Mehari’s

The last box opened, dug through, unpacked.  The last knick-knack shelved or sorted or stuffed in some box where it will be forgotten until the next move.  The last picture hung and the last frame straightened.  The bed is made, waiting to be mussed again tonight.

A celebratory cigar, warm between my fingers lights the spreading twilight.  Rain falls softly, but I remain sheltered underneath an overhang.  Daring the rain enough to taste the crisp air mingled with smoke, but not enough to soak me through.  Inhale, cloud.  Inhale, cloud.  The smoke stands out surprisingly against an equally grey sky.  Its tendrils grasp and climb.  It puffs, not out into the wind, but up into my eyes.  A screen that blinds me temporarily in a rush of tobacco and dreams.

Its fresh.  And its soothing.  Its heady.

The smoke and the rain hold counsel and I think they’ve ruled in my favour.

Grey

I think the most important words in the English language (or any other, if you’d like to translate it for me) must be: You matter.  This matters.  It matters.

Matter.

We’re all made from it and we can’t escape it.  And it causes pain and suffering and sometimes I think we’d like to.  We experience pain because the matter, the molecules and atoms making bones and joints and ligaments, starts to fall apart.  If we had no matter, we wouldn’t feel a thing.

But the Avett Brothers already warned me against that wish.  You can’t be like me but be happy that you can’t. I see pain but I don’t feel it; I am like the old tin man.  We have to let ourselves feel.  Feel the hurt of an aching heart.  Feel the hurt of an aching limb.  It’s how we communicate with a broken world.  I can only assume it’s how we would communicate with a world that’s finally whole.  We feel.  We take that risk.  We embrace our material nature and live in the present, fleshy reality.

And in an inappropriate linguistic jump, that word matter comes back to us.  We want to matter.  It’d be easier to not care.  Just like it’d be easier to not feel.  But deep down, I think we all want to know that our contribution to the world around us is an important one. We want our medals or our certificates, our degrees or our promotions.  We want to know that the breath we draw isn’t wasted.  That someone heard the words we speak and took them to heart.  That what we say, do, feel, and what we are is critical.  That if it was taken away, someone would notice.  Someone would protest, saying, “I really needed that.”  To know that our words comforted a friend, or our presence made a hard moment just a little bit easier.  To know that when we walk in a room, someone sighs, “Thank god, you’re here.”

In big and little ways, I think we need this, or at least we want it.  We don’t exist in a vacuum.  As easy as that might be.  We’re pierced and pained by the world around us.  We’re all still crying for some measure of approval.  And maybe if we all gave it out, our hearts would be satisfied.  Or maybe you just have to find it within yourself.  Someone wiser than me can tell you that.

Prayer

As I posted that, I just got a call from Kipp that his grandpa is in the hospital with a heart attack.  My attempts to gain a foothold in a slippery world are forever being complicated by these storms.

Pray for his family, please.

Sunning

This will be quick, because I want to go grab a couple hours of afternoon summer sun before it gets away from me.

I’m back in DeKalb.  And overall, I’m really happy.  I miss my friends.  I miss my boyfriend.  I miss Des Moines.  I miss my family.  I miss not generally feeling like everything I do is being disapproved of.  But I really love a lot of things out here.  I’m grateful for good roommates (who will hopefully become friends).  I’m grateful for delicious healthy food that I can make it my giant kitchen.  I’m grateful for a chance to still be a student.  I’m grateful for a good, steady paycheck from my boring job.  I’m grateful for the funny cat that lives in my house.  I’m grateful for long distance communication technology that allows me to keep in touch with the friends and family I’m missing.  I’m genuinely happy.

But its a lot of work.  Maybe for some people happiness comes easily.  But it doesn’t for me.  And like a good Norwegian, I feel guilty about that.  I feel like there is something wrong with me because I have to remind myself to journal and play music and write poetry to be happy.  I feel like I shouldn’t need to so constantly remind myself of the things that make the world bigger than me and the things that make it beautiful.  Maybe it comes naturally to some people. But it doesn’t to me.

So I’m trying to learn to get over my Scandinavian roots would tell me to apologize for myself.  I’m trying to learn to invest in my self.  To keep myself happy, or at least motivated.  I can’t deny the pain in the world and in everyday life, but I can keep myself from getting discouraged and remind myself that I have a role to play in this story.  I am not a passive participant.  I am an active player on my own stage.  And I need to remind myself that I am worth it.

A New Measurement

Today I saw a picture from my Christmas 2009 trip to JCC in Sierra Leone and saw how very small and young Sallay Abu used to be.  Its easy to lose sight of how far you have come. She certainly didn’t have the dramatic change of baby Alice to the healthy, sassy Alice of today. She obviously has quite a bit of growing left to do.  But she has still changed so much.  Her arms have filled out. She is so much taller.  The little girl who used to nestle into my shoulder barely fits on my wide hips anymore.

