Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Year in Review

Every December, I reflect on the moments that have composed the last year of my life. A few snapshots/sentiments in "top five" format:

Top 5 Amazing Nature Moments 2011 
1. Christmas sunset in South Africa

2. Up close encounter with a leopard in Uganda
3. Lounging on beaches in Zanzibar
4. Walking beside week-old giraffes (that were already way taller than me) in Kenya
5. Watching abandoned two-day-old puppies grow into dogs that people were able to adopt!

Top 5 Strangest Issues to Problem Solve in 2011
Every day in Uganda I am asked to flex my adaptability muscles. Just a few of the year's odd predicaments:
1) Problem: How to get Harriet and Loveline out of a cement/metal barred room when an old lock completely jammed... twice.
[Solution: saw through the metal lock and pry the frame from the door, of course! Time 1: colleague's husband, time 2: locksmith from a nearby market]

2) Problem: How to complete online applications when the electricity was out for 4 days straight!
[Solution: charge multiple computers/batteries at school and then borrow from all my friends when my collection of charged tech ran out... thanks for the people who stepped in!]

3) Problem: How to identify the cause of a week without water/deal with a week with no water
[Solution: fill cans with water for toilets/washing on other people's properties and mooch showers from friends; call National Water repeatedly to hear that they have "men working on the fault"... they "have been working on it for one month"!! Finally, discover that there is a leaking pipe in the yard-- plug it with a maize cob and a plastic bag until a plumber can get there to fix it]

4) Problem: How to find an alternative route through Ugandan mountains when a huge rainstorm closed the main road and our map only included 4 (out of several dozen) villages along the path
[Solution: stop in every village and ask for directions... not an efficient or direct approach, but we got to our desired destination in the end]

5) Problem: How to deal with a stream of safari ants that crawled up my leg while we loaded the car in the dark (and were not discovered until several minutes later when they began biting my legs as I drove)
[Solution: slam the car into park; throw my pants off... on a public highway; and do a literal ants-in-my pants dance until I was free of the pesky buggers]

Five things I am proud of from 2011
Some of the experiences that stretched me the most this year:
1) teaching 25+ new books in one year and re-working curriculum to give kids a more balanced/rounded approach to literature!

2) encouraging students at ISU to respond to global issues

3) coping with the challenges of living in a developing country

4) taking the risk of giving up a job I enjoy to apply for graduate school

5) learning how to be a compassionate boss (it has been a whole new experience having numerous people completely dependant on me!)

Six 2011 moments of worlds converging/reunions!
I couldn't cut one, so this will have to be a top six list
1. Reunion in Toronto with friends who I worked with in Korea who are now scattered across three continents!
2. Sarah Yu (friends since 9th grade) sat in one of my ninth grade classes.... in Uganda! Then we had the chance to travel the country together! She was in East Africa for nearly a month.
3. Good friend from high school, Mori, hosted good friend from grad school, Lauren, and I in Seattle and Vancouver. He was an amazing host and it was fun to bring two worlds together.
4. Weekend in Kenya with friends who I worked with Korea (one flew in from the States, two families live in Kenya)
5. High school reunion for Gail's wedding. It was the first time we had all been in one place in years!
6. Trip to Hawaii with the entire immediate family! Great to spend time with all of us in one place distraction-free.

Five Aims for the New Year
One might call these resolutions.
1) Prioritize people. In the end, people are way more important than my ever-accumulating stack of marking.

2) Learn to be more comfortable being uncomfortable. Press my boundaries-- take a new class or try activities that I have little experience with.

3) Expand my global knowledge through travel, reading, conversations, etc. I have started a new mission, one that will undoubtedly take years to actualize, to read a text (fiction or non-fiction) about every country in the world. I have already read books from 43 nations... I hope to raise my count to at least 60 in the next twelve months!

4) Act on my beliefs:  serve regularly, seek solutions for problems, encourage, and love.

5) Seek balance. This is a consistent area for growth for me amidst the business of life!

Well, if you make it this far, I'm impressed. Happy New Year! 

Friday, December 16, 2011

Testing Navigational Skills

Is a flight that takes you southwest to Kigali, Rwanda, then northeast (over Uganda) to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, followed by a flight southwest to Johannesburg, and a final leg further west to Capetown classified as "excessively indirect"? [Note: departure time is 2 am, landing 6pm... clearly ideal travel times] Perhaps the amazing deal is not as amazing as it seemed at first...

Just remember: Christmas with penguins, Christmas with penguins, Christmas with penguins!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Fling, flung

To "fling" implies a sense of acceptance, a willingness to embrace suspension, an intentional movement beyond the secure present. At this juncture in life, I fling myself into the unknown once again. I propel myself into to the void of subjectivity and hope to fall on soft ground.

The realm of international education is a strange one. My friends in the U.S. maintain stability through long-term jobs, perhaps considering promotions or divergent tracks within reasonably contained spaces. Meanwhile, my friends who are international educators reconsider the gut-wrenching question of "where do I want to be in life?" annually as contracts are renewed and benefits revised.

Sometimes international educators chose to stay another year, two years, in the communities they have acclimated to. They learn a new language, refine curriculum, relish friendships, or explore community offerings. However, equally often, international educators eject themselves into the black hole of job fairs, resumes, and Skype interviews. They uproot themselves and restart their lives on new continents, in new cities, amidst new people. They transition towards familiar. Towards foreign. Towards challenging. Towards ease. Towards unknown.

All international educators know the dizziness of dropping, the uncertainty of parachutes as the world sprawls before you. I am now in the midst of that terrifying free fall stage: I have relinquished a position I love at The International School of Uganda and have released applications for doctoral programs to the whims of admission boards. No degree of grasping at air will reverse my trajectory or maintain my job vacancy until March. Instead, I can simply hope that one of the programs I have applied to will embrace me with my academic interests (the intersection of human rights and education).

When I went skydiving a few years ago I nearly fainted as we flew up to the 12,000 ft drop point. As I watched the trees below me shrink to miniscule dots, dozens of scenarios (many less than desirable) bombarded my mind. Fear clenched my hand tightly. However, when my tandem buddy shouted "Now!" and we propelled ourselves from the plane, a surprising sense of peace transcended. I can't honestly say that I have that degree of serenity yet. But I am eager to see which metaphorical pasture I land on. I have flung myself towards new opportunities and my free fall will be over before I know it.