Some ramblings, reflections & possibly a farewell

I’ve come to the realization lately that this blog will probably be collecting dust very soon and that perhaps I should just bid it farewell. And I think perhaps it’s just as well.

I am moving into a new season of my life, and while I by no means consider myself completely out of my “valley of Achor” just yet, I am in a much different place now than I was when I started this blog, and even if I somehow find time to continue to blog in the future, I’ll probably start another blog rather than contribute to this one. So this may very well be my last post on “Valley of Achor.”

So much has happened over the last few months that I won’t even attempt to go into a detailed narrative, but let’s just say that I’ve faced the biggest demons in my life, I’ve confronted my deepest source of pain, I’ve made some earth-shattering revelations to certain people, my faith has all but crumbled into the dust, and all this has happened in the midst of preparing for my transition to university this fall. I’ve been on a roller-coaster ride emotionally, some days hopeful and exuberant, other days despairing of life itself, and some days so stressed out and overwhelmed I’ve just wanted to curl up in my bed and avoid the challenges and mile-long-to-do-list facing me.

But I’ve survived, I’m still here, and by next month I’ll be living in a new city, with people I barely know, and facing two years of intense study at a prestigious university. I have a feeling the next two years will either make me or break me. I am simultaneously super excited and absolutely terrified. But I know I’m doing the right thing, no matter the outcome. I didn’t make it this far only to allow fear to dissuade me from my dreams.

So, as I step out on this next new phase of my life, into uncharted territory, I think I’ll bid this little blog, and the young woman I once was, farewell. I will never forget the dark places I have been in, and the pain I have endured, but I want to move on.

Although, I have come to realize, I shall probably carry my scars for the rest of my life. There will be no true and complete healing for me in this life. Some pain is never truly forgotten or overcome. Despite what all the health and wealth and prosperity people preach. I’ve been made even more keenly aware of my fragility due to a sudden and unexpected flare-up of my rheumatoid arthritis recently. I’ve been mostly in remission in recent years, so the flare-up really caught me off guard, but it also reminded me that pain will always be my friend, in one shape or another. I will never be able to escape pain. But physical pain I can handle. Even on days like last week where I was so stiff and in so much pain I could barely move. It’s emotional pain, it’s mental pain, it’s memories that can’t be erased, that hurt far worse. Those are the sources of pain that sear one’s soul, that leave an indelible mark on one’s spirit. And it’s those sources of pain that will always haunt me, and that I will always carry with me, no matter where I go or what I do in this life of mine.

But however challenging the next steps of my life may be, I’m determined to go forward. I cannot, will not, ever, ever go back to the dark places I’ve been in. I would rather be dead. My life, however fragile and bruised and battered, must make its mark in this world. I must make it mean something. So that none of my pain will be for naught.

Last night I felt my life meant something. I’ve been volunteering again this summer at a local church teaching an ESL class, and last night was my last class. I went to class expecting it to be the normal affair it usually is, although I regretted I couldn’t think of a way to reward or celebrate my students’ participation in the class. However, the students flipped the tables on me and totally surprised me by celebrating me as their teacher. Apparently they conspired to throw me a party. I knew something was up when I saw them bringing assorted items into class, like drinks and pizza boxes. But it wasn’t just the little party. There were also flowers, a sweet thank you card signed by all the students, a $25 gift card to Panera, and hugs and words of appreciation and “I’ll miss you, teacher”s from all the students. I could have cried. It was so touching, and reminded me that my life can be valuable, despite the pain, if I only use it to bless others.

So this is why I’m still here. Why I’m still fighting. Why, despite everything I’ve been through, and probably have yet to go through, I will do my best to persevere. To not give up. To keep staring down my darkest demons and my deepest fears. Come what may, I must go on. Because my life must not be lived in vain.

So, this may be farewell. Farewell to the Valley of Achor. I’m moving on. Both literally and figuratively. Perhaps a new blog will come along at some point, but for the foreseeable future, I’ll be too immersed in real life to wander the halls of the blogosphere.

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I have a dream…

I have a dream.

