The West Australian: Support Edition

Extra! Extra!  Read all about it.  Joy Candee is going to Perth and needs your to help get her there.  This latest update gives you a little more insight into what life is like in Perth, Australia.  And what Joy needs to make her work with the Aboriginal community a reality.

Front Page NewsClick on the newspaper to see the PDF version or find it here under the newsletter tab.

From PNG to Australia without Leaving California

Today I am not so worried about being in three places at once.  It actually feels pretty good.  I can remember PNG and look forward to Australia all from the comfort of my place in sunny California.  I know that at some point it will be challenging again and I will feel like I did when I wrote this post about living in three places but until then I will enjoy this moment of relative peace.

Quint postcard

Papua New Guinea is still present.  I am praying for Jeffery, his family and the work that his happening out in the village right now with the translation of Luke.  It is also very real because of the sweet quintuplets who currently grace my desktop background.  These little ones were born to Gavin and Carrie Jones.  Gavin is a helicopter pilot and has flown me a couple of times and Carrie did community HIV/AIDS awareness and I used her as a resource while I was working on the Onobasulu HIV/AIDS book.  This family, along with older son Issac, are working towards getting back to Papua New Guinea in order to continue their work.  You can follow them on their blog and keep up with their precious little ones.  And I also just finished the book Sleeping Coconuts by John and Bonnie Nystrom.  This tells the story of the Aitape West team and how they formed an amazing multi-language translation project out of the tragedy of a tsunami that literally wiped out their village and killed a third of the language group.  This is a great book for those who want to see evidence of how God works even in the middle of terrible pain and suffering.  And it also is a very interesting look into the strategy that is going to help make it possible to have the Bible translated into the remaining languages that don’t yet have God’s word.

Now with all of that going on and reminding me of PNG, you would think that it would be hard for me to focus on Australia.  But instead I am super excited about the future.  The more I pray, work on presentations, write newsletters, etc., the more I see God at work.  God is taking my heart and the work I did in PNG and he is going to use it for his glory in Australia.  Tonight I am speaking at Fair Oaks Presbyterian Church, next week I am speaking to a small group, I have a February newsletter to write and all of these are opportunities for me to share about the possibilities and my vision for work in Australia.  It helps that I am super excited about all of this myself!  Additionally, I am preparing for a week in Atlanta which will be the final step before having a budget and officially being part of the Perth team.  One step closer to Australia.  And there is something about buying plane tickets always brightens my mood.  I’m also excited to see some friends who I only get to visit when passing through Atlanta.

It’s a great thing to be able to remember and look forward at the same time.  Today I am thankful for this ability.

Living in Three Places

A year ago yesterday marked my return to Sacramento from my time in PNG.  A year is a long time and I feel like I have gotten over most of my culture shock but realized yesterday that I am having  a really hard time living in three places.

I’ve always considered it a blessing to have many homes.  I feel at home in Sacramento.  I feel at home in Santa Barbara.  I even feel at home in Southern Germany.  But this is a little different.  When I first returned from PNG, I remember feeling a bit giddy.  People would ask me if I was sad and while I missed (and still miss!) the people, I replied happily that I was thrilled to be back.  Now time has softened those feelings and I am still very much content not to be returning to PNG but somewhere there is a little part of me that is still holding on.  I definitely feel at home in PNG, it is and probably always will be a big part of my life.  But now I am no longer in PNG and don’t have plans at this point to return.  So why is it so emotionally challenging to receive news from the Onobasulu, the good and the bad?

I am also looking forward to Australia.  There are lots of unknowns but I am hopeful for the future.  I’ve tried to remember what I felt before leaving for PNG the first time but those emotions are from another lifetime.  I have changed.  Australia and the aboriginal communities now consume a lot of my time, thoughts and energy but they are still easily displaced.  I just don’t have the same strong emotional attachment or history with Australia, at least not yet.  How do I train my heart and my head to look forward?

But of course all of this is compounded because I am not in Papua New Guinea or Australia.  I am living in California.  I’ve been here a year now.  I own a car.  I have an apartment.  I have made new friends.  I have reconnected with old friends.  My family is here.  And while this is all good, I have no desire to be permanently here.  How do I live fully in California when everyone knows that I have one foot out the door?

