December 31, 2011 § 2 Comments
I went to my brother’s wedding last night. I love his bride. I love him. And, I sat bawling like only a sister does in the front row in between my mom and B. God. Just look at him. Look at her. Look at how he’s laughing like he did when we were kids, and how she knows him like a woman who says she loves him fully should. When they were introduced for the first time, he gave the dorky smile he used to on Halloween – his favorite holiday. Suddenly, he was six, a pirate and I was four, and a tiger.
I had to laugh. I had to cry. He’s made so much of himself.
At the reception, a friend asked me if anything was new. They checked my hand for a ring when they said it, and afterward asked what I do for a living. I told them I work to distribute goods from a group of women in Uganda.
People are often unsure what to do with that. I’m often unsure to do with that.
They smiled and said, “oh, nice.” I smiled and wished there was alcohol being served.
I thought about that moment in the shower this morning. Martha Beck says, “every woman needs a cornfield. No matter what’s happening in your life, find yourself a cornfield and hide there whenever you need to.”
The shower’s mine. I sat on the floor with a cup of coffee and let the water hit my face. I stayed in for way too long, and I thought about this year. I thought about PTSD. I thought about alcohol. I thought about the times I thought I would have a ring on my finger, and the relief that came from realizing what I had escaped from. I thought about foolish decisions. They were okay in my cornfield. I took a sip of coffee, felt the warm water – let the corn field get bigger, the fan get louder.
I looked at my fingers like my friend had. And, I thought about the hands of the women I work with in Uganda. I thought about what we’re doing together, about the richness of my life. I guess I should have told her that I’m not bitter. I’m not lost. I’m not wallowing, or hurt, or “left.” I’m just different. And, I would hope, a little more hungry for a wider spectrum of things than I used to be.
I guess I could have told my old friend about my year – I could have brought up nights talking about the helicopters coming into fields in Afghanistan, near death experiences. I could have told them all kinds of stories that near swallowed me in 2011 – stories that aren’t mine. I could have told her about Max dying, and about how Afghanistan even took over that week – chasing around the half of my heart that wasn’t present, that was hiding in a corner when it was time for the funeral, that couldn’t handle the pressure of death in a family – especially the death of a child.
I could have told them about Portland, and the months I spent there – Afghanistan came there with me, but so did Africa. I could have told them about the collage I made, when I decided to let out the pressure inside me on an old atlas my father gave me. There’s the shape of a woman over Africa, and the shape of a man over Afghanistan.
I thought the continents were coming together.
I guess I could have told them that too.
I guess I could have smiled in my red alligator heels and purple dress and said that I almost got lost in another person’s story, but I didn’t. I could have told them that I found a strength in me I didn’t know I had, but I didn’t think of that till this morning, hot water rinsing the conditioner out of my hair, body tired from dancing with cousins and brothers and old friends. I guess what I could have said was, “I almost got lost in another person’s story. But I got yanked out, kicked out, sent out – and, I found myself when everyone must have thought I was just about to lose it.”
I guess that’s what I’d tell someone, looking back on this year. I found myself. Then, I’d say that I found myself because of dozens of stories that aren’t mine, but have begun to define me.
I would say that, this year, I lost myself and found myself in stories. I lost myself there, somewhere between Kandahar and Camp Leatherneck. But, in Kakooge, in Wobulenzi, in Kampala – I found myself. I found myself in the stories of women that reminded me of myself.
I could tell someone that those stories made me new.
Here’s 50 of my favorites from this year:
- Patrick Kabugo was able to quit a teaching job that took him over an hour to reach by motorcycle, and forced him to stay away from his wife and children for 5+ nights a week. His wife began to bring in a salary equal to his and, in exchange, he was able to quit his second job as a teacher, and begin working exclusively to help out in the area of the country he is most passionate about: his own village, Kakooge.
- Patrick and Agnes made a statement of religious peace in the community through hiring women of all religious backgrounds to work for the Nakate Project.
- The mayor of Kakooge noticed Nakate’s work in his village, called it “extremely good” and said it was something he had hoped would begin to happen for his people.
