Category Archives: Traveling

Reflections on Nonviolence

Almost a week ago I was schooled by my African brothers and sisters on the topic of nonviolence and social justice.  I attended a conference put on by a local non profit that works with churches in Cape Town, serving and assisting them in their response to poverty, injustice and division.  There has been a two week contemplative activism workshop running at the larger umbrella organization I am volunteering in, but I could not take two weeks off of work, so I decided I would just come to the public event.  There were people from YWAM (the organization my project is associated with), from local churches, from the community, etc. It was diverse, and subversive, challenging and gut wrenching, enlightening and humbling. We discussed power, and what nonviolent resistance looks like in the face of the powers that be.  This post is a way for me to process all the rich and thought provoking stories I encountered.

Jesus is introduced to us as the stranger, the other, the xenos in Greek, which is where we get the word xenophobia, or fear of the stranger.  Jesus was also crucified, a horrible, gruesome, embarrassing death, that left his followers, or students if you will, despondent.  They thought the Messiah would bring about a political revolution, overthrowing the oppressive Roman empire and restoring Israel. But instead, their “revolutionary” leader was murdered, a victim of capital punishment and left no visible political revolution in his wake.  Instead, that revolution, that freedom from exile and oppression came about in the form of Jesus embodying and teaching the world what it means to be fully human, to be an Image Bearer, to bring the Kingdom of God to earth. The life of Jesus revealed that God is not some far off deity to be appeased, on the contrary, God, the Divine, the animating force of love in the world is present in us and in all creation.  The ordinary, which perhaps is indeed the extraordinary, all bears witness to the oceanic oneness and interconnectedness of all things.   

The night the workshop ended was the first time I have picked up my Bible in probably a year and half.  For my whole life, the Bible had been taught to me literally. I was told in essence that God told people the exact words to write, thus why we can call it a “God breathed text”.  In fact, the certainty in which I was taught to read the text made it seem as if God had a hand, and “he” (I won’t get started on how the use of “he” when talking about God bothers me) dropped these texts into the laps of prophets and there we have it, the Bible! I have witnessed the Bible be used to justify and inform the most un-Christ like ideas and actions.  I have heard a lifetime of sermons that told me this was the only way to interpret what this verse was saying. I was angry that the Bible is in fact this beautiful story of redemption, reconciliation and love, but I, and I would venture to say many Christians, were so tainted with the legalistic and moral codes of individualistic, “soul winning” Christianity, that we never interacted with the narrative in such a way.  

It has been eighteen months of deconstructing all things I believed was an incredibly painful and simultaneously life giving process.  And while I have started to reconstruct a few things, this workshop was the challenge and hope I needed to salvage my faith, especially in the Bible.  Introduced to me was a new way of reading Scripture, one in which we read the text with the lens of Jesus’s proximity to pain. He was right in there, living amongst the suffering of the world.  Power and money tell us that the more we have, the farther away we can be from that suffering, as we move into areas and houses with high walls and gated neighborhoods far away from the reminders of physical and systemic violence, often perpetuated by “Christians” we see on the streets of our own nation.  If our gospel doesn’t call us into the pain, the suffering, the solidarity, the fight for justice, then perhaps it is no gospel at all, and certainly not the gospel of Jesus. I have been so disheartened by Christians who think their “job” is to “convert” people so they can have a “ticket to heaven.” NO! What a limited and frankly violent view of the gospel!  If the good news of Jesus, that he came to proclaim to the poor, the prisoners, the prostitutes, etc is reduced to a “soul winning” scheme, then we have missed the point. Jesus showed us that we can have Heaven, now! We are co creators, co laborers, co conspirators in work of justice and equality. We are like mirrors reflecting the glory of God (which as St. Irenaeus would say, is (wo)man fully alive).  We are a part of the grand restoration project. Now that is good news! But this good news requires much of us. It requires that we die daily to the False Self, the to comforts that keep us from engaging with injustice, and to the powers and principalities that exist. I think this is why Jesus said it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God, because rarely do the rich want to admit how much they benefit from a system that affords them the privilege of so much at the expense of many.  Rarely do the rich want to challenge the systems that allow them to stay rich. Rarely do the rich want to move closer, more intimately into the face of suffering.  In fact, one of my African sisters proclaimed at the workshop that “attacking white people’s pockets is the way to bring about change.” YOH! That about knocked me off my chair.

In my attempt at reconstructing my faith, I realized I was asking the wrong kinds of questions, those that were dualistic and individualistic in nature.  But when we see Jesus for who Jesus really is and what he revealed to humanity, a whole new set of questions emerge  To quote Rainer Maria Rilke, questions that we must “not seek the answers [to now], which cannot be given to you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”  Those questions we are invited to live, for instance, what does it look like to be a disciple of Jesus, are illuminated in what Jesus preached in the context of his society and what he imagined for the world, which I believe are precisely the questions that mainstream, evangelical, Western Christianity has lost (speaking from my own experience).

In John 14:9, Jesus that “whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”  And when we see Jesus in the Bible, he is among the poor, the prostitutes, the tax collectors, the refugees (in fact he was one), the sick, the marginalized, etc.  Jesus was and is where we would least expect God to be and in many ways that is the same today. Friends with theology degrees or those who know more than me, please enlighten me if this understanding is wrong (this is what the journey is all about!) but I would venture to say that when we see the marginalized, we see Jesus, and thus we see God and the heart of God, and if that doesn’t flip our theology on its head then I don’t know what will!  The table is extended, there is room for all, especially those we do expect to be there.

When I say I ascribe to a philosophy and life of nonviolent resistance to the powers and principalities that be, it is not just a nice statement about my being in the world.  No, on the contrary that is a very weighty statement that requires much responsibility.  It means that, as my friends of color have pointed out, I have to resist the violent SYSTEMS too.  Those being, especially economic, social and political. Thus, nonviolence doesn’t just require me to show up in protest of unjust action, it requires daily denial of the privilege that my white, American, middle class, straight, Christian, able bodied status has afforded me.  This plays out in many ways, namely in the way I am perceived, monetarily and in the power I hold in most circumstances.

It is funny that those we Christians label (perhaps one of the most dangerous acts we can participate in) as Atheist, Muslim, evil, sinful, Buddhist, other,  etc, are the ones who seem to be seeking the Kingdom more than those who call themselves disciples of Jesus. Namely, this was revealed in the 2016 presidential election, and in subsequent events.  It is fascinating how in my experience, the most vocal advocates of justice and equality are those are not “Christian.” Again, those at the table are the ones we least expect. The state of the Church in American, and the Western world deeply saddens me and simultaneously invigorates me.  Hearing the stories and perspectives from Christians in very marginalized communities reminded me of why I want to be a student of Jesus. Not the student of white washed, colonizer Jesus, but a student of the subversive, contemplative, fully human and fully divine Jesus.  

