Wednesday, November 5, 2014

How to Blow a Perfectly Good Job Interview: A Tutorial

The Background
Twenty years ago, I earned a college degree, went to work in my professional field for 6 years, then decided to put the career on hold for a while to stay home with my kiddos.

No big deal. Lot's of women choose this path, right? Right. Whatevs, girl. Do what feels best for your family. I'll do what's best for mine.

Of course, I wasn't completely idle during those years at home. I worked as a preschool teacher, cleaned houses, did some odds and ends contract work in my field, was a paid children's minister for my church for a while. Stuff. Work that brought in a little extra money and kept me busy.

Hear me when I say I have no judgement for women who choose to work outside their home. None. (Well, unless their children are completely ignored in favor of the career. Then I might judge. I won't be ugly about it, but I will have some private opinions. I'm just being honest about that.)  

Personally, I like to work. I like to feel engaged in my community. I like to think I have something to offer to the world outside my home. I like to be challenged to solve problems, to use my brain, to think. I like to learn. I like to interact with adults...I prefer adults who know how to behave like adults. I like to bring home a paycheck, no matter how small, so I can feel like a contributing and valuable member of my household and my economy.

But for me, for now, and for probably the next 8-10 years, my career is my kids (the ones I gave birth to, not the ones I call "mine" because they are in my sphere of influence...I hope you can understand the distinction I'm making there).

When my youngest child started Kindergarten four years ago, I thought I'd ease myself back into the working world by becoming a substitute teacher. I didn't expect to like it; I never wanted to be a teacher. But the schedule was perfect for me. I would have summers and school holidays off. I could just not accept a work assignment, if I wanted to be available to go on class field trips with my kids. On the days I worked, I would be finished when my kids got out of school.

Turns out, I really like substitute teaching. It's kind of a blast! I get to be in a different class every day; interact with different kids every day. I get to choose, every day, to smile, to be kind, to listen, to influence, to guide, and sometimes to actually teach. It's a lot like being the cool aunt from out of town that swoops in bringing gifts from distant, exotic lands (only I just bring stickers, but the kids think that's just as awesome). 

Plus, being a substitute teacher lets me "spy" on my kids' friends. To get to know them a little better. It helps me make those "can I spend the night at so-and-so's house this weekend, Mom" decisions, you know?  Seeing how a kid behaves in class and interacts with their peers, is way better than doing a background check on their parents. (Especially when your education and your -short- professional career was spent working in or with the child welfare system.)

I stave off the "I wish you were our real teacher, Mrs. Medders" and "When are you going to be a real teacher, Mrs. Medders" and "Why don't you take the certification test, Kama" comments by saying that maybe I will, someday, if I'm ever in a position to need to financially support my family. When, really, I just don't want to have to deal with knit-picky parents, or school board politics, or state testing mandating what and how I teach.


The Opportunity
Recently, a non-teaching position opened up at my youngest child's school. The position was for the secretary who handles all the money and accounting for the school cafeteria. This person runs the computer during lunch and breakfast, makes sure the cafeteria manager knows how many students to prepare lunch for each day, takes all the applications for the federal school lunch program, communicates with parents regarding their child's lunch account, and makes the daily deposit at the bank. It's a job I've already been trained to do as a sub and I have successfully done the job on three of the four elementary school campuses in our district.

So, I applied.

And the principal called me for an interview.

The following is the sad truth of how it went down.

The Outfit
My first dilemma came when it was time to get dressed for the interview. I've noticed that the fashion at this school trends toward a lot of chevron prints, flow-y pants, and chunky, rattle-y jewelry. Teachers wear comfortable shoes. Principals wear heals. 

I'm not a chevron-print, flow-y pants, rattle-y jewelry kind of gal, so looking fashionable was automatically out of the question. I wanted to look professional, but not "lawyer". Nice, but not like I was trying too hard. After changing and rearranging 5 times (it would have been more, but my Mommy wardrobe leaves me with limited choices), I settled on a light-weight teal sweater, with a black skirt, black tights and black pumps. (I really wanted to wear my new boots, but pumps seemed more interview-y.) I put on the rattle-y-ist necklace I could find in my jewelry box, and headed out the door.

I arrived at the school for my interview 10 minutes early. Early, but not too early. Score one for the home team.

I left my cell phone in the car. Score two.

I carried only my small purse and my calendar, which I thought was awesome until JUST NOW when I'm typing this 6 days after my interview and I realized I should have brought in a copy of my resume. Technical foul against the home team. Ball goes to the opposing team.

The Interview
I waited patiently, chatting with the office staff until the principal came out and asked me to follow her.

*I must stop here and note that any comments appearing in () are the words of my inner self. She is mostly sarcastic, won't shut up, and sometimes gets so loud inside my head as to distract me from what I'm trying to say. She is smart, knows where her priorities lie, but she isn't very tactful.*

I calmly followed the principal into an office and was greeted by four smiling faces, lots of rattle-y jewelry and a leopard print jacket. ("Leopard print? Is that still a thing? How many people are in this room anyway?"  "Four."  "It feels like forty. This room is really crowded. I'm going to gag on that perfume. I really am."  "Shut up. I'm trying to meet these people.")

"Mrs. Medders, thank you for coming in today. Let me introduce these people..."
"It's so nice to meet you...thank you for having me here today..."

("I'm going to throw up. I had no idea there'd be forty people here for this interview."  "It's only 4."  "I'm going to say something stupid. Why didn't she tell me there'd be this many people here? I thought it was just going to be me and her, having a little chat, laughing it up."  "Seriously? This is an interview. How could you think you would be laughing it up?")

"Mrs. Medders, why don't you start out by telling us a little about yourself and how it relates to your education and experience."

"OK, well, my name is Kama Medders..." ("Duh, they already know your name...") "...I'm 42 years old. My husband and I have been married for 22 years and we have 5 children." ("She asked about your education, Dork, not your Mommy resume. Tell her about your education.") 

"I have a bachelor's degree in Social Work and I worked professionally for 6 years. I don't usually go around bragging on myself, but since this is an interview, I'll tell you that my husband and I started a private, non-profit ministry in Fort Worth, Texas, 19 years ago, and I'll be going back in 2 weeks to keynote their fundraising dinner..." ("You and I both know that's true, but they are never going to believe you're going to stand up and speak in front of 250 people, when you're so obviously this nervous in front of the 40 people in here."  "It's only 4."  "Your voice is trembling."  "I know. Shut up.")

