Wednesday, October 12, 2011

R.I.P. Backpack

Today as I arrived on campus at American University I searched around my backpack and noticed quite a large tear.

I was suddenly over come with emotion. I know how trivial it may sound to care about an item, especially one as common as a backpack—but for me it’s the end of an era.

I don’t remember when I got this backpack, I suspect its when I started college. It is lime green and grey and I am sure I admired it’s bright exterior. One thing I know for sure is that when I got this backpack I never knew the adventures we’d have together.

My backpack has kind of taken a life of its own—my only travel partner and the only thing that has consistently bore witness to other life, my life on the road.

I first took it to Ghana in 2006, I remember packing it for my first time really “back packing” a trip to the Volta region. Right after I hit the road with my buddies our tro tro ( local transportation) broke down, here is photo evidence.

I cradled this backpack in the scorching heat, and we were patient.

A few months later I went on 2 ½ week trip to Mali and I decided to for-go buying another larger back pack, and stuck with my little green pack. Everyone was shocked that I had packed so light— yet when we walked through the Sahara desert in Dogon country, I fell in love with my tiny backpack.

This backpack has seen me through hell and high water, literally, high water through the rainy seasons, and the hellish heat of the desert. It has been my pillow, my chair, my head rest, my foot rest. It was my security blanket, as I wrapped it around my legs during long journeys to protect it (although at times I suspect it was protecting me).

My back pack has been to 17 different countries and 5 continents. It’s seen elephants in Masai Mara, the tops of temples in China, wine country in South Africa, rock hewn churches in Ethiopia, and too many adventures to recount. There are mud stains from South American rainforest, and for some reason always sand from beaches or deserts in it's cracks.

I guess this is more than just an item to me; it has taken on so many roles in my travels it’s a badge of honor, scratched from use. When I was alone and so far from home, this backpack was a comforting friend. It is always a reminder of my adventures and close calls-- it has survived it all.

It always did look foreign in America, the item was too worn in this clean cut presence; so maybe it is appropriate that it should fall apart here, I am just hoping I don’t.

So I will say goodbye to my longest travel partner, you’ve done well.

Monday, July 4, 2011

6 Months

I remember sitting underneath my net in the long stretches of the dry seasons and wondering what it would be like to get this point, 6 months in America.

I still wake up sometimes in the cold confines of an over air-conditioned room and desperately search for my malaria net--my safety blanket. These two worlds feel so entirely different, I always wonder if one was only a dream.

The readjustment back to American life and culture is something often discussed amongst Peace Corps Volunteers and those who live abroad--the tales of tears shed a supermarket or the development of agoraphobia, but everyones experience is different. But yes I did cry at the sight of a mango in a supermarket it looked so out of place in such a cold, clean, space; not in a busy market with a mama selling it. I believe the biggest struggle is the in between time--when your story is "I just got back from the Peace Corps and I am hanging out" the uncertainty is deadly to your confidence, yet I never imagined that having a plan would be difficult as well--it means it is really over. There is no magic time when you should stop grieving the loss of your alternative, yet somewhat mythical life--it has to be felt.

I miss my students more than I ever thought possible, yet it is a pain I never expected-- a joyful one. One day I furiously wrote down everything I could remember about each of my students in an attempt to save it all, before it slips away and when I broke down in tears when I forgot Jackline's favorite color, I could smile at myself for ever knowing it at all.

Life does move on and there are so many moments I am filled with so much gratitude for: seeing my grandma turn 90, being there when my niece was born, even the simplest actions such an afternoon with friends, and exploring a city make me want to scream with happiness. I started my first full-time job (albeit a temporary one) and I will be starting school at American University in the fall. I am even planning my first trip out of the country since I have been home to Guatemala to see my family. I realize now the growing importance of family and the wonderful life lesson you receive from looking back.

Six month--the view from here is different than I expected, but it is a bittersweet view.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Running for Silas

My foot pounds on the pavement; black and hard it smacks with each step. It's cold and the sky is gray, ice sheets blocks and I run to avoid the slick trap. I can see my breath; something I haven't experienced in more than two years. Houses line the streets, they look so big and so foreign to me, but familiar at the same time. Running, my connection to my old life-- Kenya, my students, Silas its why I run.

It has been about 6 weeks since I have returned to the United States. I braced the snow and all these new challenges I faced: buying a pair of closed toe shoes, remembering how to use a microwave, feeling overwhelmed by all the choices that exists in every store. I felt the need to run, to be outside, to do something that has become so familiar to me in my old life, I wanted to hold onto so closely before it slips away. I decided to run the Monument 10K on April 2nd for my student Silas. My talented student who I tracked down in the village and decided to do anything in my power to get him through school. Hard to believe that was just over one year ago and it seems my heart has fallen to my feet, as a push the pavement with each bound, most of them time with one thing on my mind; the kids I left behind.

I was greeted when I got home from a letter from Silas, he writes, " I love you so much. My school is the best. I don't ever forget you. You are my teacher always. I love my new teachers and I don't make any mistakes with teachers. I admire you every day. Yours faithfully, Silas."

I am still raising funds for Silas' education. I ask anyone who is interested in sponsoring my run in the Monument 10k, to donate directly to Kenya Education Fund and write Virginia "Ginnie" Seger. Thanks to everyone's help I have raised around $1,480 which means I have a little over $500 to go to fully fund his education, with your help we can make sure this bright, caring, intelligent student fully realizes his potential by providing him with an education.

