Saturday, February 24, 2018

I made someone uncomfortable yesterday

I made someone feel uncomfortable yesterday. Or at least I think...

When I met Joshua, my black American husband, I was entirely impressed with his intellect, eloquence in preaching, beautiful and thoughtful writings. I was so thankful to God that He has provided a wonderful partner in life who is also willing to go overseas for missions work or whatever God calls us to do. When we met, we also knew and discussed the complexity of race and ethnicity in the US.

We discussed about having children and we both love children. He wanted 5 and I was thinking 2. So we had a compromise. We have three, three beautiful brown chocolate colored boys. We also discussed and wondered how they will grow up and think about their own bi-racial identity.

In the past 5 1/2 years of our lives in Ghana, there were times when people make comments about their color (they are usually as seen as "obruni" or whites) but most of the time people say this as a description because their skin color is fairer than most of their friends and the people around.

Yesterday, I took the boys to the pediatrician for a regular check up in Nashville, where we are living for the time duration of our home assignment. It was a rather long and stressful exercise because of the different systems, examinations, and the fact that I have three boys with me. Afterwards, I thought it would be nice to bring them to the Chick-fil-A nearby so they can play at the little playground. I rushed all the boys into the car and made sure they were buckled up. We all went into the restaurant with me trying to make sure they stay safe and not disturb other people too much. We sat down and got our food. The boys went to play at the playground after they ate. In the mean time, there was this one particular older white gentleman who was helping to clear the tables and asking people if they needed a refill. During the entire time that we were there, this man almost ignored us except to take our tray away to the trash. And after the boys have been playing for a while, I was conscious of the fact that the restaurant was busy so I asked this gentleman if I should pack away my things from the table. His reply was almost rude by saying "just leave them there".

I didn't want to feel like I'm being too sensitive to this whole sticky racial dynamics in the US plus I had to attend to these three busy boys. We left and I wondered about the whole situation but was too tired to talk to anybody about it until this morning. We were having breakfast and I told my sister-in-law about what took place then she confirmed my suspicion that this older gentleman probably was "uncomfortable" (not her exact words) with a Asian woman and three "black" boys. I suppose I can go back to the store and confront him or clarify things but until then, this was what took place and my experience.

I guess I feel like I need to write about it not to condemn anyone or to make others feel sorry for me and the boys but just to state the fact that yes, we have a very complicated and painful history of racial relations in the US that is still affecting us. In addition, a Black-Asian relationship or family is not too common. Even for a place like Chick-fil-A, a very successful "Christian" business, things are not just going to go away without more intentional "work" from various institutions (like churches and even their company) to address and help people understand the prejudices and historical context and just the fact that "sin" is still at work in our hearts and minds.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Sacred space

I went to church this morning and had an encounter with God.

Before I was going, I was anticipating that God would do something in my life and through my life today. I was thinking about the idea of "sacred space" that is a part of my husband's research for his PhD thesis. Since he's still in the process of finishing his thesis, I won't go too much into what he has told me. But in looking at the history and practices of the church his grandmother started, he discovered that they provide a "sacred space" at the front of the church (like an alter). From what I remember, he said that there are certain objects placed on this table covered with a white table cloth. That "alter" provides a place for the Divine (God) to interact with us or an interaction between the supernatural and the natural, Creator and the created. I remember the same idea is very much a part of the Celtic spirituality and practices when I was auditing a class on Christian history.

So this morning when I entered the auditorium, and started to sing along with the worship team, my heart was moved, my spirit was moved. In my past experiences, if the Holy Spirit's presence is moving strongly in a place, the way I encounter the Holy Spirit is by shedding tears. I was praying for people and tears kept streaming down my face.

But besides that, I was praying for a friend and her family in particular that they would encounter God today as well. I was praying that God will provide people whom they already know so that they might go back to church more frequently and that God will change their lives and help them in the issues they are facing.

When the pastor finished his message, he asked us to close our eyes and imagine ourselves as a 5-year-old child sitting there with God. He asked us to learn to hear from God and of what He desires to do. As we started, he prayed particularly for the removal of distractions and of the removal of evil presences and influences. He was creating or helping to create a "sacred space" for us to encounter God.

Actually when I first stepped into the auditorium, I already heard God telling me something about the future our my family. At that moment of seeking to hear God's voice, I also heard specific instructions for me in loving my children with His overwhelming love and to love them well. As I went to sit with my friend that I had prayed for in the beginning of the service (or even before we went to church), I started to hear from her of how well she liked being at the church and how her son even had an invitation from his school friend to come to this church.

