What is home? Perspectives on community from your friendly neighborhood nomad

Sometimes, I worry that I am TOO much like Jean-Ralphio and then I become concerned. But, let's not think about that right now. 

Sometimes, I worry that I am TOO much like Jean-Ralphio and then I become concerned. But, let's not think about that right now. 

“The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing — to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from — my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing, all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back.” -C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces

 

I have no home.

It's a dramatic statement (aka 50% of statements originating from me), but nonetheless true for its theatrics. 

My lack of a home is something I have considered philosophically in the past, but especially in the last year--and most definitely during the last two months.

A little background on my state of home-lack: 

  • Since 2013, I have moved (meaning moved myself and my living possessions for an extended period of time) 11 times (I keep whittling all my possessions down too, but there's still too much random nonsense, and I definitely need to keep my complete Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass record collection for REASONS).
  • In 2016 alone, I lived at least six weeks in five different locations in different cities, states, countries, and continents. 
  • For the last two months, I have jumped from couch to couch to floor to couch and back again throughout my Seattle-based friend circle--never staying more than a few nights in a row at one place. 

So, yeah, I literally have no home. However, I have also had the most extraordinary experiences. I have been able to live and work in places and with people that have added to me in brilliant and unexpected ways. I have been gifted opportunities that most are never even offered. 

I recognize my privilege (I doubt fully, but I am still learning), and revel in the experiences I have had--yet still I long for home.

It's odd really, my longing, simply because I am actually quite adaptable. I used to be terrified of new experiences--of losing security--but the more I experienced new things and the more security I lost, the more I learned that it will always be okay. Humans are awesome, because we always find a way to be okay with things (this is also humanity's fatal flaw, but we are not discussing that right now). 

Stick me in an entirely new situation--and two weeks later, it's like I've been there my entire life. (And, I will find the nearest place to procure apple juice, because I am also Buster Bluth.)

This is great for when it's time to start new things, but terribly painful when it's time to leave. 

We all create contextual versions of ourselves. Maybe it's you with a certain group of people, or you in a certain setting. There is a subtly unique version of you that only exists in that context. The core of who you are remains the same, but other fragments and pieces of you thrive or disappear. 

Every time I leave, I must adapt, and, sometimes, I must lose fragments of myself--fragments left to the memories of the people I leave. 

And that is home-lack that I feel: it's those far-flung fragments. 

I have never felt particularly tied to places or things--nor have I have wanted to be permanently tied to any place or situation--but I always feel tied to people. I always want to be permanently tied to be people. Like, it is EXCEEDINGLY difficult to lose me as a friend: no matter how hard you may try. I will haunt you and send you requests to hang out and/or messages relating to your personal interests.*

*At the end of 2016, when I returned from Memphis, I was house-sitting for over a month in Ballard, and occasionally went days without seeing anyone I knew. I mentioned to a friend (we'll call her Amy P.) how sad this was and how I could die and no one would know for days. Her response: "I would know. Because, a day would go by and I wouldn't have received a weird link** from you and I would assume you had died."

**A list of 13 images of moons with Diego Luna's face photoshopped into them is hardly my idea of a "weird link," but I digress.

Anyway.

I feel the longing for home, because it isn't a place. Not really. Or at least not one place. It is a feeling. In my imagination, it is a place where all the fragments of me will be joined together.

A place where I am safe. Safe to be serious and ridiculous and curious and dramatic. A place where embarrassingly earnest is just earnest.  A place where I can talk as much as I want and it is never too much (mwahahahaha!). 

This place does not exist on this earth (C.S. Lewis writes about this longing), so instead, I long for security. This manifests itself in my life in three distinct ways: security of shelter, security of freedom of movement, and security of enough money to ensure independence. 

These are the three things I crave. And, they are three things that have eluded me too often. It is a lesson I must learn again and again and again, but still I hold on tight to my pursuit of security. 

Shelter relates to improving my "technically homeless" state of being; freedom of movement connects to the horror of my semi-constant car-tastrophes (I am gonna pretend I was the first person to think of that word); and money independence is the desire to never rely on any person to pay for any thing. 

These are the three points of security that I live by. 

When I have secured these three things, I WILL BE SET. I will never have to ask a single person for a single thing or any help or show any weakness at all. 

I will be the hero of self-awareness and independent living. Because, if you never have to ask anyone for anything--then you can never be denied anything from anyone. 

And, there, my friends, is the lesson. The one I am forced to learn again and again--while I try and doltishly convince myself that having a place to live, a working car, and enough money is what I truly need--and that I can do it on my own. 

Instead, as the lesson goes, let us consider community

'Cause, friends, community is what keeps me going. It's the strong rock I stand on, or the ropes I climb with, or--when all else fails--the handholds and the footholds I cling to.

Yet, somehow, I continue trying to pretend that community is something I can enjoy  only as long as I am actively paying into it. I can ask for a favor as long as I have a favor saved up in the favor bank (work with me here metaphor-wise). 

That's all fine and dandy when you are on top of the world, but the moment your car breaks down and you have no place to live and you don't have the money to fix the car or pay for rent--then it's all ABANDON SHIP! I'D RATHER NOT ASK FOR HELP FROM MY COMMUNITY BECAUSE I DON'T HAVE ENOUGH COMMUNITY FAVORS SAVED IN THE FAVOR BANK!

Well, as my beloved friend, mentor, and former house-mate Kelsey would tell me: "Don't be a weirdo, Meg." 

Because implicit in this favor-based worldview is a complete lack of grace.

Grace is that tricky thing that flows through all the cracks when you aren't expecting it and overwhelms you with its complete undeservedness. 

Security gained from my independent self just means I absolutely deserve it and earned it and will bask in my glorious self-awareness. 

Security resulting from undeserved grace and generosity is terrifying. Because, if I can receive something I clearly didn't earn--does that mean that life is actually just one long grace note and it's not actually about my individual greatness after all?

YIKES.

A community of grace and learning to accept grace on grace alone is the lesson I learn in perpetual cycle.

It was the fear I felt over a year ago when I launched a GoFundMe page to support my internship in Sierra Leone. My self-awareness told me to expect nothing. My community of grace left me unable to understand as one after another after another of friends, family members, coworkers, former professors, boyfriends and girlfriends of friends just started chipping in--FOR ME. It is unbelievable. You'd think I would have learned my lesson about undeserved grace.

But, then, it was living in Memphis for six months--far away from everything and everyone I knew, yet having an incredible trio of women (Kelsey, Amy, and Kim) watching out for me for no other reason but their own kindness. Believe me, I know there was no other reason, BECAUSE I WASN'T THERE LONG ENOUGH TO DEPOSIT FAVORS IN THE FAVOR BANK.

It was being in Memphis the day when three things decided to happen: my car broke down on the side of the road on the way to my internship, my phone decided to die completely, and my bank made an error and froze my account. I was in a place with zero network support (or so I thought), and independence was not feeling supes great. Here's how that experience played out: 

I was able to revive my phone long enough to call AAA for a tow, and text Kim (who was out of the state at the moment, but called both her husband and Amy). Then the phone died. Forever. 

I drove in the tow truck to a mechanic's shop. Amy was there waiting in her car with a cold bottle of water and drove me to Kim's house. Kim's husband handed me the keys to Kim's minivan to drive while my car is in the shop. I drove to my internship (somehow; no one knows how I made it without my phone for GPS), and then my place of shelter (aka Kelsey's home that she had welcomed me into).

The next day, the mechanic called (the office, cause I still have no phone at this point) and tells me that it is the catalytic converter, and that it will cost $800 to replace. I think I made an involuntary choking sound, because a) my bank was frozen and b) I DIDN'T HAVE $800 IN IT ANYWAY. The mechanic (Ms. Doris as Sandies Automotive; please go there for all your mechanic needs in the Memphis/northern Mississippi area) asked me if I was okay. I literally couldn't respond because I was afraid I was gonna burst into racking sobs. Ms. Doris then said, "Let's figure it out. I bet I can find a better priced part from one of my other vendors, and I will cut the labor costs. Can you do $450 instead?" 

^Reminder: Ms. Doris was a random stranger I had never met.

I still couldn't do $450, but I thanked her profusely, told her that she was a blessing (I almost went full southern lady), and that I would figure it out and call her back.

My mind raced through contingency plans (I am always creating contingency plans), but I couldn't find one that would fix this problem. 

I called my father to let him know the car situation. He shocked me by saying that he and my mother could put in on the card and that I could pay them back--because something would work out.

I gladly accepted this grace, but took secret comfort in the fact that I would still be paying it back though, okay, so maybe twisted up, it was actually totally earned right?

No.

Later that day, I received a message from my sister Sarah saying that she and her husband Trevor would like to give me the money to pay for my car. I couldn't believe the shock of this generosity. I literally tried to not accept. Aka "It's all good and covered. Imma just pay back our parents." But, nope, instead, I had to accept the gift COMPLETELY UNEARNED. THE HORROR.

When I picked up my car the next day, (with Amy getting up extra early in order to make the transfer from Kim's minivan to mechanic's shop before work), I had been given a shocking amount of grace: from Amy, from Kim, from my parents, from Sarah and Trevor, and from Ms. Doris (and also from my friend Kate who watched like six hours of Justified with me via online chat the night before just to cheer me up).

