April 27, 2013 § 1 Comment
Most of the women we work with at Nakate are mothers, if not grandmothers.
We tell the story of their lives alongside our own.
In 2010, we launched out of Kakooge with Agnes Kabugo, a mother of three, and around 30 grandmothers and mothers making handmade pieces to test out in an American market.
As Mother’s Day approaches, I have spent a lot of time thinking about the mothers in my life – not only my own, but these women I work with, and that stand with me at Nakate.
This mother’s day, I choose to honor the women that first stood with me.
The Kakooge Collection – a Journey Back to our Roots, is my way of taking you back to the stories that Nakate began with.
Designer Amira Mednick has partnered with me to create a line that re-purposes beads from my first ever buying trip to Uganda. Together with South American knotting techniques and sterling silver, 14k gold or brass, these beads celebrate Nakate’s Kuzua, or beginning, in Uganda.
We invite you to celebrate your own mother through returning to our roots with us – to travel back to the place where it all began, here at Nakate. Honor her through purchasing a piece supporting the kind women that make not only our businesses, but our very lives, the beautiful journeys we experience them to be.
Where Will She Take Africa?
April 20, 2013 § 2 Comments
If you pinned parts of me to cork board like a dissected art class beetle, you’d find the stories of a race I’m not a part of.
I can still smell pine needles and oak sap around the open spaced sanctuary where I was raised in California. I’m 10 again, just like that – sitting on a green fabric chair in a blue, carpeted room. God didn’t choose my European ancestors to follow him through the Red Sea, but I was taught, nevertheless, that faith is a thing you stumble upon when you discover your shoes don’t wear out, and cracker bread falls from the sky.
Its been a lot of years since then. I don’t have a word for it anymore – not “Christian,” not “Buddhist.” I’m pro gay, pro abortion, pro sexual freedom, pro follow your dreams and stick it to the man – and I’m pro doing right by everyone around you, including the folks that try and tell you that you’re hell-bound, together with all that feminist freedom and your neatly rolled spliffs and birth control.
I ignore them, on the subway, yelling about hell. But I resonate with loving my neighbor, and I still like to imagine one particular story of the Israelites gathering stones to carry as remembrance of a river crossing – a big to-do. They’d made it a long way since Egypt, god said. They should stop and take note.
I’m following suit, this weekend – picking up fortune cookie sayings and saving champagne bottle tops to mark a year, now, that I’ve been on the road to my own promised land – earmarking moments to remind me that just when I thought the current might carry me away, it didn’t.
It also won’t.
Here’s what I’ve learned in a New York City year – the lessons I carry, like my own bag of remembrance stones from the foggy Hudson river.
I wasn’t ready, you know. I arrived on April 20th, all blustery weather and trains running along a system of numbers and letters I didn’t understand. I didn’t know anyone to speak of. I only had $137.50 in my checking account.
When you jump into something like that, it’s all mouthfuls of water and salt in your eyes. Full throttle, uncomfortable emotion. You don’t get to dip your toes in. There will be no wading. Your money, your reputation, your heart and your relationships are all in a neat row, set up together like targets, waiting for someone to punch them in the gut.
I guess I’d caught wind that was the only way to ever do it, really. Some lives you can live apart from some professions. But my life and my job are like water – pulling them apart like breaking down a river current for parts. I knew I had to go all in on myself, as an entrepreneur – balls out, all calculated risk and determination.
All that salt in my eyes and the water I choked down taught me a lot. But I had to start going through the motions of doing it before it made any sense. Like a dog paddling toddler in the water – “look! I’m swimming I’m swimming I’m swimming!”
I was drowning, half the time.
Doesn’t matter. I stayed in the water. And eventually, I started to swim.
Entrepreneurship is a life you walk into the day you quit saying yes to everything else. I’ve learned that’s the only way you get going, or keep at it, for that matter.
The trouble is, it doesn’t feel natural. People mostly congregate in groups – religious groups, ideological groups, groups depending on where they grew up. Posse like. Follow the leader.
Make a home
Barbara Kingsolver writes that home is where you answer the question: “what life can I live that will let me breathe in & out and love somebody or something and not run off screaming into the woods?”
