Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A Little Thai Grows Up

Yeah, so….about not updating this blog for over a month…sorry about that.  Not sure that I have the energy or creativity to recount all the possible excuses at the moment, but trust me, they’re good, you would totally buy them and forgive me wholeheartedly.

One of those excuses could have been that I had a mid-life crisis with the passing of another birthday this past month, but it would be a total fabrication as it would 1) be presumptuous to pretend I have a clue when mid-life will be (I now can only say for certain that it wasn’t at 16 since I’ve made it past 32), and 2) I really don’t mind getting older.  Scratch that.  I enjoy getting older.  I guess the better way of phrasing that is that I have greatly enjoyed this whole living thing and am in full support of it continuing. However, it's been pretty sweet, so if it ends 5 minutes from now, I'd be at peace with that too.

My life has been ridiculous.  When I look back on the crazy, idiotic, ridiculous things I have done, I am filled with gratitude for being able to live long enough to become older and wiser and for having had the (for lack of a better word) cajones to have done every single one of those crazy, idiotic, ridiculous things.  Those are the things that shaped me and led me to this place in space and time.

The things I thought I hated when I was young, like being in a military family where my dad was often overseas or where we moved again and again, readied me to lead the life I live, to learn languages and adapt to cultures quickly and easily; to open myself to new friendships and a new life, time and again, but to also to be prepared to say goodbye for now but also to master the art of never having to truly let go; and to be able to constantly live out of a duffle bag or suitcase and still feel somewhat at home. 

Something else I also thought I hated when I was young was my freak flag. I tried to fold it up and shove it in the darkest recesses of my closet.  I was self-conscious of my unquestionable nerdiness and quirks.  It refused to be contained and snuck out in bits as I dyed my hair every color of the rainbow, and that was when my head wasn’t shaved; I sewed my own clothes from crazy old moth-ball scented pieces I collected at the thrift store; and I tried to disguise my intelligence so it wouldn’t detract from what I hoped would appear to be my cool-factor. 

My first scientific research paper was published when I was exactly half the age I am now, and it was on neurophysiology and lexical access in the Journal of the Academy of Sciences.  I represented the US for two years in the International Science and Engineering Fair.  I was such a science nerd that one night while I was out to dinner with friends in Paris, a beautiful actress came up to me and swore she knew me from somewhere…..when at last, after another hour or two and a few bottles of wine, she realized she remembered me from my final year of scientific research.  It had been almost a decade since she'd met me.  I should win some sort of award for my nerd-notoriety.
I worked at the National Institute of Mental Health by the time I was 18 and trained under Nobel laureates and the National Science Foundation.  Then I ditched it all to become a professional skateboarder (which, by the way, never happened).  I lived like a rock star in Cali and loved every second of it.  In my first week at my first Hollywood party on Sunset Blvd, I saw Tori Spelling doing lines of coke with Leonardo DiCaprio.  I also became friends with some amazing guys who have changed my life and continue to do so.  (I know about half of you read this, so – I love you guys and I am so proud of the incredible men you’ve become.  And tell the other half I love them too even though they are too cool to read blogs.  Or read at all.)

Then I ditched skateboarding to pursue a degree international politics in the UK.  Then I went to Greece and fed cats bits from my gyros as I strolled around Athens each day.  Then Australia for grad school, where adventures abounded.  I hitchhiked for the first time.  I was engaged for the first and only time.  I swam with dolphins.  I started working on the Thai-Burma border.  Then I moved to Paris, where I had an adorable little apartment in the tenth district and could see the sun gleaming on Sacre Couer perched atop Monmarte each morning.  I wandered the streets of Paris as they were blanketed in the snow, savoring streetside crepes and realizing how many loud, rude, obnoxious Americans are abroad that give us all a bad name.  I will never forget you, large drunken man, who kept thinking that screaming that you wanted Hazelnut Schnapps louder and louder each time was actually going to help you get any.

Then, when I was 25, I fulfilled my lifelong dream to work for the UN.  And it was nothing like I dreamed, but I did meet Paul Rusesabagina, which could count as the fulfillment of a dream.  If you don’t know who that is, google him.  I was the first person he saw on his 50th birthday.  He and I snuck into the back of a crowded theater full of dignitaries, heads of state, and celebrities and wept together in the dark as we watched the horror he had endured reenacted on the screen.  Angelina Jolie, who was honestly more excited to meet us than we were to meet her, showed so much sincerity and compassion that day that she overthrew any of the preconceived notions I had about her character.

I followed all that by doing what many people say everyone should do, which is to live in New York City at least once in your life.  Gramercy Park.  25th between 2nd & 3rd.  The first 6 months were the worst.  The last 2 & ½ years were the best.  My relationship with the city was like oh so many relationships I’ve had.  Pretty unhealthy but absolutely spectacular nonetheless.  I just needed to be with it, to experience the highest highs and the lowest lows that came with being a part of it.  More exciting things happened to me and around me those few years than ever again in my life to this point.  Bon Jovi flipped burgers for me at his lake house in the Hamptons, Tom Brokaw and George Clooney would pass by my desk in the morning, and Kofi Annan and his wife would join us at parties.  (All that, and the moments that still seize my heart on reflection are of pacing the Met day after day, poker night with my girlfriends, and hanging in the park with a 7 year old who quickly taught me all I needed to know about fiscal returns and true friendship.)

It is like being in the very heartbeat of the world, where the blood rushes and swells with pure vitality, good or bad, it’s the most alive I had ever been up to that point.  The work I did for the IRC and Mercy Corps while I was there taught me so much about the work I had always dreamed of doing and helped me figure out exactly what I had to offer and what I was best at doing.  

Leaving Manhattan was one of the hardest things I have ever done, and it’s crazy to say that, since when I first moved there I was ready to throw in the towel almost immediately.  It’s a place that once it grabs you, it’s impossible to shake.  It gets under your skin, into the very marrow of your being.  Like a drug, it gives you the rush you think you can no longer live without, and being away for long leaves you trembling in withdrawal.

I grew up quite a bit after that.  Some people don’t know when it happens to them, but for me, it was as a clear as a bright, sunlit morning.  I got a good office job, where I often wore suits and made a more than reasonable salary.  I worked in an office from 9-5, packed my lunch every day, and regularly happy-houred with my co-workers.  Took the dog to the dog park in the morning.  Snuggled with the cat at night.  Shopped at the farmer’s market.  Went for morning jogs.  One would think I had finally arrived.  Bt I was restless and all I wanted to do was run away.

