The Unmarried Professional Amidst a Host of Pregnant Mothers

Baby talk. It’s something I’m not very good at. Parts of it, I’ll admit, are interesting. But babies are not my life right now. And so I honestly don’t know how to engage in such conversation.

Last night I sat with a group of mothers and soon-to-be mothers listening to them talk about pregnancy and babies.

They discussed which doctors they were seeing and which hospitals they had chosen. They went on about cravings and morning sickness. Then we moved to sympathy weight that the husbands were gaining as the wives were growing bigger. The mother who already had a child, talked about sleep schedules. There are certain techniques like feed, sleep, play, feed, sleep, play. Others nurse their child to sleep which in often frowned upon. Then we discussed where to shop for maternity clothes and how to approach a winter pregnancy as apposed to a summer one.

This went on the entire night and I sat silently realizing how removed I was from this demographic. Was I really much different? Although these women only had a few years on me, I experientially had nothing to say. We live in the same city, shop at the same grocery stores, watch the same movies and attend the same church. How can our lives be so drastically different?

And so in the dim light of a backyard barbecue, with the husbands of these wives playing corn hole next to a dying bonfire, I made a conclusion. A stay-at-home mom and an unmarried professional have actually nothing in common other than perhaps the desire to be known, recognized, and appreciated.

It was boring, if I’m honest. And it was sad, if I’m pathetically honest. Why don’t I have a husband to fight with over the name of our unborn child? Why don’t I have a baby growing in my stomach? Why am I forced to support myself, pay my own bills, and cook, clean, and shop for myself? These unwanted thoughts entered my mind as the evening progressed.

I learned a lot of new things from these women. Important things I suppose. But impractical things. Is it practical for me to know that at 32 weeks I shouldn’t travel more than an hour away from my hospital? Well, not at this point.

How to make conversation with a group of mothers? Maybe once I figure this out, the answer will be in my next blog post. Or something along those lines.

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I’m not from Ethiopia

I was in the library only ten minutes before he found me. He was a complete stranger playing the part of a typical African man.

Forthright

Interested

Observant

There is something admirable about African men, but sometimes their abrasiveness is befuddling.

“Hello, can I ask you a question?” he said, pulling me out of a late afternoon daze.

He leaned over me, resting his hand on the chair beside me. His mouth spread into a wide grin revealing a collection of teeth so white they could have been fake. His curious eyes, rich and dark, begged the question before I consented.

“Sure,” I said, too tired from a day’s work to feel threatened by this dark-skinned man.

“Are you from Ethiopia?”

“No, are you?” I asked.

I was surprised at my own question. Probably because I don’t usually flip it around that way. More often, I play stupid and pretend I don’t in fact resemble an Ethiopian woman.

“Yes,” he nodded still smiling with those perfectly straight teeth and his bright eyes telling me I reminded him of his home country.

“Which city?”

“Addis,” he said, barely audible.

“Addis Ababa?” I reiterated. For some reason I wanted him to know I was familiar with his country, that I knew the capital and furthermore, with a small portion of my monthly income, I sponsored a six-year-old boy from this part of the world.

“Yes,” he assured me. “Addis Ababa.”

“How long you been in US?” I asked, letting my English grammar drop a little. It’s a regular occurrence when I talk with internationals. For some reason I mirror their vocabulary in attempts to find common ground. I know, it’s weird.

“Five years.”

“When will you return?”

“After graduation.”

He asked if I was a student.  I told him I was studying for my Masters. He was pursing a PhD in economics.

Ambitious.

I let my eyes drift back to my computer screen. Still, he stood there looming over me as I waited for the mouse on my screen to stop spinning and log me in already. Slow internet.

“My father is from Rwanda,” I noted, casually, as his searching eyes continued to stare.

“Rwandans look Ethiopian,” he said.

I would disagree. Rwandans look Burundian even sometimes Somali. Rwandans have dark skin and tightly curled hair. Hmm, well maybe not all of them. And their accent. Well, their accent is much different.

But I didn’t say this. No, I nodded politely and began to wonder why this man approached me from across the library to ask if I was from his country.

“I don’t usually meet Ethiopians in Indianapolis,” I told him.

“Yes mostly you will find Eritreans,” he agreed.

So we conversed for a brief moment in the quiet of a university library over my commonly mistaken ethnicity. But I decided not to be annoyed, and instead to accept this reality and make the most of it. We exchanged names and he left me to stare at my reflection in the glass computer screen and wonder what it’s like to be white.

 

 

Unexpected Kindness

What is it about life that when someone show’s you a bit of unexpected kindness, everything seems brighter?

