Please excuse these tears

Building C. Room 11. Cell 5. She catalogues this in her brain and steps inside. She does not want to be here: standing in the former cell of a prisoner likely killed. The practice in empathy feels important.

Resisting the urge to distance herself from the pains of war, she sits. Takes a deep breath. Observe, she urges herself. Feel this, she implores.

The bloodstains on the floor draw her in. The questions of whose and why and when overwhelm. Perhaps most shocking, what were the crimes? A college diploma? A job in the city? The tragic timing of being in the path of the Khmer Rouge?

Turning to the side, she sees a long crack in the brick. Did they talk to one another? The neighboring cellmates. She saw the rules posted: silence unless responding to an order. In the veil of night, were hushed whispers exchanged? What were the consequences of such a breach?

Consequences: torture tactics prominently displayed in the adjacent building. Forced, though false, confessions. Bodies laid in the fields. Killed by machetes or buried alive with DDT to finish the job.

Oh, God- those fields. The stench is gone, swallowed by forty years of history. But the remains refuse to keep quiet. With every flood, new bones surface. Clothing- ragged and weatherworn- caught her eye at every turn. And that tree. No longer a symbol of life. The trunk stands tall, bellowing its horror at a body used to smash the skulls of children.

Inside the city, the prison served as a holding pen for those yet to be shipped to the “truck stop,” death’s door. Today, it is a site for people still in search of family members. The endless pictures of prisoners posted are almost too much to bear. She averts her eyes as a Cambodian family searches the faces of every photograph.

She moves on, searching instead the cells once filled.

The second floor is worse. The wooden panels threaten to close in, compressing the distress that surrounds. No sitting this time. The space is too crowded for that, filled with the spirits of the long dead. Overflowing with the agony of injustice. The claustrophobia mounts, making her wonder at the human capacity for resilience.

The human capacity for atrocity, though, is what is most disturbing. Maybe that is what she is trying to look at, to understand: what we as humans are capable of doing to one another.

What she might be capable of doing. She knows enough to not trick herself into thinking the enemy is clear. Distance from the pain is not the only temptation. To separate herself from the psyche of an executioner, to remove the common humanness of a murderer, that is the ultimate allure.

The stories of the child soldiers turned genocidaires echo in her mind. It was kill or be killed. I did not have a choice. We were running for so long; when they caught us it finally provided a chance to stop. I just wanted relief from watching one more family member be murdered. Most loudly, she hears the question: Why am I, the common peasant, being punished while the orchestrators of the genocide remain untouched?

Genocide. No word in the English vocabulary can illicit such a visceral reaction as this one. Chilling, incomprehensible, wholly inadequate in naming what happened here.

Not just here. Rwanda. Bosnia. Germany. Today: Darfur and the DRC. South Sudan and Syria in tow. (Let’s not forget we too belong on this list if we go back just one century more).

And how do we name such a reality? More importantly, how do we face it? Because without looking, we will never interrupt it. Dare she say eradicate. “Never again” is the slogan for every memorial, remembrance the ideal we espouse. But what of the continued, the current, the undeniable repetition?

Staring squarely into the face of our darkest potential, she fights the urge to put her fingers to her ears, squeeze her eyes shut, run out of the museum and far from the questions and implications of this place.

She can’t hold its gaze for long.

Mentally, she writes a story. Third person. Distant. Impersonal. Anything to keep these truths- these fears- at bay. Left on the soon-distant shores of Cambodia’s coast.

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Catching Up

With the first half of our time in Thailand spent doing less settling and more exploring and the second half enjoyed in a remote village in the mountains, there are many untold stories between the dates and lines of recent posts. Given this, it felt like time to interrupt my storytelling and share of our travels more generally. The bulk of my past posts are written around my experience in Jaipur, India, where we lived during our unit on education.

