Archive for September, 2009

Extravagant Abundance

Sometimes it’s just too much, isn’t it?

You go out for a simple sunset and come back, your face glowing from your seat in the cleft of the rock.

Last Saturday, I flew along the Himalayas to get a glimpse of Mount Everest. I had no way of knowing what was coming. Who could expect it? Massive, towering, and majestic mountains surrounded the plane. Shane and Shane’s song Fringes was playing in my mind along with Rachmaninov’s Vespers. I kept thinking, “If these are the fringes, then who can stand to look on his face?” Perhaps that is why he covers us with his hand.

That evening, I watched the sun set over the same hills, barely blinking in an effort not to miss a single shadow or ray. A few times my eyes clenched shut on their own, as if to say, “We can’t take anymore in.” My heart pounded in my chest for over an hour as hills faded and reappeared, clouds broke apart, and the world grew dark.

I’m reading Annie Dillard’s book, “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek” currently, the inspiration for the brief thoughts shared here, and she talks about the tree with lights in it. About herself as a bell, once struck, that stands resounding. I feel my spirit reverberating from that night, trembling at the magnitude and depth of beauty. Overcome by it all.


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It’s one of those questions that I just choose not to ask here. It could very well be the straw that would break the camel’s back, and it just doesn’t help anyone, especially me.

But, for entertainment purposes and a bit of a stress relieving exercise, here are a few of my favorites.

Courtesy of Sharde Armstrong: Why can’t it just be hours ahead?  (Nepal is 9 hours and 45 minutes ahead of EST)

Why can’t the door lock?

Why are there guards in the outlets? Honestly, I have broken two pens by shoving them in outlets to shift the guards up so the plug will fit. One pen I was just not willing to lose and injested probably half a canister (or whatever measuring unit used for pens) of ink in the process of trying to straighten the tip. If I don’t use the pen, I am forced to brace myself against a wall or piece of furniture and usually end up breaking the guard so the plug won’t fit, and my hand is left with a permanent indent. (this is one I probaby shouldn’t have asked…my heart rate is up already)

Why do the buses insist on taking more people than there are seats or even standing room for?

Why do people point at zits on your face and ask if something bit you? (this is a favorite and completely true)

And, the most compelling and pertinent one of all, why do skittles cost $3 a bag?

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Ignorance is, without a doubt, bliss.

I’m not really what you’d call a detail-oriented person. I rarely knew what my grades were in college. I never asked what my salary was for any job. (those might be better characterized as irresponsible) The basic facts are all I look for. Am I passing and doing my best? Yes. Am I getting some form of payment? Yes. Am I going to Nepal on a train? Yes. The questions regarding, how long is this train ride, what class are we in, how are we getting from the border to Kathmandu…those are questions I just don’t think to ask because I really don’t care. To me, the most important thing is that I’m going.

So, Saturday, 12 September, I board a train at 3:30pm. Sometime after 9:30 am on Sunday, 13 September, I get off. 18 hours on a train, and I really, truly loved almost every minute of it. Even going to the bathroom. This might be oversharing a bit, but let’s just go on a little imaginary adventure together. You open the door to…nothing. A hole in the floor (literally) with little foot markers and a handle on the wall. Good luck to me. Those are moments when you think to yourself, “Well….?” and lock the door behind you.

I didn’t sleep much because I had overpacked and my person-sized hiking backpack had to fit on my bunk with me to prevent any sneaky hands from exploring its contents. Thankfully, even without much sleep, I woke up in a good mood, thinking, “Yes. Today I’m turning 24, and I’m on a train to Nepal. Life is as it should be.” If I get the chance, I am definitely traveling by train again.

Then, Smita asks, “How would you like to cross the border? By cart, or by auto?” First of all, that I am even asked, “How would you like to cross the border?” is fantastic. That a horse drawn carriage (cart) is an option makes me believe in miracles. We go by cart. An hour and a half later, we get off. Now, horse drawn carriages are beautiful and wonderful, horse drawn carts across the Nepal border are…interesting. Still, I think I would do it again if I could go back, but maybe with an air conditioner strapped to the back and air ventilation masks for the dust.

After waiting for the formal repatriation process of four of our clients (so incredibly exciting and beautiful to be a part of), we all pile into a van to begin our drive to Kathmandu. This drive… was unlike anything I have ever experienced. We literally wound our way up, around, and through the mountains of Nepal. It was spectacularly beautiful. It was also incredibly bouncy. A few times I woke up to discover that my pillow had slipped down and my head was repeatedly banging against the window handle (the engineer clearly designed this with unconscious passengers in mind). I took tons of pictures, 99 percent of which didn’t turn out, but I have so many beautiful images saved in my mind. I can’t really express how breathtaking it was. All 8 hours of it.

