Splashing in the Puddles!

The dry season here in Malawi runs roughly from the end of April to the end of November. However we do live in the tropics, so every once in a while we get a day or two of rain in July or August. Like yesterday and today!

I would have expected about 15 minutes of light rain, but it rained fairly steadily for over an hour today! Enough that it was rushing down the gutters and pipes!

The girls begged to put on rain coats and go splash in the puddles of our driveway, so I sent them off to have fun. Matt had a little fun too and set up an impromptu photo shoot. Here's what I got:

And here's what he got:

Clearly he's a better photographer than me, and I happily enjoy the benefits of that all the time! ☺️

It was getting cold outside (69 degrees F when I took these pics), so I headed back to the warm kitchen to finish dinner and make some hot chocolate for my family.

We never know what surprises await us each day, so we enjoy them as they come – rain or shine!

Drinking Water

Remember summer days of drinking straight out of the garden hose? Well, we don't do that here in Malawi! We have a great water filter for our drinking water and for years we only filtered. However, about 9 months ago the city stopped treating the water for a period of time and we started researching the boil and filter option.

Ugh. Boil water every day? Not me, not in my house. I don't want to pay more for gas to boil 20 liters of water every day, and I REALLY don't want to heat up my house every day with 2 huge pots of boiling water! This is Africa, in the tropics, we're already hot enough! I'll just clean those filters again, and we should be fine!

But then I learned the difference between how to get bacteria out of your water and how to get viruses out of your water. Our Katadyn Gravidyn filters remove something like 99.95% of all chemicals and bacteria from the water. But viruses are so small they just go straight through the filters. Boiling kills viruses. Done. End of discussion. I became a firm believer in boiling AND filtering water that day! I'm not even going to get into the details of the sewer pipe that leaked into the water main of the neighborhood just north of us… Boil and Filter is my new mantra!

So we fill up our two 10L pots with tap water almost every evening and bring them to a boil (which takes about exactly 67 minutes). We crack the lids and let them cool overnight, and in the morning we pour the cooled, virus-free water into the top part of our two filters. Over the next couple hours, the water works its way through the filters and stores in the bottom of the unit for easy access. Is it a process? Yes. Do we have fewer tummy bugs now? Actually, yes. Do I carry the water on my head. Um, yes… a 10L pot of water is too heavy to carry in front of me without spilling, so I lift it up on top of my head to carry it across the kitchen. Sorry, no selfies of that – I'm not that coordinated!

And that's how we get drinking water here in Lilongwe! We drink it, cook with it, and wash fruits and veggies in it. I'm thankful for the modern technology of such great filters, and for the ancient technology of fire that now rounds out our water treatment process. I do think that all that work makes the water taste just a little bit sweeter!

7 Years Strong

This last Friday we celebrated 7 years in Malawi. SEVEN YEARS!!! In some ways it has gone quickly, but especially for the girls – it’s a lifetime. I can say without a shadow of a doubt that the love we have for the Lord’s work, the bride of Christ, and Malawi have grown exponentially over these years. We thank the Lord that He chose us for this work and for this place, and we look forward to all that He has in store for us in the coming years!

Floreen family May 2016 – Abigail 5 1/2 years old, Naomi 2 1/2 years old

May 2016

Sunday = Fun Day

Sundays are definitely a favorite at our house. From getting to eat breakfast in your pajamas, to worshipping the Lord at church with all our friends, to having people over for a meal, to family game night – it’s a fun day! And today was no different!

At church, Abi ran off to Sunday school with her friends, and Naomi and got ready to play with “Baby Caleb.” Naomi never liked being in the nursery (which we call the creche here in Malawi) until she was given the mission of taking care of Caleb. She has fully embraced this responsibility, and you can see that she did her job well today!

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We had the privilege of hearing Mayamiko preach from Psalm 119:17-24 in the main service today. We’ve known Maya for years, and he’s finishing up his first year in the MDiv program at CAPA, so it was fun to hear him put what he has been learning into practice. I was encouraged through the preaching today to pray more fervently that God would increase my longing for the nourishment of my soul that comes from the Word of God. I so appreciate being a part of and investing in a church that values the preaching and teaching of God’s Word!

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Back at home, we were able to have a quiet afternoon with nap time for everyone. Abigail didn’t nap today, but Naomi made up for her lack by sleeping until 4pm. Shortly after Naomi was awake and back up to speed (it takes her a while), we heard Voxer beep on my phone and got to chat with Matt for a bit! What a great surprise, and certainly a highlight of our day!

