Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Where I am coming from and Where I am going...

Hi All,

Here we are again....almost 8 months later, after my previous post. I have indeed started multiple posts, about Kilimanjaro last May/June, about the end of my time in Madagascar last October, and about my processing journey since then, December, and yet finally here we are - 8 months later and I am sitting in Aweil, South Sudan having not ACTUALLY posted in 8 months.

I find it hard to decide if this should be a 'life update' in terms of life events or in terms of the mental and spiritual processing and growth. Hmm, can we include a bit of both? If you can bare it if  I jump around a bit?

So last we left I was headed to Kilimajaro last May, right? right. ok. Great. It was great. really, really great. It was 7 days of walking outside on a giant, awesome mountain with only the handful of people in our group disturbing the awesomeness of God's creation and the highest point on the African continent and highest free standing mountain in the world. I was very thankful for my training that I had endured the months leading up to the trip. As well as the painstaking planning and preparation I had done to pack my bag with all the important items as well as to avoid carrying any non-essential items. This process involved many online orders being sent to CA where my parents helped me evaluate the orders (via skype tryon sessions), packed my suitcase, sought out specific items I requested and then sent it across the country to the parents of one of my work colleagues who were going to come and visit her and willing to hand carry mypiece of luggage with my things into the country to ensure (or at least make it less likely) that nothing was stolen in the process of me getting my items.

In the end it took a village to get me well prepped for the hike, and the hike itself was far easier than any aspect of the preparation. I LOVED IT. Except for how expensive it was, which is a major deterrent for doing the whole thing again. Yes, it was hard, yes, it took lots of time and energy to plan, book, get there and do it, and recovery time after, but how beautiful, peaceful, challenging, and rewarding an experience it was.

My favorite kind of experiences.

While in Tanzania, I was able to visit with and meet the family of a friend I met the first time I was in Tanzania in 2004 when I did a trip right after high school graduation. How fun to get to meet up with one of our translators from that trip, with whom I have remained in contact and get to stay with his family and meet his 4 kids and remarkable wife and other family members. I was also able to meet up with the missionary couple Harold and Connie who many of you may know and who started Hope of the Nations.

They are beyond amazing and had way more energy than I did when I was the one on vacation! I loved getting to hangout and follow them around for a few days seeing the awe-inspiring work they do and teams they have built and simply get to BE there.

Be still. Listen. Be. I ended up  staying in a missions compound that was built for large visiting groups, big rooms with lots of beds, large bathrooms and joint kitchen and living area, made for western groups (i.e. with modern conveniences)  of perhaps 30 or more in one building. I stayed there alone, with no internet connection.

Bliss. Pure bliss. No expectations, no disturbing anyone, no adapting to anyone else's habits or ''-isms''. It was movie night every night!! :)

Anyway, clearly you get the idea, my trip to Tanzania last spring was a lovely one. I returned for a matter of weeks to work in Madagascar before jumping back to the US for my grandparents 60th wedding anniversary celebration and family reunion. This was also wonderful and a very rare special occasion. Lots of fun times now that I have 4 nieces and nephews (though at the time it was only 3).

Thanks brothers for doing all the work of having and taking care of the kids and letting me play and have all the fun. :)

Then I headed back to Mada to complete my contract by early October and see where I might be headed next. The final months in the 4th largest island in the world, off the east coast of the African continent were not the best I have had in life. To put it simply and mildly, my time there was excruciatingly challenging in about every way imaginable. I am very thankful for the few supportive connections I did have there with indoor soccer and church, who I relied heavily on. I did finish my time with a great deep field trip visit, sloshing through deep mud and water as well as some fun travel with one of my friends and colleagues with whom I had worked in Afghanistan.We traveled up and down the western side of the island.

I also spent the last couple of month rather ill, hoping to make it back to the States for treatment I did little other than march on, until it was a bit much and eventually tried to get some in country treatment. I recovered somewhat in my final few weeks, and was more than ready to end my time in the sub-tropical land of Baobab trees and lemurs. (FYI lemurs are friendly. Too friendly. And they are NOT afraid of you. Guard all personal items and food with extreme care and at your own risk.)

And so, we arrive back to 'merica. To keep this part short...It was good.

Ok, to make it slightly longer.....from October 4th to January 12th I was no where for more than 2 weeks at a time. California, Montana, California, Cuba, Massachusetts, California (north), Montana, California (south), Washington DC, South Sudan. You get the idea.

I got to be around for my 2nd niece's birth in October, see many family members, have a GREAT trip to Cuba IN SPITE of (cough, cough --stupid America's) current political sanctions and blocks on travel to Cuba. It is not a trip to be expressed via social  media (though I did do minimal posts) so feel free to ask me about this one when next you see me.