And then I did.  Run away that is.  Or maybe it was more running toward something than away.  But I did what I always dreamt that I would do.  I moved to Africa.  Now, I live in a small little town a brief brisk stroll from the Tanzanian border.  I lack the things people find comforting in the states, like a grocery store, air conditioning, a television, constant internet and electricity.  And like I have said so many times before since I first arrived here, I’ve never been happier. (Aside from/or perhaps including the deep, dark spell detailed in so many of these blog posts).

You who know me well, know the embarrassing fact that I do actually love lying in bed trying to conjoin astrophysics and quantum theory.  I wonder about invisible vibrating strings almost daily.  And that somehow makes me think of this place, these people.  I remember reading in a book that different places have different words that emanate from them.  DC might be power or ambition or politics.  Paris might be art or luxury, renaissance.  People are supposed to keep looking for the word and its place which matches the word that vibrates and calls out from within them.  Trouble is, we don’t all know our word, nor how to find the place that fits the beat of our hearts, the rhythm of our pulse.  I couldn’t have told you where I would fit until I got here.  The thought of leaving in a few months is currently unthinkable.  The road hasn’t been smooth by a long shot.  We passed some dark days here.  Time grows short.  As with all things, this too shall pass.  Those words always pull me through the rough times and remind me to appreciate the beautiful ones. 

My friend here, Vicky, talks of finding me work in neighboring towns so that we don’t have to separate, so that we can grow old near each other.  If you met her, you’d understand why that seems like such a fantastic option.  She is the pinnacle of integrity, self-sacrifice, and compassion.  I’d be lucky to live near enough toher to have some of that rub off on me.

I honestly love the smell of the earth here.  The smiles of farmers and their families.  Walking to work in the morning amidst the bustling energy of a hard-working town awakening, the greetings and waves, and even the ‘howareyou howareyou howareyou’ of the children as I pass by are enough to get up in the morning.  I love the sound of rain on the iron sheeting rooftop and waking to find lizards dancing in my window in the mornings.  I love passing baboons on my way home from work and cooking meals for a group of my closest friends.  The exuberance of life here is intoxicating.  I am never more at peace than when walking through the surrounding hillsides with the people here who I have come to love.
It is time to start the hunt for a job once again and it will be difficult.  This place is so remote that finding an organization that does the work I am meant to do near here would be difficult, if not impossible.  I have to keep an open mind and an open heart, and know that somehow I will find my way back here from time to time even if the next step for me is somewhere far from here.  These people have made such an imprint on my soul, I know I will never be able to stay away for too long.

So, I am 32 now.  And the Kenyans still tell me I look 18.  (Thanks to my lovely Thai mother for these slow-aging genes.)  I love my life.  I have clambered about on all but one continent.   (And that's Antarctica, so it doesn't really count, right? : ) )  I have dined while sitting atop dirt floors in rural villages and danced the night away in gold-gilded embassies.  I have dated the guys whose posters were on my wall or who wrote my favorite books or sang my favorite songs or starred in my favorite shows.  I have befriended the likes of giants in this world in terms of brilliance and compassion, and seen the world as they do from perches atop their shoulders.  I have loved the 'unlovable', seen the 'invisible' and heard the 'voiceless'.  I have followed every dare I ever dared myself and I have never met the ends with regret. 

32.  I have about a year left to give Jesus or Alexander the Great a run for their money in terms of a llife fulfilled.  It’s so strange to not know where I will be three months from now.  What continent I will live on.  What I will be doing.  For a hyper-planner, I’m mysteriously at peace with the uncertainty before me.  As Joseph Campbell says, If the path before you is clear, you are probably on someone else’s; your own path you make with every step you take; that’s what makes it your path.  He also says, We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.

When I first got here, it felt a bit like the path dropped off before me.  I was falling from a cliff side, full of both the rush and the fear, but overwhelmed by the awe of the beauty of it all.  And now I feel like I am beginning to look up in wonder and to recognize just what type of a fall this was. So this is love.

I find rest with the sound of the vibration of strings in perfect harmony.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

It's a Small World After All

I am a bit late in writing this.  After a fun-filled weekend, I came down hard with a sinus infection that left me partially bed-ridden with fever and chills for the past few days.  I am beginning to kick it and can finally sit upright long enough to type a bit.

This past Saturday, I visited my friend and colleague Munsi and his family along with my friend Thomas.  I met his son Nashon, his daughter Floise and even got to name their cat, who is now called Tatu (or ‘three’ in Swahili.  She is a calico, so she has three colors of fur.).  They gave us a fantastic meal with great company and before we knew it, our other friend Sabora had come with his family from church to collect us to go to another home to share another lovely meal.

Sabora’s wife is my good friend Rebecca and they have an 8 month old daughter named Grace.  Grace just got her first two teeth and is on the verge of walking on her own!  I met her on the day she turned 3 months old and it has been so amazing to watch her grow. We had gotten Grace some dresses that fit her perfectly, and we brought Nashon (Munsi’s son) over so that he could play with Grace.  We are pretty set on them getting married in 20 or so years, so we thought it’s best to get started early.

On Sunday, my friends Rebecca and Charles took me over the border to Tarime, Tanzania, where we perused the local market and enjoyed a beautiful lunch together.  On the trip home, my throat began feeling a bit raw, but I thought it was nothing.  As the day went on, I got progressively weaker, dizzier, and feverish.  Since then I have been in an epic battle with the germs that have tried to overtake my sinuses.

Enough about germs....I also wanted to share two other fun stories from the week.  The first is about a conversation I had with my friend Alex, a boda driver.  He and I have been discussing movies a lot lately, and he’s particularly fond of documentaries.  He just watched one about Thailand and was asking me a number of questions about the Chakri dynasty (our current ruling family), the animals, and the food.  Then he said, ‘Ah, and I saw another movie about a big city. I think it is New York City.’ Of course, my ears perked up at the mention of one of my favorite former hometowns.  ‘Ah, but it was about an animal that got loose in the city.’ Anything can happen in NYC, as we all know, but I couldn’t recall a specific incident related to a rampant animal in Manhattan.  I asked him for some more detail.  ‘There is a monkey and he climbed a very tall building…’ I began to wonder if this documentary was in fact not a documentary at all.  ‘…because he was in love with a lady.’
‘Was this lady blonde and wearing a white dress?’ I asked.
‘Ah, you have seen it! It is a true story, yes?’
I felt a little like I was telling a kid there is no Santa Claus, and now I sort of wish I could go back and undo it, but before I thought better of it and with an irrepressible smile on my face, I told him that King Kong never did really terrorize the residents of New York, and then to his follow up question of how a monkey (ape, I noted) would love a lady, I replied that my best guess was that it was akin to us having a very fine pet that we adore because it is so lovely to be around and that I hoped, unlike Alex suggested, that Kong did not want to make half-monkey babies with the pretty blonde lady.

