Category Archives: Adventures

The firsts of many.

As I got ready to write my first entry since the trip officially began, we had the first power outage. It’s been two days filled with a lot of firsts. First ride through the mountainside of Honduras. First night of my life sleeping without air-conditioning. First meal. First staff wide devotional. First siesta. First staff meeting (in all Spanish, mind you). First trip into the mission field. First power outage. This summer is going to be full of firsts and I am full of excitement at its prospects.

On Monday, I flew in and was naturally the last through the customs line. It was an intimidating and very foreign process for me, and a man came into my path, praying over me and my trip within five minutes of our conversation. Luis gave my first steps on Honduran soil a sense of peace. We made the drive back to San Marcos de Colon from Tegucigalpa, the capital. These roads are carved into the sides of mountains, views unlike anything I’ve seen before.

Since arriving, I’ve met countless people and seen so many parts of the ministry. I’m spending this first week learning the operations and familiarizing myself with the area. I visited the boys vocational school on my first day, and met our many students. There is a lot of potential for growth here, and they are hungry for it too.

Mission Lazarus hosts many American mission teams for week long service projects. They stay in the cabins here at the Posada, where I am staying, and we share meals. During the morning, they work on various projects for the mission, including roadwork, building fences, and working in the medical clinic. In the afternoon, they travel down into the city to host a Vacation Bible School for the ninos in the rural communities. They needed an extra translator and I was asked to be their photographer, so I joined their adventure today and was entirely humbled.

These families live in 10’x10’ structures of bricks and stones, covered by a tin roof, fenced in by barbed wire. Dogs and trash litter the dirt roads, and it hasn’t rained here in three weeks. As we made the drive, dust covers the countryside, they need rain badly. We arrived at a church in Los Colorados at the base of the mountains, and the kids were joy-filled, we sang songs, colored, painted little backpacks and played kickball. I was one of two bilingual speakers, and I felt like I had a purpose. These kids just wanted love, and the church team had that in abundance. It was an experience unlike any other I’ve had before.

A few girls asked me to come play a game with them, so we walked out to the field and they fought over who got to hold my hand. I didn’t feel worthy of that. It’s a different way of life here, and I am challenged to know what it means for me coming from my blessed upbringing. I just hope that I can bring blessings to them and show God’s love by loving them as easy as they loved me today.

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The Duality of Commencement

This is where I will be living throughout my time in Rabat. As lovely as it looks in pictures, I can't wait to see it in person!

This is where I will be living throughout my time in Rabat. As lovely as it looks in pictures, I can’t wait to see it in person!

 

With only 16 days until graduation and a mere 30 days standing between me and my flight to Morocco, I have found myself quite preoccupied with the concept of commencement. This reflection was really inevitable, as I prepare to put my 17 years of education to use out in the ever-elusive real world. However, this idea of commencement does not only apply to those wearing graduation robes this May: It recurs through many different seasons of life, which is what makes the concept of commencement altogether worth further exploration.

The certain uncertainty of new beginnings always sounds so exciting at first. Though we as people are creatures of habit, there is something indescribably alluring about turning our world upside down and pursuing something new and previously unexplored. But just as we prepare to take the leap, a hefty dose of reality sets in. Am I ready for this change? Is this a good decision? How will I know?

The onslaught of doubt is not ill-founded: a major life change is occurring, and the transition will most assuredly be difficult at times. As a recent graduate, I am escaping the familiar, defined structure of college and am instead finding myself left entirely to my own devices. What I do in the fall is no longer determined by ClassFinder or the registrar, but by me. The friends I hold dear will scatter throughout the world, introducing new responsibilities in maintaining these friendships to overcome the perpetual distance. The tyranny of choice will set in as I continue to ponder: What comes next?

There is a great deal of beauty in the deeply unsettling nature of commencement. For as much as we may wear ourselves thin in trying to decide “What comes next?”, at the end of the day we ourselves have the power to determine not only what comes next, but how effectively we manage whatever it is that comes next. It is not fortune, be it good or bad, that makes or breaks a person: it is their attitude in coping, reflecting, and addressing the consequences of the choices they make that, in turn, make all the difference. In a world dictated by factors we cannot control, it is all the more important to harness our abilities over what we can control: ourselves.

How fitting then that our commencement ceremonies are held in the springtime, a season just as characterized by rain as it is by sunshine. As I prepare to begin my journey to Morocco, I am doing my best to embrace the hardships I know I will face. Spending three months alone in a foreign land is truly daunting. Add to it the harsh reality of having to rely solely on a second language to communicate, being absent for major milestones of friends back home, and the mounting pressure of committing to a professional next step upon returning to the States, and it becomes nearly paralyzing. But there can be sunshine amidst this rain, so long as I do not allow a poor attitude to cloud my judgment and prevent me from seeing the good that accompanies these omnipresent challenges. I am about to embark on an incredible journey of self-discovery, one that will forever taint the way I perceive the world around me.

