Friday, November 13, 2015

It Must Be in the Water!

It probably is NOT in our water, but I like to blame it on that.  More likely, I am just spending time with roughly 100 new people every day, exchanging germs with those who spend their time in the close living spaces of dormitories with 30 or so other people......and I am just the lucky recipient of every virus and cold that comes anywhere near this school. 

At any rate, somehow, I truly think I have caught every.single.thing that has gone around school so far this term. 

This week I've stumbled through 1/2 - 3/4 of my classes, but have almost constantly been yearning to crawl back into bed.  A virulent stomach bug swept through the school, seeming to hit more females than males (or maybe it just seemed that way to me?) and only hitting one member of our Berg family, namely, me.  At one point, I was shivering under the covers with 103 fever and wondering if I'd ever felt this bad before in my life. 

Thankfully, I survived, again.  Though the water at school keeps being tested and retested, and nothing foul has been found as of yet, we still have decided to begin boiling all our water.  Only Cipro brought me back to the land of the living, and the same story is true for many of the ill students as well, leading us all to think this is something more than a "virus". 

Meanwhile, Tim has thrilled at the chance to work at the hospital this week.  In school, we are reading Hamlet, and I am struggling to find a way to convince these students that the story is so much more than just a school assignment.  Alas, I have not succeeded, I am afraid.  I see the glazed look in their eyes as they open the books, except for a few brave souls who actually find the plot interesting and applicable to their lives (future English majors, no doubt!).  It breaks my heart that I haven't found a way to transmit my love of this play to them, but I maybe I will have better luck next year, my second round at sharing the play. 

Our hearts still break at the news of Kito, the little boy from Idjwi Island who has been so near death recently, whom Tim treated in a separate life threatening situation just one year ago.  Our hopes are beginning to rise that he might make it, thanks to the clinical care he has received and his little body's amazing response and ability to bounce back.  Then, two days ago, we received news that Deste's sister, who also lives on Idjwi, is also near death.  Malaria is so prevalant on Idjwi that 80% of the patients in their hospital come in with Malaria.  80%!  That is simply atrocious.  Although we enjoy living here in Kenya so much, we realize that our hearts and minds are so often not in Kenya yet, but are still behind us in Rwanda and Idjwi, with such poor and sick people whom the world seems to have forgotten. 

We pray that someday, God will raise up a team of his children to go back with us there, to serve his people there, to love our neighbors, to bring his care to those who do not have it, as he has asked us all to do. 

Saturday, October 24, 2015

When it rains, it pours, part 2!

That salt just keeps flowing out of the upside down salt shaker for the Bergs.  Deste came down with a SERIOUS sore throat yesterday - complete with a high fever.   I didn't have a thermometer again (returned the last borrowed one - need to put this on my Nairobi grab list), but my Mommy-meter guesses somewhere in the 102-3 range last night.  This morning, at the clinic, one hour after being given ibuprofen, it registered 100.  Anyway, our tough little boy literally had tears squirting out of his eyes because of how raw and painful his throat felt.

I looked in his mouth with my trusty flashlight app on my phone and was pretty sure I saw blister looking things on his humongous tonsils.  Seriously?  At this point, the pic below was ME.
Notice the boots sticking out of the sand.  

Thank goodness for our student health clinic on campus.  Nurse Chip checked him out and felt fairly sure our little man had strep, which - around here, means one thing.  A shot of penicillin.  (What?  Oh, I'm glad you asked.  No, we don't have rapid strep tests here.)  Deste wasn't too thrilled with the idea of a needle entering his body.  But, I've never seen a kid "buck up" so quickly and so well.  When he first heard the news, he screamed, cried and wanted to run away, but then we talked a short while.  "Yes, this will hurt.  It will hurt a lot.  But we will count to twenty while you are getting the shot and you can squeeze my hand and try to break the bones, which will give you something funny to do while the shot goes in.  And, you get to pick where he gives the shot - the bottom or your leg."  Somehow, the control from getting to pick his place (the leg) calmed him down immensely, and he decided he could be brave.  HE WAS THE PERFECT PATIENT!  And this is a boy who is deathly afraid of hospitals and doctors (besides his daddy) in general.  Pretty darned impressive.  After the shot (we didn't even have time to count, NOR for him to squeeze my hand!), Deste proudly said, "That didn't even hurt at all!"  And Chip told him that he was braver and better behaved than 95% of the patients that ever got shots here, from Kindergarten all the way up to Twelfth Grade, in ALL his years of working as a nurse at RVA.  "You have braggin' rights, now, my friend.  You were awesome!", said Chip.  To which Deste replied, "Bragging is exactly what I'm going to go do at home right now!  I can't wait to tell Ruthie and Sam how brave I am!"