There are no easy answers to these questions.  I have to learn how to accept this as my normal.  I am never going to feel completely and totally at home in one place here on earth.  My life has given me opportunities to leave parts of my heart all over the globe.  Each time I leave somewhere, my heart is different.  The act of travel and connecting with people changes you.  And despite the emotional challenges, the headaches and the tears, I wouldn’t have my world any other way.

Missing PNG…

Culture Shock is a funny thing.  It is often surprising when it hits you and you never know how long it will last or what will trigger it.  I have noticed that my return-from-PNG culture shock moments are now few and far between.  Sometimes America is still overwhelming and confusing but the shiny allure of California is beginning to wear off and I am starting to feel normal once again.  Since normal is hard to define, let’s look at something specific.  When I first returned to the US, I didn’t really miss Papua New Guinea.  But now I am finally feeling those normal travel emotions and I really do miss PNG.

When I first came back I was just basking in the glow of American life.  Consumerism, the land of plenty, sunshine without humidity, anonymity, Californian food, not being constantly stared at, driving, freedom etc.  All of these things were great and I was away from the stresses of Papua New Guinea which was even better.  But now, 7 months later, here is a list of things that I do miss about my life in PNG.

1. The Ukarumpa Store–  Stores in America are huge and they are all different and I don’t shop enough in any one store to learn where to find certain items.  In PNG I always expected a limited selection or not being able to get something.  This cut down majorly on disappointment and made finding even basic things very exciting.  Now it is a lot easier to just be annoyed or discouraged when it takes longer to find something or when it isn’t available in one store so you have to drive down the street to another store.  But the Ukarumpa Store was small and adequate.  There was also great staff who knew you, were always willing to help, and even went out of their way for your crazy requests.  And my groceries would then get delivered to my door step, no extra charge.  Shopping was more simple.

2. My own place: While I am super appreciative of all the homes and couches where I have slept and stayed while i’ve been back in California, I miss having my own home.  I miss having my own pantry, my own kitchen and my own space to entertain.  I’m not complaining about what I do have here, it’s just not the same.

3. The Market: There is nothing like the fresh food in PNG.  It was inexpensive and delicious.  Store bought american produce just doesn’t compare.  I miss talking with the sellers and buying my food straight from the people who grew it.  I even miss the morning walk down and back up the hill in my skirt over my pajamas.

4. Being excited about the little things: This is along the same lines as shopping in the store and not being able to find something in the US.  I was usually expecting the worst in PNG or at least I was always aware that things probably wouldn’t go as expected.  But now I feel constantly bothered that America isn’t as perfect as I make it out to be in my memory.  Shouldn’t everything work right in America?  I should maybe just adjust my expectations but I miss PNG.

5. Rice: I miss rice that I know how to cook.

6. Literacy:  I miss working with literacy and doing workshops.  I know that I have other work here in the US but I miss my overseas job.  Being able to see people connect with words and love books is special and I haven’t had that this year.  I also miss my literacy co-workers.   I  miss having people around who understand what I do and why I do it without having to explain anything.  Having people around who understand because they do it too!

7.  Knowing everyone in Ukarumpa: While I was in PNG, I just wanted to go somewhere where I was anonymous but now i’m over it.  I don’t want to be anonymous anymore.

These things are just a reminder of my life in PNG.  Having lived many different places, I have learned to try and live where I am in the moment.  I need to simply celebrate the things that I do have instead of just being annoyed and focusing on the things that are missing.  But even with that said, I am actually happy to be finally missing PNG.

Pluto is not a Planet but Obama is President

“While you were in Papua New Guinea, did you miss the announcement that Pluto is not a planet?”

Evidently, yes.  Living in Papua New Guinea for three years did mean that it wasn’t as easy to keep up with normal news and happenings in the US and California.  I don’t think we are always cognizant of the changes that happen gradually in our immediate world.  But having been away, the things that have happened gradually for everyone else happen instantaneously for me.  These changes in the world that I use to think I knew is one of the reasons for reverse culture shock.  And I can’t always be prepared or anticipate what I’m going to have missed.

