindsight, I'm glad I did so, because it was a chance to enjoy something I knew I wouldn't be able to experience for a very long time, which is the sun's warmth. There is something so therapeutic and relaxing about the sun...

We drove to the airport, got checked in, and then met John, Dru, Tyler, and Ramseys back outside for awhile, since we still had quite a bit of time before we had to leave. From there, we said our final good-byes, and boarded our plane back to South Africa. 

Our long, 16-hour flight from South Africa to Atlanta, Georgia was actually not as painful as I thought it would be. My row mates were Heather and Holly. I knew I needed to sleep at some point on this plane ride, so I decided to try the floor. I laid down right beneath their seats by where their feet were. It was close quarters, but I'm used to sleeping that way; every night, I surround myself with pillows and blankets. I thought it would be effective, but I didn't expect to sleep 7 hours! Which is what I did. I couldn't believe it. My head phones ended up breaking, and my ears must be broken because I can never use the little air buds, so I was without movies and music, but I was actually kind of glad. I used the time to think, pray, and process.

We ended up arriving at Bloomington airport at a relatively decent time. By now, I had been up for about 8-10 hours but I was still feeling pretty good. Unfortunately, Leah was not feeling so well. I also forgot to mention that the night before at the game camp, Kent was feeling under the weather, as well. So I'm fortunate to have escaped whatever it is they came down with. Anyway, I got home in enough time to shower and make it to church for 2nd service, so I did. My mom ended up coming home right before I left, because she thought I would just be getting home and was going to bring me lunch. She was so excited to see me and drove me to church.

It was so nice to see everyone, especially family and friends. I was really encouraged that so many people came up to me and knew exactly where I had been, asked how my trip was, and said they had been praying. As I found out, our elder had announced our trip twice over the pulpit, so my church had been very much aware and prayerful! It had also run in our Barnabas Group Prayer Team e-mails. I can say that we all definitely felt the prayers, as our trip was hugely blessed, ran smoothly, and for the most part, we encountered no major problems with injury or health.

After church, I ended up being SO completely tired. Of course, my mom had planned for my whole family to come over for dinner to hear all about my trip, so I took a 2-3 hour nap and then woke up to join them. It was fun being able to tell stories and show pictures. After they left, I was just getting ready to crawl back into bed and I received a phone call, telling me that I was supposed to be at my 3rd shift job that night! I had no idea that I was scheduled to work; I thought I was off until the next day. So I pulled back the covers, got into my car, and drove to work. =) It wasn't too terrible, since my job allows me to sleep, but I was looking forward to spending my first night back in my own bed. 

I am sad to come to a close with recounting my Africa journey, but I will say that I am sure many more posts will reflect back on my trip and thoughts/encounters that I had along the way. I will most definitely post the video(s) when I finish.

Currently, I am trying to avoid the flu, which is seeming to go around like the plague. It has swept through my entire family, and I have somehow dodged it so far. I am taking probiotics every morning and am trying to drink lots of water. =) We are terrified of the flu bug in our family, because most of us get it really bad and a lot of times have to go to the hospital in order to bounce back. In fact, my sister just went through that a couple of weeks ago, so I am hoping to steer clear. I have also spent 2 nights in the past week taking care of a sick resident all night long, so that has not helped my efforts any, but at least I can be thankful to have a bed to sleep in and a warm house to recuperate in if I do get sick. Children in Africa fight malaria and other deadly diseases all of the time without so much as a pillow.

Love you all!

T

Thursday, February 11, 2010

I came to change you, but instead you changed me.

*Music Credit to Paul Colman Trio ("Africa")

Instead of sharing a graphic with today's post, I am going to share this short movie. I put together a power point for one of the guys on our team who did a little presentation last night, and I wanted to end the slides with a "moving picture" snapshot of Africa. It is very basic, and I threw it together in about 15 minutes, but thought I would share it nonetheless. It gets me very excited to work on a couple of bigger video projects in the very near future. I am excited to announce that I am FINALLY through all of my Africa pictures, and they are all edited. I knew it would take me awhile, but I had no idea it would be a 2-week project. It has been so neat to go through it all, though, and relive the experience.

video

Thursday. In my journal, I just have the day listed in bullet-point form, as in "highlights," because I was really tired at the end of this day and so I didn't write too much. I think I can remember most of the details, though. 

I walked to school in the morning. This was our very lsat day of VBS. David, Leah, and Heather were in charge. They had a nice lesson, and the craft was to string beads on medals that the kids could then wear. They loved them. Post lunch, it was pretty much a free-for-all. A lot of the kids played soccer, and I was VERY excited to learn that Andrew (the art teacher) was holding an art class for anyone who wanted to attend. David and I went to it together, and a lot of the older boys were there, as well.