Christmas, time with family, and just eating and resting well,
 were all healing and restorative. Sometimes rest is all that one needs and sometimes an appropriate context to enable pivotal decisions to be made is needed. In my case, both were needed during this time. In my mostly 3 months around the US I was reminded that I am a valued, purposeful, interesting, and uniquely made member of society (something that was not always felt in the previous 15 months).

The Lord has walked with me through all areas of my life and I have recently been moving through new territory. My recent working experience as I mentioned, was challenging to say the least, and watching where I landed when I came out of that was totally unpredictable to me. Ya know, sometimes you just know that you know something and it is relatively easy to advance in that particular belief.
Then, other times, you are faced with a choice of believing what you think you know based on your personal experience, OR believing that which someone else tells you is the truth of the matter. Well, if you know me, I am not exactly someone seeking other's opinions, a bit more apt to seek, ask questions, challenge, and find my own perspective on things.
Thus, one resulting question I was left debating after my 'character building year' (as I now refer to it) in said island nation, was how to reconcile what God says about Himself in the Bible with my perception of the experiences I had there.

Sometimes to grow, we have to hit our boundaries. I definitely hit an outer bound in the box I put God in. I will spare you my analytical mind, but all this to say, growing can be hard, and painful, but also very rewarding and exciting stepping into new territory. Thus, I have spent the last few months trying to understand how to realign my perceptions of my experience with what I claim I believe. Simpy put, getting what I say and what I do on the same page. I have not yet arrived at this place, but I feel much lighter after the 'house cleaning' God and I have done, and well prepared to step into the next 'thing' of life.

Having said all that, I just want to handout the encouragement to all of you to take the time for yourself every so often to BE STILL. To CLEANSE your mental, spiritual hearts and minds. Western culture does not place high value on these things. It only de-values you when you suffer the consequences of NOT doing these self-care actions. When you can't handle stress well, are easily angered or frustrated, not continuously in wonderful spirits, etc. But also don't kid yourself, all the best motivations, inspiration and perspective come from knowing and interacting with Jesus Himself.

Ok, so writing this from South Sudan, how am I here you might ask? Well, good question, I am still a bit in shock as from the time I became aware of the job I am doing to when I was boarding a plane was 7 days. From the time I was offered the job to when I was on a plane was less than 5 days. Fast. ya. To put it simply, as I am still in progress of this part of the update, I had planned to start a completely different job in early January, my expectations changed so that I contacted Medair to see if they had a short term posting I could help fill and volia, here I am. I also might add that my entry permit was the fastest one they have ever gotten (in less than 48 hours) when they have hundreds of rotating staff in the country, that is the Lord making away!

Ok, I would say that is quite enough for one update. More on my current location next time.

Warmest regards to all you back in winterland parts of the world from our 80F winter!

Please stay in touch and forgive any terrible grammar and spelling in this post. I just needed to get it out!

From your over analytical, slow postin - but fast workin',

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Cyclones, Seasons, and Attitude.

Hello all,

I hope the past few months has seen joys, challenges over come, lessons learned and life lived for you. I have indeed had my share, 2017 has been a particularly challenging and unusual year (though I am sure all of us could say that for every year of our lives). I have had many unexpected (and unwanted) lessons and am still working on learning the lessons of some current challenges.

My "I can't believe I was up at 4am to get here  and walk 30km
and now they are making us wait 1.5 hours before starting" face.
Because of this, this blog posting is going to be a mish-mash of thoughts, stories, and possibly some ranting. You have been warned.

Professionally, we have almost managed to get to the end of cyclone season here in Madagascar, with only a mild beating from cyclone ENAWO on March 7th-9th. This cyclone hit right along where we have one of our bases on the northeast coast of the island, and because of this, MEDAIR became a focus for all other agencies to work with and thru because we were the only ones who already had an established team, know the area, transport, etc. This has proved both good and bad. In the first few days and weeks, it was an incredibly stressful, fastpast, and well, emergency response setting. We were able to do good assessments on the ground, guide/advice other UN branches and NGOs in knowledge of the area. Additionally, we received significant media attention and financial benefits from the situation to be able to respond to the needs in the area.

Ready, set, go
Just as a side note, again and again, when I have been present in an area where there is high media attention (i.e.Afghanistan, Madagascar during a cyclone emergency, Israel, etc.) I find again and again how mis-represented both the heart of the situation is, as well as the statistical details. This saddens me, as I like to think that media help us be aware of what is going on in other parts of the world and look to the needs of others rather than keeping in our own little boxes. I hope this continues to be true, but felt it was worthy of a comment, as you all follow world news, realize that you are truly missing the life of the moment as it is taken, analyzed, discussed, and re-created into that which media outlets 'see-fit-to-print', 'give-a-balanced-perspective-of-the-world', 'open-our-eyes-to-the-truth'. Ok, enough on my personal advice to you to thoughtfully consider that which you take as fact and truth.
So, while I have only been in Madagascar 10 months (as of Wednesday), and would not claim to have even a good understanding of the culture in this country, I feel I have at least earned the right to my own observations and opinions. I would recommend it as a travel destination (as you can see it is beautiful), but not necessarily as a living destination. That said, I have met many people (recently) who truly love living here.

