Culture & Race, Travel

World Citizen Storycast

Capture

I’m the featured guest on World Citizen Storycast this week… Check it out! It’s a fascinating podcast that captures stories of cross-cultural stories. From their website:

Jody Fernando, an American woman from Indiana who married a man from Sri Lanka, describes the cross-cultural life experiences that led her to write a blog post entitled WHEN WHITE PEOPLE DON’T KNOW THEY’€™RE BEING WHITE that went viral and caused a firestorm of commentary on the Internet. Jody shares some personal stories with us from her intercultural relationship and the challenges and rewards of living between two worlds. She also introduces her new book PONDERING PRIVILEGE:toward a deeper understanding of whiteness, race and faith.  Marcia and Lisle reflect on Jody’€™s experiences and insights.

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Spiritual Formation, Travel

The puzzle of many homes

Photo by PeterDargatz, public domain
Photo by PeterDargatz, public domain

In honor of our dear friends on their return to the Midwestern home they left long ago. May the many gifts of a life lived between worlds be theirs in abundance.

I am not a Third Culture Kid. I have one home with deep roots and long histories and pictures-on-the-wall-for-decades. But I have left home, and sometimes it makes me wonder who I am now that I have parted ways with the place that cradled me as a child. It knows nothing of my new reality. It spins in place, repeating the same stories generation after generation.

My world is different now. It is filled with places my childhood mind could have never imagined. There are street tacos, saris, homeless people, loud music, dusty streets, freeways, endless plane rides and too many languages to count. It is not the big skies and broad cornfields I once knew.

I return to the cornfields one summer and a day after I arrive, I have a dream:

My husband and children are aboard a sinking ship. Anxiously awaiting their rescue, I am safe on shore. Finally rescued, they stagger off a lifeboat into my arms. My heart breathes deep relief at their presence with me.

As the dream replays in my mind, the painful reality dawns on me that my home was their sinking ship, and I am so-very-relieved they didn’t drown there. It is a conflicting reality I don’t always know how to navigate. The land that cradled me so gently had not done the same for them; it had nearly drowned them.

Who am I in this place? I wonder.

More than any other place, it has carved the majority of my days. It will always be home and yet it may never become home again. I am an outlier now. I live amongst the freeways, alongside the sea, in the shadow of the movie stars and the mountains. My family spans the whole-world-wide. My children’s friends are Chinese and Filipino and Caucasian and Vietnamese and African-American and Mexican and Chilean and too many blends to count. My students and my neighbors come from even more corners of the globe…Syria, Albania, Egypt, El Salvador, Samoa, Italy, Vietnam, Pakistan. In the space of just one week, we can eat Malaysian curry, Mexican tamales, Lebanese kabobs, Peruvian chicken, Japanese boba, Portuguese peri-peri, and an In-n-Out double double animal-style.

It is in this journey from a cornfield-mind to a global one that I taste the reality of those who have known many homes but belong to none. Tears brim as I mourn the loss of what once was, but beneath my sorrow simmers more. On this path of many homes, I am learning resilience, beauty, and humility in ways I have never before known. It teaches me to walk toward the unknown, to reach for a hand in the dark, to surrender my privilege.

By faith, Abraham left his home and went to a land he did not know. 

Me too, Abe.  Me too. 

I wonder how Abraham, Sarah, his sons and daughters felt when they left their own cornfield. Did tears brim for the loved ones they left behind, for the relationships that would never quite be the same again? Did they struggle to learn the language and navigate the foreign culture? Did they ever long for the familiar-that-once-was?

I am not a global nomad. Instead I am something of a global pioneer – the first-in-my-line making many corners of the earth my home while my roots remain buried deep in a soil far away.

swirl

Everything changes; everything stays the same.

It is a paradox I now know well.

I fit and I don’t fit.

I belong and I stick out.

I understand completely and I am utterly baffled.

There is no longer any box. Lines established long ago are blurred now. I am left in a world wide open with unclean boundaries and shadows in every shade of gray, no longer the clean blacks-and-whites of just one place.