Turns out, this day isn't so salty, after all.  We are just having a nice quiet Saturday at the house, playing phonics games and watching Disney movies.  Guess we don't have it so hard around here, after all.


BUT, some new friends of ours kind of do.  Would you please pray for another new teacher family here at RVA?  They are MUCH better sports than I've been.....but still, they could use prayer!  

The Berry family came to RVA for Ben to teach Spanish.  Ben is a great teacher, and such an answer to prayer for RVA, as they've been needing a Spanish teacher for quite a while.  We have one great one, Mrs. Wells, but she can't teach all the classes.  They offer Spanish 1-4!  Ben is teaching our Sam Spanish 2, and Sam says his is awesome.  Ben and his wife, Esther, have 3 of the cutest little boys!  Super, super cute little guys!  And, Esther is due to have cute boy #4 in about 3 weeks.  Meanwhile, the entire family has been down with sore throats, the stomach bug I just had, and other things off and on for the last couple weeks or more.  Now, when everyone is finally well again, Daddy Ben has pulled out his back, badly.  He can't even get off the couch.  No fun.

Would you please pray for health, healing, and rest for Ben and the whole Berry family, and while you're at it, a safe and smooth delivery for Esther in the next few weeks to a month?

Thank you so much!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

When it rains, it pours

Students in my classes use a term to refer to a number of different emotions or situations.  As best as I can understand, as long as it is a negative emotion or situation which involves bitterness in any way, shape or form, they can use the word "SALT" or "SALTY" to describe it.

"I'm chucking salt!"

"That teacher is so salty because so many of of us didn't finish our homework."

"Why are you being so salty towards me?  I didn't do anything to you!"

It's a pretty creative term, really - seeing as salt is quite a bitter compound.  What an innovative way to communicate negative experiences.

So, in light of this newfound vocabulary word, let me just say:  "I've been feeling pretty salty lately." Hm.  No.  How about,  "My life's full of salt".  Um, no.  I'll try this: "Why so much salt in my life, all at once??"
Hm.  Maybe I'm too old for this teen-RVA jargon.  I guess I'll just stick to the old phrase,  

"When it rains, it pours." 

It started with receiving some pretty intense, negative feedback on my failures from someone I love.  While I needed to hear it, I definitely felt pretty bummed that I had let a friend down, and that I had been oblivious that I was doing it all the while!  Soon afterwards, I heard another friend had died, and then later, that a little boy, one of Deste's friends in Rwanda, had fallen off a motorcycle taxi and had broken some bones.  Then I got what I took as some negative feedback from an area where I've been trying my absolute hardest.  Another little boy's family in Rwanda was sick, and went to the "traditional medicine doctor" for medicine, which made them all much, much sicker, and we were worried some might not even live.

Linda the water-rat
Meanwhile, I was struggling at home to find a way to keep up with grading 90 essays and checking over 400 journal entries a week (plus whatever other assignments I needed to grade), and wondering how on earth teachers have managed such a crazy workload since schools began. 

I felt like a rat in a swimming pool, paddling like mad to keep my nose out of water, yet with no hope of climbing out of the unreachable side-ledge and climbing onto dry ground.

My kids were beginning to complain that they never saw me anymore, and that I was living at school, and the worst of it was, they were pretty much right.  Tim, naturally, was being an amazing sport through all of this, but even he has his limits.   Finally, about 9 weeks into the school term, Tim and I hit what I'll call "stress-fracture" week. 

If you are married or involved in a long term relationship, you know what a "stress-fracture" week is all about.  C'mon, admit it.  You know what I'm talking about!  

After pushing back on life hurdles too hard, for too long, with too little down time to relax and rest and re-create, a time comes when relationships hit a wall.  

 And ours sure did.  

One day, all was fine.

