Saturday, October 18, 2014

joy is repetitive

Re-reading my gratitude journal is a strange re-living of joys, all jotted down hasty with my scrawling cursive impatient with happiness. Most entries brim with sunshine, but some recall late nights and anxiety, gripping to hope hard when the world is too big and too broken, choosing to hold onto and record the good.
But re-reading makes me laugh a little too, because who but me might find this interesting? My journal is terribly repetitive. I can’t count the times I’ve counted coffee cups and long conversations amongst my daily joys. They must be mentioned in at least thirty percent of my gratitude journal entries. I’ve become quite the proselytizer of this process of counting graces and the joy it gives. Sometimes people’s eyes widen at the mention of 1663 joys recorded, like who is this girl and what is her life that she’s got 1663 new happy things all the time?
But the truth is I don’t, just an endless recycling of the same happy themes, hugs and cuddles and dance parties and Jesus talks rejoiced in again and again. I’m not that creative. Flip pages and you can find verbatim the exact joy, “coffee in the morning with mama” colored with cold-fall air and brilliant leaves about, instead of the warm sand on summer toes coffee morning joy of months ago. 
And for me that’s been part of the secret; gratitude and “giving thanks in all things” is opening my heart this quiet, consistent joy. I’m learning contentment is not a great big searing joy, but delight in mundane joys in endless variation.

And the harder entries, the times when I had to fight hard to find hope in bleak days, those are some of my favorite to re-read. They’re more real, they’re a testament to the fact that God is truly teaching me to be content in whatever circumstance I am in. And I’m not always guaranteed coffee in the morning and days that make me want to dance, but I pray and write and hope that this journaling and joy counting becomes so ingrained that I can face the future with praise on my lips and pen in hand all my days. 

all photos by merry y. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

what skype and homesickness taught me about God

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part, but then I shall know fully even as I am fully known. -Corinthians 13:12

Today I realized my relationship with God is something like a bad Skype connection.
After 3 ½ months in Cameroon, Central Africa, and looking forward to another 2 months of internship away from my family, I know something about bad Skype connections. I know calculating time differences and desperation to see the faces of the people I love, miscommunication and missing them by 2 minutes, lying awake in my mosquito net re-reading gratitude journal entries about family because I’ve run out of internet credit and Camtel isn’t open till Monday.
But I know also the joy of my Yaoundé balcony seat, curled up telling my family my adventures and worries; I know sitting shoulder to shoulder with my Kribi sister Marcelle, the unstoppable smiles as my sisters meet across the world; I know memorizing details in the middle of the market, storing up my best stories for them; I know how this stilted connection helps homesickness and makes it worse simultaneously, it’s a taste of the real thing that comforts and entices. I played catch up, splicing together their delayed image with garbled words, gathering enough of the gist to give joy but prolong frustration.

Because the fuzzy pixelated beauty of my baby sister’s face cannot compare to the moment when I was finally home and could kiss her chubby cheeks. Squealing with my sisters about boys and impatiently demanding they Skype the next day to give me the next installment of their current life-story meant I missed out on being physically there. But I was delighted to find that, a continent away, I was still very much a part of their life story, and they mine. It wasn’t perfect, but it was enough to get me through.
And that, I realized, is God. Through sunshine and coffee morning devotions, underlined passages and dog eared  Bibles, late night conversations with people who know my soul, tall pines and red needle carpets, I get little pixelated images, but I have to do the brainwork and put together the picture, the face of God in my life.

And these glimpses of God satisfy my soul and makes me more hungry at the same time, it’s a taste of the homecoming that’s coming, when he shall live amongst us. It’s realizing that all of history is leading up to the real homecoming that waits.

Look, God's home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. -Revelation 21:3 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

how getting outside helped me get outside of self-hate

Yoga helped save me from self hate.

Learning to love my body has been a long journey. In high school, I used to fall asleep thinking about how ugly I was; self-hate and body-image issues haunted my life. When I discovered yoga and learned to windsurf, I took the first steps towards healing. Exercising had always seemed like a punishment to me, but I fell in love with yoga and windsurfing for the sheer fun of it, for the tension of sails and wind and water on my windsurf board, for the joy of holding crow pose two seconds longer, for the thrill of challenging myself and growing. I discovered that my body is capable of more than being looked at.
It’s through my body that I get to experience the world, I get to hug my baby sister, dance through fall leaves crunching under my bare feet, taste triple chocolate brownies. While loving my body for its own sake was still a long way off, I slowly began to appreciate my body for all that it allowed me to do. I began to exercise to celebrate, not punish, my body.  And eventually, the day came when I was able to appreciate my body for its own sake too.

