Living My Questions

Last October, I finished reading James Orbinski’s An Imperfect Offering, which took a hard look at humanitarianism and politics. Orbinski’s job as head of Doctors Without Borders and his founding of Dignitas International exposed him to the type of preventable human suffering that raises a mountain of questions surrounding why things happen and how can they be stopped. I thought that Ghana would begin to answer my questions about the developing world, international education, and peace studies. However, for every potential answer I stumble upon, I am faced with many more questions. As easy as it may seem to pose a solution, there are no easy answers to the complexity of human life. I have found, though, that the simplest think I can do is continue to work and confront those tough questions as they come along. Orbinski’s narrative introduced me to a phrase I have come to embrace: “I can live my questions.”

Orbinski talks about how he can change his own life and practices to enable the ideology that he believes in to become embedded in his daily life. I think that’s what it’s about—knowing that even though the answers are hard, there is so much to learn when you throw yourself headfirst into the scene. Seeking answers myself is the one thing I know I want to continue to do in life. Oftentimes in devotionals, George mentions how he hopes that we can all find purpose and meaning in every encounter we have. There is something to be found in the simplest of tasks, the shortest of encounters, and the minutest details. Perhaps George speaks of adding puzzle pieces to the unfinished picture.

This week I have been blessed with many victories after months of sometimes, honestly, not being filled with as much hope or optimist each day because I did not know if I would be able to successfully implement my program because of various barriers and challenges. However, each day I still had faith, even if it was as small as a mustard seed. And if it is as small as the mustard seed, I know from a familiar story that I can watch as a large tree bursts through the ground. And each week I am grateful for even the smallest of victories.

Today was a big one though. I successfully launched the start of my program at my pilot school of Edbek Academy. I arranged for a specialist on child abuse to come in and speak to all of the teachers. I believed this needed to happen before I began my own work because I do not want to talk about topics with the kids without letting the teachers know what those topics will be about, and giving them information themselves. Because if the students bring new questions to the table because of the program, I want the teachers to know where it might come from, and it is easier to reach the teachers for now than it is the parents. The teachers were very receptive, asked insightful questions, and were excited about the program. They even decided to get together and create a specific plan for themselves as to what to do to deal with situations of child abuse that might arise. My heart soared at this news. And I was especially filled with optimism when one of the teachers told me that he felt almost embarrassed to sit there through the training because he knows that he is guilt of sometimes not listening to the students or blaming them before asking the questions of why they may be behaving a certain way. To recognize that means that people are open to change and are ready to talk about hard topics.

This all reminds me of the time that my friend Richard Coffin and myself went to introduce ourselves to a speaker after one of our last classes in David Gergen’s “Becoming a Leader” course. As we turned to leave, the speaker looked us dead in the eyes and said, “Don’t sell out. Don’t you ever sell out.” I hope one day I can tell her that I always sought genuine paths. The questions are hard, and the answers are few and far between, but giving up…well, that is not something the world can afford all the optimists out there to do.

Across the Universe

Delia-I packed some of my favorite movies.

Across the Universe– Because that’s how far away I feel you are sometimes.

-Sara Willis

Last month I received a care package from my dear friend Sara Willis, and one of the sets she had placed inside the box were six DVDs of movies she really liked. She had written me a letter as well, explaining why she had included each one, and of all the descriptions in her letter the one about Across the Universe has stuck with me. Because that’s how far away I feel I am sometimes too.

For my fellowship I had to write 5-6 pages of a mid-term report, letting the committee know what I have been up to and how I feel that my time has impacted me. That was a lot to get into in just those few pages. However, it was incredibly rewarding to have to sit and recall everything that had happened during my first four months in Ghana and to think about what has indeed not just happened with my project but with myself as well. And in thinking about my first four months, I have realized that my hopes have been affirmed that even when I feel as though I am across the universe, I can handle it. Sometimes I don’t handle it as well as I would like, but I still manage.

I used to wish that I could split myself up into multiple versions of myself and I could send those selves off to all the people I wanted to be near or the places I wanted to be at the moment. But I have come to realize over the years that doing that would not truly help me. We can’t always be where we want to be, when we want to be there, and whom we want to be with. During college, when I was at school I would wish I could be home for special celebrations or just on a tough day, but when I was home, I would miss my friends from school and Boston. It causes an imbalance in emotions too—sadness, fights, anger, confusion—all because we dread when a loved one will be beyond an arms length away again.