And God saw all that he had made and it was good, the highways whisper softly as I traverse the country from coast to cornfield to coast. Surely God intended some of us to stay and some of us to go, some to plant and some to tend, some seeds to grow deep roots and others to float on the wind. It is a purpose that we struggle to accept when we leave behind loved ones and familiar lands. Yet with each new home, I can’t help but wonder if part of this plan is, in Parker Palmer’s words, “to think the world together”.

swirl

My feet have known the silky soil of a freshly plowed field, the dusty chaos of the developing world, the cement sterility of the city, the pristine lawns of the suburbs. These days, I am less perplexed by this world’s diversity and more fascinated by the beauty of its vast complexities. Clearly, this place is not an accident. We are pieces of a puzzle, meant to form a picture of a larger whole. 

The challenge to those-who-move-around is to understand how those pieces fit together to tell a bigger story. Some would say it’s mass chaos; and there are days we hopelessly agree. We have seen the differences mount like a giant brick wall in the middle of Berlin. Yet we’ve also seen mothers who love their children both in war and in peace, people who serve the needy in red states and blue ones, and tears in children’s eyes both rich and poor. We have lived the intensity of Willa Cather’s words that “there are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before.”

When the last box has been packed and the goodbyes have all been said, we know far-too-well that the clashing realities of cornfields and freeways shape home for many hearts; and we embrace that sweet tension within. For while home may very well be where our story begins, it is far from where it ends. With each new step into the unknown, we cherish the gifts of the old and lean toward the hope of the new, our hearts irreversibly expanded by each of these places we’ve called home.

Culture & Race, Travel

Foreigner at a train station

train station

What happens when you shift from foreigner to friend without actually moving to a place? Such has become my reality in Sri Lanka, my husband’s homeland, as we have travelled there repeatedly over the past 15 years. I wrote this reflection for She Loves Magazine on my experience of returning year after year to the complex and beautiful country where my family and I love and are loved deeply. While it is not our home, it remains a precious piece of our life together.

swirl

I enter the train station trepidatiously. A foreigner-with-fancy-suitcases-and-tennis-shoes, I stand out against the locals in a sea of sandals, sarongs and saris. We board the train without incident and peer out the windows, eager to begin our journey. The train jolts and lurches forward; we travelers settle in.

We peer our heads out of the windows, breathing in a combination of warm-wind and train-smoke. The train clacks and bounces, while the intensity of both the beauty and the poverty rolling past our windows leaves me silently choked up.

Filth.

How do people manage to live like this? I wonder. But they don’t appear to be asking themselves any such questions.

“The people seem happier here,” my ten-year-old daughter observed. I have not spoken with them – I don’t know if this is really true or not – but from my train window, I notice the same thing: there is a contentedness to simply be that I do not often see in my wealthy-and-developed-world.

Shop owners chat. Children walk alongside mothers. Three-wheeler drivers await customers. There is no urgency to hurry or consume or buy.

Who am I amidst this place? I wonder. My external trappings carry no label except white-and-wealthy-foreigner. There can be no other put-on identity – funky, classy, intellectual, hip – except for this very obvious one.

It is undeniable that I do not belong here; but in spite of this, I cannot shrug the sense of strange belonging that comes with being a foreigner-wife. I am not merely a tourist in short-shorts trekking the ancient ruins and soaking in the breathtaking shores, but a family member, returning to the same people journey after journey, eager to see the small changes, check out the new developments and embrace the arms that have held my babies. We may not share language or culture or skin or fashion, but we share the same love for the same hearts. This bond holds us steady.

swirl

Click here to finish reading at She Loves Magazine.

Families, Children & Marriage, Travel

The value of traveling with young children

trainI watched my children peer out of the bouncing train’s window, absorbing the views and smells and sights of Sri Lanka. In a sense, it was not at all a ‘new’ place to them – we have traveled here to visit grandparents and aunties and uncles and cousins every few years since their infancy.  But in another sense, it is a brand new experience every time we come because with each trip, they know more, understand more, process more.