Although I've been a Christian for a long time and I have encountered God numerous times (and even on a daily basis), I am still amazed at what He is able to do. I am also still contemplating over this idea of "sacred space".

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

hey China woman!

this morning when I was coming home after taking An2 to school, a man called out: "hello, China woman... hey, China woman..." I realized that he was calling me so I turned and waved. It was drizzling so I kept going and came home.

After staying at the hospital for 18 days after Reese's birth, I met a lot of people. Depending on my interaction with them, they would call me by different names. The ladies that I roomed with for many days call me Pauline. One mom whose baby was also sick at the time called me "osofo mami" (pastor's wife). One afternoon I met two little girls who called me "obruni" (white person). With the hospital staff, sometimes they call me "Mrs. Settles", madam, Mrs. Paulina, Akosua's mom (that's Reese's local name), etc. And for the food sellers, I'm their "customer" (they actually call me that sometimes).

18 days in the hospital allowed me to realize some things about how people label me and address me in cross-cultural context. I'm sure the same is probably true if I were living in America or Taiwan or Asia where there are different labels for me depending on how I dressed and looked to the person... and the point of my blog post: how people address me depends on the degree of intimacy or how much the person knows about me or how we relate to each other. For people who don't really know me and just see me in passing, they just call me by the external appearance. It's just like my short encounter this morning when the man called me "China woman", I felt amused and didn't feel offended or angry because I know 1. English is not this man's native tongue so he wouldn't know that it's offensive; 2. the man doesn't really know me but just sees the exterior and calls me with what he knows in describing or labeling me. It is the same way when people call me "obruni" on the streets. All that the people (or mostly the children) know is that here's a lady who has fair skin and a foreigner. But with time and interaction, even the children in our neighborhood, especially the ones who have visited our house and played with our children, do not call me "obruni" but maybe auntie Pauline or An's mother.

Besides how others label or call me depending on their knowledge of me, I believe interactions or relationships go both ways. If, being a foreigner/missionary only become offended when people merely address me by what they see externally without approaching them and letting them know who I am (besides just a foreigner or white lady), I would not be able to build relationships and more importantly, let God use me in any way that He desires in the lives of some of these people I encounter while I'm living here (or anywhere in the world for that matter).

I'm especially touched by the woman who called me "osofo mami" at the hospital. Our encounter started when she and her friend called me "obruni" and chatted with me. But over the few days, she found out that my husband is a pastor or minister (osofo) and so I'm "osofo mami". She didn't take this knowledge lightly because she also wants her baby son to become a "man of God" (and she called him by that name often). She came to me one time and asked Joshua and me to pray for her baby because he didn't seem to be getting much better. I think about a day or two after we prayed for her, her baby son was discharged from the hospital. All glory to God and thank God for the mutual respect, interactions we had during those few days at the hospital.

Saturday, May 04, 2013

clothing design and community relationship

today our family got up really early and left our house around 6:30am to go to Winneba, a nearby city (about  69km/43miles away from Accra). we were invited to the handing over ceremony of executive members of GHAFES's SNEC (the Student National Executive Council, i guess kinda like a national students government). since GHAFES is a student-led movement (literally students are in charge and doing stuff that some IV staff in the US do), it's a very important event.

Ghanaians dress up very nicely for formal occasions. i decided to wear this nice african print, local styled two piece dress. the whole dress is very fitted (when i sit down, i often feel like i can't move very much and have to be very lady-like and pleasant). the top has a zipper in the back. for local women who are nursing their babies, they just ask someone to unzip in the back and proceed to nurse their babies with one side of the top hanging off their shoulder. since i'm also nursing our 6-month old baby, although it feels strange at times to just unzip, i've gotten more used to it. and today as i was unzipping numerous times to nurse the baby (since the event was from 9am-12pm and we left at 6:30am and return around 3:30pm), i was struck with how even clothing design relates to people's sense of community relationships. it's almost impossible to unzip and zip up on your own (i've tried and maybe only succeeded once). you have to rely on someone else's help (usually another woman or relative). i wore this type of dress a few times to church on Sundays. a couple of times when hubby couldn't help me zip up, a woman sitting behind me or a female usher came to help me.

for a Chinese American woman who has always been very independent and tries to do everything possible without the help of other people, wearing a Ghanaian outfit forces me to have to rely upon other women's help. i suppose this is one of those things that i'm learning from the locals. God has created us as social beings living in communities. i think i have a long way to go before i can let go of my pride in self sufficiency and just embrace the fact that i need other people...

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Delivery experience for my 2nd baby in Accra, Ghana

(This might be the longest blog post I've ever written and posted... Started 2 1/2 weeks after delivery and finally finished it 2 months and 1 day after the baby was born...)

