Froese is also a 2012 graduate of Seattle Pacific University’s MFA in Creative Writing, specializing in fiction. See his work at www.thomasfroese.com and learn about his award-winning book Ninety-Nine Windows: Reflections of a Reporter from Arabia to Africa and other Roads Less Travelled.
To read Part 1 of our interview with Thom, click here.
How do your children cope with the new culture?
Our children attend an international school that operates in English but has students from all over the world, especially Europe, Africa, India and the United States. Interestingly, the school has a handful of Canadian teachers but few Canadian students. So our kids are getting immersed in Ugandan culture and appreciating humanity at that deeper level while they’re also immersed in a global consciousness in school. This is all helping them tremendously. When they return to school in Canada for a few weeks annually, they say how easy the Canadian curriculum is. Of course, in Uganda, we’re up with the sun, on the road at 7 am to have the kids in class by 8. These sorts of routines aren’t very glamorous, but they are largely what defines the life of anyone who works overseas.
One should get an idea of expectations before travel to any particular place. In the Arab world, don’t ever sit in a way to show the bottom of your shoe. Showing your sole is an insult. That’s why the Iraqis wacked Saddam’s toppled statue with their shoes, and that’s why that Arab protester once threw his shoe at President George Bush.
As a man in a patriarchal society, staying in the lines has been easier for me than for Jean, who is expected to wear head gear while in Yemen, and formal wear in a work environment in Uganda. I often wear shorts at the Ugandan Christian University, where the formal dress code says not to. People just have to deal with my legs, especially if it’s hot outside, and certainly if I’m not in class or the campus newsroom. So while I don’t try to flaunt my freedom, my view is also more like Luther’s – “Love God and do as you want.” Otherwise “the rules” become more important than the bigger issue of love. That is a key message for Uganda’s Christian community. And, of course, the “loving God” part puts the restraints on what you “want” to do.
It’s also important to realize that nationals are usually tolerant of a foreigner’s “mistakes,” more tolerant than they are of those same mistakes from their own. Foreigners, even in more difficult places like Yemen, are treated by most nationals with great respect. The general rule is don’t do anything – especially in public – that you know will offend someone so much that it will hurt your relationship with them. If that happens, and it can without you even realizing it, then by doing something caring at some other point – something that is a fruit of the sincere love you have for them – you will cover over your mistake.
Your wife, doctor and trained obstetrician, founded Save the Mothers because they were dying during childbirth. Proceeds from your book, are donated towards STM. During your years abroad, did you both realize that God was laying the groundwork for your wife to found this charity and for your columns to be compiled into a book to contribute towards it?
The groundwork for Save the Mothers was laid during Jean’s girlhood years in a missions-minded church, then in her medical training, then in her exposure to Uganda before she and I even met. She didn’t know this would all lead to Save the Mothers, just like I didn’t know that when I fell into journalism unplanned as a young man, it would eventually lead to a writing ministry overseas.
But that’s the beauty and wonder of life: God can prepare us for things unseen by asking us to simply get on with it. We are to do it in the small things of daily life. Then one thing can lead to the next and to the next – or not. I could still be in St. Thomas if that’s what was meant for me, and I would somehow find joy in it. But when things happen sort of unplanned, like my marriage with Jean and at both personal and professional levels, it’s all the sweeter.
My original thought with my book was to simply collect much of my work in one volume. I didn’t even know what to call it – I took a straw poll over email for its title. It made sense to use it as an educational resource and for STM; but it’s also a personal keepsake, a telling of my story over a season in time. When they’re older and reading it, my children will know me better. I had to write some things before I get old and forget half of them. At signings I like to write ‘Joy on your journey.’ My children each insisted on their own copies, and after I wrote some kind words in front, my daughter, Liz, said, “No, Daddy. You write ‘Joy on your journey’ like you do for everyone else.”
A good writer will take risks. A good writer will also learn to reflect. In doing these two, you can’t help but leave something worthwhile behind. And that’s all anyone can ask for, to have that sense of satisfaction.
Writers also need to understand that nothing in life need be wasted. It’s all preparation. This is true not only in terms of our vocational pursuits – it’s also true eternally. God’s hand changes us inside with one thing that leads to another that leads to another so we’re prepared for life with Him.
And while on earth, even our mistakes – the failures, the disappointments and hurts – these are also part of the process. And not just a co-incidental part, but really, they’re the main thing. This is the stuff of life. Anyone who wants to be a serious writer needs to think about this. Then you live at a deeper place and you can write from a deeper place. It’s true in writing both fiction and non-fiction.
You don’t have to cross the ocean to do any of this. You just need to listen to your own life. I’m still learning how to listen. It takes effort and time to get away from the noise. Maybe this has been another advantage for me, living in the slower-paced developing world. Canada can be noisy. And I’ve always felt it’s better to do one good piece than two poor ones. Quality, over the long run of many years, will go further than quantity.
My hope is that others, as they follow their passions, might also be surprised at the places they find themselves. If, by chance, another writer even lands in a place like Africa, then all the better.
Thomas was interviewed by Write! Canada staff member Jenny Burr.