Camels, Dates, and Happy New Year

Happy Holidays, readers! I hope everyone found some peace and inspiration, however strange or small or unexpected. And while you consider your world in 2019, I want to tell you that my novel, “Sugar and Dust” will be available on eBook on March 1, 2019, and Paperback on March 15, 2019. And if you are are a forgetful person, or March feels like forever away, you can sign up on a mailing list at http://www.ellakerr.com and I will email you directly and let you know the book is SO ready to read.

Enough business talk. Below is a little bit of a teaser: an excerpt from “Sugar and Dust.”

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Friend Michael, at the camel farm that inspired this chapter of the book.

I knew where to find Maya. Not because she told me but because I saw her thick hair in the back of the brown pickup truck picking its way down the road one evening. She covered her head with fabric to shield her face from the dust, but I knew it was her. And I knew the pickup truck.

The truck belonged to a Somali man who lived ten kilometers from the Manor. He was an older man, probably in his late sixties. He had a definitive Somali look. I could’ve guessed where he was from by glancing at his eyes, his cheekbones, the texture of his hair. Legend had it he fled Somalia in the midst of the pirating days just a few years before. I heard that his brother was a pirate. I heard that he was a pirate. I heard that he was attempting to take over all of East Africa with his milky blue eyes and wispy white hair. I heard he came to this country to gather mistresses from all over the world, to have them do the pirating work for him, to loot and steal and bask in his eternal pirate glory. I think he mostly wanted peace. I think he came to live in the dust because it felt better than the Somali sand in his eyes.

I don’t remember his name, but I do remember he had one hundred and ten camels. In a land where livestock determined one’s wealth, he was a king who lived in a brick and mud house and drove a white pickup truck that sat low to the ground. It was no wonder people called him a pirate: camels were expensive, and one hundred and ten of anything made you a king.

The morning after I spoke with the Kenyan poet I got up with the sun and drove the ten kilometers to the Somali’s house. The sun rose pink and orange and full of juice that this land thirsted for.

I pulled in between the thorn bushes that formed a fence for the camels. The sun had begun to cast thick shadows of the animal’s necks on the ground.

The man stood outside: his black skin thick and shiny, his eyes electric blue, his hair white. Long white fabric covered him to mid calves. He waved when I approached.

I slammed the car door and carefully stepped my way through the thorn bushes to his home. A fire was burning outside; a young boy tended it and boiled thick yellow milk in a pot just above the flames.

“Welcome,” he greeted me in English, “How can I help you this morning?”

The camels began to stir in their thorn bushes, gracefully gliding to a full standing position, making soft snorting noises with their enormous muzzles.

“I am looking for a friend of mine. I believe she may be staying with you.”

“Sit down,” he said, smiled warmly, and shuffled toward the entrance to his home. “Maaz will make you some chai. Let me see if I have any friends you may know here.”

I sat on a wooden bench and the young boy poured the thick tea into a tin cup and set it in front of me. “It’s from the camel’s milk,” he told me in shaky Swahili.

Maya stepped heavily outside, barefoot and sleepy. She pulled a faded purple fabric more tightly around her shoulders, “Good morning, Madame,” she said, dipped her head for me to touch with my palm in the traditional tribal greeting.

Maya and I sipped the thick tea in silence for a few moments before she spoke again.

“I think the others told you what happened…” she said, looking into her tea.

“I did hear what happened. It was difficult not to hear what happened.”

“Does my father know yet?”

“Not that I am aware.”

“Has anyone said when he is coming back?”

“I don’t know, Maya.”

Another long silence, another sip of tea that went down thick and sticky.

“He’s going to kill me when he finds out. You know that, right, Madame? He will actually kill me.”

“I know.”

The camels seemed to sway with the wind.

“I can get you out of here. To Kenya. If that’s what you want.”

Maya kicked the dust with her bare feet and brought the purple cloth up over her head. I had never noticed before that her eyes were so light, a toffee color.

The Somali man sat on the wooden bench next to me and was given his own cup of thick camel tea. We stopped our conversation and finished our tea in silence. Soon he stood, grabbed his herding staff and woke the camels that had yet to rise and greet the day. He tapped the beasts gently on the hump and they rose: back legs first, then front legs. They made a soft, groaning noise in miniature protest.

