Wednesday, September 17, 2014

An Audience of One

It's 1:15 a.m. and I am writing a blog. Really, I should be sleeping. I have a Biomedical Ethics class in the morning that requires quite a bit of concentration, and a long weekend ahead of me. But I just had to write.

I don't even know where to begin, except that I know that I need to start doing this again. It's been over a year since I've written on this blog, so for such a long time, whenever the desire to write has cropped up in me, I have told myself, "You're too fake. You can't just pick up writing again like you didn't stop and act like you're authentic." Well, that's fine, I can be a fake blogger. I don't want to write to gain a large readership or to make money from advertisements, or even to necessarily keep readers updated with the activities in my life. Rather, I just want to write for myself. I love writing. I use it to process my experiences and relationships, to work through ideas, concepts, lessons I'm learning. And it's just plain fun.

There is so much going on in my life that I wouldn't even know where to begin updating the reader who is just now tuning in, so I won't bother doing so in great detail, except to say that the girl I was when I started this blog three years ago is nowhere near the woman I have become today. Three years later, I'm finishing my senior year at ACU, majoring in the last major I ever thought I would have, serving and working in areas where I swore I would never participate, and marrying the guy I met the day before my freshman year of college, back when I was determined to stay single forever. None of my plans for the future have turned out the way I thought they would, and it's been more beautiful than I could have imagined.

But it's also been hard sometimes. It's been challenging and stressful and I've stretched in ways I would never have expected. As I wrote my freshman year, the biggest thing I've learned in college is just how much I need to learn and all the areas in which I have yet to grow.

Lately, things have been harder and more stressful than usual, as I'm getting closer and closer to entering "the real world," but I am learning and changing and growing faster than I can keep track of, so in some ways, I hope that writing out my thoughts will help me to keep track and digest all that I am learning. I do keep a prayer journal, but quite honestly, I can't write my thoughts as fast as I can type them. So at times, my writing is as much of a prayer as anything else.

I have also been inspired and convicted by reading a book that my Aunt Robin gave me for my 21st birthday this summer. It was written by her good friend, a woman named Kristin Welch, who I met briefly years ago but now yearn to know better after reading just a few chapters of her book, Rhinestone Jesus. The third chapter, which I had to stop reading in order to write this post, details how freeing and significant Kristin's entrance into the blogging world was.

Kristin also experienced what I also felt before opening up my laptop tonight. "I hadn't written a word in nearly eight years," she remembers (Welch 50). "That's a long time for a writer to be quiet. It's also hard to call yourself a writer when you don't write. But a dormant dream doesn't mean you're not a dreamer." It was Kristin's words a few sentences later that really spoke to me. "I felt like I'd come home. I was doing something that made me feel alive. I was unleashing a dream that I thought had died...I knew I was being called to authenticity. It was time to get real. It was time to write for myself to an audience of One" (Welch 50-51).

Granted, Kristin writes a blog for mothers (read one of her many popular posts here at http://wearethatfamily.com/), and I won't be a mom for a very long time. But there are so many other areas that I am learning about: engagement, marriage, love, faith, leadership, stress, honesty, failure, friendship, health, food, art, missions, reading, education, children, family, weddings, international studies, ministry, students, worship, beauty, ugliness, regret, freedom, forgiveness, and, above all, the God who made all of those things and more.

I can tell that it's been a long time since I've written anything besides emails, term papers, and reading responses. My writing is methodical, scientific, unnatural and rigid, nothing like what it used to be. But I have loved to write since I was six years old, when I wrote my very first story on a typewriter at my father's office. It was about a monkey named Bananas whose friends throw him a surprise birthday party.

I'm not writing about monkeys anymore. I'm not writing about my travels in Africa, or my freshman year of college, or snow, or conversations with bank employees. Although you are welcome to read what I write, I'm not writing to you. Although I hope that you can learn something from my successes and my mistakes and my experiences, I am not writing to teach you anything.

It's time for me to write for myself to an audience of One.


P.S.