For the most part I don’t think I missed any big announcements.  In November 2008, I was in the village when Obama was elected president and I found out because my host brother brought me the paper with the news headlines.  Everyone in the small village outside of Madang, Papua New Guinea were just excited to hear who was elected into the American presidency.  June 25th, 2009 Michael Jackson died and I was in Ukarumpa, in the Eastern Highlands.  But because of internet access and phone connections, we all heard the news fairly quickly.  And of course I heard about the royal wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton on April 29th, 2011 but mostly because of the British contingency living in Ukarumpa at the time.  These are obviously not an all inclusive sample of the most important things that happened while I was in PNG but they are the ones I could think of right now.  I’m sure there were other major things but even if I didn’t find out right away, I heard them eventually.

However, there are things that I did miss and some I am sure that I still don’t know about.  Coming back I realized right away that I had missed the rise of the smartphone.  I had also missed the spread of Redbox and the demise of Borders.  I also missed lots of movies and TV shows which gained and lost popularity over the last three years.  In this category I also realize that some shows I had access to in PNG on DVD and therefore thought were mainstream and popular, were only popular in my small expat world and nowhere else.  Some of these things aren’t super important for everyday life but they still impact me if only in small ways.  Sometimes this makes me feel like a complete outsider because other people make assumptions about my general knowledge.  But for the most part living in a village in Papua New Guinea is a pretty good, generally acceptable excuse.

If you had asked me before Friday night how many planets there are, I would have answered 9.  But evidently while I was out of the country scientists gained more information and decided that Pluto is not a planet.  I still don’t understand all the ins and outs of why this decision was made but it’s official for now.  And so I looked this up on Wikipedia and evidently this actually happened in 2006 which wasn’t while I was in PNG but I was in Ghana, Africa and so I still have an excuse to have missed this little solar system update.

All this to say if you have family or friends who have lived abroad for any length of time, don’t assume that they have kept up with normal American politics and general news.  Although the world is usually more in tune with American politics and popular culture than with other countries, your family and friends may actually be learning more about what is happening in the political system and culture of their host country than in America.  And that’s ok.

For me I just have to be willing to ask questions and sometimes admit when I have no idea what people are talking about.  And for now I can just be happy that I finally know how many planets there are and at least until November I know who the president is.

Reminders Before I Travel

This evening I fly out of San Francisco.  My brother and I will drive down, have dinner with Grandma and then I will be dropped off at the airport.  I am all packed and under weight.  42 pounds in my suitcase and it almost rattles because it is so empty.  A lot hinges on this trip.  Maybe I will fall in love with a country, a team and a group of people and know that’s where I am suppose to go.  Maybe I will love multiple places and have a difficult decision ahead of me.  Maybe nothing will seem quite right and I will come home wondering just what God is trying to teach me.  Maybe I will be swept off my feet by some handsome stranger sitting next to me on one of my 12 different flights.  I don’t know, maybe the odds are not in my favor on that one.  But that’s one of the appealing things about travel, the world is literally at my fingertips and anything can happen.

So just a few quick reminders for you my faithful blog reader:

1. Be patient with me.  I will try to update my blog whenever I can but it will most likely be more sporadic.  However, I promise to keep my camera in hand and my ear open for any interesting cultural stories.

2. If you receive an email from me asking for money, don’t send any.  Even if the hackers get the country right this time, I am ok.  Even if everything I am carrying gets stolen and I am lying bleeding in the streets, I have other ways of taking care of myself.  I will ask the people I am going to be staying with, I will contact my bank, I will contact my employer, I will contact JUST my parents, anything besides sending out a mass email asking for a ridiculous amount of small unmarked bills.  And my plane tickets for the return trip are also already purchased.  If this is not making any sense to you, read the post that I wrote after my email was hacked soon after my last trip and DON’T send money.

3. Just to make it easier on the hackers though, here is my general itinerary so you can be praying for me specifically in each place.  First stop, South Asia for a week.  Then a weekend in Switzerland for a wedding.  Second work stop, Berlin for week.  Then I fly into Hungary and get picked up and driven to Slovakia for another week long work stop.  And finally I have a day or so in Hungary before flying back to Berlin and then back to California.  I will be back on American soil on June 7th, a month from today.

4. Please pray!  Pray for the actual travel, all of the flight connections, layovers and airport pick-ups.  Pray for health and safety.  Pray for interesting opportunities for conversations.  And pray that I would gain wisdom and direction for the future.

