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I guess I’m sort of panicking right now. There’s no emergency, at least not in my life, but I have too much energy and not enough structure – panic ensues. So if it’s not an emergency, what is going on?

You could call it an identity crisis, or maybe a crisis of faith–but not the bad kind. No, this is the crisis where you wake up and don’t recognize yourself in the mirror–because you haven’t seen yourself as the person you want to be in a long time. Today’s reflection isn’t who I was yesterday, but that’s a peachy step in the right direction.

This is only a crisis insofar as I wasn’t expecting it, and it’s a lot to get hit with early in the morning–but since I’m here, I’m going to run with it for as long as I can.

So who do I want to be? The majority of that answer I’ll leave up to fate and my impending track record, but what I do know is that I want to read, to write, to learn, to exercise, and to make.

I want to read. It’s been years since I’ve really read a book for leisure. Hell, it’s been a while since I’ve done anything for leisure, so let’s change that and start with reading. Now, since a large part of what I do is “information processing”, I read–but it’s all ops info, logistics, strategy, and buzzwords. Sure, I see pieces of fiction occasionally, but that’s usually neither fun nor intentional. No, I want to read.

Forget Webster’s, here’s my dictionary definition:

reading (verb): making the conscious, dedicated effort to lose yourself and your world in the pages of someone else’s grand reality. It’s the commitment of all your emotional capacities to love, hate and fear, to sympathize, to rage, to despair, and more, and that commitment is made before you even crack the spine on this pocket universe. Reading is exhausting, liberating, and–if done well on the part of all involved–truly haunting.

This is what I want for myself–to be possessed by the knowledge and passions of these undying pocket universes.

I want to write. Sure, I can regurgitate ink well enough to put food on the table, but that’s an emotional net-zero. No, true writing is a beautiful, terrifying form of art powerful enough that the mere passing thought of what I believe it can do to my soul is unspeakable; writing is, ultimately, indescribable in its own medium. But. I want to contribute to my worlds, the reality in which we live and the creative one locked in my head, locked behind a previous inability to put words on the damn page. I want to give more of me than just myself, I want to give my mind.

I want to learn, and I want to exercise. Are these two sides of the same coin: theory, and practice? Or are they one and the same–raging at the unknown until it reveals itself? For me, exercise is about becoming fit by pushing my physical boundaries as far as possible. Why should the same not apply to my mind?

Finally, I want to make, but that is as far as I’ve felt out on the matter. Are there specific, tangible things I want to make? Yes, more than I can count, and there’s the trick. It’s not that I have one small thing trying to claw its way into existence; it’s that I have these flocks of ideas I’ve just been sitting on for years. I want to make, not as a constructive act, but as the destruction of my barriers, of my fears and my meandering laziness. I want to “make” as opposed to “wait.”

———-

What does this mean for “We’ll See”?

I’m not going to make any wide-sweeping promises (again), but you will see activity here and on the other blogs (including a couple special ones) for as long as this streak lasts. I’ll be trying new things, and there will be more of a story to tell. Here’s to hoping that story makes it onto the page.

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As it stands at the time of posting:

 

Dramatis Personae

 

These are the people whose names and faces I remember so far. Keep in mind that I’m horrible at guessing ages in general, and that everyone is generally nice (if not friendly). MOPC = method of physical contact, which almost every boy has, and each one’s is unique.

Moses – He’s called the actor because he is so outgoing and dramatic, and a really nice guy.; he’s our “secret weapon” when it comes to taxis because he always manages to negotiate a lower price, and enjoys doing so. He’s one of the older kids, but I’m not sure how old. I think that I’m going to become good friends with him and his brother Daniel. MOPC is to continually do the traditional handshake, easily twenty times in a row.

Daniel – Moses’ brother, who looks like, and acts like, Chris Rock; I don’t even know if he knows who that is. When I first met him he was wearing a button-up shirt that got switched inside-out a few times during the day, just randomly. He so far has needed help with angles, but he does understand them fairly well. No  MOPC I can recognize.

JohnBu – One of the smaller kids who always wants to be carried (MOPC), but is old enough to walk. He whines a lot, and the other boys hit him, in a sort of chicken-and-egg cycle. Very wiry.

Frank – a smaller kid, but a little disconcerting; he has the build of a midget (and is surprisingly stout for his age) and the face of a 26-year-old. Aggressive when it comes to things that he wants. I found out later that he has dwarfism, and is actually ten but looks to be about five. He also wants to be carried all the time (MOPC).

Edward – an older boy who my friend sponsored, now a sophomore in high school. Probably the calmest, friendliest person I’ve met so far, he really likes math and especially business.

Awuly – probably about ten, he has a habit of hanging off me and putting himself in a headlock that honestly cannot be comfortable (MOPC). He comes up to my side, takes my arm and puts it around his head (which is hip-level for me), similar to what would happen if he hugged me and I actually put my arm around him – but then he sticks my arm like it would be if I had my hand in my pocket, then hugs me as tightly as possible. If you manage to find a partner to try this with, you’ll find that this exerts a surprising amount of crushing power. The weird thin is that he’s very deliberate about this whole ordeal, and I do my best to avoid it.