It’s almost as if because we know how wretched we are that we expect to receive the same kind of self-centered spirit from people around us. Then someone goes and does something nice and suddenly we realize that goodness is not just about abiding by the law but it is somehow connected with an emotional response that the receiver experiences. Allow me to explain.

I was sitting in the garden’s behind the Simon building in downtown Indianapolis. With a half hour ’till the end of my lunch break I shut the pages of my book and headed toward Georgia street for a midday cold brew.

I entered the confines of what should be called the world’s smallest coffee shop, and asked the barista for a drink. With an apologetic smile he explained they had just run out of cold brew.

“Iced coffee?” he suggested. I agreed.

“Do you want any sweetener in there?” he asked, reaching for a cup. I told him a splash of coconut milk would suffice and he asked if I worked around the area.

“I work for the state, so just a few blocks down,” I said, peering out the window through the words Georgia Street Grind plastered on the glass.

He placed the black iced coffee on the counter and poured the coconut milk, blending the colors to make a creamy brown beverage. When I tried to pay with m credit card he merely smiled a wide grin.

“On the house,”

“Wow, really?”

“Next time you’ll have to get our cold brew.” He stood there with his broad shoulders measuring twice the length of mine, his hair combed a good two inches in the air, and watched me leave on cloud nine. How often does a good looking barista hand you your $4 coffee ON THE HOUSE?

On the house. It’s something you hear in movies, not on a Wednesday afternoon in the heat of August.

It was one of those experiences that makes me think about how life use to be before I existed, before the hotels and office buildings went up in this city. Before the convention center attracted those oddly dressed Gen Con characters. When Georgia street was just storefront brick buildings and churches. A time when hot climate culture was the norm. When life was more relational, and you couldn’t simply block out the world with two ear buds and a Spotify playlist. I wish we could go back to those days.

 

 

 

 

Memories of Asheville

 

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I’m sitting in a local coffee shop drinking local coffee. I recently moved to a millennial neighborhood which is considered the trendiest neighborhood in Indianapolis.

Wouldn’t say I’m proud of this.

The coffee is okay, I guess. It’s the sort of coffee I’m willing to pay for not because it tastes good but because the atmosphere here is lively. It smells nice. There’s always nice people and the music evokes a comforting nostalgia.

It sort of reminds me of High Five Coffee in Asheville, a cafe a few doors down from my hostel. The guy behind the counter didn’t seem to mind when I came up short with my change one morning. “I got you,” he said with one of those knowing looks, that either means, I think you’re cute, or ugh, another penniless student.

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The window of the shop looks out into the streets of Asheville where the most interesting people pass by. They are artists or hobos, or a little bit of both. But not the type of street sleepers you see in Indianapolis. Mostly white twenty-somethings, they’re the type you might see living under a bridge by choice rather than because of an addiction.

My time in Asheville was brief but incredibly rich. I still recall the day our internship supervisor sent us out into the city to report on how the public was responding to HB2 (better known as the North Carolina Bathroom Bill). Only now that I work in state government do I even know what HB stands for. True confessions of an unqualified journalist.

I was surprised how many people opposed the bathroom bill, a law that enforced that individuals use the bathroom of their birth gender.  After interviewing some blue-collar workers, I went on a quest to find a new demographic.  But alas, I found myself all too nervous to approach the upper class. When I circled back I came upon an old white man smoking a cigarette outside a restaurant.

He blew smoke in my face as I began the interview. We talked for a while and he said it was ridiculous that there was so much fuss.

“What we need is a separate bathroom entirely,” he said in a slow Carolina accent, allowing the cigarette to dangle from his lower lip. “One for the girls, one for the boys, and one for the transgenders.”

“Do you think it will cause tension like it did before the civil rights movement when separate bathrooms were enforced?” I asked. He laughed and said, “No that was about the blacks. Well back then we called them niggers.” He chuckled to himself as the words left his mouth, causing me to wonder if he used this insult conventionally back when racism in America was more of a rising crisis than a looming issue.

Then, my legs took me through the streets for a little longer until I passed a man who asked where I was from.

“I promise I’m not hitting on you, I just want to know your ethnicity,” he stammered when I turned to look at him.

“I’ll tell you what,” I said. “I’m a student reporter. If you give me an interview I’ll tell you what my ethnicity is.” He agreed and I suddenly noticed we had a few onlookers. The man appeared to be mentally handicapped and I realized we were sort of standing near where the crazy people resided.

Brilliant.

He said he had a daughter who resembled me and I forced a smile. The interview went on for some time, consisting of him deeming the House Bill a decent piece of legislation and that he didn’t want perverts entering a bathroom to harm someone like his little girl.

