eight days and counting…

I cannot tell you how many times I check my phone daily to count the days until our next R&R. It feels like a lifetime ago that we were walking the streets of Greece with my parents, enjoying good coffee and eating as much greek salad as we could shovel in our mouths. The last several weeks have been extremely trying. Both K and I have been sick. (I am just now getting my appetite back after weeks of just crackers and 7UP) We also had to say goodbye to a good friend, who was heading home after a year and a half in South Sudan. Life here feels a bit empty without her, I keep waiting for her to come into my office with some crazy story or a weird food combination for me to try. I am laughing less these days without her, its been rough. So needless to say that we are more than ready for a break.

This little one wanted to give me a dirty rag... and then all the kids laughed.

This little one wanted to give me a dirty rag… and then all the kids laughed.

There have been some high points in the last several weeks as well. K has been battling with the elements (literally) to get supplies up to a remote field site. He loaded a large truck with supplies and day after day he tracked their progress (or lack of) and heard about delays due to weather, mechanic trouble, flat tires, and communities physically delaying the truck, you name it and it has delayed this truck. When it looked like the truck just wasn’t going to make it K chartered a flight to fly in supplies to this field site. (This is the man you want in charge of getting you supplies!) So he chartered this flight and bought all new supplies to send and loaded the plane. Can you believe that the chartered flight and the truck arrived with in hours of each other to this field site? You have to laugh, honestly more supplies at this field site is a win for everyone. It was a ton of work and coordination, but worth it… right K?

This little one was super happy to see her reflection. I couldn't help but smile.

This little one was super happy to see her reflection. I couldn’t help but smile.

I have been battling donors, project reports, and new proposals. A few weeks ago I was successful getting one of the proposals that I wrote accepted by a new donor. Its short term funding, but will really help bridge a funding gap in our programming. It was a really great feeling to have this proposal accepted. I felt like I might actually be good at my job! When sharing the news with my brother he kindly reminded me that even if it wasn’t accepted I was still good at my job. Love that guy.

Another reflection lover.

Another reflection lover.

I was able to spend a few days out at a field site, which I loved every minute of it. I was able to attend a community meeting and inter-act with the local community. I had so many memories of being in communities in Zimbabwe. It was a great trip to see our field teams in action. I did not see any scorpions during my visit which was a bit of a let down, but cause I was on high alert for these little creatures. But I did have a lovely wake up call by a baby bat, so not all was lost.

Little man super bored during a community meeting was pretending he was driving a motorcycle. It was awesome.

Little man super bored during a community meeting was pretending he was driving a motorcycle. It was awesome.

We are both tired and ready for some time just the two of us in Nairobi. (K has booked us a trip to the spa for my birthday!) And we are super pumped to meet up with our friends Nicole and Josue in Zanzibar and live on the beach. I can’t wait to take deep breaths of ocean air. It’s going to be amazing.

And Birdie keeps growing. I love that K is wearing the same shirt in both pictures.

And Birdie keeps growing. I love that K is wearing the same shirt in both pictures.

But for the eight remaining days I going to enjoy every moment of turning on our bathroom sink tap and have the shower turn on… don’t even ask because I have no idea.

day to day…

I promised a few weeks ago to tell a bit of what we are doing in South Sudan, and also to share what Nonviolent Peaceforce does. Well I meant for this post to come a bit sooner, but K and I have been under the weather a bit. We both have a better understanding of the “Juba Welcome” that most foreigners experience once they settle into life in the city. To be totally honest I did not feel welcomed, it wasmore like there was something very unwelcomed, which had taken up residence in my body. We spent several hours at the local clinic one Sunday night trying to figure out what exactly K had that was causing so much sickness. It was pretty rough, I have not ever seen him quite so sick and felt quite so helpless. After three IVs and a shot in the rump he was a bit better and I took him back to sleep it off. The next morning in the shower K found the Band-Aid on his cheek and asked me where it came from. I chuckled, and told him about the shot. He did not remember half of our clinic visit; probably for the best. I on the other hand remember everything a little too clearly. 

 

We are now on the up and up and I am super glad to be on this side of things. Juba, we are officially welcomed… thank you?