None of it was earned or deserved. It was community.

I wasn't gloriously independent.  I was inextricably connected. 

 

My continued and extended lesson in grace and community has been occurring the last couple of months as I lack shelter (not sure yet where I will be sleeping tomorrow night), have a car with serious issues (not sure yet if it will run in the morning), and only make enough money to just barely cover bills (student loans and phone bill are already paid for this month whooo).

I have become an elemental human: most days begin with the thought where will I sleep tonight and include a search for food. 

Some days, (usually those days between student loan payments and payday), there isn't much food, and some days, my assurance of shelter comes very late in the day (or night).

Every day includes me asking someone else for help.

Yet, here is my privilege: someone always steps up to help. 

I have have slept on the couches, bed, and floors of dozens of people all over the world. Dozens more have given me a meal or let me do my laundry.

And, not a single person has ever expressed anything but open generosity. 

I am reminded constantly of Mr. Rogers advice to "always look for the helpers," because they are everywhere.

I also constantly hear in the back of my mind: "Don't be a weirdo, Meg." Accept the grace and generosity of others--with the full knowledge that you didn't earn it nor do you deserve it. That's why it's grace. 

So, here I am today. Still learning the same lesson in community, but hopefully with a little more humility and perspective. 

Thank you to every person who has shown me grace-filled community. It is not forgotten. 

 

{I am also still totally open to sleep on your couch or floor (I am the succulent of house guests! You can completely forget I exist and not even water me--and I will THRIVE!), so totes keep that in mind. ha!}

 

"All of us, at some time or other, need help. Whether we're giving or receiving help, each one of us has something valuable to bring to this world. That's one of the things that connects us as neighbors--in our own way, each one of us is a giver and a receiver." --Mr. Rogers

 

-Meg

 


In Seattle, there is an actual housing crisis; thousands of people are not as privileged as I am, and spend each day without any security. There are an estimated 500 families who sleep on the streets each night.

Please consider supporting: 

Mary's Place

Seattle's Union Gospel Mission 

YWCA'S Emergency Shelter


Born Free and Equal: Human Rights Day

Oh, what’ll you do now, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, what’ll you do now, my darling young one?
I’m a-goin’ back out ’fore the rain starts a-fallin’
I’ll walk to the depths of the deepest black forest
Where the people are many and their hands are all empty
Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters
Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison
Where the executioner’s face is always well hidden
Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten
Where black is the color, where none is the number
And I’ll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it
And reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it
Then I’ll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin’
But I’ll know my song well before I start singin’
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

-A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall, Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan wrote these words more than half a century ago, but they remain, as always, perilously relevant.  Patti Smith performed it today while accepting the Nobel Prize for Literature on Dylan's behalf, and the timely parallels were clear and overwhelming; painful and hopeful. 

And today, International Humans Rights Day, so designated to remember the date of the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we can also see our way through in the same manner: clear, overwhelming, painful, and hopeful. 

The message is not timely because of a sudden increase of human rights violations and crimes against humanity. The message is timely, because human rights violations and crimes against humanity have continued to persist since the beginning of humans. Since the first human disenfranchised another human through greed, self-interest, or fear (and really doesn't it always come from fear?), humans have trampled on the intrinsic humanity of one another whenever possible. 

"Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world."

-The preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Humans write these words; humans ratify these words; humans follow these words; and humans destroy these words. 

We know that the world is only as just as there is justice for every person: for the disenfranchised and the exploited, and for the powerful and the abusers. 

On this Human Rights Day, I make a survey of the pain in this world and it crushes me. There is too much. It cannot be done. I am useless. 

But, then, I am reminded that I am not here to save everyone. I am not here to save anyone. We are not here to save--but to love. 

Perhaps, you are overwhelmed today by the injustice around you. Perhaps, you feel hollowed out, because you recognize that close family members and friends are participating in that injustice. Perhaps, you are bent under the guilt of your own complicity in serving injustice. 

That's real. Stare that knowledge straight on, and understand it. Accept the consequences.

And, then, as my sister would tell me, do the next right and good thing in front of you today. 

Stopping crimes against humanity and protecting human rights are the ultimate purposes, but we cannot be overwhelmed by the insurmountable nature of these opaque and somehow vague goals. 

Instead, we must each do what we can. Bob Dylan wrote, "I'll know my song well before I start singin.'" We each have a song. The individual passions and pains which drive our empathy and pursuit of justice.

I am always glad when I hear someone's fight for justice and it is something I had never considered. I am glad, because that means someone else is fighting for something that I would have let slip through the cracks. 

So, know your fight (and you can have more than one), because you are needed. 

"If you could only sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person."

-Mr. Rogers

So, on this Human Rights Day, I just want to affirm your life, your fight, your will, your purposes, your goals. We need the activists and the artists and the listeners and the nurturers and the teachers and the healers and the leaders and followers and the thinkers and the scientists and the workers and the friends. 

But, remember, we can exude all our energy and our brilliant thoughts and our righteous pursuit of justice, but if we don't have love--we accomplish nothing. 

Remember that the point of humanity is love. That doesn't strip the consequences, and there are real consequences, for dismantling and trampling another's inherent dignity. 

But, still, there can be love. 

So, today:

  • Know your song
  • Make a plan of action
  • Do the next good and right thing in front of you
  • Remember empathy, remember justice, remember love

Or just ignore my inadequate words and listen to Dr. Maya Angelou instead:

Day of the Girl, Harassment, and Why it Hurts When the Men in Our Lives Support Trump

Me as a girl child. I can confirm that these remain my only three expressions: light disdain, having "fun," and terrifying joy.

Me as a girl child. I can confirm that these remain my only three expressions: light disdain, having "fun," and terrifying joy.

So, yesterday was International Day of the Girl Child. I actually started to write this post last night, but typed the title in, and got so exhausted with the world—that I promptly fell asleep.

Day of the Girl was enacted by the United Nations to celebrate and promote girls, but also to work towards ensuring that girls are given the protections and fundamental human rights that every person deserves. This is about healthcare. This is about education. This is about personal autonomy. This is about ending child marriage and ending female genital mutilation.

But, this is not simply about issues that happen “over there.” Because, sure, in the United States, girls are guaranteed equal access to K-12—but are they being supported and encouraged to pursue whatever academic path they choose? Child marriage is illegal in the United States—but are girls being adequately protected from abuse and harassment? Are girls being taught and supported and encouraged in their own personal autonomy? Is society proving to girls that they have control over their own bodies? Are the people in power ensuring that there are serious consequences to anyone who destroys personal autonomy through harassment and assault?

The answer is no.

Absolutely, some people are being held accountable. Absolutely, there are people who are teaching and encouraging girls. Absolutely, there are people who work to ensure the well-being and safety of girls.

But, not enough. Never enough.

As a society (and a world), we throw complex messages at girls from a very young age:

You have to protect yourself! Danger is everywhere!

You are weak! Your tears show that you cannot control yourself or your emotions!

You have to be pretty and feminine or no one else will want to be around you!

You can’t wear that! Boys/men might see you and they cannot control their thoughts or actions!

You have to have wear makeup, but not too much makeup—the right makeup, so it looks like you’re not wearing any makeup!

You can’t walk/visit/eat/dance/run/shop/sit/live/breathe in those places. They’re not safe for you, and if something happens—it will be your fault!

You have to remember that every single male is a threat!

You shouldn’t be such a bitch! He was trying to be funny!

You shouldn’t be so loud and bossy!

You talk too much!

You don’t get what you want, because you never ask for it!

You should smile more!

You shouldn’t have smiled so much—you were leading him on!

These are just a sampling of the messages that are explicitly and implicitly taught to girls from a very young age. I know that every woman I know could add another ten each off the top of their heads.

So this is the society we have created for girls and for those girls when they age into women. This society that constantly tells women to feel the threat, but also to take responsibility for any threat, but also they are too weak to protect themselves!

And in society, also live the boys and men (dealing with their own uniquely messed up gender standards).

As girls and women, we interact with and love many of these boys and men: they are fathers, brothers, grandfathers, uncles, friends, boyfriends, husbands, co-workers, teachers, pastors, etc, etc, fellow human beings.

Some of the men we interact with say and do terrible, destructive things to us.

Others, we love and respect.

(And, sometimes, we still love the men who say and do terrible, destructive things to us.)

It’s of those men we love and/or respect that I am writing about today.

Because many women are feeling betrayed right now, as many of the men in our lives are confirming what was always a nagging doubt in our minds: they don’t really care enough to try and understand you.

And, it’s all because of the man running as the Republican nominee for President of the United States—the most powerful elected position in the world—Donald Trump.

Why is the betrayal now, instead of years ago when Donald Trump first started spouting toxic nonsense?

I (and many others) have always been firmly horrified by Donald Trump. This post right here timelines some of his terrible statements and actions while campaigning (and it only goes up to February of this year). His words and actions have been and are hateful, and incite hatred. He has said and done horrible things to people based on race, religion, sexual orientation, physical ability, nationality, age, and, yes, gender. His ugly statements about and actions toward women have been a constant thread through his life and campaign.

