Friday, June 22, 2007

An End and A Beginning
I've been wanting to end this blog for awhile now but didn't quite know how to. So, something simple seems appropriate. Thank you for sharing my journey from here to Africa and back with me. One of the greatest gifts of my experience was having this space to find and share my own truth with you. I wish you all the best as you journey to your own Africa.
With love,

Thursday, January 25, 2007


The other day I complained to a friend that my life seems directionless and full of uncertainty. She asked if she could read me something, then quoted my blog entry from July.

"The cool thing is that I'm walking into a future that has no certainties...I don't know where I'll be living a month from now, will I have a job? Will I be happy or even healthy? So I have all these opportunities coming up to practice living in the NOW, doing my part to prepare for the future, then getting back to enjoying what is, at this moment. Sometimes I feel like life is a series of lectures and learn something new, listen to the lecture, maybe take notes-then you have to go into the lab (or life) and actually practice it."

Ugh. How uncomfortable to realize that here I am again, wishing for something different. Darn it it's hard to be content with what is, as opposed to always working towards this golden future that will cure me of all my woes.

This time last year, I was on top of the world and my golden future stretched out before me and this tall, handsome man stood next to me, ready to skip together along the road of glorious destiny. So umm, my life isn't exactly like that right now. I'm subbing again and I gotta tell you, being a substitute, well a substitute anything, is a touch demoralizing.

I enjoy being a good person, someone who makes others smile and takes the time to ask about their day...etc, etc... It's easy to be like that when I'm skipping along the road of glorious destiny. It's much more difficult I find, to behave that way when the world is not at your feet and the future is murky at best. But really, isn't that when it truly counts. It may not 'count' for anybody but me. Some moments I wonder what my life is about. What's the point of all this? I've come to realize that moments like that need not always be indulged, that sometimes I need to yank myself out of that thinking and head back into whatever I'm experiencing at the moment. If I think about being a substitute teacher in some sort of life path, philosophical questioning kind of way...I'll end up in tears, pissed off or craving a cigarette. If I pull my head back into the actual moment of being in the classroom I become aware of the sweet young student who just smiled at me. Smiles from high school teens are rare, so I appreciate them when I notice them. Or I'll notice the kid who just arrived from Thailand totally struggling with...well everything. And I get the opportunity to teach this kid a new word and show him some kindness in this crazy foreign place, that's become home. I know a little something about being an outsider in a crazy, foreign place.

Some days I can do this...behave better than my feelings, not dwell on everything that isn't right in my life. Some days I am the woman I want to be, regardless of my circumstances. Other days, I'm grumpy and hide from the other earth people because I don't want to be among them. This may be so elementary for some people but these are kind of big life lessons for me. Lately, I have more days where my life and actions are bigger than my feelings...that's progress for me.

I certainly didn't come out of the womb consciously knowing this stuff, so maybe I'm growing. Maybe that's what this whole deal is about...learning how to live. I think Earth school is in session.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

A Long, Beautiful Adventure...And It Continues

This has been a pivotal year for me. I thought the changes were external but they are in fact, primarily internal. I set out on this great adventure, understanding that it would open my eyes and heart to new people and realities that might change me. I could never have predicted how much these experiences would impact me. In Motorcycle Diaries, Che says that his travels impacted him in ways that he could not have predicted. I pondered that phrase before I left...not knowing exactly what he meant. Now I do.

I was interviewed by the Sacramento Bee before I left. Normally I would've forgotten the content but since it's in print, I'm able (or forced) to reassess my thoughts of that time. My words to the reporter at the end of the interview were along the lines of 'maybe it will be what I bring back that is most important, as opposed to what I do when I'm over there.' At the time, they were eloquent sentiments that seemed wise. Now they ring with true experiential understanding. In the grand scheme of things, what I contributed to the people of Kiyunga/Nagalama/Uganda is minute. Michelle sent me pictures of Stuart graduating from his 'babytop' (nursery) class, wearing his old man classes, looking...almost chubby. He arrived at JIM School a gaunt little old man, disguised in a sick little boys body. When I think of him, I feel as though every single dollar donated, and my dreams of Africa, are justified. Because maybe we didn't change the world but we certainly changed Stuart's world. So what was contributed is small but was has come back with me, seems huge. More passion, a new devotion to helping others within my own borders, a new willingness to be of service in less glamorous ways...but it's no longer marred by the rosiness of my glasses, the fantasies of my youth or big visions of personal glory. Not today anyway.

