Wednesday, July 31, 2013

What's Next?

            If I had a Cadbury bar each time someone asked me that question (if only), I would be one fat, happy girl.
            To answer the question, I will be moving back to Seattle and getting involved in the community while hiking and dancing as much as possible along the way. Still working on the job aspect, it’s a bit tough when you were, you know, halfway around the world.
            Along the way I’ll also be making a few pit stops: in Scotland to walk across it (see last blog post), DC for a week with my best friend (next blog post), Seattle for my roommate’s wedding (I’m baking the wedding cake!), California for family time, and then road tripping back up to Seattle.  This blog will continue on if you’re still up for the ride!
            Phew. Sometimes I get tired just thinking about it. Oh, and don’t forget the three heavy pieces of luggage getting tugged along in wake...while on crutches. I sure won’t be able to.
            Thank you for being with me on this journey! Your support is so appreciated as I now know just how important the love of a community is. None of us can make it alone and from the bottom of my heart, thank you.  This beautiful year has sadly come to an end and in the months to come I’ll be needing that support more than ever in transitioning back to life in the US.
            But, as we all know, every ending is just a beginning in disguise.
            And, oh, this journey is far from over.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Mission: Accomplished!

You know you’re having a good day when your least favorite part of it is walking down a butterfly-and-sunlight strewn trail. Granted, it’s also mile 75 in four days and your body is staging a coup de tat to replace you with a hopefully less adventure-inclined counterpart.

While toward the end it might have gotten a bit questionable, WE DID IT!!!!!!! 4 days, 77 miles coast to coast, moonlight over Loch Ness, going a bit nuts, being grateful for ferns, story time, lots of pictures, miles of too-gorgeous trail, too much medi tape, some elephant ears, and a pair of crutches later...MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!

Maybe a little worse for wear, but definitely intact upon arrival in Inverness! I definitely couldn’t have made it alone, Blake and I carried each other through (sometimes literally) to the very end of the line. Unfortunately, on the train ride back my ankles decided to make good on their threat of revolt and officially went on strike. After walking off the train my left ankle completely gave out with the other not far behind. Thankfully, health care is FREE in Scotland and twenty minutes at the hospital, a host of pain meds, and a pair of crutches later I was diagnosed with some pretty angry tendons that will soon (hopefully) heal themselves.

It’s a strange feeling, making a dream come true. Surreal, still reeling when my brain wraps my head around the fact that we LITERALLY WALKED ACROSS A COUNTRY. I couldn’t have done it alone, that’s for sure. The one thing I do know is that this is only the beginning. Where to next? Who knows. But big things are definitely on the horizon.

Pictures tell this story better than I ever could:

Day 1: All strapped up and ready to go! If only we knew what was coming....

Break time on the canal

Hitting the trail by Loch Lochy

Loch Oich, almost too gorgeous to be real

Medical tape--the key to happiness on long hikes. Pretty sure it was what kept my feet together.

Mile 36: Already ready for the loony bin

Trail overlook Loch Ness

That moment when you stop in your tracks because the scene you're looking at couldn't possibly be real.

Day 5: I'm a gimp! SO WORTH IT.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

So You Want To Walk Across Scotland?

Tomorrow I will start walking Scotland coast to coast. Yup, you read that right and no, I’m not crazy. Mulalo, my South African best friend, has endearingly called me “mpengo” (“crazy person” in Venda) since the day I suggested climbing Devil’s Peak four months ago. (finally got him to climb it with me last week, who’s the crazy one now??) While walking across a country may sound a bit crazy, there’s a story behind it.

As some of you may know, I have synovitus in my right knee from a bad dancing injury five years ago. My friend flipped me incorrectly and instead of landing on my feet my knee was slammed, with momentum, into the floor. Ouch. The swelling was so bad it was too painful to wear pants for a couple of weeks and there was talk of a cartilage tear in my knee joint. But without a conclusive answer, I refused to get surgery.

A while back, I finally went to a knee specialist and was told it was synovitus, swelling in the knee joint. He said that it was a common problem for young, active women. Yup, sounds like me. The bad news was that there is nothing to help it. The good news was that it usually went away on its own after a few years.