The second is just a reminder of how small the world is.  Twelve years ago I lived in Long Beach, California, as I tried to pursue my dream of being the next great female skateboarder.  Needless to say, there were far more guys in the world of skateboarding, so I ended up hanging out with dudes all the time.  Fortunately, every once in a while one of these guys managed to get a sane and pretty awesome girlfriend I could hang out with. One of those girls was Natalie.  She was gorgeous, blonde and blue-eyes, reminiscent of the cliché Barbie doll.  Her parents were neurosurgeons, she was rich beyond reason, and she took a shine to me from the start, she said mainly because I seemed more ‘real’ than any of the SoCal ‘bimbos’.  I liked her too, even though I was still trying to understand her world, where it was normal to spend $1,000 on a pair of shoes and get so wasted that you ruin or lose them within 24 hours.  I was working full time, skating a little but not well on the side, and trying to scrape by out there. In any case, after she realized how lame the guy was and dumped him, we stayed friends.

Anyway, Natalie’s parents wanted her to learn some responsibility, so they made her get a job.  She got one at her favorite brunch spot since she had no qualifications, but had made friends with the staff for her big tips.  This brunch spot was just down the street from my apartment, so I would go visit her from time to time.  On one of these occasions, I was sitting at the bar and she ran up and said a guy in the booth in the corner had asked for her number.  He was the singer of a band and before he left, gave her a copy of their CD.  I had noticed this particular guy, thinking he was really cute in that nerdy-artsy- kind of way and wow, did he look like someone who should be the singer of a band.  I also appreciated all the buttons on his bag with political and ecologically loaded statements I agreed with wholeheartedly.  A band guy with a brain.  Those don’t come along too often.

She asked me to be her ‘wing-girl’ to go to their next show.  She wasn’t sure if she liked him.  He talked about things she wasn’t interested in and didn’t feel like she understood enough to say anything about…literature, politics, travel, etc.  Their band was called the John Wilkes Kissing Booth.  And I loved them.  One of my favorite parts of the shows was when Derrick (that’s his name) would be singing and dancing around the stage with sparklers singing one of my favorite songs about firecrackers.  He was smart, charismatic, so talented, his voice was beautiful, and he was totally into Natalie.  And who could blame him.  Sweet, beautiful Natalie.  Another fun fact about Derrick: he was a gondolier as his daytime job, with striped shirt and straw hat, boating people around the canals of Long Beach, Belmont, and Marina Pacifica.

In any case, they didn’t last too long, but I had still found a band that I really liked and some guys I thought were pretty interesting.  Derrick and I stayed in touch.  Over the years, the band dissolved, but he kept writing songs and mostly poetry.  He gave me two signed books once that I still read through from time to time.  And once, when I was living in NYC and he came through on tour, he gave me and the organization I was working for (Women’s Refugee Commission) a shout out at one of his shows and tons of people came to ask me how to get involved.

I haven’t thought about Derrick in a little while, being so far away in a remote, rural village on the Kenyan/Tanzanian border.  That is, until the other day when I got an email from my friend Jana, who I met at Heathrow airport in London 10 years ago.  She is living in DC now and met up with a guy for their first date.  They met in a city a few hours from either of their homes, more of a middle meeting ground to see how the first date would go.  The guy had planned out a lovely date with nice restaurants, pretty walks, and a short film festival.  As I read the email about her date, I came across a sentence that said her favorite short film was a poem by a guy named Derrick Brown and didn’t I know him.  She had sent me the link to the short film (WATCH IT!): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZwQJHx615eE&feature=youtu.be.  I watched that face and heard that voice that brought back such precious memories of my time in the LBC, and was filled with such a fantastic feeling of 1) reuniting with an old friend and 2) seeing someone of so much talent receive the recognition they deserve (it’s won a number of short film awards at countless festivals).  I wrote to Derrick to tell him the story and how happy it made me, and he wrote back within moments to tell me how happy the story made him, and we were happily reconnected again.  It is a beautiful piece and I hope you will watch it and go see Derrick Brown when he comes to a town near you. 

I just love that a friend I met in London 10 years ago reunited me with another friend she’d never met who I had a crush on 12 years ago in Long Beach, by attending a film festival on a first date with a guy she’d never met before in a town she’d never been to.  And that here, way out in the middle of nowhere, when the planets aligned and I had internet and electricity going long enough to check through all my emails, I was reminded of how small this world is and how interconnected we all are.

‘The design in the stars is the same in our hearts. In the rebuilt machineries of our hearts.’ 

Love from Kenya, j

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Bee My Valentine or a Bug's Life (whichever is the cheesier title)

Now for the bee story.  Approximately 5 minutes of my life so bizarre that I could scarcely process nor recall it for hours afterward.  I was working with the Education team at a school called Nyasese, a very small and very, very rural school.  It has a big beautiful field with a big beautiful tree set right in the middle.  All of my teammates love this tree, but one even more than the rest.  Pamela is not only a colleague, but a good friend, and the mother of six of my other closest friends.  I joined her in the afternoon under the shade of that gorgeous tree. 

Before I go on, I have to point out that I’ve noticed that students often want to follow the mzungu (white person/me), so when we divide up classes into smaller groups, I do my best to make it completely impossible to guess which group I will follow until the last possible second.  We split the kids into two groups.  One to stay inside, the other to go under the tree.  I leaned casually against the wall as though I wasn’t going anywhere though I had already arranged to join my teammate outside.  Two boys who thought they were much sneakier than they actually were, zipped across the room and joined the group staying inside.  Once the other group was out the door, I turned and made my move.  About ten seconds later these boys came bounding past me to join the group they’d originally been assigned to.