Richard Rohr once said, “A good journey begins with knowing where we are and being willing to go somewhere else.”  I know I am willing to go somewhere else but I think this trip will help me to figure out where I currently am.  Thanks for being a part of this with me.

Marriage and Mr. Right

All the channels feeding me information about marriage are fairly conflicting.  Our society insists that it’s all about love, physical attraction and passion.  And if that fizzles then get out of the marriage.  It’s all about your own happiness, right?  In Papua New Guinea there was more of an emphasis on finding a partnership that benefited the couple as well as the extended family.  True love was only viable if it made sense for the community too.  And women come with a price, a bride price.  In fact every culture has its own view of marriage.  Depending on your culture, some of these views may seem normal but others will seem radical, crazy and even absurd.  The Bible has lots to say on marriage including metaphors of Christ and the church and the infamous Song of Solomon.  My family has quite a few examples of healthy long-term marriages but even we aren’t immune to the divorce epidemic.  Besides my immediate family, I have many examples of strong marriages in my church family.  And my friends are in every stage imaginable.  I still have single friends, most of whom (but not all) want to be married eventually.  I have happily married friends and I already have divorced friends.  Then of course there are books, movies, television and other media that have their own opinions too.

During my time in Papua New Guinea, there really weren’t too many eligible expatriate young men around.  My social circles were limited because of the situation and if I had met someone, where would we have gone on a date anyway?  Hamburger night with the rest of the Ukarumpa community?  To the Ledcafe?  Or to the Kainantu Lodge?  I can’t dismiss this entirely because many a happy love story has come out of Ukarumpa but it didn’t happen that way for me.  There are single Papua New Guinean men too but let’s be honest, I would be a terrible PNG wife.  Mostly because I am completely incompetent when it comes to providing for a family in a village setting.  So in PNG the expat men were few and far between and the PNG men weren’t an option.  But despite the single men vacuum, I was constantly aware of my limitations as a single white female.  I have never wanted to be married more than when I was in PNG.  I am very aware that having a husband wouldn’t have solved all my problems but it seemed like it would have at least helped.  Having a husband while living in PNG would mean having a built-in advocate in a male dominated society, someone to walk you places at night, someone to go on vacation with, someone to drive you to the airstrip or Kainantu, having a go-between with male co-workers and other helpful things.  I realize that none of these things are really reasons to be married but they were definitely perks while living in a place like PNG.

So now I am back in California and there are single men everywhere and while I still want to be married, I feel content once again with my singleness.  I am free and independent here.  I can go out at night alone, drive across the state, travel, shop and talk to strangers all on my own.  In America I don’t need a man.

But I do want to be married and just because a single male is coherent and breathing doesn’t mean he will make a good husband.  So that’s where I am.  Trying to navigate dating and relationships as a Christian immersed in American culture with my heart still floating internationally.  Trying to figure out where to meet men and once you meet someone how to determine if he’s the ‘right’ someone.

Ok so let’s work backwards.  Before finding him, I need to figure out who he could be.  Like most girls, I have always had a list but over the years my list has changed.  Now it’s easy enough to just joke that I want tall, dark and godly.  But at the end of the day, while godly might, tall and dark definitely won’t sustain a relationship.

My best friend, who is happily married, sent me this book called Marry Him, The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough by Lori Gottlieb.  This book is all about lowering our expectations for marriage to something reasonable and actually attainable, not compromising on the things that matter but opening ourselves up for something that might not seem right at first but in the end is actually better.  Marry Him is written to an older female audience but the principles are still applicable for me and I found myself giving them some serious thought.  I want to be open for whatever God may have for me and part of the process is figuring out what for me is ultimately non-negotiable.  Currently I would have to say that my top three non-negotiables are a similar faith and theology, an international outlook and wanting to have and provide for a family.  While being taller then me wouldn’t hurt, it really isn’t the most important thing.  Of course there are other characteristics that I might want but giving someone a chance based on the first three seems like a good place to start.

I have to admit that sometimes the book made me a bit depressed because I am guilty of at least some of the bad relationship behavior that Gottlieb describes.  But more so it made me think of the examples of people who I don’t want to be when it comes to settling or not settling for marriage.  I have a friend who chose career over marriage.  And I have another friend who married despite reservations family and friends had with the choice of spouse.  I don’t think either of my friends actually regret their decisions but I don’t envy either of their positions.

