Thursday, November 27, 2014

This life I lead.

This life I lead, it's so completely beyond anything my wildest imagination could have ever conjured up when I was a child dreaming of the future. This is my sixth Thanksgiving in Africa; five different countries (the first two were both in Benin) and a million different adventures, friends who have come and gone and some who have come again, different jobs and different seasons and heartache and joy and new passions and people and bigger dreams for the future.  I've held audiences with various heads of state and United Nations officials and I've negotiated with butchers for pigs feet and I've seen life enter the world and I've grieved it's departure. I've learned bits and pieces of dozens of languages, I've seen miracles in patients and even in my own heart, I've had moments where I can't imagine going one more step and I've had moments where I've wondered how on earth I could have ever gotten to be so so so blessed. I'm so grateful, this Thanksgiving day, for the honor and the privilege and the blessing it is, this life I lead.

But.

This is the sixth Thanksgiving I am far far far away from my mom and her pecan pie and my nana's mashed potatoes and gravy.  I have a nephew I've never met and a niece who wouldn't recognize me if I walked through the door.  Friends have lost touch or moved or get wrapped up in their own lives and families and seasons, and hearing "I'll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams" brings tears to my eyes every. single. time.

I love this life I lead, but it comes at a cost.  I'm thankful today for so many things, not the least of which is my family here in Madagascar and there in Benin and there in Seattle and there in Minnesota and there wherever else you find yourself today. 

Happy Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Seasons.

I’ve been trying to put words to this season for several weeks; a brief, three or four words that can adequately describe what the last several months has been like.  I can’t do it. It’s still the beginning of the field service so it feels like it should still be August.  I completely forgot about Thanksgiving, without all the black Friday TV commercials and hoopla bombarding my eyes and ears it was a surprise to my system to hear others talking of the meal planned on the ship next week.  Emails from family asking for Christmas wish lists seem ridiculous in the sweltering humidity in the middle of the Malagasy summertime and even though I have lived in Africa for five and a half years I don’t know that it will ever become normal. But the sun rises and the sun sets and this season, whatever it is, keeps moving forward.

It’s a season of busy: I haven’t really stopped since getting the notice back in Gran Canaria of surprise, you’re heading to Madagascar this weekend!  Somehow we managed to get just about four months’ worth of work done in six weeks; my sagging clothing a result of many skipped meals due to being so pressed for time, and my deep love for this place and these people tribute to the blood, sweat, tears, and love I have had the privilege of investing so deeply already.  My quiet blog is testament to the fact that while we all have the same 24-hours in a day, I’m choosing to use mine in something other than writing lately.  And that’s okay. 

It’s a season of confidence: Last year this same week I was running my very first medical education course called Basic Surgical Skills. As the calendar would have it, we’re running it again starting on Monday and it’s like night and day compared to last year.   Last year I fumbled my way along hoping I wouldn’t mess up things too badly; this year, I know what I am doing, and I know what needs to happen to make it absolutely the best course we can possibly produce.  I’m training my (incredible) new assistant in how to manage the chaos that is my job, with none of it being particularly hard but rather the difficulty is found in managing two zillion small non-difficult details without losing your mind.   I’m finding my voice in meetings where I was too afraid to speak up before, realizing I do in fact have some valuable experience to draw on as we are growing and improving our Healthcare Education program.  I’ve got a lot more to learn, of course, but it’s a huge blessing to not constantly feel like a little kid sitting at the grown-ups table.

It’s a season of realistic boundaries: Thanks to so many things – my (incredible) assistant, my own confidence in my work, my comfortably bilingual tongue, and my better understanding of what is really important, I’m finding my work isn’t taking over my life as it once was.  I work a lot, yes, and I love my work and it’s still a busy season.  There are things that cannot wait – for example, today (Saturday) I am spending the morning trying to sort out problems at the slaughterhouse for the animal tissue we need for the surgical course, and this afternoon writing a report I haven’t found the time to write that’s due by the end of this week.  Tomorrow I have to set up for the course and meet the instructors and get everything set for the course that starts Monday. However, next weekend? I’m going away with NO devices and NO email access for three whole days.  And those emails that come in on Friday evening or over the weekend? They can wait.  I don’t have to answer my phone at all hours of the night and day and week and I’m not going to get fired for choosing time with friends in the evening over working another fourteen hour day. Reality is we are all giving of ourselves every single day and last year at this time I wasn’t sure I would make it; this year? I’m loving it.

It’s a season of challenge:  Learning to walk in big-girl shoes brings out a whole new set of challenges: managing a team, trusting and empowering them but not giving them so much they feel they are drowning; keeping on top of things without being controlling; trying out new ideas that might be amazing but might also be a complete disaster and not allowing fear of failure determine my next steps.

It’s a season for others:  One of the joys that has come from it being a season not of drowning but of growth is that I find myself thinking so much less about myself and my own survival and much of my thoughts are on others… a very welcome relief. How can I bless someone today? Who around me needs a friend? What words of life can I offer or hope can I bring to a situation or relationship?  What is the most selfless thing I can do in this situation?  It’s such a joy to my soul to feel balanced in this, to pursue relationship with others as my heart longs for the same, to not feel like I’m the one sucking life out of those around me but rather asking God how I can live and breathe and ooze life and joy to all those I have the privilege of encountering. 

It’s a season of walking it out: I have let fear rule my life for far too long; insecurity, fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of what others might think, of being too needy, of being too much, of not being enough, of being abandoned or forgotten or humiliated.  Over the last several years I’ve come to recognize these things for what they are, to speak life and pursue truth and understand the reality that a woman created in the image of God does not need to live in fear.  I know the truth, but knowledge is nothing if it is not walked out in actions.  So in this season of being brave I find myself gathering courage regularly to walk it out.  And every time I don’t succumb to fear and do ask the questions or say the words or do the thing I’m supposed to do, I can hear that still small voice whispering to my weary heart Well Done.  

It’s a beautiful season, a season I am so honored and privileged to have been called to, a season filled with joy and truth and life at its fullest.  To all of you who have walked the path with me, who have supported this journey, who have prayed and loved and given of yourselves and your words and your time and your resources and your life… Thank you.  I am deeply grateful. 


Sunset over Tamatave, from the gangway.
 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Lychee 101.

This morning I went to the market and bought this bag.  What is it, you ask? 
 
 
It's Lychees.  Fresh. Grown locally.  Growing up in very non-tropical locations has meant I, at 33 years old, have never seen a lychee.  In fact, I had to ask a friend what a lychee was anyway, as we had heard it talked about here.  (it is a fruit.)

 
They kind of look like strawberries growing on a bush. This lovely bag full from the market cost me 3000 Ariary (just over one dollar.)


The outside has a tough skin. 

 
The inside, a soft, juicy, kind of slimey white pulp. One doctor I was with said it is the same exact consistency of eyeballs... and wouldn't eat them.

 
So to eat them you peel off the top part of the red skin...
 

... and pop it out of the rest of the skin, right into your mouth. Then, between your teeth and tongue, you need to get all the white slimey juicy pulp off the seed in the middle, without biting into the seed.  (it's not dangerous or anything... just doesn't taste very nice.)  This can take some practice.
 

 
And this is what is left.  And with nine fresh lychees, you have consumed your daily requirement of vitamin c... but other than that, they have very little nutritional value. 
 
But they sure are yummy!  A very social fruit, best when shared among friends. :)