Living in Africa During a Pandemic
I have put off writing this for months, as I’ve struggled to put into words what it’s been like living and serving in Africa during the middle of a pandemic. I moved to Kenya about 11 months ago…just a few month later Coronavirus stood at our doorstop. We evacuated the school and went into lockdown. This isn’t what I envisioned my first year at RVA (Rift Valley Academy) would be - I’ve been on campus longer without kids, then I have with.
As I walk towards the child safety office, sometimes if I listen really closely, I can hear the ghostly whispers of a student's laughing and excitedly chatting. I imagine the path's flooded with students moving from one class to the next. I see staff gathering all over campus planning for this weekend's activities and Kenyan staff in the cafeteria putting together the next meal – ready to feed 500+. I smell freshly mowed grass as grounds crews mow, clipping bushes and leaf blowing. But then reality hits, like a punch to the gut. The campus is still empty, classrooms sit void, and dorm rooms long for their occupants. As our superintendent put it, it is an unpleasant feeling and serves as an all too poignant reminder of the loss so many of us feel at this time.
We wait, wondering when life will be able to return to some semblance of normalcy. However, life continues, the grass keeps growing and we push forward. Scattered across campus and the world, there are teachers preparing lessons, grading papers, recording video instruction. There are students, logging on to online school, praying the internet will be strong enough today, in more time zones than I can count... trying to figure out how to stay caught up as they sit at kitchen tables, couches, rugs on the floor, and make-shift desks.
I open my computer and begin working on emails, child safety policies or the creative writing course I'm currently teaching online. I attempt to figure out how to make an isolation dorm during the middle of Covid safe. I wrack my brain for strategies to prevent harm, if students do come back to campus in January. I sit through the 5th zoom call of today and wonder how to best support staff and students scattered in over 30 countries.
This isn't what I thought my life would look like...but I'm honored to be a part of what God is doing...even if I can't always see the picture on the box of puzzle pieces. The last 7 months have been some of the hardest of my life. Being single, in a new country, in a pandemic, under lockdown has taken the anxiety I've struggled with most of my life to new heights. To be really raw and beaten down has left me exhausted mentally, physically, and spiritually. Walking around on a huge campus that has been emptied out (at one point there were only 23 staff members left – which were socially distancing from each other) has been like living in the twilight zone. It's so unusual it's frightening. But yet...there have also been some really beautiful reminders that while we are in a hurricane, there is peace in the eye of the storm. I know I am right where I am supposed to be and I'm glad I've chosen to stay.
From lunches on my porch, 6 feet away with one of the few Canadians, a dear friend... to moving into a new house and discovering a community of loving and supportive missionaries willing to help... to finding a family in the chaos – God has been so faithful. God has provided hope that shines as a beacon in the darkness. Knowing that I have a community praying for me has kept me going. Receiving emails from friends, and care packages from home have been the defibrillator paddles. In an effort to stave off the anxiety and panic attacks which pound on my door, I've become a part of a "family bubble" made up of me, another single (Cass) and a family. Initially that family was a couple, who became my African adoptive Mom and Dad. I was heartbroken but understood, when they had to leave. The crater sized gap left by Beth and Steve was soon filled with an amazing, lively family of 4 (the Lairs). Being a part of this make-shift pandemic bubble family has been so life giving. When the daughter found out we were bubbling she excitedly exclaimed, "does this mean I could hug Aunt Tori and Aunt Cass?" Not normally a huggy kind of person, I received my first hug in months – I could have cried. God has remained steady when my world hasn't. He sees right through the mess inside me and speaks love. Fully known and loved...I am so thankful.
I wish I could have done more updates... but sometimes when you're treading water, it's hard to describe, explain, share. Thank you for your patience and continued support. Moving forward, I hope to do a better job at letting you in.
With that in mind, here are a few ways you could continue to pray:
1. We are currently in the process of figuring out and writing policies so students can return to campus in January while remaining safe. Many of our families are struggling to educate their kids – frustrated with unpredictable internet in rural locations, juggling missions and homeschooling, and there are girls locked at home because it's not safe for them to go outside because of their context. RVA desires to continue our mission of providing high quality education for the children of missionaries, thus enabling them to serve. While online education has filled the gap temporarily it's becoming more and more apparent how needed RVA is. Please pray for our families as they wait, and pray for us as we plan.
2. I have decided to come home to Canada for Christmas and to meet my nephew who is due in October. I also think this time will be just what my heart and mind need, so I can continue to serve faithfully in January. The tickets have been booked but I desperately need somewhere to quarantine (October 30 – November 12). I can't stay with my high risk family – no matter how much we all wish I could. Please pray for provision of a quarantine location. Also, If you have a cottage, empty apartment, or have an idea – please let me know.
Thank you for your love and support. Missing you and praying for you and your families as the word attempts to keep running.
Tori Bissell - The Remnant*
*The name those of us who have stayed on campus, have playfully called ourselves.