It is hot! Not just a little hot, but really hot! The cyclone season is upon us, so the 90 plus degree temperatures are made sweltering by the high humidity and intermittent rain showers. In the midst of this heat, we have begun the 2022 school year…online. While the beginning of a new school year is always hectic and takes a bit of getting used to, starting the year online presents a number of different challenges. For teachers it means figuring out how to build relationships with students and establish “classroom” expectations through a screen. For students it means struggling to stay focused and complete tasks with limited personal interaction and accountability. And for support staff, like me, it means largely feeling helpless to do anything for students who we know are struggling because we can’t meet with them face to face and they are often reluctant to “meet” online. Of the few who have agreed to meet online in the past, most do not want to do it again because they are afraid that others in their household will overhear their conversations. On one occasion, I had a student who was so hesitant to speak out loud during our video call that he used the chat feature to type his responses to me.
Being unable to effectively provide support has been yet another obstacle in this pandemic, and it has also been a reminder of how we are people in need of connection. We want it. We seek it. We even yearn for it at times. Despite being a person who is undeniably introverted, I recognize the power of connection, and how without it, I begin to sink into myself and my own thoughts. I see this same tendency in students who, being teenagers, are naturally predisposed to their own egocentric thoughts and fears and who often need their peers to validate and reassure them that they are not alone. Connection is key for all of us. And as we social distance, self-isolate, and communicate through screens this connection can be lost. Relationships can be lost. And sometimes this loss happens so subtly that we don’t even notice until it’s gone.
This brings me to the theme for much of our professional development this term—relationships matter. Relationships matter in all contexts and in all forms because we are creatures built for connection. During our professional development days in early January, we talked about our individual relationships with God, our relationships with each other, the relationship of the school with the community, and also our relationships as staff with students. This year in the secondary school a specific focus has been put on building relationships as new smaller homerooms, called “family groups,” have been established. Each “family” is made up of one teacher and roughly ten students from either the lower secondary (grades 7-9) or upper secondary (grades 10-13) school. The goal is to allow students the opportunity to develop relationships with other students outside of their grade, which can facilitate peer mentorship, and also for the students to have one family teacher who will stay with them through their lower or upper secondary years. The hope is that through this ongoing relationship with one specific teacher, students will feel comfortable going to that teacher for support or guidance. It also will allow the family teacher to become more knowledgeable about each student’s personal circumstances.
But just having a relationship isn’t enough for connection. The quality of those relationships also matters. So, in an effort to help the teachers feel more equipped to effectively support students, I was asked to provide a professional development workshop related to helping skills. As I considered the content for this workshop, a consistent theme reverberated in my brain—relationships matter. I did not know at the time that several of the other workshops would also be centered on this theme, so when it came time for my session at the end of the day, I couldn’t help but feel like there was a bit of divine intervention or serendipity to it all. I felt reassured that this was not just me talking about how student-teacher relationships matter, but instead, it was part of a larger discussion about how relationships and connection matter in all aspects of our lives.
When it comes to student-teacher relationships specifically, research has shown that students who have a positive relationship with a teacher perform better academically, are more engaged and motivated, are less likely to be disruptive in class, have better class attendance, and are less likely to engage in harmful or risk-taking behaviors. One study also found that students who feel a sense of connection are more likely to stay in school and that this sense of connection can come from a relationship with just one key person. I call this the anchor. Students, like most of us in life, need an anchor. They need someone who can be their calm in the storm, the person who sees them and knows them and loves them no matter what. This person provides a sense of safety and security. This is the person who keeps them connected to something outside of themselves, something greater than themselves. And the truth is that we may not always know when we are someone else’s anchor, especially in the case of young people who may or may not disclose their inner thoughts and feelings.
So, it is with this idea in mind, that I continue to reach out. I continue to send emails and messages to connect with students and to check on how they are doing. Some respond. Some don’t. Some probably welcome the messages. Some probably don’t. Nevertheless, I reach out. I let them know that this connection is still available—that this relationship and their well-being still matters to me even if I can’t see them face to face and that I am still here on the other side of the screen if they need me.
As we move into February, we are looking forward to being back on campus which will make connecting with students much easier. But even still, I anticipate that there will be challenges as I’m sure this pandemic will continue to make things stressful and unpredictable for all of us. Nevertheless, we will press on. With that, I will leave you with one of my favorite quotes:
My hope is that, whatever comes, we may all find the courage to love intentionally, extravagantly, and unconditionally—to be an anchor of hope and light in this world. With peace, love, and gratitude from Mauritius…
Other news and photos:
Aaron turned the big 40 on January 16th! And we forced him to celebrate despite it being the eve of the first day of school.
We all enjoyed having Emily’s mom visit in December. Here are a few of the highlights.
November 26th was the last day of school for the 2021 academic year. This year consisted of 8 weeks of in-person learning, 14 weeks of online learning, and 14 weeks of hybrid learning. Class schedules changed five times throughout the year, meaning that (with a family of five) we juggled at least 25 different schedules over the past 11 months. Individually, I have been a parent, teacher, chauffeur, homemaker, counselor, friend, wife, and colleague, among other things. It has been a year like no other and has required an extreme amount of adaptability, resilience, and fortitude.
All of this has made me so thankful that we have spent the last year at Lighthouse. Through it all—COVID, confinement, staff changes, student concerns…everything—I have witnessed a community of individuals who never stopped giving and loving no matter the stress or challenges they were facing. This has been true of our children’s primary teachers who have loved and welcomed our children in such an amazing way that despite moving to a foreign country and starting a new school our children are thriving, happy, and LOVE school. This has been true of the secondary teachers who, despite having to constantly adapt and carry the burden of extra classes when coworkers were ill or in self-isolation due to COVID, stayed positive and kept going. This has been true of the administration who have had to navigate government directives that sometimes changed without warning while managing an enormous load of student and staff concerns. This has also been true of the students at Lighthouse who have continued to care for each other and approach each new day with excitement and perseverance despite the circumstances. Indeed, Lighthouse is a special place.
When we began this journey, our vision and mission was simple—to follow Jesus’ command to love one another (John 13:34) and to do that in a global context using the gifts and talents that God has given us. While I can’t speak to how well we have accomplished our goal—as the saying goes, “You’ll have to ask my neighbor”—I can say that I am grateful to be part of a community that seems to share the same vision and mission. Loving others is at the core of what Lighthouse is all about. From the way the staff interacts with students to the way that students (and staff) are encouraged to interact with each other, the goal is always to show love and to use our gifts to serve others both at the school and in the larger community.
This love has been especially evident to me as I have served on the student care team for the past several months. We have negotiated many difficult situations and student concerns, but the discussion always comes back to one question: how can we best serve this student? And even more so, how can we serve them in the most loving way with fairness and grace? I’ll be honest; this is not an easy question. And often we don’t all agree on the best course of action. But we listen to one another, offer different perspectives, and do our best to make the decision that will best serve each individual student.
My role in these decisions is often to meet with a student individually to assess for any mental, emotional, and personal challenges that may be getting in the way of their academic success. In a nutshell, my job is to get to know them and to advocate for them when needed. Sometimes these encounters lead to ongoing meetings to help support a student through whatever challenges they may be facing, and sometimes they are just one-time meetings. Out of roughly 190 secondary students, I met with 31 this year or roughly 16% of the student body. Most of those students (over 75%) were Mauritian. While that may not sound like much, I count it as a great success, especially given that I didn’t start until July and was only able to be on campus one or two days a week.
One of the joys of my role has been checking in with new students who often transfer from government schools and who tell me that Lighthouse is “amazing” and “the best school I’ve ever been to.” A student who was leaving Lighthouse also told me that “everything” about Lighthouse was good and that there were “too many” good things to name them all. To me, this is a testament to the loving community that Lighthouse is intentional about creating—an environment that these students do not experience in government schools. A similar sentiment was shared by a secondary teacher who left Lighthouse upon receiving a position at a government school only to ask to return in 2022. Despite higher pay and the promise of tenure and government benefits at the government school, this teacher said that there is no place like Lighthouse and that his heart remained here. Another Mauritian teacher commented that this teacher will be told that he is crazy to leave the safety of a government position but that people just don’t understand Lighthouse if they have never experienced it. This is a special place.