We reached the tree, the lesson began, all was right in the world.  I sat back a few feet from the group.  Close enough to listen, but far enough away to not distract or to very obviously see when they were paying attention to me rather than the lesson.  After about 40 minutes, I noticed a few of them glancing up in the tree.  Then Pamela was doing it to.  I tried to figure out what was grabbing their attention.  And then I heard it.  A low hum.  Very low, but you could somehow tell it was big.  Every 20 seconds or so it grew a decibel louder and then…the dark cloud appeared.  This cloud, however, was not way up in the sky; it was coming out from within the tree branches themselves.  It was big and dark and full of smaller things that were still somehow big and dark….and moving rapidly.
Bees.  Thousands of them, for some reason disturbed from a hidden nest.  Buzzing and swarming and moving collectively and quickly towards us.  ‘Take the kids, Pamela,’ I said low and quietly.  I wanted them as far away from danger as possible.  She tried to put on a calm face for the kids, but the mask broke every few seconds as the cloud neared and I could see her panicked eyes.  ‘Pamela, GO!’  I was too far back from the group, an outlier.  I didn’t feel like moving was a very good idea.  Unfortunately, as I racked my brain for the correct response to this situation, I couldn’t recall a single tidbit of information as to what to do in such circumstances.  ‘Should we lie down?’ said Pamela, her voice quiet and wavering, ‘I think we are supposed to lie on the ground.’  I replied that I didn’t know, but already it was too late to safely make it to the school building, so yes, let’s move slowly, get as low as possible and say perfectly still. 

The boys who had run out to join our group were the same two who were panicking the most.  One of them cried out that he was too afraid; he was going to make a run for it.  Pamela looked at him, stern and calm.  In Kiswahili, she said, ‘If you run, they are all going to chase you and ignore us.  You are going to stay very still.’  At the end of her sentence, they were upon us.  No one spoke a word, no one moved.  I would be surprised if we even remembered to breathe.  As low to the ground as we were and as high as the cloud extended, we still felt their big, furry bodies striking our faces, our hair, our skin.  Pop, pop, pop, pop.  So many direct hits and yet, by some miracle, without the stings I braced myself for.  I didn’t react, no matter how forcefully they struck, just stayed perfectly still, like a corpse.  I felt if I even drew a breath, I would pull them in closer. 
At first, I shut my eyes (the idea of getting stung in the eye was not so enticing, so I figured I would cover the one part of me I could), but curiosity won me over.  When I slowly lifted the lids of my eyes and peeked out, I could see it.  A hurricane of thick black dots, reminding me of both the manic movements of subatomic particles in quantum theory and of one of my favorite phenomenon by one of my favorite animals (a murmuration of starlings), which it is one of my life goals to witness before I die. (Check one out and we can hunt them down together!: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iRNqhi2ka9k&feature=related)

The thing about starlings is they stay pretty well above the ground, whereas the bees were hitting it full on.  You don’t have to worry about a thousand beaks smashing into you as you are well below the birds, whereas the thought of what a thousand African bee stingers would do to us, especially to the children was unimaginable.  A murmuration of starlings inspires in one a sense of awe at the stark and powerful beauty of nature without any of the terror.  And yet, there we were, in the midst of countless agitated bees full of fear and wonder.  But mostly fear.

I can’t rightly say just how long it lasted.  It was one of those things that felt it may have gone on for years or mere moments, where all your senses are on high alert, where you see, smell, hear, feel everything as your mind tries to decide, fight or flight, what inputs will help us reach this decision.  Suspended in time, watching a living cloud envelope us.  It was one of the craziest yet most amazing things have ever seen. 

As it passed, we saw it move collectively and intact across the open field to the woods on the other side.  We all just looked at each other in disbelief.  No one spoke.  The school bell rang.  Five minutes until they needed to head home for lunch.  And then I heard it.  That same low hum.  They were coming back. I squinted over the field, but saw the cloud continuing to move away.  It made no sense.  The sound was getting louder and closer.  That is when I turned around and saw a whole new group coming out of the opposite side of the tree.  It was still quite high in the branches and the kids were on the far side of the tree from it, closer to the school.  Pamela told them to make a run for it and they shot off full-speed.  I started to follow, but Pamela was gathering her things.  ‘Leave them. I’ll come back for them,’ I said.  She looked up uncertainly, then over at the long distance we would have to traverse to find any cover, then back at her things.  When she looked up at me again, she gasped, ‘Oh dear.’ I turned around and saw the rest of our team moving towards us.  They love taking lunch under our favorite tree.  We didn’t want to make any sudden movements, as the cloud was descending quickly now and we’d wasted too much time in thought.  I moved slowly in their direction, making small and tight movements to say ‘NO’ and ‘GO BACK.’  Across the distance they squinted, shouted, and kept moving towards us.  Finally they understood, scratched their heads and went back the other way. 

We feared we were stuck again, this time standing upright, making taller more accessible targets.  However, this cloud began to follow the last.  First it moved toward us, but then past without encasing us.  We looked at each other, speechless once more and walked slowly, carefully, and wordlessly dazed to join the others for lunch.

The very next day, I was doing dishes with a colleague after dinner.  I stepped outside in the dark to poor out some water, and when I came in felt a stinging sensation on my foot.  A huge safari ant with a mean bite.  My friend Janine came to assist us in the clean up.  She was sweeping up the kitchen and as she swept the debris out the back door, switched on the light.  She yelled for us to come look.  The porch was swarming with biting safari ants.  The further we examined, the more we saw, until we noticed an empty oil can sitting at the back, covered in ants.  We went inside and checked the shower along that wall.  Ants everywhere!  Then the bathroom next door.  More ants! We grabbed the gasoline (they hate gasoline) and began boiling as much water as we could in both of our kitchens.  I came bounding up the stairs with oven mitts on and a kettle of scalding water in each hand, targeting any little spot that moved.  We moved from the porch to the kitchen to the shower to the bathroom on our murderous (ant-) rampage before we had cleared the lot.  Of course, they were back the next day, but so were the kettles.  Even today, as I write this, I am being tormented by a huge pitch black wasp with a bright orange flame-colored butt who seems to be obsessed with the scent of the shampoo I used today.  I keep having to run out and grab the broom to try to drive it out the window, but it just goes around the house and finds another way back in.  The excitement never ends around here.