I’m thrilled that this fall, the Annual Women’s Center “I Love My Body Day” on Wednesday, September 10th will coincide with a new social media campaign #girlgetoutside which encourages girls and women to engage in outdoor activities. As a participating college, we’re also using #sienagirlgetoutside to join the nationwide campaign. Join us. It just might change your life too.

I got outside; I got outside physically, I got outside of my comfort zone and challenged myself, I got outside of my prejudices about what “exercising” had to look like. Most surprising of all, this helped me get outside of the cycle of self-hate I’d lived in for so long. I’m signing my name on our “I love my body just the way it is” banner with a proud flourish, because thanks to God and getting outside, it’s finally true.

Thursday, March 6, 2014


Dance class, I’m twisted on my back while pounding the floor with my fist, jumping and singing and stretching.
Coming home from class, the door is locked and my family in Dschang don’t have a second key. So instead of attacking the pile of homework I’m trying not to be anxious about, I curl up in the chair my neighbor provides (each of the three times it happened)  and instead listen to his playlist of Cameroonian and American music, and tell him how excited I am about the women’s day outfit I am having made.
Showering by the light of a non-electric flashlight because the electricity is cut, I’m just grateful that the water is back on. I was starting to smell after the water was cut yesterday.
Walking by the group of Cameroonian guys building a wall, when one guy holds out a hammer and asks if I want to try, I say yes for once and impress them all with my long-unused drama crew skills. Not to brag, but I’ve used a circular saw before, hammering a nail into thresh wall isn’t that hard. Being confident and comfortable enough to interact solo with a group of six Cameroonian guys is harder, but they are all friendly and we laugh a lot.
Saying bonjour first while walking down the street, trying hard to be culturally competent and aware. The “ma chères” I can handle, but it’s hard not to be freaked out by the half kissing/half hissing sound which is a perfectly normal and appropriate way to get someone’s attention in Cameroon. Especially coming from guys on the street, it’s hard not to feel degraded but I try because I know it’s just a cultural difference.
Dance class, power cuts, ambling walks, pausing to talk to everyone; they’re all teaching me flexibility. I think it’s one of the best things I will take away from this beautiful country. I knew flexibility would be required; it always is with new things. I was prepared to be flexible with different cultural approaches to time, with food and language and even myself. What has surprised me most was that I’ve also needed to be flexible with my own internal values. 
The very first weekend here, thinking about my reaction to constant comments on the street from Cameroonian guys made me realize I need a deeper type of flexibility. I would have to choose between two things I value deeply: Feminism and reform against objectification, and being culturally competent and respectful. Do I go all activist and campaign against what I see as harassment, or stretch myself to see another perspective (even if I disagree with it?) I want desperately to always defend bodily autonomy and integrity, that is one of my core values as a feminist, but I am also someone who wants deeply to respect and embrace other cultures. It’s a strange thing when some of your core values are in conflict with each other; it’s requiring a lot of thought and internal negotiation. It’s a dance that requires a flexibility of worldview, and  I am sure I will mess it up as frequently as I mess up in dance class, but I am going to keep stretching myself and trying. 

thoughts on walking home

I spent last weekend in Bamenda, one of Cameroon’s two English speaking regions. Speaking English on the street was a nice break for my brain, but it also made me more aware of street harassment.

            I’ve gotten used to the constant “ma
chère, ma chère/La blanche, la blanche” in Yaoundé and Dschang, but being able to fully comprehend everything enthusiastically shouted at me and my friends this weekend made the experience more intense. As we threaded our way through the dripping rain and busy streets of Bamenda’s main market (a colorful and hectic experience) we understood every word when asked “Can I find a wife amongst you?” and the repeated “I love you, you are beautiful, I love you!” shouted at us as we scurried away.

