The Good News Phase

I have been thinking about how to describe the past couple of weeks, but I have found it difficult to find words. The best way to summarize the past couple of weeks is, Be careful what you wish for.

For months, Brian and I sat in the basement of my parents house, talking about how all we wanted was to be back in Sudan, working, being busy, having purpose, etc, etc. Well we are finally here, and boy did we get our wish. Brian told me that last week was the single most stressful work week of his life. He has been pulling 14 – 16 hour days so consistently I stopped counting. You see, everything has started happening all at once. It is as though, after all of the waiting, we arrived back in Kassala last month and something gave way. We have suddenly found ourselves in a flurry of activity.

This month, Joanna will open a Therapeutic Feeding Center for malnourished children, our Education program is being launched, we are developing Hygiene and Sanitation promotion curriculum and wells are being dug as quickly as possible. We also got news that our doctors might be finally arriving after over a year of waiting to get into Sudan… which means that on top of all of this, we will be looking at opening a hospital that has been locked up and unused for years.

There has been a theme of the past two weeks which we are calling “The Good News Phase” (genius, I know). Good news has happened so seldom in our experience here that we are obligated to give credence to this phase by naming it… even if it’s not the most creative name. We are getting cooperation and support from stakeholders suddenly; doctors might finally get here; all of the programs are moving ahead smoothly… Joanna made the comment that, in her memory, there had never been a week with so much good news. The biggest excitement in recent days was when Brian was able to get travel permission to see a village that SP has been trying to get into for over a year. So Monday, Brian hopped in a car with a bunch of Sudanese guys to try to see and understand the needs in this village in a 3 day period of time. They slept under the stars, and drove from one area to another, eager to see this place that has been so restricted. They came back hot and tired, but proud of the hard work they had done.

We are sure this “Good News Phase” cannot last forever, but man has it felt good. After all of the delays, obstacles, hurdles and challenges our whole team has experienced in the past year, the relief and air of excitement in the office is palpable. I think one of our colleagues, Ibrahim, said it best this morning when he was telling me about his trip with Brian, “We are very blessed to be able to work and receive a salary for trying to help people. These people, they really need our help and we want to help them. With God’s help we can really do something for them, so we are really blessed.”

Four Years

Four years ago today, this is what we were doing:

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Our wedding was awesome. I can’t look at pictures without thinking of all of the people that worked so hard to make that day so special. If you are reading this, you know who you are. Thank you for giving us such a wonderful day to begin our lives together.

Our 1st anniversary was spent in La Crosse, WI at a bed and breakfast that we chose solely because it was close to the Leinenkugel’s Brewery (my favorite beer). It rained all weekend just like it did when we got engaged and on our wedding day. Our 2nd anniversary was spent apart – Brian was in Sudan, I was in Minneapolis – but Brian sent flowers to my work and I’m sure we talked over skype. Our 3rd anniversary we were both in Sudan. I had a really rough day that day (got grabbed in the market and none of my Sudanese friends helped me because they were more afraid than I was) so we went to the restaurant in town and unwound. And now # 4. I don’t know what we are going to do to celebrate, but we don’t need much. Just a moment to remember what a special day our wedding day was and celebrate what began that day.

The past 4 years have been crazy in so many ways. We got married young. We knew it at the time too. We knew we could have gone another year and it would have been ok. But we got married and, since we got married young, we have done a lot of growing up together. We have both been on incredible spiritual journeys that have been as individual as we are and by some miracle we have come out on the same side. We have learned as much about ourselves as we have about each other (if not more).

One thing we have learned both about ourselves and each other is that we do the time-apart thing pretty well. Brian started traveling with ARC in our first year of marriage. It started with a few weeks and later became a few months and in the year 2007 we spent 6 months apart in total. What we have only very recently found out is that we do the time-together thing pretty well too. Not at first, mind you. We went from spending A LOT of time apart to living in a cement box in Southern Sudan all alone… that wasn’t the easiest transition we have ever made, but we figured it out. Since then our time together has only increased and peaked here in North Sudan. Up until last week when Brian went into a village for a week, we have spent EVERY minute together for… well, months! We wake up in the morning, go jogging together, drink coffee together, go down to the office together, work together, eat lunch together, and so on and so forth. And the greatest thing about it is that it works. We have had an absolute blast traveling together, learning together, working together and simply growing up together.

Here’s to four years and counting.

Sandstorm at Sunset

Two nights ago I went onto the roof to watch the sunset, but what I found was a spectacular sandstorm rolling into town. I ran downstairs to get my camera and on my way I yelled to Joanna, “Sandstorm! Sandstorm!” We sat on the roof and gaped at the incredible display before us. Every direction we turned we were stunned by beauty. The sandstorm was coming in from the South, engulfing the mountains in the Southeast and encroaching on the mountains to the East. The sun was setting in the West when the sand came and covered it just before it fell behind the horizon. I was literally running back and forth on the roof trying to capture as much of the quickly changing scenery as possible. It was unlike anything I have ever seen before. Here are some of the pics (yes, I took A LOT of them) from East to West.