Today, just a week remains of our subsequent unit on sustainable agriculture. I write to you from a hot spring resort outside of the hippy town Pai. I am enjoying my vacation and time to connect with loved ones from home and Self. I spend each day on the river’s edge marveling at the beauty and laughing, somewhat uneasily, at the “elephant trekkers” who pass by. I watch the sun go down, its rays reaching out across the clouds and inspiring paralleled warmth within while the chorus of frogs sing me to sleep. I’m getting ahead of myself, though…

We left Jaipur at the beginning of December and spent a week traveling in India. We first went to Pushkar for a camel trek. If you ever have a bruise on your bum from falling down the stairs, I don’t recommend this. Actually, I don’t know that I would recommend camel trekking to anyone. I spent the whole ride thinking about the notion (read: fallacy) of having dominion over other living beings and wondering what life events led my guide to this place where he walks tourists through the desert with his camel by his side, calluses building as shoes wear.

It did provide a rejuvenating night of camping in the desert and a pleasant hike out when I opted to decline camel round two (in my defense, I actually rode the baby of the group who spent the earlier ride trying to buck me off). We spent the rest of our week in Udaipur, a charming town with bustling markets and stunning views. I was reminded frequently of Stone Town, making the Indian influence of the East African slave trade quite visible to me.

When I walked the streets of Zanzibar’s hub in the spring of 2008, I was not a huge Stone Town fan. Having just spent three months living in the rural south of Tanzania, it felt like a commodification of a culture I’d grown to love and know intimately. Fast forward to this December: I did not have this same struggle in Udaipur, which raised questions for me about the ways that I’d received and experienced India. If the two (Udaipur and Stone Town) really are similar, what made them illicit such varied responses within me? As I write this now, I realize that you could also ask how I’ve changed in the past six years. Ha, we’ll leave that for another day [book, blog, etc.].

My head swirling with questions and memories, we concluded our demanding six weeks in India and flew to Chiang Mai.

As soon as we landed, I felt myself release a huge sigh, making me wonder how I could not have known that I was holding my breath for so long. The wide streets, clean roads, and green- so much green- revived pieces of my self that Jaipur’s dust choked out. While I’m quite skeptical about notions of love at first sight, this is precisely how I experienced Chiang Mai. What Thailand represents, how much my infatuation was influenced by the contrast of my previous month and a half, I’ll leave untouched. For now.

We spent the week in the alluring city soaking in the wisdom and experience of our partner’s ajaans (teachers) by day and enjoying the markets by night. The local organization we work with here, ISDSI, runs a study abroad program whose partnership confirms and revives my own dreams of one day doing the same.

Then, we proceeded to join the idyllic farming community of Mae Tha. Just an hour outside of Chiang Mai, this inspirational group of farmers developed a cooperative and transitioned from a monoculture of baby corn to organic farming methods. It felt so good to consume fresh picked vegetables with every meal! I was surrounded by heroes from our pa who founded the cooperative to the twenty-eight year old homestay brother of some of our students who created a CSA.

So much of this felt like precisely what I needed. Just as the vegetables replenished my body, the mountains reached down and nourished my soul, their peaks’ gentle touch received like a lover’s hug after months a part. One-on-ones with students transitioned to hikes throughout the rice paddies and my co-worker and I took a break from work to enjoy a long bike ride down the road through neighboring villages and farms.

That first sigh of relief I took when we stepped off the plane evolved into a living ujjayi- the oceanic breath of yoga, breathing in all that is good and exhaling all that one needs to let go. I rode on the tide of my breath as I entered a time of spiritual awakening, creativity, and love.

Just in time for the holidays of my tradition, we packed ourselves onto a bus and took the 8-hour journey to Mae Hong Son. Mae Hong Son is a quaint city at the base of the mountains of the north, one that has nestled into my heart and found its home as the site of the joyous Christmas and birthday celebration of my twenty-sixth year.

We gathered as the TBB family we’ve become and enjoyed laughter, a gift exchange I stubbornly called “secret snow person” despite the fact that the timing was anything but inclusive, and even some Christmas hymns for those so inclined. I assured my students that my family had long since figured out the Chirstmas-Birthday dilemma with daytime Christmas and nighttime birthday and they followed suit. I meditated on Love-incarate during the day and danced through the street markets by night. The dancing followed a birthday dinner where my students whipped out streamers and we enjoyed banana fritters (so much easier than a cake with a per-order and pick up to forget, my mom laments in recollection of our long-standing tensions over the cake scrambles of 1998, 2004, etc.). Despite the distance from my family whom I lovingly tease, it was a dream of a holiday.