- Grave Kavuna, a pastress in Kakooge, was able to send all 10 of her children to school through her own salary.
- Florence stopped defining herself as the poorest woman in the village.
- Grace, an uneducated woman, was able to send all 10 of her children to school to be educated.
- For the first time in her life, Grace was able to take her children to the hospital whenever they fall sick.
- Over 40 women received salaries throughout the year.
- Grace made a statement in the church that she runs – men don’t believe that women should have their own money but she preaches from the pulpit that, through Nakate, she has her own bank account.
- Nakato stopped believing that a bank account is only for rich women, and opened her own.
- Nakato was able to pay for her own medical bills, and bring herself back to health after falling really sick for a period of time because of her HIV status.
- Margaret Namayego paid off a Habitat for Humanity house loan.
- Margaret bought two cows and a pig.
- Grace Nsambu bought a bicycle, a cow and grew her small roadside shop.
- Grace became an equal breadwinner for her family.
- Harriet opened a bank account, bought a pig and started a breakfast and lunch roadside stand.
- Harriet’s granddaughter Anet saw her grandmother purchase a pig through Nakate, and began to work with us herself, in the hopes that she could save enough money to open her own restaurant. When her grandmother saw her initiative, she gave her some of her own Nakate salary to get her started on her business while she’s waiting for her’s.
- Dorothy Nambooze paid for all her grandchildren to go to school.
- Justine stopped digging a hole in her back yard and stuffing money in it. Instead, she opened a bank account.
- Justine feels “settled” inside and stopped worrying incessantly – for the first time in her life.
- At 50, Florence received her first paycheck.
- Florence was able to begin buying animals to supplement her income with Nakate, and started successfully taking care of her 10 grandchildren.
- Kisakye bought bricks to buy herself a permanent house.
- Kisakye felt empowered to take care of her children herself, instead of depending on a husband she says was a drunkard.
- Caroline began a charcoal business shipping charcoal to Kampala on trucks that come through Kakooge on their way to town on the Kampala to Gulu highway.
- Caroline identified land she wants to buy in Kakooge, and plans to buy it as soon as she saves enough of her salary.
- Caroline was able to pay for her sick mother’s health care.
- Margaret Nakibuka bought iron sheets for roofing her home.
- Scovia, a Rwandan first generation Ugandan, paid off her loan on a house in Kakooge.
- Scovia started a business selling milk at the local market.
- Jane turned her mud hut into a cement house.
- Jane was able to afford taking care of her sick mother.
- Nakato was able to get herself out of bed and on her feet through continuing to work with Nakate while sick with HIV, and paying for her own hospital bills.
- Betty was able to afford rent, and school fees for her children.
- Florence Nakacwa bought herself a piglet.
- After Juliet Nabukenya’s husband left her for another woman, she was able to send all of her children back to school with her own salary.
- Lydia went from sitting at home without work to do, or digging for a small salary in other people’s fields, to having a job that paid for her pay her bills, and save some money.
- After being deserted by the Muslim community and her family, Saudah bought poultry for herself through her salary and says she eats whenever and however she wants to, now.
- Margaret Nakamya finished building her house, and bought a bicycle, pigs and a cow.
- Margaret stopped sitting at home crying thinking she’d die from AIDS and leave her children. Instead, she said she has hope.
- Over 120 children were able to attend a private, well run school founded by Align Ministries in Kakooge through their mothers paying their salaries.
- Nakate became the most reliable source of income in Kakooge.
- Together with her job as a teacher, Rebecca was able to single handedly provide for her four children, two of her siblings and her mother.
- Fatuma agreed to leave her work as a prostitute and begin making jewelry instead.
- Jane Katushabe opened a bank account, and began saving money to buy a permanent house, instead of renting.
- At least five women in Kakooge hired people to dig roots for them, instead of digging themselves.
- 8-year-old Maurine was able to provide for her own school fees, and help provide for her grandmother to feed herself and her older siblings.
- Health care was paid for for in over 20 people’s families through their own salaries, rather than outside funding.
- Saudah bought herself a brand new outfit for the first time in her life.