Usually, I miss a fair bit of it because of my French comprehension. But the language barrier is a good defense mechanism too, when I want to ignore a comment in Yaoundé or Dschang I often fall back on “je ne comprends pas” which usually works. Until, of course, that one guy who simply repeated distinctly in English “I think you are very pretty.” “Oh, uh merci.” But that still doesn’t mean you get to walk me home, and thanks, but give me back my hand I wanted to finish.
            Overall though, I have been shocked by how little it’s bothered me. Before arriving in Cameroon, homesickness, French competency, and verbal street harassment were my main worries. The times I’ve encountered street harassment in the U.S., I’ve felt a slimy sense of violation and a choking rage at my own vulnerability. Quite frankly, it makes me want to turn around and shout rather obscene suggestions for what they should do to themselves (because I certainly won’t). But while whirling around and shouting “fuck you” is my enraged urge, out of shock and fear I’ve never done that.

            But the harassing language I’ve either overheard or experienced in the U.S. is very different from what I hear walking down the street here. “I want your pussy, shaved or not” is a far cry from “ma chère, ma chère, tu es belle.” Men still don’t have the right to comment on my body, it is not here for their viewing pleasure or awaiting their judgment and affirmation. So while the comments here are much more innocent, I still initially objected to them.

            But my fifteen year old neighbor gave me a very good piece of advice while showing me around the quartier my first weekend here. I walked along soaking in the crowded, colorful streets, aware in my peripherals that as usual I was being stared at. Luic commented “everyone is looking at you” and I responded that it made me uncomfortable and so I just ignored it. He told me “They just want to know you. Just say bonjour.”

It’s good advice, and following it has made me realize several things: The street commenting really is cultural, and is usually not meant in a degrading way. “La blanche” is an overture for friendship. These days I actually “bonjour” people first.

I figure, well, this is quite literally a two way street. If Cameroonian guys stare at me because they think I am pretty, honestly it’s mutual. I think they’re pretty too, and I’m not sure how much that contributes to me not minding their appreciative reactions to me. But more importantly, there’s a fine line between appreciation and objectification, but the smile and quick head nod I often get is somehow very different from a slimy ogle which undresses you with its eyes. This feels like genuine appreciation, curiosity and friendliness.

But the real reason I “bonjour” people first these days is it puts me in charge of the interaction. I am no longer being commented on, like a prize pony in a horse show, I am initiating the interaction and firmly anchoring it in the realm of friendliness, negotiating any objectifying undertones by creating space for friendliness sans the “unwanted commentary” aspect. For me, it’s been a small way to embrace and respect Cameroon’s welcoming, people oriented culture without surrendering my agency. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Happy Month Anniversary, Cameroon

A month ago I was in the backseat of the SIT car, driving too fast through Yaoundé on my way from the airport to Benedictine monetary/hostel at the top of Mont Febé which was home for a week of orientation. I’m slightly addicted to driving too fast, and Cameroonians have this down to an art form. There was wind in my hair and a bit of dust in my lungs and the smell of heat and city, and just so much joy because I was finally, after four years, back in Africa.

Despite the relaxed Cameroonian attitude towards life/time, I still feel like I’ve been flying since then. I can’t believe it’s been a month already. There are so many thoughts and experiences I have wanted to capture, but I have been too busy living them to bother writing them down. My head’s constantly a blur of new information and impressions, but here is a snapshot of some of them over the last month:

          The sound of Annie, my host mom in Yaoundé, singing nonstop around the house. After just two weeks in Yaoundé, Annie’s lilting, not quite off key singing sounds like home. 
My shoe, vaulting over heads in the fancy nightclub when my 30 year old Cameroonian dance partner dipped me and whiskey and soda and his impressive dance skills made me mistakenly think that I, too, could dance. I proceeded to try a leg/kick/flip thing that I kind of learned swing dancing years ago, with unfortunate results.
·         Tonight, dancing around the living room with my little host sister.

·         Madeline, Justine and I bent over laughing, collapsed on the dusty intersection on the road to the SIT office in Yaoundé. When Madeline fell with her giant backpack when we were packing up for Dschang, and none of us could get up we were laughing too hard.

·         Omelets inside a baguette, baguettes with Tarentina, baguettes with dinner, a whole baguette eaten on the way home from class without even realizing it, marching through Dschang happily munching.