The next, we were each wondering what on earth we had ever seen in each other.
After two months of living here, the stress of the transition, of getting used to the mom and wife going to work each morning and staying late trying to figure out her electronic grade book and online Moodle site, looking at bills together that we didn't have the funds to pay, missing our college kids SO badly, hearing that my mom and dad were sick, getting a slightly worse test result back on my kidney situation, and not having a clue what to do about it, getting some other bad news from home, trying to learn 100 students' and 50 staff members' names, having a 6 year old who kept throwing a fit at bathtime and bedtime (aren't we too old for this problem?), and having what feels like an overwhelming amount of new things to learn and do on our "lists", we ended up neglecting each other and paid the relational price for that. 

Maybe it is extra important for Tim and me to continually make time for each other, to seek to understand and appreciate each other, because we are polar opposite personalities in pretty much every way imaginable.  Being SO different is a sure fire recipe for misunderstandings to occur! 
Polar Opposites, Tim & Me
Some dear friends prayed for us, and after a few days of us trying not to act upset around anyone else in the house, but pretty much ignoring each other the rest of the time.....

.....we finally prayed together, and went for a long walk.  And somehow, on that walk,
From this..... :( this!  Awesome, huh?
....God healed our hearts.  

I'm so impressed at how just praying, just opening ourselves to Him and telling Him our hurts together could heal so much pain and right so many misunderstandings, and brighten up everything.  Just everything.   Not feeling "together" with my man can remove the color from my whole world, leaving everything dark, dreary, and rainy-grey.  Everything else can be functioning perfectly - but if our relationship isn't thriving,
everything else seems BLEH. And the inverse is also true. If all else is in the toilet, but Tim and I are doing well, life still feels great. THIS!
From this....

And, isn't it the same, only more so, with our Maker?  When I get so busy that I go days without more than a nod in His direction, a "thank you" for my meals, or a glance at a token Bible verse or short devo entire life perspective dims.  Life begins to feel more and more pointless, hopeless, random, brutally unfair and exceedingly "salty".

So, any new lessons learned?  ...Nope!

No new lessons, that's for sure.  

But, I have RE-learned some old lessons!  

The main lesson being that I should always go back to the basics, and go back to "Life Lesson #1", which I've learned and relearned too many times to count.  (Feeling like an Old Testament Israelite, anyone?)  So here it is, the wisdom I remembered from our stress fracture week.  

Life Lesson #1.  The Key to Living:  

I must always be about tending the garden
 of my most treasured relationships.  

My relationships with...
my husband,
my precious children,
our original families
& my closest friends
must, must, must take precedence
over the myriad of "to-do's" that cry
out for my time and attention each day.

If I want to run myself ragged, end up empty, plum worn out, and feeling used and abused, I can run the "to-do" race until I collapse in a heap.   I must choose to not try to come in first in life, to allow myself to not be the best and to instead be satisfied with "good enough", so that I can resist the temptation to work too long and too much.  Like the old saying goes, "No one ever regretted not spending more time at the office when (s)he was on his deathbed."   I certainly do not want to regret not investing more into my relationship with Jesus, my relationship with myself, and my relationships with those I hold dear in my heart.

Many people spell 'love', T-I-M-E.  
And that's exactly what I've not been giving.

Relationships, just like paying jobs, take work and investment.  Lord, help me to remember this lesson this time.  Or, please wake me up sooner, and help me to repent quicker, the next time I forget and return to workaholism again.

Which relationships have you perhaps been neglecting, and what do you want to do to try to begin tending them again? 

Friday, October 9, 2015

Yes, we are still alive!

A friendly email reminder from a dear friend motivated me to get back to work on the blog.  I apologize for the super long hiatus.  But as you can see, we are still alive and well in Africa! 

We are adapting to the totally different life here in our new home, Kenya.  Just as moving from Texas to Mexico involves quite a change, so does moving from the country of Rwanda to the country of Kenya.  It's easy to lump Africa all together when living 8,000 miles across the sea, but here, the cultures, the language, the dress, the food.....they are all different.  Again!  For instance, here, we must pick all our own food off the plentiful fruit trees.....thank goodness, we have Deste, who is a terrific tree climber!  Okay, maybe we don't have to pick our food from trees, but if Deste had his way, we most certainly would! 

Websites describing the effects of major transitions ease the discomfort of feeling as though I am some sort of freak who can't deal with change.  According to the experts, it turns out that the homesickness, the disorientation, the frequent dreams, which assure my mind as I sleep that I am either back in Texas or back in Rwanda ...... these all prove I am NORMAL!  (This is really cool, since I think it is pretty much the first time in my life that I have been normal, haha.)  

