African eyes {weeks 6 & 7}

I work with three Ghanaian social workers named Stanley, Leo, and Collins (dubbed the Three Musketeers), and nearly every day I see them they ask if I’m wearing my “African eyes.” With my African eyes, I can see monkeys swinging from the ceiling fans and elephants traipsing around outside the office. African eyes are eyes for adventure. African eyes remind you to stay lighthearted amid a lot of heavy work.

For the past two weeks a hundred different worries were running through my mind. I was looking at the year ahead of me and wondering how all my bills were going to get paid. I was thinking of graduating next June and wondering kind of job I would be able to find. I was missing my family and friends. I was sick and sure I was dying (I wasn’t). I was missing rock climbing and hiking and worrying about needing to rebuild strength and endurance when I get home (Petty? Yes).

I was thinking about a hundred things I needed to do. Buy books for my fall class, pay cell phone bill, remember to get my oil changed when I’m home. Schedule a doctor appointment, buy plane tickets to weddings, buy more iCloud storage. Replenish my supply of vitamins because the humidity here ruined all of mine. Respond to 30 emails, write another blog post, study Spanish for my proficiency test this fall. And the list goes on and on…

And amid all the worry and stress I piled upon myself, I wondered if wearing my African eyes meant more than monkeys and elephants. What if it meant a perspective change in how I was handling my worries? Because while I’m sitting here missing my friends and family, every week I’m working with people who don’t have families or who have been abused or abandoned by their families. While I’m worried about my final year of grad school, I’m constantly having to adjust the empowerment program I’m working to accommodate the high rates of illiteracy in Ghana. While I could’ve afforded hospital treatment if I had needed it, one of my seamstresses can’t afford $7 malaria medication. While I’m missing rock climbing, people in Africa don’t even understand the concept of recreational activity because why would you spend time or money to do something so frivolous, that doesn’t serve any function??

So. I’m going to try to keep on my African eyes.

City of Refuge

Kokrobite, Ghana

City of Refuge

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the Estuary {week three}

I spent last weekend at the estuary of the Volta River, the place where the Volta meets the Atlantic. I stayed on a finger-like sliver of land separating river from ocean, and each morning I sat on a weathered wooden chair gazing out at the river while I listened to the ocean’s waves crashing against the shore behind me.

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And I thought about that sliver of land I was sitting on, this sandy separator between the chaotic, crashing ocean and the peaceful, winding river. I sometimes feel like I’m straddling that line between the ocean and the river, between the adventure and the calm. I crave the wild, strong adventure found within the open sea, all at once furious and beautiful. But other times I long for the river, for its gentle, peaceful, soothing rhythm, its predictability and grace.

Ada, Ghana

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Sunday morning I walked to the end of that sliver of sand separating river and ocean. To the Estuary. To that space where the river meets the ocean and the lines blur and you can’t quite tell which body of water is which. It was as if in that brief space where ocean met river (or river met ocean) there was a pause. An oh-so-fleeting moment where they coexisted, where you couldn’t tell where one ended and the other began. Where safety and danger met. Where the water was all at once wild and calm, furious and beautiful, strong and graceful.

And I thought that maybe God is a little bit like that sliver of land I was standing on, this Holy Separator between ocean and river, the Mediator between wild adventure and peaceful calm. This place of safety, where I can retreat to when the ocean’s chaos is too much or can escape to when the river’s predictability begins to wear at my soul.

And I realized maybe I could have both the winding river and open sea. Maybe I just need to find that brief space where they meet, my own Estuary.

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I forgot {week two}

This week I was reminded of how small I am in the face of the very real problems that exist in this world. Overwhelming problems. Dangerous problems. Complicated problems.

I study human trafficking, so I’m completely aware problems exist. I’ve seen some of the world’s worst problems firsthand. If there’s an innocence spectrum, I’m on the opposite end of naïve. But for the past year I’ve only been researching these problems. Reading about them. Writing about them. And while reading and writing and research have a completely necessary place in the world of international development and I don’t for a moment regret my decision to go back to school…somewhere within the papers and books and academic journals I was beginning to forget.

I was beginning to forget that these “problems” have names and faces. That they are twice-abandoned, single mothers who can’t afford a $50 a year school fee to send their kids to school. I forgot how difficult it is for them to save even 50 cents each month. I forgot how hard the cement floor must be to sleep on when you don’t have a bed. I forgot how difficult it is to encourage women to dream when for their whole lives their dreams have been stifled.

