Category Archives: Thoughts

Meet Morocco!

Salam alaykum, my friends!
In English, this greeting translates to “peace be with you”. I use it interchangeably with a hearty bonjour on a daily basis, but I must admit that the Arabic feels more genuine both to give and receive. I am continually intrigued by the linguistic identity of this country, where nearly everywhere I go I see French and Arabic side by side. That being said, my studies in French have proven to be my most valuable asset as I continue to build relationships with my fellow volunteers, the local staff, and my dear students.

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This is the Empowerment Office in downtown Rabat, where I teach intermediate and advanced English classes during the week.

 

I was fortunate to have an incredibly smooth arrival into Rabat, having befriended the man seated next to me on my flight from Paris. He was a young father excitedly returning to his wife and young child after two months of working abroad. In a display of what I’ve found to be classic Moroccan hospitality, my friend insisted on remaining with me until I had safely found my Country Director, Mohamed. It didn’t take long, and within a few minutes I was on my way back to Hay-Riad, the quiet yet bustling neighborhood where the home base is located.

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The river that separates Rabat from Salé, just 10 minutes away from our home base.

Determined to defeat the jet lag, I persevered through my exhaustion and stayed awake until 10:00 P.M. that day. I was terribly excited to finally meet Mohamed, a former PeaceCorps employee who happens to know quite a few of my friends and colleagues from my office at State in DC last summer. I also got to meet Hassan and Abdou, our security guard and bus driver. These three, as well as our incredible cook Fatiha and house manager Khadija, are all native Moroccans which creates such an authentic feeling in the home base. I speak French with all of them except for Mohamed, who usually speaks English because the other volunteers currently living in the home base, Kenzie and Kelly, speak neither French or Arabic. Throughout my three months here, there will be many volunteers coming and going through the house. Kelly left us on Friday and Kenzie will be on her way next weekend. All sorts of people come through CCS, though according to Mohamed its mostly older women who choose Morocco. Of course, there are always exceptions, such as myself! Nonetheless, I am excited to cross paths with so many different kinds of people throughout my time here!

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Khadija, my partner in sass, also used to work with the PeaceCorps.

I have decided that since I will be living in Morocco for the entirety of Ramadan, I am going to fast alongside my students and the local staff. Mohamed gave a particularly scintillating lecture on Islam this week, discussing the fast as a test of willpower and perseverance to remind us of all we have to be grateful for. By fasting, I hope my perspective will be challenged to feel and understand what it truly feels like to be hungry and thirsty, like so many throughout this country, my home country, and around the world. I am nervous of course, but I strongly believe that this is a challenge that coincides perfectly with the Lumos mission to culturally immerse and seek understanding. Not to mention that in Arabic, the verb “sam” means to fast, so perhaps that will work in my favor!

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The pictures don’t do the mountains justice, but Kenzie and I were having to much fun to worry about taking better ones... You’ll just have to go see for yourself! 😉

This weekend, Kenzie and I ventured out to Marrakech where we went quad biking (ATVs) in the dunes surrounding the breathtaking Atlas Mountains, explored the famous Marrakech Plaza/surrounding medina, (aka market) and relaxed in our peaceful riad. A riad is a word used to describe a house with a courtyard, and if you want to see why I’m quickly falling in love with this country, I encourage you to Google some images of Moroccan riads. People don’t really stay in hotels here... Instead they rent rooms in these beautiful courtyard houses with amazing rooftop terraces. You meet and often interact with your host, who is there to help you navigate the new place as much as you need. It’s a much more personal experience than a hotel, and Kenzie and I had an easy time getting around this intimidating city largely due to the kindness of our hosts. Needless to say, this was a wonderful weekend trip, only made better by the good company I shared!

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Watching the sunset from the terrace atop our beautiful riad in Marrakech.

Tune in next Monday to learn about what I’ve got going on in the classroom at the Empowerment Center, photos from my trip to the Chellah ruins, and a review of the famous Mawazine Music Festival!

 

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!

Carioca Culture

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They aren’t lying when they say traveling abroad impacts your perspective. Even in the short amount of time I have been here, I have absorbed so much from simply experiencing Carioca culture. Perhaps the greatest moments I have experienced thus far involve the completely altruistic nature of the Cariocas. It seems that no matter the language barriers or the overwhelming diversity the exists among the many people in Rio, there is always a willingness to accept, an interest in listening, a desire to understand, and a readiness to support others, no matter how small or large the need. Everywhere I turn I find someone who will welcome me as a friend and honestly want to get to know me. What’s greater is that even with the vast economic and social disparity within Rio de Janeiro, I have met so many people who continuously venture to foster meaningful connections within their communities.