An aspect of the book that bothered me was the equation of religion to any other generic criteria someone might have for a future spouse.  Gottlieb cites many examples of relationships that work out despite religious differences.  But I am guessing that most of those people were more culturally religious instead of living their faith.  However, for me religion is different.  It’s not enough just to both be Christians but it is necessary to have someone who has a similar faith and theology.  This is because my faith influences my decisions in every part of my life and this will continue to be true when it comes to marriage and family.

With this as a main criteria, it would seem that church would be a good place to meet men but this isn’t necessarily the case.  There may be single men in the church but I won’t be holding my breath for any of them to ask me out.  This is another blog entry entirely so I won’t elaborate now but basically I think that the Christian church today has done a disservice to young men and women in how they support, present and teach about finding a spouse and marrying well.  The reasons are complicated.  So anyway, besides church, maybe being introduced to my future spouse through friends or mutual acquaintances might work.  So far this hasn’t but if you are reading this, actually know me and have a man in mind, don’t you tell me about it.  Tell the guy and let him decide if he wants to pursue the relationship or not.

After considering the options of church or being introduced by mutual friends, I thought about the guys I meet on a daily basis.  There are all sorts of stories about running into someone at the store, the gym, the coffee shop, the post office or wherever you happen to be.  However, I don’t really know how that is suppose to work either.  In Hawaiian culture they have the flower.  If it is placed behind the left ear it means you are married or taken, but behind the right ear means you are single.  So I thought of an American equivalent which could be something like the ‘ask me out’ pin.  This is what an ‘ask me out’ pin looks like:

Maybe under the right circumstances the ‘ask me out’ pin could become our equivalent to the Hawaiian flower behind the right ear.  However, it hasn’t happened yet.  Instead, in my experience, it just gains dirty looks from older women.  I actually still like the idea in theory but there are some obvious flaws with the plan.  Maybe just for fun i’ll wear as I travel to Europe and see who I meet on the plane.

While I was in PNG, online dating wasn’t an option.  I mean it really wasn’t an option because for various reasons our servers blocked the online dating sites.  I think they have changed that now but since I am in the US, I thought I would give online dating a try.  After trying out multiple sites, I realized that online dating was a fairly expensive and time consuming activity.  I would really have to be willing to put the proper time and energy into online dating for me to pay the prices.  But I could easily see my mind changing in the future.  With that said I have been on a few dates thanks to the free online dating site okcupid.  I guess since this post is already long enough, I will leave the tales of dating for another entry but, in general, I think online dating definitely has something going for it.

I guess all of this leaves me in a pretty good, if somewhat ambiguous, place.  Isn’t that just life?  While I still want marriage, I am content being single and yet it doesn’t hurt to have a few good and a few bad dates under my belt.  At this point until I have a ring on my finger, I will continue on my current path which is to pursue overseas literacy work because I love it and I can.  But I will continue to be open to, pray about and hopefully some day this will all lead to marriage.

Re-Entry: Some thoughts and a Book Review defines the word re-entry as 1. an act of reentering or 2. the return from outer space into the earth’s atmosphere of an earth-orbiting satellite, spacecraft, rocket, or the like.  Although my re-entry from Papua New Guinea basically falls under the first definition, it sometimes feels like I returned from outer space.  Since returning I find myself having conversations where I hear myself say something but then realize that it might not be quite ‘normal’.  The other night during a conversation, I asked a couple people “So have you ever killed a pig before?”  While I have never killed a pig either, the question was on topic and at first seemed legitimate but then after I asked it, I had second thoughts.  People are usually very gracious and I tend to catch myself but it can still sound pretty strange.

Although I am very aware that there are lots of places that I haven’t been, my geography does tend to be a little better then average and I have a lot more countries on my radar screen then the normal 20-something.  So it’s not uncommon to have conversations with random country moments.  For example, I ran into an old friend the other night and they just happened to ask about Slovakia.  They had no idea that Slovakia is actually on my short list of places to work, they just picked it somewhat randomly.  I must admit that I love moments like that.

