A Phone Call to Taipei

pexels-photo-488464I step outside my office and inhale the damp air. It’s Friday morning in Indianapolis and the sleepy citizens of this city are starting their day. I’ve already started mine, downed a cup of coffee, checked my email, and even bought a bag of chips for today’s office barbecue.

Now it’s time to make a phone call across the world.

My sister lives in Taiwan and it’s never been easy to keep up with her. When she moved to Taipei to teach English I was of course very excited but I never realized how hard it would be to keep in touch. How do you convey your life to someone who is thousands of miles away? Better yet, how do you follow their’s?

“Hello?” I breath into my cell phone when someone answers. Her voice is faint and sounds as far away as she is. I sigh and pull the phone from my face. A single bar of wifi smiles up at me. “Shoot!” I step inside to regain connection. The halls of my building are crowded with people heading to their offices. Some are stopping at the concession room to buy coffee and snacks for the day.

The faint voice of my sister dies as the call abruptly ends. Ugh. I call back several times before we stabilize a connection. Despite the awkwardness of trying to hear each other, I feel a sudden calmness at the sound of her familiar voice. My sister. My big sister. She asks all the right questions and I don’t even have to tell I’m still battling depression and anxiety. What’s important to her is how I’m doing now.

Siblings are the best.

We talk about travel, of course, and language. Her Chinese is getting better, so she says. And 7,602 miles doesn’t seem so far when I realize she’s the same Kate who I use to share a bed with when I was three. Who taught me not to be afraid of taking showers instead of baths, who told me curly hair was socially acceptable as long as you used conditioner.

It’s time to hang up and as I say goodbye I look out the office window as the sun peeks through the stormy clouds on the East horizon. It’s weird to think this same sun is setting in Taiwan behind the muggy mountains of Taipei.

Life is strange.

The world is enormous.

People are lovely.

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Finding my long lost Rwandan family

I recently discovered that my extended family survived the Rwandan genocide. We assumed they were all massacred in the brutal killing of 1994, but it seems that a surprising 60% of them are still alive.

A few weeks ago my father connected with a Rwandan man who was in Indianapolis for a conference. The man took it upon himself to find my father’s long lost family, and find them he did.

My father was brought to America at a young age by his mother and father along with his two brothers. They were all the family he knew. But with this recent discovery, we learned there are more of his family in Rwanda and even in Belgium. You can imagine my shock to realize I’d been living in England for five months back in 2015, so close to our family yet without realizing it. This revealing knowledge has made me want to return to Europe all the more and meet these cousins I have, even great aunts and uncles that all speak French. This is somehow confirming my life long interest in French language and Africa as a whole. I can’t help but wonder if God has a plan for my life that involves international development.

I hope so.

I sat on my bed last night munching pretzels and chocolate chips staring blankly at a photo of my great aunt who resembles my Grandmother. My Dad had posted it on our icloud family sharing. Her sons look like my father and their children, I suppose my third cousins, look somewhat like me. Couleur Metisse is what the French call it. Light colored skin. Not black, not white, but a confusing mixture of both. Oh how I long to meet these unknown family members and discover what life is like for them in Belgium. I suppose I should brush up on my French.

 

Another Sleepless Night

It’s almost 2 am and I turn over my tear-soaked pillow to find a more comfortable position.

It’s been a long time since I cried myself to sleep. Well, only if a long time means a few months.

I just can’t believe I still struggle with chronic pain.

I’ve suffered from joint inflammation since the winter of 2013 when a technical injury cost me my musical career. The pain has never subsided and sometimes when I haven’t diligently taken care of my body, the pain progresses.

Yeah, it sucks.

So last night as the clock neared the wee hours of the night, I was lying in a mess of tangled blankets wondering if I should get surgery.  I spoke to a surgeon at one point who discouraged me from doing it.

“Once you cut, there’s no going back,” he said. And I don’t know if it was the wrinkles on his face or the fear of cutting opened my swollen wrists, but I decided not to get surgery.

My bed is cool. I begin wondering if insomnia is triggered by hyperactive nerves. No, I don’t have a sleeping disorder. I just allow anxiety, stress, and the results of a prolonged injury, to withhold my precious hours of sleep.

