Thursday, September 27, 2012

a world of love

I felt so helpless when I learned that my grandmother died four days ago. I thought that being sick so far from home is the worst part of living abroad, but I was wrong.

One of the blessings I have realized living so far away at this difficult time is how all of the other people who live so far from home come together to support one another. I didn't tell hardly anyone about what happened. And without me asking, people in Thailand, Nepal, Afghanistan and India have offered Masses and prayers for my grandmother and my family. 

Yesterday, Fr Thomas gathered the four of us in the office for Mass before lunch. We played the Saint Louis Jesuits and I talked about her and we all offered prayers for her and my family. It was very special. All of this, with me never asking for anything. Everyone who I have met abroad has some similar story about being stuck so far away from home and everyone mobilized for me. It is incredible.

And last night I got to Skype into her funeral. I was there, tears streaming down my face, on the iPad listening to Fr Doll and my family at the Mass. Saadia made a good point. She said, "I know it's hard to be so far away, but imaging if this was 10 years ago. You get to call them and see their faces and see the funeral and be there in a way." And she is right. Now is the time to count my blessings.

I just wish that you all could have met my grandmother. As I told Fr Doll in an email, she is where my mother, sister and I get our chutzpah from. She is the example of womanpower that the next generation in our family has seen as an example.

A comic Abby made about Grandma Clare in 2008.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Let me tell you about my grandmother

Photo of my grandmother at Creighton's switchboard where I also worked as a teenager.

I want to tell you about my grandmother, Grandma Clare.

She passed away two days ago, and since I can't be with my family in Omaha, I can't think of anything else to do other than write about her.

If you look up Irish Catholic Democrat in the dictionary, you will see Clare Harris. I have heard so many stories about her finishing work at Omaha's Chamber of Commerce and going to volunteer for Bobby Kennedy's campaign at night while raising three children. And while that is such a great portrait of who she was, that is not the Clare Harris I knew.

I knew Grandma Clare. I remember when Abby and I would sleep over at her and Grandpa John's apartment out west. We would shove her two fluffy armchairs together into a little nest and watch scary movies and eat candy from her candy dish.

As I got older, so did she. She moved from that apartment to a retirement home and then to a nursing home. And sometimes it would take a minute for her to recognize me. That was my own fault, always changing my hair and adding tattoos and changing my style. But once she did recognize me, her mind was clear and we could talk like we always did.

And that is what was so special about her. She would allow me to talk and talk and talk. And when I got myself into another love tragedy, she would listen. And when I couldn't decide where to go to school or what to do after graduation, she would listen. And she would remember! Until the last time I saw her she would ask me about ex-boyfriends or friends she met from high school.

She was able to have a special relationship with each of her children and grandchildren. In my life, I know that family is the most important thing - above travel and work. And I must get that from her, because all she did as she got older was keep up with family. If we needed to know what kind of car Kyle just got, or what the cousins in Vegas were up to, she would know.

Through high school and college, I was blessed to get to spend a lot of alone time with her. We would go on our "little picnics," dining in the parking lot of Wendy's and talking. And she was very Socratic at these Grandmother-granddaughter meals. She would never tell me what to do; she would always say, "I don't know. What do you think you should do?" And she promised never to tell my parents what I was talking about, although I'm not sure if she did or not!

She had a way of making us all feel special. Whenever I would visit I would be greeted with a, "Oh Molly! I've missed you!" No matter if I was coming from 60th Street or from Thailand. 

After all of her health problems and after I moved abroad, every time I saw her I felt lucky that I got to be with her one more time. And while I still wish I got to be with her just one more time, I know she is better now not to be in pain, not to be afraid, not to be old or confused. She is perfect now and I can't wait to see her again someday.

Still, I will miss her a lot, and going back to Omaha next time, the city will feel little bit emptier and the love I feel in Omaha will be a little bit less. So I hope you're still with me Grandma Clare, watching me grow up with both Grandpa Johns, and I hope I am making you laugh because you always had such a great laugh and great smile.

