Thursday, August 28, 2014

my humble tooth

I'm gonna tell you a story about my tooth. I really do have lots more important things to do right now than to write a story about my tooth.  And I'm SURE you have better things to do than read about my tooth.  But my tooth has just been so ridiculous lately!  Sometimes ridiculous stories have to be told so you can laugh about them instead of cry, right?  Right.  So, just laugh with me today and make me feel better.  

This story began precisely 13 years ago. Thomas and I had been married only a couple of weeks.  We were being giddy newlyweds and having a water fight one evening… and he knocked out ½ of my front tooth…with a ceramic mug. (I told you it was a ridiculous story.)  The dentist then said that because my root was exposed, I’d have to wait 3 weeks before he could fix it.  THREE WEEKS! New bride with a half a front tooth- you can imagine how mortifying!!  Not to mention all the jokes I heard.  I’ll never forget lying in the dentist chair when ALL the dental assistants came in to have a peek and exclaim something like, “Oh, you’re the bride whose husband knocked out your tooth!”  “Bless you heart.”  “What a great story to tell your grandchildren someday!”  Uh, yeah - sure. 
 Eventually, the tooth was satisfactorily repaired, and it served me well for 11 years. 

Then, New Year’s 2013, the cap came off while eating chocolate cake.  (again, how ridiculous!)  This is the part I wrote about previously (here) – my first visit to the dentist in Uganda.  I won’t re-tell that story now, but the end result was a slightly more yellowed, irregular-shaped version of what I’d had before.  It was functional, and I’m sure not as noticeable as I felt like it was… still… I’d never come to full terms of acceptance with this tooth.  So, last Friday, I was in the dentist office again (different dentist), for the boys to have a check-up.  I casually asked him if he thought he could match the color of this tooth any better.  He said, “Sure, we can do it right now!”  So, I happily plopped in his chair - 20 min. and $100 later I walked out with, not perfectly matching, but much more acceptably matching front teeth.  

Then Saturday came – oh, what an interesting day!  I have no photo-documentation for this post (thank heavens!), but if you have ANY sort of imagination at all, then you should have no trouble following along.  Saturday was a hard-core, domestic work day for me.  We have friends moving into our apartment for the three months we are gone to the U.S.  So on Saturday, I commenced the crazy, cleaning marathon – as in, pulling everything out of my kitchen cabinets to clean out the gecko poo, making stacks of throw away/ give away / take back to America piles.  It doesn’t take much to disorganize a 700 sq. ft. apt. anyway. But Saturday was a real special endeavor in this department!  And, because it was a cleaning day, I thought it best to attire my old, paint-stained clothes, hair in a bun, no make-up… to really play the part, you know?  And since my face has been especially broke-out lately, I also thought it a great idea to apply acne cream to these trouble spots.  At 2pm.  (What… doesn’t everyone do this?)  So, are you getting a picture?   It gets better… I must also mention that as I’m cleaning, I often find Reynah’s hairbows or lost clothes pens lying around in random places, and I clip them to the hem of my shirt so I can amass a stunning collection before putting them away.  

So, here I am – adorned with pasty, white cream on my face and bows and clothes pens on my garments in the midst of my disaster-zone house.  And then.  THEN, the blasted tooth came off again! – WHILE CHEWING GUM!!! (beyond ridiculous!)  At this point, I promise I look like a bona fide character off of some red-necked reality TV show.  AND THEN - within 10 min. of my tooth popping off – I heard a vehicle pull up and a team of mzungus (white people) whom I have never met, started walking up the stairs to our apartment.  I was frantically licking my fingers / swiping at my face as I walked to the door while practicing a smile that didn’t show too much teeth.  They were Americans that Thomas had met the week before, and he had asked them to drop by and get an address from us.  (Of course, Thomas was far away in Gulu at that moment! Convenient for him.)  They were very gracious and did a fabulous job of pretending like everything was normal and that perhaps they were not on the set of a red-neck reality TV show.  I did a passable job of unobtrusively pulling bows and pens off of myself, while refraining from blurting out, “I don’t always look like this!!!”  


(I do apologize if you are getting weary of my story, but the tooth is not fixed yet, you see?) 
So, yesterday, I finally returned to the dentist and I sat in his chair again.  He kindly explained that he would have to add more “filling” behind my tooth to prevent it from coming off again.  He used words like “bonding” and “setting” as he worked; I patiently waited with my eyes closed and mouth gaped open.   Then, just as he was ready to drill down the extra… whatever the stuff was he “bonded” into my mouth… what should happen but that his compressor should decide to stop working?!  Well, of course. Which means none of his little gadgets were working either!  