But, the video released last weekend of Donald Trump bragging about committing sexual assault was somehow just too blatant to be ignored or explained away as “just words” (as his other toxic statements and actions have somehow and wrongfully have been explained away). This was something that must be confronted and denounced, correct?

I am going to post a transcript of the video. I am sorry to do this, especially as it is upsetting to read, but I have learned that many men have heard the explanations for why these words are “inappropriate” or “locker-room talk,” but not the actual words themselves.

Unknown: "She used to be great, she's still very beautiful."
Trump: "I moved on her actually. You know she was down on Palm Beach. I moved on her, and I failed. I'll admit it. I did try and fuck her, she was married."
Unknown: "That's huge news there."
Trump: "No, no, Nancy. No this was [inaudible] and I moved on her very heavily in fact I took her out furniture shopping. She wanted to get some furniture. I said I'll show you where they have some nice furniture. I moved on her like a bitch. I couldn't get there and she was married. Then all-of-a-sudden I see her, she's now got the big phony tits and everything. She's totally changed her look."
Bush: "Your girl's hot as shit. In the purple."
Multiple voices: "Whoah. Yes. Whoah."
Bush: "Yes. The Donald has scored. Whoah my man."
Trump: "Look at you. You are a pussy."
Bush: "You gotta get the thumbs up."
Trump: "Maybe it's a different one."
Bush: "It better not be the publicist. No, it's, it's her."
Trump: "Yeah that's her with the gold. I better use some Tic Tacs just in case I start kissing her. You know I'm automatically attracted to beautiful... I just start kissing them. It's like a magnet. Just kiss. I don't even wait. And when you're a star they let you do it. You can do anything."
Bush: "Whatever you want."
Trump: "Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything."

Bush: "Yeah those legs. All I can see is the legs."
Trump: "It looks good."
Bush: "Come on shorty."
Trump: "Oh nice legs huh."
Bush: "Get out of the way honey. Oh that's good legs. Go ahead."
Trump: "It's always good if you don't fall out of the bus. Like Ford, Gerald Ford, remember?"
[As Mr Trump attempts to leave the vehicle he struggles with the door]
Bush: "Down below, pull the handle."
[Mr Trump exits the bus and greets actress Arianne Zucker]
Trump: "Hello, how are you? Hi."
Zucker: "Hi Mr Trump. How are you?"
Trump: "Nice seeing you. Terrific. Terrific. You know Billy Bush?"
Bush: "Hello nice to see you. How are you doing Arianne?"
Zucker: "I'm doing very well thank you. [Addressing Trump] Are you ready to be a soap star?"
Trump: "We're ready. Let's go. Make me a soap star."
Bush: "How about a little hug for the Donald, he's just off the bus?"
Zucker: "Would you like a little hug darling?"
Trump: "Absolutely. Melania said this was okay."
Bush: "How about a little hug for the Bushy, I just got off the bus? Here we go, here we go. Excellent."
[Mr Bush gesticulates towards Ms Zucker as he turns to Mr Trump]
Bush: "Well you've got a good co-star here."
Trump: "Good. After you. Come on Billy, don't be shy."
Bush: "Soon as a beautiful woman shows up he just, he takes off. This always happens."
Trump: "Get over here, Billy."
Zucker: "I'm sorry, come here."
Bush: "Let the little guy in there. Come on."
Zucker: "Yeah, let the little guy in. How you feel now, better? I should actually be in the middle."
Bush: "It's hard to walk next to a guy like this."
Zucker: "Wait. Hold on."
[Ms Zucker changes position and walks between the two men]
Bush: "Yeah you get in the middle. There we go."
Trump: "Good. That's better."
Zucker: "This is much better."
Trump: "That's better."
Bush: "Now if you had to choose, honestly, between one of us. Me or the Donald, who would it be?"
Trump: "I don't know, that's tough competition."
Zucker: "That's some pressure right there."
Bush: "Seriously, you had to take one of us as a date."
Zucker: "I have to take the Fifth [Amendment of the US Constitution] on that one."
Bush: "Really?"
Zucker: "Yep. I'll take both."
[They reach the end of the corridor]
Trump: "Which way?"
Zucker: "Make a right. Here we go."
Bush: "Here he goes. I'm gonna leave you here. Give me my microphone."
Trump: "Okay. Okay. Oh, you're finished?"
Bush: "You're my man. Yeah."
Trump: "Oh. Good."

Awful, dehumanizing, ugly stuff, right? For women: too real, right?

And for women, this is too real. If it was just talk between two men: it would be sexist and dehumanizing and wrong. But, it doesn’t end as the misogynistic talk between two men. It is the experiences of women.

After this video was released on Friday night, Kelly Oxford, on Twitter, asked for women to tweet her their first assaults: for a day, she received over 50 responses a minute. By Monday, over 27 million had responded or visited her page.

That should horrify everyone.

Every person should realize that Donald Trump needs to have consequences for his abusive actions.

And when women saw the video, and were sad (and reminded of their own experiences) but not at all shocked that the video existed—men should have listened and responded.

Some did; many who already had seen the toxic nonsense coming from Trump had never supported him or accepted him or let him off the hook. And, they were quick to denounce this latest monstrosity. That’s good!

And, then, there were others who had stomached and tolerated Trump’s toxicity, but managed to denounce him now. That’s better than nothing. (Although, pro-tip: when speaking out against sexual assault, it is perfectly fine to refer to women as simply “somebody” without attributing their humanity to a man they are related to; i.e. somebody instead of somebody’s daughter, wife, sister, mother, second cousin twice-removed.)

And, then, there were still others—who continued to support or tolerate Trump or whatever.

These are the men I am writing about. These men who brush aside the experiences of the women they know and love. These men who twist and turn to justify supporting a man who admits to sexually assaulting women. These men who love and care about us, but not enough to listen.

Please, listen.

1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of rape in her lifetime.

1 out of every 3 American women report having been “been victims of a rape, beating or stalking, or a combination of assaults.”

I am pretty comfortable based on a survey of, oh, every single woman or teenage girl I have ever known, that every American female experiences sexual harassment at some point in her life (and to be real, it’s mostly all the time).

Donald Trump’s bragging about sexual assault while Billy Bush laughs and encourages it is what being a women in the United States is all about.  

And, so, to the men who love and care about me, please listen to my experiences:

{I want to make it clear that as a straight, white female who has lived most of her life in the “progressive” Pacific Northwest—my experiences are minimal in relation to my friends who are women of color or LGBTQ+ identifying or who live in a less so-called “progressive” place. I have also never been violently assaulted.}

Being female is:

Carrying a weapon with you everywhere you go (mace or a taser) since you were teenager. And when you realize that you don’t have your mace with you, but feel unsafe, you hold your keys in between your fingers and remind yourself to aim for the eyeballs.

Taking the public bus to school when you’re sixteen, and having an old man say, “Hey, schoolgirl, smile!” while he leers at you and you try very hard to ignore him and sink into your seat and maybe become invisible.

Walking down the street on the rich, old, white Kirkland waterfront in the middle of the day, and having two men sitting on the Starbucks patio with a dozen people around them call out asking you if your leggings are painted on, and telling you that they look good while they smirk.

Being poked with a pencil on the bus when you’re a teenager and looking back at the man who laughs and then pokes you again.

Going for a walk while chatting with your mother on the phone and over the course of the ~9 miles being cat-called/harassed/told to “come here” ten different times. And that’s not just ten different men, but ten different instances (some being groups of men).

Trying to pretend you can’t hear or see, and hope they don’t get angry.

Learning how, when you are cornered, to acknowledge the man enough so that he won’t get angry, but not enough that he will continue to try and talk to you or bother you.

Clutching your phone/mace/keys every time there is a man walking behind you at night.

Sharing your own personal self-defense and safety tips with your female friends while you laugh—even though no one thinks it’s funny.

Having men laugh at your experiences. Don’t you know that women in Saudi Arabia aren’t allowed to drive?

Responding to a male professor’s incredulous question of what kind of problems women at your university could possibly face by saying, “intellectual belittlement”—and having him laugh and say, “I meant real problems.”

Telling a different male professor that the textbooks are entirely exclusionary to women, and literally reference being for men only again and again—and then being told that I should “try and learn from a male perspective for once.”

Hearing multiple male professors say that they guess women just can’t see/understand/learn certain things the same way men do.

Remaining calm when several guys in your almost-entirely-male class laugh out loud when you ask the professor a question about how women were included historically in the particular topic of that day’s class.

Sitting in Sunday School as a child and being told that Eve ruined everything, Hagar was evil, Bathsheba seduced poor David, Martha was a haggard old maid, and every other woman in the Bible was either a "bad prostitute" or a mother of an important guy.  

Smiling awkwardly, because you don’t want to be rude, when a man asks you if you’re going to college to get your MRS degree.

Attempting to not look too obviously uncomfortable as men withhold payment for their coffee until you “smile for me, honey.”

Recoiling when strange men touch you in public, both “accidentally” and blatantly—too many to remember every individual experience.

Making spur-of-the-moment judgements about whether that man is dangerous or just trying to be friendly.

