I'm a recent returnee from overseas who is wandering through life right now trying to figure out where to put my next footstep on this thing called life.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Finding Rest

Today is an incredibly beautiful sunny Vancouver day, and I'm so grateful. Like many other Canadians, we have not had a fantastic start to the summer, but this weekend has a lot of promise. To celebrate the good weather, I headed out to a local park with books and journal in hand.

As I sat down to take a read through my journal and reflect back on these last few months I began to notice this recurrent theme that takes place in my life. My inability to "rest" is something that I have continually struggled with in my adult life. Don't get my wrong, I'm not one of those people who is buzzing 24 hours a day, fidgeting, nervous energy emitting from all pours, but I am someone who struggles to find true rest in both mind and spirit. If I'm not being physically active, or working myself extremely hard, than I'm boggled down with thoughts of what I could be doing or what I should be doing with my time. (Those of you like me know what I'm talking about, and are shaking your head in agreement at this moment).

This issue is something that I decided to address when coming home from Liberia. I knew it wouldn't be easy, because like I mentioned, it's not something natural for me. But I knew that I needed to focus on it, not only because every person that has been overseas kept telling me to make sure I rested, but the concept of finding rest was something that resonated deep within me. My first few weeks, I was so physically exhausted that I didn't even fight the battle. It was after that initial jet lag that I found those old familiar feelings and thoughts come back to mind. Thoughts like, "What are you going to do today?", "You shouldn't be just sitting, you should get up and be doing something!", or "Did you just really not accomplish anything all day??"

So I struggled with it, I battled it, I kept telling myself to be okay with just being. It made me irritable at first, and I felt very purposeless. I felt like if I hadn't contributed to something that day than my day was a waste and in many ways this concept of needing to contribute was tied to my self worth. Today, two and a half months later, I'm still struggling. It's not easy, I haven't perfected it, but I'm committed to continuing to find ways to just "be". And it doesn't even stop at learning to rest, but also at taking joy in doing the things that we often wish we could do as humans, but never allow ourselves the time or pleasure to do. (It could be as simple as reading the book in the park on a sunny Vancouver afternoon.)

Recently I read Psalm 116:7, which says,
Return to your rest, my soul, for the Lord has been good to you.

As we continue to be people who live in the now not worrying about what to accomplish next, I think this verse has a lot to teach us. If you struggle with this issue of just living in the moment, of just being, maybe this verse will be of some comfort or even encouragement to you today.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

New Thoughts

So, I'm sure many of you have thought that I have dropped off the face of the earth. Well, I haven't, but I have definintely hit hibernation mode, with few excursions here and there. I was encouraged by people to keep writing even though my time in Liberia had officially come to an end, but the trouble with writing when I first returned was where to find my inspiration? Honestly, if you knew my day, which usually consists of a late wake up, cups of coffee, a trip to the gym, and maybe a few hours of tv and more eating in a day...you would understand the lack of intelligent or meaningful thoughts going through my mind.

But recently, I have been feeling more like putting my thoughts down. Where will it lead? Who knows, but I feel like it's time to write again. For those of you looking for some profound thoughts on reintegration, you should probably look up those authors who have studied these things for years and written extremely valuable resources. Mine will be more personal, and will simply be little "snippets" of my experiences. They will be the moments in my day which catch me off guard, and make me think to myself, "why am I rethinking this experience?"

Most recently one of these experiences happened to me at a 7-11 store. I had this very simple experience where I was counting out 5 cent candies into my bag, and I started, "5, 10, 15, 20...", and I hit 50 cents and suddently this overwhelming feeling and thought came into my mind, that if I keep going for 11 more pieces of candy I would surpass the average daily income of a Liberian. Something just sunk in my heart, that here I was counting out my candy that I had a craving for and I would be spending more on my sugar high than the average person in Liberia had to survive.

You would think it would be the big things that would make me stop and feel a deep conviction. The funny or even ironic thing is that I drove to the 7-11 in my recently bought a car, and didn't even think about that purchase. As with many of you, I'm constantly bombarded by the price of housing, increasing fuel costs, and increasing food costs, but it was the simple thing...the 5 cent candies that made me stop and think. As painful as these moments are, I want them to continue, and I don't want to become insensitive to them. I want to be stopped in my tracks and made to think about other things beyond the struggles of what I experience financially in my home culture, and most of all, I don't want to forget those who so deeply impacted me overseas.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Living it Rainy River Style

It's great to come home, particularly if your home town consists of 800 people. It's the exact pace that one needs to be able to adjust from their overseas home back into Canada. There is something so soothing about just coming home. Of course, I'm being spoiled by my mom and dad as they take care of me and help me catch up on rest. I've been hit by a "fresh cold" as they say in Liberia...so I'm hopped up on cold and flu meds.

Anyways, the trip home was nothing to memorable other than really being longer than I ever wanted. I am starting to detest airports and really find no joy in being in transit. I was able to overnight in Ghana, and catch up with old friends. We had a fun night out and I enjoyed that part the most about my journey home. Otherwise it was traveling through till I eventually reached Winnipeg about 55 hours later.

Being home has it's benefits. I've been trying to adjust to the cold mostly and just keeping warm while catching up with friends and family. It's adjusting to the conveniences of life as well, such as 24 hour power, running hot water, the speed of which things happen. I have no profound thoughts as of yet, and haven't really processed everything. I'll post though as revelations come.

