Sunday, August 26, 2018

It's My Birthday and I'll Be Tired If I Want would be tired too if it happened to you.....

It does happen to be my birthday, although it wouldn't have to be to write this post.

I am losing steam.  I find myself being grateful that raising my children is behind me, that my education is behind me, that my ten years of traveling and and living in different countries is behind me.  It is maybe because of all that?  that I am getting so tired.

Friday my daughter and I spent two and a half hours at what had been my storage porta box and is now the family porta box.  We were sorting through boxes, deciding what goes to Good Will, what gets taken home for further storing, what gets put in the back of the box and left for the next generation (granddaughter) to deal with someday.  Thankfully my daughter is strong and she is also very good at organizing things.  Many of the boxes I was not able to lift and she was right on top of them, moving them around and putting that box is order.  When we left it had a shape and form as well as substance and content.

And my body hurt everywhere.  I went home and was in bed by about 6:00 p.m.  I can't do heavy lifting anymore.  In reality I never could but I was at least able to survive long days and in traveling times, sometimes several changes of plane in different countries in a 24 hour period.  Not no more.

Yesterday, Saturday, I got a call from my daughter asking if I could come and help her sort months and months of Tupperware out.  She is a Tupperware Consultant and has recently moved up to Manager.  These are good and wonderful things and at the same time she has a toddler who looooovvvveeeesss getting into mommy's boxes....   So I went and spent several hours with her working on that project.  I think I made it until almost 8:00 p.m. and again I could hardly move.  I got in my car and drove the whole five minutes to get to my own place and was in bed pretty darn quick.

Friday I began thinking about (not for the first time) about death and about what remains behind when a human being dies.  Yesterday the United States lost a great Senator, John McCain, to death, which rather intensified my thinking process.

We of course leave behind our bodily remains, whether by cremation or burial.  We also leave behind our earthly remains.   In the United States it is likely that even a homeless person whose possessions can fit into a shopping cart has something to leave behind.  Most of us own something.  A change of clothes perhaps, maybe a sleeping bad or a battered tent.  On the other end of the spectrum people leave behind houses full of stuff.  Some of that stuff may be very valuable, some of it may not.  Book collections, china and silver collections, clothing, cars, etc.

I have been sorting through and downsizing, and upsizing, and downsizing for approximately fifteen years.  First I left a house and had three porta boxes.  I also gave a great deal away, desks and cameras are two things I remember, and they went to Good Will.  As I left the country to follow God in first discernment, and then as a Mission Co-Worker, I would return each year to sort through those three porta boxes.  Every year.  It gets old really fast.

And yet there are things that are really hard to let go of this side of Glory.  Books, family pictures, family furniture.  It is both things that are mine in the here and the now, like the books; and things that connect me to the past and the folks who have gone before me into Glory, like pictures and furniture.

Now I am down to what is in my apartment and what is in a part of the storage unit, the porta box.  For this lifetime I may have given away as much as I am able to do without breaking my heart.  Books are just a part of my blood.  I have given so so many, even in China I left boxes and boxes of books at the Chinese Pharmaceutical University where I taught Oral English, and left books with Chinese friends there; English books that would be dreadfully hard for them to obtain on their own.  I have ethnic clothes that were tailor made for me in different countries.  Many are gone because of circumstances like the Civil War in South Sudan where everything in my apartment was lost because I could not return to claim it.  And yet I have the clothes that were made for me later on in Africa.

There is so much treasure on earth here in the United States.  And then there are people in countries that live through Civil War or who are innocent victims of war being done to them.  Like South Sudan and Yemen.  In those cases truly all a person may have are the clothes on their backs.

When we die we leave behind our fleshly body.  AND we leave behind our earthly remains.  Those remains include all of the things that in our mortal, perishable existence we collected, loved, shared, willed to the generations that follow us, or felt burdened by because how does one let go of paintings that one's mother has painted, or beat up tables that belonged to a grandmother?

There is clearly so much more that could be said on this topic, this is just a beginning.  I must now get ready to go to church.  As an ordained pastor in the Seattle Presbytery I have the honor of helping with the installation of another female pastor into service in a church here in the presbytery today.  Even though Presbyterians do not have the Apostolic connection as some other denominations do, non the less we pass on traditions and those things which through our God, are not mortal and are not perishable.  This is something that we will leave behind when we die as well.  Being part of a faith tradition is to be a part of the past, the present and the future.  To leave behind earthly remains, and to leave behind heavenly treasures.

And there is the gift. 

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Family Reunification

Yesterday I was at a small park near home with my daughter and granddaughter.  There was an older Asian couple with a young boy there as well.  He was using the playground equipment and they were pushing him on the swings and keeping watch as he used the slides, etc.

