Saturday, January 25, 2014

wee ones and wee wee

Well would you look at this: lil' miss on a little potty. With a book. Because for some reason, peeing is assisted by reading. (I though that was cultural, but apparently its biological?)

We’ve always sort of wondered ourselves what potty training would look like in a place without traditional potties. I would joke with Jeremy that I was not going to send Bronwyn into the pit latrine to do her business for fear that she might fall in. But I had no ideas in mind as to how she was supposed to learn the skill of personal waste elimination.

I didn’t receive much help from the ladies around me either. Kids here just sort of pee. Anytime. Anywhere. Whatev. I’ve watched pee leak out of the chitenge while a baby stays strapped to moms back. Mom acknowledges the wet but keeps on clicking. Little kids who are self-mobile usually just pee all over themselves until they realize that they can pull their pants down and squat and they start doing that. For little ones, peeing (and most pooping) happens right on the ground at the location where the urge is first felt. (Our neighbor boy Michael had a big thing about peeing in our living room. Maybe it’s the soothing color scheme…) Slightly older kids will go off to the side so that they aren’t peeing in the same place they are playing. Older kids will go behind the house or into the bush a bit to find some privacy. And eventually, fear of public exposure does ultimately drive every person into the pit latrine. But all of this is child-driven, without any intentional “potty training” from mom and dad.

I remember before we had Bronwyn, Michael's mom stopped by on an afternoon when Michael had peed himself, and our floor, for about the third time that week. I thought I was being helpful by giving her a few pointers. “When you see Michael get that look on his face like he might need to go, why don’t you encourage him to recognize the urge and hold it till he can go outside and you can take his pants off? And then praise him for doing a good job!” She just sort of got this quizzical look on her face as if to say, “I cannot process why you are so high strung, Bethany.”

So clearly we’ve been winging it since day one in terms of potty training. Some time back, she started saying this word that sounded something like potty and we got excited. We went out and bought her a cute little potty chair and it just sat in our bedroom getting absolutely no action. But every once in a while, she’d insist we take her diaper off and she’d go and sit on that seat. More often than not, she’d just sit and do nothing, but then one time she actually tinkled and was so pleased with herself! For the rest of the day, she wouldn’t put a diaper on, and just went all over peeing in different places. We were so proud of our little puppy dog. And up till now, we just follow her cues. When she says “potty” we take her diaper off and let her do what she thinks she needs to do. As her awareness of her bodily functions grows, we hear “potty” more and more. But we don’t stress it, because, Michael eventually stopped peeing in our living room, and we don’t know a single teenager who doesn’t know how to use the pit latrine, and that gives us hope that Bronwyn too will grow to be a normal functioning person.

As I’ve tried to read up a little on this developmental milestone, I’m still taken aback by the American potty training intensity. I think it is much less about a child’s natural development and much more about PROTECTING OUR BELOVED FLOORS. It’s for the love of the carpet and the hardwood that we don’t strip that diaper and say “just be free, nature baby,” letting kids figure out that wetting their pants is less than ideal.

But no worries. Bribery with M&M’s has its merits, and ya’ll can laugh when I tell you Bronwyn is terrified of falling into the foreign porcelain toilet bowl. I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it!

What’s the funniest/most inappropriate place your child has ever peed?

Sunday, January 19, 2014

mothers milk and bambuya beat downs

I mentioned in my Christmas post last month that Bronwyn had been “forcibly” weaned. When I fell sick with Malaria the week before Christmas, I fell hard. Severe shakes, spiked fever, persistent vomiting. I was a mess, and by mess I mean I was giving Jeremy instructions as to what to do with Bronwyn if I were to pass away that night. My body had simply given up and I told Jeremy, “I can’t nurse Bronwyn anymore.” The first night, there were about three hours of tears and crying for Mommy and had I had the strength to move, I would have given myself to her once more. The next night she cried for a few minutes and then went to sleep again. The next night, nothing but a soundly sleeping baby. And just like that, our nursing relationship came to an end.

THAT CHAIR. where it all began.
When women noticed that I was no longer shoving my boobs in Bronwyn's mouth, they called me out on my choice to wean. “Is your mother mad at you?” one lady asked me. Another questioned, “Is Winnie’s grandmother upset about this.” “Are you in trouble with Bambuya (grandma)?” another wanted to know. This line of questioning is totally bizarre from an American perspective. Most American moms would think, I'm sorry, are you QUESTIONING ME? Americans value the right to raise their children however they want. Standards are soft and if a mother chooses a certain practice, friends and family feel compelled to be supportive, or at the very least, polite. “Well, that’s her baby and that’s how she’s chosen to do it…” Autonomy is the American way.

