Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Mama Said So

I recently had the opportunity to interview Sarah about what it's like to be a single mother in Uganda. Just as we were about to begin, Sarah's friend, Caro, showed up for a visit. Caro is also a single mother, and she was happy to join in our discussion over a cup of lemongrass chai while their daughters played and toddled around us. Here they are...the women of the hour: Sarah & Sofy (16 months), Caro & Layla (22 months).

What's the best thing about being a mom?

Sarah: A good thing about being a mother... If you carry this baby (Sofy), and you go outside, people will see you and respect you. They might not know your situation of being a single mother, but they will just respect you because you have a baby. They respect you as a mother.

Caro: There's a situation we are in... very many girls... but when you're having a kid, even though a man comes, he can fear because he sees you are someone's woman. He doesn't know the man isn't around, and he wont disturb you. And it is very good to have a kid because there are very many men and women who have prayed for children and don't have them. That shows me that when you have someone in the world, it is very great.

What's the hardest thing about being a mom? 

Sarah: The most difficult thing is taking care of them in many ways. Like getting food for each meal, buying clothes, there are school fees... Caring for her by myself is very hard because she keeps me busy even to the extent of failing to cook for myself. I find that I eat at 3 or 4pm because from the time she wakes up in the morning, I make sure that I've prepared something for her to eat. We use charcoal stoves here which can take a long time to cook something.

Caro: When Layla falls sick, and I have nothing, it can be difficult. Another thing. You may also have nothing to feed her, and when she's hungry, she can cry the whole day. And all you can say is, "What can I do?" I have to go to my friend or my neighbor and ask for something for my kid.

There are very many girls who feel burdened by the responsibility of having a baby, and they abandon their baby. If you had the opportunity, what would you say to these girls?

Caro: Sometimes these girls say, "This kid is very expensive. Will I manage? Let me just leave the baby and go do my own things." For me, I am an example. Layla was sick all the time, and I am alone, I wasn't working. So if God wasn't in me or the love I have for her, I could just dump her there and leave her. But for me and Sarah, we stood and said, "Come what may." So if I met that person, I would encourage her just to stand and struggle like a mother.

Sarah: I think these ladies that have that heart of throwing away the babies... I think they think they will not manage to take care of the baby because the fathers are not around. Others fear their parents seeing them pregnant and fear being chased away from their clans. Some parents chase their daughters away because the father of the child is from a different tribe or culture. Other parents say, "If my daughter gets pregnant, I will never allow her to come back in my home." So these girls just abort or throw the child. So I would encourage this girl and say that if even a poor person in the village who doesn't have work can care for her baby, why can't you also? I can also encourage her through preaching the word of God saying that God loves us and has a plan for us. And tell her that if she aborts, she may end up dying or won't be able to have children again in the future when she wants them.

What has given you encouragment recently?

Sarah: Sofy has encouraged me because I can see how she's growing. She's not growing backwards, but she's growing ahead. God helped me, and she's not falling sick all the time now, and she's growing like other children.

Caro: I am encouraged because when Layla turned one year, she was not yet walking. Even the father was abusing me saying he would take her back to the village. But I thank God that she walked, and now she is running! She is somehow growing fat. Before, she was very, very thin and wouldn't even laugh, but now she is enjoying herself and doing each and every thing. That's why I'm so encouraged now.

What advice would you give to other first-time moms?

Sarah:  I would tell her to love the baby in all ways. Second, I would tell her to trust in God. Third, I would tell her to avoid being so angry when things go wrong at home, like if she has no soap to wash or no money. I would tell her to be patient and trust in God and feel hope all the time. During the age of children who have started walking or talking, if she breaks a cup, don't beat her as if you were killing a snake. You should punish her in a good manner that shows her love.

Caro: If she's like us single mothers, I would tell her that things are not easy but just take them as they are. She should focus her heart on God because he's the provider of each and every thing, For me, if it wasn't for God, I couldn't be what I am. Even though we are passing through challenges, He says that he will be with us. I would tell a mother to remember she is not the first one to experience these things. Even your mother suffered to make you grow up, so just stand and believe in your God, The Scriptures you have in your head can make you to pass.

What hopes do you have for your daughter?

Sarah: I have hope in Sofy that she will go to school, and get a job, and feel okay. I have hope that she will also love God in the future and will be a well-behaved girl.

Caro: The first thing, I hope she will grow up fearing God. I also hope that she will get her education from outside countries and that she will grow up to be a musician! I want her to be a woman who can stand and do her own things.

How would you like people to pray for you and your daughter?

Sarah: I would ask those people to pray for Sofy to have wisdom. Being wise is very class, in your own family, it's a good thing. I would also ask people to pray that Sofy can use her talents well.

Caro: I would want people to pray for my kid to not lack anything she should have, like school fees. I'm also pray that she can have the love of her father. It's very important to me that she knows the father so she can have a full life. He was born again, and he backslid, but I am praying he will return to us.

Is there anything else you'd like to share?