Two days later, we drove up the mountain. And I mean up the mountain. The journey takes about three hours, spent bouncing along in the back of a truck with benches and a plastic cover. We passed our time making up stories and singing songs while enjoying the view as the trucks brought us above the clouds’ lines. Our stay with the hill tribe community of Huay Thong Ko deserves its own post, which I’ll write in time. For now, I will just say that sustainability takes a new form immersed in a peoples who live it. And nature continues to soothe, always generously reaching out to my deepest parts just as the hospitality of our moogas and patees did.

We (you- the readers- and I) then find ourselves at my present: poolside in Pai. Rest is not always my strong suit, but I’ve leaned into it quite well and am enjoying the emotional and spiritual benefits. I feel quite restful, and awake in all senses of the word.

My only complaint of my accommodation is that, despite the hot springs bursting from the ground, the shower never manages to get hot enough. I am boycotting in protest and it’s beginning to show. I guess my neglect of showers is really not new news though, is it?

So I will leave you with that: an image of my happy, hopeful, and sun-kissed face framed with oily, unkempt hair. It’s an image of me at my best, if I do say so myself. Until we meet again, bloggity boggers. Be wakeful (and don’t forget to rest).

p.s. If you are still reading this very long update, I’ll reward you with the secret password I leave after rambling voicemails so friends can alert me of their faithfulness. It’s grapefruit. Though, now that I’ve shared it publicly I suppose that it will change. Just as well, I don’t care much for grapefruits.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it

If I told you the truth, it would be this:

I did not see India as much as the inside of my eyelids. The glare of my computer screen. Endless tricks of Pinochle from my iPad’s small frame.

I turned up my nose to the stench of polluted waters. I vomited out the spices, and with it all flavors of the city. I closed my door to its outstretched hand, letting the rapping on my door and my heart persist while I pretended to sleep through the sound.

What travel I did do? I left for a week to lay on a stretch of a beach, made by the Portuguese and maintained for the Russians. On our weekend away, I hid in my hotel room with marathons of shows from home. With relief, I saw the curtains on the bus and closed them with gusto.

What I did see? Western establishments: the cafe filled with ex-pats, a rooftop restaurant with a hotel below, the deck and dance floor of one of the few bars that serves women. More often, my own hypocrisy, or limit. The extent to which I do not live what I espouse. I stepped out each day to stare squarely in the face of a neighbor’s home that I did not frequent enough.

If I told you the truth? I stepped out every other day. The rest, I did not leave the building in which we resided and taught– the smog-veiled sun never meeting my skin, the shouts of welcome rarely penetrating my heart.

I do not want to tell you the truth, one so far from the traveller’s tale of wonder and awe. If I did, it would be this:

I did my best,
and it wasn’t very good.

If I told you a truth, it could also be this:

India was difficult. And I wrestled with her, lethargically, but persistently. I was slow out the gate, yet continued running. Towards understanding. Engagement. Relationship. Health.

I turned inward to my neglected self-care and then counted this against myself with every measure of my level of immersion. I opened the door of my heart and listened to need. I slept when I tired. I responded to illness by slowing down. I tended to both self and students and gave to India what remained in the reserve.

What travel I did do? I enjoyed my breaks and remembered that life is still life no matter where we live it.

What I did see? The same things I cherish in cities at home: coffee shops, people watching, slow dinners, and nights out dancing. The ways that lived-values are a daily, momentary choice. While I saw my limit, I also saw myself stretch. Reaching out– despite the sexism and beyond the classism, amidst the dust and chaotic streets–to find that which is there to be cherished.

I squinted through the smog to stare at the light. Simultaneously, I did not deny the shadows lurking in the alleys of the city and the chambers of my heart.

If I told you a truth? India was challenging.

And I faced the challenge. I allowed myself to rest and pushed myself to grow.

I did my best,
and sometimes it was good.

Gender buffet has a whole new meaning

When I arrived in Jaipur, I felt as if the gender dynamics people spoke of were exaggerated or sought out. I sensed that we came expecting to see sexism, so we looked for it and then cried out against it: a ladder of inference filtering our experience through our pre-conceived bias. The longer I am here, the more this view changes.