Hope you had an equally enthralling Valentine’s Day/week.  Love from Kenya, Jessica 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Can’t Read My P-P-Poker Face

People have always underestimated me in poker.  I think the only game I ever lost was one four or five years ago when I was playing with both my boyfriend’s friends and his money.  After a long flight and a fair amount of sleep deprivation, I made the choice to go all in on a bluff hoping that 1) it would make me look really awesome if I pulled it off or 2) I could at least curl up on the couch and sleep if it didn’t.  I’ve often inquired as to why I am taken (mistakenly) for such a poker pushover and the answer is almost always the same: people think I am far too easy to read.  There’s a lot of truth to that.  I don’t make much effort to hide my thoughts or emotions whether shared through words, furrowed brow, or ecstatic eyes.  It just takes too much effort to constantly mask what’s real or fuss over facial expressions.  If we only have a limited amount of time and energy in this life, is hiding true thoughts and feelings really what we ought to devote them to?  In most circumstances, I think honesty truly is the best policy.  The only exceptions to this come to my mind from films where, for example, walking down a dark alley and loudly professing you hold the winning lottery ticket may not pan out well.  I learned that poker is another exception, where it’s to my benefit to show the opposite of what I am truly thinking and feeling, but because this is not a regular occurrence, it always seems to catch people by surprise.

My incredible friend Karina, doing amazing
development work in Somalia

 I met up with a friend, Karina, a few days ago in Nairobi.  I only knew her for about a month seven years ago when we worked at UNHCR together, and I haven’t seen her once since.  I have always remembered her as this strong, gorgeous, fearless, brilliant humanitarian.  That hasn’t changed much, except that when I met her for a drink on a beautiful rooftop bar with a backlit pool overlooking the city (where drinks are the same price you’d pay in Manhattan’s upper east side), I caught a touch of the human weakness and fear that I’d always imagined her completely immune to.  On October 25, two of her friends and co-workers were taken and held by nine gunmen in Somalia.  According to my understanding of the situation, they were not treated well.  However, about two weeks ago, they were rescued by American Special Forces who killed all the abductors in the raid.  The two aid workers had been handed over to the kidnappers by their own local head of security who had worked with them for years.  I cannot imagine what it feels like to know that someone you have worked beside, trusted and befriended, whose sole job it is to keep you and your staff safe, would turn you over to harm and possibly death if the price is right.  It is in these moments that my faith in humanity lightly flounders, that I have to stop and wonder if there is a point to what we do, a valid reason to so constantly put ourselves in harm’s way to help others, some of whom so obviously wouldn’t do the same in return.

Karina's friends, two aid workers
recently rescued in Somalia.
Most of you who know me know that on May 18, 2010, my life and many around me changed in an instant.  I was sitting in my office in DC editing training and capacity building materials for Burundian refugees when I received a Skype message from a friend who’d been working on the ground in Africa for years.  “I don’t want to worry you, but Flavia has been taken.”  When I saw the bubble pop-up letting me know I had a message from a friend, that sort of message was not at all what I anticipated.  I just sat in silence, so thankful to have my own office, so thankful I’d shut the door when I’d last come in to cut out distractions.  The world was still, as though time had stopped.  It was one of those moments where I held on to a secret hope that I was reading it all wrong and if I just stared long enough it would turn into a message that made more sense.  That if I didn’t acknowledge it, the message and the fact simply wouldn’t exist.  If I didn’t respond, didn’t even let myself process the words on the screen, then maybe I could go on living in a blissfully ignorant world where that truth did not exist.  I suppose it had always been in the back of my mind that with so many friends working in development and relief in conflict zones, it was more than likely to happen at some point, but I’ve never dwelt on that fact, content to cross that treacherous and difficult bridge when I came to it. But with me, the need to know always overtakes that desperate clutch onto the peace of ignorance. “Taken? By who? When? Where?”

Flavia, my other dear friend Steph, and I had become a little unit since our time together at Mercy Corps.  We were all on the move constantly, but yet we somehow all came back together time and again, fiercely refusing to let time and distance truly separate us.  Flavia at a glance is petite and delicate and incontrovertibly beautiful. She has always inspired me in so many ways, an example of which is the day she decided to pack it all up and move to Africa.  She’d been looking for jobs unsuccessfully but had some money saved up.  She just packed up and went. She lived in a few different countries and did fantastic work for a few different orgs before she joined Samaritan’s Purse in South Sudan.  Working in South Sudan is challenging in and of itself, but working for an overtly Christian org in a nation where around 95% of the population are either Muslim or Animist is a whole other ballgame.

At the end of that Skype conversation time remained still.  When I was able to stand, I didn’t know where to 
A photo from Reuters of Flavia on the day of her release
go.  A wise man once said never to confuse movement with action. Where to go? What to do? From a sleek office building in Washington, DC, what use could I be to a dear friend in a dire situation worlds away?  I opened the door and just stood there.  The hall was still and silent.  I walked with leaden steps across the hall to my assistant/friend’s door and for the first time opened without knocking.  I couldn't trust myself to make any unnecessary movements. I had little focus or energy to spare on such things. Jen (whose office I entered) and another colleague looked up from a meeting and I didn’t know where to begin, how to find the words.  I have no recollection of what happened next, but those two friends held me up and pulled me through the awful beginning to the longest 105 days of my life.

Rooftop bar at the Sankara in Nairobi
At that rooftop bar in Nairobi a few days ago, my friend and I discussed how despite all of our trainings on what to do if you are stopped at a checkpoint, if you’re assaulted, robbed, or kidnapped, we are never trained to cope when a friend experiences the same and we are so far removed that we can do nothing.  Perhaps they assume we would know, or the impact on those who love the person whose life hangs in the balance is negligible.  I will never begin to assert that what any of us on the outside looking in have experienced can remotely be compared to what Flavia went through.  I have never pressed her about that time, but it has come out in stories and recollections from time to time and I don’t know how she managed to survive.  For my part, I had to go to work, walk the dog, pack my lunch, continue on with life as normal as possible.  I never was a good sleeper, and for over three months I barely caught a wink.  My appetite deserted me.  Focus on simple tasks and projects was incredibly painstaking.  My body reacted in every possible way to the fear and helplessness that overran me. My poker face failed me.  I functioned but the world was film on a screen, passing me by and I was numb to anything that wasn’t news of Flavia’s survival.  In 2008, about a year after I had left the International Rescue Committee/Women’s Refugee Commission to work in Mercy Corps’ Education Program, three incredible women I had greatly admired in IRC’s Education Program were gunned down in an ambush of their humanitarian aid vehicle in Afghanistan.  I didn’t know any of them that well.  They were far above my station but doing precisely what I hoped to do in the near future.  Bringing education and hope to those most vulnerable in conflict zones. Until what happened to Flavia, that is as close as I had come to such pain.