Re-entry has had its challenges but the book Re-Entry: Making the Transition from Missions to Life at Home by Peter Jordan, definitely gave me suggestions and stories to help ease me back into life in California.  Although the book is a bit dated and some parts are kind of cheesy, the overall message is great.  Transition takes some work and although it all may seem strange and alien at first, time and awareness can go a long way.  A lot of the information in the book was familiar but I think the most helpful part was the reminder that it was ok (and healthy!) to have some distance from my previous work in PNG.  Another good reminder is that I shouldn’t be quick to judge and be critical of things that aren’t so perfect in America.  Perfection doesn’t exist anywhere but it is very easy to idealize situations outside of your own.

I know that I have a long way to go.  However, it is great to see which things I am ready to say goodbye to from PNG and which things that I have learned and now value and how I am going to incorporate them into my California life.  I guess you could say I don’t mind keeping a little bit of the outer space.

Seeing thighs and Swimming again.

Being in California, especially a place like Santa Barbara means seeing thighs.  Thighs of all shapes and sizes, halfway hidden or out there for the world to see.  Shorts, skirts and swimwear all show off these thighs.  Man thigh, lady thigh, Santa Barbara is an equal opportunity thigh flaunter.  Maybe you don’t notice thighs but after three years in a country where anything above the knee being shown off was equivalent to us walking around topless, I notice thighs.  In Papua New Guinea things are changing but skirts, at least to the knee, are still the typical PNG female dress.  Even long pants are considered immodest in some places.  And while women don’t walk around topless all the time, breastfeeding in public and other breast baring behavior is still widely acceptable.  When I was in PNG, my friends and I would joke that if an American man came to the door, you put on a bra and if a Papua New Guinean man came to the door, you put on a skirt.  Each culture has its own sense of modesty.

I am a California girl at heart but showing off thigh is something I definitely have to get use to again.  Three years ago what I would have considered a modest swimsuit or pair of shorts, now seems completely scandalous to me.  One quick look around Santa Barbara tells me that society here thinks otherwise but I still hesitate.  So in order to get back into one of my favorite activities, I am having to step out on a limb and bare all.  Ok so it’s just a typical swimsuit but keeping in mind the above statement that showing thighs could be viewed as a topless equivalent, you can see where this would be a big step. I have now been swimming for a couple days and am enjoying being in the water and seeing tan lines crisscross my back once again.  And so for swimmings sake I will sacrifice my Papua New Guinean modesty in favor of acclimating back to California.  Just don’t invite any of my Papua New Guinean colleagues to the pool.

The Joys of GPS and Freeway Culture Shock.

Ok so I may be a bit behind the times but in my defense, a lot has happened in the past 3 years.  When I left I knew a handful of people who had GSP systems and they were pretty much only handheld, most people with a BlackBerry phone needed them for work and smartphones were just gaining mass popularity.  It was exciting enough during college just to use mapquest to get directions.  But now things are different.  It is common to have built in GPS in cars, BlackBerrys now have touch screens too and smartphones are everywhere.  You can still use mapquest or ask for directions but now it is much easier to use GPS for directions or your smartphone to see how to get around traffic.

Yesterday I drove down to southern California to visit my cousin and her new baby (pictures of the G-man later).  Instead of asking for directions I simply punched in their address to a GPS and let the voice guide me.  This was great on the freeways of Los Angeles because I didn’t have to take my eyes off the road to look at a map or worry that I missed a freeway turnoff.  Maybe this isn’t amazing to any of you but for me it made all the difference.  Since LA is just a mass of freeways, driving could have proved very difficult but two miles before a turn or merge, the GPS would warn me.  This gave me plenty of time to navigate thought the LA traffic and I made it to and from my destination with no problems.

I had to laugh at myself as I was driving.  For the first part of the trip the roads had relatively light traffic and we were traveling at pretty normal LA freeway speeds but I was a bit nervous.  I turned my music down and concentrated fully on the road.  Traffic and driving are still ‘new’ to me.  However, just before LA the traffic slowed down to a crawl with red taillights as far as I could see.  Instead of getting frustrated (the normal drivers reaction to traffic), I felt my pulse slow down a bit and relaxed.  Inching down the freeway, I turned the music back up and could enjoy the drive.  By the time the traffic thinned, I had calmed a bit and was ready to resume the freeway speeds that I will hopefully get use to once again.

So I guess the moral of this story is that LA freeways are a good place to test out GPS systems and how they work.  And that culture shock can manifest itself in many funny ways.  I should remember this a few months from now when traffic no longer seems like a nice calming break.