Wednesday, January 30, 2013

10 months!

Can you believe this? Is anyone else as amazed as I am at how fast this child grows?
What a gift we have been given. I am completely overwhelmed by how precious this baby is.

At 10 months old, Bronwyn is a fast paced busy body. She loves to crawl and explore and pull herself up on anything that can support her. She has a good set of teeth and is an excellent eater. Sometimes she mistakes dirt clods and small rocks on the floor for fallen rice crispies and bananas and we have to fish those things out, but we love her explorative nature and desire to feed herself! She smiles and claps at pretty much everything and everyone. She makes people feel loved and special as she smiles and waves at them. She is an ambassador of joy, always. 

Happy ten months, baby girl!

Saturday, January 26, 2013


Ukupapa is the bemba word that means "strap the baby to your back." Jeremy and I have anglicized the word to make it a normal part of our vocabulary. 

"Can you ukupapa Bronwyn so I can get some work done?" "I ukupapa-ed Bronwyn and she fell asleep." "Did you see the dad ukupapa-ing his baby on the way to church today!" etc. etc. etc. 

Wearing babies on the back is more than a means of transportation or method of schlepping a child from point A to B. Its a culture, a lifestyle, an attitude, an expectation. Every mother (and other family members - as you can see from some of these pics) in Zambia carries their child this way. Many babies find that their mother's back is the best place to sleep. It's where they feel safe and comfortable and protected. Any mother who does not ukupapa her child is considered to be negligent and is likely to be reprimanded. It has been a beautiful journey for me in learning to carry Bronwyn in the same way and coming to appreciate the mother-child bond that develops as a result of letting my baby go where I go, see what I see, do what I do. 

This is why I was a little... um... miffed/annoyed/offended to pick up a copy of Baby Wise that we have on our shelf and read the following words:

“There is a place and a time for  slings… but it is not a good substitute for the crib. In some third world nations and primitive settings mothers carry their babies in an infant sling throughout the day.”

Really Ezzo and Buckman? Primitive? I'm actually a little embarrassed for you in your choice of words. I know that tons of moms subscribe to the Baby Wise philosophies and love the feeding schedules, regular nap time and not having baby in bed with mom and dad. And I'm happy that that works for so many people! Do what jives, right? But I feel a need to stand up for my sister-friends in this corner of the world who ukupapa their babies with PRIDE. They would never think of sticking their baby in a crib to be entertained by a mobile. In fact, many here would say that that particular practice is itself primitive. I remember several years ago talking with my Bemba teacher and another Zambian woman. I don't remember how the topic came up, but at one point my teacher, Ba Leonard turned to the other woman and said in an appalled voice, "Do you know that Americans carry their babies in baskets?" I initially giggled, trying to figure out if he was referring to moses baskets or the removable carseat basinets or something like that. But as the woman he was talking to agreed that this basket carrying was indeed horrid, I felt a little ashamed. Essentially, they were saying, how cold and unloving could this American culture be? Like I said, to ukupapa here is a passion, and one which I as a mother fully affirm.

Instead of learning her colors from a mobile above her head, Bronwyn can learn them from nature as we walk together. Instead of being soothed by an electronic toy, she can be soothed by the beat of my own heart.  Instead of learning social skills from a dvd. she can learn them from joining me in talking to dozens of people each day. I ukupapa my baby because its best for her - an art, a skill and a joy I've learned from the fantastically NOT primitive women around me.

Here's to all the mama's around the world who carry their babies and love it.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

living up to a name

We gave Bronwyn the middle name Joy believing that she would live up to that name and put a smile on the face of many. We have been so blessed watching her do just that with the people around her. The other day, I was particularly moved by Bronwyn's ability to touch the life of another.