December 8, 2011 § Leave a Comment
I took it off automatic. Automatic brew doesn’t start till 5:00 AM, and I’ve been up since three. There was a nightmare, a start, and then a long stare at the Christmas lights across the street. I can’t seem to stay awake past 7:30 PM. I can’t seem to sleep past 3:00.
Last night Beta helped me clean up a coffee stain on my carpet, and then climbed into my bed beside me. “I can snuggle you,” she told me.
“Did you want to snuggle?” I asked, because we’re working on how to ask questions.
“Yep,” she said.
We laid in the dark for a long time, staring at the Christmas lights across the street. Finally, I asked if she was ready to go to her bed.
“Almost,” she told me.
“You’re not full up on snuggles yet are you?”
My mom woke me up around 9:00 grabbing Beta out of my bed. I’m 22, but when I’m fresh back from Africa, she usually still sneaks in a kiss goodnight, and tells me she loves me and she’s glad I’m home for at least a week of nights running.
I used to feel this ache when I first got back from trips overseas, like I wasn’t sure where I fit. And, a misfit kind of feeling is the worst, because you don’t know how to fix it. It’s an itch you can’t scratch. A feeling you can’t quite put your finger on. So, I got back on “American time” quickly. I went out for drinks with my friends right away to tell them about my travels. I spent a lot of time feeling doing fundraisers. When it came to Haiti, I convinced my parents to adopt.
But, this time around, my iphone is still set to both Los Angeles and Kampala. I wake up in the night to messages from Morris when he’s on chat online with updates on orders, and, around 3 AM, he’s usually telling me about the meeting he’s in with Agnes, or how soon they’re shipping bracelets for our next wholesale order – and can I send this or that amount of cash by the end of the week for him to use for it?
He’ll send me a message – “In your village, so I’m thinking of you.” And then, because he’s working with me officially now, he’ll correct himself – “our village.”
“Our village,” as if a man who comes from the Northern tribes of Uganda has split responsibility with me for a group of people in central Uganda – geographically placed by the powers that be to live in a place I never should have logically heard of, in an area that I never logically should have wanted to visit, working closely in a village he isn’t originally from, with a people group with skin about six shades lighter than his own.
But here we are, doing business at 3 AM, stopping when the electricity stops and his phone goes out, keeping track of the time difference – “shouldn’t you be sleeping?” He’s got two time zones on his smart phone, too.
And here I am, awake with a fresh cup of Starbucks brew at 5:00 AM, wishing I had brought home more Ugandan brew from Kampala, waiting for the electricity to come back so Morris can tell me about a wholesale order shipping out Friday, and wondering if, at 4:20 in the afternoon, the afternoon rains have set in yet in our village.
I guess I won’t be getting back on Pacific Coast Time any morning soon.
A Different Kind of “Occupy”: Morris’ view on the riots in Uganda, and the rising prices behind them
November 8, 2011 § Leave a Comment
This man has believed in my work in Africa when I didn’t believe in it myself. He told me I was creating change when all I could see was a mess. He has seen my work as huge when it was still very, very small. And, he has become one of my dearest friends.
I’ve yelled at him in the marketplace. I’ve laughed with him on long skype phonecalls baking cookies and drinking coffee in my kitchen while he’s sitting in his cement floored room in the back of a local school house. He’s argued with B over who was black and who was brown (I think she got louder and won – he’s black – or was it purple? And she’s brown). We’ve laughed so hard together we couldn’t breathe. I’ve done a few banana dances on the roadside that he was privy to. And, we’ve cried together when we’ve heard stories from people we were watching suffer in ways we were not big enough to reach in and change.
Today, I’d like to share Morris’ thoughts on the riots in Uganda, and the change he hopes they will bring about for his people.
Me: Describe for me what it’s like to be caught in the middle of a protest.
Morris: Its not a nice thing at all! In most cases they begin peacefully then when the police comes in, the events turn violent. I remember this one time I was in my hostel room at school, protests against the high inflation and fuel prices was going on, it turned violent, police fired tear gas into the crowd, so people began running around and seeking refuge in the near by houses. Unfortunately they (police) even fired teargas into the people’s houses including the hostels. Scenes of people collapsing, the wounded, people losing property like phones, handbags, etc.