“What will I do in Kenya?”

“You will attend school. I can get you a sponsor. Maybe not the schools we talked about. Maybe not the school that’s first choice, but you’ll be alive.”

“And I won’t have to watch cattle…” Maya muttered under her breath.

A hot feeling in my face rose. It wasn’t from the sun; it was at my long coming reaction at Maya’s careless and reckless actions. “We need to talk about what you did…”

“OK. Let’s talk about it.” Maya re-crossed her legs, folded her arms across her chest and smiled, challenging, “But I am happy I did it.”

“That’s the thing. I can help you; I can send you to Kenya and give you a push to make a future for yourself. But how do I know that you aren’t going to do something wild and crazy there? How do I know that as soon as you cross that border you won’t get upset again and get in a fight, or destroy someone’s property and end up in jail?”

My mind raced to all of the things worse than cows that Maya could potentially shoot: a raucous neighbor, a family pet, heroin.

The Somali shuffled back toward us and squinted at the rising sun. The wrinkles at the side of his eyes formed cracks and dips like the ground we stood on.

“You aren’t talking about taking my young daughter away from me now?” he laughed, a playful tone in his voice, “She’s a good cook you know. And those eyes are pretty to look at.” He was not rude or suggestive in his tone. He seemed to honestly enjoy having Maya around. I was wary with trust and did not want to give this man my complete faith, but he did give Maya a place to stay, and my heart did not feel nervous when he took a step towards me. The man with blue eyes did not say much, but he had taken in a girl who needed a place to stay, and that’s all I needed for trust back then.

“I want to thank you, sir, for taking care of my young sister. I can’t tell you how much you have helped giving her a place to stay given the situation….” I paused, assuming the old man knew the entire story. Of course he did. News in this village travelled faster than the dust.

“She’s a smart girl, Maya is. If you are able to help her, Miss Isabel, then do it. This girl will move mountains, inshallah.” The old man sighed. And then, just as smoothly as he came into our conversation, he floated back out, white vest flapping in the breeze like a lost seagull’s wings.

“Why does that man let you stay here?”

Maya puffed out her big cheeks and slowly exhaled, “He’s an old man. Only sons. He came and found me after he heard what I had done to my father’s cattle. He told me if I cooked and cleaned for him I could stay with him for a while. He also said he knew you would come find me.”

“How did he know that?”

Maya stretched her feet out long under my legs. She smelled like Ivory soap and the earthy scent of camel milk tea. “Because you see his eyes? Blue eyes on black skin mean they see things. Future things. Blue eyes in Africa mean you are a witch.”

“Is he a good witch or a bad witch?”

Ivy had believed in witches. She burned sage in the house to cleanse the energy in her home in New Orleans whenever something bad had happened, whether it was a skinned knee or a gas station robbery. When I was sick with a cold she would boil rosehips and brandy and force the still scalding liquid between my lips. “Brew” she called it. She never made the brew strong enough to save herself, though. She never did anything enough to save herself. I watched my hands move like her hands as I interlaced them behind my head and gently wrapped my hair up in my scarf just as she would have. I waited for Maya’s answer.

“He is a good witch. But he can see things that we can’t see. He knows the future. And he said that if I waited here long enough, and stirred the chai and waited, you would come for me and you would take me out of this place.”

In the distance, the old man patted the nose of a young camel; his wispy white hair blew in the breeze. From meters away, his eyes glittered like sea glass.

“What else did he say, Maya?”

“He said that you weren’t black and he said that you weren’t white.”

I crinkled my forehead, caught off guard by the comment. “What am I, then?”

“He didn’t say that part.”

The sun rose higher overhead and I squinted into the light, wondered if I was getting those wrinkles in between my eyebrows like Theresa had.

“Anything else he knows about me that I should be aware of?” I kicked Maya playfully but her face remained serious.

“He said the day that we would find freedom, the rain would come.”

We both stood silent and looked over the flat land, the dust cloud over the camel’s’ feet, the small squat trees with menacing long white thorns.  The children used those thorns as toothpicks when a goat or a cow was killed and the whole family feasted. They snapped the thorns off at the base and picked at their perfect teeth while they washed plastic plates in a tub of water, or gathered cow dung in lieu of firewood. We looked out past the blue hills in the distance, across from the yellow sun, a definitive circle. We looked out to the dark clouds that suddenly descended on the horizon. Deep angry gray swirled with the dust. The wind picked up and the clouds crawled closer, like a stray dog, hungry but wary, slowly, slowly making its way to our feet. And then, the rain started.