At first I was unfazed.

Walking into the club, I feel the familiar rush of the feeling of the base vibrating below my feet. Beth smiles and shakes her head to the beat, lip syncing the words. We grab hold of each other and push our way through the crowd, finding a pocket on the dance floor where we can settle in.

Letting the music take hold of me, I dance. I feel at home in this place: unaware of my surroundings, only tuned into the music that surrounds. I let go.

Suddenly, Beth calls me out of my rhythmic stupor. She motions around the dance floor. Leaning towards my ear, she shouts over the music. “Are we the only women here?!” she asks.

I look around and see what she means. We are in a sea of Indian men. A swirling shirt catches my eye and I notice one woman dancing in the corner with her beau.

Smiling, I shrug. Pointing to the girlfriend, I reply: “not the only women,” and dance on.

Then irritated.

I look up from my book to realize that the group of men on the benches in front of us has doubled. Averting their gaze, I shift my eyes only to discover a man sprawled beneath the tree blatantly propped up so to see us better. Sitting up to turn my back to the onlookers, I face yet another set of men, unabashedly perched in the middle of the park. Just. Staring.

Literally surrounded by gawking men, I turn to my friend. “This is getting a little creepy,” I say. She agrees and we pack up our things and start down the path.

We hear the footsteps behind us and silently confer with one another. We veer right and step back into the grass for our uninvited guest to pass. He does not take the hint and turns with us. “Your names?” we hear as we notice him pull out his phone for the camera.

“No.” My friend says strongly. “We will not take a photo and we don’t want to talk. Please go.”

Now it’s him whose startled. Bewildered, he defends his past hour of staring and now pursuit, “Me? I am not a bad boy.”

It made me feel vulnerable.

I notice he is keeping pace with us from across the street. My co-workers and I are walking from the restaurant we just ate at to karaoke a handful of blocks away.

When it lasts too long for my comfort, I share my concern under my breath. “We have company,” I inform my friends. Fortunately, it is at this moment that Jaipur’s streets fool us once again. We turn right, one block too early.

When we realize our error, we turn back and head down the long road we strayed from. Crossing the street, I see the man cross so he is opposite us yet again. I watch as he slows his pace to meet back up. We counter by slowing ours.

When he nears the next intersection, unable to anticipate our move, he crosses the street and stands in the alley waiting, watching, for which direction we will go. We warily turn right and enter the restaurant.

As we get our hands stamped, I explain to the bouncers. “There is a man following us. Will you not let him in?” I give his description, but the man with the stamp is too busy laughing with his friends, inching towards us so that we have to contort our bodies to squeeze through the gate without making contact. Our request goes unnoticed while our presence and bodies certainly do not.

There was no reprieve.

I have come to acknowledge this: friendship with men here comes with undertones of something more. No, contact with men here comes with undertones of something more.

After all, they’ve seen our TV shows. They know what American girls are like.

Our favorite tuk tuk driver, the one about whom I was preparing a post because of the freedom and thrill of dancing through the city when he turns on his flashing lights and turns up the music, ended our evening with a crash and burn.

“So, you have boyfriend?” he inquires as he pulls up to our house.

And I just wanted to leave.

It is not just that these advances feel unending. It is that I feel my humanity being stripped from me as I am collapsed into what I represent: sex, promiscuity, desire. I don’t feel seen as much as consumed. I then watch myself participate in this cycle of violence, no longer seeing people or accounting for cultural difference. I deny a friendly handshake and glare at the laughter between friends as I pass by. I am defensive, on-guard. Disinterested in connecting to the humanity of others with the anticipation that it is not my being whom they seek, but instead my body that they crave.

Written on the plane from Johannesburg to Mumbai

What do you think of when you hear “Africa”?

Our training began with that question. We were in a hotel in Kigali. I sat with my summer scholars at the onset of orientation for ThinkImpact and pondered my answer.

What about Rwanda? the speaker continued.

Today, I would add, “How about South Africa?”

If genocide, apartheid, poverty, suffering, or hunger came to mind, I was [am] right there with you. It is what we’re taught- from the charity solicitations of starving children with distended stomachs to celebrity movements to fight AIDS, malaria, access to water, female genital cutting, war, the list goes on- the images we see of the continent are ones of deficit.