And for that reason, with every day that passes, I will choose to be positive. I will choose to have faith. I will choose to always get back up and keep fighting when obstacles knock me down.

Commencement is a scary, beautiful thing. But even scarier and even more beautiful is the choice we have to make of commencement what we will. And with that being said I hope you, in whatever capacity of commencement you find yourself, will join me in rejecting the anxiety and embracing the adrenaline…It is time to leap!

Shamwari Safari!

This weekend was one for the books. When visiting Africa, it’s a must to get a chance to venture into the wild. While I’ve seen so much in both Port Elizabeth and the townships that has taken me out of my comfort zone, I really wanted to go on an excursion into the thousands of acres of untouched wilderness that make Africa so beautiful. Shamwari was all that and more.

It was an early start for us on Saturday morning, and the sun was just starting to rise as we entered the 25,000 hectare reserve. The mountains surrounding us were shrouded in fog and I had to take a moment to feel how small I was in the vastness. We met with our safari guide and hopped into the open-air Land Rover for a day of exploring.

 There was no time wasted as we drove right over the terrain and into a herd of Cape Buffalo, the first of Africa’s Big Five. The Big Five are named so because they are the most dangerous animals to hunt. As one lumbered towards our truck, I could see why. The helmet of horns crowning this two-ton beast can ricochet bullets off of bone, and once they charge, they don’t stop. Fortunately, we just crossed paths and were off to see some more wildlife!

On our way to the Animal Rehabilitation Center, we saw dozens more animals—oreck, warthogs, springbok, and more. We stopped at mid-day at the Animal Rehabilitation Center which is managed by Shamwari and focuses on giving animals on the reserve that have been abandoned or injured a shot at recovery. I got to feed a nialla named Lilly and meet a zebra named Zeus!

We headed out again in search of the remainder of the Big Five. Our guide was able to track some elephants a few miles away, so we headed over to what was my favorite encounter of the day. The herd of elephants we encountered was a group of females and two adorable baby elephants! I could hardly breathe when one of the females walked LITERALLY a foot away from our truck, and I could have spent hours watching them eat with their long and surprisingly nimble trunks. They are definitely one of my favorite animals and seeing them up close was incredible.

Our next goal was to see the King of Africa and the Big Five: the lion. We past a few fresh prints on the wet mud and spent a few hours driving around some open plain. We ended up driving past the three lions we saw a few times, because they could hardly be spotted as they were taking a mid-day nap. After watching them for a while, the male got up and did the most cat-like stretch in the sun. Totally cuddle-worthy, but I decided against getting out of our truck and in with the lions.

Rhino, another member of the Big Five, are incredibly valuable and as a result have lost about half their population due to poaching. The conservationists at Shamwari make sure to take every precaution to prevent poachers from killing rhinos or permanently injuring them by improperly removing their horns. We were really lucky to see a mother rhino and her baby on our drive and I’m really hoping that people will realize that having that opportunity is priceless.

After stopping for lunch, we headed to the Big Cat Rehabilitation Center, where we saw our final member of the Big Five: leopard. Even though we didn’t see them in the wild, these three triplets were taken from Romania where they were used in circuses and had spent their entire life in a cage. Being able to roam free in their natural habitat is the mission of this place, and seeing all the big cats there was nothing short of amazing.

 We headed back for dinner and enjoyed a great night at the volunteer quarters. I swear the stars have never looked more beautiful. After a good night’s rest we headed back to Port Elizabeth, ready to begin another week.

I could not have asked for a better safari experience! Seeing all of the Big Five in one day and experiencing Africa’s beautiful landscape was definitely something I’ll never forget.

This is our final week of teaching and coaching before school break. Next week we are hosting a holiday camp for all the different townships, and I may have some very special guests featured on my next blog...

First Steps

It’s hard to think that last week at this time I was enjoying a lazy Sunday afternoon with my family. Fortunately, though I’ve only been in Port Elizabeth for two days, it already feels like home. It was hard for me to picture what my experience here would be like. It’s one thing to dream about things and another for them to become reality. I had no idea where I would be staying, who I would be working with, the culture around me, or how successful I would be in making an impact on this community. Those uncertainties have since been filled with a sense of gratitude, confidence, and excitement for the months to come.

