Posts Tagged With: friends

Travel Journal: The City of Lights

I’m in Madrid, Spain at the moment. I shouldn’t be.

I bought bus tickets online to go to Barcelona at 9am…on May 18th, the day we arrived in Madrid. So I’m sitting here at a McDonalds on Calle de Francisco Silvela, Madrid until my new bus, that I had to pay full price for, leaves at 1pm.

The only good thing that comes from my idiocy is the time to write this post. My pain, your gain. You are all welcome.

Paris. The City of Lights.

I was in Paris 14 years ago. I studied abroad the summer between my junior and senior years of high school with the Indiana University Honors Program in Foreign Language. I spent seven weeks living with a host family, speaking ONLY French and taking French classes in St. Brieuc, France. We flew out of Charles De Gaulle so the last two days we were given free rein to roam Paris. Not knowing the next time I might return, I tried to do everything. I went up the Eiffel Tower and wrote my name in sharpie along with hundreds of thousands of others. I raced through the Louvre to see Venus de Milo and the Mona Lisa. I loved every second looking at Degas’ paintings in the Musée D’Orsay. I strolled through the Gardens of the Musée Rodin, admiring the Thinker, of which I had made a mini-replica for French class the year before. And finally, I walked around the manicured gardens of Versailles. Unfortunately, the palace was closed for renovations so I wasn’t able to see inside.

I had no real desire to go to Paris again. Been there, done that. There are so many places to see in the world and so little time! But I was meeting my 20-year-old brother, Mark, and Paris was the cheapest place for him to fly in to.

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At the airport. 1st photo.

I wasn’t broken up about it. This was to be his first trip abroad and everyone should really go to Paris at least once in their lives if they have the means. It is Paris, after all.

I arranged my EasyJet flight from Venice so that I would arrive an hour and half before Mark who was flying Icelandair from Orlando, with a very short layover in Iceland. Although his flight from Orlando was running late, he was still able to make his connection and magically his luggage arrived too.

It had been 10 months since I’d seen him last, but he looked pretty much the same. He had the backpack I’d bought him for Christmas and wore a brave face, though I knew internally he was quaking. It’s a scary thing to really travel for the first time. Fortunately, he has a well-traveled, confident, and, if it’s not too far-fetched, inspiring big sister to, in a very Type-A, control-freak fashion, control the minutiae of the three week journey.

Our first obstacle to navigate was getting to our hotel from Orly. We stayed in TimHotel Berthier, conveniently located right next to the Port de Clichy metro station. First we had to squeeze into the Orly Bus and then switch metro trains a couple times, but we arrived in tact.

Our hotel room was small but really nice- by far the nicest I’d stayed in up to that point. After settling in, we set out to explore the city.

Remember my friend Sarah? She came out to Mozambique for my 30th birthday. Well, a couple days before I arrived in Paris she contacted me and asked what my itinerary was. Then she decided on a whim to come and meet me in Paris. She was staying in a hostel about half an hour metro ride from us. That was the first thing on the to-do list- meet up Sarah. Second was to eat dinner.

We found Sarah easily enough and quickly settled into a cute little restaurant. We ordered our meals. Mark ordered steak tartare. I really wasn’t paying attention, too involved in my own choice of onion soup and salad. Sarah noticed but didn’t say anything because she knows me and I’m a fairly adventurous eater so she thought it might run in the family.

Well, fortunately, it does. The unexpected pile of minced raw meat arrived and Mark didn’t blink an eye. We had a good laugh over his ignorance of what he ordered, but when the server offered to switch it out for something cooked, Mark refused. He ate every single bite of that mass of blood, red beef. He admitted that he only did it because he knew I would make fun of him the rest of the trip if he didn’t (his bad luck, I still have :).

From there we walked to Sacré-Coeur and then on the opposite end of the morality IMG_2749spectrum, the Moulin Rouge. Sarah would have been happy to stay out all night, Mark would have gone along with anything, but I am a total stick in the mud. Eleven o’clock rolled around and I was ready for my nice, warm bed.

The next day found us on the metro. We had a bike tour scheduled with Fat Tire Bike Tours for 10am. We left a full hour ahead of time even though Google maps told me it was only a half hour. It was a new public transportation system to figure out and I hate to be late. One hour and fifteen minutes and four trains later, we arrived at the Fat Tire Office. I blame Google maps! I had typed Fat Tire Tours Paris into the search and it decided I wanted to go to Paris. Just Paris. It was a couple trains later when I realized we were headed in the completely opposite direction. From that time on, I decided to use the maps in every station to guide me rather than unreliable, tricky Google maps.

I called the Fat Tire when we I realized we would be late, but they were great and the tour waited for us. I’m so glad it did because we had an amazing time. The weather was fabulous. Our guide, an American-raised, Frenchman, was knowledgeable and entertaining. We covered so much ground in four hours and I, at least, felt oriented to the city (Mark was just along for the ride).IMG_2770

After the tour, having a better idea of the various things to see, we made a plan of attack. That night Mark and I walked up the stairs of the Eiffel Tower. We were about to make our way down whIMG_2816en thousands and thousands of lights started sparkling across the Tower. There was an audible gasp, which I heard first before seeing the lights and I admit my first instinct was TERRORIST…but it was just lights so that was cool.