Abraham Lincoln – yep. In the flesh; of a young Ghanaian boy, specifically. He’s supposedly smart, but very violent and demanding. He loves to be read to even though he never pays attention. MOPC is to either lay across my lap, or force me to restrain him while he tries to maul this one other boy whose name I don’t know.

Leon – I’m not sure what his whole story is, but he’s not in school and doesn’t have a job. He doesn’t stay at the orphanage, but spends his free time there (all day, every day). He was separated from his parents when his papers got stolen and is looking for some kind of work; he wants me to buy him a watch. I’ve been warned about him by a multitude of people, in terms of trusting him, so I’m not sure if any part of his story is true and am not giving him the benefit of the doubt. He reminds me of a large number of the “troublemakers” at Garfield.

Daniel  – one of the older boys and a great football player. The day before I arrived he had been awarded as the champion of the All-Ghana Orphanage League; this is quite an accomplishment considering the popularity of football here. My friend and Auntie Stephanie discussed the possibility of him joining a club as the next step in his education and his soccer career; it’s my understanding that these clubs would be like the Cascade swim team except with a small educational component. He only like female hip-hop artists.

Okorse – Also one of the older boys, he conversely only likes the male hip-hop artists. He and a few of his friends took me on a short walk my second night at the orphanage; other than that I don’t know that much about him. His MOPC is a fist pound followed by a sort-of wiping the back of his hand under his chin (that’s our particular handshake).

Nicholas – My friend from the outside, who is the cause of a bit of drama now and again. Besides getting me in trouble with one of the Aunties, he somehow not only figured out where Andy and Laura were living but showed up at Laura’s house one night for what he said was help with his homework. She, too, got in trouble for this, and next time we saw him she firmly told him never to do that again. Other than that, he’s very smart, probably the smartest person I’ve run into so far. He’s only thirteen, but when he sat in with me during tutoring on Monday, while I tutored boys the same age as him he completely understood everything I was teaching; we got to talking at the beach, and he has already decided that he wants to pursue a career in agriculture (he says that he’s fascinated by how you can grow the plants to feed people and make money – his words). He absolutely loves swimming.

Andy – one of the Projects Abroad volunteers, from England. He’s been in Ghana for a month and a half already, but in the Volta and Ho regions. He feels extremely comfortable here, clubbing all the time (my general impression) and giving out his phone number to quite a lot of people. Nice guy, funny, eighteen, and Buddhist. I haven’t yet asked him why he chose this particular trip, but he’s the only other male volunteer.

Laura – As I said before, my saving grace. She’s very easy to talk to, adventurous and helpful – and this is where I stop making observations about her character in favor of providing facts, so that you, reader, can discern her character for yourself. She has been in Accra with Projects Abroad since the Wednesday before I arrived, but showed up to the orphanage the day after. She knows the area very well already (not the are immediately around the orphanage, but she knows where the markets are, how to use the trotro, etc) and is going to help me get a phone and find the market [today]. She, too, is taking gap year, but not by choice; and while probably the first thing that’s going to pop into your head when you read that is, “Oh, she didn’t get into the Uni she wanted because she didn’t do as well as she hoped” I assure you that is definitely not the case. For those of you who don’t know, you get into Uni in England based on what your teachers predict your grades are going to be (great argument for not ticking them off); Laura was predicted three A’s and a B (in the class she needed an A the most), and so she was not accepted to the school of her choice, a dentistry school (again, for those of you who don’t know, dentistry is one of, if not the absolute, most respected and challenging field of medicine in England); but after lots of hard work, and practically living at the library, she pulled all four A’s – and since her school was known as having an extremely rigorous education with usually accurate predictions, she actually made the newspaper. Other important things: she wants to visit the U.S., again, but more than just New York this time (although she did love it last time). More on her later, since I think we’ll be going to ChurCheese every day (she says we have two weeks to try everything on the menu)  and because she’s reading my blog, so I can’t say anything nasty about her yet.

Emmanuel – A soft spoken boy, probably thirteen or fourteen. Exceedingly nice, and perpetually smiling a soft smile, his MOPC is to put his left arm on either my bicep or over my heart, and hold it there while we talk. What makes this interesting is that his left arm twitches  often, which caught me by surprise the first time; apparently he has epilepsy.

Atsu – Spongebob kid, since I’ve only ever seen him wearing a Spongebob shirt and similarly yellow shorts. I helped him with his math – he has tests coming up this week, but he knows his stuff, the only problem is that he does not sleep (he’ll wake up and study from one to three in the morning because that’s when it’s quite – supposedly). His MOPC is to walk next to me with his arm around my waist. Really nice, loves sports.

Sandy – another Delta flight attendant, I met her on my third night here. She’s been visiting the orphanage for a year and a half, and we got to talking about travel in general. She’s adopted one of the boys but is having some issues getting him into the states because they can’t get a birth certificate.

Auntie Stephanie – The absolutely and unusually friendly Auntie who watches the library until 4 PM. She has the most expressive face I’ve ever seen (every little part moves, and I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen the same expression repeated) with the biggest, warmest smile.

