Balanced

Balanced:  We understand the importance of balancing different aspects of our lives – intellectual, physical, and emotional – to achieve well-being for ourselves and others.  We recognize our interdependence with other people and with the world in which we live.

Today we visited the village of Zali.  The village is a mix of Muslim and Christian.  We attended the Zali Baptist church where we delivered supplies and the eye glasses that Odyssey scholars provided in the  NJHS projecI can’t effectively tell you the rush of emotions that I have throughout the day.  I am in another land and yet the human spirit is the same.  They look at us curiously but they go about their business.  Most are mildly disinterested but occasionally I caught a child smiling at me with the slightest tug of their lips and the kindest eyes on the planet.  One young girl stood quietly beside me, took my hand and quietly held it for the longest time.  My heart melted.  Language is not necessary for becoming friends.  The 14 year-old student, Austin, that is traveling with us, played with the kids so hard he instantly fell asleep when we got back in the car.

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What I saw on the way to the village and on the way back can only be described as another world.  They have cell phones and motorcycles.  Goats, chicken and cows run along side the road, as well as over the road.  They have store fronts that sell water, dead animals, cut hair, work on motorcycles…..and much more.  However, it all seems very linear to me.  If someone is a banker, they are just one.  There isn’t a bank with management to visit.  At the surface, leadership is one person very far away from your daily life.    One of my questions (so many questions, sorry Adrisu) was at what age do children in Ghana start thinking about what they want to be when they grow up.  The reply was that they don’t think of such things until they are in senior school.  I let that soak in.  Children are not asked about their dreams.  Do they have dreams?  I instantly thought about our own culture where we never expect our dreams to ever be taken away.

 

We ended the day at a restaurant that provided me not only the best meal in Ghana, the best meal that I’ve had in a long, long time.  For the third time that day, the word “balanced” came up in our conversation.  And, so balanced is the theme of today.   May you find some balance today, I know that fI did.

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Knowledgeable

Knowledgeable – We develop and use conceptual understanding, exploring knowledge across a range of disciplines.  We engage with issues and ideas that have local and global significance.

 

We wake up this morning just a couple of short steps left to our goal of meeting and connecting with our sister school.  These steps, however, are the most bold.  Up until landing in Accra last night, nothing ventured was new to me.  I’ve been to Chicago and London.  I’ve sat cramped in the middle seat for many, many hours before.  The flight from London to Accra started to get more interesting.  It was an almost six hour flight with a lot more interesting culture on board.  People were dressed so impressively I was in awe on one hand and slightly embarrassed with in my American blue jeans on the other.  Now, they know how to travel!

 

When we arrived at Accra, the true adventure began.  We stayed over night in a guest house used for medical teams and parents waiting on adoptions to complete.  The next morning we headed to Tamale.  Our last flight was a smooth one with a special treat at the end, the President was visiting and campaigning next years election.  The traffic to our final destination was ‘spirited’ to say the least.  Today I use knowledgeable because I recognized that the more we think we know, the less we really do.  I came  into today having done some reading about Ghana but within the next 36 hours I asked so many questions about the intricacies of this country and its people, I drove everyone around me crazy.  We can know but how much to we REALLY KNOW.  WaterISlife is a simple organization, bring clean water solutions and hygiene training to people in need.  However, who the people are, how to help in the best long term way, understanding the background of country, politics, government, and culture that complicates the efforts, are just a few layers to being effective in this simple project.  I sit in awe today of our country and it’s government system!

 

I also took a picture of a sun set on the land that waterISlife purchased for a guest house.  It is with great hope that I can take another picture with an Odyssey scholar on the front porch.  🙂

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Open Minded

Open-Minded:  We critically appreciate our own cultures and personal histories, as well as the values and traditions of others.  We seek and evaluate a range of points of view and willing to grow from the experience.

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Today we went back to the village of Zali.  Mrs. Fine and I oversaw a soap making training, while Mr. Bender and Austin oversaw some repairs to the village and made plans for the next steps in the water filtration system.

 

The women were a little distant at first.  I appreciate their wise glances in our direction.  They have work to do and they continue to remind the “silly mingas” (me and Kori) to move out of the sun.  They have a child on their backs for most of soap training and they break to make lunch for the everyone in attendance.  They are women from the two villages (Zali and Kpaachiyili), two different religions (Christian and Muslim), and various ages (I wanted to ask but dared not) coming together to learn how to make a substance that is both important and hopefully profitable.  WaterISlife provided the training and materials for the training and so must oversee that they are learning the right skills, as well as business practices.