Africa= in need of [fill in the blank]

Third World. Underdeveloped.

The dark uncivilized continent.

The implications all of which infer that she is Incapable of Making It On Her Own.

Of the past five months, I have spent four of them on said continent. I have seen and experienced some of the above. I’ve also experienced love, joy, community, resources, innovation, beauty, and an abundance of spiritual, relational, and (yes) material wealth.

The speaker who posed these questions had a particular point: insomuch as we maintain and perpetuate this desolate view of Africa, we deter her development by dissuading investors to consider the countries- of sub-Sahara Africa especially- viable markets. In putting forth the assertion she could not do it, we ensure this is so by cutting off the channels through which she could.

Though this is an intriguing line of thought, for me, the question is not just one of economics. Rather, it is about our understanding of ourselves and of the world.

Underneath all of this is a question at the heart of TBB’s curriculum: What is development?

And I don’t think the point in asking is in finding an answer. In fact, the fallacy of the aforementioned picture of “Africa” is in treating this question as if there is one answer. In letting the answer be determined by Western values and standards of living.

So, my issue with the dominant view of Africa is tri-fold. One, the view casts development in a simplistic box that is neatly defined and already achieved, supporting a narrative that says to be developed is to be like us. Two, it is not as complex as the reality of the very large continent, collapsing herstory and status into a dualistic frame that ignores beauty and potentiality abroad while denying problems at home. Three, it belittles local capacity and culture in touting ourselves at the top of the moral and cultural hierarchies we define, without crediting Africa for her strengths, assets, and wealth.

When I first stepped foot onto Africa’s soil, it was out of this belief in poor Africa that I came, making it vogue and admirable for me to pursue her.

My secret though?

I return now for me. For how the culture and people invite me to relationship, simplicity, and joy in ways that I don’t find as readily in my own culture. In saying this, I don’t want to reverse the storyline to one that only romanticizes the villages in which I’ve lived.

Instead, I want to offer that one answer-whatever it may be- will never suffice for such a large place and large question. I want to suggest that the answers we’re most often fed, though wrapped in compassion, are neither accurate nor beneficial. And I want to urge us towards understanding, complexity, and relationship. It is in this pursuit that Africa (in her many forms) is found.

Today, when I hear “Africa”, I think of people. The smile on my Rwandan sister Muraza’s face while she runs to greet me. The sound of the Tanzanian orphan Loveness shouting “Love-u” as she introduces herself. The laughter of my neighbors as we play our games and the embrace of my honorary grandmothers.

I think too of the problems- the racism encountered in South Africa, the corruption I’ve read of and glimpsed in the DRC. I am not asking that we deny or ignore these realities. I suppose I am imploring others, and myself, to stop treating these as the only piece of the puzzle. And to be informed by those whose story it is; to not accept BBC as our only source, but seek Africans’ experiences, opinions, and perspectives on their lives and needs.

To me, all of this is about seeing people. Honoring culture. Holding difference.

Not judging, subordinating, or comparing.

Seeing, honoring, holding. I suppose I’d add knowing to the list. For it is out of my knowing- people, cultures, and the interconnectedness of history- that my views on the continent have changed.

Today I ask you: what do you think of when you hear “Africa”?

…. What else is there to see?

The making of a home

A thread throughout this blog has been a question of home. Where is it? What makes it? How do you define it? As I left Plettenberg Bay for our next destination, these questions resurfaced.

My time in South Africa was the first time I was responsible for my own groceries while living or traveling abroad. The Program Leaders shared a car. We were settled- with filled dresser drawers and wanting cleaning supplies. We bought spices and teas and paper towels.

Being the small town Plett is, I knew servers by name at every local favorite. They in turn knew my order, my reason for being there, and the sound of my laugh.

Every time we walked into the Market- a square of outdoor stalls with food and shops- we saw friends enjoying the sun and the lull of the off-season. In fact, with any errand, I’d see a familiar face: my surf instructor at the print shop, a friend of a home-stay parent at the gas station, a caregiver at the mall.

We were not merely visiting, but living. Yet, leaving felt far different than leaving Rwanda or Tanzania. While I had a house that I emptied, I don’t know that I had a home from which I departed.

