Friday, November 28, 2008

Jumping off a Bridge

During those awful months when Rick was studying for and taking his CPA exams, I received a few "I'm jumping off a bridge" threats. In fact, I still have one saved on the answering machine, just for good old times. I know when someone jokes about suicide, your supposed to take them pretty serious. I just couldn't. Usually it just made me chuckle and I'd try to have an extra yummy dessert that night. Now that I've experienced jumping off a bridge myself, I'm even less worried than I was before. I had no idea it would be so hard.
My decision to jump off this bridge, connecting Zambia to Zimbabwe, had nothing to do with depression. In fact, I was happily touring around a very beautiful part of Africa, Victoria Falls. This is one of the seven natural wonders of the world. It's amazing!
I had just been on a safari and seen all sorts of beautiful animals.
And best of all, I was days away from being home with my family again. Things were good. So why jump off a bridge? Peer pressure, of course. And the fact that I like to say I've done things. Makes me feel cool. I wanted to be able to say I had bungee jumped. That's all it took and $100 later I was looking over the bridge of one of the highest bungee jumps in the world. And that's when fear set in.
For the next 30 minutes I sat in agony as I tried to talk myself into jumping off a bridge. I was absolutely sick to my stomach, thought I might throw up, and my hands and feet were sweaty. I couldn't talk to anyone and I'm sure my face was sickly white. I tried desperately to talk myself out of it but peer pressure was stronger than my inner voice telling me not to jump off a bridge. Plus, I had already paid my money. Getting my moneys worth was more important than the safety of my life. What is wrong with me?!

As they strapped up my feet, I looked down through the grate to the river below and just about lost it. It didn't really help that the funny Zambia men who were helping me out promised I could shoot them if I died. Not much of a promise there. But everyone was looking, there was no way out by this point and so, against all reason, I jumped off a bridge. Every time I watch the video my stomach drops and I almost scream.

I ended up loving the jump and best of all, for the rest of my life, I can say I bungee jumped!
The remainder of the day was spent loving monkeys, until I got bit, and then being terrified of them.

And sitting on a veranda watching one of the most beautiful sunsets I've ever seen. I look forward to going back someday (in the very distant future) and next time I won't even have to jump of a bridge.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Africa

A few years ago, Heather returned from Africa and shared her experiences with me. Through her I became familiar with the people and lifestyle that she loved so much. I decided I needed to go experience it for myself. I had a desire to help and a desire to know the family that Heather had come to call her own. I knew what I saw would be difficult and that I would in some way be changed. What I didn't know was that I would have to leave part of my heart with those I met. That I would never again be able to look at a picture of an African child and not feel the hurt of what they suffer. That because I know and love them I would sorrow with them. That I would be so driven to share their stories.
While I was there I felt the impression many times that when I returned home I needed to share the stories. I have used my blog to do this. It has taken me months to finish. I would think about it often but it was always such a heavy thing to write a post so I often postponed it until the need to share became too great. I decided to put them all in order so that I could have a better record of it. I added this post and the last one, "Saying Goodbye" today. The rest have been written over the past few months.Blogging about the stories was the first step. It only reaches a small group so now I want to take the message to more people. Heather and I hope to hold a meeting with the public and share the stories. We are also thinking of doing a race that will help raise money. She will be returning in September to stay for a year and by then we hope to have money for the school and materials where she will be teaching. Please, if any of you have ideas or ways you can help, let me know. These children deserve what we can give. I hope you will take the time (if you haven't already) to read about the people in Africa. Hopefully their stories will change your life as they have mine.

Stories to Share

I have wondered how I would respond to the question, "How was Africa?" I knew there is no way I could share my thoughts and feelings in the few moments that I would be given to answer the question. At times I have thought, "Why even try?" And then I remember the commitment I made while looking into the faces of the children in Africa that I would share their stories. I am excited to use my blog to answer the question, "How was Africa?" in a little more depth than I could ever do when asked the question in conversation.

The founder of Mothers Without Borders shared quotes with us every morning and evening in meetings where we would share our thoughts from the day. I will include many of these quotes because I learned so much from them. Here were the first two quotes we were given.