I’m so incredibly privileged to do the kind of work I’m doing in a culture that whole heartedly embraces and values supporting others and making their communities stronger. There are many people here that not only have very little, but also have very little access to resources. Perhaps one of the most essential needs though is to feel cared for, loved, and valued. And from what I’ve seen, these aren’t mutually exclusive. While someone is working to increase social resources in the favelas, they are also extending warmth and endearment to everyone they interact with. For example, take Retalhos Cariocas. The organization shares their artistic knowledge and skill with its surrounding community, and in doing so they also get to know who they work with and begin to build strong, lasting relationships with them, no matter how vastly different they may or may not be. I’ve discovered this same approach and attitude in almost every encounter I’ve had here, and I am so thankful to have the opportunity to practice it in my work with JIVE, both at Retalhos Cariocas and in the arts center.

The studio at Retalhos Cariocas

The studio at Retalhos Cariocas

Silvinha, the local woman who started RC, holding some of the art we make at the studio.

Silvinha, the local woman who started RC, holding some of the art we make at the studio.

Lotus flowers made from recycled materials for an upcoming exhibit

Lotus flowers made from recycled materials for an upcoming exhibit

Sun catchers made by kids at the local community center during art class

Sun catchers made by kids at the local community center during art class

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I’ll leave you with a final thought for now. In the last few weeks its been difficult to compare my previous work and studies at school with what I am doing in Rio. I’ve been struggling to understand the meaning of my time here and the value of my work. But it is with the lessons I am learning in Rio that I am reminded that social change is only possible through small changes, and those small changes can have a big impact.

Until next time.

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You Are Welcome Here

“I made strong tea because I know that is your best.” Judith remembered. She remembered that I always take strong tea when I meet the girls for tea at 10 am during their school days. Strong tea is hot Kenyan black tea with only water and sugar. Milk tea is more commonly served here, but Judith remembered that I take strong tea, and that is what she prepared when I visited her at home.

 . . .

Home has a way of finding us where ever we end up – if we are willing to receive it, to be open to it, to allow it to take a new form – home will find us. Home certainly found me these past two weeks over the WISER holiday.

By home I mean the comfort of sharing tea and stories, the freedom to make mistakes around people who are incredibly forgiving, and the commonality one finds in late night talks about politics and a mutual distaste for Donald Trump. Home found me and gave me an innocent and refreshing embrace when loneliness could have crept up on me.

Being invited and hosted in someone’s home is incredibly intimate. It is a gift. You are being welcomed into a space that has been created by family. Over WISER’s holiday I have been hosted, prayed over, and fed again and again in other families’ sacred spaces. The phrase every time my bare feet enter a living space is, “Karibu.” Welcome.

For the entire week first week of this holiday Teacher Nipher’s family hosted me. Teacher Nipher is an incredible agriculture and biology teacher at WISER. She is also the guidance and counselor teacher, so she has been helping me with my project. When she found out that I did not have plans for the holiday, she insisted that I come and stay with her family in Kisii, Kenya. I cannot express enough gratitude for the time I shared with her family in their village. My two homes collided when my sister and my mom were able to meet my host family over Skype. With many smiles and laughter, I had never felt more deeply connected to two places at once.

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My host family.

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Possibly the most important selfie I have ever taken. As a group, we decided this is the “best picture ever.” My host siblings, cousins, and grandmother in Kisii.

For the second week of the holiday I have been back at WISER. Each day I have been visiting two girls from Mirror House (Mirror is one of the Houses of Wisdom, which are small groups of about 15 girls that WISER is divided into.) Being with the girls at their homes has only deepened that way in which we are able to connect with each other. Up to this week, I had only been with them in the context of WISER, which is a controlled environment and community. Being with them and their families in their homes has given me a window into an entirely different dimension of their lives.

Each WISER girl I have visited has openly introduced me to the sacred space she calls home. Along with sharing a meal and greeting family members, we usually take a walk to see either her favorite spot or the part of Lake Victoria that is closest. The best talks have been on these walks. It has proven to be a completely honest and open platform for us to ask each other questions about the worlds in which we have grown up. We always find that despite the stark differences in our cultures, there are things that we both hold as true – the importance of friendship, family, community, and having faith in what the future holds. Those are the moments when home finds me.

. . .

I let the girls who wanted to be in the blog pick their favorite photo from my visit.

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Volca, Form 4 (Side note: The MOST beautiful view of Lake Victoria I have had so far.)

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Sandra, Form 2

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Linet, Form 1

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Lavender, Form 3 (second from right) and Rehemma, Form 4 (far right) with Rehemma’s siblings.

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Birel, Form 3

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Judith, Form 2

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Joyvine, Form 1 (front) with her cousins.

. . .

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Judy and Elvince. The moments when I have not been visiting families this holiday, I have been sitting and talking with Judy or on a piki with Elvince listening to Rihanna. This trip and my project would not be possible without them.

