Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Staying put? Are you kidding?

Have you ever been a refugee? Or in a situation in which you lost everything - or thought you had lost everything? Have you ever been uprooted forever? Over and over and over again?

There are so many people in this world for whom this is a daily reality. I think official statistics report that there are 6 million refugees globally, but that is a small fraction of the women and men, girls and boys who have traveled across borders without anyone taking notice. It also does not include internally displaced people, those who fled their homes, often in the blink of an eye. Some of these people live mere miles from their homes but can't go back. And let's not forget the homeless, the landless, the unemployed.

And then there's me. I live a gilded life: I travel the world on someone else's dime. I have a great job in which I actually feel like I'm helping people. I generally have a pillow for my head, and a shower for my sanity. And I almost always have a room to sleep in. I have a clever laptop and several little trinkets that make each destination feel like home. But I feel like in some small way, God has given me sympathy for the plight of the refugee. How many times in the past half-dozen years have I almost lost everything, had to move in the blink of an eye, been told that those things I'd counted on were no more?

That's where I am right now, and so was dishearted to read today's entry in My Utmost for His HIghest, which I'm attempting to follow in 2011:

"Consider the lilies of the field" - they grow where they are put. Many of us refuse to grow where we are put, consequently we take root nowhere. Jesus says that if we obey the life God has given us, He will look after all the other things.

I'd love to stay put, but God keeps uprooting me. In my world up is down, and down is up - I read this and conclude the life God has given us is a life of transition and I must accept that. My only roots can be in him. But I'd very often rather take root in a more visible way.

But then I wonder how a refugee, or an at-risk poor person, would read this: do they feel shame in the life of displacement?

This is my first week back at Imperfect Prose since the holidays. Every Wednesday night, the Thursday, has come and gone, in a different city each week, a new dramatic scene unfolding in the lives of people I love. The dust is settling now but very, painfully, slowly, and I'm sorry I have nothing more creative to contribute here today, but I needed to do the discipline for myself, so I thank you for being willing to join me in this journey. I have missed you all my blogging friends.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

radio silence

I came on here thinking I might come up with a creative way to explain my prolonged absence from this beloved venue. But I simply don't have the juice in me, and I simply can't just come out and tell you.

So please pray, if you would, for any and all of the people you've been introduced to through this blog. They really need it today. In so many different countries, as a matter of fact - have you checked out the news lately? It's a painful month.

As for me, things are actually looking up! So hopefully I'll be back to my usual blabbering soon enough.

In the meantime, here's an amusing link. Some of it I'm embarrassed to say reflects myself. Other bits make me ashamed on behalf of my friends. And a few are just plain old funny.
http://stuffexpataidworkerslike.com/

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Four couples

For some reason beyond my capacity for logic, the flight from Kht to Cai left at 5 a.m. That means we left for the airport at 2:30 a.m. and, since I had lots of work to get done before leaving, it meant I could sleep a maximum of 1 hour before heading for the airport. I opted not to sleep at all.

So at 4:45 a.m. I was in a sleepy daze in the airport, sitting in the waiting room with my fellow passengers. We were waiting together to board the flight, and at that time of night, no one was in a good mood!

So my observations were not the most acute ever, but I nonetheless found myself taken by four couples travelling with me.

Couple Number One: Elite Man with European Wife Who Most Likely Converted to Islam. Two things grabbed me about this family. Their utterly gorgeous six-ish-year-old son. And the woman's fabulous sense of fashion that was nonetheless appropriate for a good Muslim woman. She also had a safety seat for her son, a good giveaway that she was not from Sudan. They were probably visiting Dad's family in Sudan and heading back home now. But she definitely looked like she owned her new religious identity.

Couple Number Two: in start contrast to couple number one, Awkward Newlyweds Still in Their Wedding Garb. I first noticed the tiara in the woman's hair. Then the inch-thick makeup on her face and the faux diamond earrings the size of my fist. She was wearing a furry manteau over a very very long purple dress. He was pacing around her as she sat timidly - or bored - on a bench. She seemed to want to exert her self-confidence but deferred to him. They chatted and joked some, but mostly walked silently side-by-side. I can't even start to imagine how awkward it would be to together with a new spouse who one hardly knows at all!

