Kellers in Africa

our life in Zambia

Tag: Africa

Africa is just like America. Except when it isn’t.

“What’s it like, raising kids in Africa?” is naturally one of the questions we get asked quite often. Sadly, because we live in a town I can’t report anything truly interesting.

I feel like I am going to disappoint you, but I have to admit that there are no lions lurking outside our gate. We have no need for elephant-proof fences, and none of the “native” neighbors want to eat us for dinner. It’s a real drag. 😉

The scariest things in my yard. For sure.  (If you don't count the cobras.)

The scariest things in my yard. For sure.
(If you don’t count the cobras.)

In many ways, raising kids in Africa is no different than raising them in the USA, France, the North Pole, or anywhere else.

I am a mom- I cook, teach my kids, clean up spilled milk, and kiss boo-boo’s with the rest of you. I make a mean cheesecake and burn eggs on a regular basis. (I know- some things just defy reason.) I fall asleep planning the next day out and wake up ready to attack piles of laundry, home work, and whatever scary creatures get dragged in from the garden. I also lost my mind some time ago. Just ask my kids, they’ll tell you.

Truth

Truth

In many ways my life is no different living in a small town in Zambia than it would be if I lived in the USA.

Welcome to suburbia!

… sort of.

Beans? No? How about some dried caterpillars, then? Welcome to grocery shopping Africa-style! photo by Mary Jo Keller

Beans? No? How about some dried caterpillars, then? Welcome to grocery shopping Africa-style!
photo by Mary Jo Keller

I mean, it’s not exactly the same. There are times when I think over the day (or week… or month…) and think, “WOW. I am not even sure how to explain what happened today,” and the best summary is perhaps, “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore!”

I have some pretty interesting reasons to take kids to the doctor for check-ups. Earlier this week Freddy had to go in because we were getting concerned that he might have worms in his eyes. Yeah, you read that right. WORMS in his eyes. Even I thought we might be over-reacting on this one. Fortunately the doctor here in town is amazing and made a full examination. He quelled my fears that we might be overreacting. After all, eye worms are a big problem here. (AHHHHHH!!!) I am happy to report that Frederick’s eyes are worm-free. At least for now. Let’s face it: this is Africa.

Insects and creepy creatures take life to a whole new level. You already know about mosquitoes and malaria, but in Zambia we also have the pleasure of hosting the tetse fly (carries sleeping sickness which is horrific and deadly) and the putze fly. That one won’t kill you. It will just lay eggs in your wet clothing. When the eggs hatch the larvae burrow into your body and leave massive, festering welts. But just until they turn into adult flies and come crawling out again. (Can you hear me screaming from there?) Hey, the guys that made Alien had to get their inspiration from somewhere. Oh don’t forget our Disease of the Year winner. Ebola is SO last year. This winter “elephantiasis” made it’s way to the top of the media ladder here in Zambia. It’s a parasite that infects your lymph glands and causes extreme and painful swelling of the limbs and groin. Lovely.

When we plan a trip with the kids we probably make slightly different considerations than the average family- we have to take into account the seasonal rains (can we even get down the roads at that time of year?), the diseases (you do NOT want to camp in a tetse fly zone if you can avoid it!), the locals (I said our neighbors here in town don’t want to eat us), and the wildlife (Africa!). Not to mention the fuel shortages, water availability, crocodile presence, road conditions, etc.

“Keeping the home” is a bit different too. We are waging a war on ants right now. A WAR. Have you seen the size of African ants?? Some species will eat babies. I am not even kidding. You can’t give them an inch. Unfortunately they have decided they like our house and have no plans of leaving. I have tried everything that is not forbidden by the Geneva Convention and I STILL find them in the sink, on the counter, and in the fridge!! It’s to the point that if baby Ian cries we go running to make sure the ants haven’t decided that he is on the menu (Africa!) Seriously, these things MUST go! (Just to make you feel better, the current invasion is definitely on the “give me sugar or give me death” diet- not interested in Ian. Unless he has sugar.)