(I have been a tutor at the university's Writing Center for the past two years, so I absolutely have to cite my sources in MLA format. I also acknowledge that it is very early in the morning and the copyright information is a little more complicated than expected. But don't use a citation machine, guys. Do it right.)

Welch, Kristin. Rhinestone Jesus. Carol Stream: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014. Print.



Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Mi Hermana


Hello! It’s been quite a long time since I’ve written on here. As usual, I’ll claim the busyness excuse, and it’s fairly accurate. When I say I’ve been busy, I really mean it. This has been a crazy whirlwind of a semester, full of awesome times of spiritual growth, fun times, and impactful relationships. Then, in just a few short days, I transitioned from the craziness of school to the craziness of summer. I am blessed to be spending my summer as a youth intern at Tomball Bible Church in Tomball, Texas. Alongside my fantastic co-intern, Casey, I will be hanging out with high school kids all summer, teaching lessons, playing games, worshipping the Lord, and having tons of fun. This opportunity was straight from God and is much more preferable to the office job I was supposed to be doing this summer. I just couldn’t lick any more envelopes after all the hours I spent doing that over Christmas break. I will try my best to update you as to what’s going on with me and the youth group over the summer, much in the same way as last summer in Africa. But first I’d like to start off with a story from this past weekend.

The youth group will be going on a mission trip to Honduras this summer and the kids have been working to raise funds all semester. One of the fundraisers was a garage sale that took place last Saturday. Some of the kids, parents, Casey, and I spent the week before driving all over Tomball picking up donations and organizing them in the church’s gym. It was a massive garage sale and we attracted plenty of customers. We also wanted the garage sale to function as an outreach to the community, so the kids were encouraged to talk to customers and to offer to pray with them. They did great, and they all had plenty of opportunities to pray. I didn’t spend as much time with the customers, so I wasn’t expecting many chances to talk to people, but God surprised me, as He usually does, by offering me a chance to use my Spanish.

I studied Spanish for four years in high school. That, combined with mission trips to Latin America, conversations with bilingual friends, and two years working at a restaurant where the cooks spoke only Spanish, resulted in fairly a proficient Spanish-speaking ability. I was verging on fluent when I went to college, where almost no one I knew spoke Spanish and I had no opportunity to use it. Due to my own laziness, I began to lose my Spanish vocabulary until it was almost entirely gone. When one of the customers at the garage sale couldn’t understand, “Would you like a bag for your clothes?” in English, I was stumped. Somehow, I managed to remember a few words, and then they gradually began flowing back. I was incredibly grateful, as it meant I could translate for other customers as well. I helped the woman and her mother carry their purchases to their car and offered to pray with them, which they accepted gratefully.

As awesome as that opportunity was, it was nothing compared to the woman I spoke to a few hours later. One of the adults helping out had asked me to translate some purchasing information. It was just a few sentences and the woman seemed nonresponsive, even perturbed that I was talking to her, so I was surprised when she came up to me later and asked, “Espanol?” She wanted to know where we were taking the leftover items after the garage sale. I explained to her that they would be donated and then proceeded to talk about why the youth group was doing this. The woman, whose name was Elizabeth, listened intently and then suddenly let loose a flood of rapid Spanish. I spent the next hour listening to her talk about her family. She told me about how her husband was a victim in a terrible car accident, and the miracle of how he survived, and the difficulties that had brought to her family. She told me about her fears for the souls of her children and their apparent lack of interest in Christianity. She told me details of her family’s life that are usually only shared within the family. I was shocked. I couldn’t believe she was sharing all of this with me, a complete and total stranger. She began to cry, and her Spanish was stifled as she struggled to hold back her tears. I tried to offer words of comfort and encouragement, but even in Spanish they sounded weak.

