June 1, 2012

Today is our granddaughter's first birthday! I am a little sad that I won't be there to celebrate (and see her little brother...yes, she really DOES have a little brother 11 mo apart!). While here at the Namwianga mission I have thought of her often.  I have also thought of how fortunate I have been to have been blessed with a rich childhood.  I say "rich" because the words, the language, the experiences, the constant love and support  our parents gave  my brothers and me was more than enough. The same is true for my husband.   How lucky, we are. So what an inheratance! I am now witnessing "the richness" in our grandchildren.  I feel so much pride when I watch our son interact with his daughter. I don't tell him much. I don't have to.  And I couldn't ask for a better daughter-in-law. She is such a natural, so carefree, happy, and spontaneous.  She has also been blessed with a wonderful, supportive family. What blessings!  So, Mary-Katherine, a very happy birthday! And, on this day and every day, "You is kind. You is smart. You is important." Much love, MeeMe

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Leah

Yesterday I worked with Leah.  Up until now she was a somber child...at least with our group. We sat in a circle facing each other singing songs, playing and talking. I decided to pick her up, put her on my knees and "get in her face".  She watched intently as I produced reduplicated syllables and non-speech sounds like "blowing raspberries". She seemed to like it. When I repositioned her to face the group of clinicians and her peers, she clearly indicated she wanted face to face time. So that's what she got! And, lo and behold, a smile then a giggle, then more and more. Happy Day! Smile! Imitation! A positive response! As Carla would say, "Now, THAT'S what I'm talkin' 'bout, girlfriend!"

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Abdominal Pain

I started feeling "it" Sunday night but just a little, so I convinced myself  it was my imagination. Then Monday just a little more abdominal pain. Generalized abdominal pain. Uncomfortable.  No diarrhea or nausea or vomiting.  Just pain.  This morning I woke up with the pain but thought it would go away w a little breakfast or the walk to the Havens. I even did a few stretches  trying to work it out.  But it progressively got worse no matter how hard I tried to deal with  it.  I ended up laying on the Auntie's sofa during therapy and trying to relax or sleep. But one wave of cramping after after a other. By then I was feeling 9 months pregnant with a 10 pound baby & constant twisting pain!  I rode home in the jeep instead of walking the mile home and I felt every bump in the road and by then, extreme pain. Sometimes I held my breath. It's the worst trapped gas ever! Gas-X was ineffective. As soon as I got home I took Pepto-Bismol & laid in my bed. It really didnt feel that much better when lying on my side. No relief. The pain was similar to getting out of bed the first time after a C-section.  Pain.  Then chills & fever. Luckily there was a Sprite in the ref.  Beckie brought lunch & dinner and hung out at the house w me, although I wasn't hungry & I slept most of the time. She appeared to be on high alert.   By 11:00 p.m. I was feeling much better. Pain gone & wishing I could eat. 

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Roy & Kathi

I have always been interested in the lives of other people.  The Roy Merritts are no exception.  Roy's father, Dow, and his wife, Helen Pearl, were "pioneer missionaries". Roy was born in 1944 and grew up on the Namwianga Mission.  He attended Harding University in the mid '60s and returned to Zambia in 1968 and has been here ever since.  He married Kathi in '93 and had one child; however they have many, many Zambian children.  Following the death of her husband Kathi settled here. Her former husband was Zambian and they had two children who now live in the states.  Kathi  is the ultimate caregiver.  She has mothered and nursed "'many' and 'very many'" orphaned Zambian children.  And, although she says she's retired, she continues to work tirelessly.  This couple dedicated and invested their lives in the people here and it is evident. Roy wrote a book that was published in 2001 and entitled, Potholes:  Ups & Downs on Zambia's Mission Road. His book is very interesting and quite poetic. Good read. 

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Internet

I will admit, I can't live without the Internet -- a consistent, reliable Internet.  I find it frustrating to have the promise of Connection but end up staring at a little round disc in the upper left corner of my screen and hoping that THIS time I'll be able to send or receive mail. For 2 days now the message says "sending 1 of 5". I begin to wonder... Will Draino help this clogged system?

