missionary stress and 95º living rooms

I’m a relatively laid back person.  I don’t generally have high stress levels.  I think I adapt easily and quickly to any number of factors that may change in either my surroundings or my responsibilities.  

But it’s been a rough couple of days.

You’d Think It Was the Newborn…

Surprisingly, having a new (and second) child is not at all the most stressful part of the last three days (even if one were to count all the sleep deprivation that is contained in a tiny, 6+ pound package).  No, the difficulty has been that we’re not at home right now — and that the home we’re in is not always conducive to life in general, much less to life with a newborn.  The stress comes from the uncertainty of our current living situation.

I guess most stress in Africa is due to uncertainty.

Waking Up

I don’t want to belittle what people living in the U.S. experience.  [That’s not my intention, though I’ll likely do it anyway.]  But I’ve heard that in the U.S. an individual generally wakes up in the morning with a stress level of 0-2 on a 10-point scale. And then, depending on his day and his job, that number can escalate — but it’s somewhat difficult to ever reach a 10.  The same individual, so it’s said, begins his day in Africa at around a 5 on the stress level scale.  I’m not sure if this is true, but it makes sense to me.  

The reason it seems to make sense is because of all the uncertainties we experience in our lives in Africa.  In the states, I never woke up wondering if the electricity was on, or for how long it would be on, or if the generator would work if it wasn’t on.  I never used to hear my alarm and ask myself if there was enough water for me to take a shower.  I never began my days in the states thinking about how there’s a 50/50 chance the guy with whom I’m supposed to meet will show up, or about how many hours late he’ll be if he does, or about whether the plumber who’s told me for three days straight that he’s coming in a half-hour really will this time.

In the states we flip on a light switch, never once imagining the light might not immediately follow suit.  Battery-operated alarms are for camping.  And I can program my coffee-maker so my addiction is hot and ready when I walk into the kitchen.  There’s always water.  Heck, there’s always running water!

[The last time I was really stressed, I wrote this post:  culture stress (or i don’t want to be a missionary anymore).  It might be an interesting read — if you like hearing missionaries complain and (in general) show how unlike Christ they are in their discontent.  But then again, you’re going to witness all that in this blog post, as well.]

So Why All the Crying?

Lately, in our rented house in Dar, the stress has largely been due to high temperatures.  It’s 90+ degrees in Dar and our house was poorly designed.  I say poorly designed — really, the house is simply unfinished.  It’s intended to be a two-story home, but the second level was never built.  So we’ve got a dark gray concrete slab that serves as both our roof and our ceiling.  And it gets hot.  Really hot.  I tried to measure the temperature of the ceiling yesterday, but the thermometer only goes to 110° — it got there really fast.

We’ve got air conditioning in the bedrooms, so sleep at night is possible.  It’s the living area that gets so hot.  We experimented the other day, shutting all the windows in the house and running the air conditioners on high.  But the air conditioners just can’t compete with a 130º, making-our-house-into-a-giant-oven, ceiling.  Even if running the air conditioners had worked, though, we’d never be able to afford the electricity to do so.  Hey, at least there’s a ceiling fan in the living room.

But the electricity was out during the last two days.  No retreating to a luxuriously air-conditioned room for a relaxing 10-minute break from the heat.  And no ceiling fan, either.  Christie’s not really in a position to ride in the car, what with her stitches and recovery from delivery and whatnot.  So we couldn’t leave the house.  With all the windows open, temperatures INSIDE the house climbed to over 95º.  But we figured we could tough it out for a couple of days (we were only able to last as long as we did because electricity came back for a time during the night, allowing us to sleep in air-conditioned rooms).

By yesterday evening, though, everyone in the house was dehydrated and without energy.  Both girls had heat rashes.  And all of us were grumpy.  Christie was continuously feeding Harper, because there’s no other way for her to get liquids.  And we couldn’t open the refrigerator to get food or cold drinks, for fear that everything in it would spoil.

