I need to thank a few people at home for the title of this blog post, and don’t worry, this won’t be a gush-fest. (You know who you are) Feel your feelings, from the idea that we have feelings, and you need to have them, and what you feel about your feelings. We normally use it in a very sarcastic way, but this one is genuine, I promise.
Nearing 2 months in Africa, I’ve had a lot of times to feel a variety of feelings. I have felt sadness, homesickness, absolute joy, lively faith, anger, frustration, and indifference. Now I know what you must be saying “Taylor, what! In your monthly email you said Africa sprinkles flowers of joy from your heart and you vomit rainbows” Okay, I’ve never said it, nor have I been sending monthly emails, but you get the gist. Authentic emotions are raw and necessary to truly experience life.
Anger and frustration are the ones I’m going to tackle first-just so you don’t skip my entire awesome blog post to read if Catherine has done something terrible to me (she hasn’t.) These are feelings I knew I was going to feel, but I didn’t know how or when it would occur. Frustration came first, about a week ago, when I finally began to see the relationships with my students strengthen and become something real. I became frustrated that these joyful, sometimes angelic children have been faced with too many difficult things long before they needed to (in my eyes.) Why have they seen poverty, war, loss, death, and hunger before they could write a paragraph? How could this sweet girl/boy laugh at recess with her/his friends, when she lost her family in some horrible, tragic way. Then the frustration turned into anger. How could I, a sheltered, white, American girl say things like “ugh if I don’t get Chipotle today, my day is going to be the worst.” That thought did it for me, I realized “how could I even think about me right now?” That’s when I looked at the students, looked at them each, individually for the first time. Then anger and frustration dissolved, and everywhere I looked, I saw love, joy, patience, and faith.
Break at Auxilium (recess for you Americans), is my favorite time. For an hour, I’m not teaching, or chastising someone for throwing something across the classroom. I see so many games being played with nothing more than dirt, rocks, water bottles, cans, and people. There’s an intricate game of lines drawn in the dirt and running from line to line without getting tagged- I lose every time. Then the rock game that kind of seems like they make it up as they go, followed by the game of football (soccer) they play with a water bottle, and they laugh very hard at me trying to play in a maxi skirt. (I didn’t bring anything fashionable for a soccer game) Their smiles brighten my day, their laughter warms my soul, even when they’re trying to impersonate me and imitate my laugh and it makes me sound like a dog mixed with a donkey, it’s still music to my ears. It’s how they try so hard in class, writing even when they’re frustrated because they don’t understand me, and not giving up. When they ask absurd questions to make me laugh and they make me realize when I need to lighten up. Their selfless love and actions move me. They want to hear about America, see pictures of my family, pose in ridiculous ways for me to take their photos. How can I not see joy in every interaction? When they ask me how old I am, and tell me I’m so young and have so much time for life, I see a genuine care, interest, and desire into getting to know me as a person, which shows that they have begun to accept crazy, white, redheaded me. They show me what I should have been searching for since day 1. Them, getting to know them as individuals, not as P6, or P4, not as war-torn individuals, because they are more than that, they are not their circumstances. Each day I’m grateful that they were able to know that long before my slow mind pieced it together.
We’ve had a busy few weeks at our schools and in our community. Saint Joseph’s had their School Festival last week, complete with a little carnival of games and prizes, just like we had on Mission Sunday, Mass at school, and all of it culminating last Saturday with the big event the students, Ania, and Sr. Thuy had been prepping for, for a long time. Each grade learned a song and dance, and performed for their family members and community. After we had a little dance party and a rap battle happened between the head boy and some of his fellow classmates. Catherine and I got to show off our sweet American dance moves, and listened to the battle that had the lyrics “South Sudan…Superstar” and something about Saint Joseph’s being better than the rest.
Auxilium hosted their Education Day on the 31st, also this blogger’s favorite Americanized holiday, Halloween. Students from each grade have been prepping for a while for their performance. Nursery/Kindergarten stole the show and the hearts of the crowd. Singing ‘This Little Light Of Mine’ with an older student playing the Devil and then Jesus was easily the highlight of my 2 months in Africa. The P6 boys I have the pleasure of teaching and coaching in forming pyramids and acrobatics did a few things that made my heart stop beating for a moment, but they too caused a silent wave of awe through the crowd. There were a few empowering moments, with a girl doing an interpretive dance to a poem and song about South Sudan finding freedom and seeing the light of independence and being proud to be South Sudanese.