 

Let me start by telling you what Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP) does in South Sudan. We are an organization that works within the Protection Sector of the Emergency and Relief work in South Sudan. You probably heard somewhere that things are rather unstable in South Sudan.  It is true. South Sudan became a country in July of 2009 and has had an up hill battle to establish a government structure and peace. This process takes a long time and is incredibly complicated and often violent. (Watch out here comes a rant) I would love those who say that the US government needs to be reformed and we need a revolution to see what is happening in South Sudan. In a revolution many innocent civilian get caught in the crossfire and become causalities. It is horrible to know how innocent people suffer during this process. Let me clarify that I am not against reformation, and making things better but I would love that the term revolution not be thrown around without knowing the cost. The cost are innocent women and children, who are separated during raids, who have lost their livelihoods because it is not safe for them to work in the fields by themselves, who are raped and those who are murdered. It is an extremely high cost and not one that should be taken lightly. NP works with these civilians, the one whom the risk is so very high providing protection and advocates for stability in these communities. We have programs that provide protective accompaniment, which means that international staff walk or drive with vulnerable individuals to get them to a safe place. We develop local community protection groups to empower each community to protect themselves. We do child protection, which involves family tracing and reuniting children with their families after raids . We do trainings on Gender Based Violence (GBV) to educate communities, men and women on these topics and the services that are provided for them in their community. I have only hit a few of the highlights of our programming, but if you would like more information take a look at our website. We are non-partisan actors in the protection sector; we are here for the vulnerable civilians who are caught in the middle of fighting parties.

 

Okay so on to what we do all day long. Honestly, I should not comment about what K does all day long because I do not know half of what he does. I do know that he is one of the hardest working members of the team, juggling all kinds of information and logistical things. His official title is Operations Manager, which means he over sees all the NP operations in South Sudan. And it is a lot. From tracking cars, to field supplies, to managing staff, to water and food supplies for all field sites. (We have 7 field sites currently, and a few more are in the works) He is a busy man. He is on duty 24/7 all the while putting new policies in place to make the day to dayactivities run smoother.

 

I work as a Programme Officer. (Yes, that is with two M’s) My job is to manage grants that fund our projects. I work closely with the donors that have a presence in Juba and report our activities. I did a bit of this last year and enjoyed it, so I was excited to join the Programming Office in Juba with NP. The first few weeks in Juba I have been reading all the project proposals and getting up to speed on the situation in South Sudan. It is complicated. Isn’t always. But now that I have a bit more understanding I have been involved in writing future project proposals and meeting donors and other actors here in Juba that we coordinate with and work alongside. I am still working to become confident of my role, but I love the challenge it presents and cannot image doing anything else… well there is a Ugandan Bakery job that looks pretty attractive. Who says you cannot have it all?

a year ago…

In the midst of transition I often find it encouraging to look back and reflect on my thoughts and feelings from the last few years. I have kept a journal on and off for most of my life because I find writing my thoughts down therapeutic. But I also really enjoy re-reading my thoughts years later and remembering what it felt like in that moment and learning. Today, I came across something I wrote while visiting some really great friends before we left for Kenya just over a year ago. Its a pretty raw and honest journal entry, so I’m nervous to post it, but I find it necessary to do things that scare me. Could be a sickness I have, but here goes,  my thoughts from August 25, 2011.

August 25, 2012  – I went for a walk tonight because I was feeling stir crazy. I get that feeling quite often and feel like I either need to go for a walk and pray or sit and read my Bible. I feel like I’m searching for calm in during this transition. I’ve talked about moving to Africa for years now. I dream about it and long to do something useful with my life. I want to know that my choices in life made a difference for someone. If I’m totally honest I would like to my life choices to make a large difference in a lot of people’s lives. When people hear what Kris and I are planning to do, I’m often met with comments like “wow that’s so great, you are going to do amazing things.” Or “You are so brave and selfless to go and give of your time.” I don’t know how to respond to most, do I agree with them? Yes, it is great that I’m going and I’m a saint for giving my time and talent to those who have nothing. That feels horrible and not what I feel in my heart at all. Some days I am so pumped to go that I can agree and not feel like I’m getting a pat on the back for my good deeds but be genuine about the work that I am going to be apart of. I can really get excited about clean water and basic health care. But then there are most days, like today where I feel fear and uncertainty and worry about the future and if I’ll feel the calm I’m looking for. This is why I walk. This is why I feel like I need to put one foot in front of the other, because I know that moving forward in the only way for me. Even if I’m scared and feel all the fears and pressures of moving from family and friends, and an independence that I’m really really fond of.