I stood there, listening to her talk, and wondered how I could help her. I could invite her kids to our youth group events. I could help her navigate the garage sale. I could suggest organizations in the area that might be able to help her family. But ultimately, I realized, there was nothing I could do but listen. So I stood, and listened, and nodded, and agreed, and grieved with her for her children, and shared her fears and her hopes. At the end, I asked if I could pray with her, and she said, “Yes, yes, please.” I don’t know what I said, or if it made any sense grammatically, but I don’t think God cares about whether my tenses were correct or if I accidentally misplaced the word for sin with the word for fish (“pecado” is sin and “pescado” is fish.) He knew what was in my heart for this woman, and He knew what her life was like. And hopefully, she knew that I loved her. I hope, very much, that by listening to her, and by praying with her, Elizabeth knew how much I cared and how much I hurt for her, and how much I wanted her to know our Father’s love.

Her husband then arrived to take her home. She wiped her eyes and we collected her bags, bikes, and chairs. As she browsed for a few more minutes, her husband began talking to me in broken English. He had officially become a U.S. citizen last week and proudly showed me his certificate of citizenship. The joy in his voice was almost tangible. Casey and I finished loading the bed of their pickup truck with the myriad of items they’d purchased, and then we said goodbye. It was time to close down the sale, and I hadn’t helped with the cleanup process at all. As I turned to leave, Elizabeth reached for a hug and held my hand. “Mi hermana,” she said. My sister. I smiled.

Elizabeth is my sister. We share a Father who loves us both. And He loves her children, whose lives are completely in His hands, and her husband, whose life He saved through a medical miracle. These thoughts comfort me. I will probably never see her again, but it is good to know she’s out there, and that she’s taken care of. Elizabeth was a wonderful reminder of the potential for ministry in my own community. I’ve spent the last several years flying out of the country every summer to do “ministry.” I am by no means indicting the work of international missions, but I also want to avoid the idea that missions and ministry are something you need a passport to do. I don’t need to travel to Africa or Latin America or Asia to find people to pray for. They’re here, all around me, down the street from my house, or inside Tomball Bible Church, or at Wal-Mart. Honestly, it’s uncomfortable to talk to strangers. Its awkward and weird and not at all in keeping with my culture. But when you think about it, they’re not really strangers. They’re family and friends who are just as desperate for the Lord as the strangers I find it so easy to talk to in foreign countries.

I want to encourage you to try this out. There are people all around you whose names you don’t know who desperately need someone to listen to what’s on their heart and to share yours with them. I suspect that if you ask Him, God will give you a chance to minister to someone. It is not always fun, and it is not always effective. But if we walk around with our eyes closed to the needs of those in our immediate presence, we will miss a whole lot of opportunities to love.

Elizabeth will continue to be on my heart. I hope she will be on yours. When I pray for her, I will try to do it in Spanish. I won’t think of her as a customer at a garage sale, or as a Mexican immigrant struggling to learn my language, because she isn’t any of those things.

Elizabeth is just my sister.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Meg Speaks

Stop what you're doing, click on this link, and listen to my dear friend Meg McKechnie, whom I've written about, and who is my role model and inspiration. 

http://www.greatnewsradio.org/server1/web/archives/apr_13/04_16_2013.mp3

Friday, April 5, 2013

Busy, Busy, Busy!



This week has been a week of dates and times. We finalized our schedule for all of our ResLife (the shorthand for Residence Life, or RA stuff) and learned about all of the Zeta Rho events in April. (Zeta Rho is the women’s social club I pledged in the fall. More on that another time.) I received all of my assignments for the next few weeks, including plenty of tests, papers, and reading. I’m planning a trip out of town and am scheduled for a multitude of dinner dates, staff meetings, fundraisers, tutoring sessions, and desk shifts. Quite frankly, I’ve been feeling a bit overwhelmed.

Instead of working on the mountain of homework I have piled up, I spent my time at work today creating a calendar on the month of April. I didn’t need it to organize my schedule, but to create a visual manifestation of the stress I thought I was justified in feeling. I stared at the calendar and cringed. Every day has at least three events or meetings or activities. Words by Bob Goff echoed in the back of my head: “The battles for our hearts are fought on the pages of our calendars.”

Was I losing the battle for my heart? Have I filled my life up with so many to-dos and be-heres and bring-these that I’m missing the point?

