Just Live

The last six weeks have been spent in Guy’s Hill, a small town nestled in the beautiful green hills of Jamaica. It was the bulk of our Peace Corps education training, and after many sessions of language lessons, behaviour managment in the classroom, and teachable reading strategies we packed our bags and headed back to where we orginially stayed when we arrived on this dynamic island. The time in Guy’s Hill was informative, helpful, and imporant as we gainded experience working in a classroom.

It was also challenging to absorb all of the information and complete the different assignments given to us throughout our time there. One day I came home a bit overwhelmed, and my host mom said, “Britt, all we can do is take each day, give thanks, and just LIVE.” There is a lot of wisdom packed into that sentence and I have walked away from Guy’s Hill still working on achieving that mindset. One of the many things that has stood out to me in my short time here has been how so many Jamaicans I have interacted with celebrate the day that they have today. It has been a refreshing reminder that each day we have is a gift and it should not be taken for granted even if it feels like you are not doing anything right.

As I get ready to visit my permanent site in just a few days, I have to continuously remind myself to just live and always, always give thanks for today.image1

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My AWESOME Language teacher

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Easter fieldtrip

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My sweet Southern counterpart

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Rooftop Laundry

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First Day in Guy’s Hill

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One One Cocoa Full Basket

In my panicked last few days in the States when I was questioning the soundness of my mind, the ambiguity of what was before me, and my own capability of handling whatever was next, my dad wisely told me to just take things a step at a time. Flying from Bentonville to Houston to Miami to Kingston, I repeated that to myself over and over. Through staging and meeting thirty other Jamaican Peace Corps trainees I told myself that whenever someone mentioned their trek through Cambodia, or the non profit they started, or their detective career with the NYPD (yes, I am serving with a diverse and very talented cohort) until I ended up at the Peace Corps HQ in Kingston. Then in between countless (and necessary) information sessions I had a conversation with a former Peace Corps staff member who mentioned the phrase “One one cocoa full basket”. I asked what he meant and he explained the Jamaican proverb as advice for taking your time to arrive at a certain point – that you fill up your basket one cocoa at a time until your basket is full. Well… of course that delighted me and it has become my Jamaican life motto.

I am currently living day to day as each one is full of language and cross cultural training, policy briefings, and informational sessions. I also have a wonderful host family here that I will be very sad to leave. My youngest host sister calls me “Aunty Britt” and my heart just about explodes every single time she says it. She keeps me laughing and feeling loved.We will be at our current site for another week and half and then we will be splitting up into education and environment sectors to receive six weeks of intensive practical and hands on training on a different part of the island. If all goes well I will be officially swearing in as a Peace Corps volunteer at the end of May!

Mind the Gap

Whoa. That’s all I can say. The last time I blogged I was in the throes of figuring out what it meant to live for an additional four months in Nairobi, Kenya. Now, three years later, I am in Miami preparing to check out of a hotel at 4am and hop on a plane to Jamaica… for two years and some change. I told myself that after living in Nairobi I was done with living abroad on my own, that the challenges I faced adjusting to a totally unfamiliar place- one that I did not necessarily choose- was in the past never to be intentionally approached again. That joke’s on me.

This time around I have signed up with the Peace Corps to serve as literacy tutor and teacher’s aid in an elementary school somewhere on the island of Jamaica. Thirty one volunteers are headed down tomorrow to begin a 2 month training session on language, culture, and job skill sets. We won’t be formally placed until the end of this training.

A few of the reasons I am choosing to blog again are on my “about me” page, feel free to check that out and keep me accountable. The time inbetween these blog posts have been both challenging and delightful- graduating college and navagating post grad life is not for the faint hearted. Bouncing around from apartment to apartment, figuring out career trajectories, etc was frustrating, but the fruit of those gap years included living with some amazing people both best friends from college and new friends who showed me different parts of Chicago (looking at you Chlo), being present for friends who were planning weddings, traveling to visit my friend Sarah Ray in Peru, meeting and working with inspiring international students at my college alma mater, and discovering a church community that I resonated and fell in love with to name a few. All this to say- life hasn’t gone the way I anticipated, but there are aspects that have come with the curveballs that I wouldn’t give up for anything.

So here’s to another chapter of inevitable humorous stories, unanticipated discovery, and trying something new.

Recalculating

The last month has been hard. It’s been frustrating, complicated, and a time of questioning. 