Couple Number Three: They Have Been Travelling Together Their Whole Lives. A gray-haired couple with very practical travel gear and little concern for fashion sat quietly together, patiently waiting for the very-late flight, hardly phased by any of the commotion around them.

Couple Number Four: French Backpackers Raising a Hippie Daughter. At least that was my best guess as to the modus operendi of a mixed-race man with miles-long dreds and his actress-gorgeous wife, carrying homemade baskets and backpacks stuffed full of souvenirs wrapped in newspaper, who were leaving Sue Dan, of all places, with a friendly-looking ten year girl. They sat behind me on the plane and I heard them speaking French. As I peeked glances their way they looked like a very happy family full of fun and jokes and tenderness, too.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Should this moment be shared?

(Me? Lonely? Nah, I'm actually content happy little me adjusting to life after R&R. Right?)

Thank you to those of you who responded to my last blog with little words of reassurances, to those of you who are here with me in this wired and wireless universe, to those of you who are willing to share moments with me in this quirked up way.

So here's another one, which actually happened in the very same supermarket during the very same weekend.

I was only buying one or two things. I can't remember what they were but it was a small and cheap order, something to go with dinner. I found myself on the checkout queue behind a simple looking woman in a dirty black robe who was holding a toddler in one arm and held a small wad of crumpled cash in her other hand. Slight, school-aged children with mussed hair and faded clothes flanked her either side and fiddled with the candies by the cashier as her mother went about her purchases.

When the cashier was done ringing things up, the woman was concerned and surprised by the bill. It had come to 21. Did she only have 20 in that wad of cash, or did she need to budget for something else? She quietly questioned the clerk, went over the list of items in detail, confirmed the price of the can of powdered milk and other items. She couldn't decide what to do, it seemed: which item should she forgo today?

As it was taking her a while, the cashier went ahead and rang up my small purchase. I quickly paid. I think mine came to 7.50 and I gave a bill of 10. I received 2 in change and, to make up for the difference, was handed a candy from the display. I returned the candy, took my 2 and walked out of the store.

Immediately the light bulb of guilt flashed on. Why didn't I give one of those wide-eyed children my candy? Why didn't I offer to buy the can of powdered milk for the woman? Instead, I jumped ahead of her in the queue and gave the candy back to the supermarket owner, who I am quite sure is a Chinese businessman. Just call me Scrooge.

So... this moment... should it have been shared?
Had I not been alone, would I and my companion inspired each other to good deeds and done right by the woman?
Or would a companion have distracted me, such that the woman and her family would go entirely unnoticed and ignored?

Saturday, January 8, 2011

moments should be shared

I'm back in the great Sue Dan... it's quite a week for this land and it's a privilege to be here. Although, as is often true during the most historic events, life around me seems - if anything - more normal than usual.

This afternoon I headed down the block to the supermarket. We were out of milk. But as I was very very sleepy, and not particularly pressed for time, I browsed the three aisles at a leisurely pace, wondering if any other "needs" would emerge. The cereal section caught my eye. I was taken by the variety of prices, ranging from expensive (USD$ 4 per box) to absurd (USD$ 15 per box). I started studying the boxes more closely, to see if any of the varieties available might possibly entice me enough to consider shelling out such cash.

Then I noticed the strangest thing. One type of cereal, a local variety, was repeated several times. I'm not saying a row was dedicated entirely to this brand of cornflakes, nor that there were a lot of them bunched together. The exact same variety of cornflakes popped up in between the kelloggs cornflakes and the off-brand cheerios. Then again in the health section next to the Special K. Though it contains no chocolate, it held two separate spots on the row mostly dedicated to chocolate cereals. I think it was displayed about ten times, each with its own price label neatly displayed on the rack! So so random.

And I know that you who are still reading this are probably not impressed. It's hard to picture what I tried to describe above without seeing it, and much much harder to see the irony or humour in it. So I was inclined not to blog it at all, but the thing is, this is how I share moments. I don't know who I'm sharing them with - sure, I know my family reads this and a few other facebook friends take a look.