But these questions I was hounded with post-weaning are absolutely in line with a Zambian parenting perspective. Two things are held as true here: best practices are best practices; and no mother is solely responsible for her children.

Why would Bronwyn's grandmother have a reason to be concerned about the weaning? Because best practice in this culture (similar to many places outside of America) says that children should nurse until AT LEAST TWO YEARS OF AGE, and after that self-wean when they are ready. Breast milk is the best stuff on earth and there is no excuse for a mother taking that away from her child until the last possible moment. Nursing is equated not only with optimal nutrition, but also with attentiveness, concern and love. A mother who deprives her child of those things is considered neglectful, irresponsible and cruel. There is no wavering on this, no allowance for whatever "good" excuse. And should a mother opt out of the generally accepted best practice, she is basically asking for a serious mama beat down.

these ladies take child rearing seriously. just… don't even mess.
All of a child's aunts, her mother’s female cousins, her grandmothers’ nieces and any other female adult relative – they are all MOM. All of these mothers have the same maternal rights and responsibilities as a child's bio mom. They have the right to tell the child what to do and the responsibility to ensure that it is done. This dynamic carries into adulthood when, after having children of her own, a young woman's  mothers are now mother to her and to her child. The elder mothers in a person's life are known as bambuya, or grandmother, – a woman of great wisdom and authority. Rule of thumb in Bemba culture – do not disrespect Bambuya. She can and will beat you.

only bana louisa on the left is a bambuya, but BOTH of these women LOVE Bronwyn,
and would not hesitate to end me.

It makes sense then, that with respect to breast feeding, the bambuyas only want what is best for their little ones, and they will use their influences to make sure that the nursing mother does right by her child. If a young mother talks about being tired, wanting her body back or wishing she could just leave the kid at home for once, bambuya will intervene immediately, adjusting that mother's priorities and holding her accountable. This cultural norm hinges on the core convictions of the bambuya's and on their exercise of loving strength. In my opinion, the babes are better for it.

When the women were asking if I was in trouble with Winnie’s bambuya, they were wondering whether Bronwyn’s grandmother was aware of the weaning situation and whether she had approved or not. I told them that grandma understood that I was sick, and saw that Winnie was growing ok, and she had given her blessing. The women all nodded as if to say, “if its ok with Winnie’s bambuya, its ok with us.” Weaned at 21 months, but don’t worry, you’re still in our good graces. 

This best practice/maternal conformity does have its down sides. There are certain "best" practices that the bambuyas advocate and young mothers follow that are actually unhealthy for mother and baby. Part of our health education efforts involve debunking animistic myths, and explaining the biology, chemistry and physics that point to cause and effect relationships. If a woman eats eggs while pregnant, her baby will not be born bald, and the mother will actually be stronger because of it! Bambuya, please let her eat eggs.

Even with its flaws, I still can’t resist the inherent beauty of a strong network of concerned women who care enough to speak up when they think a mom could do better. I will probably never beat Bronwyn if she chooses to wean her own offspring before two years of age, but I hope she knows I love her enough to, if necessary, bambuya style lay the smack down. 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

how well do you know your malaria?

If you’ve been following us on facebook, you know that the buzz word of the season for us is 
M A L A R I A.

I’m pretty fed up announcing that yet another member of our household has malaria, so I can only imagine that our friendly followers are also waiting for the day when we finally add some variety to our news feed.

When we were at the hospital in Lusaka, some of the nurses were sharing their malaria experiences with us. One of them was saying that, never really having left Lusaka, she has only had malaria a few times in her life. “It was horrible, though,” she recounted. Another shared with us that, also having grown up in Lusaka, she never really had malaria until she was posted to a mission hospital in Mbereshi which is just north of us. “Luapula Province, let me tell you, that place is nothing BUT malaria. I was sick every month the whole time I was there.” We know that, sister. We felt her pain and she likewise.

It was impressed upon us that even amongst Zambians, those who live in the capital have little understanding of the struggle against malaria that exists in the rural areas. Many are ignorant of the signs and symptoms or of the course of treatment. This got us wondering how much our American friends know about the disease. To find out, I’ve put together a handy little quiz. Test yourself by answering the questions below and discover your own Malaria IQ.


Answer the following questions:

1. All mosquitoes carry malaria. (T/F)

2. Similar to the flu, most malaria will clear itself up over over time. (T/F)

3. Symptoms of malaria are more dramatic in pregnant women. (T/F)

4. Malaria is the second largest killer of children in Africa, after HIV/AIDS. (T/F)

5. The best way to prevent malaria is to sleep under a mosquito net. (T/F)

6. Symptoms of malaria appear almost immediately after being bitten by an infected mosquito. (T/F)

7. Malaria is a bacterial infection. (T/F)

8. Malaria is highly contagious amongst infected people. (T/F)

9. List three telltale signs of Malaria.

10. Once treated for malaria, a person can be confident that the disease will not recur. (T/F)


1. All mosquitoes carry malaria. (T/F) – false.
Only the female Anopheles mosquitos carry malaria. This particular kind of mosquito is only active in the evening, and does not make the familiar buzzing sound.