"I left my career to stay home with my kids when my second child was born. I've worked lots of little jobs, but nothing big until 4 years ago, when my youngest started school and I started substitute teaching. Being a mom was important to me, and it still is. That's why I'm applying for this job: It will work well with my kids' schedules." ("Did you really just say being a mom was important? Every woman in this room is a mom and they aren't staying home with their kids."  "I didn't mean it that way. I was just trying to explain why I'm not working in my field anymore."  "That's not what they heard. They heard you calling them bad mothers for not choosing to stay home."  "Oh, crap.")

"Mrs. Medders, tell us about the importance of punctuality..."

("I've got 5 kids and we haven't been late to church even once since the 8 year old was born!"  "They don't care about whether or not you're late to church, plus you're late to house church on Wednesday nights nearly every week."  "That doesn't count! It's house church and we have to drop the teens at a different place on the way there."  "You better hurry up and answer."  "What do I say?! I'm never late when I'm subbing."  "Except that you are supposed to be checked in at the office by 7:30 and it's usually 7:35."  "Well, I'm at school by 7:30, even with dropping kids at their schools first, and teachers always want to chat in the hall. Am I supposed to ignore them? What am I going to say? I'm always where I'm supposed to be when the kids start coming in to class. Is it lying to say I value punctuality? Will they check the office records and see that my sign-in time is often 7:35? What do I say?!")

"No one has ever complained about me in regard to my punctuality. I have never left anyone in a lurch." ("Stupid answer.")

"Mrs. Medders, how would you describe your relationships and interactions with co-workers and supervisors?"

"Most people seem to like me. I don't have major disagreements with co-workers." ("You have plenty of disagreements with your husband. Ha-ha!"  "Shut up.") 

"I understand my supervisors bear a greater responsibility than I do, and it's important to do the job the way they want it done. I know how to do what I'm told, even if I disagree." ("Good answer! They really just want to know if you'll be a good little minion or not. They don't want any trouble-makers or free-thinkers up in here." "Seriously?! They know that's not what I meant.")

"Mrs. Medders, as you know, the person in this position has access to private information about students and their families and they handle large amounts of money. Please tell us about how you handle confidentiality and give us some examples of your integrity."

("Is that a real question? Did they forget you've been subbing this position off and on for 3 years? If they had any questions about your ability to handle confidential information or money, shouldn't that have come up a long time ago?")

"Of course, my background in social work fully equipped me to understand confidentiality. We take it very seriously at our house. My husband is a minister and sometimes people at church act funny around me...I think it's because they told my husband something and they assume he told me..." ("What are you saying? They don't care how your husband handles confidentiality.") "...We don't talk about confidential information with each other." ("Nice save...or not.")

"As far as integrity with money, I was surprised when I was allowed to handle money as a sub. It's a big deal to be trusted to handle money." ("Insert joke here where you refer to the time at Office Depot where the principal happened to be in the store when your phone set off the door alarm and you ended up emptying your purse at the register....Wait! I was just kidding! I can't believe you actually just said that out loud! You don't joke in interviews! Especially when it comes to matters of integrity! Have mercy! What's wrong with you?!")

"Finally, Mrs. Medders, tell us why you think you would be the best person for this job."

"I'm not sure who else is interviewing for this position, so I don't know if I am the best person for this job...." ("What the...") "I just mean, I think you should definitely hire the person who IS best for this job..." ("What are you doing?! Tell them why you would be good at this!") "I know I can do this job. I already understand what this job involves, my child attends this school, so I am automatically personally invested here, and I can do the work."

"Mrs. Medders, tell us about your level of computer skill."

"Well, I'm not a 20 year old. There are some disadvantages to having graduated college before the internet was invented..." ("Here, let me just put a bow on this job so it'll look pretty when they hand it to the next applicant.") "But, I'm a smart girl. I can figure out most things, and I'm not afraid to ask for help if I need it."

And there you have it. That's how a stay-at-home/substitute teacher mom, who wants to re-enter the work force, completely blows her first job interview.

Well Bless My Heart
In the end, I guess it really doesn't matter if I get this job or not. I've already said how much I love subbing. Based on what I've seen out there, you basically just have to have a pulse and be able to pass a background check to be employable as a sub, so at least I've got job security, for now.

The thing is, I'm not looking for a career. I already have a career, a ministry and a purpose: To raise my children to love the Lord. 

I'm not looking for a profession. I already have a profession: I am a social worker to the core...It's just that social workers don't get to come home at 3pm everyday, get two full weeks of uninterrupted time with their kids over Christmas, or get to hang out watching TV, eating snow cones, or traveling to Grandma's house and church camp all summer.

What I was hoping for was a job. That pays money. And fits in with the way I want to live my life. Even though it will be a hit to my ego if I get the call that they've "decided to go with someone else," it's all going to be OK. Because, at this point in my life, it's more important for a job to fit me, than the other way around. You know?

Life's too short.

Author's note: I did not get the job, but the principal assures me it was not because of my horrible interviewing skills. They decided to go with someone who is already employed in the district. There are no hard feelings. All is good.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Conversation With Myself, Happy New Year

I am a mother to 4 girls and 1 boy, ages 18 down to 7. So I find myself giving a lot of advice.

"I advise you to get your room picked up before I come in there and pick it up for you...and there WILL be a trip to Goodwill involved."

"I advise you to get your attitude straight...NOW."

"I advise you to go back to your closet and try again or else I will be choosing an outfit for you."

Lots of advice being shared.

But, every once in a while, when my kids are feeling sad about something hurtful that happened at school, or they aren't confident in the way God made their body, or a boyfriend moves on, or others seem to be able to control the ball better on the court...or whatever...I surprise myself by actually managing to share a bit of comforting wisdom with them. Sweet! And I quickly write about it in their journals so when they are older, they can remember that I was a good mother.

One time, I tried a new approach with "sage advice-giving." My young teenager wanted to be allowed to be dropped off by another parent with some of her friends at the River Market in downtown Little Rock on a Friday night. During RiverFest.

This is me, with sweet calmness in my voice: "Darling, if you were your mother, do you think it would be safe and responsible to allow you to do what you're asking me to let you do?"

I know, I know. But keep in mind that I was trying to avoid the drama, tears and general freaking out that usually accompanies this kind of parent-child interaction. I had hoped (albeit a vain hope) to appeal to her grown-up personality. Like most teenagers, she has multiple personality disorder and sometimes, sometimes, Surprisingly Mature does make an appearance. No such luck this time. Two Can Play At This Game showed up and replied:

"Mother, if I was my mother, I would trust me to take care of myself and I would want me to be happy and spend good quality time at a music festival with my friends."

And so there was no avoiding the freak out. And tears. Oh, the tears and the accusations.

However, that is not my point at all. What I'm trying to say is occasionally I sit at my children's bedside in the dim lamp light and give them the kind of advice that causes tears to dry, trembly smiles to flit across their face and while they hug me, I glance around the room to see if I can catch a glimpse of the One who fed me the words that soothed and blessed my precious one.