A dream of a beautiful church. A church where rich, poor, black, white, prep, goth, beautiful, not-so-beautiful, broken, whole, American, Asian, African and every other nationality and ethnicity worship together. A church without partiality. A heterogeneous church. A church made beautiful by its diversity and yet made one by the indwelling Spirit of Christ. A church where the only head is Christ, not a single man labelled a “pastor”–a church where truth and love are not mutually exclusive–a church where no one is marginalized or “slips through the cracks”–a church where discipleship is a way of life–a church where the Spirit is allowed to move freely–a church that is neither hyper-charismatic nor cessationist–a church that doesn’t water down the Gospel–a church that is worship-driven, and not entertainment-driven–a church that seeks out the lost and broken–a church where, most of all, Christ is glorified, and not man.

This is my dream. But, sadly, in the worldly and divided church that makes up most of Western Christendom, I recognize this dream most likely will never be a reality. And I also recognize I am just as much a part of the problem as anyone else. But as I deal with my own issues, and seek to become the more godly woman God wants me to be, I’ve become more and more frustrated at my inability to find a church where at least a few of the above qualities are exhibited. I know, in this fallen world, and within a church made up of saints who still sin, there will never be such a thing as a “perfect” church, and I don’t seek a “perfect” church–but I continue to wrestle with so much disillusionment when it comes to the modern, Western church.

I realize my background of growing up in a nearly-cult-like church that left me deeply scarred still influences how I perceive the church, and what I feel it should look like, but in the thirteen years since I left that negative environment, I’ve struggled to find a church where I have truly felt at home. I have felt like an “outsider” within the Body of Christ for most of my life, and while I’ve questioned over and over if this is entirely my fault or not, lately I’ve begun to wonder if my perspective as an “outsider” is God’s way of giving me more of a heart for other “outsiders.”  Maybe, just maybe, instead of seeing my difficulties as a curse, I should instead see them as a blessing in disguise. Maybe I was never meant to “fit in.” At least not in the way that most homogeneous churches these days qualify “fitting in.” If fitting in means dressing a certain way, acting a certain way, and presenting a superficial spirituality to those around me, then I absolutely will never “fit in.” And I no longer want to. I’m tired of trying to live up to other Christians’ superficial expectations of me.

But even as I’m learning that feeling like an “outsider” is not necessarily a bad thing, and that hopefully God can use this “outsider” to reach out to other “outsiders,” I’m still frustrated at my inability to find a church home. Or at least a group of believers who would be able to provide me with safe, Biblical fellowship and discipleship. It seems every time I think I’ve found a group to “plug into,” there is at least one aspect of the group that troubles me and causes me to leave. I met with a group in a home for a short time, and while they were some of the most loving people I’d ever met, they were into some crazy, charismatic stuff that really disturbed me, and I knew I couldn’t, in good conscience, participate in or agree with everything they were doing and teaching. So I left.

Then, just recently, I started attending a megachurch (much to my own astonishment, as, generally, I’m not a big fan of megachurches). It’s very entertainment-driven, with dance, rock-and-roll music, and watered-down preaching, but I liked the fact that it was full of the very sort of people I don’t see in most churches: the poor, the broken, the homeless, the “outsiders.” The kind of people I wish were in more churches. So I was willing to overlook the things I didn’t like about the church, all for the sake of being in a less stuffy, more heterogeneous atmosphere, until I found out, quite unexpectedly, that there were issues of immorality and spiritual abuse going on with the pastor and leadership. So once again I’m left with a stricken conscience, wondering if I should stop going.

The only ray of hope so far in all of this is another church service I’ve attended twice now. It’s a little Spanish congregation that’s affiliated with the megachurch, but meets in a different building and has a different pastor, and both times I’ve gone I’ve been welcomed warmly. The service is entirely in Spanish, and everyone but me are Hispanics, most of whom look as if they come from rougher parts of town, but so far I’ve really enjoyed my visits, and I’ve already been befriended and introduced to several people. They’re very enthusiastic in their worship, the pastor preaches fiery sermons that rouse loud claps, “Amens,” and other exclamations in Spanish, and I’ve been surprised at how much I actually understand, despite my rusty Spanish. I’m hoping that attending this church will, at the very least, give me an avenue to serve. I hope to begin helping out with their ESL classes–I sat in on one two nights ago and had a lovely time meeting some of the students and getting to know one of the teachers, a friendly and sweet Hispanic guy.

So I’m thankful I seem to have found some sort of fellowship for the time being, but my heart aches to be connected in a deeper way to other believers, and to receive the sort of discipleship and accountability I so desperately need. Going to church every Sunday is one thing, but I want so much more, and I continue to feel frustrated at my inability to find that “more” I want and need.