 

The End. And Now Our Story Begins…

Beautiful. Awe-inspiring. Wonderful. Great. It’s just a wonderful, beautiful life. You see hard times, you see good times. You see problems and you see blessings. You see failures and you see victories. Even with people, you see their good side and their bad. You see your good qualities and have a gignormous spotlight pointed at all of your shortcomings. I don’t even know what to say about it, to express how I feel and how it was. I’m just very satisfied, really joyful, thankful, content, at peace about it all. It was all really good. And that’s how it should have been. I loved it for the bad times as much as the good times. I learned a lot about balance in life and I feel like I have matured a lot on this trip, become a lot more discerning on this trip, hopefull become wiser on this trip. I didn’t feel like a different person when I arrived, while I was there, when I left, when I arrived again in Tennessee. Same ole’ me. But I do think that I might have learned some stuff and done some good along the way, and that is just so so valuable, my having living for others and for God just made it all so worth it. And as I look at the sky tonight, and see the clouds, I remember the beauty that I witnessed there. And as I spend time with my people here again, I remember the relationships formed and the lives touched, including my own. Because of this trip, I have felt more pain and more joy than I even could have without it: and it was all worth it. And it wasn’t that the joy was worth it because of the pain: both were worth it, in and of themselves. They are both beautiful, in their time. And it’s satisfying because the end is better than the beginning. And it’s full because I not only enjoyed my life, but I also gave of my joy. And it’s purposeful because it is not for me, it’s for others, because it is for God. I’m just really amazed at it all. Thanks Lumos for all of it. It was stupefyingly super-duper.

Well, I suppose that I should tell you how it all ended and how everything went down. There were tears. There were lots of hugs. There were well-wishes and exchanges of contact information. There was closure. And there were a few more events that were out of the ordinary.

The first of which was another camp! Yay camps! This one was with Caminul Felix at Barajul Lesu. I went together with their family and it was a splendid time!

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We had the wonderful experience of enjoying Nature’s bounty by picking wild berries every day...

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Went on nature hikes...

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Saw a local waterfall...

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Had campfires every night where we told stories, sang songs, played games and looked at the extremely large number of visible stars...

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Ate scrumpdiliumpcious food...

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Searched for the local fresh-water lobsters in the streams and swam in the crystal mountain rivers...

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Played games with the kids like soccer, volleyball, Frisbee, lacrosse, Catan, chess, and the list goes on...

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(The fellas actually really liked chess, which, of course, brought great joy to my heart, hahaha. 🙂 )

And enjoyed the full beauty of my wondrous homeland...

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One of the kids had even brought an English assignment that he wanted me to help him with. As a nerd, it touched my heart. As a teacher, it brought me joy. As a mentor, it encouraged me. As a friend, it again touched my heart, because I know why he brought it. It’s in the little things that you sometimes notice a lot. We definitely had a wonderful time together, just being silly and having a lot of fun together, but what I think that I loved the most was the conversations that I was able to have with them, talking about who they are, what is going on in their lives, what happened in their past, and how they see themselves and their future. A lot of these kids don’t really have someone that they open up to, someone who pours into their lives who wants what is best for them. I remember when I first started to open up to people: it was huge. It completely changed the course of my life and brought about several of the most marked changes that have ever happened in my life. To think that I might be able to be that for these kids is just really humbling. It’s kind of interesting and kind of weird at the same time: that with all that I’ve invested, I have no idea what kind or how great of an impact I had on them, and will never know. But hey, that’s relationships. That’s life. And it’s good. But saying goodbye was still really hard.

Here we are all together one last time before I left, right after I gave them their presents.

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Whew. Get emotional thinking about it. Huzzah for picture overload! But hey, this is kind of my last post, so why not!

Then I had to say goodbye to my Tileagd kids, which wasn’t any easier at all. But it was a great last session! We sang tons of songs, English and Romanian, I heard each of them play what they had learned on the mandolin, and then I gave them each their presents: tons of candy and gum and books! In fact, I built them a mini-library! So, I looked around the country for good bilingual story books in English and Romanian(really hard to find and really expensive when you do), to help them learn to read better, even if I’m not there, creating a whole system of leveling up in difficulties, using books with tons of pictures, explanations, especially Disney themed ones or classic stories. Not all the children were at that last session, so I organized a way for each of them to get their candy and gum, even if they weren’t there, but with the books, it was a different story. I wanted all of the children to benefit from these books. They were receiving these as a group. And all of the children were totally fine with that. We set up a system of checking the books out and have all of the books in the classroom where we held our lessons every session. As I mentioned, I bought the books in such a way for them to be stories that interested them, both when it comes to age, but also as a progression, that as they read through them, they steadily gain a better understanding of the English language, so much so as to be able to read even at a more advanced level. I gave them the books, and then we had STORY TIME!!!! I love story time! 🙂 I showed them how they could go and work through these together, and helped them read it out loud in English and Romanian, pointing out important concepts, rules of pronunciation, and so on. It was wonderful. We read a couple of them. Then, of course, we went outside and played some soccer, because not-America. It was a great end to a great time.  After that and some other assorted games, it was done. I said my goodbyes and I straddled off to hitchhike my way back to Oradea. Oh yeah, by the way, did I mention that in Romania, hitchhiking is not only legal, but a large portion of the population’s main method of travel (outside of the ole OnFoote)? Yeah. I did it many times. And I didn’t even need a hitchhiker’s thumb. Skill. It was exciting. In fact, some people give hitchhikers rides as a job. That is the extensiveness of this mode of transportation. It’s great. Hitchhiked off into the sunset. Modern Eastern European Western. Yes. Funness is wonderful. But anyways, pictures!!!

