On Flourishing.

27 June 2018

This is Steve. 



Yes, Steve is a plant.

When I first moved in to this apartment a few months ago, I was happy to see the previous tenant had left a lot of plants.  I love greenery, it makes me feel calm and peaceful in a world filled with concrete. I was also happy to learn that my roommate already had found a great woman who would come help us take care of the place as we both work very long days. She comes a couple times a week and one of her responsibilities is to water the plants. 

But Steve (and this was before the plant was bestowed a name) didn’t seem to be thriving.  Rather on the contrary, when I walked in after a long day I would naturally look at the plant while unlocking my door, and he was always pretty limp, especially days in between the housekeepers visit.  For the first several weeks I didn’t pay much attention, I mean, it’s just a plant.  Not even my plant, really.  And it was still alive, if barely. 

But a few weeks ago, for some reason beyond human understanding, I looked at the plant and I felt a little compassion.  I thought, it must be a pretty horrible life to be almost dead every day, desperate for a drink of water.  To barely receive enough nourishment to stay alive, holding on tight, waiting with baited breath for the next time someone might throw a little water on you.  

And that day had been a rough one for me, too.  I was feeling like I wasn’t making any progress, like my entire day had been wasted for one reason or another, and all I felt I could do was lay on the bed and stare at the ceiling.  Not unlike the leaves of the plant that were laying limp on the ground.  

And I felt a bizarre emotional connection to the plant.  And I decided if I did nothing else productive in my time here in this country, I wanted to see the plant not just survive but flourish.  

So I dumped a whole bottle of water on him that day.  And just a few hours later, he really perked up.  So the next day I dumped another bottle of water on him.  And I’ve done the same every single day for the last few weeks. And look at him now. He’s thriving, flourishing, showing some new growth and new life and vibrant color and strength.  

And then my roommate and I named him Steve.  And I greet Steve every day as I come in, and give him another bottle of water.    

And it’s been such a simple, beautiful, visual cue for me every day to remember that Steve isn’t the only living thing that needs nourishment every day in order to flourish. I’m the same. 

And when I feel listless, limp, unable to produce new life and strength, it’s often because I haven’t been watered that day, or if I’m honest, for a few days.  Yes, I mean drinking actual water to nourish my cells, but more than that, some of that living water to nourish my soul, that was offered by the guy who came to give us life to the full.  

Maybe some people are like a cactus, and can go days or weeks without water and still flourish and grow.  I’m not one of them.  I’m like Steve.  I can go days between waterings and survive, but I’m limp and pale and weak and grouchy and rather pathetic.  Ultimately, it’s my choice to live like that, or, if I want to flourish, to open my heart to the Living Water every single day.  Why is it so easy for me to feel compassion towards a silly plant but not my own heart and soul and life?  

Maybe it’s just me, and I’m a weirdo for feeling a bizarre emotional connection to the wellbeing of this plant in my care, and you'll all wonder if I've really gone off the deep end. But even if that’s true, the fruit is flourishing, and for that I’m truly grateful. 


Monday, Monday.

18 June 2018

It’s June 18thand I just realized my wall calendar is still on May, and that feels about right.  I feel like I’m doing really well in some things, while falling far behind in some others, like changing my calendar!   So here’s some of the exciting things going on in my world! 

~~
Last week I finally received my final grade for my Master in Public Health research project; I submitted the 100-page dissertation over six months ago and finally they’ve let me know I got the equivalent of an A on it and I will be graduating next month with merit! This is the English school equivalent of graduating with honors or deans list.  I’m thrilled and glad it’s finally officially over.  I’ll get specific feedback on the paper in the next week or so, and then I can finalize it for publication in a medical journal. 

Of course, because I love learning and there’s so much more out there to study, I’ve already started looking at other degree programs.  They’re pretty expensive though, so I’ll probably take a break from paying tuition for at least a year! 

~~

I have mail!

Well, I haven’t actually gotten any mail yet, but I have an official post office box that allows me to get mail sent to me!  So let’s see if it works, shall we?  It’s a small box, so please only send letters and cars that are okay to bend, and we’ll see how it works for now.  They tell me they’ll hold packages, which would also be worth a try, but I’m pretty sure every package will be opened and some may not arrive, so keep that in mind. 

Krissy Close
PO Box 640
1000 Monrovia
10 Liberia

If you look at the top of the main blog page you should see a link to “mail” at the top, alongside “my story” and “bucket list” so you can always find it there. 