That leads me to a recent classwork assignment I gave my P6 students. “Write me 4 paragraphs on what it means to you to be South Sudanese, or from South Sudan.” Frustration came back to me, after weeks of explaining that a single sentence isn’t a paragraph, we’re clearly still learning. But, the frustration was eased by a few students who blew me out of the water. “Being South Sudanese means that I am free, we have lost people, but they have done this for me to be free, and to get an education, and to make a better South Sudan for those who come after me.” Or they explained the flag and what it represents, and what that means to them. I feel honored that students share so much with me. Sure I’ve been feeling frustrated with students when they aren’t getting what I’m saying, but it’s caused me to look at what I can do for them; when I was in school I learned a different way and teachers took their time to teach me in the way I needed to learn, how can I not continue with the ways I was blessed, for someone else?
On the personal/community prayer life front, each week a sister in the community is “Bishop” and she leads all prayers, Angelus, grace, evening and morning prayers etc. On Tuesdays they have a community meeting so we don’t attend evening prayer with them, so we talked about having our own prayer time. Catherine kicked us off last week talking about offering all of us to God, and how we have all these things, but we only offer what we think He needs, and keep things to ourselves. We need to fully empty ourselves to be His vessels. We prayed with a song called All I Am. The verses we reflected on were “Take these hands, I know they’re empty but with You they can be used for beauty in Your perfect plan, all I am is Yours. Take these feet, I know they stumble but You use the weak, You use the humble, so please use me.” Today I’m the “Bishop” and it’s something I’ve been thinking about it. We need to be grateful for our time and interactions here because they are for a purpose that is greater than this year. So I’m making November a month of Gratitude. I’m using a quote from Henri Nouwen, “Every time we decide to be grateful, it will be easier to see new things to be grateful for.” I was reading an article in Relevant (online) Magazine about curbing cynicism. The best section and most relevant (hehehe see what I did there) was titled “Believe the Best about the World.” Raise your hand if you’ve heard of a positive thing about South Sudan. (excluding the visits of Tom Hiddleston and George Clooney.) This correlates with the beginning of my post. The things you’ve heard about South Sudan haven’t been great, but the world thrives on negativity and cynicism. We are drawn to car crashes for a reason. Humans love tragedy. But, we should love beauty and truth more than these things. Each person is an “image-bearer of God.” So while children here have had to grow up faster and have seen terrible things, their faith, love, joy, and strength overflows and dissolves the negative, hatred, and cynicism we’ve grown accustomed to love in some sick manner.
Prayer for the Readers: For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that he may grant you in accord with the riches of his glory to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner self and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine, by the power at work within us, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen
This may be a moment where I’ve used a Bible passage and skewed it to what I think it means, so apologies in advance for that. But #mywordsmyblog #idowhatiwant.
Lastly, our community is doing something AWESOME. Well, we normally are, so this is double the awesome. The sisters have decided to do a 3 week preparation for our Community Day, our own little Thanksgiving (not the American holiday). So for 3 weeks, we are preparing ourselves by 1) focusing on the mission the FMA Sisters have deemed for this time period, becoming missionaries of joy and hope, 2) taking each week to have a theme, last week was Think Positive, this week is Speak Positive, and next week is Act Positive, 3) having an intention for each day of the 3 weeks, so each of us has a day where we are prayed for, so far we’ve prayed for other communities, our schools, and our clinic. We are praying and living with these specific intentions to spread the Gospel, care, good attitude, and love. As someone who is known for feeling joy often, and sometimes, apparently, too loudly, my heart was and is very grateful for this time as a community. Today we are praying for House Personnel, so please throw up a prayer for them if you have time!
Things I’m Currently Grateful For: Lazy holiday mornings. Peanut Brittle. Halloween. Coffee. Sleep. Water. Surprise cards hidden in my luggage. School events. The boys at Oratory. Hugs. Pope Saint John Paul II. Emails. Chipotle not closing on the East Coast, gratitude for all my friends who emailed me of such an important update. Dance Parties. Craft time. Walks around Wau. Riding in the beds of trucks. Cemeteries. Photos. St. Louis de Montfort. Scary Stories. Linda Traini. MB Rosa and JP Manning on their birthday weeks. Messages from BAM;Megan Nash. A lizard falling on me and only crying a little. The new One Direction album I look forward to listening to eventually.