Too Fat

Ah culture differences. Gotta love them:-)!

I wrote most of this post the week we arrived in Botswana but never finished it. I finally decided to finish and post it now. Note: this was before I was showing my pregnancy at all.

It was great to arrive in Botswana on Tuesday. Kagi’s mom and brothers and uncle were all waiting for us at the airport, along with another lady (we’ll call her Auntie) who I met on my last trip here. We were greeted with hugs and smiles, and ushered out to the waiting cars.

Arriving at the car, Auntie grabbed my hand and said with enthusiasm, “You’re too fat!” Not knowing what she meant, I smiled — it must be an English mis-speak. I don’t think I’m too fat, and certainly am much trimmer than she is. Sensing my confusion, she repeated her statement enthusiastically, “You’re too fat!”

Kagi saw the exchange and laughed. “She’s complimenting you, Laura!”

“I… I know, thank you,” I stammered.

Apparently I gained a few pounds during my first year of marriage, and this lady was genuinely happy for me. Honestly, it was sweet and funny, and I wasn’t offended. Maybe at another point in my life I would have been, but not this time.

The other factor is that the word too is used differently. It’s used instead of very or more. People often talk about your house being “too big,” meaning it’s nice and spacious. They don’t mean it’s ostentatious.

I love the way this points out cultural differences. My Canadian friend has shared similar stories. It’s funny to compare our often less than gracious reactions. Genuinely, comments like this are meant as compliments. I plan to take them as such.

Women’s Meeting

Friday I had the opportunity to attend a Musalaha women’s event which was excellent.

When I got there, I was met by a very nice Messianic Jewish lady with a New York City accent. After finding out who I am and why I was there, she told me the strategy of the women’s program. “We’re just friends,” she told me definitively. “That’s why we come.”

The time was much more like a women’s meeting at a church than I expected. We spent the first half hour mingling, and it was fun to see the women finding good friends who they hadn’t seen since the last event and catching up. The conversation was “How is your new grand-daughter,” and “Have you lost weight?” instead of “What do you think about the current political situation.” By the time the twenty-five of us sat down around a big horseshoe table I was writing the following in my journal:

Women, because of such common life journeys/concerns may have more natural bridges to reconciliation.

The rest of the meeting worked to confirm that idea.

One woman welcomed the group. “Please give a brief update on how you are and how we can pray for you.” Whew, it was cool. Women of many generations opened up about where they are now. Joyous over a new grandchild, weeping over breaking relationships with children or husbands, testimony of God’s grace during times of difficulty — pain, sickness, lost life, new life, joy… seasons of life for every women.

Then we got into smaller groups and went before the Lord and prayed for each other. Three languages lifting to heaven the lives and concerns of our sisters.

After our time of prayer, we gathered again in one group for teaching. Louise taught on the Good Samaritan, expounding on cultural issues at play in the story. The main point that stood out to me was that in Jesus’ teaching the answer to the question “who is my neighbor,” was essentially another question: “Whose neighbor are you?” It is what we do for them that makes us a neighbor.

We finished with a nice lunch. I felt embraced by the group — I guess they are accustomed to meeting new women and accepting outsiders. I wrote in my notes:

Praise You, Lord, for Your faithfulness through all life situations. Thank You for other women to walk through life with. Thank You for Your work in all nations, and for bringing us together in purpose and unity because of Jesus! Amen…

Class This Week

Hi Friends!

It has been a long time, I know. Since I’m now living in England, it’s hard to think of good things to write that would be interesting for you guys. My dad and I were talking and he suggested I share a few of the stories I told him about teaching this week, so here goes. I will try, also, to do some posts in the coming week — during which six of my very good friends (OK, I will be meeting two of them here but am confident we’ll become friends) will be adventuring through Ireland and England, celebrating Thanksgiving, and doing some other fun things. But first, some stories about classes this week.

First, I was at Bible English on Wednesday where a group of us teach mostly asylum-seekers (called refugees in America) English and use the Bible as our text. It is an interesting class with a wide spectrum of English levels and abilities. I ended up with an Afghani lady who has a lot of trouble understanding in the class. It is doubtful that she has ever had formal schooling and it is really difficult to help her understand basic concepts. I admit feeling frustrated as we went through our lesson and prayed that I would have help to love her better.

As the lesson wound down, she started talking to me out of the blue, and was able to communicate quite a bit in English. She told me about the difficult situation her family is in because they are not allowed to work here and the money they are given by the government is not enough for her to buy coats for her three children. It is cold here so I understand this would be a major concern! They can’t go back to Afghanistan and don’t have much hope for getting different papers any time soon.

The next day, I was at the other English class I help with. This one is a general TESOL class and is made up of about 20 ladies, mostly Pakistani, who live in this city. Many have been here for over ten years and don’t speak much English. They are wonderful and enthusiastic learners, and a joy to work with.