The idea that Goff is purporting is a very valid argument. He makes it a habit to quit something – a board, an organization – every Thursday. He does this because he doesn’t want to be constrained by earthly commitments. Goff is constantly available to those who ask for his presence or his words. All of this is very admirable, but I’m not sure that I want to apply these methods in my life.

You see, Goff is breaking commitments, and I want to be the kind of person who takes commitments very seriously. When I say I’m going to be somewhere, I want to be there – and I hope that I will be fully there, not focusing on where else I could be or where I’ll be next. I do not have this perfected. Being present is something I struggle with all the time. But I’m also working to improve on it.

Still, Goff’s argument that our busyness keeps us from giving our hearts fully to the Lord is incredibly true. We talked about this a few weeks ago when my church did a whole series on stress and anxiety and busyness. Being too busy can keep us from growing closer to the Lord and serving others.

I’ve been thinking about this all week. I was actually praying about it while running an errand for my boss at work today. I came back and proceeded to take a screen shot of my full calendar and post it on Facebook, along with a snarky, ironically prideful comment that read something like, “If you were wanting to see me in April, I hope you booked me weeks ago.” For some strange reason, however, the picture refused to load. While I was waiting, one of the girls from my social club came in and joined me. We proceeded to talk about life stuff, and I mentioned that I am considering taking a leadership position in a group I’m a part of at my church but that I was worried about over-committing. My friend began to encourage me with words I desperately needed to hear without knowing it. She told me how much she appreciated my efforts to help others and mentioned some of the very things I was stressed about – social club, work, ResLife, and more. I was surprised and overwhelmed by her encouragement.

Please understand that I am not writing this out of a heart of pride or selfishness.

My friend helped me to realize something. My busyness hasn’t prevented me from serving. In fact, in many ways, I’m busy because I’m serving. But stress has caused me to forget why I’m busy in the first place. I have forgotten that I participate in all the groups and activities that I do because I want to serve and love others. I have forgotten that those tutoring sessions, those campus events, those birthday parties and dinner dates and even those desk shifts, all matter to someone.

Last month I asked the speaker at a retreat I attended if he ever gets tired from traveling and speaking so much. His schedule was even busier than mine, and I assumed he must get absolutely exhausted. His words surprised me. He told me that the Lord gave him energy and that because He was serving the Kingdom, he didn't feel worn out or spent.

One could make the argument that staff meetings and pancake parties do little to serve the Kingdom. It is true that evangelism may not take place at many of these events. But they do all serve to build a community that does further the kingdom. ResLife is a great example. All of the logistics and reports and meetings are important because they enable RAs to build community with their residents, who learn that they can come to RAs for encouragement, prayer, guidance, and hugs. That matters. I spend time in fellowship with friends to build relationships that encourage and uplift everyone involved. That matters. I participate in a social group that provides sisterhood, prayer, laughter, and support to dozens of women. That matters. Bible study and Lifegroup and discipleship matter. School and work matter.

I’ve been wondering, recently, if I am living what Jesus would call a “full life.”

I really think I am.

A full life for me means a full schedule. I want to spend my days serving others. I have a certain amount of time to spend on this planet. I could spend it all reading books and watching movies and sleeping. Or I could spend some of it doing that and some of it serving others.

After my friend left, the picture of the calendar still hadn’t loaded. I exited out anyway. I have nothing to complain about.

Certainly, my schedule will require some adjustment. Some things will need to be moved to create time for rest and fellowship. I do need to take care of myself in order to take care of other people. I should probably also do homework at some point…(just kidding, Mom and Dad, I always do my homework!)

But suddenly, I am grateful for all of the events, programs, and service opportunities I will have in the month of April. It’s going to be hard. It will probably still be stressful, and I probably won’t get much sleep. But it’s the last month of my sophomore year in college, and there is much to do. I think I’m actually going to enjoy it, and enjoy it to the full.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

I Have Confidence in Confidence Alone



One of the three jobs I have consists of working at Alpha Scholars, a federally funded program that works with students with disabilities. This includes disabilities of all kinds, including physical and learning disabilities. I absolutely love my job with Alpha. My coworkers are great, my bosses are fantastic, and the tutees (yes, it’s a real word) are amazing. These are students coping with difficulties that the majority of the population will never experience. They are constantly inspiring me and challenging me in so many ways.