Experiencing living in another country, where even though your skin color and Americanness grants you a significant level of protection compared to women who are nationals, you are still sexually harassed every day—and even have a group of male “friends” of a friend joke to your face about buying you and maybe selling you too.

Tamping down your speech and couching it in “maybes” and “what do you thinks,” hoping to make your words as palatable and acceptable as possible.

Worrying that you will be thought of as too bossy and loud every time you express an opinion.

Failing, but not through lack of effort, to keep your tears inside when hit with deep stress, fear, or disappointment—and then hearing men say that they will talk to you when you are able to control yourself.

Shrinking to make yourself smaller--to take up less space; become invisible--on the streets and in public as strange men call you a bitch or worse for not interacting with them.

Crying as your friends share their stories of harassment, abuse, and assault.

Hoping that men will listen and care—but being disappointed too often.

Donald Trump not only doesn’t care about women—he is actively harming and abusing all women (and non-white men, LGBTQ+ men, immigrant/refugee men, men with disabilities, low-income men, non-“Christian” men).

He admitted to it himself. But, he didn’t apologize. It’s just talk, right? Why get upset?

He doesn’t understand.

Please, I want you, men who support Trump, to understand.

Somebody (‘s daughter, sister, granddaughter, niece, friend, peer) is being hurt, and you aren’t listening.

 

My five-year-old niece is being raised by her awesome mother and awesome father to know that she has value and power exactly by being her: being strong, empathetic, smart, loving. She recently declared that she wants to be a “Preacher and a Scientist!”; she wants to save the trees; she wants to make sure people without homes have a place to live; she wants to study worms in a microscope; she wants to draw fairies; she wants to make sure all children have shoes and access to clean water; she wants to be an American Ninja Warrior; she wants to go the next class-group in ballet; she wants to be loved and heard.

She is going on to great things one way or the other, but wouldn’t it be better if she knew a society (and world) where the men in her life—relatives, friends, teachers, coworkers—helped make the society safer and better by listening and caring and doing something about it? 

Update 2.18.16-2.20.16

This update is sponsored by Team Visker (aka Katie, Clayton, my BFF Henry, and little baby Jack). I’m a big fan of this family, and love the support I have received from them in a variety of ways (although Clayton is still just a little bit disappointed that I didn’t choose the internship opportunity in Greece). They are the kind of family that you can drop something off at their house and then just get invited to stay for dinner and maybe sit and watch TV. My faves.

FYI, that this update is a bit on the slow and unexciting side, but that is a real part of my experience here too, so thought I’d try to give as complete a picture as possible. Also, I can’t necessarily share everything. Sensitive information and all that, so I try to keep it to personal stories that would only be interesting to people who know me. :-D

2.18.16

Thursday. Sad day in many ways, as we lost our fearless leader Kim to the basically internet-less lands of rural Ghana. Kim, we only knew each other for a short week between me waking you up at the airport in Paris, and you leaving for Ghana, but I appreciated every moment. And learned a ridiculous amount of both actual information and observable information that you were modeling for me. Thank you.

After the morning, I spent my day researching grants and creating a grant proposal timeline. So, there was obviously a lot of exciting experiences for me to impart to you. Hey, being an intern is not all the exciting stuff like carrying boxes and running errands to get meeting biscuits. No, sometimes, you have to sit and do paperwork too.

Today, I also got my passport returned to me along with a non-immigrant residency permit, so that was pretty offish.

2.19.16

Friday. This morning, after meeting with the staff, Ruth and I went to visit a little boy (about 18months) named Jeremiah. Kim’s son is also called Jeremiah, and he sent football shorts and a jersey, so we had to deliver and snap photos. This boy is the son of one of the women who was a strong and faithful member of the WHO community. Tragically, she died—along with several members of her close family—from Ebola when Jeremiah was just newborn. Against considerable struggles, Jeremiah is living and healthy today. This photo doesn’t depict his rambunctious joy very well, because he was highly suspicious of the apadto trying to snap his photo.

Next, Ruth and I took transportation to the UN house in Makeni for a meeting with SLANGO (Sierra Leone Association of Non-Governmental Organizations).

Ruth was like, “Megan, I’m going to a meeting with SLANGO, do you want to come and observe.”

Me: “Yeah, sure. Where?”

Ruth: “At the UN house.”

Me: *super “nonchalant”; not at all daydreaming about my Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech* “Oh, the one near MJ?”

So, we took okadahs to the UN. We got identified at the gate, and allowed to enter. And we had to like officially sign in, and ON THE INSIDE OF MY HEART, I WAS SPINNING AROUND IN A “THE HILLS ARE ALIVE WITH THE SOUND OF MUUUUUSIC” KIND OF WAY.

It was great. I am the intern, so I did not speak or participate in any way (except to say my name and that I was with WOH, because people were very confused about this white girl), but it was glorious nonetheless. The meeting was comprised of many nationals heading NGOs getting together to discuss and meet. Ruth was taking it as an important networking opportunity. I wrote down every single thing that happened in my notebook, but looked really official, so people didn’t realize that I was mostly noting what they were wearing.

The agenda began with the “reading of the agenda.” 

There were security updates from a police chief. He noted that crime is decreasing, that they had just had an anti-corruption seminar the day before, and the idea that corruption is wide-spread is merely an opinion.

There was some mention of the actual name of a village, and this led to spirited, full-participation discussion among the people in the group. Ruth confidently made some great points. Aside from Ruth, there was only one other woman representing an NGO. Everyone else in the entire meeting from NGO leaders to UN facilitators to SLANGO representatives were all men. The other woman head seemed more of a quiet personality, so she was not quick to speak up when everyone was discussing things (she also may have just not cared to join into an argument about village names). However, I was so proud to be with Ruth. Ruth is diplomatic, but will not be silenced, and she is such a brilliant model for me and for all the women she leads at WOHSL.

Most of the meeting comprised a lot of minutia, and it was interesting and informative in itself—but also to see what caused or created the most response in everyone. 

After the glories of the UN, I ate lunch, and worked at the office until 5. A day well spent.

2.20.16

Saturday. An unbelievably slow day in my life. There was nothing planned, except me sitting in the compound doing paperwork. Sidi had the day off (at last! Poor thing), so there were no long excursions in the car options (not that there would have been anyway). Really, I could have been completely content chilling. BUT, I COULDN’T BE. It is hard to chill, when Makeni awaits just beyond the gates. So, I left. I decided to go to the recently-opened “supermarket.” It is mainly imports of food, and much of these imports are highly expired, but if you want Minute Maid apple juice with Arabic labels—well, there is just no other place to go! Also, I had stopped in and investigated the place with Ruth before—on one of our Easter Monday bag fundraiser reconnaissance missions—I knew that there was apple sauce there. And I wanted it.

So this is what sent me off out of the gates of the compound on a bright Saturday afternoon. I decided to walk a ways to stretch my legs before procuring transportation. I went off in a different direction than I normally walk to the office, so the people I met along the way were all unfamiliar to me (I’ve made some friends walking along the way to the office).

At one point, I heard the typical screams of “Apadto! Apadto!” and looked over to see about eight 7-year-olds across a field. In literally a moment they were upon me: “Do you have money for me?” was the question from this very short gang (I instantly thought of Bugs Meany and the Tigers who were always out to thwart Encyclopedia Brown [my childhood hero]). I laughed and explained that “No, I did not have money. If I had money I would be taking transport, not walking hahahahah.” This was met with rolled eyes and quite a high level of intellectual disdain. One of the boys, evidently the leader, decided to say to me—in very precise English—“You do have money, but you do not wish to give any to me? Yes or no?” I was caught and cornered. It was not a gang of 7-year-olds attempting to get money of the dumb American as I had first supposed, but instead, a highly organized intellectual exercise. Essentially, the argument went that I did not have to give them money, but I simply must stop treating them like 7-year-olds who didn’t know better. I quickly said, “uhhh. Idee go now” and ran from my debating superiors, like the defeated party I was.

I refused to get to transport until I was out of their sight completely. Some part of me was still trying to keep up the sham that really I just didn’t have any money.

With this defeat behind me, my spirits and confidence were only slightly hampered. I pushed on.

When I, at last, arrived at Monoprix (it is some distance out of town and seems a strange spot for a market), it was a victorious moment.

I did indeed find apple sauce. It was 6 months expired, but really, I have doubts that apple sauce can ACTUALLY expire, so I totes bought it. What was perhaps most hilarious was the fact that this was Minions apple sauce.

Not even in Sierra Leone, West Africa can one escape the onward march of the Minions. The overlords whom we all must embrace or be consigned to the irrelevant past.

Yes, I have bandages on two fingers. I HAVE NEVER HAD CONTROL OVER MY LIMBS, PEOPLE

Actually, this was the reason why I felt the need to have this specific update sponsored by the Viskers. They are renowned Minion people. ;-D

When I was buying the apple sauce, the woman asked me if I was a doctor. I had to say no, but I wanted to say yes.

And, then, I get an okadah home and argued with the driver about the fare for five minutes and then all was well and I worked on paperwork.

Fin.