~~

Work is going well; settling in to anything new is a challenge, and it’s definitely had it’s ups and downs.  But over the last couple of weeks I feel like I’ve finally had some real wins and made some progress on a few things, which is really encouraging!  This week we participated in the international day of the African child event and my team did an incredible job.  We offer a training program for children called My Body is Mine that teaches them through story what is abuse and what is okay and what is not okay, and what to do if they or someone they know are being harmed.  It was really well received and I’m fielding requests for more training across the country! 

~~

I’ve been healthy so far, which I’m super grateful for, and here’s a fun fact: my immune system has always been pretty good, I’ve never really been sick all that often, but I’ve not even had a cold in almost two years.  What’s my secret? I’m crazy about hand hygiene, I’ve made a very conscious effort to stop touching my face (eyes, nose, mouth are all how germs get into the body from our nasty hands), and I take probiotics every day.  Either it’s some combination of those things, or I’m just really really lucky.  I also don’t have kids which are actual germ factories so I’m sure that’s got something to do with it.  But I’m grateful nonetheless and will keep doing what I’m doing as it does seem to be working for me! 

~~

That’s all for today. Monday morning, another week, another opportunity to try to make a difference here, to bring joy and light and laughter and hope to those who need it, to try to do the next right thing.  I’m grateful for the journey. Happy Monday, world. 

xxk

Intersections, even in the middle of the city, are a free-for-all.

A peaceful morning drive out of the city

This country is very green once you leave the city - it's beautiful! 

Three minutes.

16 June 2018

I had an encounter this week with immigration officers. 

I was doing literally nothing but sitting in a vehicle, waiting for my colleagues who were picking up a few supplies at the market. 

I was looking at my phone, mindlessly scrolling, when a tap on the window of the locked vehicle I was waiting in startled me and a glimpse the officer’s uniform only increased my already rapid pulse. I smiled and rolled down the window just a few inches; enough to speak and show respect but not enough for an arm to get inside, while sliding my phone in between the seats next to me, out of sight and hopefully out of mind.  I noticed in my peripheral vision that another uniformed man had approached the other window and I took a deep breath. 

I spoke first, a strong Hello Sir with another smile, and asked him how he was doing today; respect and courtesy in confidence is key.  He didn’t smile but did say helloand fine in response, before demanding to see my papers.  It’s the first time this has happened to me and I wasn’t entirely sure what he was asking for; I knew my visa was notexpired but my passport was back at home, while I had submitted my residency paperwork the week after arriving and haven’t yet received the official residency letter…  but my hesitation in responding only seemed to make him more animated. He reached for my door handle while strongly informing me it’s illegal for me to be more than 500 meters from my residence without my immigration paperwork. 

Thankfully I did indeed have my residency application receipt with me; I said confidently, sir, I do have my paperwork, and showed it to him through the window.  He looked at it closely, handed it back, and he and his colleague walked away. The whole thing lasted about three minutes.

It was startling, and surprising, and certainly got my blood pumping, but ultimately it was a few guys who were bored and thought they could probably intimidate the white woman into giving them some cash to leave her alone.  They underestimated my unwillingness to be intimidated, and the fact that I happened to have my receipt with me (which I hadn’t had earlier that week).

But as I’ve been sitting with and feeling the heavy weight of privilege, and seeing the headlines regarding immigration coming from my home country, and thinking about the heinous atrocities experienced by fellow members of the human race simply because of the color of their skin or their accent or their chosen dress, I realize it was a gift; a glimpse into the life of another.

I was harassed for sitting in a car while white.  I wasn’t hurt and it dissipated as fast as it erupted, so I would never dream of comparing it to the friend who is regularly harassed for flying while brown, the friend who was verbally assaulted for wearing a hijab, or the countless stories of others who are harassed for simply breathing oxygen while different.  

I never really believed I was in a dangerous situation, and I wasn’t, really.  But even so, I was surrounded, intimidated, and can now imagine how that situation could have escalated into danger much more quickly had the environment been different.  He was just trying to get some money out of me and gave up rather quickly when he realized it wasn’t going to be easy.  The fires of hatred I see being stoked daily across the globe aren't about money, they're about a desire to eliminate the existence of the perceived threat, and the definition of said threat is anyone who believes, lives, or looks different.   

And once again, I’m wrecked. 