We all sat together at this one table on a couple of benches. I sat in between kids, and I felt like I was in grade school again. It was also then that I was reminded of my obvious tendency to be ADD. I loved the class, but I felt more antsy than a lot of my classmates. In fact, I was thankful that in previous days, I was not having to sit in a classroom all afternoon with the kids but I was free to roam around from class to class and take pictures and explore other parts of the school all day. That's my kind of job!

Anyway, Andrew is an incredibly gifted artist. He would start by taping a small square of white paper up on the chalkboard. Then he would put water on his paint brush, then dab it into a color, then swipe across it with a color. Then he'd add another color in the middle and blend it in, then another at the bottom and do the same. That formed a beautiful sky & water backdrop. Then, he would paint trees, grass, and foliage. Then even darker, he'd put a boat, a person, and a fishing net with astounding detail. In minutes, he would have this beautiful image painted for us to see. Then he would look at us and say, "Now do it."

Ha! Of course, I would watch in amazement as half of the kids would follow his exact strokes and create something amazing. I was always artistic as a kid, but as I got older and more versed to the computer and technology, my drawing and illustrating talents fell by the wayside. However, I do love to create and (attempt to) be artistic in whatever way possible, so I really loved this class. He actually showed us how to do 3 paintings before we started, so by the time that was done, David was getting antsy to go play ball with the boys and left a little early. Of course, I couldn't peel myself away, and continued to paint until David peeked his head in and said, "Hey T, I think the rest of the group left."

I didn't realize how late it had gotten, so I finished up my work and left. Sure enough, everyone else was gone. David was going to stay at the school until that evening, so I started to walk back on my own. I was actually kind of looking forward to the time alone, but right as I got to the corner, Dru pulled up in her car and offered a ride. I was actually more relieved than I thought I would be, and she graciously drove me back to the New Life Center. I actually ended up beating everyone else back.

We showered, got ready, and then headed back to the school around supper time. Thursday night was the night that the staff and teachers at Lifesong were cooking us a traditional Zambia meal. Boy, were we in for a treat.

Upon arrival, the ladies and some of the guys were in the back behind the kitchen cooking. They had rice in a pot and they were also making nshima. I had brought some African fabric with me along on the trip... at my 3rd shift job, I work with a girl who is from Africa, and when she heard I was going she was super excited. 

"I must give you something to wear," she said. "When you dress like an African, then, THEN, you steal the heart of an African."

So I decided to take that seriously and brought it all along. After seeing the teachers wear the same type of thing everyday, I thought it would be cool to break it out and have them show me how to wear it. That night, one of the teachers, Lucy, tied it around my waist as a skirt, so I looked just like them! It was very fun.

Then, they used the other part of my fabric for another purpose. In African culture, you tie part of it around your waist whenever you are up to "dance." So they had fun tying it around us girls and watching us (mostly fail at) dancing. It's all about how you move your hips, but it's not as easy as it looks. Grace would always keep the beat by hitting a bucket, and they would sing for us in a circle. The lucky person would stand in the middle and dance. Then, they did the same to the boys... THAT was funny to watch. It was really a fun time, and there was a lot of clapping and laughing.

We also got to experience the making of nshima. This is like their staple food... it's made from (corn?) flour. Basically, you heat up some water in a huge pot and keep stirring the flour in. It thickens into this very heavy mixture. It reminds me of the texture of Malt-O-Meal. We all took a turn trying to stir it. It was VERY hard! It's so thick and there is so much of it. Of course, those from Africa stirred it around like it was broth. They are pros.

After everything was ready, we went back into the school and sat at a very long table. We all mixed in, so it was fun sitting by and getting to know more of the staff. We all went around and told our names, what we did, and part of the week that touched us. 

The meal was very, very interesting. We all went up and washed our hands, then got a plate, and they gave us HUGE portions of every single thing there. They also told us what it was, and part of me wishes I didn't know what it was I was getting. My plate was literally layered with tons of food. Among the selection were caterpillars and termites. I never did get to my caterpillars; I think they were buried under my food, but I did try a mouthful of termites. I mixed them with nshima; it basically tasted like burnt bugs.

I might add that they informed us, shortly before we ate, that they were out of clean water for us to drink. SO we ate that entire meal without anything to wash it down with. I think that in and of itself was part of the reason I didn't try more than I did. However, I really did enjoy being able to experience food in their culture, even if it's not something I'd want to eat everyday.

It was a very nice evening. We headed back to NLC afterwards, had a devotion  by Kent, and then sang a little. By that time, I was doing good to keep my eyes open. For some reason, I was so tired this night. So I said goodnight early and hit the sack.

Coming up next is the very last day we had with the kids... Friday. I'll probably combine Friday & Saturday into one post because there's not too much to tell about Saturday. Be back soon, and love you all! Thanks for reading.

T

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

No Place for Dessert


I'm back to recount Wednesday's VBS day... 

