Monday, March 2, 2015

A Week in the Life of Rachel

Sunday: Church.  Ladies' meeting after church.  Shopping, around the house stuff, and getting ready for the week.
Monday: Class 1:30-5:30.  After class, ladies' hang-out at the mission.
That was fun. :)  Jen wanted to get together with the ladies before she moved.  We ordered pizza and I made brownies.  (Yes, I'm clearly on a pizza-and-brownie kick.)  We chatted and played Pit and took pictures.
(We were having a hard time getting our act together for pictures, clearly.)
Tuesday: Class 10:30-12:30, 1:30-5:30.  After class, went to J&A's.
Wednesday: Class 10:30-12:30, 1:30-5:30.  Meeting after class.  Directly after meeting, met up with some friends at the mall.
Jen had texted me to see if I wanted to get ice cream and watch the sunset with them.  Sunsets are my one weakness, so I said yes.  I'm glad I did.  It was another fun evening.
We got some ice cream and then went up on the...roof? watch the sunset.  It was really windy, as evidenced by the hair going everywhere.
(What is wrong with my face there?!)
Again, getting decent pictures isn't a piece of cake.   The wind kept whipping our hair into our faces, and getting three people to not blink at the same time...well, yeah.
Cousins. :)
Pictures never do a sunset justice, but all the same, here you go.
Lights at dusk.  (Jen took those three pictures, I think.)
Ah, Jen.  I'm going to miss you.  A lot.
After the sun went down, we decided it was best to head back to where Jen was staying (some areas just aren't that great after dark, you know).  Michi said she needed to get back.  The rest of us decided we were hungry, so we walked out with her.  She ended up coming to the restaurant with us and we talked for a couple hours.
Hurray for friends and yummy food and unhurried conversations!
Thursday: Class 10:30-12:30, 1:30-5:30.  Prayer meeting after class.  J&A's after prayer meeting.
Friday: Cleaning, etc., to get the house ready for Susie.  Class 1:30-5:30.  Swung by the store.  Had Susie waiting for me when I got home.
We made pizza (see?  Pizza kick.) and chatted until midnight.
Saturday: Run errands with an NTM couple - shots for Susie and some shopping downtown.  Went to visit a lady we both knew.  Came back and visited at my place for a while.
Thursday, Friday, and Saturday it was so dusty here.  We were driving along the beach here, and you can't even see the two normally-visible islands.
For you, Sarah: an old fire truck.
(I should probably state for the record that those flowers weren't for Susie.  She was just holding them.) 
Here we are, driving past the "Saturday market".  I've heard it stretches on for nearly a mile.
I don't have pictures of our visit with Vicky, but we got there around noon.  It was a quintessentially African experience.  We showed up, and she was like, "You'll stay for the meal, right?"
...The meal which she had just started.  I'm not sure if you know this about African meals, but they tend to take a while.  Like, sometimes three hours or more.  So we looked at each other and said, "Okay, sure."  (My vote was in as soon as I found out it was mafé.)

She had just moved, so there were boxes and bags to rearrange.  We helped with what we could - dusting, sweeping, and a few random kitchen tasks.  Her water wasn't running, so we carried filled up five-liter bottles at the clinic across the street.
And we waited.  My stomach may not have learned the art of patience yet, but my mind, at least, is slowly adjusting to the rhythm of life here.  Things happen when they happen.  There are some things you can't rush, and you don't try to.  You just take things as they come.
We moved the gas can from the windy courtyard to the room, so they fire would burn better.  As we waited, we chatted.  Vicky's elderly dad lay on the single-wide bed, her cousin (who was sick) lay on the same bed - curled up against the wall - and then there were two more of us sitting on the corners of the bed.  (Have you noticed personal space isn't a top priority here?  And yeah, I'm learning to be okay with that.)
The gas finished before the rice was cooked, which of course necessitated a trip to the boutique to get a full gas can.  By the time all was said and done, lunch was ready around 4:00.
She piled the platter with rice and poured the sauce over top.  "That looks like a lot," Susie whispered in English.  It did - but between the six of us, we managed to finish it all.  And it was worth the wait.
Susie and I left after that...tired, but well-fed.
I'm so glad we had time together.  She's a great friend.
By the way, I think Saturday was the only day last week that I was in bed before midnight.  I usually don't do that for a whole week.  Last week was rather exceptional, I s'ppose. :)

And there you have it.  A week in the life of Rachel, with pictures!  Until next time, people.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Everyday Life: Staying Connected

I don't have wi-fi at my apartment.  Instead, I use a clé.  It looks like an ordinary USB drive, but when I plug it into my computer, it gives me internet connection.  Ooo!  Well, actually, there's another step to the process.  I have to buy credit.  Every boutique sells cards in various amounts (which can be used for either internet and phone).  You buy a card, scratch to reveal the code on the back, enter it in the window that pops up and voilà!  Connected. :)

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Q&A: Adjusting

So, how long have you been there in West Africa?
Last Saturday marked 18 months.  Crazy!

