Friday, March 8, 2013

What I forget about refugees

I just saw Argo with my Dad, finally. Without any trips to waterfalls or refugee camps, I am getting most of my adventure and learning experiences from the movies these days.

At the end of the film (I won't say spoiler alert because it's a 30-year-old true story), the Americans are on a plane and the stewardess said, "we have left Iranian air space." And everyone breathes an over-dramaitc Hollywood sigh of relief. 

It just makes me think of all my friends or the people I've met who have heard those words. The people I know didn't have the C.I.A. help them get out; they got themselves out. The people I know faced incredible odds and saved their own lives. 

I can't imagine hearing those words. Or hearing, "Sawasdee ka, welcome to Thailand." I can't imagine clearing Thai customs knowing you survived. I can't imagine seeing the Indian shoreline or the Statue of Liberty, and knowing that you're one step closer to being safe.

The people we work with every day in JRS and other NGOs are incredible survivors. We forget that sometimes because we see them facing a new set of difficulties. And we hear stories everyday of escape and asylum. We forget. We forget that these people made it through something that few of us ever could. 

If there were a movie about the people I've met, they'd be the heroes. 

So here's something that I thought I'd never say… Thanks Ben Afleck. Good movie.

Monday, March 4, 2013

5-year blog-aversary

What do you do to celebrate talking about yourself for five years? I'm not sure. I can say that this blog began as my sister insisting that I post all the doodles and comics I drew when I started college.

Abby and I were living apart and living our different lives so this is how I started to keep in contact with her. Still today I write it with only Abby in mind. I am happy as a clam that all of you read it too, and the more people I meet as I travel I am thrilled to keep with with through here too.

For all five years, I tried to choose my favs. Out of the 70-80 I write a year, these explain what was going through my head at the time:

2008 - the beginning of photography

I started drawing comics because Abby and her friends were doing. And I couldn't stop. As I have learned, just because I'm not good at it doesn't mean I should keep doing it:

Then I moved on from crappy (but lovely) comics to crappy photos. I transferred to Creighton and took a film photography class at the same time I started working for the paper and shot digitally. I crashed and burned in film. I could light, frame and find great content for a photo. I cannot develop film. I cannot make a photo acceptable without taking 300 and seeing what I take. Call me a fraud. 

In this post, you'll see my first film assignment. You'll see me getting stabbed to death in the shower, dressed as the Joker and Rod Serling from the Twilight Zone and lots of photos of the Mass of the Holy Spirit.

In this post you'll see the photos that I liked in concept but weren't good. Cowboys at the diner, kids at the diner... I hung out at a lot of diners at the time.

While I was taking my film class, I was also taking my photojournalism class with Fr Doll, where it was all digital, baby. I was not then, nor am I now a good photographer. But this is where I started learning what's what. Here are photos from my first semester at my Creighton paper. Here I went with Creighton to the School of the Americas protest and photographed priests telling the US government what's what.

Then I made a little camera with a scanner and a magnifying glass, and I felt better about myself.

2009 - life on the rez

I moved to the Rosebud Reservation January of my junior year, for some reason. I was doing communications for the Jesuit mission there and teaching catechism to you Native students. Sometimes I even got to DJ on the radio. Mostly Bruce Springsteen and Harry Belafonte. Here was my room and all my possessions. Here is my first trip to a cemetery full of victims of teens suicide, one of the many things I had to come to terms with living up there. Here is our house in a snowstorm. And here is what me and my roommate did with our snow day. These are my students. And this is my backyard.

While I was writing and teaching, my roommate was busy painting the church by hand. One crazy moment of my seven months up there was covering the trial of a family suing the mission.

2010 - life on the road

In 2010 I graduated from college and hit the road with my best friend. We drove Route 66, lost some money in Las Vegas, Couchsurfed up the West Coast, and made it to Alaska. 

Ricky and I were meant to spend our summer in Alaska. We ended up staying around 8 weeks before Fr Doll called me up about this whole Jesuit Refugee Service thing. In Alaska, I learned how to use a chainsaw, how to de-worm blueberries, how prolong hot tub time, how to reel in a salmon, and how to use a woodchipper. More importantly, I met Rick and Karen. I'll need to get it together enough one day to write about how truly blessed I am to have met them and how they changed my perspective. For now, watch Rick sing to you.

