Jul 12, 2016

On Being "Here."

I'm sitting on my Rwandan couch wrapped in a caftan from the Philippines, drinking tea  from Zimbabwe. Three large, covered in cat hair suitcases sit on my floor. Besides these bags, my house is empty. All of my things have been given away. Mushu is sleeping next to me, very aware that something big in our little sphere of life is about to happen.

Tomorrow we move home.

I "left" home one-week after turning 22. I was off to China, bright eyed and idealistic to a fault. The world was beautiful and glorious and full of hope and promise and God's light.

I am returning, 5 weeks before turning 30. Returning from Africa where the disparity between daily lives of people in my hometown and my current town is shocking and vast. I am idealistic in the way that I am still an optimist about education and women's rights. I have seen beauty and wonder and glory. I've been kept alive by miracles.

But the world is not as bright as 8 years ago when I had an empty passport and a heart full of dreams. In the last 8 years I have been to 38 countries. The world is broken. People are displaced from their homes. Poverty makes thieves out of honest men. Healthcare and educational opportunities are saved for the "haves" while the "have-nots" receive charitable handouts linked to political motives. In 8 years abroad, I've been sick, I've been robbed, I've been followed, I've been struck, I've been conned.

I've also been made alive.

Because in the cracks, that's where the light shines through.

In the dirt, in the grime, in the unfairness of life is where we find humanity at its best. It's where community rallies around those who need care. It's where you Americans go abroad to volunteer years of they life for development, it's where friends care for each other like family. It's where strangers donate goods and pray for those they've never met. It's where babies get breastfed during international conferences, and inviting someone for tea and conversation is a giant gift of love. It's where we give each other bananas when we are hungry and share teaching resources like they are gold. We laugh and light a candle when the power goes out. Because it will come back. And then it will go out again. That's life.

To be super honest, I am afraid. I am afraid I will forget. That somehow I will lose this grittiness, this ability to observe and adapt. I am afraid I will become soft and expectant. Expectant of the world around me to be easy. 24 hour hot water and electricity. I don't want to take it for granted that in America I can get a nice haircut and shop for safe foods at a clean grocery store with nice carts to put my things in. And that when I leave the store I don't have to carry everything home in my hands (China) or on the back of a motorcycle taxi (Rwanda). I don't want to forget what it is like to ration internet usage or see if I have enough internet left to watch one tv show online. Or put things in the freezer when the power goes out so it stays cold. I don't want to forget the fear of malaria or the long bus rides through banana tree fields with people taking their goats out to pasture. I don't want to take my life for granted and forget this place or this feeling of survival and simple pleasures. Oh Lord, help me not forget.

It's an odd feeling, leaving Rwanda. I am not sure if I was even ever really here. 10 months is so short. I never really was given the chance to settle, since my fellowship went wonky at exactly half way through. I spent 5 months in a village at a crappy placement with no water or security. Then, I spent the last 5 months living in the capitol city but working a few hours outside and traveling constantly. But I was here. It's in the numbers:

Presented 5 international conferences (Rwanda (2x), Sudan, Ethiopia, DRC)
Taught over 200 hours at the university
Taught 60 genocide widows basic english and motorskills
Went to 8 countries (Uganda, Tanzania/Zanzibar, Zimbabwe, Botswana, DRC, Ethiopia (2x), Zimbabwe, Rwanda)
Started a mentor program with Rwandan business leaders and created a curriculum for refugee camps to use to keep girls from turning to prostitution
Did work shops with Peace Corps and various schools and organizations around Rwanda

Personally, this final year abroad was spectacular. A friend from home came to visit, I had fabulous co-workers, I reconciled with my ex, met wonderful people in Rwanda, saw friends from China in Africa, and I had more downtime to really think, process, and be present.

I guess I really was here. Even though it feels too quick. Too soon to leave.

(There's a lot of "I's" in this post...sorry about that, just processing).

It's strange to go. Its stranger even that I was ever here. I asked for Africa, I yearned for Africa, I wanted to be here to "shake off" China and to get my spirit back. It worked. And I'll always be thankful.

Exactly 24 hours until my friend shows up to take me and Mushu to the airport. What would you do with 24 hours left in Africa??? Time to find out...

walk slow. xoxo.

Jul 5, 2016

Lessons on Being American: Part I.

What an incredible privilege it is to be able to dictate the course of your own life. What an impossible burden and blessing. Again in my life I find myself faced with the same problem that very few in the world's population get to address: Where in the world should I go? What do I want to do? Who do I want to be?

A year ago, I answered with, "Africa." So I came here, and it was the greatest decision for that time. I am so thankful. 

Now, the answer is, "Home." 

After 8 years abroad, I have a one-way ticket to America. And no plan. I want to sit on the front porch and drink coffee with my dad. I want to go to an American breakfast place and order scrambled eggs and bacon. I want to go for evening walks on paved roads. I want Vintners Red wine from St. Augustine and hot showers whenever I want. 

I want a routine. Simplicity. Calm. 

I want to cook dinner with my mom and read magazines on the back patio. I want to call my sister on an actual phone and catch up with the friends who have lived so far away for so long. I want to buy strawberries by the quart and cook with an oven. I want to go to the library and order from Amazon Prime. I want clean hair and feet. 

These things all feel like little luxuries in my head. A world of possibility and comfort. 

The way it works out, there are only a few days home before my family leaves on family vacation together. (Nothing says, "Welcome back to America" like a trip to Canada). So, I have been online shopping so that I can have some much-needed debrief time at home while also getting some things I need. 

Last year when I left China, I gave almost all of my belongings away. Now, that is happening again here in Africa, as most of the shoes and clothes I came with have been ruined by the dust and hand washing and I want to give extra things to my African friends rather than taking stuff home. I find my self in a funny position: starting over in America with practically nothing. 

Truth: I have no idea what Americans use and need. I have a running list of what I "need" as an American...health insurance, a phone and phone plan, a french press, a cat scratch tree for Mushu, Birkenstocks....just to name a few things, ha. 

A few days ago I was on Amazon looking at coffee machines and broke down in tears. I have no idea why coffee products made me cry. I guess it is just going to be part of the experience of the next few months - reacting to my new reality and accepting that reaction for whatever reason it has occurred. 

I think it is that for 8 years I have lived with less and been very ok. The abundance of America is daunting, even from 8 days out. 

I guess it's all part of learning to be American. How lucky am I to be able to make this choice, the choice to go home. Those without a family, those who are refugees, those who are bound by debt or corruption or difficult life circumstances...they don't have this liberty. The grandness of returning home is not lost on me. 

walk slow. xoxo.