We woke up and walked to school on this morning. By now, both of my feet had blisters on them from the only 2 pairs of shoes I brought. We were told to bring shoes suitable for rainy weather, so I brought 2 pairs of crocs and a pair of (what I thought would be) comfortable flip flops. I guess no matter how comfortable a pair of shoes seem, when you walk 3-4 miles in them everyday, it changes the picture a little. So after applying a couple of band-aids, I was good to go.

It started to rain when we got there, so we hung out in the school and under the sheltered areas for awhile. Eventually it died off, and we headed out to the soccer field for VBS. Within minutes, blue sky was visible and the sun came out. We circled up for songs, and then enjoyed being taught by Leah, Katrina, and Tyler. The skit was fully equipped with pom pons, and the craft on this day was to make someone special an encouragement card. The activity was a scavenger hunt, and everyone had fun walking around the school area finding items such as "something to ride on," and "something orange."

After lunch, the other half of our group went to visit the compounds. It started to rain, so we had the task of entertaining 200+ kids. It sounds daunting, but all you would have to do is sit down with a book, and you would have 30 kids surrounding you as you read to them. Some of the teachers sat down with us and translated for the kids. We also got out coloring books and crayons; they LOVE to color.

We finished relatively early on this day, and so afterwards we walked back to the New Life Center. David invited Dru's "son" Kafuti over for dinner, and so we really enjoyed having him with us. (He is pictured in the graphic at the top-- in the red). I was asking him some questions before supper about his family and the culture. I asked him about food and what they ate a lot of the time. Then my eyes lit up.

"What do you have for dessert?" I asked

My question was met with the biggest laugh I have ever heard from Kafuti. He was beside himself. He shook his head. 

"Most do not eat dessert," he explained. It was then that I realized that with his surroundings, most were lucky to have one meal a day, let alone dessert to top it off. 

He wasn't offended; just entertained. Then he told me that they eat a lot of ice cream, and also sometimes marshmallows. I also noticed that in Africa, they have really delicious chocolate and cookies.

I love dessert, I really do. I was mainly just trying to ask a cultural question, but instead was met with a reality kick. It is definitely a luxury here in America that I get to enjoy, but am definitely not entitled to. 

After supper, Kaufti told some of us his "story." Up until this point, I had been doing really good keeping my emotions in check... it seems like whenever I have a lot to process, I have the ability to store the harder things away to think about at a later date so I don't get too overwhelmed. However, as I listened to Kafuti share about his childhood, his hardships, and his journey to finding God, I found irreversible tears in my eyes. 

Kafuti talked about how he was abused in his own family, out on his own at a lot of points, and how Dru came into his life when he needed a mother figure the most. I was mostly astonished by how he had been through so much, had no spiritual upbringing or background, yet still had faith in God and knew His comfort. So I asked him a question at the very end...

"At what point did you learn about God?"

He was silent for a minute, and then said that he really never did. No one taught him about God. He just remembers laying there one night and sensing that there was a God, and that he should pray. And that is when he started praying. Since then, many of those prayers have been answered.

It hit me how fortunate that I am. I grew up in a loving, Christian home with parents that care for and support me. They never abused me, neglected me, or accused me of lying. They never kicked me out, rejected me, or abandoned me. I went to Sunday School every Sunday and learned about a loving God. By God's grace, I made the decision to follow Him at a young age, but I had to think of how many people grow up in this type of environment and still refuse to believe. They embrace the comfort of it all but still reject the most important thing, even having been taught it since birth.

And here is Kafuti, tucked away in Africa, having grow up in a family and environment that is anything but what I just described, and he just "knew" there was a God. And he prayed to Him.

Could it be that the desperate, the broken-hearted, and the neglected have an ability to connect with God that far surpasses those of us who live comfortable, easy, and materialistic lives?

Tony finished up our evening with a nice devotion, challenging our perspective and outlook on the trip. Of course, we had more popcorn. I topped off my evening with too much caffeine, though, and was wired... so I ended up staying up way too late.

I'll be back (hopefully) tomorrow with Thursday's recap. Love you all.

T

Monday, February 08, 2010

The Day I Met Leonard

I am going to try to knock out 2-3 days of VBS in today's post, so hopefully I suddenly suffer from a loss of wordiness and can be concise. Nonetheless... Day 2 of VBS was Tuesday. We walked to school again, but about halfway there, John pulled up in his Noah and begged us to get in.

"We love walking," we told him.

"You can walk when you get back to America," he said, "You have already done too much walking here!"

We finally obliged, and I had visions of walking in snow-covered, icy Illinois as I crawled into his vehicle.

When we got to school, it was my group's turn to teach. My group was Tony, Holly, and Chalise. David put me in a group of 3 in case I needed to float off and take pictures.

We did a series of skits that reflected people who demonstrated "endurance" in the Bible. Our craft was to decorate brightly-colored sweat bands, and our activity was Animal Bingo & a bunch of really fun relay races.