Full day number two was an early morning start, once again with Fat Tire Bike Tours (because we liked them so much the day before) to Versailles. This time I convinced Sarah to go with us. She’s not much for early mornings on vacation, or physical activity, but she does like hanging out with people so that was the clincher. With a group of around 12-13, we took the train to Versailles with our Canadian guide and got our bikes. Then we spent an hour going around the market buying supplies for a picnic. The tour was, once again, fabulous. Weather-amazing. We visited Marie Antoinette’s hamlet, built in 1783 to resemble her home country of Austria. We had a leisurely ride through the outer gardens and picnicked beside the water. The tour came with a fast pass into the castle. We took advantage of that and I finally was able to visit the palace! It has some great history and I loved connecting the history of the monarchs with the movies I’ve seen and books I’ve read about them: Man in the Iron Mask, Reign, Marie Antoinette, the Three Musketeers, etc. Obviously, those are mostly fiction but using the guise of people who actually existed and walked the same halls I was walking.

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Marie Antoinette’s hamlet

The following day was originally intended to include an early morning visit to the catacombs but it was May 8th. Not ringing a bell? May 8th is Victory in Europe Day! I heard that there was going to be a military processional on the Champs-Elysees that morning. Mark and I decided the catacombs would probably still be there but how often would we be in Paris on May 8th?? We arrived early and had a great vantage point near the Arch de Triomphe to watch all the diplomats with their flags proudly waving on their Mercedes, Peugeots and Renaults. The American ambassador drove by in the only SUV we saw in the city- a Chevy, of course.

Finally, the French president brought up the rear, with the window rolled down waving at the spectators. He was followed by the cavalry decked out in their awesome FrenchIMG_2873 uniforms, with long hair hanging from their helmets. Pretty cool.

From there we walked to Notre Dame (all the metro stations on the Champs-Elysees were closed for VE Day). It was very far. Then we walked to the Louvre. It was practically empty! Two days before on our bike tour the square in front of the famous pyramids was packed with people queuing to get in. I bought online tickets to avoid that but there was really no need. There was no line and we roamed through the massive museum unmolested.

We attempted to hit everything really famous and visited Napoleon’s rooms, which I hadn’t seen previously. Mark is a pretty fun person with which to visit a museum. He doesn’t bore easily. And we were able to have fun commenting on the works of art. But I started to feel rough about half way through the tour- stomachache. I needed to sit every couple of rooms. It was a serious drag. I wish we could have stayed longer but my stomach was draining any fun out of the day.

I wanted to go back to the hotel and stew in my misery, but I had another rendezvous. This time it was with another Peace Corps friend, Levi and his girlfriend. When I was in Italy I saw Levi post a selfie in front of Notre Dame and so I messaged him to see if he was still going to be in Paris when I visited. Turns out he lives there. So the answer was yes…and no. I hadn’t met up with him earlier because he decided to take that same weekend to go to Scotland. The nerve!

Fortunately, he agreed to meet me right after putting his luggage in his apartment. He lives in the cutest neighborhood that hosts two of the top 50 bars in the world, Candelaria and Little Red Door (according to www.world50bestbars.com). We visited both of them. They were cool; I indulged in water only since my stomach hurt, but the water was definitely topnotch.IMG_2914

I hadn’t seen Levi in the seven years since Peace Corps ended. It was awesome to reconnect, hear about what he’s been up to and meet the lady who stole his heart. Sarah, Levi and I relived some of our more memorable stories and reminded each other of things the other had forgotten. We stayed out until midnight and then raced to the metro to make it back to the hotel before metro stopped running.

And that was Paris. The next day Mark and I took our last metro train to the Orly bus, this time experts in Parisian public transportation. We left in the early afternoon for Nice, but that is another story…

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Goodbye: To Say or Not to Say

I sat outside our island’s small airport. People milled around; women hoping to sell flowers to relatives awaiting the arrival of their loved ones, men lounging in their cars or clumped together talking. There are always more people at the airport than the tiny strip that allows one twelve-passenger plane at a time dictates. But there they were. And there I was too, at 7:30am.

I was waiting for a friend. We’ll call her Rachel. She had told me she’d be there at 7:00am. So I arrived at 7:30 to be safe, you know, Africa time and all. She arrived at 8:00am… We all wore smiles as she checked her luggage and got her boarding pass. I gave greetings all around the airport as many of the employees are former students of mine. Then we walked back outside together and said our last goodbyes before I headed off to work.

Only God knows what the future will bring, but I will very likely never see her again.

We met just about a year ago. She was very pregnant and scared. At only 19, she had lived the life of someone much older, she told me. She was a “club girl”, something mildly acceptable in America, but not at all in this Islamic culture. She smoked, drank and partied every night, dancing into the wee hours of the morning. She became involved with a foreigner but when he found out she was pregnant there were no more phone calls and he even moved houses so she couldn’t find him! When I met her, she hadn’t heard from him in 7 months. Almost completely alone, with nowhere to turn, when she was invited to study the Bible with some of her “club girl” friends, she jumped at the chance.

Within a few months she had wholeheartedly accepted the good news of Jesus. And she believed in his promises of provision, peace and joy. With nowhere to go after she gave birth, she went into the hospital with hope. The day after the baby was born, the father “Will” came to see them. He invited her to move in with him so they could be a family. It was a complete miracle for which she praised God.

Life has not been easy since then. It never is. She’d alienated herself from her family during her party days. When she accepted the Lord and began to change her life her former friends turned tail. As a young mother she struggled with a baby. Her cesarean did not heal quickly. The baby cried…a lot. She was lonely, in her home most of the day. She longed for a way to make money, but she had never finished school. Yet through all the struggles she held onto her faith and was the first to point out the goodness of God. She was quick to tears whenever we opened the Word together. It spoke to her in ways she couldn’t even explain.

Then my team left the island for a month. Upon returning I couldn’t get in touch with her. She wouldn’t answer my messages. Every time I passed by her house, it was all closed up. I feared the worst. She and Will had broken up. She was living with her sister, unhappy and abandoned. Then on Monday night, returning from the beach, Rafaela and I asked her neighbor if she was traveling. “Not yet. She’s traveling on Wednesday.” What? We walked by her house and the door was open.