·         Luic, my 15 year old sort-of neighbor in Yaoundé, and the laughing head shake of incomprehension he has when my French is particularly horrible.

·         Swamp ass, all day everyday.

·         This feeling of complete awe at everything I have to learn. I know nothing and I want to know everything—the language, what books about women and Africa Professor Noupa thinks are best, how to wash my sandals correctly, at exactly what time in the afternoon you switch from bonjour to bonsoir (different people seem to do it differently) where the line between universal human rights and cultural imposition is drawn, what Annie wants to do here PhD research on (I asked once and then forgot and need to ask again), why the dirt is red, everything.

·         Skirt hiked up, squatting in the kitchen with my Dschang host sister, washing dishes and talking.

·         Wearing my pagne (wrap skirt) from Mali for the first time, and my Dschang host mom telling me I am a real African woman and wanting to explode with joy.

·         Simply walking through the streets being happy. It’s hard for me to stress here because it’s simply too beautiful. I’m too busy trying to soak in the noise of taxis and French and constant friendliness, and the aching vibrancy of colors and life.

·         Chopping onions for dinner, all of us dancing in the kitchen of the Yaoundé SIT office on student’s night. These incredible people who share their brilliance and stories of bowl movements with me, the fact that my host mom asked me who my best friend in the program was and I started listing people until I realized I'd listed everyone. 

Cameroonian traditional dance class and our dance instructor literally grabbing my leg and moving it for me because I fail at rhythm, the feeling of being ok with not being perfect, a miracle  

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Oh hey here's a massive journal entry

Saturday, February 1st  
Today I helped my host mom make koki, a ground up bean paste that you mix with red oil, salt and a bit of pepper. You wrap it in banana leaves and boil it in a pre-heated pot. I sat and tore long strips of banana bark to tie the leaf-bean-pudding pouches and asked constant questions about the French word for kitchen items.
Today I also got to know the neighbor kids who live in the apartment next to ours, we share a balcony. Loic, the fifteen year old, is the oldest child I’ve met so far, but there’s a little girl and three little boys. The littlest boy is just a baby, probably 4 months. I held him and chatted with Loic for most of the afternoon. Our conversation was made possible by the translation services of the little girl, an 8 year old with incredible English. They each got to decide what language to study and Loic chose French, the little girl English. I think they said she’s studied English for 6 years, how that is possible when she’s 8 I don’t know. Possibly I misunderstood the French I was hearing, which is likely with my comprehension skills. Or the Cameroonian education system is just way better than America’s. Also possible.
Whenever my French was particularly unintelligible while talking with Loic, he’d call his little sister over and make her translate. We were able to find out each other’s favorite months, why they’re our favorite seasons, favorite colours, and lots and lots more. I love kids, and I’m not surprised that I love talking to Cameroonian kids. I don’t feel as self-conscious about my French, and I just have more fun with it. They’re all adorable and super nice.
Sunday I woke up at 7 am to scrub my fingers raw washing my clothes by hand. I was wearing my last clean shirt, the desperation explains the early wake-up call. I’d hoped to go to church, but my host mom Annie wasn’t feeling well so we plan on going next week. Annie and her sister Gella are “Evangelique”  Christians, and when we couldn’t go to church Annie put on praise music instead. She danced around the house and sang, and I joined in singing since I knew a lot of the English songs. I cooked omelets for breakfast after Annie instructed me in the use of the gas stove (the whole matches/fire thing still freaks me out). After lunch I walked around my “cartier” neighborhood with Luic as my tour guide. He’s fast becoming my adopted little brother/best friend/tour guide/French tutor, and I am pretty sad because he is gone to school until next weekend. Annie gave him specific instructions about where to take me and  when to return, so that she would know where I was at all times, which I am pretty sure he completely ignored. He was supposed to show me the Catholic church, since I’d told Annie I also like Catholic services, but there was no Catholic church in sight. Instead we ambled along red roads and avoided the insane traffic and laughed at my French.  We did see a mosque, and the call to prayer was haunting and melodic.
That afternoon Nathalie, the host family coordinator/unofficial “mom”/counselor of the program had organized a soccer match for the SIT students and families. I’ve missed African soccer on red gravel fields so much. It was wonderful. I am as aggressive a player as ever, but my footwork is entirely gone from my old middle school soccer glory days. I just ran around energetically and got in peoples’ way and had a fabulous time. Luic was my stand in family, and played goalie for the opposite team. I scraped up my knee stupidly when the gravel slipped out from under my feet, but the blood made me feel a bit bad-ass.  As usual Serge, the program assistant, literally took care of everything, grabbing my knee and demonstrating how to wash it properly without wasting my drinking water too much.
Luic and I walked to the top of the “palais de congress” which has public fields and then a tall building at the top of a long row of stone steps. The view of Yaoundé was gorgeous, of course.