I can’t handle that people live their entire lives in the fear I felt for about three minutes earlier this week.  I hate that I was made to feel like a criminal while I’m here giving my life trying to help; but I hate more that I don’t actually really know and never will truly understand what others who are different feel while they’re harassed and accused and questioned and distrusted regularly. 

And I’m sorry for my ignorance, my compliance, my diminishment and dismissal.  I want to know, to understand, to be aware and awake to the good and the bad and the ugly of this world I live in.  I want to feel the pain of injustice and then do something about it.  I want to respond to this incident not by becoming bitter or angry or rude or any other way I might be tempted to retaliate for how I was treated; I want to respond with love and service, laying down my pride and arrogance and privilege to instead ask the tough questions and somehow do justice and love mercy and walk humbly and learn and grow and empathize and then use every waking minute I can to make the world a little bit better.  This is how we counteract the darkness… not by yelling at it but shining a light into it. 


The weight of privilege.

11 June 2018

I’m feeling the weight of privilege today. 

Someone I know, we’ll call him David, texted me late last night asking if I needed any help around my house, as he was looking for a part-time job.  This is not an uncommon occurrence, though many people just go straight to asking for money instead of asking for an opportunity to earn money, but for some reason this particular request felt like a punch in the gut and I was surprised to find tears rolling down my cheeks. 

Maybe it’s because I know a little bit of his story… David is just a few years younger than me, and the majority of his growing-up years were spent in fear and hiding instead of in school. The brutal civil war raged from 1989-1996, years he should have been learning how to read and write and dreaming of what he wanted to be when he grew up but instead his mother had to hide him from the soldiers that liked to kidnap little boys, brainwash them into mindless killing machines, and send them out to destroy entire villages.  Rape and senseless murder of women and children was a common weapon used in the war. There was never enough food, no school, no opportunities to do anything other than try to survive another day.  

I can’t imagine what that life must have been like, and probably shouldn’t even try.  People older than me can remember what life was like before; it’s my generation that was robbed and raped and pillaged and plundered… because they were born here.  It’s so unfair.  I was born into my middle class midwestern family, I went to school and dreamed of what I wanted to be when I grew up and those dreams weren’t ridiculous.  I knew anything was possible.  

So now in my mid-thirties I find myself working alongside friends who should have every opportunity open to them like I do but they don’t, simply because of where they were born, something none of us have any control over.  David is considered a ‘lucky’ one because he does have a regular job and doesn’t need to hustle for food money every day; but I doubt anyone in the states would consider him ‘lucky’… he makes about $100 a month working four-day weeks as a security guard. Two other days a week he helps his sister in the market, trying to sell pineapples and papayas and anything else they can get ahold of to sell; it means long days in the hot sun for the possibility of earning a dollar or two the whole day. He has a wife that he loves and a few small children and is barely squeaking by to keep them in the house they are renting and rice on the table.  Meat is out of the question.  Soon the children will be old enough to go to school, and while primary school is ‘free’, they’re required to have uniforms and notebooks and other things that all cost money.  

David wants his kids to be able to dream and hope for a future that he never had.  

And the whole thing just makes me angry. His story is certainly not the only one; dozens, hundreds, thousands of my generation in this country have lost their futures due to circumstances well outside their control. What kind of solutions would you give him? 

Go back to school?  A fine idea, except it costs money.  There’s no such thing as student loans or aid programs here. 

Find another job? Doing what? He can barely read and write and can’t learn another trade without paying for it.  

So he’s asking me if he can come wash my floors.  He doesn’t want a handout, he wants an honest way to earn money to put food on the table and send his kids to school. And I’m wrecked. 

It’s not the first time I’ve wrestled this and won’t be the last.  I don’t have an answer, in fact I’ve spent much of the morning crying out for one. It makes me wish I had a little more money to offer; how privileged I am to be able to drop $2k on plane tickets a few times a year, to pay for an apartment that has electricity and running water and air conditioning and a security guard and extra rooms that sit empty most of the time.  Now I know I can’t just give up these things; I need to keep myself healthy to be able to do the work I know I’m supposed to be doing here. 

But I’m a natural problem solver and want to figure out the best most logical solution and just fix it… but if there was a logical, easy solution someone would have found it by now and we wouldn’t be in this place.  Nothing is easy; the big questions of life and why and privilege and blessing are huge and complicated and bring up even more questions and wonderings and anger and resentment and life is just so completely, ridiculously unfair. 