In reflecting on these differences, I realize: my kitchen made it so that I shared meals with only my co-workers with whom I lived. Our car, and the streets itself, robbed us of the routine walk to work I enjoyed this summer in the village of Nkomangwa. While my material reality reflected one more settled than any prior travels, I shared home-cooked meals with locals just twice and I could not tell you my neighbors’ names. Though I knew a lot of people around town, little was really known of them- or them of me.

I spent my last night in South Africa in a backpackers in Johannesburg on my own. Sitting in the common area, I met several fellow travellers and we swapped itineraries and dreams. Hearing of their adventures helped me recognize the many ways there are to travel. Hostel hopping. Resort lounging. Couch surfing. Group touring.

I am not interested in making judgments on these different styles. Instead, I’ll ask: what values inform the way that I want to travel? What would I do differently if I found myself in Plett again? What learning will I hold onto from my time there?

And for now, I wonder, how do I want to live in India?

So many of the distinctions between house and home for me are rooted in relationship. Rhythm delineates a visit from a stay, but people color in the lines of these images. Bringing meaning and understanding, perhaps it is in turning to one another that we find a home within ourselves- that we become fully human.

As I adjust to life in Jaipur, I am transitioning from a small beach town to a large and over-populated city. Right now, the idea of this ever feeling like home seems allusive. And I don’t know that that is the purpose or a goal of my time here. But knowing Jaipur- people included- certainly is a part of my intention.

I am setting myself to this intention now. The house that I live in has a rooftop on the fifth story with a view of the city all around. Enjoying that view in the midst of Diwali a few nights ago, the students and I watched neighbors playing with sparklers in the street. With a smile, I suggested, “let’s go!”

We ran down the many flights of stairs. Crossed the street. And stretched out our hands.

Jumping Off

While  jump is quite explicit in the activity bungee jumping, it did not occur to me that I would have to physically do so until we were standing on the bridge. We had just received our instructions  and it hit me. “Oh shit.” I thought to myself.

The fall is something I had thought about— been excited about. But initiating it? Reaching down into myself and finding the will and the trust to make it happen? I wondered how many false starts I might have after the count-off.

“So, is there anything we can do to mitigate backlash?” I asked Ryan once the reality of it all finally sunk in. Just lead with your head, he said. As long as you do it the way we just talked about, head first, you’ll be fine.”

I did find the will, but not the technique. I was suspended mid-air when I realized my feet were leading and pointed straight down. Using my core, I tucked my body in and pushed my head through and down to correct my position before I reached the end of the rope where it would snap me to the position I worked towards. Thankfully, I corrected in time.

I’m off to bed with the view and the feeling  framed in my mind.

Jumping Off

[My free fall from Bloukrans Bridge, the highest bungee jump in the world]

The post that finally explains my whereabouts

Almost everyone who writes me asks a series of questions that highlight the details and specifics I neglected to share. I’ve heard time and again, ‘I’m reading your blog, so sorry, but…’.

Don’t worry. It’s not you; it’s me. For today, I’ll write an information-sharing type of post rather than my usual reflection or story. Here are my FAQs…

Where are you?

I am currently residing in Plettenberg Bay, a beach town in the Western Cape of South Africa. The Program Leaders (PLs) live in a flat together just below a family’s house in town. We have a breathtaking view of the ocean and are a five-minute walk to the main street in Plett. The students all live in homestays with White South African families just down the road.

We will be in Plett for another week and then spend a week on safari. We head to India on October 31st and are still deciding what costumes we’ll wear on the plane. Here is a visual of my itinerary in reverse order. For a detailed itinerary, see here.

Image

What are you doing?

I am currently leading a global gap year program with Thinking Beyond Borders. This means that I support students in their learning and experience throughout a trip around the world. We explore international development through experiential learning, dialogue-based seminars, local homestays, and readings.  Each country has a different area of focus. In South Africa, we look specifically at Public Health and HIV/AIDS. Across every unit are the core questions of the program: how can I be a proactive agent of change; what is “development”; who am I; and what do we assume about ourselves and others. 

