Wednesday, June 19, 2013

One year later.....where am I now?

One year. It's been about one year since I left my work in Senegal and returned to Dallas, Texas. It's hard to believe. Many of you I speak with on a regular basis, so you probably have a clue. For those of you who don't, here's a brief update of my life and an inside scoop at what reverse culture shock means and how it looks.

Leaving the airport in Dakar, Senegal and landing in New York was one of the most terrifying events of my life. Did something go wrong you might ask? Nope. Only reverse culture shock. Ironic how I was filled with excitement and joy when landing in Senegal, what was supposed to be a foreign land, but experienced the complete opposite when returning "home". Here's an excerpt from my journal to give you a brief idea of where my thoughts were at that exact moment:

May 12, 2012

"Landing in New York now. I haven't been on American soil in a long time and I'm having an inward panic attack. The crowds of toubabs (white people) will be intimidating with everyone bustling around in their fancy clothes and speaking English. I'm scared."

Looking back on that day, I realize that I didn't simply adjust to the culture and go through the acceptable motions of a Senegalese individual. I was truly thinking like an African. Which is why these next few months and YEAR would prove to be so difficult to face.

After a short period of hellos to my family and friends, I hit the ground running, already with my next agenda in motion. During my last few months in Senegal, I applied to work at a summer camp in Royse City called Sabine Creek Ranch. I knew I couldn't go home to sit in my house all summer and miss the faces of those I'd left behind in Senegal. I'd always wanted to work at a summer camp, so why not now?
It was an all day-all night job that required the staffs' full attention and devotion to the camp, each other, and most importantly every kid who attended. The one con to this decision was that I never had time to fully recuperate and reflect on everything I had just poured my life into a world away from where I was. I thought I was doing great, but little did I know it would eventually catch up with me. The pros of this decision still far outweighed that one con! Sabine Creek Ranch was my summer ministry and I saw God work in a lot of children's lives, bringing many of them to Christ. It gave me reassurance that God is always nearby, no matter how many different places I go, He's going to stick with me.
Shout out to Sabine Creek Staff.....y'all are the BEST! You gave me friendships that will last a lifetime, fun times with lots of laughter, uplifting and encouraging words, and hugs when the tears came. I would have fallen apart without you guys.

By the time fall came, I was nowhere close to making any decisions about where to finish my college education. No matter how many people pinned me down and pressured me, I flat out wouldn't do it. I took the next semester off and do not regret it one bit. I continued to do seasonal work at the ranch and became a substitute teacher at Boles Elementary ISD. I was able to take my experience in teaching at the community center in Senegal to a more professional side of teaching in the United States. I always said I would never be a teacher. And guess what? I loved every minute of subbing.

In January, I began attending Texas A&M University, majoring in International Studies. I have three semesters left and still have every intention of one day becoming a full-time missionary over seas, being a servant in places that few people are willing or able to go. Where and when is the question, and one that I am waiting on God to answer. 

After one year, you'd think I would have this whole living in America thing figured out. Truth is....I don't. The reverse culture shock is much more mild than it used to be, but I believe it still lingers. 
The first month I was back was a mixture of doing embarrassing things and feeling weird: speaking in Wolof to the cashier at Starbucks, forgetting street names and basic directions within the perimeter of my own house, and feeling scandalous every time I went out in public wearing shorts. Upon returning I discovered that, in fact, time does not freeze while you are gone. People move on and change; your best friends aren't your best friends anymore. Those who dropped me off at the airport one year ago were not the same ones who picked me back up. It was hard. Not to mention, the shocking snowstorms Texas welcomed me back with in the winter. The lower temperatures were not pleasant for my African acclimated body, so I was constantly sick. And I mean every other week sick for months. Only God knows how I could become sick in America more than I would ever dream of being in Senegal. 
Nowadays, I'm back into the old patterns and swing of life in the states. The emotional struggles are present and show up every once in awhile. I'm happy to be back with family and loved ones, and I'm thankful for the time I have with them, but I know I'm meant to do more. I ignore thoughts of Senegal, knowing its a dangerous place for my mind to wander. Apart from praying, there's no reason to live in the past. On the rare occasions when I let memories float into my thoughts, my longing to return to the dusty streets of Africa spreads like wildfire and bursts through in either a short temper or tears. 
It's like I'm a GPS that needs to recalculate. Literally, because geographically I still want to think I'm in Africa, but I need to be told that I'm in America. And figuratively, because maybe I need to re-adjust my plans and expectations of myself. Let me tell you, if I was in charge of this GPS, I'd be "recalculating" my little Ford truck all the way to the Atlantic ocean and say drive 5,072 miles until you feel the tires bump land. You have reached your final destination, AKA "mother land Africa". But....there is a time and a season for everything. 
I feel stuck in a typical busy pattern of going to class and work. I feel antsy and out place nearly 90% of the time, and I wonder if God has given me this feeling for a reason, as a nudge of sorts. Maybe it's not only about missing Africa. Maybe I'm meant for more and I'm not living up to all God has for me or utilizing the talents and gifts He has given me. Ministry won't look the same here as it did in Senegal. It just won't. It will be different, but different doesn't mean less important. I know without a shadow of a doubt that I have a passion for serving and for people from other cultures, but how to go about that when I've been jumping from Dallas, to Royse City, to Quinlan, and to College Station is tricky. God wants me to do something big, but specifics would help right about now! 

