Grieving and Grasping

This one is from my primary blog, The Lioness and the Wild Wolf. It is the first of my reflections on my return home.

The Lioness and the Wild Wolf

I am grieving. I am grasping. Grieving the loss of community and grasping at the memories because I fear they will fade away like those of a dream. There are certain moments that rattle me so much that I can feel the connection between my head and my heart shake. It is as if through a third eye I can see my heart grow hands and reach out with the kind of yearning born only from the loss of an imagined reality. And it is then, too, that I see my head contort itself so perplexed by the lack of a group photograph at the cabin in Virginia. A simple object which to some may not be worthy of my grievance. To me, though, it would mean a simple object for which to grasp. So while my heart throws itself outward, my head curls itself inward, unable to cope with the…

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Paradise Isn´t Always a Paradise

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I sit on the third floor porch of our ecolodge—El Abrazo Del Arbol—here in Mindo, Ecuador, and I gaze out into the cloud forest. At just after five, the sun has begun to lower itself and will continue to do so far after it slides down behind the great mountain ahead. On the opposite side of the porch I can peer up at the towering mountains haloed by the afternoon fog clouds. The mountainside is steep and carved out waterfalls occasionally appear in my line of vision. According to David, our host, during the rainy season there are dozens that pop up around the valley.

Hummingbirds buzz in and out of the porches, drinking and zooming past each other. Their speed reminds me of America. Always go, go, go. Never taking a breath. A few days ago, one bird flew into the dining area and ran smack into the window. It dropped to the floor, and when I looked into its panicked eyes, I saw myself this time last year. I saw my peers, myself, all of us flying too fast and missing our windows. Sometimes it takes a smack to our systems to wake us all up from the speedy routine of today. Maybe that smack is Thinking Beyond Borders.

It seems to me that life here in Mindo is intentionally surreal. We’ve been here, together, for over a week now, and today is somewhat of a lull. We don’t have any seminars on the schedule; it’s all built around self-interviews and mentor meetings. I’m getting stir-crazy here, and so are some of my fellow TBBers. Life at Abrazo del Arbol feels like paradise—except for the venomous pregnant spider crawling out of my bag this morning. But, paradise isn’t what I want right now. I’m ready for the travel and the questioning and the learning. I understand that we need to grow as a group first, and I think that our bonding is beautiful. Belting out The Spice Girls’s “Wannabe” at Mindostock last Saturday was like a slow-motion Polaroid, a pure and honest and vulnerable and exhilarating memory being printed out right in front of your eyes. But, in this moment my heart wants to beat out of its chest, my brows want to furrow in inquisitive confusion, my mind wants to grow like the Grinch’s heart. I want to be out of breath from the TBB experience. I know it will come soon enough, so I’ll try to keep living in the paradisiacal moments here in Mindo. I’ll watch the fog roll in, sip my hot cocoa, and share my soul with the people I’ll soon be calling family.

Let’s End Poverty [?]*

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I have not posted in a little while, but I can assure you I have been journaling. My red Moleskine has a sizable chunk scribbled in, with mindful thoughts interspersed between the TBB journal questions. I am on my fourth TBB read now; it is called The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities of Our Time by Jeffrey Sachs. Since Ishmael I have read John Perkins’s Confessions of an Economic Hit Man and Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. I began the latter book in February 2013, nearly 18 months ago. I had approximately 75 pages to go when I picked it back up for TBB. It is a favorite of mine, filled with shocking anecdotes of female oppression. As for Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, I devoured the book. Half the book is highlighted and annotated. I felt like I had a VIP behind-the-scenes look at my AP US History class. I highly recommend it if you find history, politics or economics the slightest bit intriguing.

With all that said, I have written a journal entry I thought would be of value or intrigue to share. We only need to read certain chapters of Sachs’s book, but this one is from Chapter One.


What is poverty?

     My heart grows heavy when I pass the many poor, rural areas across my state, South Carolina. But my head grows guilty, too, as I subconsciously lock my doors and grip my wheel a little tighter. I wonder if this assumption is a by-product of growing up in the South or simply a by-product of growing up American/human.