The sites from the train whizzed past us, poverty violently contradicting beauty, and I watched my children’s reactions to this just as carefully as I watched the scenery passing by.

DSC_2069 DSC_2050 DSC_2066 DSC_2081These were not views we saw regularly in our lives at home.  On the train, their strongest reaction was quietness (which is significant if you know my chatty son), and they didn’t say much about it at all until we came back to the States.

Two days after our return, my son climbed in the car after school and commented, “Mama, I think I’m just really into the world,” he declared matter-of-factly.

“What do you mean by that?” I’ve learned it’s best to always ask him for further clarification.  He has a bit of a history of mind-stretching conversations.

“Well, you know.  All the kids at school, they’re really into video games and stuff.  It’s all they talk about.  Me, I think about other things, like poverty and stuff.”

The views from the train entered my mind, and I waited for more.

“I mean, can’t someone do something about it, Mama?” he asked the very question I asked every single time I see injustice.  “Why do people have to live like that?  Can’t Barack Obama help them?”

I rejoiced for the awareness he showed and smiled at innocence.  Those train-views were sinking in, and he was starting to sort them out.

My intuitive daughter made a different kind of observation, “The people seem happier there, mama.”  Already she senses the emptiness of accumulation and busyness, noticing the up-side of living without.  My father-in-law used to say that it takes a long time to see the good in a place like Sri Lanka, but she sees it without delay.

Over the years, I’ve had my moments of wondering if we’ve been crazy to repeatedly take our children to a developing country plagued by war, dengue fever, and flying cockroaches.  When they were babies and toddlers, I was nearly convinced we were crazy.  Nine hour jet lag didn’t look too great on any of us except my energizer-bunny-of-a-husband in those years, and it would be a bit of an understatement to say we had some rough moments on those trips.  So why do we embrace the difficulty, the seeming risk of it all?  

One of the strongest lessons I learned when my husband and I were dating was to make decisions out of conviction and not fear. I’ve carried this concept with me into parenting, and it has helped clarify many decisions – especially the idea of traveling with our kids.  Though we don’t always live close by, we value our families deeply, and want our children to have the opportunity to know and learn from them.  This value of family connectedness held more conviction than my fear of bombs or dengue or flying cockroaches.  While the conviction didn’t erase the fears, it certainly put them in perspective.

In the earliest years of parenting, our decision to travel with our children was merely a hunch that it would be good for them in the long run.  “Start as you mean to go on” became our motto, for we wanted the world to be something that was as much a part of them as their hometown, and we knew that to do this, it should be something they had always known.

As they grow up, periodic responses like my son’s are confirming our hunch.  Trip after trip, I watch them connect with bits of themselves that they can’t find here in the US.  I rejoice quietly when I hear them use mulli and akka (the Sinhala words for little brother and big sister) for each other, when they call their father Thaathi with a Sri Lankan accent instead of an American one, when my daughter asks me to put her hair in a really low ponytail because “that’s how a lot of people wear it here”, or when they critique each other on proper finger-eating techniques.  While these are small and simple details, to me they speak loudly that our children are embracing all sides of themselves, proud to be shaped by both sides of the world.

They are by no means walking this path between worlds perfectly – their penchant for pizza and entertainment rivals most kids – but they’re doing it well, leaning in with whole hearts and open eyes.  It’s the sort of thing that brings a mama to her knees, grateful for the chance to walk alongside the unfolding of wonder and compassion.

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Spiritual Formation, Travel

Living in light of global reality

The heaviness of the tropical air settled on us as we waited for our baggage, two pieces of which had been lost. It was an instant reminder that life marches to a different beat in the developing world than in our Organized States of America. After a seeming eternity, we pushed our overloaded baggage cart through customs to finally embrace my husband’s parents who were convinced we’d missed the plane. As we left the airport, our arrival into another world descended on us quickly.

Driving in Sri Lanka looked more like a chicken fight gone bad than cars following rules of the road (what are those, anyway?). Piles of trash covered random street corners, their putrid odor overwhelming passersby. I breathed it all in deeply – finally, a vacation!