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(Yep, that road is our soccer field! And we are playing in flip-flops, because the intensity of the champion life is even greater that way.)

And then of course, I can’t forget my last visit to the Charis Center, the ole hallowed home base.

I looked over some of our final work there before I left, and as the grapes began to ripen in the vineyard I said goodbye to my peeps from the hood...

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Especially my man Daniel: it was wonderful getting to know him, getting to pour into each other’s lives, working along him, teaching him, and having him teach me. I loved it and I’m going to miss that guy.

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I got my certificate from the bossman...

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Gave back my borrowed, faithful, tough bicycle which I rode to the Charis Center, 24 km every day that I went there...

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I went atop Oradea’s Town Hall to see my city one last time...

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I felt with the crying rock...

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Said my farewells to the old Tricolor, that great 16th century symbol of republicanism, freedom, and revolution...

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The birds were flying overhead as I walked out of the Town Hall...

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I left that world behind and set my course for the New World...

Thank you all so much for reading my blog, and thank you Lumos for believing in this vision and helping to make all of this possible.

What else is there to say? The world. But I think that I included most of the major, pertinent highlights.

I did my best. God does the rest.

It’s really wonderful.

That time is done, and a new time has begun.

And it was a beautiful day...

Grace and peace,

Yours truly,

~David Gal-Chiş

 

A Certain State of Mind

So it’s that time again. I am again pondering my life. Good old melancholic romantic me. Thinking about meaning and life and endings and purpose and impact and legacy and the future and everything. Good stuff. And it’s wonderful because I really need my alone time where I think about life and big things and decisions and perspective, where I really get introspective by myself and examine myself. The past school year was rough going when it came to that, really picking up towards the second semester and the end of the year. Thus this summer was just beautiful, because I was able to have a lot of time to think and be alone and rest. Everything else is usually there anyways, but sometimes I have to put forth a lot of effort for those three things. And now that I finally get the chance to do those things, it is refreshing and relieving beyond what I can describe, and I find myself doing it almost constantly, probably making up for the extreme lack of it that I was previously faced with. You know you are a Romantic personality type when your aunt asks you after an hour or two of conversation and walking through the city if all I think about is life and deep ideas and the future. And in a sense, it’s true.

However, there can be certain pitfalls to this that I have to watch out for. Together with my introspective nature, I also tend to want to know the reason for everything, to know why I believe what I believe, to look for a logical understanding of everything and anything, as well as the answer to the question why. Many times this is a wonderful thing and I think that it is useful for anyone to know these things or at least to desire to. However, it can lead to much doubt, insecurity, and even depression if I can’t remember the reasons why I do things and I have invested a lot to do them anyways. That is because I wish to take the best course of action and to redeem my time, energy, and in the long run, my life, by the grace of God having lived in a way that is as good as can be. It’s so easy though, to think about things and feel insignificant, to think about things and feel small, to think about things and feel as if you aren’t good enough and your work wasn’t good enough, to think about things and not see tangible results and become depressed, to think about things and be discouraged, to think about things and just become broken and paralyzed due to doubt and fear and discouragement and depression and even pride, whatever form of insecurity that may manifest itself through, creating an illusion that is not true and is not reality. And I have had to struggle through all of that. Thank God that He encourages me and comforts me and that my identity is secure in Him, but also that He allows me to see the fruit of my work every now and then, just enough to keep moving forward with all energy and vigor and to show me that this is the good work that I need to be doing right now.

For people that go and do the sort of work that I have been doing this summer, where you go to help, to serve a purpose, working with people and serving them to improve their lives, it’s easy to get down because it’s draining to really invest in people and if you don’t have someone pouring into you, you’ll get burned out. Many people don’t realize that those helping need someone to help them too, but it’s true. Some days the kids like you, some days the kids aren’t very responsive. Some days the kids are nice and friendly to each other, other days they want to fight each other. Some days construction is going well, other days the machinery breaks down or you spend several hours attempting to do something in the best way possible, only to realize that it’s not possible. Some days you can teach more English, some days you have to teach more music or play with them outside. Some days the children are excited and other days the children easily get bored. And it might be due to the weather and how it affects them in no-AC land, or how the weather affects them because they might have to stay inside all day because it’s raining. It might be due to family problems or situations that I am just not aware of, even though I tend to know quite a bit about their lives. It might be because of how much, or rather, how little, they ate last night or that morning. They might have just had a bad day.

