Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Happy Birthday to my hubby!

Sidiki Kalabante,
My life makes sense to me finally. I always felt like I was lost in this crazy world but when I met you I never understood that love was simple just like faith is simple. You remind me everyday that attitude is everything. Your spirit lights up the darkest of places which is why your students who have no family, who carry knives because they feel threatened, who keep up walls, love you and throw you surprise birthday parties complete with balloons and pizza that they purchased themselves. You are not only my inspiration but you are an inspiration to every one of your 160 students, your family, your friends, the passerby on the street or person of need on the subway. I am blessed to be with someone who challenges me to become a better person. I love you Adam. Happy Birthday!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

My hot husband...

inspires me everyday. He is the most positive person I know, making him the ideal person to teach in the poorest congretional district in America. He is not only the most positive person I know, but he is a walking encyclopedia brimming with knowledge, using his smarts to help others find theirs. However it's not his optimistic countenance or his beautiful brain that I fell in love with but rather it is his huge heart to serve. His heart pours out compassion everyday. It is this quality that I fell in love with when I would see him in his village in Guinea. It would make any woman melt to see a good looking man cradle African babies the way Adam does.I apologize, but since my husband is so humble, I am going to brag a little about him. Ok, maybe a lot.
Adam started his first day of teaching at MS 224 in the Bronx last Wednesday. I was able to go in to help him prepare his classroom before school starting. What I walked into was overwhelming for me. The school lay in the biggest mess, notebooks and file cabinets lining the halls, teachers being shuffled from room to room without even knowing what they were teaching yet, classrooms disheveled like an earthquake had hit. Adam's room was at the very end of a long hallway, room 338. Although his room was spacious the air conditioner was an aborted project when funds fell through. We worked for days under what seemed like a hurricane as the room fan would swivel its' head. At times it was counterproductive but we kept the fan for the relief it gave from the New York heat. My husband could sense my frustration in any situation and he always brings me back with three words, "Remember Guinea baby." After working in his classroom, I don't remember ever being more dirty, even after living in Africa. But there were never fans! Ah life would have been so different in a mud hut if there was such a contraption! I am grateful to have someone in my life who brings me back to all the things I learned during my Peace Corps service.
Today is his 3rd day of teaching. I look forward to drilling him when he gets home, imploring him for more stories of what happened at school. My favorites are usually his interactions with the recently immigrated West Africans. He is a math and Spanish teacher by contract, but he has taken on French translator to help his new students. Adam breathes this new life of his in everything he studies, in everything purchases, in everything he lives. His passion reignites what Guinea was for the both of us. A life of service.
Here is one of my favorite first day of school stories: Adam was going around the classroom, observing his students fill in their 3x5 flashcards, an icebreaker to help the students get to know each other. Adam noticed a female student of his with a blank space in the "favorite book" section of her flashcard. Another section of her flashcard read, "wants to make lots of money." Her excuse was she didn't like to read. Adam encouraged her by saying she could write down her favorite magazine. Her response did not waver, " I don't like to read." Adam bent down, saying to her in a kind of secretive voice, "You know, I noticed that you want to make lots of money. Reading can make you powerful! In fact, you need to read pretty well if you want to be powerful." At the end of the day, an English teacher brought an essay titled, "Goals for the Year" to Adam. It was an essay that the same girl that Adam spoke to a couple of periods prior had written. She wrote that she wants to become a better reader because Mr. Johnson said it would make her powerful.

Monday, July 26, 2010

1 Corinthians 13:11-12

You know when you were little how you pointed out the things to adults that are everyday, common things but were so new to you? Or if you don't recall those days, how about when you traveled and you took note of something that marked you as a foreigner? I'm not talking about wearing a fanny pack but something that came from your childish innocence. The excitement of discovering something novel, a treasure you've only heard about in stories. I feel like that now, living here in New York City. To those moments where we find our inner child still kicking around in the dirt. Here are some pictures of some moments that have made my heart happy!

Adam and I decided to do a walking tour despite the rainy weather. Sharing one umbrella, we walked up this street in Washington Heights that leads to George Washington's mansion.

Our adopted NY mother, Cora holding a plate of the infamous "Dinosaur BBQ" located in Harlem. Look Russ...collard greens!

Adam and friends eating the best (cheap and tasty) street food in NYC. It's halal lamb and chicken over rice, salad, and warm pita. With one plate serving easily as 2 meals, the $6 can't be beat.

The long line we waited in for the street food. This food cart operation is efficient with one man in charge of the cash and two others dishing out the goods into tin containers. Customers have control over how much spicy sauce and yogurt they want. Beware of line cutters jumping out from cars and distraught neighboring restaurant owners.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

What I love about New York

Of course, the best answer to that is being with my husband Adam. I wake up every morning feeling so blessed, thinking that this is my life now. I get to have Adam every day, forever. It feels like we have a secret that nobody else knows, laughing in unbelief, as we walk hand in hand down Broadway. It's so much fun playing house for real this time as we shop for groceries at "The Met" in Harlem. We both think it without saying it to each other how witty we feel acting like a true "New Yorker" as we go for bagels at "Nussbaum & Wu" where I love the tofu vegetable spread and he gets his coffee fix. I love being married.
We live in Morningside Heights where Columbia sits right between Manhattanville and Harlem. Our small apartment is our haven, full of our keepsakes from Guinea, a perfect collection of what is sold in the African mart just a couple blocks away. It is small, but we are proud of our first home together. Nestled perfectly in a neighborhood meant for newlyweds, surrounded by lots of little shops and restaurants, bordering Riverside Park which overlooks the Hudson River, and situated between two major subway is the perfect place to take on this concrete jungle with baby steps.
Every neighborhood is full of history and culture, which is evident by the friendly neighbors or store owners always giving a sign that they are free to chat. Just this morning, I toured the largest mausoleum in America, of Ulysses S. Grant. It blew my mind that this monument is just a block away from where I live. My baby steps tend to lead me to bigger treats, always popping out of nowhere, like St. John's Cathedral, the largest Gothic cathedral in the world. But more than the tourist attractions, a simple walk down Washington Heights or Soho is just as stimulating. The city is diverse, something Adam and I both crave in a community. No where else in the whole world is people watching the best. New York City is fascinating. Come see!