Kenya is a rather stable place, but even here too, at times my poker face fails me when I am standing in a schoolyard watching children being brutally caned by their teachers.  When I heard the news last week of one of the fourth graders we work with at Nyametaburo being ‘accidentally’ caned to death by his father, the weight of my disgust and dismay weighed down upon my shoulders like an avalanche.  In a game of cards, it’s easy to pretend, but watching suffering being inflicted on those with less power, less strength and less say is one of the most painful things I continue to experience here.  Here too, we have one Western staff person whose verbal abuse and degradation of our Kenyan staff and the local Kenyans who repair our home and support us is almost too painful to bear.  Hearing the shouts and insults, the abuse which is an almost daily occurrence, I reflexively flinch, a wholly visceral response, as uncontrollably as I do with each crack of the cane in the schoolyard. I could launch into my ravings about the gall of those who use their station or their weapons to beat others down, to take them captive, to threaten their lives, but I would only be preaching to the choir and have written for too long already.  All forms of abuse are vile, though some worse than others. At times, I long for those blissfully ignorant days again, when seeing Westerners degrading and condescending to Africans was only in stories so you would know exactly who the bad guys were and when no one I knew was so near harm’s way, when the only kidnappings I heard of were of strangers on the news, so far removed from my reality.  Though even for them I often wept.

The first time I saw Flavia after her release.
At that rooftop bar my friend said that I should come to work for her when my time here in Kenya is done, to help build the capacity of those in Somalia to create a better future for themselves.  Her friend that was abducted, an American also coincidentally named Jessica, is 32.   In 24 days I will be 32.  When I saw Jessica’s photo in the news and felt the relief of her rescue (for her, her family and friends, and for my dear friend Karina), I thought of Flavia, of another friend of a friend who was taken in Sudan the year before, of all my friends who have chosen to put the welfare of those in unstable places ahead of their own safety, and of my own potential future life path.  My friend David and I discussed on the long ride back from Nairobi what it would mean to work in conflict zones and whether we could do it and who/what we would have to consider.  I am grateful beyond words that I have my Flavia back, that despite the unseen consequences that have affected her internally, she is whole and safe and free.  I still believe in serving those who are most vulnerable and to me those are still the people in conflict and post-conflict zones.  Where this belief will lead me, I can’t say.  I do know that when it counts the most, when my own safety or that of those around me is riding on it, I will put on that poker face and until that point, I will do whatever I can to ensure that no one is in a situation so dire and impoverished that they could put a price on betraying their own humanity.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Down the Rabbit Hole

“So many out-of-the-way things had happened lately, that Alice had begun to think that very few things indeed were really impossible.” –Alice, Ch. 1: Down the Rabbit Hole, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Last week’s blog was called Through the Looking Glass, which got me thinking about how much I loved Alice and her Wonderland as a child (and continue to do so now).  Oddly enough, I’ve been asked to recite the Jabberwocky twice in the past few days, which I can still do from memory, despite the twenty-three years that have passed since I read it last. If you’ve never read the Annotated Alice and More Annotated Alice by Martin Gardener, I recommend them.  It was an incredible paradigm shift of thought for me when I was young to see that if you read closely enough or contemplated abstractly enough, you could find deep and profound logic, philosophy, and advanced mathematics behind all of the apparent nonsense in Wonderland.  Order beneath the chaos. I would expect no less from the Dean of Mathematics at Oxford.

I’ll admit (and this can be verified by my sister and parents) that when I was very young, I had a little mustard yellow suitcase.  (This may not sound like much of an embarrassing confession, but just you wait.) It was my grandmother’s.  She died shortly after I turned six.  How I loved that little suitcase.  As soon as I got my hands on it, I filled it with a tiny set of old binoculars I found at her house,  a compass, a little first aid kit, a tinder box, an MRE (my dad used to give us these as kids) and a little old school camera that I don’t think even worked (but that, in my mind, was the great mistake of all those who went down the rabbit holes, through the looking glass or out the back of wardrobes, they never came back with incontrovertible photographic evidence).  I also carried detailed maps of Middle Earth, Narnia, Tatooine, the moon of Endor, and Krynn (if you get that last one, you get an instant award of 1,000 mega-nerd points). You know.  Just to be prepared.  I wandered around the pasture at my grandma’s farm, scoured the woods behind our house, checked every corner of our home and backyard, behind the toolshed, through the grandfather clock, down in grandma's basement... trying to find some tear in the space-time continuum, some gateway to the adventure that was waiting just for me. My lion, my witch, and my wardrobe.  My white rabbit with a waistcoat and pocketwatch. 

I don’t want to disappoint any kids out there, but I haven’t found a rip in our dimensional plane to another world  just yet.  That is certainly not to say I've given up trying.  What I have found in the meantime is quite different, but no less full of adventure. The same wanderlust and determination to seek out new worlds never left me, and it has allowed me time and again to board that plane to goodness knows where, to enroll in universities thousands of miles from everyone I know, take jobs in remote corners of the world.  The thirst to see it all, touch it, taste it, understand it so intimately.  Through a deep understanding, I come to love places, people, and organizations, even if there are things I don’t like about them.  Understanding something intimately is taking the time to get to know its virtues and vices, recognizing them, naming them, and only then can one find the balance between how much to accept without question and how much to try to help, improve, or change.

The last white rabbit could have led me down so many paths.  There were jobs and opportunities that varied so greatly it was difficult to see how they could all be lying before the same person.  But the white rabbit I followed led me here via a flight to Nairobi and an eight hour bus ride to what could be deemed the middle of nowhere.  To me, it is the center of the universe.

Now to see how this place can be so very like Wonderland.  It is a striking, strange, and beautiful place full of fantastic characters.  Elements of it can be frightening, but with kind friends and a bit of smarts, it is an enthralling adventure daily.  But what makes it most like Wonderland is that the primary parts so seldom make sense, which was always so frustrating and enthralling to me when reading the story.  What always amazed me about Wonderland was the idea of how to adapt to a world where people speak one thing and mean another or speak so much nonsense that you can’t seem to make heads nor tails of anyone or anything.  I have never been one for people who say one thing and do another, nor those who talk the talk without any hope of ever walking the walk.