Originally, as you probably know, I was supposed to be in Liberia by now, in the middle of the jungle, assisting with Amani’s Girl Club which focuses on keeping girls out of prostitution. For months I have been researching and mentally preparing myself for this exciting yet grueling opportunity. 

Have you ever been attempting to follow a GPS along a new route and then you miss a turn you never saw, moved into the wrong lane, etc and that dreaded word starts echoing in your car. Recalculating, recalculating, recalculating… (I have heard this quite often in my driving experience) It has to be one of the most frustrating sounds of the 21st century. 

I found out in the beginning of this month, approximately three days after my last blog post, that the possibility of getting to Yekepa was slim. Liberia is severely underdeveloped, and it is hard for me to wrap my American brain around the fact that what is keeping me from what was supposed to be my new destination comes down to transportation and other logistics. Instead I am currently recalculating.

Don’t get me wrong I have enjoyed my time in Nairobi immensely, but in the back of mind I have always viewed it as a temporary respite before I plunged into a hard core adventure. Instead of trekking through a rural village I navigate streets teeming with people, board a matutu, and bump my way along to work. Instead of the fresh air that I had been envisioning, I breath in the heavy pollution of the city. I think I have only seen the stars twice since I have been here. I was never a city girl and I don’t think I ever will be.

However, Nairobi offers so much and everyday I am learning more and more. My handful of Swahili words is slowly growing. I have the opportunity to meet people from all different types of backgrounds. Instead of gaining perspective from one context I am learning from Sudanese, Congolese, Indian, Ugandan, Kenyan, Somalian… I get to have dance parties with forty and fifty year olds complete with a disco light, Bollywood music, and a liberty to let loose. I get to continue to go to a church that I feel at home in. I continue to learn from a lady who started an international business after becoming a refugee herself.

The day after I found out that I most likely would not be going to Liberia, I found myself going in the wrong direction on the public transportation system. And I let myself get angry. Angry at the situation. Angry that I was still in Nairobi. Angry that I was not getting the chance to prove myself. Angry at God for not letting me know of his plans ahead of time. I was angry because I wanted to keep going on the route that I had punched into the GPS. Not this recalculating bit that was taking me where I did not want to go.

Now I find myself going down this new road, albeit reluctantly. I still feel waves of disappointment when I see a road sign that reminds of where I initially wanted to go.

The sun is shining in Nairobi today though. It is a new day and I honestly have no idea where I am headed. Some days I still get angry. Then I remember what I wrote about in my last blog and I laugh. I may have talked the talk but now I am being forced to walk the walk. 

Last weekend I attended the annual Amani retreat. The speaker talked about change. How change is never easy. How we always seem to view potential change as a negative experience. She talked about how it is easy to let yourself become a victim to change. I don’t think it was a coincidence. I was nervous to attend this retreat, but I was welcomed with open arms. It was a time of refocus and celebration.

Recently, I came across a proverb from Darfur that says something to the effect that a wise man (or woman) does not hide from the storm but learns to dance in the rain. There is so much to be thankful for and so much to rejoice over. It’s time to shake things up on the dance floor.

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Crawling Out

“You must know His hand in the everyday and that, in the end, is how you will find your way.” – Jessica, HNGR intern in India

Days have merged into weeks and the weeks have seamlessly created a month. Then two months. Now I find myself a third of a way through a six month journey. In some respects it seems like I have been in Nairobi forever, taking my taxi into work, chatting with the women at the Amani cafe every morning, always finishing homework at the last minute, and having the pleasure of experiencing blossoming relationships with all different types of people. On the other hand I have no idea where the last month has gone. Trying to recall the events, the emotions, the moments that give me joy, and the moments that are painful have all culminated into a great big stew where it is hard to pick out all of the individual ingredients.

Currently, I find myself in a strange position with my orientation with Amani Kenya almost at a close but my journey to Liberia not yet started. Initially I expected to be in Liberia by now with my “real” internship underway. Instead I am still in Nairobi with no official word on when I am leaving. It has been somewhat frustrating being in place with no defined role, yet at the same time the thought of leaving grows harder and harder. Relationships have been made, a church has become “my” church, and the modern conveniences that Nairobi offers are becoming more and more apparent, especially the more I hear about Liberia. 

