the power of people

Since becoming an avid fan of walking (read: my knees keep hurting whenever I run) I have found numerous ways to channel my thoughts while my legs boost me forward.

Sometimes, I listen to podcasts (the Robcast, Denver Community Church, Modern Love, Call Your Girlfriend, and Fresh Air top my favorites); sometimes I focus on the sounds around me and identify what each thing is (certainly, more applicable in an urban environment), like yelling children, sound of birds, or bicycles climbing up long, arduous hills.

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Kayonza, Rwanda

Occasionally, and when I’m feeling particularly contemplative, I literally put myself in someone else’s shoes.

The exercise is simple: when you find yourself in an area with other humans, find someone that catches your eye. Without being a total creep, observe them.

Ask some (or all) of the following questions:

  1. Who are they?
  2. Where are they going?
  3. Where are they coming from?
  4. Do they have a family?
  5. What has happened in their life?
  6. Who has molded their life?
  7. What goals could they hold? Dreams?
  8. What might be easy in their life? Hard?

You won’t know the answers to these questions. That’s the whole point.

The exercise is not about judgement, nor is it about feeling jealous or “sorry” for another person; it’s about thinking about all kinds of persons and what their lives might be like.

I believe, and I know, that existing outside of ourselves (even for a few minutes) cultivates a deep, abiding kind of empathy because when we realize that the moving world does not hinge upon us, we are more fully aware of what and who we are surrounded by. I started doing this a few years ago, and I’ve noticed that with time, it’s furthered my understanding that we all sit on different spectrums of everything.

There is no linear human being.

Most recently, I did this exercise on the border of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, in a town named Cyangugu. The town sits on the Southwest corner of Rwanda, with just over 60,000 people living in the surrounding area. It is a lakeside town, with sambaza (a type of fish) as a preferred food type. I spent little time here when I was in the Peace Corps, as my community was nearly 8 or 9 hours away, within the Eastern part of the country.

Our TWB team was in the region to complete a bread market analysis which involved visits with other local bakeries, visiting shops that source bread for customers, and researching local preferences for consumption. To understand the place as best as I could, I knew that moving by foot would be advantageous. I think that because you can use your five senses in varying degrees, walking is the most optimal way to learn about a place. Amid our bread research, outside a crowded, local market, I decided to contemplate a woman moving hastily with charcoal on the road.

It was raining.

The moisture of the air swelled together with the dust-capped pavement, like a gust of earth touching each part of my body. I tried to squint my eyes so I didn’t fall into a ditch or misstep and run into one of many pedestrians moving from one place to another. People were moving with intention; while the sunshine might keep people in a haze, the rain acts like a buzzer for immediacy. Suddenly, whether going to the market, to the lake, or to home, the journey must be done speedily.

As the pace of the conglomerate of people around me quickens, I spot a middle-aged woman carrying charcoal. The bag rests in such a way that the top piece is strapped around her forehead and the bulk of the weight is held by her back. She was wearing royal blue fabric with yellow adornments. She was also sweating, profusely, and her muscles seem to mold to the bag as if she knows it well – perhaps carrying these kinds of things every day. Her skin is well-worn by the sun. She seems tired. Strong, but very tired.

She had a ring on her left hand – perhaps she was married – and hence, it’s possible that she was also a provider for children, too. She dropped the charcoal near a bus for loading. I watched from afar as she received a wage – what appeared to be in coins – from her presumed boss. She counted her money. She left.

Was this her day’s wage? Was it enough to buy food? Is she from around these parts?

I can’t know the answers to the questions. I know nothing about her life. And yet, I feel heartbroken.

At any given time, we are surrounded by those who have a life full of opportunity, or perhaps oppression; poverty, or perhaps money; dreams, or perhaps hopelessness; limitations, or perhaps, educational access; hunger, or perhaps food; a job, or perhaps unemployment; nothingness, or perhaps status; mobility, or perhaps subjugation; isolation, or perhaps friends; and health, or perhaps sickness.

Turns out, our privilege is mobile (we carry it with us) and it sits on a spectrum depending on where you find yourself.  If we are engaging with the people around us, we can’t always know the levels or places of their privilege, but we can assess the levels of our own – depending on the situation.

As I watched this woman walk away, with hundreds of others around me, I couldn’t help but think: why do individual lives often look so disproportionate? Is this privilege at work? Or something else?