“Rachel!!!” We yelled, past the gate. She let us in and I asked immediately, “We heard you’re traveling on Wednesday. Is it true?”

Incredulous, she asked, “Who told you that?!”

“The lady next door. Is it true?”

“No. Not Wednesday. I’ll be traveling Thursday.”

“Where?” I’m excited for her!

“[The country of her boyfriend]”

“How long?”

“Indefinitely.” My face fell. Indefinitely? How can she leave me? And then it hit me like a brick in the face. I sat there staring at her silently. She wasn’t even going to tell us! If we hadn’t passed by her house at that moment, when the door happened to be open, we could have missed her. She wasn’t returning our phone calls. She hasn’t told any of our mutual friends she was leaving. She would have slipped away without telling anyone but her family. Why?

This is not unique to her. This is island culture. I have had many friends, already in the short time I’ve been here, leave and not tell me until they were gone. I’ll get a call from a French island number. When I answer I find out it’s one of my students. They won’t be coming to class anymore because they’re now living illegally on the French island. I can surmise why they don’t share this information:

  • They don’t want to be shamed in case their travel plans fall through (they don’t get the visa, or if illegal, they’re caught by French police)
  • They don’t want to be cursed. Jealously is huge here! As are curses and jinxes. People genuinely fear having their plans ruined by malicious neighbors, “friends” and even family members.
  • They don’t like goodbyes? Maybe they’re emotionally uncomfortable with the finality of saying goodbye so it’s easier not to?

Though I have been saddened by the departure of previous friends and students, Rachel’s leave-taking really hit home. She is someone I really love and into whom I invested a lot of my heart. God knew I needed to say goodbye. I would have been devastated and deeply hurt if she’d left without telling me.

I am now working on being happy for her. I truly hope she finds contentment and joy in her new home.

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Six Types of Friends You Will Have While Living Abroad

If you’ve lived abroad, you know that friendships with people at home change. I’ve now lived an extended period abroad twice and I’ve noticed some patterns with my friends back home. I love all my friends and I appreciate them and the idiosyncrasies that make them who they are. Purely for entertainment purposes I present to you:

 

The Six Types of Friends You Have While Living Abroad

(Friends at home)

 

Facebook Friend
facebookfriend

Maybe you were really good friends at one time but circumstances and life have brought distance to your relationship. Maybe it was a college friend and now that the days of flip cup and Kings have passed, you just don’t have that much in common. Maybe you were friends of convenience, forced together by a mutual group of friends. Whatever the case may be, this a friend that, in all likelihood, you will never see again. But thanks to Facebook, you will know when they get married and have kids and they will know when you’re on vacation on a tropical island swimming with dolphins and riding on the backs of elephants.

 

Out of Sight Out of Mind Friend
dory

This friend is busy. They are probably pretty popular too. They are focused on the here and now. They are great friends—when you are right in front of their face. They are busy being a great friend to everyone who didn’t have the gall to move to some godforsaken country halfway across the world. So unless you reach out, you will not hear from them. But do not despair, if and when you return, they will incorporate you back into their lives like you were never gone.

 

Nothing Changed Friend
nothingchange

This friend was probably already a distance friend to begin with. They may have already lived in another city or maybe another country so for them nothing really has changed. If you were a good distance friend at home, you’ll probably continue to be one when you live abroad. You still Skype or chat on the phone, send Buzzfeed articles to each other, watch the same TV shows and converse about those and generally just continue a good friendship with no hiccups.

 

Adventure Monger Friend
adventure

This friend can sometimes fit into multiple categories. Maybe you are good friends, maybe you’re little more than acquaintances. But you can count on this friend to visit you whether you’re in the Siberian tundra or the Sahara desert and definitely if you’re living on the island of Tahiti. They love to travel and they love to travel with someone who knows the area and can give them the inside scoop.

 

Out of the Woodwork Friend
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These friends are interesting. You may not have even been friends at all when you were at home. Maybe you met them just before you left. Or maybe they were co-workers or the friend of a friend but since you left they have come out of the woodwork! They email, Skype, write letters and send packages. If you need, they’ll give you money. You may or may not remain friends when you return but while you’re abroad, they are awesome.

 

Above and Beyond Friend
goodfriend

Most likely this is a friend who has lived abroad as well. Or it’s your mom. If you need to talk and it’s 3am their time, they will talk. They want to be up to date on anything and everything that’s going on in your life. You have toe fungus? They’ll research how to get rid of it. Then they’ll express mail you what you need. You are craving Oreos? They will send Oreos. Nothing is too much for this friend. They love you and know how hard life is and they will do anything humanly possible to make your life a little better.

Friends come in all shapes, sizes and personalities. I thank God each and everyday for my friends and how they have, do and will enrich my life.

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Is it Worth It?

I write letters to all of my financial supporters at least every three months. I appreciate them so much and letter writing is one of my ways to show it. This morning I wrote a letter to my supporter, former roommate and my friend Rachel. She was my first financial supporter and has been a prayer warrior on my behalf from the beginning. When I first began the support-raising process, she was the greatest encouragement to me. I wrote a post about her last March called A Little Bit of Sunshine.

While this is a little unorthodox, I thought I’d give a glimpse into my letters as well as what I’ve learned this weekend. Rachel- you get to read your letter a little early.