"Our eyes give us sight, but our hearts give us vision." S. Shaw

"There is much suffering in the world-very much. And the material suffering is suffering from hunger, suffering from homelessness, from all kinds of disease, but I still think that the greatest suffering is being lonely, feeling unloved, just having no one. I have come more and more to realize that it is being unwanted that is the worst disease that any human being can ever experience." Mother Teresa

There was so little we could do to fix the huge problems that we saw while in Africa. But there was one thing we could give without limits-and that was love. As we loved those we met with we were able to lift their spirits for that day. It helped me realize how important love really is and how much more I need to love in my own life.

Our first day was spent visiting a very well run orphanage and then visiting a very run down hospital. The orphanage was full of beautiful African babies. It was sobering to learn that every 18 months more people die of aids than died in the holocaust. Every few days 10,000 children are left orphans. I was glad to see that there are orphanages for some of these children. Unfortunately there are many more children who are left without anyone to care for them.

I still can't get over what we saw at the hospital. It is the best public hospital in Zambia. There are private hospitals for those who have money, but for the rest of the people the have to go to UTH. We pulled up to a building that looked like an old, abandoned apartment complex. It was hard to believe this was home to patients.

On one of the walls was posted the following sign, "This hospital is short staffed and the wait will be very long. Do not harm the staff. This is a federal offense." I found out that the wait can be days before you are seen and that there are cases of people getting so angry that they do attack the very few staff that work there. Many times the nurses don't get paid because there just isn't enough money. They continue to work because they know how much they are needed.

When someone is admitted to the hospital they are required to have family come and care for them. The family is responsible for bringing in their water and their food and to have someone come and stay with them at all times. They are taught how to care for the patient and become the nurse. For those who don't have enough food for themselves it becomes a huge burden to care for family members in the hospital. Often they just don't bring them in.

We had the opportunity to visit the NICU. They normally lose 1-2 babies every day. They are very limited on resources. I looked at those babies and wondered if maybe it would be best for them to die quickly. Then I see the mothers who are clinging to the hope that their baby will survive and I am torn. I pray that these mothers have someone who will love them during their suffering.
We weren't allowed to take pictures of the orphanage or the hospital. However, a team member was asked to take a picture of donations that we brought. She also took a picture of Charity. Charity is the head nurse of the NICU and is as loving as her name would indicate. What a privilege to meet her. She is one of those nurses who continues to work long and hard hours, sometimes not even being paid, so that these babies will have someone to care for them.
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." Margaret Mead

As a group of 25 Americans we got on our bus and went to visit what is called a compound. In America we would call it the slums. Imagine hundreds of tiny African homes crammed together, with people everywhere. We felt like celebrities as we arrived and the children chased our bus chanting "Muzungoo, Muzungoo" (white person). See it for yourself.


We got off the bus and I quickly learned why Heather loves Africa so much. We were surrounded and loved by the children. Heather was a hoot as the children swarmed around her and she had them singing "The Princess Pat" with all the actions. It was a joy to see.
I too enjoyed playing games with these children and teaching them the songs that I had taught children in my music class back home. I loved the universal language of music that helped transcend the language and cultural differences. The children were so eager to love and I was so grateful to love them in return. They are beautiful children. I can't imagine what each one of them has been through. It was amazing how we were able to bring joy to the children of this compound and it didn't cost a thing.


We had the opportunity of going into the homes of some of these people. We were asked not to bring our cameras so you will just have to imagine the very small, humble homes. In one of these homes I met a mother who was caring for her 15 month old baby who had AIDS. She is the same age as my little Holly. Holly has so much of life yet to live. This baby won't make more than a few more years. How can there be such a difference?

In another home was a mother with her three children. The mother was dying from AIDS and it had become the responsibility of the 6-year-old daughter to care for the 3 and 1 year old siblings. The daughter would strap her 1-year-old sister to her back and continue to try to live her life as a child. She must have been a noble spirit before she came to this earth to be given such a huge responsibility on this earth. I wondered how many of these children I met were also raising their siblings, trying to make sure their needs were met.

In another home was a 17-year-old who is raising her 2-year-old and 9-month-old babies. She doesn't have the means to care for them. And in another home was a woman who had lost her leg. We brought her some yarn and she beamed with gratitude that she would be able to make something with this yarn that she could sell and then have just a little bit to sustain her. Amazing what just a small bit of yarn can mean to someone.

