Wednesday, June 25, 2014

that time the police slapped my baby

More than a few times I’ve gone all Mama Bear on someone for coming close to hurting my baby. Like that time the nurses at the hospital tried to feed her orange Fanta when she was nine months old. Or the time when the baby sitter (*ahem* Jeremy *ahem*) let her fall off the same stairs twice in one day. Truly, I grow claws, my teeth sharpen, and if you listen closely there is a low, guttural growl in my voice.

Or at least, that’s how I feel. For all my viscously protective emotions, I think I actually come across as quite mellow and harmless. One time, when I was internally going postal and the object of my wrath was GIGGLING at my request to stop, Jeremy had to break the news: “Um, most of the time you think you are Genghis Khan and really you look like Little Bo Peep.”

Well, baaaaaa. I mean, Grrrrrrrr.    

I digress.

My point in writing this morning is to share the most recent event in which another being compromised the safety bubble I have imaginarily constructed around my girl (whom I am imaginarily keeping a baby.)

We were driving to Lusaka, (again,) and came upon a routine police post. Police posts around Zambia are set up to identify unworthy vehicles, people driving without licenses, jewel smugglers and other offensive happenings. Nine times out of ten, the police stop us because they are bored and we are interesting and they want to know where we are from and where we are going and whether we want to share our cookies with them. Humor and Bemba phrases are the tag team which keep us out of police detention most of the time. (Except that once when Jeremy ended up in prison… which is another post for another day…)

In recent years we have found that Bronwyn is now the clear show stealer. Who cares about cookies when there’s a white baby to ogle! Most of the police officers step to the back window and wave at her and say things like “hello there white baby!” while she stares back at them blankly, not understanding why anyone needs to talk to her specifically. More than once, she has been asleep and the officer has yelled through the window and woken her up. Thanks guys, keep up the good work.

A few times, they have wanted to shake her hand or to hold her or remove her from the car seat and I’ve always been able to get around it with an “Oh, geeze, sorry I don’t think I can reach back to unlock the door…”  And we’ve continued on our merry way.

BUT THIS TIME… I was in a different vehicle. One with a broken driver’s side window. One with automatic locks. So when I needed to open my door to hand over my license, I unlocked my door with the automatic unlock button, which unlocked all the doors, including Bronwyn's. MPM – Mr. Police Man – took my license in his hand and stepped two steps toward the back of the car. “Oh, look at the white baby!” Door opens. My insides tighten. I look calm. “Iwe, what’s wrong with you. Are you troubling your mother. Don’t cry. I’ll beat you.” Smack. His big hand hit her little cheek and every emotion possible burst forth.

And now Mama Bear, Genghis Khan, Little Bo Peep on Speed were all on the scene as I searched for words. Did he really just SLAP my baby in the face? Light enough that she just sort of stunned and recoiled a little, but hard enough that it made noise. And besides, why am I even having to assess the firmness of the slap? I mean, did this really just happen?

Without understanding the culture, this whole scenario would have been unbearable. You see, adults here often “pretend slap” babies. It is common for adults to say, “I’m going to beat you,” and speak in gruff tones. This is considered playful and charming to the Zambian while it is mostly offensive and cruel according to observing Americans. My (unprofessional) hypothesis is that because all mothers beat their children and still care for and feed them, all Zambians grow up with this culturally conditioned (warped?) perception of love and affection. Its almost like the entire adult population is suffering from a variation of Stockholm Syndrome, equating abusive behavior with kindness and familiarity. In short, I understood that Mr. Police Man did not find this behavior to be inappropriate or weird. 

And so in the point-two seconds following the slap on my baby’s face, I had a decision to either lose my cool and lecture MPM on boundaries and respect… or laugh it off and pray that it would all be over soon. Since MPM was still holding my license and since this was the police post that once upon a time sent Jeremy to prison, I decided to keep my tongue. I also know from past experience that if mommy is laughing and calm, Bronwyn tends to stay calm. And in the moment, that it what I did.

Bronwyn was looking at me with a quizzical  "what the hey?" face, and not really responding to Mr. Police Man directly, so he gave me my license and gestured me to go ahead. I gratefully jammed the vehicle into first/second/third gear as quickly as possible, shaking the dust off my tires in passive aggressive protest.