In an attempt to bring this very long and scattered reflection to a close, I want to add that these are just a weeks ponderings on a lifelong journey of nonviolent activism and resistance.  If there is one thing I have learned recently, it is that certainty is death. I must learn to hold all things with an open hand. Like all things, I am constantly evolving, so perhaps in another week, month or year, I will look back at these ideas and laugh, like I do with most things I write.  But these are my honest words that I believe with my whole heart in this moment. I would like to end this in the way we ended our time together at the workshop, in lament. We sang a song, “Senzeni Na,” which is Xhosa and Zulu song we could equate to the American protest song “We Shall Overcome.”  Senzeni Na means, “what have we done” and as it was described to me, this song was sang as the Xhosa and Zulu people buried their dead during apartheid, knowing full and well that as the song ended, they would again be attacked, oppressed and killed by the violent apartheid regime operating in their communities.  And what had they done? Their only crime was being black, as one version of the song puts it. And as I sang along, I was overcome by grief, and the words “what have we done” became my words. I lamented for what has and has not been done in the name of God, the climate of my nation and at the current state of our world.  Where is the ubuntu? Where is the love? Where is the peace? But gathered in this community of lament, none of whom I knew, but was intrinsically connected too, there was tangible hope. In the face of sorrow and injustice, we too had faith that we shall overcome.

Sit down, be humble: A South African Embassy Experience

Greetings all!!

I am so very excited for this adventure to begin.  It has been a bittersweet seven months leading up to my departure (which is happening very soon).  I have grown a lot, and become much more self aware (thanks to the enneagram, the mystics and yoga) over the past year.  I have also had a lot more free time to think about this trip and my expectations, or lack thereof, which has caused some internal discomfort as I am forced to face the fact that things change, and when I return, not only will I be different, but the people around me.  Not only in their emotional and spiritual state, but their physical state.  I will return to Nashville after most of my friends graduation, and so realizing that some of the people I love very dearly will not be residing in Nashville anymore is quite saddening.  And over the past seven months I have also grown more and more excited about this unique and incredible opportunity that has led me into more gratefulness for whatever this adventure may hold.  Though sometimes I oddly wish I had more strings tying me down to Nashville (a strange thing for an enneagram 7 to admit), the fact of the matter is I do not, and instead of always trying to change that, I am thankful for the freedom and willingness for spontaneity that has led me right back to Cape Town.

Even in the months leading up to my departure, I have learned some very valuable lessons, like humility, flexibility and patience.  If I have talked to you about my trip since starting the visa process, you have probably heard me complain about the FBI.  Well fourteen weeks, yes fourteen, that is three and a half months after submitting my fingerprints, I finally received the long awaited piece of paper stating I had no criminal history, a surprise to many I am sure.  I received my background check on Monday, and on that Wednesday I was on a flight to DC to go to the South African Embassy to apply for my visa.  Let it be known that to apply for a visa, you have to go to the Embassy/Consulate to apply in person.  This means flights, hotels, ubers, the whole nine yards.  So, I arrive to DC Wednesday evening, eat some vegetable korma because Indian food reminds me of South Africa and every Sunday my roommates and I at S-CAPE would make veggie curry.  I wandered around for a bit, it was freezing but I saw a Christmas tree at the capitol building and that was pretty neat!  In the morning, I awoke, walked the mile down Embassy Row to the South African Embassy building and patiently waited outside.  And to those who know me, I was 30 minutes early, which may be the most absurd thing you have ever heard because I am never early anywhere! But I was and am serious about this visa.  So I stood on the other side of the fence next to a monument of Nelson Mandela, sipping some now lukewarm coffee and reading Desmond Tutu. The clock strikes 8:30, I ring the little bell and I am directed inside the small warm room with rows of gray chair lining the wall.  I was told to wait and they would call me up.  It was only me in the little warm box of a room so I observed the lion photo on the wall for what felt like an eternity before hearing “ok, come in.”  I was then directed to an even smaller and darker room where the visa man sat on the other side of a pane of glass.  I pulled out my folder with every single document they had asked for, from bank statements, to a radiological x-ray.  The man asked why I was there, I tell him “I am here to apply for a Charitable Activities Visa”, and he asked for the letter from S-CAPE inviting me to come.  So I proudly handed it to him, and waited as he glanced at it.  He then proceeded to ask me many questions and, in essence, told me that there is an unemployment crisis in South Africa (which I am indeed aware of), and that by volunteering I would be taking away potential jobs from South Africans.  Now I understand where he is coming from, however, I tried to explain that S-CAPE relies on volunteers, and the position I am taking would never be a paid position, thus leaving me confused with his reasoning.  But there was no convincing him otherwise.  He told me I could apply for a visa extension once I am in the Republic, or I could just go for 90 days (which Americans can do without any visa).  Frustrated, I left with all the unseen documents I had compiled, and walked back to my hotel in the cold, got on a plane and flew back to Atlanta discouraged and upset.

I called my wise friend, Hunter Wade, in the airport to tell her what had happened and as she always does, she pointed out some valuable opportunities to learn and grow.  It was quite humbling for sure.  As an American, a white, middle class, educated, straight, able bodied American, I have not been denied much in my life, especially when I have followed all the rules and done everything “right”.  This is one of the most poignant moments for me realizing that this happens to so many individuals.  People wanting to immigrate here to the states, or even simply visit their loved ones.  Arbitrary reasoning and unnecessarily difficult procedures are routine in the visa process to enter the United States as well.  And in that moment, I realized this is how most individuals feel: hopeless, powerless, frustrated, defeated.  It was quite a sobering moment.  South Africa owes me nothing, though I went in with the mindset of an easy visa process because why wouldn’t they give me visa? I followed the directions, I think I am pretty nice, I had good reason to to go, I have good intentions, I am not a criminal (the FBI even said so).

On the bright side however, I was told I can apply for an extension of my 90 days visa (which is automatically given to visa exempt countries) once I am in South Africa.  This means some more money, waiting and bureaucracies, but I have a better chance of obtaining an extension that would allow me to stay in Cape Town for the full time I had anticipated.  But it is hard being so uncertain!  I want everything to be sorted now, but it simply cannot.  My impatient nature is surfacing and it has been quite the practice of learning to let go of what I cannot control.