     I am a lower middle-class white American. I know some of the struggles of being under financial burden, if only because of my expensive college and travel dreams. But then I wonder if those who live in poverty–even the “relative” poverty Sachs speaks about–I wonder if they even entertain such dreams. I wonder if they know they could still obtain those dreams. And once again my heart grows heavy and my head grows guilty.

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     So what is poverty? When I google it, the responses include: “The state of being extremely poor,” and “the state of being inferior in quality or insufficient in amount.” Let us accept the former, not the latter. Jeffrey Sachs places poverty into three categories: relative, moderate, and extreme. All that is good and fine. Yes, they are the technical definitions of poverty. Yes, when the question is asked, that is indeed the answer. But, I still don’t truly understand poverty. I have not lived it, so I cannot truly know it.

     Reading this book, I am shaken awake by questions. Does this not go against everything Ishmael taught? Yes, I wish we could end the suffering of a billion people, but for a least some of them, wouldn’t we be imposing our culture upon them? Technology has done wonders for the developed world, but do the so-called “under-developed” and “developing” worlds want all that “progress” has brought? Are they happy as “Leavers,” or do they wish to be “Takers?” In the end, who are we to tell others how to live? People say that money doesn’t create happiness. In fact, one study shows that if a person wins the lottery, the following year they will be approximately just as happy as they were before their win. So should our aim be “end poverty,” or should it be “end unnecessary death?” Or even yet, “provide the option and availability of health.”

     Let us lead them to the watering hole, but let us not force them to drink. 

     Like so many of my other journal entries, I am left with more questions than I have answers. I am currently in chapter two of my book, but suddenly my thoughts on how we attack the poverty situation are jumbled. Perhaps I will find some answers with TBB. Or perhaps I’ll simply find more questions.


*Reblogged from my other site, youmeweempower.wordpress.com

The Question Game*

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For someone who wants to be an international journalist, I am quite terrible at the whole “questions” game. And by “‘questions’ game” I mean simply thinking up questions. It’s not for a lack of curiosity–far from it. In reality, I am just so curious about everything that has to do with anything that I am completely, wholly unaware of where to start. Questions don’t really come too easily for me. Instead, I prefer to do the digging myself, figuring out what I need to know piece by piece. Which I am aware is not how to do get the job done. Other times, in class discussions let’s say, I generally answer myself immediately after posing the question. In AP English, when I occasionally articulated a question or shared a confusion of mine, I would continue rattling on until I eventually came to the answer all by my lonesome, generally ending in a “yeah, so. . . I guess that’s it.” (Shout out to all my AP English Lit classmates who can–and have–imitated my exact protocol when speaking in class).

Alas, I will one day need to overcome my controlling personality and learn how to deal with questions. Perhaps this journal entry is my first step in the process.


What are your most pressing questions about development?

      I feel like I know so little about development. Yes, I’ve read Ishmael, and yes, I’ve read some articles, but really what is development? I find myself asking that question whenever I try to starts this journal entry.

     I’ve read plenty of TBB blogs and even watched parts of last years’ graduation speeches, so I have a basic understanding of the question. I know that it is the type of question which leads to more questions than it does answers.

     I’ve been stewing on this journal entry for quite some time, never really knowing where to start. Because I felt I know so little about development, I wasn’t sure how I could write this entry. And yet, here I am.

     Once again, I have Adam Braun, my personal hero, to thank. Recently–just two days ago, actually–he shared his new TED Talk (YAY! Double the magic!), entitled “What the U.S. education system can learn from the developing world.” In the talk, Adam touches on a question I heard relentlessly while my organization was fundraising for Pencils of Promise: What about educating our kids here? Why should I help kids half way across the world? And, as Adam explains, it al comes from this underlying belief that the developing world’s education system needs to take pointers from the U.S. education system. And yet, Adam blows this idea out of the water as he introduces three key concepts about the developing world’s system, which perhaps the U.S. should inherit.

     How does this have anything to do with the journal question? Glad you asked. From what I’ve read of TBB, I’ll be learning about development extensively, and it seems as if many TBB students come back questioning the classifications themselves. You know, first world versus third world. Ishmael touches on this a bit, too. The Takers versus the Leavers, as the book calls it. The developed world versus the developing world. So with all this in mind, I’ve come up with a handful of my “most pressing questions about development” which I hope to be able to answer during my TBB gap year.