One student, however, is not always so wonderful to work with. For purposes of privacy, we will call him Sam. I do not know what Sam’s specific disabilities are or what causes them. I do know that Sam struggles with communication and social interactions. Our interactions are humorous at times and saddening at others. He insists on calling me Ms. Holley, no matter how many times I ask him not to. One day, after meeting with him twice a week for two months, I found myself standing in line in front of him in the school cafeteria. I greeted him and he stared back in confusion. He asked if he knew me. Stunned, I reminded him who I was, and he answered, “Oh. I didn’t expect to see you here.” I suppose he assumed I just don’t eat food.

School is very difficult for Sam. I work with him on his assignments in English, which usually consist of writing papers that take several weeks. Our tutoring sessions are arduous affairs and I often feel helpless to assist him. There are times when I feel like giving up, certain that he doesn’t know the answers and he never will. However, he frequently surprises me by pulling brilliant answers out of nowhere. I’ve learned that the trick is to pose the right questions and be willing to wait in long, awkward silences until an answer is found. Additionally, I don’t accept “I don’t know” as an answer, because I know that isn’t true.

I am realizing that the greatest obstacle to Sam’s academic success is not his disability or the demand of his classes. Sam is Sam’s greatest obstacle. He constantly tells me that he can’t do what is asked of him, that he can’t figure it out. He rarely speaks, but when he does it is often self-deprecating and very blunt. One day he told me, without making eye contact, that if he succeeded in English it would be because of me and not because of anything he did. That absolutely broke my heart. I assured him it wasn’t true, and it’s not.

Today, Sam and I had a very interesting conversation. This afternoon we worked through probably the most excruciating session we’ve had so far. In the middle of it, he abruptly let me know that what we were doing “wasn’t even worth the effort.” At the end of the hour, I felt like we hadn’t accomplished much and I was concerned about the outcome of the assignment. I could tell that he felt the same way. I told him to finish his assignment at home using the tactics we’d used earlier and to email me or go to the Writing Center on campus if he needed more help. I added that I knew it was tough, but I also knew that he could do it. As we packed up, he paused in zipping his bag and looked at me.

“You know something? I’ve noticed that you really seem to have a lot of confidence in me.”

I was startled his boldness. I stumbled over my words, but as I spoke I became more firm. “Well, Sam, that is because I do have confidence in you. I fully believe that you are capable of doing this.”

His next question was even more surprising. “Why?”

I’ve never been asked that before. I’d never really thought about it.

“Well,” I said slowly, “a couple of reasons. Partly because you’ve made it this far. Lots of people give up earlier, but you haven’t. So that’s one thing. And the other thing – and this is hard to explain – is just that I choose to believe in you.” He waited expectantly for me to explain. I pursed my lips. “It’s kind of circular thinking. But I think that the first step to being able to do something is believing that you can. And then – you can. If you don’t believe in yourself, then you can’t do it, and you can do it because you believe in yourself.”

Sam seemed unconvinced. “Yeah, but there’s more to it than just believing in yourself.”

“True, there’s effort and ability involved too. But if you don’t believe in yourself, you will never make it to those things at all. So,” I finished, “I believe in you because I choose to. I know you can do this.”

In typical Sam fashion, he promptly zipped up his bag and stood up without saying anything else. I called goodbye after him and sat for a moment, thinking about the conversation. I’m not sure if I actually got through to him. I don’t know if it will make a difference in his ability to succeed or if he will believe in himself. I do, however, suspect that he might never have been told these things before.

Even if Sam doesn’t do as well as I hope he will in his class, I now feel like my time with him is not wasted, and I am reminded of why I do what I do. I am reminded of why I tutor and of why I work in ResLife. I am reminded of why I want to minister to others. I am reminded of why I loved my work in Africa with children and teenagers. I am reminded of why I love being a big sister and of why I would like to be a mother. And I am reminded of why I want to be a teacher, or possibly a counselor, someday.

