Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A lesson on gratitude

Winding our way through a maze of small mud-brick huts, we finally
reach our destination. A small wall surrounds the hut, with a piece of
tin as a door. I pull back the tin and enter the tidy courtyard where
I see things neatly in their place: three plastic bowls and two large
metal pots in one corner where a fire is still red and alive, a mat is
carefully laid down in a different corner where beans are evenly
spread out, drying in the blistering African sun, four large sticks
and some grass woven together creates a covering just to the side of
the hut, and that is where we find our sought after guest. She is
sitting on a small mat, wearing a bright pagne as a skirt and a
threadbare t-shirt. In her hands is a cluster of peanut plants. She is
so concentrated on removing the peanuts from the plant that she hardly
notices our arrival. It isn’t until we set down the large sack of
grain that she looks up from her task and smiles a wide, almost
toothless smile and begins clapping her hands. All morning we had been
delivering grain and soap to local widows, and she was one of our last
stops of the day. I was severely sun burnt, and exhausted from a long
morning in the sun, but there was something that drew me to this
woman. There was something about her that caused me to pay close
attention. Maybe it was her very neatly kept courtyard (not all of the
homes we had visited were in such condition) or maybe it was the way
she was humming to herself as she worked, but this woman exuded joy.
As with all of the distributions, we exchanged the grain and soap, and
prepared to pray for the woman. Novaloum, the Burkinabe in charge of
the distribution, began conversing with the woman in Moore. Her words
lingered in the air, much like the smoke from the nearby cooking fire.
Novaloum explained to us that this woman was almost completely blind,
and unable to walk. He explained that this grain was her main source
of food because she could no longer work in the fields to provide for
herself. As Novaloum shared parts of her story with us, I couldn’t
take my eyes off of this beautiful woman. The joy and gratitude and
hope were deeply woven into her, it’s almost like those things weren’t
just an attitude she possessed but they were her reality. She was
hope. She was joy. By any standards her circumstance was dismal, but
by looking at her you would NEVER know. As I shook her hand to say
goodbye, she held on for a few moments longer, whispering “Wend na
songe” which means, “God bless you” in my ear. Maybe it was the heat,
but I just about fell apart when she let go of my hand. I was so
deeply moved by this woman. She had so very little. She had lost her
husband, her body was failing her, and she almost completely dependent
on others to care for her, yet she was radiating love and generosity.
For years I’ve read where the Bible talks about caring for the orphans
and widows, and I had always assumed that it was our duty, that we
were supposed to do those things because that’s what set us apart. But
really, I think God wants us to do these things so that he can teach
us the TRUE meaning of gratitude and generosity and love. I think that
God wants to give us something when we do these things. I know that
that woman gave me a priceless gift. That moment where she gently held
my hand, humming sweet blessings to me, that moment will forever be
mine. I will forever remember the look of delight in her sparkling
eyes and the youthful way she clapped her hands in excitement at our
arrival. I think that THAT moment is what God wanted to give me, and
for that I am forever grateful.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Sounds of Yako

There is a constant buzz at the orphanage. It is alive with children
and laughter and screaming and singing and soccer games. Here are a
few of the constant sounds I hear…
- Sewing machines: Pauline (the seamstress) works on the porch that is
just across the yard from my room. She works sun up to sun down making
clothes for the children and other clients that come and go. I can
always hear the buzz from her sewing machine and the chatter between
her and some of the girls who work with her.
- Chickens: Right outside my window is the chicken coop. I can always
be sure to hear the chickens clucking and the rooster crowing at all
hours. Sometimes, they jump up on my window and try to peck their way
- School children- Across the soccer field from our house is the
orphanage’s primary school. The kids arrive at around 7:00
Monday-Wednesday and Friday for school. I love their chatter and
squeals. They play on the teeter-totters and the climbing structure
the most, but not more than the giant flock of kids that can be found
in a cloud of dust on the soccer “field.” Less of a field, and more of
a large section of dirt with two metal goals on either side, I would
say this is the favorite spot of the school children AND the orphanage
children. At all hours of the day, kids can be found playing on the
soccer field. Sometimes it’s only a playful game of “keep-away” but
other times it’s an intense game of 5 on 5. I love the banter that
accompanies both games. I can’t understand a single word, but it’s
always obvious when something exciting is happening. At 8:00 sharp, a
whistle blows and all of the school children hurry to the flagpole
that proudly flies the Burkina Faso flag. There, they all join
together in what I believe is Burkina’s national anthem and a short
prayer. I love the sweet hum in unison of their voices. At 10:00, the
whistle blows again, and the kids pile out of their classrooms and
race for the playground.
- Construction: Since I have arrived, there has been a team of men
working around the clock to complete a new dining hall for the kids. I
wake up to the sound of them pounding their hammers and mixing
concrete.  From 1:00-2:00 is the only time (when the sun is up) that
the pounding and mixing ceases as the men eat their lunch.
- “Music Class”: Each morning, the preschool-aged kids have their
class. At the beginning of each class time, they “play” instruments.
Usually, this consists of three year-olds banging on little drums and
shaking egg-shakers with joy and excitement. Oh, and shouting. Lots of
shouting. Shouting at the top of their little lungs shouting, usually
to the French song the Auntie teaching the class has picked out.
Sometimes, they sing their own song, and play their own rhythm. There
are times when I can’t tell the difference between the banging of the
construction and the banging of music class…