There came a point when I accepted this outcome of my life and I was okay with the circumstances. It just meant occasionally icing my aching joints, taking some pain relief when it was bad, and not doing anything that was too strenuous.

But sometimes I don’t have the strength to keep telling myself “I’ll be okay.” I try to say it  in different languages as if somehow using someone else’s native tongue will ease the horrifying thought that I will live with chronic pain for the rest of my life.

Tu vas bien

Estas bien

괜찮아 Gwaenchanh-a

And this is when the tears come.

I cry to feel something other than my aching joints. The tears spill down my face unlocking the chains that bind my mind with fear.

Stress relief comes from a good long cry. A cry that says, I can’t do this anymore.My lungs expand and I try once again, after a dozen times, to draw myself into sleep.But sleep has abandoned me.

“I hate you. . .” I say it to no one in particular.

And suddenly I regret this subtle remark I’ve directed toward my body. I try to make up for it with something that is true. “I love you. . .”  I say in defense to my body. But do I really?

I suppose in reality I do love my body yet as soon as it becomes uncomfortable to live in, I don’t. My body is the one that carries me everywhere I need to go. My hands are the ones that type these very words. My arms lift, and drive, and hold, and comfort. My neck holds the eight pound head that sits above it.

I turn over my pillow again and shove my head into the moist, cotton fabric. The clock reads ten ’till two. Will I sleep or will this be another sleepless night?

What does one do when one painful night turns into dozens?

One cries.

One sighs.

One waits.

“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.” Psalm 37:7

I hate waiting.  Someone shared in church on Sunday about waiting. He said that sometimes in life, waiting is God’s greatest gift to us. Without waiting we would have everything we needed all at once and would never learn to trust in God or rely on his providence. Isn’t it through the waiting that we develop character and grow spiritually?

Hours later I wake to another day of sunshine and I hit the snooze button a few times before I rise. “Thank you father, for another day of life.” I say the words with sincerity because although my joints ache and I feel incredibly tired, God has a purpose for my pain and a reason for my existence.

 

 

How a friend going to Brazil reignited my passion for international development

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My friend Joel is going to Brazil for two years. He committed to teaching English through Campus Outreach in one of the world’s most diverse countries. Since Joel hasn’t left for Brazil yet, I often pick his brain about the preparation process.

“Where are you going to live?

Are you learning Portuguese?

Will you play soccer when you get there?

Are you ready for the culture shock?

Do you think it will be dangerous?”

What can I say I have an untamed interest in far away places.

***

My fascination with Brazil began during my internship with Sagamore, a policy research institute. We were lucky interns with scheduled lunch and learns every week.

One day our supervisor ordered Jimmy Johns and had us watch Waste Land, a documentary about a Brazilian artist who returns to his home and photographs the poverty-stricken areas. The story not only exposes the situation of the poor, but also shows the power of inspiring the underprivileged.

Yeah it’s worth watching.

We sat in the conference room eating sandwiches and watched the documentary in utter silence. I felt as if I had left the safety of my hometown and traveled to the outskirts of Rio where some of the poorest people live.

After the film, we brought a TV to the intern loft and watched France beat England during the 2014 World Cup. I know, best internship ever. However in that moment I was troubled by what was happening in Brazil and what was not.

Same country, vastly different perspectives. On one hand you had the wealthy and elite enjoying the world’s game in the world’s soccer capital. Yeah, pretty awesome. But in the back of my mind remained images of the poor and deprived from the documentary. They lived just miles outside of that massive stadium.

Two years later I was reporting for my university newspaper. My editor asked me to cover the Zika outbreak in Brazil, a petrifying virus that was crawling across South America. As I researched the outcomes of Zika, I remembered the families from the documentary. The World Cup was over and Brazil was looking toward the Olympic Games in the coming year.

Why was such a country struggling to help its people? With the international recognition shouldn’t Brazil be doing better?

I banged on my computer keys, typing out an article for the students of my campus. Would their eyes even pass over the words I’d been crafting to capture the severity of Zika? Would they even care if they did read it?

And then it came, a sudden thought that wrecked me. There’s got to be more to life than reporting the bad things that happen in the world.