Meet Irene. She's a lovely young woman in her mid twenties who has had a rough go at life. She married young, had a child, contracted HIV, had a stroke, was abandoned by her husband, lost custody of her child, and now lives basically alone and with enough physical limitation that it makes it hard for her to walk and talk. She's a trooper in the best sense, doing her best to keep going and stay positive. The other day, we took Irene to the hospital for a check up with the doctor. Throughout the ride to Mansa, Bronwyn laughed and waved and clapped, showing off all of her new tricks for Irene. Irene smiled and waved in return, fueling Bronwyn's playfulness. As Bronwyn grew more bold, she became fascinated with the strings on Irene's hoodie and spent lots of time tracing the green letters on the front with her fingers. Irene sat and smiled as Bronwyn touched her hands, her skirt, her shirt, her face. She occasionally talked to Bronwyn in her slurred speech, and Bronwyn babbled back in reply, delighting in Irene's presence.

It occurred to me that Irene probably does not get very much physical touch or opportunity to play. I don't believe very many people sit and talk with her, let alone show such glee at just being with her. She has little to nothing that the village around her deems valuable; and yet Bronwyn, in that span of 30 minutes communicated to Irene that she was the most valuable thing on the planet! As I watched Bronwyn light up over playing with her seat mate, and as I saw Irene glowing in return, I said a silent prayer of thanks that this little child, without even knowing it, was ministering to a potentially hurting heart. I hope that she never loses her childish ways, delighting in the simple, always accepting people without judgement or fear. HIV positive? Unintelligible speech? Limbs that don't work? NO PROBLEM!! We can still laugh and play! I absolutely love - and am totally challenged by - this child of mine.

Thank you, Bronwyn, for the amazing example of extending JOY to others!

Monday, January 7, 2013

all my children

Today my family shrinks a bit... at least for the next three months. Every December, April and August, we become "camp parents" to about 20 kids at our farm. During these months that these students live with us, we provide food, housing, devotions, discipleship, work opportunities and fun to students in our school assistance program. Different from other child sponsorship programs, we provide an opportunity to students and their families to earn the money needed to go to high-school while also granting scholarships to students based on their orphan status and/or school performance. We have found that something for nothing actually doesn't benefit these kids in the long run. Making school possible, feasible and affordable has the ability to change their future. These students matter to us, and we pray that our impact on their lives makes a real and lasting difference for each student, their future families and the communities which they will go on to lead.

Somewhere along the way, the students started calling Jeremy and I "Ba Daddy" and "Ba Mayo" (Mother) respectively. It was kind of funny and cute at first, but gradually we have gotten into our roles more and more. I hear myself go all parental on them sometimes and its a little weird...

"Abby, hold your sister Bronwyn while I go to the bathroom."

"Memory, your skirt is way to short, go put some clothes on girl."

"Emmanuel, if you poke your eye out doing that, I'm going to cry. And then I"ll take you to the ER."

"Gershom, you have so much potential. Keep working hard! And stop flirting."

We've gotten a taste of what parenting teenagers is like. Sometimes they are totally attentive and responsive and I feel like I am speaking to their soul. Other times they look back at us blankly, as if to say, "you are so out of touch with my life right now." I find myself scouring the index of all of my Dobson books and wondering, "In 12 years when Bronwyn is a teenager, will I be ready for this?!?!?!"

These kids really are wonderful and we are thankful that we get to be a part of their academic and life education. We trust that the activities we run for them and the words we speak to them will matter now, next year and into eternity.

Perhaps the most important feature of our program is the evening discipleship. We emphasize to the kids that we don't want them to just finish school, get good jobs and be successful people. We start everything with a discussion of "gaining the whole world but losing your soul. We care about the kind of people these kids are becoming, and we say that over and over. It has been hard for me this past month to have to outsource a lot of the girls discipleship to our short-term volunteers. Since this time happens later at night, I'm usually found with Bronwyn, safely tucked under a mosquito net. Which is important for both of us right now. On a few occasions I wrapped Bronwyn up so that only her little nostrils and eyeballs were showing and I led the discussions. Those times were fantastic! We talked about witch doctors and giving all of your life to God, about why sin is so easy and why doing the right thing is so hard. Being out there with the kids was both invigorating and stressful as I wanted to stay forever, but also felt like I needed to take care of Bronwyn first. Each time I would say that I needed to get inside with the baby, the girls would counter, "Please teach us more!!!" Oh the ongoing tension of needing to mother my own baby but wanting to mother others as well! 