Does it feel like "home" yet?
No, not really.  I can honestly say that I'm at the point where I have embraced my life here - not that I enjoy every moment or love everything single thing about living here.  But I am here right now, and this is the life I'm going to live right now.  The good, the bad, the ugly.

What were some of the biggest difficulties/struggles initially - like, maybe during the first six months?
Where to start?!  Well, I got here during hot season, so I was sweaty all the time, I had a heat rash that didn't go away for weeks, and I was just so. tired.  I actually came home from class each day and laid down for a nap - something I never did in the States!  I also really disliked feeling like the village idiot almost every time I attempted to do something - even the simplest everyday tasks.

What are some interesting things that are different from the US, but have become more or less normal to you by now?
The small change thing (which I've already told you about).  Very little personal space.  Eating from a common bowl.  I'm sure there's a ton more, but I can't think of them right now.  Probably because they're normal. :) 

Can you share some specific examples of progress you've noticed?
When I first started one-on-one language sessions, my conversations with Marie-Claude basically consisted of, "So, what did you do this morning (or last night)?"  Slowly, I was able to give and understand more details, then I was able to express more and more abstract ideas, and eventually explain my opinion (and understand hers) on a range of subjects.  That's been really fun.

What are some things that are currently still hard to live with?
Traffic, if I'm on foot, that is.  Especially the guys on motorcycles.  I do not like the way most of them drive!  (I've almost been run over a few times...)  Also, I get super tired of flirty guys.  "Just leave me alone, for Pete's sake!"  On a less trivial note, I still haven't gotten used to the begging children.  Every time I walk past them, I just...don't know what to do.  I feel so helpless in the face of all the needs around me.

What do you miss most about home?
My family and friends!  And good Mexican food.  And California scenery.  California will always be the prettiest place in the world to me.

How have you dealt with the adjustments, the stress, the difficulties?
Um...well...sometimes I'd kind of just curl up into a ball inside and try to shut out the world for a bit.  That wasn't necessarily the ideal approach, I suppose.  Other times I'd do something crafty, or watch a movie and have popcorn, or read a good book.  I talked to my Mom (and a couple close friends) a lot.  It was helpful - probably essential! - having those trusted people to process things with.  And I listened to sermons in English to stay encouraged and fed, because obviously I got very little out of church in the beginning.

What do you wish you had known before you came?
Hmm.  Not sure...

If you were to hop on a plane and fly back to the States tomorrow, what would be the hardest adjustment(s) in reverse?
I think I'd be overwhelmed.  "Everything is so clean!  And orderly!  And there's so much stuff!  And people just take it for granted."

What have you learned from West Africa (or West Africans)?
A lot!  One area that comes to mind is sharing.  I think the Western world tends to place a high value on personally owning things, but here it seems less is "mine" and more is "ours".  I can definitely grow in that area.  Another thing is prayer.  Wow.  Although I don't want to make a blanket statement, in my experience, prayer is real strength of the African believers.  They just open their mouths and pour out their hearts to God as if it's the most natural thing in the world.  I love that.  Something else that comes to mind is patience.  Things tend to take longer here - preparing a meal, for instance - and people tend to be okay with that.  And I'm learning to slow down (at least...sometimes) and just take life at a moment-by-moment pace.

What do you love most about West Africa?
My friends - my teammates, my host family, the helpers at the language center.  And mafé.  And chebu yapp.  And the colorful clothes.  And the value placed on hospitality.  And the thunderstorms.  Someone else said, "...For every difficulty here, for impossibility, for every little thing that makes you raise your eyebrows and ask Why?, there is something else that makes you smile at its beauty, wonder at its simplicity.  There is a rawness, an openness, the simple humanity of need one another.  And because you have lived and breathed these things, because you have embraced them and come face-to-face with your own prejudices and weaknesses and inadequacies, you are forever changed."  Life here is messy, but that messiness has its own kind of beauty.

What have you learned about God through this whole process?
He never changes.  I can cling to Him and to His promises when my world seems to be just a swirling mist.  He's so much bigger and more amazing than I could have ever imagined.  He always knows what I need, He is always with me, and nothing in this universe can ever separate me from His love.  I always knew that in my head, but the last year and a half has worked those truths a lot deeper into my heart.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Auntie Corner

Because the three older ones all have birthdays this time of year, and because they're all so cute...
So they're standing with my friend Abigail, who's only slightly taller than I am.  (Which means those kiddos are getting waaaay too close to my height!)  Man, do I miss them.
"It looks like he's proud of his little belly."
This is the day Mom had to change him into a slightly too-small outfit that Sarah said looked like "the baby version of skinny jeans".
A boy and his Steve (according to my bro-in-law, "All stuffed monkeys are 'Steve'.").
Isn't he just too cute?!
"I love to work out.  Just kidding.  I take naps."
Yes, my loves, Auntie Rachel is head over heels for you.