And it’s Monday morning and that truth is weighing heavily on me as I sip my coffee and eat the breakfast I never wondered if I would be able to have.  I don’t know what my role is in David’s life or any of the thousands like him that will cross my path in the coming months and years.  I don’t know what to do with this except to lift it back up with open hands and put one foot in front of the other and do the next right thing and whatever it looks like to bring heaven to earth, to him, to me, today and every day.  

--K 



On life abundant.

08 June 2018

Once I finally got back to my apartment this afternoon, I was totally spent. 

I had just come from a Rotary club meeting in the center of the city; an area of chaos I’d not yet driven that, to be honest, really intimidated me, due to the narrow, congested streets and lack of rules, enforcement, and recognized parking spaces. The meeting was great but as any other introvert will attest to, two hours of meeting new people and small talk is incredibly draining.  I was proud of my city driving; safe, yet just aggressive enough to be taken seriously, buoyed by the comments from my staff yesterday of “you drive like a man” or “you’re a truly African driver.” 

Two phone calls had come to me earlier in the day; harrowing stories of children in crisis from expats who had somehow gotten my name and thought I could do something to help.  As it turns out I’ve managed to make friends in high places and actually did have a few helpful actions up my sleeve; after only a month here on the ground I was amazed at what I could actually accomplish in a relatively short period of time.  But nothing is ever easy or straightforward here, and everything takes longer than we hope it will; these little ones are on my mind tonight and will be all weekend until we are able to get them into less tenuous, healthy places to live and grow and flourish. 

By nature I’m not a bleeding heart; I can really detach myself from most of the emotionality of my field of work, which is a tremendous blessing that I’m incredibly grateful for. If I had children or even longed for them, I don’t think I could handle the stories I hear, get the information I need, and relay it to the appropriate authorities with the almost-but-not-quite-completely detached efficiency required.  

But it does take a toll; the day was not quite over and all I could do was lay on my bed and stare at the ceiling.  The heat doesn’t help; by mid-to late-afternoon the wheels often come off and my productivity takes a nosedive.  Rainy season is upon us and there are fewer and fewer sunny days to be found, but today was one of them, with the blue sky beckoning out my window. I thought about how wonderful it would be to sip a fruity drink at my current favorite beach cafĂ©, with a book in hand until darkness fell. The rational, party-pooper side of me thought about the cost, about getting back in the car and facing the evening traffic, about sitting alone, and almost talked me out of it. But then the fun-loving day-grabbing joyful part of me said Krissy, you live within blocks of an amazing beach restaurant, where you’re guaranteed to enjoy a sunset, palm trees, sand, good food and service, on this one sunny day in the midst of what could be a dozen rainy days.  Why on earth would you say no to that???  GO!

So I did. And it was wonderful, just as expected, and definitely worth the cost and commuter traffic to get there.  I did think I could go sometime later this weekend… but what if it rained the entire weekend?  Why would I say noto such an enjoyable and potentially beneficial evening based on what may or may not happen in the future? 

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, with regards to my life.  I’m not a complete free-spirit; I don’t think the common millennial term YOLO (you only live once) is a suitably wise answer to life’s big questions and decisions to be made.  However, I do feel much of my generation and those before me focus too much on the future and not enough on the now, missing out on the gift that today has for them in pursuit of the happiness a certain dream fulfilled is certain to bring them… only it’s not.  Someone said on a podcast recently that you’ll never fulfill the expectations others have for your life;there’s always something more to achieve that somehow has promised us that fulfillment we’re all longing for… the college degree, the significant other, the engagement, the marriage, the child, the job or career, the big house, the club membership, kids in the right schools, kid’s successes as adults, grandchildren, retirement… and suddenly you’re looking back on a life of longing for that fleeting feeling of happy, contented wholeness. 

Sometimes I think similar thoughts about religion; so many faithful in the world spend far too much time focused on death and not enough on life. This might get me labeled as a heretic, but the Jesus I know about said He came that we might experience abundant life here on earth, not just a triumph over death, and I don’t know about you but I want to experience that abundant life, life to the full, every single day I’m gifted the opportunity.

So yes, I’m going to drink fruity drinks at the beach when it feels like that’s the next right thing in the pursuit of life to the full.  I’m going to take every opportunity to see the world, to love others, to hold on to those I love, to fight for the children in crisis that come across my path, to make the world a little bit better today and whenever I leave it than it was when I came in to it.  If I found out right now I have a year to live or ten or fifty, I wouldn’t change a thing.  And if it rains tomorrow, I’ll have no regrets about how I spent today. 

xxk

Beaches... and redemption.