Then we walked back home and sat on the deck in the cool of the evening and talked French some more, while I held the baby of the family. Cameroon is a culture of sharing, and neighbors and friends share work and responsibility and parenting. Annie and Gella freely chastise and love the neighbor kids, no problem. I was changing the neighbor baby Onzo on the first day, and Annie has promised the other neighbor friend downstairs occasional free babysitting for her little one courtesy of me. Which I am genuinely totally cool with, more than that. I love babies and I love Africa babies (they tend to be pretty chill. Also beautiful) and I love integrating into the culture. Tonight, Annie and Gella borrowed my internet key (looks like a USB drive but it is plug in internet access you can pay for) because theirs’ ran out, and also my converter for the fridge after their converter broke.
 I love it because Cameroonians NEVER ask favors of temporary “guests,” but once you’re in the friend/family circle, sharing is just the way of life. I’m pretty thrilled to be becoming part of that circle. 


February 1, 2014

My host “mom” is early thirties, a journalist, with impeccable English and impeccable fashion sense.  Quite frankly she is intimidatingly fabulous. My first day with my host family was basically a continued subversion of so many stereotypes about Africa and America.

My host mom is determined to help me taste Cameroonian culture, today she made me koki, a traditional dish, and she also plans on bringing me to her favorite nightclub. It’s not the first thing that came to mind when I thought “African culture.” I’ve been a college student near Albany, an ok sized city, for three years, but never in my life have I been to a nightclub.

There was this dude last semester who kept telling me that I needed to let my hair down and have some fun, and that we should go dancing, and I was like “Nightclubs are not my scene.” “What is your scene then,” he demanded, and I said Africa.

And now, because I am obsessed and focused on understanding and integrating into African culture as best I can (and also because I DO like to have fun, and occasionally my definition of fun and other people’s definition overlap) I am going to go clubbing, African style. It’s pretty ironic and I think it’s fabulous.

I’m loving the fact that my own expectations about Africa are being contradicted by Cameroon; the vibrancy and red dirt and warm smiles of Cameroon are very familiar from Mali, but the main difference I’ve noticed so far is how metropolitan Cameroon, (or Yaoundé at least) is. I first noticed it in the slightly superior tone of a Cameroonian ex-pat (we were best friends for ten minutes in the customs line at the airport) when we discussed the differences between Cameroon and Mali. The “big city” impression has grown since then, largely because, well, Yaoundé is a big city. With a population around 1.5 million, Yaoundé dwarfs anywhere I have ever lived (primarily Hoosick Falls and Siena, each at a solid 3 thousand population).

I am a small town girl in the big city and the unique flavor of this African city just makes that even cooler/stranger/more contradictory and interesting.  I frequently feel like a country bumpkin, particularly because we were instructed to bring very conservative clothes, and the incredible fashion sense of Cameroonians puts me to shame. Whether it’s traditional, elaborate embroidered dresses or Western jeans and heels, Cameroonian women rock the fashion world. I’ve never been super self-conscious about being fashionable, but walking around in a frumpy skirt and men’s t-shirt, I have clothing envy all the time.

And the education level of most of the Cameroonians I have interacted with so far puts me to shame. My host mom rattles on in the perfect English that is necessary for her job, and I feel like an idiot with my stumbling French.

But as out of place as I sometimes feel, at the back of my mind I love it for the ironic contradiction of so many American stereotypes of Africa. As far as normal Americans go, I am a little bit less clueless about Africa after going to Mali when I was 16 and being obsessed with Africa since 12.
But even so, I know nothing, and have everything to learn.

*Note: I did actually go to a nightclub. Maybe it's just Africa, but it could occasionally be my scene. 