Cars zoomed by on the busy street and the onlookers sort of drifted away until we were done. I told him I was half white and half black, and he had this sort of dazed look people get when they hear something amazing, but hard to fathom. He summed up his feelings by saying, “Wow, that’s so cool,” and I left him, making my way down the street until I heard shouts from behind me.

The shouts came from a shirtless man with a body that was s once very muscular but had begun to sag with the aging of time.  I stood my ground as he ran towards me even though everything in me said run from this half naked man. But he just wanted to have an interview as well.

“Just so you know,” he said after explaining why he supported the bill, “People in Asheville are cr-a-zy. I’m from New York and people are not as crazy there as they are here.” I stifled a laugh thinking yes people here are crazy, like you. To my dismay his language was so filthy I didn’t incorporate him into my article.

Most of my time in Asheville found me in the walls of the World Magazine headquarters. But in the evening, after lectures, we would go out and practice street photography.

I love street photography. I love taking candid photos that are unplanned and unadulterated. One night my fellow reporters and I went out into the warm streets and snapped photos in the lamp light.

We came across this guy sitting on the doorstep of a furniture shop with star lamps hanging in the windows. He was reading a book with his back pressed against a fading brick wall. I asked if we could photograph him and he said yes. Then we tested our interview skills and asked where he was from. Apparently he was from nowhere, really. He’d been wandering the country after college and living on the streets. His gentle face seemed like it hadn’t a care in the world. “I like sitting here because the stars above me are nice to look at,” he murmured.

“What’s your favorite memory in Asheville?” I asked.

“One time, about two years ago, I was sitting on these steps with my friends. We were playing music and people came around to listen, and we played on into the night. It was pretty amazing.”

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Encounters like this were ones I never expect to have again. Asheville was a time of being the Julia who was a curious journalist. When I returned home and eventually got a job, I lost this element of me, the desire to be a news reporter. Now I work a desk job and drink local coffee on the weekends, writing blog posts when inspiration hits, all the while wondering if a career in journalism will find me later in life.

 

Friday Frustrations

Man at Starbucks: Are you from Eritrea?
Me: Where?
Man: Eritrea?
Me: no
Man: Are you sure?
Me: Yes I’m from here.
Man: But you look like you’re from Eritrea.
Me: No I’m not. My father is from East Africa.
Man: Eritrea?
Me: sigh . . . Maybe I should have just said yes.

How to survive an anxiety attack

I’m sipping a coke through a red straw in the outside corridor of my office building. It’s quiet out here. I listen to the roar of cars on West Street and the bubbling fountain down by the canal. I remember three things I’ve done today: Meeting with IT, emailing our Marketing Vendor, finding a coke in the break room.  I count the bushes in front of me: One . . Two . . Three . . Four . . Five. I smell the corn chips from my lunch box and the cigarette smoke from somewhere else.

Inhale.

Exhale.

It’s a new technique my aunt showed me to get through an anxiety attack. Count something you can see. Count something you can smell. Remember something that has happened today.

Anxiety is exhausting. At first it’s scary. But days of feeling this fight or flight sensation simply drain me. Trying to focus my eyes and keep fear from blurring my vision. Trying to calm my heightened senses that distract me. Trying to steady my breath when my heart begins to race.

Eventually I just want to shut down. My eyes droop, my mind goes blank, and I feel nothing.

Scripture is what really works against anxiety. Truth conquers fear. The other night I slept at my parents home, beneath the covers of my old bed. My sister slept in her bed across from me and the box fan on the floor was blowing loudly. I felt the release of a panicking chemical in my brain making me feel like I should run out of the room and find safety.

It’s the feeling you get when you’ve woken from a nightmare and cannot go back to sleep. Even though I wanted to run and find safety, in reality I was in the safest place I could be. So I told myself this and then I started rehearsing truth through scripture.

“Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8

“‘For I know the plans  I have for you,’ declares the Lord.” Jeremiah 29

“Don’t worry about anything, instead, pray about everything.”  Philippians 4:6

I suddenly remembered something my friend Esther told me to do when I feel afraid. She said to speak these words out loud: “Jesus Christ is Lord of my life.” I rehearsed this truth three times and as the words slipped from my lips I suddenly smiled. This was real, my fears were just imagination. Fear had no power over me.

As I thought about all of my fears from experiencing death to facing life I considered the sovereignty of God and how Jesus Christ is really Lord of all these things. I’m facing a lot right now, starting graduate school, moving to a new place. Realizing that God is in control allowed me to feel more than the nothing that usually hits me after a panic attack. I felt peace in the midst of my circumstances.

Peace is not the absence of fear but the presence of faith.

 

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.

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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Pexels.com

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.