The thought of it going away had me so excited I was crying as I left the hospital. Crazy thoughts started whirling around my head as to what I would do without the injury if only I could. Because it seems to have answers to most everything in life, I went straight to the bookstore. Within ten minutes I had a huge National Geographic World Atlas book spread across the reading table, country maps soon followed. I wanted to see it all, walk over mountains, hike til my legs fell off. Because, hey, I’d be able to without pain.

And so, the idea of walking across a country was hatched and tomorrow it will become a reality. Coast to coast, miles of countryside, mountain tops, trails beckoning. The magic moment of my knee healing itself hasn’t come yet, but no matter.

I’ve started dreaming and I refuse to stop now.

What would you do if there was nothing holding you back?

Thursday, July 11, 2013

I Am Because We Are

It’s official, I’ve left Cape Town :(

This year has been beautiful, it’s been a challenge, it’s been a mess, it’s been bigger and simpler and deeper than I ever could have imagined.

I am not the same.

People have walked into my life that have left their mark in a ways that I can barely put into words. The simple yet deeply real response I have is “thank you.” Thank you for accepting a lost American into your homes and hearts, thank you for laughing with me through the cross-cultural snafus and terribly cooked meals, thank you for letting me be witness to your lives.

Grace has truly carried me through this year. The grace of others through the ups and downs of accompaniment, grace for myself allowing my heart to feel deeply every bump in the road.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s of the beauty of community. I could never have made it through this journey alone. It’s been an adventure in itself learning to rely so much on others. The real beauty came in discovering just how powerful the love of a community can be in making us wiser, stronger, more vulnerable, more loving than we could ever have been on our own.

South Africans have a word that captures the heart of this idea, Ubuntu—“I am because we are.” It speaks to the truth that our humanity is dependent upon others to share it with, that the health of any individual is dependent upon the health of the community and vice versa. Stepping into this community so many months ago I had no idea how radically I would change. The unconditional, welcoming love of my family and others has given me the confidence to become more than I was—stronger, passionate, more open, vulnerable, rooted, loving. I became more because the quiet (yet sometimes sassy, outspoken) Ubuntu love of my community believed that I could.

Goodbye for now, Cape Town. Thank you for welcoming me, shaking up my life, and changing it for the better.

To those I love—in California, DC, Seattle, and Cape Town—see you again soon.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Taste the Rainbow

After begging for pap and chakalaka for dinner last night I paused mid-cheer this morning upon discovering a fresh pack of rooti in the fridge. My, how things have changed. If you had asked me a year ago what chakalaka was I’d probably have given an answer similar to my dad’s:

“Dad! Guess what! I’m making chakalaka for dinner!”
“Chocolate for dinner? Isn’t that bad for you?”

Now, I can’t get enough of braai (barbeque), am in love with all things fish, and have learned just about all of the ways to cook butternut squash. My friend Mulalo laughed when he caught me licking the grease off my fingers from eating some incredible fried chicken with gravy, “Jen, are you sure you were ever vegetarian? I’m not sure I believe you.” From Monkey Gland sauce to lamb curry to rooti to Gatsbys—call me a convert, my heart is sold.

Of course, I’m also taking every opportunity to learn how to cook the fantastic cuisine of the Rainbow Nation. My host mom has been helping with that while she and my host dad have gracefully pretended to like all of the culinary experiments served along the way. Perhaps the best moment came after a surprise success of a meal complete with dessert. I’d never seen my host dad look so content and he rushed in to while I was cleaning up in the kitchen.

“Jen, very good, Jen. It’s okay for you to get married now. I give you permission.”

Chakalaka (hey, maybe this can be your husband-catcher recipe too): 50 ml canola oil
30 g chopped fresh ginger
30 g chopped fresh garlic
20 g chopped chili peppers
200 g chopped onions
500 g tomatoes, roughly chopped
100 g green peppers, roughly chopped
100 g red peppers, roughly chopped
50 g leaves masala
200 g grated carrots
450 g baked beans, in tomato sauce
10 g fresh coriander


1 Fry ginger, garlic, chillis, onions in the oil.
2 Add the leaf masala or curry powder of your choice.
3 Add the tomatoes and cook for 10 minutes.
4 Add peppers and carrots and cook for 10 minutes. Add baked beans and cook for 5 minutes.
5 Remove from heat and add coriander. Check seasoning. Serve with whatever you want, hot or cold.