 I have to say well done to Peace Corps for their work here. It is one of the very few countries in the world where I have been where most people have a very good opinion of Americans and start speaking to me in the local language when they find out I am American. This is largely due to the major Peace Corps presences here, inclusive of good language training for their volunteers.

Perceptions of French and English speakers are very contrary to what I would have expected. A significant motivation for my coming here was to work on studying French, and I had the original understanding that French was a common language throughout the country and people would be easy to communicate with if only I could get my self together and SPEAK FRENCH!


I now know, my previous assumptions were completely wrong in every possible way.
A. When I start speaking French high educated Malagasy can tell I am American almost immediately because they have studied English and perhaps work with other Americans, or at least can hear I am not French by my accent. (me? what accent?!)

B. If I speak French with a low educated Malagasy, such as a taxi driver, they either assume I am French and start chatting away, or can hardly speak French themselves, so even my efforts at French don't get us very far. But to my great satisfaction, native French speakers can't get much further speaking French with most taxi drivers than I can (I probably take too much joy from this).

C. Your average Malagasy on the streets of the capital city can speak some French, but would far prefer to learn/speak English because of what I can call the 'generational hang-over' from colonialism (French colonialism obviously). There is an underlying distaste for the French presences here. While it is far from outwardly hostile or dangerous as it is in some other post-colonial countries, and some people may deny it entirely, I see it and it is interesting to observe it in the mannerisms of many locals toward French in authority in the country. And rest assured, there are still plenty of French in high places here. This maybe to large of a generalization, but all I am saying is that you CAN see it in some places, surely not everywhere. Many city born, low earning Malagasy also see English as their way to higher earnings and way to connect with the outside world and are eager to learn.

I love this. The high-tech hikers, with the local lady in
barefeet, with probably 10+lbs on her head!! Amazing!
D. If you go out anywhere in the bush (basically outside of the only large city, the capital, you are in the bush) and you are a white person, they think you are either a tourist or if you seem local enough and white, they think you may be a Peace Corps member (i.e. American) and thus trained in the local Malagasy language and start speaking to you in Malagasy.

So all in all, communication is not the easiest thing in the world here. Forget being articulate, just figure out which melange (mix) of languages you will use with a person or group.

Add in the aspects of the culture that it is a conflict adverse (Asian cultural influences I think), non-planning culture (a common aspect of developing nations). So you constantly have situations where people have no understanding of what you meant, but they say they understand and walk away, or completely disagree with what they think you said and go away upset without confirming what you meant, or times when someone actually understands - but disagrees - but does not say a word because they are avoiding conflict. This has the potential to build --until they explode, quit, gossip, or you guess right about what they are thinking. Of course this is not true for the entire population, and over all it is a very, very docile population (all the sunshine maybe?) but these are still very evident characteristics of the culture. I hope I gain a deeper understanding of their logic before I leave.

Still feeling ok and enjoying the local encouragement
as we pass thru villages. 

Of course, as I prefaced, I do not claim to be an expert and I am learning more all the time about the culture. For those of you who have not heard the analogy, culture is like a giant iceberg, you only see about 10% on the surface, but under the water you have 90% more to discover. I dont even know the 10% on the top which is supposed to be obvious, like wedding and holiday traditions. I always like to say, I know I have asked a good cultural question if the person looks at me like I am stupid, with a face that says 'are you seriously asking me that? How can you not know the answer to that?". This is when I know I have touched on what is so intuitive to them (and I have no clue) that it is a piece of culture. Anyway, I dont wish to give a bad impression. Those who know me well have known my struggles here and I am working my way thru with the incredible grace and mercy and patience of my wonderful savior Christ-Jesus, without whom I would have jumped ship after the first month, and it might not have been a figure of speech then.