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God Doesn’t Care About Rap Anymore

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Photo Cred: M. Markle Photography https://mmarkle.com/

 

God doesn’t care about rap anymore

At least, not like he used to

When I was young, He used to fume at the words and the story and the beat

But now, He doesn’t stop me when I reach for the knob on the radio

Maybe He likes the beat these days

Maybe He raps along sometimes

I think it’s okay for God to use curse words

Hell, if I was Him I sure would

God was so much stricter when I was younger

He cared about blessing my food

And He cared about blessing my sleep

He cared about sex and Sundays and marriage and crop tops

I think He’s just tired, but last thing I heard, when someone brought up a bellybutton ring and sleeping in on Sundays,

He just pressed his palms on His eyes and said

“I really don’t care, just try to be a patient person.”

And God had so much more free time when I was younger.

I guess He’s just busy now.

I mean, I get it, I’ve gotten busy too.

But we used to stay up late, really late, and talk about things…wild things and unbelievable things.

Like if what flavor the stars would be.

And what clouds smelled like.

We talked about what I could possibly be when I was taller and smarter and got to wear mascara

And if there were, occasionally, situations where humans got to try out wings.

We don’t have those talks anymore.

I think it’s because God is so much more stressed now than He used to be

I know there were wars and floods and fire and back pain and eclectic bills back when I was a child,

But He and I never talked about it back then

It’s hard to tell if there is more ache these days, or if God is just taking it harder lately

Letting the pain of the Earth sit on His chest like a cold.

It’s heavy when you are empathetic like that

To see broken and not let it get inside your bloodstream

And your thought process

And your newsfeed

And your text chains

And the stories you tell your babies at night

And your half-awake dreams.

Sometimes I wish He felt those things a little less.

Because His mind is too full these days

Because the world is too big these days

And that’s a lot of prayers to answer

Because from what I understand there’s a million new ways to pray:

You can do it through dancing, I heard.

And art.

You can pray by driving with two hands on the wheel

And not saying “Shit!”

And writing a book

And smiling at someone who didn’t smile at you first

And keeping your eyes closed during yoga.

I don’t know how you answer those type of prayers, I’m glad it’s not my job

I wouldn’t know what to do if people prayed for things I thought were wrong.

Or stupid.

Or not well thought out.

Do you say, “Listen, love, I see what you are saying, but that’s not what fits in my schedule just now?”

Or do you not say anything at all, and tell them that maybe the prayer line was down, because you didn’t get the message.

I’m worried God will grow scared to be creative one day

I’m worried He will wake up from a wild dream of six antlered elk and rainbow petaled flowers and overthink what the world will say about new creations

What if He has a brilliant idea of another moon, or lizards with skin like water and He decides,

“No. Human’s hate things that are different. Their hate isn’t worthy of My art.”

Then where will be, huh?

All brown sticks and brown cars and brown roads that lead us to the places we’ve always been.

God, I hope He stays brave.

God, I hope hate doesn’t silence us.

But God’s a lot more tolerant these days

I’ve looked up at the face of most everyone I meet and I have been assured

“Yes, I love that one, too.”

Probably because He sees the good people do when they’re alone.

Probably because He molded their thoughts like that

And who they love like that

And what they want like that

And how they dream like that.

God doesn’t care about rap anymore

And I think I’m starting to agree.

He and I aren’t so different, you know.

For Breakfast.

As a writer who occasionally puts herself out there… I get a lot of rejection. I saw a show on Netflix where the lovely female playwright plasters her walls with rejection letters from various companies until she has wallpapered her crapped and pleasantly artsy apartment until… she finally makes it big. I don’t do that. Ink is expensive.

I went to a panel at Denver Start Up Week about a month ago where a series of women entrepreneurs were asked questions about how women in business make their mark on this world. One question was asked, “How do you deal with people constantly telling you no, or that you can’t do something?” Her response was perfect. Poised, she looked at the interviewer and said, “Man, I eat ‘no’s’ for breakfast.”

