Hurry up and wait!

How many times have you heard that? I always cringe when I do.  It’s like when someone says to me, “Are you workin’ hard or hardly workin’?” Urg.

Waiting is something us Westerners are just not good at.  If we see four people in line at the bank we decide to come back later.  Or if we do decide to stay and endure the 6 minute wait we whip our our phones and post an update about having to wait for the elderly lady at the counter who wants to pay her bills in cash and is carefully counting it all out.  Then we check our Instagram account, email, messages and if time allows, the news.  To me that isn’t waiting.  Waiting is standing there, watching the people around me, actively exercising my patience muscles.

In Africa you have to learn to patiently wait or you’ll go nuts.  There are queues for everything.  And when you watch the people waiting for whatever it is, they don’t seem to mind.  They are talking to the ones they are with or whoever is next to them.  Sure, some will pull out phones, even out in the boonies of Doma, but mostly people will spend their time talking or just sitting watching life around them.  I admire that.

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We have learned to be patient during our time in Zimbabwe, or at least we’ve learned that we need to be more patient.  We’ve been given plenty of opportunities to practice.  From the moment we touched down on the runway and waited for the mad scramble to subside so we could retrieve our overhead luggage and get out of the big aluminum tube with it’s stuffy recycled air, we were going to be stretching our patience again and again.

What is the longest that you’ve ever had to wait in an office? Or at the hospital emergency room? Hours, I’m sure.  For us, the immigration office is the penultimate in patience purgatory.  We had to go get our visitor visas renewed every 30 days and it meant waiting. I remember the first time we had to wait all day long.  We arrived at 8:30am thinking we’d be in and out in no time.  Nope, we were told to sit down and wait while they found our file.  At 1pm I left to go find some lunch and brought back burgers and fries for the girls.  At 3:30pm we were called up to the counter and by 4pm we were finished.  We were all dumbfounded, having never experienced anything like that before.  Let me tell you, the next month we brought a picnic lunch, books, tablets, snacks and drinks.

We had many more opportunities to wait and be patient during our time in Zimbabwe.  Now we are back in Canada and again find ourselves waiting.  What we thought was going to be a two or three month stay has stretched out to six months.  There are many hoops to jump through to get our business visa and just when we were ready to submit the application last week we were told we had two more steps to do before we could.  Nuts.

How many times have we all heard that God’s timing is perfect and we just need to be patient? It’s hard not to get frustrated with cliches.  Perhaps the frustrating part is that often cliches are true and accepting that truth is the difficult part.  I totally believe that God’s timing is perfect.  Our journey to this point is evidence of the fact.  I believe that He has it all in control.  My part is to live out that belief.  I’m a do-er.  I’m not a great be-er.  Verses like, “Be still and know that I am God” are not my favorite.  I can appreciate what it’s saying, but my personality is such that I’d rather be busy working and knowing that He is God.

People have remarked about the difficulties we must face in Africa, and honestly, it really didn’t feel that hard.  We didn’t have electricity or hot water for three months in the house we were living in and we just dealt with it, no big deal really. Watch where you walk, there are plenty of snakes around.  No problem.  Find a tool to fix the tool that you need to fix the tool that you need to use, just another day.  Waiting for paperwork to get cleared, brutal.

The wait will be worth it.  I believe it.  We have had lots of great times while back in Canada.  We have experienced the love of friends and family and made some cool new memories and connected with people.  Our waiting has felt like an active sort of waiting much of the time and we are continuing to grow closer as a family.  God is in the waiting, I just need to suck it up, be still and know.  It will be worth it.

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Standing out

Carole and I lived in Ukraine for four months in 1997.  We lived in an apartment on our own, shopped in the market like everyone else and studied Russian at the medical institute everyday.  I remember once talking to a class of students and they said we stood out, even though we had the same color of skin.  We asked them what made us stand out and they said that we smiled a lot.  Apparently that marked us as foreigners.