I take to the pavement everyday, warmed by life, and by the little sparks I hoped I lit in my students life.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Saturday, January 22, 2011

6 in the morning

I wake up everyday at 6AM or sometimes 4 AM and I wonder where I am. I don't hear birds, or the rooster, and I panic; then I feel blankets and sheets and realize I am not in my bed, house, or old life. I am in this new one--that is neither mine nor is not. It feels as if I pressed pause on this life--but it continued and I am joining again, in the middle of was once mine just--different.

When the plane took off, the first time I left the African continent in two years I cried. What did I leave behind there? What did I take with me?

I walked through a supermarket, blinded by it artificial glow--dazed by all the choices, I saw a mango. I picked it up and held it and cried-- this was not my market, this was not mango season, it was over--really over.

It needed to end it wasn't mine, and after two years of trying, it still wasn't mine. I carved out my life in that school; and though I built up in the lives of my students, I was just--different.

Being here is really hard, exciting, new, different, sometimes I just want to run. Run away from the questions, the cold, the things. I want to run to a place that's quite and sunny where my head doesn't chatter with car payments or job opportunities, where it just is.

Everything here is so nice, clean, conformed, I feel too worn in it presence. Everything is easy but nothing is simple. How can two just different places exist on the same planet?

Maybe I will go for that run, see where I end up.

Monday, January 10, 2011


Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.

Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune,
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,
Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms,
Strong and content I travel the open road.

The earth, that is sufficient,
I do not want the constellations any nearer,
I know they are very well where they are,
I know they suffice for those who belong to them.

(Still here I carry my old delicious burdens,
I carry them, men and women, I carry them with me wherever I go,
I swear it is impossible for me to get rid of them,
I am fill'd with them, and I will fill them in return.)


You road I enter upon and look around, I believe you are not all
that is here,
I believe that much unseen is also here.

Here the profound lesson of reception, nor preference nor denial,
The black with his woolly head, the felon, the diseas'd, the
illiterate person, are not denied;
The birth, the hasting after the physician, the beggar's tramp, the
drunkard's stagger, the laughing party of mechanics,
The escaped youth, the rich person's carriage, the fop, the eloping couple,
The early market-man, the hearse, the moving of furniture into the
town, the return back from the town,
They pass, I also pass, any thing passes, none can be interdicted,
None but are accepted, none but shall be dear to me.
Walt Whitman

I am leaving Cairo today after 8 days of an awesome trip. I really love traveling alone, and everyday as soon as I stepped out the door--adventure waited. My favorite part was discovering Cairo on foot--getting lost, finding beautiful spots, sitting and watching the 24 million people pass. I also took enjoyment of things that I haven't experienced in 2 years, hot showers, metros, McDonalds!( I know, I know, I normally don't eat such things in the US, but to me, after two years, this is exotic! )
I have met very warm and friendly people, who have guided me through their lovely city. I will never forget Cairo, although I have a feeling we are not quite finished yet.


Discovering Giza on the back of a camel

Figuring out metro routes, and shared taxi's despite my lack of Arabic.

Getting lost in Islamic Cairo, only to find beautiful Mameluke Palaces and mosques, and the ending up exactly where I wanted to be.

Discovering the red pyramid as I climbed inside and was the only person inside, 5,000 years old.

Curiously staring at mummies, who forever hold their gaze.

Mint tea and hookah in the afternoons.

Quite conversations with strangers, and now friends.

Walking the bridge over the Nile as the sun was setting, in awe, complete awe, of the beauty that the world possess--with a goofy happy grin on my face.

Now I have one more trip before I return home. I will spend a week in London, seeing friends from my time in Ghana. For some of them it has been 5 years since I have seen them, but I know that with good friends, time, it makes no difference.

Off to the next adventure, Insha'Allah!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Walk like an Egyptian

What a world wind this past month has been! I feel like I have no place to start! I'll update more when I have a chance to sit and think but quick takes-- I finished up at my school and went to the coast, beautiful beaches, late nights, wonderful people. My next stop was Nairobi where I officially closed my service--it was exciting and bittersweet, about half my group went home and never made it to that point, so I was a bit proud for making it through.

My next trip was to Lodwar and Lake Turkana-- the travel gods did not smile upon me for this trip that I should describe, in more detail later. I'll just sum up. I sat for a long time in matatus, buses, trucks, and cars, waiting to leave, then I sat in matatus, buses, trucks, and cars, for hours in transit. I ate bad goat which came back to haunt me later. Snakes in beds, crazy "guides" with TB, completely different view on time and urgency. I was with good people and that made a huge difference.

Next I went to Ethiopia, the 10th African country I have visited. Ethiopia was amazing. The history and the culture are so rich, beautiful. From rock carved churches in Lalibela, to the castle of the queen of Sheba, and the arc of the covenant in Axum, it was magical.

Once again the ghost of Lodwar came to haunt my stomach and I dealt with the ghost of goat pasts. I got dysentery...again and was unable to climb Mount Kenya. I decided to high tail it to Egypt where I am right now! Cairo is busy, full of life and energy. I had a staring contest with King Tut this morning (he won), and I'll travel to Giza tomorrow to see the pyramids. I am also enjoying the afternoons with mint tea and hookah with the locals.

Next I'll travel to the U.K. to see some old friends of mine from the University of Ghana, many years ago. I have never left the airports of Europe or the U.K. so this will be a first for me, but I am looking forward to things like, washing machines, cheese, showers!

I do love to travel but this past month, I have dealt with the highs and lows of travel. A part of me knows I am going home so soon, and I long to be there, instead of thinking of it so much, but these next few years I may not be able to travel at all, so I am taking it all in. I love wandering new streets, and as my dad says " I am not lost I am only exploring" so I explore. I love feeling so small next to such old pieces of art and history. I love learning new things about myself and the world around me, but my heart is calling out back to a place that is my own- where that place is--who knows, but here I go.