After visiting their homes a lunch was provided for the children of the compound. The line was endless as the kids waited for their small amount of porridge. I could not believe how patient they were as they waited their turn. No one complained at the lack of variety. They were all so grateful for the chance to eat. Many of them would only get this one meal for that day and maybe for days to come. One of my favorite things was listening to the children sing songs to us. The first is the kids singing their ABC's and the second is a song praising their Lord. People in Africa are always singing praises to God. I love it. Such a great lesson for Americans.

We also visited the home of this sweet Grandma. Her children had died and she was left to take care of her orphaned grandchildren. When Mothers Without Borders found her she was living in a makeshift home similar to the one in the picture below. She has since had a home built for her and praises God for what she has been given. She prayed and knew that God would deliver. The thing I loved most about this Grandmother was her awesome sense of humor. She laughed the entire time we were with her. She has taken her difficult life and continued to smile through it all. She said her smiles dry up her tears.
The following pictures are scenes that we saw over and over again. Dirty, beautiful children. Women carrying water on their heads. Babies strapped to the backs of children or mothers. Despair and Joy. All part of one big Whole that is Africa.

Working on the Land

First I need to explain just a bit about "The Land" so that you can appreciate these pictures. Kathy's vision for Mothers Without Borders is wonderful. Her goals are to strengthen families, empower women and protect children. She has recently purchased land that will help her meet these goals. Currently, she is renting a small farm home where 20 orphaned children are living. The new land will provide an even better home for these children and will allow for even more children to be part of the program. Eventually she plans on having small homes on the land where a woman will care for so many children. Also on the land will be a school, trade centers, and caretakers homes and the entire community will feed into these programs. I look forward to watching the growth and the good that comes from this vision. We spent a few days working on the land and I was amazed at the different spirit I felt on the property. There is so much heartache and sadness in that country. I felt like this bit of land was a sacred place of peace and hope. I loved my days there.

I first want to introduce you to the caretakers wives, Mabel and Miriam. These two lovely women live on the land and make sure the men who work there get their lunch. Of course, they have many other jobs as well. I loved going into their homes and getting to know them. Miriam is the one with the hat. She is only 18 and speaks very little English but that didn't stop her from sharing her love with us. Mabel is older and has diabetes. She is in a country where care for such a disease is difficult. I worry how she will control her illness. Both of these women are full of life and were a joy to be there with. Heather is planning on spending a year in Zambia getting the school going and will be living on the land. She already has her two Zambian sisters waiting to love her.
Here is Miriam mixing the nshima for lunch. In Zambia, they eat nshima for lunch and dinner. It is a cornmeal product that they serve with a relish. They eat it with their hands, rolled into small balls and then they dip it in a relish of beans, chicken, greens, fish and a few other things. Usually only one of these relishes is served with the nshima. I did eat it on a few occasions. Nothing too exciting. Here am I trying to stir the nshima. It's harder than it looks. It is certainly a skill that these women have learned over the years.

This video captures one of those moments that make Africa so unique and wonderful. It's the middle of the day and we are all singing and dancing. That doesn't happen nearly enough in America.


And here we are with Mabel, Miriam and good friend Sarah from Logan, Utah.
Now that I've shown you the fun part of being on the land, I'll get to what we were supposed to be doing when instead we were dancing at Miriam's. The real work was digging a fish pond with shovels and picks. I felt, once again, that we had stepped back in time as they handed us shovels and picks and told us to go dig a fish pond. When have you ever been asked to dig a fish pond with a shovel!!