If you have made it to the end of this very long first blog post, thank you.  I am a written processor as you can tell.  I am excited to update yall as I begin my journey in a few short weeks! Hopefully next post will be me on Muizenberg beach with an extended visa because it is going to be SUMMERTIME in the southern hemisphere 😉mandelaembassy

Vietnam in 5 days!

This past week, my friend Ashlyn and I visited Vietnam. Since we both wanted to see as much of the country as possible while only taking a few days off of work, we decided to fly into Hanoi and spend five days backpacking our way down the country via night bus, then flying out of Ho Chi Minh.

As we are both somewhat averse to meticulous planning, Ashlyn and I tend to fly by the seats of our pants. We knew there were night buses and trains we could take, we knew we wanted to keep it as cheap as possible and we had a vague itinerary of what we wanted to do when, but that was it! The rest we discovered moment by moment.

One such discovery was that our travel plan, or lack thereof, was VERY ambitious. I mean, explore an entire country in less than a week? That’s crazy. BUT I am proud to say that, somehow, we managed to squeeze what could easily be a month long trip into our five days, and the hiccups and obstacles we encountered only served to enhance the adventure.

Here’s a brief overview of our travels:

Tuesday 10/17 – Fly from Chiang Mai to Bangkok in the evening. Sleep in the airport.

Wednesday 10/18 – Wake up super early to get our boarding passes (and Krispy Kreme, PTL). Fly to Hanoi. Arrive at 9 am and get our visas and coffee. Take public bus #7 and #46 to the My Dinh bus station. Buy public bus tickets to Ha Long Bay and get on the bus, which leaves immediately. The bus ride takes about 4-5 hours, and we stop frequently (often just by the side of the road) to pick up/drop off passengers (how do people know where to catch this bus?!) and cargo (plants, boxes, live chickens). Arrive at the Bay Chai bus station in Ha Long Bay. Take public bus #3 for its entire route (to get our bearings, see the city, and also we had no idea what we were doing!). Take public bus #3 again to the tourist area. Find a hostel (we had to go to a coffee shop to get wifi and look up cheap hostels nearby. We found a few and walked to check them out. One was an abandoned building. The next was a fancy hotel, just to see their prices – why not, right? Next, we passed a man on a motorbike who told us about his hostel: $4 a night, free breakfast, great deal! That’s where we ended up). Grab dinner at a little street grill. Wander around the closed Sun World park. Go to bed.

Thursday 10/19 – Wake up early. Eat breakfast (Vietnamese toast and pineapple jam. So good!). Get picked up by bus for our Ha Long Bay boat excursion (booked through our hostel). Explore the most beautiful and incredible place on earth by boat (seriously... Ha Long Bay is one of my new favorite places ever. The rock formations were absolutely stunning. I am still in awe!). Check out of hotel. Grab bubble tea (rediscovered my love for boba. I think I drank at least one a day the rest of the trip!) and try to figure out how to get to our next destination from Hanoi (sooo, night buses are a lot less regular than we thought. There’s usually only one or two a day. But, we found a night train to Hue that left at 10 pm). Take bus #3 back to Bay Chai bus station. Take public bus back to My Dinh, Hanoi. Take taxi to train station. Buy soft-seat tickets for 10 pm departure to Hue (pronounced Hway. Definitely botched that on multiple occasions). Walked 30 minutes to a local Vietnamese restaurant where Obama went when he was in Hanoi. Arrived right as it was closing and ordered the only thing left on the menu – crab rolls, rice noodles, and this strange, but incredible, soup that tasted like apples. Walked back to the train station – while stopping to get bubble tea and use the shop’s wifi – and arrive right in time! Get on the train (which was amazing! So roomy, the seats reclined, there were sinks to brush your teeth, and there weren’t many passengers. Definitely recommend) and depart. Go to sleep.

Friday 10/20 – Wake up on the bus to the most beautiful view – sunrise and fog and Vietnam’s countryside (the scenery was gorgeous. There were lakes and rice fields and pagodas and mountains... breathtaking). Arrive in Hue around 11 am. Evade taxi drivers and stumble upon a very helpful travel agent type man, who tells us there’s a bus that goes to Hoi An, our next destination, at 1 pm. We decide to book it (there’s another bus that leaves at 4:30, but it’s more expensive), and figure out what to do for our two hours in Hue. Walk to the Imperial City, where we figure out we have to pay to get in aaand we only have 20 minutes max, so we just take some photos outside and grab food at an ice cream/noodle place. Get a taxi back to the train station, where a man meets us and drives us to a travel agency. Get on the bus to Hoi An (such a cool bus – there were three rows of single seats, but each reclined like a semi-bed, and there were two levels. So like... chair bunk beds...?) and drive 4 hours to Hoi An. Get dropped off on the side of the road. Immediately, we are approached by the owners of several hotels. After listening to each of them make their case (mostly talking over each other), we decide to go with Mrs. Flower, who seems trustworthy, offers us a private room in her guesthouse near the Old City, negotiates with us down to $5 each and volunteers to drive us there on her motorbike. Book the last room in Mrs. Flower’s guesthouse. Sit down to figure out our plans to get to Ho Chi Minh the next day. Realize that our options are very limited and give us almost no time in Hoi An or Ho Chi Minh – there’s a night bus that takes 24 hours and a 17 hour night train, but neither are great options as my flight leaves from Ho Chi Minh at 9:30 pm on Sunday. Have an exhausted mental breakdown (just me, actually. Ashlyn kept a very level head). Figure out that we can fly to Ho Chi Minh late the next night. Decide to do it, even though it costs more than either of us were planning on – yikes! Venture out into Hoi An to grab pho for dinner and (me) buy a bag of mint M&Ms that cost more that our hotel room for the night (oops. Stress eating?). Go to bed.

Saturday 10/21 – Spend the day enjoying Hoi An! Grab breakfast (pineapple pancakes and Vietnamese seafood pancakes). Walk to the Old City and explore – art galleries, the famous Japanese covered bridge, souvenir shops, coffee cafes, the marketplace, pagodas. It was so cute and fun! Go to the beach and relax. Walk back to town after a few hours and stop at a local restaurant on the way. Also stop for more bubble tea. Arrive back to our hotel and get picked up to go to the airport, which is the next town over in Da Nang. Get on our (delayed) flight to Ho Chi Minh and land at 2 am. Walk to our pre-booked hotel (only a 15 minute walk from the airport) and realize that it is not where Apple maps says it should be. Wander the streets of Ho Chi Minh, ask workers at other hotels and finally get a vague direction from someone and find more accurate directions on Google maps. Finally arrive at hotel and crash HARD.

