Thursday, October 25, 2012

Goodbye: a year in the making

My friend Steph is saying goodbye to Cote d’Ivoire.  Saying goodbye to a culture and people and community and family she’s been purposefully immersing herself in for the last 2 years.

Yikes (if cultural immersion sounds beautifully overwhelming (and it should) think for a minute about un-immersing yourself (oddly, the image that comes to my mind is being covered from head to toe in molasses)).  And of course as I think about her now, my mind goes back to a year ago, back to the night I purposefully memorized my courtyard, back to the day we drove away from our families for the last time. October 31st marks one year since my plane landed on U.S. soil.  

For months before leaving I was, well we all were, obsessed about What Was Next.  We spent hours researching on the internet and praying and talking it over and over.  Funny thing is during the very last month, the last week, the last day, What Was Next mattered less and less.  It was only What Was Now that mattered.  (and besides, want to know how many of us are doing exactly what we’d planned during all of that obsessing? not a single one of us).  We soaked up each moment, every day as precious, as a fleeting gift.  Instead of thinking about NEXT I hugged my little host sister tightly because I didn’t know how many more times I’d get to do it.

She’s a whole year older now.  They’re all frozen in my mind really.  Frozen at that age, in their usual outfits, doing their usual daily chores and habits.

But in actuality, they’ve changed.  Maybe a lot, maybe a little.

Steph is just starting her journey of goodbye.  In a lot of ways, and in a lot of selfish moments, I wish that my goodbye journey would be finished already.  I was only there a year, one measly little year out of the 25 I’ve lived so far.

But my year there clings to me still.  I've tried to remove it, to ignore it, to move on but I am still saying goodbye.  I’ve been saying goodbye (and often refusing to) for the last year.  And perhaps my goodbye will never be complete, but I'll carry my year there with me as life continues.

I opened up an old journal yesterday.  The one I was writing in for my last month in RCI.  My very last entry was October 25th, 2011, exactly one year ago and the day before we left to debrief in Paris. I'd read Psalm 125, and this verse stuck out to me.  I finished it with a prayer, a prayer I can't even remember praying:

Jesus I trust You. I trust in You as my God, Redeemer, Father, foundation, purpose, fulfillment.

I trust You, right now as I am leaving so many people and things I love.  As I go on to the 'next thing' whatever that even means.  As I am completely unsure about the future.

I trust in You.  You will guide me, You will fill me, You will show me even more about Yourself, You will give me grace. You will be with me, never leave me or forsake me.

I need not fear the sadness or bewilderment or confusion or the culture shock or
 being understood or not.
 I need not fear for You are with me.
I will not be shaken.

Thank You Jesus.  For all of this is only utter grace, I do not deserve ANY of it.  Its all because You died on a cross for me.  I am now cleansed by Your blood, covered in Your righteousness.
Deserving death and punishment, I now have abundant, overflowing LIFE.
Thank You Lord.
Fill me, lead me on today.  Let my eyes/ears be open to You!

I read this prayer out loud yesterday to my mom and I was surprised by the many tears rolling down my face. After I finished, she (tears in her eyes as well) said, "You know, I think that this prayer still works for today, for any day."
(And as with so many things these days) I think she's right.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Long Time, No See: A Synopsis of the Past 3 Months

Just 5 days shy of exactly 3 months since I’ve returned.

You’ll notice that I’ve been a TAD silent here since then. If the transition itself has been difficult, then articulating what it's been like has been impossible. This came as a surprise to me, the girl who always has something to say. But I'm starting to find my words again.

The first month home was one of re-acquaintance. To friends and family, to American food, to my beloved jeans, to constant English. It was definitely a shock to my system in a lot of ways. At the same time I was amazed at how much felt perfectly normal. How there was nothing strange about speaking English constantly or eating a diverse and delectable meal or worshiping American style in church. I felt like I had woken up from a year-long dream, or had fallen into another dimension only to return now a year later. My two worlds, Cote d’Ivoire and the US, couldn’t possibly be connected. They felt so separate. There seemed to be nothing to connect them to each other except for myself. So I’d actually float through most of my day without thinking about it at all and then all of the sudden a smell, a sound, a phrase would instantly take me back to the past year spent in such a magnificently different place.