For instance, on this trip, I walked into bakeries, asked questions, and received tours of the facility without hardly a second glance. I even went home with a free loaf of bread. It’s possible (and likely) that being white had something to do with this.

In the same trip, however, I also entered a bar full of drunk men to purchase a bottle of water. Quickly, I was made to feel small, like my place was not there. I was mocked and laughed at and felt uncomfortable immediately. A drunk man tried to touch me – I left. Here, in spaces like that, I hold very little power – conceptually speaking. It’s possible (and likely) that being a woman had something to do with this.

After intentionally thinking about this woman – and the realities and possibilities in her life – I came back to our hotel room and cried.

I cried because I am maddened by inequity. I’m angered by lack of opportunity. I’m aghast at the nature of cyclical poverty. I’m saddened by loneliness. All of it – it’s so much to absorb and understand. It seems, tapping into this ONE woman’s life for 15 minutes allowed an outpouring of questions, thoughts, concerns, and opinions to rise from deep within me.

I can’t forget the way this feels.

If I forget, I become numb to justice.

If I forget, together, we will not overcome.

If I forget, we cannot acknowledge where we are limited, but where we have power.

I want to understand, know, and dissect the privilege I have. I also know, intimately, that there are areas in my life in which I’m not privileged. Learning to know these places is just as important.

And so, I will keep going on my walks and will maintain awareness of the people around me. For me, people serve as markers and reminders of all the powerful, incredible diversity of humanity, and still also the work we have ahead to ensure human rights are met for everyone.

Justice does not imply equality and that life is the same for everyone; justice, instead, necessitates equity – that we all can build a healthy, prosperous, supportive life, all within the context of our God-given place on this Earth. Whether in small-town Indiana, or on the shores of Thailand, all of us, as people, must know more about others, and then take hard-looks at ourselves, too. We must not be afraid to see our own privilege (and limitations) and then address it head on.

How does our privilege perpetuate systems?

How do acknowledge our mobile privilege and do something about it?

How can our privilege influence change?

These are the questions that this exercise ignites in me.

This is the power of people.

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Cyangugu, Rwanda

A Letter to You, Grandma.

Dear Grandma Genevra,

Sometimes, I imagine you were here still.

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I think about the walks we would take; the honest conversations we would have; the mere joy of the company we would keep. We became close even when I was so very young, but somehow, I think you saw the woman I would be, long before I have become that woman.

That makes me miss you more.

When I think of you, I think of home.

Your home – the one with stale smells of summer lining narrow, beige hallways. The one that was held together by the loose hinges of the faded black door. When opened, between the cluttered garage and crammed foyer, it never failed to screech, announcing our arrival haphazardly. The six floors of your duplex mesmerized my imagination; I could ride the elliptical in the basement; play Oregon Trail in the computer room; smell coffee in the dining area; watch Care Bears in the living room; and try on your array of shoes in your bedroom. You kept that hot pink-striped comforter for enough years on your bed that it began to smell of you; like freshly picked sunflowers with a hint of lavender.

Your home was aged, like a vintage wine. Chips, dings, and stonewashed colors signaled that the walls, wood floors, and pillars had all been well-worn. With life. Good life. Always, and even still, scruffy places with “character” are far more comforting than the sleek, untainted, modern, and untouched lines that are “cutting edge”. Maybe that’s why I like Goodwill so much.

You never needed to invite us in or cautiously encourage us to “make ourselves at home” – it was an understanding – we were home. With you, we were always in.

Without hesitation, we often bounced with our full backpacks to your retro pea-green refrigerator for a snack. Sometimes, in the corner, moldy cheese would be hardened from insufficient closing of the package. I’d bite into the cheddar anyway. You’d store your diet cokes here too, bringing one, two, or sometimes three for our visits to one of Aurora’s many libraries.

You know you taught me to love reading, right?

From Mia Hamm biographies, to stories on the Civil Rights, and re-readings of anything by Laura Ingalls Wilder, you spurred us to explore and to ask questions. You revealed to us the beauty of libraries, the glory of the Dewey decimal system, and the benefits of unlimited check-out privileges. Even if Lance and I came bearing ten books each, you hardly batted an eye.

Before Garry would return home from his work in the oil industry, we would nibble on ripe, red delicious apples and watch Oprah. She was our favorite. The round, mahogany kitchen table, adjacent to your numerous potted plants, held Oprah magazines stacked on TIME Magazines with bills to be paid chaotically scattered about. The caller ID box for incoming phone calls was buried somewhere here, too. By no means were you an organized woman. But, what you lacked in tidiness was made up for in gritty devotion. So for that, thanks.