Sunday 10/22 – Wake up early, but not on purpose (someone is hammering, and this hotel is a concrete echo chamber). Get ready and grab a taxi to the War Remnants Museum, where we spend a few hours (more on that later). Walk to the famous Lunch Lady, a very local restaurant popular with ex-pats. Arrive. Are unceremoniously ushered to a tiny table, asked a question in Vietnamese that we don’t understand, nod our heads yes and are promptly served a Vietnamese feast (so much amazing food! Huge bowls of pho, spring rolls, salad rolls and fried prawns). Walk to the Emperor Jade Pagoda (at first, we couldn’t find it, because it’s not as big of a tourist spot. It’s very local, and we observed many people worshipping there. It was beautiful, and unlike anything I’d ever seen! I expected it to be more like the Thai temples, which generally only have one room in the center for prayer. But this pagoda was two stories, with many rooms and passageways, all filled with incense and statues and paintings and symbols. It felt very sacred). Walk 30 minutes for bubble tea (it had become an obsession). Use the last of our Vietnamese Dong to get a taxi back to our hotel. Walk to airport. Say goodbye to Vietnam, and fly back to Bangkok. Go through immigration and find a place to sleep.

Monday 10/23 – Wake up in airport. Check in for flight, and grab Krispy Kreme (again). Fly back to Chiang Mai. Get a taxi home. Sleep for an hour, shower and go to work.

An exhausting and amazing trip!!!

More on the War Remnants Museum: I was absolutely wrecked by what I saw. The museum is amazing, well thought out and extremely powerful. I even shed a few tears.

The most poignant and heart wrenching exhibits were those on the US war crimes and Agent Orange, the chemical toxin sprayed across Vietnam. I never realized how absolutely brutal this war was – villages were massacred, down to the children. Innocent natives were tortured. And it wasn’t even that long ago – many of the children that were killed would’ve been my parents’ age.  The ___ referred to it as a genocide on the Vietnamese people.

I don’t understand how this kind of violence can even happen. It blows my mind that people are capable, either through brainwashing or our own fallen nature, to dehumanize someone else to that extent.

The effects of the war are far reaching and long lasting as well. Even as recently as 2003, unexploded landmines were still killing and injuring locals. Agent Orange has caused genetic mutations and disabilities over four generations of people (US citizens included). It’s devastating. How long will it take to rebuild and recover from something like that?

The thing is, I don’t remember learning much about any of this stateside, in high school history classes or otherwise. I’m not sure if it was just because all my teachers ran out of time towards the end of the year to go into detail (the Cold War, Vietnam War and Korean War all kind of blurred together), or if our society simply refuses to widely acknowledge itself as an imperialist power capable of such destruction and devastation. Maybe a little of both? Either way, I’m glad to have seen it from the Vietnamese perspective.

One last story – while I was reading an exhibit on global activism against the war, I was approached by a young Vietnamese man. He asked me, in hesitant English, what I thought about the war – was it justified? Why did it happen? I explained that I didn’t agree with it, and was horrified by the senseless violence. He nodded his head and looked relieved. He told me he agreed – he didn’t understand either. He then introduced himself, asked me my name and told me he was a law student in Vietnam. He asked me where I was from, and when I said the US, he looked apologetic and a little uncomfortable. I waved my hands and tried to explain “it’s ok! It doesn’t mean I agree with the war!” We’re on the same side. 

He looked relieved and we continued chatting. At the end, he told apologized for his English, and said that this was his first conversation in English with a foreigner. I was honored! Then he gave me a piece of Vietnamese candy, and we parted ways.

 

Rafiki Florida

September 3rd
I would love just to write a quick post about one of my rafikis, Florida. My first day on the Pediatric Oncology Unit she greeted me with open arms. She is also a nurse at Muhimbili. She’s shared her lunch with me countless times at work

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Ugali, fish, and cabbage

and she has taught me so many Swahili words. Labor Day weekend she invited me to her home. She lives in Kigamboni which you have to take a ferry from Dar to get there. She met me at Muhimbili where we took various buses to finally get to the ferry. It was so amazing to actually see how local people use transportation in Tanzania daily. She lives over an hour from the city but with traffic that can double even triple the commuting time. Public transportation costs about 600 Tanzanian shillings; however, if you were to use a taxi to take you to the island it could be around 25,000 Tanzanian shillings. I had been to Kigamboni before to go to Kipapayo beach in a taxi. But my experience was a lot different this time. I truly got to experience African culture.

When we were in the waiting area to get on the ferry there was honestly probably 700 people. Imagine being in a big enclosed room with no room to move because there isn’t any extra space to move. I had bodies up against me on all sides. I had never been so claustrophobic in my life. There was no AC (which is typical in Dar) but it just made me feel very anxious. Moreover, there were beggars just lying on the ground all around. It was very heartbreaking. A lot of them didn’t have limbs and couldn’t walk. With everyone crammed together you have to be very careful because you can very easily get things stolen. I had my backpack wrapped around the front of me and I was carrying my phone and money in my bra. Once the ferry arrived everyone pushed one another so they could get a good spot on the ferry and not have to stand. It looked like a stampede of ants dispersing everywhere. For such a little lady Florida sure can go fast. I’m like twice the size of her but she is so determined and fierce. Luckily we were able to get a seat on the ferry.
Once we arrived on land we went to the local market and got some onions, tomatoes, and rice. She had already gotten fresh fish before we met up. She wanted us to have lunch before we went to the beach since it’s cheaper to make food at home compared to buying it at the beach. When I asked her how much it was at the beach she said 10,000. Which is about $5 US dollars for food. From the market we had to take another bus to her village. That was about 30 minutes. It was a pleasant walk from her bus stop to her home and all of her neighbors were so kind and friendly.

It’s always so different when people see you here. You literally feel like either you’re a celebrity or you look really funny. Everyone just stares. The children who are brave will come up to you while others may cry because they’ve never seen a mzungu before. Florida had a very comfortable place to live in. Her home was made out of concrete compared to her neighbors who had homes made out of dirt. She didn’t have any electricity or running water. She has two sons, one is 15 and the other is 9, and when they’re back in town from boarding school they stay at her parents. They don’t like staying at her home because they can’t play their video games there since there’s no electricity and they don’t like how dark it gets at night. However, she bought her home a few years ago and she’s saving up for electricity. She said it’s about a million dollars which is around $500 US dollars. She made food for me and it was so eye opening watching her make it. She had a little stove she used that was on the ground.