I’m tired of feeling like an island, but, so far, when I look around me at most churches, I find myself so disillusioned I want to give up altogether trying to find a place I can call “home.”

I’ll keep praying, I’ll keep searching, but maybe I simply have to lower my expectations and try to come to terms with the fact that my dream of the church, or anything remotely similar, is just that: a dream.

The Brazil diaries, part 6

6105001710/3/05  Why do I have to leave? I’m going to be heartbroken when I get on that plane. Bawling.

The last few days have just made it even clearer to me how precious every moment is, how much I’ll be leaving behind Friday night. S., L., and I had a fun time learning more maracatu drumming from P. If I had the money, I’d seriously take real lessons, for it’s so much fun. After our complimentary lessons, P., we girls, and another “amigo,” a sweet guy named C., went to a cute little restaurant for some drinks, and we had the best time together. Much laughter. I love P. He’s this short, muscular black guy, who’s bursting with energy and good humor. He loves to have a good time, and is very, very affectionate with all the ladies. You can’t be around him and not have a smile on your face.

I also had a wonderful time last night. Our lovely older guy friend V. was at the drumming on Alto da Se again. He’s a sweetheart. He greeted L., S., and I with warmth and delight. C. was also there. Once again, I just got so swept up in the atmosphere of Sunday night’s street party. Being with all those Brazilians, listening to the amazing drumming, holding hands with them while dancing in a circle, seeing joy on everyone’s faces–it just made me feel so alive. Incredibly, wonderfully alive. And that’s one of the things I will miss so much when I go home. Back to staleness, back to cold, blank stares, back to lives being lived half-heartedly. No dancing, no music, no kisses on the cheek. Just another reason why I know I will cry when I leave here.

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10/18/05  I never had a chance to finish chronicling my last days in Brazil. Things got so busy.

I am now home, in the US. But I know I must record the happenings of my last week in Brazil, before they disappear from my memory. Monday was my next-to-last day at the school with the kids. I was joined by a new volunteer, a young Englishwoman named H., who was to take my place. At the bell for their 30-minute break at 3:30, I was told by Prof. S., the English teacher, that some of the kids had prepared a surprise for me. He led me (and H.) down to the first floor, and to the door of another classroom. When he opened it, I was greeted by several of my favorite students shouting and running to hug me. Music was blaring from a boombox in the corner, there were balloons taped to the blackboard, drinks and cake and treats were set out on a table, and on the blackboard was drawn a heart with the words “Para A.” inside it, and beside it, the signatures of the students. I nearly cried. It was so touching. I hugged the kids over and over, while thanking them over and over. I was so appreciative of their beautiful, heartfelt gesture.

50770004Before I left that day, I got many, many hugs from students. Some thought it was my last day, so I had to explain to them I would be back one more day, and  I would say goodbye then. My last day there was not a normal school day. They instead had an assembly-type gathering of the students in the downstairs courtyard. The students were to present their projects about health, sanitation, and the environment. Much to my surprise, Prof. S. got me and H. to join him and the other teachers up on the podium in front of the students. What’s more, in the middle of their presentations, the microphone was thrust into my hands, and I was asked to say some words to the students, since I was leaving. I, of course, was totally unprepared for this, but strangely enough, once I stood there in front of all those students, many of whom I’d come to care deeply about, it wasn’t difficult to think of anything to say. My heart spoke for me, and it spoke entirely in Portuguese. I told them how important they were to me, that I cared about them, would never forget them, and thanked them for the time I got to share with them. At my words, they cheered and clapped loudly.

tabajaraI was so overwhelmed. After came the hardest part–leaving. I was surrounded by children–some of them I had never even seen before–who kept hugging me and wanting their picture taken with me. Finally I was able to walk out the front gate with Prof. S. and H., but only with a heavy, heavy heart and many glances and waves back. Would I ever see those beautiful children again? I wondered. I told them I would try to come back and visit, and I said it truly meaning it. I got the school’s mailing address from Prof. S., so I fully intend to at least keep in touch. [I did keep in touch via e-mail with the teacher Prof. S. for a while, and two years later, in 2007, I went back to the school on another visit to Olinda, Brazil, but the school was closed due to Carnival.]