New York is the place where I’ve ever felt “home,” by her definition. They say that once you can make it here you can make it anywhere. I don’t believe them. I’m not sure that homes aren’t like best friends. You get only one real one, in your life – two or three if you’re extra lucky.
New York asks you who you are over and over and over again. This kind of work isn’t just what you “do” – it’s an ear mark on all your life pages – your friends, your bars, your groups, your places, your beliefs and commitments.
She’s a regular class bully. After you answer, New York will push you around a bit, and ask if you’re sure.
You have to be.
The night I met my flatmate, I’d shown up at a fundraiser I didn’t want to be at, and paid for an unlimited drink wrist band I couldn’t afford that week. But it was for the Congo, and then there she was, busting balls and wearing bright red lipstick. A month later, we were hiring brokers. Six months later, I wake up every morning and blink twice, just to make sure this big, beautiful apartment is for real, and my home life is really this full of peace.
Somebody, somewhere presented the idea that entrepreneurship was all excitement and heady feeling.
I’d like to kick them in the balls.
“I do wonder…whether some people opt for the entrepreneurship ‘experience’ over the lonely, exhausting, and terrifying real thing,” Eric Schurenberg writes in April’s Inc issue. “Companies get built in the spaces between you, your customers, your investors, your vendors and your team, where things get gritty and complicated and rarely go according to plan. They don’t get built, unfortunately, on a pitch-contest stage.”
Schurenberg nails it. Some days I’m terrified. That’s the worst of it. Others its just that I don’t feel useful, or smart or inspired. I don’t have a great answer for that – except that I keep trying anyway.
I think that’s the best anybody can do.
It’s only temporary
I’d paid my staff, my taxes, the business phone bill, my internet bill and bought chutney and red curry and had (very few) dollars to spare (I thought) for the week when a sneaky dollar fifty put me over the edge, clutching a coffee mug and wailing over my financial instability.
My father told me that it was a morning, not my life.
“Its the people inside your business that define it – the kind of work you do,” he said. “Not your bank account at 9 am on a Tuesday. This is called start up life, and this particular struggle will go away. But the people will stay, and so will the ideals you have built on.”
He told me there’s a wide road running between failure and frustration.
This too, would pass. And it did.
You’re going to need some help with that
The first time I moved in New York city, I did it on the subway, with big red rolling suitcases I had to drag up flights and flights of stairs. I had just about collapsed on my last transfer, when I felt my bag get lighter and realized the gentleman behind me was holding it up with his hands.
“You’re going to need some help with that,” he said.
God, have I. I wouldn’t know who to start with, if I listed out people to give credit to for every inch of this business.
I’ve learned that you can neither build nor enjoy a story by yourself.
It’ll come back around
I’ve learned that life is cyclical. On your team, even. She’ll pitch at you until you catch.
I try to live a lot, in the meantime, so I’m ready when she does.
Fall in love
I forget to love my life, sometimes – all caught up in bills and business deals, quality control problems and waiting to “make it.”
But I can and should and do fall in love with a million things around me every single day – the Albanian man who tells me that I have steel blue eyes, the flower stand I always pass on 84th and Columbus – the band playing Motown at Essex street on a Saturday morning, that one waiter in East Village, two weekends ago, who kept my coffee warm and my champagne filled just so — the sudden rain that one night I felt everything was ending until it soaked me through to my skin, running for my train.
I remember stopping in between 7th and 6th and crying, letting myself get all wet, getting it all out, alone on 23rd and feeling acutely aware that it really was going to be okay.
That was ten months ago.
Now, I catch myself falling in love with conversations and restaurants, brands of whiskey and certain Saturday morning traditions, coffee blends, champagne labels and familiar smells…people.
Most of all, I catch myself falling in love with what I have.
If that isn’t worth remembering, I’m not sure what is.
(photo by Sandi Elle).
April 23, 2012 § 2 Comments
In New York – a sex columnist told us in February – you can be whoever the hell you want.