We also got to help dig trenches for pipes and septic tanks, or you could call it a human manure pit-as one of the Zambian's fondly referred to it as. I helped dig this septic tank until we hit the rock half way down. Then I was done. The Zambians continued to pick at this whole for days. Here they are taking a break eating sugar cane that Heather brought for them. She was always so thoughtful to bring it for them. Any time I showed up and Heather wasn't around, they demanded to know where she was. They call her "Nikokonda" which means "I love you" because she is always telling everyone how much she loves them. Here I am helping make bricks for the future homes of the children. I don't know that I was really much help but I loved the opportunity of working with these men. And I was so glad that Mothers Without Borders is providing jobs for them. Ninety-percent of men in Zambia are un- or underemployed in Zambia, meaning they don't have a steady job. I was glad that these men were given the opportunity to earn money to help support their families. Some walk or bike up to 4 miles to get to work. They live in the compounds and villages in very small homes. Many of their wives walk long distances to get water every day. Most of these men were only able to finish 2-6 years of schooling because their families couldn't afford for them to do any more. This is common in Zambia. Maybe it is because of this that they are such humble, good men. I was grateful for the chance to work with them and to here their stories.
I still can't get over how slow the building process is in Zambia. They don't have the big machinery to quickly do the job for them. And often, there is not enough financing-it is dependent on donors. But there is a desire to accomplish something great and it felt good to be part of this. Here is our team standing in front of the Oasis (the bathroom). A team before us painted it. I loved working beside all of these amazing people. I was so lucky to spend a few weeks with them. Thanks team!!
And here is Heather standing in front of the foundation for her future school. It's neat to think that she might have a part in such a great thing-and a chance to eat all the sugarcane she could ever want!

"In Poverty's Vale So Thy Succor Shall Be"

I had the opportunity to attend church three times while in Africa, two times at the LDS church and once at a Baptist church. I loved these opportunities. As we sang "How Firm a Foundation" I found new meaning in the phrase "In poverty's vale or abounding in wealth...As thy days may demand, so thy succor shall be". I was so comforted of the reminder that God will protect and give strength to those in poverty as well as those abounding in wealth. Lately I've felt that the latter of the two are the ones who need Him the most. Too often in America if something goes wrong, God is blamed for it. In Zambia, if something goes wrong, they turn to God.

The first Sunday we were there I was able to watch conference with the saints in Zambia. They finally were having a turn to raise their hand and sustain the new prophet and to hear the words of their leaders. All of the talks took on new meaning as I thought of what they must mean to the Zambians. I was especially touched by a talk on tithing in which even the poorest of saints were encouraged to pay their tithing. To think of the sacrifice it must be for them made me realize how relatively easy it is for me to pay my tithing and how I need to be so much more willing to give.
I was also reminded of the power of the atonement. I use the atonement in my life to help make up for so many of my shortcomings. I was able to see how powerfully the atonement also can work to heal those who suffer much more than I can even comprehend, both physically and emotionally.

I was very impressed by the testimony of returned missionaries and was so grateful for the spirit and enthusiasm they brought back to these small branches in Africa.

I was also grateful to listen to a talk given on chastity in a country where abiding by this law can be the difference between life or death. The talk was given with such clarity and power and I appreciated the importance of it more than ever.
I had the opportunity to do singing time with the primary children in the branch. We had fun talking and singing about pioneers. As I asked them to help me come up with signs to sing "Teach Me To Walk In the Light" I was touched by their strong spirits and their desire to learn. What a privilege to listen to the children as they sang "He is always near me, though I do not see Him there. And because He loves me dearly I am in His watchful care." I loved listening to the members of the Baptist congregation share their faith in God and sing their praises to Him. Once again, I loved experiencing the spirit and faith of the people in Zambia. We talked to one American who had been in a village for a few weeks. He felt that many of these uneducated Africans could come preach to a congregation in America and teach much more than the educated Americans could. I know I was grateful to learn from them.

Meeting My New Nieces and Nephews

For years Heather has been telling me about the kids on the farm. I have seen their pictures and heard their stories. The kids and I have sent them little gifts and cards. Heather has told us how these children, many of them orphans, had become her own. Instead of the normal 3 weeks that she had spent in Africa in the past, Heather extended her stay to 2 months so that she could have more time with her Zambian family. She lived with these 20 children and 6 adults in their humble home and formed a bond even stronger than she had in years past. Naturally I was anxious to meet all of them. I had the opportunity to do this at church. We came after it had just started and snuck in behind the kids who were all in the front two rows. Of course, I loved them instantly. Heather's sweet Evans, whom I had heard so much about, came over and sat in between us. I was emotional as I immediately felt a bond with him and sensed his goodness. I love the tribute Heather did for him on her blog (http://www.hedrad.blogspot.com/).
This ended up being one of my favorite days. Heather and I climbed into the very loaded truck to spend the afternoon with the kids. At the point this picture was taken only 1/4 of the kids had climbed into the truck. None of us could move for the 30 minute ride back to the farm. But in that 30 minutes I made a special bond with Bwalya as we held hands and talked on the way home. It was great having time with just Heather and the kids and finally seeing where she had been living for the past month. I watched as Fagness stirred Nshima, which I would be eating for the first time. Eating Nshima and chicken with Heather, surrounded by the kids (who licked the bones of our chicken clean) was one of those "I can't believe I'm in Africa" moments.
We also were able to listen to the boys practice their drums,
walked along the dirt roads that Heather had walked every day for a month,
visited with these lovely women who were gathered together with other friends in a very small home,


