Lately I find that I have been battling against other people’s expectations. Sometimes I remain confident in what I’m doing, and in other moments I wonder if I need to adjust.
There’s the homeschooling expectations, which are residual from being in America. When we began the huge task of packing, housecleaning, and moving to Africa (not to mention the transition of the move itself), we only “officially” took about two weeks off of schooling, but we were pretty hit-or-miss when we did do academics. We consistently did math and language arts daily, but electives were…elective. Even now that we’ve been in Africa for just over three months, we have not done as much as I would normally expect for a day of schooling. It seems our day’s work is such “work” that schooling is secondary. I still consider it a day if we just accomplish language arts and math. I’m feeling slightly guilty about that, but…that’s been life. Frankly, I think moving to Africa, learning about a whole new culture and way of life, geography, language, and so on, is plenty of “social studies” for now. Music and art have been virtually non-existent, with craft items in short supply (or unavailable) here, all of our books still in transit in a crate, and our Internet a challenge to use even for email, never mind surfing or video-watching (which is how we often integrated the arts into our school day). So, the expectation battles the reality.
Let’s move on to the garden…
We arrived right in time for planting season (which was a consideration in our plan, actually) but we discovered that without many of our American conveniences (such as rototillers, long-handled hoes, and so on) farming is hard work. Not to mention, we had to learn about a whole new way of doing things (what to plant when, what fertilizers to use, and what needs to be started in beds and transplanted). The learning curve is huge and Marc has been so busy and away so much that we’ve out-sourced a lot of the work (i.e., we’ve paid locals to do it). Not what we expected, but that’s been the reality. My challenge has been that here the work of farming is relegated to women–they are out in the fields hoeing, seeding, and weeding IN ADDITION TO doing wash, keeping house, and feeding the family. It’s a lot of work. I feel that many days I barely accomplish the necessities; gardening as well?? Not a chance! (Not to mention that Marc has always been much more gifted in that area anyway–I have a “black thumb.”) So when we’re hiring a local woman to till our garden, which she does in addition to her own and everything else, with her 13-month old daughter playing in the dirt beside her…I feel slightly guilty and inadequate.
That’s something else that a woman here accomplishes with ease, no matter how far the walk to market or how many children she has. Thing is, homeschooling is unheard of here, so a woman has her independence all day while her children are at school, to accomplish whatever needs to be done. And even if the children are at home, there’s not a thought in her mind against leaving them to fend for themselves while she attends to immediate needs like food-fetching. We have no one that we would leave our children with, nor do we necessarily feel comfortable with leaving all eight of them home alone (for various reasons). Not to mention, it would take me some time to feel confident about traveling into town and shopping solo, anyway. For all these reasons, Marc usually picks up a few things when he goes into town for other reasons, or the boys bike to market and get some stuff. Before we felt comfortable allowing the boys to go on their own, we were paying our neighbor, Jane, to do the shopping for us. This is yet another area where I know that the locals have certain expectations about how things are done, and we’re just not the norm. And again, I feel slightly inadequate. Just being real here, folks–sometimes I just feel like a spoiled mzungu.
But what they don’t see is that I am usually up at 3:30 or 4:00 to feed the baby and have my quiet time (which is, quite frankly, the most important item on my “to-do” list). By 6:00 I’m dressed and ready to meet the day, having started the laundry and made sure we have something for breakfast. I get everyone going and we have our family devotions. Then we do our morning jobs (which require a lot of “management” on my part) so I might just be hanging out my wash at 10 AM, while the mamas next door have already put theirs out at 8:00. Makes me look lazy, but I feel anything but. The rest of the day is spent overseeing whatever we do manage to accomplish for schooling, doing the housekeeping (which has developed into an OK routine), visiting with unexpected guests, and working to prepare our daily bread. I don’t know how these African women “do it all,” but they do!
I’m quite sure all the folks here have certain expectations of how things should be and what we should be doing, and lately I’ve been catching myself frequently wondering how we measure up. Then I have to remind myself that it doesn’t really matter. Other people’s expectations never really matter–only our faithfulness to what God has asked us to do. And on that score, I guess we’re doing just fine. So I’ve gotta keep pressing on, remembering that that is the most important thing.