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I arrived on Saturday afternoon with four other new volunteers (we have dubbed ourselves “The New Kids on the Block”). After a short introduction to our hosts, we were taken to the United Through Sport House in Newton Park, Port Elizabeth. The UTS house is both an office and volunteer accommodation, and has a homey, summer-camp vibe that immediately made me feel welcome. There were about twenty other volunteers there, some who had been here for a few months already. They hailed from so many different countries—Germany, Switzerland, Scotland, and the U.K (out of the group, only four of us were American!). I am really excited that I have the opportunity to not only learn about South African culture, but work alongside others from all around the world. After settling into our rooms, we enjoyed a traditional braii, or South African barbecue, complete with lamb, chicken, and sausages.

The past two days we have spent getting ourselves oriented with each other, United Through Sport, South African culture, and the Port Elizabeth community. United Through Sport was started in South Africa ten years ago with the goal of empowering communities through holistically developing children through both sports coaching and academic mentoring. Each year, over 200 volunteers partner with United Through Sport and reach over 18,000 children. Traditionally, children who are part of UTS come from impoverished communities, with only about 3% ever having the opportunity to obtain a higher education. Through UTS, these children have the opportunity to learn different sports (which are not taught in SA schools) and life skills that go along with them, such as teamwork, leadership, and respect. In addition, they are also paired with academic mentors who help them feel more confident in the classroom.

Through this Mass Participation Programme, children can then further be selected to go through the Junior and Senior School of Excellence, which enable them to attend better quality schools, increasing their potential to go to university by over 80 percent. This could mean everything for a child who has never thought that they would have an opportunity to become more than their surroundings. UTS has partnered with many different schools in the Port Elizabeth community and in just a decade has impacted the lives of so many volunteers, children, and their families. I could not be more excited to help this organization move one more step forward in their mission.

After orientation on Monday, we had the opportunity to stop at Summerstrand, the market alongside the beach. I ended up picking up a few souvenirs (already!) and having a chance to chat with the locals. Port Elizabeth is known as “The Friendly City” and it is well deserving of that name. I found myself laughing and joking with people I had only just met.

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Today’s orientation was focused more on developing life skills and coaching ability. I had no idea that the organization that I was volunteering with was so centered on sport, but I can already see the value in it and the opportunities I will have to grow personally. For example, today we had to come up with a coaching lesson plan, and we were able to incorporate different learning opportunities through the different interactions. As someone who has never considered myself athletic, I was a little apprehensive at first, but drew on my experiences of playing soccer at school and remembering when I was a little kid in order to come up with some fun exercises. I will be coaching soccer each Monday and Friday, and I am really excited to grow in that aspect. The middle of the week will be devoted to teaching at various schools, followed by mentorship/life skills/tutoring at the Junior and Senior Schools of Excellence.

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We also had the opportunity to tour the townships today (the small communities around Port Elizabeth in which we will be working). To say that it was eye-opening would probably be an understatement. I think that people have so many different ideas of what poverty looks like, especially in Africa. The most surprising thing to me is that poverty was in pockets all over a relatively well-developed city. This reinforced the lesson that I am learning: sometimes an opportunity to help is a lot closer than you think. Whether I’m in South Africa, Nashville, or Wisconsin, there are people who are hurting everywhere. But where people are hurting, there is an opportunity to help. An opportunity to give somebody the chance to take control of their lives. An opportunity to be the change we wish to see in the world.

Tomorrow is our first day on the field...literally. I could not be more excited to get to work. The fear and worry that I initially had has been replaced with joy and confidence.

Thank you for your prayers and love. I am excited to share them tomorrow and the rest of this trip.

Jeanette

To Leave, Yet to Be Right at Home

WHOOHOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

To think, soon, I’ll be headed off on a plane headed for a place that I call my home, but that I don’t really remember all that well. It’s been eight or nine years since I was last in Oradea. I’m sure a lot will have changed, that I will see a lot of new things, and probably a lot of old things and be surprised by the change. But I’m soooo excited for it!! Everyone tells me that it will be a huge transition, warns of culture shock and all the rest of it, but I’m not sure that I buy that. People are people wherever in the world they may reside and whatever way that they may think about life; which really serves well to lead me to my next point, namely, that people being people, they still have struggles, hardships, and need someone who will unconditionally love them, care about them, and sacrifice for them. I do too. Everyone does. That’s what home is.