Every Wednesday, you cooked us slightly burnt grilled cheese. Then, Lance, you, and I would scurry to your room to explore further our library treasures and bounty. As a young girl, merely five or six, I demanded that when sharing your bed, you were, “not to cross your line,” and stay on your “side” of the bed. I know you found this hilarious. Especially since I would often end up cuddling with you anyway.

You didn’t stop having us over to spend the night. Not when we entered middle school, and not when mom and dad divorced.

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The openness of your heart –and your space – propelled me to be a woman that continues to seek out safety in community and place. I recognize it, largely because you impressed upon me, at an early age, what it means to invest in safe places for people. Thank you for that, too. It took me a long time to realize what you and Garry did for Lance and I all those years.

Space. Breathing room. Curiosity.

You were my angel then, as my family split a part, as you are my angel now.

 *

How can this be? Angels can’t live here.

When you entered long-term “rehab” at the nursing facility, I stepped inside and instantly recoiled. A woman of tenacity and feistiness, I couldn’t imagine your confines to be so limiting. Residents roamed the halls idly, often so heavily medicated that reality had slipped far away from them.

I continued to note the same softness of your skin, the deep blue kindness of your eyes. Yet, your movements slowed, your voice stopped, and multiple sclerosis slowly took you away.

Eight long years of that hellish nightmare.

Occasionally, when I would visit the nursing home during my nights off from Dairy Queen, you would choke on your own spit from laughing too hard. Other times, you barely moved and stared at the wall without the slightest glance my way. I hated these times. I hated them because I knew you were inside your body, but your physical armor had worn away. It was frustrating, confusing, and painful. You didn’t deserve that kind of suffering, grandma. I don’t know why things happen the way they do, but I know that your life was no less important, valued, or meaningful because of the way you ended your years. If anything, your battle with M.S. exemplified the depth of sacrifice and power in what it means to be a woman.

I love being a woman because of you.

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You battled the illness valiantly and I swore that I would never forget the woman who taught me to feed the ducks, pursue kindness, and be myself. I would cast a wide net with my memories, holding them together like gold, honoring all of the ways in which you touched my life.

Now, if I close my eyes, I see you.

But –

More than that, I feel you. In my bones, in my soul, there is still you, cheering me on.

I read a quote the other day in a book that reminded me of you. It reminded me of how you lived out your life, boldly embracing exactly the woman you came to be – even after deep pain in your life.

“Growing up is an unbecoming. My healing has been a peeling away of costume after costume until here I am, still and naked and unashamed before God, stripped down to my real identity. I have unbecome. And now I stand: warrior.” – Glennon Doyle Melton, “Love Warrior

As the words came off the pages, I smiled. Tears poured out of me, without enough time to even attempt to stop them.

I vividly recall the authentic way you presented yourself to the world. I am your granddaughter, and so perhaps my perspective was flawed, but I knew then, as I know now, that your authenticity was genuine and powerful. It’s taken all of my 27 years and just now I feel I am beginning to tear away at the presentation of myself to the world and disclosing the real me inside.

Perhaps I’ve grown up, but you know her, the me that has always been.

You shaped her.

*

It’s been five years since you passed away and each year I reflect on you and your life, desperate to hold the roll of memories that play over and over again, like an old movie on a projector screen.

On the day of your death, I was sitting by kerosene lamp in my host family’s home in Rwanda. Dad called and gently told me, “she’s gone.”

From a small East African village, flashes of you at soccer games, birthdays, and Christmas filled my brain like a water-hose that could not be turned off. Strolls in downtown Denver, road-trips to Chicago, mountain summits, stories on trains…

I said very little to Mama and Papa. As their hands rubbed my back, I sobbed. I mourned. In that little green house, I grieved the loss of my warrior. What I’ve learned since then, in these five years, is that your presence has been unyielding.

You inspired Lance in his rock bottom.

You comforted me in deep heartache.

You remained steadfast proof of what love actually is. What it requires of us. And what it calls us to.

To love is to know.

And, you knew me deeply, even as a young girl. I think you would be proud, today.

I also think you would challenge me to commit to being a warrior, a bulldog, a whatever, never compromising my value as a human-being. I think you would love me for exactly who I am, and so, when it’s scary to be honest about myself, your comfort propels me forward.

