Bucket Lists

One time my awesome friend Emily Patterson told me that if you have goals, you should tell as many people as possible because they will help keep you accountable, so what better way to share these goals with, well probably only my mom and dad, but potentially the whole world?!

1) Live for at least a year on every continent sans Antarctica (I’m not a fan of cold, and it’s not like you can just move there). I’ve learned SOOO much from traveling already so why not live everywhere for at least a little bit??

2) Find a way to get at least one master’s degree and eventually a PHD. I’ve also learned a TON in college and love the challenges so let’s keep it moving.

3) Become a published writer and/or photographer in a real publication that people will read.

4) Become a professor at a liberal arts college… I know how much my professors did for me and I’d love to pay it forward.

5) Never get out of shape again… never ever ever again…

6) Keep my important friendships in good shape. Write letters, e-mails, smoke signals, whatever it takes. ( I debated putting this on here because it’s not an accomplishable goal like the rest, but it’s more important than anything else so it’s on here).

7) Live practically. Fix what I can, show kindness where I can, and leave the rest for God, the Universe, and Fate.

8) Learn another language–fluently, perfectly, completely, not like my butchered attempts at Spanish.

9) Only get married if I find the right guy at the right time. Have the courage to live the life I want and never give in to the fear of doing it alone.

10) Do more than what’s written on this list.

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The Dying Art Of the Family Road Trip

Last week my mother, father, grandmother and I all loaded up in my mom’s SUV and took off for my aunt’s home in Houston. A mere 18-hours later we arrived in tact and still speaking to each other–not always the case.

My family is a cornucopia of political opinions from my grandmother who digs in a little right of the Tea Party to me and my aunt on the far left with the rest of our family somewhere in the middle. We handle stress and conflict differently. My dad prefers to work in pairs, my mother enjoys the company of as many known faces as possible, my type-A sister flying in from the East coast couldn’t be more different from me if you sat down and intentionally designed us to be opposites. No one can agree on food choices or whether to eat in or to go or whether we should get food, gas or hit the restrooms first, and don’t get me started on music. I prefer alternative tunes, my mother contemporary Christian, my grandmother old-school gospel and my pops loves country jams and classic rock. In fact other than DNA we have little in common. My parents embody the opposites attract idea as do my sister and I. In short, road trips tend to be a perfect storm in an enclosed space going 80 mph down the highway.

Sitting in the car watching Scandal on my phone I started reminiscing (during commercial breaks of course, that show sucks you in) about the progression of our family road trips. The first- my parents, sister and I on spring break in elementary school–maybe I was in preschool– piling into my grandfather’s old Cadillac, my sister and I riding in the middle seats for a long trip down to Florida listening to the Lion King soundtrack on repeat, the printed trip-tic from our AAA travel agent, no cell phones, no CD players even, playing the license plate game and riddly riddly ree, I see something you don’t see, and making up stories about Kelly Kangaroo and Heather Horse in between bouts of “Are we there yet” “How much longer” and “Kelly kicked me”. My mother took a decade off work to stay home with my sister and I. Traveling on a single income, debating how in the world we could make Disney world work and deciding instead to rent a condo for the 6 of us with pull out couches and leaky air mattresses. The highlights of the trip included my grandfather’s amazingly tasty (and likely store-bought) spaghetti I ate for breakfast and dinner everyday, writing my mom a birthday card in sand she could see from our window with dolphins jumping in the background during sunrise of her birthday and going out in the big waves with my dad. What the trip lacked in glamour seemed minuscule to the joy and togetherness I remember. Of course these are the memories of a child without the knowledge of financial stress, family stress and in the time I believed my father and mother to be the two most perfect people in existence and desired nothing more than to be my sister. Nonetheless I venture our happiness was indisputable.

Definitely a different trip than the one we took with the directions on On-Star, reinforced with both my TomTom GPS and Google Maps on my phone, directing my dad around traffic jams and predicting the best places to stop for gas, booking hotels online, my mom grading on her iPad and reading on her kindle and me watching a shameful number of episodes of HIMYM. We didn’t talk much other than to pass road trip information on. We avoided the hot-button issues of our varying beliefs. We arrived in Houston and spent the next few days celebrating my mother’s birthday with gifts, friends and delicious summer time favorites such as ribs, steaks and fresh salads. We talked about my aunt’s upcoming trip to Africa (badass), and my upcoming departure to Guyana, my father’s picks in the NASCAR race, and my grandmother’s books and friends. We lounged by the pool–mom got way too burnt and we lectured her about sunscreen–, and watched our favorite TV shows, and took the family to Galveston and to see Divergent. We did a lot, we talked a lot we enjoyed each other and we didn’t fight about anything major. On second thought maybe the two trips mirror each other a little more than I originally thought.

The Strand in Galveston with Grandma and Aunt Em
The Strand in Galveston with Grandma and Aunt Em
Grandma Loves her Blue Bell ice cream
Grandma Loves her Blue Bell ice cream

After all we did a lot of the same things, and our trip was marked with happiness and excitement more than other characteristics. I hypothesize that few other families go on road trips as adults. Driving lacks the immediacy of flying, demands a certain number of days off and a commitment to coming together, that is making it your priority as opposed to more efficient, sexy options like backpacking Europe. In a world consumed with time management, slowing down and enjoying the ride goes against the ingrained instincts to get there now, but if you wrangle your impulse and calm your heart rate you might find the people however goofy, ridiculous, mysterious, different, or difficult actually raised you. You’ve been on this journey for many years, decades in fact and at the end of the day I’d rather be riding shotgun with my dad, my mom snoring in the backseat, my grandmother doing the crossword from last week’s paper, telling stupid jokes and howling along to the Zac Brown Band than just about anything else.