I stewed for about ten kilometers over whether I did the right thing. Mr. Police Man was out of line and I was unsure of how to respond. I came to Bronwyn’s defense by trying to end our “visit” as quickly as possible. But I did not dramatically jump into action, sucker punching the dude and reclaiming her honor - and that makes me feel guilty. I think I did the right thing in the given situation. But I want Bronwyn to know that deference to no man will keep me from protecting her. I want her to know that she is the most important thing to me and that I would do anything to keep her safe. At the end of the ten kilometer stew session, I filed the scenario in the “did the best I could” folder and let it go.

The uncomfortable power struggle with police here is probably the only thing that I truly dislike about Zambia. And even within this category, our interactions are only distasteful some of the time. Zambia still has about a million fantastic bonus points, and so the one or two negatives don’t dissuade my admiration in the least.

But what remains is the unsettled feeling that I could have or should have done something different. There is no mothering manual, and there certainly isn’t a third culture mothering manual. Jeremy and I are in the throws of a series of discussions about the life and lifestyle of our family and its interaction with the culture around us. Upgrading our living conditions, seeking out specific playmates for Bronwyn, taking her to church or leaving her home – these are topics of conversation unhelped by mommy message boards or google or chats with friends because they are steeped in unique Zambian-ness.

I guess for all the wondering and insecurity, I am most assured of this: that I will hug my baby a million times a day for the next million days. And I will always make sure the back doors are locked.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Family Huddle

As I’ve mentioned a few times in the last few weeks, the ex-pat life can be pretty challenging. Loneliness, illness, frustration, alienation – these things are the things that send many foreigners back to the motherland.

We’ve often been reminded by wise people that staying overseas for the long haul requires both strategy and support. Endurance on the field calls for intentionality towards those two ends. But the reality is that we haven’t always known what strategy to take or where to find the support. In those times, we prayed for the grace to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

And when we least expected it, that sustaining grace came in the form of another ex-pat family. A Canadian family, (which seems to be the BEST kind.) Several years ago, we were introduced to the Huddles by a mutual friend. They have known us now for more than four years, way back to when we were just newlyweds, childless and still finding our footing in Zambia-land. They invited us in, offered us a bed, provided meals and shared with us their lessons learned from living in different places around the globe.

The family Huddle consists of two parents and three kids. Each one of them deserves a gold metal, a purple heart and a memorial tree planted in their honor for their dedication to authentic hospitality.

Jeremy and I grew up in families where receiving “company” was an absolute ordeal. It required swift transformation into the best version of ourselves. We were expected to be on our best behavior, polite, and well groomed. We did not complain, we did not cry and if conflict were necessary, it was quickly removed to the back room. In short, we were charming and delightful – till the company left – at which point we’d breathe a sigh of relief and resume whatever had been put on hold until it was “just us” again.

Comparing notes with other North American friends, we’ve gathered that our growing up experience was not unique. (Donning my imaginary psychologist hat,) I’d assess that Americans are in fact afraid of hosting others because they are afraid of being known. AND… If they know that we are messy and impatient and coming unglued, they might not like us and then we’d be… rejected. And that fear of rejection keeps us putting our masks on and taking few relational chances.

Ex-pats, however, tend to view this whole “company” thing differently. Ex-pats are people who have developed a hobby out of taking chances. They’ve already abandoned the familiar in favor of the adventure, putting themselves out there in every way possible. These people don’t sleep, eat or cook quite like anyone back home, making it not surprising that these folks “do relationships” differently too.

In the last four years, we never felt like “company” in the home of our Huddle friends. The kids went about their business as the family did its thing. People shuffled around to make room for us on a moments notice. Everyone had good days and everyone had bad days. Unlike anything we had ever known, the natural rhythms of their lives never halted when we walked in the door. With them we experienced life in all its variety – no paint-by-number-pre-fab-fake anything. None of this was “normal” compared to what we had previously experienced, and yet it was all so winsome and compelling that we couldn’t help but be drawn to it.

We observed. We learned. We took notes. We reconsidered our past.

And after four plus years, our conclusion is that authenticity is the heartbeat of a thriving life.