For me, the word vacation usually conjures up images of resorts, beaches, and relaxation rather than of bad driving, inconvenience and trash heaps. Yet as we’ve spent our days in Sri Lanka over the years, I’ve experienced a vacation of a different sort, for I did not occupy myself with the same kinds of expectations I carry with me in the U.S.

In the US, when I sit in an uncomfortable chair, I curse under my breath at the negligence of whoever must be at fault. In Sri Lanka, I was grateful to get a chair under the fan, comfortable or not. Here, I concern myself greatly with the tastiest brand of apple sauce or ice cream. In Sri Lanka, I’ve recognized that eating these foods at all is a luxury. Here, I rush to the hardware store to buy ant poison upon the discovery of a few ants roaming my living room floor. In Sri Lanka, the ants roam so freely and abundantly that on occasion, I’ve stopped on occasion to study their resourcefulness, order and determination.

In America, vacations nourish my self, surrounding me with opportunities to be served and relax. In Sri Lanka, the vacation was from myself, from my daily list of expected rights and materialistic consumption.

In Sri Lanka, I do not have the luxury of ignoring the reality of the harshness in our world, for it has all been in my face at once: poverty, injustice, beggars shadowed by a history of war, tales of child soldiers, land mines, suicide bombers. I do not step outside the gate without a breath of prayer for the safety of myself and my family, or pass a beggar-in-front-of-a-mansion without seething at the inequitable distribution of wealth around the world. I do not read the paper without shaking my head at the greed, selfishness of the-hands-that-hold-the-power.  I do not walk into the homes of my family with out breathing deep their resilience, faithfulness and fortitude amidst all of these realities.

Even in light of such immediate chaos, I still find myself easily consumed by my own humanness. Daily life settles in, and a battle between the global and the personal ensues.

My children wake up from jet leg four times in one night = despair … but at least they have a bed to sleep in.

The heat is so exhausting I can barely keep my eyes open = whiny attitude necessitating an afternoon nap … but at least I have a place and time to take a nap and a fan to sleep under.

A taxi driver cheats me because I am a foreigner = indignance! … but at least I have enough money to even be a foreigner, let alone get cheated.

My in-laws don’t get to see my sweet kids actually be sweet due to their 10 hour jet lag = pouting … but at least they get to see them at all.

Clothes are sooo cheap here.  I want to buy as much as I can! = greed … but the break from the obsession of American materialism is so refreshing.

swirl

“The mind wants the world to return its love, or its awareness; the mind wants to know all the world, and all eternity, and God,” writes Annie Dillard in Teaching a Stone to Talk. “The mind’s sidekick, however, will settle for two eggs overeasy.”

When I taught at a wealthy Christian university, I would dialog with students about what my husband calls “living in light of global reality”. We would discuss such complexities as the inequitable distribution of wealth, the lack of proper health care, the travesties of ethnic conflict and corrupt governments and what that meant for our personal and professional lives.  Occasionally, I’d run into an unusually naive student (usually a freshman) shocked at the prospect of poverty, but overall, the students were more trying to grasp a reality they had never known themselves.  Their background of privilege and sheltered lives made it difficult to understand another world, and even more challenging to determine how to make daily decisions in light of this reality.

It meant a lot of paradox for all of us.  Great compassion for children with AIDS or sex-slaves or racial inequities vs. buying new shoes to keep up with the trends.  Seeking a deeper understanding of the world vs. obsessively following the coolest music scene.

As I grow older, the questions only magnify.  Public schools or private? Suburbs or city? Safe or risky? Internally, I see that there are things far more important than my trendy new shoes or funky hair-cut. However, I continually grapple with the concept that ‘just because I can, doesn’t mean I should’ acquire, accumulate, and keep-up-with-the-Jones. As much as my mind throws its weight around by trying to be aware, my will acts far more often as its sidekick, settling for eggs over easy and a cute pair of shoes.