Another reason that I am grateful to be serving in my role as a mental health counselor at Lighthouse is because the more I learn about mental health care in Mauritius, the more I see the challenges that exist. First, mental health is still highly stigmatized in Mauritius, perhaps due to a culture that often does not discuss problems openly. I have seen this time and time again especially among male students who tend to say that everything is fine despite the fact that they are failing or that something tragic has happened in their life. The argument I hear is that they would rather just focus on the good things. While this may not be a bad philosophy per se, it does get in the way of them being honest with themselves about what they are really experiencing. When I questioned one student in particular about why Mauritians seem to deny being affected by things, he answered plainly, “Because we don’t want help.” The irony is that as our discussion continued, this student actually asked to continue meeting with me because he recognized that there might be some benefit in addressing his concerns. But he is not alone in having difficulty receiving or asking for help. There seems to be a sense of shame associated with needing help, which is why I always try to give students a choice about whether to continue meeting with me because my goal is never to force or shame anyone into addressing anything.
Another challenge to mental health care in Mauritius is that there is very little regulation of the practice of psychotherapy. Even though government entities exist on paper to regulate the practice, the reality is that many people practice as psychotherapists in Mauritius without having received the proper training and supervision required by most international standards. At best, this can result in care that is costly but unhelpful to the individual seeking support. At worst, it can be dangerous or even deadly if certain warning signs or diagnoses are missed or ignored. I have met with a few students who see or have seen therapists in the community, and more than one has commented that I was more helpful than their community therapist. While I am glad to be helpful, it also makes me concerned about the services they are receiving in the community. All this is to say, there is a genuine need here for mental health support.
The school year ended online again (thanks Delta variant), but Lighthouse was still able to hold various graduation and recognition ceremonies outdoors with limited attendees. First, Eden and her peers in the Reception class had a ceremony to mark the end of their preschool year and their promotion to Grade 1 where they start wearing uniforms and are officially in the primary school.
Then, Lighthouse also held a special ceremony for two students with learning differences who have completed their studies through the first ever alternative program at Lighthouse. These students, Kaushav and Shekeena, had the opportunity to not only learn academically but also to learn practical skills that can help them with future employment. They assisted the kitchen, administrative, and grounds staff at Lighthouse; they learned carpentry and painting skills in the woodshop; and they completed internships at a local store to learn retail skills. Both of these students have been at Lighthouse for many, many years. During that time, Kaushav has struggled with a blood disorder that requires him to get weekly transfusions, and Shekeena’s father passed away. Through it all, Lighthouse has loved and supported them. When Kaushav was a baby, his mother never would have imagined her son standing in front of a group of people and giving a speech in English. She also shared that Kaushav loves Lighthouse so much that he would cry everyday during confinement because he just wanted to go to school. Both Kaushav and Shekeena’s mothers spoke about their gratitude to Lighthouse for all of the care their families have received. I witnessed this care firsthand not only from staff, but from students.
While doing a class program about test anxiety in September, I inadvertently called on Kaushav to read aloud to the class. I had never met him before, but I soon realized who he was. Before I could intervene, the student next to him read and whispered the words to Kaushav without missing a beat. Kaushav repeated the words out loud to the class, and we moved on. It was impressive how Kaushav’s classmate stepped in to help without hesitation. But what was most impressive about this situation was that no one—and I mean, no one—in the class smiled, laughed, or even made a sideways look. It was as if everyone understood that we take care of each other, and that was it. When I saw Kaushav later, he gave me a big smile and waved. I couldn’t help but think that my “mistake” was not really a mistake at all because it helped him feel included and let him know that I saw him and valued him as part of the class just like everyone else.
By far the most exciting ceremony of the year was the graduation of Grade 13 students who will now go on to university or job training. The reason this was so special is because the class of 2021 is the first graduating class from Lighthouse Primary and Secondary School. As I have shared before, the school was founded in 2009 and has grown exponentially, adding more grades as the students moved up. There were eight graduates, two of whom have been at Lighthouse since Grade 1. Although COVID restrictions limited the number of attendees, the children and I were able to watch the ceremony live streamed online. The focus of the ceremony was less about academic achievements and more about the sense of community that the students have experienced at Lighthouse and the character that they have developed. The highest award given was in honor of a student who has demonstrated Lighthouse’s core values of grace, resilience, care, integrity, curiosity, and citizenship and who sought to serve God and the community in a practical way. Indeed, it was a very special occasion at a very special place, and at the close of the ceremony, I couldn’t help but feel honored to be part of such an awesome community. (To watch clips from the ceremony, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CgBqjtRaZTM )
This year, 2021, has definitely been like no other. But despite the ups and downs, I can say with confidence that I have no doubt that this is the place we were meant to be during this time. It has been a reminder that when we live with purpose, peace will follow.
Primary Science Fair
In October, Ezra participated in the science fair at the primary school. Her experiment was to learn which type of chocolate melts the fastest. There were so many entries that the original venue for the fair had to be expanded, but everyone did a great job and Ezra had a blast!
Also in October, Ezra’s class went on a field trip to the local science center, and I was invited to go along as a chaperone. Ezra was super excited for me to go with her, and her classmates seemed equally as excited. As we moved through the exhibits, students kept running up to me saying, “Miss, look at this!” and “Miss, what is that!?” Their welcome and excitement to interact with me was heartwarming. It reminded me of our first visit to Lighthouse and how the students didn’t seem to know a stranger.
November 4th was Divali, the Hindu festival of light. This being our second Divali in Mauritius, we were prepared for the strings of lights and fireworks, but we were especially grateful this year to receive Divali treats from our Hindu neighbors. Aaron received a few from students last year, but to receive this traditional gift from our neighbors was especially meaningful because it signified that they see us as part of their community and wanted to share their celebration with us. We hope to return their kindness by sharing Christmas treats with them this year.
Our Thanksgiving celebration was smaller this year and a few days late since we had school and graduation on Thanksgiving Day. But we still enjoyed our “feast,” as the children called it, and took turns sharing what we were thankful for. What a blessing this year has been!
Farewell for 2021. We hope 2022 is filled with peace, love, and gratitude for all of you!
At the end of each year, Lighthouse students go on a multi-day camping trip. The excursion is both eagerly anticipated and somewhat angst-inspiring for students. Students buzz with excitement at the prospect of a change of scenery and a break from academics. Some enthusiastically discuss the possibilities while others quietly worry about being away from the comforts of home and facing the unknown.
The camps are done by grade, and each grade, accompanied by a group of teachers, does something a little different than the others. My homeroom class, Grade 10, stayed in a Catholic center on the beach in Riambel, a small town in the south of Mauritius. There were no tents – everyone slept in dormitories, so our trip qualified more as a retreat than as camping. All the same, the experience turned out to be exactly what the group needed.
Each grade-level at Lighthouse consists of one or two “classes.” The students in each class spend the majority of their days together and each develops its own pervading outlook, group dynamics, and energy. My homeroom class, Grade 10, which I share with the talented and kind Ms. Emma (who teaches math), has more than its fair share of brilliant and dedicated artists, academics, athletes, and leaders. In fact, when it comes to leadership, despite being one of the smaller classes, Grade 10 has had the highest number of students apply for and gain school leadership positions. However, they are also the most reserved and least transparent group in the school. They are a class of islands, unique and wonderful but also standing alone.
Friendships in Grade 10 are usually limited to pairs or trios, and many are candid about having no close connections at all with the other young people they spend most of their waking hours with. Most have spent years together, but familiarity has not bred comradery. Of course, feeling alone at fifteen is a common, if not universal, right of adolescence. But the depth to which it defines this group is unique. With this observation in mind, my fellow chaperones and I looked forward to this year’s camp trip as an opportunity to build relationships with and among the students of this fragmented class.
During the three days of the trip, only the first day went mostly as planned. The vans dropped us at the top of Black River Gorges where the temperature was easily ten degrees cooler than at the school. Drizzle and a strong, steady wind chilled our exposed limbs as we began the six-mile trek down the mountain.
Sunshine and exercise soon warmed us up as we walked, jogged, and climbed our way down. During our hike we were greeted by an abundance of scenic overlooks (including one from the top of a waterfall). Near the end of the hike, sweaty and tired, the students were excited to find a river to jump into.
That night after settling into the dorms and eating dinner, we kindled a fire on the beach and made smores. Since we didn’t have any matches, we had to light some kindling on the stove in the kitchen, put it in a pot, and run the pot to the beach to start the fire. We also had to ward off one student from using his spray deodorant to help fuel the blaze.
On day two, we were supposed to go to Roche Qui Pleure, a landmark on the southern coast where the waves pummel the rocky cliffs and shores. We were to take public transport to the location, but it happened that no buses ran the route from the retreat center to the cliffs. So, several campers familiar with the area suggested a local waterfall instead. After a cursory Google search of the site, off we went on foot.