Dela – the mute, slightly touched girl. She will always latch onto me (hand hold of death) when she sees me, probably because I let her. However, I’m beginning to understand how to communicate with her, and how to interpret her mannerisms and the parameters of her world. She points to everything, and grabs using the claw of death (forefinger and thumb, with enough crushing power to seriously bruise something, so I keep her away from the small children). Usually she’s just content to just hold hands indefinitely.

Germany – one of the three Projects Abroad volunteers who has been here longer than me, she’s from Berlin. She works with in the younger boy’s house, feeding and bathing them in the afternoon. I don’t know specifically how long she’s been here but I’m the first male volunteer that she’s seen. Very nice, seems to be very honest and hardworking.

England – the second Projects Abroad volunteer, who I believe is from Cambridge. She had some sort of a mainstream business job that she quit after one year to volunteer at this orphanage. She focuses on watching the infants.

Denmark – another Projects Abroad volunteer, who has been here for three months. I know absolutely nothing about her.

Jasmine – a new Projects Abroad volunteer that arrived with Andy and Laura, she’s from India and I haven’t had the chance to talk with her.

“Good Causes”

There is nothing inherently wrong with mission trips, volunteering abroad, or building houses in such-and-such impoverished country; but where the issue arises is when people think that they are saving the day by “sacrificing” their time for these causes. There are so many things wrong with that mentality, and this topic seems to arise enough, that it warrants being explained in detail.

Primarily, there is no physically possible way that a scrawny teenager on a mission trip is going to be able to do more (close to, or even ballpark amount of) work per day than any of the big, burly natives who undoubtedly have more time, energy, and experience building houses. Don’t get me wrong – I was that teenager once, scrawny and all. The city was El Maizal in El Salvador, and I went with my friend’s church group as a part of Episcopal Relief and Development. I actually went twice, and both times we spent a few days sightseeing and the rest working- digging, wheelbarrowing and dumping. This was all necessary for laying the foundation for more development, and it felt like good, honest work that the inhabitants would appreciate; I realized, later on, that the “construction workers” we were staying out of the way of could have gotten our job done in half the time. When I asked about this, I was told that the trip was never about building the houses; it was about building the community and connection that the group had with the town. That really stuck with me, and I realized that that is the important part about all these trips abroad.

That’s not to say that someone can’t do some serious good while they’re abroad – it happens all the time. But that’s the result of a much longer commitment, and the travelers/ volunteers usually have more appropriate positions while they’re their; or maybe they are bringing donations or business. The reason why I wrote this, though, is because of all the people who think that just because they’re going over for a bit to do whatever, they’re awesome. It’s not that easy to help others this way; and that “precious” time that you’re donating is that of an infinitely more privileged middle- or upper-class lifestyle, complete with disposable income and leisure time (the definition of which changes drastically when you throw a Third-World country into the mix).

My solution is not to try and find a longer, more expensive trip, or even to donate your allowance to charity. It’s much more simple: allow the trip to change you. Don’t go forth with an unshakable devotion, staunch morals, or any kind of self-righteousness – you can get those while you’re there. Go forth with an open mind, and learn about the situation and how to help; and in the spirit of teaching men to fish, when you come back from your trip, teach other people what you learned; don’t be the Third-World’s savior; be their messenger.

Ghana: Sweat

I am no stranger to sweat. I am not the kind of person who has cause to sweat every day, doing hard physical labor full time or an intense workout routine; and Seattle, this time of year, apparently has hail. At various points in time, however, I have sweated in the past – I used to participate in a crew team, and before and after that I was involved in Aikido. It’s a very simple process: a human is subject to a relatively high amount of heat, or they physically exert themselves to a point where they induce a higher heart rate, or they even could be subject to extremely stressful circumstances. It is an inherently beneficial process, both cooling the body and purging the system of waste chemicals. I am no stranger to sweat.

Let me clarify further: I am no stranger to physical sweat. The heat here in Accra (80 degrees when we landed at 7:45 this morning) goes hand in hand with wet, smelly clothes that begged to be changed. It hits the unwary traveler before they even get off the plane, a sort of welcoming party that hugs you and won’t let go until you’re underwater or back in the air. That is not to say it’s unbearable by any means, it’s just noticeable; a typical human can adapt to it. Let me clarify further: I am no stranger to physical sweat.

There is a kind of sweat, I realize now, that I am alien to, completely, irrevocably, a sweat that I was born without, raised without, and never had cause to know, for which I consider myself cursed a hundred-fold and blessed infinitely. This is the sweat of the soul, caused not when you stand underneath the sun, but when you stand in the middle of an encampment of deserted children and you realize, maybe for the first time, maybe for the hundredth, or thousandth, “what is.”

This is the sweat for which there is no shower, no clean clothes, no breezy salvation; this is the heat that makes you deliberately earn your new clothes, ones that fit better and cool you off just a little bit more the next time; nothing store-bought or mass-produced but instead deliberately handmade, carefully knit, meticulously sewn.

This is the sweat to which I am virgin; this is the sweat that creates the first stitch.

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