Dear Rachel,

(in the middle) Rachel and Laura at my 26th birthday

Do you remember Laura? She came for my 26th birthday when we went to Café Istanbul. She got married this past weekend. I got to Skype with her right after she’d got her hair done. I was so honored that she wanted to talk to me on the day of her wedding. Then she told me that if I was in the states I would have been one of her bridesmaids. It was the first time she told that and so I started crying and she started crying. And when we hung up I couldn’t get over it. I was missing one my best friend’s weddings! I was missing getting dressed up, getting my hair did, my nails, the pretty dress, the limo ride, the champagne, the dancing. And I looked at myself. My henna-tinted nails with dirt underneath, my sweat-soaked clothes that are starting to get holes from the hand washing, my unstyled hair that is falling out in clumps for some inexplicable reason, my dirty skin—and I thought is it worth it? Seriously. Is it worth it? Even as I put on a smile because it was also Abby’s birthday and I played the hostess as the women of the team came over for dessert and a movie, my thoughts were on what I was missing out on—not what I was enjoying at the moment. Because in the moment I was not enjoying it. I was preoccupied with myself and what I wanted. I hid in my own self-pity.

Yesterday, Sunday, we listened to a podcast about First Peter on suffering for being a Christian. And I was ashamed. I hoped to get solace but all I got was shame. The people Peter was writing to were suffering. The examples that the speaker used of people being raped and tortured because they were Christians—that is suffering. I cannot identify with that. When have I suffered because I am a Christian? Some former friends have distanced themselves from me and talk about me behind my back. They make fun of me. Is that suffering? No! I don’t even care! I pity the small-minded person who can no longer be friends with someone because of their religious convictions. I don’t despise them. I am sad for the conversations they miss out on by only surrounding themselves with like-minded people. My atheist, agnostic, Jewish and Muslim friends challenge me. I do not suffer when my friends abandon me because of my beliefs.

So what makes me suffer? Dengue made me suffer. My interpersonal relationships, as you well know, have caused me grief—interpersonal relationships with other Christians! My family causes me grief and sorrow on occasion. And missing out—missing weddings, births, birthdays, Christmas, 4th of July, graduations—life! I’m missing out on life! Is it worth it?

My teammates- beautiful saints 🙂

Yesterday night we had a special prayer service at my house, four hours of concentrated prayer. As the night began and we were instructed to still our hearts before God, I began writing in my journal. Do you know my first question? Is it worth it, God? Am I just a masochistic adventurer? I know it is God’s Will for me to be here but does that make it ok that I miss out on so much? Should that knowledge stop my heart from hurting? As we moved through the night from praise to confession to thanksgiving to worship, my attitude began to shift. My focus left myself and I began to remember and be overwhelmed by the greatness, love and mercy of our God. I looked around at my team of beautiful Jesus-followers and then I began to question God again.

What did I do to deserve this honor?

Why do I have the privilege to be in a foreign land and lift Your name high?

Why have I been so honored to sit among Your saints and fall down before You in worship, to intercede for a people who do not know you?

Is it worth it became replaced by You are worth it all.

I love you and miss you. Give my love to your family and our friends.

 

Love Always,

Jess

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Idle Brains and Busy Tongues

It was my 7th birthday party. Twenty little girls clamored to get on swim suits before we drove over to the YMCA to swim on a freezing January day in Virginia. My best friend, Courtney, was riffling through her bag when my arch-nemesis, Molly, walked up behind her and asked if she could borrow a pair of underwear because she’d forgotten an extra pair.

“Why did you bring two pair of underwear?” Molly asked.

“Because I’m spending the night here and I need two.” Courtney responded. Unaware of my presence behind her, Molly began a tirade against me as only as only a 7 year old can, because she hadn’t been invited to spend the night. Who was she to think I was a meanie?!? She is the meanie!

ImageFast-forward to my freshmen year in high school. As a an awkward, skinny and shy 13 year old, I stood in the back of the bleachers on the stage in our auditorium during our choir rehearsal. On the alto side of the stage, girls started whispering and like wild fire the whispers passed from girl to girl until it reached the soprano side where I stood. The tall girl next to me looked down at me and said, “Missy says you’re a lesbian.” I felt the eyes of 40 girls resting on me for my reaction. I just stared straight ahead. It wasn’t until hours later, on the phone with my best friend, that I allowed the torrid of emotions to be unleashed. I cried for days and begged my mom to let me transfer to another school.

Unfortunately, gossip, rumors and name-calling aren’t something that ends when we grow up. As a teenager and into my 20’s I was always so curious about what people thought about me. I would grill friends on what someone had said about me. I would eavesdrop on conversations that were none of my business. I would wait to open a door to see if people were talking about me. Years of hurt feelings, anger and tears have taught me that listening to what people say about you behind your back is masochistic. And many times they do not even mean what they’re saying.

Of course, I have not only been on the receiving end of harsh words. I will never forget my sophomore year in high school. I was sitting outside my piano practice room with a girl I thought was really cool. I wanted her to like me and be my friend. She asked me about the boyfriend of a friend of mine; my friend was practicing piano down the hall. I launched into a comic description of the boy. Everything I said was truthful but it was also very hurtful to my friend, who, unbeknownst to me, was listening to our conversation from her practice room. Those few misspoken words ended our friendship. She never spoke to me again and transferred schools the next year (not because of me).

Class of 2003

My high school class

There is a sinking feeling when you hear someone say something negative about you. But I do believe it’s worse to find out that a friend overheard or somehow knows what you said behind his or her back. It’s like a ball of lead settles in the pit of your stomach. The guilt is overwhelming. Gossip is painful.

“The sharp tongue is the weapon of

envy and malice. It hides under the

mantle of truth the dagger of

vindictiveness. The trouble with

gossips is that their eyes are never

open and their mouths never shut.”

-Edgar A. Guest

Clove Island has a serious gossip problem. Born out of envy and boredom, it wreaks havoc. Several months ago, I was cooking with two island friends. They were both angry with the women sitting outside our door. They went on a diatribe which culminated in the oh so serious accusation, “Elles sont curieuses!” (They are curious). It’s true. Every time I leave the house I am bombarded with questions.