It is so easy to get caught up in things like this. To withdraw from my context and to forget the big picture. Back in January when I attended Passion I was battling feelings of fear at the thought of doing HNGR. Fear sometimes has the tendency of creeping in through the cracks unnoticed in small increments, until one day you realize that your joy is gone. The speakers at Passion somehow triggered a recognition of how petty my fears were and the extent to which they had captured my imagination and held captive my trust in the Lord. It was there that I realized that HNGR was not about me. It is not about what I get from all of this or even how uncomfortable my situation may be. It is about the God who so lovingly created each one of us and who has His hand over all of our journeys whether that is teaching elementary school in Mississippi, about to start school in the fall, taking care of little ones at home, or going to the same workplace for the thirtieth year in a row. I think that might be one of the most overwhelming parts of this trip. That it doesn’t matter where I am or what I am doing. What matters is that God is there waiting for me to crawl out of myself into a life that celebrates His workmanship and His joy. It provides for a much more exciting life than always being concerned with how everything is affecting me.

A Volcanic Revelation

At 5’3, I am on the smaller side of average, and if you know my brother he is 6’6. He is also two and a half years younger than I am, so I have always been a little defensive about my respective size. I absolutely hate being thought of as weak, as many people automatically make that assumption when they meet me. In my fallen state, it is a bit of a pride issue that I tend to ignore, but this past weekend it pretty much hit me slap in the face in a wave of dust and incredible scenery.

There are two other awesome interns (working for World Harvest)  living with me at the Mutuuki’s and they invited me to go with their team to Mt. Longonot. Mt. Longonot is a dormant volcano that people come from all over to climb up and then around the crater for a total of about 14 km. I have never really climbed a mountain before and didn’t think much about it. In fact for breakfast I ate only a piece of toast. Needless to say it didn’t take long before that piece of toast disappeared and I was being pulled up the mountain by a guide named Edmond. How embarrassing. In one of the steeper parts as he was tugging me along he started talking about politics and it was all I could do to utter something in response. Talking about Obama, while trying not to faint, was not exactly high up on my priorities, but Edmond was really gracious and just said that maybe I’ll be the first female president.

When we got to the top of that first climb, I thought I might cry it was so beautiful and because I was so tired. We ate lunch though and after that I was a new person. It was a long hike around the crater and up to the tallest peak, but being in the sunshine and out of the city was incredibly refreshing. It also helped that the people I was with were incredibly kind and understanding. We even saw a giraffe out in the “wild”.

That experience was a great reminder of how I should be more dependent on God. If I left myself to my own devices I would be struggling at the base of a mountain. Letting God pull me up though means I get to see the beauty of life in ways I could never have imagined.

at the top, dirty but incredibly satisfied

at the top, dirty but incredibly satisfied

 

the inside of the now dormant volcano- incredibly beautiful

the inside of the now dormant volcano- beautiful

 

Oh My Soul

I have watched Michael Jackson dance the iconic Thriller. Seen how Shakira’s hips don’t lie. Witnessed the pinnacle of adolescent angst at prom. However, none of those quite compare to my  Kenyan host dad, who happens to be a pastor, “change the lightbulb” while dancing in front of the praise team this morning during church. It was one of the most delightful moments I have experienced in quite some time.

I know I mentioned the church I have been attending in my last blog post, but I can’t help but attempt to share some of the joy that New City Fellowship has inspired in my soul. It is so easy to find oneself in the routine of church: attend most Sundays, sing through the songs you know by heart while your mind wonders to your plans for the rest of the day, congratulate yourself when you make it to the occasional Sunday evening service, etc. Maybe it’s just me that often loses sight of the celebration that everyday should be, but especially Sunday morning. God has graciously been using New City Fellowship to remind me of that.

This Nairobi church is made up of predominately of Kenyans, Indians, and ex Pats, and one of it’s core values is racial reconciliation. Embracing the complicated tensions of class, race, and assumptions of the “other”, New City strives to heal the rift of racial divide in the name of Jesus. During worship we sing in Hindi, Swahili, English, and another Indian language called Gujarati. And it is a celebration. One of the English songs we sung today was Matt Redman’s, Bless the Lord (10,000 Reasons), and one special three year old voluntarily sang it again tonight. It was a good reminder that we all have something to be grateful for, the abundance of God’s love that meets us in all circumstances. Let me be singing when the evening comes.

This isn’t the same three year old that sang for us tonight, but how sweet is he?