That is why I find it so important to really start at home when it comes to giving and helping, and expand out from there, because really, if I go and help elsewhere without first taking care of the home front, then I am neglecting my greatest and most important responsibility that I, in fact, am meant to take care of and know to take care of better than anyone else. I have been blessed with many opportunities to lead and serve in Tennessee, from activities with my church or nearby churches, to those through school organizations or even that I have personally organized, and I have taken them because I realize that my primary responsibility is to love those around me, realized through the love that my God has first shown me. Some may think that this idea of responsibility is one that conveys burden, but that is a narrow, incomplete view of the grandeur of such a thing. There is also the idea of love, when that which one ought to do is performed not by obligation, but due to convictions grounded in the depths of man’s soul, an idea which contains within the fullest realization of propriety and morality in understanding that obligation by command is only the failure of obligation by love, the understanding that honoring commands in joy is truly the highest honor man can gain, making the desire to love written on my fiery coal of a heart shine forth as the brilliant manifestation of everything I should strive for. And that was a long sentence.

Confession: in writing, there are two things I like to do: 1) Write really long sentences and 2) Not paragraph. Yes, paragraph should be verb. I just have this theory that combining a lot of ideas into one sentence helps to convey a fullness and depth ensuing from the lack of any separation except for possibly breathing and moments of deep thought as one processes several things at once and so makes really fantabulous connections. I believe this theory. I also really want you to understand my trip as understand my life, and thus my trip as I experience it, and I can tell you: I don’t live in paragraphs. There is not a neat, nice, clean stop—ok guys, I walked into Starbucks, new paragraph—no. I walk into Starbucks pondering the wonder of the cool breeze, the destiny of man, what in the world that lady has in her hair, the new topic covered in Physics course, and everything in life, consecutively, of course. There is a beautiful mesh and continuum that is really a fuller understanding of the nature of the art of loving what you have been given and being content in life. I also understand, however, that people like paragraphs. I also realize, hurt my heart though it may, that not everyone loves British literature as much as I do, and thus not everyone likes long sentences either. I know, shocker. It’ll pass, with time. Drink some tea. One thing that you might notice if you <3 English grammar is also that I like to have fun with words as well as English grammar. Call it artistic license. Call it humor. Call it a fullness of expression in the careful, thoughtful transmission of the wee emotions to properly convey the complexity of the experience. I will probably agree with you on all counts. In fact, in efforts to even further agree with the collective experience of the ages, I will probably go back and paragraph.

Truly though, I hope that you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoy writing this. I hope that you enjoy the heights of depth and the depths of the heights of my joy because what you read, and how you read it, and the way in which you understand how I have written this, will help you understand my journey. I have writing and pictures. Yet in these forms is an ocean of feelings, sights, sounds, smells, tastes, people, places, things, wonder, awe, respect, joy, love, and so many other things that I could never express to you if I had a million years to communicate with the express purpose of bringing you along with me. I also don’t want to overwhelm you too much. If I overwhelm you a little bit, that’s ok, because I am kind of overwhelmed as well by all of it, so you feel me. But check this, all of you wonderful Lumos people who in your kindness have condescended so to grace my blog: I know that you all get tired of reading and processing too, and you all have lives outside of this thread in the Internet world of flying photons, so I will probably, most likely, possibly, probably try to keep these at legible lengths. I really am, for your sakes. You know, most professors have a class dedicated to introducing the class, so consider that we are getting on the same page in today’s session on how to light up the world. By the way, smiles help. And I like puns. Beside the point, although we are talking about life.

I just thought that I should try to explain myself a little bit so you don’t feel like you are being thrown over the deep end, landing in the kiddie section and hurting yourself. I want you to feel like you are being thrown in the deep end with the full knowledge of how to swim so that you can truly experience the wonder of the light as it refracts off the surface and penetrates the medium while immersing yourself in the refreshing coolness of life. When I say things on this blog, I want you, reader, to understand that every word has had an immense amount of thought placed in its writing, and oftentimes is a metaphor for life. I also want you to understand that, excepting this past sentence, whenever I write things, especially those things about myself or related to me, I almost always am imagining it, not simply enunciated dramatically (and seriously: without sarcasm), but also in an accent as I am writing it. Just pick several: British, French, German, Italian, Russian, Southern, North African male, Indian, African-American lady, and many more—just make sure to have fun when you do it. One may disagree, but I think I am doing a better job of explaining the depths of myself in the depths of my joy and enthusiasm through this methodology of expression. It just spans cultures, sort of like what I am going to be doing here in Romania.

By knowing the Romanian language and culture, I will be able to love people in a way that they understand it, teach them English in a way that they comprehend it, help people in a way that they need it, and thus be of greatest use here where I am. Whether helping the orphan boy Daniel who lives at the Charis Foundation Center in Santion, Romania by helping him build a house for himself while teaching him English and just being his friend, by teaching English and music to children in an orphanage in Sanmartin and forming relationships with them over a period of 3 months, doing a similar work with a group of Romi children in Tileagd, assisting at one private nursing home in Dumbrava where one family takes care of 160 elderly in four houses by charity, the nursing home oftentimes being populated by residents kicked out of the state-run nursing homes because the state couldn’t afford to take care of them, and so on and so forth. There is a need here. For several years now I have taken care of needs at home in America, in Tennesse, where I grew up, but now I feel led to move on to my next home, and help there as well, because everyone needs love.