Me: What does a meal usually look like for you?
Morris: Normally a meal consists of rice, tubers like cassava, sweet potatoes, matoke + beans, groundnut stew known as binyeebwa – we sometimes have meat, but it is considered a luxury. Note that its normally either rice and beans or binyeebwa, or cassava and beans or binyeebwa, or posho and beans, but not a variety of those in the same meal. And its normally the same kind of food daily for me – and I never bore of it!
Me: Explain to me how you feel, as a Ugandan, about walk to work and other protests.
Morris: I strongly support the protests because this is a way of our raising voices on behalf of the many who are quietly suffering the effects of inflation, high costs of living, especially food and fuel. Unfortunately none of these protests have been peaceful – it’s as if the government is trying to suppress our feelings about the situation.
Me: How do you feel your government is responding to your needs as a citizen?
Morris: I feel disappointed by the government as I feel it has the power to control food prices, fuel prices. In Uganda, the system never seems to work at all, corruption is at all levels and whenever one approaches an office in need of a service, the officials are always driving towards getting a bribe.
Me: What do you see as the reasons for food price inflation?
Morris: Personally I think the increase in fuel prices contributes a lot. When transport fares increase, everything gets stuck, coz farmers can’t afford transport costs for their products to the market, retailers have to hike prices due to increased transport costs.
But I can’t really explain why there’s an increase in the fuel price in Uganda! The government is not giving a solid explanation of the record double digit inflation, and I am also driven into thinking that there has been a low supply of food to the market caused by a bad season – sugar prices have almost quadrupled!
Me: How does inflation affect you personally? How do you see it affecting people around you?
Morris: Inflation affects me in that I have to forego certain things like sugar, traveling to certain places and change my diet coz I can’t afford certain meals. Even fun things like hanging out have become un-affordable.
I hate seeing HIV+ people not able to afford transportation to go to a government hospital to pick up their free ARV drugs, and seeing families going without a cup of tea, or taking porridge without sugar.
Worst of all, prices have increased, but salaries remained the same and some parents who are my friends say they can no longer take their children to school, because paying house rent has become a problem as well. Most of my friends are living in debt.
Me: How do you try and help to create political change?
Morris: I don’t think there’s anything I can do other than talking about what’s happening and crying out to the government to intervene. I can’t change the fuel prices! I can’t make our Ugandan shilling gain value! But the government can do something, the government can control this, I believe it can control the value of our currency, I believe it can subsidize the prices of agricultural products, I believe the government has reserves that it has touched. The government can change the situation, with international help.
Me: Are you seeing people go without certain items because of inflation?
Morris: Yes, people are going without sugar, people no longer buy credit for their phones like they used to hence make less or very short calls. And where someone could take a taxi or boda boda, some people walk the distance, and sometimes I do too walk some of the distances where I could take a boda boda.
Certain foods like meat, chicken are left for greens and vegetables that are relatively cheaper.
Me: Do you see any difference being made through protests?
Morris: Protests are not really bringing much fruits other than awareness making many people to know about whats happening.
Me: Have you taken part in protests? If so, why? If not, why?
Morris: I’ve never taken part in protests before because of the fear of the force that the police use against these protests. But I believe I’ve played my part by talking about the situation whenever the opportunity comes. I’ve also played my role by praying for things to change.
October 18, 2011 § 1 Comment
I first heard the phrase when I was living in Haiti in 2007. My friend, then the house manager at Three Angels Orphanage in Haiti, explained to one of the children at the orphanage that though his adoptive parents were leaving for a time, they would be back – back to get him, back to take him home, back to set things right.
A never pregnant but expectant mother said to my friend – “what did you tell him?”
“M’ap kite’w,” she answered. “I told him you won’t quit him.”