I was optimistic, intially, thinking along with the others that we might reach in 4 hours, but the road was a dirt road in many places and you don’t just speed around bends with buses coming the other direction. A little more than half-way through I said something like, “I would come this way again,” which, isn’t entirely true this side of the experience. I definitely want to drive through those mountains again someday, just preferably on a motorcycle with the intent to stop 4 times over night along the way. It was so beautiful, even at night. The sky was so dark you couldn’t differentiate between sky and mountain, so it felt like the stars extended all the way to earth. In one place, the valley literally  looked like a sea of stars…

I can’t tell if it’s hardest to be alone during moments of incredible beauty or pain. Sometimes I see something so funny or beautiful or strange, and I want so badly to poke someone and point, but there’s no one to poke. I think that’s when I notice my aloneness the most, but it is most painful when I see something weighty and don’t know how to process it.

Ohhh, anyway. All in all, yesterday was a ridiculous and fantastic birthday. I did so many things I never thought I’d do, and lived to tell about each of them. I am more and more thankful for this adventure the Lord is taking me  on with each day that passes. Being alone is my reality right now, but he has shown himself to be so faithful in it. I am blessed beyond measure. Except for being almost a quarter of a century old! Seriously, where did life go? I almost need the hand rail to go up steps.

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This whole idea of weight…

It’s been on my mind for awhile now. I’ve had numerous conversations with people about it, and still, I know I’m missing something. 

There are dark and horrible realities in our world, and each day we are faced with their presence. We can either look, recoil in horror, and move on, or we can somehow, deep in ourselves, be changed. The pattern of our life and focus of our thoughts can reflect that reality back to us.

I prefer not to live life this way. I mean, theoretically, yes. I want to be changed by the true suffering of those around me. Theoretically, I want to carry my neighbor’s burdens, but isn’t it so much nicer not to? It’s so much nicer to lay flat on my back with the air conditioning on and watch a comedy about a man who thinks he’s an elf. In my mind, I’ve related this experience, of I guess extreme coping, to a hang nail. I occasionally (honestly) bite my nails, and the pain of a hang nail is always so acute and severe that I can’t imagine my finger ever feeling normal. What is it like not to feel my heartbeat in my index finger? But, as I’m sure you’ve all had hang nails, it hurts for a day or two, but soon you forget you even had it, until maybe you hit that finger against something and expect the hang nail to take your breath away. You probably never notice the change. 

I have seen some horrible and tragic things in my life. I’ve seen a young woman dying of AIDS. I have seen small children with the bloated stomachs and flies in their eyes. I have seen rats crawling into the home of a young family that lives on the street where I live. I’ve seen the burning hulk of a truck whose driver was murdered by an angry mob.  And others. And of what I haven’t seen, I have heard. In these moments of being confronted with suffering, darkness, and pain, I think, “I can never be the same. How can I live in a world where this happens and live as I have?” Then, the car pulls away, the movie ends, or I fly home and everything is the same.

Last night, I watched Blood Diamond for the first time. It was just another moment in a series of brief encounters with darkness, but I have determined not to come away unscathed. I have let myself move on too easily in the past. I have hardened my heart and passed to the other side of the road. 

I remember coming back from Nigeria and wondering how I could ever be normal, how I could ever slip back into life knowing what I knew and remembering what I’d seen. But it was too difficult to traverse those waters of living in one world and remembering another. I distinctly remember this deep conviction to honor the memory of the people I’d met through my life back home, but it was too much. Too complicated.

Do you experience this disconnect? We watch these movies like Blood Diamond, Hotel Rwanda, The Constant Gardener, and others. They are fiction but what they are depicting is true. People are dying in our world. People are starving to death. Children are being sold and raped. I hate to say these things, I know they are harsh and heavy, but isn’t that exactly what they should be? They should be sharp enough to cut us. They are real enough burdens to the people carrying them, so why not to me? 

I’m in the middle of reading this article by Tim Keller, and he writes powerfully about our call to bear one another’s burdens. He says, roughly, if we can meet the needs of the people around us with no sacrifice on our part, then how are we bearing our neighbor’s burdens? We bear no burden and feel no weight.

Oh, it is so difficult. I don’t know if this is striking a chord with you. This year abroad, this grand adventure, is something I want to be able to share with you. I raise these questions because I know I’m not the only one asking them. I am so blessed to be here, in this crowded city, with poverty, need and destitution reaching out to me at every corner. I cannot block it out if I tried, and I do. This is the most basic challenge Christ gave us. To love one another. It always seemed so easy, so simple, so black and white. But I think he knew how grey it was.

It really is in the moments when you are down in the mud trying to work this whole idea out in the flesh that you have the chance to be changed. It is worthwhile precisely because it is difficult. It is really a treasure at the source. Loving God and loving his people is work. Not just giving money to charities (although that is a beautiful gift), but in the grocery store, at the restaurant, the homeless person on the side walk. Seeing the deeper need for connection and love and being willing to sacrifice to give it. How completely awkward to stop and try to talk to a person begging on the side walk? For both of us, it’s awkward. Imagine how they feel. But it isn’t about just getting past them or doing the least, but loving. I should be different because of the people I meet, and the only way for that to happen is for me to know them, to get some of their issues and dirt into my heart, to carry it with me. That doesn’t happen if I don’t stop to let it.