(with permission)

(with permission)

I forgot the pain that must follow kids who are the sole survivors of their families. I forgot that kids who have been trafficked, abused and abandoned need more than effective anti-trafficking legislation because anti-trafficking legislation doesn’t work in a country as corrupt as Ghana. They need education, they need a place to live, they need someone to care and to make sure they are encouraged to survive and dream. They need someone to listen. And they need someone who is committed to making sure the situations that rendered them exploited or abandoned are prevented in the future.

(with permission)

(with permission)

I forgot that there are no easy answers, that poverty is a complicated beast of a problem that can’t be fixed overnight. It can’t even be fixed by the most well-intentioned Millenium Development Goals. Because even when your goal is free, universal, primary education, you don’t realize that there are families who still can’t afford the school uniforms. You don’t realize that a primary education doesn’t even ensure an individual will be able to read and write. You forget that even the best theories often don’t work in practice, and what works in America may not work in Thailand and what works in Thailand may not work in Ghana.

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I forgot how privileged I am. “Woe is me, I’m a poor grad student.” But the reality is I’m getting an education most Ghanaians aren’t even able dream about. I eat three meals a day and have enough water to drink. I have a car and a bed and a closet full of clothes. The computer and phone I carry in my backpack cost more than most Ghanaians make in an entire year. And yet I complain. Yet I complain.

When I got home from Thailand I promised myself I’d never forget, but somehow I did.

Remembering is never easy.

Highways and Off-Beaten Paths

There are so many voices in our heads.

Saying go there, do this, buy that. Saying be safe, be stable, stay on the highways.

Somewhere deep within, though, buried under those voices is a different voice, one telling me to exit the highway and forge my own way. Telling me to stop worrying about life making sense. Telling me it’s okay to be different.

The voice is small and fragile and a lot of days it’s completely drowned out.

But when I summon the courage to listen to that whisper of a voice, when I get off that paved road and cross the border from the known to the unknown, when I foray into new territories and go my own way and not the world’s, I find adventure.

I find my dreams.

I find myself.

And in some serendipitous manner, a path always appears where before there was nothing.

It’s so tempting to stay on those highways where we can set our cruise control and turn off our minds. The first step is the most difficult…the initial decision to turn off that paved road and take that remote-looking exist leading who knows where, to turn your back on the fear and doubt and the questions still ringing through your head.

The smallest voice is usually the wisest.

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{our own borders}

“We all have our own borders.

One side is what’s easy, what’s known, what we’ve been told is true and have taken for granted; it’s comfortable here, it’s familiar.

But the other side is wider than possibility, it’s brilliant with potential, and it looks like our dreams, whatever they are.

Maybe for you that means having a family or taking up sailing; maybe it’s poetry in Prague or solitude in Barcelona; maybe it’s learning how to really be close to someone.

Big or small, these are not the “dreams” we had handed to us: good job/big house/new car.

These are real dreams, real fragile fledgling dreams, which is why they are often so frightening. But if they’re ours, if we can find them and hold them, if we can catapult ourselves across whatever border of fear or doubt or tiredness that seems to keep us from them.

In the end, the only thing standing between each of us and what we want most is ourselves. We’re our own border guards.

And sometimes the crossing is easier than expected.”

(Off the Map, Hib & Kika)

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Home

Home (noun):
1: one’s place of residence
2: the social unit formed by a family living together
3. a familiar or usual setting
4. a place of origin

Home seems like a simple thing, but tonight it perplexes me.

Because when I think of home, not one single place or person or thing comes to mind. Because I think of all these things:

I think of that little gray house on Maple Street where my room had bunnies on the wallpaper and I was forever mimicking my older brother.

shepherds

I think of my little Dutch hometown with windmills on the street corners, the place where I can walk two blocks and inevitably see a handful of people I know. I think of summer nights on the square and junior high marching band practices and awkward first dates in that movie theater.

I think of college, of the dorm rooms and the friendships and the laughter and of running down every street in Kirksville in the course of four years.

college graduation

I think of those brief months in Thailand. I think of tile-floored rooms and sometimes cold showers and all those beautifully friendly Thai faces. I think of my favorite taxi drivers and the lady who sold me popcorn at the temple market every week and the girl who always picked me the best apples at the fruit stand.

me and the kiddos

I think of the coffee shop. I think of those brick walls and wood floors and the smell of espresso on my hands, and I remember how sacred and quiet and simple that place felt at 5:45 a.m. I think of my friends there. I miss them.

espresso

smokey row

I think of Colorado, of waking up in the morning and deciding I want to climb a mountain and watch the sun rise. And being able to do it.

