Me Without You

The prodigal blogger has returned. Thanks to “Brain’s” public antagonizing I finally feel guilty enough to post something…well that, and I also have good news! I officially have a volunteer position in Yei! It is with an organization called HealthNet TPO. It is based in the Netherlands and from what Brian has told me, it is a very well-respected organization. Here’s a little blurb from their website:

“HealthNet TPO is a knowledge-driven, non-profit organization that works in areas disrupted by war, disasters and poverty. Working together with local populations we channel emergency aid into sustainable health care development.
We train and encourage the local population to carry out initiatives that combat disease, provide psychosocial care, restore infrastructure and strengthen organizational systems.
HealthNet TPO will offer innovative and unconventional solutions that foster self-reliance and promote sustainable health care.”

For more information on who they are and what they do, their web address is: http://www.healthnetinternational.org/HealthnetTPO(EN)So that was extremely good news today. Brian has been working hard with all the stuff on his plate and on top of that he has been sending my resume out to a bunch of places trying to find a position for me! Apparently HealthNet’s office is a 15 minute walk from where we are living and it sounds like it’s going to be a great experience. I’m really looking forward to working with them.

Part of the reason I haven’t felt exactly inspired to write is because I feel that I am in funny place in this transition. I have started to say goodbye to family and friends and these goodbyes have caused me to ask, “How do I walk away?”

I’ve felt that if I blog about all of the mental and emotional processes I’ve had, it would be the “Debby Downer” blog and you would all say very nice things to encourage me. But there are so many sides to my emotions at any given moment. I am always sad to say goodbye to those I love; those whom have become a part of who I am. But in those moments I am simultaneously more anxious to see my husband, to begin this adventure, and to have a beginning for every ending.

Today Bordertown had a little Good-bye party for Sarah and I (Sarah has been baking at Bordertown since the beginning and she is two weeks away from having her first baby!). It is so emotional for me to think about walking away from a season of life that has been so sweet, so challenging, and so beautiful. As customers came in to say good bye I had to consciously focus on being in the moment with each person I spoke with. If I would have allowed myself to take a step back and look at what was going on, I would have cried the whole time. All of the people at Bordertown, coworkers and customers alike, have become a part of me; a part of my identity. A few customers talked about the sense of belonging there, almost like family. And it is so true.

I have felt so safe and at home with my family (both immediate and at large) and I don’t know myself very well without them. Who am I without you?….I guess I get to find out!

Sarah has been in the habit of starting every morning at Bordertown with a little Ella Fitzgerald action. The song that became my anthem today was a duet with Ella and Louis Armstrong called “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” (look it up… it’s fantastic). I decided that everything I am stepping away from will always be a part of me. That made it a little easier to think about walking away.

Bethany

*Thanks to everyone who stopped in today…it means so much!

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Thanksgiving in Sudan is like swimming in asphalt…they just dont go together.

Yesterday I showed one of my staff here some pictures that I had loaded onto my Ipod from Las Vegas. He had told me earlier in the day that he had never heard of Vegas, so I wanted to show him.  His eyes went wide and he was amazed by the lights, the people, and the utter hugeness of Las Vegas.  Finally, after showing him many pictures, I asked him what he thought.  His response: “I think it is good that you went there with your wife!”

Funny stuff.

Well, it is Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday, and here I am in S. Sudan, working and eating rice/beans/etc.

Not quite so funny.

It has been a very hectic, very busy couple of weeks, so I haven’t been a regular writer…I apologize.  I have recently been under a lot of stress with a lot of different things happening…donor issues, program issues, cars breaking down, trying to get Bethany out here, and, finally, the worst news of all….my boss has resigned.  Ruairi is an amazing Country Director with a huge amount of talent, but he has just had such a rough go since getting here that he just needs to go home for a bit.  While I do not blame him, I am a little worried about the future here…it is just going to be a ton of work.  Enough about that though…I dont want to think about it.

