Ten Years in Africa!

This week marks 10 years since I landed in Africa, and I think every ANT in the entire kingdom has decided to stop by our house to celebrate. Fortunately, I have some of this expertly branded product handy:

photo (17)

A lot has happened in 10 years. I became a mother, Timbali Crafts was born, and my age now starts with a ‘4’ to name a few. I thought I’d share some (perhaps 10!) thoughts on some of what I’ve learned during my decade in Africa. First off, let me set the pace by saying—

  1. There is SO MUCH I don’t know. I really should be an expert on Swazi culture by now, but more than feeling knowledgeable in ‘all things Swazi’ I feel like I’m just more aware of how complex this culture, and cultures in general, really are. In your beginning years here you bust through the first few layers of culture and feel like an expert. Hang out a bit longer, and you realize there’s a whole lot more to go and even what you thought you understood, you didn’t. It’s humbling to keep learning over and over again how not-smart you really are!

On the more practical side—

  1. When you are close to a decent bathroom, USE IT, because before you know it, you won’t be close to a decent bathroom…eek. Also, it’s good to lower your standards for what qualifies as a ‘decent bathroom’. (To be fair, this continent also has some of the coolest bathrooms I’ve ever seen, i.e. with a view of zebra and rhino at a watering hole!)
  2. Don’t drown your sorrows in Milk Shakes. My first couple years in Africa were kind of rough, and in the middle of the heat and the stress and all things foreign, nothing tasted better than some cold creamy goodness that gave me a little taste of something from home. Understandable I think, but not so wise—I’m still paying the price for all those milkshakes!
  3. Don’t believe everything you hear. Just because a man says he was in a horrible car accident and can dislocate his elbow so that it hangs at a gruesome angle doesn’t mean it’s true. This is especially confirmed when he shows up at your gate with the same story (and the same elbow) 3 years later. Also, just because a man says, “I love you” doesn’t mean he is sincere. Also easily confirmed, when it’s followed by, “I love everyone like you!” and you hear him repeat his stellar pick up line to every other foreign woman who walks by.
  4. Some popular American sayings sound really stupid here. The customer is NOT always right (no matter how much I insist I am!). Time is NOT money (in a country where many people don’t have much money, but time is plentiful), and the early bird does NOT get the worm…it just sits around and waits for everyone else to arrive! (I may have rejected that last statement a little too completely—because now my Swazi friends ask if I could please arrive a bit earlier to things.)
  5. Automobiles are both a blessing and a curse all wrapped up in shiny metal. There is so much I could share in this category, but I am choosing to block out all of my traumatic motor vehicle related memories.

FYI: We’re getting a little more serious now folks…

  1. Adoption and Single mama-hood aren’t for sissies. I might expand more on this when we celebrate a decade of Ellie in January, but let me just say, there have been some rough patches. At the same time, getting to be a mom is really the biggest joy and gift from the last 10 years, and we have always ALWAYS been well cared for. We have the perfect Provider and Protector. And of course when I think about my next statement, I know I have it so much easier than many…
  2. African women are STRONG. I hear a lot of people come here and say, “They have so little, but they are so happy.” I get what they mean and the heart behind it, and I know I’ve said similar things at one point or another, but honestly, these days that statement makes me want to slap my forehead just a little bit. In my experiences with the women I work with, it’s not so much that they are ‘happy’ with their severe lack and sometimes painful suffering…it’s that they are STRONG and despite hardships I can’t imagine, they get up in the morning, they do their best to feed their families, they house and care for children who aren’t their own, and many times these women are abused and oppressed. They gossip, they grumble, they fight (just like every human!), but they are strong, and their smiles and laughter and perseverance and HARD work are pretty miraculous to me.

    This is Gcebile cutting concrete blocks…no problem.

  3. Friendship is LIFE SAVING. I have friends who I have done years and years of life and ministry with on a few different continents. They keep me sane and give me perspective. There’s also family and friends who have supported us by prayers, finances and phone calls, not only during these last 10 years in Africa, but also for the 8 years before that. AMAZING. I can also think back over the last decade to friends who were just in my life for a season—who I might not even be drawn to hang out with in ‘normal life’—but we were thrown together in this foreign place at the right time, and it was obviously a provision from the Lord. I could go on and on, because my life is so thoroughly blessed by friendships.
  4. Love with discernment. Philippians 1:9 has been a verse I have come back to over and over again in the last couple years: “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight.” There are people in hard circumstances with no easy answers. There are people who are just hard to love. There are cultural and economic differences that can make things complicated. How do we love people in the midst of all of this? How do we love without conveying the wrong message or creating dependence? How do we even start when the needs are so great? Our first response–the quickest, most obvious, most easily funded ‘solution’–isn’t always the best one, the empowering one, or the one that gives dignity. Relying on the Lord to fill my love with ‘knowledge and depth of insight’ is what I need all the time! He sees the heart. He sees the big picture. WE ARE NOT the solution for every problem—HE IS. He helps us love with His love and with wisdom.

Although there is much more, that’s it for now—TEN things for TEN years in the southern hemisphere! It’s been more than I ever could have dreamed up myself. I’m so thankful for all God has done. Milkshakes for everyone! On me!

[NOTE: See our August 2014 newsletter here, with details about our recent Timbali Women’s camp and general life stuff. If you’d like our newsletter (less of my thoughts, more of just the facts!) delivered directly to your inbox 4-5 times a year, you can subscribe here. THANKS!!!]

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3 thoughts on “Ten Years in Africa!

  1. Awesome reflections! Funny, humble, and insightfull! Love the one about how African woman are strong and that Short-Term Missionaries need to stop saying “They have so little but are so happy”. Also love #10 about discernment. Good stuff Julie! God bless you and may the next 10 years be even better

  2. This is an excellent word picture of your ten years in Swaziland! In some ways I can’t believe it’s been that long ago that you left for Africa, but there are times that it seems much longer. We love and miss you and Ellie so much, but feel blessed that you are serving The Lord in so many ways.

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