-Meg

P.S. Working on catching up on updates. Hoping to have a little time this weekend to transfer the scribbles from my notebook into sentence form.

 

Update 2.17.16

Hello, part 2 of the last week’s updates. This post will cover Wednesday, I also posted Sunday-Tuesday just before this one—so maybe check that out first! :-)

This update is sponsored by Beth Stevens. Let me tell you just a bit about this remarkable human being. She is a professor at Pierce College, and has had a stronger impact upon my life than perhaps anyone outside of family and close friends. I literally could not overestimate what her presence and teaching meant in my life (and continues to mean). With that in mind, I thought today’s update would be especially appropriate to post in her name, because it concerns women being empowered by education.

 

What a day this became. I’m actually only going to share about the first half, because the second half contained that on-going situation I mentioned in my previous post.

Anyway. The day began with a drive to the WoH offices (the vehicle was necessary for the later trip, so no exciting okadah updates here). There, we picked up Ruth and Hawa (another member of WOHSL leadership staff), and Florence (a girl who, for safety, comes to the office in the morning and stays all day while her mother is away working. She also helps out with various tasks and jobs, and I’m convinced that one of babies [Richie] of the fair trade ladies just uses her as his personal “carry-me-around-or-I’ll-scream” person).

We (by, we, I should say that I actually mean Sidi) loaded up the car with teaching materials and food and water packets (here in SL, if you need water on the go, many people buy 500ml plastic bags filled with water; you bite one corner and drink it up)! We were off to the village of Magburaka for a Transformation Training day. The main center for WOHSL operations is in Makeni, but they also conduct “outreach” work in other locations. Transformation Training is a 15 week (all day, every Wednesday) program that disabled women attend and learn together about a variety of subjects. The goal is to first and primarily restore a strong foundation for each woman in understanding identity and personal value (for many, being a disabled woman in Sierra Leone can really destroy one’s understanding of self), and on this foundation knowledge and skills can be built and gained.

The training is conducted by Ruth and Hawa, so after introducing myself and meeting the eleven women in the program, I retreated to the back of the room to sit on an extremely structurally-suspect bench with Kim (it was her last day with us, before she left for Ghana *crying face*) and listen and observe and take a few unobtrusive photos of the happenings (I take my job as intern very seriously). I wasn’t sure exactly what I was expecting, but observing the training really impacted me.

Before the lessons began, the women were sharing their favorite learning experiences so far (they have been meeting in Magburaka for a few weeks now). It was extraordinary to just sit and listen to these varied and very personal responses.

Iye was the first to speak up. She loves that she can now write her own name and signature for the first time. There is power in knowing and communicating the letters that make up a name: the jumble of letters that emphatically state individual autonomy.

Later in the afternoon, after the training was finished, I asked Iye if I could take a photo of her holding her notebook. This led to every woman proudly showing their work (which is what you will see in a couple of more photos).

Mariatu explained that the best thing she has learned so far has been about ORS (oral rehydration solution). Rehydration is extremely important, really at all times, but especially when one is sick. The women learned about when ORS is important, why it’s important, and also—most usefully—how to create ORS. It is a mixture of salt, sugar, and water (differing levels for differing amounts). For Mariatu, this information was infinitely valuable. It gives her the power of knowledge. Knowledge that gives her choices. When she or her family is vomiting, she knows that staying hydrated is necessary and also how she can accomplish that. Information and action.

Adamsay is very soft-spoken and shy. She waited until all the other women were finished talking. In fact, the lesson was about to start, before she interjected and asked to share about what she loves about Transformation Training. Very softly, she explained that when she was a child in school, teachers did not give her the attention that she needed—even as she was struggling to understand. On top of that, her fellow classmates would make fun of her and belittle her because of her disability. However, at Transformation Training, Ruth and Hawa give her real, tangible attention, and she feels encouraged and supported by the women she is learning alongside. Adamsay is free to learn, because she has teachers who listen as well as they explain. Perhaps even more importantly, she has a community of ten other women who are learning alongside her.

LOVE.

I really appreciated being able to observe the training from the back of the space. Ruth and Hawa alternated teaching the different segments of the training, having women volunteer to “re-teach” along the way and while they asked and answered questions.

A couple of hours into the training, it was SNACK TIME. Kim was more excited about this than probably anyone else (I say this with nothing but love and respect). There was a close-call when she thought it was snack time, but it wasn’t yet, that left her with REAL disappointment. But, thankfully for Kim/everyone, snack time did indeed arrive at last. It was preceded by handwashing.

If there is possibly any positive thing that arose out of the Ebola epidemic, I suppose it might be the necessary focus on sanitation and hygiene that it brought. Compulsory handwashing stations are now very commonplace in certain public settings (churches and schools, for instance) in which I never saw them before.

Anyway, Ruth, brought her own mobile handwashing station to each woman. It consisted of an empty bowl and a small pitcher of water (that was refilled as necessary) and a bar of soap. It may seem a small thing, but I like the commitment shown to both improving understanding through practice and the cheerful humility of Ruth—the head of WOHSL—in going to each woman individually where they are.

THEN IT WAS SNACKTIME. Whoooo! Everyone (including Kim and I) was given a packet of biscuits that were of comparable taste to animal crackers, so I was quite pleased personally. At around this point, three children (who had mothers in the program) showed up and stared for a while. And, since I know the easiest way to bribe a child into loving you is to a) play intricate high-five games with them (this has never not worked for me anywhere in the world) and b) give them delicious biscuits, that is what I did. By the end of the day, I had three new members of my crew under the age of 7!

My crew likes to take selfies.

After snacktime, they spent an hour or so discussing different disabilities, learning about causes and considering both preventions (vaccines; get that high fever down) and possible corrections. However, importantly, the focus is never on the disability as something “wrong” with the woman. It is more about allowing each woman to gain and carry as much knowledge and information as possible. Certainly, the knowledge of vaccination can help to prevent their child from getting polio, but it also allows them to understand their own individual disabilities: they were not cursed, there is not something evil in them, etc. This discussion was also supplemented by a story from Hawa, and their special workbooks that include all the information they're learning in both words and images.

And, then, it was LUNCHTIME.

CAUGHT IN THE ACT! In the back, you can see Florence reaching over to steal my spoon!

Ruth and Hawa. I asked to take photos, but these still all look like someone's super annoying little sibling jumping out of nowhere and snapping. haha

Florence and the crew.

The entire morning, while the teaching was going on, some women from the Magburaka were cooking food (brought along by WOH) as assisted by Florence.

Rice, cassava, and fish---AND A WHOA! AMOUNT OF PEPPERS. You all know I am pathetic when it comes to spice (typical response from me at restaurants in the US: “Is there a way I can get no stars? Okay, thanks.”). But, it really was delicious. I just had to drink a lot of water. Also, this is basically the same meal that I learned to make with Memunatu, so yeah. Expert here.

After lunch, I know that the first item on the teaching agenda was a deeper discussion into disabilities NOT being a curse, because I wrote that down in my notebook (how you’re getting a detailed account of last Wednesday), but after that, I sorta stopped paying as close attention. I know, I know! Joker.

But, I couldn’t help it. My new crew was getting restless, and started to make a bit of a disturbance, so I brought out the secret weapon: crayons! Many of you may know that a dream of mine is to create and implement an art-based program for children in West Africa (art from all mediums, because expression is so important; also art = how humans learn empathy). Therefore, short of carrying around filmmaking equipment everywhere (teaching youth to create their own films is like my ultimate dream), I always make sure to bring some art supplies with me.

Right then and there, in the back of the space, I implemented my stealth art program. Its presence here was a crayons and a coloring book, but next time, I’ll be even better prepared.

Coloring books: not just for adults anymore.

I ADORED getting to see each of the kids individual personalities come through in how they were collectively coloring a page. The 6-years-oldish girl (I'm saying age, because I did not write their names down right away and am a failure) was very hesitant and kept tapping my leg to see if the color she chose or the place she was coloring was “alright.” Florence, who had joined in, was intently coloring red lines around EVERYTHING. She was also trying to direct the other children with what colors they could use and where. The 3-years-oldish boy was a mischievous sort of troublemaker and kept getting swatted away by the other children, until I gave him a piece of notebook paper, and he proceeded to color circles over and over: tapping my leg each time, so I could show my enthusiastic approval.  The 6-years-oldish boy took to it immediately and chose interesting colors and intricately colored in and outside of the lines the book set. He was very sad when his mother had to leave early and he had to follow. About ten minutes later, he came back on his own and just sort of slid back into the circle. All four of them expressed concerns when they thought someone else was doing something incorrectly or perhaps that they were doing something incorrectly. Taking a cue from my mother (the person who taught me the value of art) who always said, “There are no mistakes in art; you simply make something different than what you had first planned,” I showed my support for every crayon decision they made (except where it infringed on someone else’s decisions: like Florence trying to control the color scheme ha). It was a purely delightful time, and I promised them that I would bring the crayons (what’s left of them; they were unfamiliar with crayons, and so every single top was broken by the end of the afternoon) back next week (tomorrow at time of writing).