My first Saturday in the city, a friend met me on Sixth Avenue and 23rd. I had missed her – “you’re here!” She wrapped her arms around me: turquoise jewelry, upper bicep tattoos, warmth. I felt the rush of familiarity – the relief of seeing a person you know in a place you don’t.
We spent the afternoon looking for orchids, sipping iced coffee and running into people she knew on the street. A quick exchange got me invited to have dinner with her in someone’s Soho apartment on Monday night.
“I don’t know if you’re interested, but…”
In your first New York week, you’re always interested. A chance to belong, to mingle, to mix and to find your niche is an opportunity you’re desperately grasping for. When it lands, you snatch it, hoping to land another with it, and another, and finally, a corner bar, a friend’s apartment, a coffee shop or a happy hour that belongs to you.
It’s that feeling of belonging you’re looking for. It doesn’t matter how many other desperate seekers are there huddled around you – on that bar stool, clutching that particular drink or carrying on that particular conversation – the city is yours.
It happens in unlikely places – a Starbucks bathroom where you can breathe, an awning to stand under and check your iTrans app to get your bearings – a bar you didn’t know existed, an orchid man you recognize from two days before.
My friend had found such a place in the Rabbit Club, a dark, cement encased alley way down a tall staircase I laughed at, imagining myself half buzzed and falling down in stilettos some unsuspecting Friday night.
Just when I was envisioning myself being picked up by sympathetic strangers, she announced that it was closed until 6, and we moved on to find somewhere else to sit and enjoy the early evening until it opened.
We ended up at Sullivan Bistro, where the bathroom is dark, and covered in the names and photos of cities across the world, with a big “New York” glowing red and black like an apocalypse above them. We grabbed a table to the left of the bar, where the sun hit our feet, and a set of french doors opened to a patio with suited men speaking a language I didn’t recognize, drinking beer bottles wrapped in labels I’ve never seen.
I was deep in a people watching seance when she said something I had been feeling about the international development community, but hadn’t put my finger on.
“Negative energy” was the phrase she used. She was saying that she appreciated the insight that international experts were offering on the difference between good and bad aid, but that she was tired of the negative energy that came with it.
She’s the kind of friend that catches you as you begin to fall. And, I was – falling, that is. I was falling into the negativity, and she was giving me a hand back up to see that I started out working internationally because I wanted the experience for myself.
I wanted to be a woman who was well traveled. I wanted to be a woman who had formed opinions out of experience. What I had never planned on being was a woman who got there by criticizing others.
I told her I knew what she was saying. But what I meant was that I felt what she was saying. I had been feeling weighed down – carried away, even – by this tremendous current. It comes in all shapes and sizes – a witty tweet, a sarcastic snark of a comment, a blog that explains why Toms has a horrible aid model, or why #KONY2012 is a failure of a campaign when it comes to actually helping.
I know these corrections are necessary. It appears that at least once every two hours someone needs to remind the general public that Africa isn’t a country. And, sometimes I feel like I’m repeating Andrew Harding like some kind of mantra this Spring: ”the awareness of American college students is NOT a necessary condition for conflict resolution in Africa.”
But, regardless of the need for correction – I can’t help but feel that it’s the need for correction that’s begun to carry us away. As Kate Otto so eloquently put it over coffee this afternoon, “Too much negativity is not a way to really get much of anywhere.” She moved her hand up a figurative ladder and then plunged it back down on the table between us.
“No one gains long term success from being constantly critical.”
The Rabbit Club was open for business by drink 3, on Saturday, and in the dark, near a bar that felt familiar to her, with a 9×12 paper covered in German and Belgian brews, my friend told me about how New York can change a person, if she lets it.
“You know, you fight for everything here. And, bit by bit, you find yourself becoming harder. You’re so damn tired of being pushed. You’re so damn tired of being shoved. You’re so damn tired of someone taking your space, your area. That, finally, it’s like – ‘look! This is my damn spot. Don’t mess with my spot.’”
I nodded, halfway into a heff I’d ordered by pointing, because I couldn’t pronounce it.