Last week I found a dead rat in one of our guest-house rooms.  The next night I was walking through the guest house without any light and I stepped on something firm…but it crunched under my weight.  I flicked my headlamp on to see what it was, and there was this medium sized rat, convulsing on the floor with blood coming out of its head…I had completely crushed its skull.  Needless to say, it died…and scarred me.  Speaking of Scars…

I have also been dealing with Bed Bugs…like real bed bugs.  The kind that bite you all night and make you itch worse than anything you have ever experienced.  I guess it is God’s way of getting back at me for never getting Chicken Pox and then getting inoculated for it.   Both sides of my body from below my waist to under my chest were covered with red, itchy welts.  I scratched in my sleep so much that they all became scabs…so, I will now look a little pock marked on the sides of my torso…picture the singer Seal on my sides (sorry Bethany!).  Good news is that I have fumigated my room to the point where nothing could be living in there anymore, so Bethany will be safe from the bugs (Cancer is another story).

Well, tonight, to celebrate the day, we are going to go eat Ethiopian food…not exactly a normal Thanksgiving meal, but it is better than anything else they make here…more than anything Thanksgiving is an excuse to eat well…so, its really not that different from a typical thanksgiving meal.

I really wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving…please try not to feel sad about those of us in other countries that cannot celebrate such holidays with our families…

Love y’all!

B

PS — Bethany has been busy as well.  She is finishing up at the shop and has been spending a TON of time with her family, so she hasn’t had time/energy to post something on here…very sorry about the absence of her on this page.

PPS — Bethany gets here in under 4 weeks!  Wahoo!

PPPS — Missouri is going to own Kansas

The Daily Grind in Sudan looks a bit like this…

It has been brought to my attention that in the midst of all of my rambling about world events, local people, and my own emotions, I have failed to speak enough about what it is I actually do. It is a fair critique, and one that I will accept. Therefore, what follows is a description of my actual day to day work…I hope you enjoy…

My job is a bit hard to describe, only because I kind of do a little bit of everything, while trying to do as little as possible. Now, back up your jump to a conclusion and hear me out! I oversee our local Finance (cash in/out, books, disbursal, reconciling, monthly reports, grant coding, etc.), Logistics (procurement, purchases, compound upkeep, office management, vehicles, movements, communication, warehouse, etc.), Human Resources (recruitment, benefit tracking, etc.), and I dabble in program help (I don’t oversee programs, I just help them to achieve their goals. So, all of you are still stuck on the part where I said that I do all of these parts of my job “while trying to do as little as possible.” All that phrase is is a shocking way for me to say that a big part of my job is “Capacity Building”.

Capacity Building is one of the most overused phrases these days in international development/relief work. It is NGO Speak for “training, skill building, handing over duties, etc.”, and it implies the idea that we all hand our jobs over to a local staff member some day. The problem with the phrase is that it is a buzz word that rarely has any bite to it. People say they do it, but they don’t really have systems to ensure they are following through on it. In my opinion, Capacity Building is my second most important goal, next to keeping our finance/logs systems flowing well. This means I don’t just show my finance dept. how to do Excel formulas, I have to make sure they understand why and that they can continue to do such work without me around. So, I spend time with staff developing skills as much as possible. I am currently planning Microsoft Excel Training, Word Training, and Outlook Training.

So, that is it in a nutshell…the product, however, is far more chaotic than the above explanation. Yesterday morning, for instance, was like a hurricane taking place over an earthquake with magma squirting out of the earth. Yesterday we needed 4 vehicles to do our activities, and with 2 vehicles broken down, we had to hire 2 other drivers to accomplish our tasks…so we had to do that…then we coordinated long distance movements into other parts of the country where other vehicles would pick them up…then everyone needed the program cash quickly…then people needed travel advances…then our new volunteer had to meet everyone…then people needed me to fill out receipts for them…then meetings…then review…then emergency emails…then…then…then… And that was all by 10am.

So, that is what I do…any questions? Post them, let me know.

Also, who else thinks it is Bethany’s turn to blog?

B

PS — Sorry this is kind of boring…it has been a loooong week and I am pooped.

