Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The 30 year streak is over...

Today was not a normal day.

The start of it should have tipped me off.  I struggled getting out of bed, puttered around the apartment longer than usual doing nothing of consequence, and left my apartment later than I usually try to.  I grabbed the first Mobike that I saw when I got out of my complex, already running late and not wanting to be picky about which bike to ride for a change.

I wasn’t speeding along, but I was going to a brisk pace. I never worry about my surroundings when I’m biking to school (except for traffic, of course…don’t worry dad!). I try not to stop too much and keep a good pace. On a good day, it takes me about 6 minutes to get to school…yesterday it was 4. Today, not so much.

Anyways, I rode along and at one point thought “Hm, that scooter is awfully close to me.  I should yell at him to back off.” But then I thought “You sure do yell at people on scooters a lot. Give him a break…”

I should have yelled.

A minute or so later, a van comes honking up to me yelling out the window. I wanted to ignore him, but he cut me off.  My Chinese is not so good, but what I caught of what he was saying was “Back there…two men…your phone…two men…back there.”

Oh crap.

Sure enough, my phone wasn’t in my backpack pocket anymore.

And it wasn’t on the ground on the corner…

…or along the road…

…or where I got the mobike in the first place.

Turns out I should have yelled at that scooter.  The one time I had a right to be angry.  The one time I could let go and let them have it…and I didn’t even know.

(And right next to that anger that I could have let out, I’m honestly a bit impressed that they took it while I was moving along quickly without me realizing it.  That takes skill.  Skill used for evil, but still skill…)

My day may have started on a sour note, but it ended with dinner at a fish hotpot restaurant with two dear Chinese friends, talking about life and family and schooling and hope.

And so I’m ticked because I have no phone…and I just sold off the last of my electronics that the phone replaced…

And I’m a bit put off because this is my first experience of being pick-pocketed in 30 years of living and doing life in random corners of the world…

And I’m annoyed because I don’t have the money in reserves to replace the iPhone that I was so excited to finally own earlier this year…

But despite frustration and irritation at the circumstances of a day that had a rough start, there is hope. Tomorrow is a new day. The sky this morning was a perfect blue. I can afford to go out with friends for a meal, and I have friends to go out with.

I’m sure there are many lessons that the Father is going to be teaching me in the next few weeks of frustration with the world not quite at my fingertips, but I’m excited to use my eyes and ears to learn them.

Today was not normal day, but at least it ended well. J 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

A Forever Foreigner

(For "A Forever Foreigner" post by a good friend of mine, check out http://millerbrian.com/stories-n-stuff/a-forever-foreigner)

Ferengi.

Mzungu.

Waiguoren.

It’s interesting the words we almost understand as synonymous with our names after a while in a place that we call home.

Traveling in the Bible-belt of the US this past summer, I got very used to being called ma’am.  I didn’t necessarily like it (I mean, come on…my mother is ma’am…), but I got used to it.  There is a level of respect that comes with it.  A level of courtesy and kindness.  But not every cultural phrase has that same connotation.

I still remember the kids running up to the car in the countryside of Ethiopia when I was in middle and high school, pounding on the windows of the car chanting ferengi and money in the hopes of getting a little something from the out-of-towners.  (Oddly enough, now when I am in Ethiopia they call me China…if only they knew…)

Or in Kenya, riding on the roof of the Land Cruiser while kids playfully said mzungu and pointed from the side of the road.  I don’t know why, but in Kenya it always felt a bit more loving, being pointed out as an outsider.

Or who can forget that one time in my complex here in Chengdu, when a biker gang (multiple ten year olds on bikes…the title fits…) circled around me chanting wei-guo-ren, wei-guo-ren. It has a ring to it, sure.

But isn’t it obvious?

Of course I’m a foreigner.  Of course I don’t fit. Of course I will always be an outsider.

I get it, I do.  I understand the tendency to focus on the differences.  But it still cuts a little…

Just a little, though.

What cuts deepest is when I’m back in the United States and I blend in.  I’m merely a face in an eclectic sea of faces that don’t at all look the same and yet all seem to be at home. People have their routines, their plans, their lives…and they belong.

And when I’m there, there is something inside me that is screaming YOU DON’T BELONG HERE!  YOU SHOULDN’T BE HERE!!!  And I smile, sometimes through grated teeth, because that voice can get very, very loud inside my head.