Friday, November 6, 2009

If you had only one more day, what would you do?

I was lucky that I could say goodbye to my village. Knowing I only had one more day, this is how I spent it.

How joining the Peace Corps saved me (my testimony)

So I am home a whole 5 months earlier than expected due to political instability in Guinea. It was the hardest thing I've ever been through, being torn out of my village, listening to women wailing in my concession, as if they were mourning a death. But after all the trials and uncertainity if I could return to my village, I finally found some peace knowing that I had the time of my life as a Peace Corps volunteer. There is so much that I learned during this time of self-discovery, little things like how to properly peel fruits and vegetables, or bigger things like how to speak French, but there is one main thing that I got out of joining the Peace Corps. It was how I needed to live out the rest of my life.

This is something I wrote while back in Guinea:
Being sick abroad really tests your strenth and will. There is no comforting mother, no relief with cold water or a toilet to sit on, no assurance of proper medication. But there is God to lift up my head (Psalm 63). When I am weak, I am strong. And no where else have I been my weakest. It was living in West Africa that made me realize how much I love Christ.
I am a confirmed Catholic. I remember how God had called me my freshman year of college. That was one of my happiest years of my life, when the holy spirit lived within me and my brothers and sisters who were also becoming confirmed. But the evil ways of the world used doubt, hypocrisy, and temptation to cloud my need for Christ. And I'm sad to admit I haven't been able to renew this relationship until my Peace Corps service. An old Peace Corps motto is, "Life is calling. How far will you go?" but really God was calling. It's like He knew I needed this time, this quiet time with Him, away from all my distractions. This time to prepare me, to train me in how I need to live the rest of my life. There are days I feel crazy, like I've had enough rice and sauce, missing my nephews, getting water from the pump to drink and bathe with. But God's timing is perfect and I trust Him. Even if His plan has taken me worlds away from everything I know and love.
And Guinea is that. A muslim country with no access to running water, electricity, and even worse...a Christian bookstore. But the more I prayed for growth and guidance, God not only sent it to me in the form of books and music from Charmie, Russ, and Cerisa, but in the form of something I could actually bike to in under 20 minutes. The Lutheran missionaries came back from their vacation right at the knick of time. Soon other Christian Peace Corps volunteers started to find each other. We would send each other letters in how to pray for each other. But I even began to see Christ work in the people in my village, non-Christians. After living in a concession of huts for over a year and a half I believe Americans can learn a lot from the family unit in Guinea. It is exactly this familial love that makes the idea of orphans non-existent, depression a rarity, or civil war from igniting like it has in Guinea's neighboring countries of Sierra Leone or Liberia.
Love is the answer translates to God is the answer. And with any answer, effort needs to be involved. That is why I fell away from Christ over and over again. I didn't take the time to be with Him. "You will seek Me and find Me when you seek me with all your heart" is painted on my hut wall, right above my study desk. The more I dedicated myself to this task the more I realized the truth in it. The Word became alive, like a personal letter to me from a best friend, something I look forward to reading every morning. And soon enough I began to feel His hand work in my life through a child's smile or from the wetness of a raindrop. Tim, the Lutheran missionary, wrote this on my hut wall, "No one has seen God, but if we love, we can see Him in each other." 1 John 4:12. This has never been so real to me until now, and I will pray that you wil be able to feel Him holding your hand in your daily life, as He has in mine.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Beautiful Truth

Looks beautiful, doesn’t it? This is sunset behind the Peace Corps bureau in Conakry. I’m sitting at the beach bar that many volunteers frequent for their “cold” beers and pizza. Like how a cover of a book can be deceiving to the eye, this picture conceals the truth. But I will reveal the littered waters full of plastics of all sorts from food packaging to toilet seats. I will point out that silhouette of a man in the corner who seems to be praising the scenery, but in reality is talking to an imaginary audience induced by his mental state. I will admit to being scared of the sickly looking stray dog that lays under my table hoping for my attention just as much as for my pizza.
This is what I see after being away in America for two weeks and after having been gone for almost two years. This is what I feel: confusion. It’s like I went through a time warp and my concept of reality was lost in another dimension. I went through reverse culture shock while I stood in Time Square or even just standing in the candy aisle of a Rite Aid. But I didn’t plan on coming back to Guinea and going through culture shock as I lit a candle, used a latrine pit, or worried about clean drinking water again.
I found myself getting upset because I wanted the easy life again. I cursed the night along with this country when all I wanted to do was flip a light switch to see. Have I lost my strength and patience in just two weeks?
I don’t know, but I’ll tell you what my best friends back home think I’ve lost. They said I have lost my butterfly wings. Peace Corps allowed me to see with my idealistic eyes, but Guinea wiped them anew. I was reminded to look at things objectively, allowing me to exercise my scientific mind. And what I’ve observed is that looks truly can be deceiving. I remember that night I stood in Times Square was the first night during my visit to America that I cried myself to sleep. Being in the capital of consumerism may be as beautiful to someone as a sunset on a beach, but to me it was a delusion. I won’t expand any further on this so as to avoid the idea I’ve become a misanthrope, but I’ve learned that there is always beauty in truth, no matter how ugly that truth may appear to be.