Ok, on to happier times. In case it hasn't come thru yet, I am going to hike Mt. Kilimanjaro. At least that is the plan. May 23rd I start up the mountain with a small team and a couple of other random tourists I have yet to meet. (The offer still stands for anyone to join me. You know, in case you are fit, motivated, and ready to jump on a plane to Tanzania in 2 weeks!! :)) It was a surprisingly spontaneous decision, and I am not one to go back once I have made a decision. I may wish I did though. Time will tell. I bad the decision and started the physical training the week of the cyclone (perhaps the cyclone hit me harder than I thought). Never the less, I have persisted in my training and reading, shopping (yes, lots and lots of shopping had to happen for every
Ok, no longer fun around 5 hours. major blisters and aching feet. 
piece of equipment from sunglass cord to jacket for the arctic climatic zone at the summit, and everything in between.) Thanks to my parents for trying on all mannerism of clothing item over skype to help me decide on items to send to a colleage's parents in North Caroline who were coming to visit her a few weeks ago and were willing to bring a duffle bag full of stuff to a compete stranger. this i when I know my logistical training is coming in handy in life.

Physical training was not as challenging in the ways one might expect. Though, as I had a broken toe in December, and really had not yet gotten back into regular exercise I was definitely starting from way below my normal fitness level and trying to surpass any level I have been at before, on my own...with out a team or coach or normal gym...during a cyclone the field for several weeks at a time. So actually, yes, that was challenging. I always have had great respect for elite athletes and marathon runners etc, but now I have all the more insight and respect for them. Training can be challenging, but to be motivated to do hard training again, and again, and again, and just keep pushing and pushing, is truly HARD WORK!

My motivation started to die about 3 weeks ago. After I had gone thru all the training in the field, shopping and try on sessions with family, decisions about flights and which routes up the mountain, which travel company, which dates, how many days of hiking, etc. etc. etc. Yes, I could have pulled out.....but hey, life is an adventure, I am strong, fit, going to Tanzania already, have put in so much time effort and funds, lets do this and do it well. Like most travel, it has ended up significantly more expensive than originally expected, especially for a vacation in a developing country.

I have stayed the course, literally and figuratively and I am sure I will enjoy the great outdoors, the physical challenge, and speaking English for a full week no matter what else happens. But I do hope to have many good stories to share with you from that trip.

I finished 31km/19.2 miles in about 6 hours 26 minutes.
done. Now for Kilimanjaro I need to do that long of a walk
 about 6 days in a row. No problem  
The planning has also given me significant motivation to find other ways of training than the gym, fitness videos, and staying in town. So I have been able to do a couple of cool hikes that I might not have done. For example over Easter Weekend with some friends we hiked the 2nd highest peak in the country (the highest is not accessible currently) Peak Bobby as it is known. Also, yesterday in fact, I did a local event called UTOP, where you can do a 120km, 65km, or 31km course. I did the 31km course in just under 6 hours 30 mins, mostly walking, but defiantly had the heaviest pack of alll 1500 participants, as I was using it as a training session for my Kili gear. So I loaded up my backpack with 10km, about 20 lbs. and set off. It was very enlightening, as was the Easter hike about which body parts still need some work. In March was my back-side and my calves, yesterday I found my feet and shoes need to be sorted a bit better in the next two weeks before I take off.
Well massaged and oiled legs with my bag and race bid,
in the taxi on the way home. 

Ok, I think I have bored you enough with my current state. I love hearing from anyone interested enough to read through all this and even if you just skipped to the end and are reading this, keep me updated on you corner of the globe.

While I am not sure how much longer I will be working here I am always watching for where the Lord will lead me next and will surely be back in CA in July for my gparents 60 anniversary celebrations! Be in touch!

May hope, joy, and peace beyond understanding be yours, along with God's guidance and faith to step past your own personal 'impossible' line, each day.

Until next time,

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Some New Year Thoughts....

So here we are again, back at the start of a new year....


I always find it interesting how some people (and cultures) make a major deal about starting the new year off 'right' with all kinds of focus on resolutions, re-setting priorities, 'making a plan', etc. Don`t get me wrong, I think these are all generally good and important things to do, but my question is why do we wait a whole stickin' year to look at our lives and re-evaluate?

Why do we not do this more often? I mean,  I think most people do this on a smaller level every day and in many cases ever hour or even more often. As we wake up, it is pretty common in western cultures to have a plan for the day (particularly a week day). In your job, I imagine you have a list of priorities in your tasks, and if asked, most people can list off their personal priorities such as family, health, faith, personal hobby, etc. in whatever order comes to mind when asked, weather it seem rehearsed or not.

But what if we actually created space for ourselves to think on a deeper level about not only our general priorities (which are often set and then not re-evaluate until something screams for our attention) but if our lives reflect what we say, or what we want them to show as our priories? I am of course coming at this from a very western minded perspective, where we count time as one of our most valuable resources and efficiency, planning, and other similar things have high value. It is often assumed that the same is true all over the world, but in reality it is not 'valued' / looked at in the same way as us efficiency focused cultures.
But anyway, enough of my qualifying my own cultural perspective, the point - my point and hope for myself is to do a better job of evaluating and making small adjustments all the time. This is not my plan for 2017, this is my plan for my life, for me, for my character growth, care for those around me, and to attain the larger goals of my life.