At 5pm, our friend Barb showed up to have dinner with us and join us for family game night. Barb is a great friend, and has certainly earned family status! Enough so that I don’t feel bad feeding her scrambled eggs, toast, and hotdogs for dinner! =) But we cut the ends of the hotdogs and called them octopi, with coral reefs and the sea bed. That definitely sounds much more exciting, especially if you’re 5 or 2 years old…

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After dinner we played Hullabaloo and Sorry! until it was time for the girls to go to bed. I don’t know how she does it, but Abigail can roll a 6 on demand. As 6 was the number needed to start your game pieces on the board, she played the board like a champ. The number of 6s that she rolled was a little disturbing, probably because I couldn’t roll a 6 for the life of me! There were lots of “Sorry!”s, a couple Naomi-sponsored board reshuffles, and plenty of laughter tonight.

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I put the girls to bed, then Barb and I chatted for hours. Really, we kind of lost track of time and all of a sudden it was 10pm! She’s one of those friends with whom conversation can swing from philosophy, to silly childhood stories, to theology, to cultural anthropology, to bird watching, all without skipping a beat or needing a segue. I cherish those friendships and really enjoyed spending the evening with her. A nice way to end a fun, laid back day.

Full and Rich Days

Saturdays almost always start with a Skype call to my parents, aka Nana and Papa. I get to talk to them by myself for a while first, and then when the girls are up at 7 they join me and share their happy early morning cheer. Abigail is fascinated by the 10 hour time difference, and Naomi loves showing off all her baby dolls.

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Just as we were finishing up breakfast, Priscilla showed up. Priscilla, affectionately known to Naomi as “My Rilla,” works at our house on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, watching the girls in the morning and helping with odd jobs in the afternoon. While Matt’s away, I asked her to come on Saturdays too, because sometimes it’s just nice to have another adult around. And today it turned out to be especially helpful. The girls couldn’t care less if it’s helpful – they just love playing with her!

My first job of the day was to wash Naomi’s rain boots. It is the rainy season, but she wears these everywhere, rain or shine. I don’t know what was growing in them, but the stink coming from them was unbearable, as were Naomi’s feet. The feet soaked in an antiseptic bath, and the boots went three rounds with 1) antibacterial soap, 2) bleach, and 3) baking soda and vinegar.

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Since the girls were occupied and the beloved boots de-toxified, I dragged myself to my computer and worked on finances and taxes. Blah. That’s all I’m going to say. No, I will add: if you like keeping track of finances and working on your taxes, you should move to another country and enjoy it in 2 currencies. Blah.

In the course of the morning, word spread quickly through the neighborhood that our friends and landlords, living just a block from us, had been visited by thieves during the night. The thieves had broken a hole in their wall and poisoned and killed their dogs. Nothing was stolen, but this seems to be a popular tactic – break the wall and get rid of the dogs one night, come back sometime in the next couple nights to steal things. We once had someone try this at our house, but our dogs were too big for the little poison they were given, and we had the fence repaired right away that day. And installed lights on the street to discourage it happening again.

As I head to bed shortly, I’m thankful for God’s care for us. I know we are in His hands no matter what happens. But I also know that we must be wise, and so I am very thankful for an excellent night watchman and 2 big dogs who sound pretty scary. Our guard told me not to worry tonight, Simba put on his best guard dog face, and Samson stretched in preparation for a night of walking the perimeter. We would all appreciate your prayers for our neighborhood the next few nights.

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I spent the end of the morning visiting a friend, Susan, who is recovering from bacterial meningitis. She is back at home as of Thursday, and just today feeling well enough to want some reading material. If bacterial meningitis can be compared to an extreme migraine lasting for days and days, you can see how feeling well enough to read is real progress! So I took a few books to her, and some wonderful grapes!

Lunch went surprisingly well. Those of you who have/had little kids will know that lunch can either go surprisingly well, or it can be… let’s say, a series of great teaching moments.

After lunch, the girls had their rest time, Priscilla helped with a couple cleaning projects, and I tackled a problem with a candle sconce. As I was finishing up the blog post last night, I heard a dripping noise coming from the direction of the hall bathroom. I figured the girls had not turned the water off completely and it was slowly dripping. So I ignored it for a few minutes while I finished up on the computer. When I went to investigate, I found that it wasn’t water, but that one of our hall candle sconces had a hole in the base or catchment area. Every drop of wax that hit the tile floor splattered in a fine mist about 15 inches across the floor and up the wall. Oh dear. I stopped the dripping last night, but this afternoon I scraped all the wax with my pastry scraper (yay kitchen tools!), and decided to fix the offending candle sconce. So I got out the soldering iron and waited for it to heat up. And waited, and waited, and waited… Then I checked the wiring, changed the plug fuse, TOOK THE ENTIRE SOLDERING IRON APART! No good. It’s dead. So, when all else fails… I fixed the little hole in the candle sconce with a small piece of duct tape. Not one of my fancier fixes, but it will do for now!