I don’t know what may lie ahead of me, though I’ve grown up on stories of place. It’s like I’m a dwarf from the Hobbit, looking towards the Misty Mountains, thinking deep deep deep thoughts of what hidden treasures may lie on the other side of this great mound of Earth. In fact, I am.

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Call it pre-travel travel, traveling to traveled places from a long time ago in a land far far away. Call it leaving home, only to go home. I will be with my family in America as well as in Romania. I will get to give and help and serve and love people in Romania just as I did in America and thus I will get to give back to my people from the motherland as well. Really, I’ll still be home because my home has always been where my heart is and my heart is everywhere, with several focal points, of course, but still everywhere because where I can live out love is somewhere that I’d want to be and somewhere where I’d belong. I’m home, going home, and waiting to go home. Riddle me that. I’m not even sure how to express this, I’m just so excited, so enthused, so happy and thankful and grateful to be where I am right now as well as for this wonderful opportunity, thanks to Lumos, to love people.

So, subtle tribute to them,

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and I am really looking forward to having you join me on this experience of a lifetime and hearing your thoughts as I overwhelm you with weird metaphors, abstract references, overly long sentences, and everything in life. Why? Because I find that the best things in life tend to be slightly overwhelming if you think about it a little. And this is pretty great. 🙂 So, grace and peace to you all, and here I come!!!

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~David Gal-Chiş

 

Learning the Landscape

There is a massive storm pelting the tin roof of the SIM apartment. My roof is slanted, so the rivulets of ice and water shift down my windows at an angle, and all I can see are the bare tips of other rooftops in the distance, and grey. The mountain is invisible. No northern lights in sight tonight. But there is no need to leave for the evening – I’m surrounded by people even if we are all alone together – a few of the artists are already asleep in their rooms, a few dabbling in studios where light creeps out from under their doors, and I’m here writing through the last few hours of my first 24 as an official “resident” of SIM. This month’s artists are from a variety of backgrounds; there are a few from Canada, France, Korea, and others. There are a few artists who live in the building long term – mostly citizens of Iceland – and I see their work posted in their windows, painted across the outer walls of Seljavegur 32.

You would be surprised how many people have said “that’s the green one right?” when I talked about my trip – and yes, it is, even though the country was enveloped in a snow storm upon my arrival (connection? hopefully not). As emotive as the landscape here is the weather.

I am trying to pick up the little quirks and customs that pervade Iceland, slowly but surely. Everything stays open quite late – a world away from my last adventure abroad in St Andrews, Scotland, where the town shut down at 5pm and left the residents to their books and own, well, creative forms of entertainment. However, I am arriving in Iceland on the cusp of Easter, and Easter in Iceland means a four day holiday where everyone seems to celebrate on one extreme end of a spectrum – stocking up and staying in, or going out every night, all night, at various venues around the city.

Even before I came to the residency, I met a girl at dinner who was an artist, likewise inspired by the landscape and culture to come to Iceland, though for a much shorter period of time. Amy and I talked about the UK arts scene, new 3D technologies, and favorite artists – Olafur Eliasson of course included (http://olafureliasson.net/). On the subject of artists that focus on constructing or altering an atmosphere through their work, she mentioned an artist called James Turrell working in the Arizona desert, creating site specific works that challenge the viewer’s notions of sensory perception and space through life sized camera obscuras, underground passageways that use light, shadow, and smoke to cause the mind to question what the eyes think they see (http://jamesturrell.com/).

A bus driver I met earlier this week told me, concerning his own recent studies in art, that he was surprised by how much the process of painting caused him “to perceive everything in the world differently”- from how mountains appear blue the further they recede on the horizon, to the contrast in a person’s face. Art changes the way a person can see the world – so one might notice how important a shift of light or a stray conversation can be.

Iceland itself is a challenge to perception – in terms of physical size it is actually quite small, but the extreme diversity of the landscape, its openness despite its rugged terrain and the mystery of the uninhabited center of the island make it seem like an entire planet. Perhaps the prolific nature of its creative output reflects its geography in this way. It’s a relatively small place where everyone seems to know each other – even I have run into people on my international flight multiple times in various places.

The people here are beautiful as the backdrop. Everyone seemingly content, kind, if not a little mild, quiet. The city is a strange mix of tourists, travelers, and progressive hipsters; an adventure junkie city, an aesthete’s city. I think I will find a home here – though admittedly now the ritual loneliness of moving to a new place has found me.