 

All people involved must arrive open-minded, and ready to learn.   At this moment, I sit on a concrete floor in a soap house with a laptop on my lap.  I have snapped pictures of them and their children relentlessly.  While we try to be discrete in drinking out of bottled water and using copious amounts of hand sanitizer, there is no secret that we are ‘delicate.’  Yet, they are slowing coming around.  I show a few of them pictures of my family and they suggest that I have four more children.  Uh, no thanks.  I motion back that the shop is closed.   One woman takes me and Mrs. Fine to her home to show us a project of drying grain to make cereal.  They allow me to grate some of the soap into a bucket that will become powered soap, which I find very therapeutic, especially under a tree in the heat of the day.

 

The day began with an open-minded attitude and spirit.  It ends with women working together to make change.  I think I found my people on this side of the world and I think that I will miss them very much.

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Inquirer

Inquirer – We nurture our curiosity, developing skills for inquiry and research.  We know how to learn independently and with others.  We learn with enthusiasm and sustain our love of learning throughout life.

 

Today we visited the Kpaachiyili village and the school.  My education continued as I learned about a new village and the school we call a ‘sister’ school.  We first visited where waterISlife is building latrines for the village.  The villagers are now participating in purchasing their own latrines for their family.  Next  we are greeted at the school, which I now know is a K-5 primary school.  In order to go to a junior high school, the children must travel 5 to 10 miles away.  As is customary here, the first thing we did was to sit down with the headmaster, staff and leaders of the school to have a conversation about the reason for our visit.  I gave all the items Odyssey sent with me (pen pal letters, rulers, pencils, sharpeners) to the headmaster and for the next hour, we matched the pen pal letters.  Because the school is K-5, I am bringing some letters from the K-2 grades to distribute to our elementary campuses.  After matching the letters, we took a picture of each student from the school so we can print their pictures upon our return.

 

After we got all the students needs taken care of, we moved the desk of the headmaster to under a tree and used the opportunity for the Kpaachiyili staff to ask me questions.  Before we got to the inquiry, however, one of the village leaders wanted to present me with a goose.  Yep, a goose.  Not surprising, I will not be bringing said goose home with me.  Just know that she sure was pretty.  😉  To set this picture for you completely, let me share some key observations upon my arrival.  The school has no water, no electricity.  It has two hand washing stations and latrines.  The children wear uniforms but they are torn, ill fitting, and most are dirty.  The children leave to eat lunch at home and many do not return to school afterward.  There are aphid type bugs everywhere – I am still picking them out of my backpack.  At one point, I probably offended half in attendance when I couldn’t stop myself from picking one out of my shirt.  Their needs are many but we agreed on the main point:  education is the life blood of the community and the world, but you cannot educate healthy, alert minds unless you have the basics (water, sanitation, hygiene) covered.

 

The differences in our school, education and culture are vast.  It is difficult to imagine.  Privilege is too pretty of a word  to describe the difference between what we have and that they do not have.  However, it was a humbling moment when we sit down with the staff of the school, their questions to me show that we are always more ‘same’ than different!

A few of their questions:

How do you get the children to behave?

Who pays for your uniforms?

How much training do your teachers receive?

Do you take attendance?  How do you get them to show up?

How do you get them to solve problems?

When do your children know what they are going to be?

Do they take a lot of tests?  How do you measure their progress?

How do you get their parents not to do the work for them?

 

Right???  Odyssey can you hear me?  Here I sit in a remote village in Africa and the conversation is the same!  So, I did what I do.  I spoke to them about Responsive Classroom, Love and Logic, taking time to work on procedures at the beginning of the year to get the results they want, invoking the love of learning with a program that helps promote a life long learner, ask deeper questions to get deeper answers, and on and on.  They asked our teachers to come give training. 🙂 I suggested some video question/answer sessions back and forth to start.

 

My lesson of being an inquirer today and listening to others is that we are not alone in our basic needs and desires.  The connection to others is never far away when we ask questions.

 

Naawuni nisung.

 

PS The writing of these children is very impressive!  Even at the 2nd grade level, the penmanship is amazing.  They are doing some good work there!IMG_0112

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Principled

Principled:  We act with integrity and honesty, with a strong sense of fairness and justice and with respect for the dignity and rights of people everywhere.  We take responsibility for our actions and their consequences.

