Jan 27, 2016

No TV, No Problem.

Last week I had the chance to assist my friend in her Women's Leadership course that is affiliated with the upcoming American Corner in Kigali.

I love when I get to visit with the women in the class. They are politicians, journalists, businesswomen, teachers, and refugees. They are smart, classy, open-minded, and dress like they are walking a cat walk. They bleed fun and interesting into the classroom.

We sat in small groups and had the ladies interview the visiting teachers. It was during these interviews that one of the most hilarious cross-cultural discussions of my entire life abroad occurred...Read and laugh and ponder...

Student: Because you are white and with your size you could be married in 2 months here.
Me: I don't want to marry someone because I am white, I want to marry someone because we are a good team. I can't use my color as an advantage that is crazy.
Student: But with your size! You need an African man!
Me: I know, my two ex-boyfriends are African.
Me: But...why about my size? Why do African men like big women?
Student: Because they don't have TV!
Me: ... *puzzled face*
Student: They don't know skinny girls exist!

* exploding laughter on both sides *

Well. That's settled.

(And quite deep if you think about it...lack of exposure to television/media makes a more realistic ideal woman within society...hmm).

walk slow. xoxo.

Jan 16, 2016

Lipstick: An Ode.

In the 9th grade I asked my mom if I could start wearing makeup. Some girls had started wearing mascara and I was jealous. I wanted a painted face, too. 

Because my mom rocked at momhood, she came up with a plan to satisfy me without letting my youth be cast aside...I got to pick out my very own  Mary Kay lipstick from her catalog. My mom's Mary Kay lady was the 8th grade home-economics teacher in our town. I was told I could pick out any shade I wanted and we would call my former teacher to make an order. 

Dusty Rose was the winner. A soft - yet bright enough for my still evolving personality - pink. 

I remember when my mom gave me my very own black bullet of Dusty Rose. I had waited so very eagerly for the order to arrive and when it did, it symbolized something very meaningful to me - I was a woman. I could paint my lips pink. 

And that I would do. Every morning at the back of the bus stop where I would hide until it was time to climb onto the school bus. I thought the kids at the bus stop were dumb, so I would stay in the back by the bike racks until it was time to go. I would pull my Dusty Rose out of my backpack, proof that my mom loved me and I was indeed a fabulous 13 year old lady, and smoosh it all over my lips in a clown-like fashion. 

My lipstick made me happy. 

It still does. 

One of the saddest parts of coming to Africa was that I left most of my makeup at home. (Go ahead and judge me, haha). I chopped off my hair, switched to wearing glasses, and only brought the "essentials" of my collection. This has made me feel a bit.....dowdy.

So, when my sister asked what I want for Christmas this year I went online to see what lipstick would make me feel better. A few weeks later, my co-worker returned from her Christmas holiday in the States with my sister's package...Mac Red Lipstick. (thanks, Jennifer!) 

Wearing this vibrant orange-red on my lips just makes me feel better. It's like I'm looking at the troubles around me and saying, "I still care enough to bring my best, most colorful self." Last week when I returned home to find that my water tank had run dry, I went to my cabinet, pulled out my lipstick, painted my lips and sat on my couch and sulked. A few hours later, I took off my lipstick and went to bed. It's a long-standing habit of painting my lips as a mechanism for "making up" for a negative feeling or experience. It's ironic and humorous. 

I in no way think a woman should paint her face. Instead, I find that it is one of the benefits of being a woman - I can choose to manipulate my natural looks as a form of expression. Even if that expression is, "I haven't showered in 5 days, here are my hot pink lips." 

A few days ago I found the connection between 13 year old Jessica applying Dusty Rose at the bus stop and 29 year old Jessica applying Mac Red in rural Rwanda. Some habits don't go away as we age or change. I'm dealing with African struggles the best I can...and sometimes the best I can means putting on lipstick and sitting alone. 

Bring it on, Africa difficulties...I've got my best, brightest, most long-standing ammunition. 

no shower, no problem. 

walk slow. xoxo. 