Ma and sister Heather
Ma and sister Heather
The rare smiling dad
The rare smiling dad

After my 90 Days

Upon graduating from DePauw University in May 2013 I began my 10 month adventure at Exodus Refugee Immigration Inc, and with a heavy understanding and desire to linger in a comfortable home I must say goodbye to an amazing organization and staff. Working with immigrants and refugees offers insights and uncommon perspectives on living in America and so I offer you a list highlighting the moments at work that made me think, caught me off guard or inspired fits of laughter. I share this list, not to make fun or laugh at the resettlement process, but to chuckle at the strange happenings in the states that would seem ridiculous if they were not so common-place. The 90 days mentioned in the title refers to the department I worked in at Exodus. I worked in the reception and placement program which last up to 90 days after arrival. Special thanks to the staff members and clients who shared these moments with me.

1. In the car on the way home from the airport on a beautiful autumn afternoon less than an hour after arriving in Indiana for the first time my client turns to me and says, “I thought the pictures of the forests with yellow, orange and red leaves were made on the computer, but they are real!”

2. “I tried to fry my chicken in apple juice because I thought it was cooking oil.”

3. One student I pick up for English class each week loves Katy Perry and Lady Gaga. This spring his favorite song is “Roar” by Katy Perry. He does not know any of the words except the part that says, ‘ROOAAR.” Each week he attempts to sing the entire song to me a capella.

4. Many clients come from cultures where people marry much younger than is common in America. As a single spinster at 23, many clients have mentioned what a shame it is that I have neither children nor a husband. Some list the reasons I should get married. My favorite: “If you had a man you wouldn’t need your GPS anymore, and you could sell it to me.”

5. Walking into a grocery store with automatic sliding doors. One co-worker to his friend, “Did you tell that door to open?” “No, did you?” “No.” “How did it know to open?” ” I don’t know” “More importantly, how do we tell it to open when we want to go home?” “I don’t know.”

6. A voicemail from one of my students explaining why she did not come to English class, “It is so cold outside. If I leave my house I will die. I cannot come to class.”

7. Me: “It’s too cold. You need to wear a coat to class.” Student: “Teacher, it’s okay. I do not need a coat. I am wearing 6 shirts, 2 pants, and 2 skirts.”

8. I picked up a family of 4 for a health screening at the health department. When they took off their coats in the car, I noticed all 4 were wearing Christmas-themed fleece onsies (Momma, Papa, and the two sons). On the way there we stop at a red light and a man with a grill, pants sagged down past his booty starts to cross the road. He notices my car full of people in holiday footy-pajamas and starts to laugh, my clients see his bright red under-roos and start to laugh at him. I think to myself: This will never happen again ever in the entirety of my life.

9. “One time I tried to walk from NYC to DC. It didn’t look so far on the map…. Thank God my friend gave me 35 dollars for the bus.”

10. “When I arrived in NYC I kept wandering into sandwich shops looking for the subway. I remember thinking, ‘Americans are fat because they have to buy a sandwich and then ride the train. It should be eat a sandwich and walk OR ride and do not eat a sandwich.'”

In all seriousness, I have learned more in the last 10 months than in my 4 years of college (and I’m a super nerd who loved college courses). I have nothing but admiration and respect for the staff and clients.

The Phrase “These People”

Working in the business of international people I often hear people use the phrase “these people.” Though I venture the vast majority of people who have uttered these words (myself included) do not mean anything offensive, the two word combo now leaves an unpleasant ring in my ears. Here are the reasons why:

 

  1. The word “these” designates separation. Apart from all the people on earth exists one particular group that I do not belong, but an going to talk about anyways. Most times people use the phrase “these people” to talk about locals they have met on a mission/service trip, or an extra-vulnerable population lodged within the general public. The exclusive nature often leads to pity or sympathy, both of which, though rooted in compassion, involve the act of looking down on a specific group and feeling sorry for them. Though intended to be a sign of awareness and a way to express grief for inequality of the world, separating a group and looking down on them is demeaning and essentially patronizing.
  2. As a society we use the word “these” in place of words that make us uncomfortable. If forced to say the word “these” replaces, many times we would not say  the sentence. For example “these” replaces words like impoverished, specific racial qualifiers, low-income, minorities, and so on. We use “these” in an attempt to shield the bigoted-nature of statements made about groups of people. When discussing topics related to people-groups I take the words of Tom Chirarella, one of my professors at DePauw University, and “name the damn thing.” If naming the group I am speaking about makes me uncomfortable, I probably should not be saying what I’m thinking.
  3. Linguistically speaking, “these people” contains no interesting, specific details and in fact offers little more than a vague hand gesture’s worth of information. To paraphrase another great DePauw professor Andrea Sununu, “your writing contains great ideas, but bland language diminishes your points.” She then proceeded to circle every time I used a construction of the verb “to be.” We are given limited time and space to say the things that press hard on our minds, and should consider each sentence, word and syllable a way to construct the exactness of our thoughts. Why settle for “these”when there are a lifetime of better words to use?
  4. The word “these” also limits human beings to exactly one qualifying trait. I work with many people who came to the United States as refugees. The word refugee solely acknowledges that my clients and co-workers left their home countries due to persecution and legally live here in the U.S. as permanent residents and after 5 years and a series of paperwork and tests may become U.S. citizens. The word refugee does not encompass the entirety of the people I work with. It is one word that described their journey here. They are also people with different interests and skills. In short, I hope to never be described in a single word, and would hate to perpetrate that onto another person.

My hope in sharing these insights is to inspire thought about the way we talk about other cultures and groups as we inevitably encounter them throughout life. I dream of traveling the entirety of the world, though unlikely, my travels thus far and my connections with others continue to teach me more than any formal education.