I knew, then, what the essence of aid work centers itself on, if done right. It’s not good feelings. And, it’s certainly not an awareness of triumph – the kind that people might think you would feel. There is an awareness of vast, overwhelming, growing need, and the quiet ability to meet one, too small, need at a time. There is a steady desire to meet the needs that one can in a person, even if there is no return. There is, quite simply, an ability one finds within oneself to love someone without needing a return. The return comes regardless – but differently than one expected it to. It’s sweeter and more genuine than one could have conjured up, or asked for. And it comes in due time – always at the very right time.
After watching my friend explain the future to a kid who had never before known a real family, I met Spendy. I came home and convinced my parents to adopt him. Six months later, his mother came back and took him, almost directly out of my arms. He stood screaming for me on orphanage steps while I got on a bus that took me to the Haitian airport where I sprawled out in the midst of a crowd, doubled over and nauseous with food poisoning – will someone hand that man my passport? I can’t get up. I’m not sure which hurt more – my stomach, or my heart.
That stretching beyond reckoning – or what I thought was stretching beyond reckoning – happened over and over again on following trips to Haiti, trips to Uganda, and then, most recently, living in Africa alone with a deployment to Afghanistan on the back of my mind – places like Kandahar on my heart while Uganda stretched before me, and then, sometimes the hardest of all, coming home to prosperity, each time, and not understanding what the next step was – only knowing that I wouldn’t quit.
The return comes in unexpected ways. Spendy’s mom took him back, and people said they saw them together, looking happy. I know he will forget me. But I won’t forget him. Screaming on the steps. “Mama!” Asthma in the middle of the night while I tried to rock him and my roommates lay awake with him screaming. Taking him back to the orphanage instead of my hotel at two am with two men I had to wake up for safety. Nineteen when a twenty one year old mom took him back and, “god – mom. Will she feed him? I thought he was supposed to be mine.” Heartache. I won’t quit you. I can pray. I can hope for you. I can convince others to send money, sponsorships – I can tell your story. By the age of 21, hearing that people saw him loved by his birth mother and looking happy with her was more than enough in the way of paybacks for what I had suffered emotionally.
And then, there’s my sister, who, at age 8, as Haitian and loud and silly as ever, took the photo of my tattoo in our bathroom tonight.
We thought she’d never come.
Tied up in red tape, seven years in an orphanage, without much hope left but – we won’t quit you.
Earthquake – did she make it out? And here she was, silent, tears, unsure – but we won’t quit you.
Her presence in my life has changed everything – been the biggest reward of any I have ever received from loving without knowledge of what would come next.
Afterward came Uganda and women asking for sponsorships, for help, for a chance – I’ll take this bag of beads, I don’t know what I can do but – I will try. And, a few months later, quiet in my heart, the commitment – I won’t quit you.
I do not believe you can work in a way in which you do not live. Deployment ended, time in Africa ended and there was brokenness we brought back – brokenness found in Africa, in Afghanistan – brokenness we bring together and speak of, brokenness we work out on our own without words – brokenness, sometimes, that lasts longer and weighs heavier than we’d like to feel and carry, and yet, in the midst of brokenness – I won’t quit you.
I won’t quit you.
In the middle of the night when you are afraid because you are alone on a continent – I won’t quit you.
In the middle of a story you cannot bear telling – I won’t quit you.
When TB takes over, and you are in the midst of the death of a woman you wanted to help save through buying her goods – I won’t quit you.
When you go and come back, and you are not sure who you are after what you have seen – I won’t quit you.
In November, I return to Uganda – and I am afraid. Afraid of being alone in a new village I haven’t lived in before, afraid of getting sick like I did last time and having two parasites that take over my stomach for a year, afraid of what I might see, afraid of how helpless I might come home feeling – afraid that I will feel useless, even as I am being used.
Jeremy tells me I can’t quit on the people I have said I would help – “this is bigger than you,” he says. “It’s actually a lot bigger than us.”
When it all gets too heavy – as I know it will, come November, I know the anthem will take over and in the silence, love that carries and sticks with me will give me the hope and commitment to keep loving others…that’s love, right? The commitment to meet the too small needs, to do what you can, even when it seems to small, and the hurt appears to be too big. Love carries the anthem for me, tells me this is all bigger than myself when I cannot tell myself not to quit.