Jan 15, 2016

Uganda: The Trip

You know you are truly alive when you’re living among lions.” 
-Karen Blixon, author of Out of Africa

Uganda itself was a wonderful change from Rwanda. I have begun a love affair with Rwanda, but one cannot deny that living in its political landscape and only 21 years post-genocide is incredibly heavy. Getting away is necessary to come back and love it again. 

I initially wasn't too thrilled to only be crossing the northern border into Uganda - I had hopes of South Africa or Dubai to get really far away from our tiny landlocked country. When discussing with my friend, though, we decided Uganda was the best bet because of finances and flight schedules. What a great decision it ended up being! While similar in terrain, Uganda is vastly different in society and culture. 

Because of their interesting historical ties to each other and different paths towards a similar goal, Ugandans and Rwandans have very differing opinions of each other. When in Uganda, when i told people that I live in Rwanda the response was a downtrodden face of pity usually accompanied with an, "ohh," sound. When pressed further they said something along the lines of, "Rwanda is opp-ress-ed/stifled/backward/etc." When I returned to Rwanda and told people I had been in Uganda they either had family in Uganda or came from Uganda (historically huge diaspora re-entry population post-genocide) and wanted to know where I had visited, or they reacted with, "Uganda is so messy/crazy/chaotic,etc." 

And you know what, both are right. 

For an expat, being in Uganda was like a breathe of fresh air. There is street food (illegal in Rwanda), there is music on the streets, people laugh at everything (Rwandans are understandably stoic), moto taxis don't have helmets and can carry two people, it was ALIVE. This freedom also brings more worries of petty crime and social unrest - but that is the cost of freedom of expression. In Rwanda, I don't worry about petty crime or unrest - but that is because any opposition to the way of the land is...taken care of. We are under control, quit literally. This is the cost of rapid development. 

My take away from Uganda was that I should never judge a country by its proximity. Two different lands can exist side by side. Also, that a traveler should take note to listen to the people where he/she is traveling and get their perspectives - though taken with a grain of salt understanding historical and political leanings. It was all so interesting. Uganda is beautiful and vibrant. Uganda is friendly and delicious. Uganda is messy and loud and chaotic and tumultuous. 

I loved it. If given the chance...GO!

Have some pics...

Lake Victoria 

my fabulous travel buddy

pork for sale 

Where the first Tarzan was filmed 

Lake Victoria 

fish eaten with our hands - delish! 


a little Christmas spirit 

at the equator 

meat on a stick sold to cars 

where Lake Victoria and the Nile River meet 

Jinja Town 

Street food!! A travelers dream!
I never thought I would be spending Christmas with another redhead in Uganda. But life is full of surprises! 

walk slow. xoxo.

Jan 5, 2016

Uganda: The Safari.

You know those, "How did I get here," moments? 

The times in your life when you pause to take stock of the scene around you and narrate your life to yourself so that you truly believe that it is you in that moment? 

I had several of those moments while on safari in Uganda. I was in what seemed to be a constant narration of my life..."Jessica from homogenous, suburban Florida who grew up at swim lessons and summer camp is now taking photos of hippos in Uganda and sleeping in a tent surrounded by warthogs..." 

If you ever find yourself in Uganda and want to take a budget safari, I highly recommend Red Chilli Tours. We had a great experience traveling from their home base in Kampala to Queen Elizabeth National Park - 6 hours away! (ugh). Our safari companions were from all over the world and were so much fun, the tents we slept in at the park were comfy and cute, and the animals did not disappoint. 

Seeing giant living things (that could crush you) wandering around their natural, preserved habitat is humbling. Several times I thought to myself, "It's just little us in this little car and that elephant is in charge." It was so great to have an experience where animals were in their total glory. I kept thinking how the earth is so complex, how the circle of life *cue Lion King reference* is happening all day every day. The world works in such harmony of life and death and existence. The animal world shows us that. 

We saw a pride of lions from far away, several elephants, buffalo, antelope, hippos, tons of birds, flamingos, warthogs, and crocodiles. 