“The Hatter opened his eyes very wide on hearing this; but all he said was, 'Why is a raven like a writing-desk?'
'Come, we shall have some fun now!' thought Alice. 'I'm glad they've begun asking riddles. — I believe I can guess that,' she added aloud.
'Do you mean that you think you can find out the answer to it?' said the March Hare.
'Exactly so,' said Alice.
'Then you should say what you mean,' the March Hare went on.
'I do,' Alice hastily replied; 'at least — at least I mean what I say — that's the same thing, you know.'
'Not the same thing a bit!' said the Hatter. 'You might just as well say that "I see what I eat" is the same thing as "I eat what I see"!'
'You might just as well say,' added the March Hare, 'that "I like what I get" is the same thing as "I get what I like"!'
'You might just as well say,' added the Dormouse, who seemed to be talking in his sleep, 'that "I breathe when I sleep" is the same thing as "I sleep when I breathe"!'
'It is the same thing with you,' said the Hatter, and here the conversation dropped, and the party sat silent for a minute, while Alice thought over all she could remember about ravens and writing-desks, which wasn't much.” – Ch. 7: A Mad Tea-Party, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

There is a fascinating sort of dichotomy here.  I could not have asked for a better Kenyan team; they drive and inspire me every day.  I could not have asked for a better counterpart in the United States; she also inspires me, supports me, and through her (I'm not exaggerating) brilliance allows me to learn and develop both personally and professionally.  I love the students and many of the teachers I meet.  I love having lunch or taking chai, spending time with my friends in community.  I live with a fantastic team.  There are eight of nine here that are fully committed to respecting, supporting, and encouraging one another.  Even the ninth is not a terrible person by any means (in another world I would probably grab a beer with him, but working together again...out of the question), just trying to fit into a role he is completely and utterly wrong for in every possible way, which has proven excessively trying for all involved.  And those who claim they take no nonsense and remove people from positions for which they are unfit, refuse to do just that. And so begins the other half of the dichotomy.  Pure frustration and a sense that no matter what we say, how many people say it, nor how many times, though we may all be in agreement with one another, we lack the power to enact any of the changes we deem necessary and are overlooked by those that possess it.

Whether as new to this project as myself or having been on the early foundation teams, the pervasiveness of this disheartened feeling is overwhelming at times.  I want to believe this is a phase, an org struggling through a growth spurt and trying to get its feet right again, but I will admit, I have honestly never felt more undervalued or disempowered.  I am no expert by any means, but I work hard and have years of study, experience, and commitment to this work which have been pushed to the wayside.  I am asked to play the part of a cog in a machine, a role I have never before played and am not about to start.  When people speak up about issues, they are made to feel that they are not team players, they are the problem children, they lack humility.  If I did not care deeply for this organization and the people that it serves, it might be easy to be quiet and complacent, to watch irreversible mistakes be made, to stand by as the faith of the staff and the community in which we live is undermined.  The thing I appreciate the least is this odd sensation I have been trying to figure out for weeks: that I and others are constantly and quickly labeled as things we are not and anytime we try to speak out, we are reminded of those false labels.  I accepted a request on LinkedIn the other day and it helped me to parse out this idea.  When I saw the comments on my page and read what people had written about me and the caliber of my character and work over the years at challenging and well-respected organizations, it reminded me of who I really am, how I am really perceived.

'I can't explain myself, I'm afraid, sir' said Alice, 'because I'm not myself, you see.' – Alice, Ch. 5: Advice from a Caterpillar, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

My counterpart in the US said something to me the other day, which I considered extremely kind.  She said, 'you could be working anywhere'.  Now, I sometimes think back on the week I had the choice before me of being a Deputy Director at the UN in DC or taking an unpaid fellowship in remote rural Kenya.  My sister, my parents, everyone…just guess what they advised me to choose.  But I was so certain this was the path I needed to take.  I still don’t doubt or regret that choice.  If I were sitting in that (beautiful, sun-kissed) office (with the big windows overlooking Dupont Circle), I know I would be longingly wishing I were exactly where I am right now.  I do love it here and I do love this work and these people more than I can say.  My only frustration is that some of those who are meant to lead, listen to, and support us…to make our lives easier during our stint in the field, are the very people who often make this life and decision exceedingly challenging. But for my team and my predecessor, and with their inspiration and support, I will continue to give it all I have and see what comes of it.

I love living within this community, knowing the people well, learning from them, sharing our lives with one another.  If Alice had only known such people in Wonderland, she may never have been tempted to awaken next to that babbling brook.  So, my rabbit hole didn’t lead me to Wonderland or Rivendell or Narnia.  I am quite content with where I’ve landed no less.   What awaits me after June 30th, I've not an inkling just yet.  If only metaphorically, I will always be that little girl with the little yellow suitcase packed and at the ready for whatever path I manage to stumble upon next.

'I could tell you my adventures — beginning from this morning,' said Alice a little timidly: 'but it's no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.' – Ch. 10: The Lobster Quadrille

** Just an added note:  I was just chatting with a friend about this post and I'd forgotten another example of how senseless this world can be.  We lost a fourth grader this week from Nyametaburo Primary school who was 'accidentally' caned to death by his father.  I can't even begin to express my disgust and the depth of my sadness.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Through the Looking Glass

Week one: down.  Twenty-two to go.  It’s difficult describing what it’s like to be back.  Before I left, it was hard to put words to this place and this experience without an air of some utopian paradise.  But poverty isn’t paradise.  Quite the opposite in fact, in most intepretations.  And if there were no poverty, we wouldn’t be here.  It’s funny how much you can love a place when you think it is perfect, but then how much more you realize you love it when you realize it’s not at all perfect and yet you love it more completely with all of those flaws and hardships.  That resulting love is more solid, more real. I was in love with this place before, but now I love it. Truly, deeply, and profoundly.

Before I left here for break, it was difficult to remember what life was like off this compound, away from this tiny border town.  The States sometimes felt like a distant memory of images from a film I’d seen once, a long time ago. This was reality.   And that was after only three months.  Imagine how out of sorts I will be, come July.  During break, once I’d hibernated in DC for about a week, all of this, this life…this place, seemed like a dream.  Like Alice waking by the bank of the babbling brook, left to wonder how it all felt so real.  I’ll admit that readapting to the creature comforts of life in the USA (not to mention gaining almost 10 lbs by allowing myself every food I’d missed at any time I craved it), left me slightly hesitant to return.