Leaving

So when the electricity was still out after it got dark last night (and we could no longer see to protect ourselves and our children from mosquitoes), we packed our bags (using one flashlight and the lights from our phones) and loaded the car.  We called some friends of ours and asked if they had electricity, and if we could sleep at their house.  They were happy to have us.  Praise God for Ben and Mary Cook, and Erin Steinhoff.

So that’s where we are now.  The electricity at our house came back late during the night, so I’ll head back over today to check out the refrigerator and its contents.  If the electricity stays on all day today, we’ll move back in this afternoon.  If not, we’ll start looking for a slightly longer-term situation than crashing at friends’ houses.  

But it sure would be nice to stay in the house we’ve rented.  Though I never thought I’d be looking forward to moving back into a house because it has a ceiling fan in a 95º living room.

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25 Comments

Filed under living in africa, updates from geita

25 responses to “missionary stress and 95º living rooms

  1. Danny Beebe

    You and your family as well as your mission is always in my prayers. Hang in there brother.

  2. Emily

    I’m really sorry guys. ) : your situation really puts into perspective any frustration i had over the last week of the refrigerator and generator and electrical box simultaneously breaking. i would choose all that any day over dar temps with no relief with a toddler and newborn! if we lived closer to dar we’d offer a stay with us and steal some harper-holding and reading to baylor time, but as it is we’ll pray you find a better short term place to live!
    love,
    emily

    • pole sana.

      are any of them able to be repaired? or have i seen the last of the big fridge?

      • Emily

        we were 1 for 3 in the repairing department (and jason fixed the electrical box himself). the frige and the generator both theoretically could have been repaired, but both at such high cost- and no guarantee of staying fixed- that we got new ones. so yes, you’ve probably seen the last of the big frige, though the person we’ve supposedly sold it to hasn’t picked it up yet and it’s still sitting on our back porch. so that could go either way i guess… but we are loving the new frige, judah especially is enthralled that a light comes on when it is opened, since ours had been out for a few years ( : and the generator is a key start which is pretty sweet.
        how goes the search for new housing? or is the current housing working out better now?

  3. Reckon I have lost something in the transition from America to Africa. Is the delivery of the baby the reason you are not in the house you built when you first went over there? Are you moving back there eventually? Are you in Dar because of Harper? Just curious Brett.

    • bill, i suppose i haven’t been writing often enough to fill in all the gaps. we live and work in geita, which is where we’ve rented a house from a local businessman (the house was unfinished when we arrived, so our contract had us spend 3 years’ rent to finish it, after which we’ll pay yearly).

      we came to dar es salaam because we’re more comfortable with the healthcare situation here, and this is where the u.s. embassy is in tanzania (where we have to report harper’s birth and apply for a passport and social security number). so we rented a house for six weeks in dar. that’s the one that’s so hot.

      we’ll head back to geita at the beginning of march.

  4. MaeMae

    And I thought I had prepared you for the heat!!

    Seriously, I hope you get somewhere cooler and everyone can get some rest. Love you, and take care of all my girls.

    • mom, your thriftiness as it pertains to air conditioning only helped for the first couple of minutes. it seems that southeast alabama homes are better built than half-finished ones in tanzania.

  5. Brett, these ideas probably won’t work, but my male “fix-it” gene is kicking in anyway. The first will always depend on whether or not your water is working. If so, putting water on that roof will help cool it down and keep the inside temperature reduced a little. Second, If there is a way to get a tarp, some clothes line (or equivalent) and two poles, you could create a shade over the roof by creating a tent above it, keeping it a few feet above the surface so air can flow under the tarp. You have probably already thought of both ideas and have good reasons why they won’t work, but I am compelled to empathize in the second-best thing I know to do–brainstorm.

    My best thing to do is pray, so I will do that also!