Come on safari with me....enjoy the pics...

our safari tent! couldn't sleep because warthogs wandered around at night. 

after safari Nile Special beer on the Nile River!

elephant selfie

super zoom - super cool. 

crater lake

our international crew: holland, farrow islands, uganda, america, china, germany, denmark...

"Africa gives you the knowledge that man is a small creature, among other creatures, in a large landscape." - Doris Lessing

walk slow. xoxo. 

Jan 4, 2016

Happy 2016 from East Africa.

It's hard to believe it is already the first week of 2016. I am sure you must feel the same. Two days ago I returned to my lovely, random countryside town in Rwanda after spending 2 glorious weeks in Uganda with a friend who is also an English Language Fellow in an African country. It was fabulous. Once I can get my pictures to upload I'll blog about it.

For now, I feel the need for a linguistic transition into 2016 on my little blog.

On the last day of the year, I was in a beautiful, quaint town on the edge of the source of the Nile River called Jinja Town. I spent the day reflecting about the trials and joys of 2015. What a year.

In 2015, I spent months healing a broken heart from 2014, fell in half-love with someone who wanted to marry me and decided he wasn't the one. I'm so proud of myself for leaving and not settling for half-love because it seems that it is nearing "time" to have a family. I would rather live a solo life (with cats) than accept less than what I know love can look like.

I was screwed stifled in my Phd because of Chinese bureaucracy and after 5 years, 200+ pages written in Chinese, and presenting my defense in Chinese, I chose ABD status. Having a Phd behind my name is not worth bending my morals to adapt to the Chinese system. I held my head high, wailed some massive tears, and I walked away. The feelings of helplessness and defeat were crippling. I'm sure my life will have larger trials in the future, but up until this point - that was the worst. However, knowing I have been steadfast in my beliefs brings me some sort of peace. Lesson learned: don't write about religion in a communist society...they will take you down.

Both of my parents suffered losses in regards to their mothers. Watching my parents in their role as grieving child was/is heartbreaking. Yet, I was and continue to be encouraged and inspired by both of my parent's strength in loss. I could only wish to be as graceful while under trial. Through these experiences, I have observed the power in cultural familial roles. It seems that in aging and illness, we find what matters the most to us; be it privacy, dignity, pride, or family ties.

In 2015, I traveled to Myanmar with a dear friend (a dream!) and rode bikes through the Burmese Water Festival, and finished the long-goodbye to my life in China that was built over almost a decade.  My time in China ended with my mom coming to visit for the 4th time. (!)

In 2015, I decided to be happy. I decided that I missed great adventure and was not living as wild and whole-heartedly as I could have been. Frankly speaking, I was sad and I didn't want to be sad anymore. Thus, I made one of the easiest decisions in my life - to leave China after 7 years and move myself and my cat-child to Africa. This decision made this year monumental.

I have no idea why it had to be this way. (But isn't life always best with a side of mystery?) I just knew somewhere in the corners of my guts that I needed Africa. I needed really hard and really good - and that is what Africa has been to me these past few months - really hard and really good. After some periods of personal and professional setbacks, I feel like I am the best version of myself again. Finally. Entering into 2016 as a healthy, happy human is such a source of thankfulness. If we only hold on through storms, there could be infinite blessings we don't even fathom on the other side. My personal experience this past year is proof. We have no idea where the stirrings of our hearts can take us. 

Sometimes it takes a huge move, literally or figuratively, to help us re-align with our personal goals, our passions, and what makes our lives worthwhile. I'm thankful for the sadness and madness that was the first half of 2015, because it led me to now. And 2016 looks full of promise. Promises of African sunsets, huge classroom craziness, lots of red tape, a summer with my family, 25$ imported cat food, inspiring/educational travels, deeper cultural awareness, and more mosquito bites and fewer hot showers than 2015, haha. 

Cheers to growth, change, and pressing on towards the goal until we get to heaven. 

walk slow. xoxo