Where are you going?

What are you going to do? Shopping/work/exercise??

Where is Abby? Etc.

Oftentimes, returning to the house sparks even more questions.

Where are you coming from?

Who were you with?

What did you get?

Did you bring me something?

This seems very normal to me. I am a strange looking, strangely acting foreigner. I’m not married. I don’t live with my family. I don’t have children. I’m pretty old by their standards. Of course they are curious. What does this stranger do everyday? Why is she here? So they watch and ask questions. And they talk…all…the…time. I hear “Jessica” constantly throughout the day. Jessica, blah blah blah. Jessica, ladidadida. I have no idea what they’re saying…yet. I don’t care. They will say what they want to say. If I do something completely culturally inappropriate, I do hope someone will have the courage to tell me to my face. But if they want to talk about how big my butt is (seriously, this was a topic of conversation) or what I ate for dinner yesterday, why should I worry?IMG_2121

I do worry for my island friends, however. Jealously and envy have reached epidemic proportions and spur on much of the gossip. One close friend no longer comes to our home. She gave an innocuous reason but after a discussion with a mutual friend, I am convinced she no longer visits because of the hurtful things she heard my neighbors say about her.

Friends that come must have tough skin. While I can’t understand the conversation that bubbles from outside my windows, they can. And often it concerns them. Women, who know nothing about them, other than they’ve befriended the neighborhood mzungu, pick them apart. Where I used to be quick to invite new friends to visit, I am now cautious.IMG_1747

I am by no means a Clove Island cultural expert after five months here. However, I have gathered the crippling nature of jealously that sparks gossip. It stops an individual from being different; it stifles creativity; it harbors hard feelings and adds to mistrust; it creates an air of secrecy and promotes division. It is not healthy.

“Gossip is the meanest child of an idle brain and a busy tongue. Gossip is the result of the lack of anything worthwhile to say. Gossip is always ready to damn the reputation of him who dares to be different. Gossip is something most folk will listen to but for which no one will assume responsibility.” Robert O’Neal

“Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” James 3:5-8.

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Can I Ask You a Personal Question?

Last night I visited my friend Lilly at her shop. I met her several months ago when I was looking to buy a toy for one of the children in my host family. I had wandered past her shop several times on the way to my teammates’ house and seen a myriad of plastic toys displayed outside, from miniature cooking sets to little cars and planes. When I walked into her shop, she said, “Hello, what do you want?” in English. And thus began our friendship.

Lilly and her husband, Sam, both speak English well by island standards. He studied English while at university abroad and she uses it when she travels abroad to buy merchandise for her shop. They spend their evenings at their shop, usually together, but their days are spent working in different government offices. So once again, by island standards, they are quite well off. Lilly even has her own car!

I enjoy sitting on the porch of their shop in the evenings. We speak a strange mixture of local language, French and English. We discuss everything from politics to religion. Islanders do not have the same conversational rules that we in the West are used to. No topic is off limits. Arguments are frequent but they are never heated.

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Single ladies at the celebration

It had been several weeks since I had seen Lilly. Two days ago I missed three calls from her. I was at a neighborhood celebration and had not heard her calls. I thought she was calling to see if I was going to English Club in the capital that evening. We had been going together every week, but I had missed the last two weeks because of my dengue and her husband won’t allow her to be out that late alone. This was the third week I would miss but I felt my presence was more necessary at the celebration. Yesterday, I texted Lilly to apologize and explained where I was the evening before. She said she just wanted to give back some books she’d taken from my leader’s English book library but she would be traveling this week to pick up new merchandise for her shop. I agreed that I would go to her shop that evening to pick up the books. And so I began to prepare, in my mind, the speech in local language I would give her when I saw her.

Image

A visiting neighbor

You see, Lilly knew I had been sick. The first day of my fever I’d texted her that I couldn’t attend English Club because I was too sick. She texted back her apologies and wishes for my quick recovery. Week two, while I no longer had a fever, I was still very weak and most nights I was asleep by 8pm when English Club began, so once again, I begged off due to my illness. And yet, she never visited me. If you remember my previous post, throughout the life of my fever, every neighbor and friend i have came to visit me. They came with their advice on how I could get better, which was annoying- but they came! Lilly didn’t come. And while visiting a sick person at their home is not a cultural norm where I’m from, it is here and my island persona was somewhat hurt by my friend’s absence.

When I arrived at her shop, I walked up the stairs and blurted out: I need to talk to you. You didn’t visit me when I was sick. Why? I was sick for a week! I thought I would die (exaggeration) with dengue fever but you didn’t come.

It pushed the limits of my language ability but I said it all in local language and she understood and responded likewise, telling me that she hadn’t realized I had dengue. She thought I just had the normal adjustment sickness- a little fever, a little upset stomach, some fatigue- that all foreigners get when they come to the island. If she had but known, of course she would have visited. So I was appeased and we began discussing how sick I’d been and all the gritty details. She sprinkled in advice for what I should have done and what I should do next time I have dengue, God forbid! Then she stopped, grabbed my arm and said, “I need to ask you a personal question. It’s none of my business. You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to.” I told her to continue, “You are alone here. You don’t have a husband to take care of you when you are sick. Do you want to live like that? Don’t you want someone special in your life?”

I starred at her. Little did she know how her words reflected almost exactly my own sentiments. On February 22nd, the first day of illness, my Facebook status read, “It’s times like these that I really wish I had that special someone. With a 103 fever and headache/bodyache extraordinaire- it would be nice to have someone whose job it is to take care of me.”

It was a little eerie, actually. I’d pushed these thoughts away after wallowing in self-pity for several days. And here they were again, spoken by an island friend who had no idea how close she was to the truth.

