Saturday, August 14, 2010

Shanley's Thoughts

The coffee at Siouxanne’s flows abundantly in the morning hours. Often I find her sitting on the veranda with a second or third cup, curled up with her Bible or a good novel. This is her escape – a home where the Nile breeze enters in between the curtains in quick gusts, and she can check on the progress of her mango and lemon trees in the front yard. Often, towards the evening, she’ll juice lemons in her kitchen, and freeze the juice for a treat the next day.

I came to visit Siouxanne after spending four weeks in the Luwero district. Coming to be with her was a haven for me - a place of quiet and rest, running water and (mostly) dependable electricity. I trusted her home to be a place that I could come for normalcy, because she has learned the secret of adaptation. She walks a fine line between Uganda and Colorado, her work with 54 children off the Nile River, and the photos of her grandchildren that fill the rooms of her home in Jinja.

For me, it's the way that Siouxanne has adapted to her life here that is most remarkable. Just today, she was laughing telling me about the boda she bought when she first arrived, and her quick confrontation with a truck driver trying to move it while she was parked outside Jinja's marketplace. "I said, 'What in the world do you think you are DOING!?'" she laughed. She left, after that, to enter the market to grab some ingredients and I noticed the quick sureness in her step that tells me she knows her place here. And quite the place it has been - one of both healing and administrative volunteer, midwifery and volunteer coordinating (which she only did for 9 months) aside from her full time job as medical director. I know that, for her, it's a calling, more than a job - and that it is the calling to be here that gives her a sense of place, in the midst of living across the world from her children and grandchildren.

"I know I wouldn't be here if God hadn't put it on my heart that this was undeniably exactly what He wanted from me," she told me at dinner, over her delicious chicken tikka masala that I ate way too much of. "But that's what He did, and so I came."

I've heard the story before - the way she couldn't find a house to buy in the states, because, unbeknownst to her, God was preparing her to leave the country. I've heard about the heaviness in her heart when she left America for the first time, and the way she laid out a proverbial fleece before the Lord before she decided that it was, indeed, time to sell most all of her early possessions and move to Africa.

I think it's the honesty in her struggle between Uganda and Colorado, grandchildren and orphan care in Africa that gave her the ability to relate to me, and to laugh, as we compared ourselves to the Israelites, looking back on the parting of the red sea, but wondering just exactly how He plans to feed us in the desert. When she talks about the amount of time she might stay here, or when she'll be called to go, she turns back to the signs that brought her here the first time and says, "I don't know why I worry, when He provided so miraculously in bringing me here."

I once sent my mother a Confucius quote that reads, "Wherever you go, go with all your heart." It was a form of recognition, more than an admonishment. My mother has moved five times in the past four years - two of them across the country, all of them in houses with small kitchens and makeshift basements, unkempt gardens and half hearted paint jobs. She told me once that it had clicked for her that each place had to be made a home. I reminded Siouxanne of it this morning as I sat at her kitchen table and we talked about my own journey into Africa. I feel the tug she talks about, but I don't know what fleece to lay out, or how God will answer.

Until then, I'm encouraged when I think of Siouxanne, living here on the Nile and Lake Victoria, treating the children at Amani, midwifery, AIDS testing and running an emergency unit outside her clinic. On the side, she's housing and encouraging weary travelers like me, unsure of their own place in Africa but reminded, by people like her, that it's the answer to the call that matters in the first place - and that when it comes, one can rest in knowing that when His call does come, it comes in absolutely undeniable ways.

. Shanley Knox
August 12, 2010 In the words of photographer Kendrick Brinson, "Life, I love you." I woke up this morning in Jinja, where my journey in Africa began. I haven't been here since August of 2008, when I hugged my roommates a quick goodbye at 5am, and climbed into the left seat of a taxi bound for Enteb...