After lunch on this day, about 6-7 of us walked to the compound area with some of the staff from Lifesong to do home visits. These are homes of children who attend Lifesong. It was an eye-opening experience.

We split into even smaller groups, and Holly & I were together with one of the teachers. As we walked further into the compound, we walked by the bar, which was playing loud music and was hopping at 2pm in the afternoon. We also walked by a small structure with a loud movie playing inside. We found out it was the movie theater.

The first home we visited, they invited us inside. The front door was literally a sheet that hung down. It was pitch black right at first, because we were used to the bright day outside. Once my eyes adjusted, I saw that I was in a very dark room with one small opening for a window, and a chair and torn-up couch. We were welcome to ask any questions we had, and then the staff with us would interpret. I could not get over the living conditions. We then had a chance to pray aloud for them and their family, which was really neat.

The second home was much the same. We were shown the well where they obtained water, which was literally feet away from their outdoor bathroom. In African culture, the mom is generally the figure who cares (and often provides for) the children. The dad, if he is around, does not do much, or spends his money on drinking rather than on taking care of the family.

As we walked down the dirt streets of this area, I was astounded. Many people were outside and would watch us or point and say in Bemba, "Look at the white people." The ground beneath us was cracked, often with big craters that you would have to jump over, and there is no way you could get a car through some of those places if you tried.

Processing this experience was interesting. I found that I wasn't as emotionally distraught as I would have liked to be. I think I comforted myself with the fact that for most of the individuals in this situation, it is all that they have ever known. Does it make it right? No. But somehow, it made me feel better that they have no idea what living "America" even amounts to. The only reason it seemed so preposterous to me is because I have 100x more in my own closet than a lot of these people have ever owned in totality in their whole life.

With all that being said, I'm not so sure that I'm not the one with the short end of the stick. Having more clutters your life, your mind, and your perspective. Walking in the compound area forced me to imagine what it would be like to live like that. You know what? For some reason, it almost seemed more appealing to me. Fighting for food, stealing to stay alive, and contracting disease because of sanitation deficiency in your living area? No thanks. But when you look at it from the standpoint of simplifying your life to the basics, I think I like that idea better. I kept having the urge to call home, tell my family & friends that I wouldn't be home for another few months, and move in to the compound area with my camera to capture the life there. But I didn't. I thought that would be a little impulsive. =)

But even now, as I sit here and type, I still think that would be a fascinating study... not only to capture it, but to live it while capturing it. That's when you catch real life. And that's when you change.

After visiting the compounds, we all planned a meeting point at one of the crossroads. By the time we all got there, clouds were rolling in an rain was imminent. We started walking toward the school, but were feeling rain drops on our heads. We were instructed by the staff to follow them over to the nearest shelter, which happened to be the overhang of this pretty Catholic church. It was there that I met Leonard.

Leonard was hanging out under there, as well, on his scooter. He was missing a leg, but he had the biggest smile on his face. I was able to ask him a few questions and he even let me take his picture. He is pictured in my graphic at the beginning of this post. At one point, as we were all standing there waiting for the rain to clear, he hopped off his scooter, used his hands to "walk" out into the open, and just sat on the pavement and looked up, letting the rain hit his face. He didn't ask us for help. He didn't explain why he did this. He just did. It was in that moment that I realized that the ability to appreciate the small joys of life is nothing we can buy, earn, or even make ourselves do. It's simply just an attitude.

We finally started back out, and along the road, a truck drove by and offered us a ride. One of the teachers knew the driver and ensured us we'd get there safely, so we all hopped in the back of this white pick-up truck and held on. It was very windy and rain was still pelting our faces, but it was a nice, refreshing ride. I, of course, had my camera stuff with me, so stuffed it all under my shirt so it wouldn't get wet. Consequently, I looked absolutely 8 months pregnant. Anything to protect the camera! Ha.

Other highlights of my day:
-This is the day I met sweet Karen, my pal.
-Got REALLY sunburnt
-Delicious spaghetti for dinner
-David had nice devotion in the evening
-2nd night of AMAZING popcorn!

Well, the situation we were all hoping for has obviously not occurred. I successfully wrote a way-too-long post. I apologize, but I tend to be tangent prone. So we'll only cover one day today. I'll be back, sooner rather than later, with VBS Day 3.

Love you all!

T

Friday, February 05, 2010

The First Day of School

Here I am, ready to share about VBS on Monday. 

Before I begin...  in other news, it would seem as though the whole "jet lag" thing has been an interesting concept in my life. On the way TO Africa, it did not affect me whatsoever. I switched over to African time without a problem, and I never felt better the whole week. On the way home, it wasn't so easy. It wasn't terrible, but what has happened is that I have become a complete morning person. This is when we know something has gone terribly awry. I am the night owl of all nights owls. I am known to stay up until after midnight and sleep in until the last possible moment the next morning. However, ever since my return from Africa, I have been in bed by 10:30 and wide awake between 5:30-7 am. It's crazy... but I kind of like it. I basically gain 3 more hours every morning. Do you know how much that can get done??