As I sat in her shop, I had over an hour to think about an answer because right after she asked a customer interrupted us and then another and so on. But at the end of the evening, when they were about to close, she sat next to me and said, “You never answered my question.” I took a deep breath and told her that it was difficult. I knew coming here in the first place that it would be difficult. I’d wrestled with the reality of being one of two singles on our team. I’d written about the topic before leaving the comforts of my American home. It’d had been my top concern in accepting a position here. And the differences between having a spouse and not have been most manifest during illnesses. Yes, I admitted, it can be very hard.

BUT, I knew the sacrifice I was making before I came. It has not come as a surprise. While my single friends at home continue to date, get engaged and get married (one friend has gotten engaged and two friends have gotten married in the four months I’ve been gone), I know that my place is here. God has a plan for my life and it wasn’t to stay in Atlanta, GA and surf for dates on match.com. That empty place in my heart will never be filled by a human relationship that is outside of His will. And right now His will is that I live a single life on a speck of volcanic rock in the middle of the ocean. It is an infinitesimally more fulfilling life than I could create or chose for myself, single or not.

There will always be hard times. We have never been promised a fairy tale life, free of pain and loneliness. I will get lonely (especially when I have dengue!). But our loving Father is full of mercy and compassion and He is the one who gives meaning to my life- no earthly relationship can compare.

Lilly, wide-eyed, nodded her head at me. I’m not sure what answer she was looking for but she certainly got more than she bargained for.

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Twenty-Eight Years Later

I love birthdays. I love to bake delicious cake, create invitations, decide on a menu, and select the perfect present. Gift-giving is one of my love languages so birthdays are a very natural day for me to show love.

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Celebrating my 25th birthday with the cake I made for myself

I have a love/hate relationship with my own birthday. It’s difficult to explain why; I’ve tried to verbalize it on many occasions and generally failed. I’m not sure I quite understand myself. I’m somewhat of a control-freak so I generally plan and execute my own birthday plans, not because I want to but I have a deep seated fear that if I don’t, no one will. Over the past couple years this has looked like a birthday dinner that I arranged with a few close friends. Inevitably I feel disappointed that I had to plan it myself. Except perhaps in infancy (when everything is a surprise), I’ve never had a surprise birthday party and secretly I’ve always wanted one.

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Singing at the birthday event.

I’ve been examining these thoughts for the last couple weeks, turning them over and over again in my mind as my birthday approached. A couple weeks ago I was invited to a special cultural event that was celebrating a young girl’s birthday. The event itself is a discussion for another time but I was struck by the importance that was put on the guests. There were perhaps 50 women seated on mats. They sang verses from their religious book and foodstuff was passed around. Coffee was served to each seated guest. And at the end of the ceremony, a gift bag was passed around to each guest that contained a soda, some packaged cookies and candy. I was delighted. First because junk food is hard to come by here and secondly because it was like a light bulb went off over my head. I felt so honored to be a guest. It was apparent that my presence was desired-not just mine, but each guest. It was as if the girl’s mother, on the occasion of her daughter’s birthday, was taking the time to say thank you to each invitee for being a part of their lives. I contrasted this with what I generally expect to feel after my birthday and why I am so often disappointed. I have always looked at birthdays as a time to celebrate me. Tell me I’m important. Tell me how much you love me. Show me how much you care.

This year I made a choice to approach my 28th birthday with a different attitude. This year I wanted to celebrate my new island friends, those I am so happy to have met and with whom I have shared this life transition. And so I chose to throw myself a birthday party- my version of island-style.  I would serve plates of food, a mixture of island party food and some American favorites; I would show a movie and as guests left they would receive a gift. All I expected or wished for was their presence.

I could have never imagined the outpouring of blessing that came from this simple decision to view my birthday in a less selfish light. It began when I casually mentioned to Aisha* that I was going to have a party and I was wondering if at our next language lesson she could help me word the invitations since the French they use for invitations is more formal than I am used to. She arrived at our next language lesson with the invitation completed, printed up with clip art included. I definitely teared up a little at her thoughtfulness.

When I passed out the invitations to my 10 closest island friends, my homestay sisters and Abby’s homestay sister asked if they could come over earlier on the day of the party to help get everything ready. Of course!

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plates of food

The past couple days I have been gathering the necessary supplies: paper plates, sugar for brownies, butterscotch candies, napkins and corn kernels to pop. Yesterday (my birthday) dawned and after FaceTiming with my family and one of my closest friends (the one Fairy Tales was written about), I swept and mopped our floor then headed to my team leaders’ house to hang out for lunch (and special birthday cookies!). I made my way back to my town and began baking brownies and popping popcorn.  Abby had already made cookies while I was in the capital with our team leaders so those were distributed to plates.  (Cultural note: we’ve learned that you must predetermine how much food each person gets to ensure that everyone gets some. If you do a “buffet style” the first couple people may take all the food. There is no concept of rationing yourself to accommodate other guests. If the host didn’t make enough food for everyone- shame on her.)

Our host sisters showed up and I immediately put them to work. I sent them out to the market to buy peanuts and more snacks for their gift bag. When they returned, they roasted the peanuts and we packed the bags. I put aside 10 plates for my invited guests and then we wrapped 12 plates in plastic wrap to deliver to neighbors and send home with guests to share with their families. I asked An.D.* if I should deliver food to the neighbors before or after the party. She advised before. If I waited until afterwards they would think it was the leftovers. So Abby and I set out. I had prepared a speech in local language: “Today is the day I was born. Here, I want to give you this gift.” I practiced it over and over again with my host sisters before I went out. It’s much more complicated than it sounds in English, I promise!

The neighbors were very happy and I received countless bisous (the French cheek kisses).

