Sunday, July 8, 2018

Goodbye France, Hello Burundi

By Ted 

After 29 hours of traveling (including road and air time), we made it to Burundi! The chapter of our lives in France has come to a close, and the one for Burundi begins. It is a bittersweet feeling to have left Albertville, where we had made new friends and community in a short 10 months, and all the while knowing that our eventual destination would be Kibuye, Burundi. And just when we felt like we had finally mastered routines and had established a sense of normalcy, we found ourselves uprooting once more. Moving from one place to a new one has been perhaps more frequent than ideal, especially since this is now the third big move in the past 2 years. However, now that we’re here in Burundi, I feel a great sense of arrival, having reached the destination we’ve been looking ahead to for the several years now.

Still, there is a great deal of transition for us here also. Our main goal these past few days has been trying to figure out how to live life. We find ourselves in a yet a new culture and new language (yes, French is the working language at the hospital, but Kirundi is used everywhere else). How do we get groceries? What kinds of food are available or not? What clothes are culturally appropriate / not appropriate for inside and outside the home?

In some ways, you feel a little helpless and quite dependent on those around you, even to be able to do the simplest of things.

Yet, there have been some pleasant surprises. Coke zero is available in glass bottles as of 2 weeks ago? Awesome. The electricity has been unexpectedly consistent lately? We will take it!

It’ll probably be months before we find a good rhythm of life and routines, like we had in France, and yes, I certainly look forward to that time. Until then, lots of discovery lies ahead...




Sunday, April 29, 2018

The Father's Heart

By Ted

People have always talked about the simultaneous joy and challenge of parenting. You will understand when you have your own kids, I was told by those older than me, including my own parents. Well, now that we have 2 young boys (Toby is 3 years old and Amos, 1 year old), I think I can appreciate those very sentiments expressed. I can think of few things in life like being a parent that can both test the limits of my patience and at the same time bring so much joy. Here are some of the examples from today.

Example 1: 
[while Amos is eating a piece of a baguette in his high chair during lunch]
Me: Here Amos, I took out the inside of the bread for you. It is softer and easier to eat than the outside.
[I traded mine with his, which resulted in him crying until I traded it back]

Example 2: 
[while Amos is struggling to eat a rice dish using a fork at dinner time]
Me: Here Amos, use this spoon instead of the fork. It is better for eating rice.
[Amos clings onto his fork more tightly, thinking that I am going to take it from him]

Example 3: 
[Toby is balancing himself upside down on his hands and head on our couch]
Me: Toby, that's not a good idea, bud. If you fall down, you could get really hurt. Sit down, please.
[Toby stops his acrobatics and sits up on the couch]
Me: Good job, Toby. Thanks for listening to Daddy.
[A few minutes later, Toby is doing the same thing again]
Me: Toby, that's not a good idea. Remember, we talked about this. It's dangerous to do that.
[Toby stops and sits up, then a few minutes later does it again]
Me: Toby...

There are other examples, of course, but I had this common thought throughout, which was, "Why don't you just do what I say? Can't you see that this is for your own good?"

As a dad, I want what's best for my boys. Things I tell them to do or things I give them are out of love and consideration of their well-being. Still, I realize that my boys don't always get it and choose to not listen to me, even when I know what is better.

And from this, I am frequently reminded of the similarities between my earthly relationship with my boys and our heavenly relationship with God.

How often do we turn our backs on God, thinking that we know better than Him?
How often do we choose something, that in and of itself may not necessarily be a bad thing, and cling on to it, not realizing that God might have something better in store?

C.S. Lewis writes in "The Weight of Glory"
"If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased." 

When I see Amos or Toby, there are moments (like today) where I find myself trying to convince them of something I know is better. In some ways, it is not too different from the ignorant child who is content with making mud pies. And then I think of myself and my relationship of God, and how I do the same, consciously or subconsciously, choosing at times to occupy myself with good things instead of with the best thing, namely God himself.

Well, being a dad has certainly made it clear that my patience and even love for my boys is limited. However, God's love and patience for us is infinite. No matter how many times I disobey and give in to my stubbornness rather than submit to His will, He waits patiently with arms wide open. Such is our Father's heart.


Wednesday, February 14, 2018

What's so different?

By Ted 

Although France is a developed nation, there are many differences that exist between our life here in Albertville and our life in the US.