After years of ‘vacations’ in a war-torn tropical paradise, I’m slowly understanding this word paradox. It surfaces not only in the breath-taking beauty and heart-wrenching injustices of Sri Lanka, but also in my truth-seeking mind and self-seeking will. Living in the developed world, I face a constant tension to live in light of global reality because the pressure to keep up with the neighbors usually outshouts the hungry stomachs and unseen injustices in my direct line of sight.  (Even my dear mother-in-law comments when she visits how tempting it would be to buy things when they’re packaged so nicely).   In light of this tension, I count it a great gift of intercultural marriage to have reason for this reality to be part of my own family.

For Western believers, living in light of global reality means we need to spend far more time facing our role in better responding to these paradoxes, not shying away because we don’t understand. We begin this process by seeking to live humbly with each other, by listening for voices big and small, and by examining where our treasures truly lie.  A daunting task to be sure, but one that our Father clearly calls us to.  “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,” the Story tells us.  May we care for more than just our little corner well.

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Travel

Mental adjustments in crossing cultures

We’ll be heading around the world again soon, and I often think back to this moment of mental readjustment on a previous trip.  Surely there will be more, and I am ever grateful to these opportunities to reset my Western mind of abundance and consumption to a global reality.  

Four a.m. on an empty street in Sri Lanka. A man rides his bike. The shops wear their night dress of metal doors and barred windows. A few stray dogs catch a nap on the curb before the noise of the day begins. I am arriving in an air-conditioned taxi, complete with red velvet seats and Buddha figurine dangling from the rear view mirror.

We’ve just arrived from the States for a holiday with my husband’s family, and my cultural adaptation gears are shifting a bit too slowly. Somebody at the airport broke a piece off my fancy new stroller, and I, in my Western expect-efficiency-now-mindset foolishly tried to get a responsible looking employee to find it. He smiled at me, nodded his head agreeably, and walked away. I never saw him again.

Working out of my bad mood over the stroller incident, I stare out my window at the barefoot, lone man pedaling a bike. His feet are dusty, his shirt worn. Stick thin legs extend from the sarong wrapped around his waist. I wonder about his life. Does he have a family? How many children? Does his roof leak in the rain? How many people sleep in his bed? Does he have enough food to eat?

“What is he doing out so early?” I finally ask my mother-in-law. Inside, I really wonder what he thinks of me, the rich Suddha in the luxury taxi.

“Probably going to work.”

I feel ignorant and privileged. Where I’m coming from, no one commutes to the office barefoot on a bike. I can’t reconcile this, however, and feign understanding with a nod, “Oh.”

I wonder more. Is he Tamil? Sinhalese? How has the war affected him? Who is his God?

“Work?” I respond after a few moments. “Why so early?”

“He probably sells fish. Has to be at the market early.”

I gulp. The priority of the missing stroller piece plummets in importance. A man on an empty street riding a bike at four in the morning to sell fish – rancid, slippery fish – to eke out a living that might not even put food in his children’s mouths (if he has any). Yet he doesn’t seem to notice.

He also doesn’t even seem to notice me or the privilege of the nine suitcases piled high behind my seat. While the weight of abundance descends heavily upon my shoulders, he is simply riding his bike to work, at four in the morning, to sell fish at the market.

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Education, Travel

Bright smiles and marker caps

marker caps

I wrote this years ago reflecting on time I spent teaching English in Burkina Faso, West Africa, one of the poorest countries in the world.  Thanks to these children, hardly a week passes that I do not think of the realities of children living in poverty.

“Nasara! Nasara!” the children shouted as my moped puttered down their street. I may have been the first white person they had ever seen. “Goo morneen!” they waved. Some wore tattered clothes. Some wore none at all. None wore shoes. Bright smiles dominated their tiny faces.

I arrived at school where I was met by my students, “Goo morneen, Meess. How are you today?” they inquired, taking my books and bag.

“Fine, thanks,” I was overjoyed, actually. Having taught in American public schools, the Burkinabé students continually amazed me with their respect and kindness. Together, we crossed the dusty school yard toward the classroom, dodging an occasional pothole, curious child or stray pig.