Sarah: Being a mom in Uganda has been hard for me. The are many challenges, but by the power of God, I can overcome some of them. When I pray, I see he provides for me. But being a mother, especially a single mother in Uganda, is not easy.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Chad Is Rad

Last month I went to Kenya.
This month I went to Chad. Or Tchad, if you're a French speaker... which I am not. For those of us who need a little refresher on where exactly Chad is, I give you this:

I spent a week in the capital city, N'Djamena, visiting my friends and their four boys. They've lived there for nearly two years, and they plan to be there for many, many, many more.

our welcome sign made by the boys

We flew into Chad in the middle of a dust storm, the likes of which I have never seen. It was so dusty that our plane must've overshot the runway on our first attempt at landing. As we were nearing touchdown, the landing gear was put away and we suddenly started ascending again. Fortunately, there are only one or two flights coming in each day, so we didn't have to staying in a holding pattern waiting for our turn again. After making a large circle back, we were able to land successfully on the second try.

Chad is a French and Arabic speaking country, so it was strange to not be able to understand or communicate freely with Chadians, but my friends were gracious translators and helped me out when necessary.

It was supposed to be one of the hottest times of year during my visit with normal daytime temperatures hang out around 110°F or 115°F. I was prepared for the worst. Prepared to pour water on my mattress at night and put on soaking wet pajamas to provide a few minutes of relative cool as the water quickly evaporates in the dry, desert air. But because of the dust storm that blew in on the day we arrived that thoroughly blocked out the sun, we experienced a bit of a "cold snap." Temps stayed around a comfortable 99°F most days, and cooled down to a chilly 70°F at night. Expats and Chadians alike were thrilled and thankful for some relief from the typical heat! While I would've liked to experience "real" Chadian weather to better understand what people deal with year in and year out, I was grateful for the cooler, manageable temps.

the sun blotted out by dust

It's illegal to take photos in Chad without a permit, so I don't have many of the city itself, but here we are dressed up to leave the compound. When living and working among Chadian Muslims, it's extremely important for women to wear ankle-length dresses or skirts and have one's elbows and hair completely covered when in public. These dresses recently became popular in Chad, so we're basically runway-ready!

me, danielle, dawn

Henna is another traditional form of beautification. Single women are allowed to have their hands done, but only married women are allowed to have henna on their feet. In fact, if you're a good wife, you should have your feet henna-ed on a regular basis.

I got to visit one of AIM's schools for missionary children while in N'Djamena. Wellspring Academy offers an American-based education for 1st-8th graders of missionary families in the area. All of the teachers and staff are members of AIM, some short-term and others long-term. This is an incredibly important ministry in Chad, and I was happy to spend a day at the little school observing the classes and getting to know the teachers and students.

Chad is in the Sahara desert, and though I only saw a very small portion of the large country, I was struck by its beauty. It's not beautiful in an obvious way, like all the greenery and rolling hills of Uganda. From the buildings to the streets to the compounds, everything seemed to be the same few shades of tan-ish gray. There were no riots of pattern and color fighting each other for attention, but that could've partially been due to the dust that so quickly and completely covers everything inside and out. Even so, I was awed by the simple beauty that can be found in the desert.

The whole week I was there, I felt a deep gratitude for the chance to visit Chad. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined myself there, even for a visit! I had no idea what to expect going into it, but I came away full of awe for the work being done there. I have a deep respect for the many people who've dedicated themselves to loving and serving Chadians. Seeing firsthand the outpouring of their lives in such a difficult place was a beautiful gift. Few people get such an opportunity, and I'm forever thankful that I was granted this experience. 

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Not Lonely

God sets the lonely in families...
Psalm 68:6

Yes, God is certainly talking about orphans and widows. 
Yes, He's also talking about refugees and those who've been exiled.
But it wasn't until recently that I realized this verse was for me, too!

Living overseas as a single woman is not easy.
It means sacrificing opportunities.
Giving up a certain quality of life.
Quiet nights spent alone.
Realizing that no one on the entire continent has any sort of familial responsibility to you.
Putting up with innumerable crass comments, inappropriate interactions, and unwanted attention.
Even those who believe singleness on the mission field is their life-long calling still struggle with loneliness, disappointment, and wrestle with big questions.

“Friendship is the source of the greatest pleasures, and without friends 
even the most agreeable pursuits become tedious.” 
– Thomas Aquinas

And that's when community comes into play. I cannot fathom life in Uganda without these four ladies. They're all married with the most wonderful families you'll ever meet, and they've each lovingly, graciously, and completely invited me into their lives. They've opened their doors, and more importantly, they've opened their hearts to me. I've learned so much from watching them love and serve their families and community, on the good days and on the bad ones, too. They free me to be myself, and together we learn to let down our walls. This gift cannot be measured.

Plus, they share their children with me! For play dates and sleepovers, birthday parties and little girl parties.

Sunday morning is one of my favorite times because it means walking up the steps of our church building, turning the corner, and being greeted by shouts of "Miss Carolyn is here!" and all sorts of running-start-knee-high hugs. Grace upon grace.

How can I possibly get lonely with these little friends in my life?

God promises to supply all our needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus - including the need for family.