It's been about 2 1/2 weeks since the birth of our second baby. I've been trying to rest and take good care of myself and the baby. It's been very different since Kweku has been so sleepy that I often have to wake him up to nurse. It's also been stressful because I was afraid that he's not taking in enough breast milk for his growth. Unlike An2 who was almost 10lbs when he was born, having a 8lb baby (even though that's also a pretty normal weight for babies, and maybe on the heavier side) is just different. All that is to say I've not really had much time to really sit and reflect on this adventure/process of having a baby in a foreign country.  There were so many different (good and bad) things I've experienced this time around. I guess because I had a baby in the U.S., there are definitely many contrasts of how things are done there and here in Ghana. I'm not sure if I'll be able to record down the things I noticed in an organized fashion, but at least I do want to write it down for my own benefit, just to remember all the things that I went through.

Delivery process 
Through out this pregnancy, I prayed and asked many others to pray for a normal delivery. I had a C-section last time around because after being in labor for hours, I wasn't fully dilated. When An2 came out, the doctor said the umbilical cord was around his neck and that's why he couldn't come out through vaginal delivery... With Kweku, I had expected that he would be born around 39 weeks just like his older brother but 39 weeks came and went. His due date came and went (40 weeks). I was growing anxious and impatient (it was very uncomfortable since I had contractions on and off during those last weeks). I went to see the doc on Nov 6 and he said if the baby didn't come by the following Monday, we'll have another C-section.

By early morning of Nov 7 (around 2am), I started to have intense and more regular contractions. Just to make sure that this time it's for real, I time it with an app (because I know hubby would not want to take me to the hospital if I wasn't sure). Thank God real labor started during that time because we left our house around 4am and there was no traffic. (I was also very anxious about Accra traffic if we needed to go to the hospital during the day.) With traffic, it might have taken us 1 1/2 hours to 2 hours. But without traffic, we were there in about 45 minutes. When we got to the hospital, it was very quiet and hubby told the nurse that I'm in labor. The nurse didn't believe him because I seemed very calm (I saw no point to have loud screams or feel like I'm passing out... I just tried to breath through the contractions...) Sure enough, when she finally check to see how dilated I was, I was already 5cm (half way through).

When we first reached the hospital, the nurse even told us that they have no more rooms available and that we needed to go to another hospital. (The nurse said that they have women sitting on wheelchairs waiting to deliver their babies...if I heard her correctly...) But because of our GHAFES connection (a doc with lots of powers and influences), they had to take us in. We still needed to wait to be checked in properly (a young doctor had to go through all my medical history) before I could go to the delivery room. Once they were ready for me, nobody except for the hospital staff can go into the delivery room (not even your family members... and they don't allow men/husbands to be in the delivery room anyway).

By the time I went in, hubby had to rush back because he was having classes those few weeks. (I suppose it didn't do him or me any good if he had stayed since he couldn't be in there with me. There wasn't any waiting areas there either.) The contractions were intense but still bearable. It was weird hearing other women groaning and moaning in the other rooms but not long after that, I had joined them. When I went in, they were just about to change shift for the staff so it was quiet for a while. Then it seemed like different groups of nurses came in and out (since it was a teaching hospital so some were still going through their training). The doc came periodically to check how I was doing and it seemed like hours had gone by from intense contractions to this feeling that I needed to poop. The nurses were around but they weren't coaching me like I would expect in the U.S.. All I remember now is that they'd ask "how are you doing? do you need anything for your pain?" Last time around I didn't want to take anything for my pain but finally gave in to epidural because I was just too tired and not making any progress. I really wish I didn't need it because I could feel where they poked me months after An2 was born. This time around, I also didn't think I need anything although it was painful, it was bearable (my stubbornness and pride keep me from taking anything for pain).