Upon our return, we rearranged the living room to be theater style and I set up the projector I’d borrowed from our team leaders. I turned on the computer, plugged in the speakers and then, we waited. My two neighbors who are literally seconds away (one is downstairs, the other immediately across the alley) were only 17 minutes late. They came bearing gifts! Jasmine flowers for my hair and rings for my fingers. Another 15 minutes passed and more guests began arriving. Everyone had dressed up for the occasion. (Another cultural note: according to African Friends and Money Matters, “In Africa the general rule is that people dress for others, not for themselves…Being properly clothed honors the other persons[1]). I felt very honored.

Food plates were distributed, soda was poured then I gave a short speech, which is very much expected. It was mostly French with some local language phrases thrown in whenever I knew how to say something. The movie of the night, Spiderman, was started. We watched it in English with French subtitles as most of my guests are fairly well-educated, so they speak, read and write French and semi-English speakers. There were gasps and laughs at proper places and some laughs from the three men in the room at, in my mind, improper places like when the Green Goblin gives Spiderman the choice between saving Mary Jane and the sky car full of children. How is that funny?

When the lights came back on my friends spontaneously starting singing Happy Birthday in French, then again in local language and then again in English. Once that was finished, my host sister began singing an original song in local language, one she had composed for me. The chorus was well known and the whole room joined in singing in French that they love me and want to hug me! (Click here to view 2 minutes of the song). I was so touched. Each person then brought me a wrapped gift and we finished the evening with taking pictures. One of my friends is a wedding videographer and he’d brought his video camera. While everyone wanted their picture with me, then men were quite taken with one of my neighbors so they also wanted their picture with her! I told them she is engaged, but they didn’t seem to mind.

As my friends filed down the stairs I gave them each a gift bag which now seemed a very small token in comparison to the love and gifts they had lavished upon me. I was extremely humbled by the entire experience. Here I thought I would be a selfless, generous friend, inviting people into my home, providing them with food and a gift on my birthday! These same people who sometimes cannot afford the $1 taxi fare to come to our town, gave me with their presence, their time, their creativity and their gifts. This wealthy American, who thought she would be generous, was humbled on her birthday to see true generosity in her African friends.

*Names have been changed.


[1] Maranz, David E., African Friends and Money Matters. Dallas: SIL International, 2001. Pg. 173

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Destination Wedding

I don’t really like weddings. I haven’t for many years. To be more specific, I don’t like the concept of weddings. Probably in part, I’m a tinsy bit bitter but mostly it’s simple practicality. Weddings are a colossal waste of money for everyone involved, but especially the bride (or her parents). And with half of marriages ending in divorce, even in the Christian community, the pomposity of a large wedding seems such a waste.

But as I get older and attend more of my friends’ weddings, I must admit, they are a whole lot of fun, at least for the guests. Once again, the bride seems to get the short end of the stick, having to plan everything, set-up, organize and then stress about whether her guests are enjoying themselves. Obviously, having never been a bride, I can’t say for sure, but it does seem an enormous hassle and expense for little reward.

I spent this past week in the Dominican Republic at my first destination wedding. And it was awesome! A vacation and celebrating a friend marry their love, what could be better?

My friend, Trina served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Dominican Republic where she met her now-husband, a Dominican. It was a destination wedding by necessity, so that his friends and family could attend. She and I worked together in the Atlanta Peace Corps office before she moved up to work at headquarters in Washington D.C.

Me and Trina in Atlanta after we won a scavenger hunt.

Obviously, a destination wedding is something that must be planned far in advance so I have known for months that I would attend. I had the option for a “plus-one” and I’d invited a couple people but for various reasons neither could come. So, story of my life, I boarded the plane at Ft. Lauderdale alone bound for Santo Domingo.

But this time, Trina and her dad were waiting for me when I got off the plane. And from that point on, I was incredibly well taken care of by the bride and welcomed by her family; the lack of a “plus-one” went unnoticed.

Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic, was “discovered” by Christopher Columbus in 1492. I say “discovered” because of course there were natives on the island that were subsequently massacred by guns, germs and steel. It was the first capital of the Spanish empire in the new world. We stayed in the historic district and were wowed by walking down the oldest street in the Americas and peering into the ruins of the oldest hospital. We ate dinner across the plaza from Diego Columbus’s residence when he was governor the Indies (which at the time included all of Hispaniola, Cuba, Jamaica, Puerto Rica and the Caribbean coastlines of much of Central America and Colombia.

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At the ruins where the wedding took place.

 

The wedding ceremony was held in what was left of the oldest cathedral. It was beautiful. And hot. It was to start at 11am. However, like much of the developing world, they run on their own time, in this case, “DR time”, so it began around noon. We had parasols to keep the sun off and the programs had been made into fans, which all the guests used incessantly, creating a breeze to cool the sweat dripping from our faces. When the time came, it was a beautiful ceremony. Trina’s sister officiated while a family friend translated into Spanish.

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The woman answering her phone.

 

Keeping perfectly with Trina’s personality, it was not overly formal and involved some laughter, especially when the best man stood up and his suspenders popped right off! I was also a little appalled, but by no means surprised, when one of the guests cell phone rang in the middle of the ceremony, and she answered it!

The reception was an interesting study in culture as well. When the salsa, bachata and merengue music came on, couples entered the dance floor and shook their hips. A few brave Americans gave it a go for a song or two. The minute a song in English came on, all 19 Americans ran onto the dance floor, standing in our normal circle, jumping up and down and waving our arms around, looking to the rest of the world like crazed maniacs, while the Dominicans sat primly in their chair looking on with amusement. Then came the cake cutting. Once again, all the Americans stood around in anticipation and not a single Dominican got out of their chair. My iPhone was poised to take pictures as Trina cut into…foam. The entire three-tied cake was made out of foam! And not the edible kind, if there is such a thing. Something had been lost in translation with the wedding planner. Apparently, this is the norm in the DR. You have a decorative cake, made of foam, for show, and a sheet cake in the back for eating. Surprise!