Anyway. Monday. *Opening up journal* So Monday- Heather was my trust alarm every morning, and she knew to get me up about 6:30 every time. We needed to leave the house by 7am in order to make it to the school by 7:30 (since we were walking), so this gave me just enough time to get dressed, grab my camera stuff, and eat a bowl of Bran Flakes.

Monday morning, it was very foggy out. There was a thin layer of cloud hanging thick above our head, but it was really pretty. It was cool out, but very pleasant. 

We exited the New Life Center via the front gate and started walking toward the school. I am sure we were a sight to see-- a big mob of white people walking down the streets of Zambia. As we walked, we would pass others on their way to work or other children walking to school. Every once in awhile, a truck or car would come FLYING by, and if you were lucky, they would honk. Otherwise, you would just have to hear it in time to clear the road or else there would be a high chance of getting hit and or grazed. The vehicles would come SO close! They move out of the way for no one.

There's a big roundabout on the way with brightly colored flowers. Other favorites of mine included a railroad and sign covered with spider webs, a very cool fence, a flower-petal lined curb, and some very cool trees. We saw all of these landmarks on our walks to and from the school everyday.

When we got within 5 minutes of the school, there was an increase in the amount of children on the road-- many were in uniforms, but a lot of them just fell into step beside us and gave us shy looks. We asked some of them where they were going and they said, "Lifesong."

"So are we!" We replied. Within 30 seconds, each of us had 5-6 kids holding our hands and walking right alongside us. 

Upon arrival to the school, I heard singing. When we turned the corner behind the school, all the kids were gathered into a huge group, but separated into lines by class. They sang beautiful songs in Bemba. As the week went on, we taught them quite a few new songs with motions that they loved. 

Every morning, John Mumba or one of the teachers would say, "God is good..."

and the children would shout, "ALL THE TIME!"

Then, "All the time..."

The children: "GOD IS GOOD!"

I love how that sounds. It's so true. It may sound like a simple saying but once I thought about it, I realize how very, very true it is, even when life isn't good. Life isn't always good, but God is. And we wonder sometimes how "a loving God can allow tough times to occur." As I sit here and type now and am back in the states, I know a family who is going through the trauma of cancer; their beloved mom is dying and will not be here much longer. Another family I know just lost a loved one to cancer. Why? We don't know. Today, as I was driving with my friend, though, I noted... There has to be a reason, a God-glorifying reason, that these things take place in our lives. And it's because God is good. God sees so much more than we do, and yet we try to understand everything by event, by circumstance, or by effect. We can't. We can't look at "she died of cancer" and equate that to an unloving or uncaring God, because in the grand scheme of things, that very circumstance may be orchestrated by God for the better good of so many and the bigger glory of Himself. It may not be something we understand now, or will ever fully see. But we know God is good, and that's what we must have faith in.

This is where I came to regarding Africa and all that I saw, as well. I saw situations that were sad. Kids who don't get fed for 2 days. Kids who don't have loving parents with their best interest at heart. Kids who are abused. Kids with no shoes to their name. Kids who sleep on a dirt floor every single night. And I found myself wondering... God is good? Of course He is. Because at the end of the day, I still saw joy on these kids' faces. I saw the love of Christ being shared with them by arms that held them, smiles that they received, and hands that were held. God is good, because ultimately, God is all we need in this life to sustain us. In the end, I had to note that these kids in their poverty seem to be better off in being closer to true joy than most Americans who have everything (that they think) they need.

Anyway, sorry for the tangent. Veering back on course... so, after singing is breakfast. Dru told us that on Monday mornings, a lot of the kids show up with stomach aches because they haven't eaten all weekend, and truly they're just hungry. They serve them 2 meals a day at school, breakfast and lunch, and they try to get protein in as much as they can. After breakfast is served and eaten, the kids would come with us out to the big soccer field and split up into (4?) groups ranging in age from 4-14. Each group had 2 group leaders (from our team) plus a Zambian teacher. The groups would sit together and watch the skit/lesson for the day. Monday was Leslie, Sheila, and Kent. They did a great showing of David & Goliath. 

After that, the groups would go into separate locations/classrooms for the group discussion and small group activity. The craft on Monday was for each child to color a puzzle piece. At the end of the day, the project was put together into a giant, beautiful puzzle that Leslie created and drew. It was so neat to see how each little brightly colored piece formed a big, beautiful picture.