My idea of God when I flew to Uganda was that of a benevolent being. When I experienced Africa, the misery of it, the relentless misery of it...I could no longer easily maintain my old ideas of this supernatural being that had some care for humans. I wanted no part of a God that allowed what I saw and experienced, to exist. And then Israel, when I sensed that Sam and I were not a match, it seemed the final blow. The one thing I had counted on-being taken away-it was too much to bare. So I walked away from my God for awhile. And embraced total misery.

Deep down within me is a sense that I am not alone, even when I feel alone amidst a crowd. There is a feeling, in my gut, that I am apart of something greater, that this world (with all it's failings and ugliness) is not only a chaotic mess-it has some purpose. Perhaps it's just Earth school, a place to learn. Or maybe it's a grander scheme, a fierce battle between good and evil, who knows. Maybe that is why I am drawn to movies like Star Wars, and the Lord of The Rings because they illustrate these fierce battles between the light and the dark. What I experienced this year was a fierce battle taking place within myself. Could I hold onto my belief in the goodness of man, the benevolence of God, the hope for mankind, the power of service to others, that love exists, that everyone doesn't walk away-when my world was falling apart?

I would love to say that after gracefully meditating on the issues at hand, I concluded that I could hang onto my beliefs. But that is not what happened. I tried to live as a cynic, shut myself off from others, applied for jobs that seemed heartless and felt horrible. I can't do it. From somewhere inside, my hope and passion for humans and compassion for their struggles rises up and I was forced to reach out to the world around me. And before I knew it, I was once again appreciating the sunsets, feeling grateful for the chance to exist, telling a friend how much they mean to me and seeing a person suffer...and caring about it, wanting to help if I could. So it turns out, I cannot live in the dark-it just doesn't work.

So who cares if I change the world? What if everything I do fails, and the darkness remains just as dark when I leave the world? It just doesn't matter... because this is how I'm choosing to live while I'm here. I'm embracing the ugliness, the nonsensical misery, the cruelty, the laziness, the apathy. I recognize little bits of those characteristics in myself and now I recognize them in the world. But it's only when I accept the dark, trust that it has it's purpose, that I can begin to appreciate the light. The beauty, the kindness of humans, the way a really good song makes me feel, the coolness of waking up on Christmas morning and being with your wildly funny, disgusting brothers that smell, the way it feels when the sun is on your face and you're enjoying a yummy, yummy, yummy soy Chai tea. I want it all, the whole rainbow of human experience.

I'm on a roll and could possibly wax poetic for hours today brothers, in true Newth fashion have failed to finish their Christmas shopping-and we need to hit the mall. I love this life.

Sunday, November 12, 2006


It's good to be home. I never thought I would say this, let alone mean it but...I'm not done with Africa. I'm not at all sure where this will lead but my heart is longing for more travel, more human experiences that stretch me beyond what I know. I think I'll settle down for a second...but not forever.

The cultural divide between the Africans I met and myself was too wide for me to truly bridge that gap. I wanted to understand how they thought, viewed the world and found that I couldn't understand it. More and more I realize that I want to see for myself how this world works, how others live, even if it makes me extremely uncomfortable-even if the journey doesn't produce understanding.

I like who I am more for having had the experiences of the last year. For the first time that I can remember I'm not racing to get anywhere or be something. I keep thinking I'm forgetting something because I don't have this endless record in my head telling me all that I must accomplish each day. It feels like I'm finally along for the ride itself, taking in the sights as I go. And I have so much time now...where did all my time used to go? Did I spend that much time plotting and planning how I would change the world, make a name for myself? I think I did.

I used to have all these answers for the problems that plagued the world. I don't have many answers anymore but I get it that within me is this unquenchable desire to do some good in this world, in my alloted time here. Whatever that looks like. So my efforts may be futile in the grand scheme of things but God forbid I ever stop trying.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


Sometimes it feels like a whole lifetime has passed by since I left Sacramento in January. So much has happened this year to change my perspectives, challenge my beliefs and mess with my mind and heart. I find myself slowly picking up the pieces of my life, looking at each piece and asking myself 'did I ever truly like doing this or did I do it out of some sense of obligation or idea that it would get me something?' I don't know if everyone reasseses there life after this kind of year but that is where I seem to be.