I do this because I want other people to know that they are worth it. I want them – my friends, my family, my residents, my sisters in social club, my coworkers, my tutees – to know that they are intelligent, beautiful, strong, competent, and capable. I want them to know that they can do anything they want. I want them to choose to believe in themselves, because they were made by a God who can do anything. He has made them to be exactly who He needs them to be, and He doesn’t make mistakes.

In 2 Corinthians 3:5, Paul is speaking specifically about the Corinthian church when he argues that the church is evidence of God’s work through him. But I think that it is still applicable and true in all areas of our lives when he writes, “Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God.” Our gifts and our abilities are not our own. If they were, they would probably not be very useful or effective, and we wouldn’t be good at much of anything. But because we are made by God, we are competent and capable of doing great things, in all areas of life.

So here’s my message to you, Dear Reader. Believe. Believe in yourself, because you can do it, whatever it may be. Believe in yourself because you were made by a God who has put you here for a purpose, and you were bought at a price. I promise - that price was worth it.

Believe in yourself, because I believe in you.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Just Like Job

It’s been a very long time since I have written on this blog. Most of you have probably ceased to follow it, and that is perfectly fine, as I was primarily using it to help keep my financial supporters apprised of my doings in Africa. Having returned from Africa and finding myself very busy, I didn’t really think to keep posting. However, God has been doing so many amazing things in my life that I feel called to share them. He has brought me into a completely new season than I was a year ago. I am a changed person, and I just can’t wait to tell you about all the things He is doing in my heart.

I often compare my experience of the past six months or so to the story of Job. While I am not implying that God and Satan had a conversation about me, my situation has resembled Job in that after my return from Africa, I entered into a season where all of the pillars of my life began to crumble. Very quickly, all of the things that I had depended on were stripped away – a variety of relationships, financial security, a definite path for the future, success in school, and emotional stability. While some of the events that took place were within my control, the majority were not. Never have I experienced such a season of despair and subsequent growth of faith. I would not exchange a moment of it for any semblance of peace or prosperity that I might have known. Every day of the past semester was grueling and wonderful at the same time. Never have I heard God speak so clearly to my heart, and never have I grown so much as I did.

Then, just like Job, God began to restore all of the sanctuaries I had previously sheltered in. But no longer are they places to hide. Now they are places to celebrate and rejoice in, but not to depend on. Not only did He restore all that I had before, but He gave me even more blessings than I had previously been granted. The things that brought me joy before became even more fulfilling because I knew that they were directly from His hand. The turnaround was incredible. I sincerely believe that God brought me into a season of struggle in order to teach me to rely on Him. Having resolved myself to this reliance and having found my joy in Him, He then began to bless me because He knew that I no longer find my security in the things of this world.

This semester is completely unlike the previous three. During finals week of last semester, I was spontaneously blessed with the opportunity to become an RA in a sophomore dorm. This enormous blessing is shaping up to be an incredible experience. While I am still getting to know my residents, I have already seen that God brought me to this specific hall at this specific time for a reason. They are wonderful young women of who are constantly encouraging me and challenging me.

However, this semester will also have challenges of its own. My schoolwork will be harder than ever, and the challenges of my job and living independently are new and unforeseeable. Decisions about the future draw nearer, and my financial security is uncertain.

But I am excited. God is whispering my name and telling me that there are new adventures ahead. It will be hard, and harrowing, and oh, so rewarding.

If there is one thing I love, it’s an adventure.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Traveling


The bus came surprisingly early on Saturday. Emily, Jas, Zeger’s sister Flore and I, who had been making last minute purchases at the market, almost missed it. There was a great deal of arguing when it arrived over an issue with the seating of a friend of ours who was traveling with us, a teenage boy named Gift. Meg and David befriended him during his visit to his family in Kazembe and he also happened to be heading to Lusaka. Finally, everything was settled and Gift made it on to the bus.  