ImageThis was followed by the bouquet toss, which I won! Do you win? Only to be informed that whoever got the garter would be expected to put that on me. Hold up…what? Have I missed this at every other wedding because I didn’t care what happened after the bouquet was tossed and I didn’t get it? I waited, in mild horror, as the garter was tossed and a young boy caught it. A brief argument ensued between bride and mother-of-the-bride as to whether this child should put the garter on me. Thankfully, reason, propriety and the bride won. It was decided no.

The reception ended in the early evening and we returned to the hotel to prepare for the next adventure. Most of us were accompanying the couple on their honeymoon to an all-inclusive resort on the coast called Grand Bahia Principe.

The following morning we all piled into a bus and enjoyed the two-hour ride along the coastal route to our destination.

I always fancied myself an adventure tourist. I like adrenaline-pumping fun, like white water rafting, zip lining, snorkeling, surfing, hiking, etc. I also like eating the local food, staying in cheap hostels and trying my hand at living like the locals…or so I thought. After two nights at an all-inclusive resort my expectations of what makes a good vacation may have been permanently altered. This was pure pampering. The property was dominated by a huge swimming pool to which my room faced. You could swim up to the bar where all drinks were included. The beach was right next to the pool, dotted the straw-topped cabanas under which guests lounged in beach chairs. There was a bar at the beach. There was always a buffet available. Three times a day, the large buffet opened but the snack bar was open on the beach and the burger joint was open by the shops most of the day. On top of all this, the “animation team” had activities going throughout the day. I played bingo (and won a kilo of coffee), darts, foosball, beach and water volleyball and an interactive game called “Tuti Fruiti”. They also had pool, ping-pong and board games for guests. Each night the same animation team put on a show. Once the show ended, the discotheque opened and rocked out until 2am. There was always something going on but you could just as easily do nothing but lounge and sip on cocktails all day. THAT is a vacation.

Day one began with all of us overindulging in everything! It was a smorgasbord of excess. I couldn’t have wiped the smile off my face if I’d wanted to. How had I never done this before? The food was amazing, the staff was friendly, the games were fun, the sun was hot and the water cool.

And then came nighttime. I went to bed after a short visit to check out the discotheque, where the only music they played required Shakira’s hips. Two hours later I was up and sick. Then like clockwork, every hour and a half, for the next 7 hours, I was up. It was terrible. I managed to crawl to the buffet hall the next morning, only to be nauseated by the smells of food emanating from the buffet. I took one small piece of bread and sipped on water. I didn’t feel right the remainder of the day but I still managed to have fun, despite not being able to indulge in the abundant food selection. I tried my hand at the dart competition and could barely lift the dart, let alone throw with any accuracy. Most of the day I just laid in the sun, until it got too hot, then I moved to the shade.Image

I was the first to get sick, but by the end of the day people in our group were dropping like flies. We’re not sure what it could have been, but four days after I initially got sick, I’m still feeling the effects. This morning was the first time I have actually felt hunger pangs rather than a bloated, full feeling. Thank goodness; it was very unpleasant.

When I’d planned this vacation, I booked two nights because I needed to get back home for work. With the government shutdown, I didn’t have a job to return to but I also don’t have a paycheck to sustain that lifestyle. So while I wish I could have stayed longer and enjoyed all that was offered, it is good to be home and get back into “Africa-preparedness mode”.

In conclusion, I do not retract my former position of practicality-that weddings are, in general, a huge waste of money.  Sometimes, though, it turns out to be worth it (from a guest’s perspective, of course).

Categories: Pre-Departure | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Day Thirty: One Hundred Percent

Day 30 of the 30 Day Challenge. What a journey this has been. It has been a challenge for me to blog everyday, more difficult than I expected. Some days I was posting so close to midnight, I didn’t think I would make it. But it has also been a blessing. Not only can I look back and see where I’ve been and what God has done over the last month, but friends and supporters have been able to share that with me as well.

The point of the challenge was to raise 30 partners to support me at $25 a month. Friends, family and even strangers responded. It has been a roller coaster of emotions, and dare I say, doubts? But God is faithful and I have reached my goal! I haven’t got the official “ok” from AltLink because today was my deadline, but according to my calculations, I am at 100%.

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Posted today on Facebook by some of my teammates.

I am so overwhelmed with joy and thanksgiving to which my own words cannot do due justice.  So I will take a quote from David:

I will praise you, O Lord, with all my heart;before the “gods”I will sing your praise.
I will bow down toward your holy temple
and will praise your name
for your love and your faithfulness,
for you have exalted above all things
your name and your word.
When I called, you answered me;
you made me bold and stouthearted.

May all the kings of the earth praise you, O Lord,
when they hear the words of your mouth.
May they sing the ways of the Lord,
for the glory of the Lord is great.

Though the Lord is on high, he looks upon the lowly,
but the proud he knows from afar.
Though I walk in the midst of trouble,
you preserve my life;you stretch out your right hand against the
anger of my foes,
with your right hand you save me.
The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me;
your love, O Lord, ensures forever–
do not abandon the works of your hands.

Psalms 138

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Day TwentyEight: Moving

Day TwentyEight: Moving

Moving is the worst! It’s made a little better when friends stop by to bring food and cheer. Thanks Kelly, Sarah, Brian, Phil, Emile and Erica!
And thanks Dad and Mark for helping me out. There’s no way I could get everything done in time without you.

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