He patted my arm as he got up to investigate the problem and said, “Sorry, my dear.  It seems you will be here a bit longer…” 
Oh, for the love of…
“Just close your mouth and relax a bit.” 

I closed my mouth, only to make the horrifying discovery that this thing in my mouth was HUGE!  So huge, in fact, it was poking out between my lips, and I couldn’t even seal them.  He and his assistant were having no luck with the compressor.  Meanwhile, he had the preposterous notion that I’d like to actually see what I looked like at that moment, so he handed me a mirror.  And, yes, just as I feared – there was one enormous rabbit tooth sticking out and down – at least twice as big as my other teeth!  

He was then on the phone with a “technician,” who apparently couldn’t come until later in the day.  I began preparing myself –  Mika, you are going to have to just leave and come back in a few hours.  You’re going to just walk around Kampala like this.  And you are NOT going to cry right now!  

Then, my other thoughts were – But I want to eat!  I’m hungry!  I’m just going to have to go find some stupid soup to sip until this thing gets out of my mouth!!  

Finally, the dentist came back around with a dusty, old electric drill he had pulled out of some cabinet. It was a long, uncomfortable process that followed.  The drill rattled my whole head, and he had to keep turning it off every minute or two because it was over-heating.  But, at least, I had hope then that I would leave his office within the hour!   Finally, he gave me another pat on my arm and said, “My dear, I will never forget you… I usually don’t remember my patients, but this has never happened before, so I will remember you!  … Oh, and this is a life-time guarantee!  I will fix it anytime if it comes off again, my dear.”  

Well, that’s nice.

I couldn’t say that the finished product looked any better than what I originally had when I walked into his office the week before.  But who cares?!  I sure didn’t at that point! I had a tooth in my head, it wasn’t sticking out between my lips, and I could finally go eat a real lunch! Time to leave well-enough alone.  

I met some friends for that said lunch.  After sharing my story and venting my frustrations, they all asked the most obvious question – “Why didn’t you just wait until you went home to fix it?  You’ll be in the US next week!”  And my most obvious answer was that, “Well, it’s a lot cheaper to get it done here.”  

Yes, that’s true.  But really, though, it’s my own vanity that wouldn’t let me wait.  I’ve already had these silly concerns about not wanting to look like the stereotypical “missionary fresh from the field” when I arrive on American soil.  Concerns that have led me to ponder things that I normally don’t care a whit about – like what the popular nail polish colors are now, and if ankle boots are still “in” on that side of the ocean cause that’s all I have, and the benefits of perusing Pinterest in order to educate myself on fall fashion 2014 .   Amidst these concerns, I couldn’t possibly land in the US with part of my front tooth missing!  

But this little tooth has been, not for the 1st time, a good little reality check for me.  For goodness sake, I’m not walking off the plane and onto a red carpet.  If my guesses are correct, we’ll be walking off the plane and heading to a McDonald’s.  And within 24 hours will be wading Jacob’s Creek with the cousins and bumping over the pasture in Grandpa Simpson’s golf cart.  Perhaps it is best to go ahead and publicly acknowledge the fact that I’ve not bought new clothes since 2012 and my hair is several months past a decent haircut and these “freckles” on my face are most likely permanent souvenirs from 3 years of living on the equator.   It’s OK.  It’s a real life I’m living and not a filtered Instagram snap.  But, hey! – At least all my teeth are intact!  And I pray that I have no more “tooth” stories to share for a long, LONG time!!  

See you soon, America!!!! 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

the art of stopping

Christopher Robin: Pooh, what's your favorite thing in the whole world? 
Pooh: My favorite thing is me coming to visit you, and then you ask, "How about a   small smackeral of honey?"  
Christopher Robin: I like that, too. But what I like most of all is just doing     nothing. 
Pooh: How do you do just nothing?  
Christopher Robin: Well, when grown-ups ask, "What are you going to do?" and you say, "Nothing," and then you go and do it. 
Pooh: I like that. Let's do it all the time.

My Aussie friends have a way of describing life when it gets busy; they say it is “full on.”  It works for me.  So, life here has definitely been full on the last few weeks.  It’s been ridiculously, gloriously, exhaustively full on…  budget planning meetings (not so glorious), 6 days of Celebrate Purity event, small groups, curriculum writing, 6 days of kids’ SHINE camp, a wedding, an attempt at homeschooling… that’s just in the last two weeks!  Now, I’m a laid-back girl.  I really don’t get too excited when the full on switch is flipped.  My hubby is an all-or-nothing guy.  He thinks that a full schedule is just buckets of fun - and even he was calling “STOP!” by the time the last camp session ended. 

