I shall do a mock interview with this little midget, and you can take it as truth or fiction, however you like. Fact is, if I were to ask her these questions, she would probably look at me and say, “Huhn.”, which means sit down, and pat the couch beside her. If I didn’t comply, she very well might follow me around saying, “Mama, mama!”, and waving her little patty to tell me to come. SO. I’m not going to really ask her these questions. For one thing, her language is very limited and for another, she’s in bed right now.

Serenity, what do you do all day?

“Well, I get up somewhere between 6 and 6:30 and then I whine and follow mama around because my tummy is so hungry and if I get up at 6:00 I have to wait a half an hour for food. And then I feed myself breakfast and have to be washed up (and my tray, too, but Davina’s learning how to do that job) because if there’s anything smeary, I like to smear it. And we often have smeary things like oatmeal and cream of wheat or greasy eggs (that’s usually when David makes breakfast, though—mama doesn’t like to use so much oil).

“Maybe I should hurry up in my telling or I’ll never get this done. I don’t have any chores like David and Davina, but mama has to get me dressed and combed after breakfast and Bible Time. Oh yes, I forgot to tell you about Bible Time. I’m learning to sit still but I mostly have trouble almost every morning ‘cause I don’t really get that much out of the Bible yet and sitting there sucking my thumb gets boring. But I know what to do when Daddy says it’s time to pray and I fold my little pats together quite saintly. Mama still tells me I’m so CUTE, whatever that means.

“After that David and Davina have lots of chores and I just play and stuff. I’m pretty tired by the time they start school, so I sit in my high chair ‘till it’s time for me to sleep and watch them work. They do fun things like writing and coloring and stuff and mama usually gives me something to write. She never lets me use the funnest things, though, like the markers. One time when she did I wrote all over my tray—I think that’s why. Then I get to have my nap—but usually the electricity is off right then, so I get all sweaty from 9:00 to 10:00 when it goes back on. But I’m usually asleep so I don’t notice. Mama says that while I’m sleeping is the best time to get school done. When I get up I often have to be on the mat for a while and play with Play-dough or Little People or something. I like my Little People a lot—I call them “baby” ‘cause one of them is a little baby and that’s my favorite.

“Auntie fixes lunch for us and sometimes it’s so spicy I have to drink lots of water. We always have rice at lunchtime because that’s the way it’s done here. On Saturday when mama fixes lunch it’s usually not rice, though—she made samosas last time. That’s all we had: just samosas and ketchup and water, and it took mama more than an hour to make it. But it was good, I’m not complaining. Davina washed dishes after lunch and David usually plays quietly and since I’m full, I usually find something to do by myself. I like to play dolly so much that sometimes I do that.

“After the children are done with their chores we get to play together. I don’t know what we do—lots of things. David and Davina usually play with me and they like to play games like building houses with cushions and chairs or chasing each other around the house. The other day I didn’t know what to do and I stuck my finger in the fan. Mama told me not to and Davina did, too, but I learned the hard way. I got to have a bandaid, but I only left it on for half an hour or so. It bothered me. Sometimes David and Davina go outside and I feel left out because mama won’t let me go out with them. Then I howl in the garage and sometimes I get shlake and sometimes I get to go out in the stroller. It’s naptime after that… again. Sometimes in the afternoons I can’t sleep and then I keep Davina up, too. Mama says something has to change… hey, maybe I’ll get to just sleep one nap now! But I’d still have to go in my bed in the mornings anyway, so maybe it doesn’t matter.

“Well, this day is getting long. In the evening we do different things—about once a week we go marketing, other times we play together and Daddy and Mama play with us, too. Occasionally we go to the Park and sometimes something else is happening. I don’t go out of the house very much, but the other day mama needed something in town so I got to go with Daddy all by myself. That was the first time I got to do that. I could barely see over the edge of the scooter, but I held on tight. It’s really not dangerous because Daddy is a good driver and careful. One time when we were all in town together at the shop where we buy office things someone came by really fast and knocked the scooter over and bent the hand brake. I’m glad we weren’t all on the scooter when that happened.

“I almost always have a bath in the evening. I’m learning to take a shower. I love water, so baths are always a treat. I have a problem behind my ear and I sometimes have heat rash so I usually get all powdered and creamed up before I go to bed. That’s usually at 7 or 7:30, and I don’t know what happens after that.”

Serenity, do you like India?