Mount Bross sunrise

I think of my family. My dad, my mom, my brothers, my sisters. My giggling niece and my chubby-cheeked nephew. Friends who can read me better than I can read myself. Board games. Glasses of wine. Hiking. Innumerable cups of coffee. Tears. Laughter. Iowa. Missouri. Colorado. Minnesota. California. Arizona. Thailand. Switzerland. Guatemala. Ghana. All the places that are my homes or home to the friends or family who are part of what home means to me.

And sometimes I wish home were one place. That I didn’t wander as much as I do, because then I wouldn’t have to say goodbye so often. Then I wouldn’t have to go through that awkward stage of navigating life in an entirely new place. And then I wouldn’t have to be sad when I leave it and begin the sometimes arduous process of starting anew elsewhere.

Sometimes I wish that.

But then I think how beautiful it is to have all these homes. To be at home in so many places and with so many different  people. To be, in the same moment, both sad to leave an old home and happy to go to the new one. And to be constantly adding new homes to the list of ones I already have.

Yes, my home is a beautiful place.

Torrey's

The crooked ways

When I lived in Thailand a friend and I took a “jungle trek.” The second day the guide told us that because of the rain we hiked through on the first day, the original route for day two was too dangerous and slick. He proposed an alternate, easier route. But if any of us wanted to take the original route — which ended at a fantastically beautiful waterfall — we could do so at our own risk. A new guide was assigned to our more adventuresome group, and off we went. Continue reading

Dissonance

In my college communication classes, we called it cognitive dissonance, that feeling of friction you get when what you’re doing doesn’t necessarily line up with what you believe.

That’s where I’m at.

Cognitively dissonant.

I’m in graduate school right now, studying human rights and human trafficking. I’m here because I lived in Thailand a couple years ago, where I actually saw human rights abuse and human trafficking happen all around me. I lived it out. And when I got home, there was no way I could do anything but spend the duration of my years fighting those things.

So that brought me to Colorado. To one of the best graduate schools in the country for international studies. And now I spend my days listening to long lectures. I spend my nights reading endless books on human rights. I spend my Saturdays doing hours and hours of research. And I’m learning things that are completely altering how I think about these issues and the needs that exist within this field. I’m getting a better handle on exactly what I want I want to do someday.

But today, I’m cognitively dissonant.

Because I want to be back there. Maybe back in Thailand, because God, how I miss those brilliantly smiling faces gracing my bedroom walls. But maybe elsewhere. Anywhere, really, where I can help. Where I can bring restore dignity and create change. Because as I sit here staring at those smiling faces on my bedroom walls, it’s hard to realize that, for a season, I have left them, in order to live this completely comfortable Western life, to pay a lot of money for this fancy little degree in this incredibly privileged, academic setting.

Dissonance.

Pattaya-198

Pattaya 1 Pattaya 2

And in this same moment I could expound to you all the reasons why I’m here. And I do know I am called here, that this is my role and my task right now. And He whispers those reasons to me daily: that I am being prepared, that right now I am called to learn, that He wants to use my intellect and not just my heart, that before I can create change, I must learn how to best do so. And already in these first weeks of school, my thoughts on human rights and human trafficking have been turned upside down. The ways I thought were best are clearly not. The things I thought I wanted to do are clearly not the most effective ways of bringing the greatest, most lasting change. I can already see how the knowledge I’m gaining is going to completely alter my future. And that’s a good thing. It’s an affirming thing.

But yet.

That doesn’t stop the dissonance. That doesn’t stop the tears that well up in my eyes when I hear my friends’ stories of moving to Africa, or my cousins’ stories of traveling to Thailand to pick up their adopted son, or my best friend’s plans to move to Guatemala, or the stories of advocacy workers right here in Colorado who are changing lives. That’s where I want to be, and sometimes spending an entire Saturday researching “the efficacy of the raid and rescue model” doesn’t quite satisfy my heart.

But I suppose the Lord doesn’t always ask us to do exactly what we want, in our own timing. He doesn’t bring us to what we want, but rather to the things that we are perfectly fitted, by His will, to do. So I trust that. And I trust that these months and years of school are fitting me to carry out His purpose for my life in better waysI trust that while He has me here, He has other people who are bravely and beautifully carrying out His other works. 

So today I’m trusting that the dissonance resolves. Because it always does, right? Just when you think you can’t handle that dissonant chord, when the melody isn’t quite coming together, it does. And when you hear that chord, you breathe a bit easier, and you understand the purpose of the dissonance.