Community. Education.

or: “It takes a village to teach a child”

NOTE: this was something I wrote back in Kibuye about a month and a half ago – before we even thought we might be heading out.

It feels like right now, more than ever, a lot of people are talking about community. Mostly it seems to be about how a sense of community has been taken away in so many ways, and how hard that is.

Earlier this week we had another event that showed me two things: 1) how truly important community is 2) how uniquely and richly blessed we are to be part of this community here

There is a possibility the US embassy is organising a flight to get some more of its remaining citizens out of Burundi, and if that happens, some members of our team who were supposed to leave in a month or so may be leaving earlier than expected. With almost every airport and border in this region completely shut down, it’s kind of a now-or-never scenario if one wants to get out before….who knows when.

What that means is that our school year is shifting its timetable – so suddenly we realised (since the US fight was originally said to be this past Monday) that basically it would be the end of the school year in many ways, at least for the 7th & 8th Grade class.

The Middle School class

In some ways growing up here can be hard. For Micah, there’s not another boy within 4 years up or 4 years down. The massive cultural and language barriers that exist make it hard to form friendships. There are so many comings and goings, families who might come for a few days, a few weeks, a few months, and then they are gone, very possibly never again will we cross paths. There are our teammates, close like family, who leave for weeks or months at a time for home assignment (furlough) or other reasons, creating a sudden and profound hole in the fabric of our community. Our kids don’t know what team sports really are, or drama, choir, or those kinds of group extra-curricular activities

But boy, do they ever have some advantages. Micah has had the same teacher now for 4 years – Uncle Scott. His class has ranged in size from 3-5 and has included both his sister and his ‘fake-sisters’ – girls so close to him that they are almost like family.

Our kids really have no idea what a school bully is. Sure, some kids will click better than others, but there are just no cliques. And when kids do things that are unkind, their teacher corrects them, in a very similar way to how a parent would. The kids can’t find loopholes in a set of rules to prove they ‘didn’t do anything wrong’ – because if they did something that was unkind that is enough.

It means having teachers who know your kids deeply. Who ache for the kids when they are going through something hard. Who pray for the kids, with the kids, and who model following Jesus in their own way. We have many friends who are teachers in other places, and they do deeply care for their students. But having a relationship where your teacher is your neighbour, and goes to church with you, and plays frisbee with you every Sunday afternoon, and carpools with you to the city, and comes to your house to get milk, and drops off hand-me-down clothes, and your parents work together, and you go on retreats together, and you generally are just doing life together in a deeply integrated way is a whole other relationship that I had never really imagined. We’re basically like the Amish, but with better computers.

These are formative years. In case you need physical proof, here is Micah the first time we went up to Kibuye…

And this week for their graduation party…

The plan is for Micah to join Matea at RVA in Kenya this fall, which is a great school. The classes are small, the teachers know and love the kids. But honestly, they will never experience this kind of community anywhere else throughout their education.

So I guess this is mostly a declaration of gratitude. For Scott who has guided Micah in his scholastic work and so much more for the past 4 years. For all his other teachers over the past 4.5 years in Kibuye, for a few courses, a special class, or whatever: Jess, Heather, Shay, Grace, Julie, Julie, Rachel, Rachel, Stephanie, Lindsay, Kayla, Annick, Mme Therese & Mme Frederique, Alyssa, Greg, Michelle, the kids who taught them traditional Burundian drumming, and others that I’m surely forgetting.

In the past four years on top of the usual subjects he’s had French, Kirundi, robotics, Lego, emergency medicine (!), and so much more. The Learning Day activities have seen them slaughtering chickens, harvesting rice, watching procedures at the hospital, visiting brick factories, processing cocoa, studying plants, and so, so, so many other things it’s actually incredible.

So thanks to the teachers, the school, the team, for giving our kids an unbelievable education.

(If any of you want to step in right now to help guide the individual at-home part of this year for any of our children, feel free to get in touch….)

heard around our house since we’ve been back

So we’ve been back in Canada for three weeks now – the first time our family has been here in 3 years. And like last time we were here, there always seem to be things that catch us off guard.

NOTE: I hesitated to post this, as I realize it can easily be taken as a kind of passive-aggressive boasting. In the vein of “oh, our kids don’t know what a Happy Meal is…” So just know that it comes from a place of us chuckling at how out of place our kids can appear, even to us. That’s it.