I walk to reconcile the urgency I feel to move across the world to a place I’ve never been, to people I don’t know and can’t speak their language to help in anyway I can. To reconcile the feeling of loss I have for the comforts, relationships, certainties, and stability I have here. All the things I have here make life so easy and comfortable, and boring and claustrophobic. Here, the culture is to settle down, buy houses, have children, buy and sell cars, get jobs, move up the ladder. As I write those things I feel sick inside.  But I have never wanted that. I have always felt there was more out there for me. So moving to Africa seems like the next step right? It’s not quite that easy to explain, but this next step in life has to be an adventure, it has to include the elements of life that I am truly passionate about. I need to feel like what I’m doing is for the bigger picture. And yet I’m walking tonight because I am afraid.

I’m afraid of failing. I’m afraid that when we go to Kenya that I will discover that I’m not content doing development work, which is what I’ve gone to school for and focused the last 7 years of my life on doing. I’m afraid that I’ve pushed my husband to move across the world to a place where he will literally melt in the heat to do work that he may only be interested in because of me. I’m afraid for the strain that this move will put on my marriage. I’m afraid I won’t have anything to give to my husband after serving those who have nothing. I’m afraid of letting my passion for clean water and health care will dominate my life and my husband will feel second place in my heart. I’m afraid that he will be second place in my heart. I’m afraid of hurting him. I’m afraid of finding that this goal and passion is not what will be my life’s work and starting from square one again. I’m afraid of that feeling lost in life and not knowing what direction to head in. The fear in this transition is almost debilitating, and yet I can’t even imagine not going. I can’t even think about the “what ifs” of staying here. So I walk, one foot in front of the other. Moving closer and closer to stepping onto the plane that will take Kris and I to Kenya.
I feel lonely in this place. I’m lost in my thoughts about the future and my fears. I wrestle with the idea that I can’t give enough love. It seems silly once it’s written down but in my heart I feel like I could be the type of person that is not able to freely give love. I know that because I marvel and can’t seem to wrap my mind around the idea that God has so freely loved and keeps loving me, while truly knowing who I am and what I am capable of doing. It doesn’t make sense to me. And yet I want nothing more than to love like God loves. How does that happen? I long for that change in me. And my biggest fear is that I don’t have a large enough capacity to love those I am passionate to serve.

 

 

the great eye debacle of 2012 part two…

That knock came about 4pm when K phoned and told me he would not be able to make it home that evening. Several thoughts ran through my head. “What!” “No drops?!” (At this point I was freezing empty soda cans and placing them against my eye to numb the pain… needless to say I was really looking forward those drops) I tried to play it off that it was no big deal, cause I knew that K wanted to get home as much as I wanted him home that night. It just wasn’t in the cards. Driving at night isn’t recommended here inZimbabwe. Highways are extremely dangerous due to poor vision and car hijacking road blocks. Our team as a rule does not drive at night. So when K was doing the math on the hours he still had left to travel and the time the sun was due to set he knew he just wasn’t going to make it. I’m proud of him for making the right call… but at the time I was having a hard time seeing… literally I couldn’t see so much out of my right eye.

But being the strong independent type I told him to be safe and I’ll be just fine alone for the night. Now I’ve spent the night alone many times. I used to house sit all the time for friends and never thought twice. But of course it’s different when you are living inSeattleand can call a friend or my cousin Kenny to come spend the time if you get nervous about being alone at night. K knew I would get a bit nervous so he suggested having our housekeeper stay the night. Perfect idea, except I had just seen two women walk by with suitcases on their head heading for our housekeepers house; she had over night guests staying with her. (For the record I’ve never once seen her have overnight guests, but Wednesday night she had a full house.) And I had a very empty house. But I kept myself entertained with bad TV shows and perfecting my frozen soda can rotation so that my eye was always numb.

I went through the evening routine, greeting the guard that comes at 6pm (its always wise to be nice to the guy who guards your house at night) turning on the right lights and locking doors and closing windows so that bugs don’t come in. (I mean the bugs come in just at a slower rate if you close the windows) I was feeling good, the electricity gods were on my side because the power remained on the entire evening and I didn’t have to mess with the generator. (thank you electricity gods) It was getting close to 8:30pm which I’ve determined bedtime. (Not time to sleep but just time to be under my mosquito net in bed, don’t judge the night life in Gokwe is pretty chill, like there isn’t any)

I curled up in bed with my computer and began watching more stupid shows and listening for anything out of the ordinary. I was growing tired so I decided to turn of my computer and go to sleep. Besides the dreams of hatching bugs inside my body the night passed without any excitement. (which I am grateful for) K arrived just after 7:30am which stories I’ll leave for him to share. But I began the drops for my eye and saw results in the color and felt relief from the pain.  I had one last trip to visit some government officials on Thursday so I quickly thanked K for the drops and hopped in the car to set out for the day.