In those moments it occurs to me that I should listen to my own advice a bit more. I can be a pretty smart cookie every once in a while.

I am coming clean now and confessing that teens aren't the only ones who suffer from multiple personality disorder. I, too, have never outgrown the disease. I am in the middle of lecturing my child for running barefoot through the church auditorium and nearly knocking down an elderly lady, when there are footsteps behind me. As I turn from my errant offspring, I magically transform into smiling, friendly Preacher's Wife as if I wasn't just threatening another human life a mere millisecond before.

I am walking through the house ranting and guilt-tripping everyone in my path because I am such an unappreciated slave in my own home, picking up everyone's dirty socks and stepping on Legos and how I am apparently the only one who knows how to flush the toilet, when my phone rings. It's a dear friend calling to discuss the details of our next epic hiking trip. And in an instant I go from Dirty Dishrag to Fearless Adventurer. Multiple personalities, indeed.

So, on this 31st day of December, 2013, instead of writing a bunch of New Year's Resolutions, I'm going to attempt to use, with myself, the approach that failed so badly with my teenager. I am going to ask my 85 year old self to speak to my 41 year old self. (And, hopefully my 17 year old self can keep her mouth shut and stay out of it.)

85 year old me might say something like this to 41 year old me:

This is my Grandma Childers. I hope to look something like this when I'm 85.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Dear 41,

You are beautiful. 

When you look at those old photographs of yourself from when you were 7, you want to gather that shy, pale, red-headed, freckle-face darling in your 41 year old arms and tell her she is lovely. You want to kiss her forehead and tell her she will never have shiny dark hair or red lips and that that is a good thing because she is amazing and brilliant and beautiful just the way she is.

In the same way, 85 wants to gather 41 in her arms and shout, "You are beautiful!" Quit looking for beauty in the mirror. It's not there and mirrors lie.

Those lines around your eyes -the ones that have you paying way too much for tiny little jars of cream that leave greasy spots on your pillow cases- those lines show most when you smile. Smile anyway! 

The creases between your eyebrows that you think make you look like Stinky on Sesame Street, show most when you are worried. Worry less!

41, you are so concerned about that extra 15 pounds you've been carrying around since your last baby was born. At 85, I have some things to say about that.

First, you have carried 5 babies to full term inside your body. Give yourself a break. No, your body will never wear a bikini, but does that really matter? You never wore one before you had babies. So what if the skin around your belly button is a little loose. Your husband is the only one who sees that part of you, and he doesn't care one bit about those stretch marks. He's crazy about you.

Second, you spend a lot of time worrying about that 15 pounds, but not a lot of effort in trying to fix the problem. I mean, you run some, but you know you could do better. You are strong enough and stubborn enough. You just have to quit being lazy and do the work: cut some calories and be more consistent in your exercise routine.

Or not. I don't care. You will feel better if you take care of yourself, but there really is no cheating Age. It will catch you eventually. You could just choose to love yourself the way you are. That would be fine, too. 

And, Darlin', that book you've been fretting over since you got back from the Grand Canyon isn't going to write itself. I know it's scary and you're worried about being rejected. I am you, and my memory may not be as vivid as it used to be, but I remember rejection in all its many forms. It's not fun, but even at the young age of 41, you have already learned that rejection is survivable. I'm not going to tell you how this turns out, but 85 is telling you you will regret it if you don't try. Oh, and quit using the kids as an excuse. I know they keep you busy, but you still manage to waste plenty of time each day. (17 says, "She so just busted you out.")

41, you have lots of ambition and lots of ideas, high energy and a pretty good grasp on the big picture, but you are easily discouraged when other people don't seem to know what to do with you; when they reject or doubt your leadership; when they dismiss you because of your gender. And you often lose control of your tongue and temper. (Don't worry. You will get better at that.) You get embarrassed and discouraged and then you just quit. You walk away. Don't bother trying to deny it. I know where you keep those 3 ring binders and journals full of ideas, plans, sketches and half-written stories. I'm sorry to say you will always struggle with this desire to throw in the towel to some extent. Part of it is your personality and your propensity to doubt yourself. Part of it is society. But, Darlin', God can't use you if you keep giving up so easily and He wants so badly to use you to call people to His rest. Find a way to call them and DON'T QUIT.

You doubt your ability to be a good mother to your children.   You've made a few mistakes, that's for sure. But beating yourself up about it isn't productive. Keep praying. Keep loving your kids. Keep holding them to high standards. Stand by their side when they make bad choices. Never abandon them. Walk through the hard stuff with them. That's your job. You do a good job of admitting when you've made a mistake and asking them to forgive you. Be ready to do that again because you have quite a few mistakes ahead of you still. 

85 is telling you your kids are on the right path, but I also want to remind you of the talk you had with Aunt Debbie at Christmas. She said your kids don't belong to you; they belong to God. He loves them more than you do. You have to trust Him with your babies. You have to trust that He can even use your parenting mistakes to mold them for their purpose in His kingdom. 41, you will have to trust your Father with your children. Even when you don't understand.

And then there's your husband. I won't reveal what goes on in your heart, the things only the Lord and I can know, but I will tell you this: no relationship is perfect. You, 41, are not perfect, and your husband shows you more grace and patience and forgiveness than you will ever know. Life is complicated sometimes, but it is also beautiful, and you two are in it together. So, try taking it down a notch on being annoyed when he interrupts you, or handles the kids differently than you think he should, or chooses to stay and see things through when you prefer to move on to new adventures. Quit worrying about his weight and snoring issues and just enjoy his presence in the life you share. He loves you more than life. Companionship is harder to come by at 85. Treasure what you have now, while it's yours. Quit wasting time.

Finally, 41, love God and love people; all people. It's hard. It's hard to love people who hate you and lump you into stereotypes and groups when you know you don't belong there. It's hard to love people who misunderstand you and want to assign motives to your actions. It hard to love people who are angry and hateful. But you have to try. And it's hard for 41 to love 41, but 85 has grace and forgiveness for you, so take a deep breath and get ready to take on 42. She's coming fast. Embrace her.

As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God. The time of my death is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. 

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Sex and Passion

Queen Esther of the Bible - the woman revered for her beauty and bravery by Christian and Jewish women, alike - was a victim of sex trafficking.


I read that in a book recently, so I had to go back and look for myself. Sure enough. Esther chapter 1, describes a ridiculous party thrown by King Xerxes, the guests being "all the military officers of Persia and Media as well as the princes and nobles of the provinces." The purpose of this party was to display all the wealth and opulence of the kingdom. The party went on for days, and when it was over, he threw yet another shindig. To prove he was a generous soul, "by edict of the king, no limits were placed on the drinking, for the king had instructed all his palace officials to serve each man as much as he wanted."

