Angel’s Story and Motherhood–African and American

As the children slept, Angel brought out her photo albums and told me her story. Remember what I said about being a louse in comparison to this girl—so true. She lived with an auntie because her mother died when she was eleven, and her father had four wives total and I guess the other wives didn’t want another child, particularly one not their own. When Angel was fifteen, her father died, and her aunt could no longer afford to have her. So Angel went to work as a housemaid and then in a shop. Finally, at one point an employer wanted to know why she wasn’t in school. Angel had given up on that hope, but the employer kept pushing and someone stepped forward with school fees and she began secondary school. Through one experience and another, the family hosting her had to move, and Angel was back on the streets. One night, without a place to sleep that was safe, she told God, “There are two directions on this road. I’m exhausted. I don’t know what to do. Show me the way to go.”
God brought Wilson to her mind, whom she’d met some time earlier. She knew he had orphans living with him. Could she make her way to his house? She didn’t have transport money, so she walked the four miles and they took her in, even though they were turning kids away because they were so full.
And that’s Angel’s story. She moved in with Wilson in February of 2006, so she’s had a home where she knows she won’t be turned away for almost three years.
Amazing! THAT is YOU, LORD!!! Thank you for the level of trust You’ve built between Angel and me, so that when she DID tell me her story, I knew it was a privilege, an honor. Thank you for the faithfulness You’ve shown in her life. Thank You for taking care of her. You’re amazing!
All for now.
You know, it’s hit me that the REASON I want to see cultural differences as right or wrong rather than merely different is because it allows me to see myself as okay, as advanced in some way or other. All right, again I know that I’ve written that in some way or another, but I was thinking back to when Lynda and I were talking about the soap operas the family watches. I secretly WANT that to be a bad thing because then I can think, “Okay, so you have the ‘taking care of orphans and widows’ thing down really well, but in the ‘personal viewing’ column I’ve got it all over you.” Ha! That makes me laugh just writing that, but it’s sadly true.
Dave was finally able to call me at this afternoon, and I shared the news with him. So good, and he was so excited. I reminded him (or was I reminding myself?) that there are still several steps to complete, but I caught some of his excitement and began to think about seeing him and the kids, too.
I helped Angel with tea/dinner, separating out the small stones and corn kernels that are mixed in with the rice. There must be some sort of machine that does this in the States, I told her, and then I had to explain that I didn’t mean “I” had a machine like that, just that the companies that package rice must.
Julius and Moses showed up, and the two of them and I had a long talk about the differences in education between here and the U.S. Definitely harder to get a good education here—and a lot more bribing going on to get unqualified students into universities or government positions (I guess; there’s probably more than I would suspect in the U.S., but there’s no way it’s as prevalent as it is here. After all, I’ve never had to bribe someone in the States to get my passport.)
Then another lady and her daughter came by. Florence told me that these were the mother and sister of Raechel Tendo, the one I wrote about earlier who was killed when she jumped off a boda. There is always a story in Africa, and it seems most often to be one of tragedy. You’d think I’d learn to give more grace automatically. Not that this lesson doesn’t apply in the States as well. The stories aren’t as dramatic most of the time, but there are still untold stories, many of them filled with hurts. If we had eyes like Yours, God, eyes that see the heart, with all its hurts and struggles, something tells me we would definitely abuse the power. It is only as YOU begin to teach us to see that it can be a gift that is actually used to help others.
Dave called me again with tracking numbers for the money wires he sent more than a week ago. Lord, I know that money is in Your hands as well. There is some very good reason for it being delayed, and I suspect what it might be, but I’m not quite certain of even the small picture, much less all the intricacies of Your plan.
The BEST thing: I was able to talk with Emily some. So good to hear her voice, her enthusiasm. I was able to tell her I love her and miss her, and she told me about presenting her Amelia Eahrhardt (have no clue how to spell that) project at school today AND the wonderful news that I probably won’t miss the Kansas Day concert after all—I had really wanted to be home for that, and it was originally scheduled for this week. Her choir director had to have minor surgery, and they’ve postponed it until the middle of February. You are SO good, God. Such a small detail, but it means so much to both Em and me. Thank you.
Other answers to prayer: the twins are continuing to do well, missing me, but functioning fine. Church families are beginning to bring meals, another great thing, and people keep stepping up to take Jake and Maddie in the afternoons so Dave can get some work done.
Florence spoke with me this evening about her dream of going to the U.S. to school. I told her I can check into options, see what money is available to international students. It’s so hard to know how to respond to things like this. I CAN and WILL check into options, but I know the chances are slim. She would need someone to bankroll her, and who’s going to do that? I don’t know. She also needs money to go to Ghana and find Shama, her older daughter. That, by far, seems to me to be the more important and more feasible possibility, but I don’t know how to tell her that, to tell her that college in the States costs some serious money, and coming up with that kind of money isn’t easy. Oh, Lord, the bottom line, though, is that in this, as in all things, YOU have a plan for Florence, and just because I don’t see answers doesn’t mean there isn’t one.
Oh, my word it’s so late. We didn’t even eat dinner until nearly eleven tonight, and then I washed dishes and now I’m doing some writing. Precious is still up. The household makes comments like, “I don’t know when that child will go to bed,” but they haven’t even tried putting her in it yet. I think the idea is that she is just supposed to keel over with exhaustion and they will say, “Oh, now she’s ready.” Ha!
After midnight. In my head I can hear Dave singing that song. Oh, how good it will be to see him!