As someone once told me (or reminded me multiple times every time we spoke for several years - thanks dad) ' it is good to have margins' in life. Me. and you who I imagine are reading this, do not normally plan 'margins' into our lives. Sure, some of you are always punctual and you are good about planning enough in advance for the traffic to be somewhere on time (this is not me). But what about time 'away' just for the sake of it. To be with family, be outdoors, be with God? How often does this REALLY happen? Even for me, when I take a 'vacation' as a single person and hope to spend some time in solitude, one would think that all my times are full of meaningful reflection, right? HA! wrong.
To step away from the swirling world, stress, physical, mental, emotional state of living in a broken world takes intentionality and motivation. One or the other of which I am often lacking.

I am, and I imagine you might be as well, often full of good intentions - to take time for myself or to give of myself to others in hopes of making a positive difference. But really, is that what we were created for? Oh, sure, yes, on some level yes. But really, for me, if my heart is not right with the Lord, I have no hope of helping others. If I am drowning, how can I throw my life-vest to someone else. Only when I am swimming strongly, healthy, alert, with keen eye -sight can I really see who around me is drowning and how to give help that will actually make a difference.

This is the kind of person I want to be. I want to be solid. This does not mean perfect (though of course that would be great too.) No, I want to be able to throw out all the help lines needed to people drowning around me. There of course is no chance of me doing this as me, Jessica, amazing life-guard. No, no, I have tried that and I don't like the results (neither did others I tried to 'save').
No, it is only when I am solidly rooted in Christ and who I am in Him and what he has done for me, can I go to battle for someone else. Even in times of self-growth, I find I need to pull back from going to battle for others and deal with my own issues.

I don`t mean that we can`t do anything for other people until we are perfect (thank goodness this is not true), and of course God can use us when we are even 'pathetic' to minister to another. I simply mean that God is God and we are not. If we think we have to be giving giving and going going, without ever sitting sitting, I am thinking thinking it will not go as well as we might have thought. This blog comes out of a reflection on my own past 6 months.

As many of you already know (because I have made little effort at hiding it) I have really struggled over the past few months with my own outlook and attitude in my current environment. I kept on trying to reach out and help others, I wanted to make a difference, but I was not dealing with much of the issue which has been in my own heart. I knew it needed the work, but still struggled to focus on that internal problem instead of the problems I saw external to myself.

I dont mean there are only problems with me that I have control over or need to be improved, I simply mean that the external struggle was kinda set against me when I wasn`t able to get my own self in order. And of course, there in lies the struggle, because it is never me who can get my own self 'in order'. It is only when I am the right place with the Lord that things are ordered and I can stand and strike from a place of authority and strength.

I will spare you the long sob story, but I will simply say that even though all this time I knew it was my own heart I was struggling with (and am working for some resolution) I have only recently realized that that is ok. That it is ok to step back from trying to be the super-Christ - follower I like to think I can and should be able to be and simply be a Child of God and ask questions for myself and hear what He has for me.

This may be going a bit personal on you all, but I figured you could handle it, being the new year and all. :) I also just wanted to try to encourage you to receive the grace that has already been extended to you. To take the time to know your own heart and to hear the next thing that God wants to do with it. Yikes! That is scary. Ok, I might have just crossed the line with some of you. Yes, God wants to do more with you. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your current attitude, God is not yet done with us. The past few months I would have viewed that as an unfortunate inconvenience , but I think I have reached the place that I am eagerly looking for the next step, if only in order to move out of my current place.

Ok, ok, I suppose I have made my point....or perhaps not made any point at all. But let me leave it with the encouragement of new beginnings, a battle already won, and chance for improvement at each conversation with those around us. And with the challenge of finding balance between and within life's seasons and with serving, while being able to receive from the greatest servant who ever lived.

Happy New Year/month/week/day/hour/moment!

Philippians 4:4: 
Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice

Lamentations 3:22-23: 
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;[a]
    his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.

Ephesians 6:12:
12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The life of an expat, good, bad, and whatever. The things you never knew or thought to ask....

The life of an expat, good, bad, and whatever. The things you never knew or thought to ask....

(And on a completely unrelated note, I have included some favorite pictures from over the years living as an expat....)

 Greetings to family and friends and random strangers who are unfortunate enough to end up here. As this posting/position in Antananarivo (Madagascar) has been particularly challenging for me, I thought it was a good time to express a lot of what I spend my time doing and thinking about which may not be what many of you expect. I imagine that one could write a book from the title I have given, and indeed many books have been written on many of the topics I will mention shortly. But I am not writing a book (at least not at this point) and thus, this will be more of a conversation starter posting, than deeply informative. But I still hope it will be somewhat informative nonetheless.