During this party, while the king was drunk off his butt, he decided to send for Vashti (the current queen), so he and all his three-sheets-to-the-wind buddies could "gaze on her beauty." How nice. He wanted to share. After all, he was trying to prove his generosity.

But, guess what! Vashti refused to stand before the king and his minions to let herself be gawked at (and who knows what else). REFUSED. Boom! She just did that.

My personal guess is that if those men hadn't been too drunk to stagger their way to her quarters, she would have suffered much. But, as it was, the king just decided to banish her from his presence. Oh, no! Not that, King Xerxes! "Don't throw me in da' briar patch!"

Skip the part where the men start to worry that their wives will follow Vashti's example and start to stand up for themselves and fast forward to where the king isn't drunk and he's starting to feel a bit lonely. Poor little dude. So, his super-smart personal advisors suggest that he let them "search the empire to find beautiful young virgins for the king." They would round these women up, bring them to the palace and pretty 'em up a little more, and then let him choose his favorite one to be his new queen! Oh, my gracious! What a great idea!

"As a result of the king's decree, Esther, along with many other young women, was brought to the king's harem at the fortress of Susa and placed in Hegai's care."

Do you think this image of a group of Jewish girls is too "modern" to illustrate my point?
I don't. Cuz sex trafficking still happens, my friends.

She, along with many other young women, were taken from their families and trafficked for the sexual pleasure of the king. I somehow missed that part of the story in Sunday School. We always skipped over the how-she-got-there-in-the-first-place part and went right to the part where her people (the Jews) were in danger of mass extermination and her cousin, Mordecai, tells her, "Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?"

Most of us know that, in the end, Queen Esther chose to risk her life, went before the king uninvited, pled her case, and ended up saving the lives of her people. I'm glad she did. But does the belief that maybe she was made queen for "such a time as this" mean God somehow approves or condones the brutal way in which she (and many other young women) came to that position? 

No. God does not approve the mistreatment and degradation of his daughters. Not then. Not now. Esther's life is, however, proof that God has always been true to himself in "caus[ing] everything to work together for the good of those who love God." 

And I am stunned again at the realization that the women of Biblical times understood far greater than I ever can, that Jesus was offering them liberation. He treated them like they had value. Like they had something more to offer the world and his heavenly kingdom than their bodies. And I love Jesus even more because he offers to give my life purpose.

There are still thousands and thousands of girls being trafficked every single day on our planet. It is absolutely and unequivocally wrong. I have been blind to this issue for too long. And so have you.

I am just me. Just one women who's voice has a tendency to either stay quiet when it shouldn't or get loud and passionate and say regretful words in church leader team meetings. When I get passionate about something, I tend to make a bigger mess than there was to begin with. I hate that. But my trip to Africa opened my eyes to some of the realities that millions of women still face. Realities of abuse, oppression, trafficking, poverty and I can't stand the fact that American Christians are in the process right now of dropping billions of dollars on the "hottest new toys of the season" for our children (who are, as I write, plotting new ways of destroying said toys) and creepy robotic reindeer for our front yards, and stringing every inch of our homes with electric lights made in China. What in the world are we doing?

So, I will take a deep breath and calm down now.

I know we will buy gifts for the people we love this season. My kids will get gifts from me. Only 3: 2 from their dad and me and 1 from "Santa." Yes, it's okay to give gifts to our children, our parents, our friends. But could we do it in a way that also helps women globally?

This coming Friday night, November 22, my precious church ( is hosting an event we call Acoustic Cafe. It's an event where we invite local musicians and song writers to share their art with us. Some of the music is of the Christian genre, but mostly it will be a mix of pop, country and bluegrass. It's free to attend, but bring a little money because we will be selling desserts to benefit our efforts to drill clean water wells (through all over the world! AND...

I will personally be representing and offering products for sale from I will have items such as scarves, baskets and jewelry, hand made by women in 3rd world countries who are trying to send their kids to school and provide a better life for their families and items made by young girls who have been rescued from traffickers in Napal. I won't make a single penny from these sales. Please, please come to 1201 Longhills Road in Benton, Arkansas, this Friday night starting at 7pm. Enjoy some music and do some Christmas shopping! If you can't make it, consider clicking on those links above and spending some of your Christmas dollars there.

It's the least we can do.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

My Africa

And so, I went on a trip to Swaziland, in the south of Africa, and took these pictures:

I could let these pictures speak for themselves about the poverty I saw while I was there. These pictures will tell you of primitive living conditions, lack of running water, lack of toilet and bathing facilities, lack of electricity, children wearing American hand-me-down clothing...or no clothing, and many other difficult and un-hygienic situations.

All of those things are true. And most of my friends will be moved to pray. I hope you will. Some of my friends will want to give money. I would say, when we are shown real poverty in contrast to our relative wealth, wanting to share is an honest and Christ-like response. I can help you know where and how to give money that will be helpful in long-term ways.

But, if I only let these photos speak for themselves, you will only know part of the truth. I want you to know the whole truth. So, if you have time now, grab some coffee and settle in for a lengthy read. If you don't have time right now, I really hope you'll log back on later and allow me to show you the Africa I that might make you wonder if us first-worlders might be missing out on something pretty big.

(Realizing that this entry IS very long, I went back and added in some sub-titles so you can only read the parts that interest you, and just skim or skip the rest. You're welcome.)

Our Arrival

And so, on October 15, 2013, I got on a plane in Little Rock, Arkansas, at about 3:30 PM, flew just under 2 hours to Atlanta, Georgia, OJ'd it through Atlanta International, and arrived at the gate just as they were closing the doors to the ginormous aircraft that would take us on a non-stop flight to Africa. 16 hours later (that equals 2 hours of chatting with strangers - stressful for this introvert, 6 chapters of Mud Season, 9 episodes of season 3 of Downton Abby, 2 glasses of wine, 4 cups of water, 3 meals, and 4 trips to the facilities), we landed in Johannesburg, South Africa. Sean Boehrig, the missionary we were visiting, picked us up at the airport, where we proceeded to drive 5 hours to our final destination, their home, in Swaziland.

We were given quite a crash-course on South Africa, when we passed Vegas-like hotels, complete with a Hooters restaurant, just as we left the airport, followed immediately by massive slum settlements, where people live in lean-to shelters built of sheet metal, wood and tattered fabric. We were made very aware of the AIDS epidemic by billboards all along the highway, encouraging people to get tested for HIV, with slogans such as "Cheating? A good man gets tested." and free condoms available in every public restroom. We were told that many black South Africans were openly angry with white people (understandably so) and we got a small taste of it when the cashier at a gas station refused to make change for us and our friend, Sean, told us that since it was getting dark, it was best for us to get on out of South Africa with as few stops as possible.