It gets loud when I think I’ve finally figured out a cultural custom (after four years in college and 3 year working Stateside I certainly should have a few customs down) and then realize that I am more foreign than ever. 
It gets loud when I’ve just had a conversation with someone from a different place and a friend wonders why they don’t head back ‘home’ if they’re having such a hard time in their new surroundings. 
It gets loud when someone asks why I haven’t moved back ‘home’ yet. 
It gets loud when I’m in my current home and have a not-so-great-China day.

So why is it that the loud voice in my head on those occasions is the voice that I so often am tempted to listen to, but the loud voices of reality in so many places barely scrape the surface?

Sure, the names get annoying. And, of course, I’d rather have all of my people in one place.

But I am at home.

I am comfortable in the discomfort. I’m at peace in the chaos.

This being a foreigner is, in some strange way, home.  Being a foreigner is simply who I am.

A forever foreigner.  Always a waiguoren. Forever a mzungu.  Permanently a ferengi.

Wherever I am, I’m likely to stick out just a bit, whether it’s because of how I look or the sometimes quirky things that I say or think.

And yet, somehow, there is always at least one person who understands me, in all of my foreign uniqueness.  It’s taken a lifetime to become the tapestry of cultures and ideas and places that I am.

And, believe it or not, even on the worst of days, I really wouldn’t change a thing.



“This world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through…”

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Avocados and Wonderings

I used to love buying avocados.  Whenever I went to the grocery store in the States (before my China days), I would check the price and if they were around a dollar a piece, I would buy a handful and have a dinner that revolved around something guacamole based.  Chips and guac, guac sandwiches, guac on crackers...anything would do.

In China, I haven't indulged in avocados quite so much.  I've had a few good experiences, sure, but the bad generally outweigh the positive outcomes.  I've spent over $10 on a few avocados before and had only one be edible.  Pretty heartbreaking.

The other day, I took a chance.  I went shopping and decided to check the avocado prices.  I paid a little over $8 for three seemingly ripe pieces, but fretted a little on the way home that my senses were wrong and I'd be bitterly disappointed.

But I wasn't.  They were perfect and my stomach is oh so happy.

My mind automatically goes from that place of bliss to fretting over next time.  I have I used up my avocado luck?  Will next time not turn out so well?  Should I just give up all together?

I worry too much.

The past few weeks I've gotten into a podcast on personality and the enneagram, which of course has be analyzing myself and those closest to me.  With every episode, I relate fully and thing that that might actually be the box that I belong in.  Let's face it, though, one box isn't going to fit all of my crazy.

With all of the worry about avocados and personality, you'd think my brain couldn't take on another layer, but of course I find a way to fit in a bit more.  I'll spare you the details (you're welcome, friend)...but my worries are something it's time to work through.

So, as I finish up my latte and not so wonderful sandwich at a coffee shop I don't enjoy but isn't crowded, I'm determined to buy another avocado and take the leap.

Vacations leave entirely too much time to wonder...

Thursday, September 21, 2017

I'm out of snappy titles...so this will have to do...

There are so many things that I see on a weekly basis that make me want to write a quick blog, but then life gets away from me and busy days happen and suddenly another month has gone by and you've heard nothing from me.  It's amazing to me how many wonderful and beautiful things I see that I don't share, but give me a whopper of a bad day and the words just flow.  Apparently I use this blog as a sort of therapy.  Great.  Sorry world!

Today, I'm not writing from that place of frustration or processing, though. I'm just writing.

The school year is officially in full swing, with mid-quarter reports emailed home and parent meetings sprinkled throughout my schedule.  It's the season of figuring out if we started well and actually having time to write (and maybe even check off a few items on) a to-do list.  It's the season of going deep with students and tackling issues that seem to be on a theme and variations loop. And it's the season of people beginning to think about next year and change and options.

Don't worry, I'm not thinking about change.  I'm actually really thinking about consistency.

That's a word that I've been marinating on quite a bit lately.

Consistent
  • unchanging in nature, standard, or effect over time.
  • compatible or in agreement with something.
  • (Thank you Google!)

What does it mean for me, Bekah, to be consistent?  How does that look? Is it possible?  For the past five years, I've been a consistent resident of Chengdu.  Compatible.  Unchanging over time. I've consistently gotten up each morning and gone to work (save a few sick days sprinkled here and there). I've consistently chatted with students and gotten to know their families.  My life here somehow shifted from an experiment of sorts in consistency to an actual constant in my life.  The variable is no longer if this is home. It's home (well, one of them). I've had a consistent view from my living room window for more than three years.  I've had consistent places that I go to think or enjoy the world around me. Chengdu and I are compatible, in agreement, and [relatively] unchanging over time.