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This was her stove and the big circular device on the ground was how she went about picking up the pan and taking it off the stove. The big blue container on the right is what she had her clean water in. It wasn’t clean to drink but she cooked and bathed with it.

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You have to mix the rice in here and take out any dirt that does not belong

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The fish that she cooked over the stove

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Meal time!

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We ate rice, fresh fish she got that day, tomatoes, and onions. I told her I would eat like a Tanzanian. They eat with their hands. It was very good! And she made it so fast so we could go to the beach. After we ate we got on another dala dala and then on a piky piky which means motorcycle. They’re a big type of transportation in Tanzania. I was TERRIFIED. I asked her if there was anything else we could use but she said no. I have seen SO many horrific accidents in the ED at Muhimbili that involved motorcycle accidents. I kept having flashbacks of all of those patients. I was in a dress too! So I put the helmet on, plopped my other leg on the opposite side, and grabbed onto the guy in front of me. Just burying my head against his back with tears filling my eyes. I was so scared because there aren’t speed limit laws. However, he didn’t go too fast. I told him to go pole pole which means slow but it’s still fast compared to America. The motorcycles took us to the beach!

We went to South Beach which is a public beach; meaning that I was the only white person there. I purposefully didn’t bring my bathing suit because it brings a lot of unwanted attention. I brought shorts to put on underneath my dress and I was just going to tie my dress with a knot at my hips and go in the water like that. However, Florida insisted I put her bathing suit on. I kept saying it was okay and I wanted to go like this but she insisted I just wear my bra. I had a lace bralette on underneath my dress. She just took the dress off and said go like that. In her mind it was completely normal! A lot of people at the beach will go in their bras rather than a proper bathing suit and the guys will wear their skin tight underwear.
I        was        m o r t i f i e d.
I put my hair down immediately and got in the water as fast as I could so I was covered. It was so funny to me how natural she thought it was and how I practicality felt indecent on the beach even though a bra is practically the same thing as a bathing suit. We swam and swam in the ocean and it was so much fun.
Florida doesn’t know how to swim and I promised her I would teach her. She was doing really well for being a beginner! I was really proud of her. In addition, I’ve finally learned what to say to the guys here! If you tell them hapana which means no, I have a boyfriend, they don’t care. However, if you tell them you have an mchumba (fiancé) or that you’re married they’ll say congratulations and typically leave you alone. So any guy that would come up I would say that. I just kept having to say it over and and over again and eventually they’d swim away. We stayed in the water until the sun went down and Florida asked if I was okay with spending the night with her. My initial gut feeling was that it would be safe and I just thought, when would you ever get to have an authentic experience like this again? So I agreed.
We ended up taking two more piky piky’s and we actually went to her parents home. I got to meet her two sisters and her nephews and nieces, her parents, her son, her grandmother, her mom’s sisters, and family friends. It was absolutely amazing. They welcomed me to dinner and made me a plate. It was rice with potatoes on top. It’s so nice to see how close families are here. Even if you’re not family here you’re still family. I can’t tell you the number of times people call me sister or dada (when means sister in Swahili). People will refer to boys as kakas (which means brother). Countless times at the hospital I’ve seen nurses and doctors call patients mama (mom) or baba (dad). Even on the dala dala people will get up to let an elderly person sit and will say, Mama, and help them to the seat. I asked why they do this and it’s because they have the same respect for one another like a sister, brother, mother, or father. It’s quite lovely and really makes you feel safe for some reason. Tanzanian people are truly loving.
After I got to bond with her family we then took a dala dala to her home which was 30 minutes away. I had never been out that late on a dala dala. It was almost 9 at night. We got dropped off near a market and she insisted on buying me panties and a tooth brush for the night. It was so thoughtful and sweet. After buying it we then took a piky piky to her home. It was pitch black in her home and almost 10 at night. We used our phones for flashlights. She said we need to take a shower since we had salt water on us so she warmed up a bucket of water for me on the stove. She didn’t have a shower but in the bathroom there was a toilet in the ground. I poured the water on myself over the toilet hole in the ground. She let me use a kanga to dry off with and let me use one of her pajamas top.
This experience was so funny and different. I literally slept beside this woman with her pajama top on and the panties she got me. She said a night time prayer in Swahili and prayed how Catholics do. Even though I couldn’t understand everything she was saying it truly touched me. After that she said how even though she didn’t have electricity we could use her phone as a radio. She turned on her little flip phone to the local radio station and put it between us. It was Swahili singing and there was some static. H
owever, she began snoring within 10 minutes and I just laid there w i d e awake. I kept thinking, I’m in the middle of a village right now sleeping next to a lady I’ve known for a week in Africa. Life is too funny. When would that ever happen in America? I was in and out of sleep all throughout the night. We got up at 5:30am on Labor Day so we could head to the hospital. When we brushed our teeth we brushed them outside on her front porch. She also just threw her trash and spoiled food out her front porch. It was a very different way of living and was very eye opening to see. We then took the local transportation to Muhimbili. SO many people use public transportation to commute. It was mind blowing to me! Hundreds of people waiting in line to get on the ferry. There weren’t even enough seats so, so many people just stood by the cars on the ground level.

 

September 9th
Yesterday Florida and I went to Bongoyo! I promised her I would teach her how to swim more. It’s very sad how a lot of the native people in Dar have hardly been to the really nice places of Dar because it’s too expensive. I’ve been to Bongoyo once and it’s such a nice little island but she has never been and she’s lived here her whole life for 40 years! It costs 46,000 (almost $25) for me since I’m not a local and 26,000 ($15) for her. I told her it would be my treat for the day since she treated me last week! It was honestly so much fun! I couldn’t get in the water and swim because of my armpit but it was still very relaxing and fun. I loved just walking the shoreline listening to the seashells role down the sand as the waves came and went. While we were on the boat ride to get to the ferry we met a gentleman who was Portuguese. He was also 22 like me and was there working. He’s doing an internship for his masters program. He’s majoring in economics for undeveloped countries. Which is something that really intrigues me! He spent the whole day with us and it was honestly so much fun!

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Pedro!

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Honestly one of the best meals I have ever had. Florida ate the brain and eyes for me though, haha.

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Such a communal meal. An American, Portugal, and Tanzanian all at one table who hardly know one another. Great conversation.

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Mzuri sana Florida!