As we were crossing the border into Swaziland, an officer confiscated, um, I mean, was "gifted" a flat of seedlings that were intended for the community garden. And about 15 minutes inside the border of Swaziland, we were pulled over on the highway by un-uniformed officers and had to get out of the car while it was searched for (presumably) drugs. I have to say, that as intimidating as that may sound, it was actually not a big deal and the officer was quite quick and polite.

The rest of the drive was uneventful, aside from the fact that they drive on the left side of the road and our host is a confident driver (of course, meaning he drives kind of fast). There were more than a few gasps heard coming from the back seat...especially when we hit that large plastic tub that was sitting in the middle of the highway...but that's all really beside the point. We made it. That's all that matters. 

My Take on How the Boehrig's Are Different From Other Missionaries

Typically, when an American missionary goes to Africa, they will hire Africans in the local communities to work for them as housekeepers, gardeners, guards, etc. Even though this might seem degrading in the States, it's expected of American missionaries because it provides jobs for Africans. It gives the American Missionary good standing in their African community.

Sean and Nicole Boehrig have bucked that thinking. They surprised us, frustrated and convicted other American missionaries/white people, and confused the Swazi's when they chose to live in the 1 room servants' quarters of a white family's house. They insist on living in many of the conditions of their Swazi neighbors, use public transportation or walk much of the time, and do menial tasks such as yard work, cleaning, and cooking, for themselves.

Here's where they live:

(The trampoline belongs to the children of the family that live in the main house.) The door on the right is their bedroom where they have just enough space to loft a double bed, sit on the floor underneath the bed on a rug made of woven grass, put their clothing in a small trunk, and they also have a small sink (with running water!) and a single shelf for their dishes and a few photos. The door on the left houses a flushing toilet, a shower, and a couple shelves where they store some food stuff, like flour, salt, eggs - no refrigeration, and things like matches and toilet paper. Did you catch that part about no refrigerator? Turns out, if you're careful and buy in smaller quantities, it's not quite as necessary to refrigerate things as most Americans think. Seriously we refrigerate EVERYTHING here. My own fridge holds coffee and pancake mix. Why? I mean, mostly it's because I was too lazy to put it in a closed container and I didn't want weevils to find a home there, but still! I have friends who refrigerate bread, peanut butter, even batteries. We might have an addiction, people...or at least a paranoia.

Anyway, if you look closely at the picture, on the ground by the bathroom door, you will see a bottle of propane and two metal burners. That's where they cook. There's a card table and some folding chairs in the yard. This is their living/dining room. (When it rains, like it did the whole time we were there, they move up under the porch that's attached to the main house.)

That's it, ya'll. That's how they live. And they do it on purpose, not because they couldn't raise enough financial support. Seems pretty hard-core to us, but because they have electricity, running water, a shower and a flushing toilet, it's luxury compared to most Swazi's.

The Boehrig's could, very easily, choose to live like most white people there regular, American-style housing, complete with carpet and TV. They could give people menial jobs. They could say, "Follow God like we do." and the Swazi's probably would. But it would be because we have managed to convince most of the world that our "wealth" is a blessing from God, and they want a piece of that pie. But instead, Sean and Nicole are teaching people to improve their lives using resources they already have at their disposal. And that God already loves them, has already blessed them, and that following the teachings of Jesus is a response of thankfulness more than a means of manipulating God into bringing monetary wealth into their lives.

I'm not sure if any of this is making sense, so let me just move on and tell you about the things we participated in while we were there.

Our First Full Day: Gardening and Language Lessons

On our first full day, Sean and Nicole gave us a choice. We could either go with Sean to the home of a man who wanted to see Sean demonstrate a manual-powered water pump that was strong enough to pull water up from the river, bring it uphill, and provide enough volume to irrigate a garden. Or, we could go with Nicole to work in a garden she shares with a few people in the community. She uses this garden to teach Swazi women about succession and companion planting, and saving seeds. Nicole shares the produce with these other ladies as a way of supplementing their food supply and to teach about selling produce as a way of increasing income. She is also experimenting with some new methods of gardening she just learned from attending a permaculture workshop. (One thing Nicole said that really stood out to me was that "When you consider that we were originally created to live and work in a garden, the whole act of caring for your garden takes on a deeply spiritual nature.")

It turned out that we divided on gender lines and the guys, Jeff and Mike, chose to go with Sean to learn about the water pump, while Alex and I went with Nicole to work in the garden.

That's Alex, talking to Glorious, one of the ladies who share this garden plot with Nicole. Glorious works at a company that builds roof trusses. She answers the phone and places orders. The thing is, it wasn't keeping her busy; she found herself sitting around quite a bit. So Nicole encouraged Glorious to approach her boss and ask if they could use a bit of unused land by the shop to plant a garden. Her boss agreed, so she and Nicole got busy turning an unused bit of ground into a garden that is now supplementing the diets of 3 households! 

Here's another interesting fact: Glorious actually lives at the shop. She has a home where her children live, but she doesn't have a car and it's too far to walk everyday. So, she lives at the shop during the week and goes home on the weekend. (I think her mom takes care of her kids.) Anyway, this is the cob stove, right by the garden, where Glorious cooks her meals:

While we were there that day, she opted to cook a lunch of tomatoes, peppers and onions right out of the garden, over an open fire right next to this cob stove. It smelled delicious and it's way more healthy of a lunch than I eat most days!

We worked most of the day planting new seeds in beds nourished with compost and manure.

I learned so much about companion planting as a way of organically deterring harmful insects, loved seeing how their 18 day composting method worked, and was inspired by the fact that gardens don't have to look like the ones in magazines with decorative borders and pebbled pathways, in order to be beautiful. 

In the afternoon, when we returned from gardening and the guys got back from their amazing day with Sean (where Mike reports he met the poorest person he's ever seen in his life, but doesn't feel sorry for him because he's also the happiest person he's ever met), the Boehrig's had a surprise for us.

They had arranged for their language tutor, Nawazzi (I'm sure I spelled that wrong), to give us a beginners lesson in Suswatti (probably spelled that wrong, too). Nawazzi works as a maid for Glorious's boss. She is young, doesn't have children, and just got married about a week ago.

