Chapter 11 – Home From School
We had been living at the lake for almost three months and now it was time for Cathy and Jeff to come home from school for the Christmas break from boarding school in Addis Ababa. They had entered school before we arrived at Lake Langano so this was their first time to see their new home. They would be home for three weeks
I had taken the time to construct a bunk bed for them in the corner of our little tin house. It was good they were still small and didn’t need a full sized bed. The window on the back wall beside the bunk didn’t need glass: a screen on the outside and a curtain on the inside did the trick. This not only provided fresh air but also unhindered access to the sounds of the night. The darkness was always filled with strange sounds: the monkeys stirring in the big sycamore tree above and sometimes the half bark and half cough of the leopard in search of his midnight snack. We looked forward to introducing our children to this world.
The First Sunday
The first Sunday they were home, we decided to take our lunch to the bush and have our “church”. We headed for the “Chaka Cathedral”, the place I had previously discovered among towering trees not far from the camp site. We found a giant tree with large roots above the ground where we sat and ate our lunch. Then for “church” we sang Christmas carols and other songs they had learned at school. We were amused when Jeff wanted to lead the singing to see him hold his elbows out over an ample bust, and gently swing his arms to the music in exactly the same fashion as his grade one teacher, Miss McDonald, would have done in the classroom. He then quoted the Lord’s prayer and John 14:1-6 from memory. Cathy delivered the sermon by quoting without hesitation, the Christmas account from Luke. To say the least, this was a thrill for mom and dad. Our pleasure was only increased by the fact that they both brought good report cards along with them. They seemed to have survived their first few months of boarding school well.
On Christmas eve Betty always tried to have eggnog and mince tarts, then we would open our few gifts. On Christmas day we usually managed a chicken for dinner, well pressure-cooked, with all the trimmings. Then we would read the Christmas story from the Bible.
A Dusty Ride
A couple of days before Christmas, we drove into Sheshamane to celebrate with the mission staff there. Betty, being a very social person, was particularly thankful for the invitation. Being the dry season the dirt on the road to the highway was the consistency of talcum powder. The old Landrover replacing the borrowed van and given to us to use was no protection from the cloud of light brown dust that engulfed us. At one stage along the way we each applied surgical masks to our mouth and nose in search of pure air. At times I had to turn on the windshield wipers to clear the dust from my vision ahead.
As we neared the main highway the going was rather slow so the children climbed onto the front fenders where it was less dusty; Jeff on the left fender and Cathy on the right. As we inched our way along I hit a bump that sent the unsuspecting Cathy into the air. This vehicle was one of those British right-handed drive models giving me a view of her disappearing just ahead of the right fender. Fortunately the slow pace enabled the quick application of the brakes to stop the vehicle before any injury to Cathy. But she landed in the dust tummy down. Because we were on our way to a party, Betty had dressed her in a pretty green dress for the occasion. As I lifted her from the ground, there was no green to be seen – or pretty little face, for that matter! Needless to say, we were relieved that she was safe even though cleaning up at the other end of the journey hardly produced the results fit for a party!
Betty’s mom (their “Granny”) sent money to buy the children Christmas gifts. So while in Addis Ababa to pick the children up, we purchased two inflatable boats for them. The Russian-owned “department store” in Addis Ababa, Mosvold’s, had a tall, thin, brown-skinned Santa person to greet us at the door. His red Santa suit just hung loosely on him – no jelly belly! Very amusing to us who had quite a different visual image of the “HO HO” man in mind.
Jeff loved paddling his canoe-shaped craft on the lake; especially when there was a slight swell. The sandy beach provided wonderful swimming for the children. Frequently some of the local people would be standing with their sticks and spears watching this unusual event. They might once in a while slip in for a quick bath, but playing in the water was something they just didn’t do. I sent a crew down to the beach on a regular basis to keep the beach generally clean of cow poop and other debris. They also kept the reeds cut back so they didn’t take over the beach. A Hippo lived in those reeds and always stayed out in the water at a distance when we were on the beach. At times we could hear its deep sounding snort.
A few other missionary families came to Langano to camp on the beach. This was a super highlight for our children. Their children – also friends from Bingham – enjoyed the beach and bush activities as well. One of the older students known as the “Texas Hero”, Mark Licklider came to stay and help me with the building for a week of his holiday. He had his meals with us. Not only was he a good help to me, but was also a hit with the kids; strict but fun with them with his magnetic personality and southern drawl.
The Not So Special Treat
Having the children home called for an occasion to bring out what we considered would be a special treat. Friends had given us a can of kippered herring and this was the time to enjoy it for our supper one evening with the kids. It only took a few moments after puncturing the first hole in the opening process to convince them that this “treat” was well beyond their flavour’s comfort zone. The strong odor almost convinced us of that as well, but we weren’t about to let such a precious commodity go to waste. While Jeff and Cathy munched on something more conventional, we tried to let them see that we enjoyed the smelly stuff.
All was well until about nine o’clock that evening with the children asleep in their bunks when I experienced an excruciating pain in the stomach. Minutes later Betty complained of the same. What was going on? Was that strong smell from the can of kippered herring normal? Had we inadvertently eaten spoiled fish and poisoned ourselves? We looked at each other and wondered what we should do next.
To make matters worse, we had just read from a magazine sent from home, the account of a couple in New York City who in the midst of a heat wave had died within hours after eating cold soup from a contaminated can. They were in New York where help was nearby, but here we were back in the African bush hours from the nearest medical help!
There was no one camping on the beach at the time. Should we awaken the children and head for Sheshamane in the Landrover? What if we died on the way there? The second alternative was no better; what if they would wake up in the morning with two dead parents in the house? We panicked until we realized that we could commit the situation to our heavenly Father. We did and before long the pain eased and whatever that was, we survived. I don’t think we said anything to the children the next morning.
Back to School Again
Needless to say, the local people were greatly intrigued by these two foreign children; especially Cathy’s blond and Jeff’s red hair. Over the next few years whenever they came home from school, they integrated more and more into the local culture near us. This first time home was only a beginning to a great adventure for them in the years ahead.
The three weeks were going by all too quickly. Now it was time to prepare for their return. They had grown so much while at school and needed a fresh supply of clothing.
We dug into the barrels where their clothing was stored, sewed on name labels and packed their suitcases again. Ponchos suddenly were in style so Betty had crocheted one from market yarn for Cathy. They would be home again in March for another break from school.
Home schooling was not encouraged by the Ethiopia SIM Administration. Boarding school was the only option available to us for the children’s schooling. It was tough to see them leave us again. We trusted them to God’s care and the supervision provided by the school. The administration did their best to provide suitable activities and comfortable living conditions.
Meanwhile I had many more cement blocks to make …. and we had to be ready for a delegation of mission leaders and supporters coming into the camp for a special dedication service. So I had better get on with it!
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