That evening we packed the remaining belongings of our little home and prepared to leave the next morning. We laughed as we compared our last move from our condo inSeattleto our move from Gokwe. Each move was stressful and eventful in its own way. I did miss all our friends coming over and helping pack like they did in ourSeattlemove. But we had way less things to pack in Gokwe.

Now we are inHararejust waiting to see if the proposal we submitted to OFDA will be approved. OFDA has given us a timeline of 4-6 weeks until we hear back on a submitted proposal. IF we get the green light then K and I will be moving down to a small town called Plumtree with a college of ours and we will be starting another rainwater harvesting project. If we get the red light well then we will have some decisions to make. Plans are very much up in the air right now but we are enjoying our adventure one day at a time.

goodbye Gokwe, goodbye Charlotte…

Friday morning K and I loaded up the two Medair trucks with all our belongings and said goodbye to Charlotte and to Gokwe. It was kind of surreal to know that we would not be coming back to our little house in Gokwe Center. We have officially closed down the Medair base in Gokwe and completed our project. Even writing it down and re-reading it seems strange. For the last three months K and I have been working day and night to finish this project. But the finish date always seemed to be out there somewhere in the distance, yet when we rolled into Harare at lunch time on Friday and was greeted by the office staff we felt a large weight lift off our shoulders. The project is completed and we finished well. But let me tell you it was not without some complications and a few twists that were very unexpected.

What twists you ask… well it all started with an innocent walk on the previous Sunday evening. K and I had been apart for several days while I was doing an assessment visit in another city in Zimbabwe so we decided to go for a walk on Sunday to chat about our week. As we were chatting away I was focusing on my footing careful not to twist my ankle or fall on the uneven path. As careful as I was being, I was not prepared for the bug that decided to fly straight into my right eye. It took a moment to register that there was indeed a bug fluttering around in my eye;  but once that moment passed I looked to K and with a bit of panic in my voice told him “there is a bug in my eye… get it out!” Amazing man that he is he went straight for my eye and held it open while I squirmed around and envisioned this bug laying eggs around my retina.

K was calm and collected. He kept telling me to blink and let my eye tear to flush out the bug. After a long minute or so I didn’t feel the bug and looked to K who told me the bug was gone. I regained my composure and laughed nervously saying “well at least I didn’t panic.” K was kind and agreed I handled that experience with ease. (We both knew I didn’t, but some facts just don’t need to be said out loud)

We returned home, happy and hungry for dinner. The evening passed without too much excitement. We had left over pizza for dinner and then settled in to watch a movie. I dozed off sometime in the first hour of the movie, not really anything new or different about that. But when I did wake up I found myself rubbing my eye and realizing that there was something very different. While I slept my eye began to swell and leak out thing strange mucus. I looked in the mirror and saw that my eye had gone totally red and was beginning to ache. I called out to K to come check out my eye. He took one look and went straight to his computer. I thought maybe I had contracted pink eye. “Can bugs carry pink eye?” “Are you kidding bugs carry all kinds of diseases.” “Quick Google bug and eye diseases.” You can image the next half hour’s conversation and Google results.

Seeing as how we were in Gokwe with nothing really to be done about my eye that night, we just went to bed and hoped for the best. Well the best did not come Monday morning. Nope, Monday morning brought more like not the best. I woke up only able to open one eye due to the fact the other was glued shut with the juice my eye was leaking the night before. Once I pried my eye open, I kind of wish I hadn’t… it was bright red and hurt to blink. I don’t know if you realize how much one has to blink… but you become quite aware of how many times and how often when there is pain connected to the action.

But you know the show must go on… like I had schools to visit and government officials to meet with. So I proceeded with work as usual… well as best I could with a leaking, red, throbbing, right eye. Monday and Tuesday passed without much change in my eye situation. And again thoughts of bug larva hatching in the back of my eye played around in my thoughts. But you know I kept it together. Finally, Wednesday rolled around and  K had to go with the moving truck that was sent with all our office equipment and things to storage. The storage location is about 4-5 hours away from Gokwe so he was planning a long day of travel. However, he was going throw the second largest city in Zimbabwe… full of pharmacies.

With the help of a co-worker whose husband is an eye doctor in Harare I was able to get the name of two eye drops that would most likely help my poor eye. I quickly texted the name of these drops to K who responded quickly telling me not to worry I would have my drops by bedtime tonight. Oh but then there is always another twist that just knocks you down just as you think you’ve gained your balance.