    1. What is development?
    2. What qualifies first versus third world?
    3. Can we/should we do without these labels? And how do these labels effect the specific cultures?
    4. What are the social differences and similarities between developed and developing worlds? What does Mother Culture tell each society?*

*This last question is discussed in Ishmael, but I hope to gain further insight on the topic.


 

 

*Reblogged from my other site, youmeweempower.wordpress.com

The Only Thing That’s Left To Do is Live*

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Good morning, world!

I piddled around all of yesterday, putting off this journal question with every task.

Well, I should do the laundry first, and then I’ll start. 

The dog needs to go out, and then I have to run some errands. But after that. . . maybe?

I’ll do it before work. Yeah, definitely before work.

Well, guess I’m doing it after work, then. . .

And so it goes.

I suppose this one was so difficult because I had so much to say and no real understanding of where to start, where to finish, any of it. But, I finally put my nose to the grindstone, curled up with a nice cup of tea, and unjumbled all my thoughts into one (semi)coherent journal entry. Enjoy!


 

What do you expect from your experience with Thinking Beyond Borders (TBB)?

     I’m a dreamer, and as such, I easily create day dreams of the future, quilted in high expectations. But I’m also a planner, and I love getting all the info, so you can trust me when I say I’ve spent 20+ hours reading TBB student blogs and clicking through Facebook photos from the recent graduates. With such extensive creeping–or researching, whichever you prefer–it’s safe to say that my expectations are concretely based.

     What are they, you ask? To be honest, they overwhelm me. Everything overwhelms me these days. But in the best way possible. The future, the fall. It was all so uncertain for so long that to have a definite brings tears to my eyes. I remember the moment I first decided TBB was what I wanted. . .

     It was late August, right before I began my senior year. The evening sun had set, and the sweet and salty Pawleys air saturated the porch. I was with my best friend Caroline, rocking back and forth on her hammock. I’d discovered TBB not too soon before that, and I was telling her about the program when I had what Pencils of Promise founder Adam Braun calls a “lightning moment.” I knew in my heart and soul that TBB was just what I needed. Perhaps that is when my first expectations took place. Now, ten months later, I am researching backpacks and water bottles. My lightening moment roars thunderous sounds, ringing out that my dream is becoming a reality.

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     As I think up all my expectations, I feel certain that they will not be met. They will be exceeded. Because I expect to feel wholly uncomfortable yet tragically safe with the knowledge that I am growing and breaking and growing again. And I expect to miss my family and friends, but I also expect to create lifelong friendships I truly cannot yet fathom. I expect my mind to be stretched farther than I think it can reach. I expect my mornings to be early and my days filled with teaching and learning and questioning. I expect to be saddened by the state of the world and perplexed by what I am supposed to do about it. I expect to come face to face with scary, insane moments and laugh in the face of fear as I leap forward into the arms of adventure. I expect to be happier than I have ever been before because I expect to embark on the adventure of a lifetime. And I expect that the latter is not an exaggeration because I know I will come back a different, changed person. I expect the transition from there to back here will be tougher than I expect. But above all, I expect that while I may write this and think this, reality will outshine my dreams, and my expectations will become soulless ideas, far beyond the capability to understand all that lies ahead.

     There’s a Frank Turner song called “I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous.” It’s a favorite of mine, and there’s one part that goes:

Life is about love, last minutes, and lost evenings / About fire in our bellies and furtive little feelings / And the aching amplitudes that set our needles all a-flickering / And help us with remembering that the only thing that’s left to do is live.

     Well, I have a fire in my belly, and I am ready to wash away all expectations and truly live in the moment. TBB, here I come!

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*Reblogged from my other site, youmeweempower.wordpress.com

 

Must Have an Earnest Desire to Save the World*

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Hello, all!