    Father, I pray for Brett and his family. Give them relief from the heat. Protect them from dehydration. Restore their strength. Renew their spirits. Keep them from taking out their frustration on one another. Be their fortress at this time. “As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people…Surround them, oh, Lord…” Put a cloud of your protection over them. In Jesus’ name, Amen!

    • thank you, john, most of all for the prayer. and also for the empathy and attempts at problem-solving. were i a woman, you’d likely be in trouble for not having just listened — thinking you have to solve all of my problems, when i just want you to be here.

      but as a man who rather enjoys solving problems himself, i appreciate the help. water is indeed a problem here, and not a solution. we’ve already run out either 2 or 3 times, so i won’t be using water for anything other than to run a bath for christie to use to cool off.

      the other idea is, i think, the better one — but would likely take me more time and money than i have to spend. and we won’t be here all the long. and while the electricity is here, we can always send christie and the kids into an air-conditioned room for a bit during the day. also, once christie is healthy enough to ride in the truck, we have the best solution: just leave the house and go somewhere during the hottest part of the day (a pool, for instance).

      i had even thought about just trying to lay enough dead grass on the roof to keep the sun from hitting the concrete directly. a mulch of sorts. or i could paint the roof white. but i think we’ll just wait it out. the house isn’t ours for all the much longer.

  6. Gee Brett, what a difficult situation for you and Christie, made so much worse with two small children to take care of on top of everything. You have certainly made me stop and think about all the things I never have to worry about at the start of my day.
    I am so sorry that you all have to endure such hardship at this time (I’m sure you did not write the piece so that we would all feel sorry for you) but it is a very difficult situation indeed.
    I hope that things get resolved soon and that you are in a more comfortable place the next time we hear from you.

    • uhm… i don’t think i have any right to say anything about high temperatures to someone who lived where you guys did the last however many years.

      and things seem to already be resolved for the most part; we are blessed.

  7. I wanted to comment here and tell you that I feel your pain, but I hate it when people do that. This sounds like it is really tough, and we are praying for you.

  8. Found out about your blog from the guy that Levi that just posted. We both work here in Ethiopia and I agree with him. I would tell you I feel your pain, but I also hate it when people say that. Stay strong my friend. I just posted a similar post on our blog just last week…Seems like all of Africa can be the same at times 🙂 May his grace continue to give you strength, congrats on the new baby as well!

    • thanks for coming by, craig. i’m happy to meet a couple of real life missionaries in ethiopia. i’m sure you hear it all the time, but… i like the food, and i love the coffee even more.

      thanks, too, for the encouragement. God is very good.

      [i’ve subscribed to yours and levi’s blogs. happy to read about what you’re doing there.]

  9. UPDATE:

    thanks, everyone, for your encouragement and for your prayers. all is well in dar es salaam. we moved back into our rental house today, and the electricity is on. christie’s feeling much better, and (i’m guessing) will be up to riding in the truck beginning monday (which is great, because harper’s got to go to the hospital that day for vaccines).

    staying at ben, mary, and erin’s house was like a little mini-vacation from our place that brought great refreshment. we really enjoyed spending some time with them, we appreciated a house slightly more comfortable than our own, and we’re all in better moods now. heat rashes have subsided, and none of the food in the fridge spoiled.

    (even if this hadn’t worked out so well, it would still be true that…) God is good.

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  11. Wow! So sorry that happened to you. Obviously, your life is more stressful if you live in an area like that.

  12. Wow, Brett. I can’t imagine this. I mean China had some inconveniences that were annoying, but NOTHING like this. I’m praying for y’all and those girls. I know you probably didn’t write this for a bunch of sympathy, but I am SO SORRY to hear about this kind of thing going on. Especially with two little ones.

  13. You’re right; it’s the uncertainty. We didn’t have the basic-needs uncertainty in Western Europe that you’ve face, but we did have the uncertainty of not being able to stay, primarily because of the government, secondarily because of funding. I’m glad you were able to find refreshment during that difficult time, but that uncertainty can seriously eat one alive. I know.

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