Let us start with what exactly I mean when I am talking about an expat. An expatriate is a person who is in a country not his or her own. So any person could be called an expatriate simply if he or she is living in a country not their own. Thus, I (or anyone) would be considered an expatriate in each new country in which I live and get established.  I suppose one could even call refugees expatriates, but it is likely that a more detailed definition and differences would become clear in that case, related to details based on choice to leave ones country of origin, and freedom to return, as well as ability to support oneself, and the temporary status of an individual in the country which is not his or her own.

Thus, the term 'expat' is a shortening of the word 'expatriate' and a common one used with humanitarian aid workers, as all of the above things apply. When one is an expat in a new country, the first order of business is to learn everything which a local person learns in that culture in basically the first 15 years of their life. (Or of course you can ignore the fact you are in a new country and the effort of engaging with the local environment and stay in a bubble of expats).

You think this is an exaggeration? Think again.

I will shortly give examples, but I will first add what might be included in 'everything learned in the first 15 years of life'; I mean more than how to get around in a particular city and how to enjoy different foods. I mean...what is considered socially acceptable behavior, what kinds of questions are ok to ask and what are not, how is acceptable to express/ display your emotions (or not), how do people look at money, how do people view or follow certain religions and all that goes with that, how various institutions are setup and what `they look like`(postal system, school system, retirement, insurance, etc.). Political establishments, elections, and how that impacts the society etc.

While many of these things are the grand-scape, there are of course the small things, like what foods are available, what is your body`s reaction to new foods, where can you expect to find a toilet, how to unlock a door, can you brush your teeth with the water from the faucet, can you /should you look who in the eye on the street, social behavior and respect given on all levels, are communications direct/circular/indirect/ implied, what clothes can you wear, hair styles/length/color/ display which is appropriate, what is considered attractive and unattractive for men and women, are animals pets, or food, or both, And of course this is all learnt and communicated via the context of a foreign language - if not for the expat then most likely for the local person trying to communicate about such things. For example, if they are sharing with me in English, this is not their first language either and thus may not always have the exact word or meaning to explain. They may also not understand what you are trying to communicate or ask of them as well as one might hope, expect, or think. Until you realize via the course of events that this indeed the case. (Examples to come.)

Ok, I think you get the idea, now for specific examples (be assured that any one who has been considered an expat at some point in their lives will have many, many examples to share with you.)

1. How to eat: US= knife, fork, spoon vs. India = with your hands
2. How to go to the bathroom: western world = sit on toilet use paper to finish (most of the time) Vs. may African and Asian cultures = squatting over hole, use water to finish.
3. Where to drive: right Vs. left side of the road
4. Where does the water come from: running water in the house all of the time Vs. running water some of the time which cannot be drunk directly Vs. no running water, must be carried, purchased, etc.
5. How to do your hair: free and down is great Vs. Muslim or other extremely conservative cultures must have hair tightly back or not showing at all.
6. How to eat an ice cream cone: US hold and lick the ice cream to eat it Vs. Morocco (and likely other countries) do NOT lick your cone in public. Nope, just don't do it. Get a spoon.

I think this is where I will leave it for this blog posting, hopefully with a little bit of laughter, and next posting I will go a bit more in to detail as to what some of these kinds of things indeed look like in the every day work and play of an expat - or actually of me.

So, many of you reading are currently or have been expats, let me know what you think? Comment or send me your funny example or story (and let me know if I can include it or reference it in my next posting(s)).

Lots of love hugs and Christ-focused greetings for the coming holidays (crazy how time flies!)

Until next time,

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Annnddd........ I'M BACK!

Hello, hello, hello again blog world!

It has been awhile (as I had to modify my type and form of communication while in a particular -stan country the past 2 years.) As I am now in Madagascar my life continues (shocking, I know). So instead of writing ANOTHER email (which is what I already spend much of my life doing) I figured I would at least change the mode of transportation - I mean communication.

So, what to start with, to wow you back into spending a tiny portion of your life in to reading what I write......hmmm. Tough. Here are a couple of random thoughts from my day to start with, both the deep (at least I think so) and the ridiculous.....

- Getting older gives more opportunity to see things from new perspectives and the grace to work with people who have no ability to view things from another perceptive. (of course we know which person I AM!)
- I really, really like working out/ physical activities. They just make everything better or easier, that may have something to do with workout = Jesus talk time.
- It is definitely in the 'storms' of life where you find out who you are and what you can be.
- I would HATE being a celebrity, it is soooo tiring to be stared at and yelled at ALL the time! (Being a white person in a small African community this is what happens).
- It is really, really hard to press on when everyone around you seems to be expecting perfection or failure and no matter what you do it is misunderstood and you are looked at like 'why are you here again?'
- Thank you  America for letting me grow up playing indoor soccer. It is good to be back!
- Not thank you 'Merica for being in such a funk of an election and giving me absolutely nothing worth saying when every person asks me "what do you think about the candidates.....?"