My early introduction to this organization and life here was (I hope) abnormal for all involved.  I walked into what felt to me like a smattering of intense human drama and chaos.  As much as I tried to weather and utilize all my sensible faculties, it was hard.  People whose actions and behaviors turned on a dime, systems and policies seemingly wholly lacking or nonsensical, it seemed nothing could be easy or logical.  It was frustrating and I secretly wondered what I had walked in to and how quickly I could walk out.  Instead of walking out, I put on my rose-tinted glasses, embraced all I loved about it and worked harder than I’ve ever worked in my life to try to serve it best. 

I found this place and this org after years of working for other organizations with seemingly similar aims.  Every one of them left me frustrated and looking for the right fit, Cinderella’s slipper, if you will.   No matter how much they tried, how well organized their efforts,  nor how much experience they had, there was always the underlying element of ‘We have masters degrees or PhDs or we are white or we are from the developed world or we are Christians or we are wealthy…so we know best.’  No matter how well intentioned, I firmly believe that nothing will ever be resolved so long as those beliefs are at the foundation of the approach.  All parties should have something to offer, whether it is technical expertise, deep cultural understanding, etc., but the belief that the community is capable, that all of humanity is capable of overcoming the adversity it faces, should be held deeply and firmly by both those who come to offer assistance and especially by the community itself.  I took this position because I believed I had found that glass slipper, but instead am coming to realize there may be no glass slipper, no fantastical and perfect fits, just people struggling to do what they think is right or best, regardless of how correct they are in those beliefs.

There is an air of weariness over what was once an excited and energized team.  We are pushing through and fighting for what we believe in, but even using the terms ‘pushing through’ and ‘fighting’ on our very first week back is a bit worrisome.  I feel a heaviness in my being that I can’t quite seem to shake.  Is it a shaky suspicion that missteps over which we have little control will likely continue and this will, in the end, be for nothing?  Is it a sadness that I can’t do more, a disappointment at my own limitations or the early onset of my exhaustion?  Is it the fear that in thinking I had cast off all the ill turns that came with the big and bureaucratic NGOs, I may have found myself at the early stages of much of the same, where we are only reinventing broken wheels instead of finding those precious meaningful and impactful ways forward, but all involved are in fierce denial that this is or could possibly be the case?  I want to believe this is at least part of what I was looking for, and I haven’t given up that hope yet, that somehow (as in Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday) all I am seeing is the back of things and could I only come around to see them from the front, they would be too beautiful and perfect even to comprehend.
And in that hope, what is left to be done is to continue striving to see the world and all it facets (including this experience) from all angles, but most importantly head-on, in all its glory and to continue working to make beautiful even the shadows that appear from the back .

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Episode VI: Return of the Jesi

A terrible title, I know.  It emerges from the fact that any Apple product will auto-correct my name to Jedi, which I actually find quite flattering.  Cheers and RIP, Steve Jobs.
I had an incredible month-long visit to the States, where I got to see Aaron, my dear friends (in NYC, OKC, and DC), my four month old niece, my family and my pets.So, at long last, we returned to our home in Isibania around 48 hours ago.

I was welcomed home by a number of very large spiders that had built impressive havens over the past month, an awesome vampire bat outside the kitchen window that follow your every move with his huge eyes, a lizard’s tail left inside one window and an actual lizard who had gotten stuck in the tape I used to seal the gap in my window (it doesn’t shut all the way) who very likely died a long, slow and painful death, all because I didn’t want a bunch of creepy-crawlies throwing parties and building nests in my room during my absence. Pole (sorry), lizard.

I have returned with a new approach at the project and life in general.  Gone are the days (and nights) of only 2-3 hours of sleep a night, of trying to do absolutely everything humanly possible to launch my team and our program ahead, and living, eating, breathing, etc. highly un-intentionally.  What I mean by that is that I intend to sleep this round.  I intend to purchase foods ahead of time that are healthy and eat them instead of food being an afterthought and eating whatever greasy bread product is readily available.  I intend to not just speak and think about exercising, but actually to get up at 6am to do it.  I will read the books I brought, watch the movies and TV shows I ripped onto my external hard drive, drink the wine I picked up in Nairobi, start my days with my long lost love: NPR, and be better about keeping in touch with the people who mean so much to me spread out across the vast continents of this world.

I do not intend to let my work slide.  I love this place.  I love my team (both the Foundation Team I live with and the Kenyan Education Team I work with). And I love our program.  However, I intend to do what I ask my team to do, which is to take care of themselves so that they are the best they can be at their work and to always maintain a healthy work/life balance. Time to start practicing what I preach.

When New Year’s Eve was rolling around I heard a few different takes on making resolutions that I really appreciated.  One was from a man on TV who said he never makes resolutions because if something is wrong, he tries to correct it immediately, and that rarely coincides with Jan 1, so he just makes up stuff he wants to do.  And my friend Jenelle mentioned how instead of resolutions, she makes a yearly to do list.  Since my life revolves around to-do lists more and more (the older I get and the less I remember, putting pen to paper is the only way an idea can become a reality for me), I decided to make one, quite unlike the ones I’ve made before.  It still involves the traditional getting in shape, but is meant to encourage 2012 to be the year of 1) the work/life balance, 2) accomplishing some ridiculous goals, and 3) living intentionally.

12 Things To-Do in 2012
1.       -Learn to knit
2.      - Memorize and be able to do the choreography to Beyonce’s Single Ladies
3.      - Read 32 books off my to-read list (I’m turning 32 in Mar)
4.      - Floss everyday (I’m a 2-3 times a week girl; gross I know, that’s why it’s on the list)
5.      - Always be present;  listen well
6.      - Be less of a peace-maker (not referring to the weapon) and more of a change-maker
7.      - Continue to take a photo a day
8.      - Be intentional and proactive about my physical, mental, and emotional health (includes exercise, healthy eating, yoga, meditation, etc)
9.      - Wake up with NPR and keep up with the Economist
10  - Plan a trip to Antarctica (the final continent I have not yet explored)
11.   - No working after 8pm
 12.  Remember to tell people what you love about them

We have a total of 164 days starting from our first full day in Kenya on Jan 19th until we leave on Jun 30th.  Three down, 161 to go. May 2012 bring beautiful things for both the people of Kuria and for our team as we countdown the days we have left here.  And for you all too!  Love from Isibania, j