The images on Google did not prepare me for the actual size of the waterfall. Water crashed over dark geometric columns of stone down into a bottomless pool. One by one, daring students took turns plunging off of the rocks and splashing down into the pool. For a few, it took almost the whole visit and the encouragement of their peers to finally work up the courage to jump.
The third and final day we deviated from the menu and treated the students to bacon, eggs, and pancakes for breakfast. This broke the rules a little, but the students loved it.
After breakfast, having packed our belongings and cleaned, swept, and mopped the dormitories, we mounted ourselves and our things onto the waiting bus. We were scheduled for yet another test of our courage. We were supposed to cross a 1100-foot Nepalese rope bridge in Valee Des Couleurs. However, instead of testing our mettle, we ended up testing our adaptability.
The bus roared down streets, pop music blaring, as riders talked, slept, and played games. After some time, Ms. Emma noticed that we were taking a rather indirect route to the rope bridge. However, it wasn’t until we were half-way up the island that we asked the driver where he was taking us.
“To the school,” he replied matter of factly.
“What? No. Pull over!” we demanded. There had been an error (it was later confirmed to us that the driver had been at fault). It being too late in the day and us being too far away to make it to the rope bridge and back to school on time; we would have to continue to the school and wait there.
Up to that point, the trip had been a resounding success, and my fellow teachers, Ms. Emma and Ms. Anais, and I were determined to end on a high note. So, we decided on an alternative activity: McDonalds. It was an incredibly popular decision.
The great thing about these camps is the small but real differences they can make in the lives of students.
The trip brought the individual islands of Grade 10 closer together so that loose acquaintances were strengthened into genuine friendships. I watched as pairs who never talked at school chatted during free time or laughed over a game of cards. Student groupings mixed, changed, and grew.
Following the camp, my co-chaperones and I received an email from the parent of one of our campers, a kind-hearted young lady who was new to the school this year and who had been quietly struggling to adapt. The parent expressed how, on returning from the trip, her daughter felt like she had finally found her place and that she now had a small group of friends and a sense of belonging.
Another young lady described to me how this experience helped her find connections with classmates she had shared class space with for years but had, until that point, never gotten to know. At one point, when she felt overwhelmed; she was surprised at how her classmates rallied to support her.
The camp also inspired boldness. A shy, sarcastic young man who normally spent most of his time in front of a screen distinguished himself by engaging in every activity without fear or hesitation. He was one of the first to jump from Rochester Falls. After the camp, his mother emailed to share that this young man had thoroughly enjoyed the experience and that he had come home with a bit more maturity than when he left.
There were others who, for personal or medical reasons, had never been away from their families overnight. Each one did well and returned home much more secure in their independence. These and many other small victories and moments of growth are what make camp special.
For me, this time with students was a refreshing chance to engage with them outside of the framework of academics, and to take a moment to enjoy them as young people apart from the classroom. It was also gratifying to witness how a change of scenery, some time together, and the chance to challenge themselves germinated the seeds of camaraderie, boldness, and maturity that will continue to shape them as the they become adults.
As I write this, it has been thirteen weeks since I started at Lighthouse. It is amazing how quickly the time flies and how much has happened since then. I continue to meet with students one or two days a week to provide mental and emotional support, some for ongoing sessions and some for single check-ins. For every student that I mark off my list, it seems that there are at least two more in need of follow-up or support. While it can feel a bit overwhelming, I remain grateful for the opportunity to be there to help and to do the work I love. I have worked particularly closely with several of the upper secondary students in grades 11 and 12 as they begin their transitions to adulthood and prepare to face significant decisions about their futures. In this, there has been some sense of urgency as the grade 11-13 students are no longer on campus after September 30th. The reason for their early departure from campus is what is known as “study leave” or the period during which students are studying and sitting for Cambridge International exams. The whole system is foreign—literally—to us as Americans, but essentially, in the Cambridge system students do not get credit for just completing secondary (or high) school. In grade 11, they must pass IGCSE exams in each subject to earn the basic credentials needed to show secondary-level competency, similar to a high school diploma, which is required for most jobs. Then in grades 12 and 13, students must pass advanced exams in specific subject areas in order to be considered for university. As you might imagine, this means that there is a lot of emphasis, and stress, related to these exams.
In order to help students manage some of their exam stress, the other school counselor, Ms. Hilary, and I prepared a classroom presentation about exam prep and test anxiety to share with the grades 11, 12, and 13 students. We began with an icebreaker activity in which students shared anonymously their worries and fears related to exams. The activity allowed students to recognize that they are not alone in their worries and helped normalize some of their feelings. It also helped demonstrate the magnitude of the pressure that many of the students feel, not only about passing exams but also about not wanting to disappoint their parents or let anyone down. Then, Ms. Hilary presented some exam taking tips specific to the Cambridge exams and provided encouragement as they “finish the race.” Lastly, I shared various calming strategies with the students that they can use to help manage their anxious thoughts and feelings during the exams. The students were engaged and receptive to the information and several commented that it was helpful to know that they are not alone in feeling stressed and anxious.
While I have been busy helping upper students prepare mentally and emotionally for exams, Aaron has been helping them prepare academically while managing hybrid learning with his lower secondary students. Aaron has been particularly encouraged lately by the level of engagement that his grade 9 students have shown in regard to the class novels they have been reading. Since the Cambridge exams are heavy on writing, literature and reading are not something that the students have had much exposure to historically. But as Aaron says, strong readers make strong writers, so it has been one of his goals to incorporate more reading into the English curriculum whenever possible. Thus, this recent engagement by students in the class novels and their willingness to read and discuss the texts have been especially fulfilling for Aaron. A highlight came when a student who had previously been uninvested in the class got into a debate with his peers about a novel and was using the text to cite his various points and counterpoints. Aaron just stood back and let them debate, marveling in a moment that seemed highly unlikely at the beginning of the year.
There have also been opportunities recently to engage with the students in more fun ways. One opportunity came a few weeks ago when Aaron participated in a staff versus students football (aka-soccer) match after school. Our kids and I watched from the sidelines along with a group secondary students who made up the cheering section. It was a great experience for all involved—although I think most of the staff were a little sore the next day! All in all we have enjoyed learning, growing, and interacting with the students and staff at Lighthouse as we do our best to serve God personally and professionally here in Mauritius.
Sharing at Mr. Ashley’s Church
Our friend and neighbor, Mr. Ashley, recently asked Aaron if he would share the message one week at Ashley’s home church. Aaron chose to share about Paul and Silas from Acts 16:19-34. Aaron reflected on how it was Paul and Silas’ choice to put someone else above themselves that ultimately led to a change in the story and saved the jailer’s life—not the miraculous earthquake by God. In other words, they could have just walked away, but it was their ability to step away from focusing on themselves that made all the difference. There was an unusually small group in attendance the night Aaron shared, but it was a poignant lesson for everyone nonetheless.
As most of you know, we have been fostering puppies since June. But the time has come to send them to their permanent homes. Bean, the male puppy, left two weeks ago, and this weekend Pumpkin, the female, will be relocated to her new home. It has been emotional to say goodbye to the puppies, but we made sure that we had a going away party before Bean left (complete with puppy party hats) and have shared lots of cuddles and love. It will be especially difficult to say goodbye to Pumpkin because she has been with us since she was a week old and is essentially our baby, but we know this is best as we won’t be able to care for her long-term. And they will be staying in the same neighborhood so we may even get to visit them every now and then.
For those of you who aren’t on Facebook, we had an uninvited guest in the house recently. It was mid-morning, and I walked to the kitchen sink to wash my hands when I saw a SNAKE right there on the kitchen counter! Needless to say, I screamed and jumped back. Ezra was having an online class meeting at the dining table nearby, so I knew I needed to get it out of the house. Despite feeling panicky and shaking I managed to direct it to the floor and force it out the door with a broom. Apparently, it was an Indian wolf snake, which is nonvenomous, but still scary enough. The Mauritians claim this is very rare, so hopefully it won’t be back!
The Tallest Peak in Mauritius
We have made several hiking trips over the past few months, including one to the iconic Le Mourne. We were only able to go about halfway up Le Mourne before the trail became too dangerous for children, but it was still a fun and educational trip as we discussed with the kids the tragic story of why the mountain is called Le Mourne and the history of slavery in Mauritius (and America). It’s a story worth googling if you are interested. At a slavery memorial (pictured below) near the public beach at Le Mourne, there is a quote by Richard Sedley Assonne inscribed on a circle that reads, “There were hundreds of them, but my people, the maroons, chose the kiss of death over the chains of slavery.”