I’m gonna make this a two part blog post… who knew I would get so long winded?

school assembly, choir, and motto chanting…

I’m just gonna state the obvious. There has been a long silence pause here. You know us we’ve just been sitting around drinking fruit juice and working on our tans.  No, that’s not at all what we’ve been doing. But its sounds nice. I’ve had some rather exciting days going around to all the schools that Medair has been working with and officially handing over the rain water harvesting tanks to their care.

Most of the Head Masters have organized a group of school teachers, school development committee members, and a local environmental health techs to attend the handover and sign documents. They often request to have their picture taken to document event. Its a super fun part of my job to meet with the school’s officials and hear how these tanks have enabled their school to grow and meet the needs of both teachers and students. Most schools I spend about an hour walking around the tanks and signing handover forms with the schools. Its been a really great experiences. But did you notice that I said most schools… yes not all schools. In fact one school decided to put together an all school assembly.

I had no idea about this assembly until I drove into the school and saw that about two hundred students gathered around a tree waiting for me to arrive. As my driver pulled into the school he turned to me and said “You didn’t tell me this was going to be a function, I would have dressed up.” Before I could respond there was a group of teachers at my door waiting to lead me to my seat at the table in front of the assembly.

Sitting at the head table

The assembly was opened in a prayer by one of the members of the community, then the speeches began. The School’s Head Master, the school’s deputy, the Ward Councilor, the local environmental health tech, two members of the school’s development committee, and myself. Yes, that’s right, the Head Master turned to me and asked me to give a speech. I had a moment of panic but its not often that I have a hard time finding something to say. Actually it was super fun being able to speak directly to the students and tell them how important they are and how important it is that they have clean water to drink.

School's Head Girl reciting a poem on the importance of clean water

Several students recited poems they wrote about how important it is to have clean and safe water. Then came the dancing and then my favorite part of the whole event. The school choir. I have a very soft place in my heart for school choirs mostly cause I was in choir in school and love choirs. Seriously, if the words to the songs were in English and I knew them I would have joined them in singing. It was magical.

Dancing

The assembly finished with the Head Master leading the school in their new school motto. It went a little something like this:

Head Master: Sarah  Med-Air

Students: Sarah  Med-Air

Head Master: Denda (this is the name of the school)

Students: Denda

Head Master: Long live the partnership

Students: Long live the partnership

Head Master leading the school in their new motto.

I was then led out of the assembly back to my car by the same group of teachers who led me in. As we drove away all the students waved and yelled goodbye. Lets just say it was the highlight of my year.

paper chains, tug of war, and cake…

Last Wednesday marked our end of the project party. We have been working desperately long hours for the last few weeks to complete our project on time. Some days it seemed that the world was against us with rain and more mud than I’ve ever imagined to hold us back from finishing. But we made it to the end and fortunately we only have some finishing touches to do this next week. But Wednesday we partied. We celebrated the completion of 45 new hand dug wells, 22 rehabilitated wells, and 33 rain water harvesting tanks installed. That’s no small feat! There were several hiccups in this project along the way but the outcome is something to be very proud of. And without the national staff here in Gokwe it would have never been completed. I am extremely thankful for their hard work and dedication to completing this project.

Party time... look at that mess of paper chains!

We came together as a team for an afternoon of celebration. I was the decorating committee, therefore our party had paper chains. I am famous for making paper chain for long periods of waiting to mark of the days but I thought hey what the heck we can decorate with them too!

The local grocery store called Spar has a pretty decent bakery. The weird thing was it was a chocolate cake but every so often you found a raisin… like a special surprise or someone knocked over the leftover raisins in the cake. I’ll never know.

We had one very friendly game of tug of war and then we got serious. I think we played tug of war for all most an hour and let me tell you there was some fierce completion.

Overall it was a really great time to spend with our staff and really let them know how much we appreciated them and the work they have been doing on this project for the last year.

We had quite the spread of food… we would call it a BBQ but here they call it a Braai. (sounds like bry) It was a beautiful afternoon with really great people. There was even a little dancing at the end of the evening. Its a good thing that it was getting dark and pictures were not able to be taken. 🙂

I’m going to miss seeing these faces everyday. We are still waiting to find out if the funding on the next project has been approved, but honestly I’m enjoying my time in Gokwe and finishing up the project here still keeps me busy. I have been extremely blessed and impacted by the work that was done here in Gokwe and am so very happy to have a small part in it.