04 June 2018

I love the beach.  

Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I practically grew up on water.  The first time I saw the ocean I was sixteen; until then this north-midwestern girl had only seen the sea on TV, in movies, and in tropical beach calendars.  I remember that first visit feeling somewhat magical; a spring break trip filled with many ‘firsts’ including my first plane ride and the first time I saw palm trees that weren’t growing in a bucket in the mall. Somehow they’re still magical to me, too. 

But never could I have guessed at sixteen that in the next twenty years I’d have the opportunity to stick my feet into dozens of oceans, seas, and other exotic bodies of water. More than that, I’ve sailed across them.  I’m a ‘royal diamond shellback’, having sailed over 0’0’ (latitude-longitude) and have lived on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of North America along with both the Atlantic and Indian coasts of Africa.  The Indian ocean is especially memorable; the beaches surrounding Madagascar some of the most beautiful I’ve ever experienced; with the Sierra Leonean Atlantic a close second.  The penguins at Simon's Town in South Africa, surfing in Biarritz, France, the needles of pain before numbness settled in while wading in the frigid waters off the Washington State Pacific coast in January. 

Not every memory is magical. A few years ago I was on the beach with some friends, traveling along in a sand vehicle, when we stopped in a deserted area to let some air out of the tires.  Suddenly two men came out from behind a dune, and my first thought was they must want to see if we need help.  How wrong I was.  They could have been cast members in a “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie, lean and strong with scraggly long dreadlocked hair, gaping teeth, ripped and tattered shorts, and large weapons in their hands.  One with a machete and one with an axe; the girls were screaming, I was frozen, the men were yelling, they grabbed at us and took whatever they could get ahold of, including ripping off my necklace and searching my pockets for a phone, cash, or anything else of value.  Then they let us go.  

A few seconds after we had continued on our journey the full force of what had just happened hit me and I fought for the next several hours to not completely fall apart.  I could hardly speak and my tongue was bleeding from clenching my jaw so hard to keep it together. When I finally could let it go, I sobbed.  It was, and still is, one of the scariest things I’ve ever experienced.  I had trouble sleeping that night; fear was having its heyday, causing me to wonder if maybe I needed to go home or to consider a different career path.  

I knew that night that this could be a life-transforming event that might alter the trajectory of my entire existance… but, stubborn as I am, I decided right then, after getting out all the tears within me, I didn’t want it to be.  I had every right to be fearful and no one would have questioned an emergency return home; but fear is not the boss of me.  I was scared to go to the bathroom that night but I went; the next day, everything in me wanted to stay far away from the beach, but knowing I couldn’t let fear win, I went anyway; we intentionally walked the beach (far from where this event happened).  My earnest prayer became please let this just become that one thing that happened that one time,not something that requires years of therapy and a career change

And thankfully, that’s exactly what happened. Fear is not the boss of me. Love is the boss of me. 

It didn’t happen overnight; it took awhile for beaches, especially in that part of the world, to regain their magical properties.  But it could have been so much worse. We were not physically harmed, they could have taken our vehicle but they didn’t, and somehow their eyes were blinded to the fact that our backpacks, with cash, electronics, and passports, were under the seat we were sitting on.  Now I’m more careful with what I carry with me, and I only wear jewelry I don’t care about when I am on this side of the sea… my grandmother’s diamond necklace stays safely packed away back home. 

These last couple of days I spent at a beach resort about an hour and a half from where I live. It was so nice to unplug, and I spent quite a lot of time on the beach, which brought all of this back to mind.  While I love the beach, there is still a check in my spirit, an extra vigilance that wasn’t there before, and I don’t think this is a bad thing.  A little bit of fear; in the room, but not allowed to make decisions for me, does invite an awareness and acknowledge that not all is right with the world.  I welcome that little nagging wonder, as it brings me to my knees, either proverbially or literally; it opens my eyes and ears to things both seen and unseen, it brings forth a whispered prayer of protection and guidance where I might not otherwise be inclined to pray.  I don’t think that could ever be a bad thing.

Thankfully, beaches are still magical places, as I find myself continuing on the adventurous life. They’re still places of healing and rest and beauty, something to look forward to and explore. They’re a testament in my life that fear doesn’t have to rule and reign, and any darkness can be made light again, that nothing is outside the possibility of redemption.  

Simon's Town, South Africa



On celebrating.

31 May 2018


I blinked and somehow it’s been a month already.  

