Saturday, March 18, 2017


There is a mythology of the expat aid worker, it’s sort of an inverted nationalism or perhaps a metaphor for marriage, in which you leave home and fall in love with another land. Once you’re as jaded as I am you come to realize that this is by no means the norm, but it somehow becomes a kind of holy calling, an ideal, a moral high ground – as long as you stay just short of actually “going native” this love for an adopted country is often worn as a badge of honor.

That hasn’t happened for us here in Colombia, and I’ve always felt terribly guilty about that. I don’t think this is the worst place on earth, but neither is it paradise. It’s just a place that I have failed to form any strong sense of attachment or connection to. And for this reason I have lost count of the times I've wondered whether coming here wasn't the hugest mistake. 

Last night though I was thinking about that emotional burden that I’ve placed on myself and began to consider alternative ways to look at the situation. For most of our time here I’ve believed that my lack of love for this place or its people has lowered the quality of my work, and that has been a source of shame for me. But then I began to wonder, what just is my motivation, if it isn’t love – and why am I ashamed? Maybe it’s actually more admirable, in a way, to do the work and strive to do it well even without love. They say that in marriage love is a choice you make; I think there is a parallel here because we’re talking about commitment. We made a commitment to living and working here because of something we believe in – service in the name of Christ, if you will (that’s our organization’s tagline) – and we’ve stuck it out. And I think that, overall, we’ve done a pretty good job of it.

I know I have grown tremendously, personally and professionally - and that we achieved what we came here for in the first place: living closer to family, our children learning Spanish. It hasn't been without a cost, but I'm beginning to feel that it might be possible that it has been, perhaps, worth it (have I added enough qualifiers there???)

We’ve begun the process of leaving, spending some time at the team retreat last weekend beginning to say our goodbyes. For the first time, it feels possible to actually leave well.

O Zemër

I guess it's no big secret that Terry and I really miss Albania a lot. I think I spent the first year and a half here actively grieving. I didn't realize before we left how much I had fallen in love with the place, the people. I had gotten a little bored and thought I needed a change of scenery... I wanted to be closer to family, and I wanted my kids to learn Spanish.

For me at least, my attachment to the place is inextricably connected to that phase of life with the kids. I look at pictures now and goggle at how small they were then!

But at least now I can look at those photos without my heart aching so much. I think our last visit in January last year was something I very much needed to do, in order to truly say goodbye.

I can make myself a cup of coffee in the mid-afternoon without crying. I don't feel so guilty about leaving Shpresa.

I still think it is one of the most beautiful and fascinating places I have ever been to. And that has at least a little bit to do with how we felt there among our Albanian and expat friends - wanted, appreciated, loved. 

I have found friends here; over the last year I think I finally accepted that it was ok that my closes friends are all people I work with, in most cases supervise. It doesn't seem to be an issue for the Colombian women on my team so I decided it's not an issue for me, and I've been much more content since I made that shift.

We are still uncertain about what our next steps will be. Albania could be in our future again, not only in the past. I have more thoughts about leaving that I will leave for another post - just processing in these last few months here.

Monday, December 12, 2016


Right this minute I'm in Frankfurt, on my way back to Colombia after almost 2 weeks in central Java. It has been an amazing trip, not least because of my "entourage" - three young people who accompanied me throughout. The purpose of this trip was to interview people about our youth exchange programs, I think I talked with close to 100 people, and ate mounds of amazing food. 

Soto, cooked before our eyes in a street-side cart diner

2/3 of my Entourage! in yellow, Stephannie my interpreter and handler; in white next to her, Anielle my PR rep and agent. Not pictured: Alan the driver! This is at the Soto food stand

One night we stayed with a pastor and his wife at what they call the “pond house” – our only homestay on this trip – and there were so. Many. Critters! What you might expect from a pond house… to get there we drove and drove and drove on little country lanes with rice paddies stretching out all around on all sides and views of spectacularly pointy mountains around every bend. Little villages with elaborate tiled mosques and fish markets. We got lost and had to ask directions several times. The roads were narrow and bumpy. When we found the house the pastor and wife were waiting on a covered verandah waiting with hot jasmine tea and fried tempeh snacks, wearing matching batik button-down shirts. Behind the house was a 7-hectare fish pond (yes, it was enormous). This was the only place I stayed on the trip where there was no A/C and no Internet, it was kind of refreshing… but also got really hot!

The pond behind the pond house!
 When we went to bed, I saw about a thousand mosquitos on the ceiling around the light but Stephannie said they weren’t mosquitos. I put on a ton of repellent anyway. Then an enormous flying cockroach buzzed around the room. Stephanie killed it and then found another and killed that one too. The next morning while interviewing the pastor I saw a centipede on the floor. But it was so nice sitting on the bed for the better part of the day with my puffy feet up, the floor fan slowly rotating, looking out over the pond while my clothes dried in the sun and I typed up interview notes.

The bathroom system here is different. Every bathroom has a tiled water tank in one corner, with a spigot and a plastic dipper (about 2 liters size). There may be a squat toilet, what Albanians call Turkish style, or a regular sit toilet, but there is always a hose with a spray nozzle for washing your butt. What I can’t figure is how you are supposed to dry your butt after washing? There is never any toilet paper. The proper thing is to bathe twice a day, morning and evening, using cold water dipped out of the tank. Despite the poshness of the hotels, in only two of them has there been truly hot water for showering. (You know how I love my hot showers…)

 I feel like my body odor has changed from all the spices in the food.