Despite not making it to the top of Le Mourne, we did make it to the top of the highest peak in Mauritius, Piton de la Petite Riviere Noire. It was a 14km hike through deep mud that took 5 hours round trip, but it was worth it. Despite being a little afraid of the steep final ascent, the kids did great. We made it and enjoyed the views with our picnic lunch at the top.
The first day of school is always hectic and little anxiety provoking. But the first day back to school on a hybrid schedule after being in confinement and doing online schooling for the majority of the school year was all of that and more. Making sure we had the right kids going on the right days and knowing who was being picked up when and who was supposed to be meeting online when and then repeating this ever-changing process every day for the first week was enough of a challenge. Then add to the mix my integration into the secondary school and the month of July was a whirlwind! But let’s rewind a few months and remember where this all started…
In January as Aaron and all three kids started the new school year, I was left wondering, what about me? What is my role here? Surely God didn’t bring me halfway around the world to just stay at home alone. Over those first few months, I was challenged to trust, to have patience, and to let go of what I thought should be happening in order to accept what was happening and what may or may not happen. It was tough. And I began to think that maybe I was not meant to work at the school or even to be a counselor in Mauritius. Maybe I was brought here to do something else. Then in a flash, COVID hit (again), and suddenly I went from being home by myself to being home with the whole family. I became a full-time teacher, tutor, caregiver, and cook. This transition brought a different kind of stress. No longer was I searching for purpose, but instead I was hyper focused on a single purpose—to keep our family running and the children learning while Aaron worked to figure out how to teach his students online. It was a dramatic and unexpected shift that brought many challenges, but it also helped me appreciate my lack of obligations and commitments outside the home. Maybe there was a purpose in my waiting after all.
Despite my appreciation for the role I could play in our family, being home all of the time took a toll on us mentally and emotionally. But with June came a renewed sense of joy and hope. It helped that we were able to get away for a few days and have a change of venue. Being able to see the ocean again (even if technically we weren’t allowed on the beach) and explore the island a little more gave us a boost to keep going for the rest of the month. We also got newborn foster puppies, and who doesn’t love puppies?! We currently still have two puppies, Pumpkin and Bean, who we will take care of for a few more months until they are old enough to be sterilized and adopted. Aaron and I were also finally able to get vaccinated in June, which was a relief after several failed attempts.
Confinement definitely brought high points and low points, and while I was grateful for it, I was also grateful for the opportunity to join Aaron and the kids in their return to school. This too, however, came as a rapid change—and of course, it coincided with Aaron and all of the children having new school schedules as well. In a span of a week, I went from not knowing when or if I would be joining the Lighthouse secondary team to giving a professional development workshop and meeting with students on a weekly basis. It also meant learning a whole new system for how the school and the student care team operate. The logistics of keeping up with Microsoft Teams and learning how to find student schedules and how to schedule meetings with students was challenging enough, but then I realized that often I didn’t even know based on a student’s name whether they were male or female since so many of the names were unfamiliar to me. I was quite literally back IN school, trying to figure it all out.
The first day that I went to campus to meet with students, I admit I was nervous. What if I had lost my counseling touch after such a long hiatus? What if I couldn’t effectively build relationships with these students from other cultures? What if they just didn’t like me? What if I went to the wrong room? What if…what if…what if? As I prepared to meet with my first student, I took a deep breath and said a quick prayer—steadying myself to just be. Then they came. One by one they actually came. I met with only three students that first day, but as I packed up to leave, I felt full. This, I thought, is my purpose. I was meant to continue my work as a counselor, to sit with young people who are struggling, and to offer a glimmer of hope and healing where sometimes there is very little. During the month of July, I met with almost 20 students, some multiple times, and I still have a wait list of more to see. Even though these students are young, many have experienced grief, loss, trauma, and pain that is far beyond their years. There are others who struggle with anxiety and belonging, often feeling alone and like they have no one to talk to. Still others struggle with depression and thoughts of self-harm. Although my conversations with these students have been brief, they have moved me, some lingering in my thoughts well after the meeting.
When I think about it, it seems incredible that this has all happened in such a short amount of time. It is even more amazing when I consider that I really only have one partial day a week that I am able to be on campus due to the fact that at least one child is at home every day on the hybrid schedule. My “work” days usually involve dropping off Aaron and two kids at school early in the morning, returning home to supervise the third child during their online class, and then dropping that child at a friend’s house so that I can rush back to school in time for several 20 to 40-minute sessions with students before collecting my own children again at the end of the school day. I also zoom in for weekly care team meetings and complete scheduling, paperwork, and other administrative tasks from home. Through it all, I have been so thankful to be surrounded by a supportive group of colleagues and other moms who make it all possible. And even though it is hectic, I believe it’s worth it. My heart has always been with those who are struggling, and if I can positively impact the life of at least one student who is struggling, then to me, it’s worth all of it.
So as I write this and prepare to continue this hectic pace for the third and final trimester of the school year, I am encouraged and hopeful for the months to come. Turns out, I have been able to connect and build relationships despite differences in culture, despite limited time, despite being new at Lighthouse, despite it all. I love what I do, and I never cease to be humbled by the privilege I have as a counselor to be trusted with people’s most vulnerable thoughts, emotions, and experiences. It is an immense responsibility, but it is also a great honor and opportunity to know and love others. And in the end, that’s what it’s all about.
With peace, love, and gratitude until we meet again…
TeachBeyond Team Retreat:
During our trimester break at the beginning of August, we were able to go on a team retreat with the other family serving with TeachBeyond here in Mauritius. We went to Otentic, an eco-tent experience, where we enjoyed “glamping” in fancy tents, equipped with wooden floors, real mattresses, flush toilets, and hot showers. We also had authentic Mauritian meals prepared for us three times a day, so we weren’t exactly roughing it. During our stay we enjoyed kayaking, hiking, and a boat ride to Ile Aux Cerfs where we got to hang out at the beautiful, almost deserted beach. We also had the opportunity to connect virtually with TeachBeyond leadership. We are grateful to TeachBeyond for sponsoring this retreat for our team. It was a great opportunity to share with one another and get away for a brief holiday!
May marks the third month of round two of coronavirus in Mauritius, and our lives have continued largely unchanged. We remain at home most of the time, busy with online schooling and daily routines, although we have had the opportunity to go out on a few family excursions (photos below). Still, we remain mostly isolated from the new friends and acquaintances that we have made here due to coronavirus restrictions keeping schools, churches, and beaches closed. In this period of extended separation, I have felt prompted to look inward—as if I’ve been granted a carefully planned pause to assess the well-being of myself and our family.
As I reflect on our family, I recognize that although the time spent with our children during home learning has been challenging, it has also been truly a blessing to be able to interact more closely with them and to watch them grow and learn. Both of the younger two have started reading in the past few months. Kyler, being a grade ahead, is a bit more advanced in the words and sounds he is able to read than Eden, but it has been a joy to see both of them develop as beginning readers and writers. Meanwhile, Ezra has been blossoming in her French language skills as she absorbs French vocabulary and phrases with ease. I admire her courage and determination to learn, and I often overhear her challenging herself to respond to the teacher’s questions on Zoom only in French, rather than in English like many of her fellow foreign language learners. Getting to spend time with our children and to truly see their strengths and personalities has reminded me of the importance of paying attention to who our children are instead of who I imagine them to be. And although this phase of confinement has in some ways limited our external experiences, I am grateful for the ways in which it has reminded me to look more closely inward at our family and to see the beauty that surrounds me every day.
This time of reflection has also made me more aware of my own thoughts and feelings—one of which is an old familiar feeling bubbling to the surface. The feeling has come on gradually and has been precipitated by several recent events that have served as reminders of how sadness and impermanence are an inevitable part of life. One such reminder came in a casual conversation with Mauritian friends as they talked about upcoming birthday and anniversary celebrations with their extended families. As they spoke, I smiled politely and listened, but in my core I felt it—the loss. While choosing to follow the road less traveled and pursue a calling to serve halfway around the world has many benefits and blessings, it also comes at a price. Part of that price is sacrificing time with family and loved ones who are not here with us. There are no holidays with extended family or birthday and anniversary celebrations with grandparents, aunts, and uncles. There are no spontaneous visits or traditional home-cooked meals (unless we make them ourselves). And while we certainly do our best to keep traditions in our immediate family and to develop new ones, sometimes it’s just not the same.