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Also during rest time, I had a counseling session for about an hour, our final session, wrapping up a short series with this counselee. It was a good series, and has challenged me personally to think more deeply  and biblically about the true nature of faith and God’s good purposes in our lives.

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But rest time doesn’t last forever! “Mom! Let’s play tickle machine! Touch this knee to turn it on and I’ll tickle you, and this knee to turn it off!” My favorite part was when she thought I was taking too long between tickles and pushed her knee herself to turn on the tickle machine! Lots of giggles and fun times!

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As I write out all the details of my day, I’m struck by how ordinary today was. The only missing part was Matt. But this is kind of how my days go: fix things, pray for God’s protection of us, visit or take care of someone who’s sick, drink lemonade and talk about true saving faith with a friend, play with my kids… I love this life. It’s full and it’s rich. I’m so thankful that this is where the Lord chose to put our family!

Normal Life: Electricity

“Power’s off!” is a phrase commonly heard in our house. In fact, it’s one of the first sentences our girls have learned. It’s usually accompanied by one or the other of the girls trying all the light switches in the house, and opening the fridge to see if the fridge light turns on.

So the title to this post is not exactly accurate. Electricity is only sometimes a part of normal life. But the way we do electricity here is so different from how we have ever done it in the States, that I thought it would be interesting to show what “normal” looks like for us.

Here’s our meter box.

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All fancy, high-tech, and digital isn’t it?! Well, to remind you we live in Africa, there are usually 2-3 lizards living in this box too. I open it and jump back to see what will come out! Only lizards so far. But anyway, you can see the keypad on the meter. Our electricity is pre-paid, so in order to “top-up” our electricity, I buy units of electricity from the power provider (Electricity Supply Company Of Malawi – ESCOM), and on the receipt, I’m given a code that I must input in my meter in order for the units to be applied to our account. So I check the meter every week or two to see if we have units, and buy and input more units as we need them.

Now. Having units does not equate to having electricity. If the power is on and we have units, then we can have electricity. But these days, we never know how many hours a day we’ll have power available to us. It could be on all day, or it could be off from 4am to 4pm. Usually it’s off 4-8 hours a day (alternating mornings or evenings), and on overnight. But you never know!

Enter the generator.

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With 6.5 KVA available and a battery backup for the starter ignition, this machine is our friend! We’re not the type to turn the generator on every time the power goes off, but if it has been off for 7-8 hours, this generator saves the day by recooling and refreezing my fridge and freezer. Especially if the girls have been checking to see if the power is back yet. (Ahem, yes, we are trying to break that habit…) It’s also helpful when we need to have sign-up sheets printed for church and the power has been off for hours, or if we need to turn in an online assignment for Matt’s grad program by a specific time and the power is, once again, off. I will admit to occasionally asking Matt to turn the generator on for bath time too, because, well, it’s ok, but sometimes I need to see in order to scrub all the African red dirt off those girls!

Can I just point out for a moment how wonderful my husband is? The metal housing held above the generator not only covers the generator to make the side of our house look nicer, it also greatly reduces the noise. And Matt designed it. He’s wonderful! He also designed this little switchover:

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If the green light is on, we have power from ESCOM. If it’s off, we can flip the switch and start the generator. Brilliant!

And if all else fails, we can buy a 6-pack of candles for about 85 cents. We actually like candle light, so it’s sometimes our power of choice! Not that it will run our internet router, but it sure is pretty!

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However you get your electricity to read our blog, thanks for following along!

Martha

A lot happens at our house during the week. We’re often teaching Bible studies, having families over for meals, homeschooling, hosting guests, counseling, meeting people who just dropped by, and fixing something or the other. Sometimes people wonder how I find time to stay on top of those things AND keep our house clean.

Here’s the secret: I don’t keep the house clean!

Martha does.

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Meet Martha. She’s our housekeeper, and she’s wonderful! Every morning Monday through Saturday, she comes in and washes all our dishes, mops our floors, cleans our bathrooms, and helps with laundry. Her family lives in an apartment in our backyard, and has since before we moved here.

Martha has helped us learn how to live in and interact with our local community. She helps us decide if we should go to the Neighborhood Watch meeting, how much to contribute to the neighborhood ladies’ funeral fund, what to do about the local crazy woman who thinks she lives at our house, and tipping us off that our neighbor’s daughter is getting married this weekend (so we can be ready for a night of loud music!). You could say she is the “point guard” at our house. We don’t even know everything that comes through her, because she manages so much without even bothering us.