For now I take what I can get and look forward to opportunities in the future. Until April, dear ones, study well, focus on school and God and we'll see your shiny, ridiculous, precious little faces soon!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

9 months old

Christmas in the village part 2: the community

Christmas in the village is rather under-celebrated here – a surprising fact given that Zambia is considered a Christian country. Unfortunately, a lot of “Christians” also really struggle to see the importance of the day.

“I have no idea why I should celebrate,” said our friend Daniel. “Why celebrate the day Herod tried to kill Jesus?” asked Ronald. “The Bible says nothing about 25th December,” reasoned Patrick.

Sad. These three gents are at least thoughtful about the day, having considered why they don’t celebrate. But for your average Fimpulu folk, Christmas is an excuse for chicken and beer. Our old laying hens were ready for sale on Monday the 24th. All 100 were bought and paid for by 7am. Crazy. Christmas is probably the most notorious drinking day of the year. The bars do more business on Christmas than any other day. Not surprisingly, the clinics and hospitals do more business on Christmas day too.

We have tried hard to rally the faithful Christians to help usher in the true - and slightly less inebriated -  meaning of Christmas. Our goal this year was to engage the community in a winsome and meaningful way to help people understand the significance of it all. We took advantage of the extra hands from our short term volunteers to put together a children’s program. For three weeks, 60 kids from the village came together every afternoon for practices and times of singing and fun. Never having done anything like this before, the kids were a little rough around the edges at first and practices were more chaos than organized. But they sure did love those times together. 

so, what do angels wings look like anyway?
this was the first try...

ok sheep sheeps, pay attention now...

practicing lines with the narrators, a stunned mary and the angel

Christmas Eve we loaded all of the school kids who have been living with us at the farm, along with the workers and a few select friends and packed them into the back of the land rover and trailer. In low gear, we trekked through the village, up the road and back singing Christmas carols. The group really only new the tune for Joy to the World (in Bemba) and so we heard that sung for about two hours. The onlookers along the road smiled and seemed to enjoy hearing the music, and Bronwyn had a nice soundtrack for her evening nap.

joy to the world!!!

students sing out

farm workers and friends actually sounded awesome

I'm sure she was dreaming of a white Christmas

Christmas morning we had planned on attending Church, though the service was canceled due to a funeral. Instead we enjoyed our family time together and gathered up the costumes and props for the children’s program!

We did three shows for the community – one for the youth and two for the adults who came to watch. They kids involved were awesome!

shepherds being visited by the heavenly hosts

there's no room at the inn people!

Herod scheming with his wise men

follow the star to worship the King

Singing LOUD, telling the world that there's no one like Jesus!

At the conclusion of the play, Jeremy gave a message about the reason for Christmas. He explained that if Jesus had never been born, we would never have received a savior. Without a savior, we are still in our sins, separated from God. Jesus coming to earth meant that God had come to dwell among us! To make things right, at last! THAT’S A REASON TO CELEBRATE! It was a timely and appropriate message given the conversations we’ve been having with people. Following the message we sang some songs together and enjoyed the little ones a bit more before all going home. 

Christmas carol sing along

the shepherds - a motley crew

so much hard work tuckered this little guy out

Our volunteers who had worked so hard on the program were a little bummed at the small turn out. We tried to encourage them that the village has never seen anything like this before. The fact that most of the kids parents were drinking, not watching them be sheep and wisemen is not shocking. But hopefully we took another step forward this year. Another step in the direction of lifting Christ up as worthy of being celebrated on the day of his birth. Another step in raising up the next generation to think differently about December 25th. Another step in engaging the community, challenging their theology and representing the ONE THING that is worth getting really amped up about!

And that, my friends, is what Christmas in the village is like!