What seemed like hours in the delivery room till baby came out was only from 8am to about 12:50pm (almost 5 hours).  I only remember the doc came in to check my cervix and breaking the sac. I was sweating till my glasses were foggy (Oh, and I was wearing my own dress the whole time... I didn't change into a hospital gown at all). I was there "pooping" the baby out with groans that An2 makes when he wants to go the bathroom... At different points I thought "why didn't I just have another C-section?" because I was so ready for the baby to pop out. Since the nurses didn't coach me, I kept wondering if I was doing the right thing (they told me to lie on my left side and that's about all). I was so ready for the baby to come out. When it was almost time, I asked the nurse (or mid-wife) if it's possible for me to squat because I really wanted the baby to come out by then. Thankfully a doc came and declared that I was fully dilated. From that point on, everything moved very quickly (except that I needed to move from this bed to the delivery table and it was very painful for me to try to get up and move over). Once I was on that delivery table, the mid-wife asked me to push hard. The first couple of times I was pushing but not "pushing" where I needed to. I think by the 4th of 5th push, I was finally able to push the baby out. I was so happy to hear the baby's cry (I was expecting that cry the whole time I was in labor). I asked if it's a girl (because that's what the ultrasound had indicated) and the nurse giggled and asked me to see for myself... of course the baby turned out to be a boy and for which I'm not a bit upset (somehow I really wanted another boy and if God willing, the third child will be a girl if we have a third child). After they sew me up because of some tearing and cleaned up the baby, we were left alone in the delivery room.

Essential thing to bring to the hospital
When I was going to the Legon university hospital for my ante-natal check ups, I received a check list of things to bring with me to the hospital. The list includes (from my memory since I don't have that piece of paper anymore): for mom--2 old cloth, macintosh rubber, night gown, 2 pairs of surgical gloves, 1 large bottle of savlon, 1 small bottle of savlon, 1 large enema pump, 2 packets of feminine towels, 1 packet of cotton, toiletries (soap, toothbrush, etc.) cup, plate, bowl, spoon; for baby--10 cot sheets, 2 safety pins, milo & milk powder, 1 small enema pump, soap for baby, baby gown (for going home), 10 old cloth, etc... (I can't quite remember the rest)

In preparation to the delivery, I asked our house help (a local girl) to go out and buy these things. since she's young and hasn't helped anyone with their deliveries, she was confused as to what some of these things are and why would we need these things for delivery. But she tried her best and bought most of the stuff. We packed them into the suitcase that we brought to the hospital. It was only after we checked in for delivery, then I started to understand why they need some of these things...

I guess in contrast to how hospitals operate in the U.S., most things are provided for you. Of course most things are probably charged to your insurance or the government (in case someone can't pay for it on their own). Here... the hospital do provide some things but in comparison, very minimal. As you can tell from the next part regarding to checking out from the hospital, bringing things like our own bowl and soap or antiseptic solutions, it definitely cuts down costs.

Besides the list of things to bring, one interesting cross-cultural experience occurred when they were going to give the baby his first bath. About 2-4 nurses came into the room at different points of time because I didn't have all that they required to bathe the baby. They asked for baby oil (which I wouldn't think about using), a new baby gown, sponge (it's a sheet of unfolded body wash sponge), soft towel... I had a normal adult sized bath towel, small wash cloth, Johnson & Johnson baby soap with baby oil. I told the nurses just put him back into the shirt he was in and they looked at me with a lot of uneasiness. They also were discussing in Twi for a while as to what to do with me and my limited "stuff". Finally, they told me to just pay for a set of these things that they sell downstairs so they can wash the baby properly... I'm still curious as to why they really absolutely needed some of these things. I need to ask some people to find out...

Checking out of the hospital
One of the scary thing about checking out of the hospital in the U.S. was that nobody provided me with an itemized bill.  Although we have insurance and I know that most of it will be paid for, I wasn't sure how would we be able to trust the hospital to bill exactly the things that I used or needed during my stay at the hospital. (or do they just have some kind of standard way of charging different types of patients?)

Here in Ghana, since we are not on the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), we paid everything out of pocket. The hospital makes it very clear when we are there of this fact. We were told prior to delivery that if it was a normal delivery, it might cost us about GH$300 (which is about US$150) and if I had a c-section, it might be about GH$1,000 (US$500). And the nice room at the hospital would cost us GH$40 a night (including three meals). At the time of check-out, a man brought the itemized bill. It was very clear as to what was used for the different parts of the delivery (things like gloves, IV drips, etc.). Everything was reasonable (a little bit like paying at a restaurant looking at exactly what you ordered). With the normal delivery, we had to pay about the amount estimated. Nothing fancy like the U.S.... probably why our health care in the U.S. costs so much more...

Sense of community (receiving help from others at the hospital)
I've experienced this ever since I started to go to the ante-natal clinic for regular check ups. Obviously I stick out as a sore thumb since i'm not local and I'm "white". I don't speak Twi (the common local language, which they use in a lot of the communication to these pregnant women). I often seem clueless when I went for the check ups (which I was). There often was a leader type woman who would help me with some instructions as to where to go or what to do next.