It repeats itself, like a drum to live to -
I won’t quit you.
I won’t quit you.
I won’t quit…
As the love anthem gets louder, and I can hear it coming from outside, I can feel it from within, and it is then that I know why I don’t quit.
I don’t quit because love hasn’t quit on me.
January 20, 2011 § 5 Comments
Since I first started traveling, I’ve had one question asked of me consistently: how did you do it? I’ve been astounded by how many girls, women (and young men) are at a loss when it comes to getting overseas by themselves. Mission teams are a dime a dozen. Anyone can go and build a house in Mexico with fifty other people. But the question I’m being asked is how one does it by him or herself – how do you break into philanthropy on your own? How do you know what’s safe, and what isn’t? How do you decide where to go?
Today’s post is a long awaited how-to: a get-on-a-jet-plane-and-go guide.
First, you need to find a reputable organization. I would worry about this more than I’d worry about which country I was headed to for my first time. It’s better to have a good experience overseas, so that you keep going, and reach your travel goals.
For your first trip, I would recommend two things:
1. Find an organization that takes groups, as well as individuals.
2. Find someone you can meet with in person who has either gone with the organization, or is part of the staff there. On my first trip, I went with Three Angels to Haiti, after reading that they have medical teams come in and out of the orphanage on a regular basis. After that, I went to a local meeting the organization was having, and met Shannon, who was running their school at the time. My second trip wasn’t as easy, there was no one working locally with the orphanage I went to work at, but someone I met had adopted from there, so I asked them about the trustworthiness of the organization.
Second, find out what you can do to benefit them. Most small nonprofits are looking for volunteers who can not only do what they’re told, but can see what needs to be done, and jump in and do it. When I went to Haiti for the first time, I failed to mention that, aside from helping out with children, cleaning and organization, I could write. Their head of media found my work, and asked me to do some writing for her – and voila! At 18, I wrote several feature stories for a quarterly nonprofit newsletter, and ended up returning to Haiti several times to write profiles of local children at the Three Angels’ school, and update parents on the status of their adoptive children. From there, I was able to write internationally at UPI, and, eventually, run my own media for Align Ministries
Third, you’re going to have to fundraise, if you’re anything like me. I’ve found that the most successful way to fundraise is the ‘ol snail mail. You’d be surprised at the response to a carefully crafted letter, with a detailed list of exactly how much funding you need – and for what. I have never failed to raise sufficient funding for a trip using snail mail, email and, more recently, social media. You’ll want your media to include details about what your organization does, what you plan to do to help them, and exactly how you plan to carry it out.
Fourth: it’s time to ready yourself. Check with the organization you’re going to work with about their protocol for travel. Do they usually have a driver pick volunteers up at the airport? If the organization works with locals, and there are no Americans in country, find out who is picking you up, and email them. The important thing is that you get in contact with someone on the ground about your flight, and plans, before you buy it. Next, book your flight! Thanks to the boy beside me breaking his arm on a white water trip on the Nile, I’ve learned it’s best to go ahead and purchase travel insurance, so fork out the money, and get yourself covered – if you ever end up hurt, or seriously sick (and I have been), you’ll thank me.
Fifth: it’s packing time. As far as clothing goes, ASK, ASK and ASK again. I know you want to wear your cutest summer dress into darkest Africa – but you need to know local customs, and what the guidelines are for a white girl walking into a culture that may have different religious or societal boundaries for women. When it comes to food, I’ve learned to bring lots of Luna bars for all the times there isn’t food to grab before you’re on the go for several hours. I’ve also learned a couple of things I can’t live without are: peanut butter, cheese its (insert your comfort food craving here), instant coffee (thank you Starbucks!) Bonine, Ibuprofen, Tampons and Pads (the time change can throw your period off – and it can show up when you LEAST expect it, sometimes even twice), my own set of sheets, a journal, bandanas for the days (most days) when you just can’t get to your hair, and (god love them) crocs. I don’t care how ugly they are – foot parasites are much, much worse.
