Thursday, October 1, 2009
preparation and anticipation
It's October 1st, the beginning of my favorite month of the year in the Pacific Northwest. But instead of buying pumpkins to set out on my deck, I'm planning for the adventure my husband and I are about to embark on in South Africa.
Nine months after we made the decision to move to Africa to live and work, Stephen has been offered a job. Most of our furniture, books, appliances, and clothes have been stored or given away. My car is sold. I've taken my name off the substitute teacher list in the school district where I worked last year. Stephen has given notice at PATH and his final day is October 9th. We've had medical and dental check ups and have already been immunized from previous trips to Africa.
So...we are on schedule with the logistics of moving half way around the world.
But the interesting part is what we will experience when we get there. We know that our new residence will be a 400 sqft mobile home. That's a 1/3 of the living space of our current condo. Stephen will take a 58% pay cut while I'll take a 100% pay cut! :) We will live in a rural town where the nearest grocery store is 40 kilometers (that's 25 miles ;) ) away. Here in Seattle, we live within walking distance of two grocery stores, not to mention countless restaurants! The currency is the Rand. Zulu is the language (in Tugela Ferry; South Africa has 11 official languages). ... Clearly, we have a lot of adapting to do!
But this is a dream come true for us. One that we've been thinking about and working towards for several years.About six years ago I decided to change careers. At the time I was teaching private piano lessons to about 30 children, teenagers, and adults. I loved teaching music to my piano students. I enjoyed the relationships that developed over time with them and their family. And I was proud of what I had achieved. But as the years went by, I had a growing sense of wanting to do something more. I really wanted to work with those kids whose parents couldn't afford piano lessons. So one morning in the shower, (water often inspires my best ideas) I made the decision to earn a Master in Teaching (MIT) degree so that I could work with poor children. At my request, my first student teaching placement was in a Title 1 school. And for the two subsequent contracted positions, I chose to work in schools where 60 percent of the children qualified for free or reduced lunch. Also, during my MIT program, I traveled to Thailand where I taught English in a public elementary school. No teaching experience has been more life-affirming and joy-filled than the time I spent in Chiang Mai. So with the Thailand experience (a taste of life in a country and culture vastly different from my own) combined with a strong desire to work with less privileged children, Africa seemed more within my reality than ever before. In 2007, Stephen and I spent 5 weeks in Tanzania and Ethiopia. In preparation for that trip and our more recent South Africa/Zambia trip, I read some of the history of Africa as a whole and specifically South African history. My first hand experience and my reading revealed the juxtaposition of a land rich in natural beauty yet full of poor, suffering people having limited access to clean water let alone quality education. For me, Africa seems the ideal life of meaningful work set in the middle of some of God's most wondrous creations.
For Stephen, the dream of Africa began with a short trip to Haiti with some youth group kids. The hard life of grinding poverty that he witnessed made a sharp and lasting impression on him. Stephen's deep compassion for people has been a running theme throughout his life, from sleeping in a chair next to the hospital bed of a dying high school classmate, to using an engineering degree to work on the development of mechanical heart technology, to volunteering his time to nurture high school kids. Even though he started his career working on rockets (quite a distance from patient care) by the time Stephen visited Haiti he had managed to navigate a path into mechanical heart implantation and patient care working at Sacred Heart Medical Center. Upon returning from his trip, Stephen was struck by the economic injustice of Americans accessing fantastic health care while those born in developing countries were dying from lack of basic care. He felt compelled to use his intelligence and skills to bring justice to the poorest people in the world. First he volunteered with an orphan care organization doing work in South Africa. Then he started a non-profit organization in an effort to make life-saving drugs available to people living with HIV/AIDS in rural South Africa. The work he did with Two Tunics was life-affirming and he knew he wanted to do it full-time, not just in his free time while still working at the hospital. With the knowledge of the immense need for basic primary health care in Haiti, South Africa and so many other places in the world, Stephen decided to pursue a Master in Public Health degree. He completed his degree at the University of Washington in December 2008 and it was then that we realized now was the perfect time to make our dream a reality: find a job in Africa and move there.
In February we traveled to South Africa to see what life might be like there and compare that experience with our other experiences in Thailand, Haiti, Tanzania, Ethiopia, India, Kenya, Ghana, and Uganda. South Africa's Drakensberg Mountains are unrivaled in their welcoming expanse. And just as Stephen felt alive and at peace during his four previous trips, I too felt a strong sense of peace and contentment.
So now here we are. It was a journey to get this far. And yet we hope this is the beginning of maybe the biggest journey of our lives. So many dreams and hopes could be fulfilled. But like rhinos, we can only see about 30 ft in front of us, metaphorically speaking. We don't know what the next month will hold, what experiences we will have in the next year. But like rhinos, who despite their limited sight seem to charge into life intrepidly, Stephen and I hope to approach the awaiting challenges with boldness.