In that weird way that time works, it feels as though I’ve been here forever and only since yesterday, at the same time.  In most respects, my assimilation into this place and role has been nearly seamless; a sliding effortlessly into place, coming to rest in a comfortable-yet-always-uncomfortable place understood well by global workers.  

When I moved to Boston I started to write down things I was grateful for; after living overseas nearly a decade previous to that, things like getting into my car and driving wherever I want, and buying whatever I want at the grocery store, anonymously, then going home and cooking it when I want towere amazing, wonderful things worth noting and celebrating.  Drinking water from the faucet, always knowing my Starbucks drink will be reliably delicious, and being able to run alone whenever I wanted were also some of the celebrations that came with living stateside. 

So it’s no surprise as I think about things I miss, they’re some of those same things. I miss running whenever I want to; runs here must be timed perfectly, to be late enough in the day to not wilt immediately from the heat but not so late as to be outside the security of the concrete-and-barbed-wire walls that surround my housing complex after sunset. I miss fresh milk, and not being stared at or taunted when I walk anywhere.

But thankfully the list of things I’m grateful for is longer than the things I miss, most of the time anyway.  I love seeing palm trees out every window of my apartment.  I love drinking the water from a fresh coconut just down the street, and West African pineapples are the best in the world. I love how friendly people are here, kind, welcoming, and open.  I’m grateful to have the beach close by, and a wonderful roommate, and work that I really like and feel is important.  I have access to a super nice vehicle, my staff have been so gracious with all of my millions of questions, and my boss is about the best boss I could ever hope to work for.  

It’s not all been easy; there’s been tears and frustrations and hurt and asking myself what the heck was I thinking, but even there, beauty has reigned.  Friends who write just the most perfect words, or prayers, or songs at just the right time.  Messenger laughs and emojis and waves and photos, celebrating the wins of the day.   Phone conversations that remind me of who I am and what I’m really doing here. Sipping Turkish coffee while watching the waves crash on the shoreline, the breeze keeping the mosquitos away, breathing deeply and grateful for the present moment. Getting lost for a few hours in a book. Amazing fish tacos, right down the street. A good workout with an encouraging coach. 

There’s so much to be grateful for.  One day I woke up feeling rough, and so my goal for the day was to be kind; only good could come from that, and anything else that got accomplished would be icing. Well, that day turned out great. Another day I wasn’t sure I was going to make it, so I decided I was going to be grateful regardless of what decided to happen that day. And it was a doozy, with plenty of fires to put out and problems to face, but when you’re looking for the good you’re pretty much guaranteed to find it.  There is something, every day, that is worth celebrating.  Of this I am sure.  It’s just up to us to look for it, find it, and celebrate it.  

Today I’m celebrating a great conversation that put some of my staff on the same page.  I almost didn’t take the time to do it, but I’m celebrating that I did and it was great.  On top of that, I had a productive meeting with a government official, and I got May’s finance report in and May isn’t even done yet! 

May we each find something to celebrate today, and every day.  xxk




Workin' it.

24 May 2018

Just a quick random story!

I am part of a local expat forum and had seen announcements for a boot camp fitness class followed by a spin class. I like both, and know I'm a much happier and nicer person to be around when I'm getting regular exercise, so I decided to give it a shot.  The classes were much cheaper than at the one big gym in town; that gym costs $289 per month for classes and gym usage, and while many expats can afford that on an embassy or UN salary, I certainly can't!  So I thought I'd try this other place.

So I pulled up with all the bravery I could manage, not knowing anyone or even where it was really.  First off, the guard at the gate had run off to buy some water, so I sat outside the gate waiting to get my vehicle in for a good three or four minutes - the whole time wondering if maybe this was a bad idea all around.

Entryway destroyed in the war

Abandoned fountain outside

When I finally got in, I had to be led to the right staircase, which wasn't clear.  The building was built in 89 and was once really fancy, you can tell, but was destroyed in the war and hasn't been rebuilt.  It was owned by one of the previous president's families, I guess, and the building was important to one side in the war, and it's destruction important to the other.

Anyway, it's still pretty sketch, and I'm walking up these steps literally wondering if I'm going to make it out alive....





Then I get up to the room, and they've done a great job fixing it up - new floors, windows, and some ceiling fans and lights... but honestly, not really up to par with gyms back home, so it felt a little disappointing.  It was also really, really hot, with no air conditioning.  I was the only one there, because nothing ever starts on time, and even though I know that I still show up early and end up waiting around.  A few other people eventually wandered in, but the whole time I'm standing around thinking this was a really bad idea and I'm probably not ever coming back.