I settled in my seat by the window, in the same place I sat on the return bus last year. Meg sat next to me. Our friends came around to the other side of the bus and waved goodbye as it slowly pulled away, covering them in plumes of dust as it rolled out of Kazembe and headed South.

I watched villages and trees and streams and people fly past outside the window as the bus picked up speed. After three months on these streets, I barely noticed the bumpiness, partly because the roads had been fixed due to Mutomboko. It didn’t take long to fall asleep in the warm light of the afternoon sun.

I woke up when we reached Mansa a couple of hours later. Mansa is the closest city to Kazembe. It has the closest grocery store and bank. Tom and Amy travel there every other week for food and business transactions. Zeger, Emily and I hitchhiked our way to a gas station where we purchased meat pies, shwarmas, burgers, and fries and some sort of pastry for me before the bus left. I like the people in Mansa very much. The people who gave us a ride went out of their way to help us, and a man warned me that my money was about to fall out of my pocket. I’m not sure one can always find the same sort of kindness in cities in the States.

The rest of the bus ride was not quite as pleasant. As the sun descended and we were plunged into the kind of darkness one can find only in the bush, bathroom breaks became less frequent and exhaustion started to settle in. Of course, it is at the time when one would most like to sleep that the driver inevitably turns on movies. We started with Sarafina!. I didn’t see all of it, but what I did see made me want to watch the rest. Unfortunately, I did not feel the same about the movies that followed – a Rambo flick dubbed with Bemba and a strange Zambian made movie about two strange guys who appear to be domestic servants for a guy who likes to dress in orange jump suits and sit in rooms filled only with chairs. There was a great deal of yelling and music and laughing, and none of it was conducive to sleep. None of us really slept at all as the bus carried us farther and farther away from our home for the last three months.

I must have dozed at some point, because the next thing I knew, Meg was shaking me awake and telling me we were in Lusaka. It was 4 a.m. and freezing outside. We almost accidentally bought tickets to Livingstone, but somehow managed to blearily make our way to Lusaka Backpacker’s, the hostel where we stayed when we first arrived. However, our rooms would not be available till 11, so we all crashed on what was essentially a concrete bench with cold cushions by the pool and shivered for a few hours, sleeping a total of 45 minutes.

When at last the hostel began to stir, we ordered breakfast, which was absolutely delicious, made even better by the fact that we were ravenous. Other travelers emerged from their rooms to find five bedraggled muzungus rejoicing over eggs and toast.

Eager to take advantage of our short time in the city, we headed off to Arcades, a shopping center that includes a movie theater and a Spar (grocery store.) On Sundays vendors set up a massive tourist market and hawk overpriced wares that look very authentically African. We were consistently ripped off but ended up with various souvenirs and gifts to bring home.

Although we had fun in Lusaka, I am not a huge fan of the city. It doesn’t feel kind, with all its cars and smoke and yelling and high stone walls. For the first time, I was grateful for the mwata’s recent declaration prohibiting fences of any kind in Kazembe. Without fences, the community felt close knit, and everyone depended on each other. In Lusaka, one feels isolated and alone even in the midst of the largest crowds. No one greets you with a pleasant “Mulishani.” No one asks how anyone else is doing, and certainly no one knows your name. Even as we enjoyed fresh milk that wasn’t powdered, I found myself missing village life.

We spent the rest of the day relaxing and enjoying each other’s company for the last time. We took Gift to the movies in the evening and found a shop selling ice cream. It was the first ice cream any of us had had all summer, and it was absolutely amazing.

The next morning, we rose in the morning and spent our last hour eating Belgian chocolate and tangerines from a friend’s village back in Luapula, laughing and reminiscing and talking about the future. Finally, it was time to go. I was the first to leave. I dragged my bags out to the front and Emily and I checked out of our room. We took pictures and exchanged hugs and tried not to cry. It was strange to leave these people who I have been living with for months. I have known none of them for more than a year, and yet I feel as though we have known each other all our lives. I am really going to miss them, and I am so excited to see where each of them will go in the next few years, because they all have amazing plans and incredible potential to do great things in the future. 