Now, Nawazzi looks like a modern young woman and she'd been dating her guy for a couple of years, but the wedding was apparently a "traditional" Swazzi ceremony. We don't know exactly what Nawazzi experienced, but in general, this traditional ceremony would involve the woman being taken to her husband's family and locked in a room with him for 24 hours (kind of like being kidnapped). Then the family might strip her of all her clothing and send her outside in the night to present herself to the family ancestors/spirits to see if she meets their approval. It is reported that sometimes the male family members will rape the bride, I guess as a way of claiming her and making her submit to her new family. The next weekend, the husband must go to the new wife's family and ask forgiveness for keeping her away from them and then he has to pay them a dowery. The dowery is 18 cows. We were told that Nawazzi's husband only had 4, so he will be in debt to her family and their marriage won't be "official" until the debt is paid...which somehow doesn't bode well for any children they have before the debt is paid. I'm not sure how it all works.

So, Nawazzi spent 2 hours trying to teach us the basic greeting in Suswatti. It goes something like this...and let's just assume I've spelled EVERYTHING wrong (think phonetical):

Sow-oo-bone-ah: I see you
Yay-bo: yes
Unjani: How are you?
Niapeela. Unjani way-no?: I am fine. How are you?
Nami niapeela: I am also fine.

She also taught us how to say goodbye:
Salagothley: Stay well
Hambagothley: Go well

She tried really hard to teach us some other things, but this is all I retained. Bless her. We all wish we had thought to ask to have a picture made with her before she left, but we didn't. She blessed us so much...and I'll explain why when I tell you about our 2nd full day in Swaziland.

Our Adventure in the City

On Friday, Mike went with Sean to do some work clearing land with a Swazi man named Seeboneisa, while Alex, Jeff and I went with Nicole to the city of Manzini, about 30 minutes away.

Since there were so many of us, it would have been more economical to just drive the car in, but Nicole said part of the experience was using public transportation and taking the bus in. And, Holy Cow, was she right! 

So we walked from her house to the side of a 2 lane highway and stood in the rain at a crumbling brick structure to wait on a bus. She said usually a bus comes right away, but she did once have to wait 40 minutes for one to come by. Fortunately, we only had to wait about 5 minutes.

Where I live, a bus might start out it's shiny new life as a school bus. It would do it's duty being abused by small children on field trips and transporting sweaty football players to away games. After a few years, it might be sent to the county to be used as transport for prisoners who have been convicted of non-violent crimes as they are hauled to the side of the interstate to pick up trash.  Later, it might be sold at auction to a church who wants to paint it up like a package of Lifesavers and use it to start an innovative bus ministry. After 15 years, or so, when that bus is good and broken in, a deer hunter in Arkansas will buy it and with dreams of shooting, gutting and hauling home the biggest buck in the history of hunting. They will outfit that rig with gun racks, ammunition storage, sleeping quarters, a fridge for beer, a walk-in freezer for hanging meat and a flat screen TV... but no toilet, because they are real men who like to rough it.

So this almost-a-hunting-bus rolled to a stop and we shyly filed on behind Nicole and then looked for a place to sit. The seats on either side were appropriately big enough to seat 2 adults who don't mind touching each other. Let me just skip ahead to the part where Jeff sits on one of those seats, along with a Swazi women who is nursing one child and has another child perched on her knee. Also, on this same seat is another woman, presumably the grandmother, with yet another child on her lap. The entire bus is crammed full, but the driver sees no reason to stop letting people get on. I mean, each person is paying a fee to ride, so why turn down paying customers. People are standing in the aisle and a women who (maybe) thinks she is leaning on the back of my seat, is, in reality, sitting on my shoulder.
And did I mention it's raining? Well, it was. And I watched with slight uneasiness as the bus driver controlled the vehicle with one hand while using his other hand to reach out of the window to wipe the rain off of his side view mirror.

This is when Jeff reaches into his shirt pocket, pulls out an index card, looks a Swazi boy (who was about 7 years old) in the eye and says, "Sow-oo-bone-ah." (traditional greeting)

The poor little boy, who may or may not have ever even seen a white man, especially not one with a giant beard like Jeff's, panicked. His eyes got huge and he covered his mouth with his hands. A few people around him giggled, some gasped when they realized Jeff was trying to speak Suswati. And Jeff, being Jeff, took this as encouragement and tried again: 

"Sow-oo-bone-ah." The boy peeked out from behind his hands, but still didn't answer, so Jeff pointed at him and told the little boy, "You say, yay-bo." At this, the entire busload of Swazis burst out laughing! They began to talk to us in English and let us practice our very limited knowledge of the greeting we had learned. They were so delighted to meet some white people who were making an attempt at speaking their language. Jeff was quite the hero that day!

So, thank you, Nawazzi, for giving us the language tools to experience this joyful communion with our brothers and sisters in Swaziland! And, a special compliment to Sean and Nicole: You two rock my face off with your willingness to learn a language you don't HAVE to learn! You read that part right. The Boehrig's wouldn't actually have to learn Suswatti in order to live in Swaziland. Almost everyone there speaks English. It's taught in the schools. All signage, road signs, billboards, grocery, menu's, EVERYTHING, is written in English. Most English-speakers, even those who have lived in Swaziland for years, don't bother to learn the native language. Sean and Nicole believe it's important to be able to speak to their friends and neighbors in their own language, and it is proving to be such a blessing to their ministry. Swazi's are so excited when the Boerig's speak to them in their own language and they are so happy to help them increase their skills. I know our tiny efforts to speak the greeting, on the bus, in the bakery in the city, at church, was met with smiles and enthusiasm!

So, here are some pictures of our day in the city of Manzani:

This is one of the schools in the city. Public education isn't free, so not all kids get to attend school. Those who do, adhere to a strict uniform, all the way down to the haircut. Most school girls have their hair sheared down to the scalp...which is actually quite cute! though, if they weren't wearing skirts, it would be difficult to tell the boys from the girls.

We stopped at a bakery, where Nicole ABANDONED us, and we had to communicate and count foreign currency all by ourselves! As it turned out, we did fine and Nicole was only actually gone for about 5 (eternal) minutes. But, that milk pie I'm eating made it all worth it. YUM!

These are pictures from the market. Lots of beautiful, hand-crafted items. And then we found this:

This is a traditional garment worn by men. It's made of baboon skin. We actually saw a guy wearing something similar to this when we went into a hardware store for Nicole to pick up some shade cloth for her garden. Thankfully, the man was sitting on a stool and was wearing a green sport coat on top, so we weren't treated to the full monty...I mean...ensemble. I wasn't brave enough to take a picture of the guy, but noticed he was also wearing a random feather in his hair. Nicole said that feather indicated he was a member of the extended royal family. Sounds exciting, but we were also told that since Swazi men are allowed to have as many wives as they want, there's no shortage of people who are related to the royal family. According to Sean, the U.N. has pressured the current king to maybe not take as many wives as his predecessors did, so he only has, like, 8. Progress.