Monday, February 3, 2014

la feminism and dinner table french

January 28th.
Today is technically the first day of orientation, and I had an in depth conversation about feminism EN FRANCAIS. I’m pretty ecstatic about it. My French is terrible, the three A’s I’ve gotten in all my French classes lied because my listening comprehension and oral skills are shit. Throughout the last three days, I’ve already gotten used to the blank panicked feeling as people rattle on in French and I understand about 15%. But I think a big part of the problem is the blank panicked feeling. Tonight over dinner all seven of us SIT kids made a pact that we are going to only speak in French during meal-times, we can use English while hanging out but if we want to improve we need to practice together. I was like “oh dear” but agreed, and as we sat and laughed and each stumbled through French occasionally, I started to relax a little and have fun instead of viewing each French sentence as a test. At one point, Jeff (who is the only guy in the program) said something jokingly that had a tinge of sexism, and I laughed and said “Careful, I’m a feminist” (but in French as per the new dinner table rules). 

Suddenly that turned into an in depth discussion of “La Feminism” which mostly involved Serge (our program assistant, who incidentally studied minority and women’s studies at university), and Brittany and Jeff, who both have adequate (ie really good) French for the subject. I was really frustrated, because it was such a fascinating topic and I wanted desperately to hear Serge’s voluble Cameroonian perspective, and felt I was missing it all. But when they recapped in English for me, I found I’d already gathered many of the key points: that in Cameroon the role of mother is highly valued, that he thinks feminism means that for American women there are more roles that are considered valuable (ie are open to women), that there are some types of feminism that are radical:  "la femme la femme la femme!” and that feminism in the U.S., France and Cameroon are very different because culture influences what feminism is, and what types of feminist there are. I responded in broken French, and with some help, that I agreed, but that there are different types of feminist in the U.S. as well, and that  “A mon avis, la feminism ne signifie pas la femme est mieux l’homme, mais la feminism est égalité” (or something like that. My written French is worse than my spoken, and that’s saying a lot). “D’accord.” 

And then I couldn’t stop smiling from then until now because I was having a philosophical discussion (one of my favorite things) about feminism (one of my favorite things) with new friends in Africa (clearly one of my favorite things) all EN FRANCAIS.

Maybe I am actually smarter than I seem, and stronger than I think. 

embarrassment: get used to it

Within five minutes of starting my grand solo Africa adventure, I managed to completely humiliate myself, before I'd even gotten past customs at the Albany airport. Honestly, it was the perfect start to the trip though.
So I was of course really nervous about keeping my passport and tickets safe, and decided to lace the strap of my little passport bag under my shirt, “because,” I thought “no one will be able to get to it there.” I should have thought of the fact that “no one” included me. But of course I didn’t until 3 minutes into my adventure when the lady in customs said “I’ll need to see that, dear” and I realized that “that” was my passport bag, securely tucked away from all access under my shirt. I tried at first to switch the strap over my head and out through my shirt sleeve, trying desperately to be both quick and inconspicuous while my arms flailed around under my shirt. But that of course just made everything worse while the bag-strap got hopelessly tangled with my bra strap. Finally I sighed, and, right in the middle of the security line, took my shirt off.
Thank God I’d listened to the advice to layer while flying, and had a tank top on underneath (yeah, that mental image was getting too vivid). Tank top or no, I was still sufficiently flustered as I handed her my passport and they did the magic electronic scan of my body. After a few moments, she handed back my passport and reminded me gently “you can put your shirt back on.”
Oh, yeah.
I was pretty embarrassed, but honestly mostly just completely amused. I mean, can you see me? I can see me. It was like I was a spectator to my own…well, spectacle, and despite embarrassment I could recognize that it was freaking hilarious. In fact, I was rather glad that my parents, who’d stayed to wave to me one last time when I was through the customs barrier, had witnessed the whole thing.
Somehow it made me so much less nervous about the upcoming international flights, the next four months of living in a culture and speaking a language I am unfamiliar with. All of these unknowns that I have no experience with…of course I am going to royally and spectacularly fudge things up, frequently. It will be embarrassing. It will be hysterical. But making mistakes means you are doing something deeply and truly right, because you are doing something new, something challenging, something that will grow you.
The key is the ability to watch your own mistakes and laugh and love it.