I'm not the only one with dreams - every one of us has awakened at one point or other since August with tales of super-real dreams that we are in our home in Rwanda or Texas.   Just yesterday, Ruthie came downstairs and said, "I dreamed that I went out and met Samuelee - (pronounced Samwel-ee - he's a night guard at our mission back in Rwanda) for tea, and we were speaking Kinyarwanda together."  And a while back, Sam said he dreamed of Simeon, a dear friend who worked for us at the mission.  Simeon and Sam used to have so much fun stomping rats together in our kitchen back in the "good old days".  Deste dreamed he was at the ranch with Gaga and Papa, his new grandparents, whom he speaks fondly of regularly*.  Ah, sweet memories! (*The rest of us don't understand how he bonded so much with dear Papa and Gaga - he was only with them a few times when we were in America last year.  But somehow, he knows they are special, and he often speaks of longing to be "at the ranch, with Gaga and Papa", as if it is some magical place like Disneyworld.  All I can say is, it must be a God-caused bond, because we didn't even hope that he would be able to grasp that they were now his relatives - nor did we make a big effort to convince him of this.  It just happened.)

Our hearts ache with the void left by leaving our many Rwandan friends.  The big, sweet smiles, the generous hearts, the daily rhythms, their and inspiring stunning reliance on the Savior ... we miss it all.  

And yet, here we are in Kenya.  Tim is quite busy studying Swahili, so he can better communicate with his surgical patients once his license is approved, which hopefully will happen later this month.  He just "aced" his Swahili mid-term exam, to no one's surprise.  (My husband, the awesome student!)

Tim has also taken up the slack left at home, by my constantly obsessing over teaching my English classes.  He has become "Mr. Mom", and is handling menu planning and grocery shopping.  Tthis involves walking 10 minutes to the village market with the sturdy bag gifted to us by our dear friend, Paige Mixon, picking out fresh veggies and fruit sold by some ladies who grow them nearby, then walking another minute to a small store, or duka, and buying oil, flour, sugar, coffee, salt, powdered milk, etc.  Lastly, he stops by the side of the dirt road and buys a dozen or two fresh eggs from the man who sits under a shade tree every day selling his chickens' work from that morning.  Of course, on the way and back home again, he practices his Swahili.  All in all, it isn't a bad way to spend a morning, he says.  Below are a few pictures from one rare day when we all shopped together on a Saturday.

 Just outside the "Supa Duka", where we buy our dry goods. 
 This is where we buy our vegetables.  (Above) 
And below, starting the walk home from a Saturday shopping trip.  

Once Tim begins working in the hospital, I will have to step my game up a notch and begin shopping and menu planning on Saturdays, but for now, I have enjoyed and appreciated Tim taking care of this home-making chore.  And he says he has finally learned the answer to the question, "Hi honey!  So, what did you do all day?"  :) He says he has also learned why it is not a good idea to ask the question at all, at least not with a tone or follow up question, "Did you get anything done today at all?"

I am a bit bone weary at the moment, but still, I am LOVING teaching British Literature to the senior class at Sam and Ruthie's high school.  L.O.V.I.N.G.I.T.!!  (Did I mention I love it?)  I'd all but forgotten so much of this literature, and so have re-read pieces I hadn't studied for 25 - 30 years, and then have enjoyed sharing them with the greatest class of seniors this world has ever known. 

So far, we've studied Beowulf, Gilgamesh, Caedmon, Bede, and some Anglo-Saxon Eliagic poetry.  Next week, we move on to Chaucer, then later we'll be studying Malory, Marlowe and on to Shakespeare  (Yes, I am excited!), and so forth and so on.  We get to end the year with my all time favorite writer EVER,  Mr. C.S. Lewis.  I am having a blast teaching these kids.  It's so much better than I hoped it would be.  The silly pics are from a day the student council hosted a "fashion purge" day, to build spirit for a big game - pretty much everyone came in as many clashing items of clothing as they could find, beg, borrow or steal.  Well, not steal - this is a missionary kid's school, after all.

 I made my bulletin boards out of colored chalk quotes, since I couldn't find many posters in downtown Kijabe, Kenya...... 

Here's a "dress like a Korean" day, as a spirit builder for Jazz Band.....

Yes, many of these Jazz Band folks ARE Korean, so they had quite an advantage.

Back to "Fashion Purge" day.

Just another day of class......