But the people I have met seem to embody a strange mix of transience and permanence – a culture and population deeply rooted to the ground and crowd who gathers here for a moment because of that culture and population’s mystique. I am here to learn, I tell myself. I am not here to be alone. But it is alright for a moment to feel lonely. I remember Scotland – how it was so easy to move from moment to moment, moments of deep love for the land and moments of the fiercest isolation. They kept me in a strange tug of war with the space around me and the space I constructed within – but made me very attention to the personality of that space.

So at the forefront of my trip I took a couple days to tour this strange and beautiful setting to better understand the connection between culture and terrain here. Iceland has only a couple large cities; everything else villages around the outskirts o the island. The interior is uninhabited – full of wild nature only explored by the adventurous. What is known as the “Ring Road” circles the country and connects these villages to one another – a road kept well to endure Iceland’s extreme conditions. The road did not always manage to span the whole place – many villages in extremely remote areas and surrounding islands are still easier to get to by plane or boat rather than car. Along portions of the Ring Road one will encounter a series of land bridges built only in the 1700s after one volcanic eruption changed the landscape drastically – melting part of Europe’s largest glacier, creating streams and lagoons, and scattering people who lived in the area at the time. So much of Iceland’s most beautiful sights are very young – the island itself is the youngest landmass in Europe – one wonders how different the landscape may have been only a few thousand years ago before its settlement.

And this landscape is terribly dramatic – minutes driving in any direction and you feel as though you’ve left the island – but between mountains and glaciers you can see for miles across flat expanse of sea and land. It is the illusion of being in a place far larger than these roughly 40,000 square miles. Iceland is a tiny country that feels like an entire planet. I am looking forward to seeing more how this ever-changing landscape has affected its cultural history, and current cultural climate.

So far being in Iceland has meant springtime snowstorms, random roadside geysirs, drives through moss and snow covered lava fields, black sand beaches, and sunsets so vivid one cannot be sure whether they are witnessing northern lights or an everyday occurrence. It has meant hours sketching alone in the studio, as well as creating and communicating in a shared space with people despite language and cultural barriers, learning about a new culture together. Barely a week here and I have watched a sheep shearing competition at my hotel – apparently a big deal here in Iceland – presented entirely in Icelandic, hiked to the mouth of a waterfall below the largest glacier in Europe, driven through a snowstorm on the Ring Road, carpooled with tourists up the Southern coast in order to see Jokulsarlon (the glacier lagoon) at sunset, watched the green northern glow over snow-topped mountains out of the back of said tourists’ car while I tried to convince them (unsuccessfully) to pay attention to what was happening out the window, listened to a jazz concert where I am 89% sure I saw Of Monsters and Men in attendance, watched the sun dance off the façade of a concert hall designed by one of my favorite visual artists.  I have chased (and found!) the northern lights to the outskirts of Reykjavik, hunted for art supplies in art stores and shipyards, eaten hot dogs and ice cream in the snow (the former which Iceland is apparently renowned for), crossed paths multiple times with other travelers I met on my plane ride here, befriended an elderly Icelandic bus driver/aspiring artist from the little fishing town of Hofn, driven through glaciers formed only 300 years ago in the aftermath of a volcanic eruption, listened to Bjork and Sigur Ros while making said drive, climbed basalt columns featured in Bon Iver’s Holocene video, and eaten my body’s weight in Skyr (Icelandic yogurt that is actually a type of cheese). Of course all things are more glamorous in hindsight – the photographs of these adventures thus far do not include the bruises on my knees and pebbles in my hiking boots. They don’t include the initial loneliness that accompanies travelling alone and leaving behind people you call family and a place you have finally come to call home. But the landscape here is open and wild – how vast I will never be able to fully capture in a photograph – and lined with mountains formed both thousands of years before this island was ever inhabited and only hundreds of years ago when people did move into the area. Rough peaks coursed with layers of various minerals that reveal the age of those mountains poke out through grassy soil that appears to drip down from those peaks like sand. And if this is Nature’s way of creating beauty – the decay (perhaps a better word is transformation) and weathering that occurs when landscapes are left to their own devices, whether humans are around or not – I have to trust the natural course of my travels here – even when they are not devoid of experiences that can feel like loss and being broken down. Wonderful things will be revealed – if only through time and weather patterns. And I am still the same thing even when weathering changes my form – perhaps even exposed by that weathering. Perhaps I will see my own layers even more clearly at journey’s end.