Things which shock & /or surprise

  • “Wait, so you can drink the water from any tap? Even the hose outside? wait…what? Even the hose outside?”
  • “does anyone else drink shower water – not because you’re thirsty, but just because you can?” -Matea
  • “Oops…forgot about supper” .. as the sun is still up at 8:30
  • ‘Woah…were these carrots dipped in sugar or something…they’re so sweet”
  • the size of pickup trucks which seem to be used for transporting one or two humans around the city
  • me: “Oh man… I totally forgot about voicemail…” (my 16-year-old reading this over my shoulder: “wait, for real, what IS voicemail?)
  • the sense that you can just…use the internet. Streaming a video does not take away from someone else’s ability to load a web page. There is no sense of “how many other people are likely using the internet right now”…you just use it. (when we moved to Kibuye, our entire team had a 30GB download cap…per month, for all of us combined. Which we consumed in small chunks over a speed of 512kbps (1/2MB) satellite hook up. So having an unlimited cable with 30GBps (30,000MB) for less than 1/3 of our family’s portion of that satellite feed is pretty strange)

Things never seen before – mostly from the eyes of an 8-year old:

  • dishwasher (which ‘someone’ is scared of “because of the huge blade that spins at the bottom of it”)
  • street sweeper
  • shreddies
  • blueberries? wait..they’re grapes? not grapes…weird…then what are they?

A Day for Mothers

Saying something supportive and celebratory about mothers seems a bit odd. It’s like celebrating kindness, or an end to war, or ice cream. Of COURSE, we all love, support, celebrate those things. It’s just human nature to do so -only a monster would not be happy about things like a great cup of coffee, or a birth, or less gun violence.

However, Mother’s Day is not about the concept of motherhood, but an opportunity for those of us who have had strong, kind, caring mothers in our lives. So here are my thoughts looking back on my life thus far, realizing how blessed I’ve been.

Of course, my own mother. The woman who put up with a lot from me in the first 18 years or so of my life. (After 18 I did not immediately become mature or wise, but I became somewhat less her problem and more someone else’s). Everyone who meets my mother realizes immediately that she is kind, giving, and generous. No one gives more than my mom, and looking back on my childhood I realize that her kindness was one of those things that I took for granted. You assume your family is normal, that your childhood is more similar to others, that the way you experienced life is more the norm until you really face the world. Looking back, I realize that I and my four siblings were raised in a house where our mother was so incredibly giving, and kind, and generous, and gracious with us. When we didn’t deserve it. Honestly, when we didn’t ‘need’ it. (But of course, you always do). She’s travelled to see us in Kazakstan, France, and Burundi two times. Not many people in their 80’s will take ~30 of flights by themselves to see their kids and grandkids, but my mother shrugs it off as if it were nothing compared to the joy of visiting us. Because to her it really isn’t

My mother-in-law who has been an influential part of my life since I was 16 years old (!) Beliving in me, and thinking I was good enough for their daughter, often being able to see things in me I think I didn’t see myself. Celebrating my wins and consoling my defeats for the past three decades, I was blessed to have her in my life early enough to be so influential on who I’ve actually become.

Then there is the unique joy that comes from watching someone become a mother. Being there with Susan from the birth of our firstborn, over 18 years ago, to the time she went to bed last night gives me a pretty unobstructed view on the kind of mother she truly is.

The honest truth is that it is a privilege to be able to parent our children with her.

She wants our kids to be kind, and generous and to stand up for what’s right and to be assertive. She is bold enough to have whatever hard conversation needs to be had. She wants them to show kindness to others, to look out for those who are often overlooked, and to show compassion.

She wants our kids to be brave more than safe. (Every year I realize a bit more how incredibly beautiful and uniquely hard thing that is for a Mother). But she doesn’t just want these things, she models them, she encourages them. She is bold enough to have hard conversations. She holds them accountable but does so in a way that clearly is based in love. She is their biggest support, and a loving shoulder they know they can always turn to. Above all, she wants them to love and serve others as a way of loving and serving God, and she makes that so evident to them, and all, by her example. The way she serves not only her own children, but orphans who have no mother, and widows who have a hard job as a mother. Her kindness as a mother clearly expands to those vulnerable, and in a difficult situation, and her mother’s heart is as huge as it is strong.

Then there are all the incredible mothers who have influenced my life in other ways. Aunts who lived in the same small town on the Canadian prairies for essentially their entire lives, and women who we’ve met as they move around the world. Those with a heart for adoption. Those with quiet serene homes where Mom is the calm bedrock, those with exuberant life busting out every window where Mom is frequently bandaging wounds. I know women who try to balance role as a mother with their running their own business, or working as a doctor in rural Africa, or working as a counsellor, professor, nurse. Those who are in the stage of life where they’ve stepped away from all formal work outside the home to focus on their kids. I have been privileged to know Godly, loving women who play out their particular role of mother in a village in rural Africa, or a Canadian city, the silicon valley, the French Alps, and so many other places. All of them highlighting a trait that shines in their lives to a unique degree, showing how multifaceted motherhood truly is.