I can remember vividly how this feeling of loss hit me many years ago while serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Chad. It was our second Thanksgiving away from the US. For our first, we were invited to the US Ambassador’s residence as newly sworn-in Peace Corps volunteers to celebrate the holiday. As you can imagine, the ambassador had a personal chef and access to most of the necessary ingredients to make a proper Thanksgiving dinner. We feasted, swam in the ambassador’s pool, and were invigorated by the excitement of the experience. The second Thanksgiving, a year into our service was a vastly different story. We were not granted permission to travel into the capital for the Thanksgiving celebration with the ambassador, and thus, we were left to spend the holiday on our own. With no electricity, cooking over a charcoal fire or a single propane burner was a process, so we certainly would not be having a proper Thanksgiving dinner or anything close to it. In fact, we rarely even ate meat unless we bought it already cooked from a market vendor. And rarest of all were potatoes. We could buy a variety of white sweet potatoes in Chad, but regular potatoes were hard to come by. So that Thanksgiving, as the weight of it all hit me and the loss washed over me, I remember lying on the cement floor of our mud brick house and sobbing as I moaned, “I just want mashed potatoes!”
It seems comical now to recall that story and to picture myself crying over mashed potatoes, but of course, it wasn’t just about potatoes. It was about everything those potatoes represented for me. It was about the loss of tradition, the loss of family, the loss of comfort, of normalcy. (Perhaps some of you have experienced similar emotions during the year-long pandemic.) While I haven’t had my mashed potatoes moment here yet, I recognize that familiar feeling stirring inside me as time ticks on. It’s like an old friend that is inextricably part of this experience. The irony is that when the time comes to leave this place, I will also mourn the loss of all that I have come to love about being in Mauritius.
Another reminder of loss has come in a more unexpected form. Our friend and landlord contacted us about a week ago and told us that even though he has not had the house we are living in on the market since we moved in, a persistent potential buyer contacted him about possibly purchasing it. In the course of our conversation, our landlord made it clear that he did not feel comfortable considering the sale without speaking to us first, and he assured us that he would not sell unless the buyer agreed to let us continue renting if we wanted to stay. Because he has become such a good friend to us, we were happy for him and the blessing a potential sale of the house could be for him. So, we offered our support and made sure we thoroughly cleaned and tidied the house for the best possible showing when the buyer came to look at it. But as people who just recently sold the only house our children have ever known and said goodbye to almost everything including our pets to move to the other side of the world, the thought of possibly having to move out of the house that has become our home and refuge in this foreign land was overwhelming. It was an unanticipated reminder of everything we had to leave behind to take this step forward. Ultimately, it was a reminder that growth and grief are undeniably intertwined. As of now, it is too early to know what the future will hold, but we remain prayerful that God will grant whatever is best for our landlord and his family and that we may find peace in whatever comes.
In the last week, we also learned that one of the TeachBeyond families who recently moved to Mauritius to serve at Lighthouse has decided to leave at the end of this school year in November or December. Their decision to go is personal and has nothing to do with the school, but it was yet another reminder of the impermanence of all things. In all of this, I have been reminded that things are just things and that all of life is temporary. Furthermore, as many of us have come to realize over the past year, it is easy to live under the illusion of permanence when our lives and relationships remain consistent and familiar. But when that consistency or familiarity is lost, whether to a pandemic or a move or anything else, we start to realize how much we rely on this illusion to help us feel safe and secure. It is only after the illusion is stripped away that we are forced to question—what do I cling to? And why?
These are tough questions that we must all face at some point in our lives. Letting go is hard, but if we never let go, we can never fully live. As I have pondered these questions over the past month, a few verses have come to mind. I have included them below, but the summary is this: May the peace of Christ be with you to assuage your fears, comfort your sorrows, and compel you to live a life of love, humility, and kindness. Until next time…
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. 2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. […]
18 Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. 19 See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”
-Isaiah 43:1-2, 18-19
27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. – John 14:27
5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians 4:5-8
7 For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. – 2 Timothy 1:7 (NKJV)
8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 9 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 1 Peter 4: 8-10
28 Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. 29 He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. 30 They were glad when it grew calm, and he guided them to their desired haven.
I am annoyed. No, I am offended as I tirelessly click through to yet another mediocre student response, this one even more underwhelming than the rest. The crease in my brow settles in as I process the wreckage of ideas clumped across the page. The time it will take to untangle the knots and provide a meaningful postmortem to the author will be more than he took to write it in the first place. After a string of unimaginative thinking and off-topic analysis, the toxic voice of frustration whispers to me, “You know you clearly explained this assignment! They all practiced the skills. These students just aren’t trying hard enough. In fact, this work is not just lazy, it’s downright disrespectful.”
Beneath my annoyance at my students, my true unhappiness is with myself. I know deep inside that student failures are ultimately teacher failures. It feels like their mediocrity on this one assignment is a painful reflection of my own mediocrity as a teacher. The truth is that a large part of my self-worth is tied up in doing well at my job. Of course, to be fair, some of the students’ work was truly insightful and interesting. And honestly there’s only so much you can expect from young teens. Not every assignment will reap thoughtful scholarship on par with that of serious-minded graduate students. Sometimes good enough is good enough.
But it is not good enough.
And so the very next class, the students rewrite. I explain what excellence should look like and that I expect it of them. It requires me to revise my lessons, conference with students outside of class, and regrade work. It requires the students to put in much greater effort, attention, and time. It takes days, but in the end, the students’ work is undeniably better overall. But was it the right decision?
The unrelenting drive to do better empowers us and gives us agency. It holds us accountable for being our best selves and pushes us to reach personal, academic, and professional heights that might otherwise be out of our reach. But it can also destroy our peace and exhaust us.
Take for example a young woman I’ll call Erica. Erica is a natural and aware reader. She recently explained to me that she was finishing a book in spite of its insipid characters because she found the narrative arc intriguing. Erica is insightful, quick to smile, and presents as easygoing and competent. She also misses a day of school almost every week because the combined pressures of her school life and home life make her feel like she cannot function. Despite her academic abilities, she feels crushed by the course load and expectations of school. Earlier this year, I noticed a painting she had done for art class. It was the face of a woman, turned slightly and wearing an indistinct expression. The work was rendered in purples and blacks, the background fractured.
Erica is not alone. There are plenty of students in the middle and upper grades that have felt themselves crushed by the drive (or push) for excellence. These students’ struggles often remain invisible until they publicly panic over a lower-than-expected grade or are found crying outside of a classroom. Some just give up, certain that they won’t be able to live up to the standard of excellence that others expect of them, or that they secretly hope for themselves.
I empathize with these students. My own need to achieve some elusive form of professional excellence has resulted in years of long, focused days at work and nights, weekends, and summers dedicated to improving my presentation, behavior management, lessons, and units. Family, hobbies, and sleep are all sacrificed to this pursuit. Contentment is traded for stress. And yet there is never a breakthrough moment, never a point where I can stop and say, “I made it!” That’s the trap of chasing your best. You never achieve excellence; you can only pursue it. Because you can… Always. Do. Better.
So why not let good enough be good enough? A colleague friend at a previous school was skilled at this. Work didn’t stress him because he set firm boundaries on his time. He arrived on time and he left on time. Grading happened during school hours and his lessons and units stayed consistent from year to year, cutting planning to a minimum. His experience and natural, easy control of a class made him better than the average teacher, but he never had to be the best. Students liked and respected him, and because he knew how to let good enough be good enough, his students weren’t stressed either. He had balance.
But just as striving for the best has its costs, so too does giving up the struggle. I was recently considering easing my expectations for one of my classes. A good number had struggled to put in the effort and produce the quality of work required to meet expectations. Several “A” students found themselves with unflattering grades. Asking a lot of students runs the risk of producing resentment in some. Sensing a growing discontent among the students, I decided it was time to let good enough be good enough. Perhaps I had been unrealistic in my expectations, but the decision to abandon those expectations left me dejected. As I walked to my classroom, mind made up, a young man from that class stopped me to compliment my teaching. What did he like about it? The expectations.
Reflecting on this young man, I noticed something I had overlooked and discounted before. Each time I refused to credit his incomplete work, noted where otherwise good work could be better, or demanded more effort, he worked to meet those expectations. And he was not alone. Most of the class had slowly begun to put in more effort and turn in better work. While I was working on giving up on excellence, they were working on living up to excellence. The cost of letting go would be their success.
I never relaxed the expectations for that group. Of my five classes, they now have the second highest average grade. I envy people like my colleague who can find personal balance and contentment in their work. However, when it comes to school, good enough never feels good enough, not when doing just a little bit better might yield a better result. But I wonder, at the end of this endless pursuit, will I be glad for it? I can’t say.