Prayers for a specific passion to serve the Lord in this new season of life would be greatly appreciated! Thank you all again so much for your support. If anyone would like to read more updates, let me know. I have several blog posts that were never published from my last few weeks in Senegal and my travels to Sierra Leone where God showed his provision in the greatest way yet. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Vaccination Day

Photos from the Talibe Vaccination Day
Talibe street boys
Receiving their vaccines

The boys showing off their medical cards
Watching the Jesus Film

Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Stories of Marie

Today was one of those days where I couldn't stop grinning and thinking to myself, "I love Africa." Nothing radical happened. Nothing too out of the ordinary. It was the simple touches of life here that brought me joy.

I went to work at the talibe clinic like I do every week. The other American I work with was not there because she had traveled out of town, so a Senegalese worker and I were running the center alone (let's call her Marie). I have done this before and everything goes smoothly, but I usually know it will be a quiet day with language confusions here and there. Today, was a miracle! God blessed my ears and I was able to understand more clearly. I had some very rewarding conversations with Marie.

I sat on a bench and listened as she told me stories of her life. She spoke about the days when she lived in a small village hours away and had to work sunrise to sunset. The work was much more challenging and tiring. She had to walk long distances to buy food and water under the heat of the sun. Marie believes this is why she now has horrible knee pains. Marie cares for her 9 children---3 girls and 6 boys. That alone, is enough to keep anyone's hands more than full. Marie smiled at me as she told me about the time her friends gathered around her in the market, eager to see the newborn baby tied on her back. No one asked her the name of the baby, so she kept that information silent and simply nodded while her friends assumed it was a girl. Marie already had many sons and was ashamed for not giving birth to a daughter who could help her with the housework. Marie began giggling as she said, "Of course, months later they came to visit me and when they looked for my daughter, they did not see her. That's when they realized I had lied." She admitted to having fears about her only daughters one day marrying and leaving all the work on her shoulders. Her husband is very sick and she too is an aging woman with failing health. She continued and told me about the time she went with her friend, who was expecting a baby, to the hospital. The medical system here has endless amounts of problems. The doctors shouted at them, saying there were no beds available, and to go somewhere else. In reality, Marie could see empty beds in the back of the hospital, but they were just too busy or didn't care. Can you see a trend? Lying is somewhat acceptable in this culture. Marie and her friend who was in labor were forced onto the streets; she gave birth to her child there on the footsteps of a hospital. I hear about these type of things happening all the time and I know it's true. However, this had a greater impact on me than ever before. Hearing it come from the mouth of a dear friend, and someone who has experienced it, is completely different.

Senegalese culture is very friendly, but only on the surface. It takes a long time to become close friends and move past the formal greetings. For Marie to open up and share not only these stories, but her emotions behind them as well, is a big deal. I'm hoping to hear more! Today, I felt like my friendships were really growing.

Praises & Prayer Requests

  • The presidential elections have now ended and proceeded through round two in PEACE
  • Shout out to the Sparks AWANA group who raised enough money to go towards giving 172 talibe boys Tetnus and Hep B vaccines. Pictures to come soon 
  • An entire household heard the Good News today. Another seed planted.
  • God has been giving me direct answers to prayer concerning my future plans
  • On April 4th, I will be traveling to Sierra Leone to help with a medical mission team from the States. I will spend 10 days in the country. Please pray for safe travels and health for me and also the team coming from the States. Pray for God's love to be shared at every opportunity.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Friendships and A Place Called Teen Bi

"AMINATA now na.....Aminata now na!!"