You know, at times I read back over this and I think, “My word, Jen, were you being dramatic or what? What was the big deal?” My sister’s visit helped me with that perspective. When you think about the hardest things the Lord could take you through, a month away from your husband and kids in a foreign country somehow pales in comparison. But it was how my heart felt at that time, and possibly will again, if the passport process drags on or the visa interview turns into an investigation. Part of it, too, in those early days before she came, was the tension I felt in the house. Florence was not doing well for a time in there, and I assumed, since I can’t understand so much of the language being spoken, that a lot of that strange feeling in the air was due to my presence. Knowing that it’s not so, that they really aren’t stressed about my being here at all, or at least not much, helps a lot. I can just go with the flow. I can say, when all the work is done, “Hey, I’m heading off to work on the computer,” and not worry too much about their thinking I’m being antisocial—I’ve been social all day, and that gives me some down time.
All right, other “stuff.” I’m wondering if my taste buds aren’t getting used to motoke. I seriously didn’t like it last year, the taste or the texture, and I remember how disappointed I was one night when I went through the buffet line and got a large helping of it, thinking it was mashed potatoes. Then, this trip, it felt so heavy in my stomach, and when my gut was upset, the feel of it in my mouth nearly made me gag. Usually I’m able to get a small helping of motoke and then something else (there’s always rice or potatoes as well) and smother the motoke with sauce. And then suddenly, the last two nights, I’ve taken a bite of motoke (I eat it first, to get it over with) and realized, with it halfway down my throat, that it’s not that bad. Maybe even tasty! Wow! If I told Wilfred all this, he would probably suggest we go out for fish and I try the fish head, complete with eyes.
Um, no.
We had that discussion two days ago at lunch. Phillip, Florence and Wilfred got animated talking about how the head is the best part, and the eyes, oh, the eyes! I said this was just going to have to be one of those cultural things where I was just going to have to believe them and let it go at that. There’s a part of me that wonders if that’s wrong, to steer clear from the meat here (just at restaurants; I eat whatever is offered me in homes), but it’s not like I eat a whole lot of meat at home. I’m certainly not missing it, feeling like, “Oh, can’t wait to get a big, fat, juicy piece of chicken Stateside.” No, and I think it’s okay. Part of it is that these are young people. If we went on a hike together, they would be daring each other to jump off of things. So they do the same with me. Oh, well.
You know something I won’t miss (and I can honestly say that I will miss this family)? It’s the “Angel, Angel,” that I hear every morning from Wilfred. Last night Angel was up till nearly one in the morning with Precious, who was just wired. Then she slept with the squirmy little girl. Then she got up at six to set out Wilfred’s breakfast and went back to bed. And at seven, there was Wilfred, standing outside the door, “Angel, Angel,” needing to ask her something or another.
And she stays SO cheerful! Amazing.
Difficult moments this morning. Patrick pooped in the bed, and Vena was angry—and I mean ANGRY! Patrick was crying, and I walked out to see what was the matter, and I could just tell that if I interfered, it would NOT be good. So, even though every maternal nerve in my body thrummed like someone had run a bow across them, I went back out to the living room, sat down and pretended to be unconcerned. When things settled, Patrick came into the living room and found me. I looked at his hand, which he’s still favoring (I started giving him the antibiotic I was hoping to avoid because I’m afraid just a little bit of infection has set in under the skin. The best thing would be to press the wound, get the stuff out and then use an antibiotic cream to penetrate under the skin, but he would totally freak, and Vena would think I was torturing him. So, the antibiotic. Oh, well. The lesser of two negatives.) Looking at his hand was a mistake, because he was already on edge and he started crying. Florence came in and fussed at him for crying, and he cried harder. (African children are only allowed to cry when they are in physical pain, I gather, but do understand that’s my limited observation.) I tried to take him into the bedroom and put on the antibiotic cream, but he wasn’t even having any of that this morning. So I returned to the living room, and watched the news. THESE are the kinds of things that make this difficult. I do not understand what makes African mothers angry. I know what makes me angry—and trust me, that’s something I’ve struggled with my children since they were little. I DO understand the awful motives and feelings that can lead to abuse—but it seems perfectly acceptable for African mothers to grow suddenly angry with their children. Like just now, for instance. Florence is cleaning her nails, and Precious is leaning against her watching. This is all fine until Precious leans a little too far. Florence grows instantly angry, pushed Precious away, and then makes her sit down. Precious cries, and Florence fusses at her for crying. And this is all accepted, perhaps even seen as good, because Vena also fusses at Precious, telling her not to cry and bother her mother.
Two weeks ago, after the tension of the first few days had passed, Florence told me, with this sense of surprise, that she was impressed by how I TEACH Precious and Patrick, how I take the time to show them right behavior, walk them through reconciliation. I don’t mention this to say that I have it all together. I don’t. I even have this idea of writing a book with the title, “Confessions of a Secretly Angry Mother,” that describes the process the Lord is leading me through—of acceptance of motherhood and its frustrations. But I wonder if much of this parenting is leftover from a time when all African women (except the upper, upper class) simply had too, too much to do to really interact with their children. Or is my way of thinking just very Western? Florence says that there are accepted ways for children to act, and when they step outside those boundaries, the consequences are swift and strong. When children do something well, they are praised. But often the children (at least those Patrick’s and Precious’s ages) don’t seem to know the boundaries, and the boundaries seem to be this vague line between what doesn’t annoy the adults and what does, with no warning that the line is approaching. And after writing all of that, I don’t want to imply for a second that these women don’t love their children. They do—their own and others. That’s truly amazing.
I don’t know. There are times I must swallow my Western experience as a 38 year old mother of three and accept that this is temporary. How confused will Patrick be?

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