When something goes wrong though, it’s so easy to internalize everything, especially if you are trying to be receptive to their input and reactions and trying to understand how to do things in the future. There, of course, are some obvious issues with that. First off, it’s unfair to you. I mean, maybe C and L want to fight because you decided to go and practice numbers before animal words that day or because you decided to play English games with them, but really, probably not. Most likely it’s because their parents were gone on a trip for the past two days and they have had to be cooped up inside because of the rain. If an old machine with a known history of problems breaks down on you, it’s probably not your fault. Matter of fact, it just overheated and it still works as unfaithfully as always. If the kids get bored really quickly and aren’t paying very good attention, it’s probably not because you took breaks or taught useful phrases or learned an English song: it’s probably because it’s really hot outside and they are just drained. If you are hoeing the ground so that a new foundation can be poured and your hoe breaks, it’s probably not because you shouldn’t work so hard: it’s just a very old tool and very tough ground. It may seem silly, but if you don’t ask the right questions at the right time, you can internalize most everything wrong going on around you that you have had any sort of impact on. Then, it keeps you from doing your best work, being yourself, and really giving all of yourself because you are tied up in fears and worries and depression and stress and feelings of unworthiness and doubt and second-guessing games and so on. It’s just really a bad state of mind and it seems reasonable until you ask the right questions, because sometimes, there is a grain of truth in there and there is something that might be improved. However, it is really handling it badly to go down those roads. Emotions are not bad, but how they are handled definitely can be. And that’s a struggle too. Sometimes there is the temptation not to feel anything, especially as a guy, because guys are supposed to be “tough” and “strong” which somewhere along the line became “numb” and “unfeeling.” But love is full of feeling, and if I am to love these kids and the people around me and if I am to form relationships with them that are healthy and beneficial to both parties, then I can’t cut off all emotional connections and pretend that I don’t feel as a defense mechanism. It’s counter-productive. The solution is just a matter of facing the problems and properly dealing with them as they come. And the danger of not doing so is rather large. This goes beyond just personal ruminations and not getting into funks, this plays into every conversation I have, every time I get before the kids and teach, my attitude towards everything, and the impact of the work being done.

However, I’m in a good state of mind. Yay! 🙂 I had some low moments when I was working through everything, but now, I am able to see some of the fruit of my work, and looking back, I know that it was all worth it and that it all made a difference, which is really where one should be at the end of a trip like this. I have about a week and a half remaining in Romania during which time I’ll be at a camp with the Caminul Felix kids for about a week and saying my goodbyes to the Tileagd kids and my people at Charis for the rest of it. Then I am on the road again, on my way back to sweet Tennessee! I fly out the morning of August 13 from Budapest, Hungary. I hit up Dusseldorf and NJ on my way back. And it’s an interesting feeling. I’m not sad to go because I know that my work here will be done and I have done the best that I could. Sure, I’ll miss seeing the people that I met, though we’ll be keeping in touch, and I’ll miss all my family from Romania, but I have no regrets and no reason to be down. It has been a wonderful experience that I’ll remember for the rest of my life and I have been honored with the opportunity to do some good. No reason to feel down there. I enjoyed every moment of it, and looking even at the harder moments, I can say that it was good. Pretty spectacular actually and more than worth all of the trouble.

But of course, there are always the good times, which shouldn’t be forgotten and obviously should be photographed and posted on Lumos blogs such as this one. 🙂 So, time to catch the world up on the local goings-on. Be prepared for lots of pictures. 🙂 One day, we went with the Caminul Felix kids and did some simple farming outside the city. We shelled peas, picked some weird sour cherries that are really popular here in Romania, neatened up one of the gardens, and played English games on the car ride to and fro. Fun it was.

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I also helped out at another Charis camp, and this time, underprivileged kids from Tileagd made it too! (Ahem, my kids. *wink, wink*) Also a wonderful time! Lots of games, lessons, songs (where I was “forced” to play the piano), the grand outdoors, and FOOD. Truly lovely.

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And...another camp working with kids! So many camps! Whew! Love it. Makes me feel young again. Good stuff. Well, what can I say, another splendid camp with splendid kids who really needed the love. The activities were similar to those in the camps I had been a leader in thus far. I was hooked up with this camp through Caminul Felix. It took place in Valea Draganului, which really, is where every camp that ever happens in the whole world should take place. It was gorgeous. Yes, I cried. Beautiful views...

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Beautiful trails...

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Beautiful overlooks...

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Free food that literally tastes like candy...

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Epic campfires, complete with camp songs and guitar accompaniment (yay!)...

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And of course, lot of wonderful adorable children!! (Because what’s a camp without them?)