Photo of me saying hi to my grandmother in front of the Taj Mahal.
I was going to send this to her as a postcard but missed my chance.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Photos from the field

After a month in the South Asia office, I have visited three projects. I came here for a starting period of three months to build the website and create content for the website. I have been working on my photography. Hopefully I can spend a weekend taking a course because I have a ton of questions about improving.

Anyway, I don't know how I feel posting photos from my project visits on Facebook, since it makes me feel like tourist or something. So I'll post my favorite work photos here and link to my stories as they come out.

Our JRS tailoring teacher (in orange) teaches 25 women from the Burmese Chin community on the outskirts of Dehli how to make clothes. The funny part, they don't speak the same language! It's interesting to watch her explain how to sew in Hindi, only to watch her have to go around one by one to show them again. But it works! They are all wearing clothes they made and can make whatever you want.

The women in the class are moms first, tailors second. So in between the sewing machines are sleeping babies.

Getting ready to run her new pattern through the machine.

In Tamil Nadu, India's most southern state, Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka live in 114 camps. It is incredibly difficult for young women to grow up and succeed in this atmosphere and some drop out of school. JRS meets with these young women and teaches them empowerment, leadership, public speaking and a host of skills from tailoring to cooking to typing to gardening. In this photo, all of the girls and parents watch from "backstage" as they give their closing performance.

Mothers of the girls laugh at their performances at their graduation ceremony. Read the story I wrote about it here.

In Nepal, JRS, along with Caritas, provides education in all Bhutanese refugee camps. It was heralded as the best refugee education a few years ago by the UN. Now, most are being resettled, 60,000 in the US alone.

High schools students learn trigonometry (and all other subjects) in English to prepare them for resettlement, but also learn Bhutanese and Nepalese.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Ignatian Hospitality

"Do you know her story? She is one of us," one Jesuit told a lunch-table of Jesuits this afternoon. "Her father was a Jesuit novice." They all laughed and made the same time-tested jokes about Jesuits -- never arrive late to lunch because there will be nothing left, or they will only allow  me to interview them if I offer drinks first. They asked me about my Bible tattoo and we all laughed when no one could tell me what the verse was.

Wherever I travel with JRS, this has been the case. I am received with such great hospitality and warmth. In Nepal, Fr Amal insisted on buying me cigarettes and sharing his good vodka with me after knowing me all of one hour. Sister Mary sewed me two pairs of pants and took me to the hospital when I was sick. In Thailand, Fr Bernard was always happy to go find some jazz or blues music with me when he was in town.

Today I was sitting in a nearly-dark lunchroom because of a power-outtage. Saying I stuck out like a sore thumb, isn't quite the right simily. Let's just say I stuck out like a Molly in a room of Indian Jesuits.

But still, they wanted to know all about me. And one thing I have learned is that if you know one Jesuit, you know them all. That is to say, this is how the conversations always go. "Oh, you're from Omaha? Then you must know Fr Greg Carlson." Or Fr Andy Alexander, or the infamous Fr Roc O'Connor.

Yes, I do!

And these conversations prove two things. One, that Omaha is, in fact, the center of the universe. And two, the Jesuits is truly one big family.

…Albeit an incredibly dysfunctional one. But I am happy to be part of it, in whatever way.

Last year, Fr Aldolfo Nicolas, the superior general of the Society of Jesus, wrote about Ignatian hospitality in a letter to JRS. “How can we advocate and promote more actively the Gospel value of hospitality in today's world of closed borders and increased hostility to strangers," he wrote.

Well, Fr Nicolas, I can report back that I have seen this hospitality in action. While I am not seeking asylum in these countries, I come to these Jesuit houses and colleges as a stranger. And I am received like family. In some projects I visit, I cannot tell the difference between the Jesuit staff, the refugee staff and the lay staff. JRS shows its hospitality by valuing its staff, regardless of life's circumstances.