Another interesting note about the whole multiple wives thing: If a man marries a woman who already has a child, he is not required to accept that child into his home. This means many women leave their children with grandmothers, aunts or sisters, when they get married. On the contrary, if a man, for example, has a wife and children in the "country", and another wife, with more children in the city, his wife in the city is required to care for his country wife's children (and vice-versa) when they come to town.

This is a picture of a roadside market selling fruit and used clothing. I snapped this one when we were waiting for a bus to take us back to the Tricash village where Sean and Nicole live.

And this is a picture of the hospital in Manzani where Nicole works as a duela (sp?). Women from all over the rural areas, will walk or ride the bus into the city when their due date draws close. They may stay in a building called The Waiting Place until they go into labor. 24 hours after giving birth (barring complications), they will walk or ride the bus back home. (My women friends who have given birth, unite, and say a collective, "Dad gum, ya'll.")

Our time in the city was eventful, but the day wasn't over yet. When we got back to the Boerig's house, they had some special friends over for "tea." We had some delightful conversation and Jeff and Mike got to show off some American culture (and cause a few dropped jaws) when they took turns holding the baby! Apparently, it's not common for men to handle babies...much less, act like they enjoy it!

Here's a funny story that I don't think Jeff confessed to Mike, so, sorry Honey, I'm about to "out" you: Jeff held the baby first, was bouncing and making faces at her. He said this to me later, "Yeah, after about 10 minutes, it occurred to me that she was probably wearing a cloth diaper, so I decided I needed to give Mike a turn holding her."

After the "tea," we went to a brye (sp?), which is like a bar-b-que, with some of the Boehrig's white friends. Some were missionary teachers and nurses at an orphanage, some were Africanse businessmen, some were from the States, some from Ireland, some South African-born... at any rate, it was a shockingly different life-style from the one Sean and Nicole have chosen. The cookout was in a home about a mile from the Boehrig's house, but it was in a gated, golf-course community. Wow.

At the brye, we learned that the chief, or some other community leader, had asked the guys for help in catching and relocating a crocodile that had been eating ducks and had chased a child. (Say, "The crocodile chased a child" nonchalantly, because that's how they say it... like it was just a slightly bothersome occurrence.) Of course, crocs have to be hunted at night, because they hide/sleep during the day. So, at about 10PM, 8 men climbed into a "bass" boat with no seats, armed with flashlights and a rope with a giant hook attached to one end. Oh, I forgot to mention that the way they operated this boat was the guy handling the throttle had to yell instructions to the guy who was holding the motor in both hands and manually turning the engine to steer.

Jeff said they had to do donuts in the water to stir the crocodile to the surface. After 20 minutes of this, Jeff was "ready to hurl" and was starting to think they were just playing a joke on the naive Americans, when they spotted the crocodile. Jeff says he's not exaggerating in saying it was probably 9 feet long. 

The plan, of course there was a plan, was to get close enough to hook it in the neck, drag it into the boat, duck tape its mouth, load it in the back of one guy's truck, drive it to another pond, and set it free. Easy. Not dangerous at all.

After a couple of hours and nearly pitching one guy into the water on top of the croc (slight miscommunication between the throttle guy and the engine guy), they decided they didn't have the right tools for the job, and called it a night. The end.

Day 3: The Day We Built a Cob Oven and My Life Changed...No Biggie

I haven't told you much about what Sean does, because, up until Saturday, I had spent most of my time with Nicole. Just to clarify, Sean and Nicole moved to Swaziland to join one other missionary couple (not a big organization, or whatever) in an effort to reach people with the hands-on Good News of Jesus. The Good News that not only does Jesus offer eternal salvation in Heaven, his way of "doing life" here on earth, right now, offers peace, joy, community, stability, and an economy that isn't affected by Wall Street or terror attacks or government shut downs. Sean teaches people to work together as a community, using resources they already have, to meet the needs of everyone. 

For example, Swazi's typically cook over an open flame, using logs from trees they've cut down and carried home. It's a LOT of work and they are cutting down a valuable resource. Sean has engineered a rocket stove, made of scrap metal, and a couple of inexpensive, readily available manufactured parts, that is able to cook longer and hotter, and only requires a small amount of sticks and twigs, that can be gathered by children without sacrificing entire trees, to burn as fuel.  

And, get this! He isn't giving away these stoves. But, instead, he has taught a man to build these stoves, and now that man is turning his new skill in to a business that will help his community, lessen the impact on the environment, and improve his life with more income!

Sean has also located a company in South Africa that makes a very simple, and extremely durable, water pump that works like a StairMaster. (I'll post pics in a minute.) This simple pump will give women hours in their day...time, and difficult labor, that they would normally expend walking down to the river and lugging up 5 gallon buckets, over and over, until they have enough to meet the basic cooking and cleaning needs of their family. 

And this new pump system will also allow them to plant gardens! No one has time or energy to haul enough water to care for a garden (especially in the African summer!), but now they will be able to pump water directly from the river to irrigate their gardens...which will provide better nutrition for their family...and will produce enough extra that they can sell their produce for more income! 

But, again, Sean doesn't give these pumps away. Instead, he demonstrates these pumps, shows them how it can improve their lives, and helps them discover ways they can earn and save the money to buy one for themselves. (He's also trying to find someone local who would like to start a business importing these pumps from South Africa.)

Here's some pictures of the pump being used:

We were cracking up at the way Swazi's don't have "personal space" issues like American's do. The more weight you put on the pump, the faster it will work, so it only makes sense to put as many people on the pump as will fit! It really just takes one person operating the pump at the river and another to hold the other end of the hose to either water the garden or, like in this case, to fill the container that holds water for household use:

On Saturday, our goal was to help Sean with another of his on-going community outreach projects: we were going to build a cob oven for a family of 5. Here is a picture of their house:

Most of their cooking is done in a pit in the ground, but here is the mud structure where we will put the new cob oven: 

This is where they raise chickens:

As a subscriber to Mother Earth News, I was especially excited about this project. Just this last month, Mother had published a special feature about how to build cob homes, and I was looking forward to seeing this concept done on a smaller (oven) scale. 

Cob is a mixture of clay, sand and grass. Remember, Sean is not about giving stuff away, but he is all about teaching people to find and use sustainable resources they already have. So, a week, or so, before our arrival, he told the family he would be happy to teach them to build the oven for free, but they would have to provide the materials and labor. They would need bricks for the base, and sand, clay and grass for the cob. 

They walked to the river and hauled up sand by the bucket loads, until they had a large pile. They found another source from which to dig and haul clay. For the cob, the women took machetes and feed sacks and hiked up a nearby mountain to cut grass. We aren't exactly sure where they got the bricks, but the ones we used looked suspiciously similar to the ones at the crumbling bus stop in town.