My daily chore list is circa 1900: bake bread, make cheese, check garden, etc. I kinda enjoy being Susie Home-maker so I am not complaining. But I wouldn’t mind having a Chipotle around the corner. Just sayin’. 😉

What IS that?? I don't know. Just drink the milk and don't think about it!!

What IS that?? I don’t know. Just drink the milk and don’t think about it!!

We are facing a new challenge this year: “Load shedding”. It is a kind of rationing for electricity. Between crumbling infrastructure due to poor management (Africa!) and several years of severe drought, Kariba Dam is facing a disastrously low water level. This means the country has very little electricity to go around. On the current “load shedding” plan the power can be off for 8-12 hours a day!

I could go on and talk about which villages we can take kids to and which we can’t, the parasites that crawl out of the mud in rainy season, or the rabid dogs that trot through our neighborhood…. but I feel like that would just highlight our differences.

I prefer to focus on our similarities.

Is there anything you ever wondered about life in Africa?

What is it like to be a single mom in Africa?

For many African girls, motherhood begins when their childhood is destroyed... and that happens all too often at a very young age.

For many African girls, motherhood begins when their childhood is destroyed… and that happens all too often at a very young age.

 

In a certain sense, single moms in Zambia are similar to their American counterparts.  They work, they do the best for their kids, they worry about the future, and they get very little sleep.  However, there are some very real, very sobering differences.  Most single moms in America don’t have to decide between prostitution and starvation.  In America there are a lot of social programs, after school care options, and subsidies available to help make ends meet.

In Africa, the choices are much, MUCH more limited.

Follow me to the ITMI blog and meet Rachel, a single mom and amazing lady…….

 

A Typical Yet Exceptional Story

 

 

 

Ebola: Uncensored

Warning: Contains extreme snark.

 

This post is motivated by my continuing frustration with the worldwide (and maybe particularly the American) media.  They report what “sells papers” in a way that makes you…. want to buy more papers.  Or read more or watch more or buy more…………. You get the idea.

After several kind and concerned inquiries, it has come to our attention that we should clear up a matter of concern:

No, we do not have ebola.

No, we will not bring it with us on the plane and release it on the innocent and unsuspecting public.

First of all, we are thousands of miles away from the “ebola nations”.  Zambia sees little to no traffic from there.  Actually, most of Europe is closer to Liberia than we are!

Two African countries have beaten the virus and have been officially declared Disease Free through stringent international protocols.

Very interesting to contemplate:

#1: WHO and the CDC have not released either the stat report of deaths that coincided with HIV+ patients,­ or the ages of the persons who died.  (And if any of you can find that information for me, I would be extremely grateful- I have tried!) While ebola would obviously still be the “cause of death” it would be very significant, especially from a containment and treatment standpoint, to know how many of the afflicted/fatalities fall into these extreme risk categories.

#2: while the media is getting a total joy ride out of fear mongering the public, the WHO and the CDC have realized that the threat of infection is extremely SMALL.  Think I’m lying?  Go check the US State Department Travel alerts!  These are probably the most stringent and paranoid alerts in the world.  Traveling to Liberia?  Don’t plan on touching any dead bodies?  Your threat level today will be: LOW.  No joke.  You should look it up.  Even I was surprised.  Now, I’m not exactly signing up for a cruise off the West African Coast any time soon… but it did allay my fears that “we’re all gonna die!” 😛

 

This is WHO's official release that goes along with international standards of infectious diseases and how they spread.

This is WHO’s official release that goes along with international standards of infectious diseases and how they spread.

 

The “takeaway”?

Some people are getting sick- really, REALLY sick.  Some people are dying.  Let’s join together to pray for the brave men and women who are risking their lives to physically serve those afflicted with ebola.  THAT is a grave health risk and the ultimate act of selfless service.  Let’s pray for the families who are left behind after the death of a loved one.

 

Sometimes God gives us incredible opportunities to serve others- serve Him in amazing ways. Pray for those you have responded to the call to serve the dying in West Africa.

Sometimes God gives us incredible opportunities to serve others- serve Him- in amazing ways. Pray for those who have responded to the call to serve the dying in West Africa.

 

And when I come to the US next month, you don’t need to go into hiding, run in fear, or secretly bathe in hand sanitizer.  In fact… you might want to save that for your European friends.  They are much, much closer to Liberia than I am!