More than the literature, though, the real reason I love teaching is my students.  What an amazing group of kids.  My classroom houses students from many states of the United States, as well as from Kenya, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, South Sudan, Canada, New Zealand, South Korea, Germany, England and more.  Their aspirations include becoming nurses, doctors, teachers, engineers, pastors, professional musicians, linguists, marine biologists and pilots, just to name a few. Not only are these kids from a wide variety of home countries, their parents now work in a wide array of African countries, as well.  

So, I get to read and hear about mission life, as well as get to pray for missionaries serving in Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Burundi, South Africa, Ghana, Zambia, Madagascar, Angola, Botswana, Nigeria, Mali, Mozambique, Malawi and Tanzania.  Talk about a diverse group.  What a privilege to teach these kids!  Also, what a cool feeling to know that in a very small way, I am supporting so many missions across Africa, by providing 1/7 of the daily education for these high school seniors, so their families can do the jobs they were sent to Africa to do.  (And you, our supporters, are ALSO supporting all these missions by funding our work here!  So, we thank you so much!)  

Knowing I am enabling so many others to do their direct ministry while I am here, near good kidney care and and near my children, makes me feel so happy, and also a little less guilty about being in such a nice place.  Also, knowing that Tim will soon be gaining invaluable experience learning to run a surgical residency program, so he can help equip more African doctors to know how to perform surgery, which will someday benefit rural Africa's critical need of surgical care, makes us glad we are investing some time here as well.  

Meanwhile, back in Rwanda, thanks to some dear friends IN Rwanda, the Seka ladies' ministry is still going strong!  Words fail me when I try to express how grateful I am that this ministry has continued even with our move.  We are almost ready to ship a whole bunch more bags to America to sell, so please let me know if you want to be a Seka seller for round two of the Powerful Purse Purchase!  
 I mean, why wear a normal purse when you can wear a purse with the power to pay a child's school tuition, or to buy groceries for a family for two months, or that can teach English to Rwandan widows and orphans?  Why wear a designer bag when you can design a way to help sisters you've never met support themselves, and to survive and thrive in their world, 8,000 miles away?  For that matter, why just help one widow with one purse purchase?  Why not buy many, or better yet, why not SELL even more?  

Ruthie and Sam love being "station kids" this year (meaning, they live with their parents on the mission station) rather than boarding kids.  They do miss their friends, and the silly shenanigans that spontaneously happen now and then in the dorms, but it is so nice that they enjoy being with their old mom and dad.  I think perhaps it is Tim and me who enjoy being with our teens more than the teens enjoy being with their geriatric parents, but all in all, it is a Win-Win for all of us.  Ruthie is surviving Chemistry and loving AP English, and Sam is loving Art and Biology and surviving Geometry.

Ruthie and her friend, Grace, volunteered to teach the Rift Valley kids' Sunday School class, and they are doing a FABULOUS job!  I am so proud of her. 

Ruthie the teacher!

Coby, Ruthie's boyfriend (who is from South Carolina), came to help out one Sunday morning.  
Deste, hard at work in Kindergarten! 

Deste, on "round 2" of Kindergarten, has found his stride.  In 15 months, this brilliant boy has conquered the English language, adjusted to his new family, fallen in love with grandparents he hardly ever sees, learned to like and trust men (he used to be quite afraid of them), bonded with his Daddy, knows his ABCs and the sound each letter makes, is learning to read, bit by bit, is able to not run and scream when he sees dogs (and can even sometimes stop and pet them), has learned to swim, can write almost all his letters and numbers up to 10, and has flown to 3 countries and been in 5.  He has started taking piano lessons, and is fiercely committed to practicing "every, every day".  Yes, we are proud of our son!

Though we could never fill their shoes, we are trying to fill one spot that the Myhres left when they went on home assignment this year.  The Myhres are a doctor couple who served as our kids (and many other people's kids) guardians while they were at RVA.  One fun thing they did was host a lunch every Thursday for the boarding students whom they served as guardians.  While we can't be guardians for anyone, due to the fact that we live on campus this year (guardians have to live off of RVA's campus, in case of a need to evacuate the student body), we CAN have boarding students over for meals.  Here's just one example of one of those crazy meal times.  Can you tell how much fun we are having?

(A note to my mom and dad -- the girls in the far back (the blond and the girl with the bun) are the daughters of the girls your San Antonio church has supported all these years!  Cool, huh?) 

Bye!  Thanks for reading, we hope to hear from you soon (feel free to comment, and I promise to write back!) -- and here's hoping I begin writing regularly again.