“Bit by bit, it hardens you, if you let it,” she continued. “I keep coming back to that need to re-soften, to re-find your center, to take the edge off – have another beer so the way they push you on the subway ride doesn’t grate on you so much. Find a girlfriend to talk to where you can really talk, instead of just talking shop. Find a place you can let your hair down, and feel at home. Find a way not to just become another hard, jaded person who’s let it all get inside you and change who you are in ways you didn’t want it to.”
The phrase about becoming a jaded person caught me. I thought of the way Haiti feels the first time you get off the tarmac by yourself – the way you fight, especially at 18, for a place in place that doesn’t belong to you, the longing for a quiet moment – somewhere – where you belong, and feel that you’ve carved a niche for yourself: on the ground, on twitter, in the online community. I thought of the first time I’d been to an event in Nakasangola where volunteers and missionaries had been present – the way they looked at me from across the room but never came to speak to me. I thought of the way I cried myself to sleep at night on my first volunteer trip alone.
I thought of all the ways I’d failed that month, and how much I changed in the months following.
Kate and I talked about the organic learning process a person goes through while traveling – your first trip, in long skirts and thick tank tops, the way even the shitty catsup feels exotic – until you realize it’s just that: shitty catsup. Laughing with her, I thought about my journey over the past four years – the bad aid mistakes I’ve made, the volunteer positions I was proud of that I equate with the mistakes of those organizations, now. I thought about the way that they have made me who I am, and driven me to do what I do.
Like any field, international development rides on experience, the mistake by mistake process of building on ones own journey grabbing the bull by the horns and figuring out where you belong in a place where you didn’t belong before.
On Saturday night – my second night in New York – I made myself a promise. I’d work to find the positive in the development community.
Beyond that, I’d assume that everyone around me was just as tired of being pushed and shoved as a girl on the subway that’s been fighting her way through a city that doesn’t know her from Adam.
I’d try and keep an awareness of the tendency to let myself become anther jaded individual.
I’d work to re-soften, when it came to my work.
More than that, I’d work to be gracious.
A woman getting on the PATH yesterday swiped her card wrong four times. I went around her, bored with her mistake, rushing to catch my train to 9th – one train, at least, that feels familiar to me.
Holding the metal bar above my head on the way into the city, I remembered my first subway ride – how many times I’d swiped my card wrong in Washington DC on my way to the first day of an internship where I was first introduced to global water issues in Kenya, and felt my love of writing and international work intersect.
I thought about how I never would have continued on this path if someone had been breathing down my neck for the next 8 months, telling me that my first pieces on clean water weren’t savvy enough.
When Kate and I wrapped up our conversation this afternoon she pointed out that the truly effective people – the ones touching the most around them, are the people who don’t have time for negativity.
They’re too busy doing their own work – and, with it – finding the lessons in their own mistakes.
April 14, 2012 § 5 Comments
I took Agnes to the pacific last week. We’ve been business partners for over a year now – her running the Ugandan side of our business, myself working stateside. We’ve worked together in East Africa. But, now it was her turn to enter my world.
We spent time in Beverly Hills, Hollywood and Santa Monica, introducing Agnes to shop owners and re-stocking locations with our new spring line. We found out she loves mango smoothies the way I love matooke. She loves coffee the way…I love coffee. She loves sandwiches the way I love chapati. In my world, we talked about my childhood the way we’d talked about hers during my last visit. We discussed my breakups the way we’d talked about her relationship with Patrick after she’d met him in grade school. We talked about the way I was born in San Diego and grew up in the Sierra Nevadas the way she’d talked about growing up in Kampala. And, after she met the head of the journalism department at my alma mater, we discussed our degrees – mine in journalism, hers in business.
She laughed through my dating stories. She told me she’d waited to get married on purpose to finish her education. We discussed Patrick’s views on women – his support of her. I nodded. I’d seen it – him waving goodbye from the veranda, watching their three children while we worked on our company. We traded stories about our cultures on the way into boutiques – the way Ugandans say Americans make love in the streets, the way Americans claim Uganda – and all of Africa, at that – is full of people defecating in the streets.
At the stop light on Broadway, we laughed so hard it hurt.