When I picked up the key to my new apartment in Iceland at the bus station, I was given a little envelope with directions and information, a card for galleries and supplies. It felt like a puzzle, a scavenger hunt of some kind, where the rules didn’t involve looking for something per se, but letting something new and great find you. I found my room, my studio, a little spot by the sea with fellow artists just as disoriented in a new city but excited to be inspired, and it was this spot that I new would be my inspiration. With all the terrible beauty of this island’s natural shapes, I know it will be this space that allows me to process it all. I have in previous travels always sought profound meaning, as some sort of quest presented me. But this time I am moving into a new place where I feel as though I have finally found meaning in the very things I am leaving from – where meaning found me when I was not looking for it. So I will let that meaning permeate where I am now, and find me as it has recently, just by keeping my eyes open and my feet on the ground.

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Hiking atop the waterfall Skogafoss (note those tiny people for some sense of scale).

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Jokulsarlon (Glacier Lagoon) at sunset.

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Surreal Southern Iceland.

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Views from the Reykjavik harbor, blue skies peeking out for my first day in Iceland.

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Basalt columns and black sand at Reynisfjara.

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Harpa, Olafur Eliasson’s architectural masterpiece.

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My new studio in this wonderland! What is my life.

 

Takk fyrir,

Mary Elizabeth

Team Sparkles

Its been a while since my last post- I just figured out how to make this work on my phone. As of last Wednesday, I am no longer a part of Belmonts study abroad program. I am solo. For the first time ever actually.

So we all had to move out of our hosts places Saturday. Most people had left by then it were leaving on that day. Not wanting to think about actually being alone, I put off reserving a hostel until after I had left my host. I suppose I’m lucky in that I was able to get one of the last spots in a good hostel on a Saturday night.

 

By the way, hostels are fantastic.

I slept in a room with two other strangers, both of whom were very nice. I met a really cool Danish girl, who had studied sociology at her school. She told me about social problems in Holland, and I told her about the ones in the U.S. Our conversation ended with a mutual “I love people”.

Also, something interesting I learned : “English?” is the very first question you ask someone in a hostel. I guess it shouldn’t have surprised me-having stayed in Berlin for a month- but I was shocked to find that EVERYONE had ay least an elementary level of English. I feel so lazy now, only having somewhat learned Spanish. I’m so inspired to learn other languages now. I feel its only fair that I do.

 

So after my time in the hostel, during which I got fabulously lost in Berlin, I took a bus to Chemnitz. This is where I am right now, staying for some days with my friend Dorit. Today we toured the city. Its almost as beautiful here as it is in Dresden. There was a huge bust of Karl Marx’s head, which was kinda neat to see. And there is a church of an old castle, which I found breathtaking. I felt like I was in a fairy tale.

Saturday, I will make the journey to Dresden where I will stay in another hostel for a few days, before heading back to Berlin. Basically, life is really, really, good right now.

The World Is Round?

I have officially been in Germany for a week now and I have so much to tell!

But First:

Germany won the World Cup! This had to be the coolest, most adrenaline filled moment of my trip- and I have had some pretty exciting moments.  Some friends and I watched the semi final game between Germany and Brasil. After the first goal, we started muting the television because outside my roommates and my window there was an eruption of cheers and honking horns. When German won, the party outside seemed to go on until the sun rose.  The Final game was going to be fantastic.

The day of the game, a large group of us  went to the Brandenburg Gate to watch the game. We didn’t leave until like 5, so of course we didn’t make it into the closed off area. However, we did get to see hundreds of people cloaked in red, yellow, and black, marching and yelling and singing while waiting outside the gate. There were so many people who were bound together on that day by that sport. Everyone was a friend and everyone was excited.

We ended up watching the game at a small cafe miles from the gate. Even this small place was packed. Many people were standing, and we were squeezed into a corner in the back.  I would walk outside every couple moments and the streets would be completely deserted.

When Germany won, the entire country exploded. People were hanging out of their cars yelling,  and car horns were blaring. People were jumping and singing all over the place. I went to bed to the sound of partying outside my window.

Today, Berlin welcomed the winning team home. Thousands of people could be seen walking to the Brandenburg Gate. The flags and Germany colors are starting to disappear though.

One important thing I have learned this last week is the meaning of German pride. I’ve been on a ton of tours this last week- Berlin, Cold War, Jewish Life, and Sachsenhausen concentration camp. one thing thing that all the guides had in common to say was how odd it was for them (being mostly middle-aged) to see Germans waving a German flag. As an American, it is hard for me to understand collective guilt of ones country. While America has done atrocious things,  I still feel patriotic towards my country and I still feel as though I have a right to wave a flag if I want and sing my national anthem whenever- I mean, I didn’t do anything, right? Many Germans though, feel that patriotism and nationalism are synonymous with one another and that flags are inappropriate. I’m not sure how I feel about this. On the one hand, it makes me upset with myself for being connected to something so flimsy as a symbol and a song. On the other hand, it makes me appreciative that I’ve been able to grow up without feeling responsibility for my countries past wrong-doings. Maybe collective  responsibility is a truer form of patriotism than worshiping a flag. I don’t know :/

ANYWAYS,

My computer died and I am currently using a friends. Unfortunately, I cannot upload my pictures on this computer, but I will post again with lots of pics soon!