 It's a skill I will be needing often. 

Friday, January 24, 2014

2014-2015 Life List

Life Lists: They're like bucket lists, but less morbid and more doable, because you give it a specific time-frame. Scribbled with my sisters while drinking tea a week ago, this year's is pretty exciting.

  • go to Africa
  • have red West African dirt caked to my feet again
  • travel internationally, on my lonesome (the international part comes in 2 hours. WHAT)
  • speak only French for a full day
  • go to an African dance party
  • find an African church to go to
  • make dinner with my host mom(s)
  • buy something in a Cameroonian marketplace on my own, without a translator 
  • take a taxi for the first time (location optional: Africa, Paris, USA) 
  • ...swim in the Mediterranean 
  • order Cafe au a cafe in Paris
  • also, eat baguettes and pain au chocolat in Paris
  • did I mention, see Paris? 
  • buy a scarf of a summer dress..something so I can say casually "oh yeah, I got it in Paris" 
  • play soccer with African kiddos every chance I get
  • learn to take good photos...aka at least one I am very proud/vain of, because good is subjective and I have too many photographer friends
  • make fabulous French press coffee, without having to call for Mom's help
  • have a real grown-up internship
  • perks if it's anti-trafficking 
  • buy a silver (African) ring that fits my lonely, too fat for all my rings, pointer finger
  •  dance at midnight to 22 as I turn 22
  • throw a 12 dancing princesses evening party, and dance in flow-y dresses with a bonfire and flowers in my hair
  • have a townhouse (hopefully) with a KITCHEN 
  • bake challah and make all my friends delightfully and happily fat, but mostly me
  • dance rave in my kitchen all the time
  • focus on joy senior year...and people 

Saturday, January 11, 2014


It's funny how the thing you want most in the world can also be what terrifies you most.

And it's funny because it's been this way since I was 12, and you'd think I would be used to it by now. I've desperately want to move to Africa since I was 12 and I've dreaded it every second. The downside of knowing that I wanted to move across the world was living with a bunch of goodbyes over my head, looming on the horizon. I fly out to study abroad in Cameroon in 12 days; I'm not ready for the goodbye. And for a girl in love with her family, who wants nothing more than to bake cookies with her mom and stay right here, four months on a different continent is a long time. But relatively, it's a little taste-test to see if this, Africa, is really truly it. After my two week trip to Mali when I was sixteen, I'm still hungry for red dirt, barefoot soccer and the beauty of people who laugh in the face of hellish poverty and suffering. Mali broke my heart and stole it too, and I'm hungry for that again, but frankly I'm terrified too.

 Part of the nerves are familiar from before Mali- I've wanted it for so long, that one of the biggest fears is getting there and realizing it isn't for me, that I was wrong about my life calling. Being known as the social justice girl who's obsessed with Africa is sort of like an overly showy relationship--what if it doesn't work out? There's a certain social expectation entailed by being openly in love, before you've really proved the relationship. I was terrified that it wasn't the "real deal" before going to Mali, and in answer just fell in love with the country and the people. But Cameroon's for a lot longer, and this time I won't be with family. I didn't really experience culture shock when I went to Mali, I loved every second of it (my culture shock coming back to the U.S. was much worse). Having my dad travel to Mali with me was a big part of that, I wasn't homesick because Dad brought home with him, I was safe.

But this time, the goodbye is a lot more real, and the real taste-test of (hopefully) the rest of my life in Africa, away from my family, is about to begin.

I don't really know how to live without these people. I count myself lucky that I have great friends and people who like me at college, only an hour away from home, because I have yet to fully figure out how to be myself without my family, without kitchen floor conversations about feminism and our souls, perpetual eating, bedtime stories with the littles, Sabbath dinners and challah dough between my hands. I'm only me when I'm with you at the top of my lungs dancing with my sisters in our living room, and it's our song because it's quite simply truth.

I guess I am praying that I will forgive myself for leaving, not just for this four months, but another two after that (another story), and eventually for as much of my life as God decides and clues me in on.

I'm praying that everything my family is, security, anger at injustice, passion and hope and dog-eared Bibles and a burning desire to love people and love God, that these people and these things that have shaped me are so well and truly in me that I will carry them with me as I hurtle into my future.