 

 

 

 

3 Crazy Reasons to Love Africa

“You, WHAT?!” Imagine the stunned look on the face of my fellow missionary mom, as I replied,

“Yeah.  I really love it here.  I mean it.  This is home.”

Long, incredulous pause……………………………………………………….

We went on to discuss things we missed like family, quality chocolate, Amazon.com, and Costco.  But it was one of those defining moments for me.  I realized that somewhere in the last few years I transitioned from thinking of Zambia as where I am “stationed for now” or “where I live” to truly feeling like it’s my home.

 

"Home is where your heart is"  That's complicated when your heart is split over many places.  But it's true all the same.

“Home is where your heart is,”
a complicated concept when your heart is split over many places. But it’s true all the same.

As I contemplated this unexpected development, I discovered three utterly insane reasons to love this wild, backwards continent.

1) It’s exotic.  I mean, let’s face it, do YOU get to go see wild zebras, spy on rhinos, or walk rehab cheetahs on YOUR vacations??  Didn’t think so.

We are surrounded by different cultures.  There are dozens of languages whirling around our lives daily.  Some men working outside are speaking Bemba.  A friend in the other room is on the phone speaking Nyanja.  My kids are outside in the yard and their friends are screaming at them in Afrikaans.  The English accent they are most acquainted with outside our house is, well… English.  Like the original one from England.  Exotic people from exotic places are part of our every day lives.  I LOVE it.  I never know who is coming to get-togethers or what interesting food they will bring.  Amazing people from far-off places just drop in to have tea.

Of course… “exotic” has a dark side.  We try all kinds of food that, frankly, we’d rather not (dried, fermented, fried fish, anyone?)  The diseases here are also exotic.  We just had a family encounter with Amoebic Dysentery.  For Tim this was on the tail of a years-long round with Chronic Giardia.  We sleep under nets faithfully to avoid mosquitoes and the malaria parasites they carry.  Some kinds of exotic… I could live without.

photo from www.zambia-advisor.com

Don’t even ask

 

2) It’s beautiful.  I know, I know-  Niagara Falls is beautiful too.  So is the Grand Canyon, the Pacific Ocean, and the mountains behind my parents’ house.  They are.  I love visiting all of those places.  But I find Africa absolutely captivating.  Every evening God paints a stunning, unique watercolor sunset with colors you would never expect- bright purple, dusky pink, and green.  They span over fields of maize, giant anthills, and tall, branching flamboyant trees.

The people here work hard to create beauty.  When you can’t run into a store to buy wall art or rugs, even the simplest object can create beauty.  Squatting inside a hut to avoid the rain, an old lady will peel carrots and glance at the one picture she has of her son, taken many years before when he finished school.  It’s badly faded and the edges are worn from the many times she’s caressed it, but she would never consider taking it down.  For one, it’s the only picture she has.  More importantly, it’s a beautiful expression of what she cares about most- her now grown boy.

The beauty comes with savagery, poverty, filth, and a lot of hard work.  But it’s there.  And it’s incredible.

 

The love of a grandma

The love of a grandma

3) It’s a free country.  No I haven’t gone crazy.  Yeah, there are all kinds of weird rules here and permits or fines for a lot of things, but I have come to the realization that it is NOTHING compared to the Western World.  I home school my kids.  Nobody cares.  I grow whatever trees I want in my yard.  Nobody cares.  I have 2 dogs, a cat, and I’m about to have chickens.  Nobody cares.  We built an addition to our house and Tim’s wiring it himself… yep.  Nobody cares.  Now, this is not limitless… there are LOTS of rules here.  Just not as many as a lot of other places!!

 

I don’t think Africa is actually better than anywhere else.  I’m a “have suitcase, will travel” kinda girl so I’d pick up and shift for an Australian experience or a sabbatical in South America.  I’d love nothing more than a fieldtrip to Russia, roadtrip through Canada, or backpack through the Andes.  But for now, this is my home.  And I love it here.

 

I'm so thankful that our kids love it here too

I’m so thankful that our kids love it here too

 

Why do we do this again??