These are just to name a few of my favorite sounds of Yako.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

My Reality

Just a short list of a few things that have quickly become my everyday reality!
Long skirts:  that are easy to step on, trip over, drag through mud
and dirty water and get caught in bike spokes.
Dirty diapers: just about every child I ever pick up has a dirty
diaper. I’ve become a pro at changing cloth diapers. And by pro, I
mean they stay on now. The first dozen I changed just fell right off.
And they use diaper pins and a cloth- nothing fancy here.
Dirty feet: that look tan… until you shower, and realize it’s just
dirt. Lots and lots of dirt.
Confusion: Not being able to speak the language of the people here has
caused me to become accustomed to a constant state of confusion. I
constantly have to tell people “I don’t know” in French. This is the
one phrase I have mastered.
Flashing lights: The only lights in our house are florescent lights,
and the power is constantly going out. After a power outage, these
florescent lights flash for a good 20 minutes… giving our house the
feel of a night club with strobe lights!
Head wraps: Each day, I accessorize my outfit with a different,
brightly colored headscarf. It’s become kind of my “thing” but it’s
mainly just used to keep sweat from pouring into my eyes!
Bugs: everywhere, all the time. Big, massive, annoying bugs that bite you.
Bug bites: all over my ankles. All the time, no matter how much bug
spray I put on.
Sun burns: like the bug bites, no matter how much sun screen I put on,
the combination of the hot African sun and my malaria medicine that
makes me burn easier than a baby at the beach, I am always sunburnt.
The rooster: He lives right outside my window. At all hours he crows.
And yes, I mean ALL hours. He usually starts at 5 am and doesn’t stop
until well into the night. Let hope rise, with the sun, at all hours I
Being asked for candy: The village children chant a little song that
goes something like this: “Nasada boom boom” which translantes to
“white person candy”. It’s cute the first time, and then it’s not.
Children: In my lap, on my feet, in my arms. All day every day. If I
am sitting, there are 10 in my lap. If I am standing, I have two in my
arms and two around my legs. I wear a blanket of children all the
time. And I love it. They love to be tickled, chased, sung to, danced
with, spun around and hugged tight. Their laughs are contagious. I can
hear them before I go to bed at night and it is the sweetest sound.
Holding them and loving them is, I believe, the reason God put me on
this earth. To love children. As I was signing to on particularly sick
baby today, sweet baby Steve, I was overwhelmed by the peace of God. I
knew in that moment that His heart was beating in my chest for this
little boy. I feel incredibly lucky to be here, loving these precious
little ones, doing something that is SO near and SO dear to God’s
heart. What an absolute honor.

Friday, October 4, 2013

In His Arms

“It is estimated that one in four children will die before the age of
10 due to preventable diseases.”