I thought about the fact that they probably lived with the boy's parents, I was assuming of course that they were his grandparents.  In Asian countries  retirement age is often at a younger age than it is here in the United States.  Extended families, at least in the past, have often lived together in one dwelling and it is a normal practice for grandparents to care for the grandchildren while the parents work outside of the home.  With forgotten children in China, where parents are gone to a big city to work for much of the year, the grandparents essentially raise the grandchildren.

Something clicked for me and I realized what I was seeing in real time is "chain migration" or family reunification.  Chain migration is something that the 45th administration of the United States wants to eliminate or severely curtail.  This is when one member, or perhaps a nuclear family, immigrates legally (documented) to the states.  Then they sponsor family members in their home country who migrate in a chain to the states. 

If one looks at this through the lens of family reunification then we can see that this is a natural way for people in most of the world to live.   South America, Asia and Africa all have cultures in which it is natural for whole families, and several generations, to live together, to help care for one another and the little ones, and therefore to move together when opportunity presents itself. 

I suppose this means that chain migration is an industrialized, modernized way to look at the same thing.  The United States is certainly a country that puts a premium on independence.  Families are mobile, often moving many times for job opportunities in other parts of the country, and we are used to doing this on our own. 

I think that perhaps 45 and his administration do not understand the cultural reasons and the cultural value behind family reunification.  This is not seen by those who apply to sponsor family members as a way to create a terrorist network.  It is a seen as a way to keep the family intact, to not create splinters of the family on different sides of the Atlantic, or between North and South America.  Because the modern United States does not function in this familial culture, there is a lack of understanding as to the intent and desire behind this kind of immigration. 

This lack of understanding spills further into categories such as putting tariffs on countries in an attempt to force their governments to conform to the will of the government in Washington, D.C., but instead those extra taxes are causing calamity to the lives of the citizens in those countries.  And their governments may not care that the citizens no longer have access to health care or affordable food. 

I think that our administrations should be required to take missionary training.  Not to become missionaries, instead to learn about cultural differences and to be sensitive to the ways in which other parts of the world view the world and one another.  Surprisingly, everyone is not just like us.

Sunday, December 3, 2017


December. Decembers have been milestones in my life twice. The first time was my college journey to Israel/Palestine in 1996. We were there for two profound weeks. The second was December of 2013. I left Malakal, South Sudan on December 6th (after finishing teaching, grading and submitting grades for the college.) I spent a week in Juba, South Sudan getting a six month in and out visa, with the help of South Sudanese colleagues. I believe it was December 13th that I flew to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for Christmas. The 14th I went to the international Christmas Bazaar there, had a wonderful time meeting friends and purchasing special things from Africa. That night we began hearing reports about fighting breaking out in South Sudan. I was never able to return to Malakal. In the Spring of 2015 I returned to South Sudan, going to Juba. The college (The Nile Theological College) where I taught had relocated to the Capital and that is where I was called. By September I had to return to the United States for a hip replacement. I never went back. The trajectory of my life had/has changed, beginning with that December of 2013. Well, really beginning long before that, it kept getting corrected as my call in ministry became increasingly clear. But doors closed in December of 2013. When you can't get back into a town, or a country, because of Civil War, things change.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

For today.

I am now in the midst of unpacking and finding places for things and deciding what must go -- to other homes and other people.  I am also experiencing, again, the difference between the vision and what it takes to get to the end of the vision.  Meaning, I can/could see this wonderful cozy home and new life; and now I have to do the work to get to that vision.

I no longer belong in either world, expat or repat.  Or, I belong with a foot in both.  Life will always be a bit strange here now; one of the ways that I experience this is in my vocabulary.  Trying to remember a word, or an idiom, to express what I am wanting to share with someone.  A recent confusion was paper clips, no, clothes pins....both things that hold things together....not being sure if clothes pin was the correct word for what I was searching for.  Dish towels and cloths.  The English language is complex and once I have left behind some of the holding everything taunt, sometimes the meaning or the nuance escapes me.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Dear Friends,
Well, goodness, I did not realize that it has been more than a year since I last blogged!  And what a year it has been.

I am hoping that by dipping my "pen" back into this blog I will find myself coming again and again and sharing more fully my Debbie's Journey Continues with you.  Somedays it is all I can do to very briefly journal, let alone to blog and write a more substantial accounting of my day and my life.