There’s always something or someone to be missed. And I revisit this topic in my blog often, because it is one of the most relevant ones to my year here in Ghana.  I often have conversations regarding this idea with my friend Mel, who has become my closest confidante for talking about these matters, since she too lives abroad. We ponder the solutions behind learning to truly live within the moment, with where you are and what is around you, instead of constantly feeling our hearts and mind elsewhere. There are many times in Ghana that I feel that I have gotten this solution right, but there are still those times when I feel like a lasting solution will always evade me. I think the true answer is that it is an ongoing process.

So even though I may feel as though I am far across the universe sometimes, I will make my journey back across to the other side in due time. In the meantime, I am content to know that across various parts of my life’s universe, there is still one instrument that can make its way at light speed across space and time—the heart. And it is filled with all the love and best wishes from the ones who sends it out to span the distance.

Mountain Hideouts and the End of Vacation

Instead of staying right in Geneva, we decided to stay about 20 minutes outside the city in the small town of Divonne-les-Bains, which is at the foot of a range of mountains that include Mont Blanc and is famous for its thermal baths. It was a charming small town, and it was nice to stay in an apartment style complex and cook our meals. Our time in Geneva was wonderful as well. The city is clean and chiseled beautifully into the mountains and lake around it. Lake Geneva’s jet spray is stupendous and I could not stop marveling at how high it was. My dad and I climbed up to St. Peter’s Cathedral and took panoramic shots of the city. And we spent a wonderful time strolling along, reading the words and viewing the etchings at the Reformation Wall. The mountain air did wonders for me and just being surrounded by the picturesque snow capped mountain peaks put an instant smile on my face. I also appreciated taking so many trains, as I have not had a chance to get on one of the newer European trains in awhile, and the train we took in Bulgaria was definitely more of an old school one.

When we returned to Paris for the last few days it was still a wonderful time, but I could not help but feel sad that vacation was coming to an end. I spent some of the best days I have spent during those 16 days with Caitlin and my parents and Scott, I just regret that the time went by so fast. I was excited to return to Ghana and move into my own place, but it is always hard to say goodbye to such familiar faces who know me so well. For now I must say that I will see you in May, Mom, Dad, and Scott. It was a trip to remember fondly forever.

Dad and I strolling the streets of Geneva
Incredible jet spray on Lake Geneva
Reformation Wall
Now THIS is chess

Sunshine on the Mediterranean

Thank goodness for the Mediterranean Sea and the warmer weather it brought with it. Nice and Monaco were much warmer than the other places I went to with my parents and Scott, and we even got to shed our coats in favor of heavy sweaters. And the sun shone brightly on the days we were there and our hotel was right along the seaport outside of Nice at Port Saint Laurent. So in the mornings we would get up and walk along the pier, taking in the fresh scents from the restaurant and choosing one at random to eat at.

Lunch on the pier
Mom at our hotel in Port Laurent
The Mediterranean

Nice was a beautiful town, and we spent most of our time exploring the Old Town. One of the things I love best about European cities is the plazas and squares that they have, usually accompanied by statues and picturesque fountains. Nice was no exception. I am always the adventurous type, up for long hikes and hard finds, and I was especially excited to climb the steps all the way to the top of this high hill to see the Chateau and anything else that was up there. I made Scott come with me, and later my parents, although Scott’s bad knee definitely took the brunt of the trip. Pretending to be small children, Scott and I thought it would be fun to run up all the steps to the top, but as we got halfway up, we quickly realized that we were passed the age where that seems entirely fun. It was a trek worth it though as we were rewarded with amazing panoramas of the city, an ornate cemetery, the likes I have never laid eyes on, a waterfall, and a few caves.

Cote d'Azur
Exploring caves
Under the waterfall
The start of the endless stairs

My favorite story from the Mediterranean is about a bus driver, however, and I think at least my brother would agree. We were trying to figure out which bus would get us back to Port Laurent and I asked a bus driver who was driving a bus number we had taken into the city if he was going that way. He told me that he was at the end of his route and if I wanted to get the right bus I would have to walk along the nearby park and then cross over onto the right side at the end. We followed his directions, and when we got to the point, I saw that there was indeed the correct bus number there and that the driver was the driver I had just spoken to! He smiled and let us on, and we could not stop laughing as we realized he basically told us directions on how to get to him and where he would be when he turned the bus around. Luckily we made it in time.

