If living in Africa for three months has taught me anything, it’s that nothing in life is certain. Some days I wake up well rested, with the electricity working great. I’m able to take a shower, brush my teeth, and go about my day much like I would have in the US. I wake up to a beautiful sunrise over the Indian Ocean. I didn’t get any new mosquito bites, all the food is still fresh and good to eat, and the roaches stayed asleep for the day. At school I was able to check my email periodically, use internet to research curriculum, made copies, and basically have a very productive, satisfying day.
Other days…..not so much. It could be that I’ve been sleeping peacefully until about 2:00 AM when I am awakened to the “sound” of the fan turning off and the heat quickly seeping into the room. It’s going to be a hot, sweaty, sleepless night. Super. Sometimes I take a shower and the water just gives up half way through, or the hot water gives up, or the shower curtain that the landlord refuses to fix falls down on my head….again. Once in a while there are ants crawling all over my toothbrush (32, at last count) and I have six fresh, itchy mosquito bites that will plague me all day. Some days the traffic is so bad that it takes me a full ten minutes to get up the nerve to run for dear life across the street. Other days people stop and wave me through. (okay, that’s actually only happened once…must’ve been an angel on some other business in Dar that day). Turning on the computer at work in the morning is like playing the lottery……the question of whether the internet will work is a daily high stakes game. It’s funny how important the internet has become to feel like I’m somewhat connected to the rest of the world. I know it’s an illusion, really, but it helps a lot to hear about everyday life in the states from friends and family. It gives me a feeling of normalcy that is sometimes desperately needed.
Work has its own set of nonguaranteed essentials: I may or may not get to print those important worksheets for third period, the copy machine may or may not be operating for that class set of homework that needed to get handed out today, the boys in my class may or may not have chosen that deodorant was an important part of their overall hygiene, despite my repeated pleas that they wear it to the benefit of those around them….the list goes on. One thing that’s sure is that the kids will come and they will expect me to teach them.
None of these things is really a big deal. Some of them seem downright silly to get frustrated about or stressed over. The main problem is the cumulative effect of all those “little things.” So what am I learning? That my personal set of expectations of how things should be is just that; MY expectations. I’m learning to let go of my plans on a micromanagement level. Just the fact that there are so few things I can really control here has illustrated to me how much the feeling of being in control is an illusion in the first place. I’m learning that good teaching can and does occur without the bells and whistles of modern technology. I’m learning that there is nothing more eloquent to my students than my living with these minute by minute frustrations in a way that brings honor to God and shows them that He can and does work through imperfect people such as myself. I’m learning how to handle daily stress of living in an often uncomfortable environment. Mostly, God is showing me how much work He still has to do in this little life to conform me to the image of His Son.
I struggle a lot with my attitude. Mostly because it’s hot season, which means I’m getting very little sleep. Things are just so much harder to deal with when you’re chronically tired. There are times when I just sit down and cry because, for example, the cinnamon rolls that I made last night are now swarming with ants. Now, is that really something worth crying over? Yet somehow there’s no stopping those big, rolling tears. God and I have been working on this for quite a few years. Thankfulness just doesn’t come naturally to me. It’s only a product of His work in me. He has used some interesting tools to teach me, though.
Yesterday, at the end of a particularly hard day, I was walking to the store to replace some grocery goods and feeling sorry for myself. I would write out my thought process, but it’s a bit too shameful to repeat. Let’s just say it was less than congenial towards a variety of difficulties I’m dealing with, but for some strange reason, I lifted my eyes from my feet trodding across the dirt path, and started looking at the people around me. A little boy walks resolutely past me carrying a basket of individually wrapped beans. He doesn’t go to soccer practice or piano lessons or play video games after school. He walks the streets and sells beans to help make ends meet. Yet he seems content enough with his lot in life. I notice the people walking in front of me and past me. I know they exist on just a few dollars a week, yet they all dress so nicely, wearing their best clothes neatly and with dignity. It’s hard to believe that they are really living hand to mouth, but I know that they are. I think of the workers I noticed on the side of the road just the other day, digging trenches with nothing better than pickaxes and shovels in the sweltering sun all day. I don’t know exactly how much they earn in a day, but I know it’s pennies. These are all such common sights that I don’t even notice them anymore. My problems and discomforts tend to block my view of everyone else’s lot in life. I think of William again, and how he works so hard all day and goes back home to his hot, dusty village to serve with so much joy. Every time I bump into him I am blessed by his attitude.
That day, it was as if God was saying, “Stop and look.” And I did. And I laid my hand over my mouth. Indeed, life here is much for uncomfortable and frustrating than life in the states. It is hard, as a foreigner so unused to the heat and the culture and not having transportation and million other things. And yet I am blessed. Because He teaches me so well, and covers it all with His grace.