I now hope I can take the lessons learned from these men and translate it into my work. I hope I can be just as hospitable as the people I meet and promote hospitality in the regions where I serve.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

I didn't feel great

So there I was, bouncing up and down in the back seat of this truck, "Donated by the UN" painted in the UN blue on the side, slowly headed to the Nepal-India border. The roads are marked with killer potholes and we plowed our way through all of them.

I was sweating and coughing in the back, dreading having to go through airport security, baggage check and the flight itself back to Delhi.

I should explain that the week before, I was staying with the remarkable JRS team in Nepal to get information for the website I'm working on. When they found out I was sick, they mobilized like a small army to get me food and a fan and anything I would need. I felt embarrassed at the level they wanted to take care of me. "It's just a cold," I said. "I have been flying so much lately, I probably picked something up on one of those cesspool airplanes."

Well, it wasn't until I was hunched over, crying in some Bhutanese refugee-doctor's office that I realized I was wrong. I didn't have a cold. I had some throat infection. And I realized that yet again, my determination to never visit the doctor had failed me.

He said I would be fine to travel the next day. It wouldn't be pleasant but I would survive.

So this is how I would up in these dire straights, bouncing up and down in the truck with a bag of apples on one side, and a bag of medicine written in some foreign language on the other side.

I only tell this story to explain how I came to draw the above picture. Because I don't want people to make fuss over me. I don't want people to know I'm sick or sad or overwhelmed. I always want to be helpful, cheerful one, who everyone can depend on. I'm the "yes gal" who will do whatever you need.

But sometimes, I just feel like melting into the floor.

As always, ending on a high note. Watch this video and you can't help but feel WONDERFUL.

The Liturgy of Levon

I have been breathing Levon Helm recently. His voice has been reaching into those tiny pockets of my lungs that I never use and helping me to breathe more fully.

Ain't it always the way that it isn't until after a great musician is dead that think to pull their albums off the shelf and give them a re-listen? I remember after Whitney Houston died, her albums sold millions, and I thought, "What a great world it would be if that happened with actually great musicians who offered something to humanity and culture…"

So there I was after I read he was dying, downloading all the Levon Helm I could. I listened to his solo stuff sporadically until recently. I was too hung up on his contributions to The Band -- Cripple Creek, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, The Weight -- to give his other stuff much of a listen.

Man was I stupid. I wish I had found his stuff earlier. Levon died earlier this year, but his story became pretty spectacular over the last few years of his life. He developed throat cancer a few years ago, leaving him unable to sing or to speak. Can you imagine? Losing not only what makes you money but what feeds your soul? I could never imagine not singing, and I don't even get paid to do it!

Well, he overcame the cancer and taught himself to speak and sing again. And he came out with two great albums. 

"Levon wears his war wounds like a crown," I thought. Sure, Elton John wasn't singing about Levon Helm with that lyric, but is sure fits now. If you listen to his voice on these last few albums, you can hear his age and his struggle and his life through his voice, and he belts it with pride.

His voice, when it came back, sounded like Ralph Stanley, Bill Monroe and the younger Levon Helm somehow created this new singer, a mix of age and experience and new revelations. 

We miss you, Levon. Thank you for sharing everything with us.

This is my favorite electric Levon, sung on his last album before he died. Apropos, no? He sings as if he may not ever get the chance again. I guess once it's been taken away, you never take it for granted again.

This is my favorite acoustic Levon.

This is my favorite. I remember the first time I ever heard this song. Joan Baez was singing it on stage and my dad was in tears, I was in awe. And if you look at the way he strains his face, giving his whole soul into the song, that's the way i felt when I first heard it. The way he feels when he sings is the way we feel when we hear it. And that must be what makes a great musician, the ability to share your soul with people.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Photos of Nepal

Unfortunately, a week worth of work and photography in Nepal turned into just a few days, since I was in bed the rest of the time, sick. But here are a few ph my photos from the trip. Hopefully I'll make it back soon to make up for it.

King Louie, my savior when I'm sick

Playing his greatest hits in bed while drawing this. Yes, I am aware that I screwed up the lyrics if you look closely. I couldn't read my pencil while I was inking.