It may seem a ridiculous thing, but I could see the distinct personalities present and expressed, even in the relatively controlled environment of a coloring book (thankfully, they did not know that you’re supposed to stay inside the lines). Outlets for expression are exceedingly valuable. Each culture (and individuals within a culture) art differently. That’s why it’s important.

Have you ever noticed that young children use different shapes to express pictures? My almost-3-years-old nephew is currently using multiple circles to represent complex ideas. I got to talk to my sister on the phone last night and she said that he explained a recent circle drawing as being her changing his diaper, while he’s angry, because he doesn’t like his diaper changed. As much as that made me laugh, it’s also so interesting that he is imparting such fully formed concepts in a fashion that is wholly individual. This is why representative art is important. I could create an art piece that explained my nephew’s concept, but it would look completely different than his. The idea is not all that matters. The medium and form of transmitting the idea is also important. I could share other people’s stories, and there is value in that. But, how much more value exists in allowing people to choose how they share their own stories in their particular and individual form and concept?

Anyway. As this post has hurtled past 2,000 words, I really should wrap up.

Having thought a lot about it, I don’t think there is any way that I feel I could publically share what happened after we had left Magburaka without feeling extremely exploitative. I do not want to contribute to a narrative of Africa that is incomplete at best and grossly skewed at worst.  

On that note, I will instead end this post with the promised Sidi Pose™. If you didn’t read the last post (well, you should, obviously haha), then you wouldn’t know that Sidi the WOH driver likes nothing more than posing with set-pieces for intricate impromptu photoshoots. Here we are at a bridge. You know how I said that I request and receive consent for every photo I take? Not with Sidi. Nope. I asked no consent. Instead, I was COMMANDED to snap a photo of him. Hahaha

The bridge of my childhood dreams in that my brothers and I were always trying to create bridges like this (Aaron actually did it), and also SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON AND COCONUT BOMBS.

Thank you, everyone! I promise I will be update again tomorrow!

-Meg

Update 2.14.16-2.16.16

Kushay, my friends!

A LOT to update here. Sorry about the delay, but it has been a decidedly busy week—with some situations still ongoing! *sigh*

Anyway, I have decided (halfway through writing an outlandishly long post) to break this into two updates, but I’ll try and post both of them today while the internet is working. You can choose to read them at separate times (savor the excitement), or read both posts AT THE SAME TIME (like my mother).

This update is sponsored by Elijah Brittain (Or Elisha Nicodemus Martinez, as I have known him for many years). I chose Eli for this particular update, because I felt that he might be singularly appreciative of both me trying to look cool riding a motorbike and of me being an idiot about baked things (thankfully, no scones) and of me complaining about the cost of college. (There’s your post preview.) Eli is pretty cool, pretty funny, uses an absurd amount of hashtags on in his insta posts (this is an intervention), and also donated exactly $27, because he couldn’t bear the uneven total before his donation. Thanks, pal!

Also, speaking of sponsors, because of generous donations outside of GoFundMe, I HAVE REACHED MY NECESSARY GOAL! Thank you all so much! I’m not going to lie. When I started, I thought I would never get the money needed. I am truly and wonderfully amazed and grateful. However, if you would still like to get involved financially, by all means, I recommend donating to Women of Hope and the wonderful organization they are.

Since last you heard from me, much has happened. Here are some highlights of each day (not necessarily every single thing that happened though).

2/14/16

Sunday is my free day off, and so I took the opportunity to connect with the village of Rogbom at their church service. I have been visiting and working in Rogbom ever since probably my fourth day ever in Sierra Leone. So, it was a happy reunion. There were so many pikin who had been born since I was last here and did know at all who the strange white lady (APADTO! APADTO! APADTO! [btw, I have never been able to confirm the correct spelling of this word, so it’s really just written phonetically]) was sitting at the back of the church. Haha.

First, let me back up. I took a motorbike taxi (okadah) to meet up with an old friend of my father, Maligie, who was going to take me the rest of the way to Rogbom (good thing, because Lord knows I wouldn’t have been able to remember directions from my current location after four years of development and extra roads built in Makeni!). I’m honestly impressed that the actually incorrect directions I gave to the okadah driver still got me where I needed to be. After leaving Makeni (and passing Makambo—where I need to visit soon as well), we finally left the highway to continue down a long dusty road. Along the way and close to Rogbom, two teenage girls (who I couldn’t recognize at the speed we were traveling) actually called out my name, and I’m not gonna lie about nearly breaking down in tears right then and there. We also passed the recently built (last year) Ebola cemetery for the district. Too many markers.

We were just a tad late for church (*I* WAS READY ON TIME), but it was such a joyous occasion to see so many friends. Also, Maligie’s children have grown so considerably that I could honestly hardly believe it!

A photo that Maligie took without my knowledge, I’ve been referring to it as “Where’s Waldo if Waldo means blindingly white face.”

Also, for your consideration: The coolest I will ever look leaving a church:

Ignore the fact that I forced poor Daniel (Maligie's younger brother) to take this photo.

Perhaps the most exciting reunion was with Ramatu. She is an extraordinary person, and her story is beyond incredible. A story of physical and spiritual healing—where she went from being “cursed,” hidden in darkness, and in incredible physical pain to now being healthy, appreciated, and a leader in Rogbom.

Appreciate the utility of my clothing choices: skirt and top are "nice" for church, leggings are for the motorbikes, and vest is to carry money for the okadah with my lack of pockets. I thought this one through, folks.

Inspiration.

2/15/16

Monday, Monday, Monday.

My day began with pancakes! Seriously. However, I meant to put cinnamon on them and put hot pepper instead. Whooo. (Literally imagine the people I was with yelling NOOOOOOOooooooooooooo! In slow motion.) Classic Megan with a degree in cross-cultural studies really succeeding at the whole not-being a dumb American thing.  

My day continued with a free okadah ride to the WoH office, because being a young American female in Sierra Leone is the same as being an exotic supermodel in terms of both street harassment and random free stuff. I TRIED TO PAY SEVERAL TIMES, OKAY.

My first task of the day ended up being fixing a printer, because God thinks that’s funny.

Most of my day was spent in trainings and meetings, but I also got to spend a fair amount of time hanging with the fair trade ladies (as the women involved in the fair trade co-op will henceforth be known on this blog). Memunatu (who I spent Saturday with) totally loves me—even if she pretends to be grumpy sometimes. In fact, she has taken to casually (and frankly, rather dismissively) referring to me in conversation with other people as “my white lady.” I 100% accept this designation.

I also spent around six hours working on fair trade quality control and order payment with Kim. That was as much fun as I’m sure you’re imagining. However, I did get to look at the many, many beautiful items the women create. You can purchase some through WoH on Etsy.

After that, we went to the hospital to visit Aminatu and her baby (mentioned in the previous post). She was not doing much better at the time (further updates below). We were blocked at the gate from entering the hospital at first, because it was slightly after visiting hours—but an old man named Waldo made them let us in. Thank you, Waldo.

2.16.16

Today, I got a desk! It is right near the fair trade ladies and we can yell back and forth at each other, so that is excellent. One of the women languidly informed me through the window that I really need to learn to speak Krio better (classic burn!), but she will teach me. I am also trying to remember everyone’s names and that is, quite frankly, terrifying. I remember a few, but I didn’t write them down immediately, and now it’s past the point of no return. I’m also trying to figure out my place in this internship and how I will complete all of my duties. So, it’s been good.

After more fair trade work, some of the women asked to be taken to the hospital to visit Aminata. This request ended with the WoH vehicle literally smashed full of women—to the point that we had to kick out the driver (sorry Sidi) and have Kim drive instead. I’m still not entirely sure how that many women (plus crutches) fit, but somehow we did.

That was an extraordinary sight: a caravan of women marching (as quickly as able) through the hospital. We were all spread out, because of different walking abilities, so it was just one long line of extremely determined women. Although the baby was not doing any better at the time (she was very dehydrated as the IV had blown, and another had not been put in yet), it was clear that Aminata felt very supported and loved by everyone’s visit.

Later that afternoon, we had to go to the market in Makeni. Ruth and I were browsing for cost and availability for items to put into a fundraiser bag we’re creating for Easter (WoH staff in Sierra Leone do a different fundraiser every month with the goal of raising 1,500,000le [about $250] each time). This reconnaissance mission did not take too long, and then we were back at the vehicle (Kim, Les, and Diane were also at the market buying fabric for curtains for the under-construction WoH site [offices, co-op, childcare facility, guest house, etc]). Ruth and I sat in the car with Sidi for about ten minutes, before Ruth was just, “I’m grabbing an okadah, and I’m out of here and going home. Be at the office at 8 tomorrow morning. Bye.” I didn’t think that buying fabric could REALLY take that long.