Ok, I suppose I should give a bit more context to things, especially as this is my first posting in a while.

I am still working with Medair and enjoying it. As a relatively small NGO it is great to know people across the organization and globe on a personal level and interact directly with beneficiaries as well as national staff. This is my 2nd posting with them and I have made a big step up - though you wouldn't know it necessarily by the title change. I went from Project Support Manager to Program Support Manager. Shocking, I know. But really, in relief and development there is a known and significant difference between the words 'project' and 'program'. If you are not aware of this I will spare you the masters degree explanation and simply say that as Project SM I was over the support aspects of one base before, where as now I am over the same areas, but for a country, which includes 3 bases. The benefits of this are that I get to move around between bases. The team is spread out and thus more challenging to manage. :)

I am based in the capital city of Madagascar, which like all other Malagasy words --(no, I am not making-up the word 'Malagasy',  that is what you call 'that' of Madagascar) -- Antananarivo is a very long, complicated spelling, multiple syllable word. For example, I cannot even pronounce a single full name of my staff! They all go by one part of one of their names, which is usually three names.

So I am head of logistics, finance, HR, IT, and security for the moment (which seems a bit...different, from my previous experience in security management). Our current work is focused on water and sanitation work, for those of you in the know, that would be WASH. There is also a bit of health and nutritional education thrown in the mix.

Some tidbits about Malagasy culture:
-people are highly sensitive, to most anything, but they are very gentle calm people (for the most part).
- Sometimes too calm. There is not an overwhelming amount of energy, motivation, loud voices, or going out after dark. All of this has its pluses and minuses of course.
-So far, coconut foods and vanilla season are awesome. I am looking forward to mango and avocado season in the coming months!
- Traveling around the country is challenging, options include ' taxi brusse' which are local taxi vans which carry a bus load of people in a van for many hours, smallish boats - in which all seats come with their personal barf buckets, moto (i.e. motorcycle) riding on the back of someone who knows how to drive in 2 feet of mud, Pinz (old army supply vehicle) which needs special training for driving because of the gears and the special axis, and of course cars, in the cities.

What's Next.......?

This coming week I will be headed to one of our field bases (my 2nd visit) to go for a deeper field visit. My next posting should include pictures from this trip. So keep watching for what is yet to come!!! I love comments and love hearing from you. Do you have questions or suggestions for me on what I should write? Let me know.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Ready, Set, Rest!

Happy Spring! Well, at least it is here in California. Though we are still in drought, there has been a recent dumping of rain to join our mostly warm weather leading to lovely green fields and lush trees and flowers. I"m so loving this sunny weather, but I don't plan to be around for the consequences of an early spring with hardly any winter.....a summer with a lot of fires.
In my last posting I let you all know officially know about the completion of my two programs and degrees. I"m so thankful to be done and to have time with my family before transitioning into...(que the dramatic music).....professional life!
In my time since Christmas I've been able to 'do' much. Unpack my loaded car, clean my room- which has been the dumping zone during my transitions for the last 10 years (yes 10 years- I was opening mail from years ago), cleaning/ reinstalling the operating system of my mal-functioning computer, meeting with friends in the area, dealing with insurance, credit cards, dentist and doctor visits, time to study French, and on and on it goes. Basically all the stuff that sits around needing to be done, but you use the excuse 'when I have time, I'll do it'. Well, I'm here to tell you, it is not that much fun to do when you do have time, but I'm trying to be thankful for the restbit anyway.
Above all, I recognize that this is a time unlike any other I"m likely to have, possibly ever. A time when I feel content in where the Lord has me to simply 'rest'. I am in a continual process of discovering what that actually even means. It is not as simple as coming home at the end of a long day or week to 'rest' for the evening or weekend. It is something much deeper and demanding.
Resting, in our society is not generally viewed as a big character building exercise. It is something that people are usually hoping for, and looking forward to, but then once people have their 'rest' or vacation or whatever they are wishing for, they often come back to ‘everyday’ life needing a rest from their rest. Does this sound familiar? Most of us are not good at sitting still, except perhaps when we reach retirement, and even then you hear about how people struggle enjoying this ‘rest time’.
The ability to engage with another human-being without a schedule and constant glances at our watches and/or interruptions from our phones is rare indeed. Can you think of the last time you did that?
The other day, as I was literally putting the suitcase lock on my bag to put in the car and drive to the airport with my dad to fly to Texas, we had a neighbor stop by the house. He had come only because he wanted to share some movies that he had burned on DVDs for me, on a subject he thought that I would be interested in based on a previous discussion. He held me at the front door for 15-20mins telling me all the details - names and places of the 2 DVDs he'd just given me, with seemingly no awareness that I was standing with wet hair and a luggage lock in my hand and half put on shoes on my feet. As I stood there listening (but not really hearing) my first thought was how rude this seemed to me and that he had no idea of his poor timing. My next thought was, perhaps I need to be more like that have my focus on engaging with the person and sharing life together without being driven - no, without being controlled by the clock!!!
I'm the first to admit that our Western world is driven by schedules and planning, and to be honest I enjoy it to a degree and find it very beneficial in many ways. But I also know that I want to be a person living on Christ's timeline to serve other people, and that OFTEN will not be MY timeline.
This 3+ month long 'rest' that I am enjoying has had its challenges, the greatest of which have been building relationships and adapting to others' timing, both my family, friends, and Christ's timing. If I want to live my own life apart from others, I can control every second of my life, but if I want to live a life of relationship, character growth, heart change, service, and joy in all circumstances, then I must adapt my life pace to that of those around me and most importantly to that of Christ who sees all and knows all and will not waste my time the time He has allowed me.

