31 days of 2002: 1 & 2

Yesterday I heard about this thing called the 31 days of change challenge.  Essentially, lots of bloggers are writing about a specific, potentially life-changing topic every day in October.  I thought it sounded like a good idea, and then I went to sleep. 

But tonight I realized, I want to do the 31 day challenge.  I want to write about 31 days of 2002.

Because this is 2012, and 2002 was exactly 10 years ago. 

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DSCF0427 (Small)

2002 was a pivotal year for me.  I was on the cusp of change.  I was circling the drain--although I didn't really know it.  Or if I knew it, I didn't want to admit it.  2002 led to 2003, which I want to tell you about later.

Also, I have pretty extensive journals from 2002 with a myriad of weird and wacky happenings that have caused some people to tell me that "at least I will have the best stories in the nursing home."

So, because these stories are too good to wait for the nursing home, and because important things were happening in the midst of these stories, and because God is at work and redeeming in the midst of all our craziness:  here you go, friends.

31 days of 2002.

(And, yes, you bean-counters, I missed yesterday, so I'm doing 31-ish days.  I think numbers need to lighten up a bit anyway.  Just doing my civic duty.)

Day 1 & 2:  January 2002 - Tawatana Village, Makira Province, Solomon Islands

This afternoon it's blistering hot, even with a breeze shifting the palm leaves on my verandah roof.  It's January, full summer south of the equator, and the heat is normal.

So many things about life in this little village are familiar to me now--the heat, the constant pounding of the surf, the murmur of voices speaking a language that I still barely understand, the late afternoon thud of feet against the soccer ball, the crowing of roosters, the sizzling of the cicadas, the rhythmic scratch of coconuts being grated for the evening pot of sweet potato soup.

Familiar, but not my own.

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DSCF0264 (Small)

I love this place and the people who live here, treating me and my family with such gentle kindness--but I am definitely an alien.

Something other, something strange.

The children, walking to school in their blue and white uniforms, pass my house each morning slowly, staring intently past the screened windows.  Probably the sight of me, standing at my sink, washing the breakfast dishes, will give them something to ponder together later on.  Why does the white lady wash her dishes indoors?  Why doesn't she go to the river like everyone else?  And the sight of me, under the outdoor shower, shaving my armpits.  I'm sure that a few stories have been told around the evening fires on account of that bizarre habit of mine.

I wonder what we are learning from each other, here, where two worlds touch.  Where the hurrying world--in the shape of my family--has come to spin in the midst of this island community where life seems to move at the pace of a dream.

This is a place where "new technology" means the Fijian way of extracting coconut cream:  grated coconut inside a piece of cloth, tied to two strong sticks and twisted.  As opposed to the old way, where you just squeezed with your hands.

Here there are no new fall fashions, for clothing never goes out of style; first it turns grey with river washing, then it shreds to ribbons.  It is worn, in fluttering layers, to the garden for years; and finally lives out its old age as patches on another garment.

For all the obvious differences between myself and this island community, we manage to get along well with each other.  And I believe this is the result of their patience and graciousness, their ability to suspend judgment in the face of my stupidities.  Their endless readiness to accept me into their homes at the odd hours I choose for visiting; their hospitality, offering plates of food and cool coconuts to drink; their willingness to listen to my childish language-learning efforts.

At first, the differences just overwhelmed me.

I felt that absolutely everything in my life changed when we came here.

Some of the weirdness, I expected.

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DSCF0151 (Small)

Separation from family and missing family events like weddings, graduations, funerals, births.   Learning the language and culture—and feeling like the more I knew, the less I understood.  Cooking with strange ingredients, and without appliances.  Heat, humidity, cyclones, high seas.  No hospital, doctor, or 911.  Moving, back and forth, back and forth, from the village to the capital, capital to village, always by ship.  And “ship” is a dignified term for the boats we travel on.  Not the Queen Mary by any stretch of the imagination.

But other things just hit like a lightning bolt.

Libby's seizure disorder, and my deep spiritual pain.  On the heels of that, what we euphemistically referred to as "ethnic tension."  Eighteen months of increasing lawlessness culminating in a government takeover by creators of said lawlessness, who had confiscated all the weapons in the country.  And then being evacuated from the country aboard the Australian navy ship, HMS Tobruk, having been given 15 minutes' notice to be at the yacht club for embarkation.  One carry-on bag per person.  (I took my kids' scrapbooks, and borrowed clothes from friends who made more practical choices in the heat of the moment.)

So it's been pretty crazy.  A lightning rod life.  One thing after another.

Over the years my role hasn’t really changed a whole lot.  I’m still kind of the village idiot, but at least everybody is really nice about it.  My husband is the one who “does the project.”  We have four kids, and no school for them, so I teach the kids.  I keep the house.  Mostly I cook and teach, sleep, then do it again tomorrow.

It’s not the vision I had when I answered the call to the mission field, that’s for sure.  I thought I’d be doing something spectacular (unspecified).  But I’ve come to realize that this is the vision God had for me.  I’m a wife and a mother.  My environment is odd, but the job itself is pretty basic in a lot of ways.  It’s not much different from what I would have done back in America; I just sweat a lot more doing it.

Like a member of AA, I keep the serenity prayer before me:  courage for the things I can change, serenity for the things I can’t, wisdom for the difference.

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