Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Things Unknown

I am sitting in an armchair in my parents’ living room and contemplating the fact that by this time next week, I will be in Africa. I have read many country profiles, talked to friends who have lived in Kampala, browsed East Africa guides, perused a variety of articles related to security, read the info packet provided by my school, looked at pictures, and yet… I still do not really know what to expect.

Sample things I do not know: what I will eat on a daily basis, whether I will get a car, cook, gun (Peter’s idea), or dog, how fast (or slow) my internet will be, how I will get home from the airport or to my work, when (if) I will get the boxes I shipped from Korea, what my new coworkers and students will be like, who my friends will be, which church I will go to, how I will fare as an IB teacher, where I will have a chance to travel to, how I will avoid crazy terrorists, whether I will be able to find towels that are affordable, if I will love Uganda as much as I hope I will...

Insecurities, doubts, and fears tend to creep in when unknowns cloud the forefront of my mind. However, I know that this is part of God’s plan for me. And when I relax in that faith, I am pretty stinking excited.

Life is about to change. I am about to change. A week has never felt so short/long.

Monday, July 5, 2010

On Being American

As an American who spends the majority of the year abroad, I find my stance on nationalism to be ambivalent. So often I find myself flabbergasted by political decisions and ashamed of egocentric and ignorant actions Americans take that profoundly impact other nations/people. The U.S. does not have a positive face in much of the international sphere and, as I have learned more about social justice issues, I have grown more sympathetic towards foreign perceptions of us as a nation. Accordingly, I was a bit surprised when, sitting in an completely over-done parade of red, white, and blue in my American church on the 4th of July, I was hit with a profound wave of unfiltered warmth for my home country.

It was not the recitation of the pledge of allegiance or the bell rendition of “God Bless America” that got me. Instead it was some of the faces that I watched singing that choked me up: powdered, wrinkled, freckled, scarred, Chinese, Filipino, Caucasian, Democrat, Republican…even at a mostly middle/upper class church in a ritzy Californian suburb the diversity of the American people struck me. It reminded me of the things I love about the United States.

I love the plethora of cultures that comprise each community. I love that this is a nation where multiple religions, stances, affiliations, and interests are not only tolerated, but legally protected. I love the warmth of people. I love that no two Americans share the same experiences because this nation has so many sub-cultures and differences: geographical, philosophical, and political. I love that people can both protest and praise. I love that I grew up in a community where fear was not a prominent emotion. I love that individuality is encouraged.

My 4th of July celebrations were characteristic of my American experience. I went for a run through my parents' neighborhood and watched flags wave from manicured houses. I sang “Amazing Grace” at a highly patriotic church service where the Boy Scouts served as color guards. Then I joined one of my best friends for lunch at a vegetarian Indian restaurant for lunch and followed it with a Korean desert from a shopping center where everything was written in Hangul. I sat on my parents' couch and talked with them while I drank a diet coke with added vitamins (what could be more American than that?!?). Then I joined my brother and his friends (4 friends, 4 different ethnicities) for a San Francisco-style holiday celebration. We drank organic beer and ate arugula and artichoke pizza on the edge of pier. Then we watched fireworks over the bay amongst crowds of people representing every culture imaginable. We ended the night in a diner (because our organic meal #1 was not particularly satiating) before driving back to the South Bay. All-in-all, a good holiday—one in which I claimed my American identity proudly.