Wednesday, April 29, 2009


I feel like I'm surfacing toward "normal" with the completion of my class. If you can call it that when you're heading to Liberia in 2 1/2 weeks. EEEEP! I spent an hour talking to a Very Cool Person who's lived in Liberia last night. Her name is Joy, and I found her by wandering across her blog, Finding Joy in Liberia! She was amazingly patient with a-thousand-and-one clueless questions, and I'm starting to feel less prepared than ever for this trip!
In the meantime (and to get my mind off it for a few moments) , my kayaking class just wrapped up. There have been seven sessions over the past 2 months or so (well, I missed one b/c of the Colorado trip), and they've been such fun. Did I ever mention that I love kayaking? I do. It's true. I will tell you why.
  • You get to go places just not accessible in other ways. Sea caves & stuff like that. There's just nothin' like exploring nooks and crannies that are otherwise inaccessible.
  • You're down low to - and almost in - the water, rather than on top of it. You're constantly aware of what it's doing, so it forces you to slow down and pay attention.
  • It's efficient: you have a paddle on each end - so you can go nearly straight, which isn't really possible in a canoe unless you're an incredibly skilled paddler.
  • You have direct, immediate control of the boat - and you can learn to do amazing things just by tilting your hips, keeping your head positioned just so, angling your paddle a certain way, and so on.
  • It's an art as well as a sport - there's always more to learn, more to master, though you don't have to know too terribly much to just get out and get started. I think finesse is the word I'm looking for.
  • It's beautiful and peaceful.
  • You can roll! (or not - but it's technically possible!)
  • You can camp - you can pack quite a bit more in a kayak than you can in a backpack > more food > longer trips. Or just more comfy things!
The classes were great because they covered all sorts of stuff that's good to keep learning - safety stuff, planning group trips, learning rescues and rolls, playing with different kinds of boats. I did get to the point where I can roll - it ain't pretty nor consistent, but it was fun to get a few decent ones in. I wore my scuba mask, which was highly unattractive, but awesome because I could see and it kept water out of my eyes and nose. When you're repeatedly submerging yourself for an hour or two at a time, that starts to be signficant. The other great thing about the class is the kayaking community; it's great to get to know others who love the sport, who are free in sharing their expertise, who invite you on expeditions (and might even lend you a boat if you don't have one), and who invite you after every class to hang out for pizza and beer. What's not to love?!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

there's nothin' that a hundred men or more could ever do

(more Liberia-thinking updates)

I've been wanting to write this update for a while now, but would not let myself till I finished my class! It was due today, so I'm done! I can't tell you how great it is to have that off my mind and be able to focus on other stuff now.

So the plan has changed: apparently "prime" - the main organization we'll be partnering with - still needed to get some documentation in that just wasn't going to be doable, so they're asking for an extension of the initial project date to July or August. However, they are planning to send someone (who's currently in Bogata!) to Liberia in May to start getting things organized. Once that was known, Shelter and the other partner organizations pretty quickly decided that that would be a great time to get set up as well.

The change is great for me. I'm actually going to be able to go with Mustafa in May, so I'll get to be a part of all the initial planning and set-up and contact making, along with him. Then (if I sense that this whole 2-year thing is a "yes") I'll be able to go in July or August and actually start with the start of the project rather than coming in midstream and taking over from an interim project manager, which the original June plan would have entailed.

The bad news is that the shift to May puts the trip smack over our upcoming Pictured Rocks backpacking trip. :( We're trying to sort out right now what to do about that - delay it, or do it anyway... I don't want them to delay it on my account, but I'm super-bummed to miss as well. Why do good things all have to happen at once?! :)

In the meantime (and in the midst of mad studying, and trying to somewhat-train for the upcoming 5K Soleburner run), I've been trying to sort out immunization stuff (this egg allergy things really makes things ridiculously complicated! - but just try to infect me with polio or Hep A or B now!) and read/learn more about the country. I've contacted one person who's lived there and now is back in the States, and I'm hoping to talk with her this week.