But you know that feeling when you have an "aha!" moment, or a "that's so funny!" moment? You want to share it.

This last month, I've been privileged to be sharing moments with dear friends around the world. It was fabulous. But now I guess it's time to shut down the emotions once again, because maybe it's better not to have moments at all, than not to have anyone to share them with.

But for those moments I have, I thank you, my blog reader, for being my friend.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Seven cities in 23 hours

Some highlights of each city I hit during my day-long adventure in trying to find a little town on the Rwandan-Congolese border, complete with two rerouted flights and a lost suitcase, in which I received kind support by airport attendants in half a dozen countries and from which I currently have no regrets...

1. Beirut. The most interesting thing that happened here was probably discovering I was sharing a flight with 8 deportees to Egypt. They were all working-class looking men, varying in age from very young to very weathered. Rather than looking upset at being kicked out of Lebanon, I sensed that they were excited to be returning home. Also impressive was the throng of irritated passengers mobbing the counter because we were an hour late. What else did you expect in a surprise downpour of rain?

2. Cairo. Between unfriendly EgyptAir representatives who didn't listen to me - an infuriating attitude that cost me the safe and prompt arrival of my luggage - my heart went out to the young man who attended me at the transfers desk and printed out my rebooking. He wasn't the most efficient guy in the world, but he still didn't deserve the berating he received by his supervisor (on my account) as the three of us half-sprinted to bus stop where I caught a minibus to my new terminal. Maybe I shouldn't sympathise with him that much, though, because in addition to losing my luggage he also failed to inform me that I was being rebooked. The urgency in his (and his supervisor's) treatment had led me to believe they'd held the original flight for me, not booked a new flight.

3. Khartoum. I'm in the last week of my R&R from Sue Dan. I had no desire or plan to stop by for a visit in the middle. What a shock when I sat down on the plane and the Sudanese gentleman next to me asked if I was going to Khartoum. No! I want to go to Nairobi! He proceeded to lecture me on the inefficiencies of the humanitarian sector - in other words, of my people. I know all this. But prefer not to think about it while on vacation.

4. Nairobi. Of course we were delayed in Khartoum! Because the computers were down so everyone had to be checked in by hand. So typical. And so of course when I arrived in Nairobi I missed my connection. The second time around I had dared to hope but not to expect I'd make it in time. So I waited for upwards of an hour and a half as they argued back and forth whether to reroute me on the morning flight or if I'd have to wait til the evening flight. On New Years Eve!

5. Bujumbura. I was very glad the finally gave me a seat on the morning flight, and could only chuckle when I learned we'd be stopping in Burundi. Thankfully, at this point, I was so exhausted from a night of three 2.5-hour flights and 1.5 hour layovers that I slept straight through Bujumbura. But seriously... to be rerouted TWICE, and BOTH times to be rerouted on flights with surprise stopovers? To use a favourite Brasilian saying, NINGUÉM MERECE

6. Kigali. Kigali was the town of lost luggage and fully-booked buses. A lovely little capital city which suggests the beginning of a season of economic development and prosperity. Colourful houses and bustling businesses. And, in the airport, there was what appeared to me to be a high rate of lost luggage - I was not alone in the little luggage office, and there were piles of unclaimed bags in the foyer. Then, though everyone had said that catching a bus to Gisenyi would be easy and fast, my taxi driver and I drove around the city centre for half an hour before ascertaining that there were no spaces on buses to Gisenyi on New Years Eve. He agreed to drive me personally, for a hefty but reasonable fee considering the distance. So together we walked into a major supermarket and chose snacks from the deli counter. Together we went through the check-out queue and I paid for our snacks. Then together we set off across the gorgeous Rwandan countryside.

7. Gisenyi. is beautiful. A lake nestled in mountains with a volcano peeking up from behind the driveway where I'm staying. Old colonial houses and faux-colonial hotels. Greenery of all sorts with flowers of all colours. And very dear friends with whom to share a couple of luxurious New Years' days. Worth the trip.