But then things turned around.  I found out the story of the place, and it's a locally-owned business and they're just trying to get it off the ground, and they were all some of the nicest people I've ever met. They were so encouraging, and kind, at the same time as being forceful and kinda pushy, getting us to push ourselves outside our comfort zone.  Everyone was encouraging and so, so nice and fun to be with while sweating more than I've ever sweated in my entire life.

Trainers extraordinaire!  (I told them to look mean... but they aren't)

And what once felt like it might have been a terrible idea turned out to be one of the things I've loved the most so far in my time here.  Amazing people, awesome workouts, and I'm getting used to working out in the heat!  I look forward to going every Monday and Wednesday!   So moral of the story is... first impressions aren't always right!

Thumbs up for a great workout!

(PS if you're local and want more info, comment on this blog. All comments are kept private unless I choose to share them)

On losing it.

19 May 2018

I couldn’t find my key this morning.  

I put it on a chain around my neck when I went for a run last night, and would have used it to come in from my run and lock the door behind me, so I knew it had to be somewhere in the house.  I went directly into the shower after my (extremely sweaty) run, and I would have had the key in my hand from locking the door after coming in.  I always leave my keys in the same place, so when I went to grab them to head to work this morning, I found my car keys right next to my sunglasses I was also wearing while running, but the key on the chain I wore around my neck? Not there. 

I must have set it somewhere else in my post-run deliriously hot and sweaty state.  I scoured, I pulled my bed apart, I looked under everything and in every nook and cranny it could have ended up. No luck.  Our housekeeper came today, so I told her on my way out to keep an eye out for a key on a chain and assumed she would find it during the day as she’s a really thorough cleaner. 

Nope.  

After a long day and a long week, to come home to a missing key (we had an extra so I could still get in)… well. Let’s just say, it wasn’t pretty.  People tell me all the time how brave and strong I am, and this story is for them. I fell apart. 

I started pulling the place to pieces, retracing my steps again and again and yet again, thinking I must have missed it the first dozen times I looked.  I looked under everything and around everything and even pulled up the mattress in case it slipped down in between it and the bed frame. As I’m doing this I’m getting more and more upset; the tears start to burn in the backs of my eyeballs as my jaw clenches and my inner self-talk goes from it must be here somewhere to what is wrong with you to you are a complete and utter disaster, an embarrassment to the human race, you can’t even hold on to your keys, and you think you’re going to have some noble role in transforming a nation? What a joke! You’re a fraud and an idiot and a poor excuse for a friend/roommate/international worker/humanitarian/human. 

Over a misplaced key. 

Honestly. 

Then I sat on my bed and cried.  It was no longer about the key, but missing home, and friends, and hugs, and familiarity, and comfort.  It was about suddenly feeling the weight of responsibility and big decisions and frustrations, of feeling incompetent and needing to ask a million and a half questions every single day, of not sleeping well and feeling hot all the time and all the other stressors and pressures building up over the last few weeks… within the disorientation of losing something that’s pretty important, that I’ve never lost before in my life, and apparently highlights my overwhelming ineptitude in regards anything meaningful and worth doing.  

Well, thankfully, this is not my first rodeo and I could see that my reaction was far, far, far out of proportion to the triggering event. I could see there’s something bigger here, deeper, more fundamental to my identity that was at stake, so I stopped. Just stopped.  Stopped thinking, looking, crying, panicking, and felt the weight of the accusations against my identity and calling… and said no.  

I will not let you talk to her like that. 

Someone said to me one time something that has been incredibly important through the years of this journey: if you talked to your friends the way you talk to yourself, you wouldn’t have any friends. 

And sometimes I have to remove myself from myself to see it… putting my hand up to silence the mean part of me, the one that wants to tear down and defeat and destroy.  I will not let you talk to her like that.  What would I say if it was a friend having this meltdown in front of me? It’s a key.  It’s easily replaced. You are not a failure as a human or a roommate or any of that other garbage.  You’re human. And logically, it has to be here somewhere, because you’re not locked out on your run.  You can handle moving across the world and meeting presidents and prime ministers and speaking to thousands and a million other awesome things… how does losing a key destroy all of that? It doesn’t.  It doesn’t. 

And with that little pep talk to myself and a quick chat with a friend, suddenly the whirling stopped and the seas calmed and all was well and peaceful again.   