After leaving the school, Prof. S. walked with H. and I to A.’s house [A. was another teacher], who happened to live nearby. A. had a little farewell “party” for me, with Prof. S. and some of the other teachers. It was so touching. Both A. and Prof. S. gave me gifts–A. gave me a CD of Brazilian music, and Prof. S. gave me a journal. Then they walked with me and H. to the bus stop, and when the bus came a few minutes later, it was with much sadness that I hugged and kissed each of them goodbye. A. actually sniffed me–my first real Brazilian “sniff.” [This is an interesting custom among some Brazilians.] And he told me the sweetest thing afterwards–he told me I smelled good, and that smelling good meant that I was a “good person.” Bad people, he said, smelled bad.

And that was my very last day in Tabajara. With a heavy heart I left all my wonderful friends–teachers and students–behind.

L. just sent me an e-mail today that made me cry. She said she hung out with our Brazilian “gang” of friends Sunday night and that they all missed me very much. She said V., in particular, had some very nice things to say about me. I was so touched. And she also mentioned that W., believe it or not, would not shut up about me.

The Brazil diaries, part 3

A Frog’s Tale

treefrog9/15/05  So last night was fun. Shortly before I went to bed I discovered a cute little tree frog had joined me in my room. Quite the cute, harmless little thing, so I paid him no mind. Until he started hopping everywhere. Unlike your average, slow, fat American toads and frogs, this little guy knew how to leap. When he leapt, he really leapt. All over the place. He scared the bejeebers outta me the first time he hopped on my bed. The lights were out, I had my headphones on, and was just getting comfortable when–thump, right in the middle of the bed. I literally jumped out of bed, as my headphones and CD player went crashing to the floor. I flipped the light switch on, but by this time he had jumped to the floor. I breathed a sigh of relief, knowing it was just the frog that had produced the thump in my bed. He wouldn’t let me get anywhere near him, though, and quickly darted underneath my bed. I decided to try to go to sleep again, turned off the lights, and crawled back into bed. But now I was paranoid. I didn’t cherish the idea of having a frog hopping all over me while I’m trying to sleep–harmless, but a nuisance. I kept turning on my flashlight, scanning the room, trying to find him. And then there he was again, sitting now on the floor on the other side of  the bed. Suddenly I knew I was not going to sleep peacefully until something was done about the frog.

So I got up and turned the light on again. The frog hopped around some more, evading me, and eventually ended up on the wall, up near the ceiling. I went in search of some “tools” with which to capture the frog. I came back armed with the lid to a pot and a toy sword belonging to M. It was now after one in the morning, and my commotion awakened C., who came to see what was wrong. With the sword I had gotten the frog off the wall, but now he had disappeared in, or  underneath, the other bed in the room. C. helped me look for him, but even after flipping the mattress, moving furniture, and looking in every nook we could think of, the frog eluded us. Crafty little thing! Or had we squashed him accidentally? In any case, we couldn’t find him, C. went back to bed, and I tried to go back to sleep. But as I lay there in the dark, I couldn’t sleep. I knew–just knew–that frog was lurking somewhere, and was waiting for another opportune moment to jump on my bed. And…he did. This time the thump was right near my head. I had had enough! I jumped up again, but not out of fear. I turned on the lights, and there he was, that sneaky little animal, sitting on the floor again, beside my bed.

So I took action again. I finally cornered him, in between the wall and the big armoire and managed to clamp the pot lid over him. But then I realized I had done a dumb thing in not having something to slide underneath the lid. Was I to chase this little booger all night? I thought. I lifted the lid and discovered him sitting inside it. Much to my surprise, he didn’t jump out. I was able to carry him to the window as he sat calmly in the lid. As if he knew exactly what I was doing, he waited until I placed the lid in view of the great outdoors, and then he leapt out so fast I simply looked down and he wasn’t there anymore. I was much relieved to finally be able to go to bed and sleep in peace. There were no more thumps on my bed that night.

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9/16/05  I have been here four weeks now. Wow. Four more to go. Hard to believe.

Even though I do look forward to going home, I know I will probably cry when I leave here. The thought of saying goodbye to all those adorable children at the school makes me so, so sad. I’ve really come to love them. I wish I could pluck a few of them and take them home with me! 74310009My most enthusiastic little “amigo” greets me every day with a huge grin and wave. He’s probably eleven years old, and I can’t help but feel a little attached to him because he reminds me so much of [one of my brothers] when he was younger. Slightly plump, the same mass of dark hair on his head, big talker–his resemblance is uncanny. He’s in my favorite class, the one full of mostly younger kids…There is one little boy in that class that is so cute. His name’s L., and he’s also quite the smart little kid. When I first arrived he asked me more questions out of genuine curiosity than any other child.