 

So you decide you want to make a difference in the world and connect to those you want to help in a land far, far away.  You summon your courage, you make the plans, you say your goodbyes, endure the comments (like, “I hope you come back and a tribe doesn’t kidnap you.”) and you board the plane with people you just met or know only slightly.  And then you wait.  Then, you fly.  Then wait.  Then fly.  Then wait.  This is the Catalina trip, Astro Camp, and Washington, DC on steroids.  I sit on the third flight in 36 hours maneuvering my way around airplane food that contains more possibibilites of having nuts than my family tree and wait for the ‘real’ adventure to begin.  I think about our scholars going to China and Costa Rica and how they must have felt.  Excited and nervous for sure, but I am in awe of how brave they were.  So far my trip is nothing different than any Odyssey scholar that swallowed their trepidation and signed up for the adventure.  It is a principled person that sees the goal in mind and works through the uncomfortable to reach the end result.

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Show Me

One of my favorite movie quotes – “SHOW ME THE MONEY!!!”  Over and over Tom Cruise and Cuba Gooding, Jr. screamed the phrase to each other in the movie Jerry McGuire and eventually the money did indeed “show up.”  It was hysterical but it was also very powerful.

The words “show me” have been pretty powerful in my life, especially when I speak them as a prayer.  Show me the truth.  Show me the way.  Show me what you want me to see.  Show me what I need to change.  Show me how.  Show me.  It’s an active request.  It’s a desire to know T-R-U-T-H.  It’s a humble admittance of unknowing with an urgent vocalization to change the view that you currently have.

The answer may not be pretty.  Yet, the words aren’t meant to be pretty.  They are brave.  They are brave especially if you accept what you see.  Sure, you can shake your head, misinterpret, explain away…whatever you want to do, really.  But when you whisper the words “show me,” and you mean it, and you’re awake for the answer, get ready.  Heart open.  Eyes open.  Ears open.  Knees to the earth.  Get ready.   I look forward to hearing your stories.

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2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 790 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 13 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Beyond the Doorway

I  received a great gift from a friend for my birthday last year.  It’s a book by Mark Nepo of inspirational stories and musings that often touch me or get me thinking on any given day.   Today’s reading is one such gift because until I read the words, I had not shaped any sort of  goal or theme for this next year.  I’ve spent the last few years “managing” my life’s changes and how I respond to them.  Whether it came to me on January 1 or hit me halfway through, each year had a theme.  A few years ago, the theme was to “breathe.”  Yep, it was that simple.  The next year was “the year of yes.” Most of my friends and I had a really good time with that one.  Last year was a tough one, though, because it was the one where the “rubber meets the road” in the healing process, so to speak.  It included big highs, like driving my kids on a 10 day Yellowstone vacation and big lows of feeling trapped in a place (literally and figuratively) that I did not want to be stuck in.  This was when the desire to be independent, happy and whole met head-on with the hard work that it takes to get there.  Here is a little secret to wanting to be better than your past – you have to change how you deal with your present.   This process is ongoing, of course.    The ebbs and flows of growth have been a little less dramatic lately and perhaps I sit today at a new plateau of acceptance.   I am forever grateful for those that stood by me in the drudgery of this phase and humbled by the love.  So what’s next?

Nepo’s writing today is about a friend of his who gets excited about a painting project, gathers all of his supplies and tries open the door to the house with a gallon of opened red paint in each hand, a drop cloth under his arm, and a brush in his teeth.  When he almost has the door open, he falls  off-balance backwards and spills red paint all over himself.  Nepo reflects about the comical situation, “Amazingly, we all do this, whether with groceries or paint or with the stories we feel determined to share.  We do this with our love, with our sense of truth, even with our pain.  It’s such a simple thing, but in a moment of ego we refuse to put down what we carry in order to open the door.  Time and time again, we are offered the chance to truly learn this:  We cannot hold on to things and enter.  We must put down what we carry, open the door, and then take up only what we need to bring inside. ”