One florescent light bulb provided light to the classroom. To turn it on, you had to precariously maneuver the wires until sparks flew and the bulb flickered on. Thankfully, my students were more adept at hot-wiring light bulbs than I. They had already swept the dust from the room and arranged the desks. Covered in a mix of sweat and red dust, I opened the metal slatted windows to let in a breeze. Four grinning faces stared back at me, eager to catch a glimpse of the nasara.

staring at the nasara

When it rained, my students didn’t go outside for fear of catching malaria from getting chilled, and because the flooded, broken roads were too difficult to navigate on moped. I found this out one rainy night when no one showed up at my class except for the Bright Smiles. I invited them in, offering some paper and markers from my bag. Their eyes glistened with excitement to see such bright, clean colors in a land where most brilliance had faded and/or been covered by thick red dust long ago.

For an hour, we spoke broken French and colored together under the dim glow of the lone light bulb. When they left, several of my marker caps mysteriously disappeared, even though I thought had clearly asked for them all back. I never did figure out why they took just the caps and not the markers. Maybe that inch of brilliance was still more color than they’d seen in their short lifetime.

The World Health Organization reports that 23% of these bright smiles will die before they reach age 5. If my marker caps add a bit of brightness to their lives, they can have every last one as far as I’m concerned.

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Families, Children & Marriage, Travel

Living far away

We rolled our bags down the entrance ramp with the other familes, backpacks heavy, batteries fully charged. Yet another trip back through the skies, the growing reality of our global lives. Friends come to us from an airplane this week, and more family the week after that. In a few short weeks, we will fly around the world to cover our fingers in curry and slap away pesky mosquitos and sweat ourselves silly with the cricket-playing-cousins.

The trips jam-pack themselves full of old joys and new discoveries. While there is no luxury of next-door life anymore, we are grateful for the squished-full-but-still-too-short days that the airplanes allow us together.

“What’s pot roast?” my daughter inquires of her meat-and-potatoes grandpa. He’s shocked she doesn’t know, but I affirm sheepishly that this childhood staple hasn’t ever made it into our family diet. I don’t even know how to buy a pot roast at the grocery store, let alone cook one, and food traditions at our house are more likely to include practicing proper techniques of finger-eating rice or chopstick-handling noodles.

I see words on a window at the airport, and am captured by their truth.

indy airport poem

This is how it feels, sometimes, life above the swirling earth. Always places we’re going to, places we’ve left behind spinning themselves around our lives between cornfields and curry, airplanes and freeways, water-buffalos-in-the-street and cows-in-the-barn. Always translating manners or looks or words for each other, occasionally missing something in the mix. Always navigating the risky waters of rural racism or third-world traffic patterns or airport security gates.

I sit on the airplane and think of my life between worlds, of the places I’m going and the ones I’ve come from. I think of how I can’t ever really go back to who I was and how I’m always becoming something new. I think of my students from the corners of the world and of my grandma from the corner of a cornfield. I think of the tractor induced traffic jams on back country roads and the breakneck speed and overflowing freeways of the city.

And I try to think them together – these worlds – for so many try to think them apart. I think of the grandma-from-the-West-African-bush with a giant smile and not a word of English making her way to the big city to see her first born grandchild. She smiled broad as she recounted how tall the buildings were. I think of a shivering young wife in a thin sweater slipping on ice for the first time in a bitter winter on her way to a new home. She shivers as she remembers, “It was sooo cold.” I think of a nervous young woman, in love across worlds, trying to impress her new family with her finger-eating skills only to fling half her plate of rice onto the ground.

Who are we becoming as we flit around the globe on these metal birds? I wonder.

It’s tempting to think I am the first to forge this path, but I am not. While some have tied themselves to the land, nomads have roamed for eons. They didn’t have airplanes or Skype, but the story tells itself the same.

Leave home.

Wander.

Make a new home in a strange land.