HOURS, I TELL YOU. HOURS. (2, but that’s still plural.) Sidi and I had a great time talking though. We discussed our own personal experiences with tax rates, the impossibilities of paying for college (his greatest desire is to get his younger brother into higher education), and also how weird it is when people say hi to you and know your name, but you have no idea who they are. We also ate like 25 Starbursts. And Sidi is already bidding on buying my international phone when I leave the country. (I DON’T THINK SO, MAN. THIS IS NICER THAN MY AMERICAN PHONE WHICH BARELY WORKS. I’M KEEPING IT.) Sidi is my fav, because he is very chill and only slightly flinches when you joke about having him drive you to Freetown or Bo (long drives either way). He also takes SO MANY PHOTOS OF HIMSELF IN INTRICATELY POSED SITUATIONS. Like, we were at the site counting windows (for the curtains), and we look over and Sidi is posing nonchalantly on a ladder and getting the contractor to take the pics. (Look for the next update with a Sidi Pose™)

At some point, we ended up going to the hospital again to meet with one of Kim’s friends who is a doctor and who brought some medicine to get the baby’s fever down, stop the itching from the measles, and ORS (oral rehydration solution) to get the baby rehydrated. As of Wednesday, the baby is doing better (more alert, etc) and will be celebrating her 1st birthday this coming Sunday! It’s not over yet, but it is certainly more promising and hopeful now.

Phew! So, that was a few days. Up next, I’ll post about Wednesday!

Thank you always to all my sponsors and supporters. I am grateful for you every day!

-Meg

Update 2.13.16

Today, today.

So, as I stated in an earlier post (it might have actually been on Facebook; I can’t remember, we’re gonna just roll with it), many of my updates are going to be sponsored updates. Every single person who has donated to my internship is considered a sponsor (and it’s not too late to join the bandwagon; I’m still looking for sponsors). It is my hope that through this, I can show exactly how local and global community functions. We are all connected to the people immediately near us, and around the whole world. Every decision made affects others. Therefore, those of you who decided to support my internship have a legitimate and tangible stake in the decisions I make during my internship (and on and on and on). Basically, you’ve entrusted me to make decisions (really rolling the dice there, everyone ha), and I will do my best to do my best.

ANYWAY.

Today was sponsored by Josh Wakeland, the projectionist extraordinaire at the SIFF Egyptian in Seattle (go there for your truly great cinema experiences, WA pals)! He was my very first GoFundMe sponsor—literally minutes after I posted it, and he is pretty cool, and awesomely ranks the The Man From U.N.C.L.E. as his favorite film of 2015 (heh heh). So, thank you once again Josh.

Update:

So, this morning, I went off to spend the day with Memunatu. She is a woman who works in the fair trade cooperative with Women of Hope. She lives with two of her daughters (Kadijah and Hawanatu) in a room in Makeni.

Sidi knew the way to her place (I think Sidi knows the way to everywhere), and it was pretty far from Women of Hope. All the more impressive that Memunatu comes all the way from there to the WOH offices several days a week (Memunatu had pretty severe polio and cannot walk without crutches, and mainly travels with the use of a hand pedal cart).

I think that Memunatu was a bit uncomfortable with my arrival at first. She wanted to treat me as a guest, but I was there to learn. The idea of white Westerners knowing everything (or more accurately trying to control everything) is very pervasive. I don’t want to say that I know exactly why that is (because that would be exactly what a white Westerner does ha!), but I always wonder if it is some combination of a recent colonial past (British Empire legit ruined everything), a mysticism about what exists in far-off America (it is not all perfect and wonderful and disease-free), and the simple fact that many white Westerners feel very comfortable/insist on filling the role of the all-knowing saviour.

It is a comfortable role. I understand that. But, it must be personally combatted at every urge, because there is only harm. What use is it to the disenfranchised to be explained away to other people by other people?

Anyway, so I think it took a bit of an internal struggle for Memunatu to let me do something (although, she certainly was still treating me very considerately), or experience her typical day as it unfolds. She shared her photos with me: of her family, her daughters who live away from her, and personal photos. In turn, I was able to then show her photos I had of my siblings, my parents, and my sister’s and brother’s pikin (“children”). There were also about eight children milling about at any given time and that is my most favorite (children will shout “apato” [white] at me always). We all spelled out our names with charcoal in the dirt outside. And two of the six-year-old boys questioned whether I was a woman or a man (not the hair’s fault this time, but the hikingesque boots that I was wearing). Kadijah attempted to set them straight. None of them realized that I understood exactly what they were saying. Haha

After sitting and talking with Memunatu for a while, her older daughter Hawanatu (in form 3 aka like 9th grade) arrived home, and I went with her to market—while Memunatu rested. It was a nearby small market, and Hawanatu bought fish, rice, oil, peppers, and spices. While Memunatu wanted me to be her guest, Hawanatu was sure that I had no idea what was going on. When we crossed the street to get to the market, she informed me that we had to wait until the motorbikes had passed. HAHAHAHA. She just knew I was gonna ramble off into the street.

Hawanatu is in form 3 (similar to American 9th grade), and wants to be a doctor, so she definitely has something in the whole being smarter than me.

We came back (somehow managed to safely cross that road) and I helped Memunatu sweep her floor. And then, it was time to cook. I told Memunatu that she had to teach me everything, because I did not know how to cook at all. She set me off sifting through the rice and pulling out everything that wasn’t rice. I spent a ponderous amount of time on this, and when I handed it back she pretended it looked great, but secretly picked out a few more grains. Meanwhile, she was cleaning the fish.

FYI, about photos: no photo will be taken/posted without consent from the photo subject (except in cases of something like a long-shot, city-street view).

As she cooked the meal, she let me dump water and guts and etc, and also explained what she was doing along the way. She also let me do a taste test on the soup to see if it needed more spice. *laughing crying face* I am the wimpiest when it comes to spice, so I believe I explained back that it tasted great, but I also do not know what I am talking about. Somehow, during this whole cooking time, I met several random individuals, was asked my marital status (basically an ice-breaker in SL if you’re an American female), and was informed by a 22-year-old guy that if I married an African man I would need to learn to cook better and should come back and complete a “practical” for him to prove what I have learned. HA.

I also taught some pikin how to play basketball (little Muhammad had a Lakers shirt on; I couldn’t resist that).

After we finished preparing the meal (we is used very vaguely here, but I was an active learner), we ate it. Delicious. I was provided a spoon by Hawanatu, and Kadijah showed me how she washes her hands (with a cup of water, through the bars of the window in the room that faces outside), and we sat and ate. I foolishly tried to eat only the fish meat and not the skins, but Memunatu set me straight.

After food, it was time for a rest. Hawanatu was OUT OF THERE. And, I was really hoping she would invite me to join, but no, I got stuck resting. Such an odd and uncomfortable task for me: sitting quietly with no distraction, conversation, or ability to read random Wikipedia articles on my phone. But, sit quietly I did. For around two hours. I contemplated life and took a video of my feet with Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” wafting in through some radio somewhere.

Kadijah on the other hand was loving life.

I ended up leaving Memunatu’s place a bit earlier than planned, because of some circumstances with WOH, but it was really a wonderful, relaxing, learning time—and it really helped to build a foundation for a relationship with Memunatu. I will be working with her over the next few months, as she is part of WOH, and it means so much to me that she might understand that I am a) not a genius and b) will try very hard to not take any control from her at all. I gave a host gift of some delicious smelling hand lotions from America (thanks, mother), and some Washington-made fruit leather (thanks, fruit trees).

Later today, I went to the Makeni Regional Hospital with Kim and Ruth (the person who runs WOH in-country/my intern supervisor) to visit a patient/find out what was going on. A woman affiliated with WOH was there with her baby who is very, very ill. It is not known exactly, but could be some combination of measles and pneumonia (plus a painful boil). Prayers for her are certainly appreciated, and updates will be available on the Women of Hope Facebook page.

Tonight, I also handed off my passport to a wonderfully helpful immigration person (IDK exactly?) who will process my residency permit this week. Tomorrow, I will be visiting some old friends in Rogbom and I am so excited to see my padis (also will be riding on the back of a motorbike, so enjoy this update).

I have been here only two days, and I have been able to experience and learn so much already. My “work” will start in earnest next week, and I can only imagine the possibilities for growth and progress in me.

Thank you for supporting me and trusting me to use your money to make good decisions in our global community.

Also, thank you for continuing to support me, as I reach closer to my needed goal (shout-out to recent sponsor Dr. Charette!).

Another update soon.

-Meg

Bonus photo of THE meal that I helped to make. Plus, Kadijah's hand.

Update 2.12.16

Kushay, my friends.

So, updates. A lot going on here, and possibly nothing too exciting, so I do apologize.

I arrived at SeaTac airport at 3:45AM (PST) on Wednesday February 10th. Somehow, and it what feels like a dream-like, warped state of time (I forgot how strange it is to take multiple flights in a row and literally not know what day it is at each particular airport), I arrived at Lungi Airport at 8:35PM (Sierra Leone time? What acronym is there for that?) Thursday February 11th.

In between this, I met up with Kim Kargbo at Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris. She is the president of Women of Hope International, who—lucky for me—is taking short trip to Sierra Leone on her way to Ghana and let me tag along for the Leone part of her journey. I had never met her before, but I found her sleeping at our departure gate, and spent a not inconsiderable amount of time deciding whether to wake her up or wait creepily until she woke up. I chose the former. She is wonderful and delightful and inspiring. (Not just saying this because she might read this.)