When I was staying at the hospital after delivery, I was in a nice room (with air-con and television) that accommodated three people. For that night we stayed in the hospital, there was only one other woman in the room with us (baby and me). Around 4am (the time most people get up), I saw that she seems to be getting ready for bath. Not long after, a nurse came in with some water for her and asked me if I wanted to bath. Right away the nurse asked, where is your bucket. I said I didn't bring one (I didn't know that I needed one). She also asked if I have other things I need to bathe. So the woman staying in the same room was very nice and offered me to borrow her bucket to bathe. That is just one example of the help this woman provided. She also lent me her cloth (so it's easier to get in and out of the common shower rooms without carrying too many things). When her mother came to visit her with some local maize porridge, she offered me a bowl. My cellphone battery was low. She borrowed a charger to help me charge my battery. When I wasn't sure where to take my bowl to get it washed after lunch, she asked a friend from the hospital to wash it for me. Prior to the delivery, I had prayed along with our house help that I will encounter angels at the hospital. Sure enough, God sent a wonderful roommate for a day to provide all the help that I needed that day.

Well, so here you are... my first hand experience of giving birth to a baby in Accra, Ghana as an Asian American woman who already had one baby in the U.S.. I wish I can make it more concise or vivid but this will do for now...

2013 expectations

(what i wrote on Jan 3, 2013)
the church has called a fast for these first days of the year. i looked at the prayer pointers today and one thing mentioned is "remind God of your expectations and write it out". i thought that's interesting. what might my expectations of God be for 2013?

it seems that we usually ask "what does God expect of me in this new year?" but not very often have i heard "what do i expect from God this year?" so as i thought of it, the first thing that came to my mind is that i want to see the fruits of my labor from years before. for the year i served in burma because God called me to encourage the students... the years i served the mainland chinese grad students by organizing an English speaking corner because i saw the need to share life and the Gospel with this group of people...

when i labored, i didn't "see" the fruits... just one teacher came to Christ that year in burma and who knows where the kids are spiritually in their lives. there were a few ESC students going to church but i'm also not sure if any of them became Christians.

(the following was edited on Jan 8...)
besides that, i would like to sharpen my "kraft" this year... that is to improve my public speaking skills and also sharpen my knowledge in ethnomusicology. i know that God provided opportunities for me to study and obtain a degree and He will use those investments some time in the future. in the mean time, i should prepare myself so that when the right time comes, i'm ready.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Passion of the Christ and pregnancy

last night at UCHC we went to the Good Friday service and husband was presiding and speaking (one of the 7 last words of Christ). before he preached, he started to call names of people and asking them to go up and share. of course he didn't mention it ahead of time that he was going to do that to me. but he did. usually i would be pretty nervous about this kind of last minute stuff especially up on the stage in front of people. but maybe because i've seen how it's done very frequently at the Pentecostal churches, i was rather calm about it. i didn't hear or he didn't say what he wanted me to do so i was sitting there thinking about what i will say or sing (because it could be either one of those things). as i thought about what i might share with the people, the images of The Passion of The Christ came into my mind. we watched part of it the other night since it was on TV. i think because i am pregnant and expecting a son, the scenes where they focused on Jesus and His mother, Mary's relationship drew out a lesson that i've not thought much about.

the movie was done from a Catholic angle of the Passion (or suffering) of the Christ. focusing on Jesus's eye contact exchanges with His mother, it gave me a sense that a part of how Jesus was able to continue on His journey of suffering was because His mother was there and silently supporting Him to completing the task that He was given. but it never occurred to me of the suffering of Jesus's mother during the process until the other night when i was watching it. as a pregnant woman, carrying a child for 9 months, raising the child to her best abilities, who would want to see their child suffer? yet Jesus's mother, Mary did not protest or fight like Peter did in Matthew 16:21-23. she was obviously in pain and yet it's almost like she knew that Jesus's suffering was necessary. it was the purpose of why He came into the world.

although i've known that in being obedient to God, not only do we need to pay the price but the people around us also need to pay the price along with us. still, to endure the kind of suffering Mary, the mother of Jesus, had to endure, it seems rather cruel and harsh. it made me think about all those times when i went on short-term missions trips especially those in very rural, non-contactable areas. i knew that my mother (or parents) had to suffer to some extend because of my obedience to follow God's call in my life. i always pray before and during the trips that God will watch over my family and bring the "peace beyond all understanding" to them (which He always did). but this is just one of the realities or the price to pay in being obedient to God and following Him.

maybe it makes the Christian walk harder. yet maybe the thought of how this community around us (or Body of Christ) is so necessary even when it comes to being obedient to what God calls us to do. and maybe it's also in the community or the Body's support (along with God and His Spirit's enablement) that we can continue to carry on this Christian journey.