Lance has a daughter now – with your name. She smiles, and smiles, and smiles. Her sassiness, sweetness, and amiability remind me, once again, that you are here.

I love you, and I miss you every day.

Always,

Heather

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write.

Fancy permulate brilliant delicious ideas.

Chemo letter to my lover anything and everything.

Columbine shooting Boulder breaking through sizzling.

*

These are the words humming in the room just off of Colfax and Race Streets in the Milheim House (built in 1893) where I’m attending my first workshop, class, session – whatever you want to call it – to pursue writing.

Well, pursue writing at least a little more seriously.

I have all these journals and all these ideas and all these stories and all these people are sitting around the table and I’m thinking,

WHAT…? What am I doing?

Here in our classroom, we have ski instructors from Boulder, noteworthy people known for historical Colorado events, comedians, travelers, and a professor who is a trained writing therapist. Most excellent.

But in all seriousness, I put on a bold face because hey, I’m here to write, and if I really believe we all have stories worth sharing I might as well just hit the ground running.

I realize quickly what it is I want to write. What I deeply yearn to share about, to express, to reveal, and what’s important is that our teacher presses further.

Why don’t you write?

The honest answer, for me, was true on both sides of the equation (why I love writing and why sometimes I refuse to altogether):

ADMITTING TRUTH.

I write because it’s the one place I feel safe to do so, and I refuse to write for the very same reason.

It’s scary to sit in a chair, with your pen and paper, and realize all of the tools sitting in front of you.

Yet, our teacher is attune to this – having experience in creative writing for years and years – and so she doesn’t let us simply escape this tension. We must call it for what it is.

*

After an hour of a couple of writing exercises and setting the format for the 4-week class, we address the battle of the “inner critic”. One woman calls it her, “inner bitch” and what I found interesting is that in a variety of contexts, we have a different name for the very thing that speaks hate into our lives.

It could be evil, negativity, self-loathing, the inner critic, doubt, or Satan himself, but it’s all there.

In writing, you might hear things like, “it’s been written before” or “really, writing? You think that’s a worthy pursuit?”

In my own exercise, I mapped out my conversation with my inner critic like this:

Heather: “It’s time. The story has already begun, and let’s be real, has never really closed – what if I just start to capture what that love meant?” 

Inner Critic: “Oh okay. So, sit down. Flounder around with your tales of fetching water and banana trees. You have a blog full of those damn stories and they are getting old. Where is your new material?” 

Heather: “You and I both know there’s a kind of process and storyline that has been left unwritten. Intentionally. Let’s go! Let’s shatter that fear and just write.” 

Inner Critic: “How can you pretend that you’ll even remember the slightest details – the ones that will actually make the story meaningful? The ones that will help you even remember tell it at all?” 

Heather: “I’ll take the very approach I took when I experienced it myself. I figured it out as I went along. And guess what? I still don’t have it all figured out – but there’s a certain release of that in writing. That’s what I want to choose. That kind of acceptance. In who I am as a writer. Someone who is honest.

Inner Critic: “Good luck with that.”

Heather: “You can sit over there when freedom, clarity, and depth come to service. Those boxes of journals that sit in my room? Those memories? Those ticket stubs of moto rides, international packages, and plane tickets? The letters? They meant something. They still do. They will be a weapon to destroy you. The catalyst to action. The reason I lift my story to a place of confidence, worth being shared. The experience will be enough to move past the brokenness you so deeply want to maintain.”

*

We don’t write for a lot of reasons. A lot of it has to do with fear, self-doubt, and a number of excuses that seem good enough. Tori Morrison herself said that she was often afraid to write her first sentence in any of her works because she was so concerned that the novel wouldn’t become the novel that she had dreamed it to be.

Towards the end of today’s session we had to share two things with the class:

  1. One thing that you learned about yourself as a writer, &
  2. A small writing goal that you are committing yourself to.

For the first point, I realized that I have hung on this “balance beam” of wanting to commit to writing – or not. I no longer want to be there, I want to be all in. I want to do this.

For the second, I am going to be reading through a couple of my journals a week and begin to pull ideas for what it is that I want to write. 2 journals per week will take me some time to work through, but I’m confident that much of the material is already there. Thank goodness for being an obsessive journaler.

The challenge is evolving from that – applying it.