There was always a break between our big group activity (out on the soccer field) and lunch, so a lot of times the kids would play soccer, do hand clapping games, or just hang out with us. On Monday, I remember sitting down and within seconds, I had 4-5 kids sitting on my lap, around me, and holding my hand. They will grab your arm and rub your skin. They think it's hilarious to press on it and watch it turn white, and then all the blood rushes back. Also, many hands were in my hair, touching it and feeling it, playing with it. They look at your fingers and count them, and they love to be near and feel love by touch.

Our team ate lunch everyday at the guest house on the school campus. We had PB&Js, chips, cookies, and juice. The juice there is actually a thick nectar that you have to dilute with water, but it's very tasty. 

After lunch, everyone broke up into their groups to go to class. I was lucky to be "floating" between all of these classes, and I found myself landing in the art class taught by Andrew. I absolutely loved it. He is one talented artist! He taught the kids how to paint 3 beautiful pictures by watercolor. It is amazing what he can do, and I was also thoroughly impressed with the kids and their works of art. Tony & Leah were in this class, and I know they enjoyed attempting to paint in the African style... most of the kids showed them up... but they did great. I talked to Andrew for a bit and he told me he was "an artist," and that "God has given me this gift, and I am glad to use it to teach the children."

School gets out at 3. We walked home after and had a lovely dinner of chicken curry. We hung out, played games, ate amazing stovetop popcorn, and headed to bed for Tuesday.

This got long. Sorry. Be back soon with Tuesday-Wednesday's VBS!

Love you all!

T

Thursday, February 04, 2010

A Sunday in Africa

Sunday morning had arrived. The night before, barking dogs outside woke me up at 2:30am... I distinctly remember looking across the dark room and asking Heather, "Why are the dogs barking?" 

"I don't know," she told me.

In my mind, it meant one of two things: there was someone who had tried to break into our house, or there was a large animal outside that would soon eat us all alive.

Needless to say, my imagination is often more active in the middle of the night.

I wasn't scared, though, just tired. And I soon fell back asleep. 

A little before 7am, I again awoke to a hair dryer in our room. Unfortunately, the whole "jet lag" thing had affected most everyone else more than it had me, and a lot of girls were waking up between 5-7 am. I grudgingly rolled out of bed, but after moving around a little I was ready to go. 

We left for church around 8:30 am. The church we attended was nearby and it was called "United Church of Zambia." As we pulled up and exited the vehicle, a lot of the teachers/staff from Lifesong were already there to greet us with big, warm hugs. In Africa, you hug across each shoulder. I was astounded by how welcoming and friendly everyone was, although by the end of the week, I learned that is just part of their wonderful culture. 

I walked a few more steps and tears almost flooded my eyes. In my ears was the most beautiful singing, and off to my right was a huge gathering of little children. All of them were standing there quietly, looking at us. It was then that David walked up to me and whispered in my ear, "If your mom had come on this trip, there is no way she would have gone home empty-handed."

Amen to that. My mom had considered coming on this trip right at first, but then decided not to come. All week long, I kept thinking that perhaps it was a blessing in disguise; she might have come home with several children otherwise. My mom has a huge heart for kids, and would have fallen in love with every single one. Our family did foster care for a number of years when I was in High School for babies, and to this day, we are still connected with a lot of special kids who have since been adopted and have grown up in loving families. These kids who have been no exception, and there is no doubt that my mom would have found a way to pack some into her suitcase.

We walked into the church, which was a large room full of several rows of benches and leftover, brightly colored Christmas / New Year's decorations. There was a Christmas-tree like figure at the front with blinking, colorful lights, and a piano player on a keyboard on the left in the front. A group of Africans were up front, singing and clapping their hands. It took me a minute to take it all in. Keep in mind that in Zambia, most buildings have no glass in their windows, it's open air- and so the breeze you get is whatever outside air flows in. It wasn't too hot that day, luckily, but I'm just trying to paint the picture of how different everything is. We don't sit on padded benches with carpet underneath our feet, and children don't have a bag of toys for church. In fact, one thing I noted is that a lot of the kids sat perfectly still throughout the entire (2 1/2 hour long) service without making one sound. They seem to know how to be content with very little from a very early age.

Anyway, it felt more like a program than a church service. Multiple groups got up and performed songs, and again I say, it is like nothing I have ever heard before. It was beautiful. LOUD, and beautiful. Africans know how to sing, and they aren't afraid of making a joyful noise to the Lord. They also know how to move!

There was a guest speaker, who was actually a woman, who got up and preached, read from the Bible, and gave the message. It was in half English, half Bemba... often translated. I really, really enjoyed it. 

As I said, the total sitting time there was over 2 hours. It was a combined service, so it was a bit longer. I loved every minute of it.

After church, we were invited next door in the backyard for tea, juice, and cookies. We stood around with some of the staff, and one of the little boys who attends Lifesong, Juniper, was there. It was really nice.