For the first time, my friend Elizabeth and I were asked to take a group of the more advanced students upstairs in the church we use for the classes to work on the computers. We were to start making a CV (like a resume) with them. I knew in my head that they didn’t know how to use computers. But I wasn’t prepared…

When we got up to the room and each lady sat in front of a computer. I asked if they had ever used computers before, and they all said no, NEVER. One said that her family has one, and she has never used it.

I started working with one of the older ladies who has lived here for over 30 years. She speaks English very well but is just learning to read and write. She worked in a school in Britain for 25 years as a lunch lady. This was clearly her first time working on a computer. It was amazing to teach someone what a mouse is — it seemed as difficult to her to learn how to maneuver it as it would be to learn to drive a car! And things like how long to push a button to make it register once, not 8 times, were terribly difficult.

Anyway, these experiences this week have me thinking more about the immense need within the refugee and immigrant communities all over the world. I also realize more how difficult it is to be a teacher (I admire my teacher friends so much), and how blessed I am to have had opportunities for education. To be able to read and write in itself is a blessing I take for granted all of the time. And it is wonderful to get to work with these incredible women who, although they have not had the same opportunities, are fun, loving, proud of their families, and have amazing life stories.

And We’re Back!

And We’re Back!

Hi Friends!

It has been a long time since my last post. The last few months have been very eventful, spent back in the U.S. They have included big decisions for the future and a lot of planning! I am back in the UK now… ready to stay until December 20th.

Here is an update with pictures of these last few months:

This is me in London as I headed back to the U.S.

I have LOVED spending time with the International Friendship Group this summer! I will really miss these guys!

Cari-Jean, John, Justin and I lead the college Bible study at Grace this summer. These are some of the girls I enjoyed getting to know!

I got to spend some quality time with Emily. This is us in Baltimore for a “Mr. Green Jeans” concert.

My sister Jenni came to visit for a few days. Here she is with Deb at dinner before an evening of adventure!

Some friends ran in the Annapolis Ten Miler. This is me with some others who went to cheer them on. I was able to run part of the race with Emily, which was fun!

Deb joined me on a quick trip to my grandparents’ house in Pennsylvania. On our way home we saw a sign for a town called Forks. Since some of our friends have visited the Forks near Seattle lately, we decided to get a picture with our own Forks sign!

I spent time catching up with friends I won’t get to see for a while. This is one of my favorite pictures of the summer… me with my friend Catherine’s daughter, Grace. I think she is SO cute!

On my final Friday night, some good friends met up for dinner together at the Cheesecake Factory. Jess and Laura walked up together looking so cute and pregnant… I couldn’t help but get a picture of them with Christy. All three are due soon!
I will be in England continuing work in inter-cultural communication here. I’ll teach some English lessons, and help with other projects in the city. I plan to spend January-July in Israel working on peace-building there, and then next fall hope to return to England to start a masters program here in conflict resolution.
I hope you are all well, and look forward to hearing from you!
Bradford, Day 15

Bradford, Day 15

Whew, today has been really busy:-)!

This morning I got up kind of late and had to rush to get to the church where we met on time. Once there we prepared for our day and then headed to a local elementary school which has a great relationship with my friends here. We put on a skit teaching about peer pressure and then went by twos to individual classrooms to tell about America. It was good but a little stressful since neither my partner or I have much experience in an elementary school classroom.

After the classes we went to lunch and recess with the kids. I had a following of year 5 girls, who were quite a bit cooler than me, talking about their favorite designers, celebrities, and cars. They were super-sweet. I have pictures but am not sure if I should post them, so I’ll check and maybe put them up tomorrow. We’ll be going back to the school then.

After being at the school we met with a local Muslim woman and had a wonderful conversation about holy books, true faith, and issues of modesty and women’s dress. We Christians have quite a bit to learn from Muslims as we seek to honor God. Let me know if you’d like to talk more about what I mean by that.

Then we went to a local Madrasa, or Muslim school which children attend after school. It was great to meet some of the teachers.

Our dinner tonight kept the inter-faith dialog going. Bob and Kathryn invited some local Muslim men and women to join us at a nice restaurant for an “evening of sharing.” It was great to get to talk about some serious Muslim/Christian issues today with Muslims who take their faith seriously.

When I got home I got to spend some quality time with my host family. They are really wonderful.

There is the update! I wanted to note on here that I’m sorry my updates tend to be sterile. There is much more going on in my activities and what I am learning, thinking, and feeling, but because of the time constraints I’m under and out of concern for the privacy of those I’m traveling with and to, I would rather not post too much detailed information in this public forum. I hope that, if anyone wants to follow my trip, this at least gives a good basic understanding of what is going on. But if you would like to know more just ask… I’d be happy to fill you in on the other stuff!

Here is me with some friends in the Madrasa.