Well, amen to that.  I have been working on my ego and surrender for sometime now.  However, I’m still a slave to my head.   Many an uncomfortable feeling or  problem has been solved with the “thought first method” of my logical existence so, it’s not that I’m not grateful for the grounding thoughts and reflection skills.  It’s how I learn.   I  also put down a bunch of things so far to get through the doors I’ve walked through.  However, I would really, really like to connect continuously with other feelings besides anxiety, pain, frustration, and doubt.  Hold on to crazy for just a second…… I would like to lean into some joy.  Not the kind  of joy that is simple and soulful that I feel with my kids,  or the contentment of enjoying the beauty of a day.  I already appreciate that because I know that the sacred is the best stuff of this life.  Instead, this is me being a broken but blessed person asking for a bit more.  This is me saying to the fear in my head, “the heart you have is worthy enough to have a say in this life as well.”  This is a small whispering desire that I would like to lead more this year with an open heart than a thinking mind.  This is going to take me putting down some more things to get through that door, because sadness, bitterness, jaded outlooks, and regret have no place on the other side.   No, Joel Olsteen has not taken over my computer.  I just have a little curiosity of what is through the next doorway….and I’m ready to enter.

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The Courage of a Slave

“Courage! What makes a king out of a slave? Courage!” –  Cowardly Lion, The Wizard of Oz

In my break from writing, I’ve had frequent recurring thoughts cross my mind.  I write now to quiet one of the pesky themes that visit me while driving, trying to sleep, or in the middle of a yoga pose.  Sometimes, like a real writer, words won’t leave me alone until I release them on a page.  More often, I resist releasing them until I myself have mastered  what I’m passing along to others.  The more I navigate out of ‘broken,’ however, the more I realize that our issues are never really mastered.  They are battled.  There are days when I feel like a king, others a slave.   Both are equally wonderful, equally humbling.   It takes great courage to build yourself up to a king, even greater to bow as a slave.  It takes courage to soar, courage to humble oneself to what is more mighty, and courage to even give up that other ‘C’ word, control.

My intention has always been to share and connect with common themes of ourselves with this blog.  I know some wonderful people who are outwardly fighting a courageous battle, and even more that are battling the daily fight.   For those of you  that connected to my writing for the commonness of our humanity and the desire to grow, you drive me to write again…for you, I risk this.

To be continued…………

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Co-Dependent…Still No More

It has baffled me.  This past year, I watched some of my dearest friends go through tough times and I wondered, why do some of us face our greatest fears and are forced to work through them, often in public view?  I would ponder what our fears are, how people deal with them differently, who survives them with grace, who crawls to the finish line, who checks out….and on and on.  Want to know what I figured out, other than recognizing that I keep my mind thinking to prevent my heart from feeling?  I figured out that us controlling folk tend to attract each other.  We prop each other up and quote fantastic verses about surrender and turning it all over to God…and then we feel our way to the next dark crack in the floor of a pitch black room and begin filling up the holes with our desire to influence, impress, please….and control.

The last time I made my own goals?  Not really ever.  My goals were dependent where that friend was going to school, on his job, in conjunction with the location of the college campus, the distance of the downtown commute, or how much time my kids could sacrifice away from my wonderful mothering skills.  I knew me, but I didn’t really know me.  Sacrificing of oneself in order to build a reputation of solid, is not really that admirable, you know?  Deciding that you shall control your destiny and right your childhood is all grand and noble until you find yourself in a pile of ruin looking around thinking, “Wait a second..I tried harder than the next person, what the hell happened?”  Exactly.  I tried harder than the next person.  I dug in, I sacrificed, I quietly resented, and when it all fell apart, I blogged some honest feelings so I could be sure to back-end a solid reputation and wait for the accolades to come.  None of this was of conscious mind, of course, but all of it completely on a sliding scale of…if I can’t control one thing…maybe I can help this other aspect of my life until it makes me feel better about the thing that is so obviously beyond my control.

Yes, I know I am not alone in this, and I don’t care.  This four-year journey ends today.  I do not want to look back one more second at what happened last year or the year before that, or even yesterday.  I want to be done reflecting on the past, mind reading those in my present, and wishing for specific outcomes in my future.  This is what it looks like at the end of being broken open.  My feet have touched the bottom.  What does it look like from here forward?  I do not have a clue….and while I appreciate very much everyone’s support and kindness along this journey, I do not know if I can write about the pathway up from here.  I want my best self to be present…for me, my children and new relationships from here forward.  I have proven I can be honest, proven I can be real, proven I can change…to most in my world and few beyond that.  Big deal. What I am trying learn this moment is that I have to learn how to be present and to accept the grace and will of God….and the only one I have to prove it to is myself.  And so, love and tremendous gratitude to you all, always.

Until we meet again,

Stephanie

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