Many differences are usually apparent, but otherwise small and don't have a major impact on our day-to-day routines. For example, the electricity voltage is 230V instead of the 120V in the US, and the plugs are different. But these are relatively easily addressed with plug adapters and voltage converters (if necessary), and the power is consistent like in the US (unlike how it is in Burundi).

Here is a short list of other differences (big and small) that I've noticed over the past several months of life in Albertville. Note that these are observations from our life in Albertville, and may not reflect life in other parts of France.

1. Toilets - In the US, I was accustomed to a typical bathroom being comprised of a toilet and a sink (and frequently a bathtub or shower). In France, the actual toilets themselves are pretty much the same, but they are usually located in a smaller room that is separate from the rest of the bathroom, where you would find a sink and bathtub/shower. In some ways, this has its advantages, as in the case of the toilet and shower being able to be used by 2 separate people simultaneously. Additionally, in some public places, it is not uncommon to find a space where men and women have separate toilet stalls, and then share a common space to wash their hands.


2. Store hours - In the US, it is usually possible to find a grocery store or pharmacy that's open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and you can probably find one open on Christmas too. In France, most stores have business hours from 8 or 9 am to 7 or 8 pm (including grocery stores, pharmacies, and bakeries). Most, if not all, are closed on Sundays as well as on holidays like Christmas. Some stores are also closed for a couple hours in the middle of the day for lunch (like 12-2p)

This is one of the only grocery stores in town that is
open on Sundays, from 9h00 to 12h30! 

3. Restaurant hours - In the same way that some stores are closed for lunch, some restaurants in France are only open for lunch 12 - 2 pm and for dinner only after 7 pm. What if you are hungry at 11 am and want to eat an early lunch? You can probably find a restaurant that's open at that time, but it may require a little bit of research on your end. I certainly wouldn't chance it without first consulting with Google. As you can imagine, since our boys go to sleep around when French restaurants open for dinner, it makes it challenging to have a dinner outing outside the home.

 Fast-food restaurants are reliably
open all day long!

4. Bread and cheese - In France, we eat more bread and cheese regularly due to their abundance and lower prices. Walking into a “boulangerie” (bakery) is always a fun pastime, especially since there are so many kinds of breads and baguettes (our favorite is a baguette viennoise, which is like a softer brioche type baguette, and which technically derives its name from Vienna but I think is still French). Most bakeries also have regular sales and promotions, one which occurs regularly during the last 30 minutes of being open. During this time, baked goods are usually 50% off! Needless to say, we have had our faire share of delicious breads, tarts, and pastries, and we will certainly miss this part of French life and culture.

Did you know that there is more than one kind of baguette?

5. Driving (less) - Perhaps one of the reasons this is more noticeable is because we had been most recently accustomed to the commuter life in the Los Angeles area. Here, we drive a lot less and walk a lot more. Every day, we walk to drop off and pick up Toby to/from school (5 min one-way). Since we live in on-campus housing, our commute to our language school classrooms is a 1 min walk between buildings. On a slightly more unrelated note, most cars are manual transmission, including our current one, and the most common type driven are small hatchback type cars.


Eunice giving two-thumbs up after her first driving lesson. She
only stalled 3 times, so that's pretty good for a first timer! 

6. Public schools - In France, children start public school at the age of 3. It's to say that France places an emphasis on early childhood education and that French kids essentially start pre-school at an earlier age. Another related difference is that we have a 2-hour block of time for lunch every day, which essentially parallels the French public school system. This means that as soon as my language class finishes at 11:15 am, I walk over to pick up Toby from his school. Interestingly, if your child is not picked up during a narrow 10-minute window, you get fined.

Pick-up time during lunch one afternoon back
in September (as you can tell by the shorts)!




Sunday, October 8, 2017

Six Semaines en France

By Ted

It’s incredible that we’ve been in France now for 6 weeks already and that we have completed 5 weeks of language school! We are still in the process of figuring life out in our new environment, but things are coming together gradually. We have some established routines, such as our biweekly grocery runs on Wednesdays and Saturdays (most stores are closed on Sundays) and frequent outings to nearby parks with playgrounds. But we are hoping to incorporate other activities as well, including visiting the city library regularly and joining a local club or “association” as an opportunity to engage the community more and to practice our French. I’m thinking of joining a basketball association while Eunice is thinking of joining one involving crafts and scrapbooking. Most people here in Albertville don’t speak English, so one benefit is that we are forced to speak French (or at least try to) whenever we leave our apartment/school complex.