Missions is so glamorous. We get to do all kinds of awesome, world-changing activities everyday, dynamically affecting every person we meet. When we get sick we are at least consoled that the diseases are exotic (read: involve diarrhea)- no humdrum headcolds for us!  We regularly enjoy flavorful, indigenous foods like boiled cornmeal and okra. We live right alongside magnificent and dangerous wildlife like lions spiders and giraffes snakes.  We get to tell thrilling stories about parasites, broken vehicles, and cultural disasters.  It’s the dream life, baby. Why don’t more people sign up???

Delicious local cuisine. Yum.

“Wait, I sense sarcasm.  Do you mean you aren’t actually riding around on an elephant, passing out tracts and singing ‘I’ll Fly Away’ in the local language??  I’m so disillusioned!”

Ok, so if it’s not everything that the big fund-raising gigs and missions conferences crack it up to be, then what’s the real story? If every day is not a Billy Graham crusade, then what is it? Do we not chase down every man, woman, and child in Kabwe and ascertain their stance on Christ and eternity? And what about the starving? The orphaned? And AIDS, yeesh, shouldn’t that issue alone take up at least 2 or 3 days of my week?? “Reaching the lost”, “discipleship”, “building relationships”… what does it all MEAN?

The short version? It means we work our butts off against a daily list of challenges and difficulties, and we do it because we’re crazy. Wait… that’s not right. We do it because it makes us feel good about ourselves. No, that definitely doesn’t apply to the last 5 weeks of my life. One last try:
We work in Africa because it needs to be done and because the Lord loves the poor.  Serving pleases Him so we do it (those are Tim’s words, I couldn’t figure out how to say it without sounding oh-so-hyper-spiritual and la-di-da).  Serving others, making disciples, and increasing His kingdom makes God happy, whether it’s through the “daily grind” in your community in the States or in the great Battle Against the Elements in Africa.  As the Body of Christ we are (or should be) working with a “kingdom mentality”.  Ok, there I go again, what does THAT mean?!

The bottom line is: we, the Kellers, work and serve in many ways.  Sometimes it’s teaching Zambians about Christ or how to evangelize.  Sometimes it’s preaching, teaching, discipling, leading, training or preparing for those things.  Sometimes it’s spending three days trying to get the correct pipe for our water tank because the local “shops” all carry EXTREMELY cheap Chinese-made GARBAGE and you have to find it in their backroom yourself under piles of other cheap garbage (after waiting in line for hours on end).  Ok, done ranting now.

Home Depot

In my experience, “making a difference for Christ” is never easy.  And here the “devil is in the water” so to speak (well giardia and E.coli are anyway).  The physical challenges are daunting.  Overwhelming, occasionally mind-crippling, frustrating, discouraging- these are all part and parcel of our work.  Disease (not just germs, I’m talking real disease), parasites, heat, language barriers, cultural barriers, government finagling, financial restrictions, distance from loved ones, poor food, bugs, rats, thieves…. the list can go on and on and… anyway….

And WHY?  “Why did I sign up for this again???”  Is a question I ask myself every once in a great while at least once a month week more often than a woman on a mission should.  Why?  Well, I can go super-spiritual and tell you that the devil has a foothold in Africa (which would be true). I can be practical and tell you that this continent has not had the benefits of millennia of civilization like Europe has (and even North and South America to a lesser extent).  This would also be true.

But the real problem?  The actual reality?  The difficulty, the challenge, the issue we deal with in missions?  It might surprise you.  In fact, I bet you can relate on a personal level:

It’s a fallen world.  It’s a world that does not embrace Christ and grace.

Being a part of the Body of Christ means taking on the bad with the good.  And there’s a lot of bad here.  But there is a lot of GOOD too.  A lot.  There are a lot of people who respond JOYFULLY to the news of redemption- true forgiveness and grace.  We so take God for granted in the States, but in Zambia, enslaved by animism, people shake off the shackles with incredible joy.

Joy in adversity

So there it is.  We’re in Africa because…

oh come on, we’re here because we are definitely, positively, at least a little bit crazy.

And we like it here.

God bless Africa.

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