With just 85 days until I embark on my seven month long journey with Thinking Beyond Borders, I have begun my summer reading assignments. We have a handful of books to read pre-departure, the first being Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. It is a fascinating read, one consumed with thought provoking ideas. Throughout the novel, I yearned to drag my (former) fellow classmates from their places of comfort, drive over to our (former) AP English Lit class, and “circle up” to discuss these complex issues. Of course, I will be able to hold plenty of discussions with (new!) classmates come September, so I suppose I’ll have to hold my questions and theories and intrigues until then.

For those of you who don’t know (which is probably the majority of you) Ishmael is about a man’s efforts in becoming a proactive agent of change in the world. He answers an ad in the paper, “Teacher seeks pupil. Must have an earnest desire to save the world. Apply in person.” Upon answering the ad, he discovers his teacher is a gorilla named Ishmael. Ishmael teaches him–and the reader–about how “Mother Culture” has taught us to believe certain ideas about “how things came to be this way.” 

Part of our summer assignment requires us to answer some journal questions. For Ishmael, these questions include:

  1. What are your assumptions about yourself as an “agent of change” in the world?
  2. What do you expect from your experience with TBB?
  3. What are your most pressing questions about development?

Tonight, I answered the first question. As I opened up my new, pristine, passionately red Moleskine, I decided it needed a bit of a wanderluster’s touch, so I inscribed the phrase, “Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders,” into the first page. Here’s to seven months of life thinking beyond borders.

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Now, if you care to read, here is my first journal entry. I hope you enjoy. I certainly enjoyed writing it. There is something incredibly raw about journaling. You discover so much more about yourself journaling than you typing. I’m looking forward to filling up journal after journal and sharing as much of them with you as possible.


What are your assumptions about yourself as an “agent of change” in the world?

     When I look at myself as an “agent of change,” I suppose I make all kinds of assumptions, but at the moment I’m not sure I would classify them as “assumptions.” For me, right now, they are opinions, facts, feelings, ideas–just not assumptions. Because to have an assumption is to believe something that is most likely incorrect. But perhaps that’s my own assumption about the word’s connotation.

     Truthfully, when I first discovered the term “agent of change” I had an a-ha! moment because it’s just how I perceive myself–or at least the best version of myself–the version I hope to one day become. Over the past eighteen months, my life has been devoted to human rights advocacy. My thoughts are constant narrations of articles, exposes, editorials that I am perpetually drafting, writing, editing in my head. So, you know, those thoughts add up, and I’ve formed some serious opinions. . .er, assumptions (it’s a hard pill to swallow) about my role in the world as an agent of change.

     When I first decided I wanted to become an international journalist, it was a decision made with my gut and my heart–certainly not my head. (I personally believe that is how all important decisions should be made. . . Well, most. . . some). So, upon reflection, I began asking myself if I believed I could make a serious impact on the world by simply writing about it. My gut growled at me, “Yes, of course!” and my head did, too. But for a while, my brain had no explanation for its answer. That is, until one day in my Anatomy & Physiology class.

      We were learning about the reproduction system–an awkward, hysterical, curious, informative unit for any high school student. My class was incredibly. . . inquisitive about the topic of sex (go figure). Personally, I believed several questions to be basic knowledge for any 16 to 18 year old female–most questions raised were directed toward female anatomy and reproduction. The questions ranged from “What is the clitoris?” to other, specific questions about sex which I won’t delve into right now. It amazed me just how many girls were unaware of this vital information. And then it dawned on me: I had researched all this information on my own. I was not told any of this sexual knowledge; I was just curious, so I Googled. This realization led me to another realization: girls are ashamed and shamed when it comes to sex, yet boys are not. And this led me further and further into my questioning. How does this have anything to do with my being an agent of change, you ask? Well, it was that day that I realized that the root of my empowerment comes from my research, which is all thanks to journalists and writer-activists. The people I want to be.

     I love writing, and I love public speaking. Both of which, I realize now, are my main modes for sharing my ideas, my opinions, my assumptions. They are my way of educating the masses.

     My love of learning has brought me to unique and fascinating places, the best of which is Thinking Beyond Borders. Upon graduating high school just last week, I understand that I love learning because it is a universal vehicle for everywhere and anywhere I want my life to take me. So with all this said, I suppose my main assumption about myself as an “agent of change” is that my role is learner, writer, educator.


*Reblogged from my other blog, youmeweempower.wordpress.com.