walked by this home and children that are so Africa,
and I finally met sweet Carol, who I had heard so much about. I hugged her, thanked her for all I had learned from her, and told her how much I loved her. I wrote about her in a previous blog but as a reminder, she was found at age 8 with sores from abuse. She lived with her Grandma and six other children in very poor conditions, especially for a sick little girl. The closest water was miles away, it was cold and she had no blanket to sleep with. She was asked by Mothers Without Borders if she wanted to go somewhere to be taken care of. She said yes, packed her small plastic bag with her few belongings and praised God as she left her village. She continues to praise Him on a regular basis. Testing was done on her after she was taken in and the results were HIV+. Now at age 14 she is beginning to lose her eyesight because of the disease, is always cold, often sick and has such little energy. Her body is deteriorating but you will never meet someone with a bigger soul than this sweet girl. What a privilege to be in her presence. I choose to believe that God is loving her and caring for her. I am sure He walks beside her.
I also began to let the rest of these children into my hearts. As I write this I realize how much I miss them and wish I could hug them again and tell them how amazing they are. I'll write about their performance next time and a few more of their stories. It was beautiful to see them smile, dance, play, and love knowing the difficult lives these children had before coming into MWB's orphanage. What a blessing they had somewhere to go. Most of the orphans in Africa don't have that.

He Will Fill Your Soul

Today was the first time I have fasted since going to Africa. I spent the day thinking about what I learned from Fagness. She and Boxan care for the grounds and cook the food at the orphanage set up by Mothers Without Borders. They are now members of the church and were able to go to the temple this year. They are happy and have a good life.

There was a time in Fagness's life where she didn't have as much. At this time she was caring for and living with 15 other people in a very small home. There was never enough food for everyone. They would take turns eating which meant when it wasn't their turn, they went without. When asked what she would do on the days that she didn't eat, Fagness said she would turn to the Lord and that He would help her feel full with His spirit. She then said she missed those times when she was so completely dependent on Him. My fasting pales in comparison to the hunger they must have felt, and so many that continue to fell that way. However, I too was grateful for the opportunity I had to rely on the Lord. Before going to Africa I never realized that Christ suffered not only temptations to help us in our sins, but that hunger and thirst were also part of His atonement for us. It is because of this that Fagness was able to feel full on her days without food. Regardless of our ailment, we can feel full and at peace as we use the power of the atonement.

One more cute story about Boxan and Fagness. On their 30th anniversary, the American volunteers had come and were playing games with the kids. One of the games was a fishing booth where you throw the line over the sheet and get a prize in return. Boxan was having fun with the kids and volunteers and decided he needed a turn as well. All that was left were some small teddy bears, so they hooked it up and tugged on the line. Boxan was thrilled with his catch. He ran over to his wife of 30 years and gave her one of the few anniversary presents she ever received. Fagness was even more thrilled and keeps the teddy bear on her bed as a reminder of that special celebration. I love the simplicity of it all and want to be just as pleased with the simple things in life.

Clinging to the Memories

I think about my experiences in Africa everyday. I hope I never forget the lessons that I learned there. I continue to feel compelled to blog about my experiences. My blog has become my journal and I use it to record events in my life. It would be a tragedy for me to leave part of my experiences untold. So, for myself, I need to tell the remaining stories and lessons. It is always so hard for me to take the time because it requires so much more to write about than cute hairdos for babies. My visiting teacher came today and asked me questions and I found myself going on and on, something I don't do too often. I was grateful for the opportunity to share. Heather called tonight and shared how much she missed our African friends and I was glad I knew who they were and why we both missed them. So glad to have had that experience with her. It was the conversation with my VT and Heather's phone call that got me to put my book down for an hour and share another story.