I will be back.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

July update

July 14, 2015
My head is swirling with a number of issues I wish to share with you, my readers.  I am going to begin to write and as I remember something, it will be added.
Yesterday I saw a puppy out by the bus stop, headed for the garbage pile.  It was cute, and I am not a dog lover.  However, for the millionth time it went through my head that the dogs in Juba, and in all of South Sudan, do not know what it is to be a beloved pet in a home.  They do not know what it is to be fed, played with, groomed, given medical care, seen as “man’s best friend”…..instead, because veterinary services like sterilization are not available (there are no vets at all that I am aware of), the dogs continue to produce litters and they are neglected, beaten and chased.  They are also public health nuisances.  I keep in mind when I see a gang of dogs that were I to be bitten I would have to somehow get the last in the series of rabies shots that I began in Louisville, Kentucky.  I don’t think that rabies shots are available in Juba. 
The older I am the more difficult it is to use the buses here in Juba, or anywhere in South Sudan.  Having to hoist myself up to a seat, having to get off and on the bus every time anyone else must exit,   not always having a proper grip as the bus lurches forward or around corners, is physically challenging.  In a land that currently has many people with a lack of access to water, hygiene is an issue as well.  Washing hands after a toilet visit is a learned behaviour, as well as other hygienic habits.
I have come to understand why there is so many small “doo cons”, Arabic for little store.  These little stores would be equivalent I believe to neighbourhood mom and pop stores in the U.S. except that they are usually even smaller than that.  They may have pasta and yogurt, pop, bread, Nutella, a variety of canned goods, toilet paper, cookies, etc.  They do not have vegetables or fruits, those are find in outdoor markets in various locations. 
It is primarily the elite who have vehicles for driving from place to place.  Most of the locals, and the PCUSA missionaries, do not have vehicles.  For me to go even to a “foreign” store (and there are at least a couple of them here in Juba) would require a taxi ride.  It is much easier, and more practical, to shop close to home on my way home from the college, or to venture out on a Saturday to do my shopping across the street from my apartment.  Perhaps the original mom and pop stores in the United States succeeded for this very reason.  They were close to home for many people who may not have transportation or rely on buses.  It is also, of course, a good way to do business and earn wages.  With the increasing cost of groceries and the lack of rises in wages here in South Sudan it is dubious how much those wages help.  But the little stores do provide employment.
This morning I had access to an English language newspaper.  I read an article on water availability in South Sudan that was devastating for me as I read it.  Because the government is spending so much money on the civil war here attention is not being paid to access to clean, affordable water.  The key word seems to be affordable.  Clean water is not a priority, nor are medical services or education, and many people simply cannot afford it.  People who cannot afford clean water either cut their consumption of water to a dangerously low level, or they get their water from the polluted Nile River.  The Nile River water exposes them to dangerous diseases like cholera. 
We take so much for granted in the United States.  Even the water that we wash clothes in and flush toilets with is clean enough to safely drink.  Here in South Sudan most people cannot afford and do not have access to clean water even for drinking.


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A slipping economy.

May 19, 2015
Having just walked to three different stores I now have a new report to make. While clearly nothing like the lines that I have read about happening in places in Eastern Europe in the past (and I am sure are somewhere in the world right now), I did get a sense of how it could take a day to find food to feed a family; every day. Yogurt is gone even at the store that I had heard had some. Okay, they had two little tiny containers and then two of the larger containers of plain. However, the refrigerated compartments were not cold and there was no air, not even fans, in the store. This is because of a lack of fuel and/or the cost of fuel.  I decided not to take my chances with refrigerated items.   Oh yes, I saw two women buying the last of the big bottles of water in one store.
Both of the items that I did end up purchasing had jumped by ten South Sudanese pounds in the last week. I paid 12 SSP for a bar of soap. Having not bought it here before I can only assume that is expensive. I picked up rice and beans take home at the local outdoor eatery. The woman said business is not good because everything is so expensive. If it is bad here in Juba, with prices and empty shelves, how much worse in the rural areas?
Several days ago when on my way to the bus stop I saw, as usual, the women who carry the trays of practical toiletries on their heads.  Suddenly “give us this day our daily bread” from the Lord’s Prayer came to life for me.  Every day they must sell enough to be able to eat their daily bread.  God, please send them the people to buy their products so that they can eat.  Every day.

Last week after garbage day I saw something that once again gave me reason to rejoice that I am a vegetarian.  Just where the garbage had been, and where of course there were still traces, were now sheep; standing and gleefully ingesting any and all leftovers that they could find.

Finally for today, I have been trying to understand that economics of what is going on here in South Sudan that is causing prices to skyrocket.  One of the things that could be explored is the concept that even when goods like produce are brought into Juba and then shipped out or flown to other places, they are changed at dollar rates even if local money was used to purchase them.  They need to be charged at the rate that was used for purchase.  If an economist, or at least someone who knows more about this than I do, could explain this to me in more detail I would be grateful.
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