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Hitting up the construction zone again: and it hits back. 8| Buyah. Anyways, just some classic stuff: cutting some grass the old-fashioned way (yes, it’s a scythe [a.k.a –reaper], hehehe), because the little electric mower is not doing too swell and can’t reach anyways, and I need to get at where the mounds of dirt are so I can level them out for the neighbors who’ll use their big douimahicki to cut the large areas of grass for the camp coming along. That was also the day I overheated the little electric mover. It was a great day. You just feel like a new man once you cut some grass with a scythe and walk around with that thing. It’s a sunny day and you look like the personification of death. And you are wearing an Alaska cap. It’s just fantastic. Try it sometime.

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Digging, cutting, chugging. Oh, and the foundation was poured for the outside edges of the covered structure where I broke my hoe trying to break ground. Also, we’ve been working on a new bathroom for the kids when they are outside, and things are starting to shape up.

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And that’s some of the stuff that is going on with me. Another week or so, saying my goodbyes, and the passing of a season. It’s all very symbolic. 🙂 I love this sort of stuff because I’m a literary geek. You might have guessed that already. Anyways, I’m still working hard, facing issues as they come, and loving people. And that’s something that will go on even after the trip. And I think that that is what this trip is all about: what remains. Some things you experience and then you pass by. Other things you experience purify and remove. But great things remain with you: that’s what ends up defining who you are and who you will become. And isn’t that what counts in the end anyways?

Grace and peace! 🙂

~David Gal-Chiş

People Warm Up Eventually

The heat. The sweltering heat. It’s everywhere. You can’t escape it. You can’t abate it. You can’t pretend like it doesn’t exist. Combined with the epidemic lack of AC in this country, you have a bit of a problem on your hands. Especially now that the grand days of summer have finally arrived in Romania. It’s morning: it’s hot. It’s night: it’s hot. It’s midday, and you realize that you grew up for most of your youth in a place where you never were able to fully understand what it means to really sweat. It’s unlike anything that I’ve ever known. Summer has different definitions in different parts of the world. It’s a completely different way of life. If your brain doesn’t overheat immediately and your body gets accustomed to temperature, you’ll probably live, but it’ll be a different kind of pleasant than you might be used to. The people here have windows and doors that open two ways by design: one for people and the other for the air to circulate. There are even different positions for the knobs: it’s great. But it’s a beautiful land. I still can’t get over how beautiful Romania is. It just requires the inhabitants to be drenched several times a day, whether by nature or by design. It’s a wonderful thing. I actually have grown to enjoy it. Sometimes it’s unbearable, but if it’s always hot, you get over yourself eventually. It’s a good feeling.

However, what is heat? What people call heat is the jiggling of tiny particles. The more they are moving, the “hotter” something is considered to be. The less they are moving, the “colder” something is considered to be. And what needs to happen for this heat to move from one object to another? Contact, a connection. So what happens when a hot object and a cold object come into contact with each other? The hot object cools off and the cold object warms up until they both reach the same temperature. (I actually used to be the mascot for my middle school at certain events. The rule of thumb was that you have to be at least two times as excited as you want the audience to be. The same rule applies here, because that’s just how energy transfer works.) But if the hot object and the cold object reach the same temperature, then the cold object will not experience another raise in temperature until the other object touching it becomes warm again, at a temperature greater than that of the previously cold object. However, for the temperature change to continue to occur in the cold object, there must be some outside force that continues to heat up the hot object, without which the hot object would soon become useless towards any further temperature change.

Some of you may think that I am weird for making a science metaphor, or a nerd, or just plain goofy, and you may be right on all counts, but I’m ok with that, because this metaphor is literally my life here in Romania and one of the huge things that I am getting to experience. And not just as a description of the lovely weather, though it surely provides an attractive insight into it for those scientifically minded. No, this is one of the great truths that I need to keep in mind to be able to stay in a place where I can continue to pour out into the children, to pour out love, and patience, and forgiveness, and mercy, and kindness, and goodness, and encouragement, and joy, and balance, and wisdom, and helpfulness, and responsibility, and the desire to learn, and the desire to not waste their lives, and respect, and thoughtfulness, and everything else that I can in efforts to help them grow and mature into learned whole mature well-rounded people. I can’t pretend to fill the roles in these people’s lives that they lack, but I can help them, as best I can, continue to grow and develop in spite of the difficulties and struggles that they have experienced in life. Sometimes that means creating a new role in these people’s lives that can help them in a way that none of the others have so far. Sometimes that means working to help the people gain a healthy perspective on life. But the point is having someone that is pouring out into them. However, one of the most important things, which is necessary for this to occur but often forgotten, is that the hot object continue to get heated. In this scenario everyone that does work of a similar nature to mine represents the heated object and the people that we are working with are the cold object. I have made the connection, and now I must give, but also receive. To continue to heat up the cold object, the other object must have a source of energy. I find that in Jesus. Everything that I am comes from that. All of those good characteristics that I am trying to pour out into these kids come from that and that serves as my constant source of love, joy, peace, etc. It’s really great too, because it’s always constant and always refreshing and always invigorating so through that the work that I do is able to be the best that it can be. And I so love the way that the children have responded to the way that I treat them, and relate to them, and express how I love them.