It was Saturday, March 6th when we first heard rumblings of four cases of coronavirus in the community. A press release was sent out saying that contact tracing was being conducted and that anyone who went to a church service in Curepipe on Sunday, February 28 needed to remain in isolation, call a hotline, and be tested. Because Curepipe is 45 kilometers south of us and we had not been in that area, we did not think much of it. So on Sunday, March 7th we went to our church as usual and stopped by the grocery store on the way home. As soon as we pulled into the store parking lot, we noticed that it was packed. Still, we did not think a lot of it because the stores can sometimes be busy on the weekends when people are off work to do their shopping. Then, as we approached the entrance, we noticed a line of people with carts waiting to get into the store. Not understanding what was happening or why there was a line, we went on into the store. There were people everywhere and long lines at every checkout counter. An eerie feeling was in the air, like everyone else knew something that we did not. The children became restless, and not wanting to wrestle with them in the long checkout lines, I took them outside while Aaron waited in line. It was only after weaving our way back through the crowds and out of the store that I became aware that the line of people waiting to get into the store (which we had unknowingly cut) stretched all the way around the exterior length of the supermarket. The adjoining restaurants that would normally be open were closed, and there was a palpable tension in the silence of everyone waiting.
By late afternoon, the announcement came that schools would be closed March 8th, 9th, and 10th following the identification of two children who tested positive for coronavirus. With this announcement, it became clear why there were such long lines at the grocery store. People were afraid. But they weren’t afraid of coronavirus. Instead, they were afraid of starving if a total lockdown was imposed like the one that occurred in Mauritius in March 2020. At that time, when coronavirus was new and this small island with limited resources had no protocols yet in place for quarantine or testing, the government imposed a total lockdown without warning. Everything was shutdown immediately, including grocery stores, and people were restricted to their homes. This went on for eight weeks. Eight weeks without being able to buy food or leave the house. We have been told that people were literally starving or sneaking food to their neighbors if they had any to spare. Thus, everyone was worried and trying to prepare even though nothing was closed at that time except schools, and only for three days.
March 11th and 12th were public holidays, and the schools would be closed those days anyway, so initially we were hopeful that maybe this would simply be a week-long break, and we would be back to school the following Monday. On March 8th, there were only 10 positive cases identified after contact tracing and more than 750 PCR tests. On March 9th, there were 15 positive cases, and the announcement came that a total lockdown would be imposed for one day, Wednesday, March 10th, followed by a period of confinement lasting from March 11th to March 25th. During this confinement, we would be restricted from going out without the proper work permit (which we don’t have), with the exception of being able to go to the grocery store, pharmacy, gas station, or bank on the two days a week designated by our last name. All other businesses, restaurants, public transportation, and schools were to remain closed. With this announcement came a general increase in dread and anxiety. Still, no one knew whether the government would change course and decide to implement an extended total lockdown. As Aaron and I sat looking out from our balcony that night, we could see that the streets were empty except for a lone police car with lights flashing patrolling for anyone violating the lockdown while an eerie stillness filled the air.
After the announcement of these new restrictions, I thought it wise to go to the grocery store on our next designated day, Friday, to stock up on a few extra supplies in case a total lockdown was imposed. I was not sure what to expect when I went out, but I noticed an abnormal lack of vehicles on the road. When I turned into the parking lot of the store, police officers were pulling cars over at random to check IDs and make sure that no one was there without it being their proper day. I found a parking space easily and walked to the store entrance. I was not surprised to see a line waiting to get into the store, but I was surprised as I followed that line around the front of the supermarket, and down the entire length of adjoining shops and restaurants and then doubling back on itself again. I finally found the end of the line and settled in for a long wait. As I waited, I observed my fellow shoppers and pondered the scene. Most people were alone, silently waiting and moving a few steps forward every couple of minutes as the line progressed. Others were with a friend or family member, but they all just waited. While I could see the look of fatigue and sometimes surprise on the faces of newcomers joining the end of the line, no one said anything. And with the exception of a few ex-patriots who struck up a conversation in line ahead of me, most people remained silent. I thought how odd this scene was when contrasted to what I imagine a similar scene would look like in the States. I imagined that in the US people would be grumbling and complaining about how outrageous it was that they had to wait so long to get into the store and how at least one or two outspoken people would be voicing their opinions loudly in anger or trying to push to the front of the line. But here, everyone just waited.
I have been told that part of the reason Mauritius has had a more successful response to coronavirus is because it is a collectivist culture. This means that people are more inclined to think in terms of community or what is best for the larger goal or group as opposed to being individualistic and focusing primarily on autonomy and individual rights or goals. As I stood in that line waiting to get into the store, I couldn’t help but think that this was a perfect example of collectivism. No one wanted to be in that line or wait that long, but everyone knew that it was a necessary precaution, and I would also like to think that we all understood that every person in that line was just trying to provide for their families—making no one’s wants or needs more relevant or pressing than anyone else’s. By the time I reached the entrance, I had waited more than an hour to get into the store. And even then, there was a sense of calm in the store. It was not overcrowded, and I was impressed that within a day or two the store had clearly delineated a one-way system for the checkout counters and workers wove seamlessly among the shoppers restocking shelves and making sure that everyone could get what they needed. It was a beautiful display of everyone seemingly working together, or at least cooperating, toward the common good. By the time Aaron went grocery shopping the following Friday, the lines were gone, but they are still checking IDs and requiring masks and temperature checks, the latter of which has been standard protocol for the past year even when the island was considered covid-free.
Monday, March 15th, marked the first official day of online learning for Lighthouse, although optional assignments were available during the initial school closure the previous week. The start of online classes brought a whirlwind of changes in our house. First, it meant that Aaron, who had planned his upcoming units and instruction for in-person classes, had to quickly adjust and figure out how to adapt the material to an online format. It also has meant that he is locked away in a room for eight hours a day for synchronous instruction and then spends nights preparing and grading. For me, it has meant that my new full-time job is managing schedules, zoom meetings, and schoolwork for three children. My typical “school” day starts around 8am and goes until 4pm during which time I alternate between helping each child individually with their work and making sure that everyone gets logged in to the right meetings at the right times. The first few days were a bit overwhelming, and I had flashbacks of the disaster that online learning was for us last March in the US. At that time, Aaron and I were both working full-time jobs that had to be managed online, and frankly, we didn’t have the time, energy, or flexibility to fully support our own children’s learning. It is a predicament that I know many working parents have found themselves in over the past year. As such, our youngest two (both in preschool at the time) just stopped learning, and our school-aged child did the bare minimum to get by until the end of the school year last May.
Having had that experience, I am thankful for the blessing that not having a job outside of the home has been right now. It has given me the time, energy, and flexibility to devote to helping them continue to learn and grow academically, which is especially important given that the younger two are both at critical points in developing pre-reading and reading skills. I can also see how each child benefits from and enjoys the individualized attention, which has helped foster positive relationships. For now, we have settled into a routine, and the children are mostly cooperative about coming to do schoolwork when it is their turn and being patient when it is not. We are all restless and miss being able to go out, enjoy the beaches, and explore. We also miss being able to see our new friends, classmates, and colleagues, but we are grateful to have a comfortable home, food, health, and devices that allow for continued learning and connection online.
The current confinement restrictions have been extended until at least March 31st, after which the first phase of reopening is set to commence. In this phase, some businesses and restaurants will be allowed to reopen for takeout and delivery. Schools, however, will remain closed for the foreseeable future, and we will still only be allowed to go out two days a week. In addition to the confinement restrictions that have been put in place, the government also initially closed the airport to all incoming traffic (it has since reopened) and quarantined off several towns where the majority of the outbreak clusters occurred. They have labeled this area the ‘Red Zone,’ and it is forbidden for anyone to travel in or out of these restricted zones without proper authorization. To date, there have been 268 positive cases identified since the onset of the community outbreak on March 5th. Twenty-nine of those are considered recovered at this stage, while 239 remain active. It is interesting to note that 220 of those cases were identified through contact tracing, and 35 were identified in quarantine centers. Health workers have also administered thousands of PCR tests in the past few weeks in the contact tracing process, a process that was developed initially to combat—and ultimately eliminate—malaria on the island.
This recent lockdown has also dealt another blow to Mauritius’ already struggling economy, which has suffered from the lack of tourism over the past year. Mauritius had just begun rolling out its public vaccination campaign on March 8th and had hoped to reopen borders when the vaccination rate reached 60% among the general public. During the initial days of school closure, Lighthouse was encouraging staff to try to get vaccinated; however, the vaccination process is not without challenges. Aaron went on March 9th, the day assigned according to our last name, to get a vaccine at the nearest hospital. After waiting for three hours and barely making it to the front of the line before closing, he was told that he could not be vaccinated there because he was an ex-patriot, which apparently is not true according to other ex-patriots who were able to receive vaccines at other hospitals and clinics. The next day the vaccination campaign was temporarily suspended, and it is now being reorganized. Further complicating vaccine distribution is that fact that at least one hospital was temporarily closed this week for sanitization following an outbreak of coronavirus among the staff. As such, none of our family has been vaccinated, and it is unclear when we might be able to receive a vaccine.