We spent Old Years Night, as my parents call it, and most of the day in Monte Carlo, Monaco. Monaco is every bit as glamorous as I thought it would be. The moment you enter the city-country, everything is posh. The buildings look newly renovated and are masterfully designed. The gardens are lush and green. The people are stylish. Everything screams the rich and famous. And Le Casino was no exception. In front of the famous casino were the best cars money can buy from Aston Martins to Lamborghinis and everything else on the spectrum. Scott and I paid the cover price to get inside the casino, but you are not allowed to take photographs inside. This made me sad; as the casino was one of the most gorgeous places I had ever been to. Scott and I tried our luck at the slot machines for some time, and then we made our way to the ballroom where we enjoyed a nice glass of wine before checking out the games tables on the outside patio deck. All of us later went to the Christmas village that was set up on the port, and Scott and I took a long ride on a ferris wheel above the waters. Such a small place packs quite a bang.

Fancy cars outside the casino
Scott and I before going inside to gamble
Group shot in the square in Monte Carlo
Trying to appear glamorous
On the ferris wheel above the water
Monte Carlo at night

A Parisian Winter

I had only ever been to Paris during the height of summer, but I had always heard that it is a beautiful city during the winter. And even though Ghana has made me react like a baby to cold weather, I must say that the Parisian winter—when it is not raining—is a wonderful time to see the city.

I love Paris. I love its architecture, its vibe, its romance. It was the perfect place to rendezvous with my parents and my brother Scott, who were meeting me after my trip with Caitlin for travels to Paris, Nice, Monaco, and Geneva. Paris started our trip and it ended our trip, as we spent two more days in the city before we all departed to our respective continents, and we have many memorable moments from our time there. I am sure my parents will never forget their lunch at Le Jules Verne—the restaurant that sits atop the Eiffel Tower. I will never forget getting to go up an elevator into the tower successfully on this third trip to the city. My mom and I got separated from Scott and my dad, and we ended up enjoying the marvelous works at the Louvre in two separate groups. I got to watch movies with my mom like we used to do when I was home, and Scott and I bantered just the same as well. I even got to see my good college friend Eli, who is working at a law firm in the city. It was great to see how well he was doing and exchange stories about our lives abroad.

Mom and I under the Eiffel Tower and my umbrella
Parisian Icon
Mom and Dad at their lunch at Le Jules Verne in the Eiffel Tower
Yummy first Parisian dinner
At Luxembourg Gardens
Posing by the pyramid entrance to the Louvre
Scott and I pretending to be statues in front of the Louvre
smallest elevator EVER


I think my favorite moment in Paris though was walking along the Seine River with them all, watching the boats glide along the river with Notre Dame framing the skyline and the souvenir stands lining the sidewalk. It is, after all, a city of love, and I was with some of the people I love the most.

Grey skies over the SeineMom and I along the Seine
Mom and I along the Seine

 

How Selçuk Captured My Heart

For all the crazy adventure that Bulgaria was, the overnight trip that Caitlin and I took to the town of Selçuk was probably as perfect as short trips come. We chose Selçuk because it was easy to access via a short 45-minute flight to Izmir. It was also walking distance from the ancient Roman ruins of Ephesus and the Temple of Artemis. It has always been important to me when I visit a new place to get out of the city setting and into the smaller towns, which is where I argue the heart of a country lies. Maybe I’m just bias because I myself am from the country. Either way the warmth of the people of Selçuk and the amazing scenes we saw captured my heart for Turkey forever.

We stayed at this wonderfully rustic hotel with the best heating system we probably experienced the entire trip. The hotel was also the site of the first earthquake Caitlin and I had ever experienced in our life. It happened one morning as we were still lying in bed, convincing ourselves that we had lots of time to get ready. We heard a low rumbling and our beds slightly shook. We laughed it off as rowdy downstairs neighbors. Then as we were in the hotel lobby about to set out for the day the entire ground beneath us started to shake and the rumble was louder. The hotel owner confirmed that it was indeed an earthquake and told us we should all go outside in case a larger one followed. Barring the fact that Turkey had a large earthquake just last year, it was still an interesting experience in its own way.

Caitlin and I decided to walk the 25 minutes to Ephesus instead of catching a cab. It was a beautiful walk and along the way we saw St. John’s Basilica, which is where John wrote his Gospel and is supposedly buried, as well as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World—the Temple of Artemis. I love history, as most people who know me realize fast, and seeing one of the ancient wonders was something I truly appreciated. While we were there, we met a German traveler who went from Turkish town to Turkish town, selling his poetry to try and make a living. He gave us each a postcard with one of his poems in English on the back for free, as he found in us a type of kindred traveling spirit.