Yesterday he walked with me to the bus stop after school was over, and I had the loveliest conversation with him. He speaks almost no English, so our conversation was in Portuguese, but we still managed just fine. Once again, he had so many questions for me. Quite the talker, actually!

I didn’t mention it before, but there was an adorable little street boy who attached himself to our group when we were in Natal. All of us girls fell all over him. We knew he was just trying to get food and money from us (and he did), but he was just too adorable to turn away…Some day, maybe, I’ll be able to adopt, or care for, needy children. There are so many not only in Brazil, but around the world.

The Brazil diaries, part 2

9/6/05  I’ve been here now for over two weeks. Wow. In some ways it feels like it’s been longer, and in some ways it feels shorter. I’ve definitely “settled in” now…The last two weekends have been interesting. Two weekends ago I went to a city further north called Natal with most of the other volunteers. 55880020It was a 4-hour bus ride, and we stayed in this cool little hotel right on the beach. While it was fun for a weekend getaway, I wouldn’t go there on a regular basis. It was simply your typical touristy beach resort. Very crowded, with lots of partying going on at night, which isn’t really my thing. Unfortunately, the part that will stick with me the most is how sick–er, I mean, “tipsy”–I made myself. I drank three of these fruity alcoholic drinks called “caparinhas” on Saturday night, and the next morning I woke up extremely nauseated. Feeling thirsty, I drank some water, and the next thing I know I’m making a mad dash for the bathroom. I didn’t make it. For the first time since I was a little girl, I threw up. Fortunately, it was only water, and fortunately it was on a patio in an open courtyard. So I didn’t make a horrible mess or ruin anything.

61050004This past weekend I spent quality time with myself. The other volunteers went on another getaway to another beach, and invited me, but I chose not to go strictly for financial reasons…So, instead, Saturday I went into Recife on my own to explore its “old town,” or historic district. It was actually quite pretty. I wandered around for a bit, took photos, and then fell asleep on a bench in a pretty little park with a fountain.

That evening C. invited me to go with her and R. to a movie. I had a lot of fun with them. After the movie, they took me back to the historic district in Recife (“Antigo Recife”) for a drink and a bite to eat. We sat outside near a plaza bordered on each side with beautiful and colorful old buildings. It was lovely. We had a great time just chatting and enjoying the lovely atmosphere of the place.53750009

The next day, Sunday, I went by myself to the beach Boa Viagem in Recife. I only stayed a couple hours, enough to soak up a little sun, for there were just too many people. Very popular spot, apparently, on the weekends.

Sunday night I headed over to the hotel to see what the other volunteers were up to. I caught up with them in the nick of time. We piled into three cabs and headed up to the historic part of Olinda, the part on the big hill, known as “Alto da Se.” Every Sunday evening apparently, this is where the party’s at. It was jam-packed with people. There was wonderful drumming, dancing, and capoeira in the streets. Being there was an exhilerating feeling. It was the essence of Brazilian culture, alive and in full swing. Brazilians know how to have a good time. As I stood there in the throng, listening to the drumbeats, and watching these girls dance like crazy in front of me, I couldn’t help but begin to sway and dance in my own way with the infectious rhythm. Several of the British gals joined in as well. It was amazing fun.

78690024We stayed a good while, then a few of us decided to find a place nearby to get some drinks and a bite to eat. After having no luck anywhere else, we finally ended up at the same little restaurant W., A., S., and I went to a few weeks ago. The one with the lovely veranda overlooking Recife in the distance. This time we sat underneath a starry sky and in the distance could see a purple horizon and a maze of sparkling, twinkling city lights. It was gorgeous…

The Brazil diaries, part 1

55880019Sometimes a pleasant jaunt down memory lane is all it takes to jolt oneself out of the “blues.”