I took a taxi to the airport with Zeger’s old friend James, who, in addition to driving a taxi, is the chairman of the Lusaka Funeral Association and offers free funerary services to families in poverty. We enjoyed a very interesting discussion on mortality as he wove his way through the streets crowded with pedestrians as a result of an agricultural and commerce show happening that day.

At the airport, things got even more interesting. When I checked in at South African Airways, the employee behind the counter (whose name was also James) informed me that my final destination was Washington, D.C.

I do not, in fact, live in D.C. Nor was I connecting through D.C. My stomach felt weak but I ignored it as I pulled out my itinerary and began to try to figure out the situation, refusing to remind myself that I was now alone, with no way to get in touch with my friends still in Lusaka, out of money, and in a foreign country. James, who was not interested in speaking much to me, proceeded to call someone on the overhead speakers. I am sure that the entire airport greatly enjoyed listening to my debacle as James’ voice boomed my name and flight information through the loudspeakers. The voice at the other end responded in garbled English and James asked him to repeat himself several times. Then James repeated everything he had said before again. The conversation ended when he said in a very condescending tone, “You are not right,” and turned off his radio. If not for the reasonable concern building in my stomach, the situation would have been quite funny. Finally, James told me to go to the South African Airways office and gestured vaguely back the way I had come.

“How do I get there?” I asked.

“Just go over there,” he ordered, not looking at me. “Someone will show you.”

The next person I asked told me to ask someone else, and this person just waved in the same direction as James. Beginning to feel exasperated, I finally found the office back in the lobby where I had entered. South African Airways must train their employees to ignore their customers, because after I explained my situation to the people in the office, they proceeded to mutter to each other and did not look at me again. Silently they handed me a new printed itinerary that said the same thing as my first itinerary. I found my way back to James, who accepted the paper without comment.

“Okay,” he said, “you are going to Houston. And you are going to Washington, D.C.”

I grimaced but tried to remain polite. “No, I’m not going to D.C.”

“Yes, you are,” he said.

“There must be some mistake,” I started. “The itinerary they just gave me doesn’t say anything about D.C.”

Suddenly, a very large and stern looking man appeared. “James,” he barked, “what are you doing? Ignore the computer and just enter the information. It doesn’t matter. You will just confuse yourself.”

“She says she does not want to go to D.C.,” James said plaintively.

“I definitely don’t want to go to D.C.,” I affirmed.

“She is not going to D.C., James,” the man snapped, gesturing the computer. “Where does it say that?”

James looked at the screen in surprise. “It just said D.C.,” he said incredulously. “I didn’t touch anything.”

“What are you doing? Give me that.” The supervisor snatched my passport out of James’ hands. “Let me give it to our resident expert.” He handed the paper to the woman at the desk next to James, who smiled pleasantly at me.

“What is the hiccup?” she asked. For the third time, I explained the problem. She also remained mute as she handed me my boarding pass. The supervisor, who appeared to be the only employee capable of interacting with customers, showed me the path my baggage would take and informed me that I was not, in fact, going to D.C. after all. I thanked him gratefully and headed to my gate.

A short flight brought me to Johannesburg, South Africa, where it is National Women’s Month, the time of year in which the nation celebrates the progress made by its female citizens and the role said citizens played in taking down Apartheid. Anyone who knows me will know how pleased I was to read about the role of South African women in culture, government, and business.

The rest of my travels passed fairly uneventfully. I would, however, recommend not reading a book about a plane crashing into the ocean while one is flying over the Atlantic. Nor would I recommend sitting behind the man who snores for hours on end and "accidentally" pulls out a Saudi Arabian cigarette in the middle of the flight, much to the chagrin of nearby flight attendants.

By the time I landed in Houston, I was exhausted and tired of traveling, so I feel that I was somewhat justified in the frustration I felt upon learning that my luggage hadn’t made it to the States with me. Fortunately, the good people at Lufthansa returned it to my doorstep in Spring within a few days.  

As much as I love traveling, I think I’ve had my fill of planes for a time.