People often ask what is being done to prevent AIDS. We can't understand why the people don't put a stop to it-especially when there are things that can be done to keep yourself from getting AIDS. Well, they are trying to educate the people. There are billboards everywhere in Africa that educate about AIDS and abuse. It is taught in the schools. Unfortunately, not everyone goes to school, not everyone can read the billboards, not everyone can steer clear of the abuse, and people still fall in love and spread the disease. I still can't understand it and don't know why it can't be stopped. What I do know is that it is rampant and is wiping out my generation in Africa. And because of this, there are many orphans. In fact, in Zambia alone, 56,000 people died of AIDS in 2007 and 600,000 children became orphaned. Wow. We live in a time when people are dying.

I wrote in another post about the orphans who are being cared for by Mothers Without Borders. They put on a show for us full of dancing and singing and also a portion about AIDS. About how it has killed their families. About how they need help. So you ask the question, "Why don't they stop it?" They are very aware of the problem and they wish more than we can ever understand that it could be stopped, but for now they are just trying to figure out how to live with what has been given them.

The following two videos are part of a poem that the children present about AIDS. Here is part of what was recorded:

"Why are my fellow Africans dying of AIDS in Africa? Children are dying of AIDS in Africa and all our parents are dying of AIDS in Africa and all our brothers who deserve peace are dying of AIDS in Africa. I'm done. I'm a slave of nature.

"I am poor, but that in not a sin. I come from two different parents but society has rejected me because I wear rags. Oh God, why did you create me?

"Aids, Aids, has killed my mother, has killed my father, has killed my brothers, has killed my sisters. Has killed people in Malawi, has killed people in America. I don't have anywhere to do. I don't have anywhere to go. Oh God, why did you create me?

"HIV/AIDS, HIV/AIDS Oh yes HIV/AIDS continents shake, continents shake because of you AIDS.

"HIV/AIDS, HIV/AIDS, Oh yes HIV/AIDS you came to our land like a thief in the night. You have brought misery and sorrow to our land, sorrow unmanageable, sorrow incomprehensible, and have taken our loved ones who are irreplaceable. And left me the fruit of their love with hunger and suffering all around me. Oh God, why did you create me?



This video is of Carol, who has AIDS.


Of course, as I saw over and over again while in Africa, with the sorrow there is also great amounts of joy. I grinned from ear to ear as I watched the kids dance and sing. I couldn't believe I was hanging out in Africa, listening to African music and watching African dancing. I couldn't decide which videos to leave out so I put most of them in so that you can enjoy the African life for yourself.

The first video is of all the girls dancing. These girls are amazing and have such powerful spirits about them. The second is of Ethel, a teenage girl who recently watched her mother die and cared for her throughout. On one day during my trip Ethel was helping one of my team leaders search for some Americans who had taken a wrong turn and had been missing. She told the team leader over and over that she felt they needed to go a certain way. The team leader kept going the way she thought made the most sense and didn't listen to Ethel's promptings. Of course, the Americans were found exactly where Ethel new they would be, exactly where the Spirit told her to look. My team leader apologized to Ethel. Ethel's response was, "Do you have trouble listening to God in America?" Yes, Ethel. We do.

I love these pictures of a traditional African dance.

And this dance was my favorite. Shows how much fun these kids like to have. They came up with this all on their own.

Here are the kids singing "Heavenly Father You are Wonderful" and meaning every word of it.

I'm sure many of you will recognize this song!

The first time I heard the kids sing "Walk Tall Your a Child of God" I cried as I listened to these words. "Be strong please remember who you are. Try to understand, you're part of His great plan. He's closer than you know. Reach up; He'll take your hand." Not only did these children believe what they were singing but they were teaching us how to believe it as well. Helping us understand that somehow, it's all part of the plan and that if we reach out, He's there waiting for us.

I'm only putting this video on for myself, it's really not worth your time. I knew that going to Africa meant that I would have to dance, and I am NOT a dancer. I thought I would just find ways to get out of it. But when my sweet Bwayla came up and took my hand-how could I resist? So here I am, making a fool of myself. Next time I go back, I'm going to figure out how to really dance.