Now we live in Zimbabwe and yes, we stand out.  Our skin is a different color.  Our hair is blond-ish, our eyes are light and we speak with accents, at least the Americans say we do. It won’t matter how long we live in Zimbabwe, we will always stand out.  We will always be ‘from away’, like we have been in New Brunswick for the past 20 years.  When Lia and Naomi walk to school you can spot them from a mile away.  I kind of like that, actually. There are a few white Zimbabweans around Doma, but it feels like we stand out from them too.  They have an ease about life there that we don’t have yet.  We still get excited about cobras and pythons in the yard, for example.

We are making steps to fit in with the Shona people.  We have a school teacher come over twice a week to teach us Shona so that we can speak in their language.  That is not an easy thing, let me tell you.  And when you do try to say something and they laugh at you, it doesn’t help.  It took me getting pretty frustrated until someone told me that they laugh because they are happy that we are trying to use their language.  Oh. Good.  I know I sound terrible when I speak Shona, and the laughing didn’t exactly encourage me to try harder.  Carole and I also work alongside Shona people and are getting to know a lot of people just by working together.

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One Friday afternoon I was home with Lia and Nae and we decided to drag some firewood up to our house.  A fence was being put up around our group of houses so a line had been cut through the bush and the downed trees were stacked up.  So the three of us dragged wood and made a pile by our house and didn’t really think anything of it.  It seemed like a natural thing for us to do.

I found out later that the assistant foreman of the building crew, Vengai, had been watching us.  I heard through my buddy Guvere, the foreman, that he was shocked to see us hauling wood to our house.  Vengai said, ‘They are just like us! Mr Jeff didn’t have the garden boy to get the wood, they did it themselves! They are just like us!’  I cried when Guvere told me about this.  At this point we had been in Zimbabwe about 8 months and looking back it is still the highlight of my time there.

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I work alongside the men, but I still get called ‘Mr Jeff’ or ‘sir’, even by men older than me.  I will have the guys into the house for coffee, but you can tell that they are uncomfortable with it and love it at the same time.  It is a strange sort of space to be in. We want to be accepted into life in Doma, but realistically we won’t be.  At least on a large scale.  But we can be on a macro level.  On an individual level.

All of this takes me to something I firmly believe in and want to walk out in my life.  It is all about relationship.  To me building relationships are everything.  I treasure my friendships and my time in Zimbabwe was a time of building new ones that I can’t wait to get back to.  It is only through relationships that I feel people have a right to speak into each other’s lives.  I wouldn’t want a stranger to try to tell me how to live my life, but if someone I love and trust calls me on something, then I’ll listen.  This is my approach to life at Eden.  I am making new friends in Africa and they are learning to accept me and my family of foreigners.

I don’t care if I stand out when I’m tearing down the dirt road in Doma on my bike, or my kids stand out walking to school in the morning.  What I do care about, is that we are loving people and being loved in return.

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Closer

There were so many things that I didn’t know when we left for Zimbabwe.  Who could say what challenges, what opportunities, what joys and hardships we would face? You can try to mentally prepare for testing times, but until you face them you can’t really know how you’re going to make out.

One thing that I thought about a lot before leaving was how this change was going to affect our family as a unit, and as individuals.  Specifically, I wondered about Lia and Nae, what it would do to their relationship.  Being 4 years apart in age, they are sort of at different stages.  Movie nights can be more complicated now.  Lia doesn’t always want to watch Pixar’s latest offering, so we have to teach compromise.  What we witnessed over our time at Eden was awesome!DSCN6996

Lia and Naomi became friends.  Sounds dumb maybe, they are sisters after all and shouldn’t they be friends? But the reality is that siblings are not always friends, that’s just the way it is.  Our girls spent all their time together outside of school and they were great together.  We were able to watch them grow closer than they would have in Canada out of necessity.   There were about a dozen people on our last plane coming back to Canada and as soon as the seatbelt light was off Carole and I spread out, each taking a row of seats to ourselves.  We looked back to see the girls side by side, not even an empty seat between them, talking and laughing together.  In a plane where they could have been 30 seats apart, they chose to be as close to each other as they could be.  I just about cried to see them.2015-09-22 CLINIC, Lilli's Birthday, London, Airplanes, NB 220

As parents heading to the ‘mission field’ we worried about our girls, but so far, it’s been awesome and Lia says she can’t wait to get back.  Thank you, God, for that.