Friday, June 28, 2013

I'm a Woman, Not a Piece of Meat

I should probably wait to start writing but I can’t help it, I’m angry. Today, walking down the street in broad daylight, an elderly man spanked me. Strike one, not a way to get on my good side. I spun around and said “No!” firmly and loudly to express that harassment is not okay. He winked at me with a cheeky little “I know you liked it” grin in response. Strike two. Good thing he didn’t hit strike three because I don’t think either of us would have liked the result.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been sexually harassed for the seditious act of walking down the street nor is it hardly a South Africa-specific problem. I’ve been stalked in Germany and Belgium, asked for three-somes from strangers in Swaziland, stalked by car in New York, felt up in taxis in South Africa, and held down and kissed against my will in Spain (twenty feet from waiting cab drivers, none of whom felt like helping). I’m sick of it. I’m utterly sick of swallowing it, walking on, and pretending like nothing happened.

I have a high sense of self worth and am confident in who I am, my accomplishments, and goals for the future. But nothing brings that down faster than having all that I worked so hard for ignored for the shell of a body I walk around in—to be grabbed, spanked, felt up by strangers like I am nothing more than an object. I weary of carrying pepper spray with me every time I head out the door. It’s small and light but the implications of why I need it are heavy.

There’s a shame attached to harassment that keeps us quiet, like somehow it was our fault. It kept me quiet, but it’s reached the point where I just can’t any more. Since I was young its been taught to me that covering up is an essential part of being safe—a rule I ardently stick to. I’m sick of this culture, of clothing or time of night putting blame on the girl when it was someone else who initiated the action of disrespect or violence. Please, someone, have the audacity to ask me if I was wearing a skimpy dress or shorts any of the times I’ve been harassed. We talk to our daughters about covering up, but how often do we talk to our sons about respect?

Maybe I’m crazy for dreaming of a world where women don’t have to walk alone with fear or where “It’s a dress, not a yes!” posters aren’t on third grade classroom walls. Until then, I’ll carry my pepper spray but I won’t stay silent any longer.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

A Glimpse into Life in Bellville

I realized that since moving to Bellville I haven't shared yet where my time is spent. Here is a glimpse at the places and people in my life:

Bellville Youth Center
Officially titled House Erich Leistner, the Bellville Youth Center is a student hostel attached to the Bellville Lutheran Church. With a spacious meeting hall, they also host community outreach event and church functions. My pastor asked me to move to help with the center’s development in assisting the new director with administration, outreach, and event planning. It’s fun work and I get to stay at the hostel with the students.

We recently hosted a huge Mother’s Day Buffet and it was rewarding to get to see all of our hard work turn into a packed hall full of happy families and fantastic food. It was the first outreach/multi-church event and a wonderful way to bring together people from over five churches in the area. After the smash success of our Mother’s Day event we already have plans for a Father’s Day braai (barbeque), a Youth Day gathering, and a wonderful Women’s Day event planned for the upcoming months.

It’s wonderful to be a part of the church reaching out into the community and bringing people together outside of Sunday service. Living with the students has given me many new friendships as well through playing guitar, going to rugby matches, and watching South African soap operas together.

Women of Worth
Women of Worth is a women and children’s empowerment center in Bellville South. They are a multifaceted organization run by incredibly passionate women dedicated to make a real difference in their community.

Several skills-based classes are taught out of the center including comprehensive sewing, beading, fabric painting, mosaic, and handicrafts. It’s wonderful to spend time at the center and have women stop in to talk about how they are able to support themselves financially because of the skills they have learned at the center.

They also are aware of the needs of women in the area and serve as a resource base for women looking for counseling, support, or social services. Several personal development sessions are also held on the premises along with business classes to support women on their way to financial and emotional independence no matter their situation.

My favorite part of working with the WOW center is spending time with their after school program. They reach out to girls in local schools to provide positive role models and a safe environment for discussing women’s issues. We talk about healthy relationships, encourage dreams, and spend a lot of time laughing together.

It’s been inspiring walking with women so passionate about working for real change in their community. I truly look up to them and hope to live out their passion in my own life!