Good God, I wish I could eat ‘no’s’ for breakfast. I choke rejection down like my first beer (or, more recently, my first oyster) and it’s not getting easier. My (nearly daily) rejection from publishers and magazines looks more like a senior prom breakup, where you try really, really, hard not to mess up your makeup and text your mom in the bathroom. It looks nothing like breakfast.

My timid attempt to own the rejection that those before seemed to have worn so gracefully is below. There are a few lines taken from some of my real-life rejection letters I’ve received in the past month. Read it forward first. Then read it backwards, and feel the meaning shift. It may be a feeble attempt, but this is my attempt at owning “no.” Bon Appetit.

 

Dear Ella

We would like to talk to you about your writing.

Giving up, Is what we would suggest.

Never

Will we publish your work.

It is not indicative of success.

Finding words that sell, however shallow

Should be your only goal.

Sharing your story and your passion

Just won’t get you places.

Taking each individual’s opinion into consideration

Will show you the direction to go.

Vulnerable and soft hearts

Were never meant for the “successful” people.

Being emotionless and robotic

Is truly what the people want.

We will applaud your bravery

When you decide to give up.

It will be only temporary

If success knocks on your door.

Your resilience will be noticed by

Fools who don’t understand art.

Those who pass you by without batting an eye

Understand your worth.

Ella.

And now, read it backwards….

Ella.

Understand your worth.

Those who pass you buy without batting an eye are

Fools who don’t understand art.

Your resilience will be noted by

If success knocks at your door.

It will only be temporary

when you decide to give up.

We will applaud your bravery

When you continue to try.

Being emotionless and robotic

Were never meant for the “successful” people.

Vulnerable and soft Hearts

Will show you the direction to go

Taking each individuals opinion into consideration

Just won’t get you places.

Sharing your story and passion

Should be your only goal.

Finding words that sell, however shallow,

Is not indicative of success.

Will we publish your work?

Never

Giving up is what we would suggest.

We would like to talk to you about your writing,

Dear Ella.

 

 

 

I Have Fallen in Love 623 Times This Year

I have fallen in love 623 times this year. I know that number because I kept count. In a notebook, in my head, next to the list of sushi places that give extra ginger for free, and next to the list of books with good covers with the embossed titles, you will see this list. My mental list is called People Who I’ve Fallen in Love With, or Places I have Held my Heart Outside of my Ribs, or I am not sure why, but I want to Touch your Skin. It’s a weird list. But so am I, and so is love and I think that only makes sense, given what we are dealing with.

The first time was on New Years, (painfully typical, I know) but it wasn’t with my date. I didn’t even have a date, I just had a lot of champagne and a short skirt and a keen eye, and I watched how my best friend’s boyfriend held her gaze. In the corner, under a lamp that made her eyes sparkle, in the middle of music and laughter and spilled drinks, he just stood there and stared at her.  And that was the first time I fell in love this year: with how his eyes fell on more than her body.  He wasn’t looking at her clothes, or the skin under them. He was staring at her soul.

Then, I was in love with the doctor. He wasn’t my doctor, just a doctor. You know, the kind you meet at a whiskey bar when it’s early on Friday, and you are off work and so is he, and you both realize that both of your work is just words. Your work is writing them down, which is easy, because backspace.  And his work is how to say those words like, “I’m so sorry,” “Congratulations,” and “We did everything we could.” He doesn’t have backspace. Words are permanent when you have to speak them like that. I’m in love with that type of courage; I want my words to be that brave.

I fell in love with the woman at the coffee shop with the braids and the perfect arms and fingers. She either twists the braids right on top of her head, or lets them swing loose when she reaches for the almond milk or the coconut milk or the phone. She dances when she talks, with her wrists and her hips. I’m not smooth like that and I can’t move like that, but I’ve tried when I’m alone in my apartment. I don’t know if I am in love with her or I want to be her. Maybe, it’s both.

The homeless man on the corner of Park and Stout. He flipped off the woman who honked at me when I rode my bike too close to her car. When she kept honking, he used two hands. The whole time he laughed and laughed; his eyes crinkled and he winked at me when the light turned green. There was so much joy in his space on that street corner. I love joy in strange obscure places. I love people who that it’s okay to look for joy there.