So, we stopped.  We executed a well-timed escape to Jinja (about 2 ½ hours down the road) and spent 2 nights on the bank of the Nile River.  Without the kids. (which is very pertinent information to relay!)  We arrived in Jinja and did something that we have never done together in our 13 years of marriage – we did absolutely NOTHING!  

This is really significant, because Thomas and I are adventure travelers.  We are the people who do crazy, irrational things like drive 17 hrs. one way to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan just so we can spend 36 hrs. there collecting pretty rocks before making the 17 hr. trip home.   Or sleep in a different location every night of our anniversary trip to Maine, so that I get on the home-bound plane with serious constipation.  True story.  OK – TMI, sorry.  The point is, every waking moment of our vacation-time has seemed to require us going somewhere we’ve never been and/or doing something we’ve never done.   

This is also significant because Jinja is known as the “Adventure Capital of East Africa.”  In Jinja, you can raft the Nile rapids, bungee jump, rent ATVs and tear off to explore the “bush.”  Of course, there’s the fact that these excursions are not exactly part of our budget.  And there is also the fact that we are just plain getting old…well, I mean, we ARE well past our 20’s!  But the decisive fact was that we both knew we needed REST.  Real rest.  As in, more than a good night’s sleep.  Interestingly, this resting was more of a challenge than I realized it would be. 

Here are some excerpts from my journal…

Sunday 3:30pm

Convincing my brain to relax is going to take longer than I thought.  I was just beginning to dose here in the sunshine when I became absolutely certain that Rey was standing right beside my bed calling, “Mama, MAAAMA…”  I automatically went into “play possum-for-one-more-minute-mode.”  Then, I realized it was just a loud bee flying around my head.   Ahh, I’m glad we’re here for two nights and not just one! 

Monday 9:35am

Solitude.  Just me and the river bank and these gorgeous tropical birds and a baby Nile Monitor and a hundred red dragonflies.  Privacy and silence are two very rare commodities in my life.  I take them greedily when I can.  So, I’m relishing the physical space.  The mental space, however, is apparently something I don’t know what to do with.  I’ve spent the last 45 min. convincing myself to just stay.  To sit.  It’s really ok that I don’t have a book in my hand.  It’s ok that I’ve not been online for 48 hours.  The headlines on CNN homepage can wait another day.  My Facebook newsfeed can wait much longer than that, I’m sure!  It’s like if I sense any empty space in my head, I compulsively feel the need to fill it.  I think I should be inputting something in my brain right now, or, in the very least out-putting something… so I have something to show for this time.  Pretty sure that’s the real reason I just picked up this pen to journal again.  Ok.  Input/output off.  Pen goes down.  I’m just gonna sit some more.  I. will. just. be.  

Monday 3:10pm

I just went for a swim.  I didn’t swim for exercise.  I didn’t swim because my kids needed me in the pool with them.  I just swam for fun like I used to do when I was 10 (uh, yes, complete with an underwater flip!)  I was contemplating how I always approach my devotion/ Bible reading time with an agenda.  Like my first thought is – ok, what am I supposed to learn/memorize/get out of this today?  I want to learn to swim in God’s Word- just for the refreshing pleasure of it! 

Tuesday 10:20

So, it seems the ripples of my thoughts have finally dissipated.  This doing nothing is really great.  Really.  I feel like I can now introduce a new thought stream in my head without causing chaos and disruption to another one.  And spiritually, I am more centered.  Being still and unnoticed helps me remember that I’m small and not so important as I like to think.  The world can go on just fine without me for a couple of days.  Being alone by the river helps me remember that God is big.  BIG.  And Christ is supreme above all this stunning creation around me.  Oh, I wish I could do nothing more often.

So now it’s after 11pm.  I’m propped up in bed back home at Suubi.  T is already off again, to Gulu for a few days.  My plans for tomorrow include another meeting and dentist appointments and driving in Kampala Friday traffic – ugh!  I have no majestic river vista now, just my VERY disorganized bedroom – a suitcase that still needs to be unpacked (because, yes, we are those kind of travelers as well), and a stack of suitcases that are waiting to be packed.  Two weeks from today, we peace out for the US.  So, yep, you guessed it, it’s full on again!  I am new to this art form of stopping, but I am committed to developing it.  It’s hard to fathom right now, but someday I will learn how to stop, even if it’s in the middle of a pile of dirty clothes or a pile of 5th grade school books.  And I will learn to be still, even if “privacy” and “silence” have left me high and dry and are nowhere to be seen.  And someday I will become adept at doing nothing… even if it’s for 2 min. instead of two days!  Yes, someday I will master these techniques.  But, for now, I’ll start with some sleep... and maybe dreaming about this view again.