With the Romi (gypsy) children in Tileagd that I am working with, that is made especially clear. Many of them come from environments where love is not really present and there aren’t really a lot of people which make time for them, which care about them, which pour out into them. Oftentimes that is very evident. However, the respect with which they treat me is something that totally caught me off guard. I mean, I knew about the general respect with which students culturally show teachers in Romania, with the usual title Domn Profesor translating to Lord Professor or Sir Professor or Mister Professor, but this was definitely more than that. Sure, they called me the usual titles of respect, which I didn’t really expect, but as early as the first few meetings, I noticed that these kids were oftentimes wearing their best clothes to these meetings, and I knew what their best clothes were, because I saw what the people in the community looked like. But even beyond that, pretty soon, I very rarely had to even say much to keep order in the classroom. The kids kept each other in order and tried to keep each other paying attention and making sure that they weren’t being disrespectful. Some of the children that I am working with that come from way better environments come nowhere near that level of respect. The closest thing that I have ever seen to the way that these children have reacted to me is how, in the movies, children from the ghetto respond to that one teacher that really cares about them and invests in them and changes their life, you’ve seen those, right? But with these kids, it’s even more than that, because not only am I not paid for this, and they have never had anyone take the time to invest in them like this, but I’m also trying to be their friend, to form that weird balance between peer and friend and teacher and help them as best I can. But it’s just so humbling to think that I might be that person in their lives that impacts them in that way. Whew. It’s a little bit overwhelming. And I’m just so thankful for all of it, from this opportunity, to these people, to Charis, of course to Lumos, and just all of it. I’m constantly astounded by it all. My capacity to wonder has definitely grown on this trip. The threshold has gone down, but the capacity has gone up, which I think is the way that it should be.

But yeah, WHOOHOO, awesome kids! Loving my time in Tileagd! We are learning English both indoors and out. Every time I go, we have English lessons inside, teaching them vocabulary, grammar rules, common phrases, and such, then we have music lessons, beginning with teaching them classic simple Romanian songs. Soon, we are going to learn the English versions of them and hopefully soon we will get to songs that are purely in English. It’s really interesting though, because there is such a wide range of ages, so I have to really individualize every child’s education, while trying to keep everyone involved. So, sometimes, the older children are reviewing some English that they have learned in the past, and sometimes they are learning the basic grammar concepts and phrases that they never knew before. It’s also always fun, because you can’t just do boring simple words with the little kids. The boys want to know how to say leopard and tiger and the girls want to know how to say flower and butterfly and lipstick. Sometimes useful, sometimes fun, but you have to combine both to keep the kids interested and involved. But yes! It’s a great time, and then after the music lessons, we oftentimes go outside and I have the children tell me to teach them how to say everything that they want to say. Why? Because those English words that they see or think of when outside are probably the ones that they will tend to use the most. Of course, there is always the one kid who asks how to say universe or math, so the children get a good range of words in. But it’s also a good method because the kids not only get time to remember the word while in the environment, thus sealing the memory better, but they also get to learn the words that they are interested in saying, that they do and will say, thus they learn way more words that end up being used more and thus remembered even better. Also, we do a lot of review together, because repetition is key to remembering the words: whether that be through use, reminding, or making connections because of the environment. But it’s a great time, and I really love my time with them! In fact, I can hardly wait to get back! 🙂

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Until the next fantastic time!! 🙂

~David Gal-Chis

JSE Art Day!

When I was first thinking about what I wanted to bring to the communities of South Africa as a result of my Lumos Project, my mind was immediately drawn to the creative. To me, art is one of the best lenses in which to view the rest of the world. Art is both history book and atlas, teacher and storyteller. With it, we open doors to new and different worlds.

When I arrived at United Through Sport, I wasn’t sure that I was going to be able to pursue that goal. Obviously, UTS is sport-focused, which has taught me so many things, both about sports themselves and about the value of teaching sports as a way to communicate life skills and values. However, in my teaching role and work with the Junior School of Excellence, I was able to talk to the staff at UTS and plan an Art Day at the JSE of Isaac Boii. Continue reading

Caminul Felix

So, I’ve been feeling under the weather for the past few days here. The great thing about feeling under the weather though, is that you gain a new appreciation for things that you might not have noticed before. You don’t notice how nice it is to breathe without something holding you back. You don’t notice how nice it is to just chill or do things without being in pain. You don’t really realize how great it is to simply be whole and complete. But also, you gain a new appreciation for a smile when someone is feeling that way, the understanding that something has been touched that goes beyond the surface and the general “feeling bad” that is going on. You gain a new understanding of the meaningfulness of any show of love because when things are going bad for someone, that’s, a lot of times, when you are able to see who the person really is. But here’s the thing: I may have been feeling bad here for a few days, but are there are some people who suffer from more than just some sickness and whose deficiency goes far deeper than mine. There are some people who can’t breathe because they are being choked by memories, by their past, by loss, by insecurity, by instability. There are some people who can’t just chill or do things without being in pain, whether they have tried to numb themselves to it or tried to fix it by other means, because the issue is too fundamental. I have seen a lot of people like this: clarification – I have seen a lot of orphans like this. And until there is someone who pours into their lives to fill the gaps where something has been missing, that’s how things stay.