As the second month arrived, the honeymoon feelings of returning faded. I felt like I was in molasses, I couldn’t seem to get anything on my eternal to-do list finished, or even started. So I reverted to my favorite coping mechanism, what I call my cocoon. I stopped communicating with anyone that wasn’t physically in front of me. I didn’t call people back or email or skype. I didn’t want to talk, talking would inevitably meant having to deal with it all. I especially didn’t want to talk to God; my journaling, which I’ve done regularly all this past year came to a standstill. I was in full fledged denial.

Thankfully this didn't last forever. The week before and of the holidays, through a collection of seemingly small but incredibly significant events, the cocoon began cracking open:
A disagreement with my sister where I finally said the words “I’m not okay.”
A call from a teammate still in RCI.
A counseling meeting with my pastor.
An encouraging word from my uncle.
Slowly my cocoon was breaking. As weekend visits, lunches, and phone calls increased (with both old and new friends) the cocoon started crumbling. I remembered that I not only love talking about God, but to Him as well. Amazing how much easier my life became when I stopped trying to ignore His presence for the majority of the day. He has truly created us to communicate. With each other. With Him.

This is a season of waiting and transition. Anyone who has known me for longer than a second will tell you that I am horrible at both of these. Good thing Jesus is a patient teacher; He wants me to learn to abide and rest. A hard thing to do when the question everyone is constantly asking (including myself) is “So, what’s next?” I don’t know what’s next. My mind wants to immediately flip into problem solving mode and fix my ignorance at the next couple weeks (let alone the next 6 months). But I needn’t bother; He knows. He'll continue to guide me. My job is to keep my eyes on Him.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Quick Update: Mom and Paul's Visit

The past week and a half I have not gotten on the internet, due to the wonderful fact that my mom and my step-dad came to visit. They arrived last Wednesday and since then we have been busy driving around Côte d'Ivoire, visiting Ivorians, going to the market, and I have been busy playing tour guide, introducing them to the people I've come to love so much, and translating a ton.

Mom and Paul just left a couple hours ago for Bouaké where they'll stay for the night, then early tomorrow morning they'll head to Abidjan and catch their flight for Greece tomorrow night (my sister Emily is studying abroad there). I am very thankful that my mom said I did not have to accompany them back down to Abidjan, because I only have 10 days left in Korhogo and I want to soak up every one of them!!!
I'm sure later after I've had time to process I'll have a lot more to say about their time here, but for now, here are a few of pictures of their time here.

Me, Mom, Paul, and Martine, at a wedding.

Mom and I on top of Mt. Korhogo

Paul and Mom making an american meal in an Ivorian kitchen. My host family definitely appreciated it!!

The whole family

Sporting some of the gifts from my host family who were incredibly generous throughout my parents entire stay.

Monday, September 26, 2011

A Month To Go! (and Tomato Soup)

A lesson I have apparently not learned yet: Do not write time dependent blogs when you don't have reliable internet. I wrote this blog last Friday morning only to find that afternoon that the internet wasn't working. SO, please excuse the tardiness, here's last Friday's blog:

Today’s the 23rd of September, which means I have exactly one month until I move out of my host family and out of Korhogo.
Next week is my last week of working at the dispensary, I'll head in for a day or two before I leave but those days will mostly be to say goodbye.
The week following I’ll be heading down to Abidjan to welcome my parents and then bring them up to Korhogo. They’ll have 9 nights in Cote d’Ivoire.
After they leave I’ll have one week of ‘normalcy’ (all of the Korhogo team and no visitors in town) to say goodbye. The 23rd we’ll go to one last church service and then head to Bouake for a few days of debriefing and packing with the whole team.
The 26th we’ll leave for Paris for a few more days of debriefing (and sight-seeing) and the 31st we’ll leave Paris for the states.
It isn’t even October yet, but I feel like if I just blink, I’ll suddenly be on the plane flying over the Atlantic.