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Church

This is the second Sunday we have attended the church here.  I don't know how many the church seats, but it's full -- Sunday morning and  especially Sunday night. My conservative guess 200, mostly young people. I've never been around so much singing! I'm amazed at the number of songs that are sung in each service - about 15, not counting the songs that are sung twice!

Then there's the preaching.  Unfortunately, I only understand  about one of every eighth word, so comprehension is marginal at best.  Tonight I thought I was hearing  the word, "sparrow" over and over.  I later discovered the word was "inspiring".  Kind of messed up the message.

During the prayer, the people don't just continue siting upright and bow their heads, they bow their upper torso. This makes us white people really stand out. 
During the alter call one young man stepped up and went on stage.  "The Old Man", Mr. Merritt, went up onto the stage and quietly talked with him, then offered a prayer for the safety of the young man's family. I wish I knew the story. 

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Spiders

Spiders. We all know that Africa has bugs and spiders and lizards, and snakes, etc. I knew the girls going on this mission would be frightened so before we left so I prepared a Social Story and made several copies to share. Several girls read the story. Some disagreed, especially about the part that says something like, Spiders won't hurt me! I have seen several spiders but so far nothing has scared me. besides, what good will screaming do? As I get ready for bed tonight I think I'll read the story again (therapy)!

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Bobotie

We ate bobotie for lunch today. Its a South African dish made with ground beef, spices, raisins, onions,  an omelet-like topping, and garnished with lemon leaves served with a side dish of chutney. Sue, the woman who made the dish, said it is a Malaysian dish, meaning it was adopted by the Cape Malay community of So Africa. Sue's husband, Rod, gave us the history of the dish.  We also had curried rice, green beans mixed with mahsed potatoes, spiced pumpkin, and pumpkin fritters.  What a special treat! I need to walk...too full to run!

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Signs of Gratitude

One of the things I notice is some Zambians place their hand over their heart and bow slightly indicating "thank you".  Maybe it is also a sign of deep respect and being humble.  Sometimes the night watchman will greet me in this manner.  I am reminded of the gestures of southern gentlemen. They would tip their hat and slightly nod their head . My daddy and Mr. Tom Stanley did that.   Yesterday we went to Choma to experience the market and visit the museum. Part of our "field trip" was picnic on the grounds of the museum.  The weather was ideal, in fact, it was perfect.  Each of us were provided with a soft drink, rotisserie  chicken, "chips" (French fries), bread, & cookies.  The chicken & chips were wrapped together and included ketchup and a plastic fork.  Beckie purchased an extra order in case someone was extra hungry but no one wanted it.   Beckie intended to give the extra chicken & chips to the guard at the museum gate but he wasn't there. She noticed a woman going through the trash and offered her our leftover lunch. The woman immediately engaged in the traditional Zambian handshake thanking Beckie for the food.  And, in the blink of an eye, the woman fell to her knees in front of Beckie. I didn't witness it but I know it was the deepest sign of gratitude anyone could offer.  Beckie fought back the tears.

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Typical day

One of my favorite times of the day is sitting on the verandah in the early morning drinking coffee, checking my e-mail &reading and writing.  The time I like least is after dinner because there's not much to do. We usually talk and plan. It gets very dark and seems very late but it's only 6:30! I usually spend my time reading and writing. And, I am usually exhausted. Some of us supervisors try to leave the students to themselves at night as they play games or cards.  Sometimes Webster, one of the night watchmen, teaches the students songs in Tongan.  It's truly a win-win: Webster wants to be a choir director, and the students are eager to learn.  One night they practiced on our porch. I felt that I was being serenaded. Beautiful music! 

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911!

There's a fire!  After dinner the students were washing dishes and others were engaged in other activities.  I sat on the verandah trying to access the Internet.  I noticed what I thought was the glow of the sunset. The thought of taking a picture was on my mind but I was about to be connected with the illusive Internet.  Suddenly I heard the unmistakable sound of fire eating dried grass, brush, and trees.  Zambians are notorious for burning but this was a little too much and way too close to one of our thatched roof houses.  What a sight! Everyone was scrambling and some were near panic.  The students started brining buckets of water to fight the fire.  I wonder if the one Zambian man who initiated the burn was glad for our help. PS I'm trying to figure out how to post pictures. More to come!