Fried frog legs! I also had them in the soup version which was delicious. Add enough garlic, lemongrass, and spices and anything tastes amazing!
After a dozen of these lunches I think I gained at least 10 lbs on this trip:

beautiful countryside. It also rained every day.

This Christmas tree was made entirely out of plastic water bottles and cups cut into flower shapes!
It was a really amazing opportunity to see this country and meet so many people. Sadly the only phrase in Bahasa Indonesian that I really learned was "Terima kasih," which means "thank you." But I sure got to say it a lot :-)

Thursday, October 06, 2016

and this one is not (but I'm with her)

I knit the shorter sock first, and then realized the leg should be longer. But to make it longer I'd have to undo the entire foot. So instead, I made the second sock the length I want and now I'm knitting a third sock to match the second. If I have enough yarn, I'll make a fourth sock to match the first. Otherwise... well, either I'll have a single sock for a one-footed size 9.5 (women's - size 40 in Latin America) or I'll have to rip it out.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

This post is political

I don't normally do this, but only an ogre turned to stone by the morning light could fail to feel something after Sunday's plebiscite vote to reject the peace accords. 

A few weeks ago, we went as a family to a musical event organized by our kids' school. The second part of the show was organized by the school's music teacher, Oscar, whom my kids adore. Terry and I were rapt - the collection of songs were an incisive, clever, and heartfelt commentary on Colombia, in that particular intersection of politics and culture that we both find so fascinating. It was so good. 

The video embedded below is a small sample, a song about militarization that ends with a vision of the hopes and dreams of all people for a decent life. 

On Sunday, I watched people going to Corferias (a large expo center across the street) to vote all day long, even running in at the last minute before polls closed at 4. I was shocked ten minutes later, watching a live feed of the vote counting, to see how narrowly the Yes vote was leading. Every ten minutes a new update showed the gap closing, until 5:00 in the afternoon when it became clear that the No vote had pulled ahead. Honestly, I was stunned, and my eyes were not dry.

It seems like this turn of events was completely unexpected, by everyone; even the opposition had no plan to put forward on Monday when the president asked for a meeting and sent his negotiators back to Havana.

Here is a sample of analysis that I've been reading (as of right now there is still no news on today's meetings between the president and opposition):

Ginny Bouvier, from the U.S. Institute for Peace: Why Did Colombia's Plebiscite for Peace Fail?

Something I'm still trying to get a bead on - how significant was the No vote from churches (Catholic and Protestant)? An article from BBC in Spanish: El Rol de las Iglesias Evangélicas en la Victoria del No.

From a peace church perspective, Michael Joseph gives a synopsis of the ins and outs of what happened and what lies ahead.

There are many more op-eds coming out these days, here's one from the New Yorker with a lot of "I was there" detail from the day of the signing.

This afternoon, university students are planning a silent march through the center of the city, evoking past marches in grief over the violence that has torn this country apart for so long.

(probably more like 7 million)
For now, trying to understand, and thinking about how to contribute my grain of sand within my small sphere of influence here.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

quick update

So much is happening right now ~ My sister is here! First and probably last visit to us here in Colombia. It's been so nice to talk and talk, and she's teaching my kids finger knitting, and organizing all my books and yarn.

Presumably the peace accords between the Colombian government and the FARC will be signed tomorrow, ushering in a new era of nobody is quite sure what. There will be a plebiscite next week for the nation to affirm or not affirm the signed agreement, which has been made public in its entire 300+ pages. There are "Vote Sí por la Paz" signs all over the city, yet every "man-on-the-street" that I ask (mostly taxi drivers) are highly skeptical.

Six years ago this month we moved to Albania. I still miss it... though not as acutely as I did a few years ago.

So much more happening, not all of it bloggable... but mostly good things :-) The kids are doing well, headed into the last quarter of this school year and looking forward to Halloween!

Monday, September 05, 2016

Good things, September edition

One of my favorite things in life is working with intercultural young people. Or, in this case, young people in the process of becoming (more) intercultural. It is such a huge leap of faith for this crew of six (waiting for one more to get his visa and come from China) to have traveled so far outside of their comfort zone, and come to Colombia - from Mozambique, India, Indonesia, China, the United States, and South Africa. The past two weeks have been an intense but wonderful time working with them in their in-country orientation, learning about Colombian history, politics, and churches, as well as a host of topics specific to the work they will be doing here. I have been very pleased with their can-do attitudes, curiosity, and willingness to serve. Off they go today!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Finished Object?

 I just finished seaming the sleeves on this shrug, and it is clearly too small for me. I bought 3 balls of the yarn, following directions on the ball band (label), but ran out long before I finished the second sleeve. So I ripped it out and started over again, making the sleeves shorter. I had just enough to finish, but nothing left for the collar/trim. I think it looks ok, but it does feel tight. I had looked online for more of the same yarn but it's discontinued (I bought it maybe even before Valerie was born...)

Anyway, I think this one is going into the giveaway pile... know anyone with short arms??