2. Similar to the flu, most malaria will clear itself up over time. (T/F) – false.
If left untreated, the parasites in the body will continue to reproduce, leading kidney failure, seizures, mental confusion coma and death.  

3. Symptoms of malaria are more dramatic in pregnant women. (T/F) – false.
Malaria in pregnancy is often asymptomatic due to the fact that the parasites concentrate in the placenta instead of the mother’s blood stream. Malaria can increase risk for serious pregnancy problems including prematurity, miscarriage and stillbirth.

4. Malaria is the second largest killer of children in Africa, after HIV/AIDS. (T/F) – false.
Malaria is THE SINGLE LARGEST KILLER of children in Africa.

5. The best way to prevent malaria is to sleep under a mosquito net. (T/F) ­– false.
The best way to prevent malaria is to not get bit. Period. (We’ve woken up with mosquitoes inside our net, and that always sucks.)

6. Symptoms of malaria appear almost immediately after being bitten by an infected mosquito. – false.
Malaria symptoms begin to present usually 10 days to 4 weeks after infection though a person may feel ill as early as 7 days or as late as 1 year later.

7. Malaria is a bacterial infection. (T/F) – false.
Malaria is a parasitic disease.

8. Malaria is highly contagious amongst infected people. (T/F) – false.
Malaria does not pass from person to person, only from mosquito to person. However, mosquitoes acquire the malaria parasites after having a blood meal from an infected person. During the infected mosquito’s next meal, the parasites acquired from the infected person will be deposited into the healthy person, causing him or her to fall ill.

9. List three telltale signs of Malaria.
Fever, sweats, chills, headache, malaise, muscle aches, nausea and vomiting. Any three of these combined (if the person is in a malaria endemic area) are good indicators of malaria.

10. Once treated for malaria, a person can be confident that the disease will not recur. – false.
Two kinds of malaria (P. vivax and P. ovale) can occur again (relapsing malaria). Some parasites can remain dormant in the liver for several months up to 4 years after a person is bitten by an infected mosquito, eventually coming out of hibernation and invading red blood cells again.

So??? Are you a malaria expert now? We know that many of the people who read this blog and follow us on facebook care about us and want to pray for the things that concern us the most. I hope that knowing a little bit more about malaria will help you pray more specifically the next time we announce that someone is sick. (which hopefully won’t be any time soon…) 

The life cycle of the malaria parasite is such that the illness advances very rapidly. We were recently talking with a friend who is a missionary pilot who commented that he’s seen many missionaries feel ill one day, get really, really sick the next day, and then the day after, they are dead. This is why when someone in our house tests positive for malaria, we immediately seek treatment and send out the SOS signal to garner prayer support. Malaria does not mess around, and neither do we. Some of you may remember that when we were first married, Jeremy was severely ill with malaria to the extent that it had spread to his brain. Some months later, we were recounting the episode to a research associate from the CDC and her assessment was, “I have no idea why he didn’t die. Given what you are telling me, he absolutely should not be here right now.” THAT, friends, is the power of prayer.

Thank you again to everyone who has stood by us in this particularly trying season of illness. We remain committed to praising God in the storm, and thank him for his sustaining grace.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

new year's res

I’ve never been a fan of New Years resolutions. Usually, I think they are silly and contrived and poorly stuck to, which makes them more for entertainment than anything else. However, I’m at a stage in life where I’m learning to appreciate structure over my free-floating fancy. I’ve found though that ramming a stake in the ground and planting my feet firm and girding the loins for action is sometimes necessary. Every once in a while I need to take definitive action with a get ‘er done, no-if-ands-or-buts sort of attitude.

2012’s resolution was birth a baby naturally. God bless Doctor Bradley. Check.
2013’s goal was no more sunburns. Considering my awesome farmers tan? Check.
And here we are, fresh into 2014 and there has been something murmuring inside me for a while now that has needed the right spark to ignite into flame. The summary is: reign in the influence of social media.

Sometime in the last year, the cell company MTN put in a tower in Fimpulu. I feel like our tiny village jumped about a gazillian rungs up the development ladder with the simple flip of a switch. We went from communicating via bush notes and having no idea what was happening in the world, to calling the guy next door and google-ing everything.