I remembered tomato soup last night. Don’t know the last time I thought about snuggling up in a sweater and jeans, sitting down to a nice creamy bowl of tomato soup with crackers, or maybe even grilled cheese, feeling toasty warm despite the frigid temperatures outside. It made my mouth water, but it was more than just a craving for food…it was the memory of an old comfort. After a second I refocused on the present: my host-mom talking a little too loudly in Tyembara on the phone, my sisters huddling around the cooking fire, laughing and jabbering away as Madeline drops plaintain dough in oil to make little fried ‘gateaux.’ I have absolutely no idea what anyone is talking about, maybe I can pick out a word or two if I tried to really listen. My dinner is something I absolutely detest, I can eat about two spoonfuls of it, usually my family would want to spoil me and give me something else, but somehow I’ve been able to keep my feelings about this dish somewhat a secret.
It’s an evening in the courtyard. Nothing exceptional.
I’m memorizing things so that one day while I’m sitting down to nice bowl of tomato soup, I can get lost for a moment in memories: the heat, the noises, the dancing, my family, the food, the rain.

Some pictures of the things I've been memorizing lately:

My sisters are amazing. Here they're pounding corn, taking turns in nearly perfect rhythm

Naomi and I at a wedding. LOVE this girl.

Suzanne and Micale.

Groupe Musicale! (The praise team for the French Service). This is where I've found some of my closest Ivorian friends. First two pictures: saturday practice. 2nd pic: Martine and I having a moment. Bottom picture: the whole group on Sunday.

Annie mashing plaintains to make little fried plaintain cakes.

Pool day! Martine and I and below it's me, Martine, Heidi, and Jason

I live here. It's gorgeous.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Welcome to the Ivorian Kitchen

Recipe: Rice with Sauce Aubergine

Some things you should know before we start:
-This meal was cooked by my host sisters Marie and Sephora. But if you ask an Ivorian, it was Marie that cooked it, because she was the one in charge of the operation.
-Aubergine=eggplant; however there are many different types of aubergines here. I don’t think I’ve ever seen my family use the purple ones we have in the states (although I have seen them in the market). Instead they use aubergines like this:

-All cooking is done in the courtyard on the ground, so the girls either sit on small benches or stand completely bent over as you will see.
-Warning: The Ivorian kitchen does not include a timer or exact measurements, so this recipe won’t either.

Ok here we go:
Fire's already started from breakfast that morning
Marie puts water in a marmite (big pot) to boil, cuts the aubergines into wedges and puts them in pot of water to cook until soft.
Meanwhile, Sephora is peeling, rinsing off, and then grating some onions (notice the lack of cutting board):
Marie uses a bucket of water and bowl to wash the rice. After washed, Sephora and I ‘ranger’ the rice, sifting through it with our hands and picking out any stones or other non-edibles. (This is pretty much the only part I was allowed to help with):
After Marie puts on another marmite filled with water, she gets the tomatoes. Again not the variety we use, they’re bumpier and a lot more soft; they‘re kept outside, so the heat and fresh air makes them easy to mush up. Marie rinses/washes them with water, then squishes them with her hand, until basically liquid. She adds some water, continuing to squish, then takes out the tough skins and sets them aside;
Now the aubergines are soft, so Marie ladles them and the water out, then strains off the water. (I have deserted Sephora to take pictures, she’s still picking through the rice)
Marie puts two ladlefuls of oil and the onions in the now empty pot They sizzle for just a second before she puts in the watered down tomatoes and enough water to nearly fill the pot.
The entire time, Marie is adjusting the wood for the fires, adding more where needed.
She then mashes the aubergines, placing the strainer over a pot. She mashes them very well, until only skins and seeds are left in strainer. When she's nearly finished, Sephora brings some water over to rinse all of the good stuff out of the strainer. Marie adds the mashed aubergines to pot.
At this point, the other girls start picking up the dirty pots/bowls and put in the dirty dish area.

Now time for the seasonings, she adds a good amount of fish powder (dried fish that Micale pounded earlier that morning), some piment (ground dried hot pepper), pounded sunbaara, and a little pepper (she'll add salt to taste just before serving)
Sauce prep's done! They cover the pots and let them boil for a couple hours
After bowls picked up, Marie sweeps cooking area of courtyard, while the younger girls wash dishes in the background.
A little later, Marie adds the rice to the other pot, and strains out any extra water
Quite a while later, the girls get out serving dishes for everyone at home, and prepare two big pots (one for rice, the other for sauce) for all of the guys at the store. This meal will feed somewhere around 30 people.
Below Marie is tying the two pots together with a cloth, the bundle will be strapped to the back of the moto and driven in town to the store.