My role centers on facilitating reflection as students make meaning of their experience and learning. This happens formally through both mentoring relationships and seminars. It also happens throughout all of the extemporaneous conversations we get to have while exploring the world. Additionally, the PLs are responsible for the logistics that come with coordinating a travel program abroad- taking students to the doctor, planning local outings, and keeping track of passports and the like.

What does a normal day look like?

We have a weekday routine that gets disrupted quite frequently (with sixteen students, a lot is happening all the time). In general, my mornings are the most leisurely part of the day. I sleep in until about 8:00 and decide what I want to do for myself to begin each day. This alone makes me so in love with the job. The late morning and early afternoon entail lesson planning, errands, and meetings. With Plett’s beautiful weather, I do as much of this as possible outside on our deck (where I often practice yoga in the morning). For our unit here, the students spend time every morning with a caregiver for our partner organization, PlettAid. The students shadow caregivers as they provide home-based care in their local communities. In the afternoons, we all come together for seminar and further research and reflection. Our evenings usually include lots of reading, a break to enjoy dinner (I’ve really enjoyed cooking since being here), and other logistics for the program such as reporting, parent communication, and accounting. On Fridays, the students don’t join their caregivers and we all spend the morning together with students working on their presentations for the end of the unit, writing blogs, and having one-on-ones. The rest of the weekend varies depending on where we are in the unit. A few weekends, we leave town to see other parts of South Africa; others, we hang around Plett and are largely free with hikes and other outings scattered throughout our time.

Living with your co-workers makes it hard to ever stop working; we are forever processing our experience or talking about our students. We are currently working on creating some boundaries/lives outside of work. One thing we already do is try to give each PL one day off a week. On this day, I usually hang out in town and do something fun (surf lesson, extended yoga session, massage). This is a nice time to recharge.

For more on what the students are up to and thinking about, you can check out their blogs here.

Who do you work with?

There are three PLs in total, so I have two amazing co-workers with whom I share this journey. They both call DC home and have extensive travel and education experience. I’m the youngster of our team, but have recovered from my feelings of inadequacy around this. Seriously, I am so grateful to have these two and count them as dear friends already. We have sixteen students, ages 17-20. The majority of the students just graduated high school and are taking a year before beginning college— some of them deferred acceptance to a school while others are working on college applications now. To really root the experience in local knowledge, we have two partner organizations in each country. One organization is an NGO within the area of emphasis for the unit. The other (sometimes one organization fulfills both roles) provides cultural orientation and training, sets up the homestays, and coordinates travel experiences and guest speakers throughout our time in their country.

What will you do when your trip is over?

To be determined! I may have the option of leading the program for a second time, so I have a decision around that. I am scheming for the summer months, but right now I only know that I want to be around for Lyndi Smith and Danny Warner’s wedding (!). The rest is still in the making, which excites me to no end.

Beauty in small things

There are some small moments and gifts that I don’t necessarily have a reflection to offer, but news to share…

  • My room is beginning to feel like my room rather than a guest bedroom I am staying in; while I am not sure what initiated this change, I enjoy it immensely.
  • I found a path through the fields that is a shortcut from my home to the soccer field where we exercise- perfect for my morning walk when I am not awake enough to want to greet everyone I meet along the road.
  • I got my first jigger!-a parasite that burrows in your toes and lays worm eggs in a sack- my host sister expertly pulled it out and it was coolly gross. I mistakenly thought I was the first to get one, but once I described it, 3 scholars discovered they’d had one for days.
  • I taught my family my favorite song in Swahili and I hear them singing it throughout the house all the time.
  • I am not shaving my armpits and I thought it would gross me out, but I have been completely un-phased, and deeply appreciate that.
  • One of my scholars brought the syllabus and reading for a sister program that uses the TI model, but with greater theoretical exploration. I am diving into the readings and, of course, loving it as I explore development models and outsiders’ roles.
  • My brother, Jarod, and I have developed a secret handshake. No dance moves in it yet, but perhaps coming soon.
  • When I first arrived, my family had just harvested sorghum and put it out to dry. The house this week is a flurry of activity with them beating it now to sell for grain and beer. In the meantime, we use it as a sort of mat for gymnastics, as our yard is covered in it.

Loving this exploration and all that I am learning about myself along the way…