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Therapy!

Therapy -WEEK ONE: we assessed 78 infants & toddlers, found out a little background & started therapy. My particular schedule is: 9:30-10:30 (language therapy) we work with 7 toddlers ranging in ages 16-20 months  10:30-11:30 (language stimulation & trunk control) we work with 4 babies ranging in ages 5-9 months  11:30-12:15.(language enrichment) we work with 5 toddlers ranging in ages 27 months to 3 years, 8 months Return to "camp" for LUNCH  Then from 2:30 - 3:30 we work with 4 toddlers ranging in ages 13 months to 21 months From 3:30-4:15 each graduate student works with one baby they have chosen as a particular interest.  The other language groups are supervised by other very competent SLPs, including those proficient in feeding and swallowing.  This kind of therapy may appear laid-back, but it  is very demanding.  There are very few materials so we all have to be creative. Of course there is lots of "face to face" time where we are trying to elicit something, a movement, a gesture, a sound, or even if the baby is able to suck a bottle with minimal leakage.  So, Week one was intense and successful. We all walked away learning something new and the babies certainly will benefit.  Yesterday the assistant to the Minister of Social Welfare visited The Havens for a surprise inspection.  She was escorted by a policeman.  The facility passed the inspection and stands as a model for others. We heard that our involvement and work was impressive to the official as well.

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Chitenge

  Last Sunday I thought I'd dress up, so I wore a Chitenge  (and, yes, I wore leggings underneath. Chitenge is traditional dress for women in Africa. It is simply a piece of fabric wrapped around the waist and tied. So, "when in Rome..." I bought several pieces of colorful fabric in the village and selected one to wear on Sunday. And I wore it proudly. I've worn a Chitenge every day.  One day while at work at The Havens it almost fell off so I asked one of the Aunties to tie it for me.  As she began tying she realized I'm not as thin as she thought, so she had to tie it differently. I started teasing her and laughing. The other Aunties watched and laughed as I clowned around. I pretended to be Scarlet in GWTW. I couldn't breathe very well & I walked,like a Chinese woman. I enjoyed sharing the laughter.  I am so ready for pants! 

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Names

Names.  One of the first things we do when we have a baby is use her name. Names here are interesting.  Sibajente (See bah Jen a). Twapagwa. Botias, Chilala. Chabonwa. Chileleko. Do you notice a pattern? The language here typically includes vowels are at end of words, especially E & A (long vowel), so Matt is "Mattie" & Kurt is "Kurtie" But then there's Ruth,  Paula, Mary, Robert, & Macus. And THEN we hear the Aunties call  Sibagente "JJ" or "Seebah"! No wonder the children dont respond when we call their name. When the native names are translated to English, we have "Cabinet", " Pencil", "Bicycle",  "Blister", or "Cedar" so the Aunties give the babies an English name.


So far there's no baby named Dixie!

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The Havens

Stats. I am NOT a numbers person! But I became obsessed with finding out a few things about The Havens, which is the orphanage in Nanwianga. There are 3 buildings full of infants and toddlers who have been abandoned or are without parents--(these numbers will change tomorrow!); so, today, Haven 1 has 31 new borns and infants; Haven 2 has 27 toddlers, Haven 3 has 20 babies & toddlers who need medical attention. 

  
Almost all of the parents of these children have HIV, both positive and negative. A very large percentage of the mothers have died, many during childbirth. Some of the mothers who died were positive for HIV, some had TB, retained placenta, malaria, cancer, and other reasons.   Many mothers were reportedly mentally ill; i.e., "she got mad". Sometimes the infant is dropped off at the Haven because the family simply has no means to care for the baby. There may be 10 children in one family. Sometimes there is no formula and peanut water or a wet nurse is used. 

 I find myself telling the babies, "You are so lucky." There are a few times when the family returns to the Haven to get their child. So what a great start these babies had! They are well fed.  Their diapers are changed, they are bathed, and vaseline is applied to their faces to protect them from the dry air. 

In the scheme of things, we play such a small part of these children's lives.  I'm glad to be involved.