Regardless of the challenges and what may seem to be a strict response to only a few cases, we remain grateful. The death toll from coronavirus in Mauritius is 10—only 10 since the onset of the pandemic a year ago, and the island was basically covid-free for the past nine months or more. When I look at this in comparison to the almost 550,000 lives lost in the United States, there is no comparison. Even if you calculate the number of deaths by percentage of the overall population for each country, Mauritius’ death rate due to coronavirus is far below that of the US. And I must admit that this has all been a bit disorienting, like a strange déjà vu, re-experiencing the onset of a pandemic but different. Different rules, different culture, different protocols, but strangely familiar. As we adjust to yet another new normal, we remain positive, hopeful, grateful. Which reminds me, a friend recently commented that they had come to appreciate my “positive spin on things.” To be honest, this comment caught me off guard. Of all things, I have never thought of myself as a “positive” person—hopeful, perhaps, but not positive. Reflecting on this, I realized that, for me, it has nothing to do with positivity and everything to do with choosing my response. As holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl said, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” We may not always be able to choose our circumstances. But we can always choose our response. And that, I believe, makes all the difference.
As I pondered the past month, I realized that there is a familiar pattern to life and to finding balance no matter the circumstances. It is a pattern that includes a time of joining in or getting involved with the people and circumstances that surround you, followed by a time of getting out or taking a break from those same people and circumstances that surround you. This ebb and flow of engaging and withdrawing is familiar, perhaps because it’s like breathing. We breathe in; we breathe out. It is a rhythm that is natural, instinctual, and necessary to sustain our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Sometimes we want and need to pour into others’ lives and relationships, and sometimes we need to pause to decompress and renew ourselves. It is yet another example of how in everything there is a season, a balance that must be maintained so that we can live out our purpose and potential. Thus, this month, we will recap some of the ways that we have breathed in the culture and people that surround us and some of the ways that we have breathed out and taken time to just connect with ourselves and our own family.
Welcoming Baby Elya
The most significant breath in came in the form of an invitation to a baby welcoming celebration. We met the grandparents of the newborn, Ragini and Nishan, at Mr. Ashley’s home church which they attend regularly. At the end of a church meeting in late January, they surprised us by inviting our family to join Ashley, Prishma, and about 60-70 family members and other invited guests at the party. We were told that this is a tradition in Mauritius to hold a celebration about a month after a baby is born, where the child is introduced to extended family and friends, and the name of the child is made public. Gifts are also given for the baby. The traditional colors of this event are red and white, so you will see in the photos that we did our best to dress accordingly. We arrived around 5pm, and the evening began with traditional Mauritian snacks—gateau piment, samoussas, half moons, and a punch drink—as we waited for all of the guests to arrive. An hour or two later, the celebration began for baby Elya with music. Because Ragini and Nishan are Christians, they wanted the celebration to include Christian songs and a message of blessing from Ashley for the baby. After Ashley’s blessing came the main course of traditional briyani, a rice dish with chicken, potatoes, and spices. Briyani is normally eaten by hand and ours was served on paper (in place of real) banana leaves. When everyone had had their fill, the party continued with sweet treats and people taking turns greeting the baby and family. We decided to leave around 9pm since our children were becoming very tired, but I image the party continued for at least another hour without us. Despite the late night, we were honored to have been invited and given the opportunity to share in Ragini and Nishan’s joy as they welcomed baby Elya.
Teaching at Lighthouse
Aaron has also been breathing in deeply with his classes at Lighthouse. He has been working hard to learn about his students and about how they learn or are used to learning. With five classes all at different grade levels, he has his work cut out for him. The workload has been a challenge, but he reports that his students are generally good-natured and positive. While some classes are engaged and eager to learn, others are quieter and more reluctant to engage. As such, Aaron is trying to find the right balance for each class of fun, engaging activities that provide an “easy win” and activities that are more challenging to build critical thinking skills. Finding the right balance is necessary for maintaining student buy-in and keeping them interested in learning. Another positive is that the students at Lighthouse are conditioned to do a lot of writing since the Cambridge curriculum focuses more heavily on writing than the American curriculum; however, the caliber of that writing often needs improvement. Like many students in this age range, Aaron’s students often struggle to develop and express their ideas with maturity and depth of thought. Furthermore, even though all of Aaron’s classes are considered “English as a first language,” for many of his students English is not their first language even though they possess a relative fluency in English. Thus, Aaron is trying to push them and to mature their thinking to think in new, interesting, and critical ways. In order to do this, he has developed units around larger themes, such as justice, and encouraged students to use the texts they read in class to explore these themes deeper. For example, he might ask students how a text relates to the idea of justice in a larger context or what their opinions are related to whether a given situation is fair or unfair and why. Although he may be stretching his students beyond what they are used to, there are some indications that the students value Aaron as a teacher. One student said that Aaron was his favorite teacher, and other students have taken to hanging out in Aaron’s classroom during their free recreation period to study, read, or play chess—perhaps in part because of Aaron’s steadfast presence in the classroom. All in all, it is a steep learning curve for Aaron and his students, but he is doing his best to meet them where they are and explore new ways to help them excel.
I have also found my own way to breath in by offering to help provide children’s activities at Ashley’s home church. Until recently there had been nothing planned for the children, so they often spent the meeting running around and playing with toys. As you can imagine, this made it challenging at times to focus on the adult Bible study. So, I volunteered to help Prishma provide programming for the children. I was in charge of the first week, and I decided to teach about the Lord’s prayer. When we arrived that night and I told Ashley what I was planning to do, he grinned and said that he was planning to cover the same scripture with the adults! (We had not discussed it ahead of time.) There were about 13 children in attendance that night ranging in age from about 2 to 10, and we met in a small bedroom. I had gone in thinking that most of the children would speak English, since they learn it at school, but to my surprise there was a group of children who had come from the nearby town of Triolet, who did not speak English. Luckily they seemed to understand French and the oldest boy in the group, who was very engaged and attentive, was extremely patient with me as I read the story from the children’s Bible in English and then did my best to translate sentence by sentence to French. All in all, I think they got the point, but next time I’ll go prepared with my French Bible just in case! Aside from learning about the Lord’s prayer, we also sang several songs, some in English and some in French, and did some coloring pages. I even made a coloring page out of The Lord’s Prayer song by Mark Miller and gave my best attempt at teach the song to the children as a way for them to remember the Lord’s prayer. (Thanks to the Vancils at FBC Greensboro for the inspiration!) The experience definitely stretched me, but I enjoyed it and look forward to continuing with the children in the future.
Hiking Le Pouce
When we take in so much, especially things that are new or challenging, sometimes we need to find ways to breath out and let go of the stress. One way I had the opportunity to do this recently was to join a few Lighthouse friends on a hike to the top of Le Pouce. There are many mountains in Mauritius that rise quickly from flat ground to jagged peaks, and hiking in Mauritius often means going straight up and straight down these mountains. This hike was no different. Le Pouce–literally translated, “the thumb”–rises to an elevation of 812 meters (2664 ft) and is the third highest peak in Mauritius. It is located in central Mauritius, in the Moka region just south of Port Louis. The hike started at the base of the mountain in a sugar cane field and ended at the top. The reason it is called “the thumb” is because there is a flat, grassy plateau near the top of the mountain just before you make the final ascent to the peak. This gives the appearance of the flat part of the thumb before the end sticks up, like a “thumbs up.” (Side Note: There are wild monkeys that live on this grassy plateau.) From the upper plateau, the rest of the climb involves actually climbing up rocks to get to the summit. Needless to say, by the time we got to the top I was sweaty, dirty, and tired, but the cool breezes, the sense of accomplishment, and the view from the summit were worth it. From the top of Le Pouce, we could see from one side of the island to the other, the whole of Mauritius in one gorgeous panoramic view. The slideshow below gives you a glimpse of the views, but as with most things, it doesn’t compare to actually being there.
