This morning I am worshiping and reading my Bible from my bed, since I have still been vomiting and am unable to go to church. It seemed very appropriate that as I was reading, I noticed that both Old and New Testament talk about praying to give thanks before and even after a meal because meal times were important to the culture of the time, and of course the provision of food was considered to be (as it is) a gift from God, worthy of being appreciated.
This seemed particularly appropriate as I have been reflecting on the differences of being sick here and in the US. There are two big differences I’ve seen, one positive and one negative. First, the positive. When an adult is sick in the US, I feel like (unless they are very very very ill or very elderly) they drive themselves to the doctor, then to the store to get anything they might need, then take care of themselves. Of course, if you have a husband or wife, they might help. But here, everyone helps. A coworker I just met two weeks ago accompanied me to the main road, where another coworker walked from his home and called a friend that I’ve never even met to drive me to the clinic, where a new friend near the clinic let me wait in their home and fed me while the malaria test was being done. Then they drove me home again. I am given meals in bed. Others are now walking to the main road (easily a 30 minute walk) to buy me some juice. This sense of communal responsibility to one another is humbling, though it makes me feel incredibly guilty. I come from a society where sometimes that will happen, but often it will not. Often we are taught to take care of ourselves, and let others take care of themselves, with some exceptions of course. And everyone here who has been taking care of me has said, “oh well maybe I will fall sick tomorrow and will need your help and you will help me.” But it will be a humbling experience to actually do that, when in the US I am normally not obligated to go hours out of my way to help people I recently met. This is a beautiful part of this communal society.
However, one negative aspect of being sick here is that there are just not a lot of things to help. In the US if I am sick, I get my electrolyte-filled gatorade bottles and crackers and fruit and anything my stomach can handle and kinda drink and munch all day long. But this morning I am vomiting bile and stomach acid, because my stomach is empty. It’s morning. It’s not lunch yet, and so food is not cooked. Though normally I try to keep a stash of some extra bananas and things, because yesterday I was sick, I didn’t get to the market to restock. So I am vomiting on an empty stomach, and there is no easy solution for that. There is no refrigerator, no pantry to put something in my stomach to try to settle it. Unless it is 12:30pm or 7:00pm, there will not be food. How would we pay for it? Where would we store it? It’s just not feasible. So now I have sent a good friend to on the thirty minute walk to pick up some juice and crackers for me. And maybe that’s part of why we rely on each other here. Because for better or worse, there is no other choice.
So last night I felt nauseous, chills and sweats and body aches all over. Today I was supposed to go to my first Rwandan wedding but felt too weak. Per everyone’s advice, I went ahead and went to the doctor just in case it was malaria. I laughed because the other teacher who was helping me get to the clinic asked, “do you have malaria?” and I said, “well I don’t know, that’s why I’m going to the clinic to get tested. Is there a way you just know?” And I laughed as she asked very seriously surprised, “oh have you never had malaria before?”
Everyone’s reality is different. And the fact that mine does not contain a history of malaria is as surprising to the people here and it is surprising to me that two of my friends here have literally never been to school a day in their life. But, no malaria, guess I just caught a bug of some kind so I have been resting.
The downside of things right now is that we looked over the budget and I didn’t even realize how even cutting the budget down to pretty much bare essentials leaves us $500 short each month. This has been heavy on my heart. Some of our employees already are earning only $1 a day. We can’t raise school fees because the families in the village are struggling to pay the prices at what they are now. Sometimes it feels like…how does anyone do it? how do they survive? Everyone sorta just gets by and asks for help when they need it and give help when they can. So I thank those of you who have been helping me financially, and challenge anyone else to pray about whether you can be giving financially as well.
Maybe it’s because I have been sick I know this blog is disorganized, but I wanted to say one encouraging thing. God is present in these children. I led worship at chapel on Friday and to hear these children singing out “how he loves” just meant a lot to me. Even you’ll hear them singing praise songs as they walk along the road. And the educational improvement also. One year ago one of our boarding students, Divine, did not know “a” from “b” from “c” and two days ago she wrote me a note in English that said, “thank you sarah you are a good teacher and a good girl and God bless you thank you thank you.” She’s one of our best students now. As an educator, that is really really exciting!
I wrote in my journal on Sunday evening when I arrived in my village of Nsinda, “I feel like I married Jesus and had 16 children.” This accurately represents how this whole journey so far has been very much me dedicating my life to Christ’s calling and purposes, and as thirty-two little eyes of the sixteen boarding students that live in the dorm with me peered at me expectantly, I discovered this would also be like being a mother of 16 (with more to come in January). Their only toy, a soccer ball I had bought them a year ago, had just burst on Friday, and their eyes begged for someone to play with them. A year ago they had had a similar look in their eyes, and we had played a huge game of hide from the tickle monster. Figuring I had probably had very little influence on them in the short months I had been there last year, I was surprised that Divin requested a good old game of tickle monster. My bags sat in my room, unpacked, with my room left unfurnished with no soap or water to bathe, but the duty of the moment called for tickle monster. And even the shyest of children was screaming in joy and laughter.
To contrast this, we told stories during dinner that evening and my heart broke as every story the children made up included either alcohol, domestic violence, beggars, poverty, soldiers, or prison. This is their reality, and the words, “princess,” “fairy,” and “magic” are foreign to them. Similarly, while working out the budget for next year, I became very disheartened. The teachers have been patient, as they have not been paid in months. We don’t have much milk anymore, and sometimes I get hungry because we don’t have food for breakfast. The money simply isn’t here. I didn’t even know before just how bad the situation was. They just pray for miracles every single month. They talk all the time about “Hope.” And while I kindly tried to inform them that “hope does not produce income,” it dawned on me that that’s exactly what I do when I fundraise in the US – hope that someone will help.
So it touched my heart when I noticed something three days ago I hadn’t noticed the first two days here. I was leaned over washing my hair in the wash basic bucket that the school had provided for me, my head and eyes peering at the red plastic holding my small amount of water for washing. And there carved into the red plastic in the handwriting of a child was a word in four beautiful all capital letters: H-O-P-E. I just noticed tonight the same thing etched into the jerry can I was given to fetch water. It both exhilarates me and terrifies me that I am the hope for these children. So to keep the exhilaration and remove the terror, I give this over to God. He is truly their hope. And I am his servant. And hopefully, together we can give these children what they seek, what they talk about, the one word that echoes in their mind when doodling in wash basins- hope