The lively chant I heard right before being trampled in the middle of the streets. About 15 children came running full speed towards me, jumping into my arms, and nearly knocking me off balance. They continued to tug on my arms and shout, "Hayden she came.....Hayden she came!!" Seeing their excitement over such a simple thing made me laugh right along with them. Everyone in the neighborhood was watching me. A man walked past me and said, "I see you have lots of friends." I greeted him and said yes, thinking to myself I truly do. 

God has blessed me with so many friendships since arriving here, some people I have known for years and continue to grow closer to, and others who I am meeting for the first time. The importance of friendship. My favorite aspect of this place. I love that I am able to smile and say hello to every person I pass on my walk home. I love that I am able to stop and talk with a woman who sells peanuts every day. I love that I am able to sit in the sand and let a teenage girl I just met yesterday braid my hair. I soak these moments in and I can't get enough! It's hard to be lonely here when you are surrounded by so many people. I am forever thankful to God for blessings like these. 

Here are a few pictures of a place called Teen Bi (meaning The Well, in Wolof). I work here with children Wednesday - Friday. It is a community center where children in the neighborhood can come to learn, have fun playing with friends, and just be in a safe environment where they know they are loved. We give them the attention they are longing for. We won't shoo them away if they want to be held. In their culture, children have little value and that concept is still hard for me to understand. Every day is a new activity from arts and crafts, games, Old Testament Bible stories, learning numbers, colors, English, or French. 

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Political Unrest

Today is the day Senegal has been waiting for. Elections. It has been the cause of unrest in this country for the past 2 months. Many of you have contacted me, checking to make sure I am safe. Thank you so much for your prayers and concerns. The word on the street is that Senegal made its first big hit on CNN. I have not wanted to scare anyone while it is unnecessary, so I have kept these recent events on the down-low. Although, the international news must not have read my memo. Oops! My apologies. Here is my update and the facts from my point of view:

- Senegal is a democratic country and they are voting today for their next president. The people are angry and frustrated because their current president, Abdoulaye Wade, was approved to run for a third term on a technicality. The law states a president is only allowed 2 terms. Each term is for 7 years and Wade is already an aging man in his mid 80's. 

- Riots? Yes, I will confirm that this situation has resulted in violent riots, but I feel the media has exaggerated things. The number of peaceful protests have outnumbered the ones that made the news. Is this a big deal? For Senegal, yes. This country has been known as one of the most stable and peaceful African countries, so this is a new shock to many. However, in comparison to the rest of the world, no, I do not believe so. A very small handful of people have been injured or lost their lives in the riots. The loss of any life, even one, is a big deal. Keep in mind though, I could name hundreds of other countries where the circumstances are less fortunate and the results far more tragic. 

- Am I safe? Not once have I felt at risk. I have never even witnessed a riot. And when I say "riot", I do not want anyone to picture a war breaking out. I am in no means or manner running around dodging bullets. The "violent" riots have consisted of people throwing rocks and tear gas to disperse crowds, burning tires, and destroying cars. Everything seems surreal from my quiet little neighborhood. To put things into perspective, picture all this going on in downtown Dallas while you live in a suburb. That is about the equivalent. We know which areas of town to stay away from at certain times of the day. 

- The days following the elections will be the most interesting and unpredictable. Will Wade be re-elected is the big mystery and question. We are not entirely sure what to expect, but here are some things we are prepared for: long power cuts, temporary shut-down of the internet and/or communication devices, and staying in the house for a few days if necessary.    

I promise I will keep you all updated as best I can. I honestly feel there is no real reason to worry and that the elections will come and go like normal. I work with the Senegalese people every day; I know these people. They are kind hearted and hate violence, avoiding it all costs. I am leaving everything in God's hands and praying for continued peace over this country.  

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Sneak Peek of Outreach Weekend

Here is a quick video showing the events of Outreach Weekend in the most remote villages. We had over a 100 people on our team from a high school in Colorado, Dakar Academy students, and local missionaries.