How on earth did that happen?!?!?

Okay, this so wasn't where I thought my thoughts would take me.  Go figure...

...squirrel...

Anywhosiers, another word I've been marinating on quite a bit lately is 'why.' When a students is acting out at school, I want to know why. When a friend is seeming more distant (or more engaged) than usual, I want to know why. When things aren't going quite right, I want to know why. When I'm in a funk, I want to know why.

We don't always get to know the answer to that, though.

But still I want to know.

I like knowing.  It feels somehow...safer? ...more comfortable?

Consistency and why don't always go hand in hand, but today I'm going to leave you with that and call it a night.

Besides, my pizza just got here. :)

Friday, August 25, 2017

Busyness vs. Pondering

I'm finding that while being busy can sometimes be overwhelming, that's not where my biggest issues shine through. I tend to thrive on busy. Chaos drives me crazy and yet invigorates me. Let's face it, I like to be needed. (My friends who try to work themselves out of a job are operating so far from my comfort zone...if that was my plan I would have to have a new job lined up to eventually work myself out of before even considering working myself out of a current job.) This is a flaw and a shortcoming that I am very aware of. Jesus and I are having some talks...all will be well...I guess...

My problem (apart from all of the above...) is that when I'm not busy I think. And thinking makes me remember. And remembering makes me break. I can spend an evening surrounded by friends and so thankful for the people that I do have, and as soon as they are gone I crumble into a puddle of tears because of who is missing.

A favorite children's book of mine has always been "The Phantom Tollbooth" by Norton Juster. If you haven't read it and have an upper elementary kid that you love, read it together and get lost in the land that Juster created. I used to want to move there...but I digress.  Today, I was chatting with one of my 7th graders about how you can tell a lot about a book by the first page, and then I proceeded to read her the first page of The Phantom Tollbooth. (Bear with me...I swear I have a point.) As I finished reading, she asked if she could go to the library to check it out.  I love hooking kids on books that I've been hooked on...sharing worlds with them that I love.  Let me share that first page with you here:

Chapter 1. Milo
There was once a boy named Milo who didn't know what to do with himself — not just sometimes, but always.
When he was in school he longed to be out, and when he was out he longed to be in. On the way he thought about coming home, and coming home he thought about going. Wherever he was he wished he were somewhere else, and when he got there he wondered why he'd bothered. Nothing really interested him — least of all the things that should have.
"It seems to me that almost everything is a waste of time," he remarked one day as he walked dejectedly home from school. "I can't see the point in learning to solve useless problems, or subtracting turnips from turnips, or knowing where Ethiopia is or how to spell February." And, since no one bothered to explain otherwise, he regarded the process of seeking knowledge as the greatest waste of time of all.

As he and his unhappy thoughts hurried along (for while he was never anxious to be where he was going, he liked to get there as quickly as possible) it seemed a great wonder that the world, which was so large, could sometimes feel so small and empty.
"And worst of all," he continued sadly, "there's nothing for me to do, nowhere I'd care to go, and hardly anything worth seeing." He punctuated this last thought with such a deep sigh that a house sparrow singing nearby stopped and rushed home to be with his family.
Until today, I've never read the book thinking that I could at all relate to Milo. I've always thought that I am more like Tock or the Mathemagician or the Which Witch...someone who was a part of the story to help him learn because they already had been through it. I always thought of myself as somewhat who is guiding others through to the other side of the doldrums, making like exciting and helping them see the hope.

But right now, I feel more like Milo.

"As he and his unhappy thoughts hurried along (for while he was never anxious to be where he was going, he liked to get there as quickly as possible) it seemed a great wonder that the world, which was so large, could sometimes feel so small and empty."

Thankfully I'm not in a 24/7 Milo state, but there are days (or really more like moments) where I get lost in the emptiness and frustration. Times where I don't care to know where somewhere is or why it is the way it is.

And maybe this is why I've allowed myself to get back so comfortably into the rut of busyness. When I'm busy I forget that I'm in the doldrums...I work myself up to a speed where I can plaster back on my happy face and go about business as expected.  And there are benefits to this, for sure.

But maybe it's time to slow down. To let some of the sorrow out. To mourn. To cry. To let some new ideas form and new joys materialize.