I think all the way back to Abraham, who did this very thing. Sometimes I wonder if he ever longed for the simplicity of just one home, if he struggled to make sense of the clash of the old and the new.  The Story says he did it by Faith, even though he didn’t know where he was going.  He probably made some mistakes in his new land – used the wrong words or touched the wrong thing or wore the wrong tunic. We don’t know about any of those details. What The Story determined we needed to see was Abraham’s faith to walk forward without knowing the destination.

Perhaps this is one little piece of thinking the world together: to trust that the beauty and strength and hope of the world far away runs just as deep and rich and true as the home that lingers in our memories. When we cross these caverns, our lives speak silently, echoing that we are better together than apart, that we must see more than just the broken ways of wounded people.

It used to bother me that all these worlds didn’t fit neatly in the box I thought they should.  Anymore, it usually just leaves me grinning for I’m growing to love the overflowing, shape-shifting nature of living on the bridge between bland pot roasts and spicy curries, flat cornfields and tiered rice paddies, slow tractors and speedy freeways.  While there is undeniable loss in living far away from all of our loved ones, it marches hand-in-hand with an unspeakable richness that comes from living between worlds.

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Travel

The world in color

In a class I taught last spring, we talked about how the world gains a layered complexity once you leave the space that you know and enter one that you don’t.

“The world isn’t black and white, it’s gray,” I commented to my students. However, I woke up the next morning realizing I was wrong.  While I still maintain that the world is not black and white, it isn’t anywhere close to gray, either – the world exists in vivid color.  Limiting it to just two hues removes a depth of complexity that takes away beauty from our lives.

One of my coping mechanisms for surviving my husband’s PhD program was to develop an array of personal hobbies.  To my great delight, one of the hobbies I developed was photography and photo editing.  When editing photos from our most recent trip to Sri Lanka, I found myself jacking up the intensity and contrast on the photos of Colombo, the capital city.  They weren’t exactly realistic looking, but the intensity and depth of colors felt more accurate to me.  “This is how I see Colombo,” I mused, “teeming with color, full of life.”

In the scheme of things, isn’t that how the whole world spins? There are no moments in black and white.

And yet, some still mute these moments.  We bow to a ‘culture of politeness’, smear it with smiles, and muffle the quiet desperation in our hearts.  Loudly, we proclaim the white of truth, the black of sin and move triumphantly on. Yet when do we pause to speak of the staining red of unchosen sacrifice, the haunting browns of crippling addiction, the bruising purple of unhealed wounds?  When do we stop to breathe deep and notice the infusing green of hard-chosen growth, the eye-opening yellow of soaking in the sun, the intense orange of walking with a well-lived passion? Continue reading “The world in color”

Travel

Out on the open road

ImageThere’s something soul settling about driving mile after mile on a highway (without a two year old, of course – that’s more of a nightmare).  Once we made it through the doldrums of never-ending Kansas, we were left speechless by the beauty of Colorado and Utah.  It was as if every mountain let us pass through, silently reminding us that the universe is large and we are small, that we hold but a moment of space in time, and that there is a reality much larger than the transition of our current moments.  It felt good to be small, to shrink into the vastness and to remember that my role is simply to pay attention to what God creates, not orchestrate it.

ImageAt present your business is to come and see.  Come and see.  He is endless.  Come and feed.” – C.S. Lewis

Travel

Tips for packing a carry-on for a loooooooong plane trip with kids

Tips for pack carry-ons

  1. Carry a travel purse.  I use an Eagle Creek Pouch I purchased years ago that has a thick cross-body strap, top flap and lots of zippers.  This is where I keep our passports, itinerary, $, etc.  I don’t ever take it off when we’re in the airport, just to be sure I don’t lose our important info.
  2. Take a change of clothes.  You can live with pee/puke dried on jeans for a few years, but its positively miserable to live in it for much more than that!  Don’t forget a few extra pair of underwear!
  3. Bring food. Due to the horrible news stories about runway delays combined with the unpredictable quality of airline food + kid moods, I also take snacks like energy bars, fruit strips, goldfish, apples, clementines, and grapes.  When the kids were small, we also had to make sure we had enough formula and our own water (one airplane we were on actually ran out of water once!).  Candy isn’t a bad idea for bribery purposes (like when your kid is screaming while the rest of the plane is asleep!). Continue reading “Tips for packing a carry-on for a loooooooong plane trip with kids”
Travel