I remember writing that statistic as a Facebook status months before
leaving for my much-anticipated trip to Burkina. I was raising
awareness as well as support. I wanted people to connect with life in
Africa, and see the harsh realities the Burkina people faced. Months
ago, that statistic was shocking but not entirely tangible to me. I
knew it must be true, but I couldn’t understand the how and why of it.
Today, however, that statistic became reality for me.
Last week, while at a medical clinic in the small town of Dori, a
young mother presented her son with desperation on her face. It was
obvious just from looking at him that he was extremely malnourished.
It was difficult to watch his labored breathing. With each inhale, his
face reflected pain and struggle. Upon closer examination, Josie (the
orphanage nurse) revealed his bloated stomach, swollen hands and feet,
and scars all over his abdomen. She informed us that his mother had
taken him to see a “traditional” doctor, who had cut this young boys
stomach hundreds of times, promising it would cure him. Josie asked
the mother a series of questions, and translated the answers for us:
this boy, probably about 5 years old, had been sick for quite some
time. His mother had been taking him to see this “traditional” doctor,
but he had only been getting worse. Proper medical care is much more
expensive than traditional medicine, and the people in these small
villages are raised on the stories of traditional medicine healing all
ailments. As a desperate final attempt, this mother rode her bike for
miles to Dori to see Josie, where Josie sternly instructed the mother
to take him to the hospital immediately. We gave her money for the bus
fare, and told her it was a matter of life and death; her son would
surly die if she waited any longer. She phoned her husband, said a few
thank yous, and was on her way.
As the week went on, my mind wandered back to the image of this tiny
boy’s distorted body. I would pray long and hard that God would heal
him, provide care for him, and let him be one of the medical clinics
best success stories yet. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case for the
sweet little boy- we got word today that he didn’t make it. He died at
the hospital last night.
Suddenly, that statistic- 1 in 4 children die before the age of 10- it
was tangible and real to me. I’m not sure we will ever know exactly
the cause of death, but I do know that it was preventable. With proper
medicine and care, this boy could have lived. It’s a difficult concept
to grasp, with so many questions and very few answers. Mike and Amy
(the husband and wife running the orphanage) have been working hard to
get the people in and around Yako educated- traditional medicine isn’t
always the best way to go! Rubbing mud on a wound and making hundreds
of cuts around it doesn’t heal it! It is a slow process because it’s
so ingrained in the culture here, but Mike and Amy are seeing
progress. I was able to see before and after pictures of a few
children that had been treated at the clinic and although the deaths
outnumber the successes, any progress is still progress. Plus, while
some of the cases they treat at the clinic aren’t life threatening
YET, they soon could become so. With lack of clean water, proper
nourishment and rest, a small infection or illness can become
something serious quickly. That’s the whole reason Mike and Amy host
these clinics- for prevention, and with the hopes they will encounter
these children who are brought out of desperation, and save their
Today, I am grateful for the work that Mike, Amy and Josie do. I am
grateful they take four hours each Thursday to drive to Dori and treat
these children. I am grateful for the success, and grateful for my
health. Today I will pray for the family of this little boy- that they
might know he is no longer in pain, but in the arms of his Father. He
can finally run, play and laugh again. While it’s difficult to
understand, it’s comforting knowing he will never feel pain again.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Lessons Learned

I hardly noticed the group of young boys who had gathered at the door
to the boys dorms. 10 or so wide-eyed, dark faces peered in with huge
grins on their faces. They watched and giggled as I struggled with the
mosquito nets. This was the last of many nets I was asked to hang, and
what had started as a “simple” task had turned out to be one of the
most exhausting things I’d done in my month here in Yako. When Mike
asked me to hang the mosquito nets in the boys and girls dorms, I
quickly obliged.  “Yes! Absolutely! Not a problem at all. Done and
don.” I believe were my exact words. I figured, how hard can hanging a
couple of mosquito nets be? The answer? Extremely hard. “A few” nets
turned out to be well over 20, and they needed some doctoring up. You
see, the bunk beds were smaller than the nets, which created a
drooping problem with the nets. Basically, if you were trying to sleep
on either the top or bottom bunk, you would be suffocated by your all
too helpful mosquito net. So, after much careful consideration, I
found a solution: run some string around the room, and voila! Problem
solved! Again, easier than it sounds. So, here I was, last bunk bed,
last mosquito net, with quite the audience. They were laughing at the
“nasada” (white person) covered in sweat, mumbling death threats to
the uncooperative string. The lesson I learned while this task was
underway: EVERYTHING in Africa takes more energy, patience and time.
It was probably the heat (it was a scorcher today) and the lack of
ventilation in the dorms that zapped my patience and energy, but I
swear, even the slightest task here seems to be a LOT of work!!
People, don’t take air conditioning for granted! I literally sat on a
bench outside willing the breeze to blow, convincing myself that there
indeed WAS a breeze cooling off my pathetic overheated body. In the
end, the boys ended up helping me and bringing me some water. Bless
their sweet, laughing hearts. They took pity on me.
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