And a few minutes later, I found the missing key. 

And I’ve decided to share this for one major reason: ten years ago, this might have taken me out for a week.  I would not have stopped the self-hatred and destruction, and there would have been hours of tears, not the minute or two there were today.  I know I’m not alone in the familiarity with the shame spiral; in fact, I don’t know any woman with whom I’ve had a close relationship that couldn’t relate in some way or another to this story and the feelings within.   

The line, I will not let you talk to her that way has been critical in my personal growth and freedom from the shame spirals.  The whole thing this afternoon lasted less than ten minutes; in the past it would have been much longer, and maybe someday it won’t happen at all.  But the darkness does not win today, not even close… and once again I’m grateful I can feel because it means I am alive.  

This isn't the key I lost, but one I keep close to remind me of who I am. 




Life without rails.

17 May 2018

Last weekend I had the opportunity to participate in the close-of-service conference for the current batch of Peace Corps volunteers just finishing up their two years of service to this country.  A room full of incredible stories of leaving comfort behind for the adventures of living in mud houses, hauling water, grading papers by candlelight, and investing in the future of this nation. They had all served as teachers; many of them never having taught before and likely not ever teaching again, and all of them standing on the edge of the precipice, ready to take the giant leap into the next season or next adventure or next right thing for their lives and their stories. 

These conferences always include a panel of former volunteers to talk about life after Peace Corps, and I’ve had the privilege of offering my two bits of wisdom in several different countries. It always brings back fond memories of my own COS conference; the excitement of the next thing with the grief of leaving the place that had become home. I’ve adventured quite a lot since then, living in and visiting dozens of countries and working in multiple fields, and every time I tell the story I think once again how grateful I am for the journey. 

The panelists rotated around to one of six tables, taking a few minutes to share their stories and then answering any variety of random questions from the current volunteers. After I had shared my story in a nutshell; studying science in college, then Microsoft, Peace Corps, Mercy Ships, Disney, Mercy Ships, University of Liverpool, Harvard, and now my current work, I fielded several standard questions and then was thrown a twister.  The current volunteer asked something along the lines of,

So when your career derailed, from science to business to health to social justice and policy, how did you handle that? 

I understood the question and thought it a great one, and after considering it for a few seconds, I replied, 

Your life can never be derailed if you don’t have any rails in the first place. 

I went on to explain that if I had a career path decided long ago and had set my heart and mind and focus on achieving that one thing regardless of what happened, that would be like putting down rails.  And rails aren’t bad, most of us have them.  But when life happens, and your plans derail; there’s a job loss, or an extended illness, or the economy tanks, or you just find you don’t love it, that could be a tragic, life transforming event that throws  everything else into chaos.  That’s what he was asking about, how to navigate that derailing. 

I’ve never put down rails in my life.  Way back in college I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to have fun doing it.  I’ve never been able to really answer the question of ‘where do you see yourself in five years’ and I admitted to those Peace Corps volunteers that I still don’t have any career aspirations whatsoever.  When I’m asked the question now, my answer is, I will be doing good, somewhere in the world. I never would have guessed this is where I’d be now, and I’d never presume to put God in a box and decide what my future looks like.  

When you have no rails, then that career change isn’t a tragic life-transforming event; it’s a fun new adventure, an untamed field to explore. When you have no rails, there’s no reason to be miserable just to make it to the next level.  I need to be doing good, leaving the world a little bit better than when I came into it; I want to have fun doing it.  I want to do cool stuff, and I want to write about it. I want to share my experiences, to help others see outside of their own stories to the global story unfolding on earth.  I want to keep learning and keep growing and keep trying to do more and more good in the world… because I don’t know what the point of all this is, if we aren’t loving and serving and breathing life and bringing light and hope and freedom and joy to those who are in need of it. 

It’s unorthodox, to be sure; this life without rails can be a wild, sometimes scary adventure that is dependent on a whole lot of faith and obedience and trust… and laughter, and courage, and joy, and gratitude beyond measure.  To those volunteers, and to anyone else standing on the edge of the next big thing; consider the possibility of following your heart, or your calling, or your dream, instead of your career path.  It’s not necessarily always going to be the right thing, or the best thing, but it is a possibility.  And I’ll tell you, in my experience? It’s awesome.  My life is incredible and I wouldn’t trade it for any career path in the world. 


My friend Alex and I in front of the national, US, and Peace Corps  flags at the training center

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