To the beautiful girl who emailed me to say she read some of my writing and loved me for it: I love you, too. I emailed back on the day that I was overwhelmed by the doubts and critics (both in my head and on the comments section of my Facebook feed). Then, she sent this reply: “You are magic all by yourself. Don’t stop. Keep going. Always keep going.” And I was in love with the idea that normal humans were allowed to be magic, too, if magic is what they wanted.

The woman who flew across the country from New York to find me the moment my heart broke: I’m in love with her.  She brought tea and candy and set it up in a semi circle around the hotel room she booked and said, “See? I made a home for us here. There is tea and there are peanut butter M&M’s and if you need, we can stay here forever.” That is love because Peanut Butter M&M’s are expensive.  And so is flying to where I am from New York. And so is packing up everything I own in trash bags, and moving me out of my apartment because I couldn’t get up off the floor right then. Oh yes, I am in love with her.

My sister’s boyfriend? He set up a disco in her apartment when she couldn’t go out one night. She just jumped in the shower and when she came out, all steamy and pissed off because her friend didn’t want to go dance, the lights were turned low and Bruno Mars was playing. And she said that they danced right there… with her hair in a towel and him in his socks and I fell in love with her boyfriend at that very moment. She told me, “The real love isn’t in the perfect moments, it is in the unplanned ones when your hair is wet.” And then, I was in love with her, too.

The next time I fell in love was in a bookstore with a lawyer who used big words and laughed too loudly.  He told me stories and we smelled the new books. That same hour, I fell out of love. He used big words and laughed too loudly, and I was tired of smelling new books. Short-term love counts too, you know.

There is a nine year old who repeatedly refers to my apartment as a tree house, and I’m in love with her. First, because, I think of my apartment as a tree house, too, and I was happy that someone finally understood what theme I had been striving for. And second, because when I was nine years old, I told everyone that I was going to live in a tree house when I grew up. My nine-year-old self would be impressed: she may even have been in love with the grown up version of herself. I love that.

I’m in love with the poet with the curly hair and bright eyes. I wish I had her words and her style and her wardrobe and her confidence. Then I thought, “Is this what love is? Appreciation of all the things you admire, but haven’t yet captured in these bottles of life we call bodies?” I promised myself right there that my bottle would one day be overflowing. It would flow over so much that other bottles would be filled. I’m in love with that idea.

I’m in love with the person who knew I was in love with the poet with the curly hair, and convinced her to write me a message in a book. The message said this: “Dear young one, keep writing. I can’t wait to read your own work one day.” Right there I decided I would write in any loving stranger’s book if they ever asked me. With that, my bottle filled up a little more.

Then, I was in love with the rain because I want that smell to seep from my pores, even when I am inside.

Then, I was in love with the doctor again, but this time with his hands, the way the tendons moved when he spoke, the way he looked up through his eyelashes when he listened.

I was in love with the gardener at the community garden with the ink black skin and the perfect sweat and the soft face.

The man at work who calls his daughter every day during lunch to see how Kindergarten went.

Adults who go barefoot in the summer.

The bartender with the loose pants and the belly button ring and none of the fear.

The feeling when it’s dawn on a Sunday and I don’t have to be awake but I am because I’m in love.

Teachers who worry with creased foreheads about who their students will become.

Babies with wet eyelashes.

Girls who laugh with their mouth open.

Boys who cry.

Humans who scream or dance, because screaming and dancing is very, very honest, and I am in love with honesty.

I have fallen in love 623 times this year, but I am going to bed alone tonight. They say you give a piece of yourself to every single thing that touches your heart. But I believe the inverse is also true: we take a piece of the things we have chosen to love. If that’s the case, then when I lie in bed at night, I am the confidence, courage, joy and passion of all of my lovers. I am rain when it’s sunny out, disco in an apartment, a flight from New York and the words of a poet. They know me for my graceful arms, my sure hands, my smile regardless of where I call my home. What more could I ask for than that? I’ll always be in love.

 

 

Guess Who’s Back?