A few cool updates on the country: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (the president) has been going around the U.S. taking interviews and promoting her new book. Just this week Comedy Central's Daily Show with Jon Stewart hosted and interviewed her - and it's worth watching if you haven't seen it (click here if the video below doesn't work):
The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic CrisisPolitical Humor
Also, I thought this was a really informative interview of her by NPR: - it's really informational.

Jen got me This Child Will be Great for my birthday and it came in the mail this week - so I started reading it last night as soon as I hit "submit" on my last homework assignment. So far, it's great!

Regarding the decision: several things have fallen almost eerily into place. Example: I stopped by my eye doctor on a whim, just to see how long my last contact exam was good for. It was expiring the next day! So I was able to order contacts for 2 years (don't tell them I'll stretch it out that long! :) without needing to pay for another exam. Don't want to read too much into stuff like that, but I am grateful!

I did tell my boss & coworkers about this possibility on Friday - which is a relief. I don't like feeling like I'm hiding information. When I get back in May - decision (hopefully!) in tow - we'll try to figure out succession planning for my role. That will be interesting!

So, the plan is that Mustafa will get tickets for May 16-28 tomorrow - if that changes again, I'll let you know!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

gonna take a lot to drag me away from you

thought I'd post an update of my current thoughts about Africa.

Lots of my thoughts in 2009 have teased away at the snarl of "what is it I'm supposed to be doing here in this world". I love Appleton, I love my friends here, I love my church family, I have an amazing job that I absolutely find fulfilling, challenging and meaningful. Aspects of my life ARE hard, but as I look at it in comparison to what the rest of the world faces, I really have so much more to be thankful for than otherwise. And what, really, do I want to see when/if I'm 80 and looking back on it?

I know the next "appropriate" statement for a post like this would be "Enter Liberia" - suddenly all that changes and falls into place and gives me meaning and purpose and direction. There's something to that. The times in my life when I've felt most at peace, most purposeful, have been when my whole life - at that moment - is focused on being where I am and doing my best within that context. The two weeks before my dad died. The weeks I've spent in St. Louis. The two weeks in Tajikistan. Even backpacking trips and travel. I love that feeling of, "I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be, doing exactly what I'm supposed to be doing, right here, right now." All the complexity of my every day life (much of which, I'm sure, I bring on myself!), can be addressed and simplified by how it relates to the purpose at hand. It also gives a basis from which to deal with what's difficult about the situation (from being physically "discomfy" to extreme gut-wrenching emotion). I'm not - of course - looking at this 2-year project as delivering two solid, non-stop years of that sense of purpose, but I'm thinking there would be good doses of it.

Actually, the thought of Liberia has already given me some of that. When you have the possibility of that magnitude potentially looming in front of you, it does make many decisions easier, even when its tentative. Because to some degree, considering the possibility means you make some decisions as if it's a certainty.

But (and you knew there was a "but" coming, right?) all of that is hardly reason enough to completely up-end one's life! So then - what exactly IS reason enough to do so? What scale there that will consistently measure "yea"s and "nay"s until it eventually reaches a tipping point of solid decision-making assurance? Pfffooof!

So, for right now, I'm
  • praying. Asking God to give me a clear indication, increased direction, circumstances falling into place, a sense of peace about one direction or the other.
  • listening. Seeking thoughts and insights from folks around me, who know me well and care.
  • moving forward. Taking steps toward making it a reality; watching to see if doors bang shut in my face or swing silently open. So far, no major bangs!
  • learning. Sifting through the plethora of information on Liberia to gather the bits that yield understanding of what life there is like. Picking Mustafa's brain to learn all I can about the project, about Shelter for Life, about Liberia from his perspective.
Status at this Point: as best as I can tell I'm at a 7 or 8 on a scale of 1 to 10. Don't get me wrong - I'm terrified about this. But while there would definitely be relief if all this came to nothing, there would also be some pretty major let-down and disappointment.

Today I drove to Fond du Lac to meet Jen and Mustafa for brunch (they're in Milwaukee with family for the weekend). Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Liberia's president, spoke at the University of Minnesota yesterday and they got to hear her, so I got to hear about that and we also discussed more possible logistics (there's a chance Jen would come and help get things set up at the first part of the project - how cool would that be!). We had a lovely time as we always do when together, and I feel like I've gone a few more inches down the path....