Tschüs!

Home, and Back Again

After a year in Cape Town, I returned home. However, my visit in the States only lasted three weeks. Between 1 October and 22 October I visited Knoxville, Nashville, New York City, and Boston to see close friends and family. Along with spending time with friends and family, I was also motivated to come back to the States to attend a wedding of a dear friend and give a presentation at Belmont University about my Lumos Award in South Africa.

Once the three weeks were over, I boarded a plane to come back to Cape Town to work for the SAHRC for four more months. I’m living in the same house in Observatory, but it is much warmer than when I left it. It seems as though my timing has been spot on since I was able to catch nice weather in the U.S. while winter ended in Cape Town. Yesterday my neighborhood had a street festival and today I took a stroll by the coast.

Tomorrow I start work again and am in for a hectic week. Basically, this will be a perfect storm of work deadlines.

I’m hoping to be rested for the busy week, but jet lag is affecting me more than usual. Friday I stayed up the entire night and got absolutely no sleep because I was reading a really fascinating book– Against a Tide of Evil: How One Man Became the Whistleblower to the First Mass Murder of the Twenty-First Century by Dr. Mukesh Kapila. The book is Dr. Kapila’s memoir of  his work as the Head of the United Nations (UN) in the Sudan leading up to his discovery of the Darfur crisis. Also, he discusses his influences leading to his decision to publicly condemn the Sundanese Government’s responsibility in crimes against humanity and the UN and World’s neglect to intervene in the matter while fully aware of the situation. I had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Kapila speak at the Open Book Festival, and bought his book directly after. If you do not read it, you are a fool.

Adventures in Namibia

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About a month ago, I was able to take a week off work to go on a road trip through Namibia. My trusty co-adventurers included my housemate Kyle, my dear friend Mmamohau, her comrade Mandisa, and another American, Alison. Our road trip started strong with some Coldplay and Matt Kearney jams, aubergine pâté, and a luxurious first night at Ai-Ais hot springs resort. However, our timing was not ideal since several of my fellow Connect-123 interns left for home during our trip. Before we left, they indignantly joked, “Why would you choose Namibia over us? It’s just a bunch of sand!”

 

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Our strong start unfortunately did not last long. We quickly noticed that there was a scarcity of petrol stations. The majority of time on our second, third, and fourth day was spent rather slowly as we carefully took on one gravel ‘highway’ after another. At one low, low, low point we realized that we had only driven 20km in an hour—20 kilometers, not miles. Nevertheless, we persevered through the tough times with games and entirely too much Matt Kearney.

 

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After driving one day, we decided that we could carry on no further and stopped for the night at an accommodation in the middle of the desert. We were desperate and slightly low on petrol, so we said we would take whatever rooms they had available. My friend Alison and I got stuck in a couple’s room, which wasn’t an issue except for the fact that there was not wall in between the bedroom and the bathroom. We recovered by making s’mores outside on the campfire whenever one of us needed some privacy.

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Although we had some rough patches, the encounters we had with nature in Namibia made the trip entirely worthwhile. Highlights of our trip include a hike up Dune 45 in Sossusvlei (one of the highest sand dunes in the world), a glimpse at Deadvlei (a petrified forest in the desert), Fish River Canyon (the world’s second largest caynon), a camel ride through the desert, a tour of a ghost town (with houses covered in sand), wild animal sightings everywhere (including horses, antelope, zebra, and warthogs), and a drive by Orange River.

 

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The entire trip I was craving a braai (South African cookout), and I finally had my wish granted on the last night. Our last accommodation was on a farm called the White House, which we thought was too ironic to pass up. Unfortunately, it was basically the opposite style of our first lodging. The rustic nature of the White House was exasperated by Mmamohau and my illnesses. When we returned home, Mmamohau learned that she had bronchitis and I had food poisoning or the equivalent. This lead to a slightly rocky ending, but jolly camaraderie and Lord of the Rings themed accommodation in Windhoek (called Rivendell) made food poisening slightly less painful.

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In the end, I decided that if I ever consider marriage with a life partner, then we must go on a road trip to Transkei or Namibia to test our love and see magnificent landscape.