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Cryptic Thoughts: Food, Children and Beauty

Friday evening, after Brian left to go to Hamesh Koreb, Joanna and I brought dinner to a Canadian couple, Dave and Andy. Dave and Andy live here in Kassala with their adorable 2 year old daughter, Leyla. They have been away from Sudan for almost 3 months so we brought dinner over while they were getting themselves settled. We sat outside and had our meal under the moon and the stars. Only half of the moon was showing, but it gave us enough light to find our way through our dinner. Dave and Andy have been in Sudan for years and it was so fun to hear some of their stories and experiences. They are both fluent in Arabic and have a lot of experience with the culture in the Kassala area as well. We are very excited to get to know them better in the next weeks and months.

On Saturday our logistics manager, Hassan, invited us over to his home to celebrate the birth of his son. So Joanna, our guard Ahmed (the guy that makes us coffee every day) and I met Dave, Andy and Leyla there. The party was split into men and women; so we said goodbye to Ahmed and Dave as they joined the men at the neighbors’ home, while Joanna, Leyla and I went into Hassan and his wife’s home. We followed the trail of women into a small room where the mother and the baby were resting. Neighbors, family members and colleagues filled the room with their colorful wraps and beautiful gold jewelry. We sat on beds and chairs, looking at the brand new baby, talking and laughing and making new friends. After we had been there for some time, a giant platter was brought into the room. The women gathered around the platter with us and together we ate a delicious meal. There was an assortment of sauces and dishes made of potato, meet and noodles. Every meal  is eaten with our hands, so we each took a piece of bread and used the bread to either dip it in a sauce or grab a piece of potato or meat. It was absolutely delicious. When the meal was over and our stomachs were full, we got a call from the men’s side saying they were ready to go when we were. So we said goodbye to the baby, his mother and our new friends and went on our way.

There is something about Kassala that is enchanting. Joanna and I went on a walk last night into the desert. Before we knew it, we were walking in ankle-deep sand next to footprints from camels and donkeys. We stood near the mountains and looked out in the opposite direction at a gorgeous sunset. We paused our conversation and listened to an absolute stillness that quieted every thought in my mind. As we walked back into town, we ended up following an old man riding a donkey through town. He was in his white tunic and turban, and as we followed him, I looked at Joanna and said, “Do you ever feel like you must be dreaming?”  Some (or a lot) of the images we see every day here are so striking and so different from the world I grew up in but I don’t always stop to really see them. When I do realize what I am seeing and experiencing, it is almost too much to take in.

Brian has been busy-busy the past few days in Hamesh Koreb. Over the phone last night he told me about a young boy he got to spend some time with who was obviously severely malnourished. He talked about how difficult it was to watch a boy, who in a different context might be bouncing off the walls, struggle to get from one place to another. We have been hearing reports that put the malnourishment rates in Kassala state as some of the highest percentages in the whole country.

So, with all of the beauty around us, we are reminded daily of why we are here in the first place. We celebrated the birth of a new child with an abundance of food to fill our stomachs. I hope that the energy we get from the food we eat will spill over into the work we do so these little ones can grow strong and thrive in such a beautiful place.

Rachel and Derek Getting Married

Today on May 2, 2009 our dear friend Rachel is getting married to a wonderful man, Derek Peterson. We met Rachel in college and, after college, Brian, Rachel and I lived together in Minneapolis for close to a year.  Rachel became and has become a part of our lives. While we were home we slept on the floor of her apartment whenever we could. We love Rachel and we love that she has found an amazing man to spend her life with.

Today is her wedding day, the day that she and Derek will step into the merging of their lives, and we are far far away. I spent the day physically here, meeting friends, drinking coffee, interacting with the community, but my heart is in Taylor’s Falls. I can imagine Rachel, her sisters, her mother, her bridesmaids, getting ready and blessing her with love and prayers. The wedding is at 4 pm… 12 am here.

But no fear! In this great day in age, I can be far far away but not out of reach! It is 10 pm here. I am sitting at the table with my webcam attached to my computer, logged onto my skype account, ready for Kyle to contact me. Kyle will be at the church where Rachel and Derek are getting married. And if all goes well, I might be able to sit in the middle of the night in Sudan and watch these two lovely people get married. I am hot and tired from a long day but I am eager to see if I can reach across the ocean and continents and, through the miracle of technology, see a glimpse of the bride and groom and the gathering of loved ones.

Unfortunately on this day Brian is too far out of reach, even for our technology. He left for the village Hamesh Koreb yesterday. So as I sit with my fluorescent lights on, Brian is laying in the dark under the stars. I spoke with him moments ago and he asked me to give his love to anyone I may be able to speak to.

Well seeing that it has been a long, hot day…. and seeing how I’m probably dehydrated and groggy…. and seeing how I have some time on my hands before the stroke of midnight and the webcam/skype conversation begins, I got creative.

With a pillow, one of Brian’s shirts, a piece of paper and a pen, I had some fun. Now I will not have to sit alone in the middle of the night in Sudan, watching our dear friends get married. I have this to sit next to me:

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Rachel and Derek, though we are far away our thoughts and our hearts are with you tonight.

Congratulations.