It was 3:30 pm when we were done – prime traffic time in LA, and I warned her we’d be late home. But Agnes had been smelling the ocean air for just about as long as she could stand without being properly introduced, and I caught the desperation in her eye.
“I’ve never seen it!” she pleaded.
I thought of myself asking to visit the Nile, and nodded, putting the truck in drive.
I’ve never introduced anyone to the pacific for the first time – let alone the ocean itself. The practice felt sacred to me, taking off our shoes on the edge of the boulevard and walking across the sand in our bare feet. I pointed out ships and surfers as we walked.
Agnes hesitated at the edge of the water, the way I’d hesitated when I’d first shared a pathway with a herd of Ankole cattle on my way through Wobulenzi. I laughed at her hesitancy the way the cattle herder had laughed at me, crouched at the edge of a herd of long horn cattle. I waved my arms – “come on!”
I watched Agnes and the ocean feeling each other out for the first time, and I thought about how many things this woman has introduced me to.
I met her when I was 21. It was my first day in Kakooge. Agnes greeted me with a loud voice and open arms. She gave me a hug and three kisses – left, right, left. She waved her arms around – “welcome to our home! You are so welcome.” By “home,” I soon learned Agnes was referring to the entire village – not just her half acre plot in the midst of it.
Skirt wrapped around her waist and an arm of bracelets, Agnes walked me through every part of town, little blonde NGO reporter that I was. We went to the outskirts of Kakooge, to the main street of Kakooge, to the village’s only indoor restaurant, to the east, where most of the children gather to play and, finally, to the bars, where drunken men recognized Agnes, and exclaimed over the Mzungu. I watched them, sitting on a wooden bench offered to the white girl, and I thought about the woman I’d just met.
She spoke about Jesus and women’s rights in the same sentence – often in church. With a booming voice and an out-streched arm, she regularly preached alongside her husband to a local congregation on wooden benches. And yet, here she was, a public figure in her village and a respected woman in her culture, laughing with the men in the bars and, later, I’d learn, with the prostitutes. Turns out, Agnes is not only progressive, she’s a bit controversial.
By controversial, I mean Agnes swims against the ancient wave carrying respected society away from anyone engaged in less than admirable activity, and pulling the religious and dignified away from issues like birth control, safe sex, AIDS, family planning and a woman’s right to express herself freely in every room in her home. Jesus doesn’t talk about condoms, does he?
Agnes seems to think he does.
After my 22nd birthday, she threw in her livelihood with me, and hired 40 women she handpicked to partner with us after meeting me once. That same year, she began to change my view of Uganda. She brought me into East Africa as a part of the woodwork, insisting that I wasn’t a visitor anymore. I had a place carved out in her home along the Kampala to Gulu highway, where the trucks run through to the West of my bedroom wall in the night, and the roosters crow on the half hour just before dawn.
Agnes must have known that any person transitioning into a culture needs to be taken in with their background, and taught new ways, instead of expected to know them, because she told me she saw me the third time I returned to Uganda. I was deep in a half eaten plate of matooke when she said it. I was struggling with a culture that I didn’t fit into – checking my iphone in between meetings running an hour behind schedule, and lying awake trying to teach myself to slow down. I was embarrassed by my white legs, and the way I kept cutting myself shaving in my bucket shower.
I stopped eating and stared. “Yes,” she nodded. “I see you. I see your heart. I get you. And, I believe in you.”
Her words, in the midst of a sea of misunderstanding, became my lifeline.
Later that week, it was Agnes, again, that gave me permission to have a large vision for my work in East Africa. She walked into a room she’d transitioned into mine for the two weeks I stayed with her. “I want you to open your heart,” she told me. “We’re going to be big. Big beyond Uganda. I have plans for Kenya, Rwanda, and the Congo. So, you let me know when you’re ready, and we’ll go.”
During that visit, I discovered that Agnes’ willingness to be controversial – to speak up, to speak out, and to go places where other women were not willing to go – had taken me to those places with her. She’d silently understood my desire for integration into her village, my desire to do business directly with the women in at, and with it – quietly been creating a place for me in Uganda – in the way she spoke about me, the way she helped me understand her culture and, now, the way she brought the two together.