When I finished college a year ago, reporting the news was all I wanted to do.  But my life took an unexpected turn, prompting me to take a job in the public sector.  Working in state government allowed me to see that the media will give a voice to the voiceless but the government, when in good standing, can respond to those voices with conducive answers.

What I’ve since learned is that policymakers live to provide solutions. They see a problem and research how to resolve it.

This realization helped me accept the fact that I’m not a journalist right now.

I’m niether saying corruption within government doesn’t exist, in fact corruption is probably the primary reason countries decline economically, nor am I harping on the media. I guess I’m saying that when carefully conducted, policies can provide the means for underdeveloped countries to advance.

***

When I first met Joel, I was probably more excited about his Brazilian venture than he was. To hear that missionaries exist in Brazil, revived my interest in this country. My fascination reminds me that not everyone has a passion for foreign affairs and international development. Although I may never go to Brazil or even South America my drive to be a part of something international is gaining momentum.

 

 

 

 

 

A Reoccurring Interest in African Development

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After a lengthy blog post on how I’m done exploring my racial identity, the subject has reemerged.

The plight of a biracial individual.

It began with me waking up at 5:00 AM in a South Korean hostel. My friend and I were catching a bus to the Incheon airport for a flight back to the States. Five days in Korea left me ready to go home. One can only use chopsticks for so long before their hands cramp up and the urge to shovel the food down overtakes them.

Side note, I love Korean food, however, my stomach didn’t always agree with my mouth.

I stepped over my suitcase, neatly packed the night before, and headed for the shower. Water covered the entire bathroom, fogging up the mirror, and draining into the floor. Asian bathrooms are oddly designed, no shower curtains, just a corner of the bathroom where the spout comes out of the wall. But I was too sleepy to think about how my towel was getting damp.

We dragged our suitcases down sloping roads and across empty streets. As we waited for the bus, I munched a green tea pancake and peered at a cafe across from me. The day before, I sat inside this very cafe, with an iced latte and a muffin. I watched the Korean people pass the window and go about their lives.

Koreans: a people of their own kind, who look, sound and behave much the same as each other. During our week in Seoul, my travel buddy and I seemed to stick out like sailboats in an airplane hanger: we were always talking too loud on the subway, laughing hysterically in public, and using the wrong form of honorifics.

Culture clash.

It didn’t take long before I realized Korea was not for me. I loved the city of Seoul and the food, when my stomach was ready for it, and some of my best friends lived in this thriving country. But the longer I spent touring the streets of Seoul the more I wanted to be among people who looked like me.  And I don’t mean Americans, because it wasn’t the new culture and language that turned me off, rather it was the knowledge that some people live in societies where everyone looks like them. Not just the people passing by the cafe windows, but even the billboards, the magazines, the news anchors.

Imagine cohabitation with people who share your skin color, hair texture and physical appearance?

The ever-present wonder of a biracial individual.

“I want to visit Ethiopia,” I said to my friend, who was falling asleep at the bus station. The sun was just peering over the buildings. “Ethiopia, or India,” I continued.

She asked why and I said because I wanted to experience a society where I could blend in. As our plane took off from the coast of South East Asia I thought about what my next international adventure would be.

Europe?

Africa?

South America?

It’s been two months since I took that turn around the world. My options for the next venture are so far and wide that I decided to focus on one place where I want to explore. As I’ve said before, Africa interests me, specifically the French speaking areas. So I began doing some research on developmental needs in French-speaking African countries. Burundi came up as such.

Hmm, Burundi and I have crossed paths before.

When I was a student in England I signed up for a language exchange program. Twice a month I met with a girl from Glasgow, Scotland and we practiced French together. She was originally from Burundi and I learned that our families were actually from the same tribe! She told me all about Burundi from the shining lakes, to the hilly countryside. Unfortunately, other than her, I don’t know anyone from Burundi. But because of my Rwandan heritage , I’m drawn to both of these countries and I want to be a part of an organization that works to help the economic development of this area.

I look at countries like South Korea that have boomed economically in amazing ways. Why is this so difficult for African countries? Rwanda, has been doing well considering the genocide in 1994. But still, I would love to see this same growth happen in Burundi as well. And I want to be a part of that growth.