Recently I came across a journal I kept during a two-month visit to Olinda, Brazil in 2005, in which I volunteered as an assistant English teacher in a public school. I have had very few truly joyful and soul-satisfying experiences in my life, but the time I spent in Brazil nearly eight years ago (I can hardly believe it’s been that long!) was definitely one of those experiences. Re-reading my journal brought back many happy memories, as well as some “what was I thinking” and “boy, I was stupid and naive then” moments, particularly in regards to a brief relationship I had with a Brazilian young man while there. (I will not be sharing the details of that drama, as it’s far too personal, and did not end well.) However, I feel as if it would be a shame not to share at least some of what I experienced during this time in Brazil, if only to impart to those who have never visited this amazing country some of the richness and beauty of its people, culture, and landscape. Brazil, more than any country I’ve been to, feels like home to me, and I hope one day I can literally call it home. I am, and always will be, in my heart, a “brasileira.”

Without further ado, the first installment of my “Brazil diaries”:

8/19/05 Here I am at last, in Olinda, in the home of R. and C. and their three-year-old son, M. They are definitely not poor by Brazilian standards–probably middle-class–but they are still without many of the amenities that I, as a spoiled American, am used to, and they live in what looks like a rougher section of Olinda. The apartment is small but clean, and they have cable TV and internet, but there is no AC, the toilets don’t flush toilet paper, they wash clothes by hand, and the shower involves two shower heads–one that spouts only scalding, hot water and the other, only cold water. I took a shower today and used the cold water–it actually felt good, since it’s so warm and humid in the apartment.

The window in my room has a bottom portion that has no glass or screening of any kind, so fresh air and breezes blow in my room constantly. I get to hear all the noise outside as well. During the day there are children playing in the courtyard below, sometimes people blast music next door, and the traffic outside is nearly constant. It’s definitely a very different sort of environment here, but I’m adjusting!

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558800068/21/05 Since I’d still seen so little of Olinda, I was able to procure the company of A., S., and W., three of the Brits, on a trek into the historic district, or “old town” center, of the city. It was quite a walk, especially into the historic part, which sat atop a huge hill, but I welcomed the exercise, and it was well worth it in the end. The “old” part of Olinda is beautiful. Gorgeous, colorful, Spanish-colonial-style buildings line the streets, and they all overlook a magnificent view of the Atlantic Ocean and nearby Recife. All along the main road there are shops and outdoor vendors selling massive quantities of handmade crafts and jewelry.

We wore ourselves out on our trek, so W. suggested a nearby restaurant/bar to go to for some drinks. It hit the spot. It was a gorgeous place–we sat at a table on the veranda in the rear, which was situated atop a steep hill and gave us a breathtaking view, through flowers and palm fronds, of the beach in the distance and the skyscrapers of Recife. It felt kind of surreal, and we had a lovely time.55880011

By the time we departed, dusk was beginning to settle in, and the “brasileiros” began to emerge in throngs. The main square was filled with the mostly dark-skinned, fun-loving people, and we immediately heard drums beating. We saw a crowd gathered round one part of the square, so we hurried to take a look. Pairs of men were taking turns doing the “capoeira” dance, most bare-foot, and some bare-chested. Though I’d seen capoeira before, it has always fascinated me, and it was extra special to see it actually done, on the spot, in a Brazilian street. It just added to the whole “flavor” of the day.

I can’t wait to explore more in the days to come, and to immerse myself even more in this beautiful and fascinating culture.

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8/22/05 Today was my first day “teaching” English. I was a bit nervous and a bit intimidated, but once I entered the classroom, full of those beautiful, dark-skinned, dark-haired children, noisy and wild as they could be, yet grinning at me, I felt strangely at ease. I felt a weird sort of confidence.

The English teacher, a middle-aged Brazilian man (a Profesor S.), was very nice, and mainly just had me do the pronunciation with the kids. I was so glad I was simply an assistant, for the teacher had to spend half the classroom time keeping the kids in order. I actually helped him with three classes–the end of the first, all of the middle one, and the beginning of the last one. It was the middle class that was the rowdiest, as most of them were fairly young, but I actually enjoyed them the most. They had so many questions for me and about me, wanted my signature on their notebooks, and when I left the classroom, they surrounded me and showered me with friendly goodbyes. In short, they stole my heart!

74310007My time here so far has been very thought-provoking. Though I wake up every morning to a warm, muggy room, though I am without many of the luxuries I am used to, and though I look around me at filth, decay and poverty that are unheard of in the US, I wouldn’t trade this time here for anything. I rode on my first bus this evening to get back to C. and R.’s, and as I sat there, wind blowing from the open window on my face, just watching the scenery go by, I kept thinking, This fits me, this brings me contentment. A deep sense of joy flooded me.