It is because of this family that we became attachment parents. Our ministry flourished as we saved thousands on alternative lodging. Our marriage survived drought because of their gracious provision. Our bodies remained strong because of their presence and proximity to the hospital. Our village outreach blossomed because of the personal renewal we found in their home. Our own hospitality to others relaxed and enlivened. Our emotional intelligence grew, and our humility also.

Yes, she has serious work to be doing, but is still willing to take a coloring break 
Never had we experienced friendship quite like this prior to the Huddle family…

Thank you does not seem nearly enough.

My aim is to sing their praises from the rooftops, expressing our gratitude through highest adulation. But I would be sorely remiss if I did not also take this opportunity to also extend a challenge to this community: so I must ask - Are you inviting people into your homes? Are you receiving them with armloads of your real selves? Are you fearlessly giving or cautiously masking? Are you a part of making lives thrive?

These are not fluffy questions and I resonate with all the hesitancy surrounding an answer of 'yes.' But may I commend to you that it is worth it. I and my little three person family are proof. Don’t know where to begin? Find THE HUDDLES located in THE CANADA and they will teach you their ways.

We were in Lusaka this past weekend helping our friends pack up and ship out. Their time here has come to an end and we are aching for the loss. A large part of us wants to plead for them to stay, offer to build them a hut next to ours and to promise untold riches if they would just never leave us. But at the same time, we love them enough to know that this move is good for them – for their careers, education and family wellbeing. And it is because we want what’s best for them that we helped them pack without chaining ourselves to their front door in protest. It’s also why I cried like a baby as they pulled away, calming myself only after Bronwyn told me I had oatmeal coming out of my nose.   

waiting for the girls - I told you - this family is authentic

We know that God will certainly grant us grace in our friends’ leaving. But we also know that the Huddle family is irreplaceable. Their unique blend of friendship, generosity and listening ear, their distinct personalities and family dynamic – to them there is no equal.

Bon Voyage Huddle Family. You have been more than good to us, and we are eternally grateful.

The whole gang: our shirts say "team huddle" - we'll let you in the club if you want

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Fathers matter

The following is a repost from the Choshen Farm blog. The original post can be found at: Fathers matter

Happy Father’s Day, world! We are celebrating Jeremy and Grandpa this fine day and thinking much about all the things we could never have done without wonderful Dads in our lives. We are also thinking much about Zambian Dads today. We’re not sure if anyone in Fimpulu knows that its Father’s Day today. We’ve never heard of a Father’s Day celebration, and we’re fairly certain that the Sunday School classes are not making “We heart Daddy” cards this morning. But what we know to be true is that there are many wonderful dads around us.

Golden is teaching his daughter English. And holding her. Those two things are so rare.


Jimmy is the only man we know who has been present for any of the births of his children.


Boniface is raising his children in the Lord.


Joshua is always the one to take his children to the clinic – something usually considered women’s work.


George is a grandfather many times over, but he is probably the most tender hearted man we know.


These fathers are the kind of people that make us smile and challenge us to love our child and other kids around us with constancy and fervor. But, in many ways, these fathers are unique. The cultural climate for fathers in rural Zambia is quite different than that of North America. In general, fathers are providers and nothing more. They are not spiritual guides, guidance counselors or play mates. There are certain tasks that the men will never do, such as cook or clean, and they will absolutely under no circumstances ever ever ever change a diaper. Men raise their children to do one thing only and that is respect his authority. A heavy hand (or tree branch) is the means by which this respect requirement is communicated and enforced. And what about love, you ask? As we’ve interviewed many young people, asking if they feel loved by their dads, the responses vary from, “I suppose he must,” to, “Haha, no.” to, *blank stare.*

Many NGOs have recognized the lack of positive participation amongst men and have endeavored through various programming to change that aspect of the culture. Let me say that again – the secular world has largely taken up the charge to influence fathers – not the Christians. While many Christians are busy with “gospel work,” many fail to connect the perceptions of earthly fathering with ones ability to see God as father. If you grow up in a house where dad gives you things when you do well and beats you when you do poorly and that’s pretty much the sum total of who dad is and what he’s like, wouldn’t it make sense that your view of God would be cold, distant, and legalistic? And that is exactly what we find in the vast majority of churches. Our desire to emphasize fathers in gospel communication was confirmed some time back when we talked to a teacher at a seminary in Lusaka who said that they only recently started introducing a class on human relationships and fatherhood. And the result? Grown men, seminarians, tough as leather Zambians, curled up on the floor bawling because they had never known fatherly love and therefore, in their heart of hearts, assumed that God hated them too.