To everything there is  a season, and this may not be your season to rest, but still it is worth taking time to recognize what season you are in and enjoy that for all it is worth. We don't know what will come tomorrow, but we know what is here today - enjoy it. There must be rain to bring spring and there must be a hot summer to dry the leaves for a cool fall.
Love well, lean on others, have fun, choose to be joyful.
Be blessed whatever your season might be,
P.S. I still struggle to sit and read a book for hours- even one I've been wanting to read for years. To those who can do this in peace and tranquility, you are blessed - never lose that skill and practice it often.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-11
Common English Bible
There’s a season for everything and a time for every matter under the heavens:2     
a time for giving birth and a time for dying,
a time for planting and a time for uprooting what was planted,3     
a time for killing and a time for healing,
a time for tearing down and a time for building up,4     a time for crying and a time for laughing,
a time for mourning and a time for dancing,5     
a time for throwing stones and a time for gathering stones,
a time for embracing and a time for avoiding embraces,6     
a time for searching and a time for losing,
a time for keeping and a time for throwing away,7     
a time for tearing and a time for repairing,
a time for keeping silent and a time for speaking,8     
a time for loving and a time for hating,
a time for war and a time for peace.
What do workers gain from all their hard work? 10 I have observed the task that God has given human beings. 11 God has made everything fitting in its time, but has also placed eternity in their hearts, without enabling them to discover what God has done from beginning to end.
[Thank you Gateway Bible]

Friday, March 14, 2014


This is my official graduation announcement:

Jessica Mullins has officially completed her 
Master of International Development 
Major: NGO and Civil Society 
Master of Business Administration
Focus: International Organizations

So in spite of all the costs incurred at two different institutions of higher learning on two different continents, I did not get any real graduation celebration. Boo, hoo. Thus, I have decided to make my own.

This my friends, is how economical I am in sending out graduation announcements. Personalize the sample they send me and then take a picture of it !!!

Reflections of a Graduated Graduate Student...
As you grow, you think you know
You look ahead with enough anticipation to jump out of bed. 
There are always nah sayers, and lazy players, 
But growing up I started to push away the fluff and learned to be tough. 

School could be fun and easy, but that never seemed to be for me. 
I worked hard and played hard. 
But praying hard was always the key. 
Passing through undergrad, international work, and then grad school was in the cards. 
My passions became more focused and I began to see what I could be. 

Pittsburgh, Geneva....Switzerland that is
New homes, new friends, new churches, new studies...
Changing locations and degrees, intentionality and logistics were my biz. 
The winters were cold, but skiing was grand, and down jackets became my best buddies. 
I studied hard, and listened well, loving all the new info, true it tis. 

My final semester came at last, my classmates had finished their single degree in the past. 

They had their spring of big gowns and square hats, I went on to finish mid-year in just my low flats.
One degree, two degree, three, I thought someone said they'd become free. 
I'm so glad to have finished my MID & my IOMBA, you don't know what those are you say? 
No problem, as long as the HR managers answer my groans, I'll be able to pay my loans.

Here's to education, both in and out of the classroom, may we one day be free from all the bad legislation, to learn and to grow daily and never stop using our imagination. 

And thus concludes my formal announcement to you special people. Feel free to respond with all manner of gifts and checks and exciting encouraging notes. You will be honored with a non-electronic 'thank-you'. Just kidding about the gifts!---(kinda)

From my free wings to yours!