How to pack for an international trip with children

I’ve just started prepping for our 30+ hour trip ‘home’ to Sri Lanka for Christmas and thought I’d take some time to share my process of packing.  I’m a planner, and I enjoy organizing, so it’s actually a fairly enjoyable task for me. We also have a lot of details to keep track of in our lives, so it helps me maintain a sense of sanity to spread out the preparations over several weeks. Since I’m busy prepping, I thought I’d do a series of posts geared toward packing to travel with children.  Today’s post details the timeline I follow for packing.

Timeline

One month out

  • Make a packing list.  I usually start a detailed list this early so that my brain has time to remember all the things I forget.  Making the list early lets me realize what I forget before I actually need  it!  If you’re not the list type, here’s a copy of a generic packing list that I use.
  • Buy gifts.  I always take gifts to our family, but it can be a challenge to stay within my budget and find nice things to take.  Some of my favorite go-to gift items are frames, jewelry, books, and music.  They aren’t too expensive and fit well into suitcases!
  • Buy supplies.  Airplane snacks, travel toiletries, neck pillows, things to do.  Buying this kind of stuff early early leaves the week before we leave to deal with more pressing matters like paying bills and tying up loose ends.

One-two weeks ahead

  • Start packing suitcases.  I usually start on the early side so that I can make sure I have everything washed and ready.  It doesn’t take a huge amount of time to pack because I just follow the list I already made – I just have to plug in the details.
  • Finish trip purchases.  I like to leave the week before I leave to just focus on getting everything ready, not running around crazy picking up last minute things.  This way, if I do end up forgetting something, it’s usually only one or two things to track down rather than 10 or 12! Continue reading “How to pack for an international trip with children”
Culture & Race, Travel

The American dream versus the good life

A deep bass beat rippled through the darkness of the dance club.  Strobe lights flashed outlines of bodies, some clinging, some flailing, some just sitting and staring.  A newly arrived English teacher to Burkina Faso,West Africa, this wasn’t exactly the way I had anticipated learning about a new culture.  However, my new West African friends had mistakenly assumed that because I was American, this would be the scene in which I felt most comfortable.  I am neither a clubber by personality nor a dancer by ability.

I ordered a Coke and did my best to play wallflower – not an easy task for one of two nasaras (white people) in the room.  Pondering the scene, I realized ironically that I was the only person in the room not donning the “American” uniform of jeans and T-shirts.  As the beat shook the walls, we abandoned our attempt at conversation and coolly turned our attention to the crowd, all the while Solomon’s warning about chasing the wind thundering through my head (Ecclesiastes 1 & 2).

With tight Levi’s, smooth moves, and Coke bottles, the clubbers of the night chased their imagined version of the American dream.  In class, my Burkinabé students echoed similar assumptions, believing that American streets were literally paved with gold.  Consequently, it wasn’t difficult to understand why a ticket to America was their dream come true (especially since most of the roads in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso’s capital city, were not paved at all).  This mentality recurred throughout Ouagadougou – American flags on T-Shirts, pictures of American movie stars on billboards, or American rock classic playing in restaurants.

As I grew to love the warmth of African hospitality and graciousness, I also grew increasingly fearful that such cultural strengths would be blown away by the very winds they were chasing.  “This isn’t what you want,” I challenged my students one day as we discussed the opulence of American culture, “I know it appears enticing, especially in comparison to the poverty, hunger, and injustice people here face on a daily basis.  But what I see being chased – the pride of “image”, the greed of materialism, the selfishness of “independence” – is a façade.  It won’t get you any further than where you are now.  Financial poverty in America is limited, but spiritual poverty is widespread.  Not many go hungry for food, but droves starve for love, recognition, and success.  The injustice to our own is not as blatant as what many countries see in their leaders, but there are still many left unfairly forgotten, neglected.” Continue reading “The American dream versus the good life”