I do have this one simple observation though about Canada. We have gadgets for everything! I have watched ads for meat seering tools that put your initials in your steak, or a little tool that cuts away tough plastic from other tools that we have bought. We are a funny culture.

Anyways, I'm sure I"ll have more of these funny observations to post. Bear with me as I experience reverse culture shock!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Saying My Goodbyes!

Well, the time has come to say my goodbyes to friends that I have met here in Liberia. For those of you who have transitioned from one culture to another, I'm sure you know the mixture of emotions that I've been working through these past few weeks. Today was my last day with staff, and it is tradition in our office to give a Liberian flag to departing guests and then sing a song, "My hands are Blessed", and give hugs. So many times, I have been part of the departure process, but to be the recipient this time was strange.

I knew I would never make it out of the situation without tears, and my only goal was not to get to that embarrassing stage where there are tears flying, mixed with sobs and the inability to communicate. Thank goodness, I stayed above that line, just barely, but I managed to get through it. It was extremely touching to look around the room and see faces of people who I have grown to love over these past two years.

For those of you who have been sending emails, skype messages and msn messages reassuring me that you are praying for me...this has been so helpful. Thank you for thinking of me during this time and for keeping me in your prayers.

To my Liberia Family...not much to say other than thank you for a wonderful two years!

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Malawo Mountain

Okay...so it wasn't exactly a mountain, at least in the Canadian sense of the term, but it did provide a good sweaty workout to reach the top and reach our destination of Malawo. We set off from our guesthouse at around 8 am, drove 1.5 hours, and then strapped on our running shoes, grabbed our Gatorade bottles, and had sweat rags on hand. Our ultimate goal was to reach the village of Malawo with the opportunity to distribute gifts to the children of this village. This would be my first visit to the village, but others had been there three times.

There is huge importance to this community as it relates to the rest of the country. Uttered amongst Liberians the name of Malawo brings up strong images, feelings and emotions. Malawo has been a focal point for traditional practices such as the secret society, and often attached to it are dark and often very spiritual events. It is known that at least two past Presidents have traveled to this area to offer human sacrifices (the picture above shows the altar) as there is a strong belief in Liberia that human blood has sacred powers. More often Malawo is associated with medicines/charms, and I don't mean medicine that you purchase in your local pharmacy! The night before we traveled there, many local staff shared stories of visitors to Malawo being "cursed" with leprosy, paralysis, and even death. (Not really a warm welcoming advertisement to the community).

You're wondering if I have lost my mind right? The reality is things are changing in this community and we have been invited through partnership with a local church to work in this area. Community members have come to realize, as a result of the war, that their past traditions do not hold the powers that they believed they did. The war forced people outside their village, therefore exposing them to other ways of lives. Many started to realize that they had put their hope in a power did not really protect them, as many lost family members, and all of them were touched in some way by the horrors of the war. Additionally, this community has come to realize that while they are holding on to the past they are not giving opportunity to their children and a future. (Currently, the children in the village walk 1.5 hours each way to school down the mountain, and the community suffers from lack of access to clean water, and other necessities).

It's hard to explain this all in a simple blog entry as it's very complex and there are many different aspects to explain. When our past team went their to visit they found a village that was split in their decision to invite "outsiders" in to visit. Up to this time, men could not wear toe covered shoes, women couldn't wear tops, there had not been light (like a generator) in this community ever, each entry point to the community had an arch way with charms hanging from it, and the whole community was encircled by a rope that everyone entering had to pass over. In one months time, at the urging of no one from outside, the community has removed the charms and the rope, women are allowed to be out of their houses on their own and wear tops, and the community is eager to have us return and even spend the night with them.

You might be saying to yourself, so what is the big deal, women are wearing tops? This is not about getting women to wear tops, nor to force development on someone, but it is opening people's eyes to the bondage they have been in. All these "rules", like no tops, are directly connected to secret society practices, and defying these rules means that you are challenging the very thing that you believed has made you powerful in the past. It's amazing and still blows my mind.

On a surface level, we went to do a simple thing, such as distribute gifts, or we have helped start a school in the community, or are working towards helping them with their water issues, but beyond that there is something very "real" and complex happening here. And I have gotten to be part of this change and to build relationships with people like the people of Malawo. It honestly brings me to tears thinking about what is going on in this one little tiny corner of Liberia...it humbles me and leaves me in awe.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Looking For Your Input

I've been reading Muhammad Yunus' book, "Banker to the Poor", and was hoping to get your feedback to a paragraph that he wrote. (Muhammad Yunus, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, created Grameen Bank, which is a banking system specifically designed for the poor. Grameen Bank has provided 3.8 billion dollars to 2.4 million families in rural Bangledesh.)

"When we want to help the poor, we usually offer them charity. Most often we use charity to avoid recognizing the problem and finding a solution for it. Charity becomes a way to shrug off our responsibility. But charity is no solution to poverty. Charity only perpetuates poverty by taking the initiative away from the poor. Charity allows us to go ahead with our own lives without worrying about the lives of the poor. Charity appeases our consciences"

Give me your thoughts.

Friday, February 08, 2008

How Cute is She???

"Through crab, crayfish gets Water!"

Believe it???