Many of the students that we have discipled over the years have given us similar feedback. We’ve been told several times that it is a shame that we must refer to God as father. “Unless if God were mother, that would be much better. She was much kinder to me." The negative associations with fathers is disheartening for many reasons, not the least of which is the destruction of a fundamental theological concept.

And so on this Father’s Day, we remember the men who are admirable dads for the children who so badly need them to be. And we remember those whose relationships with their fathers are strained, and we pray that they may be encouraged and healed by the Father they need more than anything.

Friday, June 6, 2014

winnie and timo

When it has been "that kind of week" and some cute-therapy is in order... 

... may I present once again bff's Winnie and Timo. They've come a long way since their early days.

No captions necessary. She loves him, he thinks she's quirky. They entertain each other brilliantly.


And you're welcome. 

Happy Friday everyone. 

Sunday, June 1, 2014

the hardest thing (part 2): introversion

Last week I shared what I feel like is the hardest thing about living and working in rural Zambia. As soon as I started writing, I knew that there was more to the story - namely, the America side. While we are full time Zambian residents, we do occasionally make trips back to the States for family, health and the obligatory "home-assignment" stuff. We love coming to the US precisely because that is the place where we are most able to enjoy hugs, cheese and the absence of malaria. 


Of course there had to be a but. Intro the infographic:

Whoever created the following cartoon deserves a Nobel Peace Prize for social-psychological exposition. Just... brilliant. If you've never seen this, do yourself a favor and read through: 

photo credit deviant art

Understanding the nature of introversion was the first step for me to understand my melt downs feelings about the onslaught of peoplepeoplepeople every time we returned to the wonderful United States.

In the past, when we've been burnt out by the bush, our first response was to run to the motherland and fill our tanks with friends and family. It is a gift beyond gifts to be able to come to a place where were are surrounded by people who love us. A place where people want to know our needs and even want to meet them. A place where we are hugged and fed and gamed in the best ways possible

We do not in the slightest take this gift for granted. Which is why I am overrun with ulcer-creating guilt when I can no longer cope with the intensive love interaction. Too much lovin'? Is that really possible? Isn't that like complaining about being too beautiful or having too much money? People who audibly whine about having that which others covet are usually either fishing for compliments  or oddly unaware of their blessings. I think most of us actually want to smack the people who complain about too many choices, too much abundance, too much fun. ERGO I absolutely beat myself up for feeling like the love I receive is too much. But... after a connected string of fifteen dinner dates, small groups, large groups, brunches, lunches, one-on-ones, pop-in's,drive by's, phone dates, Skype chats - the calendar is full and the energy is depleted and I can't deny it: I've lost that loving feeling. I start referring to myself as a hermit and dreaming of Zambia. This, friends, is the other hardest thing: the mashup of America and my introversion. 

If our little family lived in America full time, I think we would be rather social people. We like to get together, chat, dine, play and make memories with like-minded friends. We like to talk about Zambia, culture, politics and faith. I SWEAR, WE ARE ACTUALLY NORMAL PEOPLE. It's just that when we come to America-land, we try to pack the social interactions of a normal person's YEAR into a matter of weeks, and in doing so we forfeit our ever loving minds

My biggest fear in this dual-continent life is that, during our America blitz trips, we will miss seeing someone, not be able to keep our date, fail catch up over Skype and that that beloved soul will feel unloved by us. (If there is an equally brilliant depiction of people pleasers - someone please comment.)

In the last weeks I've scoured dozens of missionary blogs and websites and found a repeated theme: when missionaries get real about furlough/home assignment/trips to the states, the sentiment is almost always the same: being "home" is hard. 

I resonate strongly with the conflict shared in each of their stories as these missionary colleagues explain how they honestly love absolutely everything that they and their kids receive from friends and family and supporters. But, people-filled-love-filled-interaction, for all the hours of all the days of all the weeks is emotionally unsustainable. 

Dear friends, you have been good to me, your introverted missionary friend, and I want more than anything to make ya'll feel loved in return. Thank you a million times over for the grace you show us when we can't do it all: this is the best thing.