She’d created a profile of my work, and my character. She’d been prepping the women working for me to meet me again. The woman she once went to visit in the bad parts of time were coming to greet her – and to greet me. Women that we’d gone to take pictures of in huts were walking across town to kiss me three times – left, right, left – and talk about our work. The prostitutes that had once pursed their lips at me were greeting me in English.
Six months later, at the age of 23, it was Agnes that gave me the grace to allow our plan take longer than expected, and for funds to come through more slowly than I wanted them to. After sales tax stripped our January bank account, I got an email from her quoting a scripture passage from the book of Zechariah. “Don’t despise the day of small beginnings,” it said.
More than matoke or Ankole cows, Agnes has taught me about the way a relationship with a person can change everything, as she’s staked her reputation on my ability to come through for her and the women she’s hired to work for us – taking months to explain cultural customs, work out our accounting on the ground, gather items and, now, to come and learn my culture so she could better integrate the needs of our customer base into hers.
As we walked on the wet sand, I pointed out kelp and washed up shells and explained crustaceans. I picked up different size shells. I pointed out the way the tide moves. But Agnes wasn’t interested in that. She was interested in the way children interacted the way with the water, and kept pulling on my arm to laugh and point them out.
I’d never seen the ocean that way – through children. One ran away from the ocean – terrified – and made a muscle, smiling at us, once he’d safely escaped the surf. Another was rolling himself in the sand and grinning underneath his gritty, gray hair. A third ran into the surf squealing with delight over waves that were too cold for me.
“I love the way they love it,” Agnes said. And, it was in that moment, watching a little girl dance the sand out of her polka dotted suit, that I realized Agnes had done it again – she’d changed my perspective on the world and, with it, the way I view the people around me, and my place in it, alongside them.
January 15, 2012 § 8 Comments
“You know Stevie Nicks wrote landslide at 23?” I said. “She said it was the first year she started feeling like she was getting older.”
Well, I’ve been afraid of changing
‘Cause I’ve built my life around you
But time makes you bolder
Even children get older
and I’m getting older too.
My mom stopped, “whoa, this really is your song now isn’t it?”
“This year’s going to be much, much better,” she said.
Judging by the way it started, right then and there, she was right. I’m 23 today. Twenty three and thankful, mostly, for how the way this year has changed my life. 12 months ago I was sneaking out the front door of someone’s apartment – hungover, barefoot. I carried my high heels in a sequined shirt and a pair of gym shorts I’d shoved in my bag. I started to climb a fence just as my best friend drove up, and it started opening.
She opened her car door.
“Hi hot mess.”
She did. She brought me flip flops and, out of the kindness of her heart, I’m sure, forced me to walk into Starbucks with her. A venti water and americano later, we sat in the parking lot and discussed my birthday party. “That was horrific. I can’t even talk about it.” She nodded. “I know.”
Something shifted in me that hot January day in a La Mirada parking lot. I suppose it was the beginning of forward thinking. Or maybe, just exhaustion from a long line of one night stands, ruined friendships, and not remembering the last time I woke up on a Sunday without a pounding headache. It was the beginning of the realization that men that didn’t love me weren’t worth spending the night with. It was the beginning of realizing that time spent with family wasn’t time wasted. And, that a few less margaritas and perhaps some candles on a real cake – and my little sister’s voice in the morning – could and would make for a better day.
But beginnings are just that – beginnings. And I carried my hot mess through the spring. Best friends are made for these times and it was a text message, instead of an americano, that woke me up three months later.
“I think you’re a train wreck,” she wrote.
I didn’t even cry.
22 carried on, and I re-met my ex, and started my life over. I lost a family member. A few weeks later, I lost a friend. Then, I lost myself somewhere around Shasta mountain moving up to Portland in my white Miata for a man I spent months sleeping beside, only to find out he didn’t love me either.
I grew up in church, but people there didn’t seem to like honest questioning, and they, very clearly, didn’t like it when I wore leather. After that, they took to me like the frogs must have taken to Pharoah’s palace, and I couldn’t find a quiet space to get away from their judgment.