Another opportunity to breath out as a family came when we decided to take a day for a road trip. There was no clear destination in mind. The goal was simply to take the coastal road from the north around the east side of the island to explore and see what new things we could discover. At first the kids whined saying that it would be boring to just ride in the car. I assured them that if they were bored, they could just stay in the car when we found something exciting to look at since it would probably be too boring to get out. Needless to say, it wasn’t long before we found our first stop, and no one stayed in the car. We explored many beaches (they are all different), investigated volcanic rock, found seashells, climbed trees and rocks, played on a playground, and observed crabs and fish. We saw churches and temples, cows and boats, monuments, and rolling sugar cane fields. We drove on a few dirt roads and many narrow roads, often having to stop or dodge around oncoming cars or motorcycles. It was certainly a grand adventure, described by one very excited child as, “The best day ever!”
To finish our journey, I was determined to find a new place to eat, something different, something local. I was beginning to give up hope when I caught sight of a roadside vendor selling kebab with a flashing open sign. “There,” I said, “Stop here!” A rare parking space presented itself across the street and we parked. We walked up to the open store front counter that had a few plastic tables and stools out front. There was a line of people waiting—which is always a good sign if you are looking for the best street food. As is typical at these places, there was no menu or explanation of how to order. So we just waited and watched. There was a meat kebab roasting on a spit. (Just to be clear, this is not the same as a kebab on a skewer with chucks of meat and vegetables, which is called a “brochette” here.) Periodically, the cook would shave some meat from the kebab, dice it up with some mixture of vegetables and spices, put it in a baguette to make a sandwich, and top it off with sauces. (I imagine this is the Mauritian version of a Philly cheesesteak.) It soon became clear that the only thing we needed to do to order was tell them how many sandwiches we wanted. We also had the option of piment (hot sauce) or no piment. We waited probably 30 minutes to get our sandwiches because of the line, but they were delicious, and it was a perfect end to our day of exploring!
Other News and Photos:
A New Car
In other news, we have made the decision to purchase a vehicle. The decision was primarily financial, since the cost of our monthly car rental was a huge chunk of our monthly budget. The vehicle is a 2012 Nissan Qashqai that we purchased from a parent at Lighthouse. It is much more practical than the Toyota sedan we were renting because it has optional third row seating in case we ever need to transport anyone in addition to our family of five and the higher chassis makes it better suited for the sometimes rough terrain here. Our hope is that we will be able to resell it in the future to recoup the some of the cost, while also not having a monthly rental fee in the interim. We will still be a one-car family, but we are thankful to be fortunate enough to make the purchase.
Chinese New Year
Friday, February 12th, was Chinese New Year, which is celebrated widely in Mauritius due to the large proportion of Sino-Mauritians whose families originally came from China as indentured servants. We witnessed some of the festivities at a local shopping center where the Chinese lions and a dragon went from store to store collecting “red pockets” or gifts from the store owners. The festivities also included traditional Chinese drums, dancing, and martial arts displays. Scroll through the slideshow below to see photos!
Until next time…with peace, love, and gratitude from Mauritius!
As we wrap up the end of our third month in Mauritius, it is hard to believe that we have been here a quarter of a year already. In this time, we have gotten settled in our new house, learned a bit more about the island and its culture, and met a lot of new friends who have become our “island family.” This island family has continued to grow as more new families have come to join the Lighthouse staff. One family, the Palmers (who we mentioned previously), arrived from the U.S. a few weeks ago and were just released from quarantine on January 23rd. They, like us, will be serving through TeachBeyond. Another family, the Mulerts, arrived at the end of December and have also just been approved to join TeachBeyond. The Mulerts are American but are coming from a previous post in Malaysia. Thus, in the past month, our TeachBeyond team has grown exponentially, and we are now a group of six adults and 9 children! We hosted our first team gathering on January 28th where we officially greeted the new arrivals and enjoyed some tacos and time together.
The most significant event of the past month has been the start of the 2021 school year at Lighthouse, which officially began for students on January 14th. For Aaron, the start of the new school year brought much stress and anxiety about understanding the new curriculum and formalizing plans and preparations. For all of the children, it brought eager anticipation and excitement since none of them have set foot in a classroom for almost a year (with the exception of Ezra going to Lighthouse for a week and a half at the end of the 2020 school year). But for me, the new school brought a sense of dread, a heaviness, as I wondered—what is my purpose here?
The question of purpose is one that has been rolling around in my head for some time, knowing that the day would come when the house would be empty, and I would be forced to face the uncertainty that lies ahead. In all of this, I have studied; I have explored options; I have pondered my own thoughts and feeling. And I have also prayed. I have prayed for patience, which is not one of my strongest virtues. I have prayed for guidance to know the best way to use my time and talents. I have prayed that a door would be opened wide so that I would know clearly what I am supposed to be doing here. I have told myself to wait and to not take matters into my own hands by rushing to do something just for the sake of being busy and have tried to be patient and trust that a path will be made clear according to His purposes. And yet, here I am still waiting and wondering, what is my purpose here?
Initially I thought there would be a position for me in some capacity at the school. And while there still may be (and they would love to have me), the logistics have proven much more difficult than we anticipated. Essentially the school did not budget for another counselor at this time, and although I am happy to work for free due to the generosity of our partners, I cannot technically work as a professional in Mauritius without an occupation permit. And the process of getting a self-employed occupation permit to act as an independent contractor is quite lengthy and expensive. This leaves me in the position of essentially needing an employer for a permit if I am going to operate as a professional counselor.
While pondering this, I have questioned why it is so hard to not be doing something. And while many might think that this is an issue of professional work being tied to feelings of worth or identity, I have concluded that this is not true for me. I know that I have worth and value in who I am—in just being a presence here—with or without professional work, and I know that I have done and am capable of doing many things apart from counseling. So what is it? I have searched myself and the best answer I have found is that this longing for purpose is about what fuels me, what fulfills me, what renews me. I don’t mind the routine day-to-day tasks, but that’s not what fuels me. Instead, I thrive when I am pushed and challenged, and I am a better person when I am doing something for someone outside of myself and my family. Jesus never said stay where you are and be comfortable. Instead, He said go….“go and do likewise,” go and have mercy, go and be a servant, go and feed the hungry, go and love your neighbor as yourself. I am eager to go. But for now I am being told to wait, to be still.
“Being still and doing nothing are two very different things.” -Mr. Han, Karate Kid (2010)
In the meantime, I have tried to adhere to a principle that I established many years ago, which is to say ‘yes’ to every opportunity to connect. This doesn’t mean saying yes to everything. But it does mean saying yes to opportunities that match my values, intentions, and goals. By saying yes to opportunities to volunteer, meet with people, or to take on a role (like TeachBeyond Team Lead or class parent for one of the kid’s classes), I have made many connections. These connections have led to friendships and many candid conversations in which others have voluntarily shared their personal struggles with me. At times I have been caught off guard by these disclosures, wondering why I, a person they barely know, am the person they chose to disclose to. Nonetheless, I listen, I acknowledge their struggle, and I try to offer whatever support I can.
On more than one occasion, the other person has asked me to pray with them. This, too, has caught me off guard because I don’t think anyone ever asked me to pray with them in the United States. Sure, I had people ask me to pray for them but never to pray with them. It always causes me to have a slight feeling of panic. What if I say the wrong thing? What if my prayer isn’t good enough? What if I don’t have the right words or know all of the church lingo to make the prayer sound good?
In fact, I have always struggled with prayer. Regardless of the many scriptures that reference prayer, life experience has proved that some prayers are answered (in the way we want) and some are not. Some of my greatest joys in life have been answered prayers (or what I wanted) and some of my greatest sorrows have been unanswered prayers (or NOT what I wanted). And while I know it is tempting to create rose-colored stories about God’s plan or find reasons behind answered prayers or unanswered prayers, I choose not to go down that road. Instead, I choose to say that God is God and I am not. I may never understand the grand plan. It may never make sense to me. Sometimes we hurt. Sometimes things are hard. And that is okay. I have decided to accept not knowing and to do my best love and serve and trust in something that is far beyond my comprehension.
“You may never know what results come of your actions, but if you do nothing, there will be no results.” –Mahatma Gandhi
Despite my reservations about prayer, I pray. Despite my panic when someone asks me to pray with them, I pray. Because ultimately, it is not about me or my feelings or opinions. It is about God. And in the case of someone asking me to pray with them, it is about showing love to them and hopefully helping to comfort them in the way that they need in that moment.
So, maybe my path is not yet completely clear. Maybe I don’t have a specific “job” to do. But, upon reflection, I do have a purpose. That purpose is the same one we all have, which is to love others and to do good works in whatever capacity the opportunity presents itself. Some days that will look different than others, but in the end, this is what really matters.
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” –Ephesians 2:10