I have learned these are the first two rules of carrying a bucket of water on your head. The third and fourth: leave 3-4 inches from the brim, and use a barrier to pad the crown of your head. Forsaking these rules results in water down your back, a bruised head (which you won't discover until the next time you try), or a sloppy mess all over the place. The last, and perhaps most important, rule is: know your limit. Personally, my limit is the 5-gallon bucket. I cannot carry anything more. I think about these rules every day on my way back and forth to the tap. These rules cross over into rules for life in Africa, too.
Keeping my chin up during the first month here was a constant reminder to look to Christ. Literally, I stare at the stars and the moon every night. Some months before I left, my mama wrote an extensive email that answered my question of how she felt about me leaving for two years. At the end of it, she wrote that I could look up at the stars every night and know that she was looking up at the same stars. We're still serving the same God, in different times zones, on opposite sides of the world. I look at the stars for what seems like hours every night. And I think of my mama. The pain of missing my family trumps everything. I have never experienced or even imagined such emotional pain. Page after page of my journal is filled with empathy to the Psalmist as he cries to God for comfort. God is faithful, and though the pain of missing my family will probably never leave, I have found a deeper affection for the Lord and His Word. God is my sustainer.
My host sister and I left the compound with buckets swinging in hand. I felt the scorching sun burn the back of my neck and was ready to spend at least 15 minutes greeting the women and gossiping at the tap (modern-day well). The big day had arrived. I was finally going to learn how to carry a bucket of water on my head. The notion used to seem so other-world, but now it's a matter of economics. Busso, my host sitter (whom I have been named after), let me fill my meager bucket first. After hers was washed and filled we set off, buckets balanced carefully. I took off on a running start and promptly sloshed a good gallon out of my bucket. Fortunately, it landed only on my feet. She laughed at me and told me that I walk too fast. Walking slowly is one of my pet peeves in America. Perhaps because my father has legs the length of California, perhaps it was always my competition to be in the front. Either way, I've learned to walk slowly here. Sometimes it still bothers me, especially when I think of all the time that's being wasted. But relationships tend to run deeper when you walk slowly. It allows time for conversation, for kids to run to tag along, for stops along the way to greet someone and ask how their day is. The heat practically demands it of you, anyway. (I get it now, Heather. I get it all.) I have a lot to learn from walking slowly.
Before coming to Africa, I thought I knew my limits. I thought I knew myself. That completely changed the morning I left my parents and little sister standing at the bottom of the terminal in the Sacramento airport. Emotions have rarely been difficult for me to handle. Until Africa. I cried every day the first five weeks of leaving home. Even meeting someone named Awa sprung tears to my eyes, because in the early years of language development I called my big sister Sarah by Awa. I thought I knew my limits of being around people. Our team of 13 is small but strong. Not only is there great talent, wisdom, and experience among us, but we are a tightly knit group. We spent the first week of culture shock together, then were separated into training villages according to our individual language assignments. I am studying Pulaar with two others, and I have never felt the need to be around my village and teammates like I have recently. My two village mates have seen all the sides of me I didn't even know existed. One afternoon I bolted from my house and showed up at Joe's with tears in my eyes. Five simple words escaped my lips, "I have to get out." After taking one look at me he replied, "Wanna go for a walk?" I was (and still am) so thankful for him. I move to permanent site in about 2 weeks. My closest site mates are 2k and 5k away. I am most anxious about being more than 300 yards away from another toubob (two-bob; white person).
There is no one in Africa who knows me. I mean, really knows me. At this point, they mostly know what I want them to know. But that will change. That is changing. I've heard that working for the Peace Corps is the "hardest job you'll ever love," and that the people here will know you inside and out by the time service is over. Yes, this is already the hardest job I've encountered. I have yet to love it. God is constantly peeling away the layers of my pride and my independence from Him. He has provided a small network of believers, with only our faith and our cell phones to connect us.
I apologize for the lack of communication thus far. I had no idea how difficult it would be to stay in touch. Again, I am being stripped. In the meantime, I am holding my chin up and walking slowly. Onward.