Quick humorous side-note about my final flight to Lungi from Paris. As I was boarding, I was informed that my ticket had been changed (I somehow had been first assigned an aisle seat close to the front in economy plus and was just loving life). A family has asked to sit together, so they gave me “a much better seat,” and then thanked me for my compassion. This much better seat was actually in the middle row much farther back in the plane, and I seriously laughed out loud (as did Kim, before she was seated and they pulled the curtain to separate me and the other peasants from everyone else; I lost track of her after that). I got seated in the middle of a bunch of Guineans who all knew each other and spoke French (the flight was only stopping over in Freetown before continuing on to Conakry). They tried to include me in the conversation, but I, sadly, was the dumb American and just smiled a lot. I did become definite friends with my seat-mate (even with the language barrier) as we both were exceedingly bemused and occasionally horrified by the antics of the passenger seated in front of us. Thanks Guinean man with cool Jamaica hat. We are forever friends.

Next, I landed at Lungi. I walked down the stairs of the plane and was actually delighted to see that I would be boarding the shuttle bus to the arrivals doors. You have to understand something about Lungi International Airport. There is typically only one plane landed at any given time, and the most that could possibly be there are three. The plane lands a very short walk from the doors of the airport. In the past, one would just walk off the plane and to the airport. But, a few years ago (I remember it being there in 2012), a shuttle bus appeared at the airport. It loads everyone up and then drives 50 feet and then drops everyone off. #myfavorite

I went through immigration included a high-tech thermometer (I actually don’t know what I was doing, but I think that was it) to fight Ebola. I was also complimented by an immigration officer, who said, “I like your flat-top.” Sadly, I do not have a flat-top. My hair is merely shaved on the sides and back. I was complimented nonetheless.

After, immigration, I was off to the baggage claim. Wonderfully, Ruth Search (of Mariatu’s Hope—a wonderful organization) and her daughter Mariatu had come to the airport from their home (in the area), and had pulled all of Kim’s and my bags. I was able to hand off supplies that I had brought for Ruth (plus one Bernie 2016 sticker special for actual Bernie friend and supporter Ruth who vowed to place it on her vehicle ;-D). I could not believe how old Mariatu is now (who I have not seen in person in a few years), and when I informed her that she was very tall, she responded, “Yes. It’s because I eat so much.” Mariatu will be leading the world sooner rather than later, so get to know her name. Also, because, literally everyone in Salone knows and loves Ruth, we were able to get through bag-check security kinda fast.

After saying goodbye to Ruth and Mariatu, Kim and I jumped into the Women of Hope vehicle driven by Sidi—who is the greatest (more on him later). In the past, to leave Lungi and get to Makeni. One would need to catch a ferry to Freetown, and drive through Freetown to get to the road to Makeni. This was a considerable (but adventuresome task), and one really couldn’t take a ferry and get to Makeni in the same night. However, now, there is a new road that Sidi said was completed a little over a year ago. This bypasses Freetown, and got us down to Makeni in a record-breaking 2 ½ hours (no more long ferry rides topped by 5 hour drives). The night drive was peaceful, and very welcoming. So many sensory memories of Sierra Leone came washing over me. So much was utterly recognizable, while so much else has changed and progressed.

I arrived to the Women of Hope guesthouse, where I will be staying in Makeni, and it is actually quite glorious. Because, I have my own room with a bed and A FAN THAT RUNS ALL NIGHT. Unprecedented and unexpected luxury. I am staying with Les and Diane (Kim’s parents), and they are honestly so kind and welcoming. Also, WOH is currently constructing new buildings to serve as offices, cooperative work space (for the women in the program who create free trade items to sell), and also a fine guest house (ready to rent out in a few months) that I got to walk around and examine (I just walked around really) in its under-construction state. If anyone is planning on making a trip to Makeni—with a team, or perhaps alone—I definitely recommend staying with them.

I woke up this morning, and ate eggs, bread, fruit, and some tea. In the U.S., I usually don’t eat breakfast. I say it’s because I don’t want it (and after years of not eating it, I think that might be partially true), but it’s also because I always wake up (at the earliest) 15 minutes before I have to leave every morning (no matter the time)—and never have time for breakfast. It was great to sit and eat. (Yes, I just spent a paragraph updating you about my eating.)

The rest of today was a lot of getting to know a bit more of what my internship will entail. Kim is only in Makeni for a few days, so following her around was imperative (this is how I ended up at a construction site). I saw some of the jobs waiting for me at the WOH offices (I may be doing a touch of organizing at some point during this time *stop laughing previous roommate, you know that I am extremely organized at heart—just not in my own personal space*). I also got to meet the women running the program, and some of the women working in the fair trade cooperative. I also got to meet a daughter running about named Adamsay who is in class 3 (3rd grade) and informed me that I was nearly bald. (So many hair compliments.)

I also met Memunatu. Tomorrow, I will be shadowing her all day as she lives life. She has been instructed to treat me as her worker for the day. Anything she does, washing, cooking, marketing, etc—I must do as well (as she teaches me). It is for things like this that I love WOH. They recognize the importance of everyone being a learner and a teacher. Instead of an imbalanced relationship. This can often occur especially with white Westerners who show up and think that they both know everything and are saving the poor Africans. Gross. And, harmful. And, simply, untrue.

So, I am excited and a bit anxious for tomorrow. BECAUSE I AM OFTEN QUITE DUMB AND DO NOT KNOW EVERYTHING. (So, exactly what this exchange is for.)

Also, today, I ventured into Makeni market area to exchange money, get a SIM card for my international phone, and some “top-up” (units which transfer to phone calls, texts, and data). Sidi was my companion for this adventure, as he took me to the most credible places, and made sure I didn’t like walk in front of a truck or anything. My SIM card cost $1,000le ( less than 25 cents), and I also bought $40,000le of units (about $8). Knowing my usage, I will be topping-up too often.

Aside from the phone procuring, site visiting, people meeting, office working (including helping to fix a printer; if you ever knew me during my time as tech services librarian assistant at Hurst Library, you might find this amusing), I spent a good amount of time chilling and talking with a few of the fair trade women (and twin babies: Amy and Rich). Aka good times.

I also got a helmet today for my soon-to-be motorbike-taxi adventures. (There is no way any of this ends with me not looking stupid.)

Hopefully, more tomorrow.

Thank you for all your support (tangible and intangible), everyone. I continue to appreciate it! Tomorrow’s update will be a sponsored update, so stay tuned (for hopeful internet access).

-Meg

P.S. The tattoo on my arm is causing a bit of a stir/questions/a lot staring (although to be fair, blindingly white skin also causes occasionally staring). My favorite response, however, was the man at the Africell top-up. He read it out loud (“Let justice roll on like a river”), nodded his head, and said very authoritatively, “Ah, you are a human rights activist?” That sounded way too cool to deny. So, I didn’t. One person down (in recognizing my deepest hopes and dreams of glory), rest of the world/Nobel Peace Prize to go.

 

I'm off...almost...

Hello, all!

It is 1:04AM, and I think I'm finally done packing (maybe). There was an emergency run to the grocery store about 9:30PM, BECAUSE I FORGOT TO BUY SUNSCREEN AND INSECT REPELLENT. (I swear I'm not completely helpless.)

I will be leaving for the airport at 2:30AM. So, I'm hoping for stress-free travel with lots of sleeping. I will be flying Seattle to New York to Paris to Lungi, Sierra Leone--arriving in Lungi at 7:10PM (local time) on Friday. So, it's gonna be a bit of traveling.

Currently, I'm not quite sure how I feel. Mainly like I am forgetting eight important things. A little bit of trepidation (I love flying, but I have had so many random "running through O'Hare while they're calling your name and shutting the door" or "carry-on bag getting checked and then disappearing and then showing up weeks later with most its contents stolen" that it causes a small amount of concern). I'm also quite excited. I have not been back to Sierra Leone in nearly four years. It has been too long. I am also excited to learn and grow and experience new things!

Thank you all for supporting me! I appreciate it so much. Currently, I need a little more than $1,200 (discrepancy on GoFundMe is because of the flight costing more than intended) to finish off my entire funding! I need that by March 5th, so a bit of time left. And, I'm not even worried. I have been overwhelmed by the support. I literally never expected so much. I kept thinking, "Well, that's everyone who possibly would ever consider helping me out"--AND THEN SOMEONE ELSE JUMPED IN. Talk about being encouraged personally--and about humanity!

Anyway. Still so much to do. Hopefully, there will be an update soon! Thank you!

-Meg

Welcome to my world.

Hello,

Hopefully, the post title is not too ominous sounding, as I really do want to welcome you.

The catalyst for creating this site is my rapidly approaching internship in Sierra Leone, West Africa. I wanted a way to keep everyone, from all the disparate reaches of the internet, up-to-date on what I am doing. A personal website seemed like a great singular source for all my various identities (ooh mysterious!).

For instance, if you are reading this right now and primarily know me as Millie--congratulations! That means that you met me in the film blogging community at some point over the last decade. You will find nothing too different here, except perhaps a little less discussion about whether Gidget Goes Hawaiian is a unimpeachable classic film or not (it is), and I'll still be writing absurdly passionate posts on film in those venues.

Here, I will be posting updates and information about my internship and beyond.

Thank you for supporting and encouraging me as I go!

-Meg