That said, I also don't want to be someone who is known to let out "such a deep sigh that a house sparrow singing nearby stopped and rushed home to be with his family." May that never be said of me...

For now, I'm going to reread an old favorite...I'll let my brain process tomorrow...maybe...

Friday, July 28, 2017

When the city's away...

We've been talking a lot in the last few days about TV streaming.  I know, it's strange...bear with me for a minute while I take you down the progression that is internet in China.

This is the land of technology.  I use my cell phone to pay for everything.  The doctor, the pizza delivery, the eggs and flour at the corner store for cookies, Starbucks, fruit from the fruit cart outside the gate....everything.  When I went on a walk the other day, I almost forgot my keys because I knew I had my cell phone with me and that was everything I needed. (WRONG! I do need keys. Important life lesson, friends.)

Buses have wifi, cell signals work in the metro...life here is all about technology.

But the internet, it is slow.  Sooooo slow. Not dial-up-connections-from-2005-in-Ethiopia slow, but certainly not as fast as we've become accustomed to in 2017.

This week, however, it has been fast.

And I have been making the MOST of it.

Now that basically means I've been watching a lot of TV, but come on...it's summer.  Give a girl a break.

Tonight a few friends came over for pizza from our favorite delivery place and games. Goodness gracious it was a good time.  We laughed, oh how we laughed...we talked...we played...and we laughed some more.

And somehow we got on the topic of how fast the internet has been.  It's been so fast that we've been able to watch TV shows without much buffering.  So fast that you can watch said TV shows at any time, day or night.

And that just doesn't usually happen.

But everyone is on vacation...at least the people with kids seem to be since school is out for July and August.  Our theory is that each building/neighborhood gets a certain amount of bandwidth for the interweb (Corner Gas, anyone?), and if everyone is using it, it is s-l-o-w.  So slow.  But right now, with people gone, there's more for my streaming pleasure...and it's quick as lightening.  When they all come back for school to start, I have a feeling we won't be so lucky...

I know, I know...I'm rambling.  And what's worse, I'm rambling about nothing of consequence.

Just wanted to justify still being up at midnight.  There, I did it.  Now I shall sleep...or watch another episode...or sleep. The internet will still be fast tomorrow.  Hopefully...

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Summer Travels, 2017 Style

Sometimes I feel like traveling across oceans is a bit like traveling between worlds.  Last week at this time, I was with my parents back in Auburn, probably watching the Tour de France and drinking our mandatory morning coffee.  Today, I'm sitting on my bed in Chengdu, feeling utterly exhausted after a day of sorting through the bins that have been hiding and collecting dust under my bed.

Several hours (and several garbage bags full of junk) later the floor is vacuumed, bins are cleaned and organized, and I'm feeling rather accomplished.  It's amazing to think that I've been here long enough to accumulate this much stuff.  Some of the treasures that I found today included notes from my students from my first birthday in China, my gym membership card from that first year, dozens of receipts for a plethora of things (they said to save receipts...they never said when I could throw them away...), and oh so many memories. I saved a few notes and all of the necessary supplies that I seem to hoard from trips to the US, but otherwise it's now in bags ready to go far far away.

Back to the between worlds idea...

My summer travels this year were once again a whirlwind.  I started the break with a week in Kansas City with my #roommateatadistance, Sarah, and her husband.  We talked the week away, reminiscing and thinking out loud, as we so often have in the past.  Being with them was a respite for me after a year of challenges and unknowns.  It was a great way to start the summer journeys.

From there, I went to New York for New Staff Orientation, an opportunity to meet new friends and reconnect with old ones.  It's been 5 years since I was at NSO, and it was such a sweet time of thinking back to how much I've grown and changed, while being excited for the journey ahead of our new teammates and friends.  This was another quick trip, and after 3 days I was off, once again.

The next two weeks were spent at Liberty University in intensives classes for the Ed.S. program that I am in.  It may seem obvious to some, but intensives classes are...wait for it...intense.  I was in class from 8:30 to 5:30 each day (with a lunch break...don't worry!) and had projects and homework to hone in on each night.  I lived in the dorms and had a different roommate every week as well.  It was quite the experience.  My professors were incredible, though, and I connected with some classmates that I'm sure I will see again some day.  The weekend between classes, I was also able to spend some time with two friends from high school days.  It was a jam-packed, wonderful two weeks.