We left Alaska early because I got the opportunity to come to Rome to begin an internship with JRS, where I still work. I had never planned on using my passport other than to get to and from Alaska. Boy was I wrong. In this blog post, I explain going to Rome, being abroad for the first time and letting God touch my life.

Then I got to Thailand. Whoa. What a trip. My 2012 ended with my mom visiting. We spent Christmas Eve on an island and she watched me crash a motorbike. She guest-blogged and wrote about it. 

2011 - Thailand, what the hell?

I don't write too much about work here. Suffice it to say that I worked way longer hours in Thailand than I did anywhere else. Not a lot of friends, fascinated by the new things I was seeing in terms of displacement and refugees and the law. So when I did blog, it was always about the outstanding stuff I was learning outside of work. One thing I will never forget in 2012 was my trip to Koh Payam to swim with the bioluminescent plankton on an empty beach.

What else happened? I got dengue fever whilst standing next to a pig pen in the rain in a rice field on the Thai border... pretty much exactly where you would assume one would get it. I went to Indonesia for work, and as usual, only wrote about non-work feelings and discoveries. I also made my list of 25 things to do before I turned 25. I've done a handful. I still can't believe Ricky missed Mardi Gras or I could have crossed that off. I'll add going to Mardi Gras with Ricky on my 30 before 30 list. I made best friends at work and in Bangkok itself. And while I suck and keeping in touch with everyone, I hope you all read this and know I'm thinking of you all the time.

2012 - heart on my sleeve

I won't write too much about 2012 here, because I just reviewed it at New Year's and you probably already saw it. Suffice it to say, I learned more about myself in 2012 than the last three blogging years combined.

2013 - who knows?

I can't say a lot about this year either. I can sum up my year so far as reverse culture shock in a big way. My year started on a rooftop in Delhi continued on to a last trip to Rishikesh, a great going away party and big goodbyes to people I loved. I got to see one of my closest friends in Thailand and we rode motorbikes around an island and swam under a waterfall. I made it to New Orleans just in time to be sick and jet lagged for Mardi Gras. But we still costumed and danced and sang. And now I'm back in to Omaha, trying to get settled and figure out how I am supposed to be here.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Failing as a friend

We all like to lie our online and pretend that our lives are peachy keen. Take a look at my Facebook and you'll think that all I do is run around on different adventures. If you only knew me through Facebook you wouldn't know that I have a job or bad days or a menstrual cycle. You'll rarely see there photos of boredom or sadness or anger. You won't see status updates about fighting with my friends or all of my buckets of self hatred that overflow sometimes.

Well, here it is, my admitting that things aren't always that great.

I'm not always a good friend.

Sometimes I feel alone, even when I have a dozen people around me who love me. I feel like I'm the only one to experience reversed culture shock. I'm the only one who has ever been broken hearted. I'm the only one to ever feel homesick, to feel worthless, to feel far from God.

I'm the only one to feel all those normal things that we all feel but don't post online.

It was hard for me to find a photo of me looking sad. Nobody takes sad photos.
I took this for a communications training to show hiding identity in a photo.

And when I feel these things, and feel alone in that, I assume that my friends and family won't understand. And I don't talk about it. And sometimes I can't explain it, and I look like a bitch. Fact.

And my friends and family get frustrated because I'm not acting like myself. And in my mind I think, "Why can't they understand where I'm coming from? Why can't they give me the benefit of the doubt that I care about them, that I want to be there for them, but I can't be there for anyone right now?"

Because you won't talk to them, dummy!

So to everyone in Omaha and Alabama and New York and elsewhere who has called me a bad friend recently, you might be right. I would probably refer to myself as an "absent" friend rather than a "bad" one, but I get it. And I'm sorry.

To hear that I'm "inconsiderate" and "annoying" more than once in the past month, that's probably right, too. I have been considering my own feelings more than everyone's.

So instead of being pissed off that my friends don't ask me about my life abroad or what I do for a living, I need to look inward and ask myself what I've done for them lately.

As Louis C.K. once said, I need to not assume that MY feelings should be everyone else's top priority. Easier said than done.