*

I walked out of class with a girl who was quick to ask a few questions about some of the things I had said. I didn’t know why until she talked about being involved with ministry, dealing with a struggle that I mentioned during the session, and also living and serving in Romania for well over 2 years. I hastily said, “ah! Are you a Christian?” And she was, and I am, and as it turns out, so is our workshop teacher. Our teacher came from behind with open arms and simply gushed, “I knew you both were believers.”

Really?

Um, hello, parallels.

I want to know more, but I’ll have to wait until next week.

Until then, I’ll be practicing, doing these exercises, reading my journals, and maybe finally starting to take the leap into a different kind of approach to my writing.

Let’s see what happens.

*

it’s time.

I would like to proudly proclaim that I was a big fan of the now immensely popular band Imagine Dragons before they exploded all over the Top 40 stations in and out of the United States.

I’m sure you read that and think, “um. Who cares?

But HEY! It’s a rare thing for me to know about a “cool” thing before it’s actually deemed “cool” by the rest of society – often propelled by strong contingencies of hipsters.

This isn’t just the case because I was abroad in 2012 and 2013 – no, even when trends happened before, I was usually late to the taking.

                Giga pets and pods when I was a small child

Bell bottoms when I entered middle school.

Even facebook when I was about to go into college. I had no idea.

Granted, I will admit when it comes to Imagine Dragons, I didn’t discover them because of my own cultural trendiness. I was introduced to the band by my Peace Corps replacement, Margaux. She visited me at home in Rwanda when she was first assigned to come and work there following my departure later in the year. She came to learn the ropes of our village and towards the end of her visit, I practically begged her for new tunes. I had exhausted my One Republic, The Fray, and country playlists. We did some good ole media sharing and she passed along all of Guster’s albums, Imagine Dragons, and Grizzly Bear.

I started dabbling in this eclectic collection, particularly as I did my household chores. There is something wonderful, I have found, about cleaning and enjoying good music at the same time. It’s cathartic or something.

One day, I remember Divine and I cleaned my house top to bottom and listened to their third song on the album, “It’s Time” on repeat. We both seemed to like it a lot. We shared old rags as we scrubbed on our knees, later mopping, and moving around furniture. And we listened to this music the entire time. That’s friendship.

*

So this is what you mean when you said that you were spent?

And now it’s time to build from the bottom of the pit right to the top, don’t hold back

Packing my bags and giving the academy a rain check

The sounds and words played as Divine and I moved room to room doing what we needed to do to clean my house up to the very high Rwandan standards of cleanliness. It was a Wednesday, I think. I was leaving my village – for good – on Friday.

The cool, wet concrete of the floors refreshed my feet as I moved around barefoot. I sat on my mattress for a moment to catch my breath. Sweat laced my forehead and I glanced at the now empty walls where photos, bags, and artwork had hung for so long. It had been quite a journey, hadn’t it?

I saw Divine washing my jeans in the room over. Scrubbing, rinsing, and scrubbing again. You must be smart and dressed very super when you go back to your family in America, she had said.

I had started the whole-Peace-Corps-thing without a clue in the world. When I came to Rwanda, I couldn’t have begun to imagine the type of life I would live.

Now, I was packing just a couple of bags and it was time to start again, this time leaving a place that had markedly changed me forever. It was time to begin – and to say goodbye – and I think I could finally understand what Imagine Dragons meant when they sang, “the path to heaven runs through miles of clouded hell.”

I witnessed, saw, and was a part of a lot of extraordinarily difficult things. Some of these things I will probably never quite process. But, in the end, the positive always outshone the negative. Darkness never wins.

*

It’s time to begin, isn’t it?

I get a little bit bigger, but then,

I’ll admit, I’m just the same as I was

Now don’t you understand?

That I’m never changing who I am?

For the first time in weeks, I opted out of church this morning. Instead, I slept in. Drank coffee in bed. And cleaned. I left the window of my room open to filter in fresh, crisp air as I removed the clutter that had infiltrated my drawers and closet the last couple of months. I stripped my bed and washed sheets. I got rid of old clothes. I gallivanted around my bedroom in my worn, pink slippers. My playlists of music were playing loudly and eventually I had to put on Imagine Dragons – my ‘go to’ for cleaning and lounging around the house.

“It’s Time” came on and it’s always amazing to me how music has the ability to transcend time and place and yet maintain that very personal meaning for each of us. Here I was, back home, cleaning my room, and that very song affected me just as strongly has it had as my time in Rwanda was winding down.

