Saturday, May 31, 2014


Life is a cruel and enchanting mistress!  I thought I'd seen it all, at my relatively advanced age of 27.  I mean, I've smuggled goods across a national border with a catholic priest.  To give you an example.  Curve balls, abound!  I believe it's vaguely baseball season so I shall continue with these metaphors.  So, I thought I had a pretty good grip of what life could possibly deal me, especially after the bus in front of me crashed into an elephant in Uganda, but now I know this to be untrue.  It was almost like out of left field when two weeks ago I promptly had my heart broken-quickly followed by my entire life descending into chaos.  This I was not expecting.

Chaos can sometimes be a good thing.  For me, when things finally reach this stage, I simply know that something just has to change, that some tiny valuable nugget may rise like a triumphant phoenix from the smoldering pile of lava and burnt dreams that my life has become.  Luckily, I don't usually tend towards drama, otherwise this whole post could become a bit much.

To be precise, my heart was not broken by someone, but rather by a situation that forced two love-stricken people apart.  This highly unfortunate situation was memorialized by an entire Monday at work that I spent crying covertly and uncovertly at my desk.   Awkward for all, when the mere mention of a borrowed stapler makes a usually even-keeled coworker burst into tears.  It was the worst of times---a time in my life where every hour struck cry o'clock and I made all sorts of insane and embarrassing gestures towards the world.  14 days later, my face is dry, and I've emerged enough to be able to recognize that these sensations are not something I've been privy to before.  I've not had the privilege to wallow aimlessly in such absurd self-pity and delusions of future loneliness.  This, my friends, is what love does to ordinarily capable, independent humans. 

Love also comes with other hazards such as shared future plans that crumble like so many oreos to the pavement.  Gone--the cozy shared affordable 1 bedroom with a dishwasher and a city-view!  Ashes to ashes!

I digress.  To increase the wreckage of my life (and body) I decided to bike up to Duluth last Friday with my friend Frank, which turned into driving up half way and biking from there. Lacking the proper training and know-how, we soared forward through the 75 mile trail to hell itself it seemed!  Our backpacks laying like so many bricks upon our backs, we ate congealed protein bar after protein bar to decrease the weight, and cursed our lack of panniers and bike racks! 

Sun burnt, butt-less, and loopy with dehydration and insanity, we took on Duluth! It was a good weekend and although Frank and I made the wise decision to cut our miles by half due to the extreme pain we experienced on Saturday, I still consider the whole thing a success. 

At this point, any exciting or purposeful thing that I do is a success.  Somewhere along the last few years, I've lost a bit of self-motivation towards doing anything that requires a lot of effort.  I believe living in Uganda had a bit to do with there did force me to adjust my productivity and standards of success to something that more closely matched the slower and hotter life that I found there.  And I like that it affected me.  I like that I came back different and slower and more willing to take more time on the important things like relationships and metaphorically shootin the breeze under mango trees.  I wish that to always be part of me.  But I also have come to recognize that stagnancy can be just as consuming as our particular American fascination with over-productivity and that I need to balance myself out more--not to fit into the slew of American aphorisms that we grew up hearing---time is money---early to bed early to rise---but to bring some more engagement and dynamism into my existence.  While I will never be the type of person who has a 5 or 10 year plan with set goals about future career successes, I believe it may be a good thing for me to be the kind of person who continues to challenge myself and grow.  Laid back or not, I don't want to slip into an easy pattern of avoiding the things that I love and could love just because they require more thought, focus, and devotion.  Getting better at writing requires writing more.  Working a job I am engaged in requires perhaps further skill development and soul-searching.

This recent upheaval has sparked me to take some initiative in my life.  This recent bike trip to Duluth represents my willingness to devote more effort and focus to things in my life, ranging from developing more meaningful friendships to going back to school to get my TEFL.  Yep, I'm taking a month-long intensive TEFL course this July, with the ultimate goal of getting a good teaching job abroad.  I've always wanted to do this and whether it's the right step to take in my life or whether it's ultimately what I wish to end up doing, I think it will be a great formative experience.  I've danced around the idea of teaching for years in my work, always working at the fringes of education, and it's about time that I tried out actually working in a classroom.  What better way to experience a new culture than to spend a year or two teaching host country nationals?  This changes the immediate arc of my life hugely.  I'm hoping to spend at least two years using my TEFL to teach abroad starting this late summer or early fall.  I have dreams, too, of returning to Arua for a bit to volunteer with the female adult literacy program that I started with Father Lino and teach some basic English.  I've been dreaming and thinking about Arua now for months.  I've really started to miss it and I've also really started to reflect more on my time there.  Looking back, I seem so naive and young and inexperienced and my present self longs to shake some well-fought wisdom into my 23 year old self living in a Ugandan village...I believe that now I will be much better equipped to live in a different culture and be more engaged with my work and the people around me. 

Lots of dreams, that's for sure.  Others include walking (part of) El Camino in Spain, spending a month or two WWOOFING in Holland or Ecuador, and of course visiting all of my siblings within the next year.  I hope I can fit it all in but the priority now is taking my TEFL, researching jobs, and finding a really good fit for this fall. 

On a very personal level, I strive to be a single person for at least the next year.  My serial monogamy has dominated the last 10 years of my life and while I don't regret  (most) of the people I have been in relationships with, I certainly recognize the lack of time that I spent just being Ilse with myself.  There's this 'hurry up and get in a relationship' thing going around people my age and I'm very familiar with the notion having spent 10 years falling from one relationship into another.  This isn't supposed to be a rah!rah!go-single-women sort of thing because I really do believe in letting yourself fall into love; in fact it's one of the most beautiful things that can happen to you.  I've been very privileged to experience it.  It's just that it can never be everything to me.  That's the difference. 

Love and future adventures,