Lastly, and most importantly, please remember Confucius – and, wherever you go, go with all your heart. Regardless of how much you hate cockroaches, sweaty nights and/or the sound of a rooster repeatedly crowing outside your window, you’re going to miss it all in hindsight. So, remind yourself that it’s just for a period of time, and focus on people, because it’s the people you’re going to miss (and, I’ll let you in on a secret: they don’t like the cockroaches either).
November 6, 2010 § 2 Comments
There is a small independent gas station on the corner of Rosecrans and Valley View, where I stop every Monday and Friday to get gas on number five. Usually I have just enough in my budget to get $10 or $15 my miata (which, by the way, I’m selling — any takers!?).
There is a small, jovial Iranian man who helps me every time.
“Yes ma’am, it is so good to see you. And you are on number five, of course, and do you want fifteen dollars?”
“Yes, how are you?”
“Oh, of course I am good. And I hope that you are good.”
“Yes, I am.”
“And of course you are going to work.”
Every Monday and Friday, he tells me how much he hates charging me 35 cents to use debit. “Oh, how it kills me,” he moans. “I hate to charge you this fee, over and over again.”
I complain when it rains on Fridays, and he says, “Ma’am, it is going to rain. I am so sorry that it upsets you though.” Always en emphasis on you, as if there were a particular crime in stratus cloud cover because it was me, in particular, who disliked the rain on Friday nights.
I promise myself, every year, that I’ll settle down somewhere. I tell myself that I’ll get a good group of friends, and that I’ll find three favorite restaurants to choose from. I’ll find a coffee shop where the barista knows my order. I’ll work on being a regular somewhere where other regulars smile when I walk in. I’ll learn the city well enough that I can drive most anywhere without getting lost.
It was my Iranian friend that made me realize I’ve made East LA my home, this semester. And it was that realization that helped me see that I’ve done every single thing in the above list in about 5 cities over the past three years. In Binghamton, NY, the barista at the Starbucks across from my community college knew I’d ask for a tall breve latte with an extra shot, and would tap his foot and make me laugh if I ever tried to figure out something different. My drink changed to a double mocha in Washington, DC but I had a favorite green coffee shop across from the UPI office where I always went to get it. In Long Beach, I kept my drink, but my shop changed to Aroma Di Roma, where Jasmine Hunter and I used to go on Tuesday nights. In Auburn, I loved dinner at the Ale House in Old Town. In Long Beach, I loved Taco Surf, and the staff still recognizes me when I walk in. I danced the last songs on the jukebox away with two other regulars a couple weeks ago.
In La Mirada, I’ve been on too tight of a budget to go out to coffee that often, but I found Three Avocados, and my friends have been buying their coffee from me to help provide clean water for people in Uganda. My friends and I love Taco Tuesdays on Valley View and Orangethorpe.
This month, my huge group of fabulous girlfriends and I are celebrating my one year of singleness anniversary (yes, I am that obsessed with celebrations).
All that to say, I think that I have learned to, as Confucius says, “go with all my heart” into every new place that I venture into. I find friends, I find favorite haunts. And, just last week, I took a short cut home and didn’t get lost.
I thought through all this hullabaloo, last week. The coming and going – the constant packing and unpacking. I asked myself if it was too much.
I asked myself if I was lonely, or lacking, if I had, somehow, missed out.
I asked myself if I would do anything different.
It was then that I realized I wouldn’t change anything about the past three years. And, out of that realization, I gave myself the okay to go again.
It took about three days to make a decision.
Turns out, I’m moving back to Washington, D.C. in January.
You didn’t really think I was going to stay in one place for an entire year, did you?
Upstate, NY 2007
Port au Prince, Haiti 2007
Santa Clarita, CA 2007
East LA 2008
Port au Prince, Haiti 2008
Jinja, Uganda 2008
New York City (Times Square), 2008/2009
Washington, D.C. 2009
Alexandria, VA, 2009
Upstate, NY 2009
Berkeley, CA 2009
Auburn, CA 2010
Wobulenzi, Uganda 2010
East LA 2010
Anyone have favorite restaurants/coffee shops/good friends in the district?