I had juicy grapefruit dreams

And my father’s type of pride

I had ideas that dealt in clouds

And a skip inside my stride

And my words were often braver

Than the courage in my heart

I’d tell you all the things that could be

Without a doubt or wince or start

But I’ve been drowning in doubt lately

I keep trying to stay afloat

Those old and brilliant plans

Have their hands about my throat

I thought I could slay those demons

With late nights and well laid schemes

But as my eyelids still grow heavier

My fear grows too, it seems

It’s not just in my own head

The whole, blue world feels it too

They say, “I know you are a clever girl,

But tell me… why choose you?”

And the news is always screaming

And my priorities seem weak

With all that humans suffer

Would this dream be small and meek?

The kids keep getting smarter

And the years keep whipping by

It’s too late cold too soon too old

To be even worth a try

But I sit inside this body still

And dig my hands into the sand

And the voice that knows “You probably won’t”

Whispers “Actually…. You can.”

Wow! I haven’t been here in a while! No, I have not been gobbled up by corporate life or stuffy suits or hyenas, as many of you may have assumed.  My absence in the writing world was much subtler, more like a sunset than a light switch.

I stopped writing publicly when I left Africa. I’m not sure why. I think it had to do with the fact my daily life was not so mystical and foreign anymore. Back when I was in Tanzania, getting up and successfully finding groceries for the week felt like an adventure and a big win, and now, all of those things are the bare minimum as to what I feel like I should accomplish in a day. The bare minimum, it seems, is barely an adventure.

And it’s not like my life was free from interesting stories and lessons and occurrences that warranted written words since I have returned back to the states. It had plenty of those, and I wrote them down.  In the year and a half since I have been back from Tanzania, I successfully survived a heart break and fell into a new, wilder, love that that lets me breathe more deeply. I have moved three times; and I spent nine months in the three hundred square foot studio apartment that I affectionately referred to as “the treehouse.” I work at a very inspirational non-profit organization in downtown Denver that allows me to travel and meet people with stories even bigger than my own. I completed a full-length novel (the first chapter of which you can find here) and cried the first ten times a publisher told me they are not interested. I’ve been busy, there’s no shortage of material. But perhaps, a shortage of material that no one can verify.

The convenient thing about writing in Tanzania was there were very few people who could read my words and tell me I was incorrect. However I saw something or processed something in Africa was the final say, because very few of you (excluding Ed Kerr who came to Kilimanjaro Region to see just how accurate my story telling was) could prove me wrong. That’s not case when you write about your heart or your job or when the place that you live is Denver, Colorado. Everyone has an opinion when you tell them about something they are familiar with.

The world is full of critics, some with a lot of knowledge behind their decisions, and some with no knowledge at all, but access to the internet. I feared (and continue to fear) that writing about the familiar will bring out those critics that have a different idea about a concept than I do, which will ultimately lead to tears on my overly sensitive, not-as-tan-as-they-were-in-Africa cheeks.

The fear started from an online post where I experienced something in Africa in a different way than a reader had experienced it. The backlash overwhelmed me. Here I was, trying to put words from my head onto a computer screen in the hopes that someone out there may be remotely inspired or hopeful or at minimum, give in to a close-lipped smile. But the reader had taken offense to my words and let me know it, and as a natural born introvert, I climbed back into my writing shell to wait patiently for the trolls to find someone new to pick on (hopefully someone with a thicker skin and quicker comebacks.).

And I stayed like; editing my book into strange hours of the night and saging my room when I had weird dreams. I kept doing life things like riding my bike to work every day and running early in the morning when I couldn’t sleep. But I kept writing everything down: in secret, in private, under the safety of knowing no one would ever read my words and no one could disagree. What an unsatisfying relief.

Then, Lizzy and I (refresher course: Lizzy was the Ride or Die when I called Tanzania home) determined enough time had elapsed, enough vacation days had accrued, and we should go back the Maasai Village that brought my heart and mind to the awareness of my most basic desires: laugh and dance… and write.  As soon as I boarded that plane to New York as we made our way to Kilimanjaro International Airport, I was rustled out of my Instagram scrolling with this thought: I could write again! I would be back in Africa, they couldn’t fact check my thoughts!