“Yes, but I didn’t like all the people at first. Everyone pinches my cheeks and goos at me and they often give me candy. But really, it’s not that different than USA because Daddy and Mama and David and Davina are here. I got to see Grandpa and Grandma on Skype the other day and I just chattered all the words I knew how to say because I was so glad to see them. Even after I was done talking to them I kept checking to see if they were there by shouting “PAWPAW” every few minutes. I miss them and I talk about A. Bepah sometimes, too, and I know everyone’s names because I see them in the photo album mama made.”


Okay, that’s the end of the interview. Serenity got up from her nap and got hungry and I keep getting interrupted. =)

I have asked myself this question more than once in Africa. The thought is a very depressing one. But it seems like we went from one diarrhea episode to the next, and we were at the point where I could hardly sleep at night waiting for one of the girls to start throwing up. Then they both got malaria at once. At that point, I was ready to call it quits. I am so glad for the encouragement of my colleagues. Things are going much better now! Here's a few of the things I learned.

 

1. Pray! Coming to Africa, my worst fear was that my kids would always be sick. And the first couple months, they certainly were. Looking back now, I see it as a precious time where I had to face my fears, my faith, and the reality of God's love. These things are certainly not too small for God. We have seen so many prayers answered and we are so thankful.

 

2. Filter your drinking water. We carry a Sawyer filter everywhere we go and it has made a dramatic difference.

 

3. Build the immune system. When we first moved to a small village it was overwhelming to think of the amount of dirt and germs my children came into contact with. But one of the senior members of our organization encouraged me not to worry so much about germs, but more about keeping their immune system strong. Did you know a large part of the immune system is based in the intestines? You can feed the beneficial flora in your gut with lots of fermented products. When we have access to refrigeration, we eat lots of yogurt. Also, our people in West Africa have several fermented dishes that we learned to like and eat as often as we can. On the other hand, sugar and refined starches do not help your intestinal health so you may want to cut back some on those. We also take a probiotic supplement sometimes. Especially if it has been necessary to take an antibiotic for any reason, try to rebuild your intestinal health.

 

4. Set up a hand washing station. We do not have running water so my husband came up with a nifty way to solve this problem. He connected a small faucet to a bucket with a lid and built a kid-size table for it. A basin catches the water and a bar of soap hangs from a string on the bucket handle. Now, my girls can wash their hands easily.

 

5. Breastfeed, if you can. You won't have nearly as many worries about clean water, sterilized bottles, etc. My youngest is currently twenty months old and (shhh!) I'm still nursing her. I'm not at all sure I would do so in the States but it really does wonders for the immune system. Plus, if they do get sick, you can nurse and be sure to keep them hydrated. Obviously, not everyone can do this. But it is a thought to consider.

 

6. Consider new allergies. Neither of my children was allergic to anything in the US. But after more puke episodes than I'd like to remember, i finally figured out that my youngest is allergic to African (true) yams, and it causes projectile vomiting. Thank you very much, it was SUCH a relief to find a solution for that problem.

 

7. Find a malaria preventative you're happy with if malaria is a problem in your area. Okay, it's hard to be happy about having to take any preventative but malaria is truly dangerous for children. Also,  use nets, etc.

 

8. Teach your children not to put anything or their unwashed hands in their mouths. And yes, that's easier said than done and we are still hardcore working on this one.

 

9. De-worm regularly. Wear sandals or shoes outside since some types of worms enter through the feet.

 

10. Rinse dishes and raw vegetables with water with a few drops of bleach. If desired, rinse again in clean drinking water.

 

11. Lastly, try to have everyone get enough rest. It does wonders for your health. And with that said, I'm going to sign off. Goodnight! :-)

 

What are some of the things you've found helpful for your family's health?

Note: Sometimes even when we're doing all the "right" things, our children will still get sick! Don't blame yourself . . . and hang in there! It won't last forever, even if it feels like it!

Several weeks ago I published an article about how we eat greens, and I mentioned a curry recipe that we like. I don't like fish, but it's good in this dish. We could get a smoked fish (they called it "smoked salmon" but it wasn't actually salmon. It was really good, though.) Of course, you could make it with chicken, or even with pork or beef too. Use whatever you have available! :-)

I have a hard time sharing recipes like this, because most of the time when I'm cooking I just add a bit of this and a bit of that until it looks good. I use recipes for baked goods, but not for main dishes! So the amounts I'm giving here are "guess-timates" and you'll have to taste as you go and make it the way you like it. :-)

Fish Curry

1 onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, crushed or grated

fresh ginger, about 1", grated

3 Tbsp curry powder

2 Tbsp vinegar

1/4 c. tomato paste

Salt to taste

1 c. water or chicken broth

1 c. smoked fish or other meat (use more if you can)