What is full-time language school like? Well, the sheer amount of new vocabulary words and grammatical rules learned daily often feels like (as the English expression goes) “drinking from a fire hose.” We have homework every night along with weekly exams, so our studies have been keeping us considerably occupied. Despite the intensity of it all, we ARE learning and we are grateful to be part of this remarkable language learning community.

Is there a specific level of language proficiency we are trying to reach? Officially no, but having a higher level of mastery would certainly be more helpful for us in Burundi. Our school teaches according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), which provides a foreign language proficiency scale measured by six levels from A1 for beginners to C2 for those who have demonstrated mastery of a language.



So what level of proficiency would a student attain after completing one year here? Assuming a student started at A1 and continued to pass all coursework, he or she would be at a B1.1 proficiency level (B1 is broken up into B1.1 and B1.2), or in other words, an intermediate level. If a student started at a higher level with prior French knowledge, he or she would continue to progress accordingly. I tried to figure out how these levels corresponded to number of years of French taken in high school or college, but it doesn’t exactly cross over neatly. Nevertheless, from my quick internet search, one year of high school or college French is roughly about 1 of the 6 levels on the CEFR proficiency scale. So, if you took 4 years of French in high school, you would probably be somewhere at the B1 or B2 proficiency level. This surprised me somewhat, but it just goes to say that learning languages takes time and is no easy matter!

One of my favorite things about learning French is being able to praise and worship God in another language. Here is one of my favorite songs that we sing regularly here at the school: Mon secours est en Toi, which means My Help is in You.



Thursday, June 15, 2017

Transitions Part 2

By Ted

We now have only about 2.5 months left until we leave the US. It feels like we just went through the process of saying our goodbyes, even though it was already nearly a year ago when we left our home and community in Michigan. Well, I will soon be returning to Michigan for a locums work assignment. Whenever I am traveling for work, it is always a challenge for our family, especially for Eunice as she looks after the boys in my absence, but the upside is that it will likely be the last time I will have to work before we leave the country. I can then use the last several weeks to focus on studying French, saying goodbye to friends and supporters, and packing our belongings.

Realizing that our time remaining in the US is soon coming to an end has made me reflect on this past year, which has had its challenges and blessings. Here are the top 3 in each category, in no particular order:

Challenges

1. The uncertainty of not having a stable income – Being a locums health care provider has some parallels to being a substitute teacher. How so? When a hospital needs help for a short-term gap in coverage, they contract with a company to help them find a provider to cover, usually weeks to months in advance. Thus, by nature, the locums world tends to afford more flexibility but at the cost of not always knowing when and if I’ll be working.

2. Being away from home when traveling alone – Though I don’t travel nearly as much as business people who have platinum airline and hotel memberships, I have been in airplanes and spent more nights in hotel rooms in the past year than the sum of all my years past.

3. Parenting – There has been much growth in this area for me, but I know I have much to learn yet. I used to think I was somewhat patient, but that was before having children, and I recognize how much patience I am lacking each day. I’ve been reading books on parenting as well, which have provided some insight.

Blessings 

1. Having more time with Eunice, Toby, and Amos – When I’m not working or studying French, I am with Eunice and usually watching Toby or Amos. Eunice and I sometimes joked in the beginning that we spent more time together during the first month in California than we did all of residency. It has been a joy to be more present and to see both Toby and Amos growing up in front of me.

2. Seeing parents often – Living in southern California has allowed more frequent visits with both Eunice’s and my parents, who are both within driving distance of our current residence. It has been a nice change since having lived in other states for many years. Toby loves “halmi” and “halbi” on both sides, especially since they all dote on him so much.

3. Experiencing God’s faithfulness – Time and time again, God has been faithful to me, and this has been so evident in his consistent provision for our family. Our current housing arrangement, my locums job opportunities, my board exams, Toby’s preschool, our church community, and a strong supporter base are just some of the many things for which we have seen God present and at work. More recently, the container carrying the totes we packed in February arrived in Burundi at Kibuye Hope Hospital this past week. Our hearts are full of thanks!


Toby and me video chatting while I was away.

The boys trying to Duo w/ dad!