As I have looked at life, I have seen that pretty much every problem that a child has can be traced back to the family, specifically the parents. Every person needs love, and every child needs a family. State-run orphanages in Romania provide neither. I would tell you about some of the things that happen there and some of the stories of children who have been there but I don’t know if you would believe me. Let me put it the way that Mrs. Ciupe once stated it. Now, the Ciupe family has taken in many many orphans as a part of their family through the program over the years, and knows exactly the struggles of these children and what goes on there. She said, “The children that come out of there, aren’t normal kids.” However, there was something else to her statement: “but the kids that come out of Caminul Felix are.” What is Caminul Felix? Caminul Felix is a privately-run orphanage in Sinmartin funded by charity, an orphanage that Charis just happens to be connected with. The way that they operate is based on the family unit with the participating families living in a village-style community. So, two parents, with children or without, adopt several orphan children as their own, and raise them until they get older and leave. Each family has their own house and there are several such houses on the grounds. However, this process of adding new children to the family and raising them cycles for each family, with new children coming in for every one of those that leave, thus allowing as many children as possible to be a part of this program. Caminul Felix is also one of the orphanages that I will working with during my stay here in Romania! YAY!

I will be working specifically in Village 1 (Sinmartin), in House 1, with the lovely family of Loredana and Ovidiu Csoka. I will integrate myself into that family and be a tutor for the children there, working with them on their homework and lessons that they get when they go to school, whether that be English, Math, Romanian, Writing, History, helping them master the material. I will work to form relationships with the children individually, spending time with them, talking with them, encouraging them, playing with them, teaching them, and truly showing interest and investing in their lives. So, really, I’m not just being a tutor: I’m being a mentor and I’m being a friend through my capacity as a tutor. And here they are! 🙂

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You may not think that ten children would be a handful, but you would be wrong. In fact, the first day that I went there, I might have been just a little bit overwhelmed, but that’s ok. I wasn’t sure exactly how everything was going to function, how I was going to go about the things that I was doing, where I would be most useful and helpful and needed the most, and things of that nature, but everything worked out so perfectly, it could have been a crossword puzzle. The children all have taken really well to me and it’s actually kind of funny how all of them want to do their homework with me and play with me and have me show them how to play mandolin and show me their pet chicken or fish all at the same time. It’s very humbling, but at the same time, it’s also exhilarating and extremely hilarious. Maybe it’s just because I love children, but I can’t even express to you how sweet they are, how open they are to love and be loved, how much they just want a friend, the way that they smile and light up when you give them some attention and encouragement, and how much hope I have for the future of these children. I just love everything about what I am doing right now so much, it’s spectacular. It’s also really cool (and hilarious of course, because everything about children is just really funny and silly and great) for me to see the kids, who unreservedly, unabashedly, and unequivocally do not like school, get excited about homework and the things that they are learning because they get to do it with me and I’m so honored that I get to cultivate this friendship with them and help them in life through that. It might have made me cry several times privately already, but that too is ok. [sniffle, sniffle] Distract focus: and here are some of the kids and me working on homework together: Romanian, Writing, and Math in the first one and English, Math, and History in the second one.

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Between tutoring, music, playing soccer, pets, talking, and trying to organize everything so as to spend time with each child, I have been pretty busy, which is really wonderful, because I came here to help people and show them love, and that’s what I’m getting to do. So, this is all 100% spectacular!!! 🙂

There is so much to cover, even without going into excruciating detail, and I will try to cover as much of my work as I can as I go. However, I’m sure many of you were earnestly desiring to hear about jet lag and my ability to adapt and survive in life, so here goes. I went to sleep the first night with approximately zero problems getting to sleep, slept eight hours, and woke up the next morning feeling like 407 RON. I then proceeded to find out that people are the same everywhere in the world, just as I suspected, and continued living life and having a wonderful time with it. As I am doing right now. As you should be doing too, because life is too short to do otherwise. So, I swung by the city of Cluj this past weekend visiting my uncle Florin and we hit up the Festival of Lights from whence cometh this gloriously awesome-sauce candelabra.

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Really, it was only fitting considering life. And Lumos. And the pursuit of lightening up the world with hope and love. And yes, as usual, that was on purpose. So, with that: grace and peace all you Lumos peoples!! 🙂

~David Gal-Chiş

 

P.S. Charis has a new website that they launched this week! HOORAH! http://www.charisfoundationromania.org/

P.P.S. Caminul Felix has a website that was not launched this week but that is still really cool and you should check it out! HUZZAH! http://caminulfelix.org/

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