A bit differently, however.

Instead of reflecting on a life lived over the course of months and years, I thought a bit more about what lies ahead.

I’ve been discouraged lately by what’s happening in my life. While having a variety of options is a blessing and an extraordinary luxury, it’s also deeply disappointing and stressful when things don’t really line up in the way that you imagine it will. I’ve been aghast, wanting to simply give up.

Which, believe me, is a good thing.

You read that correctly. It’s good for me to give up – and by this I mean to give up the plans I construct for myself. I can make them, I should make them (after all, goal setting is incredibly important), but I must be open for God to take me elsewhere. Sometimes, our ideas for our lives are illusions and not exactly what we should be doing. God has always taken me right where I need to go – why would that be any different now?

So, yeah, I give up.

What is important to hold onto, I’m learning, is to not let go of being who you are, standing by your values, and what you believe to be true. Don’t settle. Don’t accommodate. You don’t have to. Even people who live in the worst conditions imaginable have the choice to live their lives fundamentally connected to what they believe to be true. We all have this power. And the last thing that I want to do is to give up all the way in my weariness for what the future might bring. If you believe in something, keep going.

never changing

It’s too easy to accommodate your dreams to the reality of the world. In tears, I recently told my best friend that perhaps all this time I had been naïve. I had been soft. I had been fighting for something that just might not make sense. That’s not the way the world works, I kept telling myself.

Those are all lies.

And while I give up my control to God – in the best way that I can – so that I will live a life that honors Him, there is nothing wrong with holding onto passions and a belief that even in our unclear, unforeseeable future, we will make a difference.

It’s time to begin, and don’t you understand? That I’m never changing who I am?

two lane country roads

It takes me approximately 33 minutes from my house to feel like I’m in the country.

Urban dictionary – obviously the source of all knowledge – defines the country as:

Country

Contrast: City suburbia

Not like the city because it’s quiet, not like suburbia because you don’t feel like you’re going to explode due to boredom and utter lack of greenery (lawns not withstanding)

A generally quiet region of the world many people choose to live in due to it’s tranquility and closeness with nature. Sometimes refered to as and are actually similar to “the boons” and “the bush” or “the sticks”.

A.K.A: Middle of Nowhere. 

What we learn from Suburbs, Country and City is that there IS NO PERFECT PLACE TO LIVE.

Source: http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=country

Now, y’all, bear in mind that urban dictionary is a website where you can add your own ideas, thoughts, and definitions to any imaginable of word or phrase. So. You know. Take it with a grain of salt.

*

I decided for a late afternoon Saturday drive today for one major reason: why not? I mean, it was a sun-shiny sort of day, a little too windy for my personal taste to hit the running trails, and mom and I had just finished our pedicures. Ending the day with a drive sounded like the most wonderful idea.

Friday evening had been spent in the midst of people, cars, lights, noise, traffic, and all that city culture in Denver. Jessica and I met at the corner of the Museum of Contemporary Art for an evening of dinner (at a dingy, perfectly loud, bustlin’ bar called My Brother’s Bar) and an exhibit showing at the museum that highlighted pieces containing shea butter, wax, and thin leopard skin materials. It was….well, it was weird. But it was also really fun and Jessica and I had a great time. I like doing new things like that.

But while I do love all of the great things cities gives us, I like also getting away just for a bit. Even if it only takes us around 20 or 30 miles, it’s sometimes just really joyful and refreshing to get a breath of fresh air.

People love asking what I missed the most about America in Rwanda.

The list is a’plenty, I mean hello. Cheese, family, consistent internet, food variety, and running water. But, another thing that tops my personal list is the ease and ability to get away. Particularly in a car.

I now have one of those big machines (a car, if you will) that I would only see one time per day (if that) when I was in the village. On top of that, I have as many roads as you could dream of. So, mom and I came home from the salon, I packed my bag with a camera and my journals and went.

I didn’t press the gas until my “classic roadtrip playlist” was going and I had my sunglasses on. And, um, okay, it wasn’t as romanticized as I might make it sound. For one, I usually wear these transition lenses when I’m driving that also make me look like I’m well over fifty years old. My water bottle spilt all over me as I reached my first stop sign out of the neighborhood. That’s just me sometimes. I’m a bit (or a lot) of a klutz.