There you have it! Rice with Sauce Aubergine.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

last week in pictures

My host sister Suzanne and I. Funny that when I first arrived Suzanne would barely come near me, let alone look me in the eye. So very glad that phase is long gone!

Next 3 pictures are of a wedding I went to last weekend. The first two were taken in the groom's family's courtyard. Since weddings are such big events here, lots of women from the church come to help cook. The first picture is the first time I've ever seen anything remotely resembling a cutting board. They're chopping up frozen fish. The second picture displays one of the many skills Ivorian women have. The third picture is of the groom and his party walking down the aisle at Koko church.

Getting ready for church on Sunday morning! The boys obviously don't have much to do since they're playing soccer in the background. Madeline, the family hair dresser, is doing Suzanne's hair.

Naomi, Heidi, Alyssa, and Jason made my birthday absolutely fantastic. We hiked to the top of Mt. Korhogo and checked out the view of our 'ville.' Some of the things I love the most: being outside, great views at the top, and friends so close they might as well be family.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

from decision to transition

So here is the news that some of you already know and many may have guessed: I will be returning to the states this fall. If you’ve been reading my blogs, you’ve seen that this hasn’t been a decision that happened all at once, but it’s been a slow waiting on God’s direction kind of decision. But the time for waiting has run out and it’s time to buy return tickets; no official return date yet, but it’ll be sometime around the 28th of October (exactly a year after getting on a plane to come here).

Yesterday was my 24th birthday, it was also exactly 10 months since stepping onto Ivorian soil. This Friday will be the 7 month-iversary since moving in with my family. Time seems to be rushing by me. Like I’m floating down a river, taking in the beauty of the surrounding countryside and unexpectedly the scenery begins to change and the river’s current picks up. The new scenery is beautiful too, but I didn’t realize I was coming to this new section so quickly. I’m suddenly wishing that I could swim back up stream to catch a glimpse of the all the beauty I’d been taking for granted (did I really think it would go on forever?), but the currents too strong; I can‘t fight it.
I haven't been able to make up my mind this August: sometimes wishing time's current would slow down, but in the next moment completely denying that it is carrying me to a new place, and even occasionally wanting to just move on already and get out of this stage of transition.

I haven’t updated much this last month because I kept waiting for the official return date. I wanted to have my ticket bought before I made the announcement. My excuse for not posting a blog was the lack of a precise return date, but the more accurate reason has been I don’t really want to deal with what’s happening. I don’t know how to juggle the responsibility of being ready for what’s next and of continuing to engage in relationships and life here. It’s hard and it hurts.

Funny how birthdays make you think about time. A year ago I was convinced I wouldn’t be going to Côte d’Ivoire until sometime in 2011 and then two months later (after God provided in so many wonderfully unexpected ways) I was starting my adventure here. Thinking of this reminds me I need not continue into tomorrow with fear, God has proven Himself faithful a million times. So instead of closing my eyes and denying it, or fighting against it, or wishing it was over already, I can float through this time of transition with my eyes wide open, taking in as much as I can, because these last two months are going to be gone before I know it, and I will never be able to get them back. Instead I will be flying right into whatever God has next for me.

It probably won’t seem real until I have an actual date, until then it feels like a mere rumor. Life here has become too normal and comfortable, so surely it won’t be changing?? Even the pain of missing people in the states has become like the rice and sauce I eat everyday: I wouldn‘t necessarily choose it, but it‘s what makes up life here. Without it, I would feel as if something was missing. Surely I haven't spent these last months getting used to life here, just to have it ripped away and have to get used to a new 'normal' all over again?
But here‘s what I am so slow to learn: I can’t keep holding on to normal or yesterday or tomorrow or even the good times. I can’t keep holding on to family and friends (new or old) or education or a good reputation. Nor can I continue holding on to ideas like living a worthwhile life, or even trying to make a difference. The only thing worth holding onto is Him.

May this time of transition teach me to accept completely, yet hold loosely, whatever He gives, so that my strength is free to wrap every finger tightly around Him