Somedays I forget that she won’t fit in my arms forever, and certainly won’t want to be toted for the rest of her life.  I forget she won’t always stay a little girl.

I think about how much she changed from the first time I met her, crying and screaming behind the kitchens, literally covered in shit.  I think about how much she changed during that trip, and how much improvement she’s made after we left.  She is a shadow to Mama Christie and has grown so much as a result of Christie’s love and attention.  Sallay talks now, sings, plays and most beautifully, smiles.  She has the most gorgeous, charming smile.

And I start to measure my life in Sallays.  How much she has changed between the first time I met her and our first reunion.  And how much I have as well.  And then how much we both changed again between our meeting last summer and this.  Where will she be by the next time I see her?  How many classes in school will she have completed?  What verses will she have memorized and recited to a crowd of excited teachers and parents and staff?  How much taller will she be?  Will I still be strong enough to carry her?  What songs will she know?  Will she still want to cuddle with me at rest time and squish my cheeks?

Where will I be by the next time I see her?  Will I be in further post-graduate education?  Will I be working?  Will I be living in Des Moines?  Or somewhere entirely unforeseen by me?  Will I be happy?  Will I be healthy?  Will I be independent and strong?  The three me’s that Sallay met have all been women in very different places in their lives.  For better or worse, I have changed considerably.  But she has been a constant since the day I met her.  The love I feel for her.  The bond we share.  The perspective she gives me.  The eyes she opens.

I wonder how she’ll grow in the time we’re apart.  And I wonder how I will.

Kayengoma

It’s been a while.

Kayengoma.  Sometimes that’s all I’ve got.  Really, I think sometimes thats all we’ve all got.  Kayengoma.

Thanks be to God.  Thats the literal translation of the Mende word kayengoma. It’s a sort of magic catch-all word that is used to answer any and all interrogative questions.  How are you doing?  Kayengoma.  How is your business?  Kayengoma.  How was your night?  Kayengoma.  How are the crops?  Kayengoma.  I’m not nearly fluent enough in Mende to tell you if the conversation would then go on to provide actual details of how you are feeling today or whether the rain is coming in the right amounts to encourage the growth of your rice and cassava.  But the initial question is only answered with thanksgiving to a higher power that is in control.

At certain times in my life, I’ve found this to be beautifully spiritual.  An act of faith and trust to be thanking God in all circumstances and to so constantly bear in mind the absolute power of God in our lives.

At other times, I’ve felt like Kayengoma could alternatively be translated “does it really matter? life goes on.”  And in some ways, I think that is beautiful and spiritual too.

Sometimes I try to take too much control.  Sometimes I let my own little world get far too big.  Sometimes I let all the wrong voices speak the loudest in my ears.  Sometimes I let the anxiety build, the fear that if I don’t make all the right decisions, if I let one fight drag on too long or one detail go uncorrected, I’ll never get another chance to fix it.  I’ll be on an irreparable wrong path.  And I think, in some ways, kayengoma means there is no wrong path.  That God is in control of this world and I am not, and all I am called to do is be a part of it and to love whoever and whatever comes my way.  I can’t screw things up for all eternity, as much as I would love to believe that I am that important.  We’re all important, and we’re all beautiful individuals, but there shouldn’t be that much pressure weighing on our shoulders.  We’re not built for it.

How am I?  If I’m having a bad day, will people stop loving me?  If I don’t have it all together, will I ruin all my plans?  No.  Kayengoma.  How am I? “does it really matter? life goes on.”

How did I do on a paper or a class or an application or a project?  Records get forgotten, new jobs can be found.  New plans can be made.  It will never be the end of the world or the end of my brilliance.  The world doesn’t know how to measure all that well and I’m not going to hang my hat on its decisions.  Kayengoma. “does it really matter? life goes on.”

How do ______ fill in your own blanks here.  We all have these questions, these issues we feel a burning need to control.  But we can’t.  We just can’t.  And we shouldn’t.  Life is what it is.  And sometimes it will go well.  And sometimes everything will seem to fall apart into a million pieces and you’ll lose half of them.  But Kayengoma.  “Does it really matter? life goes on.”  I can live in a world of anxious chasing after daydreams and fears.  I can run until I’m exhausted.  Or somedays, I can accept a slightly fatalistic attitude that takes the weight of the world off my very small shoulders and remember that I can’t mess everything up.  Life will be messy and painful and heartbreaking and hilarious and beautiful all in its own time.  And it will never stop moving.  Kayengoma.