The Temple of Artemis
The Byzantine fortress and St. John's Basilica are in the background
Beautiful mandarin trees were all along our path to Ephesus

Ephesus was a wondrous site to behold, and was beyond anything that I had seen even in Rome itself. It was so well preserved and so big it took us quite some time to wind our way through the maze of the city. It was great to be able to climb into things as well and really feel like we were in the Ancient Roman Empire. At the end of our time there we decided to hire a taxi to take us all the way up into the mountain to the Virgin Mary House. Here is where Mary, the mother of Jesus, supposedly spent the remainder of her time on earth. It is a lovely earthen home, covered in ivy, and inside you can say a prayer and light a candle for a loved one. I lit my candle for someone special I know who is going through a rough medical time. That night, as we ate a feast at a tiny hole in the wall restaurant that has managed to win many travel awards, I thought to myself what a truly lovely day it was.

Entrance to the ruins at Ephesus
My favorite part of Ephesus--the market road
The House of the Virgin Mary

In Selçuk, Caitlin and I also became friends with two carpet salesmen—one named Enis and the other who Caitlin and I never quite captured his name, but who is a champion oil wrestler (it is just what it sounds like—men in leather shorts covered from top to bottom in oil, wrestling) and who we both developed a travel crush on because he was the best. On our last morning in the area he took time off work to take us to the small Greek mountain village of Sirinçe. All the streets were a steep walk, but it was very picturesque and we had the best wine tasting I have ever been to. The winning flavor in my opinion was black mulberry. Enis has books upon books of travelers he has met who have written a goodbye note to him, and Caitlin and I added our names to the books, promising to one day return to this wondrous town.

With Enis, the carpet seller and traveler extraordinnaire
View of Sirinçe from atop a street
With our oil wrestling champion tour guide
Etches of Christianity survive in many places in Turkey
Wine tasting--Caitlin finally found a wine she loved 🙂

Dinner in Asia, Dessert in Europe

I can’t say anything about Istanbul without first saying that I could not have picked a better individual to spend my first Christmas away from home with than one of my closest friends, Caitlin Orfeo. Through every adventure we had, it was nothing but enjoyable to have her around. Istanbul was a beautiful city, although with many uphills. The hostel we stayed had a phenomenal view of the Ayasofya from its rooftop, and at night it was a wondrous site to behold.

Our first full day in Istanbul it rained and rained and it was cold and very windy and I was scared it would ruin our image of the city forever. However, the days got brighter and warmer after that and I think going to the waterside the next day with the sun out and shining made me instantly fall in love with the city. What other city can you see something so breathtaking and full of history no matter where you are standing and looking? It also really amazes me that half of Istanbul is on another continent. One evening Caitlin and I went over to the Asian side via ferry to have dinner with a friend of mine, Leo. We joked when we got back and went for scrumptious dessert that only in Istanbul could you have dinner in Asia then dessert in Europe.

The sleepy shutter of my camera opening to me at the palace
Topkapi Palace
A glow inside the Ayasofya

By the waterside between the Golden Horn and Bosphorus
with Galata Tower in the distance
A bird over the New Mosque
On Christmas morning--on the steps of the New Mosque
Christmas drink with Bruce

Our hostel owners were very nice and even trusted us enough to walk their dog. The main owner took a special liking to us—or me, as Caitlin would argue—and took us out for breakfast on the riverfront to see some sites that tourists usually don’t see because it’s out of the main attraction area, and he even gave us a room upgrade. It was an easy place to meet people too and we picked up a crew of two more people for our lovely Christmas dinner. One was our friend Bruce we met on a train bound from Bulgaria, and the other was a guy David we met who was traveling by himself. No one should spend Christmas dinner alone was our philosophy. We also had grabbed a Christmas drink with Bruce at an English pub decorated with laughing Santas. Bruce is probably one of the most good-natured people I have ever met, and I kept thinking that he was ‘so Scottish.’ It was also nice on the trip to see my friend Aylin from college, who took Caitlin and I to the posh neighborhoods in Istanbul.

I think what I love most about Istanbul is that the old and the new reside in peace with each other and seem to seamlessly intertwine their lives. It’s hard to find that in today’s world in which old and new seem forever at odds with one another. Maybe Istanbul knows the answers to those battles, and we should take the time to study it in earnest.

From my obsession with their apple tea, bad pickup lines geared towards black people (constant use of ‘I like the chocolate one’), hidden treasures, great shopping, and too many memories to count,  I know I want to return one day myself.