With all the supplies gathered, they only lacked labor...which is where we came in.  When 6 white people show up at a Swazi home, it doesn't take long for all the neighbors to start "dropping in" to see what's going on!  Before we knew it, it was a full-out party!

The African women started cooking...we tasted a traditional breakfast of fermented corn mush:

...which I can't really recommend, but wasn't as bad as I was afraid it was going to be!

They cooked...
...and cooked...

...while the children played...

I made a few friends by taking their pictures and then letting them see their images. They were thrilled!

And then, while the men built the form for the oven, 

it was time for the white women to get to work mixing the sand and clay.

After a while, we got some help...

Two things to note here. 1st: We're mixing mud in skirts. Turns out, that first day, when Alex and I worked in the garden wearing jeans, well, apparently, we were being floozies. So, when we knew we would be spending most of the day on Saturday at a Swazi home, we figured we better wear skirts. No matter that this was the only skirt I brought and I would have to wear it to church the next day. Who really cares about a little mud.

2nd: For the first 10 minutes, stomping river sand with my bare feet, was like getting a good pedicure. But, shortly after that, it started to make me think of that Korean spa in Dallas my friend told me about. Where small women swarm you and scrub your naked body, even the more delicate areas, with the equivalent of 60 grit sand paper, or, maybe, pine tree bark.

So, you might get my point.

Anyway, some of the sweet Swazi women saw my pain and not only went and borrowed some mud boots for me to wear, but also refused to let me walk to the river to wash my feet. Instead, they heated up some water, gave me a bucket and a rag to clean myself.
And I've never been so humbled, felt so cared for. There are no words.

So, we mixed and mixed and others pitched in...

And the guys molded and built the oven... (Alex and I tried our hand at building and molding, but I think we preferred the mixing part.)

When the African women finished cooking, they joined in the mixing...that's when the party started! I'm talking about rhythmic chanting, clapping, the whole thing!

I mean, seriously. How much better would my days be if I could chant and dance and turn hard, dull work into a dance party? Oooohhh...Freak out!

When the oven was complete
we took some pictures with everyone who was still there at the time

...and then we enjoyed the most delicious Swazi food ever (kind of reminded me of the soul food we used to eat when we lived in Fort Worth).

Sunday: The Day In Which I Slit a Throat and Attended Church

Please note that my vegetarian friends will want to skip this section. Really. K bye. See you in the next section.

On the day we built the cob oven, the family gifted Sean and Nicole a live chicken. Jeff and I raise chickens and we've had our Giant Black rooster (about 10-12 pounds in his currently "alive" condition) marked for the Thanksgiving platter since he started getting aggressive and attacking our little Ruby every time she goes into the yard to play. I thought the family was going to kill and cook the bird right there and I was going to get to learn the proper way to...well, you know..."off" the bird. Nicole saw my disappointment when they handed her the live bird to take home.

She said, "Don't worry, we interned at a farm for a while. We can teach you to do it. The family wants us to eat this bird anyway."

So, on Sunday morning before church, Sean said, "OK, you want to learn to slaughter and gut a chicken? Let's go."

 First, they caught the bird, who wasn't being accepted into Sean and Nicole's flock of chickens anyway. And then Sean explained the process to me. If you hold or hang the chicken upside down, it calms down almost immediately. He talked about the methods our grandparents used like breaking the neck or using an ax, but quickly slitting the throat with the bird upside down is a lot less traumatic to the bird and allows the blood to drain quickly. 

So, when Sean said he would teach me to kill and gut a chicken, I really heard the word show. So I was a little surprised when he handed me the knife and said, "OK, here you go." But, I'm also not one to back down from a challenge. I really did want to learn. And what better way to learn than to do. Don't worry, I won't post any bloody pictures, though I did take plenty so I could remember all the steps.

You can see by the look on my face, that I didn't actually enjoy the process, but it also wasn't as horrible as you might imagine. I had a moment of deep thankfulness when the animal's warm blood was pouring out over my hand and I can promise you, after that experience I will never waste meat again. We cleaned and cooked every bit of that bird (excluding the guts) and turned all leftover skin and bones into broth. And it was delicious.

I left plenty of space so my sensitive friends hopefully won't have to look at those pictures any longer than they have to...unless you have one of those gigantic computer monitors, and in that case, it's your own fault. :)

So, then we went to church. 

And it was a great experience. More modern than I would have expected. It was raining and when we pulled up, I wondered if we had gotten the time wrong. And then I realized something:
Because I thought that since there were only 2 cars in the parking lot, no one would be there. Turns out, we and the church minister were the only ones with cars. Everyone else walked. DUH. The building was full. People were kind. The sermon was translated for us. 

After church, people giggled and exclaimed when we used our Suswati greeting. Many asked us how they could get to America and could we give them jobs. And we wanted to tell them, "NO! You don't want to come to America! We are selfish and our children fight with each other. Our money hasn't satisfied us. We are lonely in our alarmed homes inside our gated communities. Stay here, where you have family, friends, community, fellowship." But, we smiled and nodded and thanked them for their hospitality.

(And later, after I'd had some time to think and process, I came to a different conclusion about their desire to come to America...I'll tell you about that in a separate blog entry.)

After church, we ate lunch at a place most Swazi's couldn't afford. It was a beautiful place.

And I bought a little woven basket for my mother and a pair of earrings for my daughter. And I contemplated right and wrong and what Jesus really meant when he said, "Love your neighbor as yourself." And I wondered if the woman who cut the grass, dyed it, and wove it into the form of that little basket, would see even a penny of the money I just paid for it. And I imagined a teenage girl piecing together those earrings that would be worn by my daughter, and I wondered what her life was like.

I didn't come up with any good answers.

We ended Sunday at a game park. A beautiful place where I wish my Canyon girls and I could go and hike and camp and explore for like a year. It was raining, so we didn't see too many animals, but we did see this little guy:

And this interesting creature:
And, wildebeests, of course, but you'll just have to use your imagination, cause this is all I could get of them:
And, then there was this, but crocs are just passe, like whatever, by this point in our trip.

Going Home

On Monday, we started the journey home. It was a beautiful drive, much less scary because we were all used to Sean's driving by this time. We had deep conversations in the car, saw monkey's on the side of the highway, got pulled over by police so many times I lost kidding. We were exhausted and happy, inspired and disturbed. I'm pretty sure I'll be processing through this experience for a very long time.

But here's the one thing I want to say:

We are blessed. But it's not because we live in America. We are blessed because we bear the image of God. And we have a job to do:

But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats...

Then the King will say to those on his right, "Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you visited me." 

Then these righteous ones will reply, "Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?"

And the King will say, "I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!" Matthew 25