Saturday, October 10, 2009

How to prepare for a trip to Africa

Preparing for Africa is unlike anything I've ever experienced. A trip of this stature requires many levels of preparation from mundane to divine.

First, you have the legal and medical things to check off your list.  While time consuming and expensive, these are the easiest tasks to complete.   Just follow the list and check them off as you go...

So, renew passport.  I hadn't traveled out of the country post 911 and the passport requirements had tightened.  No longer would they accept my hospital birth certificate;  I had to have Minnesota send me an official copy. I learned this after standing in line for an hour at the local post office.  I remained calm and kind.  It really wasn't the postal worker's fault.   It's hard to imagine that I've managed to live 50 years without an official birth certificate. 

Next, a series of immunizations are required and recommended to travel to Africa: Hepatitis A&B (also good in the classroom in the US); Meningitis, Polio, Tetanus, Typhoid, Yellow Fever, malaria pills, and Cipro in case of severe diarrhea.  I didn't realize until I had the shots and was checking out of the doctor's office that they cost nearly $800.  Insurance does not cover them.  My credit card did not have $800 left and they did not accept checks.  So, I sheepishly asked if they would allow me to go to my bank and return with the cash.  I called Furball and asked for the best place find $800 in our coffers. I will not share his response.  Yikes! I felt like a total doof. A poor doof, at that.

Then, apply to the Liberian Embassy for a visa.  Two more unflattering passport photos.  (I really wanted to keep the pic of the cute 27-year-old on my passsport).  Forms filled out in triplicate, copies of passport, proof of Yellow Fever, and a check for $131.   This was all made more hassle free for our traveling party because All Things Bromley Woman took them over to the embassy for us, and Wonderful Priest is keeping everything together and safe for our trip.

We will be staying in a secure compound in Monrovia and will have van transportation thanks to the planning of All Things Bromley Woman.  Her contacts and knowledge of the country are very comforting to my inner Moses Rose.

Packing is interesting and a little perplexing.  We need a personal first aid kit, protein bars and peanut butter for many of our meals, powdered gatorade to mix with bottled water, rain gear, toilet paper, antibiotic ointment, medications, and hand sanitizer.  I'm still trying to figure out what clothing to bring.  I need professional clothes that are modest by Liberian standards, will not wrinkle, are comfortable and suitable for the heat.  Electricity and laundry are limited, so, I'm not planning on being able to launder or iron anything.

The next item on the agenda is the planning and prep for the teacher workshops we will be presenting. No problem, we do this for a living... right?  Let's just say we are so fortunate to have a group of talented educators who are flexible and willing to walk into a situation where we're not quite sure what they want us to do.  We know we're going to talk about Bloom's Taxonomy - kind of like Maslow's hierarchy of needs only applied to thinking.  You go from lower order thinking - remembering, understanding, and applying-- on up to higher order thinking - analyzing, evaluating and creating.  You want the students using HOTS (higher order thinking skills) more than not.  Good, powerful and universal stuff in education.

The internet is not as accessible or reliable in Liberia as it is here.  So, we've only had one brief email from the principal at the school.  But, no worries.  We'll figure it out when we get there and have had a chance to see what the situation requires.  We are well aware of the fact that we are walking into a culture very different from ours.  I am very sensitive to that, but not quite sure how that translates to how I should "be."  So, please pray for only minimal and minor cultural blunders on my part.

As far as the practical and tangible planning, I'm in a pretty good place.  A week ago, I was feeling stressed and off balance over many, many things going on in my life.  A God-Placed Friend reminded me that I need to prepare my heart for the trip as well.  This isn't a business trip, but a trip in the name of Christ.  Um. Duh.  I was so intently focused on so many necessary-but-lower-level spinning plates in my life, that I was overlooking the higher level spiritual preparation required. Not just for this trip, but for my life.

Thank you friend, for this needed shift in perspective and priority.  I consider myself reminded to renew my commitment to the discipline of daily meditation and contemplation.  My desire is to open my heart to the will of the Spirit, to open myself to the blessings all around me here and awaiting me in Liberia, and to be a blessing to those who encounter me.  I fall short far too often, especially when I rely on my own devices.

One of my favorite spiritual mentors is the late John O'Donohue, author of many wonderful books.  This is the blessing that I read today in my little prayer sanctuary.  I offer it to you, if you're out there, as well.


Somewhere, out at the edges, the night
Is turning and the waves of darkness
Begin to brighten the shore of dawn.

The heavy dark falls back to earth
And the freed air goes wild with light,
The heart fills with fresh, bright breath
And thoughts stir to give birth to color.

I arise today

In the name of Silence
Womb of the Word,
In the name of Stillness
Home of Belonging,
In the name of the Solitude
Of the Soul and the Heart.

I arise today

Blessed by all things,
Wings of breath,
Delight of eyes,
Wonder of whisper,
Intimacy of touch
Eternity of Soul
Urgency of thought,
Miracle of health,
Embrace of God.

May I live this day

Compassionate of heart,
Clear in word,
Gracious in awareness,
Courageous in thought,
Generous in love.

-- John O'Donohue To Bless the Space Between Us

I do believe I will be taking this Celtic poet with me to Liberia.  Please allow me to carry your prayers with me as well.

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