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That was one of my favorite things to say in Nigeria. “Kai!” Translated roughly, “Oh my soul.” Ok, not really, more like, “Oh my!” or “really?!” Today was just that day, you know? Alone in my little aftercare room for most of it, pounding away at the chaos piling up on my desk, and then the chicken puffs.

Yes. I am the party planning committee. I’m going to be out of town for the next party, so I had to order the food in advance. I call up Bakes n’ Cakes (love it) and inquire after their delightful chicken puffs. I am told to call another number to place orders. (One note about life here, everyone has a very specific job and it is just not possible to step out of that role and into another, even if it’s something as small as the aisle you patrol in the grocery store) I call this number, and the kind man that answered and I immediately lost one another.

“Sir, I am  wondering about your chicken puffs. On the first page of the menu, under packages, it says that chicken puffs are Rs. 75, but on the second page they are only Rs. 20. Are the chicken puffs in the package larger or do you get more than one?” I have no idea what he says back. “Sir, I am wondering how many chicken puffs in a chicken puff package?” Again, an unclear response. “Sir, do you speak English? I’m sorry, I don’t speak Bengla. I need to talk with someone who speaks English.” Long pause. “Hello?” “Hello, Ma’am” (same voice) “Hello, sir. I need to talk to someone else. Is there someone else there?” Long pause. “Hello?” “Hello, Ma’am” (same voice) “Ok, sir, I am wondering, how many chicken puffs in the chicken puff package?”

At this point, I am on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I am almost crying out of frustration, then the grace of God intervenes, and I actually hear what I am saying. I am practically shouting “chicken puff package” into the phone. It’s just one of the most ridiculous conversations I’ve ever had. So, thankfully, I start laughing instead of crying. “Sir, I will have to call you back.” I go get my new friend Rohit, he serves as translator, and we’re set to go for 25 chicken puffs next Thursday. They’ll deliver.

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So apparently…

There is this whole season called monsoon. I’ve heard rumors. Watched videos about it, even. But, still, I leave my chackos and umbrella at the office. I won’t need them. I haven’t used them in weeks. As my defenses dropped, the flood gates opened. Yesterday, I think it rained enough to water the entire midwest for a year. I woke up, it was raining. I did yoga, it was raining. I got out of the shower, it was raining. I went shopping, it was raining. I went home in the rain, and amazingly, back OUT into the rain. Even without my umbrella, at least the second time out I was smart enough to grab my rain jacket, just not my bright yellow boots. Which, if they accomplish nothing else, they make me smile. I got in a bus to go meet my friend David, another intern here. A ride that is usually 10 minutes, 15 at the most, took me 45 minutes. 30 of which, I was the conduit for a stream of water running from the roof to the floor. It took me that long to think, “Hey, maybe I should stand up.” For that, I can’t really blame the bus, just conditioned hopelessness. 

Finally, I met up with David, we realized our plans had changed and proceeded to walk for several blocks to a restaurant. This is a really nice restaurant, and we walked in soaked to the bone. My pant legs were stuck to my body, and my hair was rough, to put it mildly. After dinner, we had to venture back out into the rain, getting soaked all over again. We grabbed some coffee, played some speed scrabble, and then headed home. By the time we started back, the sewers were full of water, so it was all backing up into the streets again. Now, there wasn’t anything floating, but still. “Don’t think about it” was my mantra as we waded through the water, and also as I stood in ankle deep water for 10 minutes waiting for a bus. I wanted to take a taxi, but I only had Rs.6. (That is a very stupid maneuver and if you are ever in a foreign city, you should always have enough for a taxi.) Anyway, this story is completely pointless. The end is this. I arrived home wet, just like I went out. I am learning though. I wore the rain jacket today, and I’m getting my umbrella from the office tomorrow.

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Just see it there

I posted a conversation I had with a man on the phone the other day on my Facebook. I was trying to purchase a plane ticket, but couldn’t see the price on the webpage (because it wasn’t there). He just kept insisting it was there. This is a brief excerpt of our conversation:

Phone guy: “Please, Ma’am, just look.” Me: “Sir, I am looking.” PG: “Please, Ma’am, at the bottom of the page, I assure you it is there, please, look.” Me: “Sir, I am looking. It isn’t there.” PG: “Please, Ma’am, just see it there.” Me: “Sir, I promise you, I am looking and it isn’t there.” PG: “Please, Ma’am, just look, you will find it there.” Me:”Sir, can you just tell me what it says, and I’ll believe you?”
While slightly frustrating in more of a bewildering way, it was one of the funniest interactions I’ve had since being here. I think it helped that someone was in the room, hearing only my side of the conversation. It was good to be able to laugh about it at the end.
When something frustrating or inconvenient happens, I’ve been trying to find ways to just laugh at it, even if just at myself for caring so much. I get ALL worked up because the bus didn’t drop me off near my building. (I mean, really, I walked nearly a mile to get home) I was mumbling to myself about it, and then this thought came, “Seriously, Kari? You sit all day. You can handle a ten minute walk.” I hope the Lord continues to interject his truth into my mind. I would hate to waste one minute of my time here frustrated and hating the world. Already, I’ve been here 8 weeks. Two of my twelve months. It’s flying by.

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