Well newsflash, you can’t fact check anyone’s thoughts; or feelings for that matter. The person thinking them or feeling that has every right to do so and write them down, even if you have never felt or thought those particular things yourself. My writing bravery those days in Africa seemed utterly dependent on the idea that no one had touched the space I had been in before, so there was no room for dissent. The truth is, I have eighteen months’ worth of word and stories that have been swimming around in my brain and an irrational fear to put them down on paper because #youmaynotagree.

My resolution lately has been easier to write than act upon: be fearless. Regardless of opinions and thoughts and the constant doubt that says I may not be correct and I may have experienced that wrong and I may have stumbled upon these words by mistake the mantra stays the same: fearless.

So now, with words that are braver than my thoughts, I am here to tell you. I’m back.

 

4am Club

You can’t finish pieces of life like you can a book. There is usually no witty closing line that ties the entire story together, no final dialogue that meshes all loose ends.   The end of most journeys, it seems, is more jagged and open-ended. It isn’t graceful. Your hair isn’t clean. The mascara is smeared and you can’t find deodorant and the words don’t come out right like the goodbye you planned in your head. Believe me, I know. I said goodbye to Africa this month.

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Little Sister Rosie

The jet lag has me up early in the morning, as does the 6am yoga class I agreed to teach. I’m up with those homesick drunks and heartsick lovers and I am sure if all of us 4:00am’ers formed one giant club it would be a sight to behold. It would be a club where all of us would sit in a circle and burn incense and have to tell everyone else in the circle why we were awake at that time. I’m sure if you sat in that circle, you would hear stories about internal war, and external war, art and girls and the glow in the dark stars that you stick to your ceiling. Everyone has stories. Sometimes those told early in the morning are the best. But because there is no 4am club (at least not that I am aware of) and because those who have welcomed me home this month have asked, here is the story I would tell in the circle:

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Storytime

There was a fifth grade girl who became pregnant last year, against her will. She was angry and frustrated, as she should be, until she took admittance test into high school, passed with flying colors, and started her life as a freshman in high school while her mother cared for the brown-eyed baby. Then, this little heroine joined an organization in high school advocating for women and girl’s rights in her hyper patriarchal society. I want to tell you how she is the smartest and brightest star I have ever seen and she wrote me a letter before I got on the plane telling me how happy she was with her life now. That’s a story worth hearing.

Then you need to know about a young man who daily questions his traditional tribal culture: everything from the clothes they wear to the customs of eating, to roles of men and women in society. I could tell you that in a small village where everyone knows the business of everyone else, he is questioned and ridiculed for his stance in something new. If you sit down and drink a soda with him he will ask you about American politics, and world history and how my ancestors navigated their culture in a new world like America. He will tell you that he is questioning his customs not to be rude or defiant but to understand if his culture could be doing things in a better way, a way more inclusive way of everyone in the community. That is a short story of a the bravest eighteen year old I may ever encounter.

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When Colorado meets Africa

I have listened to a child bride turn businesswoman. I watched while she forged a loving relationship with a husband who had taken her childhood, then became the breadwinner for her new family. I watched as she learned how to laugh and dream like a child again, and how she brought big ideas and laid them at the feet of her circumstances. I observe as she refuses, time and time again, to ever be reduced by her situation. That is a story.

I listened to young men tell me how they created an art studio for street kids so the children had something to be excited about or proud of in young, hard lives. He says he wants them to know creation, not just destruction. I watched as a teacher stayed at the hospital with a troubled young student late into the night, and when the hospital didn’t know what to do, sit with him while village leaders prayed over his tired body. I sat on the back of a motorcycle of a father who, before giving me a ride home, dropped off a bag of rice to a handful of families who were struggling to buy their own bag. I watched tired people stay diligent. I saw young people make wise decisions. And time after time, I listened to hurt people love.

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My African Family

And then, I would tell my 4am club that I left Africa as jagged and haphazard as I came: hopeful but lacking in the smoothness that each one of use imagines we will have when a pivotal moment arrives in our lives. I would tell them I am awake at 4am so that I don’t forget. I would tell them I am awake because there are more prayers to be said and hands to be held and plans to be made and yet I am here. In America. For good this time.

I will them that my reflection has left me inspired and my homecoming has made me gracious. And then I would tell them to stay awake a little bit longer. Because I came home from Africa and I have heard and seen so many things I wish the world could know.  That I have no choice but to believe this story isn’t over yet.

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Goodbye gift