I took off like a bat out of hell – for LA, for Washington DC, for Haiti and Dubai, Uganda, London, Virginia, Long Beach and, finally, Portland. And, there, much closer to home than I’d been in years, the quiet began to settle in, and I licked my wounds living with a trans couple in Northeast who, quite quickly, became some of my very best friends.
Alone in Portland, I started sitting in the back of a church off Burnside in NE Portland. I doodled quotes on bulletins – things like: “Just when others look and think you’re a person to be pitied is when you – as a person God loves – can know that He is beginning to move for you.”
Somewhere in between handling death, and feeling like I was dying, I called my mom on the way to a tattoo parlor in Gresham. “Mom, God’s moving for me.”
The man who inked my spine discussed the way church can damage a person, and what it looks like to start over. I became particularly addicted to one cafe and, each day, the same barista asked me if things were getting better yet. It was my one honest moment of the morning in a sea of people who didn’t know much about me – “Nope. My almost fiance dumped me this week.” And, each day after that he’d raise an eye brow – “better yet?” I’d shake my head and then say “better now!” and hold up my americano.
I became the prophet of all things Jesus, because I was pretty sure most people hadn’t met Him like I did. The Jesus I was told about didn’t like cigarettes, and He didn’t talk about sex. He didn’t like stilettos, and it was for damn sure that He didn’t like me. But, in my corner of Portland, He did. Suddenly, He had saved me from an oppressive situation I couldn’t even see myself. Suddenly, it mattered to Him that a mother in law didn’t take over my life, that the whims of an emotionally abusive partner didn’t throw me off course – and it mattered to Him that I went back to Africa. This time, not running.
I started an anthem – “God sees me. And, He hears me.” Over beers, halfway through a cigarette, on the porch in my sweats trying to sift through my broken pieces – “I know this is crazy. But I think God sees me. And, I think He likes me. I have this feeling that there’s something bigger going on than everything falling apart.”
Somewhere near the California border I remembered my insurance agent telling me, months before, that if I moved to Portland and found that the love I thought I had wasn’t all I’d been looking for, I should come home with my head high.
“I’m not saying you’re out to fail,” she said. “But you know, I’m friends with your grandma. And, I just want you to know – if it happens? We’ve all been there.” And so, I hung on – hung on through quitting my job nannying for a little boy with a sensory disorder just so I could keep a bedroom I never slept in, hung on through the drive home to Northern California with my dad. “Hey, Dad? Do you think I’ll come back to Oregon? Am I a failure coming home? Did I fail?”
I hung on through months of silence from someone who I thought I’d make a life with. I hung on through having no idea what it was I was doing. I brought home the gospel of God’s love for the hot mess because I believed it. I figure Jesus loves a good porter just as much as I do, and that He doesn’t so much mind if I smoke while I’m sitting beside Him on my parent’s porch steps.
I figure if He loved me that day, sneaking out of an apartment, barefoot, on the way to discuss my birthday disaster, surely He loves me now. But, I don’t even think it works that way – I think He felt the same way about me then as He does now because it was then, just when I was about to become the train wreck of the century, that God gave me Nakate.
And, just when I wasn’t sure who I was again, He moved me home to a town I thought was dead, and doubled the success of a project I’d almost abandoned in Portland. After that, He took me back to Africa, feeling like an unloved woman, and he set me in a plastic chair in front of 40 women who call me their life partner, even though most of them had never met me before.
They clapped for me – prostitutes and co-wives and abandoned women, all starting businesses – all sure that, for the first time, someone really loved them. All JUST.LIKE.ME. And, all bawling almost as hard as I was.
Exactly one month from now, I’ll be back in Africa – back with those women who have no idea how many times they’ve saved me from disaster.
And, last night? I went to church in leather leggings.
I’m not sure if anyone noticed.
I was too busy thinking about how Jesus loves me.
Happy 23rd world – it’s really good to be here.
Oh, mirror in the sky, what is love?
Can the child within my heart rise above?
Can I sail through the changing ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?
Well, I’ve been afraid of changing
‘Cause I’ve built my life around you
But time makes you bolder
Even children get older and I’m getting older too