From there, we left church and headed over to Lifesong school for a tour by John Mumba and Dru. We walked around and became acquainted with the place we would be all week long with the kids, holding VBS. We went through the classrooms, into John's office, the kitchen, and just looked around. It was nice being able to see it in advance to know what to expect.

Then we headed into town to the Curio Market. It was raining at this point, so we all piled into this tent where several interesting items were being sold. Had it not been raining, I would have loved to have walked around to other areas, as the place was huge, but we all stayed in this one spot. Jewelry, coasters, figurines, purses, candle stick holders, pots, bowls, etc... there were many things to go through. Each booth had an African standing by who, when they would see even a flickering of interest on your face, would grab your arm, drag you over to the nearest piece of merchandise, and tell you that you just had to have it. 

"I will give you a special deal, since you are my first buyer today," is what about every single one of them told me. I stopped believing it after being told it for the 5th time.

"You have to have this," another would say, holding up a purse. "White women LOVE these!"

I walked out of there with an awesome reversible purse made out of some great African fabric, a necklace with a cross on it, and a blue vase with animals that says, "The Zambia." All this for 20 American dollars... however, we paid them in kwacha, so I have no idea how much that equates to, but in US standards, I felt like it was a pretty good deal.

Others along became a bit frazzled with the whole process; you have to be comfortable saying "no," or learn the art of sneaking away if you truly aren't interested, or else they'll keep you there all day and convince you to buy everything. However, I thoroughly enjoyed the process and would go back again by myself if ever given the chance.

We ate dinner in town at a place that had a wide variety of food. I was happy to see "American" choices on the menu, and promptly ordered a hamburger and fries, which sounded SO good to me. Call me adventurous, I know. Anyway, I would soon learn that hamburgers in Africa taste more like meat loaf. The fries and coke were good, though, and I tried to get through as much of it as I could. 

After supper, we went back to the guest house and just relaxed. The group for Monday went over their skit for VBS, and a lot of people played soccer outside with some of the other Africans on the property. I took pictures. We played games inside, then a lot of people were off to bed early.

The synopsis of Sunday ended up being a lot longer than I planned, so I'm going to end here for now. I'll come back soon with my review of Day 1 & 2 of VBS at Lifesong... see you soon, and love you all!

T

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

The Journey Begins...

While on my journey in Zambia, at the close of each day, I wrote down a synopsis of what went on. At the time, it took some effort, but now in hindsight I am really glad that I did it for 2 reasons: 1) I have a terrible short term memory, so now I have something to go off of to update others and this blog, and 2) I have a written record of some fun memories, including some stuff I would have never remembered happening.

Since I did this, I would like to update my blog on a daily basis this week using my journal as a guide. I will start with Day 1-2, which was our traveling.

To start, let me just note that I am so blessed to have an amazing family! The night before I left, my family took me out to dinner to send me off. It was so nice. A few days earlier, the girls from our "Girl's Night Out" (which includes my mom, sisters, and a family friend/cousin) all gave me useful items to take to Africa, which was so nice. I honestly felt like I was leaving the country for 10 months instead of 10 days, but it was great to hug everyone good-bye and share my excitement with them before parting ways.

One of the most thoughtful gifts I received was a darling journal that my sister made for me. Her kids (Dom, Sophia, and Beau) all drew/colored me pictures, and she decoupaged it with a map of Africa on the journal. They all also wrote me a little message in the notebook. This journal is precisely what I used to write down my thoughts all week!

The journey started on Thursday morning. Everyone on the team except Chalise, Tyler, Leslie, Katrina, and Sheila met at my house in Morton at 9am. From there, we drove to Bloomington airport. Leslie, Katrina, & Sheila met us there. Since it was morning and we had plenty of time on our hands, I stopped by the little coffee shop and got a mocha. I started chatting with the barista and told her about our trip... she told me I looked familiar and I told her the same. After giving me my coffee, I went and joined our group. About 5 minutes later, she came bounding up to me with news that she texted her friend about me and found out that I was in her friend's class at school-- small world! We are now Facebook friends... you never know who you're going to run into at the airport, I guess! =)

The plane ride from Bloomington to Atlanta was pretty short, just a couple of hours. However, I found it necessary to drink a lot of water on this flight, and so about 15 minutes before landing the pilot announced that we need to go to our seats and buckle up. Well. For some reason, I didn't take this cue to take care of my full bladder, and soon thereafter I was in some sort of desperate pain. I kept thinking the plane would soon land, but it didn't. I was in terrible pain, and my eyes kept watering. I looked back to the bathroom at the back of the plane, and I even had Tony switch me seats so I was sitting by the aisle and could bolt to the back ASAP upon arrival. The plane finally landed, and I peeked around the corner of my seat, starting to stand up... and my attempt was promptly met with the flight attendant shaking his head "no" and motioning for me to sit back down. Defeated, I slumped into my seat, trying not to envision what peeing my pants on an air plane would look like. About 5 minutes later, I couldn't handle it any longer, and I got up, bolted to the back, and pointed to the bathroom door.