I headed south on 83, Parker Road, towards and past Franktown. It’s a nice area, full of long yellow grass and hilly paved roads. I attempted to visit Castlewood Canyon State Park, but they were closing soon after I arrived and so I thought, oh what the hell, let’s keep going. I drove some more. And it was awesome.

I spend a lot of time alone, you know. Going to work, hitting the gym, reading books, and watching Netflix. Even as an extreme extrovert I have become accustomed to time alone. That was a big part of my life in Rwanda. However, it’s important to spend time alone that is more than that. It’s important to think, to reflect, to get a grip of yourself. As best as you can. And that’s why I like going on drives – I slow down, just for a bit.

*

I came back and prepped for my daily hot bath.

I called Divine, back in Rwanda, and the sound of her voice does nothing but bring the biggest smile to my face. I have missed her infectious and loud laugh. She sounds so, so fulfilled with her studies and new school.

She’s doing so well. She tells me about her new friends, her classes, and her family. It’s weird, because I can at least relate to all of that. I know her, and I knew a great deal about her life. She tells me situations or funny happenings from the last week and I can get a picture of it in my head.

The hard part comes when I try to describe and give the details of my life now. That Saturday drive, for example, where do I begin?

The hard part – and really the hardest part of this whole adjusting thing – is relating to people on both sides of spectrum.

To explain my village life to Americans – how?

To explain my life back in America to Rwandans – how?

Divine doesn’t know a life of cars everywhere. Divine doesn’t know a life of CARS, period. She has never lived in a place with seemingly unlimited, paved road. She’s never been a part of a culture that has the mentality where you can just pick up your things and just go. Her life has no context for this. Her life isn’t less than mine; it’s just a great deal of things that are a part of my daily life now are not things she can easily draw up in her mind. She tries, I know, but the disconnect is there.

Words fail us sometimes. We just simply can’t describe everything we encounter in our lives.

But what I have always loved about Divine is that she tries harder to understand than most people I know. And so I tried telling her about my love for going in the “country” and for just going by myself to have some time to think. She laughed a little. And I expected that.

But, when I told her about getting my nails done with mom, what I didn’t expect, was her immediate ability to contextualize.

“Yes, sometimes in Rwanda we have that place. The salon. It is in the city. They have the color you can put in your nails. It makes you feel very nice. Very beautiful.”

Girl you got it. Never underestimate the power of people to try. No, we don’t always understand where people are coming from.

The way we overcome that is by trying.

*

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the 8 to 5 thing

beautiful

 

It’s a beautiful Saturday (sunny and cloudless in the middle of January, no less) and yet I’ve been lying in my bed, under three large comforters, all day. I haven’t moved much. My longest journey has been to the kitchen sink to fill my water bottle.

I know it’s a beautiful Saturday because I have my window open just a smidge. The sunshine wants to come in but I’ve given the blinds only about an inch so it doesn’t come slamming into my room and swing hard at my already pounding head.

I’m sick, and on the aforementioned beautiful Saturday, it sure isn’t ideal. However, it’s given me plenty of time to read, skype, write, and do some applications for summer opportunities.

I’m tempted to blame this bout of feeling icky to what I like to call 8 to 5 syndrome. That is, becoming physically ill from the demanding transition to a full-time, 40 hours per week JOB.

Of course, that’s not it. I mean, at least I don’t think it is.

I’m sick with some body aches, headaches, a slight temperature, and the general I-just-don’t-feel-very-good-sort-of-thing.
Thank the good Lord for a comfortable bed. It is doing wonders for me. Being home and sick is a lot different than being sick alone in a foreign country.

So.

I started a job this week. And I am so lucky and grateful to have it! It’s at a wonderful company with really people oriented advisors and leaders. Two people on the leadership team are dear friends for my mom and step-dad and so they are definitely great people to work for.

I work in a fast-paced investment firm that helps people with accounting services, financial planning for the future, tax preparation, and that kind of thing. On my large notepad that I received from the office on my first day, I almost immediately started making a list of “financial language” because seriously y’all, this world incorporates its own sense of jargon, phrases, and linguistics.

Soon, I’ll be speaking about 401K rollovers, cost segregation analysis, investment portfolio reviews, and business valuation as if these are just casual conversational topics. However, in the meantime, I’m just barely trying to stay afloat by absorbing as much as I can. It’s a great learning technique and it’s a darn good thing that I’ve always loved school because in a lot of ways, starting this new job is an educational experience.