I flew back to Seattle that Friday night and my parents were at the airport to greet me.  It's been a while since we were back in the same state at the same time during a summer holiday, and I was so thankful for time with them without too much unnecessary craziness.  We shared at our home fellowship, drove across to see my Aunt and Uncle, and of course stopped at our favorite bakery along the way.  I wish we were in the same place more often, but I will take what I can get and am so grateful for it!

And now, it's back to business as usual, with days spent at school and evening spent watching the traffic go by from my 27th floor apartment.

My usual is so unusual, but I love it...although sometimes I forget just where I am or how long I'll be there.

I'm thankful to be home in the Du, where I can put my feet up and stay a while.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

One last hold out...

I've always had a problem with stuff.  I like it.  I accumulate it.  I hold onto it in the off chance that it might some day be useful.

One summer when we came back to the States for a few months.  I think it was 2002. We had been in Ethiopia for a few years, and in those years I had lost a considerable amount of weight. Everything was baggy, and while it may have been cool at some point in the 90s it wasn't quite so great in 2002.  Nevertheless, I felt the need to buy a belt for some of my older clothes, just in case (new clothes were also bought, don't worry).

I remember the hunt for the perfect belt.  Not too thick, not too thin..couldn't be colorful...had to go with everything.

And then I saw it.



Sure, it was in the men's section at Walmart, but it was simple and sturdy and just what I wanted.

I loved that it had all of these fancy little holes, so it would always be adjustable.


I'm pretty sure it was the most practical purchase I have ever made.

And I wore it, almost every day for a while there.

I would try out other belts, but they were not quite right.  Too colorful...too flashy...too thin. There was always something wrong with them.

And so, I stuck with old faithful.

In fact, I've worn it at least once a week since 2002. That's 15 years with the same belt.

Now at this point in the post, I'm sure you are completely and totally confused as to why the heck I would write such a long post about something so simple.

Well...

Today, old faithful has failed me. All the years of wear and tear and life on 3 continents finally did it in.


And I'm honestly a bit (maybe a bit more than a bit, but not too much more) sad.

I know, I know...it's just a belt.  But it's officially the last piece of clothing/accessory that I've had since I was in Ethiopia or Kenya.

The last hold out of little old high school me.

And you know that I'm someone that likes to grieve and hold on to memories.

I guess I need to add a belt to my summer shopping list.  That new belt has no idea what it's up against...

Monday, June 12, 2017

Slow down - Part 2 (Because I didn't actually listen to myself from Part 1...)

I had big plans for today. In fact, I even considered writing down my to-do list for the day so that I could have the satisfaction of checking off everything on it as I accomplished all that I needed to before flying out in the morning.

And then I was silly and decided to take out the trash on my way out the door to work...and my back did something and then decided it didn't like movement anymore.

I was sure that it would be fine in thirty minutes...then positive that in an hour all would be well.  Well, it's been 2 and all is not well.  Moving hurts. Staying still hurts.  Life hurts.

But I had a to-do list!  I have things to accomplish and people to see and places to go.

And yet here I sit/lay (depending on the 20 minute interval), annoyed and stuck and motionless.

All of you that know me well, you probably are shaking your head and saying "I told you you needed to take a break, Bek.  Here it is.  Enjoy it!"  Thank you for your sentiment, but I refuse (or at least I want to refuse)!

I'm not a sit still kind of person. I'm not a get hurt and don't move kind of person.  I have a list.  I have a place. I have things that need to be done.

And yet, here I sit/lay. Stuck.

Nothing deep or profound to add to that now (the meds are finally kicking in), but those of you that wanted me to get some rest, be happy...I'm getting it.  Now to try to be in one piece for my flights tomorrow...eek...

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Staying

It's not as easy as it seems
To not pack
To not fly
To not leave

There is comfort in the familiar
Ease in the neighborhood
Beauty in the traffic
And even in the chaos

Yet there is emptiness
In the fullness of the suitcases
The rooms echo
And the treasures have new homes

And you live to see it
Because you stayed
It's not your time
The seasons haven't changed for you

The world keeps spinning
The coffee keeps dripping 
The students keep coming
But the new normal has yet to set in

And suddenly, it seems like it's been years
Like they've been gone for centuries
And people have forgotten their names
But you haven't

Staying. 
Not a permanent act
But for now its reality
And tears are accepted

Goodbyes seem easier when you get on a plane
When you escape to an alternate universe
Where no one knows their names
Only you

The streets sound different today
The clouds seem grayer
The mountains further away
And yet, you stayed