"I'm sorry," I apologized. "I'm having bladder issues."

That's all I said... and somehow, it worked. I mean, really... we were on the ground, completely landed... what was going to happen? The only reason I could foresee needing a seat belt at that point was in case we crashed into the airport, which was highly unlikely and did not occur, so I was glad to be able to take care of business. The only other time I had felt such pain in my life from a full bladder was another time that ended up being a lot more disastrous, in which I will not describe at this time, but nonetheless, it did bring back painful memories that I was glad to be able to solve.

Once we made it into Atlanta airport, we stopped at the very cool food court and grabbed a bite to eat. We had a relatively hefty layover, plenty of time to enjoy a late lunch, charge needed technology, and make it to our gate to board the big plane to Johannesburg!

We all boarded, and the plane was HUGE! This was my first international flight, and after 5 minutes of sitting there, I knew I would love the flight. There were 3 rows of seats, which was unlike anything I had ever seen. I was seated in the middle seat of the middle section, right in between Katrina and Leah. In front of us were TVs with a touch screen including a wide selection of movies, music, and games, all free and complimentary to the flight! An hour after takeoff, we were served a very nice dinner. I made it my personal goal to stay up almost the entire time so as to counteract jet lag. I achieved this by watching 3 excellent films, 1 which was an independent film. I'd like to note that independent films are often hidden treasures. The one that I watched was!

Anyway, I stayed up most all night. I think the only other person who did this was Kent. Every once in awhile, we'd look across the way at each other and wave, while others next to us were sound asleep. 

We arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa at about 5pm on Friday, which was actually 9am our time. So it was essentially as if I had pulled an all-nighter. After checking into the VERY nice hotel that we stayed in overnight (very bright and modern-looking), we cleaned up and ate dinner. We split into 2 groups, and those I ate with dined at a restaurant called Tribes. It was tasty, and I split ribs & chicken with Heather. Also, I ordered dessert, which consisted of a chocolate bucket with chocolate mousse inside. It was amazing. 

After dinner, most of us were ready to call it a night. I was especially glad to be so tired, because I went right to sleep and slept until morning without a problem. Breakfast was equally amazing, provided by the hotel in the Flag Cafe. The orange juice that I drank was possibly from Heaven. It was the most amazing OJ I had ever experienced. We had an hour to kill, so we spent those out in the warm sun by the pool... relaxing. After that, we checked out and rode back to the hotel to board our flight from Johannesburg to Ndola, Zambia.

It was a couple hour flight. The airport here was a bit more primitive; upon arrival, we paid our visa entry fee and went through customs. They searched all of our bags and found a bunch of t-shirts we were taking to give to the kids. This seemed to be our only problem; we were told we had to claim these as gifts. Luckily, our driver, Ramseys, had an "in" since he was familiar with the individuals performing our customs search, so that made everything run a bit smoother.

Dru, John, and Tyler were all there to meet us at the airport outside, so after we all made it through customs, we took our bags and loaded up the 3 vehicles there to take us. Dru brought her car, John had his Noah, and Ramseys had the bus. Heather, Sheila and I rode with Dru, so it was nice to be able to talk with her and ask her questions on the way to Kitwe. It was about a 2 hour drive from Ndola to Kitwe. I used a lot of this time becoming accustomed to the fact that cars drive on the left side of the road, and the steering wheel is on the right side of the car. Crazy!

We arrived at the New Life Center in Kitwe, which is a little over a mile away from Lifesong school, where we stayed all week. This place is situated on a big piece of land with green grass, trees, flowers, and a fence that surrounds it with security by the front gate and dogs that bark. There's another building, a house where missionaries live, and a smaller house the boys stayed in. The girls were fortunate enough to stay in the bigger house with a nice-sized kitchen, living area, and several bedrooms. We found out later that this guest house was built by the missionaries' son.

After unpacking and getting settled in, Dru and John gave us a quick rundown of the week and how the next day would go, and then we were left to enjoy some beef stew and relax. We spent the rest of the evening chilling out, planning for the next day's VBS, playing some games, and heading to bed early. I was all about taking pictures, so I made sure to document anything outside that I could before daylight came to a close. Unfortunately, I had a bunch of pent up energy inside, so it felt good to get outside into some fresh air. Upon one of my walks, I met Watson, one of the Africans who lived on the property, and he was so sweet to me. He told me his youngest son went to Lifesong, and also welcomed me warmly to his country and told me it was a neat opportunity to experience Africa at such a young age. "You will see why God has brought you here," he told me, "and you will want to return soon!"

He was right...

I'll be back tomorrow to tell you about our experience at church on Sunday and Day 1 of VBS.

Love you all!

T