Him and Florida talked about football and he helped practice with her swimming since I couldn’t. We had a delicious lunch on the island. Florida taught me how the brain and eyes are one of the best parts of the fish. I trusted her opinion but couldn’t make myself try it. After the beach we got ice cream which was the perfect ending to my last full Saturday in Dar.

It’s just so amazing how God places so many amazing people in your life right when you need them. Florida made my experience in Oncology amazing and I am so blessed to be able to call her a friend. She’s such a strong and sweet woman.

I am going home!

My project with Lumos and Projects Abroad is about to come to an end, and home is coming. I am going home! No, not in the United States yet, but in Fuzhou China.

The beautiful city of Fuzhou, the capital of Fujian province of China. This is a city that is touched by the seas and surrounded by mountains with a rich history of Chinese civilization and is renowned for its fresh air and nature. Most importantly it my ancestral home, where everything started for me and my family.

In my culture, family is a big deal in life, perhaps the biggest. When someone turns 70, they will have a birthday celebration in honor of them. And that is what our family did for my grandparents. This is a big deal, my family members from everywhere in China and the United States flew back to Fuzhou just for this occasion so I too traveled back home.

It is always the best feeling when you come home to the warmth of your grandparents. It feels identical to going home in the US. Maybe because I have already accepted China as another home for me. My first task in Fuzhou is go to the small village where we all lived in since my great great grandparents. It is the village where my father is born. It is small but beautiful with blue sky’s and lush forests. The population there is very small, a lot of these folks immigrated to the United States like my parents. In this village, I learned more about my family’s history and felt more connected to my roots as I retraced the footsteps of generation and generation of family members.

In the afternoon, we descended from the mountain back to the main city of Fuzhou, where we currently live. After meeting and remeeting so many friends and family, the big event finally occurred.  The celebration of my grandparents is massive! Friends and families from near and far all dine and share stories and laughter. I wish my grandparents the best of luck and health, and I made a promise to them to visit as often as I can. Coincidentally, that is also what they wished for as they blew out the candles on their cake.

The journey back to Shanghai felt like leaving home. I wished I had more time to spend with my family and to learn more about my past. But strange enough, as I arrived in Shanghai, it also felt like coming back home. I guess home is where you love and home is something that can infinitely exist anywhere.

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Here is the “mayor’s” office in our small village home. This is also where we worship. There is temple dedicated to our family and community.

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Nothing is better than being with family; that is the best part of being home.

Lost in Heaven

There is an old Chinese saying, 上有天堂下有苏杭 (Shang you tian tang xia you Su Hang). This means up above us there is the Heaven, down here there is Suzhou and Hangzhou. This saying compares Heaven to Suzhou and Hangzhou; ever since ancient times these cities are renowned for its beauty and civilization.  Last week I visited Suzhou, so it is only fair to visit the beautiful and bigger city of Hangzhou.

Before Shanghai is the megacity as it is today, Eastern China flourished with the cities of Hangzhou and Suzhou. These two served as major economical and cultural centers of ancient China. Hangzhou has even been a capital of China once! Of course we know Marco Polo called Suzhou and its surrounding towns as the Venice of China, but Marco Polo adored Hangzhou the most. Marco Polo visited Hangzhou and fell in love. With the culture, people, and the West Lake. He vowed to come back again. Later in his life, Marco Polo came back to Hangzhou and even served as the mayor of Hangzhou for quite some time.

My journey to Hangzhou is a valuable experience. I woke up and rushed to the station, and in my tight time frame, I forgot to bring my phone charger! So for the entire day I was trying to save my battery (hence there are no pictures in this post). I also forgot my credit card which would come back to haunt me later. I had with me my backpack and some cash.

In Hangzhou, it was indeed  very developed and proud city. Hangzhou is the capital of Zhejiang province and is considered one of the cultural centers of China. When you enter the city, you feel like you are in any big Chinese city, except Hangzhou made you also feel the years of tradition it has. The main attraction is the West Lake. A beautiful and enormous lake that has attracted many visitors and inspired the works of many Chinese poets and artists. It is not as tranquil as Zhouzhuang, but it was more grand and full of history. I did my best walking through the famous bridges and along the West Lake. It is very big and in the center of the city, it is kind of like Central Park in NYC. One side of the lake you see the tall skyscrapers and the other side you sea dozens of mountains and the blue sky. During my stay, I also visited the site of the Longjing (Dragon Well) tea. The same tea that Emperor Qianlong, Obama, and Queen Elizabeth drank! Hangzhou prides itself with tea and tea plays a huge role in the history and identity of Hangzhou and Zhejiang province. At night, there was the spectacular “Impression West Lake” by the famous Chinese director, Zhang Yimou. This is a play that actually takes place on West Lake! The entire West Lake is the background decorated with lights and an incredible performance of Hangzhou’s traditions, stories, and memories in an East-meets-West style. This show is really something out of this world and needs to be seen to explain.

At the end of my journey, the trouble started. I spent ALL my cash very quick! Oh how I wished I had my credit card. I tried my best to arrive at the train station to catch my train to Shanghai, only to discover there was a problem with my passport that does not let me board the train. After a long time struggling (and no money), I managed to get a ride back to Shanghai but I had to wait A LONG time at the station. I waited, starving (skipped lunch) and thirsty. I had no phone, and no time either! I had to rush back to Shanghai ASAP to catch my metro home before it closes because I have zero cash for a taxi. This experience has been a valuable one. It has taught me first to be more careful, be more humble, and glad that I am bilingual. It made me come back to earth after I was lost in Heaven. It has a difficult journey, but in a way, I am glad it happened. In the end I managed to get on the train (no seat for me) and caught the absolute last metro home. Hangzhou has been a great and valuable experience, but Shanghai welcomed me with open arms and a warm bowl of noodles!

Shanghai 2017: Week (-3)

My journey thus far:

2014: I entered my freshman year at Belmont University with immediate intentions to study abroad. I was set on staying a semester in Seville for my Sophomore year, but due to several circumstances, it never happened. I also realized, my ability to study abroad diminished.

2015: I learned about the Lumos Travel Award and knew if I wished to reignite my passion to go abroad, this was my only second chance. So I decided to do everything to prepare myself for the Lumos award.

2016: One year later, I decided to put in my all for this award, and to my astonishment, I got the award! All of the time and effort spent on my preparation paid off! In 2017, I will be heading to my motherland, China.