More than the words, or the seemingly endless amounts of software programs I will need to be familiar with, it’s quite difficult to get used to this job thing.

I know that sounds, well, weird, but I’m coming off a job that was demanding and difficult in completely different ways. Yes, on paper I only taught 20 hours per week (which at my school, involved even fewer hours) but I was almost always “on”. That is, being so tangibly different and continually trying to fit in took a lot more from me than 20 hours really conveys. On top of that, I spent a lot of my extra time continuing other efforts, like GLOW Club, and making friends, that believe me, were quite taxing. It wasn’t a job in the traditional sense, but a lot of what I was doing in Rwanda was in fact, a job. It was just a strange mixture of work and life, whereas now my work life and everything else is kept quite separate. There’s this transparent but incredibly obvious line; I work from this time until this time and when it’s finished, well that’s when my “other life” begins.

The culture shock continues and now it extends into the way we organize our lives and how we live them out.

The first day of work, this last Monday (also my best friend’s birthday!), I recall walking into the office, on the 4th floor of a multi-use building, nervous and a bit unsure. Be courteous. Be serious. But above all….girl**, be professional.

My office has a glass-door entry way and I entered with a smiling and bright face. I put my coat on the dark mahogany coat rack in the large conference room and got to work right away. I was shown the overly complicated coffee machine, how to place the beans correctly, and that because of the internally located grinder, it will sound like an airplane taking off when you start to brew. Good to know.

Soon after, my training began. I’ll be a receptionist of sorts for this firm, and so this involves scheduling appointments, answering the phone, greeting clients, data-entry, and having an intense understanding of our many clients-whether they have prepared their taxes with us, own a small business and we do their payroll, or if they have investments by way of one of our advisors. I was slightly dizzy when my predecessor was telling me all of this. That was before being shown all of the inter-workings on the computer. There’s a software program for this, and a software program for that, and my goodness, there’s all these clouds and I’m not speaking of the white things in the sky sort of thing. Technology is crazy, y’all. There’s a certain process to transfer calls and you better communicate primarily through email; there will be as few interruptions for our advisors as possible. They are busy. My goodness, everyone is so busy.

Each day got a little better and a little less confusing but I remain confident that this will be a pretty hard job for me.

This, coming from someone who was most recently employed by the government to go live and integrate into a rural African village. But seriously. We’re all different, right?

The good news there is a lot to know and I think I could learn some pretty valuable things from this company. As of late, I’ve developed a strong interest in microfinance and lending and social enterprise (perhaps from some great books I’ve read, like: The International Bank of Bob and Rwanda Inc. and from reading on Kiva by recommendation from Rachel, which is a non-profit, microfinance institution) and while this particular company doesn’t focus on these things, being immersed in some realm of the financial world is a good place to start.

My first day as a teacher in Rwanda was shocking too, you know. That time around I was a bit overwhelmed by the obvious lack of things. I couldn’t believe the kinds of classrooms I was in. I didn’t understand how I was supposed to teach with just a piece of chalk. This was really it? Most of all, I thought to myself, “how in the world did I get here? And TEACHING? Seriously? I can’t be a teacher…I am not qualified…” But after two years, I did it. It’s probably a bit debatable as to what I actually taught, but I did it and that’s what matters.

So sure, starting this whole 8 to 5 business is really hard. And it’s different. And it adds to all the strangeness of coming back to America. But it’s a starting point and it will pay the bills and it will fill my time as I continue this whole process of coming home.
The adjustment will never end, I’m beginning to think. And that’s okay. It’s just the way it is.

I’m planning a bit for the future in learning more about some potential exciting opportunities. And for now, I’m doing the “8 to 5 thing” and getting by, being crazy and working out at 5:00am, and just trying to show up and do the best I can.

It’s crazy to jump from a job where I was working with people who are some of the poorest in the world and then sifting through files that may have touched the wealthiest of the wealthy, so to speak.

That’s weird.

I’m sure I’ll process that. Someday. Eventually. Maybe.

But for now, I’m just going to watch some Parks and Recreation, drink more Emergen-C, and get in tip-top shape for Monday. No time to be sick. After all, on Monday it’s back to the grind and the “8 to 5 thing” all over again.

**I should note here that one of the greatest challenges I am having in “being professional” is limiting my use of “girl” at work. It’s not easy. It slips all the time. And to be sure, it’s quite embarrassing. It’s a work in progress.

dreams

 

coffee