It's not easy to write this blog nowadays and I wonder why I do. The witty, somewhat interesting girl I once believed myself to be is hard to find these days. Replaced by a much quieter, harder, more realistic being. I find that not many people truly want to know what Africa was like. I don't think it's because they're not okay people but I think they have there own lives, their own world issues to address and it's also that I cannot explain the experiences and feelings I had there in some sort of easy to swallow way. How can I explain that the darkness I found was in me, not them, not Africa? The darkness is there too but they seemed to know how to live with the circumstances of their lives but I couldn't. I'm the one that doesn't accept that the world needs to be this way. I'm the one that spends at least half my life, in my head, searching for logical explanations to the behavior of humans.

There is this one lesson I've been learning more and more this year. Through everything the thread has been 'just keep going.' I want life to be ridiculously happy, make sense, seem good but that's just not my worldview right now. Maybe it will be again one day (and then it will probably pass again) but currently I've come to intimately understand that life beats you down some days, helps you to doubt yourself, your worth, doesn't give you what you want. So what do I do in times like these, just keep going. Some days I do it with a smile and gratitude for the friends I have, the roof over my head, the food that's available, the sunny skies and the fall leaves. But some days, I do it by putting one foot in front of the other. And some days, I do it by pulling the covers over my head and sleeping.

I moved back to Sacramento, to the place that feels like home. Simple things make me happy...unexpected visitors at my door, watching a movie with friends, getting an ice cream at the Loving Spoonful, going places where people know my name, anonymity. I've found work that I can do. And life just sort of moves on. And so do I.

Monday, October 02, 2006


I've had some time to think about my experiences of the past year, my thoughts are still jumbled and I hope I find some more clarity as I write this.

Africa was supposed to be a culmination of everything that I had done in my life, it was supposed to reveal to me my destiny. It was also supposed to be the way I proved to the world that I was loveable and valuable, that my existence has some purpose. Finding Sam, the man of my dreams and having him love me was supposed to be the same thing. A culmination of all my efforts to be worthy and to have a good man recognize and cherish that. Now I sit here, with the understanding that neither Africa or Sam are my end stories and they have not revealed to me my purpose on this planet. I realized both of those long held and long awaited dreams only to learn that I did not fit in them.

I think I needed Africa, or just Uganda, or maybe just Nagalama and Kiyunga to adore me and that it turn would finally prove I was worthy, valuable, loveable, whatever. The truth is they didn't adore me, they in fact survived before me and will continue to do so now that I've left. And each time I felt their disdain, or heard their laughter, or was ripped off or whatever...I took it in and believed that I deserved all of it. None of the good things I did could outweigh how much I felt like I had failed. Because when it comes down to the nitty gritty, my ultimate goal has been to get you to love me, them to love me, the world to love me. What overwhelming arrogance, pride and vanity. How sad. To finally realize that I'm just a woman wanting to be loved, not a hero, not extraordinarily unique...just me who thought if I did enough good things, acheived enough, that I would be as good as or better than everyone else.

Now my dreams are done. I don't have some huge, glamorous goal, don't particularly feel like changing the world, no job, living with Dad, no exciting adventure looming on the horizon, cannot seem to care about the things that once seemed so important to me. I do have good credit, I've got that going for me. I also have a bad attitude and a fiendish case of self-pity. I'm kind of stripped down to the bare essentials and beginning to know in my heart that it doesn't matter how many compliments I receive, how many races I run, how many daring feats I perform, how many mountains I climb...I will not stop feeling like a failure until I know for myself, by myself and deep within myself that I am worthy of this life, even if I didn't manage to scoop Africa out of poverty.

It seems that each achievement I've gone after has been this desperate hand reaching out for validation, to outrace the demon in my heart that tells me I'm not good enough unless I'm doing something spectacular. So I guess what happened with all that extra time I had in Africa and now here in Long Beach, California is I finally had the opportunity to look my big ole ugly demon in the face and recognize what I've been running from all these years. Me.

Wow. I was supposed to return victorious...oops. But you know what, I'm sitting in the rubble of my fluffy dreams and I see that I can build something here. Not sure what yet but it won't be a chia pet that needs the world's love and praise to'll be me, a strong woman that grows from the inside. I'm not going to walk the path that I think will make everyone happy and adoring, I'm going to walk my path. There is this phrase that if you can see the path that you can walk on, it's not yours. I cannot see any path at I suppose I'm finally walking my own. I've also heard that the way to build self-esteem is by doing esteemable things. Hmmm, I wonder what that would entail? Doing something good for someone else without the intention of getting them to love me? Maybe?