Reflections after 1 month

Today marks one month to the day since I have left the warm embrace of my home in Minneapolis. Two months since I accepted, with a Bethany-concerned-anxiety, this role which I hold. Time has moved like with a fervency and an unstoppable momentum that I never could have predicted. Those last days in my home of the last 7 years were a whirlwind of love and goodbyes, joy and bittersweet release.

When I boarded the plane and said goodbye to my bride, said goodbye to the one that means more to me than any opportunity in my career, I was completing the full cycle of the last 4 years of wondering if I would ever fulfill my dreams. Ever since my soul-defeating disappointments in Mozambique I had wondered if working in this field was really my next step. The decision 2 years ago to reject my acceptance to law school in order to take a job that could afford some opportunities for me was a dangerous one, and I had no reason to believe that it would ever put me where I wanted to be.

My obsession with Africa has been a driving force in my life the last 6 years and my life here over the last month has felt like a miracle—a soul enriching spectacle in the timeline of my existence.

I still wake up daily with a fear that it will be taken away somehow. It is the anxiety of proposal…you do everything to win a heart but there is still a risk when you go to your knee; this One could always say no. While I feel that I have done my job well so far I am still afraid of failure, afraid that like so many times past I will return home, tail between my legs, making excuses. Is this foolish? Insecure? Perhaps (!), but I learned long ago that our merits and successes don’t always guide the decisions of those who hold our futures in their hands. Alas, I have no indication, no reason, no suspicion even that this is what will happen to me, but my insecurities and fears of never reaching my dreams still take the hold on my heart and mind.

So, it is with all humility that I approach the subject of my first month here. In short, it has been better than I could ever have thought or hoped. Yei has been an amazing friend since my arrival. My job has demanded much, but has not sapped my joy of being. My surroundings stay constant in my compound, but this consistency has provided predictability and stability. I have been blessed with the opportunity to work hard but to sit down and relax at the end of the work day. I am able to embrace the silence, stillness, and slowness of life at the end of my daily stampeding. I am afforded comfort in the stillness; I can walk and exercise, sit and read, stand and speak, lie and sleep.

My Sudanese coworkers are a joy to me. The two I work with the most have warmed up to my style and my presence. I am able to stand and teach, and sit and be taught. At the end of the day, when we have completed our tasks and lists we can joke and laugh as they head one direction to their families and I stay in the compound. There are some staff that are more rough around the edges, a bit more verbose with complaints and dissatisfaction. I see myself in some of them. They are fighters who work hard, but will always push for more decision making power, more authority, more remuneration for their efforts. Their push doesn’t bother me. It actually energizes me and brings a smile to my face because their energy is what will rejuvenate this country. Some, however, will become a problem to be dealt with, and that challenge is one I must face head-on.

One month in and I still have so much disappointment left to face. Many who I put my trust and faith in will fail me. I, in all honestly, will also fail them quite often. On the other side, I do have so much joy and experience to gain. I meditate daily on my desire to understand and not to glamorize. I want to be real and not see myself in some mythical kingdom…I am reading a book called “Lord Foul’s Bane”, given to me by Kevin, my mom’s husband, before I left, that deals with so many emotions I am feeling. The book itself is fantasy, a purely adventurous book that, as far as I can tell so far, is not meant to leave an impacting message on the reader, but it has been a guide for me. The protagonist, Thomas Covenant, is swept into a new world where the people he meets and the land he now lives in force him to deal with guilt, doubts, and his imperfections. I have identified and understood his emotions, and his conclusions have helped to inform my own.

Today I will sit and read, reflect, meditate. I will go for a long walk through the outskirts of the town in an effort to know my surroundings and to force my surroundings to face me, get used to me. The children’s cries of “Kawaja” will occasionally sting as it reminds me how foreign my presence is to this land, how foreign my needs and desires are to their own. In their presence, a melancholy smile will breach my face at the sight of their joy that comes from speaking to this Kawaja. I will be reminded that I am here for them, for their families. Recognition of how far from home I am, yet how close to my dreams I am will settle over me. The hole in my heart where Bethany belongs will swell due to my desire to have her here to share such experiences with. I will, however, be content…

I am happy. I am contemplative. I have so much to learn. Most importantly, I am content for the first time in 5 years. Content.

B.