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First Day of Therapy

Today is the first formal day of therapy! Yesterday our team assessed 78 infants and toddlers. The assessment included an observation of basic things:  sucking,swallowing, & feeding, trunk control, eye contact & ability to track, responding to name and sound, imitation of movement and sound or speech, and basic cognitive abilities.  Instead of using formal standardized assessments or checklists, we relied on things we have learned and experienced. The graduate students were assigned their "clients", although the word "clients" seems odd in this setting because they are more like "our babies".  The evening was spent planning for tomorrow's sessions. 


One of the exciting moments for me yesterday was discovering that several of the nipples used on the bottles were cracked or had wholes in them.    One of our leading team experts in feeding and swallowing showed the Aunties what to look for and explained why it is so critical to have a "good" nipple.  This simple observation will make a profound difference in the infant's sucking/swallowing abilities, nutrition, and overall health. What a revelation! 

Yes, we really do take things for granted!

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Confidence

Confidence. Auntie Jennifer said in the children's  bible class she conducted,  "Hold up your hand! Hold up your hand with confidence!" I thought about that for a while.  It takes confidence  to raise your hand. It takes confidence to volunteer.  And it takes courage to give the impression that you have confidence.  One of the veteran students on this mission said he walks through the airport and through customs like he knows what he's doing.  That's confidence. I will take his advice and approach this day with confidence!

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Stories

Stories. I love to hear stories expressed by those who have the gift of oral expression. Some of us just tell stories and get the message across. Others totally captivate the audience and embrase us with their words.


While here in Zambia I am exposed to so many stories. I want to remember them all. Yesterday we listened to Dr. Weaver and Dr. Tullos tell story after story. The words flowed and my visual imagery was working overtime. I found myself like a little girl sitting at the feet of wise people. Good storytellers.

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Babies

Almost everyone loves babies. The students who have been to The Haven tell story after story of The Babies. The students traveling with us talk with anticipation of working with The Babies. So finally we met The Babies. And there are plenty who are taken care of round the clock by The Aunties.

There are babies who, when you meet them, you instantly form a bond. There are babies whose eyes reflect hope and joy and love. Other eyes reflect sadness. But all eyes are on us and every baby seems to say with their eyes,"Pick Me!"
Two of THE most precious babies are far away in Baton Rouge, LA. MK & TG are our grand babies. These Babies have two awesome parents who love each other and their children. These babies are constantly bombarded with love and surrounded in a nurturing, loving environment. The world should be filled with such.

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Lesson One

Today is Saturday, the second full day in Zambia. The trip was exhausting, but it is clearly what I expected, so I was prepared. I watched 4 movies in between napping and eating and walking the isle, so I was entertained. We stayed in Johannesburg the first night and quickly learned to wait. And wait. And wait. So, I am trying to learn to be patient but it is hard when I expect speed and efficiency. I now understand "WTA" - "Welcome to Africa"! LESSON ONE!

The next morning we flew to Livingstone, Zambia. Before the plane departed, the flight attendant sprayed the cabin with something. It reminded me of the days my brothers and friends and I ran behind the truck pulling the contraption emitting "mosquito spray" (I think it was DDT!) When we arrived at the airport, we went through customs again. Guess what--we had to wait and I thought I had learned LESSON ONE!

We were met by Rod and Sue Calder and escorted to Nanwianga. Their daughter, Emily who had been in school in Searcy, traveled with us. The Caulders even had iced cold drinks for us! The Caulders live and work at the mission and gladly gave us a warm welcome.

The bus ride to The Mission took a little over an hour and we arrived just before dark. We met Leonard the head cook and enjoyed a dinner. Following dinner we went to our assigned living quarters. There are 6 supervisors, including me and 18 students, some of whom are from Abilene Christian. Shortly following our arrival the electricity went out and remained out for a few hours. We unpacked in the dark but I was prepared with my flashlight and headlamp!

Throughout all the hustle & bustle of preparing for this trip I wonder if I will ever really learn LESSON ONE : wait & have patience!

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I took my first anti-malaria pill today!

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Incredible

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I am a school-based Speech-Language Pathologist with 36 years of experience and I am about to embark on the experience of a lifetime!

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