Organizationally for Choshen Farm, and personally for me, the advent of connectivity has opened so many possibilities. I can respond to e-mails and blog and research from the comfort of home instead of hurriedly pushing through my internet to-do list from the back seat of the Land Rover while Jeremy drives around town picking up hard-ware supplies and groceries. I can’t even remember how many times Jeremy, having finished the errands already, would idle the Landi at the edge of the cell-reception zone, ready to head out of town as soon as I hit “publish” or “send.” I also can’t remember how many times I cried half the way home, having taken care of business, but having run out of time to check my personal inbox or to see pictures of so and so’s wedding. Such rushed and sparse connectivity made me feel terribly lonely and isolated. Being able to scroll on my phone and see faces and hear “voices” has brought friends and family so much closer and I’m very thankful for that.

But as is the case with many blessings in our lives, the gift of internet is also a two-edged sword. You, dear people, are so much more accessible… but so is everyone – and everything – else. I can now read unlimited blogs and articles and sermons. I can check my facebook news feed every five seconds. I can find the answer to any question – even the completely not important ones – without delay. All of the interesting news, hot debates, insightful thoughts and entertaining quips are in front of me, begging to be seen and contemplated and digested. All the time.

I enjoy words. I adore blogging and love reading the work of others. I put a high premium on words that are craftily strung together to create thoughtful ideas. And with the gift of internet on-demand, I’ve been reading a lot of wonderful words this year. I’ve learned much, been challenged and have grown because of it. Again, I am thankful. At the same time, I am cautious, because I’ve noticed something about myself. The voices of those who I read often can tend to stick in my head and can work their way into my own speaking and writing. Sometimes I catch myself trying to be poetic like Ann V or sassy like Jen H or theological like John P or intellectual like Ed S and it bothers me. Why do I have to sound like them? Why can’t I just sound like me? Why am I such a sticky surface? I have a hunch I’m not the only one who easily picks up the tones and the isms of those around them. One-liner facebook statuses are extremely telling in terms of how much we all start to sound like the people we are connected to. I don’t know who started the trend of calling everything epic or writing amiright as one word or putting periods at the ends of Every. Single. Word. – clearly we are impressionable creatures.

In an endeavor to find my own voice, to nurture my own creativity and become the thinker/writer/speaker that God has made me to be, I acknowledge my own impressionability and I have worked hard to over come it. A breakthrough happened for me when I realized that there is one piece of writing that never “rubs off” in the same way that the blogosphere writing tends to. There is one book that, the more I read it, the more I sound like Bethany, and less like everyone else. By God’s grace, in the midst of all of this “word overload,” I somehow was clued in to this thing that happens when I read THE BIBLE. After spending time in Galatians or the Psalms or Deuteronomy, I don’t have to try to NOT sound like Paul or David or Moses. Quite the opposite, spending time with these writers makes me sound much more like me. Even though the words themselves stick in my mind – even when I commit them to memory so that they are with me always – when I turn around and write a blog post or compose and e-mail or draft a report, those words give the confidence I sometimes lack to communicate in my own unique voice - the voice I believe God has given me. Reading the Bible liberates me from merely channeling Piperisms (or whatever) and frees me to delight in who I really am! And can I just say… WHAT A JOY!

Therefore… here’s my aim for 2014’s New Years resolution:

Given my susceptibility to take on other people’s styles, and the freedom I find in developing my own voice through reading more and more of the Word, I feel compelled to be more guarded on which voices I let swim around in my head. I’m not about to stick my head in the sand and read only scripture from now on. Quite the contrary, I hope to keep reading a wide variety of authors on a wide variety of subjects and checking facebook for exciting news… AFTER I have read my Bible. There’s the resolution. Because most of my quick reading is prompted by suggestions in my newsfeed and e-mail, my 2014 resolution is straightforward and simple – no Bible, no internet. I want to make sure that the images resting on my mind and the words floating around in my head are beneficial to me which I feel can only happen if I’ve already taken in the best pictures and already heard the best words. I feel I can maintain my writing integrity only when I’ve put in the time to find my true voice, spoken over me with love from the Father. Prioritizing reading even the most spot on commentary about whatever recent American craziness is folly if I haven’t heard FIRST what my Father has to say about, well, everything. I want to be wise and discerning and solid in my own communication which I believe can only happen if I’m saturated with the wonderful words of life.

Sweetly echo the Gospel call, wonderful words of life;
Offer pardon and peace to all, wonderful words of life;
Jesus, only Savior, sanctify us forever.
Beautiful words, wonderful words, wonderful words of life.

So. No Bible, no internet. I’m excited for this year.

OH. And Bronwyn has a new year's resolution too. Name and befriend all of the baby chicks on the farm. Feel free to go ahead and die from the cuteness. 

What’s your New Year’s res?