1 c. chopped, cooked greens similar to spinach (or about 4 c. fresh chopped greens)

2/3 c. yogurt, milk, or coconut milk (more if needed)

Fry onion in a few tablespoons of oil until soft. Add garlic and ginger and fry a few minutes longer. Meanwhile, combine curry powder and vinegar to make a paste. Add to onion mixture and fry a few more minutes, stirring constantly to keep from burning (it's great if you have a non-stick skillet for this!). Add tomato paste, mix well. Add water and meat (and fresh greens, if that's what you're using). Simmer for 15-30 minutes to blend flavors (or long enough to cook meat, if using raw meat.) Add greens and yogurt/milk and leave over heat just until warm through. Serve over rice - or millet - or even with potatoes.

 

Do you have a favorite curry recipe?

The day started out like a lot of other days, with my dear Tanzanian friend showing up for work around 8:30. "Karibu!" I welcomed her in, and we exchanged greetings in Swahili... "How is it here?" "How is your house?" "How are the children?" "How is your son?" Our three boys came one by one to greet her, putting their hands on her head and respectfully greeting with "Shikamoo!".

After everyone was thoroughly greeted, the two of us headed to the kitchen to discuss the day's projects. At this point in our lives, we've only been in the country for nine months, and are still very much into language study. Fortunately for me, my helper-friend, Ikupa, speaks almost no English, so our communication is forced to be entirely in Swahili. I gave her a run-down of the day's plans, with a little confusion and clarification needed as I tried throwing in a new Swahili word. After she started "kuosha vyombo" (doing the dishes), I sought out my Swahili book and started studying. I usually don't get much study done in a day, since homeschooling, cooking, sewing, and people (especially little people:-) make up a big part of my life. As I read through the chapter, I became frustrated and discouraged, as I realized I did NOT get it. I don't have a language teacher, ao although there are people around to ask questions of if I can't understand what the book is trying to say, it can be very discouraging. I wondered aloud if maybe  it would be possible to just skip that lesson completely and hope it'll come later! Soon I was needed by the children, and the morning began slipping away into the many things that make up a Mama's life. Soon after 11:00 I put a pot of rice on to cook, and was just ready to start with the vegetables, when I got the call for Ikupa and I to go to one of the other houses to discuss a rental arrangement in which she would be caring for the property in exchange for renting two rooms. My husband and I are nearly at the same place in language study, with him being a little ahead of me. But because we needed to discuss things with my friend, he asked me to act as interpreter for him! I was glad for the challenge, so we spent the next 20 minutes or so with him laying out the details in English, and I did my best to translate them into Swahili. I'm very thankful that Ikupa is quite accustomed to working with and understanding Wazungu (white people) who are still learning the language. My grammar is quite bad at times, but we were able to get the point across, and with my husband double checking my Swahili, we were fairly confident that the agreement was made with understanding on both sides. After we were finished, Ikupa and I hurried back up to the house, me to finish lunch and her to finish cutting up a pile of mangoes. Lunch was a bit late, but nobody seemed to mind. After lunch was finished, Ikupa headed for home and the two youngest boys went down for naps. I knew I had a pile of dishes in the kitchen to clean up....but first I headed outside to talk with a friend, and spent the next hour or so chatting in our arbor. After a morning full of Swahili and a deep conversation afterwards, my brain felt a little numb. My husband arrived back from market about then with a bucket full of rice, a  pile of bananas, a huge sack of potatoes, and a few other items that needed to be unloaded and taken inside. I had somehow managed to run low on those staples all at the same time, so I was very grateful to have our supply restocked. The kitchen eventually got cleaned up, and by then it was nearly suppertime. :-) I was thankful that this was the evening we were sharing a meal with the other workers, and my part in making it was quite minimal so it all came together about a half hour before we needed to leave the house.

And the Swahili continues, day after day after day....many times it feels like I'm making no progress, especially since we have agreed that my main focus needs to be on our three boys, rather than on language study. But as I realize that I'm able to communicate more and more with Ikupa and others, and often when I hear an English word or phrase, the Swahili translation comes to mind automatically, I'm encouraged to think that it IS coming, even if it's slower than I'd like. Sometimes I think God gives extra grace to the mother of little children...it often seems when I keep my priorities straight and put my husband and the children before these other 'goals', the details somehow fall into place. I'm so thankful for His love and mercy, and the assurance that He cares about even the small things in our lives.