And to those we know who find this day hard, really hard. To those mourning the loss of their mother, and those who only ever knew a destructive mother figure in their lives, and those whose deep unfulfilled desire is to become a mother. To those mothers who are going it alone due to an untimely death, or a fractured vow and feels hard to survive. I’m sorry. I pray you can read these words without feeling like the rest of us are rubbing it all in your face. Motherhood, in its most beautiful expressions, is too good to go on celebrated. I hope you can join us at least in that.

what I learned going through a traumatic event

I had never before experienced anything like what happened in our home in February. The closest was a time when we lived in Kazakhstan where we (Susan, her sister visiting from Japan, and I) were abducted by a rogue taxi driver late at night and we were only able to escape when the car we were in was rammed by another car – but that didn’t feel at all the same.

This trauma we experienced was specific, targeted, thorough, and long enough for all of us to understand just how much danger we were in. Since we knew our lives were in danger yet it all burst into our house so quickly we experienced shock and difficulty making sense of it all.

As we’re coming through to the other side of healing from the armed robbery at our house, I realized I’ve learned a lot about trauma. That sure doesn’t mean I know a lot now, merely that I knew almost nothing before. This is in no way meant to be a list of “what you should do” or even “what you should have said to me.” This is merely a few things that I have learned having gone through this, that will shape how I respond to others in the future. I just thought I’d share it in case it’s helpful.

Don’t say/do nothing. I think a LOT of people don’t know how to respond to people who have gone through a traumatic event- and for good reason. Again, this may only be true for me, but I found that saying “I’m sorry… I have no idea what to say” was often meaningful enough for the time. Saying nothing can be seen as indifference or diminishing what you went through. At least for me, it felt like I was very sensitive for weeks to anything that seemed to diminish what we went through. Even in those first 24 hours we had a lot of people just say “I heard what happened, I’m so sorry… I don’t know what else to say” – and that was a sufficient sentiment.

Don’t compare – unless you really have something to compare – and even then probably don’t do it anyway. Saying “I know what you’re going through…someone stole my wallet right out of my pocket when I was in Rome one time…It’s a horrible feeling isn’t it…yeah the trauma is real” does not feel good at all. Again, going back to the above, maybe I was very sensitive to what felt like people diminishing what we went through, but that just feels nasty. If you’ve never had a loaded gun pointed at you, don’t say you know what it feels like. If you have never thought you or your family members might be killed in your own house, don’t compare. In fact, in my experience, it ended up that we did know a few people who had been through something similar, but they were never the ones to say “I know what you’re going through.” I’m sure this is true for all life experiences, and the more significant they feel to us, the more it feels insincere or even insulting when people say “yeah – I know what it feels like” Men shouldn’t say “I know what it feels like to give birth.” If you’ve never lost a child, don’t say you know what it feels like to someone who has. I’m sure I’m totally guilty of doing this to others in the past as I don’t remember anyone doing it to me I don’t think I realized fully what it feels like.

Don’t leave it in my court. In my experience the best would be if someone said “I’m going to call you tomorrow at 10 so we can talk” or “I’m going to do this thing for you right now” Less good would be “can I do this specific thing for you?” like “Can I bring you supper tomorrow?” Less helpful for us was “Call me any time – really – just let me know” and even harder was “let me know if you need anything.” We found we were emotionally exhausted all the time, and even making simple decisions was taxing. Telling me to think about what I need, then deciding, then taking the initiative to get back in touch and inconvenience you with my problems just seems too much.

When we got to Kenya, our Serge team there had already made a list to bring us supper every day. They didn’t ask, they just told us when we got there “someone will bring supper every day around 5:30” that was a truly beautiful gift and something we never would have asked for. Along these same lines, we needed people to speak into our decisions in ways we normally don’t. Telling us to leave for Kenya, booking tickets for us, getting us going. Honestly if left completely on our own we would have put it off for days, if we would have left at all. The same with the decision to come back to Canada now. If we hadn’t had people step in and say “given what you’ve gone through – you really should leave now while you can” we may not have left. Our counsellor told us that when you’ve gone through that kind of trauma, a huge chunk of your normal cognitive bandwidth is just taken up trying to deal with and make sense of what you’ve gone through. It really does feel sometimes like you’re working with only 50% of your brain capacity, and even making simple decisions can feel exhausting.

So there you go – take it for what it’s worth (which honestly may not be much). If nothing else I needed to sort out some of these things for myself. And now in the future – if I am acting like a schmuck when you go through something hard you have my own words to use against me to make me less of a schmuck.