So it dawns on me that maybe Africa was the culmination of everything that came before. Perhaps I am exactly where I need to be, and the experiences I had were perfectly mine...the exact ones I needed to open my eyes to my own fears, insecurities, strenghts and weaknesses. Perhaps the new skin I am growing into is my own. And now the real adventure begins.

I think it's incredibly ironic that I am going to call a friend and read this to her before I'll work up the balls to post this blog. She said, "the truth shall set you free."

Wednesday, August 09, 2006


My brother Josh and I just finished climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. What an experience! We spent 4 days walking to get to the summit camp. On the fourth night, you go to sleep for a few hours (or in my case you lie awake considering every single possible summit scenario), then wake at 11pm to begin the summit climb at midnight. We arrived as the sun was coming up. The climbing is intense, 6 hours at high altitudes in the wee hours of morning is tough but kind of cool too. It's very meditative when all you do is focus on following the feet in front of you and keeping to a snails pace of plodding. I loved being at the top but every extremity I have was frozen, so I couldn't move to take pictures or do much of anything really. Someone did take pictures and all you can see are my eyes because I couldn't remove any gear. One of our group did get altitude sickness, kept climbing and literally had to be held up and escorted by porters for the rest of the day. He said it was as if he was sleeping while climbing. At one point he almost stumbled off the mountain. Good thing he didn't. Our group consisted of Josh and I, two guys from Norway and a father and daughter team from Denmark...we were a turtle machine. We never hiked quickly, "pole pole" (slowly, slowly) is the way to acclimatize and not waste energy-but we were steady. The climb was good but hanging with such good people for 6 days was even better.

I said my goodbyes at the village before we climbed. The kids sang and danced and my brother was able to get a snapshot of life in Kiyunga. The organized goodbyes were good but the farewell that will stay in my heart forever happened quietly and without too much preplanning. There are about a dozen village kids that come to my place in the evenings to color, hang out, eat, whatever... Some of them run with me too. We had a little party the night before I left, they dressed up in their finest, we drank was fun. But the next night, they all showed up again, again dressed in their finest and one by one they came up to me and gave me an egg. I don't know why and I don't know how they organized themselves to do this but it was a genuine goodbye. I felt like they were saying goodbye to me, not to the volunteer that gives out cool stuff or the white girl that lives in town. For some reason, it meant so much to me...and it still does.

I don't know what this whole experience 'means' yet. Sometimes I can't see the purpose in my being here and I wonder whether it was worth it. I know my view of the world is changed forever and some parts of that lost worldview, I want back. But other moments, I'll remember Pelagia or I'll think of Akilam and how he didn't flinch at hugs by the time I left. Or I'll think of Stuart, looking so oldmanish in his thick glasses or Michelle and all the laughs we shared and I'll think, I wouldn't have missed this for the world. I don't have a clue whether or not I truly changed a single person's life or impacted Kiyunga but I know, without a doubt, that Pelagia, Akilam, Stuart, Michelle...they changed my life. My heart has opened wider to make room for people who live on the other side of the world.

I remember this girl I used to be, I even picture myself in my favorite red shirt, laughing, so brave and full of confidence. I can't find her right fact I don't know if I can ever actually get back to her. But maybe in the future, I can begin to feel more comfortable in this new set of skin I've developed here. And maybe one day, I'll be wearing that red shirt again, laughing, so brave and full of confidence but there will be something new in my eyes, something indefinable that I found in myself during those moments when I was on my own in the World, scared, beaten and not sure how I could keep going. Because I did find a new power within myself and it depends on no human and no material thing.

This blog, this experience in Africa was supposed to end with inspirational stories detailing the things I achieved here and if asked, I could probably say something that sounded pretty good. But I don't want to...because the truth isn't that simple. This was hard, and painful and neither I nor my experiences here were always inspirational. There were good times, dark times and desperate times and the thought that is loudest in my head right now is...I want to go home. I miss my friends and my family and I appreciate more than I ever have, how nice it is to be a part of a community and feel like I belong. And from my experience here, I suspect that people all over the world feel the same way. Even if you live in dire straits in rural Africa, hungry and surviving day to still want to be with the people you love and in a place that feels like home. Of course, I'll get home...stay for 6 months and then start dreaming up my next adventure. This crazy noggin of mine.