2017: Wow, it is already April 15th. In 3 weeks, I will be en route to Shanghai . Everything is ready. Every requirement with Lumos and Projects Abroad (the company I am going to Shanghai with) is ready; and most of all, I am ready. I received my living residence, which is near the city center, and the location of my project. This project will be very crucial to me. It will be a test of my character, my love of helping others, and my future profession (nursing). I constantly go over my notes for my course in Pediatrics Nursing to try to find every skill and assessment I can use at the disabled children center I will be working at. In a way, I have been waiting for this moment since the beginning of my college career; to embark on a journey to discover the vast land of China through discovering my own identity while helping the disabled children discover more and more everyday. That is my goal this summer, and I am ready. The only thing in my way is 3 weeks of patience. Maybe this wait is also a test, but I just cannot wait to finish my exams and jump on that plane!

Inshallah

The idea of writing this final post has been, in a word, overwhelming. I have certainly struggled throughout this experience with how to best articulate all of the complex experiences I’ve had into accessible and engaging posts for this blog, but this is on a level all its own.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the recap.

This is the last post I will write regarding my life-changing adventure in Morocco. It is also the first post that anyone visiting this blog in the future will see. Embracing that duality, if you’re curious about any specific topics regarding my time in Morocco, here is an abbreviated list with shortcuts to the accompanying posts:

How much do you actually know about Morocco? Improve your knowledge and click here! You can also get my initial impressions here and here!

 
Want to learn more about the rationale and execution of my project in women’s empowerment? Click herehere, and/or here!

For fun travel reviews, click here and/or here. Morocco is a safe, welcoming, and economic travel destination for solo travelers as well as family vacations! Tourism does a great deal for their economic development too, so PLEASE consider planning a trip soon!

Curious about Islamist and/or Moroccan culture? Click herehere, and/or here for some personal stories!

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Above is the amazing local staff of my nonprofit, Cross Cultural Solutions. They were my encouragers, challengers, and protectors. But most of all, they were my dearest friends and confidantes in the volunteer house. Two of these staff members are former PeaceCorps employees, which was a terrific resource for me to explore as I continue to pursue next steps in postgrad employment. The other two staff members did not speak much English, which makes their friendships uniquely valued to me. These are people who have only communicated with me through a common second language. The reason this is so special to me is because I have a theory about how our personalities change based on how we are able to communicate in any given language. (I’m not the only one either... check it out!) In my first language, I can express a seemingly infinite amount of nuances and emotions. But that’s much more difficult to accomplish in a second, third, or fourth language. So to have been able to make friends despite the limited self-expression of a second language is quite meaningful to me! Overall, my wonderful experience in Morocco would not have been possible without these four incredible individuals.

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Cross Cultural Solutions is an exemplary nonprofit that I am grateful to have called my sponsoring partner in executing this project. If you have any interest in volunteering abroad, I strongly encourage you to investigate their programs on their website. They have well-developed programs working toward sustainable impact in Morocco, India, Tanzania, Costa Rica, Ghana, Peru, Thailand, and Guatemala. They provide excellent customer service before, during, and after their programs, and they do a particularly great job ensuring the safety of volunteers while abroad. Please feel free to ask any questions about working with CCS if you’re interested!

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Shukran bezzaf, thank you SO much, for being a part of this adventure with me. I was motivated that my women’s empowerment project indeed addressed a profound, ongoing problem in this country, and I can only hope that the work I did over the last three months made an impact on at least one person I interacted with. Education is the key to empowerment, and I am so grateful to have had the platform I did with so many different audiences to initiate these tough discussions. Sometimes it was difficult to change classes, but at the end of the day it was for the best. My impact was much further spread as a result. Please continue to share this blog with your friends, your family, and anyone else you may come across that could benefit from these stories. One of the primary goals of the Lumos fellowship is to continue to advocate and share about your experiences, maintaining an infinite cross cultural dialogue. So I invite all of you who have so kindly taken the time to read this blog to join me in pursuing that. Inshallah, or God willing, this is not where the adventure ends.

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Finally, in true Belmont fashion, I’ll conclude with some fun music recommendations of songs I couldn’t stop singing during my time abroad. Check them out! “Zina” by Babylone“Maria” by Faydee“Habib Galbi” by A-WA“Sahranine” by Carole Samaha, and “Kolly Melkak” by Sherine.

For those of you in Nashville, stay tuned for the date of my project presentation on Belmont’s campus later this fall. Looking forward to seeing you all soon! All my love!

A Girl Named Jihad

This is the story of my dearest friend here in Rabat. She is 20 years old, the second of three daughters. She lives in a cozy apartment with her family about 10 minutes away from me. She is a passionate economics major at the local university, and she speaks French, Arabic, Darija, and quite a bit of English. She loves the Egyptian singer Sherine, the color pink, and reading lots of books in her spare time. Last week, she was hired to her first ever job , which is a very big deal in a country with such a depressing unemployment rate. She is compassionate, curious, and wise beyond her years.

And her name is Jihad.

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Don’t worry, I did a double take too when she first introduced herself to me at the bus stop. “Jihad” is a word we’ve all seen and heard before, thanks to the frequent use of the term in the media to reference ISIS. The definition of “jihad” that we are most familiar with is that of a holy war.  Admittedly curious and taken aback by my new friend’s name, I decided to do some research... Did you know that “holy war” is not  actually the primary definition of the word? In fact, the way we use “jihad” is linguistically incorrect, as the proper word for war would be “al-harb”. Instead, jihad actually means to put forth a great effort. In Islam, Muslims can use this word to describe three different types of challenges that require great effort. The first and most commonly used meaning is the challenge of living out the Islamic faith in all aspects of life. The second is the challenge of building and maintaining a good Muslim community. It is in the third and final definition, the challenge to defend Islam, where the definition “holy war” comes into play.  All three definitions of the word are technically correct, even though they are not all equally used.

So to put this in a potentially more accessible context, let’s take the word August. When we hear the word August, it is safe to assume that we are likely referring to the eighth month of the year. That is the primary definition and most commonly intended meaning. However, the word can also correctly be used as an adjective to describe something or someone that is respected or impressive. The frequency with which English speakers use the word “august” to describe something impressive is about the same frequency as Arabic speakers would use “jihad” to mean holy war. While “august” is not an ideal example because it changes the part of speech for its two definitions, it is the best example I could come up with to illustrate my point. Plus, both words can are used as names, which is all too fitting toward the point I hope to make!

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When I first met Jihad, I didn’t know how to react when she introduced herself. But after my research, I felt guilty for my presumptuous concerns. Once I had properly addressed those concerns by seeking to rectify my discomfort, I felt as if I ought to re-introduce her to myself to make up for my ignorance. I imagine some of you may relate.