Best of all, Martha is our friend. We laugh together as she washes dishes and I make lunch. We share recipes and thoughts about parenting. We can ask one another cultural questions and talk about difficult issues without fear of it damaging our relationship. She is indispensable, not only for a clean house, but also for helping us be part of Malawi. Martha is one of the reasons we love to call this place home.

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Wilfred and Martha Chunga, Chancy (12), Rejoice (4), and Timothy (2 months). Christmas 2014

Quiet, Cold, and Dark… Not that We Mind

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It’s the long school holiday here in Malawi, which means lots of people are traveling – for vacation or relocation – and church activities are a bit slower and fewer for us. It’s our break time to take a deep breath and make some plans for the next busy season.

The school holiday happens to coincide with the coldest days of winter. We FINALLY get to put on sweaters and enjoy a cup of hot tea or cocoa in the evenings! Being in the southern hemisphere, we just had our winter solstice a couple weeks ago, so the days are short and the nights long.

Meanwhile, our generator went on vacation. That’s right. Our generator joined an outreach group running audiology clinics on the lakeshore, so we spent three weeks without our back-up electricity. And I do have to say, we kind of enjoyed it. Candlelight throughout the house is really very beautiful. We have been in Africa for 6 years now, but we still enjoy the rustic, romantic, adventurous beauty of life here!

Christmas is Coming!

Abi is in charge of the countdown and she knows CHRISTMAS IS COMING SOON! This is a fun time of year for our family and our church, and we eagerly look forward to the Christmas season.

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We had some friends over for dinner last night and they helped us decorate the tree, so our house is looking much more festive now!

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And the invitations are out for the 6th annual Church Christmas Parties at our home! We’re excited to welcome the whole church into our home to celebrate the birth of our Savior. The time of worship and fellowship and laughter together is a highlight of our year!

Now for some baking and Christmas present wrapping…

Overcoming Arachnophobia

Chop Chop long shotMe and spiders are like Indiana Jones and snakes. They’ve always creeped me out a bit.

Rachel and I first met a “Chop-Chop” in 2008, while we were gathering info about moving to Malawi. We were in someone else’s home when a big, hairy, crab-like spider darted between the furniture with startling speed. Rachel thought I was very brave to hunt it down and smash it with my flip-flop. Truth is, I just didn’t want it to find me later that night. We’ve never seen one in our house before…until now.

He was very still. I cautiously dropped a container over him. Sure enough, he was dead. Apparently the insecticide we use for mosquitos works on Chop-Chops too. But I still wasn’t really excited about our unwelcome guest.

So I decided the best way to overcome my fear was to photograph him. I love studying and observing God’s creation, perhaps they wouldn’t be so creepy if I learned a bit about them. So here are some facts I learned, with some photos to accompany them.

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  • They’re called camel spiders, wind scorpions, or sun spiders because they love dry, hot places. But they’re actually neither spiders or scorpions. They’re Solifugae.
  • Their legs are jointed differently than spiders, which is why they look double-jointed when they run. Why do they have ten legs? The front ones are actually feelers used for finding prey.
  • Speaking of prey, they eat beetles and termites… plus rodents, lizards, and even snakes! (Which is worse: snakes, or snake-eating spiders?)

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  • Their long hairs help them feel vibrations so they can move quickly. (Mine also has tiny wings on the back legs, which I’ll assume serve the same purpose. If you learn they actually use these for flying – I really, really don’t want to know.)
  • They can run 10 MPH (that’s ½ as fast as me!) They like the dark, and they often seem to be chasing a person when they actually just want to get in their shadow. (Or up their pant leg…)
  • They have very sophisticated eyes and can recognise forms, giving them an advantage in both hunting and avoiding enemies. (Like a guy with a flip-flop…)

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  • Their long movable jaws have scissor-like teeth that resemble crab claws. They use them to chew through hair, feathers, and small bird bones! They are called haarskeerders (hair-cutters) in Afrikaans.
  • Their bite can be painful, but is not dangerous to humans. They have no venom. (Which means the British family who fled their house because they thought a camel spider killed their dog was probably in no real danger.)
  • Soldiers on desert assignments have historically staged fights: camel spider vs. camel spider, or camel spider vs. scorpion. (No record of camel spider vs. snake, which would definitely have been worth seeing.)

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Did all that research make them less creepy? I’m not so sure. But after letting him sit on my desk a few days until I was sure he wasn’t moving, I felt ready to take this shot:

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And now if you need me, I’ll be spraying some insecticide in the attic.