As I mentioned before, Jihad and I met at a bus station in downtown Rabat. I was waiting for my other friend outside of the hammam (bathhouse: an experience I thoroughly recommend) when she and her mother approached me to ask about whether or not the bus had already passed by. She was by far the most joyful person I had ever met, and I enjoyed chatting with her and her mother as they waited for their bus. About 20 minutes later, we swapped numbers and said goodbye. This is a common practice in Morocco, as the locals almost always go out of their way to make you feel welcome in their country. I never expected to see her again, but I was so grateful for her refreshing conversation and contagiously positive attitude. So when she invited me to her home for Sunday lunch two weeks later, I figured why not?

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However, I simply was not prepared for the onslaught of generosity, acceptance, and love that would envelope me during my visit. I spent five hours at their house talking, laughing, listening to music, and looking at old family photos. As Jihad told me to story of her aunt making the hajj (pilgrimage) to Mecca, Jihad’s mother insisted on sharing one of the prized dates leftover from her sister’s trip, along with a sip of water from the Zam Zam Well, which absolutely blew me away. Muslims believe the Zam Zam Well is the spring where God supplied Abraham with water for his son Ismail, and consequently it holds a tremendous amount of religious significance. The water is believed to be miraculous, with unique healing properties. So the fact that this family insisted on sharing their limited supply of such extremely sacred gifts with me, someone they know is not Muslim, was simply overwhelming. I do not think I will ever be able to articulate the raw beauty and humanity of that specific moment.

But the thing I appreciate most about Jihad is, without a doubt, her candor. I often forget that a language barrier even exists between us as we discuss the news, talk about our hopes for the future, and (of course) watch the Olympics! In fact, when the news broke that a Moroccan boxer had been detained for allegedly sexually assaulting two maids in the Olympic village, we had a fantastically cross-cultural dialogue about how the systemic double standards of sexual abuse translate in our respective countries.

These are the conversations that reminded me of the true range and value of our common humanity.

As I left Jihad’s home for the last time, I could not help but marvel at the insurmountable depth that her companionship has added to my experience in my last few weeks. She has inspired so many more questions and curiosities about the Islamist world, particularly anthropologically, all of which I intend to continue to explore  in adventures to come. Though I cannot help but be amused as I think back to how it all started... With a misconception of what is truly a beautiful name.

 

 

 

“What have I gotten myself into?”

“If at some point you don’t ask yourself, ‘What have I gotten myself into?’ then you’re not doing it right.” – Roland Gau

This is a comforting sentiment because I’ve had this thought nearly a dozen times over the past three weeks. The first time I thought this was when I turned away from my parents and walked through the first TSA line. Suddenly, waves of uncertainty and doubt washed over me. Without anyone beside me (for the first time in weeks – when you’re about to leave the country for six months, everyone wants a piece of you before you go), life seemed quieter. At first, this silence jarred me, but as I settled into it, I realized that being without anyone I knew allowed me freedom from distractions. I could adequately observe my surroundings for what felt like the first time in my life. The hustling of people catching planes, talking on phones and to others in English and other languages. The bored expressions on terminal employees’ faces. The smell of overpriced lobster rolls and other airport food. All of these details that had I been with someone, I would have missed completely, suddenly seemed so vital.

I remember one moment from my first few hours of travel distinctly. When I got off the plane in Newark and caught a shuttle to the other terminal for my Tel Aviv flight, I sat in a seat pointed inward on the bus. I caught my reflection in the window across from me, it was a girl with one overstuffed carry on bag and a fully packed backpack slung on her shoulders, sitting alone. And instead of being uncertain or scared, she actually looked like she knew what she was doing, this whole ‘traveling’ thing. I saw a person in that window that I hadn’t encountered before in myself, but she was me, alright. It was in that moment that my faith in where I was and what I was doing was restored. I liked seeing that new person in the reflection; she was alone but she wasn’t really alone because her companions were her observations and the people, places, and objects around her.

I met the true spirit of traveling on that shuttle. That is not to say that there haven’t been moments when I’ve lost track of the spirit, times when I’ve asked, “What have I gotten myself into?” and “What am I doing here?” The thing they don’t tell you about traveling is that as you experience new sights, sounds, and people, you simultaneously grow a newfound appreciation and perspective on your familiar sights, sounds, and people. Traveling is missing things you never used to think were special, like going to Grimey’s, a show in East Nashville, or walking around Hillsboro Village. More than that, it is missing the people you used to do those things with. It is craving a Poptart, even though you really never wanted them when you had access to them back in the States. Above all, it is wishing you could share every bit of what you are experiencing now with your loved ones back home. Telling them about it just doesn’t do it justice; you wish they could see what you are seeing in real time.

But traveling is also waking to a beautiful view of Beit Sahour’s* hills in the distance. It is walking up a nearly vertical hill in the already blazing morning sun to arrive next to the Church of the Nativity in Manger Square, and you’re only ¼ of the way to work. It is the smell of baking pita and shrak along the square. It is saying “Sabah al khair” to people you pass on Star Street. It is meeting new friends from Finland, Germany, and Bethlehem. It is refilling paint for your kids and swapping Arabic and English words with them as you watch them paint over cement blocks in the garden. It is picking figs and eating them right off the tree. It is the taste of fresh labaneh, olive oil, and thyme. It is listening to your Bethlehem friends talk about their experiences with the second Intifada and the 40 day siege on Bethlehem during their childhoods, about losing family members and friends, about how they used to hide from bombs and tear gas, about how all of this still affects them, and you go home and cry yourself to sleep because you don’t know what it all means. It is participating in an Arabic wedding, holding lit candles with the other women and watching men with canes and tarbooshes celebrate on the dance floor. It is walking home against the chilly night breeze, carrying Chinese leftovers, and laughing with your new friend group, some of whom you only just met the day before. It is sitting on top of the monkey bars on Wi’am’s playground at dusk, sipping luisa (lemon grass) tea while watching the last pink glow of the sun as it sets over the refugee camp next door.

Traveling doesn’t feel perfect all of the time; it is rarely comfortable. But it is rewarding to the soul. It stretches you to your capacity and makes you grow in places you didn’t know you needed expansion in. I feel that I cannot describe it quite adequately yet, and I haven’t